Preface: I don’t tell many people that my husband isn’t Catholic and a lot of people just assume he is because we go to Mass together, practice NFP, belong to a Catholic homeschool co-op, etc. In other words, we seem really “Catholic.” However, I recently mentioned the fact that Dave doesn’t share my faith in a blog post and I had a few comments/emails regarding this revealed “secret.” Several people who contacted me were in similar situations and were hungry for advice on how to witness to a spouse who isn’t Catholic. I’ve considered writing about this topic before because it’s something I’ve thought a lot about and it’s the focus of many of my prayers. However, I was always hesitant, mainly because I’m fiercely loyal to my husband, the man who has given me so much including a whole lot of happiness. So I prayed about it. After a bunch of thoughts tumbled through my mind, I waded my way through the muck and realized the story of my “mixed marriage” and the joys and challenges that I (and others I know) have faced was something I should share. I’m planning on doing a sort of “series” on the topic, and I’d love to hear from others who are part of the mixed marriage crowd or anyone else who has witness to a loved one. What’s helped (or hasn’t) you deal with your religious differences? Also, I’d love to hear any conversion stories of non-Catholic spouses. Email me at kmwicker[at]gmail dot com.
This is Part I of my “series.” Down the road I plan to give more streamlined “tips” for people who find themselves committed to someone who doesn’t share their faith. I’ll be including insight from others who have been in similar situations. This “series” is not only for Catholics and non-Catholics who are married. It could be for anyone trying to witness and evangelize to others.
It’s also for parents who might have a child who is dating or engaged or married to someone outside of their family’s faith tradition. I know I’m getting way ahead of myself, considering my oldest is only 3 and recently told me she’d like to marry Mommy, but I’ve already started praying she’ll find the right spouse. I used to think “right” could only mean Catholic. I’m wiser now. God doesn’t make mistakes. When discerning his will for you (or your child), you have to twist those arrows around if they’re all pointing inward because sometimes it’s not about whether you should marry someone who isn’t Catholic, someone who may not even believe in God. It’s about whether he should marry you. Without further ado:
The term “mixed marriage” has always bothered me, mainly because I’m part of one and it makes us sound like we’re two incompatible mutts who are sure to have mutated offspring. At the risk of sounding like an overly obnoxious mom I can say that mixed or not, my husband and I produce lovely progeny.
Growing up, I always thought I’d be part of a purist marriage. (Is that what you’d call a marriage that isn’t of the mixed variety? Or maybe pedigreed?) Actually, I’m not sure if I’d ever even heard of the phrase “mixed marriage” until I entered into one.
Once upon a time I had visions of my Catholic prince charming sweeping me off my feet and the two of us living happily and holily ever after.
I even dated one of those Catholic princes, but unfortunately, he turned out to be a toad. I shed way too many tears over my heartbreak and prayed to God that he would send me a husband. When no suitable suitor came knocking, I decided it was time to take action.
“I’m going to Notre Dame Law School,” I announced to my cradle Catholic, pope-loving parents.
“Do you want to be a lawyer?” they asked.
“I don’t know, but that doesn’t matter. I love school and there will be lots of Catholic guys there.”
As much as my dad wanted me to marry a Catholic, he wasn’t sure if paying $30,000+ a year in tuition for someone who wasn’t even sure she wanted to practice law was worth it.
Good news for Dad and his checkbook arrived when I was reunited with Dave, an old high school friend turned boyfriend and decided to attend a law school closer to home where I’d also received a scholarship. (I went to that much cheaper law school for exactly one month before deciding that while I did love school, I had no desire to be a lawyer. Before I even started my legal education, I bought The Lawyer’s Career Change Handbook – not a good sign.)
Bad news for Dad and me (and I was sure of it at the time) was that while the man I was destined to marry was one of the most unselfish human beings I’d ever met, witty, intelligent, hard-working, tall, dark and handsome, and a budding doctor, he wasn’t Catholic. He hadn’t always even been completely convinced there was a God at all, though by the time we’d started dating he believed in God and thought C.S. Lewis made a pretty convincing argument for Christ in Mere Christianity.
Still, he wasn’t Catholic and I was very, very hung up on this. After all, marrying a non-Catholic and joining a lot of half-breed marriages, certainly wasn’t a part of my plan.
But it seems it was a part of God’s.
When we were preparing for the Sacrament of Marriage, I wept to a priest over Dave and my religious differences. We happened to ace our compatibility test we took through our pre-Cana program, so I assumed Father would tell me to stop worrying about this source of conflict. He didn’t. I also wanted Father to tell me that our love was enough. Again, he didn’t. Instead, he told me marrying a non-Catholic was going to be tough. He told me if I needed a spiritual crutch, then I should re-consider.
And I did. For a brief, dark period in our engagement I almost considered not marrying Dave. It wasn’t until I found myself agonizing over my decision in front of the Blessed Sacrament when I decided to take the plunge. I was all weepy full of all these “what if” thoughts when I heard a voice that was too clear and too straightforward to belong to me. Just love him. At the time, I thought God was telling me to love Dave. And he was, but later I was writing about the experience in my journal and I realized I had capitalized “Him” when I wrote the simple command I’d been given. It all made sense. God was telling me to love not only my husband but Him as well.
And I have and I do.
But for a long time, I obsessed over how my love and the way I lived my faith life would affect affect my husband, constantly asking myself questions like, If I do (or don’t do) this, will it bring him closer to the Church? If I stress out and don’t look a thing like the Prince of Peace I’m supposed to be imitating, will he think to himself, “How could I ever want what she has?” If I don’t pray for him enough, will he ever convert?
Just recently I was discerning joining a lay movement. The Holy Spirit had been prodding me along for some time now and I knew I wanted to say, “Yes!” but I was concerned by what Dave would think. So I told him how I was feeling, how I wanted to be a part of this movement, how I was even hungrier for Christ than I’d been in the past, but how I was afraid of what he might think of it all, especially since it would mean time away from him.
Kindly he said, “Why are you worried about me? If this is something you feel called to do, then you need to do it.”
When I married him with a full-fledged Catholic Mass, no less, I was banking on his conversion. I was so sure that someone with so much goodness – and this man is so good and selfless – wouldn’t be able to not be Catholic for long. He’d see me practicing my faith, he’d reap the fruits of being open to life, he’d witness the graces of the Sacraments, he’d come to Mass with our children, and one day, sooner rather than later, he’d say, “Sign me up!”
When that didn’t happen right away, I thought I was a failure. I thought I must not be doing or being enough.
So every year that passed, every Mass he attended without joining me at the Eucharistic table left me feeling a bit sad and lonely. As one friend who happens to be in one of those purist marriages once said to me, “I can’t imagine how much you must want to share this one beautiful thing with the man you are the other half of, of how very deep the well of hurt and longing must be for you.”
There is sometimes some longing and even some hurt in me, but there’s also something more. My proverbial well is filled with a heck of a lot more wisdom than it would have been filled with had this Cradle Catholic married one of her “own kind.” When Dave asks a question about my faith, which isn’t often, it causes me to delve deeper, to learn more about this religion I’ve had since the day I was baptized.
When my 3-year-old, a much better evangelist than myself, says something about God and loving him in front of my husband, I recognize that the Holy Spirit is working through our child, calling Dave home.
When I focus on my relationship with Christ instead of obsessing about where Dave is along his faith journey, when I put my trust in my God, I’m spreading the Good News without even opening my mouth, except maybe to take in the Eucharist.
When I leave Dave behind during communion, I appreciate the gift of my faith and my participation in the Eucharist that much more. It’s not about me feeling lonely at all – it’s about him feeling lonely. It’s about him not even knowing what he’s missing. My husband is not far from the kingdom of God, but he doesn’t yet have a compass to find his way. I do. That should make me joyful, not sad.
Do I still pray for a unity of faith between my husband and me? Absolutely. Every. Single. Day. But I also pray for another kind of unity. I pray my heart and my life can be so closely united with Christ that not only my husband but anyone who encounters me will say, “I want what she has.”