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A gritty look at ‘family’

“In the Joy of Love: A Family Perspective, author Gráinne Doherty takes an askance view of the notion of ‘family’ and we’re all the better for it.” So said Pat Coyle, Director of Irish Jesuit Communications, speaking at the launch of the book, based on reflections around Pope Francis’ letter Amoris Laetitia (Joy of Love). The event took place in the Avila Carmelite Centre on Morehampton Rd, Dublin, on Thursday 27th September at 7pm.

Jesuit theologian Gerry O’Hanlon SJ, was also at the launch. He had read and endorsed the book which is published by Vertias. Gerry spoke about Gráinne’s own theological learning (she has lectured in moral and pastoral theology and is completing her PhD on women in the church) which, he said, “is worn lightly.” He said the book was at once “a simple and yet profound meditation on Pope Francis’ Joy of Love,” adding that it was “a down-to-earth and beautiful book – full of tenderness, wisdom and gritty realism.”

Pat Coyle told those gathered in Avila that Joy of Love is not simply a book that one reads, rather “It’s an encounter. The reader is gently drawn to move from head to heart where transformation and a meeting with the divine can take place.”

She outlined how the book does this by first citing the author’s use of story, quoting the old aphorism that “the shortest distance between a human being and truth is a story”.  All the stories in Gráinne’s book are drawn from her own experience of family life, and whilst many are full of love and celebration Pat noted that, “there’s no sugar coating of the more gritty, less palatable and more challenging aspects of everyday life.”

So the author talks about teenage rows with her father, the untimely death of her sister from cancer, her mother’s love of gardening, the decision made by her sons and daughters to put her in a nursing home on when her Alzheimer’s worsened, the privilege it was (and still is) for Gráinne to spend time with her in that home.

All these stories are preceded by an apposite short excerpt, mainly from Amoris Laetitia, and followed by a reflective prayer relating to the theme of her story and the excerpt from Amoris Laetitia. Pat Coyle praised the quality of the prayers written by the author, noting that it is not easy to get the tone absolutely right in ‘homemade compositions’. “But Gráinne has a gift for by-passing the religious jargon associated with many prayers without descending into the saccharine or inane fare that is often served up in their stead nowadays,” she said.

She also noted the welcome absence of sexist language throughout the book. “It’s so absent that I didn’t even notice the fact until I read one quote near the end referencing God as ‘father’.  It gave me a jolt and then I realised that it was the first time in the book that a male image was used of God. And I further realised how lovely and non-jarring it is to read a religious book in which the language is totally inclusive.”

One of the author’s most notable achievement’s in the book, according to Pat, was her ability to breathe fresh life into well known, even sometimes well worn, gospel passages.  “Like when Gráinne takes St Paul’s famous meditation on love, reflected on by Pope Francis, and reminds us that it is often used at weddings,” she explained ” Then she tells us that she used this reading to speak about her beloved sister’s funeral Mass. And somehow re-reading the passage through the eyes of loss and grief, through the lens of a life well-lived in loved, renews the passage in the most moving way”.

Along with the more painful moments of family life, the book is also peppered with stories of fun and laughter. “Those who know Gráinne are all too familiar with her great sense of humour and ability to laugh at herself. This book will make you laugh out loud, and as Pope Francis note in another letter, Gaudate et Exutatae, laughter is one of the hall-marks of holiness and sanctity”,she concluded.

Speaking at the end of the launch, Gráinne thanked all those who had helped her with the book, especially the publishers and  her family and friends. She mentioned sitting up in the ‘wee small hours’ writing from the heart, drawing on the well of her own family experience. “I realised one thing very clearly at the end of it,” she said. “It’s all about love. Nothing else matters, nothing else lasts, only love”.

Gráinne Doherty’s book was commissioned by Veritas on the occasion of the World Meeting of Families in Dublin, 21-26 August. It is available online, and in Veritas and other good bookstores, €7.99.