The following is the text of the homily delivered by Bishop Rhoades at the Wedding Anniversary Masses in Fort Wayne and South Bend on September 25 and October 2, 2016:
Our anniversary couples each began a unique journey of love as husband and wife when they exchanged vows 25 or 50 or 60 years ago. I want to say to all our anniversary couples: thank you — your marriage is a precious gift for the Church. Your fidelity to the teachings of the Gospel and your witness to the beauty of marriage as indissoluble and perpetually faithful is a great good for the life of the Church.
The safeguarding of the Lord’s gift in the sacrament of matrimony is a great concern of Pope Francis and the bishops and, indeed, of the whole Church. Today we celebrate the faithful witness to Christ’s love of our anniversary couples through their marriages and families. Of course, we have to admit that none of us is a perfect witness to Christ’s love and to the Gospel. We are all imperfect witnesses who must continually strive, with the help of God’s grace, to grow in love and fidelity, in faith and holiness.
Saint Paul’s great hymn to love in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13, can be a great help to all of us to grow in Christian love. It has special relevance for married couples. It’s no wonder that this reading is the most popular reading that couples choose for their weddings. I would like to reflect with you on the characteristics of true love that Saint Paul enumerates, using some insights from Pope Francis in chapter four of his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love).
“Love is patient.” Patience is the first quality listed by Saint Paul. Many of us can relate to why he puts this first since we are so easily tempted to be impatient. We have to try sometimes to control and restrain our impulses to react when we get annoyed with one another. I imagine our anniversary couples have had that experience in their married life. No? Love is patient. It is not prone to anger. As Saint Paul says, “it is not quick-tempered.” It’s not always easy to be patient and is especially hard if we put ourselves at the center of everything and expect things to turn out our way, or if we think that our relationships and other people ought to be perfect, including one’s spouse. None of us is perfect, so we must be patient, as we hope Our Lord will be patient with us.
“Love is kind.” I always remember Mother Teresa saying that kindness is the first step to holiness, to becoming a saint. Love is kind — it is at the service of others. It is shown in good deeds. It’s not enough just to be patient with your spouse. That is kind of a passive thing — being patient. That patience must be accompanied by activity — being of assistance to the other, being kind, doing good for the other, giving and serving. As Saint Ignatius of Loyola said: “Love is shown more by deeds than by words.”
“Love is not jealous.” Envy is one of the seven capital sins. Love has no room for this, for being jealous or envious of another person’s good fortune, especially the good fortune of one’s spouse. True love rejoices in the good fortune, the achievements, and especially the happiness of the other.
“Love is not pompous.” In other words, it is not boastful. When someone is always speaking about himself or herself, always wanting to be the center of attention, that is egoism. As Saint Paul says, “love is not inflated.” In other words, we don’t become “puffed up” before others. That’s really the sin of pride, whereas true love is marked by humility. How often we can be tempted to think we are better than others, even than one’s spouse, because we’re more knowledgeable about something or earn more money, for example. But true love is not pompous. In family life, Pope Francis says, “the logic of domination and competition about who is the most intelligent or powerful destroys love.” We need to have humility toward one another. How often we read in the Scriptures about how God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble!
“Love is not rude.” It is not impolite. It is not harsh and abrasive. Sometimes I think we need more sensitivity training in our culture today. There is a lot of harshness today, lack of civility, lack of courtesy. Have you ever experienced, when out on the road, rudeness from other drivers? When there is rudeness or harshness or lack of courtesy in marriages and families, it creates hard feelings and can cause a lot of pain and suffering. True love abhors hurting others, especially one’s spouse or one’s children. When we’re rude or unkind, we need to make amends. We need to say we are sorry. We need to say things that build others up and not tear them down. Pope Francis says: “Those who love are capable of speaking words of comfort, strength, consolation, and encouragement…. In our families, we must learn to imitate Jesus’ own gentleness in our way of speaking to one another.”
“Love does not seek its own interests.” In other words, it is generous. Generosity is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. It involves giving of ourselves. Life must not be just about me. The Gospel teaches us to love others. It demands it. Spouses should be generous, not just with other people, but with each other.
“Love is not quick-tempered.” Saint Paul had already said love is patient. Here, the Greek word has more to do with having a violent reaction within, a hidden irritation or resentment: interior hostility. Our anniversary couples can probably help all of us to understand how important it is not to let anger take root in our hearts. Yes, we can all get annoyed and angry. But we can’t let it simmer. We have to make peace, otherwise, love can die. Pope Francis talks a lot about little gestures to restore harmony within marriage and the family. He says, sometimes just a little caress is enough and no words are necessary. He says to couples: “do not let the day end without making peace in your family.”
“Love does not brood over injury.” In other words, it forgives! The bond of love between spouses is really hurt when there is lack of forgiveness, when there is brooding over injuries. We all have faults. We shouldn’t always be looking at the faults of others, especially one’s spouse. Or looking for every mistake or shortcoming. We can become unduly harsh. We need to be open to pardon and reconciliation. So many families are hurting and divided because of the lack of openness to forgiveness. When we accept God’s love and forgiveness, something we do not deserve, we learn that we can forgive others. Family life will only flourish when there is forgiveness, when resentment ends, since true love does not brood over injury.
Our anniversary couples have undoubtedly experienced struggles in living this call to true love, but they have persevered and they have grown. They have matured in love. Otherwise, they would not be here today. They bear witness to us of the truth that Saint Paul proclaims so eloquently at the end of today’s reading: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” We pray today for our anniversary couples, that God will continue to bless them with His grace and love, that they will continue to grow in love and that their love will never fail.
Fewer young people are entering into marriage today because, with the high divorce rate, they are afraid that their marriage might fail. Our anniversary couples took the courageous risk to marry and they show us that it is a risk worth taking. I’m sure they’ve faced trials. But they have cooperated with the grace of God that they received in the sacrament of marriage. They teach us that true love never gives up. In marriages and families today, “we need to cultivate that strength of love which can help us fight every evil threatening it…. The Christian ideal, especially in families, is a love that never gives up” (AL 119).
May the Lord bless our anniversary couples! May they continue to bear witness to Christ’s love for the Church by their love for each other!