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Church must reach out to those in irregular situations

By Sarah Mac Donald - 12 May, 2015

Pic: John McElroy

Pic: John McElroy

The Church must reach out to people in “irregular situations” and encounter families where they are at the Archbishop of Dublin has said.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said it would “attain more by reaching out rather than by simply condemning” and that the family must become again a real focus for evangelisation in an “often weary Church which finds it difficult at times to know where it is going”.

In a homily given in St Conleth’s Parish in Newbridge on Monday, he emphasised that the sacrament of marriage is not just a blessing for a man and a woman on their wedding day but is a sacrament given for the building up of the Church.

Underlining that the Church must listen to married couples, the Archbishop added that it must listen also to where God is speaking through the witness of those Christian married couples who struggle and fail and begin again and fail again.

“The experience of failure and struggle cannot surely be irrelevant in arriving at the way we proclaim the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family,” he said and added that the sacraments are there not just for the saints: they are also a medicine for those who are weak.

Reaching out to encounter families where they are, does not mean leaving people where they are, he said.

“The Church speaks of a law of gradualness, not in the sense that ‘anything goes’, but that we can be led, by the help of grace, to move step-by step towards living our Christian vocation more fully.”

Citing Pope Francis’ pedagogy of ‘pastoral patience’, he said pastoral care of marriage and preparation for marriage were tasks for every parish, as the Synod of Bishops had stressed.

“Unfortunately many parishes have simply farmed out that task to agencies and the link between marriage and the parish is weakened,” the Archbishop criticised.

He noted that the Synod also stressed that that pastoral care of marriage and the family should be an integral part of the catechesis and faith education of young people.

“In today’s society young people will inevitably be influenced by the popular culture on marriage and the family. Our catechesis will in many cases inevitably be counter cultural. Most young people, however, aspire to a fulfilled married and family life as perhaps the most significant component of their future happiness.”

He warned that a catechesis which ignores or down plays marriage and the family would be a betrayal of young people.

Marriage and the family are complex social realities. Marriage is not simply about “two individuals who are in love”.

The Christian teaching about marriage stresses the complementary relationship between male and female, which is not just a social construction. He said marriage is also about a stable and loving relationship where children are generated and educated.

The stability of marriage contributes in a unique way to the stability of society, the Archbishop stressed.

“It is important in our discussions about marriage and the family in these days that people should stop for a moment and reflect carefully on what marriage and the family mean within society and on what a change in our understanding of marriage across society would entail,” he said.

We have too often looked on renewal of parish life in terms of organisational structure. This is certainly not unimportant. But it could leave families still in a passive role and place structures as being more important than charism, he warned.

“The first thing that a family-inspired pastoral care would do is to empower families to carry out their vocation,” the Archbishop suggested.

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