June 25, 2015
The Real Experts on Marriage and Family
I felt like inviting all of them to the Synod on the Family this October in Rome! Wish I could! They’re the real experts!
I’m talking about the hundreds of couples who gathered with me at St. Patrick’s Cathedral last weekend to celebrate their golden wedding anniversaries. Our beloved cathedral was brimming over with these smiling couples, their children and grandchildren.
It’s always a treat to talk to these “veterans,” and to ask them, “How did you do it? Why was your marriage a success?” These pros give me an array of replies, but I notice a distinct pattern.
For one, they spontaneously credit God! “We could not have done it without God!” they’ll unfailingly tell me. They have learned to count on his grace and mercy. As one of them mentioned, “Sure, fifty years ago, we made solemn promises to God, one another, ourselves, and the Church. Thanks for acknowledging that we kept them. But, we could not have kept them without God’s help. Fifty years ago, He made a promise to us, too: that He would always give us His grace! He kept his promise, too!”
Well said! That’s what we mean by a sacrament. A half century ago, these jubilarians chose to enter the Sacrament of Matrimony—not made-up vows before a justice of the peace on the beach; not “living together”; not a “trial arrangement” to see if it works. No! They were humble enough to ask God to seal and strengthen their love in a sacrament! And they all assure me they probably would not have persevered without that assurance of grace, so lavishly given in the sacraments.
Two, they point to the presence of the cross in their five decades of marriage. I always find it so moving that couples recall the tough times as pivotal in the marriage more than the blissful events! They’ll reflect:
“Remember when I lost the job and we wondered how we would make it?”
“Recall the two miscarriages I had, how worried we were that we’d never have a baby?”
“Don’t forget your cancer surgery...”
“...and when we got the call at midnight that our son had been in an accident...”
On and on they go, recalling not so much the successes, triumphs, and joys, but the struggles, challenges, heartaches. And they both tear up and realize deep down that what they’re talking about is nothing less than the cross, which, as Jesus promised us, would always be part of genuine love.
Three, they will usually mention their Catholic faith as a reason for the success of their marriage. Most of the time it goes like this, “We’ve had some tough times. There were even moments each of us thought about giving up and getting divorced. But, that temptation didn’t stay in our minds long, because we’re Catholics! It was not an option! We believe marriage is forever! It is loving, lifelong, faithful, and life-giving! So, we dug in and made it work. Look at our kids and grandkids! We’re glad we did!”
Sound romantic? Sound out-of-date? Sound realistic?
Not to Pope Francis. He recently pointed to a group of newlyweds and called them heroes! In a culture that questions commitment, fidelity, sacrifice, and obligations, these brave couples “cast out to the deep!” As Jesus urges, and pledge themselves to each other exclusively forever, no ifs, ands, or buts.
That’s as heroic as a firefighter running into a burning building, a marine going into battle, a police officer standing between a madman with a gun and innocent bystanders.
To restore this nobility, this romance, this mystery and meaning of marriage, as a lifelong, life-giving, loving, faithful bond between a man and a woman, is a pastoral priority for the Church, because the world seems to have rejected it.
Our best ambassadors are these heroes who can attest to the true meaning of marriage, our jubilarians!