Thursday, January 03, 2008

Archbishop Kevin at our Youth 2000 Retreat

Over the New Year 350 young people gathered for a retreat at the Holy Ghost parish. The event was called 'Redemption Balham' and the theme of the gathering was 'God is rich in Mercy'. The three day retreat involved Mass every day, perpetual adoration, many opportunites for confession, talks and workshops, a chance to meet new friends and time to celebrate the coming of 2008 AD. Thanks to all the parishioners who helped to make this event possible, especially to Maxine for her superb catering and organisation.

On Sunday Archbishop Kevin presided at Mass and gave the homily on the Feast of the Holy Family at the Holy Ghost Church, Balham during the Youth 2000 gathering. At the end of the Mass he presented four people from Youth 2000 with their Maryvale Diplomas.

Here is the text of his homily (taken from the Southwark Archdiocesan web-site):

We gather together this morning in the season of Christmas and the feast of the Holy Family is very much part of this season. It enables us to continue to ponder the mystery of Christmas and learn the lessons that this season has to teach us.

One of the most significant aspects of the Christian mystery is the relationship between the birth of Christ and peace in the world. It is clearly expressed in the song of the angels which has become part of the liturgy of the Church: “Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth.” The realities of violence and war come into sharper focus when seen in the light of Christ, the saviour of the world, a child bearing the promise of peace among all peoples. The Pope’s message for the World Day of Peace is entitled, “The human family, a community of peace.” And he argues very strongly that the family is the primary source of peace in the world and that attacks on family life undermine peace in our society and our world. It’s a profound and crucial point that we would do well to ponder.

The question of the family recurs frequently in public discourse, usually in relation to problems of young people: drugs, teenage pregnancies or gun crime, and we hear calls from political leaders for the strengthening of the family life. But there is great diffidence, especially in British society about being too specific and clear about what family life is - what it means and what it costs. To understand family life we can’t simply look at present practice and the present reality. That needs to be challenged - we need to be engaged by the call to go beyond present reality to something greater and deeper, to the truth about marriage and family life. That truth is recalled for us in the scriptures, especially the readings for today’s feast and also in the teaching and tradition of the Church that has developed from the scriptural witness.

Our first reading gives practical instruction on relations within the family which are as directly relevant today as when they were first written. They are about how we treat elderly parents, about patience, about acceptance about concern. This year there have been disturbing reports about neglect and abuse of the elderly in institutions and, indeed, in the home – a development that is all the more disturbing with an increasingly elderly population. It puts before us the responsibilities of care for people with disabilities, whether age-related or not and reminds us that everyone matters, everyone’s life merits respect, everyone’s life is of value and is worth living. All of us are created in Christ, the child born in the manger, the one in whom all things are created and sustained in being.

Also in a very practical way the second reading details the kinds of attitudes that are necessary to support and sustain family life; compassion, humility, patience, forgiveness; obedience to parents by children and respect for children by parents.

Teaching about the family is at the heart of the Church’s message because the family lies at the heart of human life. We see it as central to God’s purpose for the flourishing of human life - a life-long bond between a man and a woman that is generously open to new life, open to children not as a choice or right but as a gift: a relationship that is faithful and exclusive and provides the basic structure and security in which young people can mature and develop. And it is this truth about our human reality that is under that is under attack by legislation such as the Human Fertilization and Embryology Bill which attacks the human reality of marriage and is also likely to be used to give less protection to the life of the unborn. The important thing is that these developments represent not only a moral crisis but a threat to social cohesion and to peace in the world.

In his Peace message Pope Benedict says, “The denial or even restriction of the rights of the family, by obscuring the truth about man, threatens the very foundation of peace.”

Let us learn the lessons taught by the Holy Family of Nazareth: let us pray for a rediscovery of the truth of family life so that the stability of our local communities may grow stronger and that this will lay firm foundations for peace in the world.

And finally I would relate these reflections to the theme of the weekend “God who is rich in mercy". One of the things that is little understood in our society is forgiveness. Sometimes I feel we live in a society that permits everything and forgives nothing. God calls us to great things: he asks a lot of us, but he is boundless in his mercy, and the possibility of a new start or new beginning is always there for us. Our world needs a new start devastated as it is by war, conflict and injustice. All we can do is make our own contribution by living in the integrity that God calls and enables us to live in. Let us be open and receptive to his mercy and to the unique contribution that each of us is called to make to goodness, to justice and to peace in the world.