by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
The archdiocese lost a great advocate for the importance of marriage with the death of Deacon Tony Zimmerman on Feb. 18.
Deacon Tony was ordained to the permanent diaconate for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in 2006, serving for more than 16 years the parish family of St. Therese in Kansas City, Missouri.
Tony and his wife Barbara met while attending St. Pius X High School. They began dating in their junior year. Tony and Barbara were married for more than 50 years and became active in Worldwide Marriage Encounter more than 40 years ago.
Tony earned a bachelor’s degree in political science, as well as a master’s degree in business administration from Rockhurst University. Tony enjoyed a successful career as a salesman. His genuine concern for his customers, his natural people and communication skills, his personal integrity and his commitment to customer satisfaction made him very effective.
Tony cared about the success of his customers. He was not just about making an initial sale. He built lifetime relationships with those he served and, in so doing, gained their future loyalty.
Serving the church for more than 16 years as a permanent deacon allowed Tony to use those same gifts to sell the Gospel of Jesus. To be a great salesman, you have to believe in your product. Nothing was more important to Deacon Tony than his friendship with Jesus and his love for Our Lord’s bride — the church.
In 2011, Deacon Tony made a career change by accepting the responsibility to lead our archdiocesan marriage and family life ministry. In many ways, I believe this was Tony’s dream job.
From his many years of involvement with Worldwide Marriage Encounter, the main priority of Tony’s life —after his Catholic faith — was his marriage and his family. Tony and Barbara had already mentored many engaged and married couples. Deacon Tony was a natural to lead our archdiocesan efforts to strengthen marriages and family life.
In his role as lead consultant of our marriage and family life office, Tony was able to follow his passion for helping married couples grow deeper in their love for each other. Under his leadership, our marriage and family life office launched the Joyful Marriage Project, inviting couples to build their dream home. These dream homes were not made of brick and mortar, but rather they are homes made of loving families, built on the foundation of married couples who daily are striving to seek each other’s good and happiness, before fulfilling their own wants and desires.
Deacon Tony brought the Evermore in Love retreat (formerly Living in Love retreat) to the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. Hundreds of couples in the archdiocese have made this transformative retreat that has helped them take their love for each other to new heights. Many couples have written notes of gratitude to me for making available this opportunity to experience God’s love and to realize the joy God desires for their marriages and families.
Secular society promotes a distorted view of love. We are constantly bombarded with messages through media and entertainment that love is about others making me happy. Our culture confuses sexual pleasure as love. In effect, it encourages us to use others to satisfy our wants and desires.
Christian marriage is a call to make the love of Jesus real and tangible for one’s spouse. Jesus revealed for us authentic love on Calvary, when he gave his life for you and me. The love of God revealed in Jesus is faithful, permanent and unconditional. The love of Christian married couples is meant to be an icon of God’s love for the world. The vocation of Christian marriage is a call to heroic love.
Jesus tells his disciples, if they want to be his followers they must be willing to lose their lives. It is a futile effort to try to make ourselves happy through the possession of things or experiences of pleasure. Instead, if we strive to seek the good of others, we will experience what Jesus terms as “abundant life.”
Our sexuality is a great and beautiful gift from God. Sexual intimacy can only be authentic within the covenant of marriage, where a man and a woman have committed themselves to each other in an unbreakable bond.
St. John Paul II, in his theology of the body, reminded us of the language of sexual intimacy, where a man and woman give themselves physically, totally to each other. This beautiful physical expression of love can only be true when the couple has pledged to seek their spouse’s good in every other aspect of their lives.
God did not make some huge mistake when he designed the physical expression of complete and total love to be the instrument where human beings can become co-creators with Our Lord of a new human life. It is in the context of the marriage covenant that new life can be welcomed into the optimal environment for a child to flourish.
This is a very different understanding of sexual intimacy than the one that is offered to us by our culture. The hookup culture trivializes the meaning of sexual intimacy. When we use God’s gifts in ways that they were not intended, we should not be surprised that sex simply for pleasure leads not to happiness but to loneliness, anxiety and depression.
Sadly, many young adults today do not aspire to marriage because they have not seen happy marriages and experienced joyful families. Part of the reason that Christianity spread so rapidly 2,000 years ago in a pagan culture that misunderstood sex and love in similar ways to our secular society was the witness of joyful Christian married couples.
I want to thank all the married couples in the archdiocese who are striving daily to live their vows to love each other faithfully, fruitfully and forever. There are no perfect marriages, no perfect families. There are, however, many very beautiful marriages and happy families.
One way to honor the life and ministry of Deacon Tony Zimmerman would be for couples to choose to invest in their marriages by making an Evermore in Love retreat. Our marriage and family life office offers many other resources and experiences to help couples develop the skills to grow deeper in their love for each other. If nothing else, make plans for a date night.
Our church and our society need your example of faithful, fruitful and forever love. We need your marriage to be an icon of God’s love for us. We want you to build your dream home so that you can be a beacon of God’s love in the world.