Sunday, February 9 was World Marriage Day. Married couples from throughout our diocese joined me at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception for the celebration of their jubilees. Gathered at the Eucharist we gave thanks to Almighty God for their example of fidelity, sacrifice and joy. It was a joyous occasion! The Marriage Jubilee is a reminder to all of us to pray that married and family life will be strengthened. The homily I preached on that occasion is printed below.
Welcome to our beautiful Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception! Many joyful celebrations occur here each year. Each has its special character. One of the most significant and enjoyable for me is the celebration of marriage jubilees. Today on World Marriage Day we proclaim, with joy and gratitude, your faithful witness to the marriage vows you professed 25, 50 and more years ago. The “yes” that you spoke to each other at that time was filled with fervor, excitement, joy and perhaps a bit of apprehension. It was a lovely and grace-filled day. Now, however, we are celebrating the joy, fidelity and sacrifice that have stood the test of time. I offer my prayerful congratulations and best wishes. Thank you for being here and for the witness of your lives.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells those who had just heard his teaching on the Beatitudes, “You are the salt of the earth. . . . You are the light of the world” (Mt 5:13, 14). Jesus tells His listeners to let their light “shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Mt 5:16). In the first reading, Isaiah gives a similar message. He tells the people their light will “break forth like the dawn” if they are attentive to their neighbor by feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless and removing oppression.
Like the people who were listening to Isaiah and to Jesus we are expected to let our light shine before others. The beauty and truth of the Gospel must be evident in our lives. All of us are light-bearers. In a particular way, your married life manifests faithfulness, sacrifice and joy. The Church needs this light “to break forth and shine” for all to see.
We speak of marriage as a covenant. Covenant is a biblical term that describes 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. God would be faithful to His people, protect and guide them. For their part, the people were to listen to God 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.
The marriage covenant between a man and a woman is an image and symbol of the covenant which unites God with His people. It is a sign of Christ’s love for His bride, the Church. God’s love for us is faithful and irrevocable. His love and mercy last forever. Your fidelity to one another is a sign of God’s steadfast and faithful love and a testament to the beauty and power of His grace which has enabled you to be true to each other in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.
Authentic love always requires sacrifice. Love for another person can be challenging. It requires that we look toward the other and away from ourselves. You know better than I the sacrifices that have been necessary during your married life, the self-giving that has been required during your years together.
St. Paul gives a good description of love in his First Letter to the Corinthians. He tells us love is patient and kind, does not seek its own interests, is not quick tempered, does not brood over injury and bears all things (Cf. 1 Cor 13: 4-7). This reading is used often at the marriage ceremony. I suspect that a couple understands the full meaning of these words and the sacrifice they entail after they have spent years together and have experienced the need to be patient, to forgive, to be kind and to bear all things — not once, but many times.
It is a challenge to put the interests of your spouse before your own interests, day in and day out over many years. Your initial “yes” on your wedding day has been repeated often as you recommitted yourself to each other in fidelity and love. It is so fitting that we celebrate your self-offering in marriage at the table of the Lord’s self-offering. It is here you are joined to Christ’s sacrifice, His “yes” to the Father’s will. And from here you receive the grace for your love to remain constant and faithful.
The light of your lives shows us the love and fidelity of God. It shows us the meaning of love modeled on Christ’s self-giving love for us. Your witness assures us that God’s love and mercy are everlasting; that sacrifice and self-giving are possible and indeed necessary if relationships are to mature and last a lifetime; that joy is the fruit of love and sacrifice.
As we gather at this Eucharist we thank God for the gift of His love. You know that often during your married life you have turned to Him. His grace has sustained you; His grace will always be with you as you continue the journey of life together. Thank you for giving yourself each day. Thank you for being a sign to all the faithful of the irrevocable love of the Lord Jesus. Happy anniversary! God bless you.
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.