Ash Wednesday message from Bishop Paul Swarbrick

Ash Wednesday, again. We enter Lent, knowing very well that the Season of Lent will end in 40 days with Holy Week and Easter. How neat! Life isn’t always a neat thing. The forty days of Lent may pale in comparison to the present lockdown we are fed up with, and with no knowing when it will end. Feeling stuck and unable to get ‘unstuck’ is annoying at best, desperately frightening at worst. The world seems divided into two camps; those who are ‘front-line’, busier than is good for them, and then the rest of us, waiting uselessly for the day when we can re-engage with normality.In that first Lent, Christ went missing. It is ironic that after His hidden years, as soon as He was baptised by St.John, He did not get ‘stuck into’ the job of preaching and healing. Instead, He disappeared into the wilderness, alone, except for the wild beasts, the angels and Old Nick waiting to kick Him when He was down, at His lowest ebb. We are invited to go deep into Lent with Jesus by seeing Jesus come into our own long Lent. We meditate on His Passion partly by finding Him in our own passions. It’s not the time to be papering over cracks; there’s already been too much of that in my life.With more time in the house I’ve been looking at a small stack of old prayer books and cards that came from home and found their way to me when we broke up the family home after Mum died quite some years ago. ‘A LARGE PRINT PRAYER BOOK’ (CTS 1945)  ‘A Manual of the Sacred Heart Confraternity’ (Ireland 1951) ‘Catholic Prayer Book’ (DLT 1970) ‘Before the Tabernacle – A child’s visit to the Blessed Sacrament’ (Irish Messenger Office 1935) ‘The People’s Mission Book’ (1939).I have picked out a few that seem rather special because they are well worn and have particular features that appeal to me at this moment. ‘A prayer for those who live alone’ (Imprimatur:- Thomas Eduardus, Episcopus Lancastrensis 5th Julii 1957) ‘A mission prayer’ (from a parish mission at Garstang, November 1973, which I remember.) ‘Prayers to the Sacred Heart’ (CTS 1976). This last has caught my attention because Mum put her name in the front, and one page is marked. It has the prayer of Petitions through the Sacred Heart, suggesting that this is the prayer she turned to often.Our battles can be hard. It is helpful to remember those who have gone before us, whose battles, whether personal or shared, were just as testing as ours are now. Where did they go to draw strength and hope? What brought them comfort? What lifted them when it all got too much? How did they find resilience? Those sources are still available for us.Lent can be a grim time, and maybe that’s not a bad thing to recognise. But despair is not the only option, certainly not the preferred option. Lent is, above all, the time to re-establish the habit of prayer and belief in the value of prayer to a merciful Lord. It has been there for countless millions down the centuries. It is a soothing balm for countless millions in this time. Following their example, it can be the thing that makes the difference for you too. But where do you start? I recommending the Stations of the Cross to be prayed as best you can each day of this Lent. I finish with this evening prayer from my Mum’s prayerbook.

Evening Prayer.

O Good and Merciful God, I thank Thee for keeping me safe this day in life and health, as also for all the good things Thou hast given me, for body and soul, for time and eternity.

I offer and commend to Thy Holy Heart any good thing that I have by Thy kindness today, thought, spoken, and done, and all that I have had to bear of cross and suffering.

I pray Thee to unite them to the love of Thy Holy Heart, to Thy bitter Passion, and Thy merits, that they may please Thee and profit me to eternal life.  Amen