Dear Wives and Husbands, dear Brothers and Sisters,
During last week I wrote a Pastoral Letter majoring on vocations to the Priesthood. The letter is to be read next weekend on Good Shepherd Sunday. But, of course, we cannot have priests without those of you who have responded to the vocation of marriage.
Today we salute those of you here who are fulfilling that vocation, that call to marriage for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health. Each of you can place on the altar at this Mass the joys and sorrows, the blessings and the crosses, the good times and the difficult times which are normal and inevitable in a life-long commitment, a journey in which each couple is accompanied by Jesus Christ through the Sacrament of Marriage.
This year’s celebration has a particular significance as it takes place during the Diocesan Year of Prayer and Vocation. As I write in the Pastoral Letter you will hear next Sunday, all of us gathered here in Holy Family Church have a vocation to holiness, each of us as a married person or a single person, as a widow or widower, or whatever our situation, in a different way is called to reflect God’s presence. For that to happen, we have to open our hearts in prayer to that presence of God.
That does require some effort. Pope Francis emphasises that we have to work to cooperate with God’s grace, and we have to combat our selfishness and all that takes us away from walking humbly with our God. Our vocation, as brothers and sisters of Jesus, requires a conscious commitment. But how many of us run away at the thought of commitment. Mistakenly, people think that a commitment restricts our freedom. But commitment gives meaning and value and direction to our lives. And it is a response to God’s commitment to us as it is expressed in today’s Gospel when Jesus calls us to remain in his love, and to love one another as he has loved us.
Today we give thanks to God for your sacrificial commitment as husbands and wives, as witnesses to the unfailing love of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. You are a precious gift of life and love and forgiveness, bringing stability to family and the wider community which often seeks happiness and contentment in things and in happenings rather than in relationships which are faithful and true.
Of course, our fidelity to our different vocations is only possible with God’s grace which we receive in the sacraments and in prayer. How touching is the prayer of Tobias in the first reading. “’You are blessed, O God of our fathers; and blessed is your name for ever and ever ………… And so I do not take my sister for any lustful motive; I do it in singleness of heart. Be kind enough to have pity on her and on me, and bring us to old age together.’ And together they said, ‘Amen, Amen.’” (Tobit 8)
All of us at this celebration can say “Amen, Amen” to the dynamic vocation of each married couple here. Many of you are celebrating significant anniversaries this year, and I know how you feel as I approach my Golden Jubilee as a priest. Fifty years ago, as I waited to process out for the Mass of Ordination, I wondered what lay ahead. And I thought those kind of thoughts must be in the minds of the bridegroom waiting in front of the altar and of the bride at the door of the church preparing for the bridal entrance. Thanks be to God, all of us are here, praising God and asking his blessing.
On the day of your marriage, you said to each other, *I take thee.” In the Latin translation the word used is “accipio” which means much more than “take”. It means “to accept”, “to receive” and “to welcome”. It is more about being than doing. It is about being welcoming, being open and being in communion, being one.
As I invite you now to renew your commitment to one another, may the Lord deepen your welcome to each other, your openness and your communion in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Bishop of Northampton