MY PASTORAL LETTER FOR GOOD SHEPHERD (VOCATIONS) SUNDAY, 25 April 2021

A PASTORAL LETTER

FROM THE BISHOP OF LANCASTER

 for Good Shepherd Sunday, 25 April 2021


Appointed to be read at all public masses in all churches and chapels in the Diocese of Lancaster on the weekend of24/25 April 2021 (or shared in whatever way is possible).

My dear people,
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. Each year on this Fourth Sunday of Eastertide the Church prays for Vocations to the Priesthood and Religious Life. Our heavenly Father knows well what is needed even before we pray, but Christ tells us we must pray always. We are very familiar with prayer of asking, prayer of intercession, the prayer that is a cry for help. We learn it easily whenever we have a problem or a fear or sickness, or whenever there is conflict. Other forms of prayer can take more effort. A very important one is listening. Asking for vocations is important, but it must lead us to listen for vocations because a vocation is a response to the voice of the Good Shepherd’s call. Creating an outer-silence helps us to listen with the heart, and can help others to hear too. Our silence will help them to recognise the Lord’s reassuring voice. A noisy church can prevent someone hearing the call of the Good Shepherd.The pandemic brought a profound change to our lives, much of that change has been unwelcome. However, one observation made by many has been how much they noticed the world growing quieter. As traffic and activity reduced, we have been able to notice the quiet of the natural world around us, enabling us to hear more birdsong for example.We are people of Faith. Appreciation of creation is good but is not an end in itself. A work of art, a beautiful building, or a moving piece of music draws us towards the artist, the architect and inspired composer of whatever has captured our attention and wonder. Such beauty and awe become places of meeting with the Lord of Creation, the
person of Jesus Christ.Over the years, you have had many fine homilies and Pastoral Letters on vocations. Please God, many more are still to come. Sadly, the only point we often take from them is how long they are! Each of us needs to grow and try to become more attentive to the voice of the Good Shepherd. This will not only help us individually; it will help others to become attentive too, and allow them to know the voice of Jesus. Perhaps the Samaritan woman our Lord once met by a well had come to draw water at a time when no one else was about partly because that was when the water was at its purest, when the silt had had time to settle after everyone else had finished stirring it up with their buckets. She wanted the best water for her family and for herself. Prayerful silence in our churches can be like that. We have the rest of the week for chatting.Our Lord criticises the hired men. Their loyalty was not to the sheep but to their own needs and their own agenda. When they had got what they wanted they went. Good shepherds, good priests and religious, good parents, good teachers are prepared to stay with the sheep, even during the hardest times and most disturbing circumstances. They are prepared to stay even when there is suffering. We must be like that if we are  to be like the Good Shepherd.  Our prayer for vocations must focus on our love for the gift that is the Most Holy Eucharist. The pandemic has threatened our appreciation of this gift. Online Masses can help us, but can never replace being physically present at Mass in our parishes.I know we have many who are unable to come to Mass because of sickness and frailty. But I strongly encourage you who can travel to make every effort to get back to Mass as restrictions ease. Make our churches places of strong silent prayer where people can sense the presence of our Lord and hear His voice. Be certain that some of those who will come are being called to the priesthood and the religious life. This matters because it is their way to heaven. Helping them to hear the Lord’s call and to answer can be your way to heaven. Pray for Deacon Stuart Chapple, to be ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese on June 26th, and for Philip Wrigley to be ordained Deacon at Oscott on the 6th June. Pray for Simon Marley in his first year at the Beda College, Rome, and for James Knight in his propaedeutic year at Valladolid, SpainFinally, I wish to express my gratitude to those priests and religious who have come from overseas to serve in our Diocese. It can be a great sacrifice to serve far from home, from loved ones and one’s own culture, with years between visits home. It is a sacrifice for your Bishops, your communities and your families too. This becomes even more of a sacrifice during times of crisis. You are truly listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd. We are grateful for your presence and for your generosity, and ask the Lord to pour His blessings upon you.With my blessing upon all who hear and read this Pastoral Letter,
+Paul

 

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

Low Sunday 2021

My dear friends in Jesus Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

Glorious late Spring sunsets. The light lingers longer. A grieving Monarch who has so much to be grateful for, but must feel it a mixed blessing once the love of your life, your rock is no longer within reach. Her faith will keep her gaze fixed on the life to come, promised by a Saviour who understands the human heart from the inside.And this Sunday we listen to the story of dear doubting Thomas who wasn’t there at first, but then came back. Where had he been? How was he coping? How was he not coping? Even the strong have their breaking point, the point at which they say, ‘Enough  . . . . ‘. Thomas had reached that point, and gone beyond it. And Jesus came back for him because He’d not forgotten why He’d chosen him, why He wanted him to be counted among the Twelve. Thomas mattered, so Jesus came back for him, and picked him out for some special words and some special attention, and what a difference it has made for us all! I can’t imagine St.John’s Gospel without this story.An individual’s struggling faith can make them something of a liability for the Church, but Jesus turns it round, and the one struggling becomes an asset. There’s a big lesson for us all. Jesus showed dear Thomas His wounds. That’s something important right away. Jesus rose from the dead not as a pristine figure, as if the Passion had not happened. He carried the wounds. It would have been so easy for Him to say, ‘Look at these and remember how much you hurt me’. That would have served to make the disciples ashamed, driving home the guilt. Instead, He showed His wounds and seemed to say to Thomas, ‘Look at these wounds, and know how much I love you’.Wounds are a fact in our lives. If we live, we will be wounded; if we love we will be wounded more. But a miracle occurs, and they are changed from evidence of violence and betrayal into something perhaps even beautiful. At the Easter Vigil, as the great candle is prepared and marked before being lit, the following words are used, ‘By His Holy and Glorious Wounds, may Christ the Lord guard us, and protect us. Amen’. Thank-you Thomas, for your honesty in admitting your doubt, and for accepting this miracle of love.My blessing goes out to each of you struggling with the wounds of doubt and with all the other wounds inflicted on those who try to live and love. May you too share the miracle Christ worked for Thomas.

+Paul Swarbrick.

Bishop of Lancaster.

Good Friday 2021

My dear  brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus,

Welcome to the Bishop’s Blog!It simply refuses to go away, even in a secular culture. If it was just an idea, an ideology, it could be dismissed as something that has served its purpose for a time. It might have made its contribution to the evolution of thought, to society’s shifting values and perspectives on life, and then inevitably it would have given way to something more acceptable, more in keeping with contemporary sensibilities. But it hasn’t, and it won’t.It is rooted in history more deeply than an ideology. It is something that happened. It involved people not by the exercise of intellectual thought but through the inseparable association with what happened to a known individual.Its greatest failing might be found in the degree to which it is caught up in the lives of its so -called adherents. It becomes tarnished by so many lives gone astray, promises broken, power abused. But then there are lives lived with outstanding selflessness, personal tragedies unexpectedly turned round, real light from real darkness bringing real healing. Some spend their lives trying to get away from it, asking for their names and details to be removed from parish registers, or keeping secret their faith-roots. Others turn to it, discover it as their ultimate lifeline and never look back. These extremes could cancel each other out, leaving a jury undecided.Each year we go back to the source, the life of one person, and the moment that life was completed rather than ended. We are at a particular historic moment on a specific day in a precise location with an identified individual; the afternoon of the first Good Friday, close by the walls of ancient Jerusalem, where Jesus of Nazareth hangs on a Roman cross. There is a small group of witnesses. They note details such as His few short words, His final breath, the reaction of one of the guards, what is done with the body.Normally, when someone dies, there is a period of grief. Those who knew him or her struggle to various degrees to come to terms with their loss. They try to ‘get over it’. Gradually the memory and even the legend fades as facts become more remote. In this case there appears to be something else at work. We live this event not as something remote but as something immediate, relevant to life now. What makes this difference? The difference is ‘hearted’ in who we believe this person to be, Son of God and son of Mary.My thoughts and prayers go out to the whole Diocese in these days of the Sacred Triduum. I am especially mindful of those of you who are experiencing difficulties that seem too much for you to bear. I also thank God for those who are an inspiration and strength and comfort for others.

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster