Taking to the pulpit Saturday night, Feb. 8 to deliver his vigil Mass homily, Father Joseph Kelley called on “the salt of the earth” reference in Matthew 5:13 to remind his congregation of St. Monica Parish in South Philadelphia that if we all “salt our relationships just right,” the unions will yield amazing results.

The pastor offered that assessment for the parish’s Valentine’s Day observance, which commended married couples for their commitments and acknowledged engaged couples for their budding connections to one another — all to increase respect for the church’s teaching on marriage.

Given that the church is South Philly’s largest, it was fitting that the Mass was crowded, with around half of the attendees consisting of the aforementioned duos.

(See a photo gallery of the Mass, here.)

This year has already begun as a banner time for St. Monica Parish, which is marking 125 years as a beloved community presence, so each event that transpires as the calendar unfolds will have an added air of gratitude to it.

Natalie Graziano and Vincenzo Criniti, ready to be married this Friday night on Valentine’s Day, found Father Kelley’s words especially relevant, and they intend to reflect on them on their big day and beyond.

“I can definitely say that we felt more connected to everyone tonight,” Criniti said at a post-Mass reception for the honored couples that teemed with an assortment of foods. “I think that readings like what we heard tonight, the chance to stand in front of everyone when Father blessed us and everyone else, and the closeness of our wedding date really puts into perspective what kind of life we’re looking to have.”

“We stood in front of the community just like we’re going to be standing in front of our family and friends at our wedding,” Graziano said. “I love that the church thought so much of us to give us a blessing. That was pretty touching.”

Engaged couple Aaron Slaweski and Olivia Moretti listen to the homily during the Mass observing St. Valentine’s Day Feb. 8 at St. Monica Church, Philadelphia. (Sarah Webb)

Father Kelley administered the words of encouragement to 10 engaged couples, petitioning God to “help you prepare well for your married life together” and hoping that they will “always be faithful to each other and to the vocations to which you have been called.”

That prayer followed a renewal of vows among the married churchgoers and his homily, through which he implored them and the engaged couple to pledge to their partners that the best is yet to come.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you that you could kiss each other,” said Father Kelley, revered within the parish as much for his humor as for his comprehension of Scripture, to laughs from the congregation. “We are here to recognize your devotion to one another, after all.”

St. Monica’s has made applauding couples for their longevity and impending nuptials an annual part of its operations, and Louis and Emily Presenza appreciate the opportunity to fall in love all over again.

“We always feel so welcome here anyway, but tonight has a special feel to it,” Emily said of her and her husband’s attendance. “It’s great to see so many people smiling and sharing stories of their marriages and engagements.”

Come June 21, the Presenzas will have been married 51 years, a span of time through which they noted that God has been great to them, providing three children and eight grandchildren. Over the years they have acquired many lessons, notably that the strongest marriages find couples making sacrifices for each other and working on mutual goals.

“You learn to be a true giver,” Louis said. “Not every day is going to be overwhelmingly great, but you learn to trust one another. When you do that, things become easier.”

Jason Helmer and Monika Muon will join the Presenzas along with Graziano and Criniti as a wedded couple on March 6, 2021. They see St. Monica’s as a continuous source for enrichment, particularly since they had their daughter, 4-year-old Jayla, baptized there.

When they take their vows, they know they will be continuing to do God’s work as believers in his plan for them.

“I liked the message very much,” said Monika, who was baptized Catholic at the Easter Vigil Mass last year at St. Monica’s.

Father Kelley’s point about “the total surrender of each other to each other” made an impression on Monika. “We live that way now,” she said, “but it will be even greater when we’re married.”

Mary and Frank Amabile pray during Mass. (Sarah Webb)