Diocesan Mass of Thanksgiving for Marriage
Our Lady’s Church, Stockport, 9th February 2013
Today we come together to give thanks for marriage represented here by so many couples celebrating 25, 40, 50, 60 and 65 years of married life. For Christians, marriage is a sacrament: a sacrament which enriches you and your families and contributes to the greater good of the whole community. This week the very idea of marriage has become a subject of contention and controversy in our society. Voices have been raised to say that marriage does not belong to the Church, nor to any religious group. We would, of course, be the first to agree: for marriage belongs to humanity.
We recognise marriage – not as a social convention to be made or re-made by successive generations – but as God’s plan written into human nature. It was not by accident, but by design that God “made them male and female”, as the Book of Genesis declares. It is for this reason, Jesus tells us in the Gospel, that “a man must leave father and mother, and the two become one body”. It is for this reason that the Church has defended the essence of marriage against all who have sought over the centuries to change or distort its reality.
This week we have heard senior politicians say that our understanding of marriage must change. It is true that, in the course of history, there have been changes in the way marriage has been lived and celebrated. Yet, whatever may have changed in social conditions, whatever rights and privileges society has accorded to married people, the foundation has remained constant and unchanging. Society has recognised in the institution of marriage a higher wisdom which pre-dates all parliaments, politicians, and even the state itself.
Maria Miller, the present Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport tells us that those who oppose the government’s plans to change marriage are on the wrong side of history. The Gospel itself has been on the wrong side of history, perhaps more often than Mrs Miller realises. The Catholic Church has stood by the truth of marriage in every time and place. We have only to think of how the truth of marriage was threatened by polygamy or the treatment of wives as possessions of their husbands. And today the Church must defend marriage again, in the face of a false understanding of equality. As Christians we believe in a radical equality: recognising that every human person, without exception, is created in the image and likeness of God; is redeemed and loved by Christ, and called to eternal life. Our faith leads us to uphold the dignity of every human person, and condemn every form of injustice that undermines this God-given dignity.
However, to recognise that marriage can only ever be between a man and a woman in a life-long, life-giving, freely-undertaken union is not an injustice to be remedied. In fact, we quickly see the absurdity of changing the identity of marriage in the name of a false understanding of equality by the desire to strike out even the cherished names of “mother” and “father”. Soon it could even be an offence to repeat the beautiful teaching of Christ himself on marriage: that it is the lasting union of one man and one woman which forms the foundation of the family.
As Christians, we must never fear being on the wrong side of any moment of history but we do fear being on the wrong side of Eternity. And our society should surely fear placing its trust in passing ideologies. And here, I wish to pay public tribute to those Members of Parliament across the Shrewsbury Diocese who, in the face of many pressures, stood up for the meaning and identity of marriage and defended the religious freedom of future generations. Such politicians deserve our gratitude and our support for their courageous and principled stand.
As our country drifts away from its Christian foundation, then surely our Christian witness to marriage becomes more not less important for generations to come. TheYouth Catechism expresses this very beautifully, by reminding us that: “nothing in the early Church fascinated people more about the ‘New Way’ of the Christians than their domestic churches (families) … In an unbelieving world, islands of living faith were formed … the great cities of antiquity, were soon permeated with domestic churches that were like points of light. Even today families in which Christ is at home are the leaven that renews our society” (YouCat 271).
What the Youth Catechism describes in these words is what you have been called to live in the Sacrament of Marriage. I wish, as your bishop, on this day of celebration to give thanks with you for God’s gift of marriage, the source of so great a good. And I wish to encourage you in the faithful witness given by your married lives in family and society and for all generations to come.
(Photo by Simon Caldwell)