Dear Brothers and Sisters,
They say that marriages are made in heaven. I tried to find the origin of this quote but did not get very far. However, I thought that on the Feast of the Holy Family and in the light of the October Synod, it would be opportune to turn our minds to marriage and family. Certainly the readings at Mass point us in the direction of sacrifice, commitment, mystery and yearning, love and eternal fulfilment, all of which could be considered ideal constituents of marriage and family life.
In the first reading we hear Hannah giving back to the Lord the child she had longed and prayed for: “This is the child I prayed for, and the Lord granted me what I asked him. Now I make him over to the Lord for the whole of his life.”
Joseph and Mary were distraught at losing Jesus. But on finding him in the Temple about his Father’s affairs, they were mystified, for “they did not understand what he meant.”
In the psalm we hear the cry of all humanity down through the ages aching for fulfilment and searching for a place of peace and joy; “How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord, God of hosts. My soul is longing and yearning, is yearning for the courts of the Lord. They are happy, who dwell in your house, for ever singing your praise.”
And in the second reading from St John’s First Letter we are reminded of the love that the Father has lavished on us by taking us into his family, making us his children here and now. But this is only the beginning of this love story, for “what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed; all we know is, that when it is revealed we shall be like him because we shall see him as he really is.”
All these themes are echoed throughout the Scriptures, and indeed in and through the lives of most of us. We are told that in the beginning God created all things, including human beings, man and woman, the first family. Why? Well the pages of Bible unfold to us the greatest love story ever told; God, who is none other than Love Itself, lavishes his life and love on us, his creation. Even when we turned away and rejected that love, he still walked with us, and eventually sent his Son, born into a human family, so that we could grasp what this love really means. The love of God is no longer a notion, an idea, the love of God is made visible in Christ Jesus: a person. And he was born into a family. Not a perfect family, but the Holy Family.
From the beginning there were problems and difficulties. Not even for the Holy Family was everything plain sailing. Listen to what Pope Francis said at the Prayer Vigil for the Festival of Families in Philadelphia in September this year: “Certainly, in the family there are difficulties. But in families also, the cross is followed by resurrection, because there too the Son of God leads us. So the family is a workshop of hope, of the hope of life and resurrection, since God was the one who opened this path.”
In that same Prayer Vigil Pope Francis suggested that we should focus our thoughts especially on children and grandparents. He described children and young people as our future; “they are our strength; they are what keep us moving forward. They are the ones in whom we put our hope.” And of Grandparents, he said they are our memory. “They are the ones who gave us the faith; they passed the faith on to us.”
Recognising that families are not perfect and that there will always be problems and tensions, the Holy Father offered some advice and I can think of no better way to end this pastoral letter than by repeating that advice to all of us. He says: “Never end the day without making peace in the family. In the family the day cannot end in fighting.” And so I pray for us all in the words of the Offertory Prayer at Mass:
We humbly ask you, O Lord, that, through the intercession of the Virgin Mother of God and Saint Joseph, you may establish our families firmly in your grace and your peace.
Yours in blessed hope,
Bishop of Middlesbrough