Following in His steps
The thoughts of Father Benedict as we follow in Christ's footsteps
22nd December 2021
Pastoral Letter for the Solemnity of the Holy Family 2021
To be read at all Sunday Masses on 26 December 2021
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ
I extend to each of you, and to your families and loved ones, my warm good wishes as we celebrate the birth of our Saviour this Christmas. I pray that, in a deepened way, your heart might be opened to the loving closeness of the Lord Jesus. Now, and always, He is Emmanuel: God with us and God for us;nearer to us than our innermost thoughts, and closer to us than our heartbeat.It was because God loved the world so much, because God loved you so much, that He sent His only Son, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. For so great a gift, we too sing in thanksgiving with the angels: ‘Glory to God in the highest.’
Whatever ups and downs the past year has brought,remember that you belong to Christ.In our isolation or distance, in our fear or disappointment, we have a home in Christ and in His Church. He knows our name. Our baptism is part of His life-story. The Lord never will never forget us or abandon us. How we need to be reminded of this, especially in difficult times. We are united to Christ, and to each other, in the family of the Church. Ours is not a do-it yourself faith or a go-it-alone religion. Believing and belonging go together. We journey with each other as Christ’s Body, called to live our faith from within the Church towards to the world.
The Feast of the Holy Family this year follows on immediately from Christmas Day. We remain focused on the new-born Christ child, held in the arms of His mother Mary and watched over by His foster father, St Joseph. United in Christ, Christian families too are places where believing and belonging go together, giving much needed witness to the unchanging virtues of faith, love, and hope, of patience, mercy and kindness.
What must it have been like for Joseph and his pregnant wife to have arrived in Bethlehem, exhausted by the journey from Nazareth?We know Mary was close to her delivery date. Joseph would have slowed the pace of travel to protect his wife and her unborn child. To avoid any possible hostility in Samaria, the Holy Family also probably took a detour. It would, therefore, have taken Joseph and Mary a week to ten days, maybe even longer, to reach their destination.They then struggled to find suitable accommodation and had to bed down beside the animals in the straw. Through all this they have something to teach us: they kept faith and they trusted in God’s promises.
Fast forward twelve years.The Holy Family had been in Jerusalem for the Passover. As they travelled home, their beloved child, the Lord Jesus, went missing. At that time men sometimes travelled separately from women, and the children travelled with either parent. Mary thought the Lord Jesus was with Joseph and Joseph thought He was with Mary. How panicked they must have been, fearing that He was lost, even that He had been injured or killed. Rushing back to Jerusalem, they found the Lord Jesus three days later teaching in the temple, getting on with His ‘Heavenly Father’s business.’It’s significant that they found Him alive after three days. The Gospel points to the resurrection. Again, there is something to learn here. In all we face, how we need to keep faith and trust in God’s promises. As the Christmas carol ‘Hark! The herald angels sing’ reminds us, Christ is born so we ‘no more may die,’ born to raise us from the earth, born to give us ‘second birth.’
Dear friends, we each need to nurture our faith. We each need to renew our trust in God’s promises.We live with hope in Christ born for us and raised from death on the cross for us. This is our faith. This is the faith of the Church. We are proud to profess it. Thank you to parents, grandparents,and great grandparents for passing on the faith in your families. Thank you to catechists, teachers, clergy and religious sisters for passing on the faith in the family of the Church. Please be encouraged to continue helping people to believe and belong in Christ, especially through the celebration of the Sacraments, through cherishing prayer and the Scriptures, and through loving service to those most in need.
I assure you of my prayers on this beautiful Feast of the Holy Family: prayers for each of you and, in particular, for anyone struggling with life, and especially family life or marriage; for anyone coping with illness or bereavement;and for anyone uncertain about what 2022 might hold. Let us unite ourselves to Our Lady and to St Joseph. With them we keep faith and trust in God’s promise: a Saviour has been born for us who is Christ the Lord. He is Emmanuel: God with us and God for us.
With every blessing for this Christmas Season and the New Year
Yours devotedly in Christ
+ John Wilson
Metropolitan Archbishop of Southwark
23rd January 2021
MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS
FOR THE XXIX WORLD DAY OF THE SICK 2021
"You have but one teacher and you are all brothers" (Mt 23:8). A trust-based relationship to guide care for the sick
Dear brothers and sisters,
The celebration of the XXIX World Day of the Sick on 11 February 2021, the liturgical memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lourdes, is an opportunity to devote special attention to the sick and to those who provide them with assistance and care both in healthcare institutions and within families and communities. We think in particular of those who have suffered, and continue to suffer, the effects of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. To all, and especially to the poor and the marginalized, I express my spiritual closeness and assure them of the Church's loving concern.
1. The theme of this Day is drawn from the Gospel passage in which Jesus criticizes the hypocrisy of those who fail to practise what they preach (cf. Mt 23:1-12). When our faith is reduced to empty words, unconcerned with the lives and needs of others, the creed we profess proves inconsistent with the life we lead. The danger is real. That is why Jesus uses strong language about the peril of falling into self-idolatry. He tells us: "You have but one teacher and you are all brothers"(v. 8).
Jesus' criticism of those who "preach but do not practise" (v. 3) is helpful always and everywhere, since none of us is immune to the grave evil of hypocrisy, which prevents us from flourishing as children of the one Father, called to live universal fraternity.
Before the needs of our brothers and sisters, Jesus asks us to respond in a way completely contrary to such hypocrisy. He asks us to stop and listen, to establish a direct and personal relationship with others, to feel empathy and compassion, and to let their suffering become our own as we seek to serve them (cf. Lk 10:30-35).
2. The experience of sickness makes us realize our own vulnerability and our innate need of others. It makes us feel all the more clearly that we are creatures dependent on God. When we are ill, fear and even bewilderment can grip our minds and hearts; we find ourselves powerless, since our health does not depend on our abilities or life's incessant worries (cf. Mt 6:27).
Sickness raises the question of life's meaning, which we bring before God in faith. In seeking a new and deeper direction in our lives, we may not find an immediate answer. Nor are our relatives and friends always able to help us in this demanding quest.
The biblical figure of Job is emblematic in this regard. Job's wife and friends do not accompany him in his misfortune; instead, they blame him and only aggravate his solitude and distress. Job feels forlorn and misunderstood. Yet for all his extreme frailty, he rejects hypocrisy and chooses the path of honesty towards God and others. He cries out to God so insistently that God finally answers him and allows him to glimpse a new horizon. He confirms that Job's suffering is not a punishment or a state of separation from God, much less as sign of God's indifference. Job's heart, wounded and healed, then makes this vibrant and touching confession to the Lord: "I had heard of you by word of mouth, but now my eye has seen you" (42:5).
3. Sickness always has more than one face: it has the face of all the sick, but also those who feel ignored, excluded and prey to social injustices that deny their fundamental rights (cf. Fratelli Tutti, 22). The current pandemic has exacerbated inequalities in our healthcare systems and exposed inefficiencies in the care of the sick. Elderly, weak and vulnerable people are not always granted access to care, or in an equitable manner. This is the result of political decisions, resource management and greater or lesser commitment on the part of those holding positions of responsibility. Investing resources in the care and assistance of the sick is a priority linked to the fundamental principle that health is a primary common good. Yet the pandemic has also highlighted the dedication and generosity of healthcare personnel, volunteers, support staff, priests, men and women religious, all of whom have helped, treated, comforted and served so many of the sick and their families with professionalism, self-giving, responsibility and love of neighbour. A silent multitude of men and women, they chose not to look the other way but to share the suffering of patients, whom they saw as neighbours and members of our one human family.
Such closeness is a precious balm that provides support and consolation to the sick in their suffering. As Christians, we experience that closeness as a sign of the love of Jesus Christ, the Good Samaritan, who draws near with compassion to every man and woman wounded by sin. United to Christ by the working of the Holy Spirit, we are called to be merciful like the Father and to love in particular our frail, infirm and suffering brothers and sisters (cf. Jn 13:34-35). We experience this closeness not only as individuals but also as a community. Indeed, fraternal love in Christ generates a community of healing, a community that leaves no one behind, a community that is inclusive and welcoming, especially to those most in need.
Here I wish to mention the importance of fraternal solidarity, which is expressed concretely in service and can take a variety of forms, all directed at supporting our neighbours. "Serving means caring ... for the vulnerable of our families, our society, our people" (Homily in Havana, 20 September 2015). In this outreach, all are "called to set aside their own wishes and desires, their pursuit of power, before the concrete gaze of those who are most vulnerable... Service always looks to their faces, touches their flesh, senses their closeness and even, in some cases, 'suffers' that closeness and tries to help them. Service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people" (ibid.).
4. If a therapy is to be effective, it must have a relational aspect, for this enables a holistic approach to the patient. Emphasizing this aspect can help doctors, nurses, professionals and volunteers to feel responsible for accompanying patients on a path of healing grounded in a trusting interpersonal relationship (cf. New Charter for Health Care Workers , 4). This creates a covenant between those in need of care and those who provide that care, a covenant based on mutual trust and respect, openness and availability. This will help to overcome defensive attitudes, respect the dignity of the sick, safeguard the professionalism of healthcare workers and foster a good relationship with the families of patients.
Such a relationship with the sick can find an unfailing source of motivation and strength in the charity of Christ, as shown by the witness of those men and women who down the millennia have grown in holiness through service to the infirm. For the mystery of Christ's death and resurrection is the source of the love capable of giving full meaning to the experience of patients and caregivers alike. The Gospel frequently makes this clear by showing that Jesus heals not by magic but as the result of an encounter, an interpersonal relationship, in which God's gift finds a response in the faith of those who accept it. As Jesus often repeats: "Your faith has saved you".
5. Dear brothers and sisters, the commandment of love that Jesus left to his disciples is also kept in our relationship with the sick. A society is all the more human to the degree that it cares effectively for its most frail and suffering members, in a spirit of fraternal love. Let us strive to achieve this goal, so that no one will feel alone, excluded or abandoned.
To Mary, Mother of Mercy and Health of the Infirm, I entrust the sick, healthcare workers and all those who generously assist our suffering brothers and sisters. From the Grotto of Lourdes and her many other shrines throughout the world, may she sustain our faith and hope, and help us care for one another with fraternal love. To each and all, I cordially impart my blessing.
Rome, Saint John Lateran, 20 December 2020,
Fourth Sunday of Advent
20th October 2020
MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS
FOR WORLD MISSION DAY 2020
Here am I, send me (Is 6:8)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I wish to express my gratitude to God for the commitment with which the Church throughout the world carried out the Extraordinary Missionary Month last October. I am convinced that it stimulated missionary conversion in many communities on the path indicated by the theme: "Baptized and Sent: the Church of Christ on Mission in the World".
In this year marked by the suffering and challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic, the missionary journey of the whole Church continues in light of the words found in the account of the calling of the prophet Isaiah: "Here am I, send me" (6:8). This is the ever new response to the Lord's question: "Whom shall I send?" (ibid.). This invitation from God's merciful heart challenges both the Church and humanity as a whole in the current world crisis. "Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat... are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying 'We are perishing' (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this" (Meditation in Saint Peter's Square, 27 March 2020). We are indeed frightened, disoriented and afraid. Pain and death make us experience our human frailty, but at the same time remind us of our deep desire for life and liberation from evil. In this context, the call to mission, the invitation to step out of ourselves for love of God and neighbour presents itself as an opportunity for sharing, service and intercessory prayer. The mission that God entrusts to each one of us leads us from fear and introspection to a renewed realization that we find ourselves precisely when we give ourselves to others.
In the sacrifice of the cross, where the mission of Jesus is fully accomplished (cf. Jn 19:28-30), God shows us that his love is for each and every one of us (cf. Jn 19:26-27). He asks us to be personally willing to be sent, because he himself is Love, love that is always "on mission", always reaching out in order to give life. Out of his love for us, God the Father sent his Son Jesus (cf. Jn 3:16). Jesus is the Father's Missionary: his life and ministry reveal his total obedience to the Father's will (cf. Jn 4:34; 6:38; 8:12-30; Heb 10:5-10). Jesus, crucified and risen for us, draws us in turn into his mission of love, and with his Spirit which enlivens the Church, he makes us his disciples and sends us on a mission to the world and to its peoples.
"The mission, the 'Church on the move', is not a programme, an enterprise to be carried out by sheer force of will. It is Christ who makes the Church go out of herself. In the mission of evangelization, you move because the Holy Spirit pushes you, and carries you" (Senza di Lui non possiamo fare nulla: Essere missionari oggi nel mondo. Una conversazione con Gianni Valente, Libreria Editrice Vaticana: San Paolo, 2019, 16-17). God always loves us first and with this love comes to us and calls us. Our personal vocation comes from the fact that we are sons and daughters of God in the Church, his family, brothers and sisters in that love that Jesus has shown us. All, however, have a human dignity founded on the divine invitation to be children of God and to become, in the sacrament of Baptism and in the freedom of faith, what they have always been in the heart of God.
Life itself, as a gift freely received, is implicitly an invitation to this gift of self: it is a seed which, in the baptized, will blossom as a response of love in marriage or in virginity for the kingdom of God. Human life is born of the love of God, grows in love and tends towards love. No one is excluded from the love of God, and in the holy sacrifice of Jesus his Son on the cross, God conquered sin and death (cf. Rom 8:31-39). For God, evil - even sin - becomes a challenge to respond with even greater love (cf. Mt 5:38-48; Lk 22:33-34). In the Paschal Mystery, divine mercy heals our wounded humanity and is poured out upon the whole universe. The Church, the universal sacrament of God's love for the world, continues the mission of Jesus in history and sends us everywhere so that, through our witness of faith and the proclamation of the Gospel, God may continue to manifest his love and in this way touch and transform hearts, minds, bodies, societies and cultures in every place and time.
Mission is a free and conscious response to God's call. Yet we discern this call only when we have a personal relationship of love with Jesus present in his Church. Let us ask ourselves: are we prepared to welcome the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, to listen to the call to mission, whether in our life as married couples or as consecrated persons or those called to the ordained ministry, and in all the everyday events of life? Are we willing to be sent forth at any time or place to witness to our faith in God the merciful Father, to proclaim the Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ, to share the divine life of the Holy Spirit by building up the Church? Are we, like Mary, the Mother of Jesus, ready to be completely at the service of God's will (cf. Lk 1:38)? This interior openness is essential if we are to say to God: "Here am I, Lord, send me" (cf. Is 6:8). And this, not in the abstract, but in this chapter of the life of the Church and of history.
Understanding what God is saying to us at this time of pandemic also represents a challenge for the Church's mission. Illness, suffering, fear and isolation challenge us. The poverty of those who die alone, the abandoned, those who have lost their jobs and income, the homeless and those who lack food challenge us. Being forced to observe social distancing and to stay at home invites us to rediscover that we need social relationships as well as our communal relationship with God. Far from increasing mistrust and indifference, this situation should make us even more attentive to our way of relating to others. And prayer, in which God touches and moves our hearts, should make us ever more open to the need of our brothers and sisters for dignity and freedom, as well as our responsibility to care for all creation. The impossibility of gathering as a Church to celebrate the Eucharist has led us to share the experience of the many Christian communities that cannot celebrate Mass every Sunday. In all of this, God's question: "Whom shall I send?" is addressed once more to us and awaits a generous and convincing response: "Here am I, send me!" (Is 6:8). God continues to look for those whom he can send forth into the world and to the nations to bear witness to his love, his deliverance from sin and death, his liberation from evil (cf. Mt 9:35-38; Lk 10:1-12).
The celebration of World Mission Day is also an occasion for reaffirming how prayer, reflection and the material help of your offerings are so many opportunities to participate actively in the mission of Jesus in his Church. The charity expressed in the collections that take place during the liturgical celebrations of the third Sunday of October is aimed at supporting the missionary work carried out in my name by the Pontifical Mission Societies, in order to meet the spiritual and material needs of peoples and Churches throughout the world, for the salvation of all.
May the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Star of Evangelization and Comforter of the Afflicted, missionary disciple of her Son Jesus, continue to intercede for us and sustain us.
Rome, Saint John Lateran, 31 May 2020, Solemnity of Pentecost