By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
PARKVILLE — Joey Naumann celebrated his fourth birthday on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 5.
Recovering from a bout of pneumonia, Joey began to dig into the plate of favorite foods his mother, Dee Dee, had prepared for him.
Then suddenly, Joey realized he was not quite recovered. He lost his dinner — three times — as a house full of adult guests lined up at the buffet table.
“Squeamish as I am in such circumstances,,” admitted Joey’s granduncle, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., “I quickly moved as far away as I could get from the guest of honor.”
Then the archbishop watched in amazement as Joey’s parents immediately sprung into action. David, the boy’s father, picked him up and headed to the restroom to clean him up while his mother cleaned up the mess off the floor, and everywhere else,
It was the essence of parenthood, of family, of marriage, Archbishop Naumann told scores of couples in his homily at a special World Marriage Day Mass celebrated Feb. 12 at St. Therese Parish in Parkville.
“This little episode of the reality of family life reminded me of a theological symposium I attended at the University of Notre Dame while I was serving on the Bishops’ Committee for Marriage and Family,” Archbishop Naumann said.
“One of the presenters spoke about the importance of helping married couples appreciate how the living out of the marriage is realized in thousands of daily and seemingly inconsequential decisions to love each other, to place the good of one’s spouse and one’s children before one’s own wants and desires,” the archbishop said.
“He challenged us to help couples realize the importance of their marriage and their family for the community, for society, for the nation, and for the church (in) the impact of these seemingly small choices to pick the Cheerios out of the hair of their toddler, or to do the dishes or the laundry, or to call your spouse in the middle of the day, or to clean up vomit off the floor while at the same time attempting to comfort and console the vomitee,” he said.
Those acts, small or large, of unconditional love bind a marriage, a family, and thus society, Archbishop Naumann said.
“Marriage is the most essential and fundamental institution upon which culture, society the nation and even the church depend,” he said.
“Marriage is the foundation for the family which provides the optimum environment for the formation of the next generation,” he told the couples who came from both sides of the state line, many of them bringing their children with them, to renew their vows of matrimony at a Mass celebrated by Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn and concelebrated by Archbishop Naumann.
Sponsored by the Family Life offices of both dioceses, the Mass also served to remind the couples that Christ stands with them at the center of their marriages.
Himself raised by a single parent, his mother, Archbishop Naumann noted the courage it takes for one parent to raise a family alone, and congratulated single parents “who heroically strive to foster a rich and healthy family life for their children.”
“I know how difficult it is,” he said.
But two-parent families, with a couple united in a committed bond for life, are “fundamental and essential” as the building blocks of a civilized society, he said.
He noted that when Blessed Pope John Paul II visited Archbishop Naumann’s and Bishop Finn’s native St. Louis in 1999, he stressed the importance of family.
“Our Holy Father declared, ‘As the family goes, so goes the nation,’” Archbishop Naumann said.
“We might add to our Holy Father’s declaration, “As marriage goes, so goes the family, and as the family goes so goes the nation.’” he said.
But sometimes, as couples perform the small, routine tasks demanded of family life, it is difficult for them “to grasp the bigger picture,” the archbishop said.
“Family life is the principle social institution for fostering the values that are the foundation for civilization,” he said.
But it isn’t easy because for a marriage to thrive, each spouse must promise their love freely and unconditionally to the other.
“The vows that couples make on the day of their marriage are breathtaking because of the permanent and unconditional pledge they make to each other,” Archbishop Naumann said.
“To make such a promise, a couple must have the most profound trust in each other. However, that is not enough, because they do not pledge to love the other only if this love is reciprotacted,” he said.
Instead, “a husband promises to love his wife and a wife to love her husband no matter what the other may do,” the archbishop said.
“If they are constantly waiting for the other to show love first, or they condition their own striving to love their spouse on the other taking the first initiative, then they will find their love in perpetual stalemate,” Archbishop Naumann said.
The kind of unconditional love required by Christian marriage is possible only through Christ, he said.
“To be able to love in this unconditional way, not just for a day or a season or a year, but for a lifetime, requires the grace of God,” the archbishop said. “It is not possible to love in the manner a Christian marriage requires without God giving one the strength and generosity.”
Marriage is a calling from God, Archbishop Naumann said.
“In our Christian understanding of marriage, it is not a man and a woman that choose each other,” he said. “It is God who calls a couple to love each other. God calls them to complete, to make whole one another.”
When a marriage is strong, it can be “an instrument of evangelization for the world” as an example and witness of Christ’s love.
“The church admires how married love resembles Christ’s love, and how just as Christ through his love has saved the church, so a couple through their love save each other helping each other grow in patience and holiness,” Archbishop Naumann said.
“The path is not always easy, but because a couple strives to be faithful to Christ, Christ is faithful to them and will help them accomplish what on their own would be impossible,” he said.