September 15 and 22, 2013
I wish to begin this homily by offering congratulations to all of the married couples present here today who are celebrating special wedding anniversaries this year. I celebrate this diocesan Mass every year to express our esteem and gratitude for your faithful witness to the Lord in the sacrament of marriage. At this time of confusion and crisis in our society and culture regarding the truth and meaning of marriage, your witness is greatly needed. It is a testament to the dignity of this great gift and blessing bestowed by God our Creator from the creation of the human race. “His hand has inscribed the vocation to marriage in the very nature of man and woman” (USCCB Pastoral Letter).
In our second reading today, we heard a beautiful part of the first letter of Saint John that gets to the very heart of our Christian faith and the Christian understanding of God. Saint John writes that “God is love.” Saint Augustine once said that even if nothing else were said in all the pages of Sacred Scripture and all that we heard from the mouth of the Holy Spirit were that “God is love,” there would be nothing else we would need to look for.
This is a great truth. God is love because in Himself, in life within the Holy Trinity, He is a living communion of love: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This love was made manifest to us, revealed to us, Saint John writes when God sent His Son into the world to be the expiation for our sins. Since God is love and we have been created in God’s image, we have the capacity and the vocation to love. Saint John, therefore, wrote: “let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of love and knows God.”
Of course, God established marriage as a special reflection of His love. “Marriage based on exclusive and definitive love (is) the icon (or image) of the relationship between God and His people…” (USCCB II). When we think of God’s love and Christian marital love, we realize that it is not merely a sentiment or emotion. It involves both our intellect and our will. And it is something that is never finished and complete. It grows and matures through life, through ups and downs, joys and sorrows. Our anniversary couples can testify to this. It involves sacrifice. We see this in Jesus and His Passion and crucifixion – the total gift of Jesus the Bridegroom to His Bride, the Church. It’s what Pope Benedict called “love in its most radical form.” Saint Paul called upon husbands to love their wives – how? As Christ loved the Church! In other words, totally, unto death. This is what you who are married promised when you exchanged your wedding vows: to love and honor each other until death do you part. You pledged your love and fidelity for as long as you live. This mutual married love is an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves mankind. Of course, we know that because of human sinfulness, our love is never as pure and deep as God’s perfect love. Yet, with the help of God’s grace in the sacrament of marriage, you receive the strength and power to grow in love. The Catechism says that when Christian couples receive the grace of the Sacrament of Matrimony, “Christ dwells with them, gives them the strength to take up their crosses and so follow him, to rise again after they have fallen, to forgive one another, to bear one another’s burdens, to be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ, and to love one another with supernatural, tender and fruitful love.”
I think that for marriages to endure as God wills, spouses need to be willing not only to forgive each other, but also to do acts and courtesies of love toward each other, regardless of the feelings of the moment. Acts of self-giving love build marriages up and benefit the family and the Church. I am often moved when I see older couples still doing such acts and courtesies of love for each other. It is often in these simple and ordinary gestures and actions done with extraordinary love that marriages not only survive, but thrive. Couples grow in a love that is far deeper than a romantic feeling by maintaining the common courtesies: persevering in fidelity, kindness, communication, and mutual assistance. And, of course, prayer: staying close to Christ and His grace.
With admiration and gratitude for all our anniversary couples, I celebrate this Mass. The Mass is the perfect way to celebrate these wedding anniversaries because the Holy Eucharist is the sacrament of love. It is the sacrament of the Bridegroom and the Bride, Christ and the Church. The Eucharist “strengthens the indissoluble unity and love of every Christian marriage” (Sacramentum Caritatis #27). Christ’s love for His Church which culminated on the cross is “the origin and heart of the Eucharist.” (SC #27). The Eucharist is also a foretaste of the heavenly marriage banquet, described in the Book of Revelation as “the marriage feast of the Lamb.” Of course, this is our goal – to share in the joy of the communion of saints in the marriage feast of heaven.
As we continue this liturgy, we pray for all our anniversary couples, that their love may continue to grow and that they may continue to cling to the unconditional promise they made on their wedding days. May God “who is love” abide always in your hearts! May the love of Christ, present in the Holy Eucharist, move all married couples and all of us to ever greater heights of love!