Couples renew marital covenant

ORLANDO | Couples of all ages desiring to renew their commitment to one another and the Sacrament of Marriage filled St. James Cathedral in Orlando Feb. 9, a prelude to World Marriage Day. Bishop John Noonan spoke to them about their great witness of love and blessed them as the couples renewed their vows. Originally celebrated as the part of the Diocese of Orlando’s 25th anniversary, the formerly named Wedding Anniversary Mass, honored marriages of 25 and 50 years. Recognizing the importance of each anniversary as a call to Sacrament, a covenant of fidelity with God, the celebration was renamed Mass for Marriage in 2017.

For many couples, the Mass is a significant annual event. Tomás and Mercedes Díaz have participated for four years. Married in August 1976 in Guacara, Venezuela, Tomás says they attend “first of all because we believe in marriage. It also renews the commitment we made to Jesus when we were married. It gives us great joy to see the couples who have been married 50, 60, 70 years and still love one another.”

“They are holding hands, standing close, like love birds. It fills us with joy,” notes Mercedes. “They’re an example for us. We see that we can persevere together until the Lord calls us home,” adds Tomás.

Married 42 years, the Good Shepherd parishioners keep the spark in their marriage by participating in World Wide Marriage Encounter (WWME). In 2002, they noticed their marriage becoming monotonous. “We were stagnant. Our conversation was about the house, the children and work,” recalls Mercedes. Then a pastor at their local parish in Venezuela spoke about World Wide Marriage Encounter. Tomás was not keen on the idea, but agreed to go. “That is where I came to understand the time we had wasted… not being in that full union,” he said. In gratitude to God, they joined the WWME team in 2005 and eventually became presenters. They moved to the U.S. in 2009 and picked up their service once again, now leading Spanish retreats.

“Our first weekend, we came to know ourselves better and each other. It gave us a chance to speak about topics we had never before broached,” said Mercedes. “We realized what the Sacrament of Marriage is—that to love is a decision.”

“I can say that I have the love of God, but if I choose not to love my partner each day, then I do not have the love of God within me. All that helped us decide to make our marriage a priority, before home, children and other things. That has helped us maintain our vibrant relationship and keep the flame of love ignited.”

Reordering priorities is what brought Marco and Michelle Robles of Most Precious Blood Parish to the special Mass for the first time. Married five years ago, Marco said, “I thought it would be a nice opportunity to spend some time with my wife. We’ve kind of gotten in the habit of just going day by day with our 2-year old, so having a chance to refocus on each other was a great opportunity.” He added, “It helped us see how far we’ve come in just those five years, but also prepare for hopefully many, many more years to come. Seeing how much our faith plays a role in a successful marriage, to have that partner be there with you and help you be accountable and to share in your faith, helps you be able to work out those hardships and things that, in today’s society, drive couples apart.” He noted that seeing so many strong marriages “gives us something to strive toward.”


Paul and Robin Ring were married at Divine Mercy Parish in Merritt Island in 1984. It is still their home parish. For the last three years they have made the drive to Orlando to “honor the Sacrament of Marriage,” says Robin. Both are also involved in marriage ministry through WWME. As leaders for the Central and Northeast Florida region, Robin says WWME has helped “keep our relationship a priority and allows us to communicate openly and honestly.”

Paul explained, “Before marriage encounter, I pretty much kept everything inside. Going to marriage encounter helped me express my feelings to Robin so she’s not guessing.”

The retreat was a 25th anniversary gift to themselves much like each vow renewal at Mass for Marriage. It is something they do to strengthen their bond, but happy marriages take work and that is why the Rings have stuck with WWME. “It’s helped me get to know myself and Paul better,” said Robin. Paul likes that “We’re not just communicating on a superficial level.”

Both the Díaz and Ring families agree improved communication has been integral to their success as a couple. “You have to be able to understand yourself and be able to share that,” said Robin. The couples agree that sharing feelings more openly, in a loving and respectful way has helped them fend of difficulties down the line.

“This is worth it. We are many couples who believe in marriage and in the daily struggle to remain the best couple we can be, with God,” said Tomás. “As the bishop reminded us, we should be the sign of God’s love on earth.”

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic – February 11, 2019

New Video: Rite reveals beauty and gift of chastity

ORLANDO | Marianne Cano walked down the aisle of St. James Cathedral in Orlando dressed in a long white gown and filled with irrepressible joy. The day she awaited and prepared for since her youth, to become a “bride of Christ”, was here. Surrounded by family and guests from as far away as Dominican Republic, she was consecrated to a life of virginity. Cano, who attends Ascension Parish in Melbourne, is the first woman to become a publicly professed consecrated virgin in the Diocese of Orlando. The rite dates back to the apostolic era and was revived after Vatican II.

Pursuing this path for more than 20 years, Cano began private formation with a spiritual director in 2013 after learning of the Rite of Solemn Consecration to a Life of Virginity. After petitioning Bishop John Noonan, Cano entered her final phase of formation with Sister of Saint Joseph, Kathleen Power in January 2018. “The restoration of this ancient Rite in the church impacts each one of us as laity, priests, deacons, consecrated religious, and widows,” said Sister Power. “This wonderful consecrated virgin stands as an icon of all of us in the Church publicly… It is another way to consecrate yourself to Christ in the world as laity. Having the chance to participate in Marianne’s formation has enlightened me and brought me great joy!”

Cano’s mother, Marta Menendez Cano, said her daughter has “been a consecrated person on her own since she was a teenager… daily Mass would not be missed by her, no matter what was going on in her life.” She added, “Marianne has been with the Lord all her life. This is her wish coming true. She has officially found what she did not know existed.”

As Sister Power called Cano to come forth, her attendant and fellow consecrated virgin, Magalis Aguilera, lit a brass lamp recalling Matt. 25. The story speaks of 10 virgins who awaited their bridegroom, Christ, but only five were prepared at his arrival. Cano was ready and eager, singing her response with ardor.

“Marianne, God has called you and has led you to this moment in your life. You are to be united to God and to dedicate your life and service to God and his people,” Bishop John Noonan told Cano in his homily. Referring to the reading from Is 62:1-5 as well as the new bond between her and Christ, he added, “This new relationship will be like the intimate bond between a husband and wife; they will no longer be forsaken or desolate, but will become one – the delight and the espoused of the Lord. …to cultivate an intimate relationship with God calls for making God’s presence real and vibrant in our life.” To do this, he encouraged her to speak with God in prayer.

“Marianne, the Scriptures reveal so much to us about God and our faith… Unfortunately, too many Christians today do not know or believe in God. Jesus has become a personality not a person, set in dogma and doctrine… Pope Emeritus Benedict reminds us that Jesus cannot be an object, but must become the subject of our lives. Jesus is not only beside us, but dwells in us. It is God’s grace that gives us the knowledge and strength to make Jesus the subject of our lives… Marianne, prayer is our only means and source of cultivating and strengthening our relationship with God.”

Cano resolved to persevere in the holy state of virginity, to follow Christ in the spirit of the Gospel as a faithful witness to God’s love and a convincing sign of the kingdom of heaven, and to accept solemn consecration as a bride Christ, the Son of God.

Taking her hands in his, Bishop Noonan prayed the Prayer of Consecration: “…Lord, look with favor on your handmaid. She places in your hands her resolve to live in chastity. You inspire her to take this vow; now she gives you her heart… She has chosen you above all things; may she find all things in possessing you.”

Visibly moved, Cano then received a veil as a symbol of her dedication to Christ; a ring, marking her as a bride of Christ; and the Liturgy of the Hours, the prayer of the Church. All will serve as reminders of her betrothal and commitment to supporting the diocese in prayer and deed.

The ceremony crystallized Cano’s greatest yearning. Her emotions are summed up in in a letter she wrote to Bishop Noonan in November 2017, when she requested permission for consecration. “Since my youth, I have recited repeatedly this scripture passage: ‘Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart’ (Ps 37:4). Reflecting upon my spiritual journey, I now see that contemplating Jesus, particularly in His passion and death on the cross, has actually transformed my heart into one that longs only to please Him and quench His thirst for souls. Indeed, He Himself is and forever will be the fulfillment of all my desires!”

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic – January 21, 2019

Enhanced organ makes joyful sounds

ORLANDO | How many are aware that the organ is the king of instruments? Those participating in liturgies at St. James Cathedral will experience the level or prayer to heaven just raised even higher because of a brand new makeover of the pipe organ at St. James Cathedral. Adam Brakel, director of music for the Diocese of Orlando and Cathedral of St. James, explains the cathedral organ is “in the realm of American Classic.” Adding, “Now it has a little more leaning toward the Romantic era.”

Brakel hopes the improvements will encourage the congregation to participate more and perhaps lure other talented musicians from around the world to share their gift of God with concerts at the Cathedral in Orlando. He explained the former organ was lacking foundations, the rich 8 foot stops. “The foundations allow for better singing and add that rich undertone of warmth,” said Brakel. “It’s like adding surround sound to a television. The number one thing the untrained ear hears first is the bass and the pedal.”

The Cathedral originally purchased the Wick’s pipe organ in 1985 to honor its 100th anniversary. It was dedicated on October 27, 1985 at a solemn vespers service with Bishop Thomas Grady and Father David Page, the Cathedral’s rector at the time. Although the instrument has been refurbished over the years, the current updates add to its caliber. Brakel will prove it with a masterful performance during a rededication concert at St. James Cathedral on January 18.

In layman’s terms, Brakel explains the improvements by comparing them to an orchestra. “We added more violins and tubas to really round out the foundation, the base of everything. The pipes represent the human voice and actually produce wind, like in an orchestra. The stops are like each particular section of an orchestra such as flutes and strings. Now we are really able to incorporate a proper orchestra because we have all the necessary bass.”

Brakel, an internationally renowned organist who began playing the piano at age 3, promises you’ll hear a “grander and much more aggressive sound—enough to fill the space for liturgies and concerts.” Various other digital additions bring the organ’s value to an estimated $1.5 million. The enhancements include “a few 32 foots in the pedal to give you the rumble of the building which you will hear as well as feel.” When he offered a demonstration, the vibration could be felt throughout the choir loft of the Cathedral.

The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy affirms the role of the pipe organ, “…the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man’s mind to God and to higher things.” (CSL n. 120) The enhancements made to this already fine instrument will provide greater support for singing by providing a sure foundation of sound that will not only be heard, but felt.

“The additions really make this a gem and makes it one of the finer organs around,” he said. Brakel prays the new sound will assist him, his singers and the faithful community to deepen their connection with the Creator. “It’s a labor of love and, blessedly it’s a natural gift that I’ve been given by God,” he said. “It’s wonderful to do what you love and return to God what God has given you every day through your profession.”

Brakel will play the organ at its Rededication Jan. 18, at St. James Cathedral in Orlando, from 7:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic – January 9, 2019

Celebrating faith and friendship on the 50th Anniversary of the Diocese of Orlando

The 50th anniversary of the Diocese of Orlando is not just a celebration for Catholics across Central Florida. It is a time of remembrance, prayer, and thanksgiving shared with many different faith leaders. Bishop John Noonan made that abundantly clear with his message of “we remember, we celebrate, we believe” at St. James Cathedral on June 18.

Bishop welcomed members of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida – addressing them as dear friends. Six men sat side by side in solidarity in front of the altar, some of them Christian, some of them not. “It’s very important that we see one another and see one another as not individuals, but made in the image and likeness of God,” said bishop.

Father John Hamatie, pastor of St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church, prayed “Show us your mercy, Lord… May no evil desires prevail over us, for your glory and love dwell in our hearts.”

Dr. Joel Hunter of the Community Resource Network also passionately shared his love of God. “God of life, God of hope, God of all, lift us on your love like eagle’s wings,” he said. “Sustain us, guide us, heal us, then send us forth into the world that we may love as you love.” Bishop Noonan thanked the community organizer for keeping everyone informed so they may speak out on important issues like gun violence, drug abuse, homeless, poverty and more.

Bishop Noonan shared details of his close relationship Imam Muhammed Musri, president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida. They have prayed together and spent time with one another at bishop’s home. “He has helped me more than anything else to understand our brothers, especially from the Islamic tradition and faith,” explained bishop.

While these men have many differences, they are all connected by the belief that God’s love is limitless. Bishop Noonan especially acknowledged and thanked Reverend Dr. Robert Spooney of Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Institutional Church for pricking his conscience at times that called for difficult truth.

Each one gave each other handshakes, hugs and signs of peace. “We come from different countries. We come from different cultures, but we also come from different religious backgrounds,” shared bishop. “Sometimes it can be very problematic when it comes to issues of race, religion, or even culture. We want to show our community here in Orlando, we as religious leaders do pray together, do enjoy one another’s company and do uphold our people to the principles of what we’re called to be. We are called to be merciful. We are called to be faithful. We are called to walk with justice and live with peace.”

By Jennifer Drow, Florida Catholic Correspondent – June 18, 2018

The secret to a happy marriage: what newlyweds and seasoned marriages have in common

The fact that fewer couples are committing to marriage is not news. In fact, Pew Research indicates only half the adults in the U.S. are married—mostly because couples are opting to live with their partners and raise children outside of the marital covenant. In the secular world, marriage is almost frowned upon, so that marriage as a Sacrament fulfilled through, with and in the love of God is portrayed as outdated.  It seems even less are willing to offer this Sacramental commitment.  So, we asked, What is the secret to a successful sacramental marriage?

Shirley and Earnest Maxwell from Ascension Parish in Melbourne celebrated their 66th anniversary on Jan. 2. The couple met at a dance when Shirley was just 17-years old and Earnest was 20. He was a tall, sandy haired sergeant in the Air Force with “a nice build,” and blue eyes that caught Shirley’s attention. “He was easy to talk to. He was so much fun,” Shirley said with a laugh remembering their courtship. “It so happened that he had become Catholic just seven months before I met him.” Still, her mother did not like the fact that he was in the service.

The couple was married two years later, urged by the fact that Earnest was being sent to California. Over the next several years, they moved around as is typical with military life. “All the bases had a chapel and we went to church every Sunday,” said Shirley. She attributes that practice as the foundational success for their marriage.

Shirley said raising her four children have been her greatest joy. It was often stressful trying to balance her work in civil service and motherhood, especially while Earnest was away. She recalled that it was most difficult when, nine years after the birth of three children, she discovered she was pregnant again. They lived in Melbourne at the time and Earnest was given the choice of a position in the Florida Keys or going to Vietnam, she recalled. Struggling with the difficulties of being on her own, juggling work, motherhood and the physical absence of her husband and greatest supporter was not easy. “But we weathered the storm,” she said. “Even when things were hard, divorce was never in our brains.” Both she and Earnest’s parents had solid marriages and had been great role models.

“Faith helped through good and not so good times,” Shirley added. “If you put the Lord first in your life, it’s much easier. And of course, love, compassion and patience help.”

Natalie and Jon Canteros dated three and a half years before launching on their journey into marital bliss. They met through friends. Natalie agrees attending Mass helps strengthen the marriage. Wed on Oct. 21, 2017 at their home parish, St. James Cathedral in Orlando, Natalie says, “We make it a point to go to church together and pray together. When we go to church, if we’ve been arguing or if we disagree on something, it always brings us back to the beginning, reminding us what we find important about each other, what we love about each other, and it humbles us and grounds us.”

Pre-Cana classes were a significant part of their preparation as well. Natalie said it helped them look into all areas of their marriage and discuss them so that they could be on the same page. Father Martin Nguyen married the couple and recalls, “I was inspired by how seriously they took it (the Sacrament of Matrimony) and very touched by their understanding of the grace that the Sacrament bestows on their commitment to each other.”

Natalie says it is because, “God’s always been a part of my life and Jon’s. I feel as though God is always there and it is something that we have in common.” Jon adds that faith in God helps him show his wife what she truly means to him. “If it wasn’t for God, I would never have had the opportunity to meet her, let alone start a wonderful life with her,” he said. “Having faith in a marriage, in my eyes, is the crucial backbone to a family. I feel that we show God’s love in the love that we have for each other.”

Having respect and consideration is also something that Natalie and Jon hope will help them navigate the joys and storms that come their way. “Keeping that open line of communication is going to make this last,” Natalie says confidently. “Continuing to have God in our relationship, and trusting him through our marriage and letting him guide us will help us as we start our family.”

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic – January 24, 2018

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“For I am not ashamed of the Gospel. It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” Romans 1:16


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