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

Blessed John Henry Newman, 1852

Letters and Homilies

Pastoral letter to be read at Mass on the Feast of the Holy Family, 28th December 2014, on the vocation and mission of the family

bishop head and shoulders

 

My dear brothers and sisters,

I write to you today in the light of the Child born for us, the Saviour who was given to us within the love and unity of a human family. On this Feast of the Holy Family, as we celebrate the holiness of family life and begin a “Year for Vocations” in the Diocese, I want to reflect on the “Vocation and Mission of the Family.” This is the title Pope Francis has given to the Synod of Bishops to take place in the New Year. It will be a year for Catholics across the world to reaffirm our faith in God’s plan for the family, and to do so amidst the many challenges confronting the holiness of marriage and the life of the family today. In a few, simple words I want to affirm what the Church has always believed about marriage and the family. We believe marriage is no human invention but that “God himself is the author of marriage.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: “the vocation to marriage is written into the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator” (CCC 1603).

After the Fall of Humanity marriage would bear the marks of sin, but Christ Himself restored this Divine calling, raising it to the dignity of a Sacrament. To the astonishment of a people who practiced divorce, Jesus reaffirmed that the union of marriage is indissoluble. “What God has united,” Our Lord tells us in the Gospel, “man must not divide” (Mt. 19:6). We believe that this unbreakable union of man and woman provides both the foundation of the family and becomes for all the image of the unfailing love of God. This is no small claim to make! St. Paul declares this to be “a great mystery … in reference to Christ and the Church” (Eph. 5: 32).

We believe that the union of husband and wife, expressed in the union of one flesh, must always be open to new life, to the children God may entrust to the couple. We believe sexual relations belong within marriage alone. And we believe we are all called to chastity according to our state in life. Indeed, it is by living the beautiful virtue of chastity that we ensure we use this gift of sexuality in accord with God’s purpose. We believe that, as is true of the Sacrament of Matrimony, both virginity for the sake of the Kingdom of God and apostolic celibacy are also God’s gifts. We believe that these callings – to marriage, to consecrated virginity and to apostolic celibacy – inseparably support each other. Let us be filled with wonder and gratitude for God’s plan and purpose in marriage and family life; in the beauty of chastity; in the joy of consecrated virginity and apostolic celibacy. It is God’s grace that makes it possible for us to live these vocations faithfully; and if we fall short that same God-given grace heals us, making it possible to set out once again on the path of conversion.

In the year ahead, Pope Francis invites us all to make a “true, spiritual discernment” in the light of our Catholic faith. To “discern” means to make a right judgment. Pope Francis has made it clear, contrary to many stories circulating in the media, that the Church does not function like a parliament, nor can truth be determined by opinion polls. The Church seeks to live subject to God’s Word, certain that the light and beauty of truth – despite our fallen nature – can be recognised by the conscience of every man and woman. In order to assist this spiritual discernment the Bishops of England and Wales have produced a leaflet, entitled “The Call, the Journey and the Mission.”In considering the questions contained in this leaflet, you may wish to write in and share the fruits of your own reflection on how we give witness to the Gospel of the Family. This will contribute to the wider discernment within the Church in the year ahead. And so, today, let us pray in the words of Pope Francis: “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, in you we contemplate the splendour of true love, to you we turn in trust … Holy Family of Nazareth make us once more mindful of the sacredness and inviolability of the family, and its beauty in God’s plan.”

May the New Year, 2015, lead us to give renewed witness to the Gospel of the Family. I send this message with my blessing for you and for your family.

+ Mark

Bishop of Shrewsbury

 

(Picture by Simon Caldwell)