Mass celebrating the 50th anniversary of Accord, the Catholic Marriage Care Service – Saint Malachy’s Church, Belfast – 4 March 2012
“When did we last hear a government or a government minister speak in support of marriage and family? Public discourse seems to prioritise discussion and promote debate on other forms of union, rather than on the importance and value that loving marriages provide to the immediate family, the local community and to the nation as a whole” – Bishop Jones
At the Transfiguration the glory of Jesus shone through His Sacred Humanity – the Glory that was His in the bosom of the Father and the glory that will be His forever after His passion, death and resurrection. It is truly a sacramental moment. It is a moment of light, of joy and of hope not only for Jesus but for his disciples.
It is a moment to which they wish to cling forever. It is a sacred experience that will strengthen the disciples and indeed Jesus Himself for their journey to Jerusalem and Calvary.
Transfiguration experiences are not confined to the mountain. With the Incarnation, with the coming of God the Son into our humanity, into our human condition there is a sense in which everything around us becomes sacred and transfigured by the incarnate beauty and presence of God for people who have eyes of faith to see.
The Poets Capture Sacred Moments
The great poets captured those sacred moments, those moments of transfiguration long ago. Pat Kavanagh spoke of “God in the bits and pieces of life” or about “our beautiful, beautiful, beautiful God who is breathing His love in a cut away bog”. There is nothing very beautiful about a “cut away” bog but it is truly transfigured by the presence of God in His creation. Gerard Manley Hopkins told us that our world is “charged with the grandeur of God” and our own Joseph Mary Plunkett tells us that he can see “the face of Jesus in every flower” and God’s words written in the rocks around us.
Centres of Transfiguration and Hope
I like to think of our Accord Centres across the country as centres of healing and hope, centres where conflicts are resolved, wounds are healed and people begin to experience again the light and love of Jesus in their marriage and family life – living centres of transfiguration.
Happy Marriages and Families
Today as we celebrate the many happy marriages and families, we recognize moments of transfiguration in the lives of parents and children. Parents with eyes of faith can see that when feeding, washing and clothing their child they are feeding and washing and clothing the Christ- child. The mother who holds her baby to her breast will experience the heart-beat of Jesus Himself. It is with eyes of faith that we can see the ordinary home as a little “domestic church” with its own liturgy of words and gestures. The “domestic Church” is a microcosm of the Church itself where children first experience the love of God and learn to worship Him through prayer.
The Love of God made Manifest in Marriage and Families
Every happy marriage and family makes manifest in the home and in the community something of the love of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Pope Benedict said all of this very beautifully when he spoke of Marriage and Family at a General Audience on the 5 May 2010 and I quote:
“Your message to the world is truly a message of joy because God’s gifts to us of Marriage and Family Life enable us to experience something of the Infinite Love that unites the three Divine Persons – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Human beings made in the Image and Likeness of God, are made for love, indeed at the core of our being, we long to love and to be loved in return. Only God’s love can fully satisfy our deepest needs. And through the love of husband and wife, of parents and children, the love of siblings for one another we are offered a foretaste of the boundless love that awaits us in the life to come.
“Marriage”, he says “is an instrument of salvation not only for married people but for the whole of society”. In those words the Pope gives huge significance to Marriage and Family.
Sacred Scripture also tells us that God reveals His love for His people in the love of married couples for each other and for their children. And in the New Testament when Jesus makes of the marriage of two baptised Catholics, a sacrament the love of Christ for His Church is revealed in the life-long exclusive union of the husband and wife. Indeed it is in their love for each other that the couple will discover the presence and love of Jesus in their marriage.
Challenge of Pope Benedict
At the end of that address on Marriage & Family the Pope had this to say to people like all of us in the Ministry of Accord: “I encourage all of you in your efforts to promote a proper understanding and appreciation of the invaluable good that Marriage and Family offer to human society”.
That is our challenge in a culture of consumerism, individualism and instant gratification, in a culture where some couples invest more energy in their house, their job, their car, their hobby – whilst their relationship can drift and be taken for granted.
It is our challenge to help them discover that their happiness in life will be rooted not in material things – rather in their relationship with God and with each other.
We must help them see that the greatest pain and suffering in married life comes not from loss of job or money or house but from broken and betrayed relationships. We must encourage young couples to invest as much time in their relationships with God, through prayer and with each other, at least to the same extent they invest in their home, job or hobby.
Their love for each other has its source and strength in the love God has for all of us and so they must go to that fountain of love in their prayers morning and evening.
Breakdown in Marriage and Family Life
I have spoken at length about happy marriages and families.
Tragically today because of the pressures of life and culture marriage breakdown is on the increase. We know for example that in 1986 3.1% of all first marriages broke down while by 2006 13% of all first marriages failed.
These percentages reveal nothing of the pain and suffering and misery that parents and children experience in the process while the cost to the State must be phenomenal.
This is all truly tragic because research has established that family rooted in marriage is the best possible environment for parents and children and ultimately for the society and the State. Indeed that is why the State has a statutory responsibility from the Constitution to protect and promote marriage and family life.
When did we last hear a government or a government minister speak in support of marriage and family? Public discourse seems to prioritise discussion and promote debate on other forms of union, rather than on the importance and value that loving marriages provide to the immediate family, the local community and to the nation as a whole.
Yet any thinking person must see that amongst the greatest threats to a stable society is cohabitation and marriage breakdown. When is a government going to recognize that children born into secure and stable families receive the optimum start in life as they mature as citizens?
This week on 25 February as he addressed 200 scientists in the Vatican Pope Benedict said “Indeed, the union of a man and a woman in that community of love and life which is marriage represents the only worthy place for a new human being to be called into existence”.
Contribution of Catholic Church
Today in the Mass we thank God for the great contribution which the Church has made and continues to make to Marriage and Family Life.
Yes we celebrate and thank God for the first Catholic Counselling Service in Ireland founded here in Belfast fifty years ago. But our thanks and celebrations must go back all the way to London in 1949 when Graham Green and his wife Eirene saw the great need for Marriage Counselling after the war. At the time bishops and priests saw the breakdown of Catholic marriages as a moral failure of couples to remain faithful to the promises of the sacrament of marriage. They did not see this sacred space of Marriage and Family Life as a place for lay people however professional to get involved. It took Graham Green, who was convinced of the great need for Church support, a long time to persuade Cardinal Griffin to support him. Indeed it was only when the State founded the National Marriage Guidance Council and when Dr Mace of that Council told him that Catholic couples were not engaging that Cardinal Griffin first pledged his support.
Then came great laymen like Dr Marshall a neurologist and Dr Jack Dominian, a psychiatrist, who gave all of us a new insight into the psychological and emotional dimensions of marriage where most of the problems are rooted.
First Catholic Counselling Service in Ireland
In 1956 when Canon O Leary came to Belfast it took him six years to convince Bishop Mageean of Down & Connor to found a Catholic Counselling Service. He had gone to Armagh first but was told that counselling was not needed there. Sadly Bishop Mageean died in 1962, the year that the counselling service was founded in Belfast. He was succeeded by Bishop Philbin.
Bishop Philbin gave the Counselling Service his full support. On 30 September 1962 he addressed the new Centre personnel stressing their duty to and I quote: “uphold the principles of Natural Law”. He spoke of their special responsibility as Catholics and the unique value of voluntary work. On 12 January 1963 the new programme at 11 College Square North was opened. Present were Bishop Philbin, Monsignor Mullaley, Mr Brennan Chairman of the National Marriage and Guidance Council, forty priests and 250 other guests. The first pre-marriage course was held on the 13 February 1964. Between 1962, when the first centre was opened in Belfast, and 1975, when Fr Andy Kennedy became the first Director in Ireland, forty centres had been established in Ireland with the help of CMAC headquarters in London.
In his book Like Ministering to Like Philip Leonard tells us that under the direction of Fr Kennedy CMAC Ireland was transformed from an assortment of disconnected centres with minimum training into a coherent professional organization.
Gratitude for Accord Members
Today we remember with gratitude all the men and women of the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council and later of Accord who gave of their time, their talents and energy to this most sacred cause of Marriage and Family Life.
It is truly amazing that this ministry to marriage and family life continued right through the very troubled times in this city. We can be absolutely certain that there have been and continue to be hundreds of marriages and families in Belfast and beyond who to this day owe their happiness and stability to the services of Accord.
We thank God today for all Belfast Accord members throughout the last half century. We would love to mention everyone by name. One name we cannot omit in our celebration today is that of Deirdre Rawe, Director of Accord in Northern Ireland. Deirdre comes to all our executive meetings in Maynooth where her experience and wisdom are treasured. We know that she is now seriously worried about finances for the future.
We sincerely hope that once again the powers that be will recognize the vital importance of Accord in society and support it in every way possible.
It is tragic, that when in recession it is marriages and families who suffer most. Yet these cries for help are not recognised and official society decides to cut back on resources. Surely this is the time to maximise resources for the benefit of marriage and family and indeed for the benefit of wider society.
The theme of the 50th International Eucharistic Conference in June in Dublin is ‘The Eucharist; communion with Christ and with one another’.
The family is the smallest and most significant community in the Church and in society. The whole of humanity passes through the family. Let us pray that all our families as communities of love and life will re-discover the Sunday Eucharist as their greatest source of love for Christ and for each other.
I will end with the words of the Second Vatican Council in Gaudium et Spes Par. 48:
“The Christian family which springs from marriage as a reflection of the covenant uniting Christ with the Church and as a participation in that covenant, will manifest to all people Christ’s living presence in the world and the genuine nature of the Church. Amen.”
For further information please contact Martin Long, Catholic Communications Office, Maynooth: 00 353 861727678