A Vision of Faith to Behold

Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

The Carmelite sisters of the Preston Carmel marked the centenary of their foundation last Saturday with a concelebrated Mass at which I was the principal celebrant, joined by a number of the local clergy and other priests associated with the Carmel. The homily text can be found here.

The large number of people from Preston who attended the Mass was an indication of the high esteem in which the sisters are held.  The reception afterwards allowed everyone to meet and talk, and no doubt share their own particular memories of Preston Carmel.

The Carmelite and contemplative way of life has a long and venerable tradition in the history of the Church, and the saints from that tradition have become familiar names, such as Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Therese of Lisieux, and in our own time St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, perhaps better known as Edith Stein who died in Auschwitz in 1942.

The Carmelite Order draws its inspiration from Mount Carmel in the Holy Land, where the prophet Elijah encountered the Lord God in the “gentle breeze” or “still small voice.” The presence, therefore, of a Carmel in a diocese is a living reminder of the supreme importance of God, prayer and silence in our busy and rapidly changing world.

The daily rhythm of prayer and intercession of the Carmelite sisters is a great blessing and consolation, and achieves more before God than we can ever know.  We wish the sisters of the Preston Carmel every blessing as they embark on their second centenary!

One of the most significant moments in the earthly life of Our Blessed Lord was his Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor in the presence of Peter, James and John. Appearing alongside Christ were Moses, the great lawgiver of Israel and the prophet Elijah, the indomitable defender and upholder of Israel‘s faith.

That vision of the Transfiguration has now been strikingly and beautifully captured in a fresco which adorns the chapel of the Catholic Chaplaincy of Lancaster University.

On Sunday evening, during Mass, I had the pleasure of blessing this lovely work of art in the presence of a large attendance of students and generous friends who had supported this very commendable initiative of our Catholic priest-chaplain. My homily text is here.

A religious work of art has the power to speak to those who stand and contemplate it. I have no doubt that the scene of the Transfiguration depicted in the University chapel will speak powerfully to successive generations of university students as they come together to worship God.

The fresco offers much to ponder: we have the glorified and majestic Christ, flanked on each side by the powerful figures of Moses and Elijah, and the three transfixed disciples quite beside themselves in wonder and puzzlement at what they were witnessing and experiencing.

The artist has also included other smaller details which catch the eye and enhance the whole setting.

This handsomely executed fresco offers much to the viewer. The Transfiguration affords us a glimpse of Christ in glory. May it raise the mind and hearts of all who take time to view this truly appealing excellent work of art!

With every good wish and prayer for the week ahead.

As ever in Christ

+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster

Our Lady of Fatima – Pray for us!

My dear friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

Today, 13th May, Pope Francis is on pilgrimage to the great shrine of Our Lady at Fatima, in Portugal.  The timing is no accident, because it was on this day one hundred years ago that the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to three children who were tending sheep.  This was the first of a number of appearances of Our Lady to these children, and the thrust of her message to them was the need for penance and prayer, especially for world peace and the conversion of Russia which was in political turmoil at that time and on the point of turning communist.

A highlight of Pope Francis’ visit will be his canonisation of two of the visionaries, Jacinta and her brother Francisco, both of whom did not live to grow into adulthood and died not long after the apparitions.

The third visionary, Lucia, eventually became a Carmelite sister and had a long life. She died at the age of ninety-five in 2005, and her cause for beatification is already in progress.  The authorities of the shrine are expecting pilgrims in their hundreds of thousands to gather for this significant anniversary and the canonisation ceremony.

A remarkable feature of Fatima, and worth pondering, was that the three children were poor and illiterate and, in the words of the Vatican Secretary of State, “how they proclaimed a message of love and forgiveness at a time of war when the talk was of hatred and vendettas.”  We may also reflect, as in the case of St. Bernadette of Lourdes, and the visionaries of Knock in Ireland, how the Mother of God chooses the little people to appear to and to make her wishes known. The heart of her message remains always constant and the same, that is, the need for prayer and penance on the part of Catholics and Christians and how these can change the world.

Pope Francis has stated that he will pray especially for world peace on his pilgrimage to Fatima this weekend. He invites all the Church, even if we are unable to be present there, to join him in prayer to Almighty God and the Mother of his Son for peace and reconciliation in a world often riven by conflict, division and mutual suspicion.  The opening words of Our Lord in the gospel were a call to penance and a change of heart, and the appearance of Our Lady to the children of Fatima simply endorsed that call of her Son.  Our prayers and acts of self-sacrifice, even the smallest and apparently simple, can and do make a difference before the God of mercy.

My own recollection of Fatima is of a unique, penitential place of conversion and prayer, different in atmosphere and character from other Marian shrines I know.  I felt it had a simple, almost peasant character to it, greatly loved by those Portuguese people who lived on the land and earned their livelihood from it, like those original three unlettered children.

Let us then go in spirit to Fatima today, joining the Holy Father in prayer for all his intentions, and aware in faith that the prayers of each of us do matter.  May the two newly canonised saints, and Our Lady of Fatima, accompany us in the Diocese of Lancaster and us all with their prayers and intercession!

Keeping you in my prayers,

Until next week, May God bless and protect you all,

As ever in Christ,

+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster

My Pastoral Letter for Good Shepherd (Vocations) Sunday

Appointed to be read aloud at all weekend Public Masses in the Diocese of Lancaster on the weekend of 6/7 May 2017

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

The Scripture readings in today’s Mass speak of God’s care for us, drawing on the language and imagery of a shepherd watching over his sheep.  And our responsorial psalm is the familiar and much-loved psalm, The Lord is my Shepherd. With good reason, therefore, this Fourth Sunday of Easter is called ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’, and that Good Shepherd is Christ the Lord.  We recall during these days of Eastertide that He became our Shepherd through the shedding of His blood on the cross and by His glorious resurrection to new and eternal life on Easter day.

The Lord speaks in the gospel of a shepherd who knows his sheep personally and calls each one of them by name.  It is a wonderfully reassuring thought that Christ knows each of us individually and, in the manner of a true shepherd, feeds and protects us, and wants only what is best for us.  In fact, He has proved the extent of His love by laying down His life for us.  His closing words in today’s gospel say it all, I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full.  We praise and give heartfelt thanks to God our Father for the gift of His Son as our Good Shepherd.

Christ continues His ministry as Shepherd on earth in a particular way through the sacramental life of the Church. As a shepherd seeks out the most nourishing pasture for his sheep, so Christ nourishes us with the most sacred food of His body and blood in the holy Eucharist. Beginning with baptism, the other sacraments which we receive on our faith journey through life are grace-filled encounters with our loving Shepherd, until we finally see and meet Him face to face in eternity.  We pray therefore in this Mass that we may never wander or stray from the rich and true pastures of our one Good Shepherd.

Just as Christ chose Peter and his companions who would continue His work of shepherding, so in every age He needs other shepherds to assist Him in tending His flock. And it is the same in our time. The Church worldwide, and the Diocese of Lancaster, prays today for priestly shepherds to channel and make available the graces won by Christ’s redemption.

My dear people, please help to sow the seed of a priestly vocation in someone you know – approach and encourage them. Join me in obedience to the Lord’s command and pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send priestly labourers into His vineyard. Let our faith not fail us, and be convinced that the Lord will not be remiss in providing priestly shepherds for His people who are so precious to Him, and which He has redeemed by His own blood.

To those young men (and older) who sense the stirrings of the Holy Spirit, calling you to service of Christ and His Church, I say this: be open to that call, pray and take the risk.  Be a part of the Mission of this Diocese as a Priest.  You are needed by the whole of our Diocesan Family and can be assured of the prayers and support of all.

Commending our seminarians and each one of you to the care of the Good Shepherd, I assure you of my prayers, and with my blessing.

Yours sincerely in Jesus Christ,

+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster

A Blessed Easter to you all!

My dear friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Easter Bishop’s Blog!

The sheer drama of that first Easter morning is difficult, if not impossible, to capture in words.  The Evangelist Matthew speaks of the huge stone sealing the tomb being rolled away; an earthquake has taken place, the women are petrified, there is an appearance of an angel, and finally there is the empty tomb.

The scene by the tomb was completely overpowering.  That, however, is only half of the story, there was much more to come and it was utterly unexpected.  The tomb was empty and the angel spoke the startling news that Christ had risen, as he had predicted.  He was alive, no longer was he dead.

Understandably, the women were filled with fear and joy: they were at one and the same time both frightened yet filled with joy. They must have been thinking, ‘can it possibly be true?’  Had their Lord broken the stranglehold of sin and death, and changed everything forever?   When they did encounter the risen Christ he commanded them to go and break this unheard-of news to his disciples. They were to be first Evangelists of the resurrection!

That Gospel story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ still speaks to us, and is intended to do so; its message is ever old and ever new. The Lord, the hope of his people has risen.  Death and sin have lost their power. Christ was put to death in weakness, but God the Father has raised him up. The Son of God’s trust in his Father was not misplaced.

The risen Christ’s words to his disciples were, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; they will see me there’ (Mt.28:10).  In his resurrection the Lord Jesus has now entered the eternal life of God, but he has not forgotten his friends, his brothers. They must be told he is still thinking of them. They must know that he is alive and will see them again. He has now passed beyond death, but they will always remain his disciples and his friends.

As we prepare to renew our baptismal promises, we are also renewing our friendship with the crucified and risen Son of God. In these promises we are making our own the fruits of the redemption which he has gained for us by his cross.

The candles we hold are a powerful symbol that he is the light of the world, and we pledge ourselves to walk in that light, and be ourselves a light to others.  We can make our own tonight the Easter greeting of the Orthodox Christians to one another, ‘The Lord has risen. He has indeed risen.’  Amen.

With every good wish and prayer this Easter!

As ever in the Risen Christ,

+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster

 

P.S. The Bishop’s Blog will be on a break for a few weeks now!

Celebrating Holy Week – The Church’s Great Week!

Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

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The Church’s liturgical year keeps fresh the memory of Jesus Christ, and this applies in a particular way to the last days of Christ’s earthly life, and most of all to his glorious resurrection ‘on the third day’, Easter Day.

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With good reason we call the sequence of these sacred and dramatic days Holy Week. At the heart of Holy Week come the three days we know as the Triduum, and it is the wish of the Church that her sons and daughters share fully in these richest of liturgical moments.

The Triduum officially begins on Thursday evening with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and the institution of the Holy Eucharist.

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When we think of all the Masses which have been offered and celebrated over two thousand years, the countless numbers of believers who have received Holy Communion in that time, and the centuries-long widespread practice of Eucharistic devotion and adoration, it was on this night in the Upper Room or Cenacle in Jerusalem where it all began.

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To be present on Holy Thursday at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper is to be transported in spirit to that evening in the Cenacle where the Lord, anticipating his passion on the following day, gave his undoubtedly startled disciples the sacred food of his body and blood. We too take our place at that Last Supper table with him.

At the conclusion of this Mass the Blessed Sacrament is carried solemnly in procession to the altar of repose; there we can ‘watch’ for a time with the Lord and join him in prayer as he himself prayed in agony in Gethsemane.

On Good Friday we gather at 3.00pm for the solemn liturgy of the Lord’s Passion, the heart of which is the Evangelist John’s account of the Passion, followed by the Veneration of the Cross. Along with the reception of Holy Communion, this veneration of the Lord’s cross for which faithful people queue patiently and quietly, is an act of intense spiritual devotion and reverence for the crucified Lord.

The liturgy of Good Friday ends with a simple prayer and we depart quietly and reflectively, having commemorated the most sacred and momentous of all human events – the death of Jesus Christ.

The Church has no liturgy as such on Holy Saturday. Our church buildings lie empty, devoid of the Blessed Sacrament, and therefore somehow hollow. Holy Saturday evokes the mysterious descent of Christ “into Hell”, as our faith professes.

As he lay dead in the tomb, the human Christ showed his solidarity with the rest of humanity who too must pass through the gates of death.  The utter desolation and sadness of death are well captured by what may be described as the empty nature of Holy Saturday which we ought not diminish. We should pause for thought on this day.

With good reason the Easter Vigil has been described as the ‘Mother of all Vigils”, for it is the solemn celebration in liturgy of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. God the Father has vindicated his Son in the face of opposition, rejection and crucifixion. Life has triumphed over death!  With great fanfare the paschal candle is lit, a powerful symbol of the victory of light over darkness.

The Scriptures are proclaimed, detailing the wonderful creative deeds of God and his promises to his people of old, promises now made good in the newly-risen Christ.  With lit candles the congregation renew their baptismal promises, indicating that we too, mysteriously in baptism, have died and risen with Christ. The Eucharistic celebration concludes the joy of this Easter liturgy, and we depart with alleluias ringing in our ears!

The Sacred Triduum represents the culmination of the Church’s liturgical year, her celebration of all that God has achieved for us in Christ. May this Holy Week find us ready and willing to walk prayerfully with Our Lord through the final days of his life, and to renew our faith and hope in his unquenchable victory over sin, suffering and the power of death.

Until next week – May God bless you all,

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As ever in Christ,

+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster

Entering into Passiontide and an Invitation to the Chrism Mass

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

The Church this weekend enters the liturgical (mini) season of Passiontide, leading eventually to the Sacred Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil of Holy Saturday night, which culminates in the proclamation of the Lord’s resurrection.

Consequently, the liturgy of the two weeks of Passiontide increasingly focuses our attention on the Lord’s suffering and death on the cross, a death, as we say at Mass he freely accepted. Passiontide is intended to be a solemn time, one of reflection on the person of Jesus Christ, both God and man, and on the wonder of our redemption through his death and resurrection.

We are treading on mystery here; and the practice of covering the statues and crucifixes in many of our churches lends an atmosphere of awe and reverence to these special and holy days. With the conviction and assurance of faith that the final events of the Lord’s life are deeply significant for all of us, the Church invites her sons and daughters to cultivate a spirit of prayer and recollection and so enter more fully, as the apostle Paul would say, into the mystery of Christ, and to what God has accomplished in him.

An important and often moving moment in the life of a diocese, especially for its bishop and priests, is the Mass of the Chrism, which takes place in our cathedral in Holy Week, usually on Holy Thursday morning.  Since this is the only Mass which takes place on that morning it is always well attended and greatly appreciated by lay people from all across the Diocese of Lancaster.

As Bishop, I personally find the Chrism Mass particularly meaningful, and am aware that the oils which are blessed will touch literally and spiritually many of the faithful, young and old, throughout the diocese in the course of the year.

I warmly invite those of you from the Diocese of Lancaster who have never attended the Chrism Mass to join us in St. Peter’s Cathedral, Lancaster on Holy Thursday morning. You will be pleasantly surprised at the rich experience!

The bishop is acting in a special way in persona Christi when he blesses the oils surrounded by his priests and people. The saving work of Christ is being perpetuated in the local church through the sacred priestly ministry of the bishop and his priests.  The first of the three oils to be blessed is the Oil of Catechumens, which is used in the sacrament of baptism on those about to be reborn in Christ.

During his own public ministry Christ touched and healed the sick and afflicted who came to him, and that ministry continues in our day when the sick of the diocese are anointed with the Oil of the Sick blessed at this Mass. The compassionate and comforting Christ still moves through his suffering people, laying his healing hands upon them through his priestly ministers.

The final blessing, just before this unique Mass concludes, is that of the Oil of Chrism, and its name suggests a very close link with Christ himself – the Anointed One. During the course of the year every child or person to be baptised will be anointed with Chrism.

Those who receive the sacrament of Confirmation will be anointed on the forehead with Chrism, and finally the hands of the young man I hope to ordain on 1 July (again, in the Cathedral) will be consecrated and anointed with Chrism for sacred priestly service among the people of Christ.

The power of the Holy Spirit charges these different oils with the presence of the risen Christ, hence the importance and significance of the Mass of Chrism for the unity of the local diocesan Church.

Earlier in the Mass, after the homily, I will invite my brother priests to renew their priestly promises in the presence of their people, while in turn I will invite the congregation to pray for their priests and bishop.  The Mass of the Chrism may be seen as the start of a particularly holy time for the diocesan Church. The oils have been blessed and consecrated, as priests we have reaffirmed our commitment to Christ, and now we move forward into the Sacred Triduum to celebrate the paschal mystery of the One who is at the heart of it all, Jesus Christ, God made man.

Until next week – may God bless you all,

As ever in Christ,

+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster

A Busy and Varied Third Week of Lent

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

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

A busy and varied week has come to a close.  Continuing my parish Visitation of St. Kentigern’s Deanery, Blackpool, I spent the weekend at Sacred Heart parish (under the shadow of the celebrated Blackpool Tower!), meeting the parishioners and visitors and celebrating the principal Mass.

The Sacred Heart church in view of its central location attracts many holiday visitors from different places, and it was a particular pleasure to exchange a few words with a number of them at the end of the Masses, and to admire their fidelity to the Lord when away from at Sunday Mass.

The friendliness and warmth of the people really lifted one’s spirits – it was a jot to be among them.

I also visited some housebound parishioners, and hopefully by my presence as Bishop reassuring them of their important place in the life of the Church.

On the Sunday night, I was invited for dinner with the Syro-Malabar Bishop – Mar Joseph Srampickal at St Alphonsa Cathedral House in Preston to celebrate his ‘name day – St Joseph.

It was good to hear first-hand of the progress and plans for the recently-established Syro-Malabar Eparchy for Great Britain and for me to able to express the prayers and support for Mar Joseph from the Diocese of Lancaster.

The church of St. Joseph, now part of St. John XXIII Parish in Preston, celebrated its patronal feast last Monday with a concelebrated Mass, at which I was joined by the resident priests and others from the city.

The Mass marked the culmination of a commendable nine-day novena in honour of St. Joseph and, apart from parishioners, there was an excellent attendance of children and staff from the five primary schools in the parish who had been extremely well prepared and catechised for the Mass.

The hard work of the priests, with the close cooperation of the schools, made for a wonderfully dignified celebration, and exemplified Catholic education at its best.

Particularly memorable was the confident rendering of the Panis Angelicus by two year six children during the Communion. How the author of the sacred piece, St. Thomas Aquinas, must have been smiling down from heaven!

I was particularly happy to bless, in the name of our local Church, the three new priests of the parish in their mission.

I pray, that through the powerful intercession of St Joseph, patron and guardian of the Universal Church, the mission, people and priests of St John XXIII Parish will be richly blessed.

Meanwhile, The Catholic Education Service organised a day on Wednesday in London for Bishops and others involved at diocesan level in Catholic Education. I was glad to be able to attend. It was a reflective time against the backdrop of recent trends and government initiatives in the field of education.

The challenges facing the Church in recruiting sufficient numbers of Catholic teachers, particularly at leadership levels, were acknowledged. Yet it was also felt to be a time of opportunity, despite the rapidity and far-reaching nature of change enveloping us.

The goal of teaching and handing on the Catholic faith must remain central to our Catholic schools whatever the patterns and format which will characterise education in coming years. This latter point, perhaps, was the overriding concern of the conference and well expressed in the concluding remarks of Cardinal Vincent Nichols – President of our Bishops’ Conference.

The Diocese of Brentwood marked the centenary of its foundation on Wednesday, one hundred years to the day that part of the East End of London and the county of Essex were taken from the archdiocese of Westminster to constitute the new diocese.

The Cathedral of Our Lady and St. Helen was full to capacity as, clergy, religious and faithful – with their bishops – joined in a Mass of Thanksgiving in the evening for a century of Catholic life as a diocesan family – even if shocked by the day’s terror attack in Westminster. We continue to pray for the victims!

I was happy with many other Catholic bishops of England and Wales to join Lancashire-born Marist Bishop Alan Williams in what was a fitting and satisfying liturgical celebration. The diocese was erected during the days of the First World War and suffered greatly during the air-raids of the Second World War.

The faith endured, however, in spite of it all, and there was an underlying sense of satisfaction and gratitude to almighty God in the cathedral for a faith-journey already travelled in the past century, with much hope for the as yet unknown future.

Finally, I thought what a privilege and treasure we Catholics have in the mystery and sacrifice of the Mass, and how it perfectly fits all the great (and small!) moments of Church life. This was indeed the case in Brentwood cathedral on Wednesday evening, as we were again touched by the holiness of Christ’s self-offering to his Father, enshrined for all time in the Mass.

On Thursday, after popping in for a coffee at Castlerigg Manor,  I enjoyed the relaxing and gracious hospitality over lunch of the Anglican Bishop of Carlisle, James Newcome and his wife, Alison, at their home in Keswick.

Bishop James spoke of his work for the Diocese of Carlisle and in the House of Lords. It was good to hear of a Christian presence within the deliberations of such an important body on subjects of abiding interest.

Bishop James also spoke of the forthcoming initiative Moving Mountains, inspired by the Anglican and other Christian communities, of stirring up and renewing the Christian faith in Cumbria.  This is a worthy initiative and I assured Bishop James of our prayerful support.

Until next week – God bless you all,

+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster