Homily of Cardinal Justin Rigali
Wedding Anniversary Mass For Couples
Married 25 - 50 Years or More
Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul
May 2, 2004
Dear Members of the Jubilarians' Families,
What a wonderful gathering we have this morning in this Cathedral Basilica as we celebrate in our Lord Jesus Christ the great event of these anniversaries of faithful people, faithful spouses, faithful parents.
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. You have noticed the Gospel. It speaks about Jesus as the Good Shepherd. And what we are celebrating today, in a special way, is the love of Jesus for His people, the love of Jesus as the Good Shepherd of His Church. The love that Jesus shows us is a sacrificial love. Jesus explains this Himself and He says that He lays down His life for the flock. It was when He died that His sacrifice was complete, that the laying down of His life was total. It was at that moment that He consummated His work and that He communicated life to the Church.
And so what a beautiful day it is to celebrate the anniversary of your marriages because marriage means self-giving love. The love of marriage is fruitful first of all in the communication of love to one another, to husband and wife. It is then fruitful in the transmission of life that springs from love.
Today we gather to thank God for the love He has given you, dear friends. But also, to reflect on this mystery of Christian married love, to offer you the opportunity to renew your intention to be faithful in love to each other, and to rejoice in the love that God has given you to share with each other and with your children, and your children's children. And even when it was not possible for some of you to have children, you still retained the great gift of love for each other. What is so important to realize is that marriage is God's plan. It is God's plan to show His Love in the world, to have the union of a man and a woman as a sign of His love. And so Christ, who is the Good Shepherd of the Church, is also the Bridegroom of the Church. He is referred to in the Scriptures in this way, and the Church is His spouse. And He loves the Church. Jesus loves the Church as His spouse. And He has instituted the Sacrament of Marriage so that marriage will be first and foremost a reflection in the world of His love for His spouse, the Church. It is important also to see how the great mystery of the communication of life, takes place in the Sacrament of Marriage, which communicates life, transmits life, and brings children into the world.
When Christ died on Calvary, at the very moment of His supreme giving, life was given to His Church. It was at that moment when He communicated all and gave all that the Church came into being. And at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit of God's love would reinforce and strengthen this love in the Church. By living Christian married love, dear friends, for all these years, despite your limitations, despite your human weaknesses, and even your sins, the mystery of God's love, of Christ's sacrificial love for the Church, has been actuated in the world through you. This is the great mystery, the great reality of Christian married love raised to the level of a Sacrament by Christ Himself. This is God's plan. And so today, dear friends, the Church wants you to rejoice and to exult in your vocation, but she also wants you to recognize, even more than on that first day of marriage, how important is God's gift is to you of human Christian love. It is Christ who made it possible for you to love each other at such a beautiful level, and to communicate that love to your children and to your children's children. God has made your love a sign of His and a source of the generosity and service that you have given to others.
For a few moments, let us go back many years and reread the beautiful instruction of the Church of your wedding day. It was in these or similar words that the Church tried to help you understand your vocation. And now years later, I am sure that you will hear them from another perspective and with a fuller realization of how true they are. And so the priest said to you on that occasion: "Dear friends in Christ, as you know you are about to enter into a union that is most sacred and most serious. It is most sacred because it was established by God Himself and by it He gave to man a share in the greatest work of creation, the work of the continuation of the human race. And in this way, God sanctified human love and enabled man and woman to help each other live as children of God by sharing a common life under his Fatherly care. Because God Himself is thus its author, marriage is of its very nature a holy institution, requiring of those who enter into it a complete and unreserved giving of self. (This has been your aim during all these years - a total and unreserved giving of self to each other.)
But Christ Our Lord added to the holiness of marriage an even deeper meaning and a higher beauty. He referred to the love of marriage to describe His own love for the Church, that is for the people of God whom He redeemed by His own blood. And so he gave to Christians a new vision of what married life ought to be - a life of self-sacrificing love, like His own. It was for this reason that His apostle, Saint Paul, clearly states that marriage is now and for all times to be considered a great mystery, a divine reality intimately bound up with the union of Christ and His church. Your marriage is also, dear friends, most serious, because it will bind you together for life in a relationship so close and so intimate that it will profoundly influence your whole future. That future, with its hopes and disappointments, its successes and its failures, its pleasures and its pains, its joys and its sorrows, is hidden from your eyes. You know that these elements are mingled in every life and are to be expected in your own. And so not knowing what is before you, you take each other for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death. Truly then, these words are most serious. It is a beautiful tribute to your undoubted faith in each other that recognizing their full import you are nevertheless so willing and ready to pronounce them.
And because these words involve such solemn obligation, it is most fitting that you rest the security of your wedded life upon the great principle of self-sacrifice. As so you begin your married life by the voluntary and complete surrender of your individual lives in the interest of that deeper and wider life which you are to have in common. Henceforth, you belong entirely to each another. You will be one in mind, one in heart, and one in affection. And whatever sacrifices you may hereafter be required to make to preserve this common life, always make them generously. Sacrifice is usually difficult and irksome, only love can make it easy, and perfect love can make it a joy. We are willing to give in proportion as we love. And when love is perfect, the sacrifice is complete. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, and the Son so loved us that He gave Himself for our salvation. "Greater love than this, no man has that a man lay down his life for his friends."
No greater blessing can come to your married life than pure conjugal love, loyal and true to the end. May then this love, with which you join your hands and hearts today, never fail but grown deeper and stronger as the years go on. And if true love, and the unselfish spirit of perfect sacrifice guide your every action, you can expect the greatest measure of earthly happiness that may be allotted to man in this veil of tears. The rest is in the hands of God. Nor will God be wanting to your needs. He will pledge you the lifelong support of His graces in the Holy Sacrament which you are now going to receive."
And so these were the words, dear friends, and this was the way you began your married life.
Finally today on this Good Shepherd Sunday, we pray that your families, your children, and your children's children will continue to show love and esteem for the sacrament of married life, love and esteem for God's plan for a man and a woman. We pray that in the heart of the family there will grow up a love and esteem for every vocation in the Church. From you and your families, may the younger generation learn the meaning of sacrificial Christian married love, and may they also learn love, respect and esteem for the other vocations in the Church - the vocation to the religious life and to the priesthood. It is only in holy families that God's plan can blossom.
And so we gather together in thanksgiving, and at the same time to offer you, dear friends, this wonderful opportunity to renew your love for one another, once again before the altar of God, once again through the Eucharist, once again in union with our Lord Jesus Christ. Once again you consecrate yourselves and your love to God. And as you renew your love to each other, you fulfill your vocation to be a sign, a living sign, a concrete sign in the world of Christ's love for His Church. And as your love continues in the blessing of your children, we know that the Lord will bring to completion in you His beautiful plan. He will continue to give you deep joy and peace in your vocation of Christian married love, loyal and true to the end. Amen