A few months ago, a girl I know was struggling with the question of whether she, a Catholic, should continue dating her non-Catholic boyfriend.
At first it seemed like an easy answer: your faith forms you and your view of the world and your relationship to the world and everyone in it. Of course you want to share that with the person who you love best of anyone. Is there really any point in being in a relationship if you can’t share and pursue together that thing which acts as the greatest motivation and purpose in your life?
But then I had to admit that I know many (many!) (many…) “good” Catholic men—men who might go to daily mass, who insist that their family prays together every day, who have half a dozen kids, and carry Papal Encyclicals around with them—and they treat their wives as slaves, their children hate them, they seem to judge and condemn everyone they meet, and when they speak their words drip with condescension.
These are not men to spend any sort of quality time with, let alone marry.
And then I thought about my grandpa. He was a good man, if ever there was one. He was unfailingly generous, extremely considerate, and treated my grandma like a queen. He helped raise five kind, thoughtful children. He gave to every single charity that came his way. And as far as I can tell he shared a beautiful fifty-four years with my grandma. He did not share her Catholic Faith, but they made each other very happy.
I know many other men who are truly kind, who have a strong sense of honor and integrity, who are gentle and respectful. True, they are not Catholic, but they are good. And goodness counts for a whole heck of a lot.
So, sharing a faith life with your spouse, while it might be an ideal, is not always preferable. Being Catholic does not necessarily have—although it most certainly should—any bearing on one’s goodness, one’s ability to form a solid relationship, one’s attitude towards everyone else.
Truthfully, I would rather marry a kind, respectful atheist, than some of the “good Catholic” men I know. If he loved and respected me, he would at the very least tolerate my religion. And who knows, prolonged toleration could very well turn into interest. After that, anything is possible.
Especially in today’s world, there is the very real possibility that many of us will not marry people who share our faith. And that should not be viewed as a bad thing, or even a lesser thing. It could just be a very special opportunity.
As Catholics we are meant to live in the world, to meet it head on. We are not meant to hide and live in compounds and make the world think we are weird. No. We are to live in the world as it is, and through the light which is meant to shine through us, draw people to Christ.
I am not saying that you should be with the virtuous atheist in order to convert him. To be with anyone, hoping to change him is never a wise idea. But his atheism might not be the horrendous stumbling block that, in your starry eyed teen years, you thought it to be.
Yes, it is very possible that by sharing a life with him, living as you are called to, with the best that you have, he might begin to feel that “twitch upon the thread.” And what a beautiful thing that would be.
I don’t believe that should be the objective, though. In the end, the objective should be to find someone who loves you abundantly and generously desires your good, for whom you willingly and eagerly do the same. You can’t ask for more than to be loved and encouraged in goodness. Being with someone who shares your religion in no way ensures that.
And so now, about six months after the question was posed to me, I would tell this to my struggling friend: a label is just a label. Sometimes the label can prove to be attached to something valuable, but sometimes that is definitely not the case.
A specific religious affiliation does not ensure strong character, good habits, and the pursuit of virtue.
But if you have found all of those things in a person, regardless of what they believe, you have at least found a foundation to build on. A strong foundation is worth so much more than the attractively displayed house of cards.
Note: read fellow blogger Catherine Bauer’s reply to this post.