Homily of Cardinal Justin Rigali
Wedding Anniversary Masses
Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul
May 15, 2011
It is a joy to welcome today to the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul the married couples, husbands and wives, celebrating the Golden Anniversary of their marriage, as well as the couples celebrating their Silver Anniversary. It is also a joy to welcome the couples celebrating other years of anniversary. How satisfying, likewise, to welcome your children and grandchildren, family and friends who crowd around you to celebrate as you cross this threshold of love.
An anniversary is an occasion, an invitation, to glance into the depths of mystery. I do not mean mystery as a fiction detective drama as portrayed in popular television programs. I do not mean mystery as a seemingly inexplicable phenomenon. Those are not mysteries in the proper sense. A mystery is something immeasurably more than entertainment or suspense. A mystery is a part of God’s reality. In experiencing it, you and I are carried into the depths of a love beyond ourselves. Today as we celebrate the Golden and Silver anniversaries of marriage we have the opportunity to glance again into the depths of mystery. And the Sacrament of Marriage is no superficial mystery. As our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed in his Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini: “Jesus himself made marriage one of the institutions of his Kingdom (cf. Mt 19:4-8), elevating to the dignity of a sacrament what was inscribed in human nature from the beginning” (no. 85).
As we glance into the mystery of married love today, we recall that on the day of your wedding you made vows to one another. Those vows, the moment they were spoken, 50, 25, or however many years ago, brought something new into being. The vows you spoke to one another created and brought into being something beyond both of you. As you spoke the vows of marriage, a true and real bond arose between the two of you as husband and wife, as spouses. This bond of marriage sealed and united you in the permanent, faithful, fruitful love of the sacred institution of marriage. When you spoke the vows to one another and that indestructible bond arose between you, it was not your own power that came forth. It was God’s. There is an ultimate meaning inscribed in the mutual reciprocity and gift of self in marriage. Your married love is caught up in divine love and becomes a sacred sign of the love of God for all humanity. Your married love is the sacred sign of the faithful and enduring love that Jesus has for His Church.
Today, as we glance into the mystery of the bond of marriage, we can perceive all the intangible moments of deep personal love. We give thanks to God for those tender moments in which your love transmitted new life to your children. The Church also joins you as you renew your reliance on God’s strength for those perplexing and all-too concrete moments of hardship and suffering, those moments of loss and pain. Even that time of loss and pain can and does reveal, in a way we might not even now understand, the inexhaustible riches of God’s love for you. Nothing can overwhelm the sacred bond of your sacramental marriage.
The eye of contemporary society is impeded, it seems, from beholding the grandeur of the bond of marriage. So much of society wants marriage not to be a mystery; it wants marriage to be magic. Society wants marriage not to be about husband and wife and children, but about an individual, simply about satisfaction and pleasure, about usefulness, convenience, autonomy and functionalism. So often it wants to exclude effort and sacrifice, without which there can be no true and complete and lasting fulfillment. Marriage is in a precarious situation today. It is seen and understood simply in a one-dimensional way that is based in illusion and trivializes the sanctity of human sexuality and the inviolable dignity of human life.
But your daily life for all these years, lived in the power of the Sacrament of Matrimony instituded by Christ, is testimony that marriage is not a naïve, story-book ideal or fairy-tale story. Marriage is not magic. It is far more real. Marriage is the mystery of the fundamental human experience of love between husband and wife. Jesus sanctifies this human love of marriage, between man and woman, so that they may become husband and wife in a permanent, faithful and fruitful bond. And husband and wife are called by Jesus to live marriage as a vocation to holiness. As we glance into the mystery of marriage today we see the bond of love that unites you as husband and wife: the indissoluble bond of steadfast fidelity, the bond which nourishes and fosters conjugal love that is open to life, the bond of heroic virtue that makes ordinary moments daily occasions of the grace of Jesus. Married couples have both a mission and a moral power, a depth to their vocation that society needs now more than ever. We need today a new awareness, a new drive. As we celebrate the generations of love before us today in this Cathedral Basilica, we are keenly aware that the next generation is called, perhaps more than any other in history, to realize why it must be a generation of Christian marriage that draws power from the Risen Lord to live in fulfillment, sacrifice and joy.
As we glance today into the mystery of married love, we are led to gaze upon another mystery, the mystery to which all married love points and the mystery in which Christian married love directly participates: the mystery of the love of Jesus in the Eucharist. As Blessed Pope John Paul II proclaimed in 1981, in his Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio: “Willed by God in the very act of creation, marriage and the family are interiorly ordained to fulfillment in Christ” (no. 3). In the Eucharist we receive the true Body and Blood of Jesus. This is the Body He gave up for His bride, the Church. As the second reading emphasizes: “He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1Pt 2:24). The Eucharist is the nourishment and healing each of us receives to live our state in life, to fulfill our vocation and mission in the world.
Thank you, dear friends, dear faithful people of God, for your fifty years, your twenty-five years, for however many years you celebrate today. Your bond of marriage has borne fruit and continues to bear fruit for the Church and society. As you mark this great threshold of love, this anniversary and jubilee moment, you allow the world to glimpse the mystery of married love today. May this glimpse become a prolonged appreciation of the many sacrifices that have enriched your love. May the words of today’s Responsorial Psalm, the twenty-third psalm, truly be your blessing: May “only goodness and kindness follow” you all the days of your life. And, united in the love of God―Father, Son and Holy Spirit―may you “dwell in the house of the LORD for years to come” (Ps 23:6). Amen.