Thursday, August 30, 2007

My Husband is a Roman Catholic

By the time we were seated on our chairs in the base chapel for the Easter Vigil Mass, I had accepted the inevitable change that was undeniably upon us. Although I wasn’t thrilled with what lay ahead that evening, I wanted to make the best of it for Rich. After all, I had determined to accept God’s will in my life, and my life was intertwined with Rich’s and I deeply regretted not being able to be fully attuned to this good thing in his life.

It grieved us that Rich had not received any recommendations or suggestions during his weekly instruction of how we might maneuver through these new waters. However, Rich and I talked about it quite often and concluded we had only two options: I could attend Mass with Rich, as a show of unity (but not join the Catholic Church), or I could go to my Protestant church while he attended Mass at the Catholic one.

Rich and I mulled over the solution of dual church affiliation. We knew of couples who’d chosen that option. A group of them had formed an online inter-church ministry to promote a one-couple-two-churches approach. Their web site,, was a great help for us in sorting out our options. The members of the group encouraged husbands and wives to respect the theological differences between their Catholic and Protestant church communities. Many of the couples even attended their respective churches together, and had done so for years

Rich and I discussed this form of church affiliation, and it seemed like a dual commitment of emotional energy, miles of travel, and the juggling of service times; as a 50-something couple, Rich and I were not capable of such an energetic “unity”.

During the Easter Vigil Liturgy, as the congregation recommitted themselves to Christ, Rich and I recommitted ourselves to the Lord, as we had at our baptism. That was a reaffirming part of the Mass for me, yet while Rich recited his part as a convert, I found myself enveloped in a profound sadness. Rich had no idea how wobbly my legs felt when the service ended; I kept a firm hold on his arm as we followed the crowd of well-wishers into the fellowship hall.

While I leaned against the wall and watched, Rich was greeted by one and then another of the congregation. I was happy for him.

Suddenly, I found myself warmly greeted. The man shaking my hand was the priest Rich had been meeting. Looking into his kind eyes, I wondered why he never reached out to me during all those months of counseling my husband. Rich’s half-hearted statement to me that the priest would be glad to answer my questions, and that I might attend any of their sessions, seemed to me an afterthought because of its timing--- midway into Rich’s weekly sessions. My Protestant experience had prepared me for joint pastoral counseling; I did not understand why our marriage had not been an important factor from the beginning.

Nevertheless, this man seemed kind and genuinely interested in me. We chatted for a few moments before he moved on to converse with others.

And so, our new life in Christ had begun.

The following morning we attended our first Easter Mass at the Catholic Church we’d visited several times during the previous months.

Friday, August 24, 2007

A Week Before

The Saturday evening service between Good Friday and Easter morning, called the Easter Vigil, was the Mass during which Rich would enter the Roman Catholic Church.

A week before the Vigil I finally grasped that this Catholic change was really going to happen, and I’d better prepare. I planned to make a nice dinner, get my hair cut, and select just the right clothes to wear. I queried Rich about the dinner, but he promptly informed me he did not want a fuss. The process leading up to the week ahead had been difficult enough, and he did not want to emphasize it any more. I knew he was thinking of my needs, so I planned his favorite breakfast for that Saturday morning. We had a quick dinner the evening of the Vigil.

During the days leading up to the Vigil, I mused on my future within this unfamiliar body of believers. That future looked somewhat bleak. Rich often sat holding me as I mulled over questions about my role in Rich’s new home church. What if I had a spiritual problem? To whom would I go? As a non-Catholic, how would I “fit in” as Rich involved himself in the life of his church? I had always been at his side during church ministries, such as teaching Sunday school and home Bible studies. Would I now have to remove myself from those ministries in which he would participate? We clung together and pondered these questions from time to time – I in despair and he in anguish, unable to give me answers or comfort me.

By “coincidence,” my daily Bible reading took me through the book of Job during Holy Week. I’d read this book many times before, and had always plodded through the narrative of what seemed like one long, dull complaint. This time I saw myself in a Job-like situation, and his question, “why?” echoed in my mind.

But the more I read of the futility of Job’s situation and how he suffered without understanding the reason for his pain, I realized Job’s character grew stronger through his trials. His steadfast trust in God remained firm despite circumstances and personal attacks. Nothing altered Job’s trust in the mercy and righteousness of his Redeemer.

Friends accused Job of living a sinful life, and that was the reason for his troubles. Although no one had accused me of living a sinful life, I began to accuse myself. I desired so desperately to have renewed life breathed into our marriage that I now agonized over my supposed and real failures. For a time, I worried something was wrong with me because I could not accept the new beliefs that were so easy for Rich. I struggled with this every day. And, like Job, I pleaded with the Father to let me know what I was to do –not what I wanted to do, but what He wanted me to do.

I found part of my answer in Job 23:8-16 (New American Standard Bible):

8"Behold, I go forward but He is not there,
And backward, but I cannot perceive Him;
9When He acts on the left, I cannot behold Him;
He turns on the right, I cannot see Him.
10"But He knows the way I take;
When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.
11"My foot has held fast to His path;
I have kept His way and not turned aside.
12"I have not departed from the command of His lips;
I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.
13"But He is unique and who can turn Him?
And what His soul desires, that He does.
14"For He performs what is appointed for me,
And many such decrees are with Him.
15"Therefore, I would be dismayed at His presence;
When I consider, I am terrified of Him.
16"It is God who has made my heart faint,
And the Almighty who has dismayed me,”

Our Father poured into my troubled heart the balm only He could provide. I was comforted by His reminder that He knows the way I take, and that He appointed for me this time, this place and this way. Even when my heart felt faint from the darkness of an unknown future, it is His nail pierced hand that orchestrated it.

I read that passage repeatedly; and I remembered the exhortation of pastors and teachers in my past who encouraged me to trust in the Lord, lean on His word, accept good and bad from His hand.

The words to a favorite hymn played in my mind, “It will be worth it all when we see Jesus. Life’s trials will seem so small when we see Christ. One look at His dear face, all sorrow will erase; so bravely run the race till we see Christ.”

I would try to accept everything from the Lord’s hand as something He had planned for me.

Friday, August 17, 2007

I Begin My Instruction

As much as I wanted to, I came to realize that no matter how I tried to squeeze myself into a Roman Catholic mold, I was unable to embrace all Catholic beliefs with a clear conscience. The doctrines and dogmas about Papal authority, Marian devotions, of Indulgences, Purgatory, prayers to Saints . . . I could not embrace them as Rich could, and I was dumbfounded to think that all my best efforts to do so were of no consequence.

It became clear to me that I had forgotten a truth I thought I had learned long ago: the Lord does not need my help.

Discouraged, I determined to tough it out – whatever that would mean for our marriage. And so, in a throw-up-the-hands-and-say-I-give-up exasperation, I decided to go about life as best I could.

But, I was not off the hook. A Christian who does not grow will shrivel into uselessness, and so, while Rich finished his meetings with the priest on the naval base, I began attending a classroom of a different sort.

I am now convinced the Holy Spirit used the turmoil in our home to capture my attention so I could rivet my eyes on Jesus and learn what He wanted me to learn. As I read the Scriptures from week to week, I found myself often opening to I Corinthians 13. That passage had always been a “feel good” chapter for me, because I liked the thought of love, and I believed I was living according to that definition of love.

However, as I repeatedly read and meditated on those verses, I discovered I was not living out any of those commands. In fact, I had never carefully studied my attitudes and actions in the light of what St. Paul had written.

Here is the passage (from the New American Standard Bible):

“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. “

“And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

“Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away."

“When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

I did not have that kind of love. Through those weeks of strife, I was unforgiving of my husband who was following the Holy Spirit’s urging. I was only marginally supporting him because all I was really interested in was me. Even if Rich did and said things that upset me, if I had love I ought to be kind. I ought to forgive. I ought to be patient, I ought to . . .

The Holy Spirit was focusing in on my sin, but my will set itself against His, and I decided I would “think about it” — later.

Later would come sooner than I thought.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Spectator and Participant

As the haze of our turmoil started to dissipate, I began to study Rich’s behavior more carefully. What I thought I had observed in him during those more difficult months now caught my attention. I discovered a transformation in Rich’s prayer life, and that brought moments of joy back to my heart. I saw the young man I remembered from our first years of marriage – a disciplined man spending hours with Jesus. Initially I thought his change would be temporary, and I waited to see if his renewed habit truly was a move of the Holy Spirit. The longer I waited, the more dedicated Rich became to “his hour with Jesus.”

More impressive, however, was a change in another area that really confirmed something new was happening to Rich. Of all the challenges I had seen him struggle with consistently; Rich’s most difficult foe was his temper. I had seen him wrestle with ill temper, get a hold on it, and have it on the mat – only to see anger reach out, clutch at Rich and slam him down for the count. Over those long weeks of early 2005, Rich displayed an un-characteristic calm at all times. That impressed me. Perhaps my long years of prayer for him were being answered. I even dared think that this “Catholic thing” was somehow responsible.

If Rich was being made new, I, however, could not see much difference in my life. And that troubled me. Was Rich’s newness because he was now more attuned to the Lord through his different understanding of Scripture? Just as important, could that understanding make a difference in me? I wondered if I could be a Catholic too.

Goaded on by the desire to be again in agreement with Rich in our Christian walk, I felt the need to give an account to myself of what I believed. Thus followed a time where I questioned everything I had learned about how to serve Jesus. I compared all that I had read in the Catholic books scattered about the house, to what I believed the scriptures said. Either I believed the simple gospel – Jesus died for me – or I believed the Catholic books; for me to be a valid Christian, I should believe in the primacy of Peter, the many attributes of Mary, making prayers to the saints and similar ideas, which were foreign to what I believed scripture taught. Furthermore, until I read those books, I hadn’t realized how adherence to specific practices such as Baptism, Reconciliation, the Eucharist, and Confirmation were considered critical to salvation.

As I told Rich, I am a simple Christian. Unlike my husband, my Protestant education was not focused on learning doctrines in a classroom. I just trusted that if the Bible said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and thou shalt be saved,” that’s what I needed to do to be saved. What I lacked in doctrinal knowledge I gained in relationship with Jesus. He offered me eternal life by shedding His precious blood for my sins. I owe Him everything. He owes me nothing, and yet the Master of the Universe deigned to give me all I possess.

It was this relationship that I pondered, and I pondered it long. Either I was hopelessly separated from Christ because I was not Catholic, as I believed the books insisted, or I was as I had always been since the day I gave Him my heart . . . a Christian.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The End – and the Beginning

It was clear to me that God had opened Rich’s eyes to Roman Catholic interpretation of Scripture. However, I could not see where Rich was getting his newfound convictions. It puzzled me and caused no end of anguish that I was unable to understand Rich. But more importantly, I was bewildered that my Lord Jesus had not moved upon me in the same way He had moved on Rich. To this point in our lives together, for every major change or direction Rich and I had undertaken, we had individually experienced from God a change of heart to prepare us. However, what happened in 2005 was not what we had come to expect.

Who can comprehend the Father’s plan? I know God does not make mistakes, so I searched my Bible each day, even when the words seemed to have no life in them. I prayed as fervently as I knew how, yet our divisions seemed to multiply. However, in spite of all that was happening between us, Jesus placed into my heart a desire to trust Him.

Nevertheless, for months we found ourselves lost in that grotesque carnival fun house called “division.” After all the talking, weeping, praying, after having taken a course on communication, participating in a marriage enrichment weekend, and exhausting our own best efforts, we found ourselves once more totally frustrated with each other, ourselves and our situation.

We agreed on one thing, though. We knew we could not continue to live this way. We were “one flesh,” but we were biting and devouring each other. So, once more, we pleaded with our Lord to help us. As we approached the Throne of Grace, we admitted our failures and sins, and our need to be free of this divisiveness that continued to consume us.

And that’s when everything began to change. In that quiet moment of prayer on our living room carpet, our Father answered us separately. Into Rich’s heart He spoke, “It is over.” Into my heart He impressed, “Come here no more.”

We each understood His meaning. Rich knew he should no longer speak of our differences. Independently, I knew the same thing. When we told each other what the Lord had spoken to us, we discerned, for the first time in months, the Holy Spirit’s benediction of peace.

How grateful we are that our Father put an end to enmity and opened our eyes to what had been happening to us. We suddenly realized we had been under the control of “…the rulers, the powers, and the spiritual forces of wickedness…” (Eph. 6:12). Our eyes were now open to that devilish plan.


In opening our eyes, I was suddenly free to discover how God wanted me to live within this new life. What I found was that this change was not just about Rich and his discoveries – but it was also about me. The weeks that I had felt estranged from God, His word, and His direction, started – in a small way – to make sense.

While Rich continued instruction with the Catholic priest on the naval base, I read some of the books Rich brought home for me. They were written from a Roman Catholic perspective to a predominantly Roman Catholic reader. Some books explained doctrines and dogmas of the Catholic Faith in clear terms, listing rules and traditions to which all Catholics adhere. These books described Roman Catholicism as the singular most perfect expression of the Christian Church, because Catholics have the Faith and Traditions handed down by the apostles. I also read testimonial stories of converts, some of whom remembered their Protestant past as being totally biased and dismissive toward Catholics. Some writers, at times, characterized their former Protestant instruction about Catholic theology as a form of bigotry. Although often praising the biblical roots of their faith, most testified to having been overtaken with the surprising discovery that they had been very wrong about the Roman Catholic Church and rejoiced that they were no longer Protestants. Their glowing descriptions of the wonder and newfound life in Christ sounded very much like the emotions I experienced when I made Jesus my savior at the age of twenty-six.

If those books did not beckon me to become Roman Catholic, they did challenge me to grow up in Christ. The first step was to admit that I was also ill taught about Roman Catholicism, and that my teachers had unknowingly passed along to me perceptions and misinformation that could be characterized as bigotry. When I discovered this, I was shocked. I had always thought of myself as open-minded. Could I really be a bigot?

I took a hard look into my past; most of my life I had been acquiring a thick shell of bias against Catholics. It covered the wounds unknowingly inflicted by my extended family, and it cushioned the other times I had hit my head against the wall of Roman Catholic beliefs. And, as bigotry is likely to do, I grew proud in my own particular doctrines and practices; it hardened my heart to the voice of the Holy Spirit, and blinded my eyes to the Father’s image in others.

I had two choices, (we always have only two). I could continue in my sin – or repent. I chose to repent. And the next part of that process was to forgive people who, in the guise of Catholic religious belief, intentionally or unintentionally had hurt me.

Over the years of my life, I have learned forgiveness is not a single act. It is a state of the heart, to be practiced daily. And to this end, the Holy Spirit gives us ample opportunities.