The Family as Foundation
Today, I had the privilege and the pleasure to welcome more than 600 couples to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to celebrate their jubilees of twenty-five years or more. I invited them to renew their wedding vows as a sign and testimony to enduring married love.
As these couples celebrate with family and friends, many will re-tell the story of how they first met—how they experienced the first spark of what has become a life-long love—tried, tested and made stronger over time. At the heart of every marriage is human love—a love so strong that it brings together a man and woman who commit themselves to each other in a lifelong journey.
Marital love is expressed in commitment. That is why the centerpiece of the wedding ceremony is the exchange of promises that the bride and groom make to each other. The mutual pledge to be with and for each other “for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health until death do us part” is an expression of the permanent and irrevocable partnership—the family—that both are now establishing. While the words are one expression of their commitment, the love that radiates from the faces and eyes of the soon-to be-husband-and-wife as they pronounce these promises proclaims forcefully and eloquently what marriage is all about. Today, it is a fully mature love that radiates from the faces and eyes of the Jubilarian couples that gives witness to the enduring quality of human love and the fidelity of God’s love for his people.
The daily gift of love that spouses offer one another in marriage is a proclamation of the love of God as well as response in love to the Lord’s call to follow him faithfully every day. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, reminded us in his homily on the Third Sunday of Easter that “each day the Lord calls us to follow him with courage and fidelity; …he invites us to proclaim him with joy as the Risen one, but he asks us to do so by word and by the witness of our lives, in daily life” (April 14, 2013).
Families are witnesses of the fullness of God’s love in the New Evangelization and spouses manifest the love Christ has for the Church by continually and freely giving themselves to one another and renewing their love in the midst of the challenges that daily life entails. Only in the context of life-long mutual self-giving do all ups and downs of living together and raising a family become not only bearable but also fruitful.
In Christian marriage, the bond and union of spousal love is sanctified and perfected by the work of the Holy Spirit. With openness to the gift of children, spouses witness the joy of God who is the Author of life and they participate in the creative power of his unconditional love.
Today, we also recognize in a particular way the vocation to fatherhood that flows from the vocation of marriage. Fathers who make time to share the gift of their experience and education, who share their love for God and practice of the faith become a powerful example of the fatherly love that God has for his children. Children thrive in homes in which mothers and fathers are working together to nourish and sustain family life.
Our Jubilarian couples and their children and grand-children and great-grandchildren who celebrated with them reveal the truth of the oft-repeated statement: “The future of humanity passes by way of the family.” Into the family are born those who constitute the next generation. Thus it has been from the beginning and so it shall be throughout human history. Join me in praying for and thanking our Jubilarian couples (and our fathers) for the witness of their love to the Church and the world.