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Bishop Peter Ingham's Homily for Marriage Anniversaries Mass 2016

on Friday, 07 October 2016. Posted in Bishop Peter Ingham

Gospel Reading: Luke 16:1-13 

You cannot be slaves both of God and of money. 

The cunning steward who was only looking after himself was praised, not for his dishonesty, but for being shrewd.  Jesus wants us to be clever and shrewd about what really matters in life and not be side tracked – all that glitters is not gold!

Love people and use material things rather than love material things and use people.  We are stewards of whatever gifts we have.

What really makes us rich we can’t buy with money – values like truthfulness, being able to be trusted, being compassionate, being merciful, patient, generous, forgiving, respectful of the dignity of others, treating people as we would like to be treated.

As I talk to you today, I am reminded of a cartoon I once saw of a priest having just witnessed the marriage of a couple and saying to them, “Look, if you have any difficulties, please come and see me.  I am celibate, but I do read a lot.”

Back in the mid 1980’s a psychotherapist in private practice in the United States, Nina Fields, wrote a book called “The Well-Seasoned Marriage.”  She believed that many couples were benefitting in a far more rewarding way from their marriages than most people realised.  In another book, “Till Death Do Us Part,” Jeanette and Robert Lauer, both teachers at a University in California, wanted to document the benefits that are possible in a long-term marriage, benefits that far outweigh any inconveniences.

These books were based on interviews with basically middle class American couples.  The conclusions of both these books really didn’t offer any big surprises. 

They were things that we really knew deep down. Common themes are:  satisfying marriages require an investment in time, an investment of thought and an investment of energy;  you have to put something into your marriage to get something out of it; commitment and trust are essential ingredients for a satisfying marriage; partners must like each other and enjoy each other’s company, be good friends; goals and values that each share are necessary; all marriages go through periods of doubt and stress; needs and expectations of each partner are going to change over the years; and of course, tolerance, acceptance, adjustment to growth and change in each other is also necessary, putting up with each other, tolerating, adjusting. We don’t live in a perfect world.

Both these books emphasise that long term, happily-married couples experience the same kinds of problems and conflicts as do other couples; the difference is that satisfied couples confront situations and work through them.  I’m sure you would endorse that no couple ever suddenly discovered themselves to be in perfect agreement for the rest of their lives – good heavens!  “It is not love that sustains your marriage; rather marriage sustains your love for each other.” (Bonhoeffer)

Working through difficult times can lead to a stronger relationship, a better relationship - the need to lighten up, to enjoy each other’s company and not take ourselves too seriously.  People want to be fulfilled, they want happiness.

Enduring is not enough. Newly-married couples are cautioned by these authors, Fields and Lauer, not to be deceived by the fairy tale ideas that a good marriage involves years of uninterrupted bliss.  Expectations like that inevitably crash into the frustrations of real life.

The child rearing years particularly, can be a time of lower interactive satisfaction because couples have less time for each other and for their own relationship.  But that’s the time when couples have to look to find their joy in the new lives they have borne in their children.  I would add that’s where church, parishes and schools, can be a great support through play groups, children’s liturgy, parents and friends, associates and Baptism preparation.  Remedial advice given by these authors includes setting realistic standards and expectations for everything from happiness and housekeeping to sexual relations and children.  Establishing a balance between retaining a sense of identity for each individual in the marriage, whilst maintaining their sharing as a couple - zones of freedom within a shared relationship - is considered essential to prevent either too much unhealthy dependence or too much unhealthy separateness.

The conclusions that I have mentioned from these writers may seem obvious, even trite, to you who have journeyed a quarter of a century or half a century or more in marriage.  Nevertheless, I believe this can provide a stimulus for us to examine and even alter our attitudes and behaviours in the directions that Jesus teaches about treating others as we would like to be treated, about compassion, mercy and forgiveness; about the fruits of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness, self-control; the evidence that the Holy Spirit is part of our lives.  I read something once that said “a successful marriage is a union of two good forgivers.”

The challenge to marriage in our modern world is learning how to maintain an enduring relationship that is satisfying, to do it within the context of gender equality, to have fulfilment, to be able to dialogue, to be able to develop the skills of communicating, of solving problems together, of resolving conflicts, of decision making.  This is what leads to the formation of more positive and intimate relationships.  Now to try and do that without the teaching and support of Jesus and his Church is to do it without a whole wisdom of living that our long and rich tradition of Catholic Christianity teaches and brings to living.

I would like to focus on respect (that is, the dignity and rights of others) – a tricky subject to discuss.  Parents don’t always realise that they’ve got more input into the issue of respect than they might think.  Yet it is part of the Church’s social teaching about the dignity of each individual.

Respect is a two-way street.  Just like love, which children learn about within the family, so children and all of us learn about respect within the family.  Children need to see respect in action between the people around them – between their parents and family members and friends. 

Most importantly, children need to be on the receiving end of respect, so they learn how good it makes them feel – just as good as you parents feel when you get the respect you crave from your children.

There are many small ways of showing respect to a child, even toddlers.  Like giving them choices (do you want to wear this shirt or that one?)  Asking their opinion (what do you think of the new curtains?) You can consult children about family events (where should we go for the picnic?)

When we are shown respect, we feel valued.  We like others to respect our feelings, to respect our space, to respect our privacy.  It’s respectful to knock on a child’s door before entering their room; it’s respectful to keep our curiosity in check when we see their mobile phone or iPad lying on the bed.  It’s what we would want for ourselves.  And of course Jesus said “do to others as you would want them to do to you.” 

Our Catholic teaching is all about respecting the dignity of each individual person-basic human dignity that is further enhanced by Baptism.  One mother recently said that she really got her teenage daughter’s respect when she overheard her saying, “My mum’s real sick.”  Now, that’s respect 2016 style!

Two recent quotes from parents I saw were:  One mother said, “Oh, to be only half as wonderful as my child thought I was when the child was small” or “to be only half as stupid as my teenager now thinks I am.”

Jesus often spoke about avoiding hypocrisy.  They say a hypocrite is like a pin-“points one way, heads another.”  The old saying “what you do screams so loudly, I cannot hear what you say” means that by our actions, our attitudes, the way we live, gives a message to others.  Does this message we deliver reflect the faith we profess? None of us is perfect!

Mahatma Ghandi said “I like your Christ – but I don’t like you Christians because you Christians are so unlike your Christ.”  That’s a real indictment!

The pig met the chicken in a cartoon world where pigs and chickens could talk to one another.  Pig said, “you and I provide the bacon and eggs-but for me, providing bacon is a total commitment, whereas for you, the hen, providing the eggs is only a partial involvement.”

Personal involvement and commitment are needed to give our services to our partner in marriage and to the family’s work around the home: to help care for the bedridden spouse, a neighbour or a relative; to serve on a committee or in a ministry in the parish or at the school or in the community; to write a letter, send an email, make a phone call; to visit a bereaved or sick person.  The sign of true greatness is the willingness to serve others.

It is in giving we receive – it is in pardoning we are pardoned.  God is not outdone in generosity.  Today’s scripture calls us to review our living of the Gospel, to be smart and shrewd about what’s really important, to ask pardon for our failures and beg strength to become worthy bearers of God’s Good News to others.

I congratulate you on your significant anniversary.  I thank you for your participation in the life of the Diocese, either through your local parish or in one of the works of mercy and service to others.

May the Lord bless you and your descendants and I thank you for passing on the faith to your children and grandchildren – most of us got our faith through our families.

Happy anniversary! 

Most Rev Peter W Ingham DD
Bishop of Wollongong
St John Vianney's Co-Cathedral, Fairy Meadow
18 September 2016