21 August 2018

At this moment people are gathered like us in every diocese in the country for the opening ceremonies of The World Meeting of Families. Here in Kilmore diocese, we have come together to pray that this vast gathering of families from Ireland and around the world, and the visit of Pope Francis, will bring new hope and joy, and many other blessings on our families, on our Church and society. 

The theme of the World Meeting is: “The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World.”  We are fortunate to have a beautiful picture – an icon – depicting that theme. This icon was written by iconographer Mihai Cucu with the help of the Redemptoristine Sisters in a contemplative convent in Dublin. You may remember we had a visit of the icon to the Cathedral in September last year, at the beginning of the year of preparation for this great event.

The icon presents three family scenes from the Gospels: the family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in the centre; the celebration of the wedding feast at Cana on the right as you look at it, and the raising up of the daughter in the family of Jairus, on the left. Jesus is at the heart of each of these families. Each scene presents a different family situation where the presence of Jesus brings hope and joy.

In the centre panel Jesus is between Mary and Joseph around the table where they celebrate the Passover meal. This meal was the annual joyful celebration of the liberation of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. The bread and wine on the table are symbols of joy, but there are symbols of sorrow too. The radishes, the bowls of bitter herbs are reminders of the bitter slavery the people endured in Egypt.  

The mixture of joy and sorrow in the main panel is reflected in the two side panels. The joy of the wedding feast of Cana is abundant, like the wine that Jesus provided when Mary told him the wine was running out. Jesus is there also in the other panel, which depicts the raising of the daughter of Jairus from the dead. Here Jesus comes into a situation of tragedy – a twelve-year-old girl has died – and brings new life and hope and joy to the family of Jairus.

 Every family experiences joys and sorrows. There are great times of celebration like weddings and births, baptisms and Communions, moments of great joy and happiness. But there are also times of sickness, sadness, separations and death.  Most of family life is spent between the highs and the lows. The daily routine will have moments of gladness and times of frustration, gestures of love and generosity, but also petty squabbles and bad-tempered exchanges.

Pope Francis is very well aware of the stresses and strains in family life. He has referred to the strains in the colourful phrase, as the times ‘when the plates fly’! In his exhortation, ‘The Joy of Love’, he speaks about the challenges that modern life-styles pose for parents: “In many cases, parents come home exhausted, not wanting to talk, and many families no longer even share a common meal. Distractions abound, including addiction to television.”(AL 50).

The icon of the family shows us Jesus and Mary at the heart of family life. It shows us the ideal of a Christian family. It is rooted in the love of God. We heard in that beautiful reading from St Paul: “You are God’s chosen, he loves you”. That’s a tremendous affirmation and a tremendous privilege. You are God’s chosen, he loves you. And, because God has chosen us and loved us, we are able to respond by loving others. We are, in Paul’s words, or we should try to be, “clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience, and readiness to forgive because God has forgiven us”. In short, when we know God loves us we are able to love others as Christ did.

A family with Jesus and Mary at its heart is Good News – it is a proclamation of the Gospel in action. It’s a wonderful message to a world plagued by greed and selfishness and self-indulgence; a world afflicted by hatred, violence and revenge. The family with Jesus and Mary in it proclaims the joy of the Gospel and the joy of love.  It imitates the love of Jesus and shows it in action, in care and concern for each other, in courtesy and kindness, in a willingness to forgive and forget, in reaching out to those in need.

You might ask, what can our little family do to tackle the chronic problems of world? Remember that the longest journey begins with one step.  A family that proclaims the Gospel of Love is a family where love is expressed in small, practical ways day in day out. We can begin with these small steps. No one appreciates the importance of these small gestures than Pope Francis himself:

In the family, three words need to be used. I want to repeat this! Three words: ‘Please’, ‘Thank You’, ‘Sorry’. Three essential words. In our families when we are not overbearing and ask: ‘May I, please’; in our families when we are not selfish and can say: ‘Thank You’; and in our families when someone realizes that he or she did something wrong and is able to say ‘Sorry!’. When we do that our family experiences peace and joy. Let us not be sparing about using these words, but keep repeating them, day after day… The right words, spoken at the right time, daily protect and nurture love.

Looking again at the icon, you notice that the space at our side of the table is free. It invites us as families to join the Holy Family around the table of daily prayer. It invites us to let our families be ones where Jesus is at the centre and where Mary and Joseph are close. Then our families will be Good News. They will be a Gospel that brings joy to ourselves and to the world around us.