Living with and praying for your non-Catholic spouse
June is a big month for weddings. For those of us planning to marry or are already married to non-Catholic spouses, the journey often ends up more difficult than we could have imagined. Once upon a time, Catholics were usually expected to marry other Catholics, but now it’s very common for Catholics to marry other baptized Christians and even non-baptized individuals.
While there has been concern over the years that a marriage between a Catholic and non-Catholic could lead to marital difficulties, there is also a concern for the Catholic spouse’s soul. In a marriage, a couple should be helping each other get to heaven, but if one spouse doesn’t believe in heaven, is this then possible? Yes, we know it’s possible. Thanks to certain saints who have gone before us including St. Monica and St. Rita of Cascia.
St. Monica was born in the fourth century to a Christian family who married her off to a pagan Roman official, Patricius. Known for his temper, he was irritated by Monica’s faith and devotional practices. It is said she suffered greatly on behalf of her husband’s godless ways as well as those of her son — who later became St. Augustine. She prayed and fasted for their conversions and a year before Patricius died, he converted to Catholicism.
St. Rita was born to devout parents in the 14th century. While she wanted to become a nun, her parents arranged a marriage to Paolo Mancini. Paolo had a temper it is also believed he gambled and was in debt. He was involved in feuds with other families and was eventually killed by his enemies. Rita, however, was always patient, loving, and faithful and Paolo began to follow her lead. His heart went through a conversion and after he died she entered an Augustinian order of nuns.
While married life always has its challenges, being married to a non-Catholic can present unique crosses, complications, and trials. There is beauty in those crosses, however, and a path set out before you with miracles that only God can see. But we need to do our part.
As Catholics, prayer should be a large part of our everyday lives with time carved out each day to focus on our relationship with God. I’ve gone as far as setting alarms on my phone to remember to stop and pray and will often use the car ride to spend some extra time in prayer. And while we should be praying for our spouses to join us in our faith and convert as well as praying for their souls to reach heaven, we should also be praying for ourselves.
“Pray, not as much for the spouse, but for oneself, to love well,” advises Leila Miller author of Raising Chaste Catholic Men: Practical Advice, Mom to Mom (LCB Publishing, 2016) whose own Jewish husband converted to Catholicism shortly after she had a reversion to the faith. “It’s always about love, but how well we love — that focus makes us holy, and saints’ prayers are more powerful. So, become a saint and watch the overflow of grace to the spouse.”
Learn from St. Monica and St. Rita and pray for their intercession. In addition, look into obtaining a green scapular, which is said to aid in spiritual conversions.
Invite your spouse to join you at Mass if he or she isn’t already doing so. Whether it’s just a simple invitation once in a while or every Sunday, or a conversation in which you express your desire for him or her to attend with you. You can likely predict how your spouse will react and based on that decide how to best approach the topic. If he or she is willing to listen, you can talk about the Mass and homily when you return.
You could also buy him or her a saint medal of a saint whom you consider his or her patron saint and encourage him or her to wear it. If you’d rather be more discreet, you can place a green scapular in his wallet/her purse or under his/her side of the bed and say the prayer that accompanies it daily.
Model Catholic behavior
Always act with love, even when it is difficult. Love is a decision and you must find ways to love your spouse through the difficult times. Show your compassion, show charity, be honest, be trustworthy, be kind and considerate, be loyal. Don’t talk about your spouse behind his or her back.
Don’t speak poorly of his or her family. Go out of your way to help him or her in whatever ways make him or her feel loved. Stay faithful through difficult circumstances and struggles. And model this behavior in the rest of your life, as well. Of course, you will fail sometimes. We all do. But strive to act with love every day and you will be an example of how great being a Catholic can be.
Don’t become discouraged
You may want your spouse to convert right now, as soon as possible, and that’s understandable. But, as does everything, it will happen on God’s time, not ours. God sees the whole picture while we only see what has happened in the past and what is happening now. Trust him.
“I would also say to guard against being annoyed or angry or frustrated that one’s spouse is not Catholic,” said Miller. “You married your spouse fully knowing that they were not Catholic, so do not direct ire towards him or her.”
Remember Elisabeth Leseur, who suffered silently as she dedicated her life to her atheist husband Felix’s conversion. She wrote of it all in a journal which he found after her death, and it has since been published (The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur: The Woman Whose Goodness Changed Her Husband from Atheist to Priest, Sophia Institute Press, 2002). After reading it, he realized she had offered her own life for his conversion. He returned to Catholicism, eventually becoming a Dominican priest.
Being Catholic in today’s world can sometimes make us feel like we are living in a different world than the one we belong in. Having a spouse who understands can make all the difference. Whether your spouse is Catholic or not, remember to put God first and trust that everything happens in his way on his time.