For the past twenty five years, I have always celebrated our wedding anniversaries by taking my wife out to dinner, giving her flowers, cards, and such. This year I almost paid the same level of attention to our 25th anniversary, which would’ve been a big mistake. Why? Simply put, the silver 25th belongs in the same class of wedding anniversaries as the golden 50th and platinum 60th. They are so special that we should strive to make each one a monument in our lives. Here are some ideas on how to do just that.
Keep Holy the Anniversary Day
Months leading to our silver anniversary, my wife told me that she was taking a day off from work on the day of our anniversary. My knee-jerk response was to tell her that I would finish work earlier than usual so we can celebrate longer. Obviously, we weren’t on the same page. God must’ve known this because every day after that, I felt Him nudging me from within to reconsider my plans. Thankfully, I decided to listen and set that entire day aside for our anniversary.
When the big day arrived, my wife and I went to Mass first thing in the morning. Afterward, we went to my favorite church and prayed the Rosary. The church was empty, which made our visit with Our Lady and Our Lord more intimate than usual. What followed was an unforgettable day together that included great restaurants, boat rides downtown on the river, shopping, and even a personal encounter with two of my favorite musicians. If it weren’t for my wife, I would’ve missed a truly unforgettable day filled with blessings.
The Third Commandment binds all Catholics to keep Holy the Sabbath, which includes not working on Sundays. This allows us to please God by giving more of ourselves to Him. By that same token, we give more to our marriage and God by not working on our wedding anniversary. So take the day off, go to Mass, pray together, and celebrate the entire day with your spouse.
Renew your Nuptial Vows
Due to scheduling conflicts with my church, we renewed our vows two weeks after our anniversary. The ceremony was in the Old Rite, and took place on a Saturday morning immediately after praying the Tridentine Latin Low Mass together as a family. I knew the occasion would be special, yet the magnitude of its profoundness surprised me. For starters, my wife looked exceptionally beautiful that day. She had a glow about her that really captured my attention, and her white veil magnified her beauty even more.
As my wife and I stood next to each other at the altar, I reflected over our last thirty years together (five of those were years of dating). My reflections quickly deepened when the priest began his allocution by saying, “A quarter of a century ago you stood together hand in hand as you do today before the ageless Christ.” It continued to deepen, when he said, “Reflect for a moment, half of your lives are over. What do you have to show for it? Material things? They come and go, and give little to immortalize us.”
Then came the moment when we faced each other. I looked into her eyes, held her right hand, and renewed my wedding vows. At that moment, a sense of clarity and certainty suddenly came over me. It was something I’ve never experienced.
Twenty five years ago, the seriousness of marriage created a small amount of doubt in me on our wedding day. The reality of no turning back after the big “I do” hit me. The “until death do us part” of our vows, not to mention thoughts of all the unknown hardships and challenges that awaited us, created room for uncertainty. This time, however, I had no inkling of doubt and my certainty was clear.
I attribute this to my reflections of the last thirty years of marriage. I realized the overwhelming majority of those years were filled with more good times than bad. Also, today we are now much closer to God and each other than ever before. When I combined these realizations with the fruits of our marriage, particularly our grown children; I was overwhelmed with a great sense of gratitude.
The ceremony concluded with the Te Deum prayer followed by the finishing prayers in Latin and English, and then ended with a kiss. Afterward, I really felt like a newly “re-wed.” This must have been what my Dad alluded to when he told us on our wedding day that our love for each other is like wine. It can only get better in time if we make God the foundation of our marriage.
Go on another Honeymoon Together
My wife had the brilliant idea of booking a trip to the same place in Mexico where we went for our honeymoon a quarter century ago. Still feeling like newly re-weds, we left for our second honeymoon a week after the ceremony. Naturally, there were plenty of moments when we revisited memory lane, but the best ones of the honeymoon were when I found myself in the “present moment” with my wife. In those moments, I found myself looking forward to spending the rest of my life with her.
Your honeymoon doesn’t have to be at the same place of your first honeymoon, as long as it's a honeymoon. No kids, no work, just the two of you. You owe it to each other.
Celebrate for More than One Day
It's great to wake up on the day of your anniversary and wish each other a happy anniversary. It's even better when it's said and celebrated well beyond that day. As you can tell from above, we spent about a month celebrating our silver anniversary. Moreover, we began and ended each of those days by saying “happy anniversary” to each other. I realize this may sound ridiculous or cheesy (and I get it), but a couple’s ability to do this after twenty five years or more is very telling of where their marriage is.
Build Upon Three Foundational Keys
After twenty five years of matrimony, I have come to embrace three keys to a Godly marriage. When used as the foundation, couples can build long lasting marriages worthy of being monuments in God’s eye. The foundational keys are:1) Keep God at the top, 2) have the desire and focus to help each other reach Heaven, and 3) replace the attachment for each other with charity.
The first key came from my mother just before I got married. While drawing a triangle in the air with her finger, she told my wife and me to always keep God at the very top of our marriage triangle. She went on to explain that if we label the top point of the triangle “God,” and label one bottom point husband, and the other wife; we come up with the best marriage imaginable. Many years later, I was thinking about this triangle and decided to draw it on a napkin. The truth in her advice jumped out at me when I noticed how the space between husband and wife increased as either one slid “down” their respective side of the triangle “away” from God. Adversely, I also noticed how both became “closer” to each other as they moved upwards “toward” God. She was so right. Every marriage desperately needs God. Without Him, we only have reason, feelings, emotions and passions to guide us; all of which, can easily be misguiding and harmful.
The second key came from my discovery of Blessed Charles (Karl) von Habsburg, past Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, and his wife Empress Zita. After their wedding, he turned to her and said, “Now we must help each other to go to heaven.” This was their ultimate goal. They understood that anything they achieved on earth wouldn’t have mattered much if they ended up in Hell.
Think about it. Saint Matthew said in Matthew 16:26, “For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul? Most people relate this passage with worldly material things, but few include their marriage and its gains with the words “gain the whole world”. We know from 1 Corinthians 13:13 that in the end; there remain faith, hope, and charity (notice love doesn’t appear in lieu of charity because there’s a significant difference between the two).” Everything else is temporal, including our earthly marriage. Regardless the number of years a marriage lasts, the amount of happy memories are made, how great of a parent or grandparent one is, how special each spouse made the other feel, etc.; our place in Heaven is jeopardized if we die in a state of mortal sin.
Blessed Charles understood the danger of mortal sin. In fact, while suffering on his death bed he included in his prayer, “let them die (referring to his children) rather than commit a mortal sin. Amen.”[i]People like him understand the last four things: Death, Judgment, Hell, Heaven[ii], which were once bedrock Catholic teachings, but have virtually disappeared in Catholic discourse these days. If we truly understand these four basic teachings, we would want nothing more than to spend eternity with our spouse as well. The dreadful thought of not being in Heaven with our spouse should be at the top of every married couple’s mind
Now onto the third and most profound key: replacing our attachment to our spouse with charity. I learned this from Fr. Chad Ripperger, an exorcist and theologian. During one of his conferences, in which he was talking about detaching ourselves from all earthly things, he included our spouse to the list of earthly things. When I heard this, I couldn’t help but scratch my head. “Why should I be detached from my wife?” I wondered. It was the opposite of what I thought made a successful marriage. It just didn’t make sense.
Then he went on to explain: “When you love God, and then you love your wife for God’s sake (which is what charity is according to St. Thomas Aquinas), you’re no longer attached to your wife. You’re attached to God, but it means that from that charity will flow rightly ordered affections, desire to see what is right for them, doing better for them. In fact, your love will be more consistent. . . When a person has charity; the kindness, the patience, the affections, the solicitude that they’re going to pay to their spouse will actually be more consistent, more authentic, and deeper.” [iii]
It made perfect sense to me. The love, kindness, patience, etc. is the cart in a marriage, and God is the proverbial horse that pulls it. Sadly, too many people put the cart before the horse or eliminate the horse altogether. When we attach ourselves to God out of charity and put Him in front of the cart, happiness on earth with our spouse will naturally ensue. When we live true charity, we cannot have a bad marriage. This is affirmed by St. Thomas Aquinas’ statement, “Charity is incapable of anything that is against its nature. Wherefore charity cannot sin at all, even as neither can heat cool nor unrighteousness do good.”[iv]
By replacing our attachments with charity, even the worst marriages will change for the better. It doesn’t matter what sins have existed or continue to exist in a marriage. A marriage that has been tainted with the sins of fornication, contraception, adultery, and so on - can still be saved. God loves us so much that He left us the Sacraments to get ourselves and our marriages back into the state of grace that He wants for us. By striving to stay in a state of grace, our marriage has a better chance of becoming a monument in God’s eyes.
[i] Married Saints and Blesseds Through the Centuries, by Ferdinand Holböck, Ignatius Press p.447
[ii] Fr. Chad Ripperger’s conferences about the last four things. Another great source to learn about the four last things is Fr. Isaac Mary Relyea’s Mission talks (Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell)
[iii] Fr. Chad Ripperger’s “Interior Freedom” conference (found at the 18:33 minute/second mark of video)
[iv] Aquinas Summa Theologica II-II, 24,11