On Respect Life Sunday, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades celebrated a Mass at St. Matthew Cathedral recognizing couples on the South Bend side of the diocese who had observed their 25th, 50th, 60th or 70th wedding anniversary.
Along with their families and the lay faithful, the wedding anniversary couples stood radiantly in witness to God’s love in their lives. They received a special, episcopal blessing from Bishop Rhoades, who thanked God for this great gift and gave his blessing on their futures together. After the bishop’s blessing, the couples shared a kiss.
Frank Petro was present with his bride, Agnes, of 60 years. Originally from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and now parishioners of St. Matthew Cathedral, they smiled as they shared advice about living the married vocation.
“We solve our problems together,” Frank explained.
“With patience and tenderness,” Agnes chimed in.
Together the couple has four children, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. They spoke about the past year, the happy time of gathering to celebrate their actual anniversary date, as well and the difficult moment of losing their 51-year-old son to cancer in March. Through it all, the Petros leaned on each other and God.
Another loving couple, Ken and Mary Ripple, parishioners of Christ the King, also spoke of sharing life fully together.
Celebrating 50 years of marriage this year, they actually have known each other for 68 years, having met in third grade at St. Agnes Cathedral School in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, Long Island, New York. They been a couple ever since, Mary explained with a smile.
Moving to South Bend in 1977 for Ken’s professional work, the couple raised three children, all of whom practice law. They have nine grandchildren.
The regular, normal Sunday liturgical readings were perfectly appropriate for this celebratory wedding anniversary Mass. The theme of God’s great gift of man and woman to each other echoed through Genesis 2:18-24 and Mark 10:2-16.
“God is the author of marriage,” Bishop Rhoades explained during his homily. “In (today’s) readings, we learn the truth about marriage in God’s plan. We learn that marriage is not a human invention or an institution invented by the Church.”
With refreshing words of truth, unlike the message heard in American culture, Bishop Rhoades preached about the roots of Catholic marriage.
“It is a permanent union that derives not just from the definitive commitment made by the spouses, but from the powerful bond of our Creator who makes the two one flesh. As you know, this teaching of Jesus was counter-cultural when He gave it, since at that time husbands could divorce their wives … Yet the Church, faithful to our Lord, continues to teach and proclaim the truth about marriage and its permanence even though many reject it. Our anniversary couples, by their fidelity to the vows they made so many years ago, also proclaim this truth by their witness to the permanence of marriage,” he said.
“By creating man and woman, God called them to an intimate communion of life and love in marriage. So, they are no longer two, but one flesh! This is a beautiful insight of St. John Paul II. God Himself is a communion of life and love: The Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit live eternally in perfect unity. This is precisely the mystery of marriage: God makes of the two spouses one flesh.
“The vocation of every human being is love, a vocation we see especially visible in marriage, which is the greatest form of friendship. Marriage is truly the icon of God’s love for us, a love that is permanent and indissoluble,” Bishop Rhoades continued, with icons of that very love present in front of him, in the wedding anniversary couples.
Describing when God first made Eve and Adam awoke to meet her, Bishop Rhoades unfolded the first reading from Genesis.
“He (Adam) is enthralled by her. He is no longer alone. The man and woman are gifts to each other. They are able to live together and with and for each other.
“Married life is a gift. In giving themselves to each other in love, the spouses become one flesh. They become a gift to each other. And they reflect the unity in life and love of the Holy Trinity.”
Lifting up marriage, as a gift of God, he reminded the faithful that, “the creation of man and woman is the masterpiece of creation. God did not want for man to be alone. He wanted him to have a companion on the journey. The journey of love which is Christian marriage was blessed by God with a blessing that can never be taken away.”
Bishop Rhoades then shared practical, everyday spiritual advice.
“I invite every husband here to pray for your wife every day and every wife to pray for your husband every day. And every child here, pray for your parents, every day. And how beautiful it is when husbands and wives pray together and when families pray together.”
Because the Synod of Young Adults in the Church has begun this month in Rome, Bishop Rhoades concluded by preaching directly to the young people who were present.
“In this culture of the temporary and provisional, many young people are afraid to make permanent commitments, maybe because they are afraid to get married because they fear the marriage might fail. I say to you: ‘Do not be afraid.’ Trust in the Lord and His grace and be open to the beautiful vocation of marriage. The Lord sustained our anniversary couples in love throughout the years and will sustain you if He is calling you to this vocation of love.”
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