Bishop Declan’s Pastoral Letter to people of the Clifton Diocese. For the Feast of the Holy Family 26/27 December 2015.
Pastoral Letter for the Feast of the Holy Family
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ
During this Christmas season many families come together from different parts of the country or the world to celebrate the Christmas feast. Friends do likewise and it is good that they do so. However, there are many families who lack the security and stability of family life, often due to causes not of their own making. Sadly there are literally millions of people who have been displaced, seeing their homes and family life destroyed through war and violence. We remember the refugees from Syria and other parts of the world.
Within our own country there are those who have recently seen their homes destroyed by floods. For all these people this must be an experience they would rather not have had. It is into the darkness of life that the light of Christ seeks to shine and to give hope when there is despair and peace when there is cruelty and violence. For this to become a reality, there is a need for a people who are instruments of God’s peace and who thirst for justice and reconciliation. This work cannot be left to politicians and those in public office, though they have an important part to play. It is the responsibility of us all to live the Gospel and transform our world making it into a better place.
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.
In one of his General Audiences, Pope Francis said “that on the front door of family life there should be written these phrases: “please”, “thank you” and “excuse me”. These words the Pope said open up the way for a family to live well. They are simple words but not so simple to put into practice. They contain a great power to safeguard the house through a thousand difficulties and trials.
If those words are good for the family, they are good for the whole Church. The Church is called to be a community where all find a welcome, the love of God and the challenge of God to grow and flourish as human beings.
Recently I received two letters which saddened me. One was a vitriolic attack on the entire Muslim population in response to the recent terrorist atrocities. The other was saying that people of the same sex orientation should not be allowed to go to Mass as they are unworthy.
All of us are unworthy. That is why we pray: Lord I am not worthy to receive you under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed. And the word is spoken to all.
Jesus comes to us in the Eucharist. This is the same Jesus who was criticised by some of the religious leaders as the friend of prostitutes and sinners and who ate with them.
At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus who is the Face of God’s Mercy. The Church can only be an authentic and credible sign of Christ when we are a people of mercy. Knowing the mercy of God towards ourselves, we need to share that gift with others.
The Holy Family went up to celebrate the Passover as they usually did. May it be usual for us to be a people of mercy both at home and wherever we find ourselves during our everyday lives in the coming year.
With my best wishes and prayers for a New Year
Rt Rev Declan Lang
Bishop of Clifton