A Permanent Nazareth | Family Life in the Mission of the Church | A Pentecost Pastoral Letter

Sale Cathedral

Sale Cathedral

PENTECOST PASTORAL LETTER 2013
A PERMANENT NAZARETH:
FAMILY LIFE IN THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH
BISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
CATHOLIC BISHOP OF SALE

Dear Friends in Christ,
It was in 2010 that the Catholic Diocese of Sale began considering a pastoral plan for the diocese in the years ahead. This valuable time has enabled us to reflect on the past 125 years of Catholic life in the diocese with gratitude to God whilst beginning to plan ahead for the future in the hope of the Holy Spirit who always leads and animates the Church.

Our reflections together have been in response to the guiding principle of Blessed John Paul II that all such pastoral efforts are based on “knowing, loving and imitating” Jesus Christ but specific pastoral priorities are to arise from local communities (Novo Millennio Ineunte, John Paul II, 2001, 29).

I have published two Pastoral Letters to set parameters and encourage our reflections (Finding Home in Jesus, 2010, and Everything for the Gospel, 2011)

After considerable opportunities for prayerful diocesan discussions, organised via the Diocesan Pastoral Council, two general areas of pastoral priority have arisen.

EVANGELISATION IN CHALLENGING TIMES
The first area of priority pertains to the transmission of our Catholic faith in challenging times. Behind so many collated responses (published in Catholic Life, July 2011, December 2011) were pastoral suggestions based on stimulating a fresh outpouring of missionary zeal in the diocese. People are keenly aware of the obstacles to maturing our faith in society today.
Real concerns were expressed about the passing on of the faith to our families, youth, parishes and society (especially the poor and forgotten). Little encouragement seems to be given in today’s “busy” world to deep silent prayer and the importance of Catholic faith, especially the sacraments. Yet there was much hope and confidence expressed in the Holy Spirit in developing new ways of evangelisation in our parishes. So many wonderful suggestions were offered.

FAMILY LIFE
The second area of priority focussed attention on family life. The heartfelt reflections of so many seemed to centre on the state of Catholic family life today. Suggestions to help struggling families, to encourage husbands and wives to deepen their marital and family life, to assist families in passing on the faith to their children, to make sure our parish and parish schools are really serving family life, and so on. There was a double belief offered about families today. On the one hand, families are the foundation of Catholic life and its gravitational centre. On the other hand, family life today is so fragile and needs our every support.

THE PASTORAL PRIORITY IN THE SALE DIOCESE – FAMILY EVANGELISATION
Is there a link between these two pastoral priorities that have emerged? Most certainly! Increasing missionary zeal cannot be a vague generality but must find itself planted in human communities. There is no more fundamental or basic of all human communities than the family. Therefore, the emerging focus of the diocese becomes clearer:

FAMILY LIFE IN THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH.
We thank the Spirit of Jesus for bringing us to this moment of discernment in our diocese.
Providentially, recent Popes have been articulating a similar pastoral priority for the universal Church. For example, Blessed John Paul II, a champion of marriage and family life in his long pontificate, expressed that:
The most fundamental and important thing in the mission of the Church is the spiritual renewal of the family … We have to start from this point, from this mission. The Holy Church of God, you cannot accomplish your mission, you cannot fulfil your mission in the world, if you do not pass through the family and through its mission”. (Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family, December 30th, 1988)

Benedict XVI, the Pope Emeritus, made a similar remark in his homily during the opening Mass of the Synod on “The New Evangelisation for the Transmission of the Christian Faith”(7th October 2012) when he said:
… the Church has said and witnessed for a long time now, marriage is called to be not only an object but a subject of the new evangelisation”

As the Australian Year of Grace draws to a close and the universal Year of Faith continues for some months yet, I consider this focus on the promotion of family evangelisation a wonderful grace of the Holy Spirit to us all.
Australians are generally very practical people. Before our minds begin to centre too much on the organisational possibilities of this diocesan pastoral priority, some reflections from our sources of Catholic inspiration – Scripture and Tradition – on family life in our mission may guide arising practicalities.

FAMILY IN THE GOSPEL
It always is a surprise when we are reminded that Jesus spent 30 years with his family in Nazareth and only three years in his public ministry. How important family life must have been to Jesus as a young boy and man in Nazareth.
We glimpse from the scriptures, especially during the liturgical season of Advent / Christmas and from the biblical scenes prayed in the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, this early and private life of Jesus in the Holy Family.
We are blessed with Benedict XVI’s extraordinary capacity to distil our complex Catholic theological Tradition into a comprehensible teaching. He has done that in his beautiful book Jesus of Nazareth – the Infancy Narratives (2012). This book could well be used, along with the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2002), as a basic text book for our consideration of family evangelisation in the times ahead.

Let us examine briefly, these early years of Jesus.

Perhaps people who have never been presented with an understanding of Christianity would be surprised to learn that the founder of Christianity was born in humble surroundings, wrapped in swaddling cloths, and placed in a receptacle used for feeding animals ( a manger). “Manger” and “cloths” already make us think of the final hours of the life of Jesus: The Last Supper (the heavenly food of the Eucharist) and the Calvary Cross (the crucified wrapped in linen cloths). The joy of the Saviour’s birth and the redemptive suffering of His Cross are always placed near each other in our ancient Christian tradition.

Surely, however, most would be touched by the humility of the birth of Jesus and notice the importance played by the angels and poor shepherd boys. They may be intrigued with the arrival of three wise men from the East who followed a guiding star to Bethlehem bearing gifts and acknowledged Jesus as the universal King. Perhaps others would identify with the crisis the Holy Family had in its early days and how they fled to Egypt as veritable refugees to escape persecution from King Herod. Then they would hear of the presentation of Jesus, the finding of Jesus in the temple and the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee, not far from their home in Nazareth.

Throughout these “hidden” 30 years of the life of Jesus almost nothing is known of his family life. The “obscurity of Nazareth” (John Paul II, Letter to Families, 1994, 2) is largely silent for us. Yet, even when we learn of the events listed above we could imagine that so much of the human experiences and interactions between father, mother and children that we experience, have also been experienced by the Holy Family – the life of Jesus lived under obedience (Luke 2/51)to Mary and Joseph.

Meditating on the Holy Family, Pope Paul VI (in an address on 5th January 1964) stated that the home of Nazareth became the first school of the Gospel and teaches us three lessons.

The first lesson to be learnt by all of us is the importance of developing a deep family spiritual life within the general noise of modern life. The silence of Nazareth can teach us this. This will be the particular focus of our diocesan plan in 2013/14.

The second lesson is that Nazareth teaches us that family life is a communion of love between its members and has an indispensable role in societal life. So much of Catholic doctrine and teaching on marriage and family starts from this foundation. This teaching will be the particular basis of our diocesan focus in 2014/15/16/17.

Lastly, there is the lesson of work. The home of the “Carpenter’s Son” teaches us the nobility of work and how it is not an end itself but is to serve true human freedom. This will be our focus in 2017/18.

There is always a special place in the heart of Catholics for Mary, the mother of Jesus. She is the first amongst the faithful. Her YES (Fiat) at the Annunciation was a permanent YES throughout her entire life to what the Lord wanted of her. She “treasured and pondered”(Luke 2/51) her son Jesus throughout his life and told us to “do whatever he tells you” (John 2/5). At his death on the Calvary Cross, she embraced him with heroic affection as she would have done countless times when he was an infant. She becomes a symbol of the entire Church.

Let us not forget St Joseph, the biblical model of the “just” man. His loving humility and faithfulness to whatever God wanted has been remembered throughout the ages. Indeed, both our Australian saint, St Mary of the Cross MacKillop and Fr Julian Tennison Woods, co-founder of the Josephite Sisters, gave St Joseph a special place in their Order. They observed that apart from the biological link, St Joseph was the father of Jesus in every way and his intercession is needed to guide the education of children today.

FAMILY IN OUR CATHOLIC MISSIONARY TRADITION
It is hard to imagine evangelisation in the Catholic Tradition at any level without direct reference to the evangelising action of the family. Fifty years ago, the Second Vatican Council gave the family a beautiful title – “domestic Church” (Lumen Gentium n.11). This means that the family is a kind of Church in miniature. The Church is the family of God. The vision is that, imitating the Holy Family as a community of love, the family is the place where “the Gospel is transmitted and from which the Gospel radiates” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, Paul VI, n. 71). It is the place where evangelisers are formed and from which they go out to evangelise the world. In short, families become a kind of permanent Nazareth.

Blessed John Paul II declared that evangelisation in the future depended in great measure on the family (Familiaris Consortio, 1981, 65). The role of the married couple forming a union of love and life reflects the nuptial union between the Risen Lord Jesus and his Church. The family forms the basic building block of society. It “has the mission to guard, reveal and communicate love” (Familiaris Consortio, 17).The desire for a healthy society depends on the health of family life. In other words, the more the family is encouraged and strengthened the more our shared life in society is protected from every danger and threat.

Even before, however, a family looks to its future mission, it must contemplate in profound awe and wonder on its origins. Contemplation precedes and animates all pastoral action to support families. Recall again the long years that Jesus spent in the silence of his family at Nazareth. We imitate the FIRST family, “the prototype and example for all Christian families” (Familiaris Consortio,86).

Our silence in the Nazareth family will ultimately draw us to contemplate the origin of all love and faithfulness. It will draw us to contemplate the Most Holy Trinity. The incredible mystery of the love sharing (unitive) and life giving (procreative) love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit will offer us the true source of family love and all human love and all energy for evangelisation. We cannot fully embrace this mystery of the Trinity’s gift-love. It must fully embrace us. We know, however, that the Trinity is not simply a remote idea or theological abstraction. As Benedict XVI often reminded us, we worship “the God who has a human face”(Spe Salvi [2007], 31). Namely, this encounter of our Triune God is by way of Jesus, “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14/6). Jesus living in the soul of the family is the source of the family’s life and mission. The Permanent Nazareth for all families begins here.

Given this brief summary of Catholic Tradition and its link with the missionary nature of the family, the arising challenge presents itself. All must be done to encourage families to take up their missionary role. It is largely the task of the laity, but involves the entire Church. How can we strengthen marriage and family life in the Diocese of Sale?

MAKING A PERMANENT NAZARETH IN THE DIOCESE OF SALE
Sometimes when we examine the biblical/theological ideal as summarised above and then look at the reality of so many families today we can become discouraged. Family life today comes in so many different forms. Family life in Australia has become a kind of patchwork of various human arrangements offering all sorts of hopes, joys and sufferings. Without denying that many families seem to be in a healthy and happy state, many are in great pain and suffering tremendously.

This is not helped by cultural and political attitudes and structures that seem to undermine the centrality of family life. In his Apostolic Exhortation on the Church in Oceania, John Paul II observed that:
The Christian concept of marriage and the family is being opposed by a new secular, pragmatic and individualistic outlook which has gained standing in the area of legislation and which has a certain “approval” in the realm of public opinion. (Ecclesia in Oceania, 2001, 45)

Given all that could be said about the lights and shadows of family life today, the Catholic Diocese of Sale is to embark upon a diocesan pastoral plan with family life in the mission of the Church as it vision over the next five years. This vision is to ponder deeply on family life – its origins, its joys and sorrows, God’s plan for family life, its interface with parish/school life, and its evangelising role in society. As your bishop, I want to encourage you in family life at a time of historical challenge to its very existence. Let us focus on family evangelisation and work towards making our families into a kind of permanent Nazareth.

To do this I am proposing a year by year focus on a particular aspect of family life over the next five years. The yearly focus will begin at the start each Advent Liturgical season. It may seem an odd time to begin a pastoral focus. After all, Australians ready themselves for their holiday season at this time and prepare for Christmas. But that is precisely the point. The liturgical seasons of Advent and Christmas bring us into direct contact with the birth of Jesus and the Holy Family – their joys and struggles. The Australian holiday season generally is a time for family reunions and spending quality time with family after a busy year. Surely this is an unusual but appropriate time to encourage reflections on family life to begin.
The entire pastoral plan is titled: FAMILY EVANGELISATION.

The following year by year focus is as follows:
2013/14 – Year of Family Prayer
2014/15 – Year of Marriage and Family Life
2015/16 – Year of nurturing Family – School relationships
2016/17 – Year of nurturing Family – Parish / School relationships
2017/18 – Year of nurturing Family / Parish / School in the world of today

Before the Advent season each year I will publish a Pastoral Letter to launch the topic for the forthcoming year. It will set the scene for the next 12 months. There will be parish and family resources attached to assist with practical applications to the focus year. Accordingly, I will publish a Pastoral Letter before Advent this year (1st December 2013) on the topic of FAMILY PRAYER.

I request parishes/schools, families and all communities in the diocese to give the yearly focus a major pastoral priority. It may not be so much of “doing” more but “focusing” more on FAMILY EVANGELISATION in our normal parish activities.

It is surely providential that in these months preceding the initiation of our pastoral plan we are celebrating the conclusion of the YEAR OF GRACE and the continuation till the Solemnity of Christ the King (24th November 2013) of the YEAR OF FAITH. Indeed, I believe that a pastoral plan on FAMILY EVANGELISATION is a particular fruit of our prayerful focus on GRACE AND FAITH over these past times.

Let us entrust our pastoral efforts towards FAMILY EVANGELISATION in the Diocese of Sale to the Most Holy Family and to Our Lady Help of Christians, the patroness of the diocese.

Heavenly Father,
We praise and thank you for sending your Son, Jesus, Our Saviour and Redeemer, into our world.
In the humble family of Nazareth, Jesus “increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour” (Luke 2/52)
Give our families, too, Heavenly Father, this experience of the Nazareth family in deeper measure.
With Mary and Joseph, in grace and faith, may we become in the Diocese of Sale a kind of Permanent Nazareth.
May Nazareth become a real school for FAMILY EVANGELISATION for all of us.
We make this prayer through Jesus, the Son of God, “the carpenter’s son” (Matthew 13/55) from Nazareth,
In the power of the Holy Spirit, the soul of all evangelisation.
AMEN.

Most Holy Family, Pray for us.
Mary, Help of Christians, and Star of the New Evangelisation, Pray for us.

PENTECOST PASTORAL LETTER 2013
A PERMANENT NAZARETH:
FAMILY LIFE IN THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH


SUMMARY AND QUESTIONS

THE PASTORAL PRIORITY IN THE SALE DIOCESE – FAMILY EVANGELISATION
1. Why is it true to say that “Increasing missionary zeal cannot be a vague generality but must find itself planted in human communities”?
2. Share a personal experience of a family situation that led to
• a deepening of your faith
• a determination to express your faith in outreach to others
3. As “The most fundamental and important thing in the mission of the Church is the spiritual renewal of the family”, give examples of ways in which the family can be spiritually renewed.

FAMILY IN THE GOSPEL
Meditating on the Holy Family, Pope Paul VI (in an address on 5th January 1964) stated that the home of Nazareth became the first school of the Gospel and teaches us three lessons.
The first lesson to be learnt by all of us is the importance of developing a deep family spiritual life within the general noise of modern life.

1. What steps can be taken by families to lessen the impact of the noise of modern life?
The second lesson is that Nazareth teaches us that family life is a communion of love between its members and has an indispensable role in societal life.
2. Why is it true to say that family life has an indispensable role in societal life?
Lastly, there is the lesson of work. The home of the “Carpenter’s Son” teaches us the nobility of work and how it is not an end itself but is to serve true human freedom
3. How can the example of the Holy Family of Nazareth affect your family and its life together?

FAMILY IN OUR CATHOLIC MISSIONARY TRADITION
1. The term domestic Church” (Lumen Gentium n.11)…. means that the family is a kind of Church in miniature; what implication does this have for Catholic families?
2. Explore the ways in which the family is the place where “the Gospel is transmitted and from which the Gospel radiates” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, Paul VI, n. 71).
3. Why is it true to say that the more the family is encouraged and strengthened the more our shared life in society is protected from every danger and threat? Give some examples.
4. Why is it important that contemplation precedes and animates all pastoral action to support families?

MAKING A PERMANENT NAZARETH IN THE DIOCESE OF SALE
Without denying that many families seem to be in a healthy and happy state, many are in great pain and suffering tremendously.
This is not helped by cultural and political attitudes and structures that seem to undermine the centrality of family life
1. What are some factors that you believe are undermining the centrality of family life today?
The Catholic Diocese of Sale is to embark upon a diocesan pastoral plan with family life in the mission of the Church as it vision over the next five years. This vision is to ponder deeply on family life – its origins, its joys and sorrows, God’s plan for family life, its interface with parish/school life, and its evangelising role in society
2. What excites you about this plan?
3. What challenges do you see?

1 thought on “A Permanent Nazareth | Family Life in the Mission of the Church | A Pentecost Pastoral Letter

  1. Regina T Abraham

    Hi Bishop Prowse,
    An inspiring letter to receive just before the Feast of the Pentecost! You and the Holy Spirit have unfolded an excellent plan for our Diocese! The Holy Spirit has already put this similar inspiration into the Hearts of many who have a zeal to Evangelise! May He fulfill all your plans and desires for our Diocese to be a Nazareth and a Missionary one! The Abraham Family!

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