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 Homily of Bishop Michael Router at Mass for the Third Sunday of Easter

“Childhood is short and any substantial period of conflict and separation can lead to a parent missing significant moments in a child’s life such as First Communion and Confirmation” – Bishop Router

Peace be With You!

Jesus appears to his disciples in this morning’s gospel, and he greets them with the words, “Peace be with you”. In the post resurrection accounts featured in the gospels of Luke and John, Jesus uses this greeting five times. He uses it to calm the grave fears and agitation of his disciples that was brought about by the trauma of the crucifixion, its violence, and their subsequent dispersal.

Increase in Domestic Violence

We have all been through, to a greater or lesser degree, atraumatic experience in the past year. Covid-19 has presented many challenges to us as a society, through the stress on our health system and economy, and as individuals in our relationships and family life. Unfortunately, one of the manifestations of these challenges is a sharp increase in domestic violence. Calls to the Garda Síochána relating to violence in the home increased by 17% between March and November of 2020(Irish Times 3/12/20) and there was a 5.3% increase in domestic abuse crimes in Northern Ireland in 2020 (Domestic Abuse Statistics www.psni.police.uk). The gift of peace that Jesus brings is much needed in international and national affairs, but it is also very much needed in our homes and in our hearts. Much of the difficulty, pain, and stress that the world endures emanates from the lack of peace in the hearts of men and women. We, therefore, constantly pray for the gift of peace. We know how easily it can be shattered.

Year of the Family

Pope Francis declared 2021 as the ‘Year of the Family’ to mark the 5th anniversary of the publication of his Post Synodal Exhortation ‘Amoris Laetitia’, the Joy of Love, and to highlight the importance of family in creating a strong foundation for a healthy and stable society. In his exhortation he says that “All Family life is a ‘shepherding’ in mercy. Each of us, by our love and care, leaves a mark on the life of others… seeking to bring out the best in them” (Par. 322). Therefore the family needs to be constantly supported so that its importance in human development is recognised and protected.

Difficulties in Family Life

This, however, does not overlook or fail to recognise, the grave difficulties that can emerge in family life from time to time. Human weakness will always give rise to conflict and misunderstanding which can lead to difficulties in trust and commitment. The internal and external pressures that married couples experience can lead to the breakdown of relationships that previously were loving and committed. Thankfully, most couples in this situation work hard to solve their problems and some engage in marriage counselling to rebuild their relationships. As Vice-President of Accord, the marriage preparation and counselling service, I know that many couples have sought the relationship counselling provided to help them find stability and a way forward.

Yet we all know that sometimes there is little prospect of a marriage relationship being repaired and this is difficult and painful for all concerned. Where there are children involved it adds a complexity that, if not handled sensitively, can have negative effects. It is incumbent on all parties to create an environment that is supportive to children and ensures that, where it is not threatening or abusive, they can maintain a relationship with both their mother and father.

Parental Alienation Awareness Day

Next Sunday, April 25th, is the International Parental Alienation Awareness day. This day highlights a particular form of domestic abuse that manifests itself in more subtle ways than physical or sexual violence. Parental alienation is a problem that has garnered increasing coverage by the media in recent times. On 20th March the Irish Examiner devoted considerable coverage to the issue in an extensive article titled ‘Parental alienation: Some days you wake up and think: ‘It’s like a living bereavement’, that included the views of a psychotherapist, a female and a male victim, and a solicitor.

Parental Alienation often takes place when one parent tries to distance his or her children from the other parent when a marriage or relationship ends. Sometimes it is justified for a child to be separated from a parent because of threatening behaviour. In the case of Parental Alienation, however, there is no such reason. The courts have recognised that the parent should have access to their children, yet the other parent refuses to allow it. Such a denial of the rights of children to have a loving relationship with both parents has long-lasting and damaging consequences for a child. It often involves being cut off from one side of the family including grandparents, who also suffer greatly as a result. As childhood is short and any substantial period of conflict and separation can lead to a parent missing significant moments in a child’s life such as First Communion and Confirmation. Such moments can never be repeated.

Support for Change

Over the past number of years thirty county councils and local authorities in the Republic of Ireland, and two in Northern Ireland, have recognised officially that this is a serious issue and have called for a change in the law to take into account situations where one parent is wrongly influencing their child or children against the other parent. The ‘Report on Reform of the Family Law System’, published in October 2019, recommended that the relevant changes be made to family law in Ireland to ensure that this doesn’t happen (p.50). I hope that such calls will be listened to and the necessary changes will be made. As Pope Francis states in ‘Amoris Laetitia’, “The Church, while appreciating the situations of conflict that are part of marriage, cannot fail to speak out on behalf of those who are most vulnerable: the children who often suffer in silence” (Par. 186).

Prayer for Peace

Changes in the law will, of course, be very helpful, but they alone won’t always be effective in dealing with difficult and painful situations within families. We as followers of Christ know that genuine peace comes through trust in him and in recognising his presence among us even when we are afraid or agitated. As we approach the International Parental Alienation Awareness Day next week, we redouble our efforts to pray for peace in families where trust and goodwill have been shattered. The first words Jesus says to his disciples in today’s gospel are “Peace, be with you”. Peace can often be sadly lacking in our communities and our families. We pray for all parents and for children so that even in difficult situations they may know the peace that the risen Christ brings to them and may turn to him for solace, comfort, and healing. 

Notes for Editors

  • Bishop Michael Router is Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Armagh.  This Mass was celebrated today in Saint James Church, Grange, Co Louth, in the Archdiocese of Armagh.

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