While at Mass in our Pro-Cathedral on 13 February, I listened attentively to the homily and made a mental note to ask Fr Simon Eccleton if he would make it available for our Inform readership. He kindly agreed to do so, while underlining to me that he had found much of the insight he shared from a homily given by a Fr Phil Bloom. I was captured by the way the blessing of marriage was offered in this homily. I am grateful that, at a time in our history where it is widely regarded that life-long marriage is unattainable, marriage lived well is something of profound beauty and a fundamental blessing.
“I’d like to begin with a Valentine story. Back in 1920, a man from Bavaria in Germany, placed this ad in the newspaper:
Middle-ranking civil servant, single,
Catholic, 43, immaculate past, from the
country, is looking for a good Catholic,
pure girl who can cook well, tackle
all household chores, with a talent for
sewing and homemaking with a view to
marriage as soon as possible. Fortune
desirable but not a precondition.
A woman named Maria Peintner answered the ad. She was 36 years old, a trained cook, and the illegitimate daughter of a baker. She did not have a fortune, but even so, they married four months later. In spite of their somewhat advanced years, they had three children – two boys and a girl. The youngest child received the same name as his father: Joseph Ratzinger. He is better known today as Pope Benedict XVI.
I tell their story because in this week when we celebrate St Valentine’s Day, Joseph and Maria Ratzinger give a beautiful testimony to married love. Their love illustrates what we heard in today’s Scripture readings: “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord.” If a person gets up into their mid-thirties and they have not found that special person, they can feel life has passed them by, maybe even that God has forgotten them. That was not the case with Joseph and Maria Ratzinger. These were people of deep faith in God. Because of their trust in the Lord, they had an admirable marriage and
a deeply united family.
What is faith? Jesus gives a profound insight today. He says that those who experience hunger, poverty, sorrow and rejection – are in fact blessed by God. Not that those conditions are good in themselves, but they can cause a person to turn to God, to recognise that he alone fills and comforts us. When we experience his care, his love, it leads to faith, which is the true foundation for love.
It is significant that Pope Benedict wrote his first – and only encyclical on love. He speaks about various types of love: love of country, love of friends, love between parents and children, love of neighbours, and love of God. Out of all the various types of love, the pope says that one stands out: love between man and woman, where body and soul are inseparably joined. In this union, he says, “human beings glimpse an apparently irresistible promise of happiness.” In the rest of the encyclical, Pope Benedict analyses this love – and explains how a person can sustain it.
Interestingly, Benedict declares that in the end, love is not so much a lesson to be learned as a mystery to live. We might say today that love rooted in trust in the Lord – is not taught but caught. That was how the Holy Father first learned love from his parents.
Benedict didn’t know how his parents met until his pastoral visit to Bavaria. Prior to his visit, some industrious character scoured old newspapers and discovered the ad his father had placed, looking for that good Catholic girl who could cook well. Joseph and Maria Ratzinger didn’t talk to their children about the ins and outs of their relationship, but their children caught the meaning of love. Love such as today’s first reading describes: like a tree planted by a stream, it quietly grows, enduring droughts, resilient to floods, and bearing great fruit.
We thank God for the gift of married love, for the couples who are blessed with this vocation. And we thank God for the blessing they are to us, the community within which they live out their vocation of love.”
Fr Simon Eccleton
(with thanks to Fr Phil Bloom)