Welcome to my mixed marriage series. This is tip three of living a mixed marriage: Let the little children come. To see other posts from the series, please click here.
As Catholics, we are required to bring up our children in the faith. We are nothing less than missionaries who are planting the roots of the Church in our home. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The fecundity of conjugal love cannot be reduced solely to the procreation of children, but must extend to their moral education and spiritual formation” (CCC 2221).
So we must not only bear fruit; we must ripen it for Christ by leading our children to Him, training them in godliness, and nurturing their souls for an eternity in heaven.
Thankfully, the Sacrament of Marriage showers couples with graces that help them face this intimidating and daunting task of touching the souls of our children and bringing them to know, love, and serve Jesus with all of their being.
But what about the couple in a mixed marriage? Can they really bear witness to this awesome responsibility and create “a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule” (CCC 2223)? Can children grow in faith, embrace the virtues Christ imitates, and know the tremendous power of the Eucharist when only one parent is living the Catholic faith?
Some would say probably not. How can Mom and Dad share something with their children that they don’t share with each other?
In fact, after I wrote my first post, I had someone email me with the following comment:
“While the Catholic spouse can be willing to enter into this situation and indeed their faith remains intact throughout the marriage or even grows stronger, future children may or may not be able to successfully handle this dichotomy. Statistically there is more chance of the children keeping the faith if both parents are practicing that faith. So while a Catholic parent with a non-Catholic spouse can overcome the odds, couples must factor in these possibilities when they make their decision. They should not just be thinking of themselves and the possibilities of their own happiness or unhappiness together or even of their own faith journeys. It is really not about them. According to the Church the purpose of marriage is to have and bring up children in the faith – to create and educate new souls for eternal happiness with God.”
This person was obviously being very charitable and at first her comments didn’t bother me, but then I started to think about how nurturing souls for Christ – even when both parents are devout Catholics – is no easy undertaking and I couldn’t help but think: How in the world am I going to do it on my own?
My short answer: With a whole lot of prayer, a good dose of due diligence, and total trust that God will give me all the graces I need to reveal the faith to my children. And I’m not really going at it solo. God is with me to guide me and to help me share this faith I love.
After I read this email, I also started thinking about the push-pull theory. I’ve heard a priest say that you should pull your kids (as well as others) to love Christ and to go to Mass, not push them. You should show them what a gift the Eucharist is, not turn Mass into just another thing “Mom makes me do.”
Ultimately, I want my kids to choose to be Catholic because it is what they want, not because it’s all they know.
In many ways, the reason I was Catholic for a long time was simply because I was born Catholic and had two faithful parents, so that’s all I’d ever known. I always went to Mass, even in college, but not always for the right reasons. I consider myself somewhat of a revert because in many ways I have just started rediscovering my faith and falling in love with the Church and its teachings. I was always aware of God’s existence, but I didn’t always have a personal relationship with him. All that is changing and sometimes I think that my seeking and my hunger for a more intimate relationship with Christ is a direct result of me marrying someone who doesn’t share my faith.
Of course, my children will only begin to want the faith once they come to understand it more, so teaching my kids about Catholicism is a part of our daily lives. Not surprisingly, Dave and I have frequent conversations about our children’s faith upbringing. One tough question I had to ask him recently was, “If something happens to me, will you promise to raise our children Catholic?”
He has promised to do so, and I believe him.
We also pray together as a family and go to Sunday Mass together and talk about God. This unity is very important. However, my 3-year-old has already started to notice that Daddy doesn’t go up to Communion.
The first time she asked why he didn’t come with us, I explained it this way: “Daddy doesn’t have the same gift that we have or if he does, he hasn’t opened it yet and it’s our job to help him find it and unwrap it.”
Sure, this simple explanation may not work on a 16-year-old, but right now she’s very keen on helping Daddy get his present. There’s a reason Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me.” Their humility and blind trust is a beautiful reminder of how we should all approach our faith. Madeline loves to talk about God. She asks to pray a decade of the Rosary. She colors saints in her All Saints Coloring Book and asks about their lives. She’s a wonderful witness to the faith for her daddy and to others as well.
Previously, I shared some wisdom Heather, another member of a mixed marriage, had gleaned from a priest she consulted. Not only did he tell her to never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit but also to allow her children to evangelize to her non-Catholic spouse.
“What I really liked was when my priest told me to have the children not only pray for him daily but to talk to him. Talk to him and ask him about his faith. Ask him why he hesitates to join us. And they do. My daughter makes him rosaries. She tells him that she would love to teach him how to pray the rosary. They ask in hopeful anticipation if he’ll come to Mass with us. They tell him how they love God first and foremost and wonder if he does too??? They so innocently draw him in to examine his conscience. Even if he never relays this to me, I can see it. I love that in nightly prayers my little guy yells out, ‘Don’t forget to pray for daddy to become Catholic!’ I don’t mind if my husband overhears this – it’s meant with a whole heart.”
While I’m not suggesting you goad your children to be pint-sized apologetics, allow them to share their love for God with your spouse. Likewise, don’t be afraid if your children approach your spouse with questions pertaining to the faith. This used to scare me, partly because Dave can be so much more logical sounding than passionate (and sometimes irrational) me. But now I realize if they’re confused by his answers, I have a chance to teach them about why we believe what we do.
Finally, this might seem crazy or audacious of me, but in some ways I think I pray more fervently for my children’s faithful upbringing because I know this awesome responsibility rests almost entirely on me. However, I do think my husband’s innate unselfishness, openness to life, kindness and generosity imitate Christ and are helping to teach virtues.
“Family members help one another grow in faith by the witness of Christian life in keeping with the Gospel” (CCC 2226). Dave may not even realize he’s doing it, but he leads a life that is completely in line with the teachings of the Gospel and thus, he is showing my children how to be more Christ-like.
I have an older brother who has left the Church and I know this is very hard for my parents, but my mom has said that there comes a point when you just have to release your children into the care of God. Not that you ever stop praying – St. Monica certainly didn’t and I won’t either, but if my children fall away from the Church, I know that I can’t blame it on what I did or didn’t do or the fact that I married a non-Catholic.
Truth is, the odds may be stacked against my children, but there are saints who overcame far greater odds. When I’m feeling overwhelmed by my responsibility, I turn to St. Monica (whose Feast Day we celebrated on August 27th) for hope and guidance.
Prayer to St. Monica for Mothers
Exemplary Mother of the great Augustine, you perseveringly pursued your wayward son, not with wild threats but with prayerful cries to heaven.
Intercede for all mothers in our day so that they may learn to draw their children to God.
Teach them how to remain close to their children, even the prodigal sons and daughters, who have sadly gone astray.