Herald of Hope

June is the month in which many families celebrate wedding anniversaries. My mother and father were married June 1, 1948. June 1 also has significance for me — on that day in 1975, I celebrated my first Mass at my home parish, St. Michael’s on 82nd and South Shore Drive in Chicago. This was also the church where my mother and father were married 27 years before. For me personally, it was important for me to celebrate their commitment to one another, which provided the environment for my priestly vocation. Marriage and family go hand in hand with a vocational calling. There are many who often attribute the decline in vocations to the crisis experienced in marriage and family life.

Today, the sanctity of marriage is under attack in our society and in our culture. Let me be clear: marriage is between a man and a woman. To hold differently is an attack on the faith expressed in our Church. Marriage between a man and a woman is embedded in the teachings of the Church and part of scriptural revelation: “God created man and woman; he created them.” This was God’s design for the purpose of sharing procreation and the growth of the human family. Despite the State’s attempt to alter the definition of marriage, it is God himself that is the author of marriage. Therefore, marriage is not a merely human institution. God created man and woman out of love. He created them in the image and likeness of God. They were created for one another. There is a mutuality — a complementarity — between a man and woman which makes them one. A man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. This was the plan from the very beginning of creation.

Throughout salvation history, there is a covenant established by God and his people. This covenant is embodied in the marital relationship, which was elevated to a sacrament by our Lord. The two, baptized in the faith, realize it is the cross and the self-giving love of Jesus which is at the heart of the commitment of the two becoming one. We make a mistake when we fail to recognize that sacrifice is at the heart of love. If someone pledges that they love you, but they are not willing to sacrifice for you, they may appreciate you or have an affection for you, but they do not truly love you. The cross is the ultimate sign of God’s love for us — Jesus was willing to die so that we might live.

I have been privileged to witness this love in the marital love of my family and friends who have generously shared their lives with me. I have viewed this in their sacrifice for their children and other family members, and especially their support for each other during times of illness, psychological difficulties or economic challenges.

In the liturgy for marriage, the priest is the primary witness of the Church. It is the couple who actually ministers the sacrament to one another through the vows they freely pronounce. There is a profound mystery which is taking place. It is in the giving of oneself to the other. In preparation for the reception of the vows, the priest asks the couple three questions which will establish their proper disposition to receive the sacrament. These three are referred to as the “boni” — the goods of marriage. They are their freedom to enter into marriage, their faithfulness and permanence to one another and their openness to children. These three goods are so essential that they are asked for in the preparation period when the couple is filling out marital forms before the marriage and they are now asked again at the ceremony. If there is a reservation or condition on any of the three goods, the validity of the sacrament of marriage may be questioned.

The priest asks the couple, “Have you come here to enter into marriage, without coercion, freely and wholeheartedly?” This freedom is necessary for the couple to enter into the sacrament.

Then the priest asks the couple: “Are you prepared, as you follow the path of marriage to love and honor each other for as long as you both shall live?”

In our hypersexualized society, “faithfulness” seems to be a restrictive imposition upon the couple. Yet the very nature of marriage demands a fidelity to the person with whom they are now joined. It is this stability that will offer an environment for family to be formed. It will remind the couple of their responsibility to each other. It is the permanence of marriage that grounds the faith-commitment in understanding the covenantal aspect of married life. They journey together as one in a partnership with God. When anniversaries are celebrated, the couple is reminded of the design God has for them.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1646) states: “By its very nature, conjugal love requires the inviolable fidelity of the spouses. This is the consequence of the gift of themselves which they make to each other. ‘The intimate union of marriage, as a mutual giving of two persons and the good of the children, demand total fidelity from the spouses and require an unbreakable union between them.’”

The priest asks the couple: “Are you prepared to accept children lovingly from God and to bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?” The very nature of married love is ordered for the procreation and the education of children. This essential openness to the establishment of family is referred to by the Second Vatican Council as the “domestic church.” Christ established his Church to guide and direct us to salvation. It will be the responsibility of the family to guide and direct the children entrusted to them to the profession of their faith. Examples of faith and the protection of vocations will come from the family.

It is wonderful to reflect on the words of the commitment made before God by the couple. “I take you to be my wife (husband), I promise to be faithful to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love you and to honor you all the days of my life.”

Today, we need strong faithful marriages as witnesses to Christ’s love. It is this love that is the ultimate gift from God. St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8 : “Love is patient, love is kind, it is never jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick tempered, it does not brood over injury , it does not rejoice over wrong-doing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, it believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”