Farewell Mass, concluding the Virtual Lourdes Pilgrimage 2020

My dear brothers and sisters,

Welcome back to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

I would like to post my homily at the Virtual Lourdes Pilgrimage concluding mass.

Well, we’ve had the Opening Mass, Father Peter Sayer celebrated the Grotto Mass from St.Thomas More, Lancaster. Father Philip Conner celebrated the Mass for the Sick from St.Joseph’s, Lancaster, and that evening Father John Paul Evans led a Holy Hour from the Cathedral. Father John Moriarty celebrated a Mass for Vocations from Castlerigg.Various other events may have been arranged through a link to Lourdes itself, Rosary, Stations of the Cross, Torchlight Procession. My thanks go out to all the individuals who helped make it happen, and to all who have managed to be with us for at least some part of the Pilgrimage. Questions remain. Have you had your money’s worth? Have your prayers been answered? Do you sense the benefit from this Virtual Pilgrimage, or will you be looking for a refund? How do we measure its value? What’s next now that it’s almost over? Do we put it all away, move on, and hope things are better next year? What is its legacy?“Tell them, ‘I am the Immaculate Conception’.”
This is the theme of Lourdes Pilgrimages for this year. As always, the theme is given to us for reflection not only during the days and nights of the Pilgrimage. It is a lasting gift to each of us from Our Blessed Lady. How can we value this particular gift, given to us in this particular year, 2020, the year of the dreaded pandemic? How is it relevant? How will it help us? How will it help you?

Saint Bernadette wanted to know the name of the Vision so that she could tell the authorities who it was she saw in the grotto at Massabielle. (‘Nutters’ are not unknown in the Church, and the local Parish Priest was justified in his initial scepticism) She had to ask Our Lady four times who she was. Finally, she was given an answer, not a name, but a mystery; ‘I am the Immaculate Conception’. This was more important than the name. Yes, names are important, but this tells us more about Mary than even knowing her name. Of all the things she could have answered she chose this, probably knowing that Bernadette would not have heard it before, and would not have been able to explain what it meant.Let’s take a moment to remember just what it does mean, and why it is so important for us. In 1854, Pope Pius IX proclaimed a new Dogma for the Church.
“The Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first instant of her conception, by a singular Grace and Privilege of Almighty God, in view of the merits of Christ Jesus, Saviour of mankind, preserved free from all stain of original sin.”
You won’t find the words ‘Immaculate Conception’ in the Scriptures, but you will find its Mystery. This title takes us back to the very beginning of her life, the moment she was conceived. And it takes us even further back than that, to the time when God created heaven and earth, and invites us to understand that creation has a purpose, as does every life conceived – to give glory to God. “Before the world was made, He chose us, in Christ, to be holy and spotless, and to live through love in His presence”
When I was a parish priest, a popular Gospel chosen for funerals was from St. John chapter 14. It is where Jesus tells us, “I am going to prepare a place for you, so that where I am, you may be too.” That brings people a lot of comforts when they think of heaven being got ready for Pat Connelly, or Canon Frank Cookson, or for Father Gaskin’s brother-in-law, Brian, or your own mother, or spouse or whoever it might be who’s died. It tells us something important about the God we believe in. He does ‘personal’! He knows each of us.

He has a desire and He plans. Every now and then it happens that someone makes a mess of your plans, often by accident, but sometimes on purpose. And even worse, sometimes we mess up the plans -and the lives – of others. At best it’s unfortunate; at worst, it’s devastating, and life never recovers. The damage is too bad. We just have to learn to live with it. But it can be like learning to live with only half a life.When things all began to go wrong in the Garden of Eden, so soon after the start, God never lost sight of His original desire and purpose. It’s a bit like what happened in the Second World War when there was the awful failure of Dunkirk. As that was happening, certain people’s minds were already beginning to think, ever so simply, of a return to Europe, a re-invasion. It eventually happened years later with the Normandy Landings. Similarly, faced with the catastrophe of Paradise lost and the broken relationship, the broken love of Eden, the Father was more intent than ever in finding us a way back, even if His children thought it impossible.The Immaculate Conception of Our Blessed Lady is the beginning of His Victory over all sin. The tide had turned. The answer Our Blessed Lady gave to Saint Bernadette – and to us all – is that we are not just passive spectators or anaethetised (sp) patients awaiting the operation; we can co-operate in making it happen. Lourdes carries the truth of this. Pilgrims become co-workers with Christ.Each of the events of this past week have shown us how God touches our lives with His healing Grace. Without doubt, we know about the problems we live in, and even the problems we cause ourselves and others. We know of the problems that are our own, the problems of our families, health, relationships, and the rest. We know of the problems affecting the poorest, migrants, refugees, and the rest. We know of the problems in politics and in nature. They overwhelm us. And as we grow older and as our faculties begin to fail, hope can begin to fail too. But each event of the Pilgrimage has shown us there is reason for hope, not found first in us but in God’s love. Our Virtual Lourdes Pilgrimage has been a journey deeper into that love. No wonder Our Lady of Lourdes smiled as Saint Bernadette gazed at her!A pilgrimage doesn’t make the problems go away. One pilgrim once came back after a wonderfully up-lifting week only to find that the dog had died. All was undone in an instant! So, what have we brought back? What have we been given? The dawn of a new day. Not a new day full of dread or drudgery, but beginning with a quiet, kindly light, the light of Salvation. Christ is Risen. Sin is forgiven. A day of healing. Have your prayers been answered? Yes, because they have been heard. Have your prayers been answered? Yes, because the Father has a kind purpose for you. Have your prayers been answered? Yes, because your sufferings and troubles have been given a place alongside the work of our Blessed Saviour.Confidence in our Faith and religion are found first in the faithful love of God, made real in Mary’s yes to the Father’s request that she might be His Son’s way into not just our world, but our hearts. As our Pilgrimage comes to an end let us hold in prayer for the days to come those whose needs are greatest, those whose despair is deepest. May the Lord continue to bless each of you, and guide your way into His new day that dawned in the Immaculate Conception.

As ever in Christ,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster.

Lancaster Diocesan Lourdes Virtual Pilgrimage July 2020!

My dear friends in Jesus Christ,

Welcome back to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!‘Deliver us, O Lord, from our bondage, as streams in dry land.’
My dear companion pilgrims, let us begin our Virtual Lourdes Pilgrimage with this powerful prayer taken from today’s psalm. It is the inspired Word of God. It has the ability to find us where we are and to give us hope of a better life. That hope lies at the heart of pilgrimage, hope that we can move from the places and conditions in which we presently find ourselves, not just to a better place, but to the best.Lockdown is a word we are used to hearing. It is a condition in which we find ourselves due to the current pandemic. We can use this word to help us begin this pilgrimage. Lockdown is a condition we are prepared to accept for a purpose. We accept it as a temporary necessity, imposed on us so that we may reach, in time, a better state of life for ourselves and for society. Lockdown is not a state we want to remain in for ever. We want it to pass. We long to be unlocked, unbound.We know that Our Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God and son of Mary, went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. As He grew older, even whilst still a child, He found in His heart a strong desire to make one particular journey above all others. What was that journey? What was that supreme desire? The Gospels are very clear that His lasting desire was to return to the Father.The Gospels are also clear that it is a journey He does not wish to make alone. Again and again, in His words and His attitude to others, He invites each of us to ‘follow’. He comes to us so that we can go with Him. Our Catholic tradition of recognising the Real Presence of Jesus is not designed to keep us in the same place, settling down and staying at home. It is so that we can ‘follow’ Him on His way. Pack your bags, choose what is needed, leave what isn’t needed. He wants access to your hearts in order to ignite your hope, fire your imagination and enable you to set out on the way to the Father with Him.We start this journey by listening to Christ speaking in our hearts and speaking to our hearts, and we learn that the journey will have an end not in Lourdes, or Fatima, Rome or Jerusalem, but in heaven. As Saint Paul tells us:
For us, our homeland is in heaven.
And again,
We know that when the tent we live in on earth is folded up, there is a home built by God for us, an everlasting home, not made by human hands, in heaven.We are called to live joyfully in this passing world as we make our journey, because of where we are going, and because of who we are with. A secular culture can rob us of what Faith has given us. It locks us down into believing that this world is all there is. We are told that lockdown is necessary in order for us to protect life and save lives. Secular culture would have us believe that this world, this life is all there is; there is nothing to follow. As citizens of the world we are content to comply with the restrictions for the sake of caring for our neighbours. But as people of Faith we know of another life to be lived, the Life of Grace, given to us by the Creator, lost through sin, but restored to us by the loving Sacrifice our Saviour, and shared with us above all in the Mass.We are not making a secular pilgrimage, that would only get us as far as Lourdes. We are making a pilgrimage of Grace, with an eternal destination, beyond the reach of all harm. Mary made this pilgrimage and even now returns to look for her children, to see that they are part of the company, helping to rescue those who have fallen by the wayside. St.Bernadette also made this Pilgrimage.She shows us that we are all capable of the journey because we are led by Christ. He is not the ‘tour-guide’. He is the Good Shepherd who never leaves His flock untended. He is not indifferent to the struggles of the poor. He does not give up on those hurt by the world. He does not give up on those tempted to give up before they even set out. He will not leave the weak and tired. He is always coming back to us, tending our wounds, calming our fears, renewing our hopes of reaching that ultimate destination, the heart of the Father. I am deeply grateful to those who suggested we make this virtual pilgrimage this year, when we are physically unable to leave our homes. Although I cannot see you, I am confident that we form one company in Faith and Love, in Joy and generosity of spirit. We each carry our own sufferings and problems as well as those of others. (How often I hear one pilgrim say to another, ‘May I carry your bag?’) Lockdown has added to our troubles, affecting some more than others. Over these coming days, we will notice one another and reach out to one another, just as Jesus notices and reaches out to us. For some it may be your first experience of such a pilgrimage. I am conscious that many will not have the technology or the skill to take part online. Even so, you will be part of the pilgrimage because you want to break free of Lockdown, and because you are people of Faith. So, Jesus leads us on our pilgrimage. We recall His words to the mourners as He stood outside the tomb of His friend Lazarus, ‘unbind him. Let him go free.’ Through our prayers – especially the Mysteries of the Rosary – and through our acts of charity let us obey His command to unbind one another, so that we can each go free, free to follow Him to the Father.Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.
Saint Bernadette, pray for us,
Saint James, pray for us.

I extend to each of you and to each person for whom you pray my blessing.

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

 

Homily at the Requiem Mass for Canon Frank Cookson -RIP

Dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ,

Welcome back to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

I would like to share with you the homily given by  Canon Alf Hayes at Canon Cookson’s Funeral!I was pleasantly surprised when Peter Draper said Frank had asked in his will for me to preach his panegyric. But then he added: it said “As all my old golfing buddies are dead, ask Alf Hayes to do it”. So, here I am, the Sub coming off the bench, but very happy to do so, to pay tribute to a good friend.I first met Frank at the Willows when, as a kid, we lived at RAF Weeton. My sister Vera, who was 13 was in love with him. He was a big handsome fella, and I dare say set a few hearts a flutter. Dave Elder told me that people used to say of Frank ‘What a waste’ and when Frank was told this he would laugh it off, point to his waist and say, ‘That’s not waste, that’s all good stuff!’ A few years later I knew him at Underley where, as Bursar, his crowning achievement was, without doubt, overseeing the build of the new chapel, which won a prestigious award for architecture.Of course, he had a life before I knew him, and I’m very grateful to Brenda Murphy for the following biographical details.
In his early teens he applied to the Diocese to try his vocation to the priesthood, but at his medical was found to have a shadow on his lung, so was turned down. At that time TB was a concern. As a boy of 15 he had spent time in hospital with peritonitis, which had left a scar on his lung, so maybe that was the shadow. Not long after being turned down, he was ’called up’ to join the Navy. That, of course, meant a rigorous medical examination, which revealed he was not, in fact, suffering from TB. Frank did his basic training in Skegness and special to Arms Training in Scotland. His first posting was via HMS Indomitable to Malta, as a radio operator, stationed on the cliff tops.After the war, he re-applied to train for the priesthood. This time the VG, Monsignor Eton, said that if Frank was fit enough to serve his country, he was fit enough to serve the Church, and he was sent to Ushaw. There he was the envy of the other students, as he had a brand new Demob suit, new shoes and an allowance of £100 per year for books and fees.He was ordained with the Hodgson twins in 1953 at the English Martyrs, Preston, and had he lived just a little longer, would have celebrated his 67th year of priesthood this Sunday, 19th July. His first appointment was to St Mary’s, Barrow where he had a very happy time with Fr Tom Sowerby who had a motorbike. They had great fun taking it apart, repairing it, and bombing around the Lake District. Of his many postings, one with a major difference was the taking over of Cleator Moor from the Benedictines. Lightning had brought the church steeple down, causing immense damage, and the presbytery needed a lot of work. If I remember rightly, Frank and Noel Mullin, his Curate, lived in a caravan while the repairs were going on.As everyone knows, Frank was a great golfer. Once, booked in to play with John Dobson at a club in the south of England, they discovered another Diocese was having its annual comp there that day. When they said they were priests, they were invited to play. Both were in their heyday, as single figure handicap golfers, and won all the prizes on offer, which forced a new rule to come in, with immediate effect, namely, that prizes could not be won by priests from outside their Diocese. Once, I remember coming off the 18th at Ulverston, as a ball landed on the green from miles back. It was Frank’s, of course. As he arrived alongside, I remarked what a fantastic shot to the green from such a distance. Without missing a beat, he said with feigned surprise, “Oh, is it not in the hole?”That’s as far as I’m going with anecdotes about Frank today, because, unlike the current fashion for making funerals into a memorial service, ‘A Celebration of the Life of Someone’, we all know why we’re really here; not so much to say what a great bloke he was, even though that’s true, but to pray for the repose of his soul, something I certainly hope people will one day do for me.Most priests, like most people I’m sure, when they look back on their lives, wonder if they could have done better, and are fully aware that they have not become perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. So, the scripture readings I have chosen reflect the life of any priest who has simply tried to do his best, knowing, that in spite of his weakness, faults and failings, if he puts all his hope in Christ, the job somehow gets done. “Hope is not deceptive, says St Paul, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us”.Frank wasn’t perfect – nor am I – who is? The first priests were far from perfect, yet Christ chose them to go out and bear fruit, because he knew that at heart, they we’re good men, and so are we. That’s why in the gospel it is so reassuring to hear those words, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am”. For him, that means he trusts us, and for us, that we belong to him.
That sense of belonging pervades our life. We even joke about it – when it doesn’t rain on a Monday for golf, or when a parking space becomes available as we arrive, we say ‘He looks after his own’. It’s an easy-going relationship we have with the God who loves us, and I think, for the most part, we priests are blessed to have a fairly easy-going relationship with each other, based on that belonging.Certainly that has been my experience over the years. I was very fortunate to grow up as a priest in a Diocese where it was commonplace to call in on a presbytery to “waste” an hour in other priests’ company, usually filled with laughter and great sense of camaraderie. And it was people like Frank, and lots more of his generation, that made it so much easier for we younger priests coming through, to feel part of that brotherhood. Of course, there were lots more of us in those days, which made “wasting” time together a much easier thing to do. Life is a lot tougher for young priests today.I want to finish with the beautiful words of Psalm 133 “How good it is when brothers dwell in unity: it’s like oil on the head, running down the beard, copious as the dew of Mount Hermon falling on the heights of Zion, where the Lord confers his blessing – everlasting life”.
As I was leaving Valladolid for ordination, the Vice Rector, a Liverpool priest, said to me, “Clergy funerals in Lancaster are really great – if you get the chance, invite me along”. I soon found out that was true – they were big affairs: priests travelled from every corner of the Diocese to concelebrate Mass, and very few rushed away after the meal. It was part of the camaraderie I mentioned earlier.Frank was very much one of the brothers who fostered unity in our Diocesan priesthood, so it’s very sad that so many of his brothers cannot be here today for his funeral, because of Covid 19. Sad too that so many people whose lives he touched cannot be here either.
But, wherever we are, we can still pray that, like the dew falling from Mount Hermon on the heights of Zion, the Lord will confer his blessing on Frank – everlasting life.

May he rest in peace.

 

Faith for Life!

My dear Friends,

Welcome to the Bishop’s Blog!I am surprised and encouraged by the number of our churches opened for private prayer. Moving at a slower pace, I am also encouraged by the number of parishes where the clergy and parishioners have started public worship, Holy Mass. Given the long list of necessary things to have in place, it is an indication of our devotion to Our Lord. There is no doubt, it would have been easier – a lot easier – not to bother. But you have bothered. I am very aware that we are not out of the woods yet, and there is the constant threat of a ‘second spike’, We must do all we can to manage the risk whilst also taking advantage of the Government’s gradual relaxing of restrictions.‘Protect life’ was and remains one of the duties we have. Added to that, we exist as a Church to also protect eternal life, won for us by Our Lord, Jesus Christ. May the Lord keep us and our families safe. May prayer in the home deepen our desire to meet Him in the Eucharist, and ultimately in eternity.A number of parishes have been able to offer live streaming and I know this has been very much appreciated across the Diocese. Parishes offering this service are under a greater burden to show good practice and demonstrate that they are fully compliant with all the regulations we are subject to. (For once, I think I’m glad not to be a Parish Priest any more. I get my headaches in other ways!)Speaking of eternal life leads me to mention Canon Frank Cookson who died a week ago at Nazareth House, Lancaster. May he rest in the peace of Christ. Canon Cookson’s Requiem will take place at St.Thomas’s church, Claughton-on-Brock, this coming Friday. It is the parish in which he was Baptised in 1926.His mortal remains will be laid to rest in the beautiful cemetery adjoining the church. (He will be in good company! I have relatives in there.) I wish to thank the Sisters and staff at Nazareth House, the staff at St.Winefride’s where Frank lived in retirement for some years, and all who have been attentive to him in these final years of his life. May the Lord also remain close to Frank’s two sisters, Eileen (who lives in Canada), and Doreen (in West Cumbria). Two of his siblings, Paul and Christine, pre-deceased him.As we lay one priest to rest it gives me quiet joy to be preparing to interview a young man offering himself for seminary. Please pray for James Knight, and for all our young men in seminary formation, and for vocations to the priesthood, religious life, and Christian marriage.

With my blessing, especially for those of you who need it most,
+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

 

Saint Peter and Saint Paul 28th June 2020

Dear friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!We have an answer to prayer as we now prepare to welcome the Faithful back into our churches for the public celebration of Holy Mass, albeit with many restrictions still in place. The ‘hoops’ through which we must leap will serve to show our love for the Mass, Christ’s supreme gift to the Church.Feast Days are a strong feature of our Catholic heritage. Apart from the Liturgical year itself, we have days devoted to the memory of particular men and women and children who have left us moving and outstanding examples of faithful lives. This past week has been delightful. Saints Thomas More and John Fisher, the birth of Saint John the Baptist, Our Lady of Fernyhalgh have all appeared in the calendar, and invited us to spend time in their company.Today we mark a double celebration, remembering two giants of Christ’s disciples, St.Peter and St.Paul. they could so easily have divided the early Christians. Instead, they are found working together to establish the Church. St.Peter, the first Pope, the rock on which the Church is founded; St.Paul, the architect of the structure built on that rock. Without Peter, Paul, for all his hard work, would have been building on sand. It is to his eternal credit that he realised this and acknowledged Peter’s Christ-given authority. It is to the credit of those early leaders of the Church that we remember these great saints complementing one another, not in competition with each other.At the time I was called to be Bishop of Lancaster early in 2018 I didn’t have a passport. It had lapsed in 2014 and I saw no need to renew it. All of a sudden life changed. A trip to Rome was looming, a place I had never visited, and to be honest, had no great desire to visit.Someone once said, ‘If you are prone to sea-sickness you should stay away from the engine room’! I had enough to sustain my life as a faithful Catholic here in the UK. The trip to Rome was not my idea, it had come from elsewhere. But then, I remembered old photos Dad had shown us from his war years. He had been here. I was following in his footsteps. That changed things a lot.Three nights in Rome in February. Grey, wet, cool and quiet. The Holy Father was away on his Lenten retreat, so we stayed at his place, Domus Sanctae Marthae. We made time to visit the tombs of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. It takes time to appreciate the significance of these places. You bring them home with you. These Saints still serve Christ; they bring us closer to our Christian roots, giving a sense of what we are part of. Beyond that, they will not rest until we have each opened our hearts to Jesus Christ, the Lord.
They also invite us to overcome our often petty, sometimes serious, differences in order to remain true to our Saviour.
Saint Peter, rock on which Christ founded His Church, pray for us.
Saint Paul, foremost teacher of the Catholic Faith, pray for us.

With my blessing,
+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster 

 

 

 

Bishop Swarbrick’s Homily from Sunday Morning Mass!

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!We are given another new commandment it seems: Do not be afraid. And as with all new commandments, we must be taught just how we are to keep it.
Fear is a factor in our lives. It will play its part in our story. It works at various levels, often unsought, always unwelcome.A child will inevitably know fear, at home, in school and in the world. Adults know fear too, grown-up fear, anxieties, threats, uncertainties. Failing health, declining faculties, consequences of wrong-doing, failing in our responsibilities for others who depend on us. Then there is the fear that comes with our mortality, dying, and the unknown that will follow.Jesus knew fear and yet He says to His disciples in every age, ‘Do not be afraid. Why do you fear?’ where did He find these words in His humanity? We are led back to the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel spoke to Mary. ‘Mary, do not be afraid. You have won God’s favour.’It was a message, a moment, that profoundly affected her. It shook her to the core. It stayed with her for the rest of her life, becoming part of her learning to carry God’s Son. Undoubtedly, she knew God intimately before the Annunciation, but she still had more to learn of Him.
As I have grown up, and grown older, I’ve found myself remembering my parents partly by recalling things they said years ago, sayings they had and repeated. At the time I often thought little of it, but over the years their words have become ‘food for thought,’ a lovely phrase.Did Mary repeat Gabriel’s words to the child Jesus as she taught Him His prayers and how He should know the God of Israel? Surely she did. On one occasion they found Him sitting with the Doctors of the Law in the Temple, and they removed Him, taking Him home to continue His studies there, at the feet of His mother and St.Joseph, submissive, humble, meek. These are attitudes that enable us to learn not to fear. He learnt that we should not be afraid in our religion.And yet, in this Gospel today, He tells the disciples not to be afraid only to tell them of another fear. ‘Fear Him rather who can destroy both body and soul in hell.’ It would appear that the only way to overcome one fear is to replace it with another. Can that be good? Is that healing? Are we then better off? It appears we are.

At Confirmation one of the gifts we are given is the Fear of the Lord. I suspect it is a gift that many of the confirmandi do not open. But perhaps it is the gift – out of all seven – that is the key to opening the other six gifts.

Today’s Collect uses the word ‘revere’. Grant, O Lord, that we may always revere and love your name . . . ‘ Reverence is a form of fear, but a positive fear, because it knows something. This is the fear Jesus tells us to have for God, a fear of God based not on what He can do – destroy both body and soul in hell – but based on who He is.If we find ourselves living our religion, our Faith, without this reverence we lack something essential. We become like the servant who received the single talent only to go and bury it. And it lay unused, hidden in the soil. It lay as if dead, as if never given. It is not able to do what it is designed for. You may argue, yes, but what if it is a seed? Well, if it is a seed it is unfortunately still in its plastic packaging! It stands no chance.A story is told of a family who lived isolated on the edge of a great forest. To get to town and school they had to take a winding path through the forest. When the children were young the parents would go with them to and from town or school. But as the children grew they were expected to make their own way. Children have vivid imaginations. They grew to fear the path and the forest, but the parents were busy and insisted.

The children’s fear became so great that it threatened their education, so the parents came up with a solution. They gave each of the children a holy medal. ‘Keep that with you and no harm will come to you as you pass through the forest.’ And so the children would make the journey, clasping the medals, but still full of fear in case they lost their medal or forgot it or had it taken from them. It was only a partial solution.That is not our Faith. That is not our religion.
Jesus Himself knew fear. We only need to remember His state in the Garden of Gethsemane. He knows what troubles us in this life. To overcome our fear He instructs us to replace this fear with this other fear, reverence, Fear of the Lord. It is a gift of the Spirit. Reverence will grow and deepen as we listen to Jesus’ teaching, but especially as we spend time in His company. Here I mention how delighted I am that so many of our churches have been able to open to parishioners for personal prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. This prayer in Christ’s presence will bear fruit in greater confidence. Confidence comes as we understand prayer as a constant invitation and opportunity to know the Lord who loves us more than we could ever hope or imagine.
Poor Judas knew fear after he betrayed his Master. Tragically he ended his fear by ending his life. It need not have come to that. There was another way for him as there is for us.

The prophet Jeremiah says in today’s first reading, ‘The Lord is at my side, a mighty hero.’ But even that doesn’t quite do it, there is a further step to be taken. His prayer is in the third person, as though he talks about God who is not quite near enough. What is the step that can fulfil the Lord’s command to ‘Have no fear’? Jeremiah expresses it when he goes on to say, ‘Lord, I have committed my cause to You.’ This is not saying something wonderful about the God we believe in, it is talking with God, and that is the place Jesus wants us to reach. May it be so for each of us, whatever our fears may be in these times.

May God bless you all,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Swarbrick 

 

Food for thought on Corpus Christi 2020

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

Just last week we celebrated the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. God made known to us His name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is how He wants us to know Him.This week we keep another remarkable Mystery of Faith, the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. This is one of our most distinctive beliefs as Catholics, that through the words of Consecration spoken by the priest and the descent of the Holy Spirit, the bread and wine become the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. In Holy Communion the gift and the giver of the gift are one and the same. Within this miracle lies the astonishing fact that the communicant becomes one with our Blessed Lord in His saving Passion, Death and Resurrection.It’s reasonable to admit that we will never be able to fully ‘get our heads round’ this. But that doesn’t mean we can take it for granted either. It deserves an attitude of gratitude. (There’s a nice little saying!) And whilst we are about it, there is another thing deserving a pause for thought; we must acknowledge the fidelity of the Church in safeguarding, promoting and insisting on the truth of this Mystery. From the time of the Last Supper to the present, in the face of constant influences trying to dilute or distort Christ’s teaching, belief in His Real Presence in the Eucharist has been upheld.Back in the 1980s, for some months I shared a roof with Father Tom Ward – of happy memory – may he rest in peace. He told me a story from his time as Parish Priest at Blessed Sacrament, Preston. One Christmas Day afternoon he received a phone call from a parent in distress. The family was in dire need of help. Fr.Tom went round to see them. He found the house well decorated for Christmas, tree lights, tinsel, and the three children swamped in a sea of new toys and games, but there was no food in the house. All the money had gone on presents. They were hungry.Our Blessed Lord was very aware of the importance of food and drink.
The devil’s first temptation was for Him to change stones into bread.
Christ’s first miracle was to change water into wine.
He took pity on the hungry crowds, feeding them miraculously, and even showing concern not to waste the food leftover.
He was comfortable eating with tax-collectors and sinners such as Simon the Pharisee or Zacchaeus.His disciples had a reputation for eating and drinking. Many of his stories were told during meals.
He often used the image of feasts as a reference to the life to come.
After raising a little girl from the dead He told her parents simply to give her something to eat.
He understood that many of those listening to Him were dependant on good farming and good harvests to feed their families.
After His resurrection, He asked for food and ate it as a sign that He was truly risen.He provided a breakfast of grilled fish for His disciples.
He arranged that the climax of His teaching would take place within the context of a sacred meal, the Last Supper. ‘Take this all of you and eat it. this is My Body. Take this and drink it; this is My Blood.’We are under an obligation to feed the hungry and give drink to those who thirst, but Christ’s teaching takes us further than the secular. We are invited to note a distinction Christ made clear when he said, ‘Do not work for food that cannot last’. He knew its goodness but also its limitation. He knew hunger returns. He knew thirst is never satisfied. He said, ‘My food is to do the will of the Father.’ That was what nourished Him.To live we must be nourished. To live the Life of the Spirit and do the works that God wants, and find the strength needed to follow Christ, pizzas won’t do! Nor will what we see on Master Chef and such like, tasty though it may well be. We need the nourishment offered by Christ, the Bread of Life.Tragically, for almost three months, we have been denied access to the Mass. I have received a good number of messages requesting at least the opening of churches to enable private prayer in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Thank God this is now about to be possible. There are those who say, absence makes the heart grow fonder.I hope this has been the experience for most, and that in spite of wonderful efforts to take part in the Liturgy online, people will come flocking back to our churches. I pray that this has been a time of appreciating what God has given us, deepening our awareness of being unworthy but also of being in need. It remains to be seen how people have used the time. We have the Eucharist not as a personal right to demand but as a gift of Faith.We must be on our guard against attitudes of indifference, mere habit and routine, casualness and convenience. This time has put us in mind of so many millions of Catholics who ordinarily wait months for Mass because of a shortage of priests. Before we ask for more let us reflect on what we have done with all our Masses, all our Holy Communions. Are we more like Christ?In Her wisdom, the Church has, over the centuries, introduced practices designed to deepen our understanding, reverence and respect for the Most Holy Eucharist. Careful instruction and preparation, fasting, particular ways of receiving Holy Communion, silence, genuflecting, prayers of thanksgiving, trying our best to be ‘in a state of grace’. Adoration of the Eucharist should lead to us being better prepared to take part in the Mass. If it is seen as old fashioned then good! It is part of our duty to retain this belief. If we lose it we lose our sense of Sacred, and replace it with something else, something less.The Church also reminds us that the Eucharist is ‘food for the journey’, Viaticum. This world is not enough. This life is not enough. It is not an end in itself. We are given a purpose and a direction because we have a direction and a destination. ‘Father, I want those You have given Me to be with Me where I am.’ Here is a fulfilment that is not of this life. The quiet prayers of the priest during and after receiving Holy Communion make a fitting conclusion perhaps.May the Body of Christ keep me safe for eternal life.
May the Blood of Christ keep me safe for eternal life.
What has passed our lips as food, O Lord, may we possess in purity of heart, that what has been given to us in time may be our healing for eternity.Much more could be said, and I am aware that I will always fall short of what is needed, expressing inadequately our relationship to this great Mystery. We are always trying to grow, to deepen, to enhance our understanding, poor little creatures that we are. It is a consolation that in spite of our failings the Lord continues to give Himself to us not because of what the Eucharist means to us but because of what it means to Him.
Food for thought!!With my blessing for you and those you pray for,
+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

 

 

Pentecost 2020!

My dear friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!Gifts and presents are common at Christmas and on birthdays, but by no means restricted to these occasions. The gifts on expected occasions may be complemented by those given at so many other moments in our lives, a graduation, promotion, retirement. Moments of Faith come to mind too such as Baptism, First Holy Communion, Confirmation, Matrimony, Ordination, Religious Profession. Reflecting on our lives we notice other gifts of more profound value. These include particular relationships, friendships, wise advice, good health, privileges and opportunities that came our way as if by chance. Jesus’ gift of Himself to His disciples is recognised as the gift we value above all others. Sent by the Father through the selflessness of our Blessed Lady, He has been given to us as the Way, the Truth and the Life.

During the course of His public ministry Jesus spoke of particular gifts He gave to us. I think of His words, ‘My own peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give, this is My gift to you.’ I think of Him speaking of His joy being in us. And then He says He will send us the Gift of the Holy Spirit. Through the prophet Isaiah we identify the gifts of the Holy Spirit, what we might call the gifts of the Gift; Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Knowledge, Fortitude, Piety, Fear of the Lord. ‘He will teach you everything’ said Jesus. We are told He will guide us in the whole Truth. And He will.In our economy-driven culture, we will always be inclined to value things by their financial worth. The health of our wealth cries out for the supreme place. Money is power. Money will do it for us. Financial wealth may be the secular equivalent to the Holy Spirit. Only a blossoming economy will deliver and ensure our ultimate happiness we are told.At a time when church income has taken a massive ‘hit’ we can be tempted to believe it. It is a temptation we should resist. We measure our wealth and health by other criteria. Enough funding can do wonders for individuals and achieve much for families and for a society, but in itself it can only be a means at our disposal. Without those funds we will learn to be a Church that lives by a different style from the one we have been used to. Other people have done it, many have made a great success of it, managing to be the Church with far less material wealth.As I write this, on the day of Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, I am conscious of the utter havoc wreaked by the Coronavirus. It has effectively in many ways not only locked us down but ‘closed us down’. It has become a ‘dictator’ with new Do’s and Don’ts.It has robbed many of their loved ones, taken away life and health, jobs and livelihoods. It has cancelled plans and rubbed out hopes. Perhaps we should not be blind to some positive effects it is having.It has brought out of some qualities people did not know they possessed. It has raised our appreciation of simple things, kind deeds, doing what each can, conscious of being there for others, often instead of others. It is making us more honest about what we can or can’t achieve, what it is to be human.But, for all its undoubted power, this virus has been powerless to take away those gifts that mean most to us, gifts recognised by Faith. Faith recognises our God-given gifts. Faith is consoled to know that God does not take back His gifts once they are given. It is up to each of us to lose them or neglect them or ignore them, but they won’t be taken from us.A family grieve because they have lost some-one they love in circumstances they had never foreseen and never been prepared for. Their sadness is real and their distress is heavy, but need not be permanent. The gift of the Spirit enables us to sense other ways of measuring life’s value; the gift of Faith enables them to see death from another side.The Holy Spirit filled Jesus, Son of God, son of Mary. He lived in the constant presence of the Spirit. His words, thoughts, prayers and actions were Spirit-filled. He was driven by the Spirit. His life is evidence of the Spirit’s presence and power and intention. That Spirit is His gift to us, and has been poured out over the whole of creation. It inspires expression in art, music, poetry, as well as in research, imagination, reflection, decision.The coming of the Holy Spirit is not something we can ever take for granted. It forms a massive moment in God’s plan of salvation. It equips the Church for her mission of going out to the whole world and delivering exactly what is required. It is the source of our confidence that the Father’s will will be done, that sin will be overcome, that the fulness of life will put down death. In all this, I have not mentioned love. Let me end this meditation by recalling that in was out of love that God created us, out of love the Father sent His Son to redeem us, and out of love that He shares with us the Gift of His Holy Spirit. Into His love we are called, to share with Him for all eternity a life beyond all we can hope for or imagine.

As ever in Christ,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

 

 

 

The Ascension of the Lord!

 

My dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!
Lost to the world, but not to those who have Faith! Jesus, forty days after His Resurrection, ascended to His Father, and to our Father, taken from our sight, but not from the eyes of the Faithful.As a child I learnt to value this moment in the life of my Lord, primarily because we got a day off school not shared by other schools in the town. It was good to be a Catholic! It still is.These fifty days of Eastertide more than balance the rigours of Lent’s forty days. They are more than a time to look back in reflection on the Resurrection of Christ. It’s more than getting through the crisis of Holy Week, back to ‘life restored’, back to where we were. That won’t do; that’s simply not enough. Something has changed. Something has been changed. There is to be a ‘new normal’.It’s food for thought as we look to the relaxing of the lockdown. Life won’t return to what it was. We are living in a period of world history never to be forgotten. It leaves us all different. Life will be different. Brexit dominated the news from 2016 until early this year. The pandemic has dominated our lives since February. The damaged economy will increasingly dominate our personal, national and global news for a long time to come. We know all too well that some have been affected more than others, and there is more to come, the exact nature of the effect is as yet unknown.It is all too easy to relegate Our Blessed Lord’s Ascension to being some sort of side issue, but it is not; it is critically relevant, not just for people of Faith, but for all.Faith invites us to remember, or to know for the first time, that life has a purpose, a direction because it has a destination given by God. St.Paul tells us, ‘For us, our homeland is in heaven’. The modern world has forgotten that, or lost sight of it. Sadly, for many there is nothing beyond this life. If this world is all there is there is something rather desperate about life. We can talk of progress and development, but what are we progressing towards? How are we to know what development should aim at if we are free to continually change and re-choose our targets?We can rightly be criticised for being indifferent to the problems of life because ‘everything will be fine in heaven’. But belief in the life of the world to come does not give us a dispensation to be careless about the life we are called to live here and now. We do not be-little the supreme efforts of those who put their own lives on the line to care for others. When lives are lost it is not principally because someone has failed and must for ever live with that guilt. Divine Love does not know such limits.Jesus, after forty days risen, returns to His Father, to the one who sent Him. What a joy to reflect on any child being re-united with a parent after a long, difficult separation. In one sense Christ’s work was achieved in His Passion. On the Cross He said, ‘It is accomplished’. Then He made it clear that He still had work to do for us. Two tasks stand out and should be taken to heart because they give us new heart.Firstly, He said He would go and prepare a place for us, ‘so that where I am you may be too’. Knowing there is a place prepared for us is a comfort, but we may easily doubt our chances of making it. Then we can remember His second task, that of accompanying us on the journey to that place, ‘Know that I am with you always, yes, to the end of time’. ‘I will return and take you with me, so that where I am you may be too.’

With such thought as these, let us comfort one another.
May God bless you all.
+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

6th week of Eastertide.

Dear friends in Christ,

Welcome to the Bishop’s Blog!

This has not been the week I thought it was going to be. The change came about because I fell off my bicycle on Friday, VE Day. That resulted in an ambulance trip to Lancaster Royal Infirmary, where I spent two days under observation. All the NHS staff were professional, kind and attentive. In a time when we are all thanking them for their work I have deep personal reasons for standing at my gate and applauding on a Thursday evening.My only worry for them was that they all seem to suffer from bad memories; across all departments, ambulance crew, A & E staff, medical ward staff, none of them seemed to know what date it was, they were constantly asking me. I am delighted to have been able to help them whenever they asked . . . . . 10th November 1327!Of course, it was largely my own silly fault. No helmet. . . . Usually I do wear one but since I was only nipping up to the shops I thought it not necessary. I was wrong. As I cycled past vehicles parked outside the shops one driver opened the door and sent me flying. I’ve no idea who that was but I do hope the person finds out I am ok. Fortunately my head took the impact so there was no real damage caused! And then I heard that Canon Embery had fallen off his bike, breaking his wrist. Let us pray for his own steady and full recovery.Thank-you for your concern. I have received so many cards, prayers, messages, including a bottle of single malt (not vinegar), fruit, chocolate, ready-meals, jam, ginger-cake, cheese and more. I must confess it was almost worth it! And these ‘Lockdown days’ are ideal for recovery.No travel, few meetings, no visitors, no events. You could think there’s nothing to do, but then we remember that this is Eastertide, Jesus is risen. His disciples were being prepared to watch Him return home to the Father, then they must wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the birth of the Church.We are not waiting for the Spirit, unless we are not Confirmed of course. We live in the days of the Spirit, the final age before the return of Christ. In time Covid-19 and its tragic, bizarre consequences will be dealt with, and then will come new problems, whether at a personal, national or global level. There will always be something else.The Faith that is given to us raises our sights to new heights and hopes. It gives our hopes and even our griefs a particular direction in which to look, as if watching for the first rumour of dawn. As my own small personal effort to help find a way through these days I will continue to post a weekly 5 – 10 minute period of silent prayer on YouTube. It is nothing sensational or entertaining. You might even call it boring, but sometimes boring can be welcome!

 

It is simply an invitation for us to spend a short time in quiet prayer, no need for words, no need to apologise for distractions, no need for the right book, or to expect a precise answer – just you and me taking time/giving time to be with our risen Lord who knows our needs better than we know them ourselves. Delightfully simple.

With my blessing for you all, especially those in dark places,

 

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster