CHARLESTON—Paul and Janet Ely received a standing ovation from the congregation at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.
The pair had just been recognized as the longest-married couple in attendance at the 12th annual Diocesan Marriage Celebration, and the spontaneous applause underscored the message of love and hope.
It was a genuine outpouring of emotion — of happiness for the couple who have been married for 71 years, and joyful hope for the sacrament of marriage itself.
“God created this beautiful sacrament and it is the right way to go,” said Kathy Schmugge. “If we’re called to marriage, with God’s help it is possible.”
Schmugge, assistant director for the office of family life, organizes the event at a different church each year. She said the Cathedral drew about 300 parishioners from 27 registered churches.
It was a smaller gathering than in years past, which saw a crowd of about 650 in 2010, but it was still special for those who attended.
The Ely’s, who are the reigning champs of longest-married couples, were glad the event was in Charleston this year. They had planned to attend last year, but were unable to make the drive to Florence.
In an interview with The Miscellany, the Elys said the secret to a long and happy marriage is communication, prayer and laughter, not necessarily in that order.
That’s good advice for the younger couples at the celebration. Schmugge said the age group with the most couples represented was in the 50+ range.
“When you see all those people standing, you know they didn’t get there because everything was good and jolly,” she said. “They carried the cross; they endured.”
It’s a good example, a holy example, for younger parishioners, including Lauren and Jimmy Ryan, who celebrated the shortest marriage at just one day. They were married Feb. 11 at Stella Maris Church on Sullivan’s Island.
The two couples, from opposite ends of the spectrum, carried the gifts to the altar during Mass.
Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone delivered the homily and said the message for parishioners to carry away is that marriage is an act of reaching out and giving oneself to another. It is being prepared to give of oneself regardless of the personal price, in good times and in bad, for richer and for poorer, until death do you part.
Together, married couples create life and love that is a temple for the Holy Spirit, he said.
According to the catechism of the Catholic Church, marriage is one of seven sacraments, considered signs of grace instituted by Christ. It is defined as a covenant or partnership of life between a man and a woman, which is ordered to the well-being of the spouses and the procreation and upbringing of children.
The USCCB is an ardent defender and supporter of traditional marriage, saying its true definition must be protected for its own sake and for the good of society. The bishops encourage individual churches to support marriage through renewal of vows and blessings on anniversaries.
Looking around at the diocesan crowd, Bishop Guglielmone noted that many of the faithful were sporting gray hair.
“I can tell a lot of you have been at this for a long time,” he said.
He said when a marriage is truly a Christian, sacramental union between a man and a woman, with Jesus Christ as the center, it becomes a joy and a celebration of people’s lives.
“I hope the example of love you have shared becomes an outreach to family and friends and that love continues to spread further,” the bishop said.