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

The Bishop’s Blog: With Lancaster Polish Community and St. Patrick’s School, Heysham

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!
Officially Christmastide ends this Sunday with the Baptism of the Lord. I understand that some of you keep on up to the Feast of the Presentation, 2nd Feb. Why stop there? The gift of Christ’s Nativity is for the whole year and need not be ‘put away’ with the decorations. Even so, it is good to move on through the seasons. It keeps our faith and devotions fresh.  Last week I accepted an invitation to join the Lancaster Polish community for a Nativity play (performed by the Carlisle Polish Community) and Carols. To conclude I was invited to bless a beautiful icon of the Black Madonna of Czestochova hanging above the sanctuary. May Our Blessed Lady watch lovingly over her Polish communities throughout this year.
Later in the week I visited St.Patrick’s Primary School, Heysham, my first time ever to set foot in it. I was given a whistle-stop tour of the classes before we celebrated Mass. These children are outstanding singers, the best I have come across in all my years visiting Primary Schools. Following the Mass the whole school left the building for a quiet corner of the school grounds where a purpose built chapel awaited its first blessing. This place will become a sanctuary for staff and children, set apart from the busy-ness of the school day as a place to pray and reflect on God’s love for His children. Once it has heating I’m sure it will become a very popular part of the school life. Well done St.Patrick’s.
There was no mad rush to contact me after last week’s suggestion about blessing mobile phones. Having said that, perhaps the most significant call came from BBC Radio Cumbria who would like me to speak briefly about the idea on their Sunday morning slot. Thank-you BBC!
My prayers are with you and your families for the week ahead,
+ Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

 

 

 

The Bishop’s Blog: Blessing of Mobiles and PCs

Dear friends in Christ,

Welcome back to this the first post of the Bishop’s Blog in 2019!Happy New Year to any faithful souls who have been waiting patiently in case this Blog revived. Take it as a prophetic sign of a very distant spring.
It has been an eventful and interesting hiatus. More recently we have become caught up in celebrations marking Christmas. Perhaps some of the photos will capture something of the rich variety I experienced. Thank-you to so many who sent greetings, invitations and gifts – especially prayer – to nourish me. Anyone who knows me will know of my poor relationship with modern technology. The chances of it improving are slim. At this point I have to acknowledge the dedication and saintly patience of those who have the misfortune to work alongside me as secretaries, assistants etc. They have a thankless task.Such marvellous means of communication are at our disposal if only we can master them. Get the relationship wrong and they become mill-stones. Perhaps we can all recognise that such things as mobile phones, i-pads, laptops etc can be a mixed blessing for all of us. We depend on them so completely. So much of our life is contained in them. If they fail we are seriously affected. If we let them they can dominate us to an unhealthy degree.I’d like to float a simple idea that we might organise an occasional simple service to bless our mobiles and PCs. It is just an idea at this stage. I get the sense that some of these items need more exorcising than simply blessing! A good dollop of Holy Water on them may be just what they need! But perhaps they need more than that if they are to be put at our service and the service of the Gospel.If we could dedicate them to the work of Our Lord, in the hope that they will keep us safe and do good to others perhaps something essential in our lives would be improved. Just a thought. Does anyone know if this is already done anywhere? Would it be something helpful to people? I look forward to your responses.With every good wishes and prayer for the week ahead,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

The Bishop’s Blog: My Christmas Mass Homily

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, and all people of good will, I speak to you as a gathering of so many individuals, mostly, but not exclusively, identifying yourselves as Catholic Christians. Let us be aware that this is more than a private experience; it is a corporate celebration because we are part of something done in solidarity with many millions of people throughout the world. It unites us within a tradition of Faith reaching back over two thousand years. Far from diminishing your individual worth, this is something that actually adds value to you. The religious truth presented to the world in this feast of Christ’s Incarnation is that God is with us as Saviour. The image we are invited to reflect on is the natural birth in extremely basic circumstances of a young woman’s first child. The image is crucial: It serves to help us know the nature of the God in whom we place our trust. It shows us not only God’s desire to be with us but also how we might begin to respond to God’s desire.Many people admit their lack of a belief in God. It is worth asking them to tell us about the god they don’t believe in. It may well be that we can agree with them and reject the god they describe. More positively, we can try to convey what we believe about the God we know, as revealed in Jesus. It may surprise them. Such a conversation is not aimed at winning an argument, but simply and respectfully sharing what we believe to be true. They can take it or leave it.At its heart there is the gift of new life, seen, heard, touched and even smelt. It is a baby! We insist that life is received as a gift, not as a right. If it is a gift then there must be a giver of the gift, just as there must be a recipient. At this point let me share a brief story. A grandfather was out of touch with his grandson’s generation. He didn’t know what gift to get him for Christmas. So, he took the easy option and put cash in an envelope, knowing that the boy was into ‘tec’. Come Christmas, the family gathered and the present-opening commenced, imagine the  scene. The boy opened the envelope, withdrew the money and with a happy expression began to count. His expression then started to change. He looked again in the envelope, recounted the money and began to look decidedly disappointed. When granddad asked what the problem was he said it was only £150. To buy what he wanted would cost £250. The gift was not enough. I’d like to say that the lad received a slap, but I’m not allowed to say that!Poor Santa. Annually trying to satisfy our wishes, going about it in such a generous way, but where are last year’s presents now? Most have served their purpose. They are lost, or broken, or spent, or consumed, or out-grown. Few last. That is the nature of this world’s gifts, good for a time only. This isn’t something we need to be miserable about. All we need to do is recognise the nature of things that pass. They will not satisfy our deepest longings.Perhaps the greatest reason why so many reject the Christian religion is because it doesn’t seem to achieve its task. Evidence abounds to show that suffering and evil still thrive, and most damagingly, in our official structures. This we cannot deny. If the eradication of evil is its objective, the gift has not had its desired effect. It appears to have failed. It is not enough.Let’s go back to the crib and the gift of this little new life. God the Father has given us His only Son. Within our Faith tradition, firmly rooted in the soil of the Jewish tradition, we recognise here life at the mercy of life; Divine Life at the mercy of human life. It appears to stand God and religion on its head! If this plan is to work it will rely heavily on a generous response. This child won’t just do it for us. This child will demand a great deal of us, continually. This child will ask us to adopt a new way of life ourselves. This child will draw from us what we had no idea we are capable of. Life at the mercy of life. This child will ask us to recognise that certain things are of passing value, others eternal.It is my hope that each of you will be touched as if for the first time by the Christmas story. I pray that something good will be re-awakened in you from your past, and from far deeper than that. I pray that you will sense something of your own spiritual life – possibly long neglected and starved of care. I pray that the God-given good in you will be strengthened, that you will believe you are not alone in your fight against sin and temptation. I pray that the gift of being healed and healing will be given you. I pray that the balance of hope will shift within you in favour of the light, a light that this world’s darkness cannot overcome. I pray that your prayer-life will be re-awakened and refreshed, and that you will find a joy in life that refuses to be defeated. I pray that you are given a peace of mind and heart in the midst of all the things trying to frighten you or make you anxious. May you know that this child came to answer your prayers, to fulfil your desires, to restore your lost dignity, and give you a purpose for living, no matter what your age, status, health or past have been.I pray that God will break into the stable of your soul in order not to steal, but to leave His precious gifts, gifts perhaps you don’t think you deserve or that you’d given up hope of receiving. I pray that you will believe Jesus has come to keep you company and lead you on His way.


By way of conclusion, Groucho Marx was once leaving a party and was saying good-night to the hostess: She asked if he’d had a lovely evening to which he replied: ‘Madam, I’ve had a wonderful evening . . . . but this wasn’t it!’ For many, Christmas can be a disappointing experience, being spoilt or leaving you feeling short-changed – very short-changed in some cases! Your Christmas may be far from perfect. Keep in mind that a huge part of the Christian celebration is about Christ’s Second coming at the end of time, maybe at the end of our time. He came to share fully in our life with the simple desire that we will eventually come to share fully in His.

Season’s greetings to you all!

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster

 

The Bishop’s Blog: My Homily on the Solemnity of All Saints Day

 

My dear brothers and sisters,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

As in all things, the first voice we must listen for is Christ’s. Why? Because He knows. But, so often, His is not the first voice we hear. Others are louder, closer and more intense. Even so, we must ‘tune in’ to the voice of Jesus.This feast of All Saints is given to us as we in the northern hemisphere are moving into the winter. Nature is going to sleep, slowing down, changing its habits, its cloths. It appears to be dying. But notice – there is so much beauty in it! It is different from the beauty of summer, and that is a clue to a mystery, is a door opening to us. It is a servant of the Gospel too. The summer may have gone, but God hasn’t.All Saints. Happy forever! It seems far-fetched. All the jobs done, the list completed. It seems to us impossible. And yet, that is what God the Father wishes for you. That is what Jesus Christ came to tell us, and show us the way. That is what the Holy Spirit puts- within my reach.
This Feast must give us encouragement ….. and we all need plenty of that! Even Jesus needed that. What does encouragement do? It changes something inside us for the better. It is a beautiful thing to watch happen in a person’s life. It makes us not give up. It gives us hope for better times, for ourselves and for others.When I was a child growing up I learnt about the saints but I didn’t really know them. I knew stories about them and some I liked better than others. But I could never, imagine being with them. To be very honest, I don’t think I wanted to be. It was a bit like being told about heaven and I thought I don’t want to spend forever there-it’s like being in church ALL THE TIME! Fun?As I’ve grown older and thought about things more and learnt about what’s important and seen how people live, I’ve come to believe that we don’t need to know much about the details of heaven. Leave that to Jesus. He knows what is needed. He’s prepared a place for you. He’s not trying to keep us out because he knows your taste in music or that you like garlic or you have a weird sense of humor or you go to the wrong school. He wants you in!!

And remember the Good Thief. Imagine being a good thief! He stole a place in heaven right at the end-in the last minute of extra time.
Remember what he said: ‘we’ve done wrong: we know it. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’. Remember what Jesus said: “Today you will be with me in paradise!”
Now we have to do a little risk assessment. The risks are these. We could miss out. 3 main ones.
1. We give up before we’ve even started. We don’t even try. St. Peter nearly did that when he said to Jesus: ‘Leave me Lord, I am a sinful man.’
2. Another risk is that we can’t be bothered. We are too busy with our own plans to fit in with anyone else. That happens a lot.
3. Another risk is to be careless. It’s like having a ticket for a pop concert but we forgot where we put it.
We cannot imagine eternal life, eternal happiness. We don’t have to. We just have to set our hearts on knowing Jesus and staying close to Him. Leave the rest to Him.

Sincerest good wishes and prayer,

+Paul

Paul Swarbrick

Bishop of Lancaster