I will admit to being bothered by some posts on this thread. I think they betray an untutored view of interchurch marriages. Maybe a lack of awareness of how God works. Fr Michael’s posts also ignore the other many pitfalls which beset Catholic priests and others who represent the Church. I can appreciate if his personal experience leads him to this conclusion. But only to a degree:
Interchurch marriages certainly are problematic. Married life is difficult enough without the added burden of denominational differences thrown into it. Interesting that none of the quotes above regard children, for they are the ones who usually bear the brunt of the differences.
Children bearing the brunt of denominational differences: that’s an interesting observation. I suppose if one means that Catholic children of a non-Catholic parent might attend a non-Catholic school, or worship at a non-Catholic service, or perhaps wed a non-Catholic, I can see that might be alarming to some.
Personally, I have faith in the Catholic faith. I worry less about the interior temptations of such peripherals as the BCP or Word and Table services or even intercommunion. The external and individual forces that drive denominational loyalty, especially the careless wrongs perpetrated by those who repersent the Church: we have far more to worry about on that score. If we searched our experiences, we might find the lab results to be discouraging on that score.
Each year about the time of my baptismal anniversary (22 August) I reflect on the many graces that brought me to the Church. I’ve retold the story countless times, mostly with friends, sometimes with RCIA groups, and once at an evangelical convention. (You can imagine the reception it got there!)
What I did not realize in 1970 was that my family had flirted with the Catholic Church long before I had those first stirrings to become a Catholic. Rather surprising for a family that had absolutely no Catholics in it. None whatsoever. Many years after my baptism, I learned that the girl who had been placed with my parents in foster care (years before I was born) was Catholic. There was adoption in the air, as my parents to that point were childless, except for my brother from my dad’s first marriage.
My mother told me more of that tale. She and my father said they would ensure the girl was raised Catholic. When she came of age, they would enroll her in a parish school and my mother pledged to take her to Mass each Sunday and holy day. Not satisfactory, according to the priest at Catholic Charities. My parents would have to convert.
I suspect there was or is some impediment on the marriage end of things. My dad may have had strong feelings against it. My mother, close-lipped about many personal aspects of her life, never hinted at what the blockage might have been. I know better than to probe directly. Needless to say, the girl was moved elsewhere. She would visit occasionally through the years, remaining somewhat close to my parents. The last time I saw her was at a breakfast chat at my mom’s home more than twenty years ago. She had become a born-again Christian. We had a very interesting conversation about religion that morning.
I wonder what that priest would have thought of that conversation. The Catholic girl he was so zealous of protecting was now an evangelical Christian. The woman he refused adoption ran pilgrimages to Catholic shrines and was a past-president of the parish Altar Society. And still not Catholic. And the woman’s son was Catholic, soon to be heading off to study at the former diocesan seminary.
Your personal example proves my point: indifferentism run amuck. You and your siblings learned early that denominations were not that important and acted accordingly. That is the last thing we want to teach Catholic children. Christianity is not a smorgasbord from which we pick and choose according to our tastes. It is the Truth, best preserved in the Catholic Faith, to which we conform ourselves.
Fr Michael doesn’t know of what he wrote. Indifferentism is hardly the word I would use to describe my sister’s sense of service to children and teens. My older brother, who has never been Catholic, found his way to Lutheranism, only to switch to the Episcopal Church in Iowa to find a place that offered Communion each Sunday. While it is true none of us began as Catholics, the lure of faith, service, and the sacraments run pretty strongly in a family criticized for indifferentism. I can only offer my own story as a fuller part of the picture.
I had begun attending Catholic school in the sixth grade. The pastor called one day and I heard my mother’s end of the conversation, “No the children have never been baptized,” then a pause. “Let me ask Todd and see what he says.”
Prayers answered, for I had considered telling my mother I wanted to be Catholic. The possibility of my parents saying no steered me into praying instead. I prayed that God would work it out so that I could become Catholic. Amazingly, it happened. In my eleven-year-old brain, I realized that God had arranged it all through Father McCarthy. And my mother was letting me choose. No one was more clever than the Lord for making this work.
The laboratory can’t predict what would have happened were my parents both Baptists or both Presbyterians. Nor did it predict that the Catholic child would be “lost” to the born-agains after a placement more “safe.”
On one hand, these examples are meaningless from a scientific view because they are single snapshots. One priest blundered while the other was inspired. One child walked out of the sheepfold while another walked in. They do not prove in a scientific way that I’m right and my honorable commenter is wrong. Except for one family’s instance.
I know several mixed marriages: the healthiest ones are where the non-Catholic became Catholic. In the few cases I know of strong Catholics marrying strong non-Catholics, disputes have arisen over religion. Don’t know about you, but I consider unnecessary fighting in a marriage negative for the children.
My worthy guest was speaking of children of a marriage between a Catholic and a non-Catholic. Not my situation of Catholic children of non-Catholic parents. Even today, that’s a pretty whacked-out experiment.
I will concede that my sister, who used to be Catholic, is now Lutheran. She has her own reasons, and I have my private opinion on some of them. But when my father was dying, it was a cousin’s Lutheran pastor, not a Catholic priest, who visited our dad and served our family.
I’m sure that my pastor would have visited the family, too. But I was working several hundred miles away. I have no doubt that Fr Michael would have been a comforting presence as well. But the laboratory of pastoral ministry is also littered with obstacles.
Fr Michael is concerned that the lab burner will catch someone’s coat on fire. Or that a chemical will spill and somebody might get injured. Thing is, those kinds of accidents can happen in a kitchen, or even a sacristy.
As far as I’m concerned, these marriages generally serve as “laboratories of unity” in either a positive or negative sense: either the non-Catholic partner becomes Catholic or indifferentism among the parents and/or children rules the roost. In older days with a stronger Church, I’m guessing the former was more prevalent. It sure isn’t now.
After considering the laboratory of my own family, paint me doubtful. The stronger Church of the 50′s chased away my parents before I was even born. And for what? It couldn’t even hold on to one girl.
The Church of the 70′s tried to lasso in my mother. It didn’t matter that she didn’t convert or couldn’t receive Communion. She brought us to Mass when we were young. She studied for CCD certification in case she needed to respond to questions about Catholicism. She headed up the Altar Society and any number of parish groups. She worked bingo. She ran trips to Canadian shrines until she was almost seventy years old, doing so on her own after a later estrangement from the parish finance committee who accused her of mismanaging money. (The departed pastor and his vacations and luxuries were beyond reach at that point.)
My brother wonders why I bother with the Church. I’ve shared with him my perils-of-pauline history with pastors alcoholic, sexually jealous, and otherwise mismanaged types. That’s largely changed for the better over the past decade, especially since I got married.
Like me, my wife came from a family entirely non-Catholic. I don’t know that we’re so much a laboratory of unity. We certainly have our own pitfalls.
For a person who sees the world as black or white, Catholic or non-Catholic, I can see that interchurch marriage has all the allure of growing weeds. Maybe being unmarried makes it more boring to consider this particular laboratory.
Up to now, I had not considered Neil’s point of these marriages being domestic churches of Catholic and non-Catholic mixture. We really are farther ahead than the clergy and the theological ecumenists. Half-empty or half-full? I pick the latter, and by a longshot.
I’m also glad Neil reminded us of the Holy Father’s metaphor. It’s easy enough to see the marrige itself as a laboratory and focus on the “mixed-breed” children as the experiments, but I don’t think that’s where the pope is going on this one. The laboratory is also conducted in the surroundings of the interchurch marriage, the parish especially.
Even if we take the black/white view, the test isn’t only on the couple and their children, but on the parish that surrounds them. Including the clergy. Truly, I think the situation is far more subtle and complex. I didn’t start with any Catholics in my family and see how my tale has turned out so far.
I hope Neil explores this more with us in the future. It would be worth a series on this blog, if not a separate effort dedicated to the cause. Shorter posts than this one, of course.