Making Earthly Life More Heavenly: Marriage Jubilarians
Today, it is once again my privilege to celebrate a special Mass for married couples marking a significant jubilee anniversary. It is a day of profound love and thanks for 25, 50, 60 or even 75 years of married life together.
The lives of these couples who have lived many years together are beautiful, but they have also not always been easy. They have had their share of difficulties and struggles. Yet they have arrived, united, to mark this special moment – and they are committed to marking as many more as God will grant. They also offer our world today a greatly-needed witness in faith, hope and love.
Pope Francis, in his recent apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, has provided us beneficial pastoral advice on how all married couples and their families might find and experience that lasting and fruitful love that never gives up. This coming Thursday, June 23, I will give a talk on our Holy Father’s exhortation following the 5:15 p.m. Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and you are invited to attend.
Last year, I also released a small work, “The Marriage God Wants for You: Why the Sacrament Makes All the Difference,” to help people gain a greater understanding of and appreciation for marriage and family. In addition to my humble reflections, in this book are the testimonies of many married couples who, by their personal witness, offer invaluable lessons in the art and practice of married life.
In speaking with couples who have been married for many years, I am struck by how many say that what ultimately meant the most over the years were the small gestures – the quiet, ordinary acts done in love. They tell about the moment of discovery when one spouse suddenly realizes how much the other sacrifices each day, how one secretly scrimps and saves so that the other, or their children, can know a greater joy. Again and again I hear about the unassuming giving of time, attention, consolation and affection for the sake of that special someone else.
What these jubilarian couples have learned is that age-old wisdom that it is the little things that count a great deal – these moments represent true gifts, far more valuable in what is really important than rings and bouquets. These gestures are the summary expressions of a love that cannot be contained by a box, wrapped up in paper, or tied with a bow.
For Christians, marriage has great dignity because of the divine reality that is signifies. Marriage in all its richness signifies the union of Christ with the Church and the unity of the Blessed Trinity, the glory of heaven and the healing of the human family. But it does more than signify. As a sacrament, it brings about what it signifies. It gives husband and wife a share of the life of the Trinity and the divine power to make earthly life more heavenly.
It is easy to stay together in good times – these hardly need a vow. It is the bad times that present the challenge. To help them through the bad to attain the good, in the sacrament they receive God’s grace.
Marriage – your marriage – is a primary concern for the God who created you. If each spouse calls upon that grace, the couple will pull through the difficult times and will emerge stronger. Sadly, I fear many people have lost the habit of making use of this help. As a result, society and especially marriage and family have suffered terribly. However, with personal commitment, as expressed in the marriage vow, together with accepting the help that God offers, a new dawn will follow the dark night.
Staying true in the midst of surprising change and challenge, stress and sorrows – that is the story of couples in strong, loving marriages. They are not “perfect” couples because there is no such thing. But successful husbands and wives are those who learn to live with another’s imperfections and to live in a way that is not oppositional, but complementary. Each learns to be a source of strength for the other, making up for the other’s particular weaknesses, while knowing that the other is doing the same.
More than once, an elderly person has said to me of their long-time spouse, “You know, I love her (or him) more now that I did the day we were married.” It is enough to bring tears to my eyes. These long-married couples testify by their very lives that love can indeed bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-7; Amoris Laetitia, 89 et seq.).
It is a testament not only of their love, but of God’s. As these spouses each “look upon one who looks back in love,” in the words of Saint Augustine, they experience a taste of heaven itself. It is a beautiful sign of committed love, a public witness for all of us to see.
This blog post draws from passages of my book “The Marriage God Wants for You: Why the Sacrament Makes All the Difference (2015).”