Abraham: A Man of Faith

My dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ,

Welcome to the Bishop’s Blog!
The story of Abraham’s sacrifice sends shudders down my spine. Some awful things are done in the name of religion. Even though the child is spared, it can disturb us that such an act as child sacrifice could even be used as a test of Faith. Of course, what saves the day is Abraham being called to found a Faith that rejects child-sacrifice. I cannot close this paragraph without mentioning our own society which tragically continues to see hundreds of thousands of infants killed before birth. It is a tragedy that they are killed. It is an equal tragedy that it remains such a hidden part of society’s life, especially when we are told to ‘save lives’.The poor ram caught in the bush attracts my sympathies next. ‘The Lord will provide’ says Abraham, and so it is. Something has to be killed it seems, to please the deity. Was there a ‘good shepherd’ out and about somewhere, scouring the countryside for his lost tup? We need not be concerned. The core of the story is Abraham’s test of Faith, and the Lord’s generous providence.The image of the ram caught in the bush appealed to me when I was trying to come up with imagery for my episcopal coat-of-arms. Perhaps it’s worth me sharing some of my thoughts with you. Something in me can identify with that poor animal, stuck in the bush, unable to escape, awaiting its fate. Its ultimate release will serve to benefit Abraham rather than achieve its own personal aspirations (assuming rams have personal aspirations!). In like manner, we can be held fast by goodness knows what, awaiting rescue goodness knows when. Even when it happens it can benefit others rather than ourselves. But the Lord will provide. The outcome is His. My plans must give way to His, and I’m content to go with that because I believe He has my best interests at heart.Ultimately it was the Son of God who was sacrificed on a mountain, Calvary. At times when we are tempted to complain about what Faith in God asks us to sacrifice we need only call to mind that all we have comes from Him, and that He has given us all He has in His Son. It’s not easy though.With my blessing, especially for those who are experiencing particular doubts and difficulties.

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster 

A PASTORAL LETTER FROM THE BISHOP OF LANCASTER for the First Sunday of Lent 21 February 2021

Dear Friends,

For my blog this week please read my  Pastoral Letter (below).

Thank you, as always, for your great support and prayers,

As ever in Christ,

+Paul 

Bishop of Lancaster

     A PASTORAL LETTER
   FROM THE BISHOP OF LANCASTER
       for the First Sunday of Lent 21 February 2021


APPOINTED TO BE READ AT ALL PUBLIC MASSES IN ALL CHURCHES AND CHAPELS IN THE DIOCESE OF LANCASTER ON THE WEEKEND OF 20/21 FEBRUARY 2021 (or shared in whatever way is possible, bearing in mind how few will be at Mass to hear it).

 


My dear people,
I send you my greetings as we begin the Holy Season of Lent, aware that we remain in some ways a scattered flock, still doing battle with the pandemic. Reflecting on Christ’s forty days in the wilderness, it could be said we are engaged in battle with the pan-demonic. It is a time of temptation. I was sorely tempted to re-issue last year’s Lenten Pastoral, partly to see how many notice, partly out of idleness and partly because I thought it was rather good . . . and there’s another temptation; pride!St Mark’s account of our Blessed Lord’s time in the wilderness is astoundingly brief. Perhaps a Lenten Pastoral should follow suit, stating the stark essentials we must follow to make Lent fruitful. According to tradition, this Letter will be read in all churches and chapels of the Diocese at every public Mass on the First Sunday of Lent. However, many parishes are not holding public worship, and those that are have greatly reduced congregations. Added to that, our Liturgies must be short, reducing  the time we are socially gathered. Is the pandemic a cure for lengthy sermons? If so, may we live to see if the cure lasts.So, our religious practice is reduced to stark essentials, just as our Lord found Himself without the freedom and comforts one grows used to when ordinary circumstances prevail. Where the Master is, there the willing disciple must be found too. It is a time of intense on-going formation for both the individual and for the Church. Three life-lines are given us; prayer, fasting and alms-giving. Prayer. Christ promised to remain with us, and here we find Him an example of prayer. More than that, we are taken into His prayer through His conversation with  the Father, His obedience to the Father’s will and His union with the Father. This is more than asking God for favours or help with the things we can’t manage. It is a desire for the Life of heaven.It is also an experience here on earth of the Life of heaven. Fasting. Christ accepted less of this world’s pleasures and ease even though on other occasions He would accept them and enjoy them. But here He deliberately puts them aside, knowing that they do not last. He acknowledges another order of delights, the delights that will last. Fasting is a discipline and an act of trust in the promise of a loving God. He knows our needs before we ask.Almsgiving. Christ shows us that the fundamental motive for almsgiving is compassion for others. Later He instructed His disciples to ‘Go out to the whole world’. Material-giving remains an essential expression of obeying that command, showing solidarity with our neighbour. It saves us from living a selfish life. Sharing our time also gains us ‘credit’. In this unfair world some are privileged and some are obviously disadvantaged. In these times more will be asked of some than of others. Needy causes are easy to find, overwhelmingly and exhaustingly easy. We do well to recall who it is telling us to persevere in charity even to the point of our own exhaustion and our own diminishing. He is the guarantee that we will not go short. His love will grow in us. ‘Give, and gifts will be given to you.’And what of Mary’s place in her Son’s Lent? Did He speak with her before He left for the wilderness? Did she know where He was, what He was facing? Did He recall the blessing of a mother’s worry? May Our Lady be with us in our prayer, fasting and almsgiving this Lent.Much more could be said, but, following the example of St. Mark, this will do for now. May this Lenten message open doors of hope for you, bringing in the clean air of the wilderness, and with it, a reassuring experience of Christ’s closeness. He has overcome all evil.

With my prayers for each of you, and my blessing,
+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

Cumbria Coal 2021

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Welcome to the Bishop’s Blog!

The proposal to open a new coal mine in Whitehaven, Cumbria, has understandably sparked a massive national out-cry and met with serious opposition. The proposal flies in the face of the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For a society and a government set on achieving zero net emissions by 2050 the opening of this new mine makes the goal harder to reach. Even if it were possible to offset emissions through adopting cleaner energy sources and uses, it is a move in the wrong direction. It contradicts a policy of ‘going green’. It’s a ‘no-brainer;’; it shouldn’t go ahead.I know West Cumbria a little, and love it a lot. My first parish as a newly ordained priest was . I was there for just one year and found it an area of severe contrasts. On a clear day you could look south towards the glorious sandstone cliffs of St.Bees Head. To the west is the Irish Sea, with the Isle of Man less than 30 miles away, and the Scottish Lowlands just across the Solway Firth. To the east rise the ridges and peaks of Cumbria’s Mountains, the finest in the whole District.Much closer, the Haig Colliery, Kells, was still active at that time. Immediately adjacent to the parish church, house and primary school was Marchon chemical works run by Albright and Wilson. Woodhouse estate was daily contaminated by toxic emissions falling from the works chimneys. I saw the damage done to property, peeling paintwork and contaminated gardens. Parishioners had to be mindful of not hanging out washing if the wind was blowing in off the sea, which it was on most days. The same wind carried clouds of bubbles and suds frothed up from factory waste discharged into the sea. When the works and mine eventually closed jobs were lost, but health and environment gained.In 2010 I had the good fortune to be sent to Workington, calling it home for the next eight years, some of the happiest of my life. West Cumbria was built on heavy industry, nearly all gone now. Coal and iron ore mining, ship-building and steel-making forged the identity and closeness of the community. They are a people justifiably proud of their history, with strong family ties, their own language, rich sporting and social traditions including unique events such as the Egremont Crab Fair and Workington’s ‘Uppies and Downies’. I found it a much cleaner environment, symbolised perhaps by the off-shore wind-farms filling the Firth. South of the small harbour at Workington is a modest, grassy hill. New-comers call it Shore Hill; locals remember its origins and still call it ‘the Slag Bank’.

 

Sellafield and the controversial nuclear industry is the only remaining life-line for West Cumbria’s economy. If that goes there’ll be nothing to sustain people’s livelihoods. Even with Sellafield, social depravation is horrendous. Job opportunities for the young are few. Hospitals and schools largely fail to attract the specialists and leaders they desperately need. Even tourism struggles: many people who know the Lakes rarely if ever get round to the west.The jobs and investment that a new mine would bring could only fire local enthusiasm, bringing hope and purpose to young and old alike. Knowing the area and the people, I can understand why there is such strong opinion in favour of the massive benefits on offer. It’s no surprise so many believe the mine is justified. I can understand their outrage when faced with opposition voiced by protesters mostly from outside the area. They don’t realise what it means for West Cumbrians.Saving the planet, making the right decision, will have hard consequences for the lives of others. It will be hard to look them in the eye, and hard to explain why it is for the best. Some will suffer more than others. If you deny someone what was giving them hope it’s only fair to find them something that will give them greater hope. The decision may be a ‘no-brainer’ at one level, but it’s a hard call on another.

As ever in Christ our Lord,

+Paul 

Paul Swarbrick http://www.lancasterdiocese.org.uk/

Bishop of Lancaster