Bishop of Shrewsbury: 'We must have courage to speak up for marriage'


The Bishop of Shrewsbury yesterday urged the Catholics of his Diocese to find the courage to proclaim the “good news” about marriage in the face of quiet intimidation to keep silent about the benefits of the institution.

The Rt Rev Mark Davies said that marriage was becoming increasingly “unmentionable”, with politicians often reluctant to say the word, teachers increasingly too scared to propose marriage as a model of life to pupils, and even Ofsted, the schools standards watchdog, questioning young children to determine whether their understanding of marriage and the family was too “narrow”. Yet the evidence was overwhelming that exclusive, life-long marriage between a man and a woman were clearly of huge benefit to couples, children and society as a whole, Bishop Davies said in a homily during a Mass for Married Couples at St Columba’s Church, Chester, adding that the cost of family breakdown was in contrast catastrophic both financially and socially, with the young suffering most grievously.

“Have we become afraid to recognise marriage as a vital and privileged institution serving the good of the whole of society?” he asked. The Bishop instead asserted that the Church needed to “rebuild a culture of the family based on marriage”. He told the congregation, comprising of couples celebrating 25, 40, 50 and 60 years of married life along with their families, that they would be therefore justified to expect candidates seeking votes in the General Election of May 7 to offer a “moral lead” in defence of marriage and he also encouraged the faithful to “never be afraid to speak of the good news that is marriage”.

Bishop Davies said: “We cannot fail to observe an extraordinary phenomenon in our own society by which marriage becomes increasingly ‘unmentionable’. Politicians speak of ‘new forms of family’ but often seem afraid to speak of marriage itself. In classrooms teachers, rightly sensitive to the home backgrounds of the children they teach, have often become less ready to propose the model of marriage. “We have even heard horror stories of inspectors in schools questioning very young children as to whether they have been taught ‘narrow’ understandings of the family. The Church may well find herself amongst the last voices in society whole-heartedly speaking for the family based on the strong foundation of the lasting, life-giving, faithful union of one man and one woman. “In past decades, Marxists and feminists railed against the institution of marriage as an oppressive structure hindering the march of progress. Today, we know a quieter intimidation urging us to be silent about the immense and necessary good which marriage represents.

“I want, therefore, to encourage you today to speak up for marriage, to speak uninhibitedly of the good of marriage! In this you speak not simply from your personal experience but from our faith that marriage is God’s plan for the health and happiness of the family and, indeed, for the whole of human society. We speak from both faith and reason when we urge those to be elected to the new Parliament to support marriage against the increasing scale of the breakdown of families which we have witnessed in the past three decades.

“Politicians have told me that their electors don’t look to them for sermons. I am sure we don’t expect sermons on morality from our elected representatives but we do expect a moral lead when a great, social good is at stake.” The Mass was attended by 10 couples celebrating their 25th anniversaries, six celebrating their 30th, 11 celebrating their 40th, 24 celebrating 50 years of marriage, six celebrating 60 years. This meant that the congregation together had experienced about 2,500 years of married life.

One couple, Vincent and Mollie Mooney had celebrated their 65th anniversary on February 11 and were applauded and cheered as they cut into a wedding cake during a reception after the Mass.

The homily of Bishop of Shrewsbury follows in full. 

Homily for the Diocesan Celebration of Marriage St Columba’s Church, Chester 14th February 2015 In “Marriage Week” we come together as a Diocese to celebrate Christian Marriage. It is a wonderful moment to see so many couples celebrating 25, 40, 50 or 60 years of married life. I think of all the years and of the changing situations of your lives in which you have lived the vocation of marriage. In the Marriage Rite we hear the words which I am eager to repeat to you today: “Christ abundantly blesses this love.”

On St Valentine’s Day we are not misled into seeing such love as a passing sentiment. This is a love and a romance to be lived every day amid the joys and troubles, the sacrifices and the gifts, which mark the life of every marriage and family. I give thanks with you today for the great good which your marriage has been for you, for your children and your grandchildren and will be for generations yet to come. And today, on behalf of so many, I want to use my voice as bishop to say very simply and wholeheartedly: “Thank you!” Sadly, we cannot fail to observe an extraordinary phenomenon in our own society by which marriage becomes increasingly “unmentionable”.

Politicians speak of “new forms of family” but often seem afraid to speak of marriage itself. In classrooms teachers, rightly sensitive to the home backgrounds of the children they teach, have often become less ready to propose the model of marriage. We have even heard horror stories of inspectors in schools questioning very young children as to whether they have been taught “narrow” understandings of the family.

The Church may well find herself amongst the last voices in society whole-heartedly speaking for the family based on the strong foundation of the lasting, life-giving, faithful union of one man and one woman. In past decades, Marxists and feminists railed against the institution of marriage as an oppressive structure hindering the march of progress. Today, we know a quieter intimidation urging us to be silent about the immense and necessary good which marriage represents. I want, therefore, to encourage you today to speak up for marriage, to speak uninhibitedly of the good of marriage! In this you speak not simply from your personal experience but from our faith that marriage is God’s plan for the health and happiness of the family and, indeed, for the whole of human society.

We speak from both faith and reason when we urge those to be elected to the new Parliament to support marriage against the increasing scale of the breakdown of families which we have witnessed in the past three decades. Politicians have told me that their electors don’t look to them for sermons.

I am sure we don’t expect sermons on morality from our elected representatives but we do expect a moral lead when a great, social good is at stake. We have an obligation to recognise the consequences of the breakdown in stable, two-parent families. The financial cost is staggering: according to one estimate, family disintegration costs an extraordinary £46 billion each year to the public purse (Relationships Foundation).

Leaving aside the financial implications it is the immense human cost - especially for the young - which can no longer be ignored. Increasing evidence points to the fact that two-parent families and the children of marriage have better outcomes in almost every area of life. Yet, despite the evidence we have seen, so many of the legal, financial and social supports for marriage and married parents being removed.

Have we become afraid to recognise marriage as a vital and privileged institution serving the good of the whole of society? Today, marriage is in decline not merely because it has been discriminated against in the tax/benefits system; or mocked by political correctness or denigrated in public entertainment but due to a deeper neglect. We are today facing the challenge of encouraging new generations not to accept cohabitation, easy divorce and family breakdown as a normal part of life, something our society has become resigned to despite its immense human cost, especially for the young. We need to rebuild a culture of the family founded on marriage.

In Pope Francis’s striking image we can find ourselves bandaging the injuries without healing the wound. We need to take marriage seriously as a great social good, and recognise that children flourish best when they have the gift of a mother and father in their lives.

We need to propose anew what Pope Francis now calls “the Gospel of the Family”. Let us never be afraid to speak of the good news that is marriage! Thank you for the witness you have given to this Gospel of the Family. Returning today to the Altar conscious of the hopes of your youth and the frailties of the years, may you always believe anew in the love that is revealed in the Sacrifice of Christ made present in the Sacrifice of the Altar. This is the measure of the love you have sought to live in the vocation of marriage: the Holy Sacrifice, the Holy Eucharist which inexhaustibly strengthens the unity and love, the faithfulness and witness of Christian Marriage.

+ Mark Bishop of Shrewsbury 


Tags: Bishop Mark Davies, Diocese of Shrewsbury, marriage, Simon Caldwell

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