Catholic Sentinel photos by Ed Langlois
Jennifer Bailey and Chris Moore talk over their future at Catholic Engaged Encounter near Eagle Creek.
Catholic Sentinel photos by Ed Langlois
Jennifer Bailey and Chris Moore talk over their future at Catholic Engaged Encounter near Eagle Creek.

When it comes to marriage, the Catholic Church teaches it’s best for couples to take a candid look beforehand. To be wed in the church, pairs must go through significant preparation so they won’t be surprised when the honeymoon ends.

As has been the case for decades, Catholics are the least likely religious group to experience marital breakdown. About 28 percent of Catholics who ever wed have experienced divorce. That compares to 39 percent of Protestants and 42 percent of people with no religious affiliation.

Many people credit Catholic pre-marriage programs.

Jennifer Bailey and Chris Moore will wed June 21at their parish, St. Mary Cathedral in Portland. Six months ago, they met at Mass, then went out to coffee.

Last month, they attended Engaged Encounter, a weekend retreat that fulfills the Catholic requirement for marriage preparation.

“It’s good to get time aside instead of focusing on all the chores of a wedding,” says Moore, 29.

If they are anxious about anything in the future, it’s whether they can be patient with each other and keep up candid communication, something that Engaged Encounter says is a must.

“We always want to grow and express ourselves and let God in,” Moore says.

The two note that their generation holds divorce in mind as a viable option. They are counter-cultural in that regard.

“I don’t see commitment being that important to a lot of people my age,” says Bailey, 25.

“Society treats relationships like buying a house,” Moore laments.

Vincent Tilanus, 26, and Ashley DeGrenier, 25, will be married in September at Holy Redeemer Church in Portland. The pair, who met at University of Portland, are glad to be focusing on what DeGrenier calls “the meat and potatoes instead of the pomp and circumstance.” Both driven people, they want to make sure their work lives don’t overshadow their marriage.

They have role models, such as a couple Vincent knows from his job who have worked through life’s challenges for 15 years with the bond just growing stronger.

A.J. O’Loughlin and Kelsey Omlin, both 28, will wed in October at Holy Trinity in Beaverton. When they asked Father Dave Gutmann if he would “marry them,” he said no, but consented to “witnessing your marriage,” a memorable way to remind the couple that they are the ones who perform the sacrament and must live it out.

O’Loughlin and Omlin, who have been dating for eight years, look forward to spending time together and raising children side by side. They expect that communication and perhaps finances will be their challenges.

“Marriage is a way of belonging,” says Father Joseph Heuberger, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Salem, and a frequent speaker at Engaged Encounters. He tells couples that every person has a capacity for the divine and marriage can be a vocation that draws one to God.

“Marriage is supposed to open our relationships to everyone else,” the priest explains.

Archbishop Alexander Sample asks engaged couples a startling question: “Are you prepared to die for him? Are you prepared to die for her?” The archbishop cites Jesus’ commandment to love by laying down one’s life.

Jerry and Denise Ramsden, members of St. Thomas More Parish and wed for 26 years, are presenters at Engaged Encounter weekends.

Some people go into marriage thinking they can make it all light, fun and joy, but it’s when the hard times come that real love can appear, Jerry tells a room filled with dozens of couples, many of whom hold hands or drape arms on each other.

“Our willingness to work on challenges is what sets us apart,” Jerry explains.

“The real goal of marriage is unity,” says Denise. “When we listen to each other with open minds and hearts, we build up unity.”

Addressing a fear many engaged couple have, Denise explains that spouses do not give up their individuality, but cultivate an additional identity as a couple.

“Unity is an active decision,” Denise says.

The Ramsdens speak frankly to the young pairs about arguments, finances and even sexual intimacy. They say that, contrary to fears, being open and honest about anger can deepen a couple’s bond. A key is good listening.

The experienced couple tells the youngsters to allow God into their lives and explains that different people show love in different ways — serving, giving words of affirmation, presenting gifts, offering physical touch and spending quality time. Don’t miss out on the love your partner is trying to express, they say.
If the Ramsdens were to boil down the weekend, they would have it say: “Focus on commitment. Love is not a feeling, it’s a decision. When turbulence comes, you decide you’re going to love even if you don’t feel like it.”