My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
The observances of National Marriage Week — February 7 to 14 — and World Marriage Day, Sunday, February 14, obviously coincide with Valentine’s Day. This, as you know, is the feast day of St. Valentine, an early martyr of the Church who has become the symbol of love and marriage.
Valentine’s Day almost approaches Christmas in the number of sales of candy, flowers, and much more expensive gifts exchanged on this day. People should try to show their love for one another to build up marriage, which needs so much help today. The theme of 2021 is “To Have, To Hold, To Honor.” How important these three words are to those who really understand the commitment of marriage.
Pope John Paul I, the pope of 30 days, wrote an interesting catechetical book entitled Illustrisimi, which were letters written to famous people, long since dead. In one of those letters, he used this phrase: “The way some people speak about marriage, you would think that Jesus created six sacraments and a trap.” Marriage is hardly a trap. Rather, marriage is a sacrament in which husband and wife find a vocation to love one another — to have, to hold, and to honor as the theme for this year reminds us.
Pope Francis, whose preaching style in many ways reminds me of John Paul I in his catechetical approach, came to Philadelphia in 2015 to attend the World Meeting of Families. He pronounced three basic rules for marriage that are so important. It seems so simple, and yet how profound. The Holy Father told us that the three words necessary for a successful and happy marriage are: “please, thank you, and I am sorry.”
How important are these three simple concepts in trying to understand marriage relationships? Yes, the marriage relationship is one of equality. And so anything that is asked of another must be done in a respectful way. Also, this involves the element of thanks.
While at the same time, the most important element in every marriage is the ability to forgive. I often remind married couples, especially at our annual diocesan wedding anniversary Masses and those preparing for marriage, about the book from the early 1970s called “Love Story.” Unfortunately, this example does not ring true with younger people; however, those of us who lived through the ‘70s remember that interesting book that later became a movie sensation best remembered for its most famous line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” How false that statement is, as truly love means that you have to say you are sorry continually to another person, most especially in marriage. Marriage is built on love and forgiveness. Without forgiveness, love does not endure.
The lesson necessary today in understanding the crisis of marriage is the inability of younger people today to make life-long commitments. This certainly begins in their employment history. It seems that in this day and age, no one chooses a job and thinks that they will have this job for the rest of their life. They look for a better job or change jobs just to change. Whereas in the past, people committed themselves to a particular organization or profession, leading to a life-long commitment.
So too, today, marriage has come upon this societal problem that life-long commitments seem rather difficult to make. We see the phenomenon of couples living together, hoping that they will find the right partner. Unfortunately, research teaches us that those who live together before marriage have a higher divorce rate than those who have not attempted this new phenomenon. Perhaps it is that they find themselves now in a committed situation which they feel they cannot sustain and, therefore, the remedy is divorce.
Today, we need modeling for marriage. Unfortunately, many young people come from marriages that are already severely broken or even dissolved. And the life experience of marriage is one that we live in our families. If there is no healthy model on which to base marriage, young people are at a disadvantage; they may not be able to envision how they can live with an- other person and respect that person, and also forgive that person.
Many secular media outlets have now come upon the realization that although we have had successful campaigns to reduce smoking in our society and even drug abuse, there is no campaign to stabilize marriage. We need to help people understand better the commitment of a life-long marriage. It is always the children of marriages that fail who suffer the most. Statistics tell us that the best predictor of a child living in poverty is if they do not come from a two-parent home. These are the social problems that we face today.
However, we should go back to the heart of the matter. Marriage is a sacrament. It is difficult as marriage demands discipline, love, and forgiveness. These are the three qualities that are sometimes lacking in our society today. This is why sacramental marriage is so important, for it is the grace that comes from the sacrament that enables couples to live a life-long commitment and find the happiness that God intends for them and for their children.
Each couple who undertakes marriage does put out into the deep in seeking a life-long commitment where their love for one another can grow. Without God’s grace and our prayers and support, however, doing so will become difficult. We should take advantage of these days around Valentine’s Day, National Marriage Week, and World Marriage Day celebrations to encourage our young people to understand the true meaning of marriage and to embrace it as God’s plan for humanity.