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Marriage is difficult, but blessed are you

Archbishop Wenski's homily at annual Mass honoring married couples

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily during the annual Mass honoring couples marking their first, 25th, 50th or higher wedding anniversary. The Mass was celebrated Feb. 16, 2019 at St. Mary Cathedral in Miami.

In today’s Gospel, from Saint Luke’s “sermon on the plain,” Jesus outlines two ways to understand life. And we see these two ways illustrated both in the first reading, from Jeremiah, and in the psalm – the first of the Book of Psalms. Many of you might remember that movie and song from the ‘60s: “What's it all about, Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live? What's it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?”

Today’s Scriptures put before us a choice: We can live either for the “kingdom of God” or for our own “consolation.” Is our pursuit of happiness – or in more biblical language, our pursuit of “blessedness” – to be exhausted only in terms of this earthly life; or do we look beyond a greater horizon – to eternal life? Or to continue from Alfie:

Are we meant to take more than we give?
Or, are we meant to be kind?
And if only fools are kind, Alfie,
Then I guess it's wise to be cruel.
And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie,
What will you lend on an old golden rule?

“Blessed are you…Woe to you. Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours…Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” Two categories, two worlds. To which world do we belong?

Jesus is not talking in sociological terms – and so it is important to understand that Jesus is not simply canonizing all the poor, the hungry – just as he does not demonize all the rich. He is drawing a distinction that is deeper than just sociological understandings of poverty and riches – it has to do with knowing what we put our trust in, on what sort of foundation we are building the house of our life, whether it is on that which will pass away, or on that which will not pass away. Jesus presents us with a stark choice: either you live by God and for God or you can try to live for yourself and by yourself.

That’s what it’s all about indeed.

Today, we honor and celebrate those married couples celebrating silver, golden and other significant anniversaries. And we thank you for your witness – a witness that is so much needed in our world today, a world which like Alfie has forgotten what it is all about.

According to statistics reported in our newspapers, less than half of the households in the United States today are made up of married couples. For the first time in history, there are more people not married – we put in this category those never married, not yet married and not married anymore – there are more in this category than those who are married. This is a serious problem that begets a litany of woes, like the woes of today’s Gospel – and I know that it touches you as you look with concern on your children and your grandchildren.

Yet, today, in these couples, we see the beauty of marriage, 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.

Again, from the theme song of that movie, Alfie:

As sure as I believe there's a heaven above, Alfie,
I know there's something much more,
Something even non-believers can believe in.
I believe in love, Alfie.
Without true love we just exist, Alfie.
Until you find the love you've missed you're nothing, Alfie. 

Or as Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, blessed are you who are now hungry; blessed are you who weep….” As you look back on your marriage, you know that it wasn’t all sweetness and harmony; but I hope that you can say that you were indeed blessed. Without a doubt, there were crises – crises that you had to learn to live through. Just getting used to each other – to your differences, to your otherness, did not just happen without some struggle, without sacrifice, without learning to accept each other with each one’s quirks and idiosyncrasies over and over again. But in overcoming the moments of crisis, new dimensions of love developed and opened the door to new dimensions of life.

Sometimes, we priests think that because we are celibate, we make a big sacrifice. But we can learn much from married people, precisely because of your sacrifices. And what sacrifices you make – think of the children, the problems that arise, of the fears, suffering illnesses, rebellion, the problems of the early years when nights are almost always spent sleeplessly because of the crying of the small children. We all (not just us priests but all of us, especially your children and grandchildren) we all certainly can learn much from you about the meaning of sacrifice and suffering.

We need your witness. We need to learn 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 others. We are all called to holiness – and husband and wife are called to help the other become holy. “My wife’s a saint,” one man told me; and his wife answered, “I had to be, to put up with him.” Marriage is a sacrament for the salvation of others – first for the salvation of the other – of your spouse – but then for the salvation of your children, your wider family and of the entire community.

Marriage is difficult, marriage is hard but “blessed are you” – for God has not and does not deny you his grace. That’s what it’s all about, Alfie.

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