HARTFORD – At the invitation of Archbishop Leonard P. Blair to stand and “Turn toward one another, join hands, and exchange once again the vows you made on your wedding day,” 272 couples renewed vows originally exchanged between last year and 72 years ago.
This joyful scene took place at the Marriage Anniversary Celebration at the Cathedral of St. Joseph Oct. 25.
Acknowledging in his homily that marriage and family life are under threat today, Archbishop Blair told the celebrating couples and their families and friends who packed the cathedral that “Marriage and family make every Christian home into a church in miniature.”
Noting that the couples represent 12,005 years of married life, the archbishop quipped, “I think it’s safe to say that you know a thing or two about married life and the family.”
From the day’s Gospel from Saint Mark about the faith of blind Bartimaeus, he wove a theme of light, love and faith.
“It’s not how we begin the journey but how we end it,” he said. “When we think of the great mysteries of life, its joys, its sorrows, its crosses, its crowns … who or what can open our eyes truly to see what it all means and where we’re headed?
“The answer, of course, is Jesus Christ.”
He said he knew each couple had their “times of darkness, even blindness,” but they have tried “to walk in the light of Christ.”
The archbishop said that the marriage celebration occurred on the very weekend that the Synod on Marriage and the Family was concluding in Rome.
He said Pope Francis has recognized that people are less and less serious about building fruitful, lasting and faithful relationships. The archbishop said that marriage is increasingly looked down upon.
“And this represents a blindness, a terrible blindness. It is also a threat to the very integrity and happiness of society,” he said.
“Bartimaeus,” said Archbishop Blair, “was rebuked.” He was told to “shut up,” but he kept calling out all the louder, all the more, and eventually he was rewarded.
“As believers, we need to open the eyes of society to the truth, beauty and value of marriage” for future generations, he said.
He said believers should not be intimidated into silence and inaction. Citing Saint Paul, he said, “Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the power of what is good and pleasing and perfect.”
Archbishop Blair congratulated the couples and invited them to kiss.
Celebrating 25 years of marriage, Rosie and Bob Shea, from the Church of St. Timothy in West Hartford, said they were honored to take part in a ceremony that helped them recognize how “great our marriage has been and what a beautiful family we have,” said Bob. Rosie added, “Our faith has gotten us through,” with reference to their son Jeremiah, with severe autism.
Troy and Lisa Anderson of St. Margaret Mary in South Windsor were also celebrating 25 years of marriage. Lisa said faith was the foundation of their life together. “The more you work with each other, the more you’re committed,” she said. Laughing, she added, “Our faith is why we’re at 25 years.”
Wanting to “put in a plug for Our Blessed Mother,” James Shea, celebrating 20 years with his wife Brenda Brisshette-Shea, from Corpus Christi in Wethersfield, said they pray the rosary every day “because of our thankfulness to God for our Catholic marriage.”
Rudolph and Vivian Powers, from St. Gabriel’s in Windsor, were celebrating their 50th anniversary and recalled that the cathedral was their first church together in 1965.
“I think that’s pretty special,” said Vivian, who says they used to go to the 5 p.m. Sunday Mass in those days when the cathedral was new. This was their first anniversary celebration inside the cathedral, though they received certificates at both their 40th and 45th anniversaries.
Frank and Phyllis Donovan, from St. Rose of Lima in Meriden, were celebrating 60 years. Mr. Donovan was inspired by the “magnificent” celebration of marriage and the family. He said Archbishop Blair’s message reminded him of the three phrases Pope Francis says should be the ones used often and sincerely: “please, thank you and sorry.”
The printed program for the ceremony, which listed the names and anniversary years of every couple, included a reflection by Pope Francis on marriage and the Lord’s Prayer. When it comes to marriage, it says, “Give Us This Day Our Daily Love.”
Each couple will receive an anniversary certificate from the archdiocese, along with their pho-tograph with Archbishop Blair.
The event was sponsored by the Office of Family Life of the Archdiocese of Hartford. Its director, Ryan Hinton, told the Transcript that he was astonished by the turnout and response. He believed it is related to the World Meeting of Families and the Synod.
It is “a testament to their witness of faith so critically important in this time,” Mr. Hinton said.
After Mass and the exchange of vows, Vivian R. Stephenson and her ambassadors from the cathedral ushered the celebrating couples to the foot of the altar area for individual photographs with Archbishop Blair.
Father James A. Shanley, cathedral rector, invited all participants to return often to the cathedral, mother church of the Archdiocese of Hartford. He emphasized the start of the holy year designated as the Jubilee Year of Mercy by Pope Francis, beginning on Dec. 8. He said the opening ceremony for the archdiocesan celebration will be held Dec. 13, when the bronze doors of the cathedral will be opened.
Prior to Mass, Father Shanley described the history, architecture and special features of the cathedral. While talking about the stained glass windows depicting the sacraments, he got some laughs when he said it might be only a coincidence that marriage window sits right above that of the sacrament of penance.