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Pastoral Letter for the Feast of the Holy Family

28/29 December 2019

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ

In St John’s Gospel the first words Jesus spoke were in the form of a question.  He asked two Disciples: “what do you want?”  The question is a basic one but nevertheless important.  During this Christmas season what do we want as individuals and as the community of the Church?

When I was a parish priest, I would start the inquiry in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) by asking the inquirers what did they want?  There were many different answers but often people would say that they wanted “to belong”.  Without belonging somewhere they felt lonely and diminished.

Today as we celebrate the Christmas Feast of the Holy Family we are recognising that not only do we belong to our families but so did Jesus.  He was truly human as well as divine and in his humanity he needed the security of family life to begin to discover his identity.  Like us he would have heard family stories and of past generations.  In the family he would come to his first knowledge of Gods love through Gods covenant with the people of Israel.

People sometimes find the Feast of the Holy Family difficult to identify with as the Holy Family is often portrayed as unconnected with family life as we experience it.  However, the reality of life for the Holy Family was one of challenge and sacrifice.  In today’s Gospel we hear of the Holy Family becoming refugees and suffering the hardships which that entails.   We know only too well through the media that today there are many millions of refugees searching for a homeland and quality of life.  Their plight should touch our hearts.

The Holy Family also belonged to a wider family – the family of God’s people through their participation in sacred feasts and through listening to the Law and Prophets.  They came to know God’s faithfulness, even when the people turned away from God.  They heard the Prophets telling the people to turn back to God and put their faith into practice through deeds of justice and mercy.

We belong to a wider family – the family of the Church.  We listen to God’s word and by participating in the liturgy we have a deeper understanding of what it means to follow Jesus as missionary disciples.  Through prayer we open ourselves to new horizons.  Like Joseph in today’s Gospel we become a people of dreams, visions, recognising our responsibilities towards one another as brothers and sisters.  That does not mean we all become the same but in our diversity we become one in Christ.  God has created each one of us as a unique person but also created us to relate to one another and be responsible for one another.

As we approach the New Year, what do we want for the Church, what do we want for our parishes, our schools, our Religious Communities our organisations?  St Paul tells us to let the message of Christ in all its richness, find a home within us.  We should teach each other and advise each other in all wisdom.  With gratitude in our hearts we should sing psalms and hymns and inspired songs to God and never say or do anything accept in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

If we follow the teaching of St Paul, we will understand more fully the responsibilities that all of us have for the spread of the Gospel, for the Kingdom of God.  In accepting that responsibility we will be in communion with one another and with God.  We will also recognise that we live not just for ourselves but for all people.  We work for the common good, which often means we have to be healers and reconcilers. We may have to take the initiative and reach out to those who we would rather not know and who would rather not know us.  We are brothers and sisters no matter how we might wish to deny it.  We belong to the human race which is called in its diversity to be one.

Our awareness is not only about our responsibilities towards one another but also to the whole of creation.  We are part of God’s creation.  The world is entrusted to us to protect and preserve it for future generations.

On Christmas day we proclaimed: “Today a Saviour has been born to us. He is Christ the Lord”.  Like the shepherds we need to hear these words directed towards ourselves as we face the joys and challenges of a New Year.   If we allow Jesus to be our Saviour, then we will become a holy communion – a people full of life because we know Jesus by believing in him.

 

May the Lord bless you and guide you throughout the year 2020.

With my best wishes and prayers

Rt Rev Declan Lang

Bishop of Clifton

Previous Pastoral Letter

Pastoral Letter for Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Pastoral Letter

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ When Pope John Paul II visited the United Kingdom in 1982 he spoke to a large gathering of young people in Ninian Park, Cardiff.  Some of you may have been there.  The Pope said to the young people, when I return to Rome I hope you will remember the reason why I came.  I came to Britain to call you to Christ, to invite you to pray.  Next Wednesday as we begin the season of Lent, that call to Christ and invitation to prayer are words that we can all take to heart.  With the blessing and distribution of ashes we hear the words; Repent and believe in the Gospel.  We are called to turn towards God and believe in Jesus, the Son sent by the Father who is the Good News from God. Prayer is not an escapism from life but a way to broaden the horizons of our minds and hearts.  It is to understand our mission more fully.  To quote Pope John Paul II again in Ninian Park: Through contact with Jesus in prayer, you gain a sense of mission that nothing can dull.  Your Christian identity is reaffirmed and the meaning of your lives is forever linked to Christ’s saving mission.  Through prayer your Baptism and Confirmation take on an urgency for you.  You realise that you are called to spread Christ’s message of salvation.  In union with Jesus, in prayer, you will discover more fully the needs of your brothers and sisters.  You will appreciate more keenly the pain and suffering that burden the hearts of countless people. Lent is also a time for fasting and charitable giving so that we may be aware of the needs of others, especially those who are hungry, homeless, refugees, victims of trafficking and victims of war prejudice and violence.  Lent is a time for reconciliation, truth and justice.  It is a time for healing.  This is especially needed as we become more conscious of the deep hurt that has been suffered by those who have been abused and their lives seriously damaged.  They are innocent victims of a great sin.  They have suffered a great injustice, especially when this sin has been concealed by those in authority. St Teresa of Avila said, Prayer in my opinion is nothing else than the close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us. Prayer is a conversation with God, a time to speak, a time to listen.  The conversation is initiated by God.  Prayer is our response to that invitation.  The conversation begun by God is made visible in Jesus whom we listen to this year through the evangelist St Luke.  On the mount of Transfiguration, we hear the Father proclaim: This is my Son, the Chosen One.  Listen to him.  During this Lent in your daily prayer read and reflect upon the Sunday Gospels and follow Christ through his life and death to the resurrection.  Often our lives are very busy. We want to pray but cannot find the time to pray.  If prayer is important then if we cannot find the time we must make the time.  Even on a busy day we could pray the Our Father at the beginning of the day, during the day and at the end of the day.  This is the prayer taught by Jesus.  To pray the Our Father faithfully and slowly is to become more like Jesus in his prayer. Above all, it is in the celebration of the Liturgy that we encounter Christ and become more like him.  It is in the Mass and other Sacraments that we recognise the presence of Christ with us.  It is in the celebration of the Liturgy that we participate in the life, death and resurrection of the Lord.  We are united to the Mission of God as is made present in Jesus.  The Liturgy is the prayer of the Church – the response of the Church to the conversation initiated by God who so loves our world that he gives us his only Son.  Our Liturgies need to be prayerful encounters with Christ to enable us to enter into the dynamic of God’s love for the whole of creation. This Sunday Jesus talks about good fruit and rotten fruit.  The fruit we produce comes from the heart.  On Ash Wednesday we will hear the call of God through the prophet Joel: Come back to me with all your heart, fasting, weeping, mourning.  Let your hearts be broken not your garments torn.  We will also pray with the psalmist: A pure heart create for me O God for a steadfast spirit within me. I wish you a prayerful and happy Lent so that together we can proclaim on Easter Sunday: we have seen the Lord. With my best wishes and prayers Rt Rev Declan Lang Bishop of Clifton