Twenty years ago, Bishop John Kinney instituted our first Honoring Marriage Day. For this first event, couples married 50 or more years were invited to a celebration. With 2,173 invitations sent, we were not sure how many would attend, so it was originally set for the Cathedral of St. Mary. Three weeks before the event, we received so many RSVPs, the celebration had to be moved to St. John’s Abbey Church to accommodate everyone. We filled the church to capacity with almost 2,100 participants. What a grand celebration it was!
Fast forward 20 years. We have continued the tradition with some changes. Bishop Kinney wanted to include our younger couples to honor and encourage them along their journey, so couples married five years were added. He also saw that a traditional time to hold celebrations was at the 25- and 50-year marriage mark, so they were included. After a few years, Bishop Kinney then added those who had been married 40 years, realizing this has also become a time for commemorating a milestone anniversary.
When Bishop Donald Kettler came to the diocese, he added 60 years of marriage to the list of honorees as well as 60-plus. So, for this year’s celebration May 6, couples married 5, 25, 40, 50, 60 and 60-plus years were sent a special invitation from Bishop Kettler to attend. Throughout the diocese, 1,374 names were submitted by parishes to receive an invitation from Bishop Kettler. Over 200 couples, along with family members, accepted the invitation for a total of 610 people in attendance.
Among the honorees were 136 couples celebrating 50 or more years of marriage in this calendar year. For an added way of showing his gratitude, Bishop Kettler asked that a certificate of appreciation be prepared for each couple, stating their names and number of years married. After the liturgy, he had each couple come forward so he could personally present them with their certificate and offer his congratulations.
This is one of my favorite events of the year. Not only because it was an extremely beautiful and prayerful liturgy, thanks to Timothy Johnston, director of the Office of Worship. Or that Janet Dusek and Jan Zylla from the Office of Marriage and Family coordinated more than 50 volunteers who pinned corsages, greeted people, served as ushers, ministered at the Mass, parked cars and served cake. But more because the witness of the spouses’ love for each other, their families, the church and society is so needed in today’s world.
In a world that has in many ways turned its back on marriage, the witness of these faithful couples is ever more vital. In a society where we have difficulty finding healthy relationships, especially married love, portrayed in film, TV, music or print, the real life witness of sacrificial, sacramental love shows how it is possible to love a person faithfully forever.
Parents, it is important that you sit down with your children, no matter how old they are, to share your story — how you met, why you fell in love, some of the struggles you overcame in the early years, what is takes to stay together in the everyday ups and downs of life. Share your wedding pictures and memories of announcing each one of their lives and other special blessings you have received over the years.
Grandparents, share your story with your grandchildren. While they may think you started dating with a horse and buggy, let them know how God has graced your lives because of each other and how Christ and his church had an important role in your lives. Share with them your hopes and dreams for each of them as they mature and look to a future vocation.
At our first Honoring Marriage Day, we asked the couples gathered three questions: What was your greatest joy in marriage? What was your greatest struggle in marriage? And, what advice would you give couples marrying today? The answers were: their greatest joy was children, their greatest struggles were children, and tell the engaged couples that marriage is hard work, but it is worth it.
After 40 years of marriage to my wonderful husband Rich and the blessing of three living children and four precious grandchildren, I concur on all three answers!
Chris Codden is director of the Office of Marriage and Family of the Diocese of St. Cloud. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.