Valentines Day Mass Homily – Cardinal John Dew


25 years ago I saw this painting in a Church in Florence; I loved it and have thought about it many times over the years. Last October I had a few hours in Florence, I went back to have another look at this painting. It was painted by Pietro Annigoni in 1964. I found the Church and asked if there was a bookshop where I could buy a print of the painting, but no they didn’t have a bookshop, – while nobody was looking I whipped my phone out and took this photo.

When I saw it 25 years ago there were two things I loved

  • The big, strong , YOUNG St Joseph
  • -and – the little very blond Jesus intent on what he was doing at the carpenter’s bench.

You can’t see the look on Josephs face; there is pride, joy, patience, tenderness, a protective hand hovering just in case it is needed. It says something of family life, about the joy of family life; it captures what I see as a magical, mystical moment between father and son.

You parents have all experienced it, moments of joy and wonder and hearts bursting with wonder and pride in the things you observe, see and hear from you daughters and sons.

As husbands and wives experience that with each other. Recently I saw a wonderful You-tube clip of Michelle Obama, I then looked at some other clips of the Obamas, there were moments of great intimacy and tenderness, moments of deep joy and love -they were almost oblivious to the cameras and the audience of millions.

Those are the moments of joy that Pope Francis is talking about in this magnificent document AMORIS LAETITIA – on love and joy in the Family. He devotes a large part of this reflecting on tonight’s Reading which Paul calls his “Hymn to Love.”  We’ve heard that so many times, listened to it at so many weddings, so many times that the message can easily pass us by. I will come back to that because I first want to mention a phrase which comes much later in this letter.

Pope Francis says: “No family drops down from heaven perfectly formed.” So relax if you as a couple and your family haven’t actually got is altogether. The Pope is so realistic; none of us have got it all together yet! This is a key message of Francis writing. Our everyday family life can be messy at times, we are not perfectly formed, life is bumpy and difficult.

But family life – even in the midst of that is beautiful. it is where we learn to love and be loved, to forgive and be forgiven, it’s where we learn to laugh and enjoy life…all of that takes time, it takes an effort and it takes prayer and reflection.

That short phrase “No family drops down from heaven perfectly formed,”   reminds us that we are growing and maturing; the ability to love and to be people of joy and peace takes time.

Joy is one of the hallmarks of Christian life, of married life. When our lives are filled with joy others want to have what we have. Your joy in each other attracts others, when they see that marriage – despite it’s bumps and messiness brings you joy and peace – others will want what you have.

I think what Pope Francis is saying in that phrase is that we need do be light-hearted in what we do so that we avoid taking ourselves too seriously- that also stops any of us becoming selfish and proud.  And all of that comes from discovering the love St Paul wrote about.

All of us, myself included would do well to let ourselves be guided by the inspired words of the Paul.

Saint Paul tells us that love is, above all, “patient” and “kind”. As we each learn to love in our own situations the more our hearts are to be like the heart of Christ, a lovely challenge is to expand our hearts according to the measure of the heart of Christ.

“Patience” means being able to love without limits, to be faithful in particular situations and with practical gestures. It means loving what is great without neglecting what is small; loving the little things within the horizon of the great things, the messy bumpy things as well. Patience means to love through acts of kindness. “Kindness” of courses always meaning and clearly deciding to always will the good of the other.

Love “is not jealous or boastful, it is not puffed up with pride”. This is surely a miracle of love, since we humans – all of us, at every stage of our lives – are inclined to jealousy and pride, since our nature is wounded by sin.

Love “is not arrogant or rude, it does not insist on its own way”. That simply means that those who live in love are not  self-centered. There will never be joy in life if any of us are self- centered

Love “is not irritable, it is not resentful”. Obviously for any of us there are plenty of opportunities to be irritable, to feel anger. It is love and love only that frees us. Love frees us from the risk of reacting impulsively, of saying or doing the wrong thing; and from the danger of pent-up anger, or smouldering anger.

Love  “does not rejoice at the wrong, but rejoices in the right”.

Finally, “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”.

Here, in four words, says Pope Francis is a spiritual and pastoral programme of life.

Bear, believe, hope , endure…….

That’s how we learn, that’s what brings us joy

That’s what helps us know “No family drops down from heaven perfectly formed.” 

We are all here to help one another, you as husbands and wives have the great privilege and joy of doing that as married couples.