Fr Vincent Sherlock
I met him in a hotel in Rome. “What do you think of Rome?” I asked him. “I don’t like it,” he replied, “it’s too hot and I find it hard to get used to the food”.w He told me he was there because his daughter was getting married and when I asked if all the family had come to the wedding he told me: “No, the youngest girl didn’t come. She is afraid to fly”.
Then the bit I brought home with me and remember most: “To be honest with you,” he said, “I’m afraid of flying too and had never flown before. The main reason I came was so that I could go home and tell my daughter that she has nothing to be afraid of.” It was an amazing witness to a father’s love. He put himself through something he didn’t really want to do, so that he could reassure his daughter she didn’t need to be afraid.
In a matter of days now, thousands of people from Ireland and beyond will gather in Dublin and Knock to celebrate the World Meeting of Families. Pope Francis, the Spiritual Father of our Catholic family, will sit at table with us for some of that time. There will be presentations around the meaning of family. A Festival of Families will take place – there will be Mass in the Phoenix Park, recently and soon-to-be married couples will be met, a gathering for prayer in Knock, a homeless shelter offering food and dignity will be visited and much more. It is truly good to celebrate and recognise family life in this way.
Family life is at something of a remove now from The Waltons, where each episode closed with lights being turned off as family member after family member wished each other “goodnight”. In many cases it’s not that neat or tidy and our problems aren’t solved as the credits roll. Yet family continues and is central to who and what we are. These days then need somehow to reassure people that they are in the right place and doing the best they can.
There needs to be some room, some space allowed to acknowledge that generosity that takes place in family. Generosity that sees parents do everything humanly possible for their children, especially and most sadly, those who may have an illness or condition.
Generosity of the aged couple sitting with and for each other when memories are all they have, or maybe don’t through dementia. Generosity of daughters and sons putting their lives on hold to care for an ageing parent. Generosity of care, generosity of love, generosity of patience – fidelity, all these too must be celebrated – yes, during the World Meeting of Families but long after the last delegate has left, the last banner taken down and the last word spoken.
Difficulties too, where families are at odds with one another, cannot be ignored. Those rows that sunder what should be so central to our existence need to be recognised, and encouragement offered to pick up again the pieces, to lovingly gather them, so that the tapestry of life and relationship may be re-threaded, and its true story told.
We acknowledge the many who are struggling with or have abandoned the practice of their Faith and we leave the door ajar and the light on that there be no doubt in their minds but that a welcome awaits and a conversation will be had.
That man who flew, despite his deep and real fears, so that he could open up the skies to his daughter is one of the many unsung heroes of family life. I’d like to believe that he and countless more like him will be central to the upcoming celebrations. This could be very good!
Any talk, once it’s talk!
l I was walking past three young girls; one of them was clearly telling the others some recent development in her life’s drama. They screamed, hugged, and then one said: “I’m so liking this update” and the other, who had heard the same news item said: “I’m so NOT liking this update”.
I have no idea what the update was but smiled at how social media speak has entered the spoken word too! There’s nothing really to beat, good old-style conversation! Families, praying together, staying together, listening to and talking with each other. “I’m so encouraging this update”!
The Visit to Knock
I’m glad that Pope Francis’ visit to Knock is happening and glad that built into that visit is a time of silence at the ‘gable wall’. There is something very significant in this and I have no doubt it will not be lost on Pope Francis. Following wedding rehearsals, I conclude with a prayer and always sing the first verse of Dana’s Lady of Knock – speaking of “people of all ages” gathering at the Gable Wall. So too, they’ll gather during this visit.
The second verse speaks of the message being “unspoken” and the “truth in silence lies”. There must be a message here – that it may be heard. A message for “all ages”, delivered through silence and seeking a voice.