By Dc. Tom Cuskey | Editor
As World Marriage Day approaches, this Sunday, Feb. 13th, and we prepare for St. Valentine’s Day on Monday the 14th, we take a moment to reflect on the current state of matrimony in our nation.
According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, there is good news and bad news when we look at the numbers. The good news: In 2019, the national divorce rate hit an all-time low, only 14.9 per 1,000 marriages. The bad news: The U.S. marriage rate dropped to an all-time low as well.
Fewer marriages … fewer divorces?
The same analysis by American Survey Data shows that there is a record high number of “never married” people as more people co-habitate, often for economic reasons as well as personal relationships. Since 2019, COVID-19 has contributed to a drop in the number of weddings as well.
In the Diocese of Syracuse, a team of people is doing all they can to reverse the trend of fewer marriages by putting the quality of the relationship back into the hands of faith and the sacraments.
“Marriage is the foundation of our society, and it’s collapsing so quickly that it’s a great place to put our efforts,” says Linda Padgett, one half of the husband-and-wife team of Chris and Linda Padgett who anchor the Pre-Cana marriage-preparation classes in the diocese.
Married for more than 30 years, Chris and Linda have followed their faith to arrive at this point in their life’s work. “Chris started full-time ministry 27 years ago and it really has evolved into becoming more marriage focused, family focused. We started marriage ministry about 25 years ago. … We didn’t think we were qualified for that,” Linda says with a laugh.
Chris adds that to help others make their marriages thrive, they first asked themselves what their own marriage success was based on: “That’s a really big question, especially during pre-Cana. What’s the old song? ‘Does Anyone Stay Together Anymore?’ And if they do, are they happy? Many times, couples who do stay together look miserable.”
Capturing the words and comments of Chris and Linda for this story is the easy part of sharing their ministry. The tough part for this writer is conveying the underlying energy, wisdom and sense of humor that permeates their presentations and appearances. Chris’s ministry has taken him all over the country and beyond as a speaker and presenter, and Linda is a regular contributor, always a part of marriage ministry, especially pre-Cana.
“Ultimately we asked this question: What are some of the basic things we do that seem to help and lay that foundation for longevity in a marriage,” Chris says about the pre-Cana program. “We give a talk called ‘The Basics’ where we look at seven principles that are very foundational and important for couples to have and to practice for a long-term marriage. Simple, basic things. They coincide with the cardinal and theological virtues, things like self-control which relates to temperance … wise choices which would connect to prudence.”
Maintaining a sense of dignity and respect within a marriage is at the core of the message they convey.
“It’s little, tiny things that start that erosion process over a number of years.” Chris adds. “The reason a marriage is falling apart is that there’s been zero maintenance done. … Anything that’s going to be excellent takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears.”
And with a big, sarcastic laugh he shares that “all we need is to be excited, loving, and passionate … and according to my wife, that’s not the way it is every day of our lives!”
Linda chimes in that “I think that early on in our journey we realized there a lot of important ways, different ways to approach marriage preparation.” Topics like communication skills, love language, personality types, finances. There are resources for that.” But she stresses that there is only one key element at the center of the effort.
“We felt like if there is one thing you can walk away with, it’s putting Jesus in your marriage. That’s the one thing. This is where we evangelize and try to show people the importance of that relationship with Jesus. “
Chris puts a fine point on what he terms the “simple truth. … Within the Catholic context, the best thing you can do for your marriage is to have Christ at the center of it.” He says that Christ’s love is the “cement that keeps it together.”
Chris also talks about the “secret ingredient: sacrifice. It’s a difficult thing to see and do in this day and age. There is not just one thing that undoes a marriage, it’s a series of smaller things.”
Morgan Durfee is the Program Coordinator in the diocesan office of Family and Respect Life, and she is part of the pre-Cana team, working closely with the Padgetts, not just in the preparation but in the constant tweaking and evolution of the program.
“One of the things we found is that we used to do Mass as part of the pre-Cana day, and it became apparent that most couples didn’t really know what was going on.” Durfee says that culturally, there are many young people today who do not have a lot of experience with liturgy and sacraments. A decision was made to focus on rebuilding the personal relationship between Christ and the attendees through Eucharistic adoration and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. “More than half of those attending go to confession and we are adding more priests because the lines are long and people really take their time.”
Chris makes a key point: Those attending want to be married in the Church, they want the relationship with Christ to be part of their special day. “When these people come, they want to be married and they want the Church’s blessing, so we want to affirm that and encourage that.”
Durfee stresses that pre-Cana is just the first step in building a solid marriage. “You can’t cover everything in a half-day. We need to look at this like continuing education, forming them. The pre-Cana can be an inspiration to begin. Building up marriage skills continues after a couple marries, to continue to learn how to be in a relationship with someone.” Developing mentor relationships with married couples within the parishes and establishing refresher programs for a year after the marriage and beyond are in the works to assist in the process.
“The Sacrament of Marriage brings graces that you do not get when co-habitating with one another,” Chris adds. “When your marriage is blessed in the Church, it’s a game changer.”
To find out more about pre-Cana classes, visit the Diocesan website at https://syracusediocese.org/offices/familyrespect-life/marriage-preparation/.
Get acquainted with Chris and Linda by visiting https://chrispadgett.com/.