By Larry Urish     3/8/2017

What factors lead a husband and wife on a path from the wedding chapel to divorce court? How does the loving couple’s “lifelong” commitment last only a few years … if that?

Maybe it’s warring over finances or arguments about raising children. Or it could be poor communication skills or an illicit affair. Then there’s the tried-and-true legal catchphrase, “irreconcilable differences.” In any event, their marriage has fallen apart.

But is the institution of marriage itself falling apart? According to the Orange County Register, 50 percent of all marriages in the U.S. – and 60 percent in California – end in divorce.

It’s even worse in our own backyard. Orange County has a 70 percent divorce rate, one of the highest in the nation, says Michael Donaldson, the Diocese’s director of Pastoral Care for Families in All Stages.

But not in the Catholic community.

Actively practicing Catholics are 31 percent less likely to divorce than nonreligious people, according to The Gospel Coalition.

“When couples place Christ at the center of their marriage, there is a stronger foundation,” Donaldson says. “Couples who pray together place their lives and relationship in God’s hands with confidence that He will assist them along their journey in life. When couples rely only on their own strength and will, the imperfections of humanity can become burdensome and overwhelming.”

After all is said and done, we must remember that the Sacrament of Marriage isn’t about lowering divorce statistics; rather, it’s something to celebrate.

The Diocese of Orange did just that, when The Most Rev. Kevin Vann led a special Wedding Anniversary Mass in Christ Cathedral’s Arboretum on the evening of Feb. 10.

Along with some 800 congregants, the Bishop of Orange honored husbands and wives who have been married at least 15 years, and in doing so emphasized marriage before God.

Following the Liturgy of the Word – parts of which were read in Spanish and Vietnamese, reflecting the county’s cultural diversity – Bishop Vann discussed the sacrament, using his own engaging blend of knowledge, wisdom and anecdotal humor. His grandparents, he noted, married in 1915 and stayed together for 64 years.

“You think about all that [they] saw during those years: two world wars,” he said. “The Great Depression. They saw my mother marry, my aunt become a Dominican sister. … They saw a man on the moon.”

Faith, he emphasized, was always a key element that helped keep the couple happy and thriving together.

“My grandparents were friends of God, and because they were friends of God, they were able to meet every challenge that came along – and do it in gratitude and in praise of God.”

In thanking the couples in attendance, Bishop Vann made it clear that friendship is a core attribute of all strong marriages.

“In those years being friends of God, you have taught others how to be friends of God, and [about] love, by your love for each other – in all moments of your life, the good and the bad.”

He noted that, while conducting marriage preparation earlier in his career, he liked to ask the couples how they met and how they proposed. In doing so, he emphasized an essential foundation of marriage.

“I got a variety of answers. [I always said], ‘However you met each other and however you fell in love, however you proposed and said yes to each other, that was really God’s work.’”

Following the Liturgy of the Eucharist, during which time the Diocesan Choir sang “Love One Another,” chosen specifically for this Mass, Bishop Vann honored the husbands and wives by leading them in their recitation of the Blessing of Couples.

Two of the couples – Michael and Alice Chuck, and Robert and Joan Beamer – received a rousing 30-second standing ovation when Donaldson announced that both twosomes were celebrating 72 years of marriage in 2017.

A reception took place in the Cultural Center immediately after Mass concluded, where the honored couples had the opportunity to be photographed with Bishop Vann.

After posing with his wife and the affable bishop, Michael Chuck gave a simple, straightforward answer when asked about the key to his seven-decade marriage: “Be good Christians.”

His wife, Alice, took a secular but no-less-pragmatic view: “I give my husband an order,” she said, tongue in cheek, “and he always says, ‘Yes, dear.’ We don’t always agree on everything – we have our ups and downs – but we respect and love each other, and we work together.”

Joan Beamer, long-time wife of Robert, had the same response: “We work well together. Just this morning, he helped me trim the roses.

“We have a lot of fun,” she added. “You have to keep a sense of humor. During tonight’s service, they ran out of [Holy Communion] wine. So my husband turned to me and said, ‘Next time, I’m going to bring a flask.’”

In concluding his sermon, Bishop Vann thanked all of the couples for their faith and commitment to one another and again stressed the importance of friendship and faith in a successful marriage.

“In this fractured, complicated, somewhat secular world, you give witness to what it means to be a friend of God, how you were [chosen] by God to live his plan for yourselves and for all of us. God bless you always.”