Du and Zhou, a Chinese couple, were married in 1959. Five months after they exchanged their vows, Zhou caught a crippling disease that left her paralyzed.
Du quit his job to care for her, and the couple moved back to their home village. Seeing Du and Zhou’s love for each other, neighbors were inspired to bring the two food and medicine. Day and night, Zu fed, washed and cared for Zhou. As of 2014, they had been married for fifty-six years.
Michael and Linda were married for thirty-eight years. A few years ago, Michael was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. One day, he forgot he was married. Linda recalled that one day with tears in his eyes he came to her and said, “Will you marry me?” and Linda immediately replied, “Yes.”
Reflecting on the situation, Linda later wrote, “Even though his mind was confused, he still loved and cared for me.” She planned a renewal of their wedding vows, inviting family and friends to join them. Linda was not even sure Michael would remember his second proposal, but when they awoke that morning, he said to her, “Today’s the big day.”
Another couple was celebrating their golden anniversary when one of the grandsons asked his grandmother for the secret to her long and happy marriage. She replied, “On my wedding day, I decided to choose ten of my husband’s faults which, for the sake of our marriage, I would overlook.”
When asked to list the ten faults, she confessed, “To tell the truth, I never did get around to listing them. But whenever my husband did something that made me hopping mad, I would say to myself, ‘Lucky for him that’s one of the ten.’”
In the Gospel passage for today’s liturgy, Jesus speaks of the great gift of marriage. The context is that the Pharisees are asking him a question about divorce. Under the covenantal law, divorce was permitted. Jesus tells the Pharisees that it was because of their “hardness of hearts” that Moses allowed divorce.
Jesus then says that divorce is not part of the plan of the Father for marriage: “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” He further emphasizes this when alone with his disciples.
Jesus sees in marriage a great gift to humanity, on that goes back to the beginning when God created man and woman.
The first reading for today’s ligy, which comes from the Book of Genesis, recalls the creation of woman. Man is alone. God sees that no other created being can complement man, so he creates woman. Adam rejoices at the creation of Eve, saying: “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called ‘woman,’ for out of ‘her man’ this one has been taken.” The narrator then adds, “This is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh.”
God’s plan for humanity includes marriage. He designed man and woman to be together and to become “one flesh.” Mankind is so graced that from this union of husband and wife, human beings actually participate in the creative work of the Lord. As they bring children into the world, the creative work of God continues. As they love and care for each other and their children, the love of God is made manifest. As they forgive and reconcile, the mercy of God becomes visible.
Married love, when lived authentically, becomes a great witness to the love that God has for his people. The love is unbreakable. We see this over and over again in the Scriptures. Even when his people are unfaithful, God remains faithful. The bond of love never gets severed.
That is not to say God is happy with his people when they turn away from him or his way, but he does whatever he can to bring them back – and many times they do turn back. God, however, never turns away. He is always looking at them and calling them to share more fully in his love and mercy. The sacrament of marriage becomes a living witness to this love.
As human beings and as Christians, we are blessed by the gift of marriage. Married couples seeking to live this sacrament of love give witness not only to each other and their families, but to the entire community. Through husbands and wives, we are lifted up by the regular reminder of God’s ever-present love.
Many people today question whether this is possible, considering the state of marriage, the divorce rate and even the very question of what marriage is according to society. However, there are plenty of living witnesses to God’s plan for marriage whom we encounter every day. I mentioned a few stories above about people who faced serious challenges in their marriages, some extraordinary. The couples met those challenges with love, and their witness becomes heroic.
At the same time, the day-to-day reality of married love can be quite simple: acts of care, kindness, attentiveness, forgiveness, generosity and friendship.
The gift of procreation, and the great responsibility of raising children in love, mercy and faithfulness, glorify God for his profound goodness.
The couples who witness these truths are abundant; many of us know them in our own families. These men and women remind us that God’s plan does work. His designs for marriage are real and vibrant and good.
Marriage is a gift from God, and the entire community is blessed by this gift.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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