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Pastoral Letter for the Feast of the Holy Family, 30th December 2007

posted on 01 January 1900

Today is the feast of the Holy Family and in one of the prayers we ask the

Lord to “teach us the sanctity of human love, show us the value of family life, and help us to live in peace with all, that we may share in Your life forever”.   I want today to commend parents for all that you do in bringing up your children in the love of God. 

I rejoice when I visit parishes and offer Mass where there are so many young families who sacrifice themselves in love for their children.   Like the Holy Family, every family is a suffering family at some stage or other.  Good families try and hang together, support one another.  The deepest sacrifices and the deepest kindnesses happen in your own home.  So often this time of the year reminds us of those truths.

The richest soil in any parish has to be in the home.   This is because the home, more than any other place, is where a child grows.  If space is made for God in the home; if parents pray with their children from an early age; if parents treat each other well; if the relationships within the home are basically sound; if Mass as Christ’s Memorial is seen to matter to the older people, then there is a fair chance that in the hearts and minds of the children the seed will take root and grow.   Our children are the messages we send to tomorrow.  We can forget easily what is said in church, or even in school, but we don’t forget what happens in the home.  

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, 

I want to speak to you today on a subject that is very dear to my heart, namely, the family.   I will begin in a slightly provocative way.   It has taken us a long time to realise that if we cut down trees, use cars with highly leaded fuels and build factories with toxic emissions, we were gradually destroying the eco system within which we live and breathe.   No wonder we are all ‘green’ now.   Perhaps, however, it has been harder for us to admit those elements in our relationships or in our society which have contributed to the fragmentation of the family.  Yet it is equally true that we are rapidly moving the very structures on which society is built and on which humanity depends; we are gradually destroying the “eco-system” that supports the family.   I know I may be speaking to some people who have had broken marriages or who do a courageous and sacrificial job as single parents.  I would not want you to think I don’t understand the sorrow and hurt which has been part of your lives.   In many ways your experience too points to the reality that families matter in all sorts of ways.  

Today is the feast of the Holy Family and in one of the prayers we ask the

Lord to “teach us the sanctity of human love, show us the value of family life, and help us to live in peace with all, that we may share in Your life forever”.   I want today to commend parents for all that you do in bringing up your children in the love of God.  The richest soil in any parish has to be in the home.   This is because the home, more than any other place, is where a child grows.  If space is made for God in the home; if parents pray with their children from an early age; if parents treat each other well; if the relationships within the home are basically sound; if Mass as Christ’s Memorial is seen to matter to the older people, then there is a fair chance that in the hearts and minds of the children the seed will take root and grow.   Our children are the messages we send to tomorrow.  We can forget easily what is said in church, or even in school, but we don’t forget what happens in the home.   There are troubles and tensions; there are the ordinary things: the daily effort, the daily drudgery.  All these things remind us of God’s faithfulness.  Somehow if we take God’s Word into our daily life and try to live it, then we are scattering the seed ourselves for the younger generation and generations to come.  

As Catholics we believe in the partnership between family, school and the parish community.  The roots of success in our schools lie in their commitment to the support of family life and most particularly our teaching about the centrality of Christian married life.  Most parents do not want their children to be taught that marriage is no more than one life-style choice among many.  They do not want to expose their children to the risk of becoming promiscuous or indulging in drug and alcohol abuse.  Many, many young people, when expressing their dreams and hopes express the desire to one day be happily married and to have a family.  

Some months ago I was invited to preach at the wedding of a cousin of mine and I directed my words to the young couple who were sitting in front of me looking very content and happy.  And when I spoke of love as being a commitment to each other, not fifty-fifty but a hundred per cent, not give-and-take but give and give; when I spoke of the daily things, the hurts, the sorrows, the joys – not forgetting always to forgive each other before the lights went out at the end of the day, it wasn’t the young couple that were listening so much as the 200 people, most of them married, who were listening.   So only you, my dear parents, know what goes on in your married life and how love comes about through sacrifice and self-giving.   And I want you to know how much the Church loves the family and wants to support you in any way that it can.  It is why I rejoice when I visit parishes and offer Mass where there are so many young families who sacrifice themselves in love for their children.   Like the Holy Family, every family is a suffering family at some stage or other.  Good families try and hang together, support one another.  The deepest sacrifices and the deepest kindnesses happen in your own home.  So often this time of the year reminds us of those truths.

I am aware of people who don’t enjoy a rich family life or people who have foregone the prospect of parenthood for other vocations.  I am particularly thankful and grateful for so many single people who have taken their inspiration from the Holy Family and devote so much of their lives to the service of others.  But today we remember the families in our diocese and we pray for the countless number of families who are endeavouring to live faithful and good lives and to bring up their children in the love of God. 

Because I think this is so important, in May next year at Westminster Cathedral I am inviting all those couples who are celebrating significant wedding anniversaries to come to Mass and give thanks to God for their marriages, for their families and for all that God has given to them during their years together.  

I hope you listened closely to the reading today of St. Paul in which he speaks of family life:   “You are God’s chosen race, his saints.  He loves you and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins.  The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same.  Over all these clothes, to keep them together and complete them, put on love.  And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts because it was for this that you were called together as parts of one body.  Always be thankful.”  My prayer for you is that the good Lord may bless all of you and your families and keep you always in His love.

Yours devotedly in Christ,

Archbishop of Westminster

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posted on 01 January 1900

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