Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

Worshiping God through marriage

Saturday, September 13, 2008

One of the best eucharistic celebrations each year is the Golden Wedding Anniversary Mass. Although the cathedral is the church that usually hosts the Jubilarians and their families, the Mass was celebrated on Sept. 7 this year at St. John Brebeuf Parish in Niles. More than 500 couples celebrated marriages that began in 1958.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen once wrote a book titled “Three to Get Married.” The reflections on their marriages that many couples wrote in preparation for the renewal of their vows bear witness to the truth of that book title: “Knowing that God is the third partner in our marriage has been fundamental. We have been able to ask for any needed strength and give true thanks for our many blessings.” A husband wrote: “I can’t imagine married life without a strong faith. God is the center of our lives and consequently our decisions are always good-centered. Faith was always an integral part of our relationship and guided us along the way when making tough decisions. We shared our faith with others and that helped us grow in our relationship.” And a wife wrote: “Faith...reminds you no one is perfect and we are all gifts to each other and we should always forgive. Catholic school taught me: once married, stay married, so we did.”

The example of life and love joined for 50 years moves all of us to congratulate the couples and their families. Their example should encourage those engaged and others recently married or struggling with great difficulties in their married life. The jubilarians’ example is especially important when there are so many counter-examples and when the state of marriage is weakened by social trends.

During his visit to our country last April, Pope Benedict XVI said: “To some young Catholics, the sacramental bond of marriage seems scarcely distinguishable from a civil bond, or even a purely informal and open-ended arrangement to live with another person.” The statistics reflect this attitude. Fifty years ago, almost no marriages were preceded by cohabitation; today, cohabitation precedes over half of the marriages celebrated. Forty percent of marriages end in divorce. True love demands a total and definitive gift of persons to one another. If a “divorce culture” is stronger than a “marriage culture,” many people will never come to know what it means to love faithfully all one’s life. Marital tragedies affect more than the couple and their children; we are all affected and we all grieve.

Also during his visit to the United States, the Holy Father told the bishops: “It is your task to proclaim boldly the arguments from faith and reason in favor of the institution of marriage understood as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, open to the transmission of life.” The church needs marriage to understand her own relationship to Christ. Sometimes the church’s teaching on sexual morality is incomprehensible simply because people don’t share the faith’s intuitive understanding that sexual difference and sexual activity are intimately linked to the worship of God.

Christ is related to his church, his people, by bonds of self-sacrificing love. Marriage does not create that relationship, but marriage that is faithful and fruitful strengthens it. Every believer has a vested interest in the success of every marriage. The church wants marriage to succeed and, relying always on God’s grace, has created various means to help husbands and wives in their married life.

Parishes provide worship and prayer and opportunities to serve others that call every family to a life apart from the busyness that so marks our lives today. If the pace of life is somewhat slowed, then community between spouses and with their children and the friendship that is nurtured only in time spent together become a possibility. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has created a National Pastoral Initiative for Marriage (, and our archdiocese participates in this initiative and has created other means for encouraging husbands and wives in their married lives (

This month a movie will be released that follows the difficulties of a married couple who have decided to divorce. The husband’s father, from the experience of his own marital difficulties, counsels his son on how to save the marriage that the son had been content to let die. The movie is infused with evangelical Christianity’s sense of marriage as a covenant, and Catholics can share that and complete it with our understanding of marriage as a sacrament. I don’t see many movies, but this was one I watched and was moved by. It’s called “Fireproof.” [Sister Helena Burns reviewed the movie in the last issue of the Catholic New World.] The husband is a firefighter who knows that in fighting fires you never leave your partner behind. He has to learn what that means for his wife and their marriage.

The Catholic Church has recently beatified Zelie and Louis Martin, the parents of the Little Flower, St. Therese of Lisieux. The Martins lost four of their children to early death, their family had to billet Prussian troops in the family home during the German invasion of France in 1870, their lives were touched by illness, they knew financial loss. They also knew humor, love for those poorer than themselves and the love of God. It was a family of saints.

That’s what marriage, at rock bottom, is to be: a school of sanctity, a particular way of following the Lord in self-sacrificing love. To this year’s Golden Anniversary couples, congratulations and thanks.