By Tim Johnson
While the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family explored issues of marriage and family, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades celebrated Masses at St. Matthew Cathedral in South Bend on Oct. 5 and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne on Oct. 12 honoring milestone wedding anniversaries — 25, 40, 50, 60 or 70 years.
After offering congratulations to all the married couples, Bishop Rhoades said, “We express our esteem and our gratitude for your faithful witness to the Lord in the sacrament of Marriage.”
“At this time of confusion and many challenges in our culture and society regarding the truth and meaning of marriage, your witness is greatly needed,” he said “Your lives are a testament to the dignity of this great gift and blessing bestowed by God our Creator from the beginning of the human race.”
The first reading at the Masses was from the book of Genesis: “God created man in His image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
“This was the culmination of creation,” Bishop Rhoades noted.
He cited Pope Francis who said: “The image of God is the married couple: the man and the woman; not only the man, not only the woman, but both of them together. This is the image of God: love, God’s covenant with us is represented in that covenant between man and woman. And this is very beautiful! We are created in order to love, as a reflection of God and His love. … When a man and woman celebrate the sacrament of Matrimony, God as it were ‘is mirrored’ in them; He impresses in them His own features and the indelible character of His love. Marriage is the icon of God’s love for us. Indeed, God is communion too: the three Persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit live eternally in perfect unity. And this is precisely the mystery of Matrimony: God makes of the two spouses one single life. The Bible uses a powerful expression and says ‘one flesh,’ so intimate is the union between man and woman in marriage. And this is precisely the mystery of marriage: the love of God, which is reflected in the couple that decides to live together. Therefore a man leaves his home, the home of his parents, and goes to live with his wife and unites himself so strongly to her that the two become, as the Bible says, one flesh.”
Bishop Rhoades reflected that when the couples consecrated their love in the sacrament of Marriage, they became one flesh, icons of God’s love. “They became icons of God’s love. They make visible God’s love, the love with which Christ loves His Church,” he said. “This is God’s design, God’s plan for marriage.”
But the frailty of the human condition is also part of married life and it brings about difficulties — financial problems, unemployment, disagreement or problems in communications.
“This is life,” Bishop Rhoades said. “And then, of course, there are our own sins and weaknesses. I doubt that there’s a couple here, which hasn’t had some serious arguments in their marriages. This is the human condition. But they have persevered, persevered with faith and with the help of God’s grace.”
Speaking of arguments, Pope Francis recently said: “The secret is that love is stronger than the moment when there is arguing, and therefore I always advise spouses: do not let a day when you have argued end without making peace. Always! And to make peace it isn’t necessary to call the United Nations to come to the house and make peace. A little gesture is sufficient, a caress, and then let it be! Until tomorrow! And tomorrow begin again. And this is life, carrying on, carrying on with courage and the desire to live together.”
Bishop Rhoades also reminded the faithful three words the pope says are very helpful for marriage: “May I,” “thank you” and “I’m sorry.”
“Marriage goes forward when there is this courtesy and gratitude and humility,” Bishop Rhoades reflected. “These virtues are essential. And prayer is essential. Husbands and wives praying for each other every day. That helps to make the marriage bond stronger.”
Marriage is a beautiful vocation, the vocation to love in a unique way and forever.
“Yet, we must never forget that even these things are pathways for growth in goodness, truth and beauty, paths to holiness,” Bishop Rhoades said.
“The key to success is trust, trust in God and His providence, trust in His grace, the grace received in the sacrament,” Bishop Rhoades said. “That grace helps one to grow in love, to persevere in the difficult times, and to rejoice in the beautiful experiences that one has.”
The bishop noted a big challenge facing the Church is many young people fear making the definitive commitment of marriage.
He told the couples, “You show our young people that definitive, lifelong commitment is not only possible — it is worth the risk! You bear witness to faith. It takes faith in God, a strong spiritual foundation, to build a relationship that is faithful and true in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, unto the parting of death. Yes, it is possible to love forever.”
Bishop Rhoades reminded the anniversary couples, “The Lord continues to give you the love that stands at the foundation of your marriage. Each day, He renews and strengthens your love. He does so here today, at this and every Mass. Here at the altar, we remember that Christ loves us to the end, giving up His Body and pouring out His Blood for us. This is the love marriage is meant to express: free, total, faithful, fruitful and self-giving. Jesus nourishes us with His Body and Blood to help us to love as He has loved us.”
He asked God to bless the couples on their journey of life and love, “strengthened by the Eucharist, the sacrament of Christ’s love!”
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