Full text of Pastoral Letter by the Most Reverend Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham, to be read in all churches and chapels throughout the Archdiocese of Birmingham, on the Feast of the Holy Family, Sunday, 30 December 2012:
Teach each other, and advise each other, in all wisdom
This beautiful Christmas feast of the Holy Family offers us a welcome moment to pause. After our celebration of Christmas itself and as we journey towards the Epiphany we are like the wise men following the star. We need to reflect on what we have seen and to search for its deeper meaning in our lives. The birth of our Saviour, the Incarnation of the Word of God, reveals the hidden wisdom of God and his eternal purposes for humanity.
The Christmas story bears a profound message that is meant not only for Christian believers but for all men and women who are open to the truth. It is a message that is presented to us in the simple life of a humble family beginning at Bethlehem and continuing in Nazareth. This Holy Family can help us to understand God’s inner life of love and self-giving and can show us some of the values that underpin the gift of human life itself.
Our faith teaches us, through the insights of Holy Scripture that we have been created in the image and likeness of God. In ourselves we reflect something of the goodness, beauty and creativity of Almighty God. In our relationships with others we mirror something of the inner life of the Blessed Trinity, the eternally loving relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Even though the image of God within us has become distorted and obscured by sin, Jesus our Saviour is restoring that image through the work of redemption first seen at Christmas.
The bonds of love that hold Jesus, Mary and Joseph together as the Holy Family formed the first human relationships that the Word-made-flesh would know. It is God’s will that we should live in loving family relationships in a way that reveals something of the inner life of the Trinity. It is not by chance that Jesus comes to know the love of a human father and mother within his family – it is his heavenly Father’s plan.
The complementary love of father and mother is a precious gift that we should wish for every child. We know that many single parents courageously and generously look after their children and often struggle to give them a fine up-bringing. If it had not been for the understanding of St Joseph, our Lady herself might have had to face the difficulties of being a single parent. Even so, the experience of growing up with our father and mother to teach and guide, to console and love us unconditionally is an invaluable blessing in life.
The Government’s intention to legislate for same-sex marriage would undermine this Christian view of the family. Government policy cannot foresee the full consequences, for the children involved or for wider society, of being brought up by two mothers without a father’s influence or by two fathers without a mother’s influence. We first learn about diversity and acquire a respect for difference through the complementarity of our parents.
In this Year of Faith it is important that we try to communicate to others, with clarity and confidence, the truths that come to us through Jesus Christ and his Church. The teaching of Christ recognises the union of man and woman in marriage as part of God’s plan. lt also echoes his own experience of the life he shared with Mary and Joseph at Nazareth.
Last October the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization reflected on some of the challenges we face in our own society and encouraged us to strengthen our voice in the public forum. In our own country, where the Christian teaching on marriage is accused by a vociferous minority of being behind the times, we must patiently and courteously insist that the wisdom of Christ is good news for every age and for all people.
We are not claiming to be better than others, since we have the same struggle as everyone else to live a good life. But we have received in Christ a light to show us the way and a mission to share that light with others. St Paul urges us to teach each other and advise each other, in all wisdom.
May the lives of our families reflect the values of the Kingdom which we strive to share with others. On the threshold of a New Year may the Holy Family of Nazareth inspire and encourage us to be true to Christ and to be his faithful witnesses in the world and in our own family homes.
I pray that you and your family may be richly blessed this Christmastide and as the coming year unfolds.