The Missionary Work of Married Couples
In Pope Francis’ recent exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, he reminds us that every Christian “is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization: indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love” (Evangelii Gaudium, 120). Our Holy Father speaks of the vocation of the baptized as that of “missionary disciples” because all of us can witness to “the saving love of the Lord, who despite our imperfections offers us his closeness, his word and his strength, and gives meaning to our lives” (Id., 121).
The truth of Our Lord’s closeness and learning to love people in spite of their imperfections certainly resonates with the married couples who this year are celebrating jubilee anniversaries! Our entire archdiocesan faith family will rejoice with these couples in a special way this coming Sunday, June 15, at our annual Marriage Jubilarian Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Christ raised marriage to a sacrament. In the covenant of matrimony, the promise of fidelity lived out in the spouses’ personal commitment to one another is meant to mirror the eternal love that Jesus, the Bridegroom, has for his Bride, the Church. In the sacrament, the Lord gives the grace to help the couple prosper in good times and in bad and help them to be missionaries to each other in their pilgrimage to the heavenly kingdom.
Saint John Paul II liked to speak of marriage as a “school of love” because only in the context of life-long mutual self-giving do all the daily challenges and ups and downs of living together and raising a family become not only bearable, but also fruitful. The more than 800 couples who will celebrate 25, 40, 50, or 65 years of marriage – and even for a few couples more than 70 years of marital union – give beautiful testimony to the fruitful love grown in fidelity. These married missionary disciples share a witness that is an important message in a culture that promotes the idea that you can just walk away from marriage when you face difficulties.
Conversations with these couples reveal that fidelity over many years is a result of learning to live with their spouses’ imperfections, being a source of strength for the other, and staying close to the Lord. Little acts of love show the self-giving love of which the Gospel speaks. When this kind of selfless love is witnessed by others, it bears fruit in a testimony to God’s love. Married couples are witnesses to God’s promise of an enduring, faithful and fruitful love. The married love of a man and woman becomes therefore a suitable image of the love between Christ and his Church.
Christian marriage and family life have a crucial mission in the world and this missionary field is as challenging as any throughout the ages. Saint John Paul’s oft-repeated statement, “The future of humanity passes by way of the family,” is now more important than ever. Into the family are born those who constitute the next generation. What is passed on is the heritage of each successive generation for good or for ill.
If we are successful in teaching the faith, forming character, and nurturing virtue, then the culture and society that we create will be all the better. To the extent that we fail, so shall it be reflected in our culture.
Thus, we take time not only to celebrate our Jubiliarians but also to reflect upon and reaffirm marriage and family life and to defend it at all times. In doing so, we guarantee the strength and richness of marriage and family for ourselves, our nation, our society – and most important, for our children and their children.