On Sunday 22 October, St Patrick’s Cathedral was filled with excitement as many couples joined the usual 11am Mass to celebrate significant marriage anniversaries. Celebrating from five to 60-plus years of marriage, more than 110 couples received their anniversary certificates from Archbishop Peter A Comensoli and publicly renewed their vows. In his homily for the Mass, the Archbishop said that Christian marriage finds its foundations in two words: ‘grace and peace’.

Before families and extended families, Archbishop Comensoli reflected on his experience with a Catholic youth group called Antioch, which operated when he younger. One of things that struck him about that ministry was that it was always led by a married couple. ‘Not an individual adult leader, but a couple, witnessing to the domestic church.’

This model was always ‘deeply appealing’ to him because it spoke to how the Church is formed.

‘Christian discipleship is not built up by a professional class of leaders who show the way, nor [by] individuals who model a set of skills and capacities to be emulated. Rather, discipleship blossoms within the witnessing to a way of life that is formed in faith, hope and love,’ he said.

Remarking on St Paul’s words from the Sunday epistle, the Archbishop said that grace and peace, Paul’s wishes for the community he was writing to, were the foundation of marriage.

Marriage is a gift of oneself to another, an investment of oneself in another. It is a gift that can be given and received. Remembering that God is love, then, the gift of love that spouses give to each other is a grace. But it comes with the call to peace—that is, the call to be reconciled, to seek the good of each other.

‘I have said on occasion that a married couple are the only ones who can truly say, “We want world peace.” What do I mean? Simply this. If two people can be so reconciled to each other in the bond of marriage, then it can also be so for a family. And if a family, then a community. And if a community, then a nation. And if a nation, then the world.’

‘God so loved the world that he gave his only son, the Bridegroom, that we, his Bride, might be saved,’ he said.

To the couples celebrating their anniversary, he said, ‘Thank you for being witnesses of peace in a world so desperately in need of it. Continue to strive to be reconciled to each other, and to witnessing in grace to the possibility that two can be one body. Thank you for being a married couple, in all its ups and downs, its hurts and healings, its griefs and joys; and happy anniversary to you all.’

Following the homily, the couples publicly renewed their vows, many with deep and obvious emotion.

On 22 October, the Church ordinarily celebrates the feast day of Pope St John Paul II, a pope widely recognised for his contribution to the theology of marriage.

He was an ardent proponent of the Second Vatican Council’s description of marriage and the family as the domestic church (Lumen Gentium, §11)—that is, a loving communion of persons that reveals to us ‘in miniature’ the deepest nature of the Church.

One of the couples present for the Mass were Anushka and Hashika, who were celebrating their 10th anniversary. Anushka says they have both been deeply influenced by Pope John Paul II, especially by what some regard as his ‘magnum opus’—his series of Wednesday audiences that became known as the theology of the body.

‘Theology of the body has had a great impact on our relationship,’ she says.

Along with the formation they have received in Pope John Paul II’s theology—and through their devotion to particular saints such as St Anthony, St Teresa of Kolkata and St Thérèse of Lisieux—Anushka feels blessed to have been surrounded by people who have modelled good marriages.

Although they first met in 2001 in their homeland of Sri Lanka, Hashika then moved to Australia. It was only later, in 2011, that they started dating after Anushka caught up with him in Australia.

‘Unfortunately, as he lived in Melbourne and I lived in Sri Lanka, it was mostly a long-distance relationship, which came with its own set of challenges … The time-difference was especially hard, and Hashika had to stay up well into the night to be able to talk to me after I got home from work,’ she says. ‘In our journey, we also asked many people to pray for us as we took this decision.’

Although they encountered negative stereotypes about marriage, Anushka says that ‘the biggest surprise is how good it’s been!’

‘It has honestly brought us closer to each other and closer to God because we have to rely more and more on him—especially when more and more of our weaknesses come out,’ she explains.

Marriage has been an opportunity for both of them to grow and come to terms with the flaws and the strengths they weren’t aware they had.

‘Marriage has brought out a whole side of me and Hashika that we didn’t know was there before. I thought I was a very patient person, but little did I know that patience was one virtue severely lacking in me. Similarly, there have been challenges that I didn’t know I could handle until I did,’ Anushka says.

They both see God’s grace at work in their relationship, even through the various challenges they encounter as a married couple.

‘We try to realise that God can use challenges to mould us, and we try to be intentional in responding to each other with God’s grace rather than our own nature—however, this is still very much a work in progress.’

‘Hopefully in the last ten years we have been instrumental in bringing the other person closer to God. In and through the good times and bad, we compel each other to get closer to him, and we hope that he gives us the grace to continue doing that,’ she says.

Anushka and Hashika try to nurture their marriage by maintaining a weekly date night, doing new things together and sharing in one another’s interests. ‘I go to the footy even though I am clueless about it!’ Anushka says. They also strive to pray individually and together.

Anushka recommends couples not be afraid to both pray and reach out to others in their struggles.

‘When things are tough (and they definitely will be), take it to prayer, battle it out with God and don’t feel bad or embarrassed to reach out and ask someone you respect to pray with you. There is so much to gain from praying and talking to an older couple who have gone through the seasons of marriage and learning from them.’