Question: I am Catholic trying to practice my faith, and married to a Catholic in name only. We have 3 children together and try to attend Mass weekly but it is very mentally and emotionally draining as it is hard to reach church and the lackluster homilies bring out a scathing critic in my husband who criticizes every statement made while we drive back. Moreover, he is playful with the kids during the holiest moments in Mass and I don’t feel he receives Communion believing that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist. … I cannot attend Mass as frequently as I want to because of our location and other responsibilities and this is a major source of depression in me. … Our marriage feels like any ordinary marriage founded on equality and peace within the family but there is no Christ at the helm. I really need my husband to be the head of the family as God intends which is something he finds ludicrous. … I really do not understand the purpose of marriage anymore but I’m hanging in there all the same. – N.
Answer: N., we’re sorry to hear how much you’re suffering, but you’ve described a marriage with a lot of good in it! The fact that you try to attend Mass weekly as a family is a solid basis for a strong spiritual relationship. Lackluster homilies are a big disappointment for everyone, but it sounds like you agree with your husband that your priest’s homilies are not the greatest. Some people have a habit of learning through criticizing and identifying flaws in the information that’s been presented to them. It sounds like your husband could be one of these people. His willingness to analyze and discuss the homily is an important opportunity for you to teach him what you know about the faith. If the priest was unclear (or even wrong), you can give your husband more information or better information. If you don’t know how to answer one of your husband’s criticisms, look up the answer in the Catechism or on trustworthy Internet sites. There is a wealth of spiritual resources out there. In the words of St. Josemaria Escrivá, “Study. Study in earnest. If you are to be salt and light, you need knowledge, capability” (The Way, no. 340).
Attending Mass with kids can be stressful for everyone. Kids frequently wiggle around, get distracted, or cry. Playing with kids during Mass might keep them from crying or complaining too loudly, but it’s not an ideal strategy. You can try sitting between your husband and the kids, so the main job of explaining the Mass to the kids and enforcing their good behavior falls on you. Then your husband probably won’t be tempted to be playful with them at crucial moments.
Your yearning for Mass and the Eucharist is a great gift and will bring you many graces! But Catholics aren’t obligated to attend Mass except on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, so there’s no need to despair. Take advantage of prayers of spiritual communion, like this one attributed to St. Alphonsus Liguori:
My Jesus, I believe that you are in the Blessed Sacrament. I love you above all things, and I long for you in my soul. Since I cannot now receive you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. As though you have already come, I embrace you and unite myself entirely to you; never permit me to be separated from you. Amen.
Above all, don’t forget that God has bound you and your husband together in a sacramental marriage, and Christ is at the helm, whether or not you both realize it. You’ve described your marriage as based on “equality and peace.” Thank God for that — some people don’t have those qualities in their marriage.
Many husbands have difficulty taking spiritual headship. You are not alone. It sounds like you’ve told him what you want. It’s time to be silent and let him ponder the idea at his own pace. You don’t have to bring it up again except with God in prayer. Your marriage has a definite purpose — to get you and your husband closer to God. Your marriage is your path to heaven. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s hard, and frequently it’s not what you expect. Be patient. Persevere. Show your husband how much you appreciate his other qualities. Pray that God will bless your husband with the gift of faith, and then trust that Christ is at the helm of your marriage and he will guide you both safely home.
Have you struggled with this issue? What strategies have worked best for you?
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A longer version of the question answered in this column appeared in the comments to Unequally Yoked: When a Spouse Does Not Practice the Catholic Faith.
Copyright 2016 Dr. Manny & Karee Santos