Commitment to Marriage and Family – Pastoral Letter for Lent 2002
from Most Rev. Joseph Duffy, Bishop of Clogher
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, a phobail Dé,
I am writing this short letter to you today for Lent which begins next Wednesday. It’s a time for us to think again about our personal commitment to Jesus Christ, to ask how we can reclaim some of the ground we have lost and move forward. By doing this as a community we will be preparing together for Easter, for that great feast of hope that is God’s own promise and guarantee of his mercy and love.
Our commitment to Christ makes us in the deepest sense who we are. Because it means that he is with us, it empowers us and enriches everything we do. It enables us to do the small things well, the routine chores at work as well as the turns about the house. On the other hand, it does not encourage us to become set in our ways, to refuse to change with the times. Perhaps the speed of change is why commitment is so difficult these days. There are so many things happening around us, so many extra calls on our time. Personally, I have to struggle to keep up to speed. I have to face each new day with the same commitment I made when I was ordained a priest over forty years ago. The commitment is there but needs to be brought to the point of action on a regular basis. That’s what Lent does for me: it reminds me of my vocation. Whether you are married or single or a young person growing up, I am convinced that Lent can do the same for you.
I want to say some things about commitment to marriage and family. In a recent national opinion poll,* it was encouraging to read that the vast majority of those interviewed believe in marriage, in other words, the loving and lasting relationship of one man and one woman. You will agree that this is reassuring in view of the many pressures on marriage today, whether from the world of work or the world of entertainment. The argument for marriage is also the argument for the family; it’s about the absolute need we all have for relationship, love and stability. The family founded on marriage is not merely a social institution. It’s where we grow up, where we learn how to get on with each other, where we learn to discover our differences and handle our disputes. It’s also where we are marked for life because nothing else shapes us as much as our experience of childhood. A vote of confidence in marriage is an engagement with the future. It’s a commitment worth making. It’s a commitment worth keeping.
There are disturbing signs today that commitment to marriage and family is losing ground. There have always been unhappy marriages; there has always been marital breakdown. What has happened is a decline in the conviction we need to stand up to pressure. In other words, it’s easier these days to be persuaded that a marriage is over at the first signs of stress or strain. There are those who see nothing wrong with being unfaithful to their married partner. There are those who shy away from the thought of getting married at all. In helping us at the practical level with these problems, we must acknowledge the invaluable work of ACCORD in the Diocese.
I want to encourage those of you who are married, to keep working at the quality of your marriage relationship. Don’t ever take your marriage for granted, no matter what your age or how long you are together. If you have a choice to make between your job and your marriage – and it can be a most difficult and painful choice – you will only be happy in the long run if you make the decision in favour of your marriage. If you are prepared to give your marriage the time and attention it needs, you will be well repaid in terms of true peace, the peace of the Lord himself.
The total commitment of Jesus to his Father and to his Father’s will is expressed in the commitment of a loving family, whether of the parents to each other, or in their undying love for their children. It’s equally visible in the lives of dedicated single people. Single people have a different form of commitment from religious or married spouses. Because it’s not mentioned as often as marriage or parenthood, the state of the single person needs much more recognition as a potentially committed way of life. Aged parents and disabled persons are often totally dependent on the care of an unmarried son or daughter, or brother or sister, who make enormous sacrifices on their behalf. One thinks of the immense and largely unsung contribution of unmarried nurses and teachers to Irish society over the years.
Finally, we come to a really crucial question for all of us. How can we encourage our young adults today to understand and face up to the Christian marriage commitment ?
There’s no doubt that the attitude of young people today is vastly different from that of their parents. Almost all of those in this age group (the 18s to 25s) interviewed in the opinion poll I have referred to already, said that they saw nothing wrong with pre-marital sex or cohabitation, that is, living together outside of marriage. This lifestyle runs counter to Christian commitment. It does not express the fidelity and self-sacrifice that are central to a Christian way of living. It’s a source of worry that young people do not appear to see the potentially disastrous consequences of their behaviour for their own future, the wellbeing of their children and that of society at large.
One can only appeal to young people to think again and to take up the challenge of self-control. The challenge is not to be underestimated. It’s all too easy to get sucked into the prevailing culture of getting “tanked up” before going out for the evening, and later, in a lucid moment, to realise that this is not the human thing to do. Alcohol can cloud the mind and weaken the will. It can make it much more difficult to achieve quality in our work, in our pastimes and in our relationships. The reality is that none of us can afford to ignore the truth about human weakness. The wisdom of centuries has taught us the need for sobriety and self-discipline.
We live and learn. We learn by example, we learn also from our mistakes. The family circle is the best place to deal with divisive mistakes of the past and to rediscover the peace and happiness of Christian living. It’s here we have the space to come back and pick up the bits and pieces of what has come apart. You might think of reading again the story of the Prodigal Son.
May the Lord guide you and keep you in his love.
Bishop of Clogher
(*Irish Independent/ IMS, 29 December 2001.)
14 February 2002
Issued by the Catholic Communications Office on behalf of Most Rev Joseph Duffy, Bishop of Clogher
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