February is a time to focus on marital relationships and a time to celebrate long marriages
By Marian Christiana
February is nationally recognized as the month dedicated to love and romance. Feb. 14 is Valentine’s Day, a day when people celebrate the established loving relationships in their lives or the loving relationships they are hoping to add to their lives in the New Year.
In the beginning, Valentine’s Day was associated with romantic couples but now is seen in a much larger context. Today people take the opportunity to wish “Happy Valentine’s Day” to anyone they love—be it father, mother, teachers, siblings, friends, co-workers, or anyone special to them. The idea behind this tradition is to celebrate love, be loved, and give love to all those around us.
Sharing and giving love is a wonderful idea, but why does it have to only be one day? Our Catholic faith asks us to do exactly that every day. Unfortunately we are human beings, and try as we might, we do fail to love each other as we should. Valentine’s Day is a great way to reset our attitude. The day can be a catalyst to start working on the loving relationship we want with our children, friends, siblings, coworkers, and most especially our spouses.
Our marital relationship can easily be pushed aside in the business of life, so February is a good time to refocus our attention on our marital relationship. Sometimes it helps to look to other successful married couples to help guide us along our marital journey.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) wants to help us refocus our attentions on our marital relationships during the month of February. The USCCB has used February and its message of love to recognize marriages, and the effort that it takes to maintain that sacramental bond, through the annual National Marriage Week initiative.
National Marriage Week is Feb. 5-11 this year, and the USCCB website offers resources to help all couples celebrate and live the gift of marital love. For example, the For Your Marriage and Por Tu Matrimonio websites sponsored by the USCCB offer an extensive collection of resources for couples who are married or preparing for marriage. The resources can be found in English and Spanish at ForYourMarriage.org and PorTuMatrimonio.org. Both sites also run Facebook pages (facebook.com/foryourmarriage and facebook.com/PorTuMatrimonio) that provide daily content during National Marriage Week. Check them out each day during National Marriage Week to see what new resource is being offered.
I would also like to draw your attention to two special days during National Marriage Week. One day is Friday, Feb. 9, which will promote a “Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty.” That Friday of National Marriage Week will be a day of prayer and sacrifice. The intention of the day will be for all married couples, and all in need of healing, to rely on God for their strength. More about the Call to Prayer is available at usccb.org/pray.
The second special day is Sunday, Feb. 11, World Marriage Day. World Marriage Day is sponsored by Worldwide Marriage Encounter (WWME). In 1993, Pope St. John Paul II imparted his Apostolic Blessing on World Marriage Day. As part of this celebration, WWME holds a national contest to find the longest married couple in the nation. They also recognize the longest married couple in each state. For the past two years, the Diocese of Knoxville has submitted the name and information of a couple from our diocese whose long-term marriage was nominated for this honor by their family, friends, or parish.
Our diocese has been very blessed by many long-lasting marriages, and we have had the state winners for the last two years. In 2016, Anthony (Tony) and Dorothy Kliemann from Immaculate Conception Parish in Knoxville won the longest married couple for the state and our diocese. Steve and Mary Lou Knowles, who are parishioners at St. Francis of Assisi in Fairfield Glade, represented our diocese in 2017 and won for the state as well as our diocese. The Knowleses are celebrating their 71st anniversary this year.
There is a rule that a couple is not eligible to win two years in a row. However, the Office of Marriage Preparation and Enrichment decided to share this honor with a new couple each year and run our own diocesan contest while also participating in the WWME program. As I said, our diocese is blessed with marriages that have stood the test of time, and it is a privilege to highlight just a few of them each year.
This year St. Stephen Parish in Chattanooga nominated John and Grace Gridley for the WWME longest married couple contest. On Jan. 31, the Gridleys celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary. The WWME winners will be announced in conjunction with World Marriage Day on Feb. 11. The Office of Marriage Preparation and Enrichment received 10 other nominations for our longest married couple contest from around the diocese. The marriages ranged from 53-year anniversaries to this year’s diocesan winners, the Gridleys, celebrating six decades together. Each nominee will receive a small gift from the diocese and a letter of congratulations from Bishop Richard F. Stika.
Check to see if the Gridleys won the longest married couple contest for the state of Tennessee at dioknox.org/marriage-preparation-and-enrichment/. We will highlight all of our parish winners this month and share a bit about the secrets of their success. I hope by reflecting on the long marriages of our honorees, those marriages will be a catalyst for all of us to become more loving spouses, parents, siblings, children, or friends. Happy Valentine’s Day!
“All that has been said so far would be insufficient to express the Gospel of marriage and the family, were we not also to speak of love. For we cannot encourage a path of fidelity and mutual self-giving without encouraging the growth, strengthening, and deepening of conjugal and family love…”—Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est (December, 2005)
Mrs. Christiana is coordinator of the diocesan Marriage Preparation and Enrichment Office.