by Deacon Roger Carr-Jones
Marriage and Family Life Coordinator
Did you know that in June over 600 couples, each called to be missionary disciples in their different ways, attended our Mass of Thanksgiving for Matrimony? I was fortunate to meet a number of couples and to share not only in their moment of joy but aspects of their stories: each a small reflection of the good news of marriage.
As Christians, having heard the Good News of Jesus Christ, we now have to live it, every day! To do this we need to be effective, confident and joyful witnesses and learn to be ‘missionary disciples’ rather than passive recipients of the Good News. This is very achievable, especially in the sacrament of marriage, not always through great dramatic gestures, but through the ordinary everyday expressions of daily life, which reflect the vocation to marriage.
Do you agree that the Good News of marriage is worth celebrating? Apparently, if a storyline implies something rotten has happened, or that the world is in a terrible mess, we are more likely to pay attention to it. This insight is supported by psychologists who tell us that ‘bad news sells better than good news’. Perhaps this is because we are conditioned by our development to be aware of dangers and so we notice what is a threat in preference to enjoying sources of joy. Researchers call this ‘negativity bias’, a psychologists' term for our collective hunger to hear and remember bad news. It is not that bad news does not merit attention, it is just that if we lose sight of the good news in our world and in our lives, we are not in balance.
We sometimes fall into this trap when we focus too much on the decline in marriage and the subsequent impact on family life, without giving sufficient attention and affirmation to the alternative living narrative. By this I mean highlighting those who live out the vocation of marriage, bear witness to its joys and challenges, thereby revealing God’s plan for love to each other and society.
My role is to focus on and sustain the good news of marriage. In celebrating the significant anniversary of over 600 couples, the cathedral was buzzing with the collective joy of so many successful marriages, and their impact on their families and our wider society. Reflect for a moment on where you have seen this vocation being lived out: your parents, your marriage, or that of friends.
Our annual celebration of matrimony may not have made the national headlines. This is a pity as each of the couples, in their different ways, shared their vocation to marriage through simple gestures: a story, a smile, or children, now adults, helping infirm parents to attend. It was a day of great joy and a reflection of a joy lived out in the everyday events of life.
Joy is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, so it was fitting that this celebration was at the Vigil Mass for Pentecost. This marks the end of Eastertide and through the coming of the Holy Spirit the beginning of the time for witness and living out the gospel. A wedding is a beginning, not an end.
Cardinal Vincent spoke movingly in his homily of the different aspects of married life, of the grace that carried them through difficulties, and to reflect where the Lord has been in their shared journey. The Cardinal thanked the couples for their daily witness to the vocation of marriage, highlighting how this celebration, ‘Is also a witness, a powerful sign of resilient faith and love found in Christian marriage’.
Pope Francis has said, ‘Man and woman are created in God’s image and likeness; and for this reason, marriage likewise becomes an image of God…. this makes marriage very beautiful. Matrimony is a silent homily for everyone else, a daily homily.’
This was the first time that I have attended the Mass for Matrimony and it reminded me that there is safety in numbers. On our 25th wedding anniversary, my wife and I renewed our wedding vows in the church where we were married. The priest very helpfully placed our chairs in the centre of the aisle, so that we were as nervous and anxious as on the day of our marriage. Renewing our vows renews our commitment to one another, it allows us to contrast the moments of bad news, where through difficulties we have grown closer, and to give thanks for the moments of joy, the knowledge that we are no longer two ‘I’s’ but a single ‘we’. The vocation to marriage is a wonderful calling and like a good wine, it gets better with age.
Perhaps it is fitting to finish with a few words from CS Lewis in Mere Christianity, ‘Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life.... “being in love” first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.’