New Wine – New Wine Skins!

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Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome to the Bishop’s Blog for this week!

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The Lord in yesterday’s gospel spoke about ‘newness’, using the image of fresh wine skins needed to contain the new vintage of wine. He goes on to say that if we try to force new wine into old wine skins it won’t work. The skins will burst, the wine will be spilled, and both it and the skins will be lost.

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Christ is teaching us in this little parable, I believe, that we must constantly bring the freshness of his gospel to bear on the situations in which we find ourselves. What he is implying is that new circumstances require an entirely different approach or another way of looking at things, always in the light of his teaching and revelation as the Son of God.

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This does not mean a break or rupture with the past, but a rediscovery of some part of the Lord’s gospel which perhaps has been overlooked or received less emphasis than it should. Pope Francis’ proclamation of a Year of Mercy represents such a fresh approach to what he sees as an urgent need in the Church at this particular moment of her history.

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There is nothing dramatically unheard of or novel in this act of the Holy Father. The ministry of Christ was one great act of mercy. God the Father sent his Son to the earth to prove the extent of his love and mercy for us human beings. The gospels could be described as ‘the mercy of God in action.’

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Christ is the living embodiment of the divine mercy, and it is God’s will that we should experience and be consoled by his tender mercy, as we read each morning in Zachariah’s great prayer of praise, the Benedictus.

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Earlier this week the Pope granted all priests in this coming Year of Mercy the faculty to absolve in the Sacrament of Reconciliation any woman who has suffered the misfortune of having had an abortion and is truly contrite.  The balm of God’s mercy of God is intended to touch even the most sensitive of human wounds.

Pope Francis hears confession during a penitential liturgy in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican March 28. Pope Francis surprised his liturgical adviser by going to confession during the service. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters) (March 31, 2014) See POPE-PENANCE March 28, 2014.

The great challenge facing us a Church in this special year of grace will be to find ways to reach out to those who have fallen away from their faith for whatever reason, and convince them of just how much God cares for them.

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The keen interest that the words and gestures of Pope Francis have evoked around the world since he became Pope suggest that there is a considerable audience who are anxious to hear a comforting word, or as the gospel describes it ‘to taste new wine.’

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The recent tragic events of the plight of refugees over recent months have pricked and unsettled the consciences of us all. The scale and complexity of what is unfolding before our eyes is bewildering. The long Judeo-Christian conviction of the unity of the human race, allied to Christ’s own teaching that he is to be found especially in the poor and afflicted, does not permit us to ‘pass by on the other side.’

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Let us assist with our prayers our own political leaders and those of Europe and beyond with our prayers that they will be given the gift of wisdom, discernment, and compassion as they address a difficult and at times heart-rending human situation.

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May we read the signs of the time and find practical ways to offer the new wine of Christ’s gospel to these most forlorn brothers and sisters most urgently in need of it!

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Until next week – May God bless you all,

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+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster