Reflecting on ‘The Joy of Love’

The Archers BBC radio programme is as old as I am but I have never listened to it except in snatches. Never followed it. But just lately it has burst upon the nation’s consciousness because of a storyline that is both dramatic and deeply disturbing. It concerns domestic abuse and the cruel and controlling behaviour of a man over his wife, finally causing the woman to snap and to attack her husband with a knife.
In the fallout from this programme an article appears today (9.4.16) in the Guardian, informing us about the prevalence of domestic violence in our country and the figures are alarming. In an article entitled, We are blind to an epidemic of domestic abuse, Joan Smith informs us that in the year 2013-14 an estimated 1.4 million women suffered domestic abuse in Britain. Smith goes on to describe an enormous amount of unseen suffering that is going on everyday in the homes and towns of this country.
This particular item of news has to find its place among a catalogue of evils that afflict people in our day, including the abuse and neglect and murder of children, and the grooming and sexual exploitation of children and young people. Corruption in high places and tax avoidance also make the news, while other evils such as death on our roads barely merit a mention these days, being merely par for the course.
Back in our homes the rate of family breakdown and the incidence of separation and divorce grows apace and all the people caught up in this human fragmentation can be added to the list of the suffering of our nation. In my own little corner of the world I have been able to meet some of the people so affected by family break up and the suffering can be very upsetting indeed.
Into this world of pain and heartbreak the Church, through the Holy Father, Pope Francis, has now addressed a document, a letter if you will, on the subject of the joy of love and the great vocation to love and family life that is at the heart of every human joy.
When I was a student for priesthood and later a young priest the document that emerged from Rome was Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, discussing the thorny issue of contraception, and this caused uproar in the world and in the Church. Ever since then people have found themselves either for it or against it. A sharp divide with no in between.
Wisdom, I think would prompt us to look to the in between. The issues of what is right and what is possible can be brought together and in this latest document Pope Francis does exactly that. Justice and mercy can meet. The great thing with Francis is that he speaks our language and before him, the popes too often spoke in a ‘language that the strangers (to church matters) do not know.’
John Paul II and Benedict XVI were both learned men who used learned language. Francis employs a speech that is more readily absorbed. He talks to us more than addresses us and the world likes that. I like it.
Some years ago a man said to me how impatient he was with catholic priests. They are always so damn well sure of themselves! I was taken aback but never forgot the comment. Thinking about it I remembered the simple catholic logic that pervaded things in my young day. God sent Jesus and Jesus founded the Church and we are the one true church and therefore we are always right! It did not make for dialogue.
A similar mentality used to come out with the phrase, ‘if it’s good enough for the pope it is good enough for me.’ This was not so much an act of reverent obedience to the Holy Father as it was a refusal, or indeed a fear of entertaining any other point of view. But faith in the Lord has no fear of other points of view. It is happy to listen to them and to engage with them. This was the whole style of Jesus in his days on earth.
When Jesus was confronted, by people criticising his lack of religious observance in the matter of fasting he gently explained that there is a time and place for everything and that a wedding occasion is no time for austerity. It really is a time to rejoice and to dance and to make merry. This, the Lord is telling us, is the default position for his followers – a capacity for joy.
There will be times for sorrow and we will certainly know them, all of us, but our ability to suffer and to endure will only ever be sure if we keep our eyes firmly fixed on the good Lord and on remembering who he is – The bridegroom of life. Jesus finishes his comments by calling for fresh wineskins fit for new wine.
Such a call is made in every generation and at some point in every human life. Looking back on my own story I see the joy of my childhood and thank God for it. I see the long haul of my priestly years and the desert that I entered, days when I thought my life was over. Then joy came again in love story, marriage and child. Then sorrow came when my wife died so suddenly, and now four years on joy is here again. Our sufferings, as we all discover carve out in our hearts a great space not for emptiness but into which joy will flood if we allow it.
Paul, writing to the Corinthians, calls them a letter written on the heart, written not with ink but by the Holy Spirit. Pope Francis, in writing to us now, invites us to be renewed in our life, and to be a letter to the world, by the spirit we show to one and all.
I will betroth you to myself with faithfulness and you shall come to know the Lord.
Brian Fahy

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One Comment

  1. Brendan Peters says:

    As always Brian Fahy writes with sensitivity and with a compassionate heart (Read his two books to see further evidence of this). Pope Francis personifies the adage, ‘Cometh the hour, cometh the man’ as he is a remedy that the church sorely needs at this time.

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