This is an important evening. After many months of preparation, this evening in every diocese across Ireland, we open the World Meeting of Families with a service of Evening Prayer.
I greet the representatives, priests, religious and lay men and women, of every parish of the Archdiocese of Dublin. I greet the first of thousands of visitors from around the world who will gather with the Church in Ireland to celebrate and foster family life. You are truly welcome. I greet all the families present in the variety of their expression. I greet the President of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, Life and his collaborators. I greet the Apostolic Nuncio.
We have listened to that wonderful reading from the Letter to the Colossians. In ancient times, it was common for societies to have lists of virtues and vices that set out the relationships that should exist in society between different social groups.
Here Saint Paul presents his list, but his list is very different. His list is not to keep people in their place. His list is not to divide or segregate. It is a list or a prolonged reflection of how being a Christian demands that you behave in a different way. His list is not to separate social groups but to foster a style of life that brings people together in solidarity and loving care.
It is about the Church and the witness that the Church should give to the world through the way we live as individuals and as community. They are words that are particularly apt as we begin to celebrate the World Meeting of Families.
There are those who would look at the World Meeting as some sort of ideological gathering to celebrate a type of family which probably does not exist. Whatever of the past, here in Dublin the World Meeting is something much more profound: it is to reflect the opening words of our reading: “You are God’s chosen race; he loves you”.
The message is simple yet profound: God loves us and therefore we must be witnesses to what God’s love means, through reflecting in our lives and in our communities God’s compassion, his kindness, his gentleness, his patience and his forgiveness, wherever we find ourselves.
The family is not a remote ideological notion but the place where compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience and forgiveness are learned, practiced and spread.
Compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience and forgiveness are the bonds that bring us together. Most of us would be the first to say that, while our families may try to realise that ideal, in reality things are not so easy. Tensions arise. People struggle. People fail. People are unfaithful. Families can be places of violence and harshness. Saint Paul recognises how many times we may fail but he stresses that what is important is that all our efforts must be clothed in love. Only the power of love can purify and restore and heal out weakness.
Where love prevails then the peace of Christ reigns in our hearts and in our homes. It is only where love prevails that the message of Jesus Christ in all its richness truly finds a home within us. The World Meeting of Families is called to challenge all our stereotypes and allow the message of Jesus Christ and the peace of Jesus Christ to become an integral part of our home and family lives.
Our reading becomes a guidebook for what the Church must be like. The Church must be a place where solidarity reigns, where we teach and advise and support each other, and not in the sense of any superiority, but in all wisdom.
The family is the domestic Church. The family must be the place where all these dimensions of the Christian life are deepened and lived. The family is not a closed place but must always be missionary and have that same drive towards the periphery, towards those who are marginalised, which Pope Francis presents as a fundamental dimension of the Church.
Over my lifetime, family life has changed. As a child, we did not have much: but we shared. I met recently my former next-door neighbour. He was just one year younger than I was then and I was the youngest in my family. He said to me: “do you remember that I always got your shoes when you grew out of them”. His sister quickly added: “and do you remember the cakes that crossed the back garden wall when my mother baked something”. We did not have much but we shared and we cared.
Today family life is changed. Families here in Ireland have many opportunities and many new challenges. We will be looking at them over these next three days in the RDS. Look at communications and social media. They can become a path of openness and they can also become narrow and addictive. How do we get young people to learn to use the gifts that God and human creativity will provide for them in a challenging future?
It may seem a strange thing to say, but we have to find ways of ensuring that these new relationships and challenges in family culture become “clothed in love”. Only the power of love can purify and restore our Church and us and our society. Young people must learn the demands and the power and the beauty of love.
We thank God for the extraordinary ordinary love of our families. We commit ourselves to help young people to understand what love truly means. We thank God for the at times immense sacrifice that exists in the love within families. We pray for those who have never experienced such love or from whom such love was stolen through abuse or neglect.
We place our World Meeting of Families under the protection of the Holy Family of Nazareth, where Mary and Joseph lovingly nurtured their divine Son and were led by him into the great Mystery of the love of God that he came to reveal.
Brother and Sisters: “You are God’s chosen race; he loves you”.