Monday, 29 December 2014

Bishops Pastoral Letter for Feast of the Holy Family

It is impossible to preach a homily on today’s feast of the Holy Family that does not offend the modernist Catholic and the atheist who expect to have the manufactured, alternative living units of today’s society accepted as ‘family’ by the Church. It comes as something of a relief then, when one is given a Bishops Letter to read, because any praise or criticism can be met with the same response –“Why don’t you write to the Bishop and tell him how it has affected you?” I don’t think any will, of course, and as yet I have heard neither criticism nor praise. Rather, there has been a remarkable silence. Here is Bishop Cunningham’s Pastoral Letter to the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle:

My Dear People

I once saw a statue of the Holy Family carved from a single piece of wood. The
figures rose from the same base, Joseph standing with his arm protectively round
Mary’s shoulder. Mary, carved out of his sleeve, sits cradling the child Jesus. It was
an icon of unity that made me ask the question “What is it that binds The Holy
Family together?”

As I looked for answers I contemplated the individual members of the family. Mary’s
“Yes” to God had brought the child Jesus into the world. Joseph’s “Yes” to God had
made him take Mary as his wife and look after the child Jesus. Jesus’ humility in
saying “Yes” to God in the temptations, and in the Garden of Gethsemane, led him
to the cross where he won our salvation. This family was united in accepting the will
of God.

Sadly, we often dismiss the Holy Family because we see them as too perfect, too far
beyond us. The Church needs to be careful when it points to the Holy Family as the
ideal as it could be an obstacle. When ordinary people compare their own poor
experience of family life, its weaknesses and divisions with this ideal it can lead to a
sense of failure and despair. We need to look, more carefully at what scripture tells
us about the Holy Family, then, we may find that it actually addresses our divisions
and weakness and becomes a source of hope.

There were divisions within the Holy Family. Joseph was minded to divorce Mary.
Jesus upsets his parents when he stays behind in the temple. Mary rebukes Jesus
because of the distress she and Joseph suffered as they tried to find him. An upset
between husband and wife, a wilful teenager, a distressed mother rebuking her
child, are all situations which are common to our experience. What is important
about the Holy Family is that they seek to resolve these problems. That is where we
need to learn from them.

Their problems are resolved by recourse to prayer which asks the Holy Spirit to help
them see what the will of God is. In each case they affirm and support one another
by first, saying “Yes” to God and then to each other. Where there is no immediate
understanding they hold it before God. “Mary pondered all these things in her heart.” What unites the Holy Family is their willingness to listen to the Holy Spirit
and to use his help to obey God; in our weakness we must do the same.

Pope Francis at the recent Extraordinary Synod on the family has reminded us that
there are all kinds of families and relationships in today’s world. Many are unsettled,
broken or in other difficulties and all need to be approached with compassion. He
criticised the Church for sometimes being too judgemental in its approach. He
reminded us that the Church, called to be the family of God, is called to exhibit
compassion and mercy within its own membership. It can only do this by allowing
the Holy Spirit to fill it with the burning love and mercy of God. This will seek to
bring healing and reconciliation within the family of the Church. But it will go much
further than this as it drives the Church to reach out to those on the fringes of
society, seeking to understand them and share the gospel of hope.

The process in our Diocese called “Forward Together in Hope” which is just
beginning, is a three year period to help us discover what it is to be the Family of
God in Hexham and Newcastle. It must be rooted in prayer to allow the Holy Spirit
to draw us closer together in understanding and love. If we are to grow spiritually
we need to understand ourselves, our needs and weakness. We have to recognise
the gifts our community has to offer the wider Church. In the same way we need to
understand others, their needs and weaknesses and we must not be too proud to
accept their gifts.

If we do this we will grow together in unity, renewing the Church as the Family of
God and moving forward in hope to bring his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

With very best wishes
Rt Rev Séamus Cunningham

Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle


  1. Dear Fr Dickson, I'm praying for you, your parish and your diocese. The above 'pastoral' letter reads as if it was written by an Australian bishop, a 'spirit' of Vatican II one. They are simply incapable of calling anyone to conversion and leading them in holiness to the Living Presence of the Lord in His Church. Another give away is that they speak of the Holy Spirit as if He operates independently of the two other Divine persons of the blessed Trinity. Well, I hope I don't put you or your blog in jeopardy by posting this and my previous comments. God bless you Fr Dickson

    1. Thank you, Greg, for the prayers for me, the parish and the Diocese.
      Blessings of the Season to you and yours.
      God Bless.

  2. You suggest writing to the bishop but, sadly, he seems to ignore letters following his pastoral letters

    1. Thank you, David.
      I have no experience of anyone writing to him, so I take your word for it.
      God bless you and yours.

  3. Dear Father

    Thank you again. I am now going to write to the bishop - although much good I expect to come from it.


  4. It spoiled my Christmas when I thought what he might have said more usefully and I am writing to him in the new year!

    1. Dear David, Patricia and Pat,
      Thank you for your comments. It is when people try complaining to me or praising me for pastoral letters that I would normally suggest people write to their Bishop. Still, it cannot harm for him to know how his pastorals affect his flock. Praise and critical comment can be helpful if presented in a charitable way and owning one's reaction as one's own: "I felt; I think".. 'You' statements tend to be accusative and offensive.
      God bless.

  5. A much better pastoral letter for the feast can be read here -

    1. Thank you, Pat.
      I will check it out.
      God Bless.

  6. The bishops letter seemed fairly standard stuff. Nothing to reverse the secularisation around us. Nothing to express the uniqe place of Christ in our world. The phrase "all kinds of families and relationships" raises alarm bells as notions expressed at the now black synod's reference to homosexuals and their so called gifts to society.
    Lord bring back the Church.

    1. Thank you Paul.
      God bless you and yours in 2015 and beyond.

  7. Your Bishop has forgotten what families are really like. He seems to see them purely in terms of pop psychology, which it has led him to describe the holiest persons who ever lived as forming a dysfunctional family. He seems to have lost his faith by over confidence in the historico-critical method of scripture study. He has forgotten that family struggles are also to do with fiancés, home repairs, illness, bereavement. He did not have to describe the Holy Family as a dysfunctional family lacking in understanding and obedience. And he should not have described them as an ‘ideal’: they are a living Gospel; a model we should all follow (and can follow, by grace –or does grace not exist in your Diocese?).
    There is also a major theological error concerning the incarnation: Jesus did not say ‘yes to God’ but ‘yes to the Father’ since there is only one person in Jesus and that person is God. To say Jesus said yes to ‘God’ is to split him off from the Godhead. What has happened to the doctrine of the hypostatic union in your Diocese?
    John James.

    1. Thank you John.
      I take your points, but you do seem to have grasped the Bishop points anyway: that families undergo struggles and that we need to keep on struggling in prayer.
      God Bless.


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