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“Ask a Priest: Did I Ruin My Husband’s Faith?”
Q: I married a Southern Baptist. We went through Pre-Cana and were married at my home parish, and originally had a lot of conversations about faith. I went to Bible studies with him at his church, and he went to Mass with me. Over the years, though, he started to be less interested in conversations. When we moved and were looking for new churches, he said he didn’t care what denomination the Protestant church was, and eventually he didn’t even care if we participated in one at all. Earlier this year, he started to try to talk me out of going to church on Sundays. Recently he told me that he identifies as agnostic. I’m worried that I had a part in destroying his faith, when we would talk and I would disagree with him on things. I asked him if I killed his faith, and he answered, “No, but Catholicism did.” He told me that being exposed to a different denomination had made him question everything he’d grown up believing, and now he thinks that if there’s no universal agreement, then maybe none of it is true. We have three young boys, and my husband said he’s considering going to church just long enough to help me watch them while they’re young, but eventually he won’t want to go anymore. I’m not sure what to do. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. –A.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: I am sorry to hear about your situation. You might appreciate better now why the Catholic Church doesn’t encourage mixed marriages. It is tough enough for Catholic marriages to work; mixed marriages often face greater problems.
Nevertheless, God is still present in your life and your marriage. He is interested in you and your husband continuing to grow closer and to discover a deeper happiness — a spiritual, emotional, and intellectual intimacy that maybe neither of you thought was possible. For that to happen, you need to continue loving your husband, and to continue growing in your love for God. Working through the difficulties of this season in your marriage will be the way God’s grace touches and transforms both of you.
You asked your husband whether you killed his faith. Ultimately it is up to each person to guard the gift of faith he has been given by God.
However, your note implies that you were mixing religious practices and crossing over church lines with frequency. You would go to Bible studies at the Baptist denomination, while still attending Mass.
Baptist interpretations of Scripture can differ greatly from Catholic interpretations, and for the sake of your own faith you might have done better to avoid such biblical blending.
The crossover – Bible studies here, Mass over there – probably didn’t help clarify religious matters for your husband. In fact, it might have made things worse, abetting the doubts or indifferentism that he has come to embrace.
It might be good to encourage your husband not just to doubt passively. Rather, if he is questioning whether anything is true, he should question actively.
You can help by walking with him along that path. For example, read together one of Patrick Madrid’s four books entitled “Surprised by Truth,” which tell the stories of real people who came from various backgrounds and ended up discovering the full truth of Christianity in the Catholic Church.
Reading books like that will help your husband process what he has experienced, and it will also help you to come to know and live your own faith better. You might also want to watch our Retreat Guide on marriage, “Three Hearts”.
In the meantime you could consider focusing on basics. Be a loving wife, be a loving mother, be a faithful Catholic.
The fact that your husband is willing to hang on to at least the semblance of religious practice for the sake of your sons is a sign that he has concern for their upbringing. Deep down he might even sense that religious practice is beneficial. That is something you want to cultivate as best you can.
Your own prayer life and sacramental life are crucial now. Live your Catholic faith as fully as you can. You won’t edify your husband by halfway measures. Your own perseverance in the faith will be a fact that he can’t ignore, even if he doesn’t understand it. That will keep the issue on his radar screen. And, of course, your practice of the Catholic faith will help your children. Their own prayers could help dad, too.
As for your marriage, prepare yourself for the long haul. Your fidelity is important, “For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:14). I hope some of this helps.