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Letters and Homilies

A pastoral letter introducing Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation on the family

Pope waving 1

 

My dear brothers and sisters, I write to you on this Good Shepherd Sunday when the readings from Scripture remind us how the Church continues the mission of Christ, who is the true Shepherd and Guardian of our souls (I Peter 2: 25). In the Gospel, Jesus tells us: “The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life; they will never be lost …” (John 10: 27.28). Jesus is our Good Shepherd who leads us to the fullness of life, “… to springs of living water” (Apoc. 7:17). The Apostles tell us it is the Church which continues this mission today as “the light of the nations” so God’s salvation might reach the ends of the earth (Acts 13:47). This task is not merely to point the way for humanity but like the Good Shepherd, to accompany every soul along the often difficult and demanding pathways which lead us to life. It is with this purpose that bishops write ‘pastoral’ letters, and with this same pastoral concern that the Pope writes to us as the supreme pastor of the Church. The Pope is not a political leader making up new policies to fit the shifting tides of public opinion. The Holy Father holds a greater responsibility as the successor of Saint Peter to whom Jesus Himself said: “I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail … and when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22: 32).

Last weekend many of you may have heard some confusing media reports concerning a letter of exhortation written by Pope Francis entitled “The Joy of Love in the Family” (Amoris Laetitia). Many media outlets accurately stated that Catholic teaching on marriage, the family and human sexuality remains unchanged. However, some reports expressed disappointment that the Church fails to conform herself to the prevailing western morality. Yet the Church, seeks to conform herself to Christ’s Word not to the world (cf. Dei Verbum n.10). It is with this true pastoral purpose that Pope Francis writes about the family in a document extending to some 265 pages. He declares that “the Christian proclamation on the family is good news indeed” (AL n.1) and that careful and patient reading of his Exhortation will give much to reflect upon (AL n.6).

I cannot hope, in these few lines to summarise all the Holy Father’s words and insights and his overview of the global situation of the family. However, I wish to introduce this document by noting how deeply aware Pope Francis is of the many and varied challenges facing families across the world. In some places it is the impact of extreme poverty, of war or the displacement and migration of peoples. In western societies, Pope Francis speaks of the dimming of the understanding of marriage itself; the impact of moral relativism and gender theory; the effects of pornography; and the mentality of throw-away societies sceptical of lasting commitment (cf. AL 39-57). Pope Francis is aware that the Church’s pastoral care must take into account these varied challenges while never doubting the power of God’s grace. The Pope shows us how a truly pastoral response must always indicate clearly the path leading to life by unambiguously offering the truth about marriage and the family that has been entrusted to the Church ( cf. AL 58-88, 292, 307). It is this very truth that calls us not to abandon our contemporaries but to be ready, rather, to accompany as they face every struggle, setback and failure. In doing so, we are following the example of the Good Shepherd, who does not abandon a single soul (cf. AL n. 309).

The people of our time must find in the Church, not condemnation but ‘the medicine of mercy’ which restores health. I think of Livy, the Roman historian; in the years before Christ’s birth he wrote despairingly of the situation of the ancient world: “we have reached the point where we can no longer support either our vices or the remedies which would cure us of them.” These words might be applied to many contemporary situations which await the medicine of God’s mercy revealed in Jesus Christ.

This Sunday is the World Day of Prayer for Vocations to the Priesthood.  Pope Francis often emphasises the vital role of priests in supporting the vocation of marriage and the family. Please pray today for the priests of the future, for the generous response of those now being called. May they be such authentic pastors pointing out the way which leads to life and accompanying many families by the dedication of their whole lives. In sending this letter as your own bishop and pastor, I pray in the words with which Pope Francis concludes his own letter: “Holy Family of Nazareth make us once more mindful of the sacredness and inviolability of the family and its beauty in God’s plan. Jesus, Mary and Joseph Graciously hear our prayer!” (AL n. 325).

With my prayer for all our families,

+ Mark

Bishop of Shrewsbury