Jubilee for Marriages, Sunday 19th June 2016 – Homily of Bishop Kevin

Jubilee for Marriages, Sunday 19th June 2016, Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Sligo

If I turned around to Fr. Tom or Fr. Julian and asked “what do the people think of me?”, you would rightly say that I was too preoccupied with myself. When you hear today’s gospel passage for the first time, it might sound as if this was just the question that Jesus was asking; but it’s not. He didn’t ask “what do people think of me?”. He asked, “who do the people say I am?” The answer was a bit vague, so her tried again: “Who do you say I am?”

I think it was another way of asking: “Have you made up your mind about me? Are you ready to make a commitment?

All of you here know that relationships take time to develop. You begin by noticing one another. Then you either go the direct route and introduce yourself, or you take the long way round and ask someone else: “What’s her name?” As the relationship matures and trust is established, little by little, you reveal yourself. Knowing you, is not just knowing things about you, it is being allowed into your life. That revelation of self; that growth in trust, when it is shared and reciprocated, is what makes commitment possible.

The faithful love of a Christian married couple is an important sign, both in the Church and in society of the love of God, which is never taken back. I have been reading some of what Pope Francis has to say about the joy of love in his recent letter “Amoris Laetitia”. There is a beautiful reflection there on the words of St. Paul, which are so often used in the celebration of marriage; love is faithful and kind, love is not jealous or boastful”. We are grateful” Pope Francis says, “for the witness of marriages which have not only proved lasting, but also fruitful and loving”. In congratulating you today on your various anniversaries, I want to thank you all today, on behalf of our whole Catholic community, for the witness of your married lives, which gives us confidence and helps to strengthen the Church and our civil society.

It is clear, however, that Pope Francis has a good pastoral understanding of the struggles that couples face as they try to live their love for one another; economic challenges, sickness and unemployment to mention but a few. He talks about the challenges facing young people trying to make a commitment in a world in which nothing seems permanent, the mixture of emotions sometime experience by newly married couples as they adapt to sharing life together and to the sadness that can be implied by the commitment to love one another “until death do us part”.

Our gospel today reminds us of something that you know well from your own experience. Love and sacrifice go hand in hand. The love of Jesus is expressed in the sign of the cross, on which Jesus died. It is the same for a couple who give themselves generously to their marriage and their family life. Pope Francis clearly recognises that married life is not always easy, but he encourages us to recognise that the love which a married couple bring to one another and their children responds to the deepest needs of the human heart, as well as the real needs of society, even a secular society. God understands human frailty; He knows that we sometimes fail in spite of our best efforts and that sometimes we don’t even have the energy left for a “best effort”. This is why we need God’s mercy and why we need to be able to find that mercy in the community of the Church and of course in our marriages and in our families.

One of the things that came up in many of the comments around the time of the Synod of Bishops was the need for couples to be supported in preparing for their marriage. This was not just something bishops and priests said; it was something that many lay people said, presumably from their own experience. Pope Francis tells us that the whole Church needs to be engaged in helping couples to prepare for marriage. He also comments that marriage preparation begins at birth and that the best prepared couples are those who have learnt the meaning of marriage from good parents who love one another.

“Who do you say that I am?” Many of you are parents. You would do anything to make protect your children and to make them happy. In their early lives especially, they look to you to tell them who they are and to give them confidence in themselves. But their identity also comes from God, who is the giver of all life. The most important gift that you can give your children is to help them to become what God has called them to be, much as Joseph and Mary did in the case of Jesus. In the vocation of a parent there is a bitter sweet mixture of welcoming them, guiding them, accepting them and letting them go. But remember, as Pope Francis says in his rather unique poetic style, “God allows parents to choose the name by which He himself will call their child for all eternity”.

Some of you are grandparents and I think we are all aware of the enormous contribution that grandparents make in the lives of their children. Very often”, Pope Francis says, it is grandparents who ensure that the most important values are passed down to their grandchildren. … Listening to the elderly tell their stories is good for children and young people; it makes them feel connected to the living history of their families”.

The last thing I want to say to you this morning is about families who are not here. I want to talk to you about married couples who have been torn apart and separated from their children by war. They are scattered in camps across Europe and the Middle East. I ask you to imagine yourselves in their position. Religion and race are irrelevant when it comes to hunger and homelessness. Islamic children are children of the same God; they suffer the same hunger pains as Christian children. Our country promised to do something to help. The Naval Service has plucked thousands of people from the sea, but that is, quite literally, a drop in the ocean. Official statistics would indicate that in the past six years, only four hundred vulnerable persons from Iraq or Syria have been received into Ireland.  I have written to our elected representatives this week to ask them the raise the needs of these people as a matter of urgency. I hope some of you might do the same. It would be a very practical way of connecting your family with the wider family of humanity.