Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Wedding Anniversary Mass – June 10, 2018
10th Sunday in Ordinary Time 

A nine-year-old asks his father, “Dad, how do wars start?”  …  “Well, son,” his father began, “take World War I.  That war started when Germany invaded Belgium.”  …  “Just a minute,” his wife interrupted.  “It began when Archduke Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist.”

“Well, dear,” the husband responded, “that was the spark that ignited the fighting, but the political and economic factors leading to the war had been in place for some time.”  …  “Yes, I know, honey,” asserted the wife, “but our son asked how the war began and every history book says that World War I began with the murder of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria.”

Drawing himself up with an air of superiority, the husband snapped, “Are you answering the question, or am I?”  …  The wife turned her back on her husband, walked out of the room and slammed the door behind her.

When the dishes stopped rattling, an uneasy silence followed.  The nine-year-old then broke the silence:  “Dad, you don’t have to say any more about how wars start.  I understand now.”

You see, wars begin long before the first shot is fired; houses collapse well before the first crack in the foundation; families fall apart long before the first door is slammed.  When our own needs come before the common good, when we cannot see or refuse to see things from the perspective of the other person, when the accumulation of wealth and the pursuit of status take the place of the things of God, “war” is certain to destroy a family’s unity and the circle of friendship.

Such hardness of heart and self-centeredness fuel the conflict in today’s gospel.  …  What do I mean?  Let’s look a bit more closely at this interesting and timely passage from Saint Mark.  …  When Jesus’ relatives heard that he was back home and in their neighborhood, they began to apologize for him, for his teachings and for his claims about himself, going so far as to remark, “He is out of his mind.”  …  The scribes, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, were so concerned about the attention that Jesus was receiving as he cast out demons and healed the sick that they labeled him as being possessed by demons himself.

Yet, what was really at the heart of the conflict that found Jesus being labeled and accused of doing inappropriate things?  What did Jesus teach that unsettled so many people?  …  He talked about love – for all of God’s people – and how true, selfless love has the power to triumph over hatred and evil.    …  He reminded people that pride, self-centeredness and prejudice can tear lives apart and divide communities and families.  …  He called those who listened to his message to accept and respect every life that they encounter, for every life is made in the image and likeness of God.  …  He spoke often of the need to forgive and to set aside one’s own desires and wants for the sake of the other.  …  He challenged all who were willing to engage his teaching to serve – just as he had been sent by his Father in heaven to serve.  …  He said that through the power and presence of God in our lives, life would triumph over death.

Sadly, Jesus was surrounded by people who were afraid of his message and threatened by it.  Rather than opening their minds and hearts to a way of life that had the potential to give meaning, purpose and peace to their lives, they were content to ignore Jesus’ challenge and to label him as “possessed” and “out of his mind.”  …  It was simply much easier to do!  …  It was the easier way out!

I don’t think there another group in the world that understands more than you who are celebrating milestone-wedding anniversaries that the easiest way out is not always the best.  …  Remember: while Jesus’ “way” led him to a cross, that same “way” ultimately led him through the cross to life, eternity and peace!

In the marriage ritual, the relationship of a husband and wife is seen as a reflection of the love that God, in Jesus, has for his people.  Christian marriage is described as “so holy a mystery that it symbolizes the marriage of Christ and his Church,” an image of the covenant between God and his people.  …  In other words, your life and love – as husband and wife – give evidence of the love, mercy and compassion of God at work in our broken world and imperfect lives.  …  More than you realize, your lives together are a profound reflection of the selfless, sacrificial love of God for this people.

My parents were married for 56 years when my father passed away in 2004.  I remember very well their 50th wedding anniversary.  As part of that special year, they participated in this same celebration that you’re experiencing today.  I remember asking my parents at that time: “What’s going through your mind as you reflect upon 50 years of marriage?”  My father, who was a man of few words and far more emotional than he’d ever admit, responded with some heartfelt words of gratitude and love for my mother and the family that they brought into existence.  My mother, who tends to be a little bit more direct in her words, expressed statements similar to those of my father but in a slightly different way.  “We made a commitment,” she said, “and we had to live up to what we promised.  It wasn’t always easy.  There were struggles, disappointments and tears.  But there were also moments of joy, love, laughter and gratitude for all that we’d been given in life.  Marriage means all the more after 50 years because we worked at it and now have something very worthwhile.”  …  I would suspect that what my mother shared about her marriage with my father reflects in so many ways the same things that most of you feel.

What we celebrate today in the example of your lives and your marriages of 25, 50 or more years is not merely endurance and determination but the mystery of God’s love for his creation and how that love is revealed and lived.  In Pope Francis’ exhortation on the joy and blessing of marriage and family life – Amoris laetitia – the Holy Father reflects upon Saint Paul’s great hymn to love, found in his letter to the Church at Corinth.  Most of us know this passage well.

This “love is experienced and nurtured in the daily lives of couples and their children,” Pope Francis noted.  “It is helpful to think more deeply about the meaning of this text and its relevance for the concrete situation of every family.”

“Love is patient.  …  Love is at the service of others.  …  Love is not jealous.  …  Love is not boastful.  …  Love is not rude.  …  Love is not irritable or resentful.  …  Love is generous.  …  Love forgives.  …  Love rejoices with others.  …  Love bears all things.  …  Love believes all things.  …  Love hopes all things.  …  Love endures all things.  …  This Christian ideal, especially in marriage,” Pope Francis shared, “is a love that never gives up.”

Indeed, this great hymn of God’s love, for all of its likely reminders to us of missed opportunities, provides us with a lens into the relationship of every couple committed to nurturing the bond of marriage in a permanent, faithful and fruitful manner.  …  It also provides you with a way of understanding the essence of your marriage and how and why it has endured and flourished for all these years.

As you reflect on your years of marriage, the stories and events that are likely racing through your minds and hearts hardly reflect a naïve, storybook ideal or fairy tale notion of your relationship.  Quite the contrary.  Your stories and lives reflect hard work, struggle and pain, suffering and joy, and a selflessness that seeks the well-being of another.  Your marriage has endured because you have come to see it as part of something much bigger than yourselves – the mystery of God’s love woven into creation – embraced in your lives – and lived through God’s grace – in your relationship with each other.

Your daily lives for all these years, lived in the power of the Sacrament of Marriage instituted by Christ, are testimony that marriage is not magical, but far more real, demanding, sacrificial, selfless  …  and ultimately filled with God’s blessing of meaning, love and peace.  That’s what you celebrate today!

Now do me a favor.  …  Take a look at the person sitting next to you.  …  Look into his eyes – her eyes.  For all that is a part of this exchange and this moment, realize just how sacred your relationship is.  …  For all that you have been through, realize how blessed you are to have each other.  …  For as familiar as those eyes are, see through them to discover the face of God abiding within the heart of the one you love.  …  And give thanks.  …  Amen.