25, 40, 50, 60 Years Married
One of the many inspiring annual events at St Francis Xavier's Cathedral is our Mass to celebrate significant wedding anniversaries occurring that year. Well in advance, parishes are asked to insert the following notice in their Sunday bulletins: "Marriage Anniversaries Mass - If you are celebrating 25, 40, 50 or 60 years of marriage this year and would like an invitation to the Mass to be celebrated by Bishop Peter Ingham at the Cathedral please contact the Office of the Bishop, Diocese of Wollongong." Once we have the names, I write to the couples and invite them to attend the Mass set for a certain date. A special Mass booklet is prepared also listing the names of the anniversary couples and their current parish.
In 2008, 12 couples celebrated Diamond Jubilees, (one couple even 65 years!), 28 couples had Golden Jubilees, 21 couples Ruby Anniversaries and 31 couples Silver Jubilees of their marriages. They came from parishes throughout the Diocese.
This practice was initiated in our Diocese by my predecessor of happy memory, Archbishop Philip Wilson, in 1997. I am delighted to continue it, as so many of the participants thank the Diocese for having such an affirming celebration. The couples are usually accompanied by their children and grandchildren. Not all couples would be able to incorporate Mass into their own family celebration, so this Liturgy fulfils a need. After the homily at this Mass, the couples come up to me in front of the altar, so that I may personally congratulate them and give each a special candle symbolising the renewal of the couple's commitment to one another as a reflection of the love that Christ has for his Church (Eph 5:25).
When all the anniversary couples have received their candles they are asked to stand for a few moments silent prayer before renewing before God and the assembly their sacred matrimonial commitment to each other. I then pray a blessing on our jubilarian couples.
After Mass, refreshments, photos and the cutting of the anniversary cake round off a very affirming event.
Benefit of Marriage
Well-known Lutheran Pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer claims "it is not love that sustains your marriage, but rather it is marriage that sustains your love for one another."
A number of authors in the last 20 years, as a result of interviews with married people have written to demonstrate that many couples were benefiting in a far more rewarding way from their marriages than most people realised. Their findings are not surprising:
- satisfying marriages require an investment in time, an investment of thought and an investment of energy;
- you have to put something into your marriage to get something out of it;
- commitment and trust are essential ingredients for a satisfying marriage;
- partners must like each other and enjoy each other's company, be good friends;
- goals and values that each share are necessary;
- all marriages go through periods of doubt and stress;
- needs and expectations of each partner are going to change over the years;
- tolerance, acceptance, adjustment to growth and change in each other is also necessary, putting up with each other, tolerating, adjusting. We don't live in a perfect world.
These authors testify that long term happily married couples experience the same kinds of problems and conflicts as do other couples; the difference is that satisfied couples confront situations and work through them. Working through difficult times can lead to a stronger relationship, a better relationship. There is also the need to lighten up, to enjoy each other's company and not take ourselves too seriously. People want to be fulfilled, they want happiness.
Enduring is not enough. Newly-married couples should not to be deceived by the fairy tale idea that a good marriage involves years of uninterrupted bliss. Expectations like that inevitably crash into the frustrations of real life.
The child-rearing years particularly, can be a time of lower interactive satisfaction because couples have less time for each other and for their own relationship. Yet, generosity in being open to receive the gift of new life I a great trust in God's providence. This is time when couples find their joy in the new lives they had borne in their children. I would add that's where Church, parishes and schools, can be a great support through playgroup, children's liturgy, P & F Associations, preparation for Baptism and the other Sacraments of Initiation. These are great faith development opportunities that also build community.
Remedial advice given by these authors includes setting realistic standards and expectations for everything from happiness and housekeeping to sexual relations and the care of children; establishing a balance between retaining a sense of the identity of each individual in the marriage while maintaining their sharing as a couple - zones of freedom within a shared relationship. That is considered essential to prevent either too much unhealthy dependence or too much unhealthy separateness.
The conclusions that I have mentioned from these writers may seem obvious, even trite, to couples who have journeyed a quarter of a century or half a century or more in marriage. Nevertheless, I believe such reflections can provide a stimulus for us to examine and even alter our attitudes and behaviours in the directions that Jesus teaches about treating others as we would like to be treated (Mt 7:12) - about compassion (Lk 10:29f) and forgiveness (Lk 15:11f); about the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness, self control (Gal 5:22). Such fruits become the evidence that we are open to the Holy Spirit being active in our lives. I read once that "a successful marriage is a union of two good forgivers."
Wisdom for Living
The challenge to marriage in our modern world is learning how to maintain an enduring relationship that is satisfying. To be able to do it within the context of gender equality, to have fulfilment, to be able to dialogue, to be able to develop the skills of communicating, of solving problems together, of resolving conflicts, of collaborative decision making. These are what lead to the formation of more positive and intimate relationships. Now, to try and do that, without the teaching and support of Jesus and his Church, is to do it without a whole wisdom of living that Catholic Christianity teaches and brings to the living of our lives.
Years ago Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote a book called "Three to Get Married." Where is God in our living out of the Sacrament of Matrimony? Is there any prayer offered in our home? A simple grace before meals is a thank you to God that we have food to eat! Do we worship as a family? Is Sunday Mass the important priority among our many activities? Are there any sacred images, such as a crucifix, a statue or picture of the Virgin Mary and her Divine Son, anywhere in our homes? Are a Bible, a Missal and the Catechism of the Catholic Church among books on our bookshelf? Do any in the family carry a set of rosary beads in their pocket or purse?
If our children grow up in a home devoid of any religious practices, such as saying a prayer at home or going to Sunday Mass, or if they never see any sacred symbols in their living space, how will they ever connect with our long and rich tradition of Catholic faith and culture? How will they develop a love for the Lord Jesus and his Body, the Church, that they in turn can pass on to their descendents?
Most of us receive the Faith of the Church through our families, along with the values and virtues to equip us to make a positive contribution to the good of the wider community. It is not for no reason that the family is referred to as the ‘domestic' Church.