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  • Everyone, married and single alike, has an important role to play to ensure the stability of this vital institution for successive generations.  Tweet This
  • Promoting marriage lifts up entire communities, including the never-married and divorced men and women who live there, benefitting us all.  Tweet This

In February, I attended a World Marriage Day celebration at my church—an annual mass for couples throughout our diocese celebrating silver and gold wedding anniversaries. Except for priests and other altar officiants, I was the only unmarried person there. Normally, I’d run for the hills rather than attend an event where I’d feel like a sore thumb in the midst of anything approaching those odds. But this time, I volunteered to be there, and I’m glad I did.

I serve on the church’s Lector Guild. A few weeks before the marriage celebration, our organizer emailed the group and requested two volunteers to read the Old and New Testament passages for the day. I instantly recoiled at the thought. Seconds later, I wrote back and offered to serve. The realization had dawned on me that the very things we are often called to do are those we fear the most. And for me, being in that sanctuary among dozens of adoring couples celebrating their enduring nuptials was one of them.

Like my parents and grandparents before me, I’d always thought I’d reach these milestones, too. But, as I’ve described on this blog, shortly after my 20th anniversary, my ex-husband had an affair and filed for divorce. Our divorce became final in 2009.

Two years ago, I’d attended this same celebration by happenstance. I usually went to the earlier mass, but on that particular Sunday, I was running late. Pre-COVID, the marriage event was combined with the usual 11:30 a.m. mass, and I’d stumbled into a packed church. Although I’d healed from my divorce, I quickly became overwhelmed by my emotions.  

Ultimately, that mass was an uplifting experience. As a new Catholic, it gave me the opportunity to learn more about Catholicism’s sacramental view of marriage. At the end of the service, I smiled and clapped along with everyone else, but a piece of my heart was still attuned to my own feelings of sadness and envy. I probably spent more time mourning my own loss than rejoicing for others.

The following year, I avoided the service altogether. Now, given a third chance, I decided to embrace the possibilities head-on. Due to COVID distancing precautions, this time it would be a separate, dedicated mass for couples celebrating their milestones.

So on that Sunday a few weeks ago, 72 couples from various communities throughout Georgia gathered at the Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist in downtown Savannah. The men wore suits; the women, dressed in their finest, pinned white corsages to their attire. The organ sounded. Priests and officiants proceeded down the center aisle toward the altar. The Bishop was clad in a flowing green robe and white ceremonial headdress called a miter, which he later removed to reveal a hot pink zucchetto, an ecclesiastical skullcap. I stood with the other masked congregants as we sang “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” the most famous of Charles Wesley’s hymns. 

When it came time for the scripture reading, I stepped up to the lectern and looked out at the sea of married couples before me. “Brothers and Sisters,” I began, reading from a portion of the ninth chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth. In an instant, those simple words formed a communion between me and those from whom I had long felt separated.

Resisting the urge to tear up, I read on. Paul examined his purpose as an apostle. Borne out of his conversion experience, he concluded it was his duty to share the gospel to Jews and Gentiles alike. “[W]oe to me if I do not preach it,” he said.

Not long after my divorce, I wrote a popular article about how I’d tried and failed to save my marriage. The hate mail I received from this article stunned me. When a national radio show asked me for an interview, I was too scared to call back. My youngest daughter—age 14 at the time—said, “You’re always telling me not to worry so much about what other people think.” She suggested I had a decision to make, either continue writing about my beliefs or allow fear of speaking truth to stop me.

So I continued writing. I became a regular blogger for Huffington Post Divorce and co-founded the Coalition for Divorce Reform. By writing about the perils of divorce for men, women, and children, I became an advocate for the rewards of marriage and family. By endorsing legislation to reform our nation’s divorce laws, I offered hope to floundering marriages that needed time and opportunity to heal outside the pressures of the family law court system. And by writing about my own path to starting over, I let other divorce survivors know they weren’t alone.  

Although marriage has been on the decline in recent years, we still live in a marriage-centric society. It’s easy for singles like me, who long for partnerships of our own, to feel left out and maybe even a little resentful at times. But stable marriages produce more economically stable communities with less inequality and better outcomes for children

“Lift one another up,” the Bishop at my church/parish encouraged the long-married couples in the audience that day. Similarly, promoting marriage lifts up entire communities, including the never-married and divorced men and women who live there, benefitting us all. 

The Bishop analogized the beauty of marriage to the wedding china passed down to him from his parents. Like china, marriages are fragile, he said, and tending to them takes effort and care. Likewise, everyone, married and single alike, has an important role to play to ensure the stability of this vital institution for successive generations. 

One by one, each couple stood as their names were called. “Look into the eyes of your beloved,” the Bishop instructed as the couples renewed their wedding vows. Tears ran down the cheeks of the husband three rows behind me, celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary. At the end of the service, we sang the recessional hymn, a fitting rendition of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” 

Two years ago, I cried most of the way through the very same service. But this time, my tears were tears of joy: 72 more marriages have endured in our culture. This is definitely something for all of us to celebrate and help promote. 

Beverly Willett is the author of Disassembly Required.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or viewpoint of the Institute for Family Studies.