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NOTE: The following letter was published in the October 5, 2017 edition of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
It is always a delight to be invited to attend a wedding. We priests, gratefully officiate at or attend many of them. During these liturgies, many things stand out – the evident faith, the hope, the love of the couple, the joyfulness of their family and friends. But also deeply moving is the obvious honesty of the two young people marrying each other. In marriage they give their word. They promise. They speak an oath. The word they speak is their truth. I promise to be true to you always, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, until death, in word and action. I promise! You have my word. I vow! I do!
We recently gathered in our beautiful Cathedral of St. Francis to celebrate 189 married couples from across our diocese who have been true to their word for 25, 50, 60 and even 70 years! We gathered to thank God for the blessings He has bestowed on them during these past years; especially through the gift of their children. Each of those married couples entered a sacramental marriage and made a promise to God and each other, and no doubt, they have renewed it time and time again. The vows acknowledge “in good times and bad.” Every marriage has felt the challenges and pressures of human brokenness and disappointments that could have easily torn them apart; many husbands and wives have shared that working through these moments of common suffering in their marriage have made their relationships stronger. Yes, we gathered to celebrate the grace of perseverance and gratitude.
The heart of the promise that a married couple makes to one another is the secret to a happy and holy marriage. The secret is what our world does not know. The secret is not in seeking their own self-fulfillment but rather in looking for opportunities for their self-gift to each other. There is a popular slogan from the Marriage Encounter movement that says “A wedding is a day. A marriage is a lifetime.” The commitment to sacramental married life requires that the couple surrender over and over for the sake of their unity. Little by little, this surrender reshapes the couple according to the biblical view of “two in one flesh.” No doubt every married couple have worked to be faithful and quick to forgive; patient and kind with one another; caring and correcting; encouraging and exemplary in their life for one another. This unity becomes a sign in the world.
We know from Catholic theology that the sacraments make God and His grace present to us, real to us, visible to us. Sacraments are outward signs given by God to give particular graces. Many people mistakenly think that the rings that are worn by a married couple are “the outward sign” of their sacrament of Marriage. However, it is the husband and wife themselves that make God present in our world through their love for one another. They are the sign. As they are true to their word and strive to follow the faithful example of Jesus, they will reproduce His sacrifice. At the heart of a Christian marriage is the cross of Christ. The world we live in beckons us to abandon relationships when they do not “fulfill” us. But following the example of Jesus, who poured out His life for us, the married couple pour out their lives for each other. In this way, God is present wherever married love is lived. I am so happy to have had the opportunity to thank them on behalf of His Church for all the “good times and bad,” lived in faithfulness.
Pope Francis frequently reminds us that we live in a new age where marriage cannot be taken for granted. We are now challenged to create a supportive environment for married couples that the wider society just does not appreciate. I hope to see more parish-based support opportunities for couples to be nurtured and strengthened in the various problems that arise, as well as times to rejoice at the good things of married life. Of course marriages can struggle with heavy problems, but we have Retrouvaille, which seeks to find healing for troubled marriages. It is also true that marriages do fail. We acknowledge that divorce is a sad reality that deserves our pastoral care and concern. It is critical that those who have experienced divorce should stay close to the Church. This is where you can find healing, support and renewed courage. I am pleased that we have divorced care in many parishes and hopefully more opportunities in the future.
We are working in the diocese to discover the best ways to prepare young couples for marriage, taking into account the situations that so many young people find themselves in today as they seek to give themselves to each other in a lifelong commitment. They need more support, not less. I am so grateful for the Engaged Encounters, Pre-Cana Teams and the God’s Plan for a Joy-filled Marriage program for engaged couples. These and other initiatives help to get couples on the way to a life giving marriage.
The Church is made stronger by every sacramental marriage! May God bless all our married couples and their families in our diocese; and from the Church of Metuchen, I say, thank you to all of you for witnessing this love for us and making God present to us!
The Most Reverend James F. Checchio, JCD, MBA
Bishop of Metuchen