2018 – A Year dedicated to the Family
When I look back on 2017 there were many significant moments and events, but a few dates stand out for me, two of them falling on Sundays. On Sunday 25 June, I had the privilege of ordaining David Vard to the priesthood in Saint Conleth’s Church, Newbridge; appointed since to Portlaoise parish, he is the youngest priest serving in parish ministry in the country. Then on Sunday 27 August, the last Sunday of the summer we gathered as a diocesan family from all our 56 parishes to enjoy our Picnic in Punchestown. And then how could I forget the first ever Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes from 16 – 21 July, a truly remarkable celebration of the family of the Diocese?
David’s ordination is rooted in the faith of his family, his friends and very much the parish family of Newbridge. The gathering in Punchestown was essentially a celebration of the family of families of the diocese, every parish proud of its banner, reminiscent of our annual Chrism celebration at the Cathedral in Carlow and indeed as we gathered around the grotto at Lourdes.
More recently on Wednesday 13 December my brother texted me with the great news that my nephew, also my namesake, just got engaged to Sinead. Family is special to me, and in particular the relationship I enjoy with my thirteen nephews and nieces. It is great for me to be with them for sacred moments like weddings and baptisms; as well as all the other great family gatherings and sporting occasions. It is often said that families only see each other at funerals; I do my best to keep connected with family throughout the year.
From Christmas Day it will be 239 days to the beginning of the World Meeting of Families in Dublin. This wonderful once in every three-year world event, hopefully in the presence of Pope Francis, will put Ireland on the world stage next August, as we reflect together on family and what it means to us. Families are very different and at times very complex and Pope Francis and all of us are very aware of this. It can never be about a perfect family; no family is perfect. It has to be about the joys and the life that family brings as much as the sorrows and the pain.
I have noticed in recent weeks people asking about the Year of the Family. They understandably mix up the World Meeting event that takes place over a few days towards the end of August 2018 and the Year of the Family that in fact took place in 1994! I can understand and empathise with the slight confusion and to help matters I am going to suggest that we as a diocese make 2018 a year dedicated to the Family, with all our diocesan events and celebrations rotating on the axis of family. Each month will offer a theme or focus on family. In doing this the World Meeting from 21-26 August will take place within a context of family and when 27 August comes, we will still in Kildare & Leighlin be focusing on the family. While I look forward to the Family Fun Day (for all ages) in the grounds of Carlow College on 16 June, that will be just one event, a major one, in a year that celebrates family.
In the coming days we will rejoice around the “baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger”. That baby, Jesus Christ, was born into a family, a family that was turned away at the inn. How many today in Ireland have no home to call their own? Those living on a meagre sustenance allowance in direct provision. Those who have lost their homes because of tracker mortgages or accumulated debts. Those who aren’t sure where they’ll be next month, not to be mention this time next year.
We are privileged to enjoy the luxury of looking back on a year that is passing; may we also look forward together as a family in the renewed hope and joy that Christmas each year brings. The World Meeting of Families will be nothing more than a passing event, if it doesn’t allow us to be a voice for those who experience family very differently to our experience. I have so much to give thanks for, looking back on 2017; may all of us give thanks for what we will experience during 2018. May we have the gift of faith, the blessing of hope and the peace of His love at Christmas and throughout 2018.
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 Lk. 2:12