How do I keep my faith and my marriage strong if my spouse isn’t Catholic?

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‘Mixed marriages’ bring challenges — here are some ideas for overcoming them

In Western Washington, if you bump into the love of your life in line for coffee at Starbucks, the odds that your newly discovered soulmate will also be Catholic are one in eight. This is based on an official report by archdiocesan statistician Mary Beth Celio. (She didn’t mention Starbucks, but you get the idea.) Unfortunately, couples who do not share the same faith face unique challenges. No matter how much love they share, if Brad is Catholic and Jenna is not, this difference will be felt — even if Jenna is supportive of Brad’s faith.

Denominational difference “does not constitute an insurmountable obstacle for marriage,” the catechism notes, but “the difficulties of mixed marriages must not be underestimated.” (CCC 1634) The Catholic in the couple is responsible for keeping their own faith alive and growing. A “whatever, it’s all the same” religious indifferentism might seem like a solution to religious disagreements in marriage, but our souls deserve more integrity than a superficial glossing over of differences.

The Catholic husband or wife is responsible not only for keeping their own faith, but for raising their children Catholic, too. This calls for an extra dose of fortitude — nay, heroic virtue, even. It’s hard enough for two married Catholics to get themselves, their children, and all their children’s shoes out the door to Mass on a Sunday morning early enough not to have to file into that one last empty pew in the front row. Doing it solo has got to be that much harder. Hats off to those non-Catholic spouses who come to Mass with the family in solidarity!

Any way that interfaith couples can find to unite in the arena of spirituality, prayer, worship and values, while still respecting the integrity of each other’s faith and religious freedom, will be a source of strength for their marriage. Mutual respect and kindness will go a long way toward easing tensions. Here are some ideas:

Seek spiritual intimacy any way that it is possible. According to the social scientist W. Bradford Wilcox, “The best religious predictor of being happy in a relationship is praying together as a couple.” Couples who are both baptized Christians can find many ways to pray and reflect on Scripture together. Many denominations even share the same lectionary as the Catholic Church, so our Sunday readings are parallel. Spouses married to non-Christians can still find ways to speak words of gratitude, blessing and petition for and with one another in various forms. Even a “mindfulness” practice together can help!

Show interest and support for each other’s worship. Attending and showing interest in each other’s church services (respecting regulations about Communion, of course) is a wonderful way to express solidarity, work toward unity, and keep faith from slipping away. Just don’t replace your Sunday Mass obligation with your spouse’s worship service.

Shared values matter significantly in couples’ happiness. In general terms, can you identify core virtues and beliefs that you share? Maybe you can decide together that you want honesty, generosity or compassion to be a hallmark of your marriage and family.

Cultivate your own faith with study and support. Find a prayer or study group at your parish, a faith-building podcast for your commute, or some other way to feed your faith. Nurturing your faith can help you be a more loving husband or wife.

Pass on the gift of faith to your children. Give them a rich experience of Catholic devotion and more than a superficial intellectual understanding of Catholic beliefs. Even if they choose a different faith when they grow up, raising them as “nothing” in order to avoid conflict does not serve them well.

While we pray for the reunification of Christians, interfaith couples can live a fruitful experience of ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue right in their own homes.

Northwest Catholic - April 2018

Sarah Bartel

Sarah Bartel, a member of St. Andrew Parish in Sumner, holds a doctorate in moral theology and ethics from The Catholic University of America, where she specialized in marriage, family, sexual ethics and bioethics. Her website is www.drsarahbartel.com.

Website: www.drsarahbartel.com