Shrewsbury ... shall be a name 'as stirring to the heart as the glories we have lost'

Blessed John Henry Newman, 1852

Letters and Homilies

Homily, Diocesan Celebration of Marriage, St Joseph’s Church, Birkenhead, 8th February 2020

 

Today we celebrate marriage as the Christian vocation you have lived for 25, 40, 50, 60 years and more. When I arrived in the world, marriage was almost taken for granted. Few would have disputed that the lifelong union of man and woman provided the best environment for human flourishing and the securest place for receiving the gift of children. This assumption was as secure as the one on which people took for granted oceans, forests and ice regions – so solid and impervious to human harm did they appear. Today, however, we are rightly concerned by the neglect of our physical environment and the implications for the future of humanity. We now give careful consideration to the harmful consequences of our personal actions and our lifestyle choices on the well-being of the planet and upon generations still to come. At the same time, it seems we have strangely neglected the human ecology so bound-up with the well-being of marriage. For marriage forms the foundation of the family which, in Saint John Paul II’s striking phrase, is the place through which all humanity passes (Cf. Familaris Consortio n 86).

Marriage is the environment on which depend the health and flourishing of every generation. Yet, marriage is under threat, and not merely from indifference: it has been proactively weakened by both governmental actions and lifestyle choices. Imagine, for a moment, if government and society conspired to relax restrictions and allowed more plastics to be thrown into the oceans, more toxic substances to be released into the air… We would surely expect loud public protest. Yet, for half a century the institution of marriage has seen its treasured place in society and the protection of its promises steadily eroded.

Marriage is surely the most natural thing in the world since, as the Church teaches, the author of marriage is God our Creator (CCC 1603). Marriage has taken various forms throughout the centuries, whilst in essence remaining the same: namely, the life-long union of man and woman open to the gift of new life. Christ raised marriage to an even higher dignity as a Sacrament, and his own disciples were shocked by his words regarding the bond of marriage (Mt. 19:10). Given this, how could we ever fail to take marriage and its promises seriously, fail to see its central place in securing the well-being of family and society?

Alongside the threat to marriage we have perhaps inevitably seen an undervaluing of celibacy which, as Saint John Paul II often reminded us, stands in support of the true and faithful love of marriage. Celibate consecration is happily growing today among apostolic lay people and remains the hallmark of the Catholic Priesthood. Yet, how readily celibacy embraced for Love alone is lightly dismissed today, as if it were merely a restriction, just as the faithfulness of marriage is considered a diminishment of personal freedom and choice. May we never become prey to these superficial ways of thinking in what has become a toxic atmosphere toward lifelong commitment, an attitude which threatens not only Christian marriage but also the cherishing of priestly celibacy. Echoing the words of the great John Paul II, whom Pope Francis declared to be the ‘Pope of the Family’, all those called to Christian marriage or to celibacy must give to each other the clear witness and example of “faithfulness in their vocations unto death” (Cf. Letter to my Brother Priests, n. 9, 1979). Yes, as never before in our history, society stands in need of the united witness of married couples and singlehearted celibate love. May this united witness contribute to an environment of love and faithfulness in which generations to come may grow and flourish!

Thank you on behalf of all the Church for the witness of your marriage.