“Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lamp stand, where it gives light to all in the house.”
Today, as Jesus foretold, we glorify our heavenly Father. We give thanks to God for the gift of marriage, which he created. We give thanks in a particular way today for you who are celebrating anniversaries of your marriage – for your witness of selfless love, for your fidelity to one another and to the solemn vows which you made on your wedding day, for your perseverance in your vocation as husband and wife, united in the Lord.
In the arena of the arts and the practical sciences, we assimilate truths in a way differently than the simple absorbing of information, facts and figures. For example, I do not have the art of cooking. I can fry an egg, and I can boil water for spaghetti noodles – so I will survive. But I lack the art of being able to make a healthy, balanced, mouth-watering meal from scratch. Yet I have as much access as anyone else does to all the best cook books, to a state of the art kitchen, and to every necessary pot and pan and implement. What I lack is practice.
To assimilate the truths that govern and guarantee success in any art, you need practice. And for practice to be effective, you need a mentor. This is the way we are when it comes to things like cooking, making music, painting and sculpting, auto repair, all the mechanical arts, medicine, and so many other enterprises. If you went to a surgeon who told you that he skipped his residency and his practicum, and learned how to do heart bypass surgery by reading books and watching videos, I’m guessing that you would look for another surgeon. Some skills can really only be learned through experience and practice that is guided by another who has the art. Practical knowledge of this kind is more than an intellectual grasping of truths; the truths of the great arts are assimilated into our very being, body and soul. It is truth in our flesh, truth in our bones, truth in our blood. It becomes a part of us.
Marriage is an art. You can read about marriage, reflect deeply on the social history of marriage and marriage as a phenomenon of culture. You can study guidebooks on communication or on parenting; you can go “on line” and find strategies for keeping the flame of romance kindled. But in the end, living a successful marriage takes practice. It is hard work. There are days when it demands all of your strength and patience and love. It survives only through a generous flowing of forgiveness and reconciliation. It requires creativity, willingness to bend. It challenges husbands and wives to give of themselves again and again and again.
This is part of what is meant when we say that marriage is a vocation. God called you to this way of life as the principal means by which you will fulfill your primary and foundational calling as a human person, created in the image and likeness of God. The vocation to become holy is fulfilled, in the words of Saint Paul by “offering [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.” This was the command of Jesus to his disciples at the Last Supper: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus loved us by offering his body as a living sacrifice; his one and only desire was to please God. This, then, is how he wishes his disciples to love one another: by offering themselves as a gift, as a sacrifice, an offering of self pleasing to the Lord.
The vocation of selfless love is expressed and fulfilled in a special way in the vowed love of marriage. This most challenging of all the arts – the art of loving and realizing our vocation a persons, that is, as gifts to be given in love – this art is one that you have practiced: some of you for only a few years, others for twenty-five, fifty, sixty, and even close to seventy years. That’s a lot of practice! You have learned much through your experience, and you have much to teach the rest of us who are not married. Most of all, you are like mentors, who can help form and shape the next generation of married couples. You teach us what marriage is by showing us how it is lived.
I once asked a husband and wife who had been married for many years, “What is your secret? How have you been able to stay married for so long, still together after all these years.” He said, “Early on, I learned the three magic words ….” “Oh,” I said, “you mean ‘I love you’?” “Well, yes,” he said, “that too. I was thinking of those other three words, “Yes, my dear.”
Yesterday I spent some time with a couple and their children. The couple have been married for fifty-seven years. They were gathered for the anointing of the husband and father, who has terminal cancer, and is on hospice care. In the course of our prayer, I invited the couple’s adult children to add prayers of their own. One of them said, “I am so thankful to my heavenly father for my earthly father: for his constant love, and the example he gave me. There were so many things that he would have liked to have and to do, but instead, he spent time with us, his children, and he bought us the things that we needed and went without the things that he wanted. Thank you, Father. Thank you, Dad.” She hastened to add that Mom had also done this, but we were there mainly to pray for the Dad, which is why she highlighted him. This is what I am talking about: the art of marriage, the art of selfless loving, has been passed on from one generation to the next, within the school of love, the family. This is why you, our married brothers and sisters, are so important to us all.
Our purpose today at this Mass is not just to talk about love and marriage. It is to lift up our married couples, to whom we look for the lived example of this great mystery, the gift from God which is marriage and family. We learn so much from you, simply by your constancy and faithfulness to each other and to your children. Today you are the light which we do not put under a bushel basket, but put on a lamp stand, where you can give light to all in the house. By your faithfulness and love, by your deep commitment to your vows and to the permanence of your promises, by the fruitfulness of an overflowing and generous love for your children and your neighbors, by your daily practice of dying to self and living for the other in order to please God, you are truly the mentors of the next generation, and beyond, mentors of this art which is most necessary for our Church and our world.
Your light shines before others. We see your good deeds. Thank you for giving us a reason today for glorifying our heavenly Father.