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‘We have looked back … looked up … and now we look out’ — Bishop Koenig homily from Wedding Anniversary Mass

Bishop Koenig blesses the couples during the Wedding Anniversary Mass at St. Margaret of Scotland Church, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2023. Dialog photo/Don Blake

It is a joy to gather together today and celebrate World Marriage Day. This worldwide celebration is an outgrowth of the Worldwide Marriage Encounter, an apostolate aimed at helping couples make good marriages even better. It began in 1983 and is celebrated every second Sunday of February. In 1993, his Holiness, Pope St. John Paul II, imparted his Apostolic Blessings on World Marriage Day and reinforced our commitment as a church throughout the world to highlight on this day the beauty of marriage and honor husbands and wives for their faithfulness and sacrifices. St. Thomas Aquinas defined love as “effectively willing the good of the other.” Today we are especially mindful, grateful and humbled by the example, power and faithfulness over years and decades of your “willing the good” of your spouse. We especially pray that God may continue to bless you and keep you.

I invite you to take a moment to reflect upon today’s readings and look back, look up and look out. We begin with the first reading from Sirach and in doing so we look back. Sirach was writing in the second century before Christ and his Jewish audience was living in a predominantly Greek culture. The Greeks believed that humans were helpless pawns of the gods of Mount Olympus. These Greek gods were capricious gods who entertained themselves by sending down goodness at times and misfortune at other times. Sirach’s message is something very different. He is telling people that God is not distant and removed and that, while not everything may be in our control, we do have a tremendous ability to determine how our lives will be lived. We have been created by God and been given by God the capacity to choose.

As you celebrate the anniversary of your wedding day, you celebrate the choice you made, the “yes” you voiced, the promise you gave of unconditionally loving your spouse all the days of your life. It was a choice that has formed your decisions, guided your path, shaped your life.  Whether that day was ten or twenty-five or fifty years ago or more, let us be grateful for not only that moment in time but even more for what was begun that day and has been lived out between that day and today. Perhaps you recall the opening number from the 1960 Broadway show “The Fantasticks.” The lyrics of “Try to Remember” invite us to look back and be strengthened in continuing to choose to follow God’s call of marital love. The first two verses invite us to remember that “kind of September” when “life was slow and oh, so mellow,” when “grass was green and grain was yellow,” when “love was an ember about to billow.” The final verse brings us to December when we look back to the “fire of September” and “follow, follow, follow.” As you look back and remember not so much that “kind of September,” but rather the day in which you were joined as husband and wife, may you strengthened so that you will continue to “follow, follow, follow” God’s call to marriage.

We also today are called to look up. In our second reading today from Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul is challenging certain people who believed that they possessed a wisdom that made them superior to others. Paul is telling this group of people to look up to God whose wisdom has been revealed through Jesus Christ. As you continue to live out your marital commitment, may you follow the admonition of St. Paul and look to Christ as the source of grace, of strength, of guidance and consolation. There has been some buzz over the past week around two television ads that (were broadcast during Sunday’s) Super Bowl game. Unlike the usual ads that vie for attention and try to sell us things like beer, soda, potato chips or other items, these two ads will highlight Jesus and they end by simply saying “He gets us.” The sponsors of these ads are apparently trying to get us to see that Jesus faced some of the same situations that we at times face. I certainly hope that seeing an ad such as this will entice a person to perhaps pick up a Bible in order to learn more about who Jesus is. That being said, I am also aware, however, that by your presence here today, you are probably different from what seems to be the target audience of the “He gets us” ads. You already know about Jesus. That he lived 2,000 years ago and took on our human flesh and human struggles is not news to you. For you, the challenge is not that Jesus gets and understands us, but rather that we continue to look to him as the Way, the Truth and the Life. Our call is to open ourselves to Jesus. May we never stop letting Jesus get to us and in doing so may Jesus live within us.

We have looked back. We have looked up. And now we look out. The words of Jesus in today’s Gospel are challenging. I recall a homily I heard in high school in which the priest asked the simple question whether we would be found guilty if we were put on trial for being Christian.  In other words, how would we be judged by our external actions. Jesus challenges us to go beyond our external actions and look to what is at the root of our actions. We will be judged not just by whether we have murdered anyone, but whether we’ve been angry. Not whether we committed adultery but whether we looked upon another person as an object for our pleasure.  Not whether we lied under oath but whether we approach all of life in honesty. In other words, Jesus is calling people to follow not only the commandments of the law but to strive for the conversion of our hearts and minds to Christ. It is from the interior of our minds and hearts that our actions flow. Such a conversion results in not only living in accord with the commandments but it is a life in which the light of Christ that is within shines forth. As two baptized Christians who have entered into the sacrament of marriage, your love not only emanates from your individual lives but in a special way your love for one another shines as a sacrament of the love of Christ for the church. Your unconditional love for one another, transformed in marriage into a sacrament of God’s love, goes out to a world longing to know the unconditional love of God, the unconditional faithfulness of God, the unconditional hopefulness of God. As you look out to your family, friends and the world around you, may the interior life of God’s grace which has been given to you through the sacrament of marriage shine forth.

God Bless you as you celebrate your anniversary. May you be grateful as you look back. May you be strengthened as you look up. May you be radiant as you look out. Ad multos annos!