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Marriage: a sacrament for the salvation of others

Archbishop Wenski's homily at annual Mass in celebration of marriage

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily at the annual Mass for couples marking 1, 25, 50 and more years of marriage, on the occasion of World Marriage Day. The Mass was celebrated Feb. 10, 2024, at St. Mary Cathedral.

In today’s Gospel, we find a leper before Jesus. “If you wish,” he says, “you can heal me.” What the leper is really saying is, “Do you, Jesus of Nazareth, love me, a leper – someone who is an outcast, someone who is feared and despised by the whole world, someone who is ritually impure and, in that sense, ‘officially’ unlovable?” And Jesus answers, “Of course, I love you – and I do want you to be cured.”

How difficult it had to be for this leper to believe in the power of Jesus’s love – a love powerful enough to cure him from the shame and pain of his leprosy. Jesus’ love for him certainly changes his life forever. His love changes all of us forever.

Today, as we observe World Marriage Day, we celebrate the power of Jesus’ love in your lives. We see something of the healing love of Jesus, the holy love of Jesus in the beauty of marriage, your marriages. The power of grace, the grace given to you in the Sacrament of Matrimony, has allowed you to persevere for richer or for poorer, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, until death do you part.

To be sure, it was not all sweetness and light – nor can we pretend that there will be no difficult days ahead. Marriage is hard, marriage is difficult.

There are great lessons that all of us, but especially your children and grandchildren, can learn from you about the meaning of sacrifice and suffering. And what sacrifices you make – think of the children when they were babies and kept you up all night feeding them; and remember when they were teenagers and kept you up all night worrying about them. But there was always God’s grace – and even in our brokenness, God’s grace never fails us.

Some time ago, in the New York Times Opinion section, I came across an op-ed by a Michal Leibowitz.

She writes: “Secular American culture puts the self and self-fulfillment at the center of life. That emphasis, already ubiquitous by the ‘60s and ‘70s, continues to transform all areas of life – it becomes difficult, for example, to make any argument that doesn’t appeal to the ultimate good of one’s own happiness. But in viewing couplehood mostly as a vehicle for individual self-fulfillment, we’ve lost the thing at the core of the romantic ideal of marriage: we.”

And so, as she writes: “Going from ‘Me’ to ‘We’” is the hardest part of love.

Today we honor the sacrifices and faithfulness of husbands and wives who have learned to progress from “me” to “we.”

The brief Second Reading, from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, perfectly encapsulates Paul’s sense of Christian life as a continual service of God, involving every aspect of one’s daily activity – there is nothing too ‘ordinary’ or too ‘secular’ not to offer to the Lord. Christian living in this way is essentially ‘apostolic,’ always looking to the salvation of one’s neighbor. One is not trying to avoid giving offense and to please others in order to avoid trouble for oneself but in the hope that one’s way of life may, through God’s grace, draw those not of the faith to the Lord.

Through your years of married life, you have learned that it is beautiful to mature through sacrifices – and thus to work for the salvation of others. And that is precisely why marriage is a sacrament – an encounter with Christ that gives grace, that leads to salvation not only for oneself but for one’s spouse, one’s kids and others. In baptism, we are all called to holiness – and husband and wife are called to help each other to become holy. Marriage is a sacrament for the salvation of others.

In you and your years of married life, we see something holy in the depth and beauty of love brought to full maturity, a mature love that knows true freedom because it is committed, a love tried and purified in the crucible of suffering and sacrifice, a love born of faith in Jesus and of obedience to his word. This is the love that casts out fear and overcomes hesitation; this is the love that knows that commitment to another, rather than limiting one’s freedom, actually frees one to love.

Thank you for showing us how to move from “me” to “we.” Certainly, your years together have given you experience – but more than experience, they have given you wisdom. Share that wisdom so that young people today discover the beauty of the vocation to love.

Love changes everything. In the Gospel, the leper experiences the power of Jesus’ love, and in your commitment to love and to hold, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, you too have experienced the power of love.

We ask you to once again renew this commitment that you made to each other so long ago, a commitment that has been tested and refined over the years, and a commitment that is now blessed and enriched by the wisdom of age. And we thank you for your witness.