Laetare Sunday (4th Sunday of Lent)

Dear  friends in Christ,

Welcome to another post of the  Bishop’s Blog!It is the most beautiful Spring day! You can almost hear the grass growing in response to the sun’s warmth. Of course, that does not do away with the fact that we are experiencing the early stages of a global pandemic. We must all help to manage this threat to life and give our NHS workers a chance to cope.Across society we also mark the tradition of Mothers’ Day. It’s a good time to think of our mums and thank God for them. (I will be sneaking out to visit the grave of my own mum later today.) In times of difficulty we instinctively think of them.Many of us took them for granted. Only with the passing of adult years do we come to know them better, often recalling advice they gave years ago, or remembering their example of ‘being there’ for us.I thank mothers living far away whose children now live here, working and living by our side, fulfilling roles that make life better for us. Their children are a tribute to them. So many of them provide strong examples of faith.I have been reading a little about early Irish monasticism, and the influence the Egyptian desert fathers had on it. These were times that predated St.Benedict and his monastic Rule that has gone so far to shape monasticism as we know it.Two early saints of particular influence were St.Anthony of Egypt and St.Cassian. This St.Anthony should not be confused with the better known St.Anthony of Padua. We all know him well because he helps us find things when we lose them. St.Anthony of Egypt is likely to tell us we are better off without whatever it is we’ve lost! He lived a very spartan life, with practically no belongings apart from what he wore.St. Cassian grew as a strong guide to prayer. He pointed out that every individual prays differently, personally. He pointed out the great obstacles to prayer; sin, anxiety, pride, an absence of tranquillity. He taught that in spite of different ways of praying all prayer comes together in resolution, penitence, intercession and gratitude.He was a moderate man who discouraged all exaggerated forms and extremes of religious experience. No need to constantly striving for another ‘personal best’. Let the Good Lord achieve that in us if He so chooses.Interestingly for these current times, St.Anthony of Egypt is looked to as the patron Saint of contagious diseases. You may wish to explore this further.We are instructed to observe social isolation, but we do well to remember we are given other ways to keep in touch and remain in social contact. The wonders of modern communication are at our service for our good. Use them well.And don’t forget that the Saints and the Holy Souls are part of our social network too. Long before the internet was invented we had this tradition of social communication with the saints in heaven, and the Holy Soul awaiting entry into the fulness of Life. No need for sophisticated IT equipment to reach them. All that is needed is the simple ability to spend time in prayer. No one is truly alone.I also encourage us to remember our guardian angels in these times. When we pray for those in the front line let’s include them too.

With my prayers for you all,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

 

 

Keeping our attention on Christ!

My dear brother and sisters,

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

We know we live in exceptional times when, the day following a remarkable budget, the news is dominated by something else.I do not need to comment on COVID-19, except to say that the two sources of information for us are Public Health England and specific guidelines from the Diocesan office. What is clear already is that we are not at liberty to excuse ourselves from following the public guidelines. This is impacting on all our lives.What is equally clear is the need for us to live our Faith in an intense way in our daily lives. Now, more than ever, lives of Faith are needed. At the beginning of Lent I talked about our need to guard life And eternal life.In these circumstances we must retain our access to the Lord in any way we can. Our churches should be open for individuals to pay their visits to the Blessed Sacrament and find ‘that peace the world cannot give’. What a gift of peace they will find there!

Let us commend ourselves to the Lord. Let us pray daily for those most frightened, most lonely, most lost. Let us be at the heart of the daily news as people who confidently carry the Good News of Jesus: ‘Have no fear, I am with you always!’

With my Prayers,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

 

Lenten New Beginnings!

Dear friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!Last Saturday I presided at the Rite of Election in the Cathedral, Lancaster, receiving those who desire to be baptized into the Catholic Church at Easter Vigil. Also present were those adults from a number of parishes across the Diocese, wishing to be received into the Church during the Vigil.None of them looked mad, none gave the impression of ‘doing it for a bet’. They were genuine and sincere in their desire to become Catholics. What a joy this is to share! They have found the pearl of great price, the treasure hidden in the field.Complacency is always a temptation for those of us who were baptized as infants and have known no other way of life. How easily we can take our Faith for granted. How easy it is to neglect caring for it.How easy it is to let it risk being lost or damaged. How much in need we stand of being refreshed in Faith. Lent provides a suitable time for this, and these individuals making a choice to become Catholics provide us with good example.The risk of spreading Corona-virus is constantly ‘in our faces’ through the Media. We now hear of cases within the Diocese. Our response is led by Government guidelines and more detailed advice from the Bishops’ Conference Health desk. Of course, all this comes on top of everything else we have to attend to.Beware doing things in such a way as to ignite panic or distress in others. We must play our part within the national picture, and do it in a way that gives evidence of Faith. The way we treat one another can help or hinder, depending on the choices we make. Let this be a time when we can look after one another better.Finally, something that made me smile . . . . On Wednesday I had to go down to London for a meeting. On the Underground a young Moslem lady offered me her seat. I declined, politely of course! It seems I have crossed a certain ‘age-threshold’. Sometimes others recognize this more quickly than we do.
Don’t forget the Stations of the Cross . . . . . and Confession. As I write this I am preparing to head off to make mine.

 

Let us continue to pray for those experiencing the deepest despair and darkness at this time.

As ever in Christ our Lord,
+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

A PASTORAL LETTER FROM THE BISHOP OF LANCASTER FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT 2020

My dear friends in Jesus Christ,

This week’s Bishop’s Blog reaches out with my Pastoral Letter for Lent!

A PASTORAL LETTER FROM THE BISHOP OF LANCASTER

FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT 2020

Appointed to be read at all weekend Public Masses in the

Diocese of Lancaster, on the weekend of

29 February and 1 March 2020

Lent Pastoral (Year A)
My dear people,
The term ‘self-isolate’ has become familiar to us all in recent weeks in connection with the threat to life posed by the corona-virus. Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, in some way ‘selfisolated’ when faced with the threat to eternal life posed by sin. He was led into the wilderness not to avoid contact but to prepare to do battle with the enemy. We must take seriously risks to life. We must take even more seriously risks to eternal life.The Church has been entrusted with a beautiful treasure, the command to go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News. The Good News is the saving presence of Christ who, through His once and for all Sacrifice, has delivered a ‘knock-out’ blow to the devil. He has opened the way to heaven, and sends out His disciples to declare to all peoples, ‘the way is now clear!’As He was sent by the Father, so He sends us. But just as Our Lord was not always found amongst the crowds so it must be with His disciples. He withdrew, to be alone with the Father in intimate prayer. We too must find ways to withdraw to be alone with the Father. For Our Lord such times were not just important; they were essential. And so, from the earliest times personal prayer has been at the heart of every Christian’s life, and the Holy Season of Lent has been at the heart of the life of the Church. It is a time of ‘self-isolation’ with the Father, an act provoked by the Holy Spirit.

 

Sin did not end with the Resurrection. It has staggered to its feet and is intent on doing maximum damage to as many as possible in whatever time it has left. The Church must keep up its guard. Hold in mind the image of Christ appearing to turn His back on the crowds, the sick, the troubled, those in despair, those burdened by guilt, those who have lost hope, those weary with life, those who are afraid. Why would He turn His back on you?I believe that much in our society has turned its back on eternal life. It says this life, this world, is all we have. We must get our heaven here, and we must achieve it ourselves. Celebrity is the new sainthood.Tragically, the Church is bedevilled by scandals, crippled by factions and in-fighting. Her voice is all but silenced. Her authority to speak out is compromised. Her respect has been tarnished. We fear to be known as believers, as Mass-goers. We are having a lesson in humility.
Everyone carries deep within their hearts and souls a nostalgia for the garden of Eden, for Paradise, because we are created in the image and likeness of God. We are called to share the life of the Blessed Trinity, and to know a life with nothing to spoil it. Without faith that life is beyond our imagining; without a saviour it is certainly beyond our hope.Comfort is found in the humble remnant. Few though they are they still carry faithfully the message and Light of the Gospel. Christ remains present, His Good News unchanged, still an option, an offer for those who hear it and embrace it in their need. Good News is designed for sad people.This Lent I would like us all to take up the Way of the Cross as our Lenten devotion. Take it up not as a penance or a hardship but as a joy. As a young child going to Mass with the family our regular place was next to the fourth station, Jesus meets His Mother. This Station still carries special memories of family and childhood and having a place. Let us try to find a place for the Stations of the Cross in our lives.Many years ago as a young priest in St Cuthbert’s, Blackpool, a parishioner gave a painting of the Crucifixion to the parish. It was unusual because the artist had presented the scene as if he was positioned just behind the Cross, looking past Our Lord’s head towards the on-lookers. You could see Mary and St John and the executioners and the women, but he had cleverly given other figures the features of his family and those he knew. He has given one his own features. Let us try to find a place for our lives within the Stations of the Cross. Our parishes and convents will arrange regular times to pray the Stations of the Cross. Make the effort to join them. If you have not done this before let this Lent be a new start. I also recommend praying them personally, privately, either in your churches or at home. Perhaps spread them through the working day, in the morning, at break, at midday, afternoon, evening and last thing as you prepare to retire. Many different meditations are available to suite different personalities. It could be enough to have the images before you and you simply spend a little time looking at each. Try to be drawn into the scenes. The more creative of you may even try writing your own meditations.Prayer, fasting and concern for the poor are the three essential elements of a good Lent, but prayer is the first. Perhaps if we take that more seriously the other elements will be more fruitful. Some have no choice about giving up food. Others have their wealth and possessions taken from them. Many of us still have the luxury of making a choice in these things.Mary knew the mission of her Son. She knew why He entered the wilderness, why He had to be taken from her, why He had to suffer. She also knew the sins of the people and the almost overwhelming futility of trying to live a life of Faith. But she remained faithful, gathered with that little remnant of disciples, patient, attentive, hopeful. May the Mother of all hope walk closely with each of you this Lent to bring you and those you pray for safe into the new season of Resurrection.

Sincerest good wishes and prayers,

+ Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

P.S. A good Confession would not do any harm either! Decide when you will go.

Approaching Lent!

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

We are about to begin the Holy Season of Lent. It is our way to the Resurrection of Christ. It begins, as you know so well, with the dramatic anointing of our foreheads with blessed ash, and the words, ‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.‘I know the alternative words are also available, ‘Turn away from sin. Believe the Good News.’ Perhaps, given all the information we are given on the state of the world’s health those first words about dust are more appropriate. We are part of the creation. We are formed from the dust/slime of the earth.To give our attention to the creation is certainly an invitation to search for the Creator, and remain mindful of what that Creator can do with dust.As Lent approaches I look forward to celebrating the Rite of Election at the Cathedral on the first Saturday in Lent. It is such a joy to see and meet people from across the Diocese, people who have found Christ and are beginning their journey with Him.So many of us were Baptised as infants. We did not choose to enter the Church; we have our parents to thank for this blessing above all blessings.But these adults have decided to become Catholics. They bring something fresh and wholesome into our lives at a time when we need this refreshing. It is a joy to meet them and listen to their stories. I am grateful for those who helped them find their way to this moment.Lent can appear a rather forbidding time, but it brings spring into our soul. I pray it is a time of deepening your relationship with the Lord, especially if you are experiencing difficulties. He chose to enter the desert for you, and with love for us all. With His love our difficulties are changed into a sharing of His Cross and lead us to the Resurrection. Only remember, He loved us first. Let us love with His love.

With my prayers for you all,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

 

Through the past Week…

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

This time last week the Cathedral was full of hundreds of our school pupils and staff. They came to share the Walsingham Dowry Tour, preparing for 29th March when the Catholic community of England will take part in a solemn act of Rededication of England as the Dowry of Mary.Over the two days 6th – 8th February, Mgr Armitage (Rector of the Walsingham Shrine) together with an enthusiastic team of volunteers, helped us host a most moving and encouraging event. It was a moment of deep devotion to Our Blessed Lady. Personally I was greatly encouraged both by the numbers able to visit the Cathedral and by the example of prayer. Thank-you to all who had any part in this work of Grace. I hope Sr.Sharon is able to include some of the wonderful photographs that help capture something of the occasion. It should be widely shared across the Diocese.Our schools responded very generously. Friday morning the Cathedral was packed with our Blessed Lord, our school-children and with sunlight!On 11th February, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes (Diocesan Patroness), I celebrated Mass at St.Kentigern’s, Blackpool. It was a wild, wet evening. Even so, there was a good attendance of faithful souls.It seemed fitting to have this Feast following so closely on the Walsingham visit. It was a confirmation of Our Lady’s presence here. And she is certainly needed as we face all the demands of our times. These can seem so overwhelming.The list of things to do and problems to solve appears endless. Our time and resources can appear so limited. But then, we recall what Christ has done for us, and the Gift of His Spirit, and the promise of eternal Life, and all is bathed in a different light.I close this Blog by making mention of a faithful parishioner of the Cathedral parish who passed to the Lord on the day the Walsingham Tour opened. Mary Carthy has served the Lord with generosity and love all her life. She has been a treasure in the Cathedral parish for years, ministering to clergy and particularly to my recent predecessors.I know her dear family will be struggling to come to terms with her death, but they have the profound consolation of remembering her good and full life, and her own joy at being called to the Lord in heaven. As Catholics experiencing personal loss we have the comfort, please God, of knowing that every day that passes draws us a day nearer to seeing our loved ones again. What splendid motivation for valuing the work of the Church and the place of pray!

With my blessing to you all, especially those of you carrying particularly heavy or dark burdens,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

Our Lady of Walsingham Dowry Tour!

My dear friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

Lancaster Cathedral has taken its place in the National Tour of Our Lady of Walsingham. The Tour is something of a Pilgrimage. We are familiar with making Pilgrimages to Shrines of devotion, especially Shrines dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. Now it is as though the Blessed Virgin makes a journey to come to us.Yesterday evening I was greatly moved to see so many of the Faithful here with me in the Cathedral for the opening Mass and blessing/crowning of Our Lady’s statue. This morning I was equally moved to be with so many groups of children and staff from our Catholic schools. The Cathedral was busy! My thanks to so many who made the journey to Lancaster. I also thank Fr. Pearson and the Cathedral staff and volunteers who were very brave to welcome so many.I am grateful to Mgr John Armitage, Antonia Moffatt and their team from Walsingham for this Grace-filled visit.We are preparing to rededicate England as the Dowry of Mary. This will take place on Sunday 29th March.I do recommend you visit the Walsingham Facebook page and website for some wonderful photos.May the rich blessings from this event reach every heart and corner of the Diocese, especially those in most need of Christ’s loving, healing, comforting presence.With my prayers,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster 

Dowry, Brexit and the God Who Speaks

Dear friends,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!On this day when we ‘leave Europe’ I am trying to gain a sense of perspective about its significance.
I am no political commentator, nor do I have economic expertise. On these aspects of Brexit I make no comment, except to say that for all the predictions being offered we ought not to be at the mercy of speculators. There is so much that will only be known when it is known!I do know something of Faith in Christ and His Gospel. It strikes me as important that Catholics respond to this moment in our history with firm Faith.Two gifts are given to us; the first is the fact that this year is full of The God Who Speaks, an initiative of your Bishops to help us deepen our knowledge of Jesus Christ, the Word of God. Do visit the Diocesan website or that of the CBCEW to find out more.The second gift we are given is the visit to our Cathedral next week (Thursday 6th – Saturday 8th Feb) of Mgr. Armitage and the team from Walsingham. They bring the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham as well as the model of the Holy House of Nazareth. It will be a time of Education, Devotion and Prayer for us, focussing on Our Blessed Lady’s place in the life of Catholic England over centuries, up to today, and in the years ahead.These two gifts will put ‘leaving Europe’ in a much better light, the Light of Faith. The ‘Dowry Tour’ is drawing attention to an event that will take place on 29th March, the Rededicating of England as the Dowry of Mary. ‘What on earth is that about??!!’ I hear some of you muttering . . . It is Christ-centred and hugely relevant for us at this time, whatever our place on the Brexit spectrum. I commend to you both these timely gifts of Faith. They will bring a calm into your life to settle anxieties caused by present uncertainties. Without doubt we face uncertain times, and for some there will be serious difficulties.Let us remember when faced with such worries the prayer of St.Teresa of Avila the 16th century Spanish Carmelite nun;

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you.
All things are passing, but God never changes.
Patient endurance attains what is needed.
Whoever trusts in God will find they lack nothing.
God alone suffices.

May this beautiful and simple prayer be with you and in your heart now and in the days to come.

As ever in Christ our Lord,+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

 

Happy New Year!

Dear friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

We are well into it by now. Do you recall all those people putting up their Christmas lights long before Christmas (and even Advent)? Well let’s hang on to our Christmas Faith long after the Feast. Let us personally hold the Light of Christmas well into the new year.Candlemas is not far away now. Make something of this beautiful Feast of Light and Hope. Get to Mass or visit the Blessed Sacrament and light a candle for your intentions.The world remembers the 75th anniversary of the Holocaust. Light is needed here, so that we can be humble in the face of such darkness. Our respect for our brothers and sisters in the Jewish Faith is important. Let our compassion and prayer be light for them.We also encourage ways of working and praying with our brethren in non-Catholic churches. There is undoubtedly much that holds us beck from full communion. Honesty is necessary to acknowledge this.Even so, there is much that brings us together. When I was growing up in Garstang there was something of an ‘us-and-them’ mentality about ecumenism. Now, thank the Lord, there is much to unite us in the face of aggressive secularism.Saving the planet is on the agenda ‘big-time’. In some ways the planet will look after itself, and Christ has already saved it anyway. But you know what I mean. I wonder, is it our convenient life-style, with unlimited options, instant communication and results that we are trying to save?Sensitivity to the well-being of creation is not new to Catholics, even if we have tended to ignore the Church’s teaching and certain acts of piety. CAFOD have promoted ‘live simply’ for years. For even longer, fasting and abstinence have been essential elements to Christian life.

There is renewed encouragement to adopt healthier, less wasteful habits now. Personal discipline is such hard work though! Why bother? The bottom line is, because Jesus did it. That’ll do me.

My blessings go to you and your families.

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster