posted on 06 February 2004
The following is the text of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor's Pastoral Letter to the Diocese of Westminster which will be read at Masses on the 7th and 8th of February.
“My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
' Today is Education Sunday. It is a time for us to give thanks particularly to the teachers and staff of our schools who give such an enormous amount to our children and our young people. Where would the Catholic community in this diocese be without the heroic efforts of countless members of our community who for the past 150 years have committed themselves to fundraising, building, and maintaining our schools and providing the moral and personal support which the teachers in our schools deserve. I would like you to pray today very specially for all of those who contribute to making our schools places of faith, hope, and love as well as sound educational institutions.
' But I would also like to draw your attention today to the extraordinary importance of family life in the education and formation of our young people. When I was young, it was clear to me that living out faith in Jesus Christ was something more than attending mass on Sunday. We prayed together as a family every day. Every week my father would spend one evening visiting and caring for poor and destitute people in the parish. My mother, along with other Catholic women, gave a great deal of time to helping to develop the life and mission of the parish. In so many different ways, my parents taught me that to be a follower of Christ demanded sacrifice and a real commitment of time and energy. What was true for my parents is true for parents today. And what I learnt from my parents your children can learn from you. We are all called to live as one family of faith and the deepest sign of that vocation is to be found in the heart of our homes.
' In today's Gospel we are told that Simon Peter, and the sons of Zebedee, did something extraordinary because they believed in Jesus and were prepared to respond to his invitation. The immediacy of that response was quite startling: they beached their boats, dumped their fish, abandoned their families and took off and followed Him. What an extraordinary thing to do! They went out looking for fish and came back with a mission. I can't help feeling that their extraordinary response must have reflected a deep sense of faith within their families and their community. And equally their generosity in leaving everything to follow Jesus was itself a gift - a gift from them to their families. We should feel the power of God's love as a ripple moving through our family and into our parishes
' God's gifts are never just for ourselves. Every family - your personal family, the family of the parish, and the family of the diocese - has a mission bigger than itself. It has a broader mission to the wider Church and to the world. The family that does most to evangelise society is the family which does most to evangelise itself. Which is why praying together is so important. Our education and formation in the faith must go together hand in hand. Neither our schools nor our families should be left to work in isolation. We are all educators: we form each other with every act of faith and sign of our commitment to the God of love in Jesus Christ.
' Two weeks from now we begin the second season of At Your Word, Lord. Some of you in the parish are already playing an active part in our diocesan renewal programme by meeting for the six weeks in small groups. Others are playing a part through their prayer and support. I want all of you to think what greater effort you might give to support the programme during this coming season. I am convinced that there are many more who, in their heart of hearts, would want to launch out into the deep, as Peter did and in this way respond to the Lord's invitation. I ask you to have courage and not to be afraid. The benefits for your own family and for the family of the parish will be immense.
' We begin Lent in a few weeks' time and I want you to consider carefully what you might do in these next six weeks to play a greater part in the diocesan endeavour for spiritual and pastoral renewal. These are not just words. Our faith is real because the presence of God in Jesus Christ in our midst in Word and Sacrament and by the Spirit in our lives is real, is true.
' We sometimes wonder how best to evangelise our children and our young people. We must be prepared to take that extra step beyond our weekly Mass commitment. Like Peter and James and John we can go much further than we could possibly imagine if we answer Christ's call, Come, follow me. And when we do things change. We begin to evangelise not only our parishes but our society. If our involvement in the parish is minimal of course very little will change for the better and of course our young people will fall away. It is not just our Church which needs active witnesses to the Gospel. It is our young people and our society. The At Your Word Lord process is Christ's call to all the people of our diocese to respond with alacrity to the word as did those apostles by the Sea of Galilee.
' How pleased I was two weekends ago to meet those who have taken on a leadership role in our programme of renewal. How impressed I was with their joy and enthusiasm. How delighted I was to meet a crowd of enthusiastic young people a few Sundays ago. And how much I look forward to meeting two or three hundred of our Catholic Sixth Formers soon to share with them our faith, talk together about how much we can do to deepen our love of Jesus Christ and His invitation to spread His message by word and example. How glad I am when our priests tell me how well the At Your Word, Lord programme is going in their parish and the means they take to encourage it.
' Do not be discouraged or, like Peter, think that you have laboured all night long and have caught nothing and that it's not worth it. At Your Word, Lord, I will let down the net, said Peter. In the name of Jesus, I invite you, in the words of Jesus in today's Gospel, to launch out into the deep, and I assure you that the generosity of your response will not be in vain but will reap much fruit'