By TIM BULLARD
GARDEN CITY – “Now you may kiss the bride.”
And with that sweet pronouncement of tacit approval during a tender marriage celebration Mass on Sunday, April 7, Bishop Robert Baker’s words resounded from St. Michael Church as sets of lips touched softly in the pews.
Unless you are the type of person who is embarrassed when your parents show outward signs of affection, it was hard not to react emotionally to the touching familiarity and sincere exchange of human love these couples felt for each other at this unique ceremony.
As purple azaleas blossomed outside the sanctuary, the hugs and long, romantic gazes reflected decades of passionate dependence, strong bonds of reinforced pledges and simple daily examples of smooching.
There were 250 couples at the recognition ceremony this year, up from last year’s total of 192.
“We have 123 couples married 50 years or more,” said the bishop. Of those couples, 20 have been married 60 years or more, and of those, three had been married 65 years. The bishop thanked Dorothy Grillo, director of Social Ministry for the diocese, and Phyllis Ritchie for their work in planning the event.
The bishop led the rite of sprinkling and pointed to the Gospel of John and two parallel phrases, “The Father loves me, so I love you” and “The Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Bishop Baker said, “We see that Jesus links us with the love of the Father, and he links us with the evangelizing mission that he has received from God the Father. So you and I are on a very special mission as followers of Jesus to tell people about the great love that God the Father has for us in Jesus.”
He added, “That message has been carried by the church for the past two millennia down to our own day and time, and it is up to you and to me to translate that message into our own culture and into our own time.”
The bishop thanked the married couples for witnessing the message of the first Holy Week and Easter through their married lives.
“You are kind of like Mary Magdalene and Thomas and the other apostles,” he said. “You and I, we experience in our own way what they experienced firsthand. We also experience the love God has for us in Jesus.”
Bishop Baker called on the married couples to share the good news of God’s tremendous love and mercy. He described them as a faithful people — faithful to the Lord, faithful to one another – or they would not be celebrating 25, 50, 55, 60 and 65 years of marriage.
“You are like the women of the Gospel and St. John who stood by the cross of Jesus, who stood courageously when other people walked away. You have taken up your daily crosses. Certainly, you’ve had them in experiencing the love of marriage. You have been faithful. In a society where fidelity to one’s vows is not held sacred anymore, you have remained faithful,” he said.
“In a time when family life is weakened and cheapened and threatened, the honored couples have held family values to be at the heart of civilization,” said Bishop Baker. “You haven’t just talked about it. You have done it. You’ve tried your best through the witness of your marriages to transform the culture and society in which you live.”
He continued, “You are there attending to people who are struggling and suffering, those who are the outcast, the last, the lost, the least, you are there. You have been there for those who have mourned after Sept. 11. You have been there to oppose human embryos being killed to obtain a certain type of stem cell.”
The bishop said the couples have been there for their children, grandchildren, and perhaps their great-grandchildren, helping them to not be exposed to the dangers of society such as computer programs that can tend to pervert God’s gifts to the body and human sexuality. He said they’ve also been there for the child in the womb, who is endangered by an uncaring society.
“You’ve been evangelizing. You have been sent by Jesus and sent by the Father because you have been loved by Jesus as he was loved by the Father,” he said.
The bishop commending the couples on making such a serious commitment through the church.
“You came into a church building; you didn’t just do it on the 18th hole of the local golf course or at the city hall. You came into the church because you recognized that it was important for you to make your marriage possible for life and be able to thrive. Apart from him, you knew that your marriage wouldn’t make it. So you linked up with him from day one in your marriage,” said Bishop Baker.
“You kept coming back because you knew you needed his support each and every day. That’s the difference between you people and so many others,” he said.
The offering at the service was donated to the Drexel House project in Charleston.