Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury has responded to Pope Francis' call for renewed commitment to the “Gospel of the Family” by releasing a pastoral letter on the special vocation and mission of the family. The pastoral letter was read at Mass in all the churches and chapels of the Shrewsbury diocese Dec. 28, the feast of the Holy Family, and reminded the faithful of the Church's constant and unchangeable teaching regarding human sexuality, marriage, and the family. “I write to you today in the light of the Child born for us, the Saviour who was given to us within the love and unity of a human family,” Bishop Davies said. “On this Feast of the Holy Family of Nazareth, as we celebrate the holiness of family life and begin a 'Year for Vocations' in the Diocese, I want to reflect on the 'Vocation and Mission of the Family.'” This, he noted, is “the title Pope Francis has given to the Synod of Bishops to take place in the New Year. It will be a year for Catholics across the world to reaffirm our faith in God’s plan for the family, and to do so amidst the many challenges confronting the holiness of marriage and the life of the family. In a few, simple words I want to affirm what the Church has always believed about marriage and the family.” Bishop Davies wrote that marriage is “no human invention” but is part of God’s plan, which has existed since the union of Adam and Eve in Eden, and was raised to the dignity of a sacrament by Christ. “To the astonishment of a people who practised divorce, Jesus reaffirmed that the union of marriage is indissoluble. 'What God has united,' Our Lord tells us in the Gospel, 'man must not divide' (Mt. 19:6). We believe that this unbreakable union of man and woman provides both the foundation of the family and becomes for all the image of the unfailing love of God. This is no small claim to make! St. Paul declares this to be 'a great mystery … in reference to Christ and the Church' (Eph. 5: 32).” He added that the union of a husband and wife “must always be open to new life, to the children God may entrust to the couple” and that “we are all called to chastity according to our state in life. Indeed, it is by living the beautiful virtue of chastity that we ensure we use this gift of sexuality in accord with God’s purpose.” This chastity can be lived in both marriage and consecrated life, and these vocations support each other: “let us be filled with wonder and gratitude for God’s plan and purpose in marriage and family life; in the beauty of chastity; in the joy of consecrated virginity and apostolic celibacy. It is God’s grace that makes it possible for us to live these vocations faithfully; and if we fall short that same God-given grace heals us, making it possible to set out once again on the path of conversion.” In preparation for October's ordinary synod on the family — a gathering of the world’s bishops in Rome to discuss pastoral issues surrounding the family — Bishop Davies said that “Pope Francis invites us all to make a 'true, spiritual discernment' in the light of our Catholic faith. To 'discern' means to make a right judgment.” He reminded everyone, “Pope Francis has made it clear, contrary to many stories circulating in the media, that the Church does not function like a parliament, nor can truth be determined by opinion polls. The Church seeks to live subject to God’s Word, certain that the light and beauty of truth — despite our fallen nature — can be recognised by the conscience of every man and woman.” The bishop pointed to a pamphlet produced by the English and Welsh bishops conference, “The Call, the Journey and the Mission,” inviting the people in reading it “to write and share the fruits of your own reflection on how we are called to give witness to the Gospel of the Family. This will contribute to the wider discernment within the Church in the year ahead.” “May the New Year, 2015, lead us to give renewed witness to the Gospel of the Family,” Bishop Davies concluded. “I send this message with my blessing for you and for your family.”
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