Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, Primate of All Ireland, delivered the following intervention at the Synod of Bishops in Rome on Saturday 10 October:
* * *
Holy Father, brothers and sisters, I can only imagine what it must be like for a mother and father to hold their newborn baby in their arms for the first time. My 87 year old mother, who had twelve children, tells me, ‘Eamon, unless you experience it, you can’t explain it!’
The unique tender love that unites husband, wife and their newborn child is a reflection of the tenderness of God. It makes a connection and leaves an imprint which remains even in the face of the awful realities that can feature in family life today – like violence, rejection, division, scandal, and hurt – realities which we pray about in our ‘Prayer for the Synod’.
The Holy Father called on us recently to be ‘revolutionaries of tenderness’, but how difficult it must be for some families to keep tenderness alive.
In our deliberations as a Synod of Bishops, let us not forget families which have experienced the trauma of abuse and domestic violence, those for whom the proclamation of what we call the ‘Good News’ of the Family may mean little or nothing. The Church is sometimes described as a family of families. We know only too well the horrific impact of sins and crimes of abuse in the Church family: the betrayal of trust, the violation of dignity, the shame – both public and private, the anger and alienation, the wound that never seems to heal.
Perhaps our catechesis about ‘tenderness’ in paragraph 70 of the Instrumentum Laboris needs to reflect more openly these awful realities that afflict too many families today – families who ask: Where is God in all this? What of justice? Where do we find forgiveness? How does mercy and tenderness fit in?
Our ‘Prayer for the Synod’ asks for the assistance of the Holy Family of Nazareth, conscious that it is only in the mystery of the Incarnation and in the healing power of Christ’s redemptive suffering on the Cross that the power of sin and evil is overcome, and light can shine into the darkest and most hopeless of family situations.
That light shines forth from the loving kindness of the heart of God ‘who visits us like the dawn from on high’. God’s loving kindness is so beautifully portrayed in the image of the Father running out to embrace his Prodigal Son, an image which Saint John Paul said ‘sums up all the best characteristics of fatherhood and motherhood’ (Pope John Paul II). What better icon for the ‘revolutionary tenderness’ of God, whose mercy knows no bounds.