Many of our bishops write pastoral letters for the Feast of the Holy Family which falls just after Christmas each year. Here are a few extracts from those published in 2015 with links so that you can read more if you wish.
An Image and Likeness of the Blessed Trinity
This past year has seen two very significant moments in the life of the Church. The Synod on the Vocation and Mission of the Family met in Rome and we have now begun The Year of Mercy. The Synod reminded us that the family is an “image and likeness of the Blessed Trinity”, a reflection of the mystery of love which is the life of God. This essential truth can easily be lost amongst the realities and challenges experienced by many families. During this Year of Mercy Pope Francis calls us to “gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives”. Mercy is a fundamental attribute of God but it is also often missing in human relationships whether within families or in the wider human community.
Bishop Alan Williams, Brentwood Read more…
Deepen our Awareness of God’s Presence
Today’s feast of the Holy Family is a reminder that the family is at the basis of the life of the Church and society. It was into a family that Jesus was born. For thirty years he lived anonymously before his public ministry. Those years were a preparation for his journey to Jerusalem, to his death and resurrection – to being the saviour of the world. Within the family of Nazareth there was a sense of God. We are told that Mary and Joseph travelled up to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover as they usually did. When he was 12, Jesus accompanied them. Later in Luke’s Gospel we are told that Jesus returned to Nazareth and went into the Synagogue as he usually did. What is usual in the life of our own families? Is there the sense of God’s presence? Is prayer and the celebration of Mass and the other sacraments a usual part of our life. For many families it is, but for all families in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, there is the call to deepen our awareness of God’s presence – a God of mercy and compassion.
Bishop Declan Lang, Clifton Read more…
The Greatest Complementary Reality
In one of his recent addresses about marriage and family life, Pope Francis said: Marriage has been inscribed in creation’s design by God. He reminds us that marriage comes from God. It is not of human making – it is part of a bigger picture that God has revealed to us in the universe. What is this bigger picture into which marriage fits? It lies in the story of creation. The divine design is that of complementarity. In the account of creation in the Bible, each day God brings about a series of complementary realities – light and dark, sea and land, earth and heaven and so on. Then God gives us the greatest complementary reality of all – man and woman. Each of them is made in God’s own image, so distinct and so different – yet meant to find fulfilment in each other.
Bishop Alan Hopes, East Anglia Read more…
The Family-Witness to the Church
Most of us learn how to cope with disagreements and arguments within our families. Ideally the bond of love within families provides that safety and security we all need to grow up and mature, to challenge, to argue and to be accepted and forgiven. There can be difficult and hurtful separations and there can be wonderful compassionate healing words and actions. It is from within our families that we begin to learn to look outwards towards others, to relate and to love, to care and to forgive. On his return from the Synod on the Family, Cardinal Nichols referred to our own families and the family of the Church. He said: ‘this family-witness to the Church is very, very important, more than what the Church can teach the Family’. The Church has much to learn from the way we forgive and care, welcome and show mercy within our families.
Bishop Seamus Cunningham, Hexham & Newcastle Read more…
God is Never far From Families
The Holy Family therefore fully experienced what we call the ‘ups and downs’ of life, but they remained together and persevered in the vocation God gave them. The Church today sets the Holy Family before us as an inspiration and encouragement to each one of us to be faithful in our own vocation, whatever form that may take. Let us pray today for all families, in particular those who are finding life difficult for whatever reason. They should remember that Christ walks alongside them and never deserts those He loves. Almighty God is never far from families!
Bishop Michael Campbell, Lancaster Read more…
A Workshop of Hope
We are told that in the beginning God created all things, including human beings, man and woman, the first family. Why? Well the pages of Bible unfold to us the greatest love story ever told; God, who is none other than Love Itself, lavishes his life and love on us, his creation. Even when we turned away and rejected that love, he still walked with us, and eventually sent his Son, born into a human family, so that we could grasp what this love really means. The love of God is no longer a notion, an idea, the love of God is made visible in Christ Jesus: a person. And he was born into a family. Not a perfect family, but the Holy Family. From the beginning there were problems and difficulties. Not even for the Holy Family was everything plain sailing. Listen to what Pope Francis said at the Prayer Vigil for the Festival of Families in Philadelphia in September this year: “Certainly, in the family there are difficulties. But in families also, the cross is followed by resurrection, because there too the Son of God leads us. So the family is a workshop of hope, of the hope of life and resurrection, since God was the one who opened this path.”
Bishop Terry Drainey, Middlesbrough
The Role of the Parish Community
For all of us, our growth and development and the different stages of life are a challenge. It is encouraging to see those same challenges in the Holy Family. It was encouraging for me, too, at the Synod in Rome last October, to hear all the challenges of marriage and family life discussed so fully. The challenge for some was one of survival in the face of poverty and persecution. For others, like ourselves, there is the complexity of our society in which our understanding of marriage is being deconstructed. In response, the Synod affirmed that, for God’s people, marriage is the union of one man and one woman in an indissoluble bond. The importance of preparation for marriage was stressed, not just in preparation for a wedding, but from our earliest years, both at home and in school. There was also an emphasis on the role that the parish community can play in the preparation for and celebration of marriage. And there is more for us to do. Many of us who are separated or divorced or remarried, feel at one remove from the community, and sometimes have a sense of not being welcome. All of us, not just the priest or the deacon, are urged to accompany people in difficult situations and support them in discerning a way forward in their life of faith. Certainly, they have a part to play as members of the Church.
Bishop Peter Doyle, Northampton Read more…
Day of Prayer for Children and Vulnerable Adults
Recently, at the request of our Safeguarding Commission and after consulting some of the clergy, I have decided to establish this Feast of the Holy Family as an annual diocesan day of prayer for children and vulnerable adults, for the victims of abuse and for all who work in the ministry of safeguarding. Just as Mary and Joseph created a safe home-environment for Jesus, so too on this day especially, let us pray that the Church in all her contexts will be a safe haven for our children and for the vulnerable. Indeed, for all their efforts, let us thank God today for the work of our diocesan Safeguarding Coordinator, for the members of the Safeguarding Commission and for all who serve so generously in our parishes as safeguarding representatives.
Bishop Philip Egan, Portsmouth Read more…
It is Not Our Place to Judge
Especially in this Year of Mercy, we must have a special concern and care for those families which have been broken and grievously wounded through separation or divorce. The commandment that we must love our neighbour as ourselves puts a special obligation on us to reach out to them. For these particularly we must all have the greatest love, respect, gentleness and compassion. These are our brothers and sisters, deeply wounded and suffering. It is not our place to judge them. Rather the Gospel demands that we welcome them within the family of the Church and help them to experience the life-giving love and compassion which will in time, and with the help of God’s grace, lead to healing and new life. It was in the loving relationship of the Holy Family, that Jesus had his first human experience of being loved, of being held, of being listened to and nurtured so that he could fulfil all his human potential, learning from the experience and wisdom of Mary and Joseph. May our homes and families shine out as “holy places”, rooted in the love of God, reflected in our love and respect for one another.
Archbishop Peter Smith, Southwark Read more…