Pastoral Letter for the Feast of the Holy Family, Read at all Masses 29/30 December, 2018
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ,
In late August this year, you may recall that the World Meeting of Families took place in Ireland in the presence of Pope Francis. The event was a little overshadowed by the revelations of historical child abuse cases in Ireland. However, I know, having spoken to some people who took part in the event, that it was an enriching experience. To gather with families from across the world to celebrate family life in its many aspects was clearly a special moment for those who took part.
Pope Francis took the opportunity to hear stories of families from around the world and to speak about the family. For a few moments I would like to reflect on three of the aspects of family mentioned by the Holy Father during this time: the family as a school for holiness, the family as a model of forgiveness and the family as a model for a new alliance between the older and the younger generations.
The Family – a School for Holiness
Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family. I think we sometimes find holiness difficult to talk about. We often think of others as holy or called to holiness but never ourselves. Indeed, we feel awkward and embarrassed when others suggest that we might be holy. But we should not be afraid of holiness. It is simply striving to be our best selves in our relationship with God and one another. It is within the family that we learn the ways of holiness midst the ordinary stuff of life. It is in the family that we learn to believe and share our belief, to show acts of kindness, to speak a word of forgiveness.
Speaking at the Pro Cathedral in Dublin, Pope Francis said, “It is in the home that we learn to believe, through the quiet example of parents who love our Lord and trust His word. There in the home, which we can call “the domestic church” children learn the meaning of fidelity, integrity and sacrifice.”
The Family – a Model of Forgiveness
Our readiness and willingness to forgive is key to the growth of any friendship or relationship but especially within the family. In Croke Park, speaking of this important aspect of family life, Pope Francis remarks, “Forgiveness is a special gift from God that heals our brokenness and draws us closer to one another and to him. Small and simple acts of forgiveness, renewed each day, are the foundation upon which a solid Christian family life is built.”
When I was in parish ministry, each year I used to work alongside the parents of the children who were being prepared by the parish catechists for first Reconciliation and Eucharist. I would always take the opportunity to remind them that their children would understand little or nothing about the Sacrament of Reconciliation if they do not see or experience forgiveness and reconciliation in the home. Sometimes we need to speak and hear the obvious!
The Family as the Model for an Alliance between the Young and Old
The importance of forging a new alliance between the old and the young is something close to the heart of the Holy Father and he sees the family as leading the way in this. For example, he speaks affectionately of his relationship with his own grandmother, Rosa. Again, speaking at Croke Park he says, “A society that does not value grandparents is a society that has no future. A Church that is not mindful of the covenant between generations will end up lacking the thing that really matters, which is love…….our grandparents are a treasury of experience, a treasury of wisdom for the new generation.”
Indeed they are! Drawing on their deep reservoir of experience and wisdom, they can show the young what it is to have a spirit of gratitude for gifts received, to reassure the fearful young who are anxious about their future, to show those who are focussed on themselves that there is more joy in giving than receiving and that love is expressed in both words and actions.
Having been brought up by my paternal grandparents, you can imagine that “the covenant between the generations” is close to my heart, too, and it has given me much to be grateful for in life.
Today we ask the prayers of the Holy Family of Nazareth as we continue to try to make our own families schools of holiness, models of forgiveness and reconciliation and true alliances between the young and old.
Yours sincerely in Christ the Redeemer