Pastoral Letter for the Feast of the Holy Family
28/29 December 2019
Audio only below
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