Ballyheigue 8th September 2015
Feast of the Birthtday of Our Lady
Bishop’s homily on valuing marriage and family life,
the challenges facing young couples and young families.
Today is a day to say a special word about home, marriage and family. Our Feast Day brings to mind two families, Mary and her parents St. Joachim and Anne, and the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Shortly, from the 22-27th of this month, there will be a World Meeting of Families in Phipadelphia, USA. Pope Francis is attending. Begun in 1992 by Saint John Paul 2, it is held every three years, moving around the world. Pope John Paul’s intention was to strengthen the sacred bonds of the family unit. This year’s theme is ‘Love is our Mission: the Family fully Alive’. That will be followed on 4-25th October by the Synod of Bishops in Rome. Part two of last year’s Synod, its theme is: ‘The Pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelisation’.
Often Pope John Paul repeated the idea that the future of humanity depends on the healthy state of home, marriage and family. He asked that everything we do as a Church have in mind the health, strength and wellbeing of home, marriage and family. In the months ahead there will be much discussion. Is it a good time for all of us to reflect deeply and to ask ourselves what can we do? Is the health strength and wellbeing of home, family and marriage in Ireland secure for our time and for the next generation?
Over the past twenty years or so much has changed. Obvious things like: The average age of marriage, being now early thirties for both the woman and the man; also family size has decreased significantly; in these years emigration or immigration is the reality for so many young adults; people will marry and set up home in a country and culture not their own and far from their parents, siblings and long-term friends. Many couples decide not to get married in Church. Many civil marriages take place in a hotel. So much else is the reality for so many couples: the difficulty of finding stable permanent work with a sufficient wage to live off; the difficulty of saving to buy a house; the great difficulty of paying the mortgage or rent; or affording a wedding or starting a family, – not least the expense of childcare!
What pressure is all of this putting on couples? Is it having an unhealthy effect on the deepening of their love and the growth of their commitment to one another? Thankfully many young couples are able to progress thanks to the financial support and practical assistance (such as help with childcare), from parents and extended family. Is this something that needs to be discussed openly at all levels of society? Should we set ourselves the challenge, as a civil society and as Christian communities, of seeking ways to support all couples and to improve the situation for homes and families? We rightly have a sense of urgency around various issues like obesity, cancers, suicide or addiction: what about a sense of urgency about assisting our young adults have happy life-long relationships in marriage, and stable, loving homes and families?
I think it is a very profound saying. ‘There is nothing so extraordinary as the ordinary’. In every townland, village and city there is home after home. Each and every home an ordinary natural occurrence. Each unique. So many homes confident, joyful, secure, peaceful, full of love and goodness. Of a fine Saturday afternoon take a walk among the mobile homes and camper-vans in a park down at the beach. Drop by a school-gate as the children pour out from school. See the children’s energy and joy, realise all the homes and families of all these children. None without their own difficulties, some struggling: but so often the difficulties deepening the love and strengthening the bonds. Some families breaking up, but amid that often adults showing themselves as just, fair and honourable, often making huge sacrifices, especially for the good of the children involved. It is never for us to judge. God sees everything, He alone judges. And God is compassionate, merciful and loving.
As individual communities and as Irish people home and family are always worth our best vigilance and support. If ever there is anything you can do for a neighbouring family or one of its members, it is a privilege to do it. Thank God for so many situations of good neighbours. Who knows when the need will come to our own families and by the grace of God a neighbour will come to our aid.
Every Christian church gives priority to family life. As a diocese we can work for the continued strength of home, family and marriage. That challenge is before us in the months ahead. What more can we do? Have we good neighbourhoods and am I a good neighbour? Am I in regular contact with my neighbours? Do I give sufficiently of my time, talents and love in my own home? Let us talk about it among ourselves. Thank God for all our homes and families. Thank God for every single family member, male and female, from the oldest to the youngest, from the healthiest to the sickest, from the liveliest to the quietest, from the most mobile to the most disabled.
Let us entrust our homes and our families to the care of Mary the Mother of Jesus. I pray a special blessing on all who visit here at Our Lady’s Well this day and on all their families. May the faith, hope, love and devotion of the generations who have gone before us be an inspiration to us all.