Archbishop Eamon Martin: The family is where we are first loved - and where we learn to love others
The family is where are first loved and also where we first learn how to love, says Archbishop Eamon Martin, in the first of a series ahead of the World Meeting of Families
IRISH eyes were smiling on September 26 2015 when Pope Francis announced that Dublin would host the ninth World Meeting of the Families in August 2018.
They smiled all over again, last month, when it was confirmed that Pope Francis himself will attend the event.
My brother Archbishop, Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, tells us that it was Pope Francis himself who chose to bring this great gathering of the universal church to Ireland.
Despite challenging times for the Church in Ireland in recent years, family remains very important in the psyche of the Irish people.
Family in Ireland is all about 'connection'; family connects us to a home; to 'ár muintir féin', to the people who are our flesh and blood.
Family also links us to a community, a parish, a county, to a history and culture, a language and tradition, our past, present and future.
For many people in Ireland family also connects them to faith and values, to baptism and the community of believers.
The huge Irish diaspora across the world from the United States, to Australia, Britain and beyond, has been sharing our joy at hosting WMOF2018.
Irish connections, of course, extend also to other distant continents where the Irish missionary movements carried the joy of the Gospel.
The organising team of WMOF2018 is already delighted at the many thousands of people from overseas who have registered to join us in Dublin in August - we hope to offer them all céad míle fáilte.
The theme for the World Meeting of the Families is 'The Gospel of the Family - Joy for the World'.
The communication of this joy-filled message about family has its roots in Amoris Laetitia. This is the first World Meeting of the Families since the conclusion of the 2014-2015 Synodal process and the publication of Pope Francis's exhortation on 'The Joy of Love'.
The World Meeting will therefore be an invaluable opportunity for families of the world to come together to reflect on key aspects of Amoris Laetitia.
They will do so with the conviction that the Church's teaching on the family is not a 'problem to be solved', but is a gift for the world - a message that is positive, liberating, and humanising.
The World Meeting will seek to communicate and distil for our times the beautiful and prophetic vision of God's plan for marriage and the family which was celebrated at the Synods and enunciated so positively in Amoris Laetitia.
Amoris Laetitia traces the 'Gospel of the family' from sacred scripture to Church tradition and the teachings of the magisterium.
I particularly like the way Pope Francis reminds us how God chose to save us by sending his Son into the world in a human family which was open to receive him in love.
We believe that the Church's proclamation of the family - founded on a faithful loving relationship between a man and a woman which is open to the gift of children who are the fruit of that love - is good news for society and the world.
There is no getting away, however, from the fact that communicating the family in this way can appear increasingly counter-cultural in many parts of the world, including Ireland.
This has been accelerated by the departure in public discourse from the philosophical and anthropological underpinning of marriage and the family in natural law and the erosion of social supports for traditional marriage in the form of constitutional guarantee and positive legislation.
How difficult it must be for young people preparing for marriage to hear the still, small voice of faith amidst all the contradictory messages presented to them by the secular world.
They are easily drawn towards an overly emotional and romantic concept of love and marriage that, as Pope Francis says in Evangelii Gaudium, "can be constructed and modified at will".
There is also considerable pressure on young people to resist becoming 'tied down' by commitments, relationships or attachments - to delay or avoid lifelong commitments, including marriage and having children for as long as possible.
On the one hand young people are surrounded by a contraceptive, anti-birth mentality with its increasing indifference to abortion, whilst on the other they are offered a technocratic, commodification of child-bearing
Employers will often expect them to be flexible, movable, able to travel and work long, unsocial hours.
On the one hand they are surrounded by a contraceptive, anti-birth mentality with its increasing indifference to abortion, whilst on the other they are offered a technocratic, commodification of child-bearing which, if necessary, can be accessed independently of any sexual relationship.
Into this 'soulless world' we have the joy and challenge of communicating a clear and positive vision of family and marriage: the Good News that human life is sacred, that each human being comes from God, who created us, male and female; that we are willed by God who loves each and every one of us; that self-giving love and commitment in the marriage of a man and a woman open to life is not only possible, but is a beautiful and fulfilling gift with the power of God's grace; that chastity is achievable, healthy and good for our young people; that the giving of oneself to another in marriage for life is special, rewarding and a wonderful symbol of Christ's forgiving, faithful love for his Church.
For Catholics, the expression "What God joins together" rings out as an exclamation of hope in the midst of a sometimes shallow and fickle world.
We proclaim the Gospel of the family because we believe in it, and we also believe that, with the help of God, it is attainable.
Pope Francis put it powerfully when he said to the Roman Rota Tribunal in January 2016: "The Church, with a renewed sense of responsibility, continues to propose marriage in its essentials - offspring, good of the couple, unity, indissolubility, sacramentality - not as ideal only for a few - notwithstanding modern models centred on the ephemeral and the transient - but as a reality that, in the grace of Christ, can be experienced by all the baptised faithful."
It is one thing to have a joyful message to proclaim and propose - it is another to find effective ways of communicating this message.
If no-one is listening, it is difficult to communicate. For a while I thought that the task of proclaiming the Gospel of the family in the Church was primarily up to me as a bishop or as a priest, but I have become more and more convinced that the Church's vision of the family is best communicated by families, and in families, to families.
At the 2015 Synod on the family; I learned that the family is not simply the object of ministry and evangelisation, but it is a powerful agent of evangelisation.
As the "school of humanity" and the "domestic Church", it is in the family that values are transmitted, the wisdom of generations is passed on, the choices between right and wrong are evaluated, connections with the past are made, links with other families are made and upheld. It is in the family that we first are loved and where we first learn how to love.
It is in the family that we discover who we are, where we have come from, our inter-generational relationships, our links with a place, with the land and a worshipping community, our rootedness in culture and language.
At the Synod we heard of movements, associations, basic Christian communities and many other networks which guide and nourish the marriage and family 'vocation'.
The World Meeting in Dublin will give us another opportunity to celebrate, communicate and share these initiatives with others.
- Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland. Taken from 'Communicating the Family - Towards the World Meeting of Families 2018 in Dublin, Ireland", an address delivered at the 'Dialogue, Respect and Freedom of Expression in the Public Arena' conference in the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome last week.