Bishop Stika presided at the Mass Feb. 9 at St. Mary Church in Athens, where couples were recognized for their commitment to the sacrament of marriage. It was the second of three marriage Masses scheduled across the diocese.
The Whitakers shared the secret to their successful marriage.
“Bob and I are walking with the Lord,” Mrs. Whitaker said. “I was between 20 and 21 when I married, and to think that you pick your life partner at such a young age. We are in love with the Lord.”
She said that love of Christ helped her and Bob continue to remain in love with each other.
“It’s another facet of sharing your life. You share your children, living together, finances, decisions, and everything, but now in walking with the Lord you can share that, which is such a big part. That’s what takes you through the hurdles.”
In his homily, Bishop Stika cited the alarmingly high statistic of marriages that end in divorce. He reminded the parishioners that marriage is a sacrament that is “lived each day, moment by moment.” Long-term marriages, he said, show “that it is possible…you just can’t give up.”
“You are a witness to the sacrament,” Bishop Stika said.
Karen Burry, wife of Deacon Dean Burry, who serves at Holy Family Church in Seymour, said that when her husband was going through the diaconate formation, the process presented no challenges to their marriage of more than 30 years, but the formation allowed them to “learn together” and strengthen their marriage.
“We’re more Christ-centered,” Mrs. Burry said, adding that the benefits of the diaconate formation on their marriage extend to the entire family.
The youngest married couple was Ashley and Miguel Maria, who will be celebrating their third anniversary in June. While Mrs. Maria is an East Tennessee native, Mr. Maria is from Queens, N.Y., but decided to relocate to East Tennessee after marriage so his wife could be closer to her family.
“It’s inspiring to me and Miguel to see that marriages can last,” Mrs. Maria said, admiring the older couples.
During the marriage Mass, which was concelebrated by St. Mary pastor Father William Oruko, couples were led by Bishop Stika in renewing their wedding vows and in a special prayer for married couples:
“Heavenly Father, we thank you for all your blessings to us. We thank you for all things that have enriched our lives, for all people who have blessed us with their love and friendship. We thank you for our marriage, for our homes and families and friends. Give us, o Lord, this further blessing, that as we have freely received, so we may freely give. Conform and strengthen our marriages that our homes may be to us, and to friends and strangers, a place of joy and gladness. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord.
After the Mass, the diocesan Office of Marriage Preparation and Enrichment hosted a luncheon that included a “cake-cutting” by couples that had been married more than 60 years and the Whitakers. The couples received certificates in recognition of their marriages.
Another mass to celebrate married couples will be held March 9 at St. Patrick’s Church in Morristown.