“Ask a Priest: Should my son be marrying an agnostic?”

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Q: My son is 25 years old and has fallen in love with an agnostic. She is a very nice girl, but my greatest fear is her lack of faith. She has agreed to let my son raise the kids Catholic if they got married, but she will not go to church. I know that a person can change, but one shouldn’t go into the marriage expecting that. I am always expressing my concern, and he realizes the points that I make. When do I back off in case it is God’s will? -J.K.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Your concerns about your son marrying an agnostic show your great love and concern for him. Those concerns are not without foundation. The Church itself cautions about the union of Catholics and Protestants, for instance. “The difficulties of mixed marriages must not be underestimated” (Catechism, No. 1634). Unions between Catholics and non-believers can be even more challenging.

That said, a few observations are in order. First, your son is an adult and has the right to make his own decisions about marriage. If the Church gives permission for the marriage, then you will have to prepare for what is ahead. Some considerations might give you comfort.

You mention that the young woman is “very nice.” Perhaps she has a good heart. Perhaps she has been attracted to your son precisely because of the values that he lives, values that he learned growing up Catholic. All that could lead her closer to God. “For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through the brother” (1 Corinthians 7:14).

You yourself might have to walk a delicate balance. It is understandable that you don’t want to encourage the marriage. Yet you will undoubtedly want to show a lot of charity to the young woman. She might be your future daughter-in-law, after all, and the chances of her entering the Church might improve by your example of Christian living, along with the witness of the rest of the family. You want to be careful not to push your son too hard, because that could cause lasting wounds between you and him and a future daughter-in-law.

It might be useful to remember how God thinks of this woman: He loves her unconditionally, he died for her, he wants her to discover this love and allow it to transform her life. Your possible future daughter-in-law is on a journey. She isn’t sure if God exists. Her views can change. The grace of God can work wonders. We don’t say this out of presumption but out of hope.

Besides, our mission as Catholics is to evangelize the world. This means precisely that we need to reach out to non-believers and to the lost sheep. Sometimes we ourselves are the first ones who benefit from our efforts to evangelize others. By praying for this young woman, by looking for opportunities to share your faith with her, by making a special effort at charity with her, you will feel your own spiritual life deepening. I will pray for you and your son and the young woman. God bless.

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