Honoring 50 Years of Marriage
“The kind of love story the world needs to hear” was recounted June 6 by Father Chester Snyder, administrator of the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pa., during a Mass for couples of the diocese celebrating 50th wedding anniversaries. After telling this story, he said to them:
“You are beautiful not because you are perfect. You are beautiful because despite your imperfections, you have chosen to love each other” each day for 50 years.
The story took place 30 years ago. It involved a woman confined at home to a hospital bed. As a young priest, Father Snyder took Communion to her, having been instructed simply to ring the bell and enter the home where he would find her ready to welcome him.
He was informed that before leaving for work in the morning, her husband readied her for the day, that a neighbor looked in on her in mid-morning and that her husband came home at lunchtime to feed and care for her — a cycle repeated during the afternoon.
When Father Snyder entered the home for his first visit, it “bore out everything” he had been told. He found the woman “in her hospital bed, her body twisted and deformed, but her soul and spirit bright and cheerful, clear, unsullied by her illness.”
The drama of this couple’s life, “hidden from the world, had been going on for nine years,” Father Snyder recalled. Each day the woman’s husband “made sure she was ready for the day, safe and secure”; he returned at noon, and at day’s end he came home and cared “for her every need.” One week each year the man went hunting with friends while family and friends cared for his wife.
During one of Father Snyder’s visits to the couple’s home, the husband came in at lunchtime and said: “Father, did you notice, this morning the hairdresser came in and Christine has a new hairdo? Isn’t she beautiful?” In his homily, Father Snyder remarked:
“And indeed she was. But not so much because she had a new ‘do’ that day, but because every day the love she and her husband shared in the face of great trial and sacrifice made them both beautiful.”
Father Snyder told 134 couples who wed in 1960 that the story of their marriages resembles the story of this couple, “maybe not so dramatic, but “maybe so.” He said, “Whatever the particulars of your life, the storyline is the same. Great love, selflessly given despite sacrifice, makes you beautiful.”
Marriage encompasses a boldness, and this boldness was celebrated June 6, Father Snyder suggested to the couples. It is the boldness of “saying to the world that it is possible to live faithfully and to hang in there when adversity rears its challenging head, rather than become cynical and throw in the towel.”
His homily accented the role married couples fulfill by demonstrating – making clear in a visual way that others can see — what God’s love is. He said, “Our church is so bold that we say to the world: Do you want to know what God’s love is like? Then look at the faithful love of husband and wife.”
God “chose to show us what love is — first in his Son’s sacrifice for our salvation, but also in you, in your marriage, in the sacrament, the sign that marriage is to the world,” said Father Snyder. Wives and husbands “may not always think of it this way,” he added, but their love “for each other is like the love God has for us: faithful, ever-present, life-giving.”
However, the June 6 celebration did not just honor the “long time” of these couples’ marriages, Father Snyder said. Rather, “each day of those 50 years that make up that long time” were remembered and celebrated. These 50 years “have been made up of a hundred, a thousand, even the 10,000 times you lived your sacrament each day your words and actions reaffirmed the promises you exchanged on your wedding day,” he explained.
Also celebrated were “the countless times” the spouses sacrificed “individual ‘wants’ to meet the ‘needs’ of [their] families”; and “the tender moments when [they] chose to offer a word of forgiveness to each other, rather than hold a grudge”; and all the challenging times when the couples “chose to walk in the light of faith, rather than languish in the darkness of fear.” All these actions in specific ways are Christlike, Father Snyder observed.