18 May 2013
Today's Mass is such an important event. And it is a joyful, blessed and amazing event: six hundred married couples together here in the Cathedral, among you twenty three couples celebrating their Diamond wedding anniversaries, a hundred and thirty reaching their Golden jubilees and many others celebrating Ruby, Pearl and Silver jubilees, together with some ten-year olds, giving a total of almost twenty thousand years of married life. Yours is a voice and an experience to which all should pay attention. No doubt those years have been marked by times of tensions and struggles. But today it is the joy and faithfulness of your love which we celebrate and for which we thank God.
This is an important event because it bears eloquent witness to two crucial truths: to the truth about the nature of marriage; and to the true role and importance of the family, given stability by its foundation in marriage.
Looking back over all these years, I am sure that you, as couples, say of each other that in your marriage you have found your completeness, your other half, indeed, perhaps, your better half.
That is what our faith underlines: that there is a certain, unmistakable incompleteness in man and woman; and that this lack finds important fulfilment in the union of husband and wife, a union that is so complete that it is ordered, in itself, to bringing forth new life. Marriage, then, fulfils husband and wife and is itself fulfilled in the life of the family. On these foundations we rightly understand marriage to be an exclusive commitment and a life-long partnership between a man and a woman. And this is its shape by nature.
In addition, by faith marriage bears the divine image, for God's invitation to each of us, to know him, love him and serve him in this life, is itself a kind of marriage proposal, an offer of intimacy made out of love and fulfilled in love. Understanding marriage correctly, together with the experience and witness of married love, truly helps us to know and love God and to understand the life of faith to which we are called.
This witness you give, to the true nature of marriage in its natural and supernatural meaning, is a witness that is sorely needed today. It stands against those trends in our society which seek to undermine this understanding of marriage, reducing marriage primarily to a means of satisfying individual emotional needs.
I thank you for your witness to marriage, to the loving effort that it requires and to the profound joy and fulfilment that a faithful marriage brings. I hope many in our society will realise, before it is too late, the importance of full and unequivocal legal backing for this true and lasting definition of marriage. The core of marriage is not determined by human laws and conventions. For a healthy society, those laws and conventions should always support marriage as an institution characterised by an openness to children and the responsibility of fathers and mothers remaining together to care for children born into their family.
The second witness you give today is to the importance of the family, given stability by its foundation in marriage.
Strong families serve society by bringing forth healthy children and maturing young adults, by being a rich source of a compassion for sick members, of support for others in time of crisis and of care for the elderly and the dying. Stable families are the first and best answer to many of the personal and social consequences of hardship and deprivation today (Note 1). Families are often best placed to respond to those needs. No intelligent government can continue to ignore the urgent priority of giving support and practical encouragement to marriage and family stability as the first response to growing social needs.
Stable and loving families also lay the foundations of every wider association, including the Church. And the health of a society depends on the strength of such associations and communities.
Yes, the good of the Church too depends on you. For we know that faith is passed on, from generation to generation, mainly through the bonds of family life. Of course schools and many wider associations assist the family in this task. But it is at home, from mother and father, from grandmother and grandfather, from uncle and aunt, that children see and learn their faith and the practices which give life and expression to it. Both prayer and charity, the great hall-marks of the life of faith, are first learned at home. Yes, marriage is a sharing in the mystery of God presence among us, a sacrament, a means of grace; and family life is the first school of faith, the first school of life in its fullness, directing our lives towards God and towards our ultimate destiny, our eternal home-coming into the presence of God.
Today's readings give us great heart for the task and witness that lie ahead. The words of St Paul ring bells for all of us. As we go about our daily tasks we know only too well that all is not complete, that 'the entire creation has been groaning in one great act of giving birth.' We know within ourselves, too, that 'we groan inwardly as we wait for our bodies to be set free.' We marvel at the role we have been given, that of working with the Creator to bring about a better order of life through our service and our love. How strongly that vocation resonates in the hearts of so many young people who say, often with a real passion, that they truly want to use their lives to make the world a better place! They are right. This is our highest calling and the deepest source of satisfaction in our world.
And we hear today that this same Creator God gives us the gift of his Holy Spirit to be with us and to work with us in these tasks.
But most importantly we hear the words of the Gospel, the truly Good News that we and our society need so much to hear: that this Holy Spirit comes to us from the side of Jesus, from his breast, and it is for us, who are so thirsty, a fountain of living water. And what is more, Jesus cries out to us, to every person, that we are to come to him and from him receive all that we need to enjoy this great gift of life which we have been given.
Today we pray for an outpouring of that Spirit, from the wounded side of Jesus. We pray that we may receive that Spirit afresh and that our society, too, may be refreshed by that same Spirit: a Spirit who gives birth to deep compassion, to ready repentance and forgiveness, to a passion for what is true rather than expedient.
This is the richness of life to which you witness today. May this Holy Spirit continue to strengthen your families and most especially the love you have for each other as with great thankfulness you now renew the promises of marriage you first made all those years ago.
Archbishop of Westminster
Note 1. In our society we see that one third of unmarried couples separate before their child’s fifth birthday, compared with only one in eleven married couples and that ninety-five per cent of couples still together by their child’s fifteen birthday are married. A youngster’s ability to concentrate in class and their self-confidence take a serious knock if their parents are separating or if their father is absent. The Centre for Social Justice has confirmed that, in its view, family breakdown lies at the heart of today’s poverty and inequality and is costing the country £46 billion a year.