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

Holy Week 2021

Dear friends in Christ,

Welcome to the Bishop’s Blog!During the days of Lent we knew the direction of travel. We could count the days to go, just as parents or children might mark off the days before the holidays begin (‘What holidays?’ I hear you mutter.) So, here we are at the start of Holy Week, Passion (Palm) Sunday. The Liturgies will take pace in their adjusted circumstances at the Cathedral and will be live-streamed (check Cathedral website).This past week I’ve had quite a bit of ZOOMing. I took part in an ecumenical ‘retreat’ for leaders of denominations in the north of England. I was in a MISSIO Trustees meeting, an Ushaw Trustees meeting, an International Affairs African Forum meeting and worked on a message for a CAFOD Mass. The message was concerned with the desperate humanitarian crisis in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. Listening to first-hand accounts of the suffering and violence is deeply distressing. It also gives us food for thought when we ponder the ups and downs of life. When will their Lent end and Easter come?Talking with a neighbour about treating the wooden fence with preservative. Another neighbour bringing round some eggs from her brother’s hens. Hearing tragic news about a family and a school community in one part of the Diocese. Wondering if I should mow the lawns yet (second cut). Meeting to discuss schools. Starting Mark Carney’s book on ‘Value(s)’. Making sure the Lord has His fair share of time. Bits and pieces . . . . and Holy Week. Preparing for a brief interview with Joe Wilson on BBC Radio Lancashire. Remembering things I said I’d do and haven’t yet done. Bits and pieces . . . .  and, thank God, Holy Week. I need it more than ever. We need it more than ever.Your own week will be a mix of all sorts, good and not so good, things you have to do and other things you look forward to. People you long to see and people you’d rather avoid! (It’s always a grounding thought to remember there are those hoping to avoid me!)Holy Week is our way out, our way forward, given to us by our Lord. He has done it for us. He hasn’t changed, He hasn’t lessened because of our global problems or our particular problems. He sees the way for us, and is the way for us.With my thoughts and prayers and blessing, especially for those of you who are struggling

+Paul 

Paul Swarbrick 

Bishop of Lancaster 

The strange ways of God heals our brokenness

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Welcome to the Bishop’s Blog!

The month of March, and the season of Lent, are racing by towards their end. If you think about it, March ‘gets us out of winter’ and delivers us to the threshold of Spring (at least for us here in the northern hemisphere). Lent delivers us to the threshold of Easter, the threshold of Our Lord’s empty tomb. The hardships we go looking for through the discipline of Lent have this purpose.During the past week we celebrated a Requiem Mass for our late Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue. It was held in the Cathedral on the evening of St.Patrick’s Day. I presided at the simple Mass, under the familiar Covid regulations, together with the majority of the Cathedral Chapter, the Cathedral clergy and Father Billing. Father Billing preached a moving and uplifting homily, inspiring hope as he recalled the personality and leadership of Bishop Patrick. That homily must have taken a considerable amount of thought, effort and time to compose. To deliver it may well have made even greater demands, but demands which I hope were richly rewarded.Elsewhere in the Diocese, on a different day, a Requiem was celebrated for another faithful servant of Christ, Anthony Finnerty. I was not able to be present, but know that Anthony had touched many lives throughout his years, drawing them closer to Christ.They were very different characters, united in one cause. I have every confidence that their work is bearing rich fruit in these testing times in the lives of those who knew them. Whenever we gather to mark the passing of someone who has been important to us, we can remember that we are still grieving for so many others whose deaths occurred perhaps long ago. We’ve not yet finished missing them. That’s not a bad think to remember. We shouldn’t try to ‘move on’ too quickly. March and Lent and our personal griefs take time to do their work, delivering us to the threshold of Spring, the threshold of the empty tomb, and the threshold of eternal life. Perhaps I’m lacking something, but I rarely find grief depressing or a ‘bad’ experience.Lucky me! I realise that is not the case for everyone, and that our griefs can differ. You might even find yourself doing surprisingly well, but then, all of a sudden, it hits you, out of the blue. The gap left in your life when a loved one dies, the silence because their voice is no longer heard, the sense of having been left behind, can leave us crippled, less than we were. Not being able to hold or to be held by someone is a strange experience of grief in this pandemic, a grief even for the loss of the living. Very strange . . . . But hopefully that too can work to deliver us to a better place and a happier time. The Lord knows all about it.One simple thought has often helped me; to reflect on how those I miss coped with their own losses. It would seem that a big part of what made them such special people for us was the way they had learned to let grief do its work. When I lost my father, I remembered back to the time in my childhood when he lost his dad. That has become a source of comfort and strength for me. May something similar be so for you in your own trouble.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil for you are with me” Psalms 23:4

As ever in Christ our Lord,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

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

A few thoughts …

My dear friends in  Jesus Christ,

Welcome to the Bishop’s Blog!

It is hard to believe that just one week ago we learnt of the death, in Nazareth House, Cork, of Bishop emeritus Padraig O’Donoghue. Ireland is noted for arranging funerals very soon after death. It contrasts remarkably with how things are here in England, where a wait of two weeks is not uncommon. In fact, Mgr Jimmy Hook’s funeral took place on 22nd Jan, almost four weeks after his death.We have a huge debt of gratitude to Bishop Padraig for all he did whilst here. Our Diocesan Voice newspaper will dedicate much space to his memory in its next issue. In our current circumstances it is difficult to arrange a fitting Diocesan Requiem for him. I did celebrate midday Mass at the Cathedral on the day of his burial, but I believe we should gather at some point to celebrate Mass for him with fitting dignity and solemnity, and in keeping with his personality, with a joyful spirit.I am aware of elements in society that are ‘anti-vaccine’. I wish to repeat what has already been made public by the Vatican and by our local Episcopal Conference, that the Church gives every encouragement to you to have the covid vaccine. Statements can be found on the Vatican website and the website of the Bishops’ Conference. Some may have praiseworthy concerns about the origins of various vaccines. Reassurance will be found in the statements designed to allay such anxieties. We are not abandoning our campaign to defend unborn lives.On Tuesday we celebrate the beautiful Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, otherwise known as Candlemas. Cribs may then be put away, and cards and whatever other Christmas decorations still festoon our homes. I’m well aware that for most of you this would have already happened long ago! This year I have kept them out up to The Presentation because we need encouragement and evidence of faith.It also struck me that so many households go mad on putting up their Christmas lights long before Advent, but pack them away so quickly afterwards. Christ is the gift we need to hang on to for as long as possible, hopefully for ever! So, as we look to next year, let’s make an effort to balance the early-lighters by keeping Christmas going until the Presentation.

 

With my Blessing,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

Blog for week of Christian unity!

Dear brothers and sisters, 

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!I have taken a decision to not be present at an ecumenical Vespers on Sunday. It was a kind and welcome invitation, and initially I had agreed to be there. I have full confidence in the host providing a strictly compliant environment and a liturgy that will adhere to necessary protocol. So why withdraw? Idleness? Snooker? (There’s a big snooker tournament on tv that evening!) It will go ahead (Vespers) and witness to our pro-active desire to work for a healing of divisions between the churches. The Catholic Church will be present through local representation. And I will be on-board at a ZOOM event later in the week involving my ‘opposite numbers’. Ecumenism isn’t something we have permission to withdraw from.Mid week we heard of the untimely deaths of Archbishop Tartaglia of Glasgow, and retired Scottish Bishop, Vincent Logan and Bishop Moses Haamungole of Monze Diocese, Zambia. Archbishop Tartaglia and Bishop Moses had both tested positive for Covid around the new year.Bishop Moses’ death struck me particularly hard. He was only 53 years of age. He generously came for my episcopal ordination in 2018, and was a wonderful host when I visited Zambia in 2019. News of his death brought back memories of another Bishop of Monze, Paul Lungu S.J. who was tragically killed in a road accident in 1998. He, too, had been in his early fifties. Heavy losses for those they leave behind, taken too early, with so much still to do. My prayers are with them all.Pope Francis has dedicated this as a year of special devotion and prayer to St.Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church. Many of you already have a strong devotion to him. He deserves more attention from all of us. He is called on in prayer to help us prepare for a ‘happy death’. A key to this is learning how to grieve for those we have lost.The Holy Family would have been no strangers to grieving, it was part of their culture, as it is part of every culture and society. Sadness, loss, grief are things we must all learn to live with. St. Joseph will help us to grieve with hope. He will explain how he grieved and did not let it rob him of his Faith in a loving God, nor would it rob him of joy. There’s something to work on for the year ahead.

 

With my blessing,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster 

Be at peace with 2020

My dear friends in Christ,

Welcome  to the Bishop’s Blog!We are hardly off to a roaring start! In some ways it seems like ‘so near and yet so far . . .’. Schools are of particular concern. What will be the lasting effect on our young ones? Whilst we struggle to manage the pandemic itself one aspect that we do have more control of is how we individually respond to our circumstances. I’ve heard of the media inviting people to ‘write a letter’ to 2021, expressing their hopes. What may also be a worthwhile exercise is to work at some sort of reconciliation with the past year, 2020. It will go down in global history as a BAD year, obviously, but it risks doing us damage twice, once as we passed through it, and a second time as we struggle with its memory. That could be with us for the rest of our lives.So, it robbed us of our plans, our loved ones, those who died and those we could not visit or hug. It robbed us of our health, our education and our businesses. It robbed us of our freedom, our peace of mind, our jobs. Tragically, it robbed us of Holy Mass, worship, and of the freedom to live our Sacramental Faith. We could probably say much more as we look back on a year we never saw coming, an experience we never want again, and something that hasn’t finished with us yet.

Even though all this is true, I sense a need for us to try and be at peace with 2020, even with the harm done, otherwise that year becomes like a Corona-virus itself, infecting and spreading its poison into the rest of our days.

One thing it did not rob us of is our belief that Our Lord has been with us every step of the way, every moment of every day. We have been given opportunity to know what is most important. We have seen what we had previously taken so much for granted. We have come to know that the best things in life can never be taken as convenient.At this start of a new year let us try to be at peace with 2020 despite the harm it has done. Let us lay it to rest, with the bad and the good that we found in it.

With my blessing on you all as we progress into 2021, especially those of you who feel most fragile.

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick 

Bishop of Lancaster