Homily of Bishop Kevin Doran at Mass for the Winter 2018 General Meeting of the Bishops’ Conference

04 Dec 2018

  • Launch of A Word of Truth and Hope

Each year in the season of Advent, the Church invites us to renew our hope in the God who always keeps His promise.  

A few years ago, I was at a conference where one of the guest speakers was the leader of the Bose Monastic community, Enzo Bianchi.  He commented that, while many people had read and responded very positively of the two Encyclicals of Pope Benedict about love (Caritas in Veritate and Deus Caritas Est), his encyclical on Hope (Spe salvi) had, relatively speaking, “gone down like a lead balloon”.  He suggested that this is because so many of us are preoccupied with managing the “here and now” that we are unable to focus on the future.

At a time of great political and cultural upheaval, the prophet Isaiah invites the people of Israel to place their hope in “a shoot from the stock of Jesse” on whom “the spirit of the Lord rests”.  The Church understands this prophecy as a reference to the coming of The Messiah who will restore peace and fulfil the hope of God’s people.  He will do this by judging justly, by “giving a verdict for the poor of the land” and, above all by his own integrity and faithfulness.

Among the symbolic signs that God is at work, Isaiah speaks of “the wolf living with the lamb and the panther lying down with the kid”.  He presents the image of the child putting his hand into the viper’s lair and coming to no harm.  Vipers have a name for being particularly vicious.  In fairness, I suppose, if you put your hand into a viper’s lair, what can you expect?  Anger is not always reasonable or rational, but it is rarely without an explanation.

The French Philosopher, Emmanuel Mounier, who is reputed to have influenced the thought of Jacques Delors and of Pope Saint John Paul II, wrote extensively about the human person and how a community is only authentic and life giving, when the value of the person is respected and promoted.  He said: “A community limited to needs and interests bears the seeds of discord within its provisional concord, for, contrary to the beliefs of the liberal moralists, merely customary co-operation never leads self-interest out of its egocentric grooves.”  

In other words, when we see other people primarily in terms of what they can do for us, then the very basis of community is undermined.  Even a family, Mounier says, “can easily become a nest of vipers”, when individual needs and wants dominate over love for the other as a person.

Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia (on love in the family), presents a very positive and hope-filled view of the vocation and mission of the family, but he also speaks of the “severe stress on families, who often seem more caught up with securing their future than with enjoying the present.  “This, he says, “is a broader cultural problem, aggravated by fears about steady employment, finances and the future of children” (AL 50).  

In our own discussions and statements over the past year, we have recognised how family relationships are placed under pressure when people have to deal with homelessness, uncertainty about their immigration status, concerns about the protection of children, unemployment, or ill health.  We have been left in no doubt about the pain and the disillusionment which is part of the experience of so many families, alongside the love and the commitment in every family.

We have talked at length about how the Church can support couples in preparing for marriage as well as at various stages during their married lives; how the Church can help families to embrace hope even in the face of adversity.  Much of our discussion was enriched by the insights of Amoris Laetitia and the conversations we had in our own parishes and dioceses as we prepared for this year’s World Meeting of Families and Papal visit.  We recognise that hope is not the same as wishful thinking and that God’s promise, which is found in every person and in every family, calls for our response.

Over the past year and a half, at meetings of the Council for Marriage and the Family, we have been drawing some of these ideas together with the intention of preparing a coherent ‘Vision for the Family’, which might shape our response as people of faith and as citizens to the diverse needs and challenges experienced by families in Ireland today.  I am delighted to say that the fruits of these discussions has been the production of a resource pack called A Word of Truth and Hope, which has been very nicely designed by Veritas.  Our hope is that it would be a helpful resource for clergy, teachers, pastoral groups and those involved in the formation of public policy.  It is in the form of a collection of brochures on a range of topics which affect families in all our communities.  I think it will serve its purpose if it helps us to grow in understanding and then if, arising out of that understanding, it inspires us to respond in at least one concrete practical way.

As we begin this time of preparation for our annual celebration of the birth of Christ, the Scriptures present us with two images of the Holy Family.  In our Gospel today, it is the image of the Trinity in which the love of Father and Son is sealed by the Holy Spirit.  Later in Advent, we will meet the Family of Nazareth who live their lives under the inspiration of that same Spirit.  All of this comes together in the person of Jesus, the Word made Flesh, who is the reason for our hope.  We pray that, with the wisdom of that same Spirit, our Church may find it possible to be an agent in bringing God’s promise to fulfilment for families in Ireland.  Amen.


Notes for Editors

  • Bishop Kevin Doran is Bishop of Elphin and a member of the Bishops’ Council for Marriage and the Family.  This Mass was celebrated in Saint Mary’s Oratory of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, and was concelebrated by members of the Bishops’ Conference and clergy.  In attendance at the Mass were members of the Council for Marriage and the Family and staff of the Bishops’ Conference.  Following the Mass, the formal photographic launch took place of A Word of Truth and Hope a resource pack encouraging a response to the diverse needs and challenges experienced from families in Ireland today.  Published by the Council for Marriage and the Family in collaboration with Veritas.

For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long +353 (0) 86 172 7678 and Brenda Drumm +353 (0) 87 310 4444