Saint Joseph, the worker!

My dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!I can work the petrol mower, change a plug and light-bulb, mend a bicycle puncture, and even replace a flat tyre on the car, but I prefer to error the side of caution when it comes to specialised jobs. Some years ago in a different chapter of life, I had a problem with a brake-drum. The vehicle would only move in reverse. With no breakdown services available I managed to get back to the mission and mechanics by actually reversing for six miles. The problem was fixed quickly by an experienced man with the right tools, but I had a sore neck for weeks.Just after Easter the boiler here at Bishop’s House ‘went on the blink’. The ‘Lockdown’ was on by this stage, and I had dark thoughts of being without heat/hot water for goodness knows how long. Fortunately, the weather was clement, and my use of hot water is ‘modest’ (A parishioner in one of the out-stations once commented politely, ‘Father, you wash like a pigeon!’); there was no great crisis, but deep down I knew it would need seeing to, and I accepted it was well beyond my ability. I needed help. I know my limits.Saint Joseph is a well known and much loved Saint, husband of our Blessed Lady, step-father to Jesus. He is described as a good and up-right man. He taught Our Lord the trade of a carpenter. Saint Joseph has become greatly loved because of his role as Guardian of the Holy Family, Patron of tradesmen and artisans, and the Saint we pray to for a happy death. Let’s turn to him. Let’s use his skills.There is nothing morbid in this. He reminds us that a ‘good’ death is something we can all experience once we approach it with an active faith-life.Details of Saint Joseph’s own death aren’t recorded in the Gospels, although a tradition has been passed to us that he was blessed to die with Jesus and Mary by his side.Mary would know how to grieve with faith and profound love, equipping her to carry grief for many years without it becoming a paralysing burden. She would now be a single parent. Jesus would become the ‘man of the house’. Life would be profoundly changed for them.In these days we are constantly told to ‘Save lives’, and to ‘Protect our professional health-carers (NHS)’. We are aware that even the most skilled professionals, even when properly equipped, do not succeed in all cases. Sadly, loved ones die, and many die in circumstances that are distressing especially for family and friends, neighbours and colleagues who are unable to be present at the end. A difficult experience is made worse, and we carry the wounded memory for life.Let us learn to turn to St.Joseph the Worker, just as we look for the services of skilled professionals in other aspects of life, asking him to teach us and train us and guide us. We can ‘learn the trade’ of living with faith right up to that point when we will not need faith, because we will see, we will know. Our Catholic community has a valuable insight to offer to society at this time; the gift of believing in a loving God who has overcome sin and the power of death, and wants to welcome us into Paradise.Efforts to preserve life here matter very much. It’s not a case of telling the bereaved, ‘Never mind, there’s always heaven’. God calls us to live our lives with care and compassion in the here-and-now. He gives us each other. But ultimately, He calls us beyond this, to share the ultimate Victory, the Fulness of Life found only in Christ. Captain Tom at the age of 100 has stunned us with his fund-raising achievement, but the best still lies ahead of him. This created world has much to offer, but it runs out, it lets us down. St.Joseph reminds us that our loving God has more, and it’s better, and it will last.The difference a living faith can make was shown to me by an elderly parishioner whose wife had died. He had loved her dearly for many years and was heart-broken when she died. He was a very sad man. One day he appeared in the sacristy and was a changed man. I wondered if he had met someone else, but he explained with joy what had caused his transformation. He told me, ‘Father, up to now, each day was taking me further away from Marie. But suddenly I have realised and believe that each day that passes is actually bringing me closer to the moment I will be with her again!’ Then I understood that faith doesn’t just change death, it can change grief too.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I give you my heart and my soul.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, assist me in my last agony.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, may I sleep and take my rest in peace with you.
Happy St.Joseph’s day!

As ever in Christ,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

 

 

Save lives, yes, all lives!

Dear friends in the Risen Lord,

Welcome to the Bishop’s Blog!

I am delighted to have received a number of messages from individuals and groups around the Diocese crying out for our churches to be re-opened as soon as possible so that, please God, as restrictions begin to be relaxed, the Faithful will have opportunity to exercise their liberty and make their visits to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. Assuming that a prohibition on medium and large-sized gatherings will continue for some time, let us at least pray for this window of Grace to be opened for individuals and families.I am not exactly ‘at home’ with the wizardries of social media and IT but I accept it has its place as a servant of the Church and of the Gospel. My unbounded admiration goes out to those clergy and parishioners whose IT skills are helping to nourish faith during this ‘Lock-down’ period.As in all areas of life, wisdom and prudence and a certain discipline are needed if we are to avoid getting too carried away. The online experience should respect existing structures of Diocese and parish. We must be careful not to encourage people to ‘shop around’ for the experience they want at any particular time. It’s not a matter of having to ‘police’ people’s use of internet. Nor do I suggest we restrict ourselves from the benefits of what is on offer around the globe.I simply make the point that we should not abandon our local parish and diocesan loyalties. We could so easily enter into a competition to draw big crowds, and to be ‘a success’! Many of those who ‘follow’ us may often be drawn away from other parishes. It’s our own flock we need to have a care of first and foremost. We must also have a concern to draw to Christ those who have not yet known Him, or those who have strayed.Another point to keep clearly in mind is the large number of people, like me, who are slow to spend time with a computer or tablet. Others never even go near them. The online experience is only ‘one string to our bow’.Part of the Government’s current mantra is ‘save lives’. Official hospital death figures are moving towards 20,000. This figure is set to rise higher. Part of the distress being caused is the thought of vulnerable people dying alone, and then relatives and friends being denied the choice of how to mark their funeral.Across government and society generally we have seen commendable sensitivity and empathy towards those directly and indirectly affected. May such sensitivity grow to embrace a broader section of our communities, even more vulnerable, and being lost in much greater numbers.I am talking of those who are killed through the scandal of abortion. Since the 1967 Abortion Act they number almost 10,000,000. That is an average of 200,000 every year. Let us encourage a sense of proportion. Let us acknowledge this particular threat that continues to cause so many tragic deaths; no one there to hold their little hand as they are dying, no funeral allowed, no one to grieve for an innocent life lost.While society searches desperately for a vaccine for COVID-19, and whilst society accepts severe restrictions on personal liberties in order to ‘save lives’, why do we accept so easily this far more damaging threat to life? ‘Save lives’ is also a message for the NHS which is working so heroically to combat COVID-19. There seems to be a contradiction here somewhere when we remember that this new virus is not the only threat to life, and perhaps not the greatest threat to life in our times.What a travesty it would be if we were accused of posing a threat to life simply though choosing to go to church and pray.Christ is Risen, Alleluia! The victory is His.
Stay safe and well,
+Paul

Paul swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

The Rededication of England as the Dowry of Mary. 29th March 2020

My dear friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

In St.Peter’s Cathedral, Lancaster, on Sunday 29th March, I will formally take my part in the National Rededication of England as the Dowry of Mary. This will take place within the Mass Liturgy at 10.30am. Unfortunately, we do not have the facility to live-stream the occasion, but that will take nothing away from the relevance or efficacy of this act of piety.When the Bishops of England and Wales met in November 2017 and decided on this Re-dedication they could not possibly have envisaged the circumstances within which it would take place. That is possibly a very good thing because, if they had, they might well have been tempted to choose some other date when the country was less troubled.As it is, we are living at a time of national emergency within a global crisis. Our Catholic Faith is designed to cope with such times. When all around is utterly uncertain we fall back on the utter certainty of the Gospel, the Good News, the saving love of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. When we are anxious about ourselves and loved ones, and in many instances not even allowed to visit our aged parents, the priorities of life -what really matters to us – are made very clear.I see it as no coincidence that we make this act of Rededication now, in this way. God knew it would come, and Our Lord wanted us to be given again to His own Mother, ‘Woman, behold your child; child, behold your Mother.

’No ‘quick fix’ is expected. We are set to remain in these distressing times for a good while to come. We must adapt to a new way of living. We have been shaken, and continue to be tested. Mary re-assumes her prominence in the life of England, England’s Dowry, England’s true rose. Present to and with Her children we will come through this safely. Life may suffer, but eternal life is beyond the reach of CORVID-19.The Government advises us to ‘Stay at home; protect the NHS; save lives.’ Jesus instructs us, ‘Make your home in Me as I make My home in you.’ His home will always have Mary at its heart. We will willingly stay in this home.We will pray for all who form our wonderful NHS, commending them to the protection and prayers of our Blessed Lady. We will also be mindful of those who are of service to our spiritual well-being, parents, teachers, clergy and religious.We will dedicate ourselves to corporal works of mercy in order to enhance and protect lives, especially those most vulnerable, amongst whom we must count the unborn children. On top of this, we will dedicate ourselves to the spiritual works of mercy, making every effort to save souls, especially those in most need of God’s mercy.With my prayers and blessing at this time for all who read this message and stand in need of Grace.

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster.

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