Text: Archbishop Nichols on Feast of the Holy Family

Archbishop Vincent Nichols issued the following Pastoral Letter on the Feast of the Holy Family. 26 December.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Over these last two days, we have been giving and receiving presents. This often  brings moments of excitement and happiness. But could I add this thought: the best  Christmas present we can give each other is that of joy. This thought, which comes  from Pope Benedict, has been in my mind throughout Advent and it is there again today, the Feast of the Holy Family.

The joy we give to each other comes from the promise of God ‘to be with us always’.  That’s the meaning of ‘Emmanuel’ – ‘God with us’ – a promise fulfilled in the child  whose birth we celebrate.

This Feast of the Holy Family encourages us to be full of the joy which comes from the Lord and to offer it to each other.

The first reading, from Isaiah, reminds us of the link between the generations. It calls  for respect and love of children for their parents and it promises that ‘whoever respects his father will be happy with children of his own.’ (Ecclesiasticus 3:6)

We know that love and joy is often expressed so freely between grandparents and  grandchildren. They have a freedom and spontaneity which is quite special. They need each other for there is so much to give and receive across the family generations.  We should not pretend that children are best left to find their own way, either at home or in school. Life is not a blank sheet of paper waiting for each separate person to create their own story. Across the generations we belong to each other. Within a  family we share wisdom. From our past we shape a future, as well as working so that the future can help redeem past mistakes.  

The family of the Church, too, has a deep, human wisdom to share. It is intertwined  with the stories of our families. St Paul describes so much of it in that second reading  we have heard.

Today we think about how to share and build our family wisdom. By doing this we strengthen the very foundations of our society.

We need time together. We need to listen to each other’s experience. We then come to appreciate the wisdom that is part of our family tradition, something to be passed on in love.

A family also needs to pray together. That prayer needs to be supported by visible signs around the house. Your home is a blessed place. God lives there. I trust there are  signs of that presence: a crib for Christmas; a crucifix in each bedroom; a statue of Our Lady or a favourite saint. These are reminders of our wider family of the Church and the divine love we share.

All the members of a family also need to practice respect for each other. Yes, we  respect each other in our differences. We may rejoice in those differences. At the same time we strive to keep up a shared standard of behaviour.

The family is also a place where we know we need each other’s help. At times such mutual dependence can feel like a burden. Yet it is also a gift for each other, for helping those whom we love is a source of real joy.

Forgiveness, too, is the hallmark of a family. Forgiveness always involves giving  way to another, giving up some point of pride or opinion. That’s why our Catholic  practice of self-denial, on a Friday for example, is such a good thing. It helps us to  appreciate that forgiveness involves self-sacrifice.

All of these small daily actions: listening, prayer, practical respect, offering help and forgiveness make up the love which holds a family together. The presents you have given to each other this Christmas represent that love. I hope they have been gift-wrapped with joy.

May God bless you all this Christmas and in the New Year.

Yours devotedly
Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster

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