Accord Graduation Mass 2023: 07.10.23
College Chapel, St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth @ 1.30pm
We gather on this the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. It is the feast that gives the month of October its heartbeat. We gather in this splendid College Chapel, Ireland’s finest, designed by J.J. McCarthy, a pupil of Pugin. We gather for our Accord Graduation Mass, a Mass which always precedes the Annual Conferral Ceremony, petitioning the Lord to affirm our work, our mission, our ministry.
I thank Fr. Michael Mullaney for his welcome, support and accommodation always for this Annual Rite of Passage in the Accord Calendar. I thank both Moss Garde (College Registrar) and Dr. Jessie Rogers (Dean of the Faculty of Theology) for their supportive presence.
Accord through its three autonomous companies is represented by Tony Shanahan (Accord Clg); Jennifer Griffin (Accord Dublin Clg) and Deirdre O’Rawe (Accord NI Clg). Also present are tutors Denis Bradley, Mary Johnston & Fr. Brian Kavanagh and specialists Anne Coleman and Mary Johnston as well as specialists in the other companies.
And of course, the greatest welcome is to those of you graduating, ten in Counselling and twelve in Marriage Facilitation. While some may receive their awards in absentia, the intentions of all are included in our Mass.
Graduates, guests and families, you are standing in carved oak choir stalls, some of the 454 that make up the splendid chapel seating. We will now bless the water before the commencement of the sprinkling rite. As you are blessed, so too your work, your Centre, your achievements are blessed, the blessing is to the tune of ‘Water of life, cleanse and refresh us, raise us to life in Christ Jesus’ …
Visitors to the College Chapel are always in awe of its splendour and beauty. It carries them to another place, another time, another experience. I remember my first visit to this chapel with my parents in the autumn of 1981, now over forty years ago. It seemed then in my late teens that time stood still, but it never does. I recall the seat assigned to me for Sunday Mass, in a very full Gunne as it was known then, the Gunne Chapel.
The theme of this College Chapel is ‘Laus Deo’ or ‘Praise to God’ and throughout the chapel a discerning eye will note that on mosaic, in carving, on glass and on tile is the story of all creation praising God. Only last Wednesday Pope Francis launched the sequel to his 2015 encyclical ‘Laudato Si’, an exhortation called ‘Laudate Deum’. The title of his exhortation and this College Chapel are inextricably linked. His message is also timely for our ceremony this afternoon.
Pope Francis reminds us “our care for one another and our care for the earth are intimately bound together”. Care is at the heart of what Accord does. Care for the young couples preparing for the sacrament of marriage, care for that couple whose relationship has become entangled, care for the individual who is uncertain who the person is they once fell in love with and maybe who they are themselves. We are there to care, not to judge, not to point the finger, but to unconditionally care. Our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles has the apostles gathering to pray, they too were trying to make sense of who they were, now that Jesus had been taken from them into heaven.
Pope Francis contends in Laudate Deum “that the world that surrounds us is not an object of exploitation, unbridled use and unlimited ambition. Nor can we claim that nature is a mere ‘setting’ in which we develop our lives and our projects”. He goes on “we are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it, and thus we [do] not look at the world from without but from within”. Accord is grounded in the community, in the parish, in the local, that’s the strength of who we are. We are not looking at the world from without but from within.
In an earlier paragraph Pope Francis begins “eight years have passed since I published the Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ …”. What was our world like in 2015? The thirty-fourth amendment to the Constitution was passed allowing a redefinition of our understanding of marriage in civil law. Dublin beat Kerry in the All-Ireland Football Final while Kilkenny took the honours over Galway in the hurling! Sweden won the Eurovision. Fr. Liam Ryan, my great Professor of Sociology and celebrant many times here in this College Chapel died. The Fleadh Ceol in 2015 was held in Sligo. Like myself visiting this chapel over forty years ago, we all think time stands still, it doesn’t!
Ten graduate today to work in the area of counselling, you will work in seven centres in Accord Clg and two centres in Accord NI Clg. Twelve graduate to work in the area of marriage facilitation, in eight centres in Accord Clg, two will work in Accord Dublin Clg and one in Accord NI Clg. Nothing brings a greater joy and a boost to a centre than a new member joining. I know the eighteen centres will warmly welcome every one of you. A couple of centres have more than one joining, they will be doubly blessed! The recent pandemic has depleted some of our centres of valuable and experienced personnel, all the more why all of you graduating today will be made most welcome.
Conscious of the eight years between the publication of Laudato Si’ and Laudate Deum, I wondered what was the story like for Accord and for the clients we encountered and met over the same time period? In 2015 ten graduated as facilitators while eleven graduated in marriage and relationship counselling. Nearly identical to today’s figures!
In 2015, 42% were in the relationship over 6-10 before celebrating their marriage; I note that in 2022 44% were in the relationship for the same period, so very little difference in the demographics over the eight years, except that brides and grooms seem to be celebrating the sacrament today a little bit older.
And then to counselling, a remarkable similarity in the figures over the same eight years. 68% of counselling clients were married in 2015; 64% in 2022. In 2015 the greatest presenting problem in the counselling room was ‘ignoring or not being listened to’; in 2022 it remains the greatest concern.
Finance continues to be a serious strain on a relationship, in 2015 it was at 38%, in 2022 it was a little lower, but still significant at 26%. Childcare continues to feature largely, in 2015 it was an issue for 26% of clients, in 2022 it was a feature for 19% of them. It shows how the ethos of caring has to remain always to the forefront of our work and mission, whether we are a counsellor or a facilitator.
The work of Accord is hugely valued across the three companies, your training, your competency, your achievement is very well merited. As Pope Francis said “eight years have passed since …” and today, as you graduate, we give thanks for the work done to date, the assignments, the clinical practice, the shadowing of more experienced counsellors and facilitators and the work you will accomplish in your centres with the clients you meet.
Luke’s gospel recalls for us the moment of the Annunciation. It was good news. The news that Mary was to give birth to Jesus, God becoming incarnate in our fragile and broken world. My prayer and hope is that each of you may bring something of that completeness to the brokenness of our world. Annunciation was the greatest moment of joy in the history of civilisation.
It is timely to recall another exhortation by Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia – the Joy of Love. This document, written in 2016 speaks to the concrete realities of everyday life as lived by married couples and families. We are commissioned by Pope Francis to reach out and offer support, at a local level, to those preparing for the sacrament of marriage and to accompany those on the journey of married life.
We look forward to the new Marriage Preparation Programme which will be launched early in 2024 and will become the programme of preparation in all three companies. A programme which will be embedded in the ‘Catechumenal Pathways for Married Life’ as issued by the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life; the Marriage Preparation Programme is but one step of many along that catechumenal pathway. A pathway where Accord and others will continue to support couples and families through accompaniment and counselling work. This is what Accord does best and this is what brings us here this Saturday afternoon.
 Pope Francis, ‘Laudate Deum’ ¶3
 Pope Francis, ‘Laudate Deum’ ¶25
 Pope Francis, ‘Laudate Deum’ ¶2