• CNS photo/Lisa Johnston
    Amy Olsen holds her 1-year-old daughter, Piper, as she lights a candle on the Advent wreath at St. Raphael the Archangel Church in St. Louis Oct. 29. The wreath, with a candle marking each week of the season, is a traditional symbol of the liturgical period.

    This coming Sunday we begin the journey of a new liturgical year as we enter into the season of Advent. The liturgical season of Advent celebrates the coming of God in two moments: the moment of Christ’s glorious return at the end of the world (the focus of the first part of Advent) and the moment of Christ’s coming in the fullness of time at the Incarnation (the focus of the latter part of Advent as Christmas draws near).

    The word Advent means “coming” or “presence.” The season of Advent reminds us of Christ’s coming in glory at the end of time and of Christ’s coming in the flesh at Christmas. Very fundamentally, Advent teaches us about God, that our God is “the God who comes.” The one true God is not distant from us, up in heaven, unconcerned about us and our history. He is the God-who-comes. Pope Benedict XVI expressed this well when he said:

    God is a Father who never stops thinking of us and, in the extreme respect of our freedom, desires to meet us and visit us; He wants to come, to dwell among us, to stay with us. His ‘coming’ is motivated by the desire to free us from evil and death, from all that prevents our true happiness. God comes to save us. 

    I invite you to live this beautiful season of Advent by immersing yourselves in the liturgies of Advent which focus on the coming of God to us, in the past, in the future, and in the present. We can easily forget about God and His coming to us now, in the present. So many things can distract us from God. In the Advent season, when the Church focuses on God’s coming, strangely we can become even more oblivious to God because of the busy-ness of this season. Our time can become consumed by material preparations for Christmas to the neglect of the preparation of our souls for the coming of the Lord.

    In our daily lives, we can feel that we don’t have time for the Lord or even time for ourselves. We become absorbed in so many tasks: writing Christmas cards, buying presents, decorating our homes, attending parties, etc. None of these things are bad, but when they consume us and all our time, when we become absorbed in these things and neglect what really matters and is most important, the coming of the Lord, we will find ourselves unable to experience the hope of Advent and the true joy of Christmas.

    How can we avoid the common pitfall of getting carried away with the materialism of “the holiday season” and absorption in the multiple distractions that easily monopolize our attention? I think it’s good to just step back and anticipate how we will spend our time these next four weeks. How can we reduce excessive activity and say no to some of the superfluous elements of the season? How can we create that “interior space” we all need to be with the Lord who desires to come to us now in the present? How can we allow God to enter into our life and speak to us? He wants to be close to us. Certainly, we wish to be close to Him, so we must make that closeness a priority, the priority of this season.

    We are used to making resolutions in Lent. I suggest that we make two Advent resolutions. First: a commitment to prayer during the four weeks of Advent. Here are some examples to choose from: daily Mass; daily meditation on the Scriptures of the day; daily rosary; daily visit to the Blessed Sacrament. I think we should get concrete, otherwise, given our human weakness, we can end up with some generalized resolution to pray more and find ourselves forgetting about it.

    In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus says: Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap… Be vigilant at all times and pray…” Moderation and prayer: great advice for the observance of Advent!

    The second resolution I recommend relates to good works. In the opening prayer (the Collect) of the First Sunday of Advent, we pray that God will grant us “the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at His coming.” In this perspective, Advent is meant to be a season in which we live in special communion with those who are in need, the sick, the poor, and the oppressed. Advent and Christmas should stimulate us to charity.

    I recommend, in addition to a prayer resolution in Advent, a charitable resolution. God is love. He has come to us and given us life in Jesus. He will return at the end of time and judge us according to our love for the least of our brothers and sisters. We are called to meet our God-who-comes with our works of charity, seeing God’s face in the face of our poor and suffering brothers and sisters. As we buy Christmas gifts for our loved ones, we can also buy a gift for someone in need or visit someone who is sick or lonely to share the joy of our faith.

    We can learn how to live the season of Advent from the Woman of Advent, our mother Mary. She is a model of prayer whose Magnificat teaches us how to praise God and rejoice in Him. She is Our Lady of Charity who teaches us to go out, to serve the needy, as she went in haste to help her cousin Elizabeth. Mary helps us to center our lives on the God-who-comes since she is His Mother. May our Immaculate Mother guide us by her example and help us by her intercession to live Advent in a spirit of prayer and with charity, ready to receive anew the gift of her Son!

    Posted on November 24, 2015, to:

  • This past week, I was contacted by numerous people who expressed serious concern about a recent public display by some students and faculty at Saint Mary’s College that positively portrayed the services of Planned Parenthood. I was very saddened to learn that this show of support for an organization that is the largest abortion provider in our country occurred at a Catholic college in our diocese. At the same time, I have been heartened by those students, faculty and alumnae of St. Mary’s College who are committed to the cause of life and the authentic good of women and have expressed their opposition to Planned Parenthood and any positive portrayal of this organization.

    The actions taken by the students and faculty in support of Planned Parenthood illustrate that even at a Catholic college, there are those who cling to the conviction that Planned Parenthood is an organization dedicated to the well-being of women. While I do not doubt the sincerity of those who hold this view, I do challenge them to seriously re-examine for what this organization stands in light of our common humanity and our Catholic faith.

    From its very beginning, Planned Parenthood came into existence as a means to promote the eugenicist vision of its founder, Margaret Sanger. Consider the astonishing words with which she expounded this worldview in her book, The Pivot of Civilization, published in 1922:

    “The lack of balance between the birth rate of the ‘unfit’ and the ‘fit,’ admittedly the greatest present menace to civilization, can never be rectified by the inauguration of a cradle competition between these two classes. The example of the inferior classes, the fertility of the feeble-minded, the mentally defective, the poverty-stricken, should not be held up for emulation to the mentally and physically fit, and therefore less fertile, parents of the educated and well-to-do classes. On the contrary, the most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective. Possibly drastic and Spartan methods may be forced upon American society if it continues complacently to encourage the chance and chaotic breeding that has resulted from our stupid, cruel sentimentalism.”

    The fact that Planned Parenthood continues to operate clinics primarily in poor, minority neighborhoods raises the question whether this original vision still largely informs its strategy and its mission today. Planned Parenthood’s own website states that 80 percent of its clients receive “services” to prevent unintended pregnancy, and that the provision of contraception constitutes over a third of all the organization’s activity. From a Catholic point of view, contraception does not constitute true health care because it neither preserves nor restores the proper functioning of the body, but rather, damages one of its natural functions. In fact, there is increasing evidence that when a woman’s fertility is suppressed through the use of synthetic hormones, she is exposed to serious health risks. Especially in light of Pope Francis’ call in Laudato Si for a greater respect for human nature and an integral ecology, can’t this be seen as a lack of stewardship and care for the ecology of our human bodies? Even more problematic is the fact that the most effective contraceptives available today can also function as abortifacients. Is it any wonder that the first feminists condemned both abortion and contraception as offensive and injurious to women? Instead, they called both men and women to mutual respect and self-restraint in marriage as a way to live responsible parenthood. To the extent that Planned Parenthood does provide any legitimate health services for women — such as cancer screenings or testing for sexually transmitted diseases — those services are already widely provided by others. Community health centers, for example, provide free or low-cost services to 22 million patients in urban and rural areas and outnumber Planned Parenthood clinics 13 to 1.

    Many people have come to believe that contraception is part of the solution to the problem of abortion. What is becoming increasingly clear, however, is just how closely abortion and contraception are connected. Contraception is not part of the solution to the culture of death — it is part of the problem. This is because contraception attempts to sever the link between sex and procreation, which, if unsuccessful, can be definitively accomplished through an abortion. In his 1995 encyclical, The Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul II emphasized this connection:

    “Despite their differences of nature and moral gravity, contraception and abortion are often closely connected, as fruits of the same tree. It is true that in many cases contraception and even abortion are practiced under the pressure of real-life difficulties, which nonetheless can never exonerate from striving to observe God’s law fully. Still, in very many other instances such practices are rooted in a hedonistic mentality unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality, and they imply a self-centered concept of freedom, which regards procreation as an obstacle to personal fulfillment. The life which could result from a sexual encounter thus becomes an enemy to be avoided at all costs, and abortion becomes the only possible decisive response to failed contraception.”

    One in three abortions in our nation is currently performed at a facility operated by Planned Parenthood, up from one in five abortions in 2005. In a strategy designed to increase their market share, Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) in 2010 stipulated that, by 2013, every affiliate must have one or more clinics that perform abortions on site. A few affiliates left PPFA rather than comply with this requirement, but most did not. That this strategy was successful is evidenced by the fact that as in 2013 alone — the last year for which complete data is available — Planned Parenthood affiliates performed 327,653 abortions. In fact, 94% of the “services” that Planned Parenthood provides for pregnant women are abortions, either surgical or medical, (by means of the abortion drug RU-486), outnumbering other options 16 to 1. In fact, since 1970, Planned Parenthood facilities have aborted over 5 million unborn children, and abortions currently account for over one-third of the organization’s income.

    Pope Francis has called abortion the product of a “widespread mentality of profit, the throwaway culture, which has today enslaved the hearts and minds of so many.” When he addressed the bishops of the United States during his historic visit to our country in September, Pope Francis urged us not to look the other way or remain silent in the face of such evils:

    “The innocent victims of abortion, children who die of hunger or from bombings, immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow, the elderly or the sick who are considered a burden, the victims of terrorism, wars, violence and drug trafficking, the environment devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature — at stake in all of this is the gift of God, of which we are noble stewards but not masters. It is wrong, then, to look the other way or to remain silent.”

    The Gospel of Life is a seamless garment covering many issues involving human life and dignity. Respect for human life from the moment of conception is an integral part of the message of salvation and the mission of the Church, and the first principle of its social teaching upon which every other human right is founded. Catholic institutions, including Catholic colleges and universities, must not look the other way or remain silent in the face of attacks against the most vulnerable human beings among us, those as yet unborn. According to the apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae, “Catholic ideals, attitudes and principles penetrate and inform university activities” in all aspects of campus life at a Catholic college or university.

    Catholic identity is not only about what we stand for; it is also about what we will not stand for. Just as we would be rightly scandalized to see a public display portraying a racist organization like the Ku Klux Klan in a positive light, so too, we expect Catholic colleges to refuse to lend any kind of respectability to organizations like Planned Parenthood that play such a significant role in the culture of death. Authentic freedom, academic or otherwise, is always linked to the service of truth and love. It is also ordered to the formation of the human person in truth and love, formation in which Catholic colleges and universities play a critical role.

    Saint John Paul II summoned us to do better by the young adults with whose formation we have been entrusted in this beautiful but difficult area of life: “It is an illusion to think that we can build a true culture of human life if we do not help the young to accept and experience sexuality and love and the whole of life according to their true meaning and in their close interconnection. … Only a true love is able to protect life.”


    Posted on November 10, 2015, to:

  • The following is the text of the homily delivered by Bishop Rhoades on October 31st at Saint Therese, Little Flower, Church, South Bend:

    Louis Martin

    In today’s reading from the book of Revelation, Saint John describes a vision he had of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They were standing before the throne of God and before the Lamb, singing his praise. This vision of the saints in heaven reminds of our destiny. On this beautiful Solemnity of All Saints, the Church invites us to reflect on the joy of heaven and to taste the joy of the saints, to be inspired by their example as men, women, and children of the Beatitudes, and to seek their intercession to help us to be faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus, to live the Beatitudes of Jesus, whatever our vocation or state in life.

    Today, here at this parish named in honor of the beautiful saint and doctor of the Church, Saint Therese, the Little Flower, we gather to celebrate the recent canonization of Therese’s parents, Louis and Zelie Martin. I must admit that I didn’t know a whole lot about their life until I read a book about them this past week. I was enthralled by this book as I learned about this amazing couple, amazing in the sense of holiness, heroic virtue. It is a tremendous blessing for the Church, especially for married people, that Pope Francis canonized at the same time a husband and wife together. This is the first time this has happened in the history of the Church. I highly recommend this biography of Saints Louis and Zelie Martin, written by Helene Mongin and published by Our Sunday Visitor. It is entitled The Extraordinary Parents of Saint Therese of Lisieux.

    Saint Therese once wrote: the good God gave me a father and a mother more worthy of heaven than of earth. Many others have testified to the truth of this statement. Louis and Zelie Martin lived heroic lives and became holy, not despite marriage, but through, in, and by marriage. Their love for each other and for their children was deep. They had a profound affection for each other and their children. Their love and affection expanded and spread to extended family, to neighbors, and to the sick and the poor, whom they were always inviting into their home. Their beautiful Christian life, their love, had its source, of course, in God. They had a humble and intense faith. They knew and believed with all their hearts what we read today from Saint John’s first letter: See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. They believed in God’s love! This is what gave them the strength to endure many sufferings and to persevere in faith. Let me name a few: they suffered the loss of four of their children at very young ages. Their sorrow was immense, but the devil could not rob them of their faith and trust in God during those incredibly painful times. They persevered in the joy of the Gospel. Their family life, despite tragedy, flourished.

    The Martin family was a family of prayer. God was the center of the home. Daily Mass and daily prayers and devotions were part of the everyday rhythm of the Martin’s family life. They observed Sunday as “the Lord’s Day,” a day of worship, rest, and joy together. Louis and Zelie passed on to their five remaining daughters, including the youngest, Therese, a peaceful, humble, and intense faith.

    Zélie Martin

    The Martins were working parents. Louis ran a watchmaking and jewelry shop. Zelie ran a lace-making business. They were both very successful. Eventually, Louis closed his shop and devoted himself to his wife’s business. They were not only honest and just, treating their workers well and clients well, they went beyond the obligations of justice. They helped them when they were sick or in need. They made a small fortune but they were never attached to their money or material things. They were generous to others and they lived modestly.

    When I think of the sufferings that are part of life, including family life, I think that the Martins are a beautiful example of endurance in faith, hope, and love. I already mentioned the death of four of their little children. I was also very moved when I read the chapter about Zelie’s suffering with breast cancer. Back then, they didn’t have the treatments we have today, nor medications for relief of pain. Zelie probably had breast cancer for many years, but it became obvious at the age of 45. That was the last year of her life. Her faith and courage during that final year reveals the depth of her holiness, her love for God and her love for Louis and her daughters. They prayed for her healing and even went to Lourdes, asking Our Lady for a cure. But Zelie entrusted her life to God’s hands; her only concern was the welfare of her husband and daughters. She died a holy death.

    In the next few years, Louis who missed his wife whom he had loved with all his heart, devoted himself to his daughters, each of whom would enter religious life. That was also difficult for him, but, with great faith, he gave them complete freedom to answer the Lord’s call. He even took Therese to Rome to meet with Pope Leo XIII to receive the dispensation to enter Carmel at such a young age. You probably know the prophetic word the Pope said to Therese: You will enter if God wills it. It was a great sacrifice for Louis when his youngest beloved daughter, Therese, entered Carmel. He said: Only God can demand such a sacrifice, but he is helping me powerfully so that in the midst of my tears my heart is overflowing with joy.

    There was something supernatural in the lives of Louis and Zelie that enabled them to embrace sufferings. They were given the grace of peace and joy in embracing the cross of Jesus. They teach us so much in this regard. About a year after Therese’s entrance into the convent, Louis would have an attack of the illness that would eventually lead to his death. It was an attack of cerebral arteriosclerosis. This disease developed the next seven years with phases of remission and aggravation and even attacked his mental faculties. Louis offered all this suffering to the Lord, like his wife had done. Saint Therese referred to these years as the “great trial” of her life, to see her father’s mental deterioration and his being confined to a psychiatric hospital for three years.

    Louis and Zelie Martin’s canonization is a wonderful blessing for the Church. What a beautiful example they are for spouses and parents, for business owners, and for the sick and suffering! They can be an inspiration for those mourning the loss of a child, for those suffering from breast cancer or from mental illness. Truly they are an example and inspiration for the Church and the world during this time of crisis in marriage and family life. We need saints! Louis and Zelie Martin were ordinary people of extraordinary love. They now rejoice in the Lord in the company of their beloved nine children. May they and all the saints intercede for us, that one day we may join them at the banquet feast of heaven!


    Posted on November 3, 2015, to:

  • Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades celebrates the White Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne on Oct. 20. Medical professionals were invited to the Mass followed by a dinner and speaker at St. Mary, Mother of God Church.

    Euthanasia reveals culture of death and despair

    Following is the text of the homily given by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades at the White Masses for physicians, nurses, and other health care workers in Fort Wayne and South Bend in October:

    As I thought and prayed about what to preach about at this year’s White Mass, the theme of hope kept coming to my mind. Saint Paul wrote about hope in our first reading today in reference to the redemption of our bodies. He wrote to the Romans: “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.”

    I was thinking about how the sick come to you who serve in the medical profession with hope, hope for a promising diagnosis, hope for healing and a cure, hope for relief of pain, hope for good news about their physical condition. Sometimes you are able to give them good news. What a joy that is for you! To tell a person that a tumor is benign, that a condition can be successfully treated, that a suspected terminal illness is not really terminal, that a person’s pain can be alleviated. There are so many examples where a person in anguish is restored to peace. In such situations, you are truly messengers of hope. This must be such a fulfilling part of your profession.

    Then there are other situations where the news you give to your patients is not good news. In these situations, it is very difficult to be a messenger of hope. When you have to tell a patient that his or her condition is not curable, that a tumor has metastasized, that surgery is not possible or is futile, that treatment will not bring a cure or may not even extend life, that it will be difficult to alleviate their pain. It is incredibly difficult to be the bearer of such bad news. But yet, as Christian doctors and health care professionals, you are still called to be messengers of hope, not primarily through your words, but through your deeds, your loving concern, your compassion and sensitivity, your help of a patient in a state of anguish or even despair. As disciples of Jesus, we have hope even in the face of death.

    A culture of death is a culture of despair. A culture of life is a culture of hope, even in the face of death. “In hope, we are saved,” Saint Paul says. Hope is a theological virtue. The Catechism defines it in these words: “Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit” (CCC 1817). I imagine that many of your patients have this virtue. In suffering, that virtue can grow, keeping the person from discouragement and despair, sustaining him or her in illness and in dying. That hope can even be manifested as joy in the midst of suffering. We see this so often in the lives of the saints. As doctors and nurses and medical workers, you can help your patients to hope, even in what may be called “hopeless cases.” But we’re talking here not about clinical cases, but about human persons created in the image and likeness of God and no person should be considered hopeless, since hope is not anchored in physical health and wellbeing, it is anchored in the spiritual reality. It is anchored in God. Notice how the symbol of hope in Christian art and iconography is an anchor.

    On October 5th, California became the fifth state in our nation to legalize euthanasia. The culture of death continues to grow. Euthanasia, like abortion and suicide, reveals what I believe is a culture not only of death, but of despair. At its root, we see what I believe is not only a refusal of love of neighbor or oneself, but a refusal to hope. We have a crisis of hope in our culture. Perhaps this is most obvious in the face of the acceptance of euthanasia.

    When a person’s health deteriorates, when suffering and pain increase, when a patient is terminally ill, he or she needs human and Christian accompaniment. Here is where doctors and health care workers are called to respect and protect life in a special way. You are called to accompany your patient, care for him or her, no less than when they were not in a terminal condition. You help the dying patient who is in your care in the final experience of his or her life on earth. This is a profound duty and it is beautiful, caring for a person as he or she prepares for eternity, for the encounter with our merciful and loving God. You provide them, of course, with medical assistance to help alleviate the pain that may accompany death. Most important is your loving presence at their bedside, if only for a time, hopefully not rushed, as you probably also have other patients to attend to. Never underestimate the confidence and hope you give to your patients who are dying, just by your caring attention. You can help a patient whom you inform of a terminal condition or whom you accompany in the final weeks of life in such a way that their anguish gives way to hope, not despair. Of course, you don’t do this alone. There are the chaplain and pastoral care workers and, of course, the family who will also hopefully by their love be agents of hope.

    Before the mystery of death, we are ultimately powerless. This can be difficult for you, I imagine, since your profession is centered on treating and curing. But, as people of faith, as disciples of Jesus, you know that death and dying are not meaningless. The witness of your faith and hope in Christ, of resurrection and life, can be powerful. It humanizes death when you witness to faith and hope by your love of the sick and the dying. You make going to God easier for your patients. Your care for your dying patients can be an instrument of God’s peace and help your patients live their final days with serenity.

    The euthanasia movement has a different agenda. It does not accept our view of your vocation, that you are to be ministers of life and never agents of death. Euthanasia proponents would reject what I said about helping patients to find meaning in suffering. A euthanasia culture not only leaves God aside, God as the sole arbiter of life, but values human life according to its quality, its efficiency and psychophysical satisfaction, not its innate dignity.

    There is a right to die with human and Christian dignity, but there is no right to take another’s life or to dispose of one’s own life. And no health care worker should ever cooperate with euthanasia. It would not be guarding the right of a dying person because the right to euthanasia, like the right to abortion, is a non-existent right in the moral order, even if a state legalizes it.

    A patient may pray for death to come soon. Filled with anguish, a dying person may even ask for assistance to die. This is often an anguished plea for help and love. The person needs love, needs human and supernatural warmth. He or she must not be left alone. Lack of love and care can lead to depression and anguish. Euthanasia is not the answer. Euthanasia is a defeat, not a victory, for humanity. It’s not an act of mercy. It’s part of a throw-away culture. It’s an escape, a surrender, an insult to the dignity of the dying person. It is never merciful to kill. Euthanasia promotes a false compassion.

    My brothers and sisters, it is your indispensable and holy mission to defend, promote and love the life of every patient, of every human being from its beginning until its natural end. May you have the faith and courage to live this mission and to be messengers and witnesses of hope to all whom you care for. May the Holy Spirit guide you in your work and help you to bear witness that human life is always sacred!

    Posted on October 27, 2015, to:

  • From left, David and Rita Massanz celebrate 50 years of marriage. They gathered with Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades on the cathedral plaza after Mass on Oct. 11 with their daughter, Melissa and son-in-law Charles Hire, who are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. They married on the same day as her parents exactly 25 years later.

    The following is Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades’ homily for the wedding anniversary Masses in South Bend and Fort Wayne.

    We are celebrating this Wedding Anniversary Mass while in Rome this month the Synod of Bishops is meeting to discuss marriage and the family. The bishops and Pope Francis are looking at the crisis regarding marriage and family life in many parts of the world and how the Church should confront this crisis. The working document of the synod focuses on the cultural crisis and the many problems that face the institution of marriage and the many difficulties that result for the life of the family.

    This past week, many bishops stood up at the synod to say that the Church needs to focus, not on all the challenges, problems, and difficulties, but on the Good News of the Gospel of the Family. This is the way forward. The Church needs to present the truth, beauty, and joy of the vocation of marriage, while at the same time, showing deep pastoral care, sensitivity, and compassion for those who have experienced failed marriages.

    Our gathering today at this Mass is a celebration of the truth, beauty, and joy of the vocation of marriage. Gathered here with us are couples who are a living sign, that despite the frailty of the human condition, fidelity in the vocation of marriage is not only possible, it is worth the effort. It is possible for a husband and wife to live the vow to love one another in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, forever, until death do they part. I thank all our anniversary couples for your witness to God’s love. Your marriage is an icon of God’s love for us. You mirror that love which is faithful, fruitful, and forever.

    No doubt you have experienced challenges in your married lives. The important thing when couples experience difficulties is to remember that God has united them in the sacred bond of marriage, that He is the foundation of that bond. The true bond that keeps couples together is God. That’s why prayer is so important in marriage: the husband praying for his wife and the wife praying for her husband. This helps to preserve the bond and make love grow. When there are disagreements or arguments, part of the human condition, the bond is strong enough not to be broken when the couple is open to the power of God’s grace received in the sacrament of matrimony.

    One of the problems being discussed at the synod of bishops is the decline in the number of marriages. Many young people are opting to cohabitate without marriage. They question if it is possible to make the definitive decision to marry, to love one person forever. There is a fear to make a definitive choice, a life decision. We live in a culture of the temporary, of the provisional. Dear couples, you bear witness that the definitive commitment of marriage is possible, that the permanence of marriage is not only possible, it is beautiful. You walk together as spouses in the sometimes difficult journey of life with all its demands and challenges. You’ve learned how to face these challenges together, to journey together, hand in hand helping each other to grow, with trust in God’s faithfulness. You don’t run away from your commitment and mission, rather, you trust the truth of God’s word that what He has joined together, man must not divide.

    In our second reading today, Saint Paul gives important counsel and advice to the Christians in Rome. His exhortation is totally relevant for us today. Many of the points he makes are particularly relevant for married couples. He says to them “not to be conformed to this age,” but to “discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” In a culture of the provisional, the temporary, what Pope Francis calls a “throw-away culture,” we must resist. In all things, including marriage and family life, we must always seek first the will of God. We know His will about marriage because He is the author of marriage. He established it to be permanent and life-giving, to be the foundation and fundamental cell of society. But how can a marriage last, given our weak human condition? Saint Paul gives a whole list of what we need to do to be good Christians, many of which are important in building a good and strong marriage. He says: “love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor.” I was thinking that in the marriage vows, couples promise not only to love, but to honor, their spouses.  This is so important, essential: the honor, the deep respect, for the other. And to show this honor and respect. This can be done in many different ways. Pope Francis in Philadelphia emphasized the little acts of love that build a marriage and family.

    Saint Paul also tells us: “Do not grow slack in zeal.” This is a temptation, the temptation of acedia, becoming lazy, taking one another for granted, losing the joy of love. It’s true that life can become very routine sometimes, but one must be careful not to neglect one another. One must keep love alive, avoiding the temptation to withdraw from each other when things are tough. This temptation from the devil must be resisted.

    Saint Paul writes to the Romans: “Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.”  When one grows slack, becomes indifferent, withdraws, refuses to forgive, or stops praying, the marriage will go off course. The good news is that with effort the joy and peace of the married life can be restored, but we need the help of God’s grace, the grace of the sacrament received. “Persevere in prayer,” Saint Paul says. 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 what we promised, to go forward, to always go forward and not turn away from the path He has marked out for us.

    There are crosses in every vocation. But the Lord is always there to help us carry the cross and move forward. The good news is that the cross triumphs. The love of Christ is victorious.  Marriage is “the sacrament of the love of Christ and the Church, a love which finds its proof and guarantee in the cross” (Pope Francis). We must ask Jesus to help us to love as He loved. Pope Francis said to a group of engaged couples that when they pray the Our Father and say “give us this day our daily bread,” they can also learn to pray: “Lord, give us this day our daily love.”  This is the true bread of the soul which sustains us in going forward, the Holy Father says. So, anniversary couples and all married couples here today, I invite you to pray that simple prayer: “Lord, give us this day our daily love.” It’s the love of Christ that sustains and strengthens all of us on our journey through life. It is our daily bread, the bread of our souls.

    May the Lord continue to bless all of you with His love! With your lives, may you continue to radiate to others the beauty and joy of the Gospel of the Family! Our world needs this Good News. This is the Good News we celebrate today. Dear anniversary couples, may Mary and Joseph, who teach us the splendor of married love, accompany you on your journey and intercede for you always!

    Posted on October 20, 2015, to: