Bishop’s Blog: A Homily at Lourdes

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!Dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, fellow pilgrims, this morning look where our pilgrimage has brought us – we are at the very heart of Lourdes, in two senses. Firstly, because we are here at the Grotto, in the Grotto, a sacred place in which St.Bernadette, little more than a child, was privileged to behold the face of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She heard her speak, and was able to converse with her, here in this very place where you and I now stand. This is a sacred place. We must respect it. Let us take a moment of silence now to do just that.The second way in which we are at the heart of Lourdes is because we are gathered at Mass, privileged to hear God Himself speaking to us, privileged also to meet and welcome Jesus who wishes to enter into your own sacred place, your soul, and to remain with you that you may bear much fruit.The purpose of any Pilgrimage is to unite us more closely with our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. If this does not happen then even if we have had a good time our efforts have been wasted.But it is not easy to achieve this goal. You are far from home, and your usual habits and routines. You are engaged in activities here that you will leave behind in just a few days. How will you be changed? What progress can you sense in your personal journey into the life of God? We all need signs and reassurance because our Faith is often weak. At this morning’s Mass we are given great encouragement.St.Bernadette was chosen for a particular favour at a particular time. Dare I say that we too are chosen to be here today for a very special favour?It is not Mary that we will see but the object, the subject, of her own adoration, our Lord, Jesus Christ Himself. He will appear to us in just a very short time. He is the One Mary wanted St.Bernadette to see, to know, to love and to serve.

He is the one who, in a very short time, will appear, at that moment in the Mass when those beautiful words of His will be spoken,
Take this, all of you and eat of it,
For this is my Body
Which will be given up for you.Just as we have a purpose in our pilgrimage, just as our Blessed Lady had a purpose in coming to this Grotto, so Jesus has a purpose in coming to us. Do you want to know what His purpose is? It is this – He wishes to make His home in you, and that is not all. . . . He dares you to make your home in Him. To do that we have to trust Him. We must let Him enter our heart. To do that we must find the door to our heart, we must open it and welcome Him not as someone who has come to inspect and criticise and find fault. He comes to make His home within us not as a stranger but as a friend, a carer, a brother and a Saviour.When I first heard that we would be blessed to share this occasion with fellow pilgrims from Wales and Scotland I was tempted to try and think of a joke about an Englishman, a Scotsman and a Welshman. Then it got even better and we were joined by the Irish pilgrims! Thankfully I could not think of a joke. And let us reflect, this is neither the place nor the occasion for jokes; there is too much in our lives and our world in need of serious attention, too much that is damaged, too much to put right. Let our jokes be for another occasion and another place. Rather, whilst we are in this sacred Grotto of Lourdes, let us call to mind another grotto hewn in the rock, the tomb of Christ, the tomb from which He rose from the dead so that He could meet us here, enter into us, and make His home with us.We are people of faith even if we are still sinners. We have been given wonderful people to inspire us, not only our Blessed Lady herself, St.Bernadette, St.Bridget of Sweden, our own national and local saints. Each of us can call to mind certain individuals we have in a sense been ‘given’. They are known to you and have been part of your life’s journey. Probably, some may have gone. But one grace of any pilgrimage is to be given new companions whose stories and example somehow lift us, and help us know the love of Jesus, at home in us, bearing good fruit in our lives..
Let us be encouraged here at the Grotto of St.Bernadette on this beautiful July morning, whatever burdens we face or carry. Let us be closer to God because we are here in this sacred place, and because we know He has created that other sacred place where He longs and loves to be, the soul of each of us. Let us know the closeness of the Holy One. That is the purpose and goal of our pilgrimage, and now it is so close . . . .It is the desire of St. Bernadette that we share the joy she found.
It is the desire of our Blessed Lady that we know the joy of life with her Son.
It is the desire of the heart of each of us to welcome Jesus in the home that lies within, and to find our home within His Heart.

It is the miracle of Lourdes that, so far from home we find our true home with our true Lord.

With every good wishes and prayers for the week ahead,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

 

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Bishop’s Blog: Feast of Eight Lancashire Martyrs

Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome to the Bishop’s BlogI’m actually cheating by writing this one on the 19th July, a day before we set off on the Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes. Today in the Liturgical calendar we celebrate the witness of eight Lancashire martyrs, Saint John Plessington, Saint John Wall O.F.M., Blessed Thomas Cottam S.J., William Harcourt S.J., William Marsden, George Haydock, John Sandys and George Beesley. St.John Plessington was from Garstang. On my coat-of arms I included the martyr’s palm in memory of him, my fellow Garstonian.

Few properties in the town date back to his era, but he would have known the river Wyre, the familiar outline of the Bleasdale fells to the east, the woods and brooks of Barnacre, the site of the distant Lakeland hills seen to the north – on a clear day – from the top of Bowgreave.
His birthplace, Dimples Hall, still stands although much altered. As a child no doubt he attended Mass locally as and when it was safe and available. It came to mean something deep to him. He learnt its value and eventually gained courage to become a priest so that the Mass might be offered and Christ might be worshipped and others might discover the love of God that overcomes all our sins and woes. What a marvellous moment it is when we bow our heads before the Lord and find that He raises us to Glory!Lourdes is a much younger tradition, dating from the mid 19th century and so wasn’t on the pilgrimage map for our local martyrs. But Ladyewell was, and Holy Well was as well as other local shrines perhaps including the ruined monasteries. The Adoremus congress in September will borrow various items from the Diocese closely associated with the martyrs. (I hope we get them back!) Some time ago the BBC put a fascinating programme on Radio 4 entitled A History of the world in 100 objects, presented by Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum.What a challenge it would be to produce a history of a parish or a school or of the Diocese in 100 objects (and you could include places, and views and sounds perhaps. . . . . the imagination could run riot!)

May God bless you all

As ever in Christ,+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

Bishop’s Blog: Our Diocesan Family MATTERS

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Welcome to this week’s Blog!

The first meeting with the new Council of priests, the Diocesan Pilgrimage to Fernyhalgh, a visit to The Sisters at Hyning monastery, the annual Mass celebrated in memory of Blessed Edward Bamber with a very pleasant gathering at St.Winifrede’s, Bispham, interviews of applicants for the permanent Diaconate, a day of recollection for and with the priests, and all the bits and pieces in-between.

One elderly priest in the seminary advised us to try to avoid being known as ‘busy’ priests. His point was that if people saw us as always so busy they’d feel less able to approach us. Transfer that to the world of the family. Try not to be known as a busy parent, otherwise your little ones will perhaps fear you don’t have time for them. However, the danger is that if you aren’t busy people may think you are lazy, leaving it all for others to do. You can’t win can you!

We know the story of Martha and Mary. We also know that our God gave us a commandment to rest regularly. Try it . . . without feeling guilt.One of the joys of getting around for the various celebrations and events is simply finding time to meet parishioners and school-children, and whoever. Our parishes and schools rely on a vast amount of goodwill and personal sacrifice. Even those in paid employment often go much further than simply doing their duty. It is humbling to sense the motivation and prayer underlying so much goodness happening so quietly around us. Thank-you for showing the world evidence of the Lord’s presence, particularly when it involves getting dirty or hurt or misunderstood. Thank-you for remaining faithful when it is inconvenient or uncomfortable. That is when it most closely mirrors the love Christ has shown us.

May God bless you all.

As ever in Christ,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

 

 

The Bishop’s Blog: Be Still for the Holy One is Here.

Hello dear friends in Jesus Christ,

This week’s the  Bishop’s Blog reaches out with a reflection on Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament!Soon the schools will be closed for the summer. We have already had what seems an over-dose of beautiful weather. Can there be more to come? Will it fit our plans? We are free to speculate. Removed from all our uncertainties and speculating is the utter certainty of the Lord’s intimate affection for us, and His desire to draw us back, deeper into the heart of the Father. Jesus has given us the way to follow. Through the centuries His disciples have constantly and consistently found that way in the Eucharist.In September, in Liverpool, during the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage and Congress, the Catholic Church of England and Wales will give public witness to our core belief that Jesus is present with us, to us, and for us, in the Blessed Sacrament.Our Faith can seem to ask many things of us. It can be natural to be overwhelmed at times by a sense of inadequacy or frustration or even loss of heart. Again and again we come back into the presence of Jesus, and slow down and simply sit or knee, and slow down some more, and wait and listen and break through that temptation to try and sort everything out ourselves. We surrender all to Him, and allow Him to slow us down even more, to the point where we don’t need to fight or strain anymore. We abandon hope of achieving peace because we have found the One who is our peace.Pope Francis recently wrote, ‘An essential condition for growth in discernment is a growing understanding of God’s patience and God’s timetable, which are never our own.’ (Gaudete et Exultate on the call to holiness in today’s world. para 174) A lesson I am forever having to re-learn is how I must have confidence that the Lord knows what He is doing. As I visit and meet and listen it is clear that many of you know this better than I do. Thank-you. Let us pray for the success of the National Eucharistic Congress in September.

Until next week -we pray for each other.

As ever in Christ,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

 

 

Bishop’s Blog: Different in Gifts United in Christ

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!
The great solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul saw me back in the Cathedral for a midday Mass celebrated with parishioners and the Cathedral school of St.Peter’s. Time was limited but Mass was not rushed. How blessed we are with the example of these two great Saints standing not as individuals but as men united in a common purpose, able to agree to work together for the sake of Christ’s Gospel. Note their different characters, strengths and weaknesses, styles and out-looks. What a joy it is to appreciate that there is room amongst the disciples of Jesus for such diversity. His followers take many forms brought together for one mission, that Jesus Christ may be known and welcomed, worshipped and followed as Son of God who gave Himself up for our salvation.Following Mass we were treated to a feast in the school grounds. Pupils, teachers, parents and parishioners indulged in burgers and ice-cream! What could we do but cancel the rest of the day?! Thank-you to all who worked to make it happen. Let’s remember and celebrate our Saints!On Saturday there was a Mass celebrated at St.Bernadette’s, Lancaster, gathering together many of those preparing to go on the Diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes. Following Mass we took refreshments and mingled. Nothing happened to ‘put me off’! We have a rich assortment of humanity blessed with Faith. The Pilgrimage itself must take a considerable amount of time and effort to organise, and relies on a great deal of good-will. The purpose of the Pilgrimage goes far beyond being a social event. It aims at helping us follow Jesus more closely and more generously. May it be an occasion of Grace for the Pilgrims, the Diocese and for all those we pray for.Mindful of Father Sony’s return to India at short notice to attend his mother’s funeral, over the weekend I offered to cover his Masses at Claughton and Goosnargh. I appreciate that ‘fuss’ has its place, but it was a delight to pretend for a short time that I was ‘just a priest in a parish’ What a beautiful vocation.Fr.John Moriarty and Castlerigg had invited me to celebrate Mass and join the out-going gap year workers for lunch on Monday. Time goes so quickly. Where was I this time last year? Where will I be a year from now? We paused to give thanks to God for the past year, with all the good that has been done. The life of each person who has been on a Castlerigg course is special to the Lord, and these young people have been part of His blessing for them. Thank-you to all of you who have served at the Manor during this past year. May the Lord bless each of you with the gift of strangers further along your way of life, just as you have been there for others.
Then there was the rest of the week . . . . . .personal conversations, surprise encounters with old friends, the odd bike ride as opportunity permits, the steady rhythm of prayer and Mass, a significant birthday (and cake!), and of course Meetings! Please God, this is part of our way to heaven.With every good wishes and prayers from the Diocese of Lancaster,

+ Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

 

Bishop’s Blog: Works of the Holy Spirit

Dear friends in Christ,

Welcome to the Bishop’s Blog!

Traditionally, our devotions during the month of June focus on the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. A number of parishes held Blessed Sacrament processions. This is to be encouraged. As we come to the end of June I commend the Diocese to the protection of Jesus’ Most Sacred Heart.
Confirmation Masses have continued in various parishes during the past week. St.Mary and Michael, Alston Lane, St.Francis, Goosnargh, and St.Bede’s, Carlisle, including parishioners from Our Lady of Eden. This was probably the most unpopular Mass thus far. Whilst we Confirmed the young people and praised God, England were losing to Belgium in the World Cup. Please note; England were competing for a single prize that, if successful, they will only keep for four years then have to hand back. Here we are receiving a far greater prize, and there’s enough for everyone, and it’s ours to keep! With most gifts we can ask ourselves, what am I going to do with it? With the gift of the Holy Spirit we can ask ourselves, what is this gift going to do with me? Exciting!At 9am on Saturday I joined an intrepid bunch of eleven cyclists outside St.Joseph’s church, Lancaster. This was a social event, cycling round the churches in the Lancaster deanery, advertised as a distance of 55miles. The day was fair, the company was good and the pace was modest enough for us to stay together. A number of the churches visited were new to me, and what a delight to find them open for us to clatter in and spend time in prayer. Welcome refreshments were served at various venues.

As we journeyed on we were conscious that Stephen Talbutt was being ordained Deacon for the Diocese at Oscott College. He was very much in our prayers.Sunday was, understandably, a quiet day.
On Monday I attended the opening and first session of the Catholic Teaching Alliance Conference for Teachers and Governors, held at Preston North End. This forum is growing in strength, popularity and relevance for our schools. From the start it was clear that Faith adds a completely new dimension to education, recognising the fulness of life redeemed by Christ.

Our Education system is building on a foundation laid by Christ rather than on one laid by some ideology of the passing moment. It is encouraging to see the positive effect this is having especially on young teachers. They feel valued..
I wish to conclude this week’s Blog by mentioning Fr.Sony, an Indian priest working in the Diocese as Parish Priest at Claughton and Hill Chapel, Goosnargh as well as serving as our Judicial Vicar. Fr.Sony’s performance on the bike ride was phenomenal given his lack of preparation and the condition of the bike he rode. On Tuesday afternoon I joined him for a delicious Indian meal before a beautiful evening Confirmation Mass at Hill Chapel. On Thursday evening he received news of his mother’s death in India. It is in such circumstances that the great sacrifice of serving far from home becomes most obvious. As a Diocese let us be sensitive to the generosity of those from abroad working here for the Lord. They are a sign of His generous love. Let us commend them and their families to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Sincerest good wishes and prayers,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

 

Bishop’s Blog: Confirmations & Gatherings

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!
As Bishop I receive lots of invitations to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation, to celebrate various feasts and special occasions, to bless people, things and gatherings. On Friday I responded to an invitation in St.Bernadette’s, Bispham simply to go and enjoy their Summer social entertainment concert. For a change I simply sat back and let them get on with it! It was a thoroughly entertaining evening and I enjoyed just being there in the audience. Thank-you. Over the weekend I was interviewed by BBC Radio Lancashire focussing on the recent Referendum in Ireland. We must take whatever opportunities we are given to promote the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of Life. What people make of our words and how they react to them is not ours to control. Yes, each of us is called to exercise our freedom, following a properly formed and informed conscience, but we must also be aware of the profound effect the consequences of our choices will have, particularly on the most vulnerable. It seems obvious that society is losing sight of the child within the womb. There must be an alternative to abortion.The past week I have celebrated Confirmation Masses at St.Clare’s, Fulwood and at Our Lady and St.Michal, Alston Lane. After the nerves I felt on earlier occasions I am now beginning to enjoy them. These events bring natural families and parish families together in a wonderful spirit of joy and life. After a day at work and school people have made the effort to prepare themselves for something very different. The gift of the Holy Spirit is given so that we can give witness to the life of Jesus to those amongst whom we live. It is a gift to be generously shared.
To balance these large public gatherings each week contains a number of meetings with small groups and individuals representing particular interest groups within the Diocese. Then there are the completely un-planned encounters which keep alive our sense of being part of the Lord’s plan.

May God bless you all.

As ever in Christ,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster