What do you get when you cross a Catholic and a Jehovah’s Witness? My folks!
Those who marry someone who is either not a Catholic, not a Baptized Christian, or a Catholic not living out the practices/teachings of the Church, face a special challenge. This can also be true for those Catholics who have had a strong conversion experience, while their spouse has not. This challenge can cause much distress, but can also be the cause of much sanctification, mortification, and, God-willing, conversion.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraphs 1633-1637) starts with a warning and ends with a promise on the topic of ‘mixed marriage’:
* “ In many countries the situation of a mixed marriage (marriage between a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic) often arises. It requires particular attention on the part of couples and their pastors. A case of marriage with disparity of cult (between a Catholic and a non-baptized person) requires even greater circumspection.
It is a great joy for the Christian spouse and for the Church if this "consecration" should lead to the free conversion of the other spouse to the Christian faith. Sincere married love, the humble and patient practice of the family virtues, and perseverance in prayer can prepare the non-believing spouse to accept the grace of conversion."
The difficulties in these 'mixed' marriages seem to revolve around some specific areas:
- Disharmony in not being able to worship in a similar way, which can even lead to disagreements about certain points of faith.
- Loneliness for the spouses. When Faith is an important element of one's life, not being able to share that with the person dearest to you can be incredibly separating and lonely.
- Problems raising children. Our faith backgrounds affect our worldview and our family view. If the faiths of the parents are not the same, it can lead to disagreements in how children should be raised and what faith they should practice.
- Sexual problems. Many people outside the Catholic Church have a much different take on sexuality than practicing Catholics. Issues such as contraception, abortion, even pornography and masturbation can be huge areas of conflict within these marriages.
These problems are not insurmountable, however. A Catholic spouse must believe that part of his/her vocation of marriage is to help the other spouse achieve holiness and ultimately heaven. When heaven is the goal, no sacrifice is too great. This perspective can help us move forward when faced with the challenges of this type of union.
It can help to focus on specific areas:
1. See everything as a chance for sanctification, mortification, conversion and reparation.
When we are looking toward Christ we remember that only His Will in His time is important. Praying, "Jesus, I trust in You," or, "Thy Will be done," in the difficult moments can help.
2. Respect each other's points of view and faith.
My mother is married to a dear, God-fearing, Jehovah's Witness. As much as a struggle as that can be, their ultimate respect for each other's faith practices has sustained them. He doesn't mind that she keeps EWTN (Catholic TV station) on all the time, and she supports him when he goes to his Kingdom Hall meetings. He lets her have a private altar for prayer in their home, but she respects his desire not to have religious objects in the yard (as it would be uncomfortable for him when the members of his congregation pass by his house). He even drives her to pilgrimage sites, but waits in the car while she visits them. She is constantly impressed by his strong pro-life values and they are able to build on that similarity.
3. Bringing up baby.
The Church, in Her wisdom, recognizes that children of such a union must have a definitive faith upbringing. That is why it is important (prior to marriage) for the non-Catholic spouse to understand that a Catholic must raise their child(ren) in the Faith. This can be difficult later in the marriage, when the children recognize that daddy or mommy doesn't go to church with the family. Open and ongoing discussions on this subject can diminish a lot of these problems.
4. Don't push.
Our hearts desire is to have our loved one enfolded in Christ's Church, but we will only have the opposite effect if we come across too strong. Live the words of St. Francis, "Preach the Gospel, if necessary, use words." My own husband is a convert who publicly expresses that my calm/joy inspired him to come to the Catholic Church. He states, "I wanted what you had."
5. Study lives of Saints who were in the same position.
This helps provide guidance and inspiration. Consider St. Monica and St. Rita as examples.
Advice from spouses:
“Get involved in evangelization and/or ministry, try to make friends with Catholics who are faithful to Christ and the teachings of His Church.”
"You need Confession, because you experience anger, bitterness and frustration (at your spouse because he/she doesn't want to hear about your love of Christ/ Church, at God because He's not moving your spouse "fast enough" and at other Catholics around you because they don't see your pain.)”
“You need frequent reception of the Eucharist, because Christ is your Heavenly Spouse. He will sustain you in your loneliness.”
"Pour your heart out to God!" Pray without ceasing.
“Make lots of secret sacrifices and pray your brains out!”
“Pray to St. Joseph.”
Blessings/Opportunities in a Mixed Marriage:
- Obtain holiness through suffering.
- Trust you are part of God's plan for salvation for your spouse
- Humility, as your spouse challenges you.
- Knowledge, you will need to be sure of what the Church teaches and why..
- Closeness with your children as you pray together for your spouse's conversion.
- Detachment, focusing on Christ to fill all your needs.
A Story of Hope
A woman spent her entire marriage praying for her husband’s conversion. She thought she may be running out of time as his health took a turn for the worst. However, in the months before he passed away, he received the Sacraments. He died peacefully, within the care of his wife, Holy Mother Church, and offering his sufferings up to Christ. His wife now looks forward to the day she will once again see him in heaven. (True story)
Copyright 2014 Mary Lou Rosien
About the Author
Mary Lou Rosien is a Catholic wife, mom to seven, educator, writer, and speaker. She is the author of several books including Three Things Divorced Catholics need to Know and The Joy-Filled Broken Heart. She is known for her love of all things cooking and baking, especially “Friday cookies.” Visit her at CatholicFamilyBootCamp.com.