Homily of Bishop Kevin at Diocesan Celebration of Jubilee of Marriages
This day last week I was walking the Camino with a group of young people. Some walked faster than others. Some got blisters on their feet. Each day was about twenty kilometres, but we broke it up into stages and we stopped to re-group at the end of each stage, partly as a way of supporting one another and partly to be sure that we hadn’t lost anyone.
It strikes me that today’s celebration is a little bit like one of those pauses to regroup. You are Pilgrims on a journey. Some of you have travelled further that others, but today we are given the opportunity to look back over the road we have travelled and to give thanks – both to God and to one another – for another stage of the journey that has been completed.
I’m sure that you have had, or will have, an opportunity to celebrate your anniversary together as a couple, or with your immediate family. Today, however, we celebrate it in the community of the Church. We want to tell you how much we, as a community of faith, appreciate and are inspired by your faithful commitment to one another as a couple. We want to join you in giving thanks for the blessings you have received during your years of married life.
Some of you have faced significant challenges, including economic difficulties and ill health and worries about your children. The love that brought you together may sometimes have been obscured by these difficulties, or by your own fears or inadequacies. It is never any harm to acknowledge that. The important thing is that through God’s grace and your own faithful love, you are here today and you are still on the journey. Our strength, as St. Paul reminds us, is in acknowledging our weakness, because that also allows us to recognise the power of God working in our lives.
I want to take you back for a moment to the beginnings of your love for one another; the attraction; the feeling of being in a world of your own; realising that you both felt the same; the desire to commit your life completely to this other person – and perhaps the nervousness that goes with every serious commitment.
You chose to celebrate your marriage in the community of the Church. Perhaps you recognised, consciously or unconsciously, that this love of yours was God’s gift to you. Perhaps you wanted to ask Jesus to be with you in your marriage, as he was with the couple at Cana in Galilee.
The response to the psalm today was “I will sing forever of your love O Lord”. The first verses reads:
I will sing for ever of your love, O Lord;
through all ages my mouth will proclaim your truth.
Of this I am sure, that your love lasts for ever,
that your truth is firmly established as the heavens.
Every one of us, as St. Paul tells us in the second reading, is called thorough Baptism to live in a new way so that the love of Jesus continues to be active and effective in the world. Nobody is better placed to respond to this invitation that a couple who have already fallen in love with one another. As a Christian married couple, your love for one another is your vocation.
The word Sacrament means “a visible sign”. The sacrament of marriage is not just something you received, it is what you are called to be; a visible sign of the love of God. Every dimension of your life as a couple, whether it is sitting at the table together or going to Mass together, waiting for one another, holding one another tenderly, or caring together for your children – every little thing has the potential to make God present, to one another, to your children and to the people with whom you live and work. Your family is an essential element of the Church; it is one of the building blocks of the kingdom of God. I hope you never lose your capacity to be surprised by the mystery of all that God makes possible through your love for one another.
Every marriage is fruitful in so far as the love, which is God’s gift, does not only enrich the couple themselves but spills over to enrich the lives of others. This happens in many ways, because the love that you give to one another, becomes the kindness, the gentleness, the respect and the service that you bring with you to work and onto the sports field, or into the various forms of service or volunteering that you do in the community.
Our first reading today, from the Old Testament, tells the story of a kindness shown by a couple towards the prophet Elijah, who becomes a friend of the family. The kindness comes back to them in the form of a blessing; the gift of a child from God. As people used to say “what goes around comes around”. Many of you have been blessed with children and this is a rather unique way in which your love can bear fruit, not just in the gift of life, but in caring for your children and helping them to know the love of God in their own lives. Some of you may be familiar with Pope Francis recent letter of encouragement called “Amoris Laetitia” or the “Joy of Love”. In that letter he writes beautifully about parenthood:
The gift of a new child, entrusted by the Lord to a father and a mother, begins with acceptance, continues with lifelong protection and has as its final goal the joy of eternal life. By serenely contemplating the ultimate fulfilment of each human person, parents will be even more aware of the precious gift entrusted to them. For God allows parents to choose the name by which he himself will call their child for all eternity. (Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia, 166)
Children and adults with various forms of disability are welcomed and cared for in families throughout our Diocese. With Pope Francis, I want to acknowledge the particular challenge that this involves for parents. There is a very strange ambivalence in our society at the present time. On the one hand, we hear a good deal more than we used to hear about the need to facilitate the participation of people with disability. This is very welcome. On the other hand, as you will be aware, various lobby groups are proposing to target unborn children who have been identified as having disabilities or life-limiting conditions.
As a faith community we have a particular responsibility, as Pope Francis says, “to support families who accept, raise and surround with affection children with various disabilities”. One of the blessings of a rural community is the spirit of love of neighbour which seems to go hand in hand with the sense of belonging to the land. In many places, the structures of community are weakened by declining population, increased mobility and the dominance of television and social media. But some of these things, particularly the increased mobility and social media can also be used to deepen our bond of community. To return to the image of the Camino. While respecting the freedom of each family to walk at its own pace, we need to have a sense of walking together. There is no reason, in this day and age, why any family in any of our parishes should feel isolated or unsupported.
I want to finish by acknowledging that there are other couples who started out on the same journey as you did, but for whom a significant anniversary might be very painful, either because of a breakdown in their relationship, or because of the death of one of the partners in the marriage. We remember them in a particular way today and we pray that they may, each according to their need, experience the love and the healing presence of Jesus in the community of the Church.
Finally, may I ask you to remember in your prayers all those who are working to prepare for the World Meeting of Families which will take place in Ireland in August of next year. Various resources are being prepared to help nourish our faith in the vocation and mission of the family. Some material would already be available in religious bookshops in Athlone, Sligo and Knock. Consider also the possibility of volunteering, because many volunteers will be required to support the World Meeting and they are being recruited as we speak.
Thank you for coming here today to share your joy with us. I hope that you will continue to be blessed and strengthened by God’s grace in the years ahead, as you continue on the next stage of your journey.
Diocesan Celebration of the Jubilees of Marriage
Sunday 2nd July 2017, St Patrick’s Church, Castlerea
Homily of Bishop Kevin Doran