Committed steadfast love anchored in Jesus Christ

Given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde at the Annual Marriage Jubilee Mass, the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, at St. Agnes Church in Arlington.

How good it is to be here together from all parts of our diocese! Why? Because together we are enthusiastically celebrating and intentionally emphasizing the wonder and challenge of Christian marriage. Present among us are couples celebrating this year their 50th and 25th anniversaries of marriage: 116 Golden Jubilarians and 133 Silver Jubilarians. Their combined years of marriage equal 9,125. Twenty-one of our Golden Jubilarians celebrated their 25th jubilee at the Cathedral with Bishop Keating. Indeed, these are informative and interesting statistics.

But what do we see beneath these statistics? We see shining forth clearly the fundamental reality that holds a married couple together as they experience both the wonder and the challenge of Christian marriage, that essential element: committed steadfast love anchored in the Person of Jesus Christ. So, today, relatives and friends of our Jubilarians, indeed all who from our diocesan Church rejoice: We together rejoice with you and for you, dear Jubilarians, thanking you for your witness to both the wonder and challenge of Christian marriage, for your witness as well to this truth, namely, that committed steadfast love anchored in the Person of Jesus Christ truly enables a married couple to live married life with all its wonder and challenge permanently, faithfully and fruitfully. Your witness these 50 and 25 years affirms what Pope Francis stated in his closing address yesterday to the bishops and others who had been taking part in the Synod. Our Holy Father said that the Synod "…was about urging everyone to appreciate the importance of the family and of marriage between a man and a woman, based on unity and indissolubility, and valuing it as the fundamental basis of society and human life" (cf. Closing Address, Oct. 24, 2015). As we thank you for your inspiring and encouraging witness, we also pledge to you our prayers and our affection in the Lord.

Let us reflect on that essential element of marriage with its wonder and challenge: committed steadfast love anchored in the Person of Jesus Christ. Dear Jubilarians, think back to your wedding day when you professed to each other your love and fidelity. Whether the exact words you spoke were in a formula more familiar to those married 50 years ago or in the formula more familiar to those married 25 years ago, the fundamental meaning and intent were the same. You were promising through those marriage vows to take each other for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, for the rest of your lives. You were committing to honor and to respect one another as husband and wife, in good times and in bad, until death. But, as you readily agree now, you did not know what living out those vows of marriage would actually include. (Nor did I know 50 years ago, on the day of my ordination, what my vowed commitment to live as the priest of Jesus Christ would mean in practice.) Of course, there were good times and bad, accomplishments and disappointments, times of sickness as well as of good health, wonderful experiences but also painful ones, mistakes and failings for which you asked each other for forgiveness, and long periods of routine. Every life is a curious mixture of light and shadow, sometimes darkness.

What has kept you together these 50 and 25 years as you experienced being married in all its reality and complexity? Committed steadfast love anchored in the Person of Jesus Christ! No, it has not been love merely as a feeling or even an emotion, though love, at times, expresses itself in those ways. The love that has been an enduring bond between you is far more deep and basic; it has been love which is a decision, an act of the will, a steadfast commitment to be for the other, to give oneself to the other - every day, whatever comes. This kind of love is what Saint Paul is describing in today's second reading from his first Letter to the Corinthians: love that is patient, kind, not jealous, not pompous, not inflated, not rude, not seeking one's own interests, not quick-tempered, not brooding over injury, not rejoicing in wrong doing. This kind of love rejoices with the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things; this kind of love never fails.

This kind of love is beyond human love, however noble. It is love transformed with the presence of God and anchored in His Son Jesus Christ. In today's Gospel account, we recall Jesus and His disciples taking part in a wedding at Cana, along with His Mother. When the wine runs out, the Mother of Jesus, Mary, seeks Her Son's help. Although at first, He seems to put off her request, He does then change water into wine - His first miracle performed to help a married couple at their wedding! We cannot help but realize how special and dear to Christ is each married couple. But there is also a deeper reality being reflected in this first miracle: The water of human love is transformed into the new wine of Christian love, committed and steadfast and enduring precisely because it is anchored in Jesus Christ. This transformed love uniting husband and wife enables them to be faithful, committed for life and open to new life: the children they bring into this world, co-partners with God. Your lives, dear Jubilarians, witnesses to this committed steadfast love anchored in Jesus Christ.

How have you been able to be strengthened by this kind of love? Through prayer, through being with the Lord Jesus, as individuals, as a couple, as a family, as participants in the sacramental liturgies. A couple that prays stays together more readily than a couple that does not pray. Notice in our final reading how Tobiah and Sarah prayed to the Lord as a couple on their wedding night. "Tobiah arose from bed and said to his wife, 'Sister, get up, Let us pray and beg the Lord to have mercy on us …' So, Tobiah prayed with his wife: 'Call down your mercy on me and on her and allow us to live together to a happy old age.'"

Yes, dear Jubilarians, you are witnesses to committed steadfast love anchored in Jesus Christ. In doing so, you are joining a whole company of witnesses before you. Last Sunday, Pope Francis canonized a married couple, who are the first spouses to be declared saints together. This couple, the parents of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, surely understood and experienced committed steadfast love anchored in Jesus Christ. At the homily during the Mass of Canonization Pope Francis stated, "The holy spouses Louis Martin and Marie-Azélie Guérin practiced Christian service in the family, creating day by day an environment of faith and love which nurtured the vocations of their daughters among whom was Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus." (cf. Pope Francis, Homily, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015). While they might seem as if they had perfect marriage, married life was not easy for them. To the contrary, their holiness was forged in the furnace of suffering. The couple lost four of their nine children; Zelie was diagnosed with breast cancer and died at the age of 45; and Louis suffered several strokes before passing away seven years later. Lastly, their daily lives required courage to practice their faith in France at a time when the spiritual authority of the Church had been radically called into question.

Yes, dear Jubilarians, you are living witnesses to a truth not readily understood or accepted in our contemporary culture: The essential element in a marriage that endures is committed steadfast love anchored in Jesus Christ. We thank you again for this witness; we entrust you in prayer to Our Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph, who themselves experienced the wonder and the challenge of married life, the first Holy Family. We congratulate you and hold you closely in our hearts - today and always! Congratulations!

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015