• Address by Bishop Denis ‘The Heart of a Saint in the Heart of Dublin’

It is my very pleasant duty to welcome you all today to the Shrine of Saint Valentine.  This has become a very special event over the years, as a couple present themselves at the Shrine for a blessing, and the blessing is imparted in the context of presenting the annual returns of Accord Catholic Marriage Care Service, through its three separate companies.  This year Jonathan and Michelle are that couple.  I welcome both of them and their families who join us this day.

Last year I was privileged to celebrate two Masses here in Whitefriar Street on Saint Valentine’s Day.  I couldn’t but notice the couples, like Jonathan and Michelle, of all ages I might add, who made their way over to the Shrine, perhaps to write an intention, pray a while, light a candle or maybe take a quick photograph or smile for a selfie before leaving.

Most of them had little knowledge of Saint Valentine, except his association with love. I am always intrigued at this annual event that brings the family of Accord on the island together.  Most questions I field are around the Saint himself and how the relics come to be here in the heart of Dublin city.

Flowers, candy, red hearts and romance seem to sum up Saint Valentine’s Day and yet all of these were very distant from the life of the Roman priest who gives this feast day its name.  Valentine was a priest who lived in the time of the great persecutor Claudius II.

Claudius issued an edict prohibiting the marriage of young people, on the basis that unmarried soldiers fought better than married ones, who might fear for their wives or families if they died in battle.  Saint Valentine seemed to operate in a very permissive society and people of faith did their very best to encourage the Church’s vision for marriage and relationships. In presenting that vision Valentine secretly married young couples.

He was eventually caught, imprisoned and tortured for preforming these clandestine marriages.  The story is told that he cured the daughter of one of the judges assigned to his case.  The young girl was blind.  The judge Asterius became a believer as a result.  Valentine was sentenced to execution, all because of his promotion of Christian marriage in the year 269AD.  And the last message Saint Valentine wrote before facing his executioner was a note to this young girl signed off “from your Valentine”.  And so, today’s commercial business has been born out of that note and out of this man, we know as Saint Valentine.

And the relic arrived here in Dublin in 1836, because of a Carmelite priest Father John Spratt.  His reputation as a good preacher reached Rome and on a visit to Rome, preaching at the famous Jesuit Church, the Gesu, Pope Gregory XVI gifted him with the remains of Saint Valentine and a small vessel tinged with his blood.  Since then couples have been coming here to Our Lady of Mount Carmel’s Church to pray at his shrine.

So what does a reliquary that contains the heart of a Saint say to us in the heart of Dublin this day?  It speaks to us of love and the importance of love in a society that can be very cruel and callous. Saint Paul speaking to the Corinthians tells us what love is and what love isn’t.  Jonathan and Michelle, and all our couples who complete their Accord Marriage Preparation programme with us, choose scripture readings that speak to them of love and Saint Paul regularly features.

Since the World Meeting of Families and the visit of Pope Francis to Ireland in August 2018, Accord has been undergoing a thorough review of how we prepare couples for the sacrament.  And this review is in the context of Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on love, marriage and the family which the Holy Father published in 2016.

Accord, in its three companies, here in Dublin, in Northern Ireland and throughout the country, recognises that couples who present for our preparation programme are on a shared journey, and we are privileged to walk some of that journey with them.  In the words of Pope Francis

love needs time and space, everything else is secondary. Time is needed to talk things over, to embrace leisurely, to share plans, to listen to one another and gaze into each other’s eyes, to appreciate one another and to build a strong relationship[1].

The programme Accord offers every couple that time and that space.  And when things may not go so well, Accord is also here to accompany a couple in counselling and to do so non-judgementally and always gently.

This annual blessing ceremony allows us in Accord to reflect on the valuable contribution marriage and the family offer the wider Irish society.  I thank all those who work in Accord – the operational heads of the three companies, the chairs of our respective boards, our facilitators, counsellors and specialist teams and admin staff across the Accord family.  It is an opportune time to thank the dioceses who help to fund our work.  I would like to take this opportunity to encourage people to give generously to the Annual Dublin Diocesan Collection for Accord which takes place this coming weekend.

I also take the opportunity to thank TUSLA, the Child and Family Agency, for its major contribution to our counselling services; it is deeply appreciated.  I equally appreciate the contribution of the HSE and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland.  The generosity of our funders allows Accord to continue to support marriage and family life and, for this, the couples and individuals who avail most of that important support, are very grateful indeed.

For over fifty years Accord have specialised in supporting marriages and families across our island.  For thirteen years we have hosted this annual blessing ceremony in honour of Saint Valentine here at his Shrine.  I conclude with the beautiful simple prayer associated for years with a visit here to the shrine here at Whitefriar Street, and it says:

Saint Valentine,
touch the hearts
of our young people;
intercede for their needs;
hear my prayer.
Amen.

ENDS

Details of ACCORD returns 2020 are available on www.catholicbishops.ie