For Catholics today is the solemnity of the Holy Family. As Father explained in his homily this morning, this is a recent innovation designed to make a point: and did Father make the point :)
My goodness me, I can’t remember a time when the congregation was buzzing so. Families, Father said, are the bedrock of our society, and the Holy Family is its prototype: a father, a mother and a child. Look closely, he said, and you’ll see it is not a ‘conventional’ family for its time. There is only the one child, Jesus. There is no extended family or large family of the kind that would have been common at that time; but it is the basic structure – and one now under threat. At this point there was an audible intake of breath.
Father went on: ‘You think I am going to say it is under threat from the Government and its legislation about same sex marriage; you are not wholly wrong; but before that I am going to lay the blame where it lies – with you.’ At that point you could have heard a pin drop. ‘How many of you’, he asked, ‘treat your husband or your wife as though they were central to your existence; how many of you remember to love each other every day?’ He then did something I’ve never seen before in church, he turned and asked us directly: ‘And how many of you have bothered to get married, and those of you who have, how many of you have stayed married?’ He added: ‘If you, committed Christians, can’t put the time and effort in, then why blame the Government – they are only doing what they think they can get away with.’
I think we were all a bit stunned. He made it clear he was not directing blame at those whose marriages had broken up, but that he was asking us to reflect on our part in that, if were in that situation. ‘There is’, he said, ‘a myth that divorce has no effect on children; that is a story put around by those who won’t admit it does.’
Marriage, he told us, is a type of God’s covanental relationship with His Church; we are the bride, He the bridegroom. Both partners have obligations – but unless they are based on mutual love, then all else is as nothing. He asked us to reflect on what we meant by love, and then when to the heart of it, and with his permission I quote the words he used:
“If love for you is a warm squishy feeling, or something more erotic, and if it is that alone, then you are building your house on sand. Love is about self-sacrifice and commitment. You can’t have it all, and if you want it all then you are selfish and you will end up with yourself. Love means giving yourself away, putting your spouse and your children first; if you cannot or will not do this, then you have mistaken your vocation. Marriage is a vocation – it is for life.”
So there we had it – right between the eyes. We were a quiet lot at coffee afterwards – indeed only about half the usual number stayed. Perhaps hearing such truths from the pulpit was too much for some?