Given at the Mass for Matrimony at Westminster Cathedral on 3rd June 2017
Pope Francis has spoken memorably of married couples and their families as being ‘makers of history’. What a wonderful expression! Makers of history! This goes to the heart of all that we celebrate today. You are indeed makers of history for your families, in establishing new circles and friendship and new life; you form together new and unique strands in the history of the human family, new threads in the tapestry of life. Without your love and effort, these particular threads would not exist. And yet, although special to you, private to you we might be tempted to say, they are part of the great tapestry of our shared human endeavour. Without your marriages and family, human history would not be the same!
The history you make in a new circle of family and friends is so often captured in treasured photographs. The thread of life that you weave can be traced in your family trees, formed through graceful and generous love. How we enjoy tracing those family trees, although I confess to not having the patience!
As makers of history, your lives are marked by all the characteristics of our human story. You experience the excitement of all that is new; you know what it is to strive mightily for excellence, to make the most of all the potential you see; you know the joy of achievement, especially in the achievements of those you love! You also know, by heart I might say, the struggles that daily routines demand and, without doubt, you know the suffering of disappointments, betrayals and tragedies.
This is the work undertaken by 'makers of history'. It is your project, as wives and husbands, as families. It is a work of creation. It is a work of love to which you willingly give yourselves. And this I am honoured to celebrate with you today, as we mark your wonderful anniversaries.
As a work of creation and a work of love, all this is also and always the work of God, who works with you, in you, through you, for God is the first and constant creator and the fountain of all love. As makers of histories, you are co-workers with God, honouring God in your effort and accompanied by God in every moment.
How strange it is, then, that we so often carry on our lives, our making of history, as if God doesn't enter into the work, almost as if God doesn't exist. Often we become practical atheists, remembering God only at odd moments, of great joy or hardship. Yet today, in this celebration, and on this Eve of Pentecost, we can open our hearts again to God's constant companionship with us in the constructing of our own unique family history.
St Paul has told us that 'the entire creation is groaning in one great act of giving birth' and that the Holy Spirit 'comes to help us in our weakness' while we await the final fulfilment of all that God has in store for us. This is the perspective of faith, so powerfully expressed and strengthened every time we pray, and especially when we pray together in the family home, the very workshop of our history. Today you are invited, as you thank God for the years spent together, to open your hearts afresh to this Holy Spirit. And we are invited to visualise this Holy Spirit as 'a fountain of living water', flowing from the side of Christ and giving refreshment to all who thirst! This is precisely the help we need in the tiring efforts of family life, of staying faithful and fresh for each other, of constantly meeting moods and needs with generosity and patience. That can indeed be thirsty work!
There is a beautiful description of the work of the Holy Spirit given by one of the Church Fathers, St Cyril of Jerusalem. He says: 'The Spirit comes with the tenderness of a true friend and protector to save, to heal, to teach, to counsel, to strengthen, to console. The Spirit comes to enlighten the mind first of the one who receives him, and then, through him (or her!) the mind of others as well.' This is a true Advocate of family living.
We mark your anniversaries today in this celebration of Holy Mass. The Mass too is the work of the Holy Spirit, as how else could our humble bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ! Only through the work of this one Spirit are we given and can we receive this food of life.
Have you ever thought of how different this Eucharistic food is to every other food we eat? When we eat our lunch, we absorb the food into our bodies and it becomes, as it were, part of us. But when we receive this Food of Life, which is the true Body of Christ, rather than us absorbing it into our life, we are absorbed by what we have eaten and we become part of the Body of Christ. He takes us into himself and he becomes the One in whom we live and who acts in and through us, if we permit him to do so.
This Sacrament, which makes you one with Christ for each other, is literally the Sacrament of bodies: the Body of Christ and your own bodies, your physical reality, taken up into his. In this way, the work of your bodies, so important in family life, becomes the work of Jesus himself. Your touching of each other, in comforting care or in loving caress, is a touching of the Body of Christ. This is the true depth of your tenderness and love. This is the great vision and joy of discipleship, the true and transforming truth of baptism, given new depth and reality in this Sacrament of his Body and Blood, which we share today.
One more quick word. So often in our bodily reality to each other, we experience our differences and our distances. Overcoming those is also the work of Jesus, for in him we are already, in some way, one and inseparable. This is why there is such a close link between the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a link which we have rather lost. But Jesus, whose Body we become and whom we touch in each other, is there also to heal our wounds, to forgive our sins, to mend the fissures in our lives. Let us use that gift too, this Sacrament of Reconciliation, for we certainly need it in our making of history!
I wish you all such happy anniversaries. I pray for all of you, that this day, this celebration of Mass, this renewal of your promises will bind you always closer to Christ and, in him, close to each other, for all eternity!