Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

My dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ,

Welcome to this week’s  Bishop’s Blog!

Before I begin, just try to get your head round this: Imagine, getting sight of the exam paper answers before handing in your script! And it’s the examiner who’s handed it to you. That appears to be today’s Gospel.On this last Sunday of the Church’s year, it is the custom to focus prayer and attention on children and young people. This year we do so, conscious of the additional complications to their lives caused by pandemic. What is it like to be young now? To be just setting out on life’s journey and be hit by so many extra difficulties? Schools, colleges and particularly universities have been severely tested. Being able to ‘hang-out’ with friends has not always been possible. Families have had anxieties over job security. Young people seeking work are particularly affected as so many businesses struggle to survive, and in many instances young people who had employment were the first to be sacrificed and handed their notice. Tough times, so we are right to pray for the young.Jesus talks to His disciples about the end of it all, not just when there’s a vaccine, but the very end, what awaits us once life’s journey is completed. And for all of us, not only the young, this is key to life. If we look on life as setting out on a journey, it makes sense to decide our ultimate goal, and thus the direction we need to travel in to reach it.Of course, at the end of the journey it is not a ‘what’ that awaits us. Rather, it is a ‘Who’. The Last Judgement has been described in art and literature in some terrifying ways, aimed at putting the fear of God into us so that we double our efforts to do the right thing and get counted as sheep, not goats (poor goats!). But too much fear or indeed the wrong form of fear can produce the wrong response. We remember the tale of the man given one talent who hid it because he feared his master. That must not be our fear. A life lived out of fear is no life.Jesus made no secret of His Father’s desire that all His children might come to share His Divine life, what is described as the ‘fulness of life’. What stands out in the image of the Last Judgement is how relatively easy it should have been for us to secure a place in heaven. What He did here was the equivalent of showing us the exam answers before we sit the exam. Learn to see what needs doing, then decide to do it: simple. In fact it is so easy that some didn’t even know they were achieving it. The significance of their simple acts of charity was unknown to them throughout life. They decided to use any opportunity to do good.We must add next how tragically simple it is to lose our place in heaven. The words of the Act of Contrition ring so true as we confess ‘ . . . what I have done, and what I have failed to do . . . ‘ The other deadly trap we fall into is to assume we have time to make up lost ground, time for another chance. It’s a trap I constantly fall into; I’ll do it later. . . . . The time will come when we no longer have such an option. Now is the time to decide and to act. As has been said before, this is not a rehearsal.I remember once being asked by an old woman in Zambia to buy her a blanket next time I went to town. She even gave me the money for it. I did what she asked, but on the day was late getting back. I’ll take it to her in the morning I thought. But then, I thought a bit more. It’s night. This is when she wants the blanket. So, I set out along the dark paths to her village. I knew she would be there. I knew she would be frightened to hear someone calling late at night, but I thought it worthwhile. Sure enough, she’d gone to bed along with several of her grandchildren, AIDS orphans. I cannot describe her joy to be given her new blanket at that end of the night instead of in the morning.If this life is all there is, then for some it is desperately unfair. I say this not just because of some people suffering more than others as a result of the pandemic. It applies to less extraordinary times too. This life is unfair, although we tend not to complain when it is unfair to our advantage.‘Set your hearts first on God’s Kingdom, and all these other things will be given to you as well.’ What a deal that is! Better than any ‘buy one – get one free.’! How important it is in these times to share with young people the words of Our Lord, which carry such reassurance and hope, even as they offer a way of life so different from what this world can offer. This is the only justification we have for our schools and colleges, that they give pupils and staff the Gospel message in which our Catholic teaching is rooted. It is the work of our Youth Service too.As well as explaining to us the simple steps leading to the Kingdom, Jesus has promised to remain with us as guide and as food for the journey. How I hope our young people find their way back to Mass in our parishes. Jesus gives Himself to us as food to strengthen us for the journey to His Kingdom. To stay away from Mass and Holy Communion is the equivalent of having an eating disorder. It is so important that the Gospel is handed on to future generations. I am conscious of so many of our older parishioners saddened because their children and grandchildren don’t practice the Faith. Some are burdened by a sense of failure. It is not for us to judge who has failed or succeeded. We leave that to the Lord, and we have been told He is merciful. He has shown us the answers before we write the exam. We know what to do. We know what success looks like.There are young people choosing Our Lord. Some are making brave choices and decisions in their lives to keep the Faith. These are brave people, often swimming against the tide, choosing to differ from their contemporaries both in opinion and in life-style. They will become teachers and guides to their own families and friends. They will also become good news to complete strangers. We must recognise them and encourage them. If I were young in these times, I do not know if I would be able to stand up as a Catholic Christian. The demands are so great compared to when I was young. But Our Lord never ceases moving amongst us, talking to us, opening our hearts to receive His simple message of practical love, doing the Corporal works of Mercy, making His forgiveness and healing real rather than just words. He offers us what the world cannot give. And when the world has finished with us, the best is still to come. I pray that the young can take this to heart, live their lives based on Christ’s unselfish love, and become people of hope to those around them.Certain figures of the Gospel come closer to us as we prepare to begin Advent. Saint Elizabeth, Zechariah, Saint John the Baptist, Saint Joseph, each has their place. But it is always Mary who gives us the surest advice to heed. On one occasion, long after Jesus had grown up, she noticed people’s sorry state because they had exhausted this world’s wine and still were not satisfied. Mary simply instructed those standing ready to ‘do whatever He tells you’. What worked for them then is good for us now.

As ever in Christ,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

Remembrance Sunday 2020

My dear friends in Christ,

Welcome to the Bishop’s Blog!

Sitting by the fire on Saturday evening, with the dark and damp held well at bay by double-glazing and shut curtains, the noise of fireworks still got through. The unfortunate origins of bonfire night have shifted for most people into an innocent chance to enjoy themselves with spectacular displays at a time of year when light is losing out to the dark. I felt that this year people’s spirits – especially the children’s – would be lifted by the occasion. I hope so.Listening to the bangs and explosions did introduce some less welcome thoughts though. It occurred to me that in other parts of the world people would be hearing similar noises, but caused by gunshots and armaments. They would be threats not just to the evening quiet, but to life itself.And so my mind turned to the business of Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day. The invitation to remember is the same as always. How we do it this year will obviously be affected by our on-going restricted circumstances. Parts of our comforting rituals will not be possible. Perhaps inconvenient restrictions can serve to give us a different but thought-provoking new angle on the occasion.Loss of liberty, making sacrifices, being denied the right to choose how to live; is this a small taste of what it was for others to serve in times of severe conflict? These things weigh heavily on us in an age accustomed to flexibility and convenience. But parents know all about them, and so do dedicated staff. And so does the dedicated disciple.The legacy of war – even war against covid-19 – inspires us to dream of some ‘new normal’, and to work for it. Any new normal we expect to find in the world around us must surely be formed first within us. If we are to welcome it, it will bear characteristics identified with wisdom, fortitude, charity, sacrifice and service. Joy will be in there too, a joy not dependent solely on our immediate circumstances, but founded rather on the Lord’s eternal promises.In this month of prayer for the Holy Souls may you all find comfort and healing in the wounds left by grief.

With my blessing,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster 

 

In Solidarity with People of France after Terrorist attack in Nice Basilica

My dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

I join with other Faith and political leaders in condemning the tragic murders of three Catholic worshippers in Notre Dame, Nice, on Thursday morning. I also call on all Catholics in the Diocese of Lancaster to join me in offering prayers for the souls of those who died, for their grieving families, for the clergy, religious and faithful of Nice, and for the people of France who have been wounded and shaken by yet another act of terrorism.

We are appalled by any act of violence wherever it occurs, but this attack in Notre Dame, Nice, touches us more deeply: It happened to Catholic worshippers gathering for Mass in their church, a sacred place. Just one week ago a priest in our own Cathedral was violently attacked at the altar whilst conducting a funeral Liturgy. Although it appears the perpetrator on that occasion was suffering mental health issues, it brings home to us how vulnerable we are, even when so close to Our Lord.

As in all things, we turn to Christ to know how we should respond. He shows us that the way forward is not to seek revenge or retaliation. We should not close and lock our churches, turning them into fortresses where neither strangers nor parishioners are welcome. Rather, we deepen our trust in our loving Saviour who was himself the victim of violence, and yet died praying for his murderers.

We must also pray for peace, mutual respect and understanding between people of differing Faiths. I am glad to say we enjoy good relations with our Muslim brothers and sisters locally. More broadly, let us beware how we relate to others, particularly in situations involving potential conflict. The Gospel is not served by hot tempers, verbal aggression or attitudes inflamed by disrespect.

The demands made on us by the times we live in are great and appear to increasing. We may be tempted to despair, deciding that too much is being asked of us. In worldly terms that is understandable. But we look to Christ, and to His generosity, expressed most completely on the Cross. That is the measure of what we are asked to give in return. We will do it with generous and loving hearts because of what He has done for us. Without doubt, the prize will be worth the sacrifice.

With my prayers and blessing for each of you,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

Fratelli Tutti

Dear friends in Jesus Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog

The Holy Father’s recent Encyclical will provoke a mixed response from those who are aware of it and manage to read it. The first challenge, as always, is to see if we can find ourselves in it. Does it speak of us? Does it speak to us? Some may decide that it is not what the Church is about. Others will find it too lengthy and verbose.It presents us with an interface between the Gospel and the world, a point of engagement based on respect for life inspired by Our Lord’s command to His disciples to go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News. Heaven knows that we need to hear good news in our present circumstances.Last week I was given a copy of James Rebank’s new book, ‘English Pastoral – An Inheritance’. His family have been Cumbrian hill-farmers for generations. In this book he eloquently talks about his own struggle as a 21st century farmer caught between the pressures of the market and the evidence that the world in which he lives and works is showing signs of profound and increasing stress. This personal account of his life, offers a local starting context for a study of the Holy Father’s Encyclical. It shows how this Encyclical is not addressed solely to members of the Faith.Jesus sends out His disciples armed with the confidence given by His charity, and emboldened by the gift of His Holy Spirit. Without these we would probably stay at home, locked down for our own safety and good. ‘Batten down the hatches’ and wait until it all blows over . . . . But that is not Christ’s way.The Holy Father concludes his Encyclical with reference to Charles de Foucauld, a not-well-known Frenchman whose life straddled the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It just so happens that I recently picked up a book about Charles, in a Sedburgh second-hand bookshop, entitled ‘The Sword and the Cross’ by the secular historian Fergus Fleming. It places Charles’s life within a complex, and at times very controversial, political world. Charles rediscovered his faith and lived it shamelessly, heroically, and successfully in a way that can encourage us all. He was swimming against the world’s tide, his heart set on answering Christ’s call.We are told that, in the present pandemic, the economy is suffering. That may not be a bad thing because present economics appear to use us as servants. It has become the god we serve. In our efforts to protect and appease the economy we have done damage to creation and to one another. Another way must be found. We have found that other Way in the person and teachings of Christ. To carry the name of Christian but walk the way of the world will not do.Some years ago I had care of St.Walburge’s in Preston. I was constantly tempted to look on that huge, beautiful church simply as a massive problem. But it was full of beauty and goodness. It needed to be loved. It was around the same time that mum was going downhill with dementia. Losing her faculties, becoming a liability, more dependent. She needed more loving than ever. I suppose what comes home to me is that the more demanding things become, the more love is needed to find the way forward. It sounds almost simple, doesn’t it!

As ever in Christ,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

John Bradburne: The Vagabond of God

My dear friends in Jesus Christ,

Welcome to this week’s  Bishop’ Blog!I’ve never had leprosy, but I have met people suffering from it. I recall stretching out my hand to offer the sign of peace to some elderly women in a rather dark corner of the bush chapel, rural Zambia, getting hold of what was left of their hands. They were delighted; I was startled.Another parishioner was Paul Maambo. He was always one of the first to arrive at Nkonkola, waiting for people to gather for Mass. He’d walked two miles on his crutches. He had no feet – a rather good excuse for missing Mass, I’d have thought. “Bless me Father for I have sinned. It is several months since my last confession, and I accuse myself of missing Mass.” “Why did you miss Mass?” “Because I’m old, because I have TB, because I have two miles to walk, . . . and because I have no feet . . .” “Good excuse!” The Mass obviously meant so much to him that he made the effort. He must be a saint. He remains one of my heroes.By the time I arrived in Africa John Bradburne was already counted amongst the saints, gone to God. It was some time before I learnt of him and his inspiring life, his early childhood just up the road in the north-west of England, in Cumbria, in the tiny village of , in the shelter of Cross Fell and the northern Pennines. ‘Beyond Shap’ carried a profound sense of remoteness – other-wordliness even – prior to the coming of the M6, and yet it was the Vale of Eden, God’s own country, worth a look if you can get there. Best to find a guide, or thank the Lord that a guide has found you, to guide your adventure, your exploring.Being ‘locked down’ is bad enough; being ‘locked out’ is something else. I guess that’s what leprosy does to you, locks you out of life, closes your world down, confines you robs you, ostracises you. John found Mutemwa and its discarded residents. They became his guides to heaven.Seen by some as lepers, to him they became companions for the journey . . . who happened to have leprosy. It slowed them down so that he could catch up. He never let their affliction define them. He never let their restrictions restrict them. He saw them and saw more than we see because he saw them, made in the image and likeness of their Creator. They were never less because there was ‘less of them’.At times such as these when the world becomes more complex, John, Servant of God, comes to us as a welcome friend. We may not have leprosy, but most of us feel terribly afflicted. The beauty of any Servants of God is that they do not stand between us and the Lord, as though obscuring our sight of Christ. Their gift is to enable us to see Him more clearly, to sense Him as closer to us.

I commend this man’s life to you, particularly at this time, particularly in your present circumstances. May his cause prosper because it is of God. It is Beatitude. May the work of the John Bradburne Memorial Society flourish.

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

 

Prayer Intentions

My dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ,

Welcome to the Bishop’s Blog!I ask your prayers for Philip Wrigley. Today he is formally accepted as a Candidate for the Priesthood for our Diocese. This may come as a surprise to same of you, aware that he has been in the seminary at Oscott for a number of years.It serves to remind us that those who are selected for seminary formation are drawn into a process of discernment, exploring just how the Lord is calling them to follow Him, with the possibility that they may be called to serve as ordained priests. Candidacy marks the moment of transition from the possibility to the probability of being called to the priesthood.It marks a moment of growing confidence and clarity in a man’s personal relationship with Christ. But it is always more than a confirmation of someone’s personal choice ‘to be a priest’. Firstly, it must be accepted as a response to God’s initiative, ‘You have not chosen me; I have chosen you’. We also recognise that Ordination is not the destination. Diaconate or priesthood becomes the way to heaven.I ask your prayers also for Stuart Chapple, to be ordained to the transitory Diaconate tomorrow at St.Mary’s, Oscott. He has completed several years of formation, study, pastoral experience. Those concerned with his formation have given me the confidence to accept Stuart for ordination. If all continues to go well, please God, in another year he will be ordained to the priesthood for Lancaster Diocese. Our formation is not complete as we complete our years in the seminary. Formation as disciples of Christ is something that must continue up to death, the moment when we receive that ultimate call/vocation, leaving this world, our loved ones and loved things and places, hoping to be received into the fulness of God’s eternal life.I ask your prayers for Father Stephen Talbutt and his brother Michael. Their mother, Yvonne, died in the past few days. Her funeral will take place – following the necessary restrictions – at the Cathedral on Thursday. May she find the rest and peace only to be found in the Lord. Losing our parents is always going to be a difficult experience, even if they were people of great faith and were ‘ready’ to go. They take much of ourselves with them; we feel as though we are missing part of ourselves. And yet, something of them remains with us, and can remain a source of great comfort in future years.Monday and Tuesday mark two Feasts appropriately combined; The Triumph of the Cross, and Our Lady of Sorrows. They offer us food for thought as to how victory and sorrow somehow are with us at one and the same time. Until we reach our salvation there is always the chance of things going wrong. Let us pray and live in such a way as to lead others closer to Christ, the man of sorrows, but also the cause of our joy.Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.
Saint Cornelius and Saint Cyprian, pray for us.
Saint Robert Bellarmine, pray for us.
Saint Theodore of Canterbury, pray for us.
+Paul

Paul Swarbrick,

Bishop of Lancaster.

 

Saint Cuthbert

Dear friends in Jesus Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

Today we mark the Feast of Saint Cuthbert, a saint of Lindisfarne, of Durham and chosen to be the second patron of our Diocese.His story is worth knowing. We must thank St.Bede for much detail of his life and ministry. I recommend that you make time not simply to know about St.Cuthbert, but to try and actually know him. His companionship will bring you strength and encouragement.I must confess, he has come into my own life mostly unlooked for, but no less welcome for that. He was chosen to be the patron of the seminary I attended from 1976 – 1982. I also had the good fortune to be appointed to St.Cuthbert’s parish in Blackpool, sharing my time there (1984 – 1990) with Father Larrie Wells, Father Pat Doyle, and latterly Father Tom Ward, all now gone to God.St.Cuthbert never saw himself as a saint. That is one of the frustrating things about many saints; they saw themselves as great sinners, but that can make them more attractive to us, once we realise they were sincere.One fascinating part of his story is the way his body was carried by monks on a long journey around the north of England not so much for local people to venerate but rather to protect it from the Vikings. There are several sites across the Diocese associated with this journey, notably Lytham and Workington. I visited Ushaw and Durham last year with some old friends. In the Cathedral bookshop -after compulsory coffee and cake in the undercroft – I found a small booklet entitled ‘St.Cuthbert’s corpse: a life after death’ by David Willem (Sacristy Press 2013). It is well worth a read, not just as historic detective work, but as something to provoke devotion.
Saint Cuthbert, pray for us.
With my blessing,+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Heaven

My dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ,

Welcome back to weekly Bishop’s Blog!All the Feasts and Solemnities of the Church’s calendar celebrate truths of Faith. At the heart of each is a particular gift of the Lord, given as a reminder that we are not forgotten. This solemnity of Mary being taken to heaven brings us joy, inviting us to journey with her, in Faith, to the place Jesus said He was going to prepare for us.Beyond the reach of all harm, where joys will not be short-lived, is certainly attractive when we are faced with all sorts going wrong, from international disasters, through examination qualification nightmares, to my own difficulties. In some years we need more encouragement than in others.Less than a fortnight ago we heard of the explosion in Beirut. This weekend, much closer to home, I heard of the sudden death of Damian Bates, Head of RE at Our Lady’s Catholic College, Lancaster. He leaves a wife and four children, and his own parents as well as so many colleagues and friends, stunned by the news. He was a man who lived his Catholic Faith. Some would ask why does this happen.Faith is not a ‘lucky charm’, acting to protect us from the harsher side of this life. It often seems to be the opposite. So why bother?Some years ago, a parishioner and friend fell from a crag in the Lake District and was found dead by the Mountain Search and Rescue Team at the base of a crag. Blaming God is a bit like me blaming the mountains, and turning my back on them, never to walk them again because of what they’ve done to my friend. It’s not enough to say accidents happen; someone must be blamed.Our Lord didn’t come to blame us, He came to put things right by opening the way to eternal life. Here I live constantly in the shadow of catastrophe and death, but that shadow is shortening because Christ is risen. Our Blessed Lady’s final completion of her journey is more than just her own. When I say goodbye to a loved one something of myself goes with them and some little part of them seems to stay with me. In the mess of my emotions the Truth of Faith come as Consoling Truth and Guiding Truth, and Reassuring Truth.May the Assumption of Mary into heaven, to share the life of the Blessed Trinity, find a place in you and draw you further along the way she has gone.
Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.With my blessings,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster.

 

Message of Solidarity and Prayers to people of Lebanon

My dear friends in Christ,

Welcome back to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!The explosion in Beirut has sent shock-waves across the whole world. A ‘failing’ economy already on its knees has effectively been ‘kicked when it’s down’. It’s not difficult to understand that any efforts to cope with the pandemic have been swept to one side by the blast. Our prayers and hearts go out to the people of Lebanon.So many are refugees from other trouble-spots of the Middle East. The degree of suffering is off the scale. It is one more example of how the disadvantaged are the most vulnerable.‘The Lord hears the cry of the poor’ we are told. Sceptics understandably comment, yes, and the Lord appears not to care. It is a severe challenge to faith in a loving God, a challenge waiting for a response. What response can we offer when prayers seem not enough? I turn to Jesus, looking for an answer. Faced with catastrophe we know the sort of god we want; what God has Jesus given us? And what do we do when the God He gives us is not good enough to meet our needs, whether those needs are massive such as those in Lebanon or personal and private and hidden from the world?The answer Jesus gives is the same for all our cries. His answer begins by being with us in the very depths of the problem. We complain that someone drowning gains little comfort in finding a companion in the water with them, drowning alongside them. We need more than this.
Jesus has given us His teaching. When He was told of the terminal sickness of His friend Lazarus He said, ‘This sickness will not end in death. It is intended for God’s honour’.A strange, unsatisfying response because it does not prevent Lazarus’s continued suffering, the distress of Martha and Mary, nor the ultimate death. He leads those listening to see something new, and to hope for something beyond nature. His answer does not remove the distress or suddenly make everything ok. There is something we must go through to get to a better place, and the God Jesus gives us is with us in the ‘going through’.Survivors will find this hard to take in, but the alternatives don’t offer anything better.
Let us be disciples who struggle to understand, but who persevere in following the Lord through the tragedies of this life. Let Divine charity use us for the benefit of victims and survivors.

With my blessing,
+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster.

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.