***This is the final post of a three-part series chronicling the spiritual journey of our marriage. Born and raised a devout Catholic, I didn’t take my faith as seriously in college and began dating a pro-choice agnostic. This is the story of how we balanced the yoke. If you’ve ever wondered if a Catholic can marry an agnostic without compromising the Catholic’s faith, read on. Our story may help you discern whether a marriage of “mixed cult,” or between a baptized and unbaptized party, is a good idea.
Well, we got pregnant again, and I suffered a temporary setback. I remember throwing my pregnancy test against the wall, and yelling that I just couldn’t do this. I literally threw temper tantrum while my five month old slept soundly. My husband just stared at me – I have a feeling he was trying to figure out how my hissy fit factored into my Catholic belief of being “open to life” and babies being a blessing. Though he was happy about a new baby, he announced that he would be getting a vasectomy (he announced that he was seriously considering a vasectomy). I was crushed. I knew this was against God’s plan for our marriage, and that it would only cause more heartache in the long run. I also remembered thinking maybe, just maybe, I should get some formal instruction in this NFP thing, because clearly I wasn’t getting something right. I decided right then that every prayer and every bit of suffering of the next nine months would be offered for Superman to change his mind about his vasectomy. I began to pray and open my heart to God in ways I never had before. I began to ask for His will to be done, not my own.
About the same time, my good friend was preparing to get married. She mentioned her fiancee was starting RCIA “just to learn more about her faith.” She is a cradle Catholic and, like me, wasn’t trying to actively convert him, but was excited to see him want to learn more. I was excited for her, and secretly wished that my husband would do the same. I mentioned to Superman that they were going to RCIA together. He nodded and said it was a good idea, and maybe he’d do that in a few years. Another ray of hope!
Our fourth child, with whom I labored the longest and most fervently offered up the pain for her daddy’s conversion, was born in mid-November. As we sat in the hospital room, holding her that night, my husband looked at me and told me he had decided against the vasectomy. He said that he just couldn’t do it, though he wasn’t sure why. He also said he had come to realize that children were treasures. I was overjoyed! About this time, my friend gleefully called to say her fiancee had decided to join the Church. I tentatively told Superman about our friend’s decision. He said it was “great for him” and he was “glad” that my friend would be able to share her faith with her husband. He casually observed that if he himself were ever to become Christian, he would be Catholic, because we had an unbroken apostolic line to Jesus Christ, and “historically, it just makes sense.” “But,” he warned me, “I’m MUCH less likely to convert than her fiancee is.”
I doubled down in prayer and continued to work to deepen my spiritual life for the good of myself and our family. I began teaching CCE again, and becoming involved in our parish. I started bringing home bulletins from Mass and encouraging my husband to read the weekly letters from our pastor. This sparked some interesting and fruitful discussions about what Catholics believe, and why. I had great faith formation as a child, but these discussions renewed my love for studying theology and the hows and whys of the Faith. I could see that Superman was becoming more and more interested in the Christian worldview. After seeing four babies’ sonograms and ultrasounds, he no longer considered himself pro-choice. We’d also seen, four times, how God provided for each of our children, when we needed it most.
In the fall of 2012, my husband announced that he would soon begin the RCIA process “just to see what it’s all about.” I was ecstatic, but casually said, “Great! I will be praying for you.” I wrote a prayer for him the night of his first class, that I prayed every subsequent Thursday night during his time at RCIA. Meanwhile, my friend told me that she had signed up for an ACTS retreat. I had been registered for one earlier in the year at my own parish, but had been unable to attend. She invited me to go with her to the one in November. I went ahead and registered, excited but nervous.
Two days before the retreat, Superman was driving home from school and we were in the middle of a big fight. Nearing home he was thinking about the looming possibility of becoming Catholic. He was sitting at a traffic light and at the moment he decided “YES” he looked up and saw several white doves suddenly take flight. he felt strongly that these doves were just the wink from God he needed to move forward in his faith journey. He told me that night he’d decided to become a Catholic. I burst into tears, overjoyed and so incredibly grateful to God for this beautiful gift my husband had been given – the gift of Faith.
The retreat proved to yield abundant fruit in my faith life. The Holy Spirit put certain people in my path that weekend to let me know of God’s endless love for me. The pastoral director met with me at one point that weekend and reminded me that we serve a God of inexhaustible mercy and forgiveness, and that included the sins of my college years and time of bitterness toward Him. I told Father about my husband’s planned conversion. He looked at me, took my face in his hands, and said “My child, you see how God has transformed your life! Go, and praise Him for His love for you!”
My husband was baptized the following spring. We are now in a sacramental marriage, and enjoy the fullness of God’s graces that come along with being equally yoked. We pray together every night as a family, and every morning as a couple. I’ve loved having the opportunity to help him learn to pray as our children learn. We encourage each other to make frequent use of the sacrament of reconciliation, and we communicate far better than we ever have. A soldier forever, my husband is often the first to recognize when the devil tries to wage a spiritual attack and comes up with a battle plan every time. We love the St. Michael prayer, and pray it often. My personal prayer life is the best it’s ever been.
And just because God has a sense of humor? As I recovered from delivering Beckett (baby #5, born in August of 2016), Superman started working outside the home again for the first time in six years.
In our parish’s Adult Formation Office.
God. Is. Good.
People ask me if I would do it all over – would I date, then marry, an agnostic all over again? The answer might surprise you. Honestly, I don’t know if I would. *record scratching sound*
Yes, you read that correctly.
While our story ends well, it’s not the typical outcome for marriages that start as “mixed cult” – one baptized party marrying a non-baptized party. We know that our story is in the minority. While my husband’s unique journey and ultimate conversion is a beautiful story, and though he often acknowledges that he likely wouldn’t be Catholic today if it weren’t for my example, we ultimately feel that there was a lot of unnecessary pain, heartache, and angst during our time of spiritual disparity that could have been avoided. Remember that I was deceived into not attending Mass every week; my prayer life became nonexistent. These are not hallmarks of the type of marriage that brings glory to God. There was never any guarantee that my husband would change. Yes, God used my decision to marry outside of the Faith for His great good and glory, just as he used the situation of my crisis pregnancy to bring about goodness and beauty. Ultimately, though, I think my Faith would have been a lot stronger and our marriage much less strained if we had been able to have the graces from a sacramental marriage poured over us all along. We made it through some rough things, but how much more grace-filled and loving would our marriage have been if we were on the same faith page from the get go? We will never know. We deliberately set ourselves up for challenges than in the majority of cases could have ended in a failed marriage, or worse, a destroyed faith. If you find yourself in a relationship like mine, headed towards marriage with a non-Catholic, non-Christian, or atheist/agnostic, I strongly recommend prayerful discernment, fasting and sacrifice to know God’s will for you, and ongoing advice from a trusted, faithful spiritual director or pastor.