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!

 

The Bishop’s Blog: Signs of healing within the Body of Christ

My dear friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

Christian Unity Octave expanded to include a Churches Together in Cockermouth and Area gathering on 30th Jan. I was invited to join them for prayer and speak to the assembly. This is a revitalised group, showing strong evidence of different Christian traditions working and worshipping together. A Quaker asked me what does a Catholic Bishop do? The simple answer is that I follow Christ’s call. I am a disciple. Beyond that, I safeguard the continuity of Christ’s teaching and the proclaiming of His Gospel to the world. There must have been towards 100 people present, including some welcome faces I knew from my years in Workington.An evening of prayer at St.Joseph’s, Skerton brought together local Christian groups to meditate on the life of St.Paul on the day celebrating his conversion. Again, it was a joy to be part of this local initiative providing evidence of the healing of divisions within the Body of Christ.
At the weekend I was privileged to attend part of the AGM for the British Lourdes Medical Association. Hosted by Lancaster Lourdes, and held at the Village, Blackpool, this was my first such event. The vigil Mass was celebrated at St.Cuthbert’s Blackpool where I had served as a curate in the 1980s.The highlight for me was to be in the company of Sr.Bernadette Muriau, declared in 2018 to be the 70th official miracle of the Shrine. Now 80years old, she is the picture of good health and a joy to be with. At the heart of her story is her love for the Blessed Sacrament and faithfulness to prayer of adoration of Jesus in the Eucharist. Do please commit yourselves to such prayer and adoration. When we kneel before Jesus, present in the Most Holy Eucharist we could be described as being in ‘the healing zone’.Amongst so many other ‘bits and pieces’ over the past week I took time out to visit Coniston. The Knights of St.Columba (Carlisle) have taken on a project to develop the presbytery as holiday accommodation suitable for families. Nearing completion now I was delighted to have this sneak preview and enjoy the company of Peter Campbell KSC who is dedicated to seeing the project through. So many of our Lakeland parishes have no resident priest and fewer active parishioners than in former times.Yet we must find imaginative ways of keeping a vibrant, welcoming Catholic presence in the small communities of the Lake District. We must be part of the abiding beauty for locals and visitors. Do keep Coniston in mind for family and group holidays. Details are available from the KSC in Carlisle..
On a sadder note, we have heard of the death of Fr.Aelred Grugan, parish priest of St.Mary’s, Kells. In recent years Fr.Aelred had been living in Scotland partly due to his declining health. Our prayers go out to his family, friends and his beloved parishioners in Kells.

As ever in Christ,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

The Bishop’s Blog: World Youth Day 2019

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

This week’s Bishop’s Blog reaches out with a message for the World Youth Day!

My dear young people of the Diocese of Lancaster,I send you my greetings as you gather to celebrate World Youth Day 2019. You are part of something embracing the whole world, and are united in a special way with our Holy Father, Pope Francis, meeting in Panama with so many who were able to make the journey.
Perhaps some of you will still have strong memories from the last World Youth Day in Poland which you were fortunate to be part of. How quickly the time goes! How quickly we move on in our lives!My appeal to you is that you find a way to give Jesus a home in the heart of your life, because He is our Life! He is not trying to sell us anything or to take advantage of anyone. He has your best interest at heart, nothing less.As young people who know Jesus you have a very valuable role to include Him in your social media networking. Let Him be there, part of your social life. Help Him to have a voice to speak to others and an ear to listen to them. Help Him to reach out in love and respect to young people whose lives are in a bad place just now. Through the way you include Him in your messaging and use of the internet, let Him be there, bringing His Grace and Love and Life to so many waiting to know Him.I also ask you to pray for families, your own and those of the people you relate to. Families are not always the easiest place to be, and can be very difficult for some. Still, for the majority they are places of safety and stability for us as we grow up. As you get older make a decision to keep in touch with home. Do what you can to add to its value, helping to make it work, looking after it, just simple things really, that really make a difference. None of us like being taken for granted. Let’s try to make our homes places where we learn to appreciate one another, even our brothers and sisters!I hope that each of you can sense the gift of life within you and every person. I hope you feel an enthusiasm for the wonder of creation, and how fragile it is. I pray that you have faith to believe how much the Lord has done for you because of His love. I ask you to choose to make good happen, for yourself and others, taking your lead from the life of Jesus and from others who have chosen to follow Him. As your (still) new Bishop, I look forward to getting to know you better. I am so glad you are there! I look forward to making time for you, listening to you, walking with you, learning with you, praying with you.

May God bless you all.

As ever in Christ,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

 

The Bishop’s Blog: The Cause of Christian Unity

Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

The New Year is well into its stride by now, full of promise but also packed with the uncertainties we must learn to live with. Some cope better than others with these things. My hope is that we can help one another along the way, and we can be helped to see where we can turn for such help. Our lives are dotted with good people, willing to give their time and share their experience and nudge that balance in favour of hope in spite of all that tries to pull us down.The week of prayer for Christian Unity is a hardy annual in our calendar. This year my own experience has already been enhanced by my being part of a gathering of Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops in Leicester. Some might have called it a ‘talking shop’ but that wouldn’t be fair. It served to deepen our enthusiasm for and commitment to the desire of Jesus for us to be united disciples, working together for the spread of His Gospel.Good doesn’t just happen; it makes demands on us. We must leave the comfort and cosiness of what we are familiar with, our well-known ways of working and living. We must be seen to associate with each other, turning prayer into action, helping blossom become fruit. This is the will of Christ. He prayed for it, and lived for it.Early last week I had time to meet with Jill Duff, the Anglican suffragan bishop of Lancaster. At the end of next week I will attend an ecumenical concert at St.Joseph’s, Lancaster. Perhaps these don’t look like much in themselves, but I hope they will play their part in building an environment within which we can get to know each other better and overcome some of the awkwardness that still dogs our relationships. We are more than our history.Not long ago we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Family. It is worth reflecting on how we get on in our families, what binds us together, what helps and what hurts. As disciples of Jesus we are related, we have brothers and sisters with whom we can be somewhat estranged. That need not remain the way it is. Each day of the year ahead is an invitation and an opportunity to quietly set about repairing the Holy Family of the Church and the churches. Not everything needed will be achieved, but that shouldn’t stop us from moving things in a better direction, even if it is only a small step.Many people admit to struggling with prayer. One approach that may help is if we simply place ourselves in the presence of Our Lord as He prays. Use Gospel images to help you see Him and hear Him say His prayers. You may find yourself drawn into that prayer. May the blossom of His prayer become fruit in the actions of our lives. May the Holy Family of Christ thrive!With my prayers for you and your families over the week ahead,
+ Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster