Friday, January 16, 2015

Icon of God's everlasting love

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Fiftieth wedding anniversaries used to seem like charming instances of life-long love or inspiring witnesses of the peace that comes from multiple decades of marriage.  Sure, most couples mention the “hard times” of marriage, but it seemed to me that such hard times were in the past – perhaps even a couple of decades before.  A golden jubilee seemed more like a celebration of a new, peaceful existence.

Last week, however, I received a new vision.  Living in rural Indiana sometimes feels a bit like the Andy Griffith Show.  Towns are small, news travels fast, and everyone is related.  When joys and sorrows occur, they are felt by everyone.

So at the conclusion of Sunday Mass when two parishioners stood up to renew their wedding vows on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary, the entire church knew what stood behind their words.

In good times and bad” … Just a few days before Christmas, their grandson was the first member of the family in three generations to die.  He was only 21.  Knowing that the celebration of their anniversary took place amidst what was likely the most tragic week of their lives highlighted that their commitment to love each other “in good times and bad” was not a promise of the past but a commitment they were even now witnessing.

In sickness and in health” … The husband’s health struggles this past year were likely behind his wife’s tearful repetition of this portion of their vow.  Through the uncertainties of surgeries and infections and middle-of-the-night care, this couple had witnessed to the parish what it means to give and receive love even when it is difficult.

I will love you and honor you all the days of my life”… These words took on a renewed meaning as the parish witnessed the renewal of their vows.  The priest who asked the couple to “repeat after me” was actually their son.  The man who stood in the person of Christ in the sanctuary that morning was the fruit of their own love. Their son (along with their other children and grandchildren filling the front pews) were also concrete signs of the couple’s faithfulness to this vow that they made 50 years ago.  But we also saw their desire and commitment to continue loving and honoring each other for however many days God gives them.  It’s a promise they made 50 years ago, and one that they did not “remake” on their anniversary, but rather reaffirmed.

In some ways, the renewal of their vows was not about them, but about those of us who sat in the pews observing.  It was a reminder of what every married couple is – an icon of God’s love.

By Ranosonar (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
God loves us in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, and He will love us and honor us all the days of our life.  Our reflection of that love in marriage is merely a glimmer of God’s love.  We fail to love perfectly, and yet our imperfect attempts are called to witness to the existence of a perfect love.  We would not be capable of loving one another without first receiving God’s love.  Marriage is possible because God “first loved us.”

In St. John Paul II’s messages frequently known as Theology of the Body, he spoke of marriage as an icon of God’s love.  As he said, “Can we not deduce that marriage has remained the platform for the realization of God’s eternal plans …?” (Theology of the Body 97:1).

From the beginning of creation, marriage has existed as a sign of God’s love.  Every time we see a married couple we should be reminded of God’s love – His faithfulness, total self-giving, and fruitful generosity. 

Last Sunday when my fellow parishioners reaffirmed their lifelong love, they were also reminding us that their participation in the Sacrament of Marriage was a gift to us all.  Their love in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, all the days of their lives, ought to reveal something of God’s love to us.

And for all married couples, their witness is a reminder that our living of the Sacrament of Marriage is meant to be a gift to the world – a manifestation of God’s love, made visible through day to day acts of selflessness and service.  The question we need to ask ourselves: How well does my marriage reflect God’s love to my spouse, my children and to others?

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