By Rose O’Connor and Lois Rogers, Correspondents
“There’s a lot of love in this room,” Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., said as he looked over a sea of smiling couples, each celebrating a milestone anniversary this year.
“Today is a wonderful occasion for us to celebrate marriage, your marriage, your anniversaries in the midst of a community of faith,” he said. “This is your Sacrament, and this Sacrament that brought you together, this Sacrament that kept you together is a bond that has become stronger and deeper and holier with the passage of time.”
Whether it was the excitement of celebrating their first year together, the comfort that comes from 25, or the security and adoration found in 50 or more years, nearly 350 married couples of all ages gathered with their family and friends in October for Anniversary Blessings Masses celebrated by Bishop O’Connell and concelebrated by priests from around the Diocese’s four counties.
Among those happy couples were Mary and Charles Stockton of Corpus Christi Parish, Willingboro, married 50 years, who attended the Oct. 21 service in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, with nearly 100 other couples.
“Through all our marriage, the Sacrament kept us going,” Mary Stockton said. Surrounded by others, she said, gave the Mass a feeling that there was a collective “outpouring of ups and downs and sorrows. We count on grace to get us through.”
Jennifer and Nicholas Petrillo, of St. Aloysius Parish, Jackson, who attended the Oct. 7 Mass in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, also spoke on the importance of faith in marriage.
“To me, marriage is the profound example of the unconditional love of Christ. I’ve also learned that I’ve got a long way to go on the road to holiness and how much I need God’s love and God’s grace in my marriage,” Jennifer Petrillo said while beaming at her husband of one year.
Added Nicholas Petrillo, “Marriage has given me a deeper understanding of my own capacity to love and forgive. Marriage makes visible the love the God.”
Catherine and Jim Campbell, a 25-year couple from St. Thomas More Parish, Manalapan, who attended the Freehold service, said they look to the examples of their own parents’ marriages for inspiration.
“Her parents were married 63 years, and my parents were married 38 years,” Jim Campbell said. “It’s your faith and love that get you through the tough times. Relying on our faith is a no-brainer.”
Role models of faith were indeed at the forefront of the Freehold Mass. In his homily, Bishop O’Connell reflected on his parents, who were married 59 years before his father passed away.
“Most of what I learned about marriage didn’t come from books, didn’t come from the seminary training; it came from them. I learned from them and from observation and from listening to them,” Bishop O’Connell preached.
He recounted how his father suffered during the last year of his life and that his mother prayed for God to allow her “to be the last person my father saw before dying so that she could tell him how much she loved him as went home to God.”
His father slipped into a coma toward the end of his life but awoke briefly on his last day, looked right at his mother and smiled before passing away.
“Her prayers were answered. Her love for her husband was rewarded,” Bishop O’Connell said.
World of Warmth
During both Masses, couples clasped hands, nestled close and draped an arm around each other. After the Bishop’s homily, all were asked to reaffirm their marriage vows as they joined hands, faced each other and looked warmly into each other’s eyes. Asking them to touch the other’s wedding rings, Bishop O’Connell blessed the couples’ bands as a continuing symbol of their “true faith in each other” and an ongoing reminder of their love.
Boisterous applause from family and friends erupted as the couples shared a kiss.
Peg Hensler, associate director of Marriage Ministries and NFP for the diocesan Department of Evangelization and Family Life, which sponsored the Masses aided by the diocesan Office of Worship, said the devoted anniversary couples “are examples of what marriage was meant to be. … The Lord’s presence dwells in real and concrete ways in our families. The [Anniversary Masses] are a small but real gesture of the love in which God dwells in the world.”
The Diocesan Festival Choir, under the direction of Shawn Mack, also helped set the tone for both services, especially as Trenton’s Cathedral was filled with the processional hymn, “God Is Love.”
That theme echoed throughout Bishop O’Connell’s Oct. 21 homily, which was drawn from the Gospel Reading of the day, Mark 10:35-45.
“If there is any vocation where service is highlighted,” he said, “it is… married life: service to one another, every day, all day; service to your families and communities.”
“You may not always think of marriage that way, but it is fundamentally a vocation of service because it is a vocation of love,” Bishop O’Connell said, a bond of love that has grown stronger, deeper, holier with the passage of time. The ingredients are a mixture of patience, dedication and commitment, frustrations and a lot of tolerance, laughter and tears … all blended together in the mystery and fulfillment of married love.”
‘Marriage is a Process’
At the conclusion of both Masses, all couples had an opportunity to receive a personal blessing with their families by the priests who concelebrated with Bishop O’Connell.
Michael and Ann Diese of Corpus Christi Parish, Willingboro, expressed joy in celebrating their 50th anniversary in Trenton’s Cathedral with the greater Catholic community.
“We are devout Catholics, and any time you get a blessing is a blessed time,” Michael Diese said.
The couple, who sang with the Diocesan Festival Choir, said they were inspired by the Mass. “The homily was moving,” said Ann Diese, adding that Bishop’s list of ingredients for a good marriage “made the point that marriage is a process” – one that involves a lot of give and take.