At the suggestion of their parish priest, Marie and Norbert Hammes got married on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28, 1940, because the church was booked on the date the couple had been considering. Their compromise proved to be a good one. On the wedding day, “The church was packed,” Marie recalls 75 years later. The people gathered that day, including the bride and groom, couldn’t have imagined the couple’s marriage would grow and flourish for more than 75 years — and counting.
This week (Feb. 7-14) marks National Marriage Week USA and Feb. 14 is World Marriage Day, both opportunities to celebrate the gift and blessing of marriage, the U.S. bishops say. They offer a plethora of resources to help all of us to better understand and appreciate the sacrament of marriage, as does the Diocese of Davenport.
It seems appropriate at this time to share some insights about marriage from a couple living out the sacrament for more than 75 years. Marie protests that she and Norbert have done nothing special; they simply trust in God. They entered marriage as faithful Catholics, but not as experts in how the sacrament works. That’s true of most marriages, according to Pope Francis. The Holy Father observes that marriage is not a sacrament that is necessarily entered into with full understanding. “It is not uncommon for couples to discover ‘the fullness of God’s plan’ for marriage after their wedding day, when they have begun to experience family life.”
The union of one woman and one man in a covenant relationship, with God as its center comprise the foundation for the domestic church. Whether they realized it or not, Marie and Norbert began building that foundation the moment each said, “I do.”
Together they raised seven children (one died 20 years ago), taking them to daily Mass and observing all of the holy days of obligation. Back then, Marie spent a lot of time chauffeuring the kids to and from their activities while Norbert worked on their farm. “You have your tasks, your work, and you just do it,” Marie said. They’ve borne their crosses as do other married couples, but always relied on God to see them through. “We have faith in our Lord; we do a lot of praying,” Marie said. “Prayer has been an important part of our lives since we got married.”
They have little spats now and then, but kiss and make up and tell each other they’re sorry. Their apartment is within sight of their parish, St. Mary Catholic Church in Fairfield. They say morning prayers and evening prayers together. When people congratulate them on the longevity of their marriage, Marie says they give credit to the Lord. “We’re both so blessed and we tell each other that. We’re so blessed.”
Notice some key elements that go into Marie and Norbert’s experience of the sacrament: trust in God, strengthened through prayer; humility, self-sacrifice, forgiveness. Those elements combine to create love. That’s what young Catholics — children, teens and adults — need to witness in their daily lives if we desire for marriage as a sacrament to thrive.
That witness will help us to boost the number of Catholics choosing to marry in the church. In 2014, 436 couples married in parishes in the Davenport Diocese. A decade earlier, 541 marriages were recorded in the diocese. But, in order for the young to be exposed to good witnesses, we need to offer their parents support and resources from the start and throughout the stages of marriage.
Here are resources for you to checkout:
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)
• For Your Marriage www.foryourmarriage.org
• Marriage: Unique for a Reason
• Bishop’s Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty http://tinyurl.com/zjltk55
• National Marriage Week http://tinyurl.com/zc525wb
Diocese of Davenport
• Marriage and Family website http://tinyurl.com/jajlpad
“The sacraments are not decorations in life — what a beautiful marriage, what a beautiful ceremony, what a beautiful banquet,” Pope Francis said in his address to the Pilgrimage of Families, Oct. 26, 2013. “But that is not the sacrament of marriage. That is a decoration! Grace is not given to decorate life, but rather to make us strong in life, giving us courage to go forward!” — Taken from “A Year of Mercy with Pope Francis
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor