So I've locked the church.
Happy new year to you all.
Dear Sisters and Brothers in the Lord,
In the years when I was a parish priest, I was always delighted when the Bishop offered a Pastoral Letter for this particular celebration coming, as it does, so quickly on the heels of Christmas. It wasn’t just that we felt “talked out” after all the Christmas festivities, it was also that I, at least, felt that preaching about the Holy Family – that almost impossibly “holy” Family - was a very difficult task. I can’t pretend that today I can say anything new but I do want to offer you a few thoughts, as well as giving you my greetings for today and for the whole Christmas season.
First of all, our celebration today gives us “family” at its best and we particularly need that at this time when, politically and often socially, family life is being undermined and diminished.
In this celebration, we are offered a supreme example of trust, obedience and generous love. Speaking for myself, I can say that I have been very blessed in a very happy and fulfilled family life, but I am acutely aware that this is not everyone’s experience and I both acknowledge and sympathise with the pain that many, who are in broken families, suffer and endure.
The ideals of Christian family life set the highest standards. They challenge us in their fulfillment and they challenge us in the giving of example and encouragement to others. But these ideals are crucial for the well-being of the community as a whole. They are Christian ideals and we, who are Christians, have a great responsibility to demonstrate convincingly that they are not beyond our reach. Remember always that example is more powerful that exhortation. Reach out for these values yourselves and encourage others to do so, praying and remembering all the time that "nothing is impossible to God.”
But it’s not just family life that’s under threat in today’s world – we live today in many ways in what Pope John Paul described as a culture of death. Life itself has become cheap and, as a society, we have become careless and destructive of life, whether that life is found at its very beginnings, in the womb and in the unborn child, or in the old and frail as they approach natural death. To see such persons – for that is what they truly are – as somehow disposable or a nuisance or of no consequence, is to show a supreme disregard for the value and dignity of all who, like ourselves, are children of a loving God.
As Catholics, we pride ourselves on being “pro-life” and that is true for the diocese, for all of you who form our diocesan family and for myself. We are committed to defending life at all its stages. This commitment is the seamless garment for Christian living, and it means that all, but especially those who suffer from defencelessness and vulnerability of any kind, poverty, disease and conflict, have a right to a special place in our hearts and in the heart of the Church. This rich vision of life will not necessarily endear us to the culture in which we live but this is where we have to stand if we are to be faithful to the truth that all human beings, our brothers and sisters, are created in God’s own image and likeness.
This celebration of this feast of The Holy Family gives us the chance, not only to catch our breath after the Christmas festivities, but also to contemplate something of the reality of the circumstances and family that surrounded the Word made flesh, the Light of the world, Jesus Christ, Son of God, who has lived among us. In this contemplation and prayer today, we rejoice in the gift of life in all its richness and dignity. Our prayer is also that we treasure and sustain, as best we can. the precious gift of family in which that life is nurtured and in which it flourishes.
I send you all my greetings at this time and I pray that the Lord will continue to bless us all with his love and his grace as we enter into the New Year of 2009 which will be upon us in a few days.
May God bless you all,
Paradoxically, our exposure to genuine tunes, whether folk songs, carols, hymn tunes or even lowly nursery rhymes, has surely diminished relative to the torrent of music that now overwhelms our senses. And though there's never been a better time for melody, it may also be time to reassert the tune — symmetrically patterned, shaped by rhythm, rhyme and tonal cadence — as the ground of our listening and the essential pattern of Western music since the Renaissance.A similar awareness lies, perhaps, behind the movement for reforming liturgical music, with the structures of chant as the ideal vehicle for sacred observance. Unstated, too, is surely the perception that some styles and forms are better than others —"better for being listened to" in every sense of that phrase—that only the best is sufficient for the service of God, and that the man-centred ethos of the guitar Mass and worship song is simply not good enough.In the meeting of art and faith, matters are rarely straightforward. While espousing the cause of Palestrina and a cappella singing, for example, elements of the nineteenth-century Cecilian Movement for the reform of Catholic music would have also prohibited the Masses of Haydn and Schubert. But for all those entrusted with the duty to revive the quality of music for worship, Vaughan Williams, Hely-Hutchinson and others point in the right direction. Confronted with both the riches and the false authenticities of our musical scene, bishops, composers and choral directors will need artistic clear thinking, particularly in furnishing music of lasting worth for the forthcoming English Mass translation. What these modest, carol-based works remind us is that, for a wise outcome, the example of history should count quite as much as easy accessibility, or fashionable sociological precepts about music, in determining their choices.
Pope Benedict in October 2005 to 100,000 at the annual audience for children who have recently made their First Holy Communion: One girl asked the Pope why she must go to confession before receiving Communion, if our sins are always the same.
Smiling, the Holy Father answered: "It is true that our sins are always the same. Yet do we not clean our house, our room, at least once a week, though the dirt is always the same? If we do not, we run the risk of the dirt accumulating, though we may not see it.”
“The same”, he said, “is true of our souls. If we never confess, our souls are overlooked. I may be pleased with myself, yet I do not understand that I have to improve constantly in order to progress. Confession helps us to have a more open conscience and thus to mature in a spiritual and human way."
A priest-friend of mine once asked a mechanic in Ireland why he should bother washing his car, since it would get dirty again. The mechanic responded, "Dont you wash your face every morning?"