The Bishop's homily for the Mass with married couples
On the 4th of February, 2018, the Bishop offered Mass for married couples of the diocese at the Cathedral, and invited them to renew their marriage vows at the same time. He was assisted at this Mass by Fr. D. Palmer, the deacon at S. Barnabas', Mr. S. Doona, and by the Cathedral Clergy, servers and the Cathedral Choir. The following is the homily given by the Bishop for the event.
This afternoon, we gather to thank God for the sacrament of marriage. We usually describe a sacrament as an outward sign of an inner reality. The inner reality in every sacrament is that God comes to us in the sacrament to bless, strengthen and guide us. To help us to appreciate what God desires to do for us in each of the sacraments, there is an outward sign or symbol. So, in the sacrament of baptism, the outward signs or symbols are water, the anointing with oil, the white garment; in the Mass it’s bread and wine. God reveals and makes present his love, strength, and guidance through these symbols – they express his presence in people’s lives. But, as you all know, in the sacrament of marriage the outward sign or symbol is the giving of the couple to each other in the exchange of wedding vows: ‘to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish till death do us part.’ The exchange of vows on your wedding day was, and is, the outward sign of your commitment to each other, to love and cherish each other in both good and challenging times, and a symbol of God’s life-long commitment to you – to be present to you always through your love for each other and the family and people that God sends into your lives, and to bless and make that love ever stronger. Today you will renew those crucial vows.
The sacrament of marriage is, therefore, about so much more than receiving a blessing from God on your wedding day; it involves your entire life as you journey together through the blessings and challenges of married life. Your entire life becomes sacramental, to the extent that you are open to Christ and allow him to live in and through you, in your actions, your attitudes and your love. You are called as a couple to be God’s instruments of love, compassion, forgiveness and understanding – so no pressure then! It is in loving and caring for each other, and for your family, friends, and the people God sends into your lives, that you express your love for God. But, as you know, sacraments bring grace to those who are open to God, and grace is a way of describing how God shares his divine life with us and gives us the help and guidance we need to live as Christ’s followers. There are times in all our lives when we need God’s help to get us through, and so this should never be taken foregranted; this presence of God in the lives of a married couple needs nurturing. It is important to remember, when Catholic and Christian couples experience difficulties, that it is God who has united them in the sacred bond of marriage, that he therefore is the foundation of that bond; and that’s why prayer is so important in marriage. The husband praying for his wife, and the wife praying for her husband. This mutual prayer helps to preserve the bond of marriage, and helps the love of the couple to grow. So, when there are disagreements or arguments – which is very much part of our human condition – the bond between you is strong enough not to be broken when you remain open to the power of God’s grace received in the sacrament of marriage. Prayer is so important for all of us in our vocations, mine included, to make us strong in our vocational commitment, to help us, to give us strength and courage to live out what we have promised, and to stay faithful to it. This then is my main point of encouragement to all of you today. Try, hand in hand for at least a few moments, where possible at the start of each day, to place yourselves in the presence of God and, silently or in words, open your hearts afresh to his presence in your marriage, become aware of that presence, ask his blessing on your new day, and then make the sign of the Cross on each other’s forehead, as a sign of your desire that the day would begin in His love, and that it would sustain you both no matter what the day brings.
My dear couples, you bear eloquent witness today that the definitive commitment of marriage is possible, and that the permanence of marriage is not only possible, it is truly beautiful! For you are people who have learned, or are learning, to face life’s challenges together, hand in hand, helping each other to trust and to grow in God’s faithful presence in your marriage. You have put your trust in the truth of God’s word to you on your wedding day that, what he has joined together, humanity must not divide, and that he will always be with you. Please speak positively of the beauty of marriage to young people at every opportunity that is presented to you, because, as you know they are frightened of this commitment. Speak to them of the grace, of the help that God has given you in your marriage, and continues to give you, and speak too of the faithfulness, however tested it might be at times, which God makes possible in your lives. Speak to them of what God calls you to in the sacrament of marriage, to a love and a self giving at times beyond the limits of just your own strength, but which God supports you with. Speak to them honestly, and speak to them positively of the joy, happiness and fulfilment that can be found in married life, that you have found in your marriage. Congratulations as you celebrate another year of your marriages, and may the Lord continue to bless you all with his love and his grace as you prepare now to renew your wedding vows. Amen.