Common Wisdom: Anniversary Reflections

My husband and I celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary on November 28. It has been a blessed 35 years, for which I cannot adequately express my gratitude. If I need proof of God’s providence, I have it in the reality of a man and woman called from two ends of the earth to merge for all of their lives and told to tend the garden of a family, a community, and a Church.

When we married three and a half decades ago, we harbored, in that way of young couples, a proud streak. We thought we were unique and historic, singled out somehow to carry out a mission that others did not have.

In the blur of years that followed, when the sheer velocity of speeding time kept us bent to our task of forming our family, we had our eyes opened and our pride shorn. Looking about, we saw that there are many good marriages; that each marriage is as unique as the individual man and woman who come to it; and that marriage itself, along with consecrated life (the complement of spousal union), is the most fascinating of human endeavors. Little wonder that Jane Austen, Tolstoy, and Henry James saw in the study of marriage endless fodder for their novels.

At the same time, we realized we could not claim pride of place in the universal yearning to build a good marriage; we also realized that in a certain way we were right after all. Every marriage—not just ours—is indeed unique and historic. Each marriage covenant uniquely fulfills its universal purpose to sanctify the spouses and their children. Each marriage enters history at precisely the mysterious moment providence has ordained, both for it to bring particular children into the world and for it to tackle a particular work.

For some reason that God only knows, He arranged for us to be married in 1964, near the close of Vatican II; on the next day, the beginning of Advent, Mass was celebrated for the first time in English. Our 35th anniversary in 1999 fell on the first Sunday of Advent, and because Advent actually begins the Church year, it was the first day of the liturgical year 2000.

Yet just as we celebrated a marriage of some longevity, a University of Chicago study on American families reported that the number of families consisting of married couples with children has dropped to 26 percent, down from 45 percent in the early 70s. Only 56 percent of adults in America are married these days; only 51 percent of children live with their natural parents. That means a huge number of children are living in households where at least one parent is a stepparent. At the same time, the number of children who live with only one parent has risen to 18.2 percent. Finally, the percentage of unmarried couples with no children has shot up to 32 percent, indicating a burst of live-in arrangements, whether of the same or opposite sex.

The researchers concluded that the disillusionment with marriage revealed by these statistics arises because adults now managing their own families are themselves products of marriages in which the parents divorced. The researchers noted that ordinarily economic growth fosters the creation of families. Nonetheless, in the United States today, where the economic boom is nearly unprecedented, the statistics belie the rule. Many people, although prosperous, have been so badly burned by the divorce and remarriage of their own parents that they are afraid to commit to a marriage themselves. What they settle for—serial marriage (serial monogamy, as it is sometimes called) or mere living together—is not even a remote substitute for covenantal marriage sealed by a vow not to quit.

Thirty-five years ago only a few wise souls—such as Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae—could have predicted what havoc would befall not only the American family but families all over the world corrupted by the contraceptive mentality unleashed by the pill. Few could have predicted the glorification of sterility, the acceptance of abortion and euthanasia, the promotion of the homosexual lifestyle. Back in Evansville, Indiana, right after Roe v. Wade, we young married couples gathered at the Christ Child Ball to raise money for the pro-life movement and to listen to that heroic pioneer Charles Rice. We could not have predicted then that abortion was just the first step, that we would confront one horror after another—frozen embryos, fetal experimentation, auctioning of women’s eggs by Web site, and trafficking in fetal parts.

Who would have predicted that Americans would become enslaved to so many “isms”—relativism, consumerism, professionalism, narcissism, secularism? Who would have thought technology would be our idol or we would be quite so under the thumb of the subtle but stultifying bureaucracy predicted by Tocqueville?

And yet the year 2000 is more hopeful than the year 1964. Despite the refuse of our culture that so often chooses death over life, there is a culture of life springing up through the rubble. As quickly as the dead culture crumbles, the new culture sprouts little shoots. Inspired by Pope John Paul II, who has labored through his tremendous writings and his extraordinary pontificate to evangelize the world to the true meaning of Vatican II, Catholics—and, indeed, all Christians—are awakening.

Judging from the small but mighty burst of conversions among young people searching for truth, the new flowering of religious vocations, and the spiritual hunger of young families, we are on the verge of a Christian renaissance that may rival the Catholic Reformation. Those who do not see it are still hindered by the tragedies of the 60s and 70s.

I see this renaissance in my own family, in which nearly all have come from Protestantism into the Catholic Church. I see it in my children, in my nieces and nephews, in the people they marry and the children they are bringing up.

I recently made a retreat at which almost everyone were young wives and mothers, either pregnant or nursing a baby. The renaissance is here, and Catholic couples who marry for a lifetime are leading this renewal.


  • Anne Husted Burleigh

    Mrs. Anne Husted Burleigh is a free-lance writer, mother, and grandmother who lives on a farm overlooking the Ohio River in Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, near Cincinnati. She has written two books: John Adams, a Biography, and Journey up the River: a Midwesterner’s Spiritual Pilgrimage. She has contributed to many publications, including Crisis and Catholic Dossier, and now writes for Magnificat.

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