Sunday, February 10, 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 and witness. 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.
It is good for us to be here! This is a joyous occasion. How happy I am to welcome you to our cathedral for this special celebration. On this cold winter day, we gather in the warmth of our mother Church to offer thanks to God for the gift of His unfailing love made visible in the sacrament of Matrimony. How fitting that we celebrate your respective jubilees, your years of fidelity to each other — 25, 50, 60 — at the Eucharist, the sacrament of God’s faithful and sacrificial love.
What are we celebrating today? In one sense, the answer is obvious. We are celebrating milestones for couples who years ago received the sacrament of Matrimony. However, I think we can go deeper than simply acknowledging the years of commitment to one another. Allow me to share two words that help to capture a deeper meaning for our celebration today, fidelity and witness.
Dear jubilarians, you have been faithful to each other, faithful to the promises you professed on your wedding day. In the Bible, when someone is called “faithful” it means that he or she is firm and steadfast. You can count on them. Of course, the faithful one is God. He is always unwavering and steadfast in His love for us. But people can be faithful too. They can, with God’s help, be constant in their devotion to God and in fulfilling their responsibilities to love and care for others.
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. 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.
I am reminded of the wisdom of the saints when they spoke about love. St Basil the Great reminds us, “Love does not seek its own benefit but what is for the benefit of the one loved, both in body and in soul.” St. Teresa of Calcutta spoke of spreading love everywhere but “first of all in your own house. Give love to your children, to your wife, or husband . . . Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.” Thank you for the love you have shared with each other, each looking toward the good of the other. Thank you for spreading your love to you children and teaching them how to love.
How the world needs people who are faithful to their word, steadfast in keeping their promises, constant in fulfilling the duties of their state in life. How our society needs models of faithfulness who promise “forever” to build and support relationships. Society often suggests that fidelity is required only when we feel like being faithful, only when we get immediate satisfaction, only when the other party meets our needs and so on. You know that fidelity requires daily effort, God’s grace and a firm resolve to keep the promises you made to each other. I know it has not always been easy but you have endured. I hope you have experienced the joy and peace that comes with being true to your word.
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. You are a witness of God’s unwavering love for all His people.
Many believe that marriage and family are outdated institutions. This is not so. Families are the basic cell of societies and nations. In the “domestic church,” the church of the home and family, people learn how to live, how to treat one another, what to believe and how to practice their faith. You know better than I do that marriage and family life are not a dreamland or a garden of paradise. Marriage partnerships need to be lived out day by day in mutual respect, patience and tolerance. They must be open to ongoing dialogue and conversion and always ready to face new challenges.
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 takes three to get married: a man, a woman and God. It takes three to sustain a marriage and enable a couple to grow into love and fruitfulness. Thank you for making God the third partner in your marriage. Your fidelity and witness that we acknowledge today are the result of your unselfish and consistent efforts and God’s grace. Thank you for being open to God’s grace. Thank you for your fidelity and witness.
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.