Pastoral letters from bishops now come on such a variety of subjects that the bewildered Catholic wonders whether the next letter will emphasise the fundamentals of our faith or will it be some pantheistic pastoral discussing the sanctity of the barrier reef?
I was fortunate enough to find a pastoral letter written by an English Archbishop to the bishops in his diocese which is well worth quoting. It read in part:
"He [God] now looks down from Heaven on our actions and secret thoughts and one day He will give each of us the reward his deeds deserve.
"As successors of the Apostles, we hold the highest rank in our churches, we have accepted the responsibility of acting as Christ's representatives on earth, we receive the honour belonging to that office, and enjoy the temporal benefits of our spiritual labours. It must therefore be our endeavour to destroy the reign of sin and death, and by nurturing faith and uprightness of life, to build up the Church of Christ into a holy temple in the Lord.
"There are a great many bishops in the Church, but would to God we were the zealous teachers and pastors that we promised to be at our consecrations, and still make profession of being ...
"Everyone knows that the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven were given to Peter. Upon his faith and teaching the whole fabric of the Church will continue to be built ...
"No matter who plants or waters, God gives no harvest unless what he plants is the faith of Peter, and unless he himself assents to Peter's teaching. All important situations that arise among God's people are referred to the judgement of Peter in the person of the Roman Pontiff. Under him the ministers of Mother Church exercise the powers committed to them, each to his own sphere of responsibility."
The Archbishop was deeply concerned that many of his bishops and priests were too subservient to prevailing secular forces which moulded their thinking.
His pastoral letter has considerable relevance to today's Church. Although written in the latter half of the 12th century, it has an eternal freshness. It is signed by Thomas Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury.
CHARLES FRANCIS, AM