We gather together today with great joy because we have something very, very special to celebrate: the 50 years of married life that Richard and Michelle celebrate today, and all of us together with them. Perhaps we should ask ourselves what is the very special reason why their 50 years of married life is a cause for such great celebration, as it is. Something that happened to me a short time ago perhaps sets the stage for why we celebrate with such great joy.
Second Sunday of Easter
I was returning on a trip on an airplane, and as I was coming back to Detroit, part of the time I spent reading my Scriptures. When we landed and got up, the gentleman standing next to me, who had been seated next to me, said, "Well, Father, what's the good word?", and I thought, "Well, how do you summarize what's in the Scriptures?" Whatever you're reading, the good word always is God loves us.
That's the good word, the blessed word -- God loves us -- and we need more and more, again and again, to make ourselves conscious of that: "God loves me. God loves me." After we reflect on it even briefly, we begin to realize, "I wouldn't even be here unless God loved me." God has loved us into being. That's why we exist, because God loves us.
God loves all of creation and is drawing it into existence. All of creation, and every one of us, every instant that we exist, is because God loves us. God sustains us in our very being. That will go on now forever. God loves us, and it's so important that we grasp this, have an awareness of it. That's why what we celebrate today is such a special celebration.
Fifty years ago, when Michelle and Richard were married, this was the prayer that was recited by the priest, and it's recited even now at every celebration of the sacrament of matrimony: "Loving God, you have made the bond of marriage a holy mystery, a sign or symbol of the love of Jesus for his church, his community of disciples." And back then, 50 years ago, the priest said, "Hear our prayers for Michelle and Richard. With faith in you and in each other, they pledge their love today. May their lives always bear witness to the reality of that love."
Do you hear what is being said in that prayer? That married people, by loving one another in their married life, give witness to the very love of God. That's what the vocation of marriage is, and in my thinking, it's the most important vocation in the church. We need to realize that good news: God loves us. And where do we see it expressed most completely? It's in the immanent love of a husband and wife for one another and for their family. They are witnesses that God loves us.
But that's a challenging, very challenging vocation, to be witnesses to the very love that God has for all of us. God so loved the world and loved all of us that God sent Jesus, who also loved us so much that Jesus gave his whole life for us out of love. Married people witness to that. It's not an easy calling, and I'm sure any married couple could tell you that after a very short time, it's difficult.
Challenging calling, to be witnesses to the love of God for us, because if we look at how Jesus, who is God, lived among us and showed us God's love, we begin to see how difficult it can be to really live love as Jesus lived it and loved us and showed us God's love for us. There are so many examples in the Scriptures, as I see even almost anytime you read the Scriptures. You begin to realize God loves us.
In today's Gospel, look at what happens, how Jesus shows the kind of love God has for us. Those disciples were hiding; they were afraid. They had abandoned Jesus, all except a couple of the women, who stood by his side right to the end. But the rest had run, and they were hiding in fear. You would think Jesus would be maybe at least slightly annoyed, or maybe even angry. "How could you betray me like Judas did, or deny me like Peter did? How could you all run away from me?"
But he takes the initiative; he comes to them. His first words to them are: "Peace; don't worry, you're forgiven. Peace be with you." And then he even challenges them: "You begin now to forgive one another, as I have forgiven you." So that mark of forgiveness -- sharing the peace, being the one to reach out to reconcile -- that's how Jesus loves us, that's how God loves us, and that's the love that married people witness to in their married life if they begin to carry out the way that God loved us and give witness to that.
In over 50 years of married life, Richard and Michelle have done that, and so we celebrate and rejoice, give thanks to them and to God for their beautiful witness. One of the things that happens when we begin to understand, "God loves me and it's without limit, without condition," well, then, we can better carry out what Jesus says to his first disciples and says to us: "As I have loved you, love one another. Love one another, every one, without limit, without exception."
We get a sense what that might mean as we listen to the first lesson today. Those first disciples, caught up in the love of God for them, began to show that love for one another to such an extraordinary extent that they shared what they had. No one was in need in that community because everyone shared with all the rest.
That's the kind of love that God shows for us and expects us to show to one another: that we love without exception, without condition, without limit. We love one another. Jesus takes it so far to tell us we must love not just those who love us, but love even our enemies. Forgive; bring about reconciliation; forgive sin and restrain evil. That's what we do when we love.
So 50 years again, Richard and Michelle have witnessed to that love of God that is always there loving us, and so we thank them, praise them, rejoice with them, congratulate them, because they have been witnesses to God's love for us. Now each of us, I hope, will look into our own hearts and discover whether we have really allowed ourselves to be aware and nurture within ourselves that awareness: "God loves me, [and] through that love of God for me, I will be a more loving person in every part of my life. I will learn to love one another, and give witness to that love of God in my own life."
Richard and Michelle have done it in a very special way through married life for 50 years. We now pledge ourselves in our own state of life, whatever it is, to be thankful that God loves us, and then to love one another as God has loved us.
[Homily given at St. Mary's Chapel at the IHM Motherhouse in Monroe, Mich. The transcripts of Bishop Gumbleton's homilies are posted weekly to NCRonline.org. Sign up here to receive an email alert when the latest homily is posted.]