Homily at Mass at the Shrine of Saint Valentine, Carmelite Church, Dublin
- “There’s no greater celebration of beauty than the sacrament of marriage where a couple pledge their unconditional love for one another; where a couple impart the sacrament on one another. And in doing so God becomes the third partner in their marriage.”
- “Every anniversary carries with it memories of walking up an aisle, making vows, exchanging rings.”
- “May we remember that family for all of us is where the synodal journey begins – a journey of discovery, listening, participation, discerning or coming to know the will of God in our lives” – Bishop Nulty
It’s a great joy for me to celebrate Mass with you on this the Feast of Saint Valentine, honouring the Saint we associate with love. I celebrated this Mass three years ago and I’m delighted to be back once again. So much has happened in these intervening years. Despite the ease of restrictions, we still live alongside a virulent pandemic that has stretched us and tested us to the very core.
But if anything has got us through these difficult times, it has been ‘love’ – the sacrificial love shown by those serving on the frontline; the familial love shown by friends, family and close acquaintances; the fraternal love shown by neighbours, clubs and the wider community. While the love we associate with Saint Valentine’s Day is of its essence romantic, it is the same love we celebrate.
On other years I have been at the Shrine, for an annual blessing ritual, organised by Accord, of an engaged couple to coincide with todays’ feast. That blessing with four engaged couples happened last Saturday. Today I notice many more quietly visiting the shrine, lighting their candle, leaving their intention.
Today I congratulate those celebrating anniversaries, some significant, maybe some less so, but every anniversary carries with it memories of walking up an aisle, making vows, exchanging rings. I welcome members of Accord Dublin, Accord CLG and Accord Northern Ireland who are with us for the Mass, and those joining us from their local centre or home through the webcam.
Perhaps some of you have travelled a distance for this morning’s Mass and celebration. More of you are the regular Whitefriar Street congregation. All of you are very welcome. In our reflection on the great commandment of love, that Saint John so beautifully speaks of, let’s begin our celebration by acknowledging the moments we haven’t loved as we should have and pray for God’s love and mercy …
Every generation has its own craze or trend. We associate the Rubik Cube with the 1970’s. Mention of the ‘Trivial Pursuit’ game brings us into the 1980’s. Pokémon finds us somewhere in the 1990’s. The iPhone was born in the mid to late 2000’s while the Ice-Bucket Challenge was the big fad of the second decade of the noughties.
Last November Wordle became the latest viral trend. For those who haven’t yet played, it is basically a randomisation algorithm where the challenge is to guess a ‘five letter’ word. And the good thing about Wordle is there is only one algorithm to solve every day and if it’s your choice, you can share your results online.
There are two five letter words around a feast day like today’s that might indeed feature sometime on Wordle – ‘bride’ and ‘groom’. For those renewing their sacramental marriage vows today, you were once that bride and groom. Many in the church this morning may be missing loved ones who once shared your lives, Saint Valentine has a special part in his heart for you.
Returning to Wordle another five letter word might be ‘relic’. A relic usually consists of the physical remains of a saint or the personal effects of that saint. They offer us a tangible memorial, something we can cling onto, something we can hold, venerate or be blessed with. The devotion to Saint Valentine here in Whitefriar Street goes back 186 years to the time the Carmelite Father John Francis Spratt was gifted from Rome the sacred relics of Saint Valentine. It is thought that the relic of Saint Valentine that is venerated here is indeed the Saint’s heart.
So, who was this Saint Valentine? He was a Roman martyr, a third century priest, who ministered to Christians who were forbidden to marry or practice their faith, under the tyrannical rule of Emperor Claudius II. With Valentine, I feel there is a serious piece of work still to be carried out, deciphering the truth from legend in a saint that goes back so many centuries. There is talk of arranging secret marriages, falling in love with his jailors’ daughter, restoring her power of sight, cutting out the symbol of the heart in parchment to teach persecuted Christians that God loved them.
‘Heart’ of course is yet another of those five letter words! The heart is the soil where love takes root. The Church has through the generations been the great preserver of beauty in its tradition of music, art, liturgy. Beauty is an integral and essential part of our worship, as Saint Augustine reminds us beauty is a gift from God. No greater celebration of beauty than the sacrament of marriage where a couple pledge their unconditional love for one another; where a couple impart the sacrament on one another. And in doing so God becomes the third partner in their marriage.
Pope Francis reminds us in his exhortation AmorisLaetitia that “promising love for ever is possible when we perceive a plan bigger than our own ideas and undertakings, a plan which sustains us and enables us to surrender our future entirely to the one we love”. This strikes me very forcibly when a couple present for a blessing at the shrine of Saint Valentine. This moves me to the core when I celebrate the sacrament of marriage and see a young couple pledge all their tomorrows to one another.
Pope Francis further adds “when a man and a woman celebrate the sacrament of marriage, God is, as it were, ‘mirrored’ in them; he impresses in them his own features and the indelible character of his love”. Some of you in our congregation this morning are here to mark particular anniversaries. God has been mirrored in both of you over your lifetime of marriage and now you are the reflection of the other, and the reflection of His love for both of you. How often it is remarked when one of a couple die after enjoying a long marriage together, it is suggested that they were literally “joined at the hip”, they were always in the shadow of the other.
Anniversaries bring gifts. We know the traditional gifts that are associated with a particular wedding anniversary. Some we are very familiar with such as silver for the 25th; ruby for the 40th and gold for the 50th. Others less so – the 1st anniversary is called ‘paper’ and the couple might expect the gift of stationary or a book! The 2nd Anniversary is ‘cotton’; the 5th is ‘wood’; the 8th is ‘bronze’ and the 10th is ‘tin’. This kind of information is only useful in a table quiz or dare I mention Trivial Pursuit! Moving away from the trivial, the greatest gift a couple can receive is the gift of gratitude, of being as one, of being there always for each other.
Accord celebrates 60 years of preparing and supporting couples in the sacrament of marriage. This year is our Diamond Anniversary. On this occasion I want to acknowledge the contribution CMAC/Accord has made to Marriage since the first centre opened in Belfast in 1962 and to all those couples who completed marriage preparation programmes with us over the last sixty years. I am delighted to see the demand for these programmes continues to grow as we emerge out of lockdown. The individuals and couples who use the services of CMAC/Accord to support them in difficult moments of their relationship. For some the counselling service allowed them to rekindle their relationship; for others it helped them to acknowledge that they might be best going their separate ways. This morning we remember too the many young people in our schools who were helped to understand the beauty of love and the tenderness of a relationship through presentations from Accord.
We are now very close to a year on, in the Universal Synod journey that Pope Francis invites all of us to travel on. Here in Ireland the universal and local synodal journey overlap. The three words which underline the universal synodal journey are: communion, participation and mission. Three words which speak hugely to family today. It is in the family we all experience first the synodal journey. I remember our Sunday dinner table growing up at home. It was there we listened to one another. It was there we shared with one another whatever the table offered. And it was there we had our little disagreements and differences, we did so respectfully and still left the table as friends.
Accord has an immense contribution to make to the Synodal process on this island. Our trained educators have the gift of facilitation that will be key to any conversation. Our trained counsellors or therapists have the gift of being attentive to conversation, even when words are not used. On this the diamond jubilee year of Accord on this island, may we generously serve at the heart of the synodal process that is underway.
To the couples renewing their Marriage Vows I pay my heartiest congratulations. I thank you for the example you give all of us in living your lives and being a reflection that God is indeed love. May the heart of Saint Valentine in the reliquary here at his shrine pulsate for each one of you and may those preparing for the sacrament in the coming months, learn from the example of those before them.
And in case you missed it, ‘Synod’ another five letter word, may we remember that family for all of us is where the synodal journey begins – a journey of discovery, listening, participation, discerning or coming to know the will of God in our lives, as we build communion and community and participate in building a civilisation of love wherever home is for us. Amen.
- Bishop Denis Nulty is Bishop of Kildare & Leighlin and President of Accord.
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