THURSDAY, 24 SEPTEMBER, 1998, 2.30pm

It was my good fortune to work in the Irish College Rome from 1980 to 1993. I was very happy there. The work involved the training of seminarians for the priesthood here in Ireland. But one other very pleasing aspect was the celebration of marriage for Irish couples who came to Rome each week to be married. Over those thirteen years I am sure I had the privilege of celebrating hundreds of weddings of couples from Ireland, England, Scotland and the United States. I say that it was a privilege. It is always a privilege to be present when two people join hands and say, “I take you as my husband, as my wife, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, all the days of my life or until death do us part”. I was always very happy to meet the couples the day before and to go through the marriage ceremony with them and to see the great desire in each one that their marriage would be for life, that it would last, that it would be fulfilled and happy. Many of those couples were very well prepared. They had obviously thought seriously about what they were doing and made their preparations. Some indeed even chose to come to Rome to avoid the hustle and bustle of a big wedding back home so that they could concentrate on what they were doing. That all came back to me last week when I was staying in a convent in Italy where there are a lot of weddings taking place. It was great to see the amount of flowers that were being carried in. Mothers coming in at 7 or 8 o’clock in the morning to decorate the altars and prie-dieux for the weddings of their sons or their daughters later on in the day. Then there were the photographers and the dresses and all the beauty, all the lovely trappings people surround an occasion like this with. People do realise that it is a very special moment when people pledge themselves to each other for life, and that is why it has to be photographed and videoed and remembered and albums stored in safe places. Of course, in my experience, there were people who came not well prepared, not ready for what they were undertaking. Inevitably that showed. I remember one big row that broke out after a wedding when the papers were being signed and for the first time the bridegroom discovered the real age of the bride. She was quite a few years older than he thought and it provoked quite a crisis. There wasn’t very good communication there I’m afraid. On another occasion I remember when the bridegroom said his words the bride proceeded to burst out laughing. It was a hysterical, nervous laughing which went on for minutes and minutes. I was at my wits end to know how she could be stopped and how she could be persuaded to say her part of the ceremony. So I am very happy that Fr John Doherty has produced these tapes. I think they are going to be very much in demand, I certainly hope they will be very much in demand. I hope that they will be bought and watched and pondered by people who realise – no matter at what stage – the importance of their love relationship with their spouse. I hope they will be watched by people who come to see that they can improve that relationship by working at it and nurturing it and fostering it.

As the song says, it is love that makes the world go round. The Italian poet Dante puts it a little more elegantly in his Divine Comedy. He spoke of the love that moves the sun and other stars. Certainly love is what keeps the world going. Every human being, each one of us, has a longing to be loved and to love. There is a natural in-built urge and need to give and to receive love. But only those who have love in themselves are fully free to give love. In God’s plan we are meant to receive love from Father and Mother. The child is meant to grow to like and love self. Self esteem is not self indulgence or selfishness. A person who has been loved loves self and is free to love. So it is true to say that all you need is love, but not any old love will do. A preacher became so fed up with people saying that all you need is love that he decided to tell this story: There was this elephant, a very loving elephant, who lived beside an ostrich. He noticed the ostrich sitting on her nest hatching her eggs. Every so often the ostrich had to leave her nest to go to the river to get a drink of water. So the elephant, this loving elephant, was worried in case that in her absence the eggs might get cold and perish. So as soon as he saw her leave the nest the elephant rumbled over and, out of pure love, sat down on the ostrich’s eggs to keep them warm. “Love”, said the preacher, “can be a fuddy duddy elephant kind of thing”. That story is quoted by the American Jesuit, Fr Walter Burchart, to say two things. First of all that love, and specifically married love, is tough, it is costly, it makes heavy demands, it is extremely difficult to cope with because love, yes love, is patient, but lovers can be very impatient and such love is possible only if the married couple are not two but three. For what makes a couples love for each other particularly precious, what lends high promise for love that never ends is the fact that it is God’s love. God is love. God loves you, God lives in you, God ties your love to his.
I congratulate Fr John Doherty on the production of Together Forever. I thank him and those who have worked with him, Liam and Dan Doherty from Derry, Frank and Aileen Dulaghan from Newry, on this important work. I thank them for the support which they are giving to married couples who want to deepen their relationship. I wish the Love is for Life Trust continued success in their work. This programme is the fruit of the efforts of people who have worked with married couples for the past twenty years. It is a support for married couples who want to deepen their relationship. The programme consists of five videos. Each video lasts about 30 minutes. A guide has been produced which gives good detail. It is meant to help leaders who will be directly involved in discussions and asking questions of the groups who will watch this video. This is an important support for the sacrament of marriage. The risen Lord has promised to be with us always to the end of time. People sometimes ask: How can we get in touch today with Jesus Christ? He no longer walks the earth in the same way as he once did. We believe that his presence is made visible through the sacraments. The sacrament of marriage for example is an effective sign, the same as every sacrament is an effective sign. It is a way in which the risen Lord makes his presence effective in our midst and because the Lord is present and at work in them, the sacraments, and especially the sacrament of marriage, brings into the lives of the married couples the life giving action and even the self giving of Christ himself. That self giving of Christ himself is very important in a relationship where self giving is all important.

The sacrament of marriage is an outward sign. It is a visible sign of something that is invisible, but very real. That in reality the invisible reality is God’s grace. It is God’s grace and favour given to a couple to help them in their married life. Grace builds on nature. God’s grace builds on human nature. The grace of marriage builds on the nurtured love, the wholesome human love which a couple getting married have for each other. People love only what they know. They love only what they know to be good, so it is important that knowing each other well is important in a marriage relationship. We only love and respect what we know to be good, for respect means seeing again the beauty which first attracted one to the other. Then there is the importance in married life of what is dealt with in that first video, spending time together. The art of communication is emphasised and studied because it is by communicating we tell people who we are and what we like and what we are like. The second tape deals with respect for each other, respect for each other’s rights and each other’s needs, but again we need to look and see what our own needs and our own rights and therefore our neighbour’s rights and needs are.

In a marriage ceremony those getting married say: “I take you Mary/John for better for worse, in sickness and in health, until death do us part”. I am taking you, not your beauty, not your wealth, but you the person and if I am taking somebody for life it is important that I have affection for that person, that I show that affection in word and action and in a sexual relationship.

Fr John Doherty and those couples who help him have done a great service to marriage but they need more help. We all need to commit ourselves to the care of marriage, to its preparation and enrichment, both are important. The pressures on marriage are tremendous but they can be resisted. That is what the sacrament of marriage is all about. A sacrament that brings Christ’s self-giving love into the lives of the people who are committed and have committed themselves to self-giving.

It is said that the greatest form of love is self-sacrifice. Marriage calls, within reason, for great self-sacrifice. A spouse will frequently put the interests of his partner before his own, while feeling enriched by this self-giving. Selfishness and self-seeking are the very antithesis of the true meaning of marriage and are very destructive of the marriage bond.

The marriage breakdown rate in the Western world is unacceptably high. While undoubtedly some marriages will break down since some individuals are simply incapable of a lifelong commitment of this kind or because the preservation of the union due to the conduct of one spouse becomes essentially impossible for the other single-handedly to maintain, the marriage breakdown rate in the Western world should simply not be as high as it is. It seems that modern Western society has lost a sense of what marriage is about. Marriage is not about feeling good all the time or enjoying a relationship that makes no demands or fails to challenge. Demands and challenges are part and parcel of life. Through them we grow and become more mature. In them we learn to accept legitimate duty and responsibility by which we and others are enriched. We all must learn not to uncritically follow our feelings and emotions but rather to be guided by a higher code of conduct and set of values within which the institution of marriage lies.

The divorce culture fails to accept the awful effects which separation and divorce can have on children. Children are a great gift from God, the fruit of the love of their parents. Just as children are given in trust by God, so the responsibilities of guardianship may not lightly be divested by their parents. It seems that if parents were to more seriously take into account the needs and rights of their children, the marriage breakdown rate in the world would be considerably lower.

Like all things in life marriage must be worked at. Allowing love grow and develop and indeed change through the vicissitudes and various stages and situations of life is a lifelong task. It is one, however, to which the marriage bond commits its partners. I am convinced that these videos are a very helpful aid to helping all understand the true nature of marriage and to assisting couples in growing and working through the inevitable difficulties.