A Pastoral Letter from the Bishop of Lancaster


A  Pastoral Letter from the Bishop of Lancaster 

Appointed to be read aloud at the Holy Mass in the Diocese of Lancaster on the Solemnity of the Holy Family 2020  

My dear people,This Solemnity of the Lord’s Nativity is kept holy as we recognise Christ, the Light in our darkness, Christ, our Saviour. It falls at a particular time in our calendar but is relevant for the whole year. Christmas falls on 25th December but its gift should be opened each day of
the year.Over these past ten months we have been made aware of our frailty and our strength both as individuals and as a society. We know that the pandemic has landed more heavily on some than on others. We know that certain individuals can cope better under this pressure than
others. We have been asked repeatedly to be considerate of others, especially the most vulnerable and those whose occupations or circumstances put them in the front line of this battle.When a care worker, medic or teacher finishes their shift or their work for the day, what do they do? They go home. Home to what? For the vast majority, they go home to family, spouse, children, news of elderly parents, washing, shopping, cleaning, preparing meals,
medical appointments, bills and hopefully time to relax. All this – and more – is what it means to live in this world.

There are others who, unfortunately, have lost jobs, and now are faced with the crisis of knowing how to pay their bills, even how to stay in their rented home. Other families are even less fortunate as they find themselves homeless. I imagine the distress of young parents
who find themselves with children they struggle to provide with basic essentials due to the cruelty of fate, economics or ‘luck’. I can imagine that darkness is sometimes welcomed because it helps to hide their plight, and yet, in this darkness they easily fall prey to anxieties
that never take time off, robbing them of precious sleep and that most essential quality of human life, hope.The Light that is Christ does not respect sin. He seeks out the darkest places knowing that these are the very places where He will find those for whom He has come, those who need Him most. The Church carries His light. The Church allows His light to shine through Faith and  Charity. Prayer is something we can and must do in every time and every situation. With courage, prayer enables us to enter into the darkness of people’s lives so that the Light of Christ can shine both for us and for those we find there.Our Holy Father, Pope Francis has recently given us a beautiful Apostolic Letter, Patris corde, to mark the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of Saint Joseph as the Patron of the Universal Church. It is something I ask your clergy to help make available in our parishes
and schools. It speaks to us of the love of a father’s heart and will help to bring us the light of hope at a time when it is greatly needed.God the Father knows all too well that bringing light into our darkness is wonderful but not in itself enough. Beyond prayer, beyond belief there must be active Charity. This, too, is the vocation of the Church and of every Christian. We must overcome the darkness through our
love of others. Too often we can be paralysed by the sheer enormity of the problems we face and the desperate difficulties faced by those around us. St. Joseph shows us what is still possible. A single individual can be given the gift of overcoming what others see as
insurmountable problems.The world is a big place, and the number of those struggling can be overwhelming. Where do I start? Start with those closest to you, your family. Start at home. I invite you to take this opportunity to renew your personal Faith, particularly if you are experiencing severe
difficulties. Be aware of the light you were entrusted with at your baptism. It was given to you for your own salvation and also for the good of others. Your vocation is to carry that Light in these days even though they are days we would not have chosen. This is where Christ wants
you to carry His love.At Christmas people want to be generous to others. Many families actually go into debt in order to ’make’ Christmas for their loved ones. Sadly, the most important element is missed; they ignore the reality of the Word made flesh in favour of joys that will not last. For us,
Christmas is about a debt, a debt of love we owe to the God who has paid our debt owed due to sin. Note the difference; one household is plunged into debt by their Christmas whilst the faithful household is lifted out of debt by the Saviour.As we begin the new year we pray above all for holiness. The Holy Family was not spared difficulties, and neither will we be spared. An abiding trust in the Father’s love will enable us to overcome any darkness. With the prayers of Our Blessed Lady, Mother of the Redeemer,
and of Saint Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, may you be given a peace, joy and encouragement that only the Lord’s coming can give.

With my blessing on you all,
+Paul Swarbrick
Bishop of Lancaster.

Homily for Midnight Mass of the Lord’s Nativity.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, and all people of good will,

Welcome to the Bishop’s Blog!

Whoever you are, wherever you are from, whatever has happened in your life and your world up to now, I welcome you and share with you the blessing, the peace, joy and encouragement of our Saviour’s birth. Happy Christmas!We few are fortunate to be here for this Midnight Mass, during which, as in every Mass, on the altar the bread and wine will become the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus. This is the miracle of the Mass, and it happens so that we can take Jesus out into the world, into the homes and hearts waiting for Him.  We are fortunate, not because we are better than others. Some will come to Mass this evening and be told there is ‘no room’ for them. (I’d be the first to offer my seat, but no one would take it!) And yet, many have greater need than us. The Church is not a place where the sinner is unwelcome. Fears, frailty and failings should be all the more reason for coming to Jesus. He welcomed sinners, ate with them and prayed for the good of those who persecuted Him. How will our presence here tonight benefit those turned away because of restrictions on space, those unable to come, those who have been hurt by the Church, those who think they have no place here?We are here to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Light in our darkness, our way to the Father’s heart. It is a personal matter for each of us, but carries a public responsibility. Before a child can be born the child must be conceived, and nurtured for nine long months. The Word of God took flesh silently, hidden, within Mary, so that she could be counted a child of the Father. Similarly, the child must be conceived in you – in a silent and hidden way – so that you may know whose child you are, so that when you are asked, “Who made you?” you may reply, “God made me.”We have a responsibility to pray in this Christmas Mass for all unborn children, for their mothers and fathers waiting for their babies to be born, that they will know something of the precious gift of life, and that they will love their children. To help us know how important such prayer is, just consider that as we are told each day the number of Covid victims, (how many is it now?) yet each year in this same country over 200,000 children’s lives are ended through abortions. What did they do to deserve it? Why were they not loved? Are we not being told to save lives? Do their lives not matter?Globally, many babies do not survive until birth because of unfortunate medical complications and economic deficiencies. Many women do not survive child-birth. But Jesus did survive. He was born in extremely unhygienic circumstances, (realistic crib smells . . .) He survived infancy’s accidents and illnesses and grew to adulthood. He survived and carried the grief of losing St. Joseph, seeing His mother widowed whilst still quite young. In many ways He lived as the world dictates, He complied; that’s why we know so little about His first thirty years. And yet, He would not be defined by the world, because He was the Word made flesh, Son of God. Remember He said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” There is something more than the world here.Our Christmas is different this year for obvious reasons. This pandemic is damned inconvenient! Despite your careful planning, you have to make serious, often heart-breaking sacrifices. But what is essential remains unaffected, the Mystery of the Word made flesh. And do we want to know just how Christmas changes things and why it is important? Well, there is a simple image we can use to help us understand. It is this: Stones become bread. The Old Testament, based on the Law of Moses, the Ten Commandments, written on tablets of stone, carried down from the mountain, preserved in the Ark of the Covenant. Stones are heavy things and will take your strength. If carrying stones is the way we do religion we are going to find ourselves getting weary, losing strength.But look what happens now, as Jesus gives us His New Commandment to love one another, and commands us to “Do this in memory of me”. The Bread of the Eucharist, Holy Communion, becomes His new way for us to do our religion. The bread becomes the Body of Christ; instead of taking our strength it gives us strength for body and soul. (What makes me smile is that it’s as though He took the idea from the devil himself. Do you remember the first temptation, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread”? Clever!) In the Tabernacle of the Jerusalem Temple they preserved stones. In the tabernacle now is the Bread of Life. Simple!We are creatures of habit. We tend to like what is familiar, what we are used to. Christmas can be little more than a nostalgia for what we have known. (The smell of cigars takes me back to childhood family Christmases. Dad always smoked cigars at Christmas!) If we are brave enough, perhaps even desperate enough, we can receive – as a gift – what Jesus wants to give us, an encounter with the living God. It is not gained as the fruit of our hard work or careful planning. These can always disappoint us as unforeseen and unwelcome factors spoil them. Instead, even with the smallest, most pathetic scrap of Faith, within us, the Word can be conceived. We may not be aware of it. We don’t know how it has happened. It is pure Grace, pure gift, utterly undeserved. Stones become bread: the Word becomes flesh. My plans fail so that God’s greater Plan may succeed.You can meet people who declare with great confidence and great sincerity, “I don’t believe in god”! It may even be said by children, and you can be stuck to know how to answer them. Perhaps there are two ways to proceed. Firstly, you might say, “Tell me about the god you don’t believe in”. Then listen. You may find you can say, “And I don’t believe in that god either!”. The second response you might give is to ask, “Do you believe in Jesus?” Then listen. His sole purpose is to enable us to know the one true God, who changed stones into bread. The sole purpose of the Church is to enable people to know, and come to know better, the one true God and in so doing come to know themselves. “Why did God make you?” “God made me to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in the next.”And there you have it! A reason for living, a purpose irrespective of status, wealth, health, age, qualifications or criminal record. You also have a direction for life to travel and an ultimate destination to look forward to, beyond the mess and mistakes of this world. I must not be too negative about this world. It is created by God and was created good. It holds a beauty. But it is a beauty that holds a sadness because it does not last.Let me conclude. I know Christmas for many of you has been spoilt because you are not able to be with loved ones, yes? (say yes!) Many of you will be remembering those who have died, and you miss them deeply. Some may have died recently. Others will have gone years ago. Often, our grief does not fade with the passing years, it can become heavier, we miss them more. I mentioned the smell of dad’s cigars taking me back to my childhood Christmases. Every Christmas now I recall seeing mum’s coffin in church surrounded by Christmas decorations. Strangely, it hasn’t spoilt my Christmas. Rather, it has made Christmas more special, helping me know more deeply what Christmas gives us; the Word become flesh and dwelt amongst us so that we might one day dwell with God. Grief is of this world, hope is of heaven. Stones into bread.May the peace, joy and encouragement that only the coming of Christ can bring be yours this Christmas whoever you are, wherever you are from, whatever has happened in your life and world up to now, and whatever is yet to come.

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick 

Bishop of Lancaster

Prepare for life after Christmas than on life at Christmas!

My dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ,

Welcome to the Bishop’s Blog!
Not long now. Just a few more sleeps . . . for those who can sleep . . . .  and before we know it we’ll be the other side of the festive season. I wonder if our emphasis should be more on preparing for life after Christmas than on life at Christmas. It’s all very well making a fuss for a ‘one-off’ occasion, but Jesus brings lasting joy. So, we have a job to do of extending the Grace of Christmas beyond the Feast of Christmas.The superficial things like decorations and trees and lights can come down. We need to look deeper for what should last. Two simple clues are given as we profess our Faith in Jesus Christ, Son of God, Son of Mary, the Divine and the human natures. Beyond the Feast we can extend the Grace by continuing to look at God in prayer and worship, and look at our fellow creatures with respect and active charity.At the heart of the Christmas message is St. John’s phrase, ‘The Word took flesh; He dwelt amongst us.’ The truth is that this happened not when Christ was born but when He was conceived, nine months earlier. That’s why the Church’s new year used to be the 25th March on the Solemnity of the Annunciation. Let us pray for our unborn babies. They are part of our society. They exist as human being, and can be counted amongst the most vulnerable. How tragic it is that society can be so concerned about pregnancy loss and yet can sanction the termination of tens of thousands of unborn children. Is there any other species on the planet that is as destructive of itself, and of its most defenseless members?Covid is only one threat to life in a world where many threats exist. As we do all we can to protect lives from one particular threat, the pandemic, may we be brought to see far greater threats that appear to have the blessing of society.

With my prayers and blessing for each of you,

 

 

 

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster 

Advent Pastoral Letter 2020

A PASTORAL LETTER FROM THE BISHOP OF LANCASTER

  For the Second Sunday of Advent 6th December 2020

Appointed to be read aloud at all weekend Public Masses in the Diocese of Lancaster on the second Sunday of Advent 2020.

My dear people,

A single desire lies in our hearts and is beautifully captured by the simple cry, ‘Come Lord Jesus!’ It is spoken with greater intensity in this short season of Advent, but it is a cry we utter in every season of the year and every season of our lives. Made in the image and likeness of God, we long to see the face of God our creator. In that moment we will see our true selves for the first time because we will look into the face of the living God.This Pastoral message, following the tradition set by my predecessors, carries a dual purpose. Firstly, to build the unity of the Diocese as it is shared across our parishes and homes. Secondly, it will give a focus for our lives, encouraging us to reflect above all on the second coming of our Saviour.Our lives seem currently to be dominated by at least three massive uncertainties; the effects of Covid-19, the effects of Brexit, and the effects of damaged ecology. As Christians, we can counterbalance these uncertainties with the certainty of Our Lord’s victory achieved by His love. This is more than clever words. He achieved it by acts. He achieved it by taking flesh, by His ministry, by His Passion and Glorious Resurrection. This is what our lives are dominated by, above and beyond all uncertainties. But our Faith can be weak, and our witness can fail, and we can become scared, and even those who lead us can cause us to question.St. John the Baptist is a key figure in the life of Our Lord. Even in the womb he responded to Christ’s presence. He prepared the way for the Lord, and baptised Him. He encouraged his own disciples to leave him and follow Christ. We hear the Baptist in today’s Gospel, ‘at the top of his game’, as it were.In lockdown and its subsequent tiers we look for ways of coping, remaining strong for others, doing what we can to lift those who have fallen. NHS staff, teachers, carers and many other professionals have done outstanding work. I commend Clergy, Religious and Lay Faithful for ensuring that people have access to the Blessed Sacrament for prayer in spite of the severe restrictions imposed. I thank those who have written to MPs expressing concern that churches have suffered too severe a lockdown. I commend those who look after families, especially the young, elderly and vulnerable.I think of St. John the Baptist later in his life in lockdown, having been arrested for his outspoken criticism of Herod. Even strong people have their limits, and St. John reached a point of doubt. He sent a message to Jesus asking, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or do we look for another?’ The answer he received did not change his circumstances, but it did give him new heart.Christmas can be a point of convergence for three aspects of our lives; past, present and future. From the past we draw memories and lessons, knowing we can’t go back. The future is shrouded in questions, a feast for the imagination. A variety of futures lie before us, depending on how we make choices, and how events beyond our control affect us. So, what of the present, the ‘here and now’?‘Christianity is not an ideal to be aimed for but a reality to be shared.’ What we have been given matters. What have we been given in our many forms of lockdown? A verse from Psalm 18 is worth remembering; ‘He brought me forth into freedom. He saved me because He loved me.’ We desire freedom, but some little thought leads us to realise that what matters most is that He loves us. Freedom without His love is no freedom; to know He loves us assures our most desired freedom.In previous Advents I have encouraged us all to have a crib at the centre of decorations in our homes, and perhaps even in our places of work. This year I encourage the same. This year I also encourage you to make every effort to attend and celebrate Mass, but this will be difficult for some. So I encourage you to get to Mass within the Octave (eight days) of Christmas.I also encourage you to keep Christmas going, even up to 2nd February, the beautiful Feast of Candlemas, when Christmastide concludes. Carry the light and hope of our ultimate freedom into the new year. Carry it joyfully through all the restrictions, trials and uncertainties of this life, knowing the utter certainty of victory through Christ’s love.

With my blessing on you all, especially on those who are experiencing particular hardships.

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster.