What Can Separate Us from the Love of God?

Homily: Golden Wedding Anniversary of Joe & Jenny Ordoñez

Today we come together in the Shrine of our Lady of Peñafrancia in Naga from different parts of the world to celebrate a Golden Wedding Anniversary. We do so with great joy!

Many, many, many years ago, after passing the Civil Engineering Board Exams, Joe accepted a job with the National Waterworks and Sewerage Authority (NAWASA), District IX. He boarded on Barlin Streed, close to his office. At that time he didn’t know that Jenny, then still and employee of the Bicol Electrical Co., (now Casureco), was also in the same boarding house. One day, over lunch, they were introduced to each other. And…the boarding house became a very interesting place to live in.

Soon afterwards, Joe was invited by his medical doctor friends to attend their medical ball. Why an engineer was invited to a medical ball beats me. It must have been his dashing good looks combined with his noted ability to dance; these may have been scarce among his doctor friends. The Lord, however, who makes many things happen, knows why Joe was being asked to the ball. Invited, he needed a date. Needing a date, he thought about Jenny. He thought, and thought, and thought and thought… but didn’t quite seem to have the courage to ask her. He wanted her to be his date, but he didn’t want to be refused. Finally, having no other choice, and truly not wanting to date anyone else, he mustered the courage to ask her.

He did. For her part, Jenny didn’t say no. What she did say, however, was more terrifying. Joe would have to win the consent of her parents.

So together they made the journey from Naga to Libmanan. At that time, with the means of transportation available, that was a long journey. Fortunately, when Jenny’s parents met Joe, they looked at Joe’s good looks and peered into the goodness of his heart; they looked at the eyes of their beloved Jenny, filled with anticipation and hope. Being good parents, they consented.

They spent that evening at the medical ball dancing. How did two people dance fifty or so years ago? They danced together, in one another’s arms, two people, man and woman moving gracefully to music as one. It’s a little different today, isn’t it? But that evening of dancing was the beautiful start of something good. Thereafter they dated each other, and got to know each other better. That boarding house in Barlin Street became the home of great expectations.

In the summer of 1959, Joe figured in a car accident and needed to be confined to the hospital for over two months. During the long period of treatment and convalescence, Jenny visited Joe every single day. With these visits, their love for each other became more intense. Joe admired Jenny for her deep religiosity, especially her love for Mary; certainly during this period of hospitalization, this religiosity was palpable. Jenny loved Joe for his simplicity, but also for his intelligence, his attitude of caring, understanding and thoughtfulness. After Joe recovered, they were married in this Shrine on September 3, 1960, already more than 50 years ago.

In the United States, and then later in Saudi Arabia, Joe worked very hard as a civil engineer. At the same time, his family grew, blessed over the years with five children: Jose John, Joy, Juliet, Joni, and Jean. Joe balanced his professional commitments with his responsibilities as a husband and family man, never forgetting birthdays nor anniversaries, working hard to keep up communications within the family, even when he was in Saudi Arabia. Then, he would write each member of the family individually, drawing forth from them stories that would help him stay involved in their lives. When it was time to send the children to college, Joe and Jenny tightened their belts, explaining to the children that a good education is the best inheritance a father could ever provide.

Of course the stories that can be told of this relationship over fifty years would be close to endless, stories of ups and down, successes and failures, struggles and defeats, challenges in the office, in the field, in schools, at home. Over the years, one realizes how easy it would have been to give up a spouse and a family for the demands of one’s professional advancement or for the demands of pleasure and comfort; how easy it would have been to have wasted the family’s resources on illegitimate relationships. Over the years, how easy it would have been to argue one’s partner down to death, to always be correct, to cease to listen, to always insist on what I want, to cease to care. How easy it would have been not to have listened to the children, to impose a Filipino parent’s will on them absolutely, to stifle growth, rather than promote it, to kill each of the children’s self and ego, rather than promote it.

In Philippine society very few events call for more celebration than a marriage. There is so much culturally-driven pomp and circumstance: the bride’s special gown, the groom’s special barong, the festive garments of the best man, the maid of honor, the groomsmen, the bride’s maids, the ring bearer, the candle bearer. For the marriage, the church is bedecked with special flowers, a special carpet is unrolled, the vestments and the vessels of the altar are festive. The reception is sometimes even more filled with ritual than the church. The ceremonial welcome, the festive speeches, the cutting and eating of the wedding cake, the release of the love doves.

It is only sad, very sad, that for many of these storybook marriages, they end up shipwrecked, disaster visiting the lives of the husband, wife, and most tragically, innocent kids.

But today, we celebrate this Golden Wedding Anniversary happily, but humbly. We celebrate not possibility, but reality. Less with the romantic dreams of young lovers, more with the loving realism of two people who over 50 years have been through it all, and have stayed together, through thick and thin. It is celebrated less with the ambition of young lovers wishing to conquer the world with the poetry of their love, and more with the gratitude of old lovers, each conscious of their vulnerabilities and sinfulness, each knowing that in times of trouble, temptation and crisis, there was God’s presence and God’s love turned toward them beyond deserving. Always, there was sufficient grace. Theirs therefore, from experience, may have been the words of St. Paul: “If God is for us, who can be against us? … Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Trial, or distress, or persecution, or hunger, or nakedness , or danger, of the sword? … I am certain that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future, nor powers, neither height nor depth nor any other creature, will be able to separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And if it is God’s love that binds us, binds you together in heeding God’s commandment to “Love one another, as I have loved you” – absolutely – then you too in awe can say, “What can ever separate us from our love for one another?” Certainly not trail, nor distress, nor hunger, nor the sword! Not even death! That is the real demand of your loving after 50 years of married live. In God’s name, nothing can separate you from each other. Nothing. Not even death!

So we celebrate with great humility, but with great joy! May the Father who through His Son is the source, power, and finality of your free love, continue to bless you in your love for each other, and use your love – His love – as a source of blessing for us all!

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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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