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A two-fold witness of our marriage jubilarians

In our contemporary culture, an increasing number of people are raising some pointed questions about marriage. Allow me to share two such questions. (1) Does marriage really work? In other words, is it really worthwhile to enter marriage and to raise a family? (2) What is the very essence of marriage? In other words, is it only the union of one man with one woman?

The presence today in this Cathedral of at least 221 couples celebrating their silver or golden wedding anniversaries gives a resounding "yes" to each of these two questions. One hundred thirty-three silver jubilarian couples and eighty-eight golden jubilarian couples are testifying clearly by the persevering witness of their wedded lives that marriage does really work, that is, it is really worthwhile to enter marriage and to raise a family, if God so wills, and that the essence of marriage is the union of one man with one woman.

Let us reflect together on each of these two fundamental truths about marriage. First, does marriage really work; it is really worthwhile to enter marriage and to raise a family, if God so wills? Our jubilarians would honestly acknowledge that saying "yes" to this first question does not mean that their life together these past twenty-five or fifty years has been perfect - without struggle, without difficulty, without the repeated effort to persevere in the dark times. Yes, there have been times of unforgettable joy and real contentment. There have also been times of painful hurt and the consequent need to forgive and to be forgiven, and lots of time that was ordinary, routine, uneventful. No life is perfect. Our jubilarians recall that on their wedding day, they mutually vowed to take each other as husband and wife "for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part." The more recent formulary of these vows states the same commitment in different words: "I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life."

Our jubilarians did not know what their vowed commitment would demand of them in practice. None of us does, whether we be married persons or celibate chaste priests and religious. For each one of us, the commitment we vowed before the Lord and His Church of its very nature implies an act of ongoing trust - trust in God and in one another.

Nonetheless, our silver and golden jubilarians are testifying that, despite the "ups and downs" of married life, which we have clearly stated are real, it has been good for them to travel life together these past twenty-five or fifty years; they have experienced true fulfillment.

They would remind us that what has enabled them to persevere is the presence of Christ in their married lives. As Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen was fond of stating: "It takes three to get married: husband, wife and Christ." Our jubilarians have been able to keep Christ as their unseen but ever-present partner through the experience of prayer - contact with Christ daily, and contact with Him in truly an intimate manner in the Holy Mass wherein He comes among us in His True and Real Presence and feeds and strengthens us in Holy Communion. In today's first reading, God's Word reaffirms the necessity of prayer in the married couple's shared life by projecting before us the witness of Tobiah and Sarah on their wedding night: "ʽSister, get up. Let us pray and beg our Lord to have mercy on us and to grant us deliverance.'…and they started to pray…."

Moreover, the constant presence of Christ in a married couple's life strengthens and transforms the love that binds the couple together in good times and in bad. The love of which I speak is the love described by Saint Paul in our second reading - gospel love, Christ-centered and Christ-transformed love. "Love is patient,…kind….not jealous,…not pompous,…not inflated,…not rude,…not seek(ing) its own interests,…not quick-tempered,…not brood(ing) over injury,…not rejoic(ing) over wrongdoing but rejoic[ing] with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things…." This kind of love "never fails."

Yes, the tangible witness of our jubilarians' married life these past twenty-five or fifty years resounds with an undeniable "yes" to the first questions I put before us.

The second question puts squarely before us the essence of marriage. Again, our jubilarians, by their witness, give a resounding "yes." The essence of marriage, as both nature and God intend it, is the union of one man with one woman. Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who came to teach us the truth, in today's Gospel account, reaffirms what the intention of God was and is when He created the institution of marriage at the beginning of creation. "From the beginning of creation God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh…."

Sadly and tragically, we are witnessing in these days a well-organized and systematic effort to redefine the essence of marriage: not as the union of one man and one woman, but as the union of two persons who love each other, whether they be two males or two females.

This attempt to redefine marriage will lead to the destruction of our society because the family, as we have known it from the beginning of creation is the basic cell - "the glue" so to speak - of society and the Church. Children are brought up in a healthful and life-giving manner by parents who are male and female.

This strong and unequivocal definition of the essence of marriage - the union of one man with one woman is not only a truth proclaimed by the Church in her authentic teaching but it is also affirmed - even before faith - in the very law of our human nature.

The Church's clear and unequivocal insistence on the essence of marriage as the union of one man with one woman is never intended to lead nor must it lead to interacting with persons with same-sex attractions with disrespect and even hurtful words and behavior. Every person is created by God, possessing inestimable dignity. God loves every person whom He has created. He desires that those who experience a same-sex attraction find fulfillment, not in behavior contrary to the moral law and consequent self-harm, but in an authentic relationship with Him in prayer and in sacramental celebrations as well as in gatherings of mutual support, like Courage, or in the parish where they are welcomed and supported.

So, our second question is also resoundingly given an affirmation by the testimony of our jubilarians: the essence of marriage is clear: one man united with one woman - and only that.

Dear jubilarians, I know that I can speak for the entire community of faith which comprises our diocesan Church of Arlington - and united with these, surely, for your family members and friends who surround you here in this Cathedral. Yes, I speak for all of them and for myself as well as together we rejoice with you and for you as you observe this year and celebrate during this Mass your silver or golden jubilee of marriage. In all our names, I offer you our warmest congratulations and the ongoing pledge of our prayerful support - yes, today here but also in the future. You are indeed living witnesses to the truth that responds so clearly and so eloquently to the two questions which our contemporary culture presently raises. Marriage is really worthwhile and the essence of marriage is as God intends it: one man with one woman.

We thank you for the persevering witness of these twenty-five or fifty years! We renew our congratulations and pray that the Lord Jesus will continue to be your unseen but ever-present partner as you travel together into the future - along the path of authentic Christian marriage and one day, please God, into your heavenly and eternal home with Him which He always describes as an eternal wedding feast!

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2011