For a Lenten week-end, it has been kind of crazy. First, last night (Saturday night) Transfiguration parish in St. Petersburg celebrated its golden anniversary as a parish with a Mass and dinner. I celebrated the Mass and preached the homily. For a long time I could not figure out why a parish would choose a week-end in Lent to celebrate an anniversary, until I started looking at the readings and discovered that the Gospel was Luke’s account of the Transfiguration of the Lord. However, even with that Lent is a time during which we all need to hear again and again the call to conversion and more radical discipleship. I left uncertain as to whether or not I had served the parish occasion or the scriptures well. Preaching is always a challenge for me though some would likely dispute it but when one is a bishop, the occasions often tend to suffocate the liturgical seasons. Congratulations to Transfiguration parish on five decades of existence and service to God’s people, to Monsignor Avellino Garcia, its pastor and to its tri-cultural community who respect one another’s traditions, language and style of worship (Anglo, Hispanic and a growing Tongan community).
Today I found myself still celebrating the Second Sunday of Lent but it was Marriage Jubilee Mass afternoon at the Cathedral of St. Jude. 390 couples from around the diocese gathered for this annual celebration representing 19,697 combined years of marriage. Here are the statistics:
- 60 parishes represented with 54 couples celebrating twenty-fiver years of marriage sometime this year
- 138 celebrating fifty years
- 122 celebrating between fifty-one and fifty-nine years
- 75 married over 60 years.
Charles and Barbara Wellen were present today as the longest married couple in the Cathedral, an amazing 71 years. They have four sons, fourteen grandchildren and thirty-five great grandchildren celebrating the occasion with them. When I asked the assembly to stand and to face each other, join their right hands and renew their wedding vows, they looked at one another with the same eyes and delight at they must have shown on the day of their wedding.
Marriage is another sacrament of the Church which is in some trouble. We notice less and less young people coming to Church for weddings and from time to time I will see that a certain graduate(s) of our Catholic high schools will have gotten married on the beach, at Disney World or some other secular place. Being married in a Catholic Church no longer carries for many of our baptized the reality of yet another sacramental encounter with Jesus and so it is abandoned or ignored. Granted, it is not always easy to get married in a Catholic Church. There is a lengthy period and program of preparation but those couples who still embrace the sacrament in Church often comment how beneficial the program was to them even if there was initial reluctance. One of my pastors once commented that there is less time on Saturday for marriage in most of our Churches since the advent of the Saturday Vigil Mass for Sunday. Where once there may have been two or three slots in the afternoons for weddings, there is now likely only one.
I also think sometimes that like many other things in society and our world today, the indissolubility of marriage which the Church proclaims leads some to just ignore sacramental marriage in the Catholic Church. It has become somewhat easy to get out of most of our fiduciary responsibilities (via bankruptcy, abandonment, dissolution of prior promises) and perhaps Church weddings just do not seem that important any more, especially a Church which takes the vows of fidelity “until death do us part” so seriously.
The bishops of the United States addressed the issue of marriage in the Church in a document released this last Fall and have established “strengthening marriage” (http://www.foryourmarriage.org) as one of the five primary goals and objectives of USCCB activity.
Today in the Cathedral the fundamental and enduring grace of the sacrament of marriage was present for all to see. I know how tough it can be to endure “good times and bad, sickness and health. . .” but 390 couples came to Mass today to ask God’s help in strengthening their promises and providing abundant blessings until “death do them part.”