Pastoral Letter for the
Solemnity of the Holy Family
To be read at all Vigil and Sunday Masses over the weekend of 28/29 December 2019
My dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ
This is my first Pastoral Letter to you since becoming your new Archbishop last July. I want to begin by offering you, your families, and your loved ones, my very best wishes for this Holy Season of Christmas. In what are changing and sometimes challenging times, we, nonetheless, renew our faith that a Saviour has been born for us who is Christ the Lord. May He bless you this Christmas and give you His peace.
On this Feast of the Holy Family we naturally reflect on what it must have been like for Our Blessed Lady and St Joseph to nurture the infant Lord Jesus. Like so many in our world today, they were a poor refugee family forced to flee their homeland out of fear for their lives. St Matthew records how Joseph took Mary and the Christ child to Egypt until it was safe for them to return to Nazareth. The early years of the Holy Family were far from the idealised pictures on our Christmas cards. This father and mother knew the tears and sorrows experienced by so many families, including those in our communities. But despite all their hardships, they rejoiced at their child’s birth, as we too should rejoice at the gift of each new life.
Whether in church or at home, it remains a beautiful tradition for our families, and each one of us, to pray before the Christmas crib. In doing this we return spiritually to Bethlehem. But what do we find there? In the words of the French poet Paul Claudel, we find ‘three poor people who love one another and will change the face of the earth.’
To change the face of the earth by loving one another. This is the vocation of every disciple and especially of the family. Whether rich or poor, our families, first and foremost, are places of love, modelled on the Holy Family. So often I have heard people describe their own upbringing by saying: ‘We didn’t have a lot of money, but there was always lots of love.’ The love of the Christian family is rooted in faith in God’s word and trust in Christ’s promises. This love looks outwards to the good of others, seeking their holiness and their wellbeing. This love overpowers selfishness with generosity and patience. In the midst of all the ups and downs of family living – and we should never underestimate these – this remains a love that is best replenished by being given away.
St John Paul II once wrote that ‘the future of humanity passes by way of the family.’1 The love at the heart of family life, the love in the heart of each family member, can change the face of the earth. It can create a better kind of future, even if just for those around us. Pope Francis reminds us that ‘all family life is a ‘shepherding’ in mercy.’2 He adds that, like the Church, ‘the family has always been the nearest hospital,’ 3 a source of healing and care for broken hearts and lives. As the basic foundation of society, and of our common future, the family offers the best security for all of us, individually and together.
Sadly, we know that some families suffer breakdown, separation, and divorce. We know too that not everyone has the best experience of family life, nor will everyone have a family themselves. In whatever struggles we face, there is a space for everyone in the family of the Church. We belong to Christ and, through Him, to each other, united by a love that cannot be broken. Christ reveals the Father’s love. It has no limits and includes every person. In Him there are no orphans.
As we look forward to a New Year, please join me in praying for a renewed appreciation of the beauty and dignity of marriage and family life in our society. We ask that the love of Christ might change the face of our own hearts so that we might change the face of the earth.
May the Lord Jesus walk with you each moment of this coming year. May Our Lady and St Joseph pray for you, especially for your families and those in any kind of need. And please pray for me as I do every day for everyone in our Archdiocese. Pray that, together, we might be evermore lovingly the presence of Christ to each other and to our world.
With every blessing Yours devotedly in Christ
The Most Rev. John Wilson
Metropolitan Archbishop of Southwark
1 Familiaris Consortio, 86
2 Amoris Laetitia, 322
3 Ibid, 321
Pastoral Letter Concerning the Reopening of
Catholic Churches for Individual Prayer
Given on the Memoria of St Barnabas the Apostle, 11th June 2020
‘Give the Lord glory and power, give the Lord the glory of His name.
Adore the Lord in His holy court.’(Ps 29)
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed our world, our country, and, in different ways, each of our lives. For some this has been devastating, with loss of life and serious illness. Throughout these past months we have prayed for everyone who has died, and for their families and loved ones. We are continuing to pray for all our keyworkers who serve with such selfless generosity. And we pray for our local, national, and global community, as we rebuild our future together. Perhaps we are learning not to take so much for granted and to focus more on who and what matters most. Please God, moving forward, we will treat each other with greater kindness, with greater respect, and with greater love.
As we know, places of worship, including Catholic churches, were closed by the Government to control the spread of the Coronavirus infection and save lives. As the restrictions have begun to be relaxed, we are very grateful that permission has now been given for places of worship to reopen for individual prayer from Monday 15 June. This can only happen, however, if all the necessary hygiene and social distancing measures have been put in place. We welcome this first step towards the restoration, in due course, of public liturgical celebrations with a congregation.
The Government’s permission to open our churches for visits for individual prayer enables us to draw closer to Christ who is really and truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. Our sacramental yearning, for the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation, now finds deeper anticipation as, once again, we are able to pray in the presence of our Eucharistic Lord. It is a beautiful providence that our churches are allowed to open the day after Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. There is a longstanding Catholic tradition of visits to the Blessed Sacrament and prayers before the Tabernacle. We are now invited to revive these with new devotion.
For any church to open from 15 June, strict requirements must be put in place which have been communicated to every parish in the Archdiocese. To be allowed to open their church, each parish will need to satisfy all the necessary conditions outlined.
This means that not every church will open immediately, and some churches may remained closed for the time being. The days and times which churches can open will also vary. I know that many people have been frustrated that our churches have been closed. Together, patiently, we can now begin opening them, wherever possible, and as soon as possible. We share the same desire to unlock the doors to the Lord’s house. This must, however, be managed properly and safely.
During this time of pandemic, I am immensely grateful for the remarkable ways in which parishes, schools, individuals, and families are sustaining the life of faith. I want to express a special word of thanks to the priests in the Archdiocese who have continued to celebrate Holy Mass each day in closed churches, without congregations, some of them live-streaming the liturgy, catechesis, prayers and devotions. We all look forward to being able to gather again in our churches, especially for the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist. Until this is possible, as best we can, we will open our churches for individual prayer.
As we enter our churches, to ‘adore the Lord in his holy court,’ we carry with us, in our prayer and in our hearts, the needs of everyone in the communities where we live, that peace, justice, and healing will touch our lives and our world.
With the assurance of my prayers and every blessing
Yours devotedly in Christ
The Most Reverend John Wilson
Archbishop of Southwark and Metropolitan
Pastoral Letter for The Solemnity of the Holy Family
27th December 2020
Dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ
After a celebration of Christmas Day in restricted circumstances, due to Covid 19, we come to this beautiful Feast of the Holy Family of Nazareth. The home life of the Lord Jesus, of His mother, the Virgin Mary, and of His foster father, St Joseph, teaches us the importance of ‘compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.’ We want to love as they love, to sit in the classroom of the Gospel and learn from Christ, inspired by the fidelity of Mary and Joseph. These qualities are the sure coordinates to guide us forward.
The images we sometimes see of the Holy Family make everything look so perfect, as if there were never any problems, or moments of anxiety, and not that much joy and laughter either. How can any family flourish without joy? How can any family blossom without laughter? No, the Holy Family was a real family. ‘Tears and smiles, like us,’ they knew, each in their own way. All our experiences of family, and of our relationships within them, form a school where our understanding of holiness can deepen, where, modelled on Christ, we are trained how to love evermore generously.
Of course, we know family life is not always easy. Every family needs help, especially when its members face difficulties and struggles. Above all, each of us, no matter what our age or circumstances, needs to know that we are loved and that we belong. This is why the Church matters, as a family for everyone, a place to find and know God’s love, a place to discover our true home in Christ and with each other.
St Luke retells an important event in the life of the Holy Family. Forty days after His birth, the Christ Child was presented by His parents in the Temple in Jerusalem, in accordance with the Law of Moses. This humble couple accepted the precious vocation God gave them as parents. This call from God is alive today. Parents are to protect and nurture new life. They are ‘the first teachers’ of their children ‘in the ways of faith.’ They are also to be ‘the best of teachers, bearing witness to the faith by what they say and do.’ This is both a gracious invitation and an awesome responsibility. As they prepare for the baptism of their child, every mother and father should be given a copy of the Gospel with the words: ‘Receive the Gospel of Christ whose teacher you now are. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.’ The family remains the primary place for living, teaching, and sharing the Gospel. Daily evangelisation is part of every home centred on Christ. The need for witness to our Catholic faith about, and within, the family is as great as it ever was.
I want to thank every Christian family in our parish and school communities for your faithfulness to Christ. Thank you to wives and husbands who encourage each other to live the Gospel, ‘for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer.’ Thank you to mums and dads, to grandparents, aunts and uncles, for passing on the faith to your children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces. Thank you to older brothers and sisters for the good example of faith you give to your younger sisters and brothers. They look up to you and need you. Thank you to clergy and religious, and to parish catechists and school staff, who support families in handing the faith to new generations. Please make sure that our communities are welcoming and supportive to all families, not least those new to our country or area, those going through brokenness or separation, and those facing poverty and hardship.
The home of the Holy Family of Nazareth was a loving space where the Lord Jesus grew to maturity, filled with wisdom. May our families, and the family of the Church, enable the message of Christ, in all its richness, to dwell within us so that we always speak and act with love.
I assure each one of you, your families, and your loved ones, of my prayers as 2021 opens before us. Whatever this New Year brings, let us step out with ‘compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,’ united as members of one body. May the peace of Christ reign in our hearts and in our world.
With every blessing
Yours devotedly in Christ
The Most Rev. John Wilson
Metropolitan Archbishop of Southwark