Dear friends in Jesus Christ,
Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!
The Holy Father’s recent Encyclical will provoke a mixed response from those who are aware of it and manage to read it. The first challenge, as always, is to see if we can find ourselves in it. Does it speak of us? Does it speak to us? Some may decide that it is not what the Church is about. Others will find it too lengthy and verbose.It presents us with an interface between the Gospel and the world, a point of engagement based on respect for life inspired by Our Lord’s command to His disciples to go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News. Heaven knows that we need to hear good news in our present circumstances.Last week I was given a copy of James Rebank’s new book, ‘English Pastoral – An Inheritance’. His family have been Cumbrian hill-farmers for generations. In this book he eloquently talks about his own struggle as a 21st century farmer caught between the pressures of the market and the evidence that the world in which he lives and works is showing signs of profound and increasing stress. This personal account of his life, offers a local starting context for a study of the Holy Father’s Encyclical. It shows how this Encyclical is not addressed solely to members of the Faith. Jesus sends out His disciples armed with the confidence given by His charity, and emboldened by the gift of His Holy Spirit. Without these we would probably stay at home, locked down for our own safety and good. ‘Batten down the hatches’ and wait until it all blows over . . . . But that is not Christ’s way.The Holy Father concludes his Encyclical with reference to Charles de Foucauld, a not-well-known Frenchman whose life straddled the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It just so happens that I recently picked up a book about Charles, in a Sedburgh second-hand bookshop, entitled ‘The Sword and the Cross’ by the secular historian Fergus Fleming. It places Charles’s life within a complex, and at times very controversial, political world. Charles rediscovered his faith and lived it shamelessly, heroically, and successfully in a way that can encourage us all. He was swimming against the world’s tide, his heart set on answering Christ’s call.We are told that, in the present pandemic, the economy is suffering. That may not be a bad thing because present economics appear to use us as servants. It has become the god we serve. In our efforts to protect and appease the economy we have done damage to creation and to one another. Another way must be found. We have found that other Way in the person and teachings of Christ. To carry the name of Christian but walk the way of the world will not do.Some years ago I had care of St.Walburge’s in Preston. I was constantly tempted to look on that huge, beautiful church simply as a massive problem. But it was full of beauty and goodness. It needed to be loved. It was around the same time that mum was going downhill with dementia. Losing her faculties, becoming a liability, more dependent. She needed more loving than ever. I suppose what comes home to me is that the more demanding things become, the more love is needed to find the way forward. It sounds almost simple, doesn’t it!