By Lois Rogers and Rose O’Connor | Correspondents
Celebrating two Masses for married couples marking milestone anniversaries in the Diocese, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., thanked them for their fidelity and the commitment they made to one another in Christ through the Sacrament of Matrimony.
To see photo gallery from St. Robert Bellarmine Parish, click here.
To see photo gallery from St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, click here.
“What a great joy it is for me as your Bishop to celebrate you, to celebrate your married life, to celebrate your commitment, to celebrate your great fidelity and the grace that God has filled your life with,” Bishop O’Connell said to the more than 200 couples from Monmouth and Ocean Counties who gathered for the Anniversary Blessing Mass that he celebrated Oct. 25 in St. Robert Bellarmine Church, Freehold. The first 2015 Anniversary Blessing Mass was celebrated by the Bishop for more than 70 couples from Burlington and Mercer Counties Oct. 11 in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton.
Sponsored by the diocesan Department of Youth, Marriage and Family Life, the Masses recognized couples marking wedding anniversaries of one, 25, 50 or more years of married life. In the company of their families, fellow parishioners and friends, the couples renewed their vows before Bishop O’Connell.
Local priests joined Bishop O’Connell at the altar and were on hand to greet the couples individually and offer them a blessing at the end of Mass. Among the concelebrating priests in the Cathedral celebration were Msgr. Joseph Roldan, Cathedral rector; Msgr. Michael J. Walsh, episcopal vicar for Mercer County, and Father Phillip C. Pfleger, episcopal vicar of Burlington County.
In St. Robert Bellarmine Parish, concelebrating priests included Msgr. Sam Sirianni, pastor of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish, and Father Stanley P. Lukaszewski, whose appointment as episcopal vicar of Ocean County will become effective Jan.1.
The Bishop, in his homilies, tied the day’s Scripture readings into the theme of marriage and offered poignant messages to the couples.
For the Burlington and Mercer County couples Oct. 11, the Bishop reflected on the faith values that had stood the test of time of more than two millennia.
He said, “We see people getting married in all sorts of places, on beaches, on cruise ships, jumping out of airplanes or even having their wedding ceremony in Las Vegas with ‘Elvis’ himself as the minister.”
“You, however, decided to get married in the Church because you understand your marriage as a Sacrament, one of those seven outward signs instituted by Christ to give grace. You understood your marriage as something not just between the two of you, but between the two of you and God. That is why we say that the Sacrament of Marriage is a covenant; it is a covenant between you and God.
The Bishop spoke of the Gospel from St. Mark which told the story of a man who wanted to know what he had to do in order to earn eternal life. Along with keeping faithful to Jesus and his commandments, Jesus told the man to give up all of his possessions and follow him. The man, who had many possessions, was not willing to give up his treasures and he walked away from Jesus and was sad.
“Perhaps there is a lesson there in the Gospel for married couples,” stated Bishop O’Connell. “What do we hold on to? What do we refuse to give up? What keeps the grace of this sacrament in check? What is that ‘one thing more’ that even after 25 or 50 years, the Lord is whispering to us to let go of?”
“Jesus has commanded us to love as he has loved…He loved until it cost him. He loved all the way to the cross and death. That is love. If he had stopped loving before Calvary then it would not have been love at all. But love, in the sense that Jesus means, is loving even when it means undergoing suffering for the sake of the other. That is real love, loving for the good of the other.”
For the couples at the Oct. 25 celebration in Freehold, the Bishop recounted the Gospel which told of Jesus performing a miracle and restoring the sight of Bartimaeus, a blind beggar.
Conveying the lesson that people can learn from the story of Bartimaeus, Bishop said, “The world has known Jesus for 2,000 years. We, as Catholics, have known him all our lives since our Baptism. As we have grown over the years, we have connected with Jesus: through our parents and family; through religious education; through the sacraments; through our marriages; through the Church; through our faith. At the altar we receive the very Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus. it is to the altar that we bring our joys, our sorrows, our needs, our prayers, the things that help us to face life in this world. From this altar we receive Christ and take him out those doors into our marriages, our families, our communities, our workplace, our lives.”
“As we look back over one year of marriage, 25 years of marriage, 50 years of marriage or more, faith has made a difference, has made married life better, fuller, richer and more satisfying. Through it all, - faith has saved us,” said Bishop O’Connell. “Today, we celebrate and bless you the married couples of the Diocese of Trenton…You are the witnesses of a life well-lived; it is our hope and our prayer for you today that God will continue to pour down happiness and health and blessings for many, many more years.”
The Bishop asked the anniversary couples to stand, face each other and join hands as he led them in the renewal of their marriage vows. The stream of emotions was palpable as the women and men, some with tears cascading down their faces and others with warm, knowing smiles, renewed their vows to their spouses. Asking the couples to touch each other’s wedding bands, the Bishop blessed the rings saying, “May these rings continue to be a symbol of their true faith in each other and always remind them of their love.”
As they did on their wedding days, the couples shared a kiss much to the happiness of their family and friends who looked on with love.
As the Liturgy of the Eucharist unfolded, the couples participated in the Presentation of the Gifts and during the concluding rites, each milestone group was called separately to stand for the Bishop’s blessing.
To the couples marking one-year anniversaries, the Bishop prayed, “Bless these couples and continue to be their strength and their joy as they say yes to each day and to the vocation of marriage. May they be a sign of your presence for their family and friends.”
Blessing the couples celebrating silver anniversaries, the Bishop said, “Bless these, your sons and daughters as they celebrate 25 years of marriage; a sign that reflects the union of Christ with his Church.”
To those married 50 years or more, the Bishop offered, “They give thanks for the blessings you have given them as they have lived their vocation of love and service to their families, their communities and the Church.”
At the conclusion of the two Masses the couples were invited to receive individual blessings by priests in attendance. Afterward the couples joined their families for a reception where they enjoyed the opportunity to share loving memories from years of married life and watch the photographic slideshows of the anniversary couples on their wedding days that were specially created for the occasion.
Peg Hensler, associate director, Department of Youth, Marriage and Family Life and coordinator of Marriage Ministries and Natural Family Planning, said, “I am always so pleased to see the large number of couples who’ve reached the milestone of 50 years of marriage or more, and the reaction of the assembly as they are recognized for their steadfast commitment to each other. The enthusiastic, sustained applause at the Mass on October 25 for the 50+ anniversary couples demonstrated how much we all appreciate and need these true witnesses of lifelong marriage.”