50th International Eucharistic Congress, 10-17 June 2012, Dublin, Ireland

Strengthening Marriage and Family Life Bishop Christopher Jones President of The Council for Marriage and the Family, Irish Catholic Bishop's Conference Tuesday 12th June 2012

It is my privilege as President of the Council for Marriage and the Family of the Irish Episcopal Conference to introduce this workshop today. Our Council exists to represent and promote the Church’s vision and teaching on Marriage and the Family.

It does this in many ways such as promoting a widespread awareness of the Catholic understanding of marriage and family life, an understanding that will offer to all inspiration, support and assistance in living out their marriage and family commitments. Promoting a culture of welcome for families within the church, as well as an authentic spirituality of marriage and the family.

Also by supporting Bishops, working in collaboration with lay faithful, the presbyterate and relevant experts, to develop a range of policies that will help promote best practice in the delivery of the pastoral care of marriage and families. It assists Bishops in encouraging and supporting dioceses in maintaining a range of marriage and family ministries.

Why is Marriage so Important?

We believe that God is the author of marriage. We believe that marriage is a unique union, a relationship different from all others. In Genesis (2: 24) we read; “a man shall leave father and mother and cleave to his wife. Therefore they are no longer two but one flesh”. In marriage a woman and man promise love and fidelity to each other for better, for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health as long as they both shall live.

This committed and married love provides a stable and nurturing environment for children.

Most

research today would agree that family rooted in marriage provides the best environment for parents, children and indeed for future citizens of society. It is in this environment that children receive the most important and lasting education of all. They learn how to be members of a family and of society.

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Marriage Is Not A Private Institution

There is a disturbing tendency today to see marriage as a purely private matter - something which is about the personal satisfaction of the individual rather than the mutual enrichment of the couple and society. The health and happiness of parents and children and society itself depends on the health and happiness of Marriage and Family. Marriage is the intimate cradle of life and love where children learn the values and behaviour that will make them good Christians and citizens. The Irish Constitution sees the family rooted in Marriage as “the necessary basis of social order and as indispensable to the welfare of the Nation and the State”. Indeed the Constitution charges the State with the responsibility of promoting and protecting marriage and Family Life (Article 41).

In recent years politicians seem to be more concerned about cohabitees and same sex-unions than they are about Marriage and Family Life. We believe this is dangerous for the future of society and civilization because it undermines the importance of Marriage and Family for the health and happiness of the State. God’s Plan for Marriage

As we said earlier God is the author of marriage. God has endorsed marriage with certain essential characteristics without which marriage cannot exist as He intends. God’s plan for marriage included the biological fact that a man and a woman come together as male and female in a union that has the potential to generate new life. This union of marriage provides for the continuation of the human race and the development of human society. It is precisely this difference between man and woman that makes possible this unique union of persons and this unique partnership of life and love that is marriage. Male and female complementarity is intrinsic to marriage. It is naturally directed towards sexual union in faithful committed relationship as the basis for the generation of new life. The true nature of marriage, lived in openness to life bears witness to the preciousness of the gift of a child and to the unique roles of a mother and a father. A man and woman united in marriage as husband and wife witness to God’s plan for both love and life in a way that no other relationship of human persons can.

Christian Marriage as a Sacrament Marriage is one of the Church’s sacraments. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches; “Christian Marriage becomes an efficacious sign of Christ’s love of His Church”. An efficacious sign

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is one that does not merely symbolize or signify something but actually makes present what it signifies. Christ’ love for His Church surpasses natural human love. Christ’s love for his Church is a love of complete self-giving. This love is most completely expressed by his death on the Cross. Christian marriage aspires not only to natural human love but to Christ’s love for His Church. Christian spouses are - called to the invitation of Christ – an invitation that is possible only because in the Sacrament of Marriage the couple participate in the love of Christ. As a Sacrament Marriage signifies and makes present in the couple Christ’s total self-gift of love. Their mutual gift of self conferred in their promise of fidelity and love to the end becomes a participation in the love to the end by which Christ gave Himself to the Church as to a spouse. In the Sacrament of Marriage the couple discover the love of Christ in their love for each other.

The Love of God made Manifest in Marriage and Families

Every happy marriage and family makes manifest in the home and in the community something of the love of the ‘Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Pope Benedict said all of this very beautifully when he spoke of Marriage and Family at a General Audience on the 5 may 2010 and I quote: “Your message to the world is truly a message of joy because God’s gifts to us of Marriage and Family Life enable us to experience something of the Infinite Love that unites the three Divine Persons – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Human beings made in the image and likeness of God are made for love, indeed at the core of our being we long to love and to be loved in return. Only God’s love can fully satisfy our deepest needs. And through the love of husband and wife, of parents and children, the love of siblings for one another we are offered a foretaste of the boundless love that await us in the life to come. “Marriage”, he says “is an instrument of salvation not only for married people but for the whole of society”. In those words the Pope gives huge significance to marriage and Family. Sacred Scripture also tells us that God reveals his love for His people in the love of married couples for each other and for their children. And in the New Testament when Jesus makes of the marriage of two baptised Catholics, a sacrament the love of Christ or His ‘church is revealed in the life-long exclusive union of the husband and wife. Indeed it is their love for each other that the couple will discover the presence and love of Jesus in their marriage.”

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Appeal from Pope Benedict

At the end of that Address on marriage and family the Pope had this to say; “I encourage all of you in our efforts to promote a proper understanding and appreciation of the invaluable good that Marriage and Family offer to human society”.

That is our challenge in a culture of consumerism, individualism and instant gratification, in a culture where young couples invest so much of their energy in their house, their job, their car, their hobby and take their relationships for granted.

It is our challenge to help them discover that their happiness in life will be rooted not in things but in their relationship with ‘God and with each other.

We must help them see that the greatest pain and suffering in married life comes not from loss of job or money or house but from broken and betrayed relationships. We must encourage young couples to invest as much time in their relationships with God through prayer and with each other as they invest in their home their job or their hobby. Their love for each other has its source and strength in the love God has for all of us and so they must go to that fountain of love in their prayers morning and evening.

Conclusion

The Eucharist; Community with Christ and with one Another The theme of this 50th International Eucharistic Congress is; “The Eucharist; Communion with Christ and with one Another”. The great challenge of this Congress is to grow in our love for Christ and for one another. In the Sacrament of marriage the couple grow in their love for Christ as they grow in their love for each other. The closer we all come to Christ in the Eucharist and in all the sacraments the closer we come to each other. During those sacred days of the Congress let us remember especially our marriages and families as we pray that our young people will rediscover the importance of marriage and of their fidelity to God and to each other.

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