Today Bishop Denis, as President of ACCORD Catholic Marriage Care Service, blessed an engaged couple at the Shrine of St Valentine in Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Whitefriar Street Church, Dublin.

Words at Shrine of St. Valentine      

This blessing ceremony of an engaged couple at the Shrine of St. Valentine around Valentines Day, organised every year by ACCORD, Catholic Marriage Care Service, is a much-anticipated event. ACCORD have been organising this ceremony since 2008. I think of Leona & Paul in 2015; I think of Sean & Deirdre in 2016; I think of Carol & Tim in 2017; I think of Anna & Seamus last year and very especially of Emer & Killian today. It is our hope next year for this blessing ceremony to invite all the couples back who were part of this important ritual every year over the past twelve years.

Returning to Emer & Killian today. Emer works with Microsoft Ireland; Killian is a Partner Solutions Engineer for Dell EMC. They met in 2012, while working for the same company. They will be married in 2020 in the Church of the Annunciation, Rathfarnham, here in Dublin. Apparently, they met after a Dublin GAA game in Croke Park. They share many interests such as GAA, history, culture, travel and family.

We gather here at the Shrine dedicated to St. Valentine, a third century Roman saint. It’s one feastday everyone knows, like St. Patrick’s Day on Marcy 17th or St. Stephens Day on December 26th. Everyone knows that February 14th celebrates St. Valentine. We mightn’t know why that date, well apparently on February 14th, 269, 1,750 years ago the Saint died and was buried in a cemetery on the Via Flaminia on the north side of Rome.

Like all Saints that go back as far as Valentine, there is a significant piece of work to decipher the different legends associated with the saint. Was he an arranger of secret marriages? Did he fall in love with his jailer’s daughter? Did he cut out the symbol of the heart in parchment to tell persecuted Christians that God loved them? Did he send a note at the end of his life simply signed “from your Valentine”. What we do know is he is associated with love, and romantic love at that.

The heart is very much the symbol of love and Valentines Day. It will feature on many a card or gift exchanged in two days time. Even this years’ An Post stamp features the heart. The heart is at the centre of our work with ACCORD as we continue supporting and accompanying couples towards a deeper understanding of the gift of sacramental marriage. The love of a married couple is a very special kind of love, a love that is life-giving, permanent and exclusive.

Emer & Killian met after a match in Croke Park. We don’t need to ask about the match result that day, we see the result today. Pope Francis in the same Croke Park reminded us of the importance of supporting couples and families, “our love and care must extend to all” he said; ACCORD are privileged to do that at different stages of a couple’s relationship.

This annual blessing ceremony allows us in ACCORD to reflect on the valuable contribution marriage and the family offer the wider society. I thank all those who work in ACCORD – facilitators, counsellors and staff.  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 will take place this coming weekend.

I wish also 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 of that support most, are very grateful.

Returning to the words of Pope Francis last summer here in Dublin: “the welfare of the family is decisive for the future of the world and that of the Church”. It’s in all our interests that we support family life. Thank you for that support. Our prayer today at this shrine as couples from all over the world travel to it over the coming days, is that St. Valentine may ask the Lord to shower all of us with his love, his blessings and his affection.

ENDS

Rite and Reason Column, The Irish Times, Tuesday 12th February 2019

Catholic Marriage is ‘a Revolution of Tenderness’

Two days away from the Feast of St Valentine, it is good to return to the appeal of Pope Francis when he spoke to engaged and newly married couples during his visit to Ireland for the 2018 World Meeting of Families.

Speaking last August to the packed gathering of young couples in St Mary’s Pro Cathedral, Dublin, Pope Francis reminded them, “Our world needs a revolution of love!  The tumult of our times is really one of selfishness, of personal interests, the world needs a revolution of love.  Let that revolution begin with you and your families … There will be no revolution of love without a revolution of tenderness”.

Couples planning a wedding in their local parish, couples embarking on a marriage preparation course, or celebrating a silver, golden or diamond wedding anniversary, are rarely thought of as revolutionaries.  Yet in the eyes of Pope Francis, that is exactly what they are!

The Pope’s words echo Accord’s mission.  We support couples at so many stages of life: meeting young people as part of our schools’ programme, imparting values that will stand them for life, and when we meet young couples on a marriage preparation course, offering them insights and opportunities for personal development and self-awareness as they prepare for the sacrament of marriage.  And then of course meeting the individual or couple in the counselling room in that sacred space where hurts can be aired, trust can be restored and healing can begin.  All tender moments, all grace-filled moments.

For close on sixty years Accord has been privileged to be the pastoral arm of the Church reaching out to people at key moments in their relationship and in their lives.

While the number choosing sacramental marriage has reduced in recent years, figures from the Central Statistics Office for 2017, the latest year available, indicate 52.8% of those who got married chose a Catholic Church wedding.  Accord returns for 2018, published today, show that 16,048 people attended our marriage preparation courses last year.  87% of couples attending found information and discussion on sacramental marriage, and commitment to each other, as the most beneficial elements of their course.

In 2018 Accord also undertook 24,153 counselling sessions.  For couples seeking counselling, Accord specialises in the skill of ‘couple counselling’ which involves the counsellor supporting the relationship, as well as the individuals.  Issues that arise frequently in counselling sessions include communication and emotional intimacy issues, family conflict, concerns about separation, criticism and insults, use of digital technology, loss or grief, addiction, finances and problematic behaviours.

This Thursday, on the Feast of St Valentine, couples will visit his shrine in Dublin’s Carmelite Church on Whitefriar Street.  The relic of the heart of the saint is installed in the side altar of the church.  Couples will pray that the saint’s heart will soften their hearts and bring them life-long love and happiness.  According to psychologist John Gottman, “our marriages are only as good as our histories of laughter together.”  Laughter and joy are so important in a relationship!  The financial cost should never be an obstacle to getting married.

The Catholic Church is privileged, through Accord, to tenderly accompany individuals and couples in their marriage and family life.  One of our key pastoral challenges is to teach couples about the beauty of Christian marriage and to help them live in harmony together, to overcome their selfishness and to reconcile their differences.

The root of every revolution is the heart and the passion that comes from within.  The fact that the vast majority of couples married in the Church remain faithful to their promises and vows is in itself revolutionary as it shows that couples are not easily subject to the mercy of events or the shifting chemistry of mood.  For those who experience challenges in marriage, Accord exists to tenderly journey with them.

At this special time of year, may St Valentine help all of us to embrace our tenderness and reconnect with the revolution of love in our heart.

ENDS