Question: My husband and I have only been married for a year and a half, however, we have been friends for 15 years. I am a practicing Catholic and he grew up a Protestant. He has a wonderful family, who are very strong in their faith. Before getting married, he was more open to going to Mass, doing our marriage preparation classes, etc. We also agreed to raise our children Catholic (when that time comes). Throughout the past year, it has been difficult to get him to come to Mass, that is when he does, and he doesn’t like to put forth effort towards anything religious unless I push it. I constantly pray for him and encourage him to pray, go to Mass, etc. I even offer to go to another church every-other weekend after I attend my own church. I want to know what else I can be doing to help him open his heart to God. Positive reinforcement doesn’t seem to work anymore either. Whatever I recommend he either brushes off or complains and makes excuses. Are there other ways that I can go about this? I want to make sure that I am doing whatever I can to get my husband to Heaven. Thanks and God bless. — Michelle
Answer: It’s great to hear how open your husband was to participating in the life of the Church before you got married, and distressing to hear that somehow things have changed. But take heart — your husband’s behavior isn’t necessarily a bad sign. People who are going through an interior struggle can withdraw temporarily as they’re working through the issue. If your husband is being called to conversion, he may be silently wrestling with — or even resisting — taking such a life-changing step. This would explain why he avoids Protestant services as much as the Catholic Mass. He may not be ready to talk about it, and that’s okay. As St. Josemaria explained in a lovely pastoral analogy (The Way, no. 294):
The plants lay hidden under the snow. And the farmer, the owner of the land, observed with satisfaction: ‘Now they are growing on the inside.’ I thought of you: of your forced inactivity… Tell me: are you too growing ‘on the inside’?
Perhaps your husband is “growing on the inside.”
On the other hand, it’s also possible that your husband made the extra effort before you got married in order to please you, and it’s harder to continue making that effort now that you’ve tied the knot. Stamina over the long run requires a lot of energy. Fortunately, energy levels ebb and flow. Just because your husband is not motivated to attend Mass with you now, doesn’t mean that he won’t ever go with you again. Your job is to stay constant! Keep going to Mass, keep inviting him, keep praying for him. Remember that St. Monica prayed for decades. Chances are it won’t take your husband that long to return to his former habit of joining you for Sunday Mass!
Another problem may be rooted in the different expectations that Protestants and Catholics have of their church communities. In his post entitled 10 Reasons Why It’s Hard to Become Catholic, Protestant-turned-Catholic Taylor Marshall says:
A Protestant has the experience of a minister smiling whenever he sees you, memorizing your name, and generally going out of his way to make a personal connection. … The minister is much more likely to say, “Hey, let’s go to Starbucks this week and talk about your faith.”
If the idea of sitting with a priest — or anyone — in Starbucks to talk about your faith seems borderline loopy, you’re starting to grasp how big a difference there is between the Protestant and Catholic approach. Protestants are very personal and community-oriented, and many Catholic parishes don’t do “community” so well. The lack of a regular coffee hour after Mass seems odd and even sad to a Protestant. (As a convert from Episcopalianism in 1999, Karee knows this well). Your husband might be more interested in a parish with a strong emphasis on community or an active Knights of Columbus group, for example, where members regularly attend and get to know each other.
The inability to receive communion, while well justified from a doctrinal standpoint, can also make Protestant spouses feel unwelcome at Mass. Some pastors are willing to bless non-Catholics who approach the altar with their arms folded across their chest. This small gesture might make a big difference for your husband.
Lastly, it’s great to hear that you’re eagerly anticipating children. Many parents grow stronger in faith when their children are born and they realize the importance of bringing their children to God. Some parishes have one-evening refresher courses for parents presenting their children for the Sacrament of Baptism. The responsibilities of fatherhood may naturally lead your husband closer to God and the Church.
God bless you and your marriage!
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Copyright 2016 Dr. Manuel & Karee Santos