for the
of the
Holy Family




Ecclesiasticus 3:2-6, 12-14
Colossians 3:12-21
Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

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'Deep faith, a firm hope and a generous love ...'

Pastoral Letter to be read or made available
for the Feast of the Holy Family
Sunday, 26th December 2010


Giotto di Bondone
The Flight into Egypt 1310s
Frecso in the Lower Basilica in Assisi


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On Christmas Eve, we began our celebration of the Nativity, the birth of Jesus Christ some 2000 years ago. We continue this celebration during Christmastide, and today very appropriately celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. It was into a human family that Jesus Christ was born. But as we reflect and pray before the Crib we should not allow ourselves to indulge in sentimentalism or delude ourselves with romantic notions of that family. The Gospel reminds us with great clarity and perception that the Holy Family experienced light and darkness, joy and sorrow. It was certainly no "bed of roses", because the Holy Family was, first and foremost, a human family. We have only to reflect on our own experience of family life, or community life, to know that the way of humanity is the way both of pain and sorrow, as well as the way of joy and blessing.

So today we have an opportunity to reflect on our own family or community life through the lens of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. In our own day especially, a healthy family needs deep faith, a firm hope and a generous love if it is to be sustained and if it is to grow. If we keep faith in God, Father, Son and Spirit, we will, like the Holy Family grow in wisdom and understanding and fulfil our vocation in life. We will not do it without difficulty and suffering, but we will be given the grace to bear whatever comes, knowing that Jesus walks every step of the way with us. And so in our own lives we will reflect the love, faithfulness and compassion of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

The Church has consistently taught that the best context for learning about, and being nurtured in authentic human relationships, is within marriage and the family. And the evidence from report after report in recent years indicates very clearly that even from a secular point of view, marriage between a man and a woman provides far and away the best place to bring up a family and educate children. It is within that stable, loving context that children learn to develop spiritually, emotionally, physically and intellectually. It was within that context that Jesus learned to live under authority; it was there that he learned from the experience and wisdom of Mary and Joseph. It was there that he had his first human experience of being loved, of being held, of being listened to and nurtured so that he could fulfil all his human potential.

But what ultimately gave Jesus direction in his life, what sustained and supported him through thick and thin was his abiding relationship with God, his Father. In that respect, the Holy Family is indeed a wonderful model for all of us, and reveals a deep truth about our humanity and our human relationships. Our homes should shine out as “holy places”, a communion of life and love rooted in our relationship with God and reflected in our love for one another.

As the source and foundation of the relationship between Jesus, Mary and Joseph was unconditional love, so it reflected in a very human way the unconditional love of the three persons of the Holy Trinity. Such love needs to be the basis of all our human relationships; within our natural families, in the wider family of the Church community, and in society at large. Such genuine love is certainly not something to be confused with mere sentiment or simply romantic feelings. True love gives rise to very practical demands and consequences. The writer of the Book of Ecclesiasticus expresses some of these. True love requires us to respect and honour each other, show sympathy and kindness towards one another, and support those who are weak and fragile.

In equally moving terms, St. Paul in his Letter to the Colossians spells out
the values and attitudes which spring from such genuine love. He tells us that we “should be clothed with sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience.” He tells us that we must “bear with one another, forgiving each other as soon as a quarrel begins.” He concludes by reminding us that, “Over all these clothes, to keep them together and complete them, put on love.”

As we prepare to begin another New Year, I encourage you to take seriously the challenge to make a fresh start with God, a fresh start at home and a fresh start for the world's poor. This is the perennial challenge of the Gospel. It is the challenge to live lives of authentic love, of genuine faith and of firm hope – and to do so more fully and with greater commitment. We are called to be people of compassion and kindness, treating others with the respect and honour which is their due because they are images of God.

In particular we need to give a new start to those families which have been broken and grievously wounded through separation or divorce. For these especially we must all have the greatest love and respect, gentleness and compassion. These are our brothers and sisters, deeply wounded and suffering. Let no one judge them. Welcome them within the community of the Church and help them to experience the life-giving love of God, which will in time lead to healing and new life.

With an assurance of my prayers and blessing for Christmastide and the New Year,

Archbishop of Southwark

Given at Southwark,
14th December 2010,
The Feast of St John of the Cross