“Ask a Priest: How Do I Get My Husband to Attend Marriage Prep Classes?”

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Q: I have been married 33 years by civil ceremony. My husband is non-Catholic. He claims he is agnostic! I have returned to the Church after 30 years of searching for the right “religion” but have come to embrace my Catholic faith. I have initiated the process of having my marriage sanctified and even have the go-ahead from the marriage tribunal. The problem is that my husband will not attend the mandatory marriage preparatory classes required by our diocese. My priest has empathy but is unable to do anything. I cannot receive any sacraments. Is there anything I can do besides pray for a miracle that my husband will change his mind and attend classes on marriage? We are in our 60s. -Y.C.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is a grace that you want to embrace the Catholic faith after so many years. God is patient and always desirous of bringing us closer to him. You recognize that you are still on a journey to full participation in the life of the Church.

Don’t give up hope about the situation. Keep praying and offer up sacrifices for the grace that will bring your partner to the marriage preparation classes. Look for ways to bring him into closer contact with your pastor and parish community. These encounters might build good will and give your partner the chance to ask questions about things on his mind.

You mention about not being able to receive the sacraments. Here you might want to talk with your pastor. If you and your partner were to agree to live together as brother and sister (no sexual relations), and if there is no chance of scandal to others, and if you make a good confession, there might be a chance for you to receive Communion again. This is something your pastor would have to decide.

Let me emphasize that such a case would not be in opposition to the principle that Catholics who marry outside the Church (or who divorce and remarry outside the Church) cannot be admitted to Communion. In this case, you would in effect be resolving to refrain from what objectively is seriously sinful behavior. No. 1650 of the Catechism says, “Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence.”

(For further reading on the theme of divorce, remarriage and receiving the sacraments, see the October 2013 article by the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Müller, here.)

In the meantime, don’t give up hope. Attend Mass. Be attentive to the Readings. Pray daily. Contribute to works of charity. And offer the pain and suffering that goes along with this situation to God, in union with Christ’s own sacrifice on the cross. Your efforts to be faithful to God and the Church will certainly have a positive effect on the spiritual journey of you and your partner, even if you don’t see that effect clearly or quickly. God loves you and is working in your heart, and even if the situation doesn’t resolve itself perfectly, God is faithful and won’t forget your loving and faith-filled efforts.

Keep striving to have your union blessed by the Church. Your full living of the faith would help your beloved. “The unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:14). The grace that helped you rediscover the Catholic faith after 30 years is a grace that can also bring a change of heart in your partner. Count on my prayers that that will happen.

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