Speak Lord: Of holiness and love

Zelie and Louis MartinThe First reading at Mass today introduces a theme- this week the theme of marriage. As usual, that ‘theme’ is taken up and developed/explored in the the responsorial psalm and the Gospel reading.

The Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a helpmate.’ So from the soil the Lord God fashioned all the wild beasts and all the birds of heaven. These he brought to the man to see what he would call them; each one was to bear the name the man would give it. The man gave names to all the cattle, all the birds of heaven and all the wild beasts. But no helpmate suitable for man was found for him. So the Lord God made the man fall into a deep sleep. And while he slept, he took one of his ribs and enclosed it in flesh. The Lord God built the rib he had taken from the man into a woman, and brought her to the man. The man exclaimed:

‘This at last is bone from my bones,
and flesh from my flesh!
This is to be called woman,
for this was taken from man.’

This is why a man leaves his father and mother and joins himself to his wife, and they become one body.

Genesis 2:18-24

Some might suggest that God, in addressing man’s existential problem that he cannot be alone and has not yet learnt how to be in full communion with God, causes another! How does man live with (wo)man?!

Yet the potential for wholeness is what God creates and men and women are set on the track to learn that wholeness and holiness. In the life-long union of marriage come some of the greatest tests to maturity and the greatest helps to it. We see that in the story of Adam and Eve. We see that in our own lives, married or not.

  • Pray for the Synod on the vocation and mission of the Family, beginning this weekend in Rome.
  • Pray for married couples
  • Pray for all parents and their families
  • Pray for yourself and your relationships.

Shrine of Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin, the parents of St Therese of Lisieux, who are to be canonised during the current Synod in Rome on the Family and its Vocation

Speak Lord: Of your blessing

Murillo TrinityThe Psalm for Mass tomorrow extols family life, happy family life. In the unity and fruitfulness of the relationships within the ‘good’ family are echoed the unity and fruitfulness that is the Creator’s intention for the relationship of Creation and Creator.

A key element in Jesus’ urging a renewal of faith on his generation, and his manifesting the graciousness of God through his actions, was the teaching of God as Father, Abba. When children or spouse mess up and fail it is to Abba we turn for healing and hope.

May the Lord bless us all the days of our life.

O blessed are those who fear the Lord
and walk in his ways!
By the labour of your hands you shall eat.
You will be happy and prosper.

May the Lord bless us all the days of our life.

Your wife like a fruitful vine
in the heart of your house;
your children like shoots of the olive,
around your table.

May the Lord bless us all the days of our life.

Indeed thus shall be blessed
the man who fears the Lord.
May the Lord bless you from Zion
in a happy Jerusalem
all the days of your life!
May you see your children’s children.
On Israel, peace!

May the Lord bless us all the days of our life.

Psalm 127:1-5

The Synod on the Family, being held in Rome, begins tomorrow in Rome. Its topic “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and in the Contemporary World.” For more information click here.

The family is a vital part of society. Healthy happy families fulfilling their potential helps to the flourishing of society – the love engendered in the family providing a seedbed for the necessary works for the common good that need a broader social base.

Unhealthy families make for an unhealthy society. And sometimes families are made unhealthy by an unhealthy society. Chicken-and-egg questions go on and on by there is clearly a certain reciprocity family/society and society/family.

The Church is a family established to serve the common good, to help people by the Son to know the Father and in that knowledge expressed as love to find healing and hope, the means to whatever conversion is needed.

The invitation to all of us is to ever deeper communion with the Church, to more deliberate choosing of what is right and good, for us and those others God loves. God’s Spirit seeks to draw us to that. The rest of us need to strive to do what best we can, and not to hinder.

  • Pray for the Synod of Bishops.
  • Pray for the Church.
  • Pray for families and all their members.

The Holy Families. Murillo. Collection of the National Gallery, London.

Taste and See: In Communion

SynodMass

Unusually the text presented in this blog today does not come from the Lectionary but is the text of a Pastoral Letter that,  in Westminster Diocese,  replaces the homily this weekend.

People have all sorts of opinions about the virtue and value of pastoral letters, let alone of any particular pastoral letter. However these letters do serve to remind that any particular gathering for Mass is only a gathering of a part of the local church, and that it is a gathering that is not complete unto itself.

Even though such gatherings take place without benefit of the physical presence of the Bishop, it is by his authority that they gather, under the presidency of the priest that the Bishop has appointed as his delegate, to celebrate for the pastoral benefit of the local community.

The Pastoral Letter which Cardinal Vincent issues for this Sunday reminds of that further communion that binds each local diocese with the communion with Peter, the Bishop of Rome enjoyed by Catholic dioceses throughout the world.

Learning to live Church is a pressing need in a society that more often seems to divide than unite. A key theme of the letter is about how to live in communion, seeking an ever-deeper and more authentic and fulfilling communion in the Church and with the living God.

Happy reading….

ARCHBISHOP’S   HOUSE, WESTMINSTER, LONDON,  SW1P 1QJ

25/26 October 2014, 30th Sunday of the Year

My brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ

Today I would like to tell you a little about the recent Extraordinary Synod of Bishops held in Rome on the theme of the pastoral challenges facing the family in the context of evangelisation. I was privileged to take part in this two week meeting. I found it a rich and moving experience.

You may have heard or read that this Synod has been about changing the teaching of the Church on marriage, family life or sexual morality. This is not true. It was about the pastoral care that we try to offer each other, the ‘motherly love of the Church’, especially when facing difficult moments and experiences in family life.

You may have heard that the Synod represented a ‘defeat for Pope Francis’ or that he was disappointed at its outcome. This is not true. At the end of our meeting Pope Francis spoke at length about his joy and satisfaction at its work. He told us to look deeply into our hearts to see how God had touched us during the Synod, and to see how we may have been tempted away from the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The Synod, he insisted, has been a spiritual journey, not a debating chamber.

In fact, the very word ‘synod’ means making a walk or a journey together. That’s what we did. Our journey was an exploration of all the problems facing the family today, from the effects of war, immigration, domestic violence, polygamy, inter-religious marriages, to cohabitation, the breakdown of marriage, divorce and the situation of those who have ended a valid marriage and entered another union, another marriage. The vastness of the picture and the suffering it represented was, at times, overwhelming.

We also looked at the great joy of family life and the importance of marriage at its heart. We listened to husbands and wives speaking of the difficulties they had overcome, the struggles they face and the deep joy they experience in their mature marriages and family lives. They were moving moments. A lovely description of the family was offered: the family as ‘a sanctuary of holiness’ with emphasis always on the sharing of prayer at the heart of family life.

Pope Francis set the tone. He asked us to look reality in the eye; to speak openly from the heart; to listen humbly and respectfully to each other. This is what we did. There was no rancour, no contestation. There were disagreements, of course. But he told us to live through the experience with tranquility and trust. And we did. It was a marvellous experience of the Church as a family and of the Church, at this level, hard at work, trying to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit and express them in carefully chosen words.

During the Synod we worked on various documents which were trying to catch the views and desires of all the participants. By the end I believe we got there. So the Synod ended with a ‘Synod Report’ on which we voted, paragraph by paragraph. The votes indicated, quite simply, where agreement was more or less total and where it was not. This Report now forms the starting point for the next Synod on the family, to take place in a year’s time. The theme of this next Synod, in October 2015, takes us on from where we left off: ‘The Vocation and Mission of the Family Today’.

Central to the work of the Synod that has just ended was the desire to strengthen and reinvigorate the pastoral practice of the Church. A central principle for this pastoral care emerged clearly: that in trying to walk alongside people in difficult or exceptional situations, it is important to see clearly and with humility all the good aspects of their lives. That is what comes first. From this point, we learn to move together towards conversion and towards the goodness of life that God has for us  and that Jesus opens for us all. This positive approach flows right through the ‘Synod Report’  and I hope will increasingly shape our attitude towards each other.

This is especially true with regard to individuals who, for example, have decided to live together without marriage, or for Catholics in second marriages. These realities are part of their journey in life and while not in keeping with the pattern the Lord asks of us, their lives are often marked by real goodness. This is the basis for our care of them, for our approach to them, our invitation to them, to come closer to the Church and deepen their faith and attend carefully to its call. We say this confidently because it is within the call of our faith, the call of Jesus to each one of us, expressed in the truth of the Gospel and treasured in the Church, that our deepest happiness is to be found.

There has been much talk about how the Synod reflected on the situation of people of a same sex attraction. There was no suggestion that the teaching of the Church might somehow give approval to the notion of ‘same-sex marriage’ or that its teaching on sexual morality is to change. However two things were very clear. The first is that we should never identify people by their sexual orientation. Every person is endowed with unique dignity, both as an individual and as a Christian. This dignity is always, always to be respected. Secondly, it is the teaching of the Church that they are not only to be respected but also always accepted, with compassion and with sensitivity (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2358). This teaching has to be translated into loving care, in our daily life in the Church, in our parishes, and indeed in society.

But Pope Francis went a little further. He spoke of ‘the Church composed of sinners…..that has doors wide open to receive the needy, the penitent and not only the just.’ He spoke about the duty of pastors always to welcome into the Church those in difficult situations or in trouble. Then he corrected himself saying that we, as pastors, were not simply to welcome them but to go out and find them, just as the Good Shepherd did for those who had drifted away.

At the end of the Synod, in his closing address, Pope Francis said this: ‘Dear brothers and sisters, now we still have one year to mature, with true spiritual discernment, the proposed ideas and find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront; to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families……May the Lord accompany us and guide us in this journey for the glory of His Name.’

So that is what we must do. I hope, in a while, I will be able to put before you ways in which your prayer and reflection on these themes can be a contribution to this ongoing work of renewal in the life of the Church, in response to the unfailing love of Jesus, under the leadership of Pope Francis and always in union with him.

Yours devotedly

Cardinal Vincent Nichols

Archbishop of Westminster

Photograph is of Pope Francis at the Mass to open the extraordinary Synod of Bishops at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. (CNS/Paul Haring)