I welcome all of you who join us on this historic day in the life of Accord in its different entities on this island. It is great to be joined by Bishop Michael Router, Vice-President Accord Clg and priests directors from different centres who are here in this splendid College Chapel for this Cruinniú Day Diamond Jubilee Mass and Graduation of this year’s graduates.
Today we celebrate those twenty-nine graduates who are available to support the work of Accord through its three autonomous companies across the island of Ireland – four will work in Accord Dublin Clg; four with Accord Northern Ireland Clg and twenty-one will work in Accord Clg.
Let us for a moment take a brief look at the word cruinniú. In the Irish language the cruinniú is a “gathering, a meeting, an assemblage of people”. Today we are “ag cruinniú le chéile” gathering together to mark a very significant moment – our 60th, our diamond anniversary and doing so, by placing the ceremony of graduation for this year’s graduates at the very heart of this Cruinniú Day, alongside the celebration of Mass.
There are many people to welcome and thank and Anne Coleman has ably done so just before Mass started. I very much re-echo her words of welcome and thanks.
As we gather on this Accord Cruinniú Day, let us take a moment to reflect on God’s mercy in our lives as we prepare for our sprinkling rite …
I am not sure if any of you ever owned an autograph book? I think they have been superseded by the fleeting fads of Instagram, Tik Tok and Twitter. Years ago it was the case that a good friend or celebrity signed your autograph book, nowadays images are recorded on smartphones, but then later lost or deleted. During the week I was given an autograph book, dating back one hundred years ago. And remember the messages then were not censored, edited or filtered – what was written was written, quod scripsi, scripsi.
One that caught my eye in that hundred-year-old autograph book:
“Clare O’Connor is your name
Single is your station
Happy is the little man
Who makes the alteration”
Diamond marks a 60th anniversary. Sixty years of deepening the understanding of the sacrament of marriage on this island. Sixty years of assisting couples navigate the unique and shared journey that is married life. Sixty years of supporting couples in more challenging and testing times. Sixty years of counselling, of facilitating, of journeying with people at every stage in their relationship.
On Friday evening last, the news came through of Queen Elizabeth II’s death. She had celebrated her Platinum Jubilee last June. None of us will have been so lucky to have an autograph of the late Queen or indeed King Charles III in our autograph book, because royal protocol dictates they never give autographs. Perhaps if she had written a message it might have read, “grief is the price we pay for love”.
The authority on love is Saint Paul. Today he offers us solid Eucharistic catechesis. Since we eat and drink at the common table, we can only enter into communion with the Lord through communion with one another. It reminds us of the theme of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin in 2012. Saint Luke speaks about sound trees and sound fruit and the right foundations on which to build a house, to build a relationship. Great passages of scripture to speak to this Accord Diamond celebration.
Beginnings are very important, and in reality we only recognise them as a beginning long after something was begun. When the young Princess Elizabeth spoke on the occasion of her 21st birthday in South Africa in 1947, she spoke profoundly of dedicating her “whole life whether it be long or short” to the service of her people. Little did she or anyone realise how long that dutiful service would be. Our close links with our nearest neighbour also holds true for CMAC/Accord. For years it was like a parent/child relationship. The seeds that have grown into Accord in Ireland were sown first in England in 1946, in what was known then, as the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council of Britain and Ireland.
While we are marking the 60th Anniversary, I am also conscious that dates differ in different centres and indeed different areas of the country. I often ask myself what were the hopes of the people who opened those early centres as they were gently weaned from the parent across the water. I am thinking of centres such as Belfast, Cork, Kilkenny, Limerick and Newry. Would they think that what they were beginning then, would still be around sixty years later? It is, and that is why we have much to celebrate today.
Let us take another look into that autograph book of one hundred years ago:
“Love’s voice doth sing
As sweetly in a beggar as a King”
I received the gift of a beautifully wood carved begging bowl earlier this week. I am not sure what message the donor was trying to give me! Dioceses invested hugely in CMAC in the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s. They paid for initial training and centre facilities. Just as Accord is built on the shoulders of those visionaries who opened centres across the island, so too it is built on the dedication and commitment of dioceses who were very anxious to have a ministry and outreach to support couples and marriages. CMAC people were among the first lay people trained for specialised ministry in the Church.
My journey into CMAC began with the Mullingar Centre when I completed my Initial Training Course, as it was called then, in Emmaus in 1989, of happy memory remembering my tutors Mary Chapman and the late Sean Flood. The friendship and support of counsellor and facilitator colleagues was so affirming then and remains so now. My interest was in marriage preparation, as Pope Francis reminded us in Amoris Laetitia “young love needs to keep dancing towards the future with immense hope” , I loved being part of their sacramental preparation journey. The sharing at monthly meetings was always deeply enriching. I wasn’t in the counselling room but was humbled to work alongside counsellors who were, and learned so much about the messiness of relationships. As Saint Teresa of Avila said “God writes straight on crooked lines”, as evidenced so often in those counselling sessions.
In the mid 1990’s State funding was more generously given to Accord centres and rightly so. The service Accord then provided was second to none, and this was a great saving for the State in terms of supporting marriages, relationships and families. With funding understandably comes compliance and regulation. TUSLA here in South, and the NI Department of Health in the North, continue today to generously fund us and for that we are very grateful. Accord’s counselling service contributes in a very positive way to the happiness and well-being of many children.
For example, in an Accord submission to the Universal Synodal process during the summer, we were reminded “emotionally unhealthy or dysfunctional families find the task of rearing and enabling children to be balanced and happy is quite challenging and difficult.” Even at sixty perhaps Accord remains a hidden and unspoken treasure of our Church?
A final glance at that century old autograph book:
Always paddle your own canoe.
When you are married and your husband gets cross
Up with the poker and say who is the boss”
The skillset that you, as a counsellor or facilitator, develop arising from your training is very different today. Accord through its three companies operates in a very different space than the 1960’s. The Revised Marriage Preparation Programme inspired by Amoris Laetitia is currently being piloted in ten centres across the three companies so as to offer couples skills that, like the man in Luke’s gospel, allows them to build their home and family life on solid foundations. The modules don’t substantially change, but the language and methodology are more accessible to the couples. It is very reassuring to see the significant numbers expressing interest in training as counsellors or facilitators with Accord in the coming years.
In June, at the 10th World Meeting of Families in Rome, there was a strong plea to offer better supports for marriage and the family. We need to work much more closely with parishes and other ecclesial movements. Accord in our three autonomous companies cannot do it alone, we need each other and need our parishes and our movements such as Cana, Retrouvaille, Teams of Our Lady, Marriage Encounter to mention just a few. Let us form an alliance of movements, parishes and agencies that are about the same thing, the same goal, the same endpoint.
Indeed such an alliance would speak to the yearlong marriage catechumenate that the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life is drafting in Rome and more importantly to the promotion and support of sacramental marriage, at a time when the numbers choosing a Church wedding are sadly on a downward trajectory. Let us together reverse that trend!
Together, as an alliance:
– let us journey with couples in their sacramental marriage preparation journey;
– let us support young couples in their early years of marriage;
– let us accompany couples and individuals who are struggling to stay together; and,
– let us form young people in values that stand them for life.
If such an alliance was achieved we would be honouring the foresight of those who founded CMAC/Accord on this island all of those sixty years ago.