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Reflecting on Christmas

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In December, our greeting cards expressed the wish that the joy and peace of Christmas would stay with us and our loved ones throughout the coming year. Just as I enjoyed reading my Christmas mail with the many representations of Bethlehem and the holy family, I am sure you were delighted to read similar expressions of love and connectedness from your family and friends.

The theme Pope Francis selected for his message for the World Day of Peace on January 1 this year is “fraternity as the foundation and pathway to peace.” Quoting his own words, he reminded the ambassadors that “fraternity is generally first learned within the family, who “by its vocation… is meant to spread its love to the world around it and to contribute to the growth of that spirit of service and sharing which builds peace” (16).

This is the message of the Crib, highlighting where we saw at Christmas the Holy Family, not alone and isolated from the world, but surrounded by shepherds and the Magi, that is by an open community in which there is room for everyone, poor and rich alike, those near and those afar.

The family is the centre of our lives. It is our beginning, youth, and adulthood, a place in which vocations are nourished, and what we leave behind when we pass from this world. God, knowing the importance and power the family has, sent his only begotten Son into this world to be born and raised in a family. We all need to be mindful of the need to support, assist and strengthen our families. The elderly bring with them wisdom born of experience; the young open us to the future.

In the apostolic exhortation, Familiaris Consortio (1981), Pope John Paul II reminded us: Thus, far from being closed in on itself, the family is by nature and vocation open to other families and to society, and undertakes its social role. The family has vital and organic links with society; it is from the family that citizens come to birth and it is within the family that they find the first school of the social virtues that are the animating principle of the existence and development of society itself.

Children learn most through watching, hearing and participating in what goes on in their environment. Maintain awareness of your own behaviours and the example you set for children, whether your own or that of your students.

The priorities and principles that you instil in your own daily life are being passed on to your child simply through unconscious integration.

If you prioritise family time, following through with obligations and community responsibility in your own life, children are likely to follow in your footsteps. Cultivating an attitude based on mutual respect and compassion for others will be translated to children through your own actions.

In order to give direction to your child, it is important for parents to impart family values. Values build personality and character and will help in guiding your child when he/she grows older. The main test of how strong values are, is revealed in times of adversity.

It is during difficult times that one can realize the set of values a child or person possesses. Children must be taught to stick by their values and principles no matter whether the situation is good or bad.

In order to educate in the family, it is necessary to step out of ourselves and be with our young people, to accompany them in the stages of their growth and to set ourselves beside them.

Give them hope and optimism for their journey in the world. Teach them to see the beauty and goodness of creation, but above all, with your own life, be witnesses of what you communicate.

Pass on knowledge and values with words; but words will have an incisive effect on children and young people if they are accompanied by your witness, your consistent way of life. Without consistency it is impossible to educate, and we are all educators!

However, we are living in an information-driven society which bombards us indiscriminately with data — all treated as being of equal importance — and which leads to remarkable superficiality in the area of moral discernment. In response, we need to provide an education, both at home and at school, which teaches critical thinking and encourages the development of mature moral values.

This is a significant challenge, but always know in your heart that God is by your side; he never abandons you! Nowadays, some of us, including our young people, may feel attracted by the many idols which appear to offer hope, for example: money, success, power, pleasure. Often a growing sense of loneliness and emptiness in the hearts of many people leads them to seek satisfaction in these ephemeral idols.

Let us maintain a positive outlook on reality. Let us encourage the generosity which is typical of the young and help them to work actively in building a better world. Young people are a powerful engine for the Church and for society. They do not need material things alone; also and above all, they need to have held up to them those non-material values which are the spiritual heart of a people, the memory of a people. The values, including spirituality, generosity, solidarity, perseverance, fraternity and joy are values whose deepest root is in our Catholic faith, and these are nurtured best within your family.

In 2014, Pope Francis is calling us to expect more of ourselves. “The family by its vocation…is meant to spread its love to the world around it and to contribute to the growth of that spirit of service and sharing which builds peace.” Pope Francis January 14. Together, let us rise to this challenge! May the Lord bless you and your family throughout this New Year of 2014.

- Bishop Les Tomlinson, Catholic Diocese of Sandhurst, February, 2014

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Bishop Leslie Tomlinson's Christmas message 2013 Catholic Diocese of Sandhurst

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