FROM BISHOP DAVID M. O’CONNELL’S HOMILY FOR THE ANNIVERSARY BLESSING MASSES OCT. 8 AND 22.
In movies or on TV, we see people getting married in all sorts of places, on beaches or 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 covenant between the two of you and God. That description calls to mind the words of St. John Chrysostom, that famous theologian from the early Church, “Let those who take spouses now do as they did at Cana in Galilee. Let them have Christ in their midst.”
You have chosen to be married in the sight of a generous God who so loved the world that he gave himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ. And in the Spirit of this generous God, husband and wife are to give themselves to each another. A spiritual life grows as love finds its center beyond ourselves: in God. Faithful and committed relationships offer a doorway into the mystery of spiritual life through which we discover this: the more we give of self, the richer we become in soul; the more we go beyond ourselves in love, the more we become our true selves and our spiritual beauty is more fully revealed. In marriage we are seeking to bring one another into fuller life and to belong to one another not as a “possession” but as a possibility for true, deep love.
A couple does not begin marriage with perfect love. The couple grows in loving and grows by loving. Love is hard work. Sometimes – often, perhaps – love has brought suffering, if not love has been a disguised form of selfishness. But just as the Church is strengthened through suffering, your relationship has grown in the valleys. There is always more growth in the valleys than on the mountain tops.
Jesus has commanded us to love as he has loved. How did Jesus love? He loved it 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. It would have been only for what he could get out of it. 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. That is precisely how Jesus explains his love in the Gospel of John when he said: No one has greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13).
Again and again, we have given God all sorts of reasons to turn his back on us, but he kept on loving us because he made a covenant with us, not a contract. We can use all sorts of legal means to wiggle our way out of a contract – and many do – but not you: for you the loving, faithful covenant of marriage is irrevocable. That is precisely the love of God we see for us in his covenant with us: unbreakable, irrevocable. There are many ideas of marriage in the world today, but your married life has been a Sacrament you received in the Lord, joined together for many years in the Lord. And you turn to Christ to sustain your love for each other because Christ has blessed your marriage and we renew his blessing as we celebrate your wedding anniversary.
Your marriage has been something very human, fulfilling the desire in the hearts of all of us to share our lives with another, but your marriage has also been a Sacrament of God. This, your Sacrament, has brought you together, keeps you together in a bond of love that has grown stronger, deeper, holier with the passage of time. Its ingredients are a mixture of patience, dedication and commitment, frustrations and tolerance, laughter and tears, work and rest, families with children or families with just the two of you, all blended together in the mystery and fulfillment of married love. It is up to you, with God’s grace, to embrace that marvelous recipe every day, all day.
When marriage endures – 50 years or more, 25 years, 1 year – thank God, may God bless you all the days of your lives together. May God be the One you look to see together, husband and wife, as you live your lives and as your lives finally lead you home to God. Congratulations!