Remarks by Bishop Denis Nulty, Bishop of Kildare & Leighlin
and President of ACCORD, Catholic Marriage Care Service
Shrine of Saint Valentine, Carmelite Church, Whitefriar Street, Dublin
Saint Valentine is probably one of the best venerated and revered saints in the Roman Calendar and strange to say, we don’t officially celebrate his feast in our church tradition. Next Saturday, as couples exchange greetings and gifts to mark St. Valentine’s Day, the church will be celebrating the two great patrons of Europe – Cyril and Methodius!
So who was Valentine? Little in fact is known about him. He was a third century Roman saint associated for centuries with all matters concerning love, commitment and relationships – exactly the ‘job-spec’ that ACCORD, the Catholic Marriage Care Service, perfectly addresses!
The life of Saint Valentine is dearth enough in detail. We do know he was martyred and buried at a cemetery on the Via Flaminia in the north of Rome. While the information about him may indeed be sparse, the work, commitment and dedication of ACCORD is known and appreciated by many people the length and breadth of our island.
Married couples celebrating their silver, golden or diamond wedding anniversaries are rarely thought of as revolutionaries. Yet, according to Pope Francis, that is what they are. Aware that faithful and lifelong marriage is regarded by many as “out of fashion” Pope Francis urged millions attending World Youth Day in Brazil a year and a half ago to “swim against the tide” and “rebel” against a “culture that sees everything as temporary”, a culture which says “it is not worth making a life-long commitment … because we do not know what tomorrow will bring”.
There is no doubt that in many parts of the world attitudes to marriage and the family have changed dramatically in recent years – including here in Ireland.
So much so that many commentators, including Pope Francis, have spoken of marriage and the family as being “in crisis”. ACCORD speaks to this crisis through our work operating out of 55 centres with 936 committed professional volunteers being the face of ACCORD throughout the island of Ireland – North and South.
ACCORD has been the Church’s agency supporting marriage and family life since it was established under its former name CMAC in 1962. The first of our specialised areas of work is our marriage preparation programme, Marriage – A Journey not a Destination. It is on one such ACCORD course that Leona and Paul will register shortly. No doubt it will benefit them hugely in their preparation for marriage in June 2016 which will take place in the Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Dunboyne.
The second main area of ACCORD’s work that addresses very strongly the “crisis” Pope Francis speaks of, is our marriage and relationship counseling service. When an ACCORD counsellor meets a couple for the first time, there can be a lot of anger, a lot of distress and a huge amount of complex tension. Whether it is in these pre-Valentine days, or at any time, if the love can’t be found for whatever the reason, ACCORD is there to help.
Sadly the foundations of some relationships are weak from the outset. In a number of instances ACCORD has found that some couples are “sliding into” a relationship, rather than deciding to “to be” in a long-term committed relationship.
ACCORD, as a pastoral agency of the Church, has never been in a better place to explain to human reason, the spiritual wisdom and the immense social benefit that underpins our teaching on marriage, sexuality and family. This is exactly what the Irish bishops set out in our recent pastoral statement The Meaning of Marriage.
We have never been in a better position than we are today to show all that the Church says about marriage and the family is life-giving, life-affirming and focused on the good of spouses, children and society. We have never been in a better position than we are today to show that, whereas much of contemporary culture exploits the human body and sexuality, the Church celebrates, cherishes and respects the dignity of the human body and the tenderness, beauty and sensuality of sexual life within marriage.
We are also well placed to explain that, whereas so much of our contemporary “throw away” culture rejects the generative integrity of our sexual nature, the Church celebrates the wonderful and astonishing gift of every new and unique life that flows exclusively from the generative capacity and complementarity of a father and a mother.
Much of our contemporary culture commodifies children and relegates their best interests to a less important level than the interests of adults. The Church, in her teaching and tradition on marriage and the family, gives priority to the welfare of children and to the right of every child to know, and where possible to be loved and brought up by his or her biological mother and father.
The Sacrament of Marriage reflects the union between Christ and the Church – one man, one woman, united in Christ, in faithful love. No law, no referendum can alter the true nature and meaning of marriage. Marriage has always recognised sexual difference, and the complementarity of the sexes. This is because society recognises the importance of the setting in which new human life, new members of society, come into existence. It is of vital importance to society that the definition of marriage is protected, sustained and supported.
It is interesting that the survey by Amárach Research for ACCORD, published today, illustrates this very fact with a key finding: “65% of Irish adults agree that a child is more likely to grow up happy if raised in a home with a loving mother and father.”
Another finding worth noting from the Amárach Research is that 61% of Irish adults agree that couples who marry should make a lifelong commitment to one another, to be broken only under extreme circumstances. I highlight this aspect of the research because, when the same question was asked in 2006, the figure was only 56%. Therefore despite evidence of uncertainty and even rejection by some of traditional marriage, the percentile who see it as a life long commitment has increased in the past eight years.
ACCORD is privileged to be trusted by the Irish people to care for marriage and family life through our schools work, our marriage preparation programmes, and our counselling and our personal enrichment courses. We look forward to continuing this service as an agency of the Irish Bishops long into the future.
Saint Valentine, pray for us.
Saint Cyril and Methodius, pray for us.
Saint Scholastica, pray for us.