Just before the dismissal rite of our annual diocesan Wedding Jubilee Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral, I had the privilege of presenting a bouquet of flowers to Virginia and Michael Yanko. We offered the flowers in recognition of the fact that they were the longest-married couple present for the celebration.
When I presented the flowers, I asked the couple how they managed to grow in love through 71 years of marriage. Mrs. Yanko responded, “God did it all.”
Since that moment, I have thought about her comment and prayed about it. I don’t know their story, but I have to assume that over the course of all those years of marriage, they have experienced challenges, sufferings and disagreements that tested their love — that made them reach deep into their basic convictions so that they could find the strength to sustain their union.
I say that because our commitment to love in imitation of Christ — no matter what our vocation in life — finds challenges in our selfishness, the normal demands of life and the lure of some of the flashy but empty attractions of the world.
“God did it all.” These four words convened Mrs. Yanko’s sense of faith in the Lord’s faithful love to her and her husband. And, they imply her unspoken awareness that she and her husband communicated Christ’s love in their love for one another.
I know that I was not the only one impressed by the Yankos. During the reception after Mass, several of the other couples celebrating 25 or more years of marriage expressed their admiration for Virginia and Michael, and spoke of the encouragement they drew from the Yankos’ faithful witness.
As I write, I am grateful to our long-married friends for the inspiration they give to me. On my next birthday, I will be 70. The Yankos have given themselves to one another for longer than I have been alive.
When I think of the Yankos and the other jubilarians, I am led to remember other people in my life who — by the way they carry themselves and treat others — communicate the love of Christ to me and thereby strengthen my faith in the Lord’s faithful and daily presence to us all.
Just yesterday after a book review I presented at the public library, I met Jim and Rita Hickey, dear friends I have not seen for a while. Like the Yankos, Jim and Rita are senior to me. They too give me life and food for thought. They are curious about life. They care about others. They are a gracious and peaceful presence wherever they are. They speak to my rough edges and remind me not to follow my instincts when I am feeling impatient or testy.
But it’s not just in my seniors that I find such gifts. Matthew and Mackenzie Noto came with their parents, Jeanine and Tom, to participate in a recent press conference to promote our Catholic Ministries Appeal. It was a grace for me to be able to speak to these two little ones (Matthew’s a fifth-grader and Mackenzie is in second grade). Their innocence and openness, their excitement for life are reminders that any day of life we have is a blessed day because the Lord is with us in it all.
Just a few days ago, I finished My Life with the Saints by James Martin, SJ. Father Martin reflects on how holy people (some canonized saints, others not) by the example of their lives have helped him better to live his. He writes of how the women and men he remembers speak to and help him understand and accept his virtues and his weaknesses, his highs and his lows, his doubts and fears, and his hopes and his visions. They encourage him along the way. Their prayer is good bread for his journey.
We really do owe a great deal to others — the living and the dead, our seniors and our juniors. And, so it’s good for us deliberately to remember those people and those gifts so that we can respond to them as good stewards — with gratitude and with like kindness to others.
Of whom do you think when you remember such people? And, what is your response to such wonderful gifts?
Peace to all.