A couple was preparing to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. The husband, wanting to get his wife a gift that she would appreciate, asked her if she would be happy with a gold watch. The wife, responding in a very affirmative matter, exclaimed, “Nothing would make me happier!” She emphatically repeated, “Really, absolutely nothing would make me happier.” On the long-awaited day of the anniversary, the husband appeared with a smiling face but with empty hands. The wife confusedly looked at the husband and questioned, “Where is the gold watch? There’s nothing in your hands!” The husband replied, “I didn’t get it because you said nothing would make you happier! And so, I got you nothing!”
A few weeks ago, while speaking to the Vatican on the subject of marriage, Pope Francis spoke of marriage as a gift which is a great good from God. While he did not use the same words, he spoke of marriage as a gift of which nothing can make us happier. He emphasized that marriage is not only a gift for the couple involved, but for everyone, including their family, other families, the Church and for the world.
Recently, we celebrated our annual Diocesan Masses for couples celebrating their marriage anniversaries. The years ranged from 25 to 76. Truly, nothing makes all of us happier than to know couples celebrating so many years of marriage in a manner that points to the gift that it is. Their happiness and joy are always evident as they reflect the life of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. During their years of marriage, they have experienced many joys, but also many difficulties and hard sacrifices which they have had to make to give of themselves to each other and to their families. With all of the good, and even with all of the difficulty, nothing has made them happier, and that is why they joyfully celebrate their anniversaries.
Pope Francis reminds us that marriage is a bond, an unbreakable one, created by God in the very beginning. For this reason, the Book of Genesis tells us, as quoted by Christ Himself in the Gospels, that for marriage, “a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). As we experience so many difficulties within our world today and so much confusion in regard to the meaning of life, much of it is due to losing sight of marriage and family life as coming from God and in imitation of the very life of God Himself. At a time when marriage is being redefined as no longer an exclusive union between a man and woman, and when so many basic issues of identity and life itself are questioned, our society has lost the sense of who we are as well as the true joy that accompanies life. As Saint Pope John Paul II used to say, “As goes marriage and the family, so goes the world!” Marriage is indeed a gift which, for all of us, can be replaced by nothing.
Pope Francis, in his speaking about marriage recently, also spoke about the fragility of being human and that we cannot let human failure and frailness discourage us as we face the problems and difficulties of life. There are in life, and in a good marriage, misunderstandings, tensions, failures and mistakes. Such are part of life, and it is only through perseverance, understanding and forgiveness that these are faced and overcome. Anyone in a marriage has experienced these in so many different ways. Marriage is based on true love, not on a passing emotion, no matter how significant or necessary that emotion may be. Marriage is based on fidelity and mirrors the fidelity of God to us. That is why the commandment of Jesus applies in an extraordinary manner to marriage: “I give you a new commandment, love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34).
In true marriage, no masks are worn and each party faces the other as they truly are so that they can become one person. We must realize that marriage cannot be idealized to the extent that one imagines there is a marriage that does not face difficulty. A perfect marriage is one where difficulty can be faced and handled, not one without difficulty. True love makes the difference and true love knows that the fidelity of God is always with us, most especially in marriage, and it is His fidelity which brings perfection.
Marriage is indeed a great gift. I wish to express, on behalf of the Diocese of Palm Beach, our congratulations and gratitude to all celebrating anniversaries and reminding us of the meaning of life as given to us by God. Real happiness consists not in the gifts of gold watches or anything else, but in the love and support which comes from the heart, even in the most difficult times. Faithful couples are true witnesses of all of this, and bring the world an example that it so much needs today. May God continue to grant all married couples His peace, health and joy, and may all of us continue to appreciate the great gift of marriage. Nothing makes us happier!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
February 24, 2023