World Marriage Day was observed on Feb. 13, 2011. On that day, Bishop Cunningham celebrated Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception for married couples celebrating 25, 50 or more years of marriage. The following is the homily which the bishop preached on that occasion.
Let me begin by welcoming all of you to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the mother church of the Diocese of Syracuse. In a special way, I want to welcome all couples celebrating significant anniversaries. This Cathedral Church belongs to all in the diocese and its beauty is enhanced by the love and devotion which you show to each other and to God. On this cold winter day, we gather in the warmth of our Cathedral to offer thanks to God for the gift of His unfailing love made visible in the sacrament of Matrimony. We are so happy that you are with us to celebrate that love.
As we grow older (gracefully, I hope) and the years seem to go by ever more quickly, memory plays an even larger part in our daily lives. We remember the good times and the times of struggle. Our hopes and aspirations of past years as well as the difficulties and disappointments we endured come to mind. While the philosopher might disagree, I think the heart remembers too. The heart, often associated with love, recalls the love and devotion you have shown to each other through the years. Truly, this love and devotion have been and are a gift not only for yourselves and your families, but also for the Church and society as well.
Today my own memory journeys back more than 30 years to student days at the Catholic University of America. I had been sent there by my Bishop to obtain a degree in Church Law. One of the courses I took was on the theology and law of marriage. At the time and in that academic setting, there were many discussions on whether marriage was a contract or a covenant. The idea was that if marriage was a contract, it would be a binding legal agreement entered into between two individuals; if it was a covenant it would be a special relationship of love — based not so much on law but on love. In reality, both elements exist in every Christian marriage. This afternoon we celebrate the covenant which you entered at the time of your marriage. Today we gather and give thanks and praise to God for the witness of your love.
The covenant of God’s love is evident also in the Eucharist which we are celebrating this afternoon. These two sacraments — Matrimony and the Eucharist — have nourished and strengthened you throughout the course of your married lives. For marriage is a sacrament not only on the day you pronounce your vows, but on each day you live as a loving couple. The reception of the Eucharist nourishes that love and reminds you of the covenant that God has with us and that you have with your spouse.
Those who are here today celebrating their 50th anniversary or more of marriage will remember what a popular figure Archbishop Fulton Sheen was in the 1950s and the 1960s. He wrote a book, Three to Get Married, in which he talked about a union comprised of a man, a woman and God. God brought you together, and He accompanied you and carried you through both the joys and the trials of your lives. And He continues to do so.
A marriage cannot be sustained on merely the human level. Spouses need God, as all of you can attest from experience. Spouses need God, for strength, for faith, for trust. You turn to Him in the difficult times of sickness, loss, and pain. During these times, He sustains and strengthens you on your life journey. You turn to Him also in times of joy, thanking Him for His many gifts: the birth of children, employment, your homes, good health, and most of all the love within your families. It truly does take three to get married, and three to sustain marriages and to make them grow into love and fruitfulness. Thank you for making God the third partner in your marriage.
Thank you also for creating a home in which the love of God is evident and marriage is valued as the holy vocation it is. I know you join me in promoting and safeguarding the dignity of Christian marriage. We need to be clear in our understanding of what marriage is and be ready to defend it. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.” (#1601) The marriage bond by its nature is perpetual and exclusive and open to the creation of new life.
Love for another person can be challenging, even strenuous. Love for another is easy as long as it is an abstraction far removed from the monotony of everyday life. But despite the ups and downs that come into every life, you have been faithful day in and day out, year after year, to the promises you made on the day of your marriage. You have given us true witness to the covenant of marriage. The world needs your example of married love and life-long commitment.
I am grateful to you for the example and witness of your lives. Your mutual love is a vivid image of the unfailing love with which God loves all of us. We congratulate you on this occasion. Thank you for touching our lives and giving all of us an example of authentic love that we need and cherish.
If you have an intention you would like me to remember in prayer, please forward it to me at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.