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Bravo!…a Bishop and three priests.

The Salmon’s Badge of Honour goes to Fr. Peter Edwards…

Fr Peter Edwards

Fr Peter Edwards

…for being a wonderful teacher and leader in Faith, for remaining faithful to the teaching of the Magistarium. Thank you for your gentle but forthright  homily on the Feast of the Holy Family;  for presenting the Truth of the Catholic Faith regarding to the dignity of each and every one of us in Jesus, and for reminding all that we are all come to be Royalty through our Saviour. Thank you for reminding us about the importance of the family.  Thank you for having the courage of your convictions to ‘go against the grain’ regardless of the ever-present criticism or dissent. The Salmon stands with you proudly!

Salmon Badge of Honour

Salmon Badge of Honour

USC_banner_180x150_v3

Having posted the Super-Slogan yesterday, imagine my delight when opening heroic posts defending the dignity of  marriage and family with sincerity, passion and conviction. Fr. Ray ‘s post,‘ LET’S FORGET THE NICENESS, LET’S BE CATHOLIC,’  resounded with me as I feel strongly that Catholics on these shores need to stand together in solidarity to share the TRUTH of our Faith, for the sake of society as we know it.

Fr. Ray Blake

Fr. Ray Blake

I quote Fr. Ray’s excellent suggestions that could be put forward in a Catholic Pro-family Manifesto:-

Rather than being embarrassed by it we should dare to talk about what the Church understands by being “human”, which involves human sexuality.It is radical, we should accept that it is counter-cultural, it overthrows the politics of left and right by simply saying the family is the most important element in society not wealth creation or even self determination and self-fulfilment.

We could start by trying to get people to discuss marriage, how about large banners on every Catholic building saying something like “Marriage = Man + Woman: discuss” We could spend money on a poster campaign. We should have done it ages ago but what about every diocese in the country producing study material on Humanae Vitae and Evangelium Vitae

Is it too late to organise symposia in amongst orthodox Christian academics on Marriage?In the capital at the very least we should be organising public meetings to talk about marriage, and demonstrations to show what we mean by marriage.

 In the institutions we still control, our schools most especially, we should be promoting the family. The state, for the last century or two, has been promoting the view that we are here primarily to serve the economy, and that we have value and status in our production of wealth ultimately in our family relationships but as Catholics we should be educating people to understand we have value in our relationships with one another. Just as the state promotes Sports or Performing Arts Academies we Catholics should be making every school or  college an Academy for the Family.

With epidemic marital breakdown we need to teach people how to be married, especially boys, for too long Catholics have done so very little to really educate our young for either eternal or marital life. We should recognise most women have abortions because of economic reasons, that controlling the size of families through contraception for most people is an economic decision.

We need to promote an authentic feminism (and masculinism) that is based on relationships, we need to promote the real rights of women to be parents, simply to be able to have children without the constant anxiety to find childcare and to be able to afford it.We need to promote affordable family housing. 

We need promote Sunday, the Lord’s Day, a day of re-creation, as a day for building family. Every Catholic social justice organisation should be deeply involved in promoting an economic model that sees the family, rather than the creation of personal wealth, as priority.

In a further post Fr. Ray draws our attention to the efforts of the newly appointed Archbishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth’s Pastoral letter, (published here) which was read out on the feast of the Holy Family:

images

Bishop Philip Egan, of Portsmouth.

JESUS CHRIST, THE PERFECT HUMAN

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In this second Pastoral Letter, I want to discuss something that many people find very challenging and controversial. But let me first, on this feast of the Holy Family, wish you the continuing joys of Christmas. Since becoming your bishop a few weeks ago, I have been visiting our priests. I thank God for all the wonderful priests we have and for their inspiring love and service of Jesus and his Church. I thank God too for the many beautiful churches in our diocese and not least for you, the People of God, for your perseverance in faith and Christian discipleship in these difficult times. As we enter the New Year 2013, I urge you, in the words of today’s Second Reading, often to “think of the love that the Father has lavished upon us by letting us be called God’s children.”[i]
The context of this Pastoral Letter is two-fold. First, the Year of Faith, in which I want to explore the articles of the Creed. Today, let us consider the second article: “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God.”[ii] Jesus Christ is Divine. He is God the Son. He is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, or to use that daringly non-Scriptural term, “consubstantial with the Father”. This is an important doctrine to teach today. For many would acknowledge Jesus to be a great religious leader, a Prophet and teacher, a good and holy man. But in fact He is infinitely greater: He is God the Word. When Jesus speaks, it is God speaking. This changes everything. In this Year of Faith, it would be good to review our prayer and catechesis to ensure it reflects the fullness of this truth. We should also study afresh the Creed and its origins[iii] so we can understand better the Church’s teaching and why Jesus Christ is the only Way to salvation.
The second context of this Letter is today’s feast of the Holy Family, which presents us with the humanity of Christ: that he became incarnate “for us and for our salvation”. Or to paraphrase St. Leo, “He came down from heaven that we might go up to heaven”[iv]. In taking on human nature, Jesus also took on a human history and a human culture. He was brought up in Nazareth in the home of Mary and Joseph[v]. Mary, His mother, taught him his prayers and the religious traditions of his people. Joseph, as a father, gave him a trade and initiated him into the society of the day. We recall all of this in the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, which it would be good to recite every day during the Christmas season. You might also consider reading the new book by Pope Benedict: “Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives”[vi].
So the Creed affirms that Jesus Christ is truly divine, God from God; but it also states that He is the New Adam, the Perfect Human.[vii] To say this today is highly controversial. If in the fourth century it was the doctrine about how Jesus could be divine yet human, today the hot-button issue is what it means to be human. Indeed, most of the big debates in our society revolve around two matters: sex and authority.What is the truth about human sexuality? And who can tell me how to live my life?

In 1968, at the height of the Sixties, Pope Paul VI wrote an Encyclical Letter that then and now many Catholics find difficult. He repeated the traditional teaching of the Church, based on the natural law and confirmed by revelation, that sexual intercourse is an integral act for love and for life, and that these two aspects of sexuality – love and life – cannot be divorced[viii]Humanae Vitae was a prophetic document. Pope Paul spoke of catastrophic consequences for society and culture if these two ends of marriage were split. 45 years on, we can see what he meant in such things as the reduction of sex to a leisure activity, the trafficking of people for prostitution and pornography, broken family relationships, and the explosion of addictive behaviours leading to despair, shame and guilt[ix].

As Catholics, we believe in the natural way of life. We believe that the purpose of sexual intercourse is to express the love between a man and a woman, a love which, within the permanent commitment of marriage, is open to being fruitful to life.[x] This is the way to lasting happiness and fulfilment, even if to become chaste – that is, to develop a mature and fully integrated sexuality, as a single person or a married couple – involves a life-long struggle and “apprenticeship in self-mastery”[xi]. To help us, Jesus calls us to be his disciples, and offers us the healing balm and the strength we need, above all in confession and Holy Communion.

Jesus Christ is the way to personal happiness and authentic humanism. Sadly, the teaching of Humanae Vitae about sexual morality and family values has become something of an ‘elephant in the room’ that no-one seems to mention. In this Year of Faith then, I would like to invite everyone to discover again the Church’s wonderful vision of love and life, as expounded in the Catechism.

I would also like to ask all families, whatever their form or circumstances, to think about developing a deeper and richer Catholic ethos in the home, so as to give a clearer witness to contemporary culture. For instance, why not spend an evening together as a family, occasionally switch off the computer, make the Sign of the Cross on entering the house, adopt a communal work of justice and charity, or keep special the fast-days and feast-days? I am sure you will think of many other ways of preserving our Catholic distinctiveness.

In this Mass of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, let us thank God for our own families, and pray for them. Let us pray for those who struggle to live a chaste life in imitation of Christ. Let us pray for families who are struggling or who have suffered tragedy and pain. And let us pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on our land. Like Mary and Joseph who found Jesus in the Temple, may the people of England find their way to salvation and happiness in Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, ever present and active in his Church. Indeed, in this Year of Faith, may the Spirit lead us all to the living waters that stream from the Heart of Jesus, burning with love for us.

In Corde Iesu,

+ Philip

Bishop of Portsmouth

[i] I John 3: 1. This is the second reading given in the alternative set of readings for optional use in Year C.
[ii] Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, The Roman Missal 562
[iii] see Catechism of the Catholic Church. Second Edition (Rome, Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2000) 422-455; Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (London, CTS 2006) 81f and YOUCAT Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church (London, CTS 2010) 71f
[iv] Cf. St. Leo Sermo 6 In Nativitate Domini 2-3, 5 (PL 54, 213-216). This constitutes the Second Reading in the Office of Readings for 31stDecember.
[v] Luke 2: 51-52
[vi] Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives (New York, Image 2012)
[vii]Gaudium et Spes 22
[viii] For a concise summary of the Church’s teaching, see Catechism2331-2400
[ix] See Paul VI Humanae Vitae (London, CTS 1968) 19-30
[x] John Paul II Gratissimam Sane (Letter to Fanilies) 7-8, available online at http://www.vatican.va (December 2012)
[xi] Catechism 2339
Over at the Hermenutic of Continuity , Fr. Tim Finnigan’s post in which he outlines the hot-off-the-press Briefing paper which is intended to support the various statements made by our Bishops and to assist the people in our parishes to understand the Church’s teaching on marriage and family, in the face of much misinformation. It is a helpful brief explanation which is suitable for distribution in parishes.
Fr Tim Finnigan

Fr Tim Finnigan

The paper has been published by the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy.  Do take time to read through the introduction to the confraternity. Most encouraging.

BRIEFING PAPER ON ‘SAME-SEX MARRIAGE’ (emphasis mine)

01/01/2013

What are the reasons for this paper?

The Government proposes legislation to allow for same-sex marriage. The Catholic Church, with many others, strongly and unequivocally opposes such plans both for religious reasons (based on Scripture and Tradition) and because they are against the natural law which applies to everyone regardless of their faith commitment. Marriage, as the lifelong union of one man and one woman ordered for the procreation and upbringing of children, is rooted in human nature itself. Put simply, no government has the authority to change that. Any attempt to do so is harmful to society and constitutes a threat to freedom of conscience and the Church’s ability to function within civil society.

Why does it matter that marriage is between a man and a woman?

Marriage is as old as humanity itself. Men and women are complementary, equal in dignity but different. The very reason for this sexual distinction is to bring new life into the world. Since the beginning of humanity, marriage has been viewed as the proper environment for this, providing children with the context of permanent, committed love in which they can best flourish. Studies consistently highlight the importance of a stable family, of a mother and a father, for the best results for raising the next generation. But marriage concerns more than parents and children. It is the basis of a stable society and of civilisation itself and, therefore, requires legal recognition and protection.

But the Prime Minister says marriage is so important that everyone who wishes should be allowed to marry.  Shouldn’t we be supporting him?

The basis of the Prime Minister’s argument seems to be that, if two adults in a committed loving relationship wish to enter marriage, then they should be allowed to do so, regardless of the fact they are of the same gender. With respect, the Prime Minister is misrepresenting the nature of marriage. It is not, nor ever has been, about just any loving, committed relationship. We might have a loving committed relationship with our parents or our best friends, but marriage with them would be neither possible nor appropriate. Only the natural complementarity between a man and a woman can lead to marriage. Only this loving union, by definition, is open to bringing forth and nurturing children. Even in old age and infertility a husband and wife still preserve, like no other relationship, the elements of complementarity. That is why marriage is only possible between a man and a woman.

So isn’t the Church just discriminating against gay people?

Absolutely, not. The Church holds that every human being is created equal by God and is to be respected accordingly. The Church strongly opposes unjust discrimination against people with homosexual inclinations. In fact, the proposed legislation is not directly linked to the issue of same- sex attraction. The issue is about the meaning of marriage. Being pro-equality does not mean that everything is the same, nor that distinctions between things are unjustified. To say that everyone is equal is not the equivalent of saying they are the same. To say that a man cannot be a mother, and a woman cannot be a father is not against equality. To state this is simply to recognise an obvious fact of nature. It is in no way discriminatory. The same is true of marriage. Marriage is intrinsically linked to the procreation of children and makes no sense apart from this.

OK so same-sex marriage isn’t possible according to Christian belief, but the Prime Minster has given you assurances that you won’t have to marry same-sex couples in church if you don’t want to. Why can’t you accept they can marry elsewhere?

This is not merely a matter of religious belief and practice. It regards the future of society as a whole. It is called a matter of natural law which is something common to all regardless of personal religious belief. Tampering with such a fundamental natural institution as marriage is fraught with danger. Society ceases to flourish when it fails to cherish the family and the authentic understanding of marriage which makes the family possible. The experience of other countries where same-sex marriage has been introduced clearly indicates that the proposed change is only the beginning of a process of social engineering with tragic consequences. In Canada, since same-sex marriage was legalised, the courts have ruled that a child can legally have three parents. In the Netherlands also three-way relationships are now given a measure of legal recognition. Do we really want the UK to go down this route with all the consequent harm to children? Furthermore, with good cause, we have no confidence in the assurances offered by the Prime Minister. We recall how Catholic adoption agencies were closed because they refused to participate in a state permission for same-sex couples adopting children. If exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage is defined by equality law as discriminatory, toleration of such exclusion will not last long. Any attempted safeguard would be vulnerable to a future government, to a British court giving precedence to equality considerations and to the European Court of Human Rights.

Isn’t this a matter primarily for priests and other professionals in the Church?

Sadly, not. There is a real possibility that the Catholic Church will not be allowed for much longer to perform state recognised marriage registration in church because of its opposition to same-sex marriage. But leading human rights lawyer Aidan O’Neill QC has given his legal opinion that NHS Chaplains, teachers and foster parents could all be vulnerable. The rights of parents over their children’s education is also at threat. Mr O’Neill’s legal opinion is that any school, including a faith school, could legally dismiss a teacher for refusing to use educational material promoting same-sex marriage. Catholics must be aware of this threat to schools and teachers, and resist it with every means at their disposal. Similarly, if an institution is deemed discriminatory, can its charitable status be maintained? Legal cases would inevitably follow the passing of such legislation as in Canada.

So what are you encouraging us to do?

The Confraternity of Catholic Clergy is united in defending marriage and joins wholeheartedly the campaign of the Catholic Archbishops. We urge everyone who cares about upholding the meaning of marriage in civil law to make their views known to their MPs clearly, calmly and forcefully, and without impugning the motives of others. We urge all parties to ensure their Members have a free vote. It is not too late to stop this Bill. The Church calls on every Catholic, in conscience, to a clear and emphatic opposition to such proposals, and a refusal of any formal co-operation should such laws be passed. All this must be conducted in a spirit of charity. The Church defends the absolute dignity of every human being in the same way that she defends marriage and the family, that is, in proclaiming the truth with love. In this Christmas season, under the patronage of the Holy Family, let us all pray and work to ensure that the centrality of marriage and freedom of conscience which we have so long enjoyed continue to be defended by the laws of our country.

1st January 2013

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

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Support marriage as the heart of the family.

Archbishop Vincent Nicholls

Archbishop Vincent Nichols

Catholics will be urged to speak up for marriage as the heart of the family in a Pastoral Letter from the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster to his diocese. The Pastoral Letter will be read out during Masses at the 214 Catholic churches in the Diocese of Westminster over 29 – 30 December 2012, the Feast of the Holy Family.

In the letter the Archbishop says: “Indeed this is a time in which to speak up for marriage, between a husband and wife, as the heart of the family.”

“This vision of the family is rooted in the faithful love of a man and a woman, publicly expressed and accepted in marriage, responsible for the birth of the next generation and out of love working for the care and upbringing of their children. This is the vocation of marriage and parenthood, rooted in a natural bond, blessed by God and a sure sacrament in the life of the Church.

 

The full text of the letter follows: Quoted from ICN

My brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ

Today’s Feast is a moment in which to rejoice again in the vitality and importance of the family. Indeed this is a time in which to speak up for marriage, between a husband and wife, as the heart of the family.

Of course there are many different circumstances to family life. Events reshape the family lives of many people. We are right to express our admiration for those who work so hard to maintain family stability in difficulty and isolation. Support and loving care for them can make all the difference.

But none of this takes away the importance of having a clear vision of marriage and family, based on human nature itself. This vision of the family is rooted in the faithful love of a man and a woman, publicly expressed and accepted in marriage, responsible for the birth of the next generation and out of love working for the care and upbringing of their children. This is the vocation of marriage and parenthood, rooted in a natural bond, blessed by God and a sure sacrament in the life of the Church.

The first reading of our Mass today, from the Book of Ecclesiasticus, bears witness to the ancient roots of this vision. Written in the second century before Christ, it emphasises the sense of right and wrong that lies at the heart of marriage and family life. It speaks of the honour that is to exist between all the members of a family and across the generations. Along with honour, the author speaks of rights, respect, obedience, support and kindness which are needed if family life is to be stable and fruitful. It values the wisdom of the elderly and recognises the sacrifices necessary to love and care for them as they become frail and live with suffering. Its references to ‘The Lord’ who seeks our obedience shows that these values are not of our choosing. Rather they have an objective character, coming to us from God, or, in other words, written into our very nature and there for us to heed.

The Gospel we have heard recognises that family life will be full of testing times. Indeed for the Holy Family these three days were full of awful anxiety. Only through her thoughtful pondering did Mary come to understand God’s purposes which were not at all the same as her initial expectations. Just as the Holy Spirit had brought about the conception of Jesus within her, so too that same Holy Spirit had to lead Mary to understand and follow God’s ways. The journey by which we come to understand the purpose of God in our human nature and in our lives is also frequently difficult. There is often a journey to make from what I might think is God’s plan for me, to what God really wants. And on this journey the Church and her teaching is a sure guide, not least in the patterns of our relationships.

As we turn to the lovely reading from the First Letter of St John, we learn again that the love at the heart of family life has its origins in God. As we strive to live a life of love we are indeed ‘already children of God’. And what is more, a great promise is given to us too. As this God-given love comes to its fulfilment, ‘we shall become like him because we shall see him as he really is’. This is the promise of heaven that steadies us on our journey on earth. Of course we have to ‘fear the Lord and walk in his ways’, as the Psalmist said. But when we try to do so as best we can, then ‘we need not be afraid in God’s presence’. Rather we can look forward, with a blessed hope, to the coming of our Saviour, both at the hour of our death and at the moment of final judgement.

Today I ask for every family the blessing of God that you may be steadfast in your love and loyalty for each other, overcoming life’s difficulties with a firm and trusting faith and great perseverance. I pray too for our country that we will maintain the importance of marriage between a man and a woman as the heart of family life and, while always retaining proper and due respect for all, resist the proposed redefining of marriage with all its likely consequences particularly in schools and in how children are taught about the true nature of marriage.

At this time, we look to our Members of Parliament to defend, not change, the bond of man and woman in marriage as the essential element of the vision of the family. I urge everyone who cares about upholding the meaning of marriage in civil law to make their views known to their Members of Parliament, clearly, calmly and forcefully. Please do so as soon as possible.

I ask you to keep me in your prayers on this day, that as a diocese we may be a family that is loving and supportive of one another in our life in the Lord. Amen
Yours devotedly
+Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster

Pastoral Letter on the redefinition of marriage

When reading one of  my favourite blogs http://marymagdalen.blogspot.com/, I came across the letter that is to be read out at all Sunday Masses this coming week-end.
Over the past few weeks, the English media has been reporting on the proposed changes to the legal definition of marriage. This has caused somewhat of a stir amongst Catholics, who view the Sacrament of marriage between a man and a woman as Sacred, life-giving and life-affirming.
I feel relieved that our Bishops have decided to write to their congregations with regard to this matter. I am interested to watch the unfolding of reactions to this letter from my fellow Catholics as well as the secularists.
I have highlighted parts of this letter which I feel are most crucial to the understanding of marriage as understood by Catholics.
Catholics in England and Wales are going to have to stand up and be counted. We have to share our Faith!
The text of the Pastoral Letter on the redefinition of marriage by the Archbishops of Westminster & Southwark to be read in their diocese this weekend:

Sacraments Circle Image from holyfacechurch.org

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ,
This week the Coalition Government is expected to present its consultation paper on the proposed change in the legal definition of marriage so as to open the institution of marriage to same-sex partnerships.
Today we want to put before you the Catholic vision of marriage and the light it casts on the importance of marriage for our society.
The roots of the institution of marriage lie in our nature. Male and female we have been created, and written into our nature is this pattern of complementarity and fertility. This pattern is, of course, affirmed by many other religious traditions. Christian teaching fills out this pattern and reveals its deepest meaning, but neither the Church nor the State has the power to change this fundamental understanding of marriage itself.
Nor is this simply a matter of public opinion. Understood as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, and for the creation and upbringing of children, marriage is an expression of our fundamental humanity. Its status in law is the prudent fruit of experience, for the good of the spouses and the good of the family. In this way society esteems the married couple as the source and guardians of the next generation. As an institution marriage is at the foundation of our society.
There are many reasons why people get married. For most couples, there is an instinctive understanding that the stability of a marriage provides the best context for the flourishing of their relationship and for bringing up their children. Society recognises marriage as an important institution for these same reasons: to enhance stability in society and to respect and support parents in the crucial task of having children and bringing them up as well as possible.
The Church starts from this appreciation that marriage is a natural institution, and indeed the Church recognises civil marriage. The Catholic understanding of marriage, however, raises this to a new level. As the Catechism says: “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, by its nature is ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptised persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.” (para.1601)
These rather abstract words are reflected however imperfectly in the experience of married couples. We know that at the heart of a good marriage is a relationship of astonishing power and richness, for the couple, their children, their wider circle of friends and relations and society. As a Sacrament, this is a place where divine grace flows. Indeed, marriage is a sharing in the mystery of God’s own life: the unending and perfect flow of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We know, too, that just as God’s love is creative, so too the love of husband and wife is creative of new life. It is open, in its essence, to welcoming new life, ready to love and nurture that life to its fullness, not only here on earth but also into eternity.
This is a high and noble vision, for marriage is a high and noble vocation. It is not easily followed. But we are sure that Christ is at the heart of marriage, for his presence is a sure gift of the God who is Love, who wants nothing more than for the love of husband and wife to find its fulfilment. So the daily effort that marriage requires, the many ways in which family living breaks and reshapes us, is a sharing in the mission of Christ, that of making visible in the world the creative and forgiving love of God.
In these ways we understand marriage to be a call to holiness for a husband and wife, with children recognised and loved as the gift of God, with fidelity and permanence as the boundaries which create its sacred space. Marriage is also a crucial witness in our society, contributing to its stability, its capacity for compassion and forgiveness and its future, in a way that no other institution can.
In putting before you these thoughts about why marriage is so important, we also want to recognise the experience of those who have suffered the pain of bereavement or relationship breakdown and their contribution to the Church and society. Many provide a remarkable example of courage and fidelity. Many strive to make the best out of difficult and complex situations. We hope that they are always welcomed and helped to feel valued members of our parish communities.
The reasons given by our government for wanting to change the definition of marriage are those of equality and discrimination. But our present law does not discriminate unjustly when it requires both a man and a woman for marriage. It simply recognises and protects the distinctive nature of marriage.
Changing the legal definition of marriage would be a profoundly radical step. Its consequences should be taken seriously now. The law helps to shape and form social and cultural values. A change in the law would gradually and inevitably transform society’s understanding of the purpose of marriage. It would reduce it just to the commitment of the two people involved. There would be no recognition of the complementarity of male and female or that marriage is intended for the procreation and education of children.
We have a duty to married people today, and to those who come after us, to do all we can to ensure that the true meaning of marriage is not lost for future generations.
Most Reverend V. Nichols
Most Reverend P. Smith

Arch Bishop Peter Smith of Southwark

Arch Bishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster

Archbishop Peter: His Lenten Pastoral letter.

This letter from our Archbishop was read at all the masses in Southwark this past Sunday. It’s good to hear from our Bishop! An inspirational Lenten message:

Pastoral Letter

The Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time
Sunday, 19th February 2012


Scenes from the Life of Christ
Byzantine School (6th century)
Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In today’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah, we heard words of consolation and encouragement given to the people of Israel who are in exile in a foreign land, Babylon. They are powerless to escape, but God will forgive their sins and bring about a new Exodus, through which they will be freed from slavery, and enjoy a renewed and fruitful life in a new homeland.

This theme of the forgiveness of sins and new life is echoed in the Gospel story of the healing of the paralytic and the forgiving of his sins. The paralytic is desperate to be healed and to start a new life, but for obvious reasons is unable to approach Jesus himself. But he has four friends who want to help him. So they bring him to Jesus, but are thwarted in their task because of the huge crowds who block the way. So they take an ingenious initiative, carry their paralysed friend up onto the roof of the house and proceed to strip a section of it. They then lower the man into the house in front of Jesus. “Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, ‘My child, your sins are forgiven.’” The scribes are outraged. “How can this man talk like that? He is blaspheming. Who can forgive sins but God?” Jesus’ response is to ask them a question. “Which of these is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or to say, ‘Get up, pick up your stretcher and walk?’ But to prove to you that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,’ – he said to the paralytic – ‘I order you: get up, pick up your stretcher, and go off home.’”

If we see the man who is paralysed as the symbol of those who are unable to help themselves and change their way of life, that man also symbolises the reality of our relationship with God. We cannot transform and change our lives for the better without God’s help, and if we think we can, then we are deluding ourselves. And we also need good friends to accompany us on our journey of faith, and encourage us to seek God’s help. We are all in some way or other subject to incapacity, whether through sin and selfishness, or simply human weakness and fragility. If our lives are to be transformed and renewed, then we need the grace of the Holy Spirit and the support and encouragement of each other.

This week, on Ash Wednesday, we begin the season of Lent. In his Lenten message to the Church throughout the world, Pope Benedict XVI said: “The Lenten season offers us once again an opportunity to reflect upon the very heart of Christian life: charity. This is a favourable time to renew our journey of faith, both as individuals and as a community, with the help of the word of God and the sacraments. This journey is one marked by prayer and sharing, silence and fasting, in anticipation of the joy of Easter.”

This special time is given to us by the Church to help us in preparing to celebrate the Paschal Mystery of the passion, death and resurrection of Christ – the great feast of Easter – in just over six weeks’ time. During this time the Church exhorts us to get to know God better, and to get to know ourselves better too! It is a time for turning our hearts more fervently to him who, in the words of the Psalmist, is “compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy.” He is the one who “does not treat us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our faults”, but, rather, the one “who crowns you with love and compassion.” And he dearly wants us to reveal his love and compassion to the world in which we live. He wants us to “incarnate”, to embody, that love and compassion in our relationships with one another and to express it in a practical way, particularly to those who are in any kind of need. He commands us to use generously the gifts and talents we have received from the Holy Spirit for the building up of the community of his Church; to help build that communion of love, compassion and mercy, which reflects the very life of the Trinity.

My experience over the years is that in order to do as the Lord asks of me, my heart must be united with his heart; I must come to know him more deeply, and abide with him day by day with ever greater commitment. Lent is that “favourable time” for me to ask myself some searching questions about where I stand with God, and how I am responding to the commission he has given to all of us who are baptised. I cannot do that fruitfully unless I become more attentive to the word of God in the scriptures and through spending time each day in prayer. I cannot, from my own resources, produce the fruit that will last, unless I allow the living Word of God to nurture my faith and trust in Him who loves me unconditionally with a steadfast love; who looks on me in my weakness with great mercy and compassion. That living word of God not only informs my mind and heart, so that I come to know him better, but also transforms my life so that I can indeed become “the light of the world”, “the salt of the earth.” I know too that I will never be perfect in this life and I am comforted by the words of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta: “God doesn’t ask us to be successful – he asks us to be faithful.”

Being faithful to the person of Jesus Christ has never been easy. If we’re honest, we don’t always live out our faith as consistently or as fully as Christ calls us to do, and inevitably we are criticised for that and sometimes branded “hypocrites”. But the solution to that is not to hide ourselves away, to keep our faith in God “private”, behind closed doors. The solution is to open our hearts to the love and compassion of the living God and ask him to help us grow in holiness, to grow in union with him and with each other. In that communion of life and love, we can then strive to live out our faith with courage and commitment, whatever the cost.

“Behold I stand at the door and knock.” This Lent, I shall be asking myself the question, “Am I open to hear that knock at the door of my heart each day, and am I going to open that door and welcome him in, whatever the cost to myself?” If I’m realistic, I know I have so little to give him, yet in my heart of hearts, I also know and believe that the little I have, he can, and will, multiply in abundance.

With an assurance of my prayers and blessing for you all this Lent,

Archbishop of Southwark