Shrewsbury ... shall be a name 'as stirring to the heart as the glories we have lost'

Blessed John Henry Newman, 1852

Letters and Homilies

Advent Pastoral Letter On Our Call to Holiness, the First Sunday of Advent 2nd December 2018

My dear brothers and sisters,

Advent is a time of renewed hope leading us to the light of Christmas. It is a journey we make in the darkest days of our year. Such days evoke the dark shadows in the world around us, and those failures in the lives and witness of Christians which have at times cast dark shadows over the face of the Church, obscuring for many, the clear light of Christ shining from her. The call of Advent is expressed in the prayer of Saint Paul today. It is this call I wish us to take up anew in the year ahead: “May the Lord be generous in increasing your love … May he so confirm your hearts in holiness … when our Lord Jesus Christ comes with all his saints”.

As the Diocesan Year of the Eucharist comes to its close, it is this universal call to holiness which I wish all of us, clergy and people, to focus upon anew. It is striking that, amid all the crises of the 20th Century, the central message of the Second Vatican Council was that every one of us, in every state of life, is called to the fullness of the Christian life and the perfection of love: that is, called to become nothing less than a saint. This is the only renewal of the Church which will ever matter, our renewal in holiness. It is why only saints resolved the crises the Church has faced throughout history and why they have proved to be the great evangelisers. It is also why, today, amid the dark shadows of scandal and the challenge of a new evangelisation of western societies, it is urgent to recall this one goal of every Christian life for it is in the saints that the true face of the Church shines out. For, though they can have their place, no pastoral programme; no discussions amongst us; no re-organisation or re-structuring can ever accomplish this; only our striving for holiness to become the saints we have been called by God to be. We too, therefore, pray ardently those words of Saint Paul: “May the Lord increase our love and confirm our hearts in holiness when our Lord Jesus Christ comes with all his saints”.

It is both our Christian calling and the ultimate goal of every human life, to become, in the end, a saint. In the Gospel, Our Lord tells us that this is the one thing which alone matters, urging us to “stay awake praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man”.  In a recent  letter to the Church, Pope Francis repeats a striking phrase: “the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint”. A saint is someone who reaches the complete and everlasting happiness of Heaven. We might say that holiness is happiness, which is why Pope Francis insists: “The Lord wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence”, for it is only by being holy that we can be truly happy. The Holy Father writes, “Do not be afraid to set your sights higher, to allow yourself to be loved and liberated by God”. For holiness, he writes, is “the extent that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we model our life on Christ’s”. We can never reach this goal by our own unaided efforts. By the grace of God we can!

In the year ahead, I want each one of us in Pope Francis’ words to re-discover that “In the Church, holy yet made up of sinners, you will find everything you need to grow towards holiness”. In daily prayer, frequent Confession and, above all, in the Holy Eucharist, we are given the Divine means, the grace to reach this goal. Pope Francis expresses his hope that “the whole Church (will) devote herself anew to promoting the desire for holiness,” and he makes this invitation to all “Let us ask the Holy Spirit to pour out on us a fervent longing to be saints for God’s greater glory, and let us encourage one another in this effort”.

This is our purpose as we enter anew into Advent. Let us ask Our Lady, she who is “full of grace”, to accompany us along the path to the holiness, the true happiness to which we are called. In the beautiful words of the Second Vatican Council, we know that in the most Blessed Virgin Mary the Church has already reached perfection and in our struggle she shines out for us as a sign of certain hope and consolation until the day of the Lord shall come in splendour.

Wishing you a blessed Advent and a truly happy Christmas,

+ Mark

Bishop of Shrewsbury