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Every Day Catholic - August 2010

Every Day Catholic uses an engaging and practical approach to help readers confidently apply Christian values to their everyday decisions. Great for group or individual study, and FREE online discussion guides are available for each issue. Get more information and order here.

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Faith and Marriage — When Spouses Have Different Beliefs
By: Donna Erickson Couch, M.A.

After the romantic dust of my marriage settled, the fundamental questions of life surfaced dramatically when my closest friend was killed in a car accident. As I grappled with grief, my husband, Dana, comforted me as best he could. When I talked, however, about my need for God and church (I had drifted away from my Catholic faith), he was silent. Eventually he told me that, while he didn’t mind if I wanted religion again, he would not participate.

About 10 years into our marriage, I not only forged my way back to my faith alone, but also embarked on a spiritual quest that changed my life. Through years of confusion and struggle, I prayed and suffered in silence as I tried to reconcile my simultaneous love for God and for my nonparticipant husband. I worried about my role in Dana’s salvation and agonized over how to raise our children in the faith by myself.

Nagging questions plagued me: Why had this happened? Would God come between us? Was there anyone else like me in the community? Many years passed until, with the help of my studies in faith development, interpersonal communication and mysticism, I finally made peace with the uncertainties. These rather different topics resonated with me at an opportune time, and I received four transformative insights:

1. After a few years married, it’s common to experience a spiritual awakening.

The richness of Catholicism often doesn’t resonate until long after the wedding day. Upon completion of Confirmation class or during college, many churchgoers drift away from their practice of the faith. When thoughts turn to marriage, faith is frequently downplayed or discarded by those with limited adolescent or childhood views of faith. We may allow the naïve presumption that “love is all you need” to prevail. Religious practice becomes low or sometimes not even on the priority list.

Later, perhaps after a child or two, it’s common to experience an awakening, a need for God and community again. Frequently, those who return are surprised to discover a treasury of meaning in their original faith. Along with the elation of this breakthrough, however, may linger thoughts about the negative effects this may have on significant relationships. Does God come between people?

2. Authentic spirituality isn’t divisive.

As my inner life grew and I couldn’t share it with Dana, I felt an increasing distance developing between us. When I tried to describe my feelings to a friend, he quoted me the words of Jesus, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword....and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household” (Matthew 10:34-36).

Though discouraged, I nonetheless pressed on and, with the help of prayer and a spiritual director, found deeper meaning in this biblical passage. I learned that, even though the incompatible beliefs we hold about God can indeed feel insurmountable, time and maturity quell the fear. Like with marriage, when we commit to God for the long haul, it’s natural to experience times of tension.


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Perseverance matters most when it comes to love and provides the backbone of authentic spirituality. This awareness led to yet another related insight: All expressions of love are expressions of divine love. As our capacity for God’s love increases, so does our ability to love others. Paradoxically, my deep love for God empowered me to love Dana on an even deeper level. In the end, the “sword” of God’s love actually keeps us together.

3. The inner journey is a solitary journey into God.

In another Scripture passage, Jesus says that there is no marriage in heaven (Mark 12:25). This was in response to the Pharisees when they questioned him about the eternal consequences of multiple marriages.

If we can imagine this concept as a blueprint for the spiritual journey, an important insight is revealed: While there are many companions on the outer journey, no one may walk the inner path with us. While we can try to describe our personal relationships with God, no one else—not even those to whom we are wed—may share those experiences completely.

God calls each of us into a type of “mystical marriage” which demands that we forsake all others. No one escapes the rigors of the solitary inner journey. Those of us who walk in faith without our spouses have the opportunity of learning this sooner and in a slightly different way.

4. All relationships are mirrors of the divine relationship.

Admittedly, we have a need to share what is deep inside and we long for someone to understand our zeal for God. Fortunately, an “inner landscape” reverberates throughout creation and is communicated through the many people we call friends and intimates. All of our relationships, not just with those who share our faith walk, teach us about God.

Can we see and hear the divine in everyone? Equipped with a bigger vision, we can welcome the challenges of living with those who, without words, can teach us about the subtleties and whispers of God’s presence. Meanwhile, spiritual directors and friends can help us process the complexities of relationship with God. Frequently, others serve this need better than the ones with whom we live.

If you find yourself in the middle of a spiritual awakening, while simultaneously married to someone not on the same page, you can take heart. The challenge of living an intentional, God-centered life provides an opportunity to experience what it means to fall in love again and again—with your spouse, your faith and the beloved Holy One.

When God means something different to your spouse, it’s not the end of the world but rather the starting point for a profound encounter with love’s sacred mysteries.


Permission to Publish received for this article, “Faith and Marriage—When Spouses Have Different Beliefs” by Donna Erickson Couch, from Rev. Joseph R. Binzer, Vicar General, Archdiocese of Cincinnati, 4-14-2010.



Making Connections

■ When have you experienced differences of faith coming between people?

■ In what ways is your own faith journey a solitary experience? A communal experience?

■ How will you apply the insight that “all expressions of love are expressions of divine love” to your relationships?



Movie Moments

The Painted Veil
By: Frank Frost

In the 2006 movie The Painted Veil, two marriage partners find themselves in unfamiliar territory—both geographically and emotionally. In this period piece, set in 1920s China, Walter (Edward Norton) is a British infectious-disease specialist based in Shanghai. His wife, Kitty (Naomi Watts), has an affair with the vice-consul there. Confronting Kitty about the affair, Walter claims she married him “only to get as far away from your mother as possible.” Walter volunteers to take his medical skills into the mountains to combat a deadly outbreak of cholera, forcing Kitty to come along as punishment. Lacking other options, Kitty reluctantly goes with him.

Isolated from their previous lives by language and culture, each must confront their inner selves and the reality of their marriage and values. What began as a wedge in their marriage, caused by hurt and anger over Kitty’s affair and Walter’s punitive upset of her life, emerges as a wider split over what they ultimately value. Walter risks his life for the good health of strangers. Kitty is concerned only about her own comfort and welfare.

Kitty meets a French nun (Diana Rigg), who runs a school for children orphaned by the cholera outbreak. The nun gradually leads Kitty to step out of herself by volunteering at the orphanage. The satisfaction Kitty finds in this helps her to see Walter in a different light, acknowledging the nobility of what he’s doing. Her spiritual awakening to his example of altruism provides the breakthrough they need to accept each other with a love that makes their marriage real. Her newfound values will not be threatened even in the dramatic ending.


Next time you watch The Painted Veil, ASK YOURSELF:

■ The movie begins with Kitty and Walter at a literal crossroads. What are their personal crossroads?

■ How does Kitty’s awakening to a higher calling affect their marriage?

■ How is communication a critical factor in Walter’s response to Kitty? How do I help or hinder communication in my critical relationships?



Putting Shoes on the Gospel

Mary Jane and Pete Glauber
By: Joan McKamey

Mixed, mixed-faith, ecumenical, interchurch, interfaith, interreligious—these adjectives describe marriages in which the spouses profess different faiths. Mary Jane and Pete Glauber choose “interchurch” to describe their marriage—Pete is Catholic; Mary Jane is Episcopalian. Mary Jane says, “We’re living bridges.”

At the time they were married 36 years ago, Mary Jane tells Every Day Catholic, “We felt alone, like we were second-class. Over time, we began to understand that our ecumenism [promotion of Christian unity] is a good thing. We feel good about who we are.”

One of Pete’s favorite Scripture passages is Jesus’ prayer “that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). “What we have to emphasize is what all Christians share in common,” he says.

Pete admits to impatience, saying, “There’s a tendency to think that the unity Jesus prayed for won’t take place soon. We’re too content with slow progress. There needs to be more movement toward getting to know each other. I participate in a Methodist men’s Scripture group as well as one in my parish. There are lots of misunderstandings about beliefs.”

“Discussions in our home tend to expand understanding,” says Mary Jane. “Learning about another faith tradition doesn’t necessarily take away from your own. It may give you compassion and a deeper understanding both of your own tradition and of those of other people. That’s well worth the effort.” Mary Jane has recently started to attend Quaker meetings, in addition to Episcopal services, to address her contemplative side.

The Glaubers aren’t theologians. Mary Jane is a retired modern languages teacher. Pete is an attorney. They came to their insights through daily living ecumenism and intentionally raising their three children, now grown, to be people of faith. They share faith and prayer at home, especially around the dinner table. Pete says, “It’s important that children see their parents pray together.”

Involvement in the American Association of Interchurch Families (AAIF) has also helped the Glaubers. Mary Jane says, “The conferences are an excellent resource for interchurch couples, interchurch families and those who give them pastoral care.” She helps edit The ARK, a publication of AAIF.

What advice does this Louisville, Kentucky, couple have for other interchurch couples, especially those just beginning their marriages? Pete says, “They need to work at it, keep close and pray together. This effort will communicate to their children that faith, religion, spirituality and relationship with God are important.”

Mary Jane advises, “When they keep their marriage first and foremost, everything else will fall into place—for the couple, the extended family and the two churches. The possibilities for Christian unity are great if properly nurtured within these families.”


Passing On the Faith

Taking a Risk
By: Jeanne Hunt

Scenario

It was a lovely wedding. Mary Beth and Chris looked like the perfect couple. Margaret, the mother of the groom, had always hoped that Chris would marry a Catholic, but Mary Beth had not been raised in any faith.

Within a year of their wedding, Chris stopped going to Sunday Mass. Mary Beth had no reason to help Chris stay Catholic. She simply didn’t value a relationship with God as important to their marriage.

A Response

The number of ecumenical and interfaith marriages and marriages between a Catholic and an unchurched partner is rapidly increasing. Along with this comes a substantial increase in the number of couples who stop attending any church. This rate seems to rise if the woman is the initially nonpracticing partner. The staggering statistics speak to a deeper issue: Both partners must be fully committed to living the faith dimension of their relationship or they both may lose faith.

While it’s easy to place blame on the unchurched or nonpracticing partner, it’s far better to be forewarned and offer support. The extended family can encourage a newly married couple to share their faith lives. The Catholic partner may feel isolated and overwhelmed with the need to share faith with the other.

Newly married couples have many stresses in their growing relationship and, all too often, faith is put on the back burner. The danger is that, when we neglect faith from the beginning of the marriage relationship, it’s even more difficult to reestablish it. Those of us who see a young marriage following this path can be instrumental in leading the couple toward a living faith that will bring new levels of intimacy to their lives.

Rather than stand by and watch her son lose his faith, Margaret became the stereotypical mother-in-law: She interfered! She decided to share her faith with Mary Beth. The two women met for lunch once a week “just to visit.”When it seemed right, Margaret swallowed hard and began to talk about being Catholic. Next was the spring Sunday when she invited Chris and Mary Beth to go to Mass with her. To her surprise, they said yes.

Last week, Mary Beth asked Margaret to be her sponsor in the parish RCIA process. Margaret knows that, if she hadn’t taken a risk and shared her faith with her daughter-in-law, it’s very possible that both of her beloved children would have walked away from God.



Prayer

We Are Sanctified by One Another
By: Jeanne Hunt

(for praying with your spouse or other couples)

Preparation: Place a large white candle (Christ candle), enough smaller candles and holders for the couples present and a Bible on a prayer table.

OPENING SONG

“The Servant Song” (or similar hymn)

OPENING PRAYER

O Divine Presence, who abides in the midst of holy unions, bless our marriages. Keep us in love, never allowing what is different to divide us. Call us to embrace our common values. When we find it difficult to support the other’s belief, give us understanding. When we cannot see you as the other sees you, give us trust and hope. Amen.

SCRIPTURE

1 Corinthians 7:13-14

RITUAL

Invite each couple to approach the Christ candle, light their shared candle, place it in a holder and renew their vows as follows:

At our wedding, I stood with you before our family and friends; once again, I take your hand as my partner in life. (Name), I choose to be true to you. I will love you and honor you for all the days to come.

INTERCESSIONS

Response:
Let us sanctify the other.
In our diversity….
In our separate understandings of you….
In the ways we live our beliefs….
In our strengths and weaknesses of faith….

CLOSING BLESSING

Invite the couples to take turns blessing their spouses:

Taking his/her hands in yours, say:

May God dwell within our hearts and within the space between our hearts. Amen.

CLOSING SONG

“The Servant Song”




Wolfgang of Regensburg: Wolfgang was born in Swabia, Germany, and was educated at a school located at the abbey of Reichenau. There he encountered Henry, a young noble who went on to become Archbishop of Trier. Meanwhile, Wolfgang remained in close contact with the archbishop, teaching in his cathedral school and supporting his efforts to reform the clergy. 
<p>At the death of the archbishop, Wolfgang chose to become a Benedictine monk and moved to an abbey in Einsiedeln, now part of Switzerland. Ordained a priest, he was appointed director of the monastery school there. Later he was sent to Hungary as a missionary, though his zeal and good will yielded limited results. </p><p>Emperor Otto II appointed him Bishop of Regensburg near Munich. He immediately initiated reform of the clergy and of religious life, preaching with vigor and effectiveness and always demonstrating special concern for the poor. He wore the habit of a monk and lived an austere life. </p><p>The draw to monastic life never left him, including the desire for a life of solitude. At one point he left his diocese so that he could devote himself to prayer, but his responsibilities as bishop called him back. </p><p>In 994 Wolfgang became ill while on a journey; he died in Puppingen near Linz, Austria. He was canonized in 1052. His feast day is celebrated widely in much of central Europe. </p> American Catholic Blog Keep your gaze always on our most beloved Jesus, asking him in the depths of his heart what he desires for you, and never deny him anything even if it means going strongly against the grain for you. –Blessed Maria Sagrario of St. Aloysius Gonzaga

 
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