Jesus Christ as “the tender face of God’s mercy”

Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

Jubilee_of_mercy_-_rotator_-_englishPope Francis has, as we know, declared the present year to be a Jubilee of Mercy, and invited the Church to reflect on the wonder of divine mercy and so allow ourselves to be touched and transformed by this truly remarkable quality of God.

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The Holy Father is at pains to stress that in the end God’s mercy will win out and, in the last analysis, have the final say over everything else. If we are honest, we humans will readily admit that we don’t fully understand how mercy can take precedence say over justice, and having to take responsibility before God for our wrongdoings.  Yet the golden thread running through all of Sacred Scripture is the merciful disposition and character of almighty God.

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As we ponder the idea of mercy, it is instructive to realise that the word for mercy in the Hebrew bible is closely linked to the word for a mother’s womb, and suggests therefore something lide that maternal love of a woman for her child. No word can adequately capture the unbreakable emotional bond and profound feelings which exist between a mother and the child she has given birth to. Throughout Scripture, we read how the Lord frets and agonises over his people Israel exactly as a mother does over her offspring.

The prophet Isaiah asks “can a mother forget her child…and in the most unlikely of circumstances that she ever would, God will never forget Israel, his child” (see Isaiah 49:16). The prophets taught that we can always call upon God and invoke his mercy, irrespective of how wretched or desperate we may feel. This is what Pope Francis wishes to impress upon every member of the Church during this Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Using a striking phrase, the Holy Father speaks of Jesus Christ as “the tender face of God’s mercy.” In other words, the whole life of Christ, from his birth in Bethlehem to his resurrection in Jerusalem, represents God’s mercy in action. God’s greatest and supreme act of mercy was the gift of his Son to the world. Christ’s many healings of the sick, feeding of the hungry, raising of the dead, his outreach and forgiveness of sinners, and so much else, show us in picture the loving mercy of a kindly Father.

We need convincing that God’s mercy is infinite and inexhaustible. I suggest that this is a grace we should pray for during these passing days of Lent. Jesus’s beautiful parable of the prodigal son (or loving Father) says it all.  Lent is a call to repentance, or in other words to have a change of mind. Let us, nearing the halfway mark of Lent, take to heart the gracious and timely invitation of the letter to the Hebrews, “and with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

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I conclude this week’s blog by recalling two pleasant and informative meetings I’ve had, one with Bishop James Newcome, Anglican bishop of Carlisle on Wednesday, and Bishop Athanasius Schneider, auxiliary bishop of Karaganda in Kazakhstan, Central Asia, on Friday afternoon.

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Bishop Newcome’s diocese of Carlisle is co-terminus with Cumbria, so as pastors we share much of the same territory, and of course many of the challenges of communicating the gospel to scattered communities in the lovely country which is Cumbria. We talked over lunch at Bishop’s James house in Keswick sharing thoughts on various issues, for example the changing world of Church education and the emergence of what we call academies, with the possibilities of cooperation between the Churches.

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A common approach to Safeguarding was also addressed.  I always leave Bishop James’ warm company grateful for the distance we have come along the ecumenical road. May that closeness and common witness ever grow!

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Yesterday (Friday), whilst blessing the newly-restored day chapel (fomerly a delapidated flower room) for the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest at St Walburge’s, I met Bishop Athanasius Schneider ORC for about an hour where he was visiting, and what an interesting man with a fascinating history. His German-speaking parents had been deported during Stalin’s reign of terror to a labour camp in the remote Ural Mountains, where they would spend eleven years before being released.

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The absolute absence of priests meant that the future bishop’s mother baptised him at home, before a Lithuanian priest appeared when he was about a year old.  The bishop remarked that his mother had baptised him a second time as she felt she had not properly done it the first time, then the priest who, to make sure, baptised him for the third time!  He recounted how the family eventually were able to return to Germany and their original roots when he was eleven years old.

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He himself trained for the priesthood in Brazil, was asked to teach in the seminary in Kazakhstan before being appointed bishop ten years ago in this very scattered part of the world.  Again, I left his company quite humbled but edified at the personal journey he has made, and the wonderful faith of his parents and family which has gifted the Church with such a fine missionary bishop.

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Until next week – May God bless you all,

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As ever in Christ,

+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster

On the Grace of Confirmation

My dear Friends in Christ,

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Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog which I have chosen to be about the grace and meaning of the Sacrament of Confirmation.

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In early March, I begin my round of Confirmations and, as the diary stands, have the last one in late November.  (My revised Confirmation liturgical guidance is here). Receiving the sacrament of Confirmation is a very significant moment both for the young person as well as for their parents and wider family.

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When the candidate is anointed with the sacred oil of chrism he or she is graced and gifted with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus Christ was filled with the Holy Spirit at the outset of his public life, that same Spirit takes hold of the one who is newly Confirmed.

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Thus; Confirmation is the sacrament of strengthening, as the term itself (“confirmare” in Latin) implies. It strengthens the baptised people of God in their relationship with the Lord Jesus and then it further strengthens them in their vocation to defend and spread the faith.

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Yes, being anointed with the Spirit has life-long consequences, if we but stop and reflect. For Christ, it meant that he was empowered to do the work of his Father on earth, to witness to his love and mercy, and to give him the courage to offer himself on the cross for the salvation of his brothers and sisters.

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The Lord responded fully to the promptings and guidance of God’s Spirit, for him it was not a gift to be squandered.

The staggering truth is that those who receive the sacrament of Confirmation are called to walk in the footsteps of Christ, proclaiming his gospel of peace, love and mercy in our own day.  God’s gifts are invariably given for a purpose!

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I am always at pains to encourage those being Confirmed that Christ in a real sense depends on each one of them being willing to respond to God’s grace to share his gospel of good tidings to the world around them.

And that, I acknowledge to them, is a daunting task if they were to attempt it on their own, but the truth is they now have a share in the very same Holy Spirit which the Lord Jesus had. We need only remember, I tell them, just how weak and uncertain Peter and his companions were before Pentecost Day.

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However, the sound of the mighty wind and appearance of tongues of fire – symbols of the power and eloquence of Holy Spirit – changed and strengthened them completely and ushered in a new age, that of the Church.

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The erstwhile rash and undependable Peter and friends now became entirely different people through the Spirit from above. No longer afraid or unsure of themselves, they would deserve and merit the title of apostles of Christ, and would rather lay down their lives as martyrs than deny him.

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So the gift of God’s Holy Spirit that our young people, and others, will receive in the course of this year is one to be shared for the Church and the wider world.

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Let us pray for them and their families that as they stand up to profess their faith and step forward to be anointed with chrism, their hearts may be open to the gentle touch of the Holy Spirit.  May they prove to be strong and worthy witnesses of Christ and help bring his healing and love to our often troubled and disturbed world.

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Until next week’s Blog – may God bless you all and all our readers,

As ever in Christ,

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+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster

 

Visiting Oscott & Whitehaven

Dear Friends,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

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Saint Mary’s College, situated at Oscott, to the north of Birmingham has a long and distinguished history in the formation of priests, primarily for the archdiocese of Birmingham.

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In recent years however an increasing number of clerical students from the Northern Province have been training for the priesthood in St. Mary’s, including three from our own Diocese of Lancaster, as well as a number from Scotland.  Oscott College is indeed flourishing!

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Together with a number of other bishops who have students in the college, I was present earlier in the week for a presentation from members of the staff on some particular aspect of seminary formation.

This year we were given an outline of the approach to spiritual direction offered by the seminary to its students.  The seriousness and diligence with which the staff approach this essential work in the formation of future priests was evident in what we heard, and gave us bishops considerable reassurance.

The Rector and staff of St. Mary’s, Oscott, are to be commended for the care and enthusiasm with which they engage in this ministry, so vital to the future life of the Church in Britain.

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The warm and hospitable welcome extended to us made for a pleasant stay. May the life and work of this venerable seminary, a place well known to Blessed John Henry Newman, continue to be blessed by the Lord of the harvest!

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I experienced a visit of another kind on Thursday when I travelled to the West Coast of the diocese, and to St. Benedict’s Catholic High School, Whitehaven.

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The Head, staff and students of the College went out of their way to make me feel welcome and to thank me for taking the time to come and see them. The few hours I spent touring the school and getting a glimpse of some of the classes at work passed all too quickly.

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At the close of afternoon I had the opportunity of meeting the impressive school council and sharing refreshments with them, and the presence of many of the teachers who had gathered enabled me to have a brief word and offer them encouragement in what they were doing for the students.

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Plans are being laid for a complete new build of St. Benedict’s, with the expectation that it will be completed within two to three years. As was the case with the seminary at Oscott, I received a very warm welcome in Whitehaven and it was a pleasure to see and meet very fine young people.

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May that great figure and saint of Western monasticism, Benedict, always be a protector and a source of wisdom and inspiration to the present generation of students in the school which bears his name, and to those, teachers and pupils, who will grace the new St. Benedict’s in years to come.

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My week concluded with the funeral of one of our retired priests, Fr. John Marsh, at the church of Our Lady and Saint Edward, Preston, on Friday morning. By general agreement, Fr. John, a former monk at Nunraw, was a saintly man who lived a simple and detached life, a devoted priest who was totally committed to his Lord.

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Fr. John’s priestly ministry, albeit in a different way, continued throughout his retirement, and his quiet and gracious acceptance of his lot in his declining years, I’m sure, brought down many blessings on the Church.

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On the occasions when I was able to visit him at St Winefride’s he always reassured me that he was praying for his bishop and the diocese. May this faithful servant continue to remember us all, now that his earthly pilgrimage is complete.

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Until next week – let us pray for each other.

As ever in Christ,

+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster

In Rome with my brother Augustinian Bishops

Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome to the Bishop’s Blog for this week!

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The Prior General of the Augustinian Order, Fr Alejandro Moral Anton, invited those bishop members of the Order to meet in Rome this past week, so as to share experiences and common challenges, and learn about the Church entrusted to the pastoral care of the Order in different parts of the world.

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There were just over twelve bishops present: two from Europe, two from Africa and the remainder from Latin America. It was a thoroughly enriching gathering in the Augustinian Generalate, which is just beside St. Peter’s Basilica.

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From a European perspective I was greatly inspired by the life-long ministry and commitment of the Augustinian bishops serving in remote and inaccessible parts of, for example, Peru, where the terrain makes travelling arduous and villages are widely scattered.

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They minister faithfully to the people, often high up the Andes, and have devoted their lives to patiently building up the Church as best they can, more often than not with a small number of priests. The Augustinian missionary spirit, I felt, was alive and well as I listened to their stories.

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Other bishops from Central America, such as Panama, highlighted the vast movement of populations, passing through Panama with the hope of eventually reaching the United States. The dreadful problems of people trafficking, drugs, exploitation of women and children, highlighted by the bishops made for painful listening.

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Concern was also expressed over the abuse of the environment and wilful waste of the rich natural resources with which these Central American countries abound. Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, Laudato si, on care for our ‘common earthly home’, was felt to be very timely. Both in Central and South America the Church is doing its utmost to proclaim the gospel in the face of very challenging circumstances.

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The Irish Augustinians brought the faith to parts of Northern Nigeria in the 1940’s, and the presence of two bishops of the Order there (who I taught as seminarians) is eloquent witness of how their labours have been blessed by the Lord.

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Both bishops also spoke of situations common in many parts of the world, a particular instance being the drift of young people from the countryside to the cities, with the result that tracts of fertile agricultural land lie unattended. Terrorism and indiscriminate killing of peoples of all faiths in Northern Nigeria have left desolation in many areas. One Catholic diocese, Maiduguri, has suffered grievously from the depredations of Boko Haram.

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As bishops we shared, we talked, and drew encouragement from one another.

It was appropriate that our gathering coincided with the closing Mass of the Year of Consecrated Life, and we joined Pope Francis and many other bishops in the concelebrated Mass in St. Peter’s (the Holy Father’s homily is here), which was attended by numerous men and women religious from many parts of the world.

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The missionary endeavours of the Augustinian Order, distinguished as they are, form but part of the much larger outreach of the Church in so many places and in countless different ways.

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Let us remember in prayer all those in the Consecrated Life who have left everything to follow Christ and bring his Good News to the furthest and most remote parts of our world.

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As I left Rome and the meeting of Augustinian bishops to return to the Diocese of Lancaster, I felt humbled yet full of admiration for the missionary dedication of my brothers in the Augustinian Order. They helped broaden my vision of the universal Church.

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Until next week – may God bless you all,

As ever in Christ,

+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster