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Pastoral letter for the Feast of the Holy Family 2012

Catholics are urged to speak up for marriage as the heart of the family in a Pastoral Letter from the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster to his diocese.

The Pastoral Letter will be read out during Masses at the 214 Catholic churches in the Diocese of Westminster over 29/30 December 2012, the Feast of the Holy Family.

Listen to the Pastoral Letter here:


And the full text of the letter is below

My brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ

Today's Feast is a moment in which to rejoice again in the vitality and importance of the family. Indeed this is a time in which to speak up for marriage, between a husband and wife, as the heart of the family.

Of course there are many different circumstances to family life. Events reshape the family lives of many people. We are right to express our admiration for those who work so hard to maintain family stability in difficulty and isolation. Support and loving care for them can make all the difference.

But none of this takes away the importance of having a clear vision of marriage and family, based on human nature itself. This vision of the family is rooted in the faithful love of a man and a woman, publicly expressed and accepted in marriage, responsible for the birth of the next generation and out of love working for the care and upbringing of their children. This is the vocation of marriage and parenthood, rooted in a natural bond, blessed by God and a sure sacrament in the life of the Church.

The first reading of our Mass today, from the Book of Ecclesiasticus, bears witness to the ancient roots of this vision. Written in the second century before Christ, it emphasises the sense of right and wrong that lies at the heart of marriage and family life. It speaks of the honour that is to exist between all the members of a family and across the generations. Along with honour, the author speaks of rights, respect, obedience, support and kindness which are needed if family life is to be stable and fruitful. It values the wisdom of the elderly and recognises the sacrifices necessary to love and care for them as they become frail and live with suffering. Its references to ‘The Lord’ who seeks our obedience shows that these values are not of our choosing. Rather they have an objective character, coming to us from God, or, in other words, written into our very nature and there for us to heed.

The Gospel we have heard recognises that family life will be full of testing times. Indeed for the Holy Family these three days were full of awful anxiety. Only through her thoughtful pondering did Mary come to understand God's purposes which were not at all the same as her initial expectations. Just as the Holy Spirit had brought about the conception of Jesus within her, so too that same Holy Spirit had to lead Mary to understand and follow God's ways. The journey by which we come to understand the purpose of God in our human nature and in our lives is also frequently difficult. There is often a journey to make from what I might think is God’s plan for me, to what God really wants. And on this journey the Church and her teaching is a sure guide, not least in the patterns of our relationships.

As we turn to the lovely reading from the First Letter of St John, we learn again that the love at the heart of family life has its origins in God. As we strive to live a life of love we are indeed ‘already children of God’. And what is more, a great promise is given to us too. As this God-given love comes to its fulfilment, ‘we shall become like him because we shall see him as he really is’. This is the promise of heaven that steadies us on our journey on earth. Of course we have to ‘fear the Lord and walk in his ways’, as the Psalmist said. But when we try to do so as best we can, then ‘we need not be afraid in God's presence’. Rather we can look forward, with a blessed hope, to the coming of our Saviour, both at the hour of our death and at the moment of final judgement.

Today I ask for every family the blessing of God that you may be steadfast in your love and loyalty for each other, overcoming life's difficulties with a firm and trusting faith and great perseverance. I pray too for our country that we will maintain the importance of marriage between a man and a woman as the heart of family life and, while always retaining proper and due respect for all, resist the proposed redefining of marriage with all its likely consequences particularly in schools and in how children are taught about the true nature of marriage.

At this time, we look to our Members of Parliament to defend, not change, the bond of man and woman in marriage as the essential element of the vision of the family.  I urge everyone who cares about upholding the meaning of marriage in civil law to make their views known to their Members of Parliament, clearly, calmly and forcefully. Please do so as soon as possible.

I ask you to keep me in your prayers on this day, that as a diocese we may be a family that is loving and supportive of one another in our life in the Lord. Amen

Yours devotedly
+ Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster


Your thoughts
  • Frances O'Donovan
    Posted 2nd January 2013 at 8:40pm

    I see a comment by Alfred Neuman in response to the above that he is ashamed to be Catholic. At first I was wondering why such comments were allowed on the Diocesan website as they could be seen to undermine our Archbishop. But then I thought further and realised that our Archbishop, indeed the Catholic Church listens to everyone. That is why I am so pleased to be Catholic. I respect the views of our Archbishop completely as in my opinion his views help not just me but everyone. He is a true follower of Jesus Christ and we are lucky to have him as our Archbishop. May God give him the courage and strength to continue to be our shepherd especially in the face of any extreme hostility.

  • Alfred Neuman
    Posted 2nd January 2013 at 2:32pm

    You've made me ashamed to be a Catholic, and I think you should be ashamed yourselves. Please send me information on how I can officially leave a church I wrongly thought was for encouraging justice, love and understanding. Other friends who wish to leave have told me that Canon Law has 'suspended' the process whereby we can formally renounce all connection with Catholicism. I hope this not true. Part of the reason I'm leaving is Church's behaviour in protecting and covering up paedophile priests, its relegation of women to secondary status, its emphasis on various issues above those of helping the poor and disadvantaged, and this weasel worded Pastoral letter, pretending to defend marriage while in reality attacking lesbians and gay men. These matter have all led to me losing any pride in having been a Catholic. The last straw was the Pope blessing the Ugandan Parliamentary Speaker immediately after she had promised that her "Christmas present" to her country would be a law further criminalising and in instances, executing gay people and anyone associated with them who does not hand them in to the authorities. I'm not just ashamed, I am angry at the Church's santimonious, self-righteous hypocrisy. I want out!

  • Sr. Colette Roberts
    Posted 31st December 2012 at 8:28pm

    Dear Archbishop Vincent,
    I just want to say thank you for standing up for God's law against our secular society.
    I am sure that you know that Peter Tachell has stated that the clauses in the bill supposedly protecting us (the Churches) are illegal, and I am sure that he is right, or will prove to be after some pressure on the European Courts from the International Humanist Movement (the International wing of the British Secular Society).
    We both know that you have now been brave and steadfast enough (in Christ) to "go over the top" in World War One terminology. As Christ said, there is no turning back once we set out following Him on the Way of the Cross. Your persecution had already started in the Press after your interview on Christmas Eve. There will be no holding your critics now, and for that I give thanks for you to the Lord.
    We, the Catholics who accept the Church's Moral teaching, need you, need a public personage who can give them strength because of his stand for Christ. Do not think that I am lauding you, I do not know the state of your soul! But with God's help I know you can and hopefully will be a 'soldier for Christ' in accordance with your Baptismal promises and Confirmation.
    You may be fully assured of my prayers at this stressful and painful time.
    Just keep your eyes on the Crucified One and your spirit will not fail.
    May God bless you in your work,
    Sr. Colette (Anchorite)

  • delia nye
    Posted 30th December 2012 at 9:03pm

    Thank you bishop for your beautiful words of truth! I pray that our children will be taught in schools that marriage is between a man and a woman. God bless

  • Matthew Hancock
    Posted 30th December 2012 at 6:14pm

    Will the Catholic Church ever enter the 21st century? It's priests have abused thousands of boys and it fails to hold people accountable. But if two same sex people are in love it casts judgement. We all know that Jesus healed and loved everyone and commanded us not to judge one another. He praised the faith of the Roman soldier whose slave he healed. Yet history tells us the slave was normally the soldier's lover. Did He judge this man who wanted his male lover healed?

  • Nicandro Porcelli
    Posted 30th December 2012 at 6:14pm

    Your Grace, I pray God bless you and sustain you in courage. As well as the petition neither of my recent MPs has responded to my written pleas to save marriage and offset the needless persecution this Bill will facilitate. I urge all people to write via the website "They Work for You" .GOV as this logs all correspondance and publishes tables of which MPs are diligent in responding to their constitutents.

    Posted 30th December 2012 at 2:17pm


  • Dr. Jan Poloniecki
    Posted 30th December 2012 at 1:30pm

    I wrote to MP as follows

    Archbishop Nichol wrote today to Westminster Catholics
    "I urge everyone who cares about upholding the meaning of marriage in
    civil law to make their views known to their Members of Parliament"

    The catechism says (CCC 2357): Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which
    presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,{141} tradition has
    always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically
    disordered."{142} They are contrary to the natural law. They close the
    sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine
    affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they
    be approved.

    As an MP and member of the governing coalition, you might ask why it it
    the role of government to have an opinion on this subject. Secondly,
    why further should this opinion or legislation, not least by its use of
    the word "marriage", seek to confound acts, which "under no
    circumstances can they be approved", with the Christian sacrament of
    marriage, which signifies approval by God.

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