By Rose O’Connor, Correspondent
Mary Stadnyk, Associate Editor
and Rayanne Bennett, Associate Publisher
Eyes glistened with emotion and loving smiles lit up the faces of some 275 anniversary couples who stood before their loved ones, their Church and their God to renew their wedding vows during celebrations sponsored in October by the Diocese of Trenton.
Couples from parishes across Central New Jersey marking one, 25, 50 or more years of marriage took part in the Bishop’s Anniversary Blessing Masses Oct. 2 and 16, where they prayed together, recommitted their love for each another and received congratulations and blessings from Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.
“Your marriage has been something very human, fulfilling the desire in the hearts of all of us to share our lives with one another, but your marriage has also been a Sacrament of God,” Bishop O’Connell said to the 175 couples from Monmouth and Ocean Counties who gathered Oct. 2 in St. Robert Bellarmine Church, Freehold. The Bishop celebrated a second Mass for about 100 couples from Burlington and Mercer Counties Oct. 16 in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton. For each Mass, he was joined at the altar by his episcopal vicars and other priests who lent their prayerful support to the couples.
Counting their Blessings
Throughout the two events, the gifts of married love and family were recognized and honored. At the end of the Masses, couples lined up to receive personal blessings from one of the priests who joined the Bishop. During the receptions that followed, many couples happily watched and reminisced as a slideshow of original wedding photos was screened. Families gathered around the couple, taking photos, presenting flowers and helping to make the occasions even more special.
In his homilies, Bishop O’Connell asked the couples to think back to some of the details from their wedding days that
were very important at the time, such as the name of the priest or deacon who married them, the name of the song they danced to for the first time as husband and wife, what was served for dinner and how they managed to “escape from the reception for the honeymoon.”
But noting that time changes one’s perception, the Bishop said, “Details from a single day lose their importance and memories start to fade. What matters is that you are still here, still together, still in love.”
“What a blessing you have together! What a blessing you are together! And that is what brings us together today, here in this Church at Holy Mass, surrounded by children and loved ones who are also blessings you enjoy,” Bishop O’Connell said.
A Foundation in Faith
Reflecting on each day’s Scripture readings, the Bishop underscored the importance of faith in the lives of married couples. He said, “As Christians and Catholics, faith is never really far from our thoughts and experience. There are few opportunities for faith as demonstrable as when a husband and wife commit themselves to one another for the whole of life…
“Did you know at the moment of your consent what the future would hold for you?” the Bishop asked rhetorically. “And yet, you said yes regardless of what might come your way,” he said. “That is faith.”
The Bishop also picked up on the connection between perseverance and prayer, “two dimensions of our life of faith well known to you as you celebrate the anniversary of your wedding.
“Perseverance is a grace that comes with conviction, dedication and commitment,” the Bishop said, referring to the day’s Gospel story of the unjust judge, who eventually relented in his judgment in favor of the persevering widow who sought justice.
“Some would call her perseverance ‘nagging,’ perhaps others would label it harassment,” he said. “But she knew her cause was just and right, and she would not back down.
“That same kind of perseverance should characterize our prayer, never giving in or giving up,” said Bishop O’Connell. “The same holds true in marriage, ‘For better or worse; for richer or poorer; in sickness and health, until death do us part.’
“That is perseverance!” he exhorted.
The Bishop spoke candidly during both Masses when he said that a “couple does not begin marriage with perfect love.”
“The couple grows in loving and grows by loving,” he said. “Love is hard work.”
Reminding the couples to follow the command of Jesus to “love as he had loved,” Bishop O’Connell urged them to remember that Jesus “loved until it cost him.”
“He loved all the way to the Cross and Death,” he said, adding, “love, in the sense that Jesus means, is loving even when it means undergoing suffering for the sake of the other.
“That is real love, loving for the good of the other,” said Bishop O’Connell.
The Bishop asked the anniversary couples to stand, face each other and join hands as he led them in the renewal of their marriage vows. The couples were instructed to touch each other’s wedding bands, at which time the Bishop offered a blessing upon the rings, saying “May these rings continue to be a symbol of their true faith in each other and always remind them of their love.”
Peg Hensler, associate director of the diocesan Department of Youth, Marriage and Family Life, which hosted the Anniversary Blessing Masses, acknowledged the couples for their presence at the Masses and for “being loving witnesses to the whole world” and for being examples of how “lifelong, joyful marriage is possible.”
Some of the husbands and wives in attendance explained the days’ significance and their reliance on faith.
Reflecting on his first-year anniversary, Wilfredo Serrano of St. Joseph Parish, Trenton, said that he and his wife, Maria Gonzalez, saw the Anniversary Blessing “as a reaffirmation of our vows that we took a year ago.”
“We also see today as being a sign of unity – being at the Cathedral and united in faith with other couples who are reaffirming their vows.”
Renee Hatzold of Resurrection Parish, Delran, said that she and her husband, Jim, have relied on their Catholic faith throughout their married life.
“We always go back to our faith,” said Renee Hatzold, who is the director of the music ministry in Corpus Christi Parish, Willingboro. “In good times, we look to our faith to give thanks. In tough times, we look to our faith when we need guidance.
“God is always there,” she said. “Give everything you need to God and he gives you peace, and it’s that peace that comes from our faith.”