A special celebration for all who are living out a commitment in love took place in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh on Monday 13 February.
Married couples and especially couples who have celebrated their marriage over the past year were invited to attend. The diocese also encouraged couples who are engaged and who are currently preparing for marriage and all who are living out a commitment in love to attend.
The gathering, which took place on the eve of Saint Valentine, included prayers in thanksgiving for the gift of love in marriage and the family.
Archbishop Eamon presided and shared a reflection about love. He said, “On the radio recently I heard a programme where couples were invited to share their favourite love song – in many cases they chose the song that was playing when they first met, or first danced, or the one that speaks most to them when their relationship is tested and they need reminding of how much they mean to each other.
“Of course there is no lack of choice – there are songs about : ‘Endless love’, ‘afire love’, ‘baby love’, ‘puppy love’, ‘the greatest love’, ‘silly love’ and ‘the crazy little thing called love’! Some ask questions like ‘why do you love me?’ ‘I want to know what love is’, ‘how deep is your love?’ or even ‘what’s love got to do with it?’. Others tells us about the ‘part time lover’, ‘easy lover’, ‘dream lover’. On the one hand we’re told ‘love is the sweetest thing’ and ‘love will keep us together’ and ‘all you need is love’; on the other hand ‘love is hard’, ‘love hurts’, or ‘love will hear us apart’.
“You’ll hear them all around Valentine’s Day – commercial outlets of all kinds have found ways to cash in on the brand ‘love’ because love sells!
“I remember once hearing about Jean Vanier, the spiritual writer who noticed that fewer and fewer students were turning up for his philosophy classes, so one day he went down to the university notice board, crossed out the title of his next lecture and in its place, wrote the word, Love. The hall was packed.
“Of course he wasn’t the first to recognise the power of love. Thomas a Kempis wrote in The Imitation of Christ: ‘Love is like … a blazing torch which fearlessly passes through anything that bars its path’.
“Not long after I was ordained, a man approached me outside Mass and told me I’d have to be a bit more strict in my sermons. ‘I hate wishy washy sermons’, he said, ‘there’s too much love in preaching nowadays and not enough challenge’. Too much love? If that is the case, I’m happy to plead guilty.”
Archbishop Eamon went on to say that “Celebrating the Joy of Love is at heart of the Gospel which is essentially the greatest love story ever told: that God loved us so much that he gave his only Son; and Christ our Saviour loved us even unto death on a cross.
“There is a beautiful hymn to love which sums this up:
My song is love unknown,
my Savior’s love to me,
love to the loveless shown
that they might lovely be.
O who am I
that for my sake
my Lord should take
frail flesh and die?
Archbishop Eamon said, “The love that Christ has for us is an unconditional love – and he challenged his friends ‘love one another, as I have loved you’. It’s a real struggle for us to love unconditionally just for one day, never mind a lifetime.
“I often wonder has the meaning of love been so diluted nowadays that we have emptied it of its challenge and strength? In the context of Christian love and marriage, the word love is firmly rooted in the example of unconditional love which Christ showed us – it is summed up in a Greek word for love- agape. Agape love is the kind of love which is selfless, the kind of love which is prepared to endure hardship or sacrifice for the sake of the other. When couples are called to a loving commitment of sacramental marriage in the Church, their love is to be a powerful sign or mirror in which is reflected the kind of love which Jesus Christ had for us by laying down his life for our salvation.”
Archbishop Eamon went on to say, “We don’t know much about St Valentine – but tradition tells us he was a devoted Priest and martyr who was put to death because he refused to renounce his faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. They say he was captured while celebrating the marriage of a young Christian couple – hence his association with love and commitment down the centuries.
“St John of the Cross wrote: in the evening of our lives, we shall be examined on love. That is why it is so important to stay close to God, and draw every day from the well spring of love.
Archbishop Eamon concluded his homily with a call to pray for all who seek to build upon their commitment in love, “In this evening’s readings St Paul tells us that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, and Isaiah the prophet promises that no matter what hardships or struggles we have to go through, we need not fear, for the Lord has called us by name and we are precious in God’s sight. We gather this evening to pray for all who seek to build upon their commitment in love. The Gospel reminds us to build our commitments upon the rock of faith in God, so that whatever trials or problems come our way, our commitment will remain strong.”