Bishop’s Blog: A Pastoral Letter from the Bishop of Lancaster for Good Sheperd’s Sunday

Dear Friends,

This week on the Bishop’s Blog I would like to share with you my Pastoral Letter for this coming weekend- which is Good Shepherd (Or Vocation)Sunday.

I hope this Letter helps the faithful of the Diocese in their prayer and support of their Pastors and those discerning a priestly vocation:

A PASTORAL LETTER FROM THE BISHOP OF LANCASTER

FOR GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY 4TH SUNDAY OF EASTERTIDE YEAR C.

Appointed to be read at all Public Masses in the Diocese of Lancaster on the weekend of 11th and 12th May 2019

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, When Our Blessed Lord chose the image of the Good Shepherd and His sheep as the model for His Church He had the Diocese of Lancaster in mind. We know what He is talking about because our beautiful Diocese is full of sheep, and shepherds; hardy beasts and hardy people. They are a common enough sight throughout our area, although not so common in Blackpool or Preston of course.Many of you listening to this Pastoral Letter may have read James Rebank’s popular book of recent times, ‘The Shepherd’s Life’. Two thousand years ago Our Lord chose words that we can understand even in our own times. We are people of Faith: the things of this world teach us about the things of eternity.The Bishop’s crozier or crook is a present-day sign that Christ still leads His flock through the ministry of the Bishop and his clergy. This beautiful pastoral image appeals to us in its simplicity. It contains a powerful truth about the relationship Our Blessed Lord wants with us. It presents us with an insight into the nature of God, not as some remote, authoritarian figure but as God directly involved in safeguarding the well-being of His little ones.The Bishop together with his clergy must preserve the true figure of the true God. Fewer of you will be familiar with St Augustine’s homily, ‘On the shepherds’, or St Gregory the Great’s ‘Pastoral Rule’, or so many other Christian writings from across the ages drawing on the simple image of shepherd and flock. The word ‘pastoral’ points us to the Good Shepherd as does the word ‘Pastor’.Jesus declares Himself to be the Good Shepherd who knows His flock, calls each one by name, and promises to lay down His life for His sheep. He commands Peter to feed His lambs, to look after His sheep. They need to be fed. They need to be protected. The Bishop and his clergy must continue to obey this command. Present day sheep farmers, like James Rebanks, must keep a keen eye on the changing spring weather. An old shepherd in upper Wyresdale once told me it’s the combination of cold and wet that threatens most. A Shepherd in Ravenglass once told me that if people ever saw what a fox does with lambs they would understand why foxes are so hated. Look out over a field of young lambs and you’ll often notice crows and gulls amongst them. The birds are only there for one thing, and if you watch for long enough you may have your stomach turned when you see them strike. The pastoral scene is not always pretty. The Bishop and his clergy must be constantly vigilant against whatever threatens the flock, especially the young and weak. On this Vocations Sunday we take note of Christ’s words about His sheep, ‘they listen to my voice . . . . they follow me . . . . they will never be lost . . . . no one can steal them from me . . . . ‘ This could be the voice of any good Cumbrian or Lancashire sheep farmer. They must be the words in the hearts of the Bishop and his clergy . The Church exists to make present and continue the Mission of Jesus Christ. It must put away any image that would distort His features or weaken our understanding of Him, or lessen our sense of His care, or silence His voice.Lives are at stake. Eternal life is at stake. The Bishop and his clergy are a constant reminder of this.But it is not all about the Bishop and his clergy. Parents naturally want what is best for their children. They want them to be safe. They want them to be happy. And they are the first protectors of their children. They are the first to teach their children about God and the ways of Faith. Any who deny them this or delay to teach them about the spiritual life cannot know God. Those who delay Baptism or neglect it altogether put themselves and their children at risk. Only blind ignorance can be their defence. The Bishop and his clergy must promote sound teaching and knowledge of the one, true God. Our Diocese needs good, committed Catholics. We need families where husband and wife combine to raise children who know that the love of God is real. Single parents are not ‘second-class’. They too can build homes in which the Lord is known and His call is heard clearly. We need parents and teachers courageous and generous enough to encourage their children to take seriously a vocation to the Religious Life. And we need parents who respect and value the ordained Priesthood enough to encourage their sons to consider this as their way of life, their way to heaven. The Bishop and his clergy are sons of such parents. I have no doubt that such parents are to be found in our Diocese.

Let us speak positively about such things. I ask you to reflect on these words, and turn your reflections into prayers, and turn your prayers into actions. The Church in its humanity has many flaws, one of them is writing this Pastoral Letter! I am no theologian, but I have been given the heart of a shepherd, and so have some of the young men listening to this. I appeal to you this Sunday to create a ‘vocations culture’ in your parish. Such a culture will allow Christ to call forth priests for our parishes, shepherds for His flock. Finally, please pray for your Bishop and his clergy. Please pray particularly for our young clergy. Please pray for Deacon Stephen Talbutt who is to be ordained to the Priesthood in July this year. Please pray for our two seminarians, Stuart Chapple and Philip Wrigley.

With my prayers and blessings,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

Bishop’s Blog: Visiting Pastures Old and New!

My dear Friends  in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

The Fifth Sunday of Lent saw me on Visitation to Scorton and Garstang. Back amongst family and old friends it was a Visitation like no other, the congregation full of ghosts – welcome ghosts!These parishes will be affected along with all the rest in some way as our circumstances change. What the Lord will make of us is in His hands. During the Visitation we were able to pray for Mgr Tully who served for many years as PP in Scorton. He died peacefully in a Grange Care Home the following Monday. Fr.David Elder, for many years PP at Garstang, has recently received sad news concerning his own health. Even so, much good work remains to be done in whatever time the Lord will give. Monday evening I was in Preston as a guest speaker at an ecumenical gathering at the Central Methodist church. This would be the last in a series of Lenten talks. Mine was entitled; ‘How well do you know the wilderness?’I marked the first anniversary of my Episcopal Ordination by celebrating Mass at St.Mary’s Seminary, Oscott. During Mass the Ministries of Lector and Acolyte were conferred on some of the seminarians. Following Mass a splendid meal was enjoyed in the refectory. Such an occasion was plenty of food for thought and reflection since I was at Ushaw seminary in the 1970s receiving these same Ministries. It marked part of the journey to here. We grow closer to the Lord sometimes slowly and sometimes it seems to be in leaps and bounds. The approach to Holy Week can be similar each year but should find us closer than before. Oscott certainly gave me a sense of having moved on, as I considered these young men in their early years of formation.The following morning Stuart, one of our Diocesan seminarians gave me an early lift to the local Railway Station. I was on my way to London for a meeting. Besides having care of their particular Diocese each Bishop is given additional responsibilities in some department of the Bishops’ Conference. Mine is with International Affairs and Missio.The Conference has been linked with the Church in Sudan and South Sudan for several years, as an expression of solidarity and accompaniment in the midst of their on-going national turmoil. I look forward to my first visit in the autumn, taking over from Bishop Bill Kenney of Birmingham.


And now on the eve of Holy Week, our parishes are prepared for the most solemn Liturgies of the year. Little is needed by way of preaching if the Liturgies are followed faithfully.

Sincerest good wish and prayers for Holy Week,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

Bishop’s Blog: Looking back so as to look forward

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!Anyone who read or heard my Pastoral letter at the beginning of Lent may have been struck by the parish sister’s intention to ‘do less’ for Lent. Given the continued lack of a regular Blog, some of you may believe I have taken her words much to heart. In fact, I haven’t. It’s simply a case of my best intention producing little for it. But hope still springs eternal.Monday I was present at the Installation Mass of Bishop Robert Byrne as Ordinary for Hexham and Newcastle. It was a glorious spring day, celebrating the Mystery of the Annunciation of Our Blessed Lady.I was delighted to meet Bishop Michael Campbell OSA, our first encounter since his retirement. I am pleased to say he is looking very well, and enjoys good health.At this moment I am about to set off for a retreat in North Wales, and I am looking forward to it almost desperately so. It has been a long twelve months with a ‘steep learning curve’. The retreat will be a chance to look back with thanks giving on all the Grace and rich experiences I have been given. It will also be a chance to steady myself for all that is to come.One realization I have is how much I miss parish life. Recently I have begun Parish Visitations. These are a comfort and encouragement for me. It is a joy to meet the lay faithful of our parishes and helps give me confidence for the future. Of course, the immediate future is more of Lent, the Holy Week then Easter.Add to that the on-going personal, family, national and world affairs and we have quite enough to occupy us. Only have Faith. Do let’s make sure we are listening to the Gospel and the voice of Christ as much as we are letting in the voices of our busy, noisy world.

May God Bless you all.

As ever in Christ,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

Bishop’s Blog: The Rite of Election and the Miracle Rally

Dear friends in Christ of the Diocese of Lancaster and beyond,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog! Last weekend was a welcome up-lift for me, all the more so since it brought unexpected joys. On Saturday afternoon at the Cathedral we held the Rite of Election at which we formally marked the desire of several individuals to become Catholic Christians. Others attending will be received into the Church this Easter. Both groups were supported by family, friends and clergy from all over the Diocese. (I am conscious that several others were prevented from being with us due to travel difficulties.) I find these personal journeys leading people to Christ quite moving and definitely encouraging.In spite of all the issues, problems and bad press the Church gets -some of it sadly self-inflicted – Our Lord continues to speak to the heart and draw us to Himself. We know He wishes that for all of us. It is wonderful to see it actually happening and to see people having the courage and love to let it happen. Think about it.The following day I was in Preston for Mass with Damian Steyne, Cor et Lumen Christi and a Miracle Rally. I was there on the quieter day of the weekend but still found quite a crowd. A particular joy was to discover a group of women from Zambia who live in Leeds and had come over for the weekend. Some of them even knew Chivuna, my old parish. There was singing and dancing! Lent does not ask us to fast from Joy..
As this week comes to an end there is more sorry news in the media, particularly the terrorist tragedy in Christchurch, New Zealand. But our lives as followers of Christ are not ‘problem-led’ or even ‘media-led’. We must take note of them and do what we can to play our part in world’s affairs, and be light and leaven.We will not be indifferent to the suffering around us, but we will certainly not willingly be the cause of it either. There world has enough problems. A little time in the wilderness won’t do us any harm in the long run.

As ever in Christ our Lord,

 

+P

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

Bishop’s Blog: A Pastoral Letter for Entering into the season of Lent

                                A PASTORAL LETTER FROM THE BISHOP OF LANCASTER FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT

Appointed to be read at all weekend Public Masses in the Diocese of Lancaster on the weekend of 9/10 March 2019My Dear People,
We need the holy season of Lent, both personally and for the Church. It is a gift given to us by Jesus Himself. It will be our way to Easter. It will be where we find mercy and healing and hope. We need the discipline of the desert if we are to become the disciples of Jesus. It is not optional. We know that some wounds do not heal themselves. If a wound is to be made better it must be taken to the doctor, and uncovered and cleaned.We are told that Jesus was led by the Spirit through the wilderness. What was His purpose in entering such an inhospitable place, and why did He stay so long? To answer that question and understand we must go back to the beginning, to the story of Creation. We know it well, we were there.We are told that the Lord God fashioned man out of the dust of the earth, and breathed life into him, giving the first ever ‘kiss of Life’. The Lord God created a beautiful garden for Adam and Eve, and His habit was to walk there with them in the cool of the evening. Each evening of the days of creation God looked at what He had made and said it was good. Somewhere deep within the soul of each of us lies the memory of that garden and those walks, and those words.We are told that the fall from grace came quickly. We were expelled from the garden. Life would now be lived in a hard land. The story continues with the call of Abraham, setting out with his people to search for a land flowing with milk and honey. Those people became slaves in Egypt. They stayed there for a long time but never forgot that it wasn’t their true home. Miraculously, they found themselves free, standing on the shore of the Red Sea, looking to the west across the water at the land from which they had escaped. They turned to the east and saw before them the great wilderness through which they must go to find their homeland. That is where we stand at the moment we are baptised, free but still faced with a long journey home.Centuries later, the people of Israel once again lost their place. They were taken into exile, to Babylon. And yet, those deep memories never left them, feeding their dreams and their hope that one day they would again be found. One day God will return and take us home
The coming of Jesus – Son of God, son of Mary – into the world, reassures us that the Father has not forgotten His children, or given up on them. Beautiful though this world can be it is not home and does not give us lasting satisfaction. We only have to think of how many people believe their happiest days are behind them. Perhaps you are one of them. How easily so much good work is lost.We are told that Jesus enters the wilderness to do battle with the devil. He is fighting for us. Where is this battle-ground? We are not talking of the African Sahara or the Empty Quarter of Arabia or some other vast geographical desert. The wilderness Jesus enters is very near to us, even within us. It is the wilderness of the human heart. We do not live in the desert. Water pours easily from our taps and showers; our shops are full of nice things; our homes are full of comforts; we sleep on soft beds. The wilderness Jesus is entering is your heart. He reminds us of that first ‘kiss of life’. He tells us we do not need to live on memories or believe our best days are over, no matter how badly things have gone. To the devil He brings battle; to us He brings mercy and healing and nourishment for the journey we must make.Ironically, we can learn most about love through experiences of love lost or love gone wrong or love wasted. It is a lesson of the heart. Once we begin to learn this lesson we can find joy. The value of life is known when it is most at risk.When I was abroad, I worked with a young African Sister in the parish. One year, as Lent was approaching, I asked her what she was doing for Lent. Her answer shocked me. ‘Father, this Lent I have decided to do less!’ It was not what I had expected, and it took me a while to understand, but then I realised she had a good point. I am very grateful to her to this day. We are all so busy. There is so much to do. Our ‘labour-saving’ devices have us running round like headless chickens! But God built into creation a regular day of rest. We have lost it – or been robbed of it. We need it back because it enables us to see what really matters . . . and what doesn’t.
Jesus left the busy world behind and entered the emptiness of the wilderness, to do battle and to find us and rescue us and lead us home. Many of us may be unable to make the time to pray and worship as we know we should. I know all too well the pressures of modern life. Yes, we can fast and deny ourselves some comfort. Everyone is dieting or cutting down on drink or training for something. Yes, we can make more contributions to the poor. So many are giving to the endless appeals and good causes that surround us every day.But finding time for serious prayer so easily defeats us. Even so, I strongly encourage you to make even a small effort this Lent to take time to pray. It need not be for long. Sadly, our churches are often very noisy places. But when everyone has gone and you are quiet and alone with Our Lord, present in the Blessed Sacrament, you can enter the wilderness of your heart and find Jesus. He is already there, fighting for you and waiting for you.I appeal to my parish clergy to arrange for our churches to be open for you during the day so that you can find time to pray, even if it’s only five minutes. Perhaps at least at weekends, or a specific weekday evening (publicised) to cater for those who work.I appeal to parishioners to overcome all that would discourage you, especially when you meet opposition or even ridicule. Plenty of people will tell you it’s not worth it. I tell you it is! Take the little children to church outside Mass times. Introduce them to the treasure of silent prayer. Show them how to be quiet! Let them watch you pray.The Prophet Hosea wrote these beautiful words, ‘I am going to lure her, and lead her out into the wilderness, and speak to her heart.’ It is the Lord speaking of His love for us.
This Lent do a little less: let Jesus achieve a little more.
With my blessing to each of you.

Yours sincerely in Christ,

+Paul Swarbrick
Bishop of Lancaster

The Bishop’s Blog: Our Lady Vulnerata- Pray for Us

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Welcome back to the Bishop’s Blog!On the opening day of the Vatican Summit on the Protection of Minors in the Church we held a clergy in-service training day on Safeguarding. The day was well attended, expertly delivered, and actively engaged in by the participants.The day opened with a simple reflection on the statue of Our Lady Vulnerata, the original of which is found in the English College, Valladolid, Spain. It is worth taking time to know the story of this devotion.Our Safeguarding Officer mentioned that she has adopted devotion to this Madonna in her work. It speaks of the tragic damage done to infants, children and the vulnerable as well as the pain caused within the Church by abuse in whatever form it takes. This devotion deserves to be better known and used, particularly in an age when there is so much hurt in life, and much of it hidden.As your Bishop I have accepted to take the ‘hot-seat’ in matters concerning the safe-guarding of minors and vulnerable adults. I must take whatever comes. One consolation is the dedication of my immediate predecessors in establishing a competent safe-guarding regime within the Diocese, very ably assisted in this by Fr.Billing. It is a precious inheritance which must in turn be appreciated, invested in and developed. I have dedicated each Friday morning to Safe-guarding matters. Regular attention to files, reading and being available to listen to whoever has need seems an essential duty for any Bishop these days. Of course, I do not limit my availability to this time only, nor should you assume that whoever sees me on a Friday morning has a Safe-guarding issue; they may simply be coming to tell me it’s about time I cleaned my car!Sex-abuse scandals are inevitably going to define the Church in this age. But it opens the way for a response which will be part of that definition too. Action, reform, penance, fasting and prayer must become prominent and long-lasting. There can be no quick fix to the damage done. We have to live with these wounds, and recognise the wounds that we and the Church have caused in others.Having said that, it is no insignificant thing that the risen Christ still carried the wounds of the Cross. When He showed them to Simon Peter He could have said, ‘Look. This is how much you hurt me.’ Instead He said, ‘Look. This is how much I love you.’ It is the wounded one who will speak first, when ready and able. It is for us Bishops to listen in deep humility and shame and do penance, and believe that somehow Love will prevail.

As ever in Christ,

+ Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

P.S. Please remember in your prayers Canon Tom Dakin, ordained for the Diocese in 1951, who died last Monday.

An outstanding priest, gentleman and a scholar. May he rest in peace.

 

 

 

The Bishop’s Blog: Seeking the Light

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

‘The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ These reassuring words from the Gospel of St.John find clear expression on the Feast of the Lord’s Presentation, Candlemas.I restrict this week’s Blog to two invitations I received for that Feast Day, both taking place on the Fylde coast. Every invitation I receive holds an element of excitement. I don’t always know what I am ‘letting myself in for’. This was never more true than accepting to join Faith and Light for their annual Mass and get-together at Our Lady Star of the Sea, St.Anne’s. This would be my first experience of Faith and Light, and it was delightful. Mgr Aiden Turner acted as guide.How misleading to describe these people as having learning disabilities, as though the rest of us don’t. When it comes to celebrating the Mass with whole-hearted reverence and joy they left me standing. What a moving re-enactment of the Lord’s Presentation. What enthusiastic singing, and what a tangible spirit of faith in the Lord of Life. Caring for those less able to care for themselves will draw out of us depths of love and self-giving we did not know we possessed.Tea and cakes following the Mass meant that we were nourished in body and soul.My second invitation was to St.Cuthbert’s parish, South Shore, Blackpool, for the opening of a Novena of prayer in honour of Our Lady of Lourdes (Patroness of the Diocese together with St.Cuthbert). The Novena prayers were followed by Solemn Benediction. In the company of Our Blessed Lady we knelt to worship the Lord of Life. My thoughts were full of those special ‘Faith-and-Light’ people whose company I had enjoyed just a little earlier. A darkness crept into my mind as I reflected how our present culture is inclined to place such lives at risk. We can eradicate such disabilities, judging them to be defective or an unwanted burden on families. It can be couched in terms suggesting we are doing everyone a favour by preventing or disposing of such ‘less than perfect’ people. But when we do that we dispose of something of ourselves. Christ teaches us another way of measuring life’s value, the way of love.Guard against being led by the norms and trends of society which can be so inconsistent. And yet, we are reminded all too often of the inconsistencies and imperfections within the Church herself. There is no room for complacency in our efforts or boasting of our achievements. We need a Saviour. To find and defend Life we must follow the Light!

Sincerest good wishes and prayers,
+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

P.S. Prayerful Birthday Greetings  to Mgr. Slattery Francis!