Friday, January 13, 2012

All Those Questions I Never Answered: #1 -- On Marriage and Disparity of Cult

I'm BAAAAACCCKKK! That's right, Coffee Talkers, I just realized that we are only days away from the one year anniversary of little old Coffee Talk, and in honor of the upcoming occasion, I decided to actually POST ON MY BLOG this week! You're welcome.

Alright, there are some questions that I never answered. I'm ashamed! There are two particular questions that come to mind: one question is from over a month ago, and the other one is from last March. Because I am ridiculous. But I think I put both of these questions off until I could really give them due consideration and a response that gave a balanced view from the perspectives of faith and reason. I've realized something: that time is never going to come! So I'mma give them my best shot this week, because something has to be better than nothing. (I don't really believe that, actually, but here goes anyway.) Let's start with the one from last March, shall we?

Question 1:
Dear Leslie,
My husband is the best spouse I could have ever asked for.  He is a wonderful father to our children, a friend to everyone and a good son.  He serves others in his occupation and does it well.  He has always been a person of strong moral character, kind and loving, objective in his judgments of others, honest, faithful and true to himself and those around him.  He does not gossip, he does not lie.  I know he is a human being like the rest of us and isn't perfect by any means, but I am trying to illustrate a point here:  he is above-average in the way he conducts his life.  I have witnessed him behave in the most Christian-like behavior throughout our 25 year marriage and I am proud to be his wife.  Children adore him and animals flock to him.  Whenever I see a spider in our house and ask him to kill it for me, he refuses, saying "A life is a life" while he utilizes the 'catch and release' method to set the spider free...and yes, this even goes for black widows.  I always laugh and say I married the re-incarnation of St. Francis.  My dilemma?  My  husband is not Catholic.  He's not even Christian.  He does not believe in a God for himself but does respect the belief systems of others so long as they are not used for harm toward anyone.  He has always been supportive of raising our daughters in the Catholic faith but says he has no personal need for this faith himself.  It hurts me so deeply when I am told to believe that someone who is such an amazing person yet does not believe in God will not receive salvation at the time of their death.  How do I process these feelings?  I simply refuse to believe the kind and loving God I firmly believe in will cast my beautiful husband....HIS child...aside at the time of his death.  He behaves more like a Christian than I do on many occasions and yet I've been taught all my life that I will receive salvation and he will not.  My children have concern over this as well and I struggle with how to explain this to them. What are your thoughts on this subject?  
Thanks so much,
Anonymous :)
Dear Anonymous,
First, thank you for your question! I have too many thoughts on this to share fully here, so let me sum up with a few key points:
  1. While baptism is the gateway to all sacraments and the normal path toward salvation, Catholics do believe that salvation is possible for all people. Find out how by reading my post on Salvation and Damnation: What Do Catholics Really Believe.
  2. It is a challenge for all people to understand the connection between the realities of family life and the Gospel for everyone, because we live in a fallen world. Know that you are not isolated in your feelings and experience, and that God (and the Church) remain with you.
  3.  Marriage is not only important as a cultural institution, but also took on new meaning when Jesus elevated it to the level of a sacrament. This is why marriage between two baptized persons is ideal, because that is what makes the marriage sacramental. Still, many Christians marry non-Christians, and the Catholic Church is sensitive to this situation, which they refer to as 'disparity of cult.' The Church has this to say about these marriages in the Catechism: 
Mixed marriages and disparity of cult
  1. 1633 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.
    1634 Difference of confession between the spouses does not constitute an insurmountable obstacle for marriage, when they succeed in placing in common what they have received from their respective communities, and learn from each other the way in which each lives in fidelity to Christ. But the difficulties of mixed marriages must not be underestimated. They arise from the fact that the separation of Christians has not yet been overcome. The spouses risk experiencing the tragedy of Christian disunity even in the heart of their own home. Disparity of cult can further aggravate these difficulties. Differences about faith and the very notion of marriage, but also different religious mentalities, can become sources of tension in marriage, especially as regards the education of children. The temptation to religious indifference can then arise.
    1635 According to the law in force in the Latin Church, a mixed marriage needs for liceity the express permission of ecclesiastical authority.137 In case of disparity of cult an express dispensation from this impediment is required for the validity of the marriage.138 This permission or dispensation presupposes that both parties know and do not exclude the essential ends and properties of marriage; and furthermore that the Catholic party confirms the obligations, which have been made known to the non-Catholic party, of preserving his or her own faith and ensuring the baptism and education of the children in the Catholic Church.139
    1636 Through ecumenical dialogue Christian communities in many regions have been able to put into effect a common pastoral practice for mixed marriages. Its task is to help such couples live out their particular situation in the light of faith, overcome the tensions between the couple's obligations to each other and towards their ecclesial communities, and encourage the flowering of what is common to them in faith and respect for what separates them.
    1637 In marriages with disparity of cult the Catholic spouse has a particular task: "For the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husband."140 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.141 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.
    4. All that said, your husband sounds like a truly wonderful person, and as you've suggested, perhaps more moral than many Christians. I'm sure there are many Catholic women reading this post, wishing perhaps that their own spouse was as St. Francis-like, hard-working, and considerate as your own non-Christian husband! Still, this reminds us that Christ came to the earth and died not so that bad men might be good, but so that dead men might live. And this opportunity is open to all men. Always. Your husband will be judged at the end of his life as we all will -- according to the graces and knowledge he was given, and on how he acted according to his conscience. And it does seem that, in many ways, you two are leading one another (and your children) along paths of grace and salvation, so that can certainly be counted as a blessing sadly not even enjoyed by all couples who are married sacramentally.

    Lastly, the US Catholic Bishop's have developed a great internet resource called "For Your Marriage." I hope that you might find it to have good reading and helpful resources for your marriage and family.

    [Pretend that the images I tried to insert here had been successful, and then click here.]

    As always, thanks for stopping by, and be assured of my prayers!

    Peace and all good,

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