||This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.
I hope that this summer has been as blessed for each of you as it has for me. As if it couldn’t get any better as we enter this week, I am preparing to spend time with our outstanding seminarians. Hopefully many of you have had a chance to meet some of the great men studying to give their lives in service to you, through Christ and His Church. Please keep them in your prayers, along with several new young women from our diocese who are entering into religious life this year.
In terms of our seminarians, I’d ask that you also give special consideration to offering what financial support you can to our St. Joseph’s Fund for seminarian education. When all is said and done, we may have 32 men studying for the Diocese of Madison. With the blessing of these outstanding men comes the responsibility of paying for their formation and education.
God’s blessings in a successful marriage
In this column, however, I want to focus not on the blessing of priestly ministry or consecrated life, but on the blessing of marriage. This past Sunday I was blessed, as I am every year, to celebrate with couples from throughout the diocese who marked the milestone of 50 years of marriage.
I asked those wonderful men and women, who were celebrating 50 years of faithful love, whether anyone of them could say that they’ve never needed to be forgiven by their spouse. Not surprisingly, there wasn’t one of them who raised their hand. Just imagine the mountain of forgiveness that was in that chapel of couples married for 50 years. No earthly mountain could compete with the height and the breadth of forgiveness which had made possible the fidelity those couples have lived out for one another.
Golden Wedding Mass held Aug. 6, 2012, at the Bishop O'Connor Center in Madison, produced by Kat Wagner
That fidelity is the work of God, with the free cooperation of a husband and a wife. In recent weeks, it has been claimed that, if you have a successful business, “you didn’t build that.” I’ll not comment on the issue of industry and hard work, but I’ll stick to the realm of our lives in Christ.
Each of the couples, who celebrated with me this past weekend, could tell you that if you have a successful marriage in Christ, in a real sense, you didn’t build that! Christ Himself built it — but only with the free-will cooperation of a man and a woman, willing to forgive over so many years. And those couples, married for 50 years, know that. They know that Christ is central to their successful marriage.
There is a crisis in understanding marriage in our society today. And there is a growing fear among some people to stand up and to proclaim what marriage is supposed to be, because they recognize where they have failed in living out marriage.
Some people fear that they can no longer say what is right, because they know where they have failed. But when we, as Christians, recognize that it is Christ who builds up marriage, then with confidence we can state what the Truth is, and with confidence we can say, “yes, I may have failed in living up to the ideal, but Christ has healed that and made up for what I lack.” Thus our own failings here, or there, cannot outdo what marriage is meant to be, for if I am living according to the will of God, all things are possible.
Love is the person of Jesus Christ
In the Gospel reading from this past Sunday (Jn 6:24-35), Jesus is trying to get the disciples to see that He is central, that He is the perfect copy of the Father. And notice that the disciples don’t want to “get” that. The more Jesus tries to explain who He is, the more they try to ask for something. “Sir, give us the bread always,” they say. They don’t really know what Jesus is talking about. So, at the end, Jesus says clearly, “I myself am the bread.”
The disciples shouldn’t be looking for something that Jesus would give, they should be looking for Jesus Himself, the Someone who fills their lives with the power of the Resurrection, and makes accomplishments such as 50-years of marriage seem like a light burden. “The yoke is easy, and the burden is light,” because, as was said by the Church on the wedding day of most of those more seasoned couples, “sacrifice is always difficult and irksome. But only love can make it easy, and perfect love can make it a joy.” And perfect love isn’t a thing; perfect love is the person of Jesus Christ.
The Second Reading from this past Sunday (Eph 4:17, 20-24) used an interesting expression, St. Paul said, “don’t live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.” In other words, the minds of the Gentiles are all messed up. Why? Because they don’t see that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. They don’t see that Jesus is all they ever need. It is all about Jesus. It’s not about the earthly bread that He gives; it’s not about the things that He gives us in our lives — even in answer to our prayers. It is all about Him. Whoever refuses to see that reality is condemned to “futility of mind,” like the Gentiles.
Celebrating Jesus in a successful marriage
In our world today, there is a great deal of “futility of mind.” And the strongest statement that can be made about marriage as the gift of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is the life and the example of faithful married couples. The life and the example of faithful married couples, lived out, is really all that needs to be said. But in the futility of their minds, a lot of people won’t look. Instead, many people only want to see the failures.
It’s gotten to the point, in a culture with about a 50 percent divorce rate, that the witness of couples celebrating 50 years of faithful marriage is almost inexplicable. People must think that those couples are naïve, and dependent, and don’t have a mind of their own. (Those married couples could tell you just how wrong that is!)
There is no explanation for faithfulness in marriage, except the existence of God, who shows Himself completely and fully in the one who is a perfect copy of Him, Jesus Christ Our Lord. And it’s Jesus above all that we celebrate, when we celebrate the wonderful gift of the grace of matrimony.
The grace of marriage is not given once and for all on the wedding day. That grace of marriage really is the gift that keeps on giving. Every morning when a man and a woman get up and say, “yes” to another day together, in the love of Christ, there is a new pouring out of the grace of marriage, and that’s why those couples have been faithful for 50 years.
But the man and the woman have to want that grace; it’s not forced on them. And the statistics show that many people don’t accept it. But so many couples do accept it. And the couples who gathered this past Sunday, freely accepted that grace, day-in and day-out for 50 years, with all the troubles that can come up in a marriage and in a family — and look at what the Lord has done!
Becoming ‘seasoned’ with age
The final point that I made to the couples gathered for their celebration of 50 years is one that is particularly for people who have reached a certain seasoning (myself included)! As we get older, there are experiences that we have, that are particular to us. They are experiences — and I hate to say it this way — that God does not waste on younger people, because they’re not ready. My Granny said to me many times, “Bobby, old age is not for sissies,” and yet she lived to be 96 with joy and hope, tremendous love, and an unspeakably wonderful attachment and devotion to good St. Anne — who was grandma, just like she was.
Granny used to say to me, “you know Bobby, I could write you a book about every doctor in this town — it seems that visiting those doctors is the only thing I do. But there is another side too. The Lord lets me see Him, He lets me see the good St. Anne, and He lets me see the world in such a more beautiful way than I ever could when I was young. There’s a beauty that’s a part of being in these older years. And it’s hard to live this long, in many ways, but I’ll tell you the truth, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it. Because I know, only now, things that I would have never guessed even five years ago.”
My Granny was blessed never to feel like a burden to anyone, because there was beauty in her life, and she wanted to share it. And to all of those reading, who are getting up in years I say, not one of you is any less beautiful in your life. And, by the love of Jesus Christ, let no one ever make you feel like a burden, because it’s simply not true. For all the love and forgiveness that you have given, for all of the wisdom that you have acquired, who could say that you’re a burden? Perhaps some in our culture, and maybe our government, want to declare the elderly a burden for their own self-interest, but they have no business doing so, nor does anyone else. So don’t you ever believe it. Jesus Christ is everything for everyone.
And as we get older, one of the gifts we get is that we don’t enjoy other things as much as we enjoy Christ. People say, “do you want to do this, or that?” and sometimes we respond, “oh, it’s too much trouble. Let me just stay home and have quiet and I’ll be happier.” When we stay home and are quiet, we’re not alone. We’re with Jesus Christ, who can more and more pierce the deepest recesses of our body and soul, and make His wonderful presence felt.
That’s who we are and that is the joy that the world can never give, and most importantly, that the world can never take away. So we mustn’t ever think that world can take away from you what Christ wants you to have. Maybe I can’t do this anymore, and maybe I don’t feel like doing that, but no matter what, Christ is still everything for me.
The couples married for 50 years, and so many good older men and women, have witnessed and continue to witness to the goodness of God in their lives. And that witness is so very important in terms of the witness of the good which is marriage, and in terms of the good which is our lives — even in old age. May more and more of us give this joyful witness!
Thank you for taking the time to read this. May the Lord continue to bless you in these remaining weeks of summer. Praised be Jesus Christ!