"Faith" by Arthur Hughes
I have received a great number of emails from wives who are considering the Catholic faith but whose husbands are either not interested or staunchly opposed to it. Knowing that I am a Catholic revert (someone who left the Church and came home to it in later life) with a non-Catholic husband, they turned to me to ask for advice. After many months of prayer and discussions with my husband, I have finally drafted my humble answer to all those heartfelt questions.
Before I begin, I just want to point out that I am writing from my own personal study and my own experiences. Three months into married life, I returned to the Catholic Church. My (non-Catholic) Christian husband was overwhelmed by this, and we have since been on a truly profound, challenging journey over the four years of our marriage. Sometimes God guided me in doing right by both the Church and my husband. More often, though, I really botched things. So, what I have to offer here comes straight from the humble and contrite heart of a sinner who nevertheless genuninely wants to serve her God and husband and was taught a few things along the way.
- The first thing to remember, in contrast to the title of this post, is that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I'm not talking about the "you're not alone because other wives have trod where you tread," however true that may also be. What I actually mean is that you are not alone because you are a wife. You have a husband. He may not be feeling led in the direction that you are, but he is there--your one-flesh joint heir of the grace of life (Genesis 3:29; 1 Peter 3:17)! Never forget who he is: your husband, your partner for life, the man that God made especially for you! Never forget who you are, either: his wife, his "help meet," his beloved, the woman made especially by God to love, honor, cherish and obey him (Ephesians 5:22-24).
- YOUR SOUL IS AT STAKE. Before I explain that statement, let me say this: We are saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8). Period. Not faith. Not works. Not creed. Grace. God's unmeritted gift of grace. Phew. Okay, now that that's been said, can we move on and say that religion is still important, too? Well, it is. Very.
In 1302, St. Boniface VIII wrote in his "Unum Sanctum,"
"That there is one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church we are compelled by faith to believe and hold, and we firmly believe in her and sincerely confess her, outside of whom there is neither salvation nor remission of sins…. In her there is 'one Lord, one faith, one baptism'" (Ephesians 4:5).
That said, the Church does teach that it may be possible for non-Catholics--and even non-Christians to go to Heaven. In Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council wrote,
"Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do His will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation."
However, Vatican II went on to say in Ad Gentes Divinitus that "those cannot be saved, who knowing that the Catholic Church was founded through Jesus Christ, by God, as something necessary, still refuse to enter it or remain in it" (emphasis my own).
If you are a fallen away Roman Catholic who is feeling drawn back to the Church or if you are a non-Catholic who feels convicted of the truth of the Church's authority in Jesus Christ, then you are morally compelled in the most serious terms to become a member of the Catholic Church and to follow her teachings.
- WIFELY SUBMISSION. Aye, there's the rub. As much as many people would like to ignore it, God is very clear that a wife ought to be submissive to her husband in all matters (Ephesians 5:24, 44) except where the husband's will seriously and directly conflicts with the Will of God. This is a very fine line to tread. We women are often eager to "claim" the Will or Voice of God when, in truth, we are only following our own sensibilities or personal convictions. We must steep ourselves in the Word of God and in Sacred Tradition.
If you feel that your husband is asking you to sin, you ought also to seek wise, doctrinally-sound counsel as to how to proceed and to discern whether, in fact, your husband actually is leading you into sin or just asking you to do something that you have decided is sinful. Speak to your parish priest or ask him to recommend a female spiritual counselor for you if you feel you would be more comfortable speaking with a woman. You must also weigh the severity of this sin. If my husband asks me to commit or turn a blind eye to a venial sin and the consequences of failing to submit to his authority would result in a much more grievous mortal sin, then I ought to obey him. If you are confused on these matters, seek spiritual counsel!
Do not take for granted how important your wifely submission is! It is the Will of God that you submit to your husband. Remember this before you go around claiming that you know the Will of God and seeking to reject the Will He has already laid out in His Word.
- Along these lines, it is vital to remember this: DO NOT USURP YOUR HUSBAND'S AUTHORITY. Scripture is very clear, and so is the Church's teaching. The husband is the head of the wife. This headship has no caveats. It does not hinge on whether your husband is a good guy, whether he is in a state of sin or grace, or whether he is saved. When St. Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church that "the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3), he knew that he was speaking to some people who had unbelieving spouses. He still said it. No holds barred, no strings attached. If you deny or reject this God-ordained order, you will be headed straight into sin and possibly for divorce--one of the most serious and virulent sins of our day!
- PRAY. You are between a rock and a hard place. You feel called to join the true "one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church." You know that it is now vital that you do so. You also know that you have to yield to the authority of your husband. All too frequently, these needs may seem to be at bitter odds, possibly irreconcilable. So, what can you do? Pray. Pray. I'm going to say that again: Pray. If you take nothing else away from this post, take this: Pray.
Matthew 9:26: "Jesus looked at them and said, 'WithWhich brings us to my next point.
man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'"
- SEEK HIM, AND TRUST. Have faith that God can and will do what He has promised. It can be so easy to despair, to give in to anxiety, or to try to take control. But, remember what Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew immediately after teaching his disciples how to pray: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life...But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matthew 6:25, 33-34). Don't concern yourself with how you're going to convince your husband of this or that or what will happen if he says no or how it will all work out. Take God at His Word. Seek first His kingdom; pray, and trust.
- CULTIVATE PATIENCE. Of course, I realize that what I've suggested may be just about the hardest thing ever proposed to you. It certainly was for me. So, cultivate patience. My priest likes to point out that "patience" comes from the Latin "patientia," which means "suffering or enduring without complaint." To be patient is to suffer. This sounds yucky and unpleasant, but a life of patience is exactly what Christ calls us to!
Remember that all suffering in life has the capacity to work for our good. Unite your suffering to Christ's on the cross. Offer it up for the intentions of Jesus' Sacred Heart: the salvation of souls, the reparation for sin, and the reunion of all Christians. Remember that however much you might want to see these things in your own family, Jesus wants to see them so much more--in everyone's family! The world over! Trust me; He's already on it. Just unite your own sufferings to His, and be patient.
- DON'T COMPLAIN. Remember, that we are not merely being called to suffering, but to "patientia"--to suffering without complaint. Don't nag. Don't pressure. Don't make your husband's life a living Hell because he won't come to Mass with you or refuses to let you enroll the kids in Catholic school.
"Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of
them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives" (1 Peter 3:1-2).
Don't preach at your husband; it's not your place, and quite frankly, it won't do a lick of good. Above all, do not succumb to a bitter, complaining attitude. Find joy. Enjoy your husband. Win him over, not by manipulating him or brow-beating him with your edition of the Catechism but by being his devoted, loving, joyful wife. Pray for him; live for God. The rest is in Good Hands.
- REMEMBER THAT YOU'RE THE ONE WHO'S CHANGED. It can be so tempting to waste your time brooding over why your husband cannot see what you do in the Catholic Church. This is unconstructive and unfair. Remember that you're the one who has changed, not your husband. He's just going on being the same man who you married. Meanwhile, his wife has just up and changed her entire worldview, not to mention her spiritual allegiance! Be compassionate. The poor guy probably doesn't know what hit him. He may want to ignore your conversion. He may be angry about it. He may feel threatened by it. He is going to need time and space, not a daily argument over points of theology.
Remember that he is still the man you promised to stand by for better or worse. Love him. Cherish him. Obey him. Let him know that you're still the woman he married--even if you do become a Catholic.
- DO NOT COVET. Conveniently, in addition to being our tenth point, this is also the tenth commandment. So it should be easy to remember, even if it's not easy to implement. If you haven't gotten to the "covet" stage of your solo conversion yet, you probably will hit it before too long. You may see happy Catholic couples at church. The husband is smilingly holding a hymnal up for one of his half-dozen beautiful, homeschooled children. It's right around that time that the little green monster starts rearing its ugly head in your lonely heart. Do not give into it! It is pure poison in your life!!
If you're a revert and you find your heart is disastisfied and covetous, get thee to a confessional as quickly as possible. If you're not receiving the Sacraments yet, talk to your priest, repent, and, pray, pray, pray! Moreover, cultivate joy and gratitude right where you are. Remember that your marriage is a sacred covenant ordained by God between you and this man, your husband. Receive your man and your marriage for the GIFTS that they are. Enjoy them, right here, right now! Don't wait for him to convert to enjoy your husband, reverence him, obey him, respect him, honor him, LOVE him. That day may never come. Love him now, just as he is.
I have mainly spoken of principles in this post. I know that there are a lot of pracitical living questions that crop up from this topic, as well.
- What should I do if my husband insists I use birth control?
- What should I do if my husband doesn't want me to go to Mass?
- I'm a revert and I was married outside the Church. I need to have my marriage convalidated, but my husband is against it. What should I do??
- I want to baptize our children Catholic, but my husband doesn't want me to. What should I do???
To mention just a few "easy" ones, right? If these or any other quesitons are on your heart, please feel free to post them in the comments section or to email me. Each one probably deserves a post of its own, and I will try to get to them as I am able, though it may take some time and I may not be qualified to answer all of them.
In the meantime, know that I am praying for each and every one of you ladies who find yourselves in this difficult position. May God grant you wisdom, peace, and joy in your marriage as He welcomes you--or welcomes you back--into the community of His Holy Church. May you know true unity in your life--the unity of the universal Church and the unity of Marriage.