Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Sacramental marriage strengthens and sanctifies

by Bishop Thomas Daly

(From the August 18, 2016 edition of the Inland Register)

Last week I visited my aunt in San Francisco. Fondly known as the “Widow Lee” (watch the classic John Wayne film The Quiet Man and you will understand the term), she is my mom’s identical twin. As the mother of six, former surgical nurse, and life-long Catholic, my aunt has lived her faith with compassion, fidelity, and generosity of heart. It wasn’t too long ago that she and my late mom regularly volunteered at the St. Vincent de Paul clothing store in the Tenderloin neighbor of San Francisco. Working in one of the most crime-ridden sections of that city did not prevent them from responding to Jesus’ command: “What you did for the least ones you did for me.” I mention this as an example of her knowledge of and commitment to a lived Catholicism, a faith that has sustained her over many decades.

Journalist Tom Brokaw wrote a book titled The Greatest Generation. He detailed the sacrifices of those men and women who were raised in the Great Depression and went on to fight in World War II, or who served on the home front – not for fame or recognition, but because it was the right thing to do. Over the centuries, numerous men and women have persevered in following Christ, often in the midst of great adversity. In our own Church here in the United States, we too have been blessed to have a “Greatest Generation.” Comprised of priests, Religious, and lay women and men, these individuals have continued to live their faith, even when the Church they love was plagued with scandal, dissent, and confusion. Ask my aunt and others for the reason for their fidelity and they will speak of the grace they received from the sacraments, the inspiration from Scripture, and the gratitude of knowing other Catholics trying their best to “live the Faith.”

A source of great concern and sadness for many parents and grandparents today is the alarming drop in the number of young people who choose to practice their faith. The phenomenon is seen dramatically in the number of those who opt to marry without the blessing of a Catholic wedding. My aunt recounted a recent conversation she had with a friend. She said, “I can’t believe they (a young man and woman) weren’t married in the Church. The bride wanted her best friend’s father to do the wedding. He got the one-day pass and they were married at the golf course. Both bride and groom and their families are long-time Catholics. Don’t they know how much they will need the grace of the sacrament to help them persevere?”

This trend is affecting the not only the Catholic Church, but other religions as well. The July 23 edition of the Spokesman-Review, Spokane’s daily newspaper, carried an article from the Chicago Tribune titled “Ceremonial Trend: More couples choose non-clergy officiants for their wedding day.” According to the Knot Real Weddings Study, nearly 40 percent of couples asked a relative or friend to officiate at their wedding ceremonies in 2015. This is up from 29 percent in 2009.

The reasons vary for this trend. One explanation might be what a Pew Research study found in their examination of patterns for millennials – those born between 1981-1986. Thirty-five percent self-identify as “religious nones” – that is, they consider themselves agnostic, atheist, or not affiliated with an organized religion. This might explain the drop-off. The article quoted a couple, both of whom were raised Catholics yet who seemed to have a limited understanding of the theology of marriage. Citing that the Church “seemed dedicated to extracting a promise to produce lots and lots of babies,” they chose a nondenominational officiant to witness their marriage. Other couples opt for a non-religious ceremony because the professional wedding coordinator sells a couple on the all-inclusive “wedding package.” With the rehearsal, dinner, ceremony, reception, and overnight accommodations in the same location, the church is reduced to an unnecessary side trip.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) reminds us of the importance of the sacramental wedding. “On the threshold of his public life Jesus performs his first sign – at his mother’s request – during a wedding feast. The Church attaches great importance to Jesus’ presence at the wedding at Cana. The Church sees in it the confirmation of the goodness of marriage and the proclamation that ... marriage will be an efficacious sign of Christ’s presence” (1613). Further on, we read: “(In the sacrament of marriage) ... Christ dwells with them, gives them the strength to take up their crosses and so follow him, ... to forgive one another, to bear one another’s burdens, ... and to love another with supernatural, tender and fruitful love” (1642). Finally, the Catechism states: “The Sacrament of Matrimony signs the union of Christ and the Church. It gives spouses the grace to love each other with the love with which Christ has loved his Church; the grace of the sacrament thus perfects the human love of the spouses, strengthens their indissoluble unity, and sanctifies them on the way to eternal life” (1661).

Fidelity to one’s vocation is never easy. Those couples who have celebrated many years of marriage give first-hand testimony to the great effort and prayer it takes. Husbands and wives who celebrate anniversaries reflect the lived reality of the Widow Lee’s words of wisdom: “Don’t they know how much they will need the grace of the sacrament to help them persevere?”

To the young couples who will be married in the Church this year, I want you to know of my prayers and gratitude for your trust in our Lord to be a part of your lives. Please: Never forget what your Church has taught from the first centuries:

“Man and woman need the help of the grace that God in his infinite mercy never refuses them. Without his help man and woman cannot achieve the union of their lives for which God created them in the beginning” (1608).

May God bless you.

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