Sunday, Feb. 10 was a joyous occasion! Married couples from throughout the diocese joined me at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception for the celebration of their jubilees. [Turn to pages 8 and 9 of this issue to see photos from the Mass.] Gathered at the Eucharist, we gave thanks to Almighty God for their examples of fidelity and enduring love. This acknowledgement of married couples’ commitment to each other and faithfulness to their vows is a reminder to all of us to pray that married and family life will be strengthened. The homily I preached at the Marriage Jubilee is printed below.
Welcome to our beautiful Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and to this celebration of the Eucharist. How fitting that we celebrate your respective jubilees, your years of fidelity to each other — 25, 50, 60 and more — at the Eucharist where God’s enduring and sacrificial love is made present to us.
Our Holy Father spoke recently about the human capacity to make a commitment. He asks, “Can one bind oneself for a lifetime? Does this correspond to man’s nature? Does it contradict his freedom and the scope of his self-realization? Does man become himself by living for himself alone and only entering into relationships with others when he can break them off again at any time? Is commitment worth suffering for?” (Pope Benedict XVI, Christmas Greetings to the Roman Curia, December 21, 2012).
We do not need words to answer these questions. We need only to look at your example. In your years of fidelity, we see that one can bind oneself for a lifetime; that fidelity to a relationship can be sustained throughout a lifetime; that this lifelong relationship is worth sacrifice and indeed is strengthened by it.
Covenant is a rich biblical term that describes a relationship, the relationship between God and His people. “I will be your God and you will be my people” (Ex 6:7), God tells His chosen people. As with any relationship the parties were responsible for accepting the requirements of the relationship. For their part, God’s people were to listen to Him and follow His ways. They were not particularly good listeners or followers so the relationship broke down. God’s love is enduring and everlasting, however. He promised a new covenant that would be planted deep within them, written in their hearts (cf. Jer 31:34). This new covenant is realized with the sacrifice of Christ. His body and blood offered for us forges the possibility of a new and deeper relationship with God.
Christian marriage is a sign of the new covenant, the relationship, between Christ and His Church. Your marriage is a visible reminder of the enduring love Christ has for His people. On the day of your marriage you mutually gave yourself to each other: “I take you to be my wife” — “I take you to be my husband” (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1627). The “yes” you said to each other years ago was spoken with the fervor of love, the consequences, and dare I say, the demands of which were in the future, in the days, months and years that would follow your wedding day.
Through the years, the grace of the sacrament of Matrimony enabled you to witness to Christ’s fidelity and love. God loves you with a definitive and irrevocable love. This love has supported and sustained you. Your faithfulness is a witness of God’s faithful love for all His people.
There is a cultural misunderstanding about marriage today. Many in society question the possibility of a life-long commitment. Many it seems prefer an “arrangement” until something better or someone else enters the picture or until it becomes inconvenient, personally too demanding, or no longer satisfying.
In the first pages of Scripture, we read about the marriage of Adam and Eve when the world was created. In the final pages, we hear God’s promise of a new creation in the “wedding feast” of Jesus Christ and His Church. From the beginning to the end of history, God is creating — from out of all the peoples of the earth — one single family. The history of salvation is a “family story.” It is about the family of God and His Catholic Church. The teaching of the Catholic Church does not create reality, but provides a deeper understanding of it. We cannot redefine marriage to meet personal needs and expectations or current cultural values that are opposed to the Gospel.
You are a sign of hope. Your lives proclaim: It is possible to say “yes” forever. It is possible to remain faithful to a promise, to a relationship, forever even when we do not know all that will be required by this fidelity. It is possible, even in difficult circumstances, in trying times, in times of sorrow and sacrifice, to stand firm in one’s relationship. You remind us that all this is possible because God has been with you. He has been and continues to be the unseen but ever present partner in your marriage covenant.
The Church needs your witness. You keep before our eyes the truth about the human person, namely that it is only through self-giving that a person finds himself. “[O]nly by opening himself to the other, to others, to children, to the family, only by letting himself be changed through suffering, does he discover the breath of his humanity” (Christmas Greetings to the Roman Curia, December 21, 2012).”
It was at Cana in Galilee that Jesus sanctified the ancient natural institution of marriage. There He lifted up marriage, showing us what God intended from the beginning. The Church attaches great importance to Jesus’ presence at the wedding at Cana. She sees in it the confirmation of the goodness of marriage. Marriage is far more than a civil union. Jesus shows us that God intends it to be a “sacrament,” a sign of His presence and plan for the world.
Thank you for your years of fidelity, for the witness of your lives, for being signs of God’s everlasting love.
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.