Catholic Dating: Should I date a non-Catholic? (Part 2)
Today is the concluding part of yesterday’s article, “Should I date a non-Catholic?”. In the previous post, I explained that this is a question I’ve heard often in Catholic circles and I shared a little bit about my own experience of dating non-Catholics. We spoke about the reason for dating and concluded that its purpose is ultimately marriage. Therefore, when we speak about dating a non-Catholic, we should really talk about marrying a non-Catholic, since this is ultimately the point of dating someone.
We ended the previous post by looking at what the Catechism has to say on the subject of marriages to non-Catholics. We read that the Catholic Church does allow marriages to non-Catholics, but cautions Her children not to underestimate the difficulties involved in this kind of union. In today’s concluding post, I would like to discuss in more detail the potential areas of difficulty alluded to by the Catechism and then offer some concluding thoughts.
Since this two-part series focuses primarily on dating a Protestant, it is good to emphasize how much we share with our Protestant brethren. A couple composed of a Catholic and Protestant will have much in common, as did I with my former girlfriend whom I mentioned in yesterday’s post.
Having said that, when discussing this subject with friends, I find it helpful to ask questions about three areas of potential conflict:
1. The Wedding
Who will marry you? Will it be a Catholic priest or will it be another kind of minister? Will you get married in a Catholic Church or will you seek dispensation to marry in some other denomination’s building? How will your respective families react to this?
Who will teach your marriage preparation classes? What will be the content of that formation? Not all views of marriage are the same. For example, the Catholic Church’s teaching is that marriage is indissoluble. Will this be taught during your class?
2. Religious Practice
Where, as a couple, will you go to church? Catholics are required to attend Mass each week. In an effort to accommodate this, will you go to a Catholic parish together?
Or, will you attempt to go to both a Catholic Mass and a Protestant service each week? I speak from experience when I say that this can quickly become exhausting!
Or, will you fulfill your obligation by going to the Saturday Vigil Mass alone? Are you okay with that?
Is the subject of religion taboo with your potential spouse? Is it a regular source of conflict? Are you supportive of one another’s religious practices? Are you leading each other towards holiness?
When spiritual issues arise, to whom will you turn as a couple?
3. Children and family life
Will your potential spouse be open to life, or will he want to contracept? If it is suspected that your unborn child has Down Syndrome, for example, will he urge you to abort the child?
When seeking permission to marry a non-Catholic, you and your fiancé will be told that you are required by the Church to make sure that any offspring from the marriage are to be baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church. Will you and your spouse do this? Or will your children be dedicated, rather than baptized? Will you teach them the Catholic Faith in its fullness, or will they be taught the lowest common denominator between your respective faiths? How will you respond when your children ask questions about the differences between the teaching of the Catholic Church and your spouse’s denomination?
An ex-girlfriend of mine had an interesting take on the subject of children. She would ask herself if she felt confident, in the unfortunate case of her early death, whether her husband would raise her children as she would desire.
Obviously, there are other areas of potential conflict between a Catholic and Protestant couple, but these are probably the most important. Having said that, these can be areas of potential conflict between any couple, even between two Catholics! Unfortunately, just because someone professes to be Catholic, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he will affirm or practise everything taught by the Catholic Church. My friends who have used the CatholicMatch dating website tell me that, when building a dating profile, you have to answer seven questions to indicate whether you affirm Catholic teaching on a range of issues which include premarital sex, contraception and the sanctity of life. This is a reminder never simply to assume what someone else believes. Conversation is key and having those difficult discussions is always worth it in the long run.
All the questions listed above should be prayerfully considered and discussed together as a couple. It is also advisable to speak to your spiritual director, as well as with good friends who know you both well.
Why ask these questions?
I don’t ask these questions to be mean, nor to burst anyone’s bubble. I ask these questions because they are relevant. If the ultimate purpose of dating is marriage, and a marriage between a Catholic and a Protestant has some unique potential pitfalls, then it is only wise to consider these pitfalls ahead of time.
Some conflict and compromise is present in every marriage. These questions can help identify troublesome areas in advance, allowing for careful, sober consideration before emotional attachments begin to cloud one’s judgement. It is much better to think about these things ahead of time, as difficult decisions are only likely to get more painful further down the road.
Given everything I’ve said up until now, you would be forgiven for thinking that I would always be against a Catholic dating a Protestant, but that is not really the case. To be very clear, I am not saying that these areas cannot be navigated by a couple with gentleness and grace. I know of marriages between Catholics and non-Catholics which are icons of respect and charity, where each spouse is extremely supportive of and sensitive to the other person’s spirituality. However, I have also known couples where the conflict between their respective faiths has been a source of constant friction and much heartache.
I was recently driving back from an event and the conversation in the car turned to this very topic. It transpired that a non-Catholic guy had been showing signs of interest in my Catholic friend and she was trying to decide what to do about it. As we neared our destination, we encountered a traffic jam and since she had not yet had a chance to pray her daily rosary, she suggested we pray one together while we waited for the traffic to clear. After we had finished, I pointed out that if a romantic relationship blossomed with this potential love interest, given his denomination’s opposition to Marian devotion, she may never be able to experience praying a rosary with him. Would she be able to accept this?
When I hear female Catholic friends daydream about their future husband, I hear them describe him as a true spiritual head of their household. He instructs their children in the Catholic Faith. He is the kind of man who will take his family to Confession each month and he himself will be the first one in line. However, if she dates a non-Catholic, she must recognize that there is a distinct possibility that this dream may never come true.
I have heard of marriages where the non-Catholic spouse converts to Catholicism. Sometimes this happens after a few years, other times it takes decades and sometimes it doesn’t happen at all. Conversion is obviously a wonderful thing and I’m sure many Catholics who are romantically involved with a non-Catholic carry this kind of aspiration. But while it’s understable and laudable to hope for a person’s conversion, I have to imagine that it’s dangerous going into a marriage with such an expectation. In fact, it’s probably a very bad idea to go into a marriage with any kind of expectation of a spouse changing.
A relationship or marriage between two Catholics is not guaranteed to be blissful or, in some cases, even a good idea! Nothing in this world is certain, but speaking personally, I would like to stack the deck as much as I possibly can when it comes to matrimony. If I end up getting married, I want my future marriage to be composed of two people who love God more than they love each other, who are joined in the Sacraments, be united in daily prayer together, raise children to love Jesus and His Church and will ultimately join one another in Heaven.
Given this desire, I think it is appropriate to end this article with a passage from the early Ecclesiastical Writer, Tertullian. This extract comes from a letter to his wife and it perfectly describes the kind of marriage that I, myself, want:
“How beautiful, then, the marriage of two Christians, two who are one in hope, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the religion they practise.
They are as brother and sister, both servants of the same Master. Nothing divides them, either in flesh or in Spirit. They are in very truth, two in one flesh; and where there is but one flesh there is also but one spirit.
They pray together, they worship together, they fast together; instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another.
Side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations. They have no secrets from one another, they never shun each other’s company; they never bring sorrow to each other’s hearts… Psalms and hymns they sing to one another.
Hearing and seeing this, Christ rejoices. To such as these He gives His peace. Where there are two together, there also He is present, and where He is….there evil is not.”
– Tertullian, Ad Uxorem (c. AD 200)
Have you dated or married a non-Catholic? Are you a non-Catholic who has dated or married a Catholic? What are you thoughts on this subject?
Part 1 | Part 2