How to Not be an Obstacle to Conversion
I was very fortunate this week to hear back from a friend who, last I had heard, was having a bit of difficulty with her boyfriend. At the time he was questioning belief in God, and had a background and was seeking counsel from folks not very friendly to the Catholic Church. My friend had seen my bio here at T&C and was curious about the conversion of my wife. (Incidentally, I came across this clip of Alfred Hitchcock; if, God willing, I make it to heaven and have to make a speech about why I’m there, I’ll probably have similar sentiments.) I’ve known (and know) quite a few situations of interfaith couples where the non-Catholic party has some sticking points with Catholicism, so perhaps some of these tips may help you if you or someone you know is in a similar situation.
- It’s not about you – The first reaction to learning that a loved one (or liked one, depending on what stage you’re at) disagrees with some or all aspects of the Catholic Church is probably a combination of disappointment and fear. Since our throwaway culture offers so many excuses to end relationships, a disagreement about faith can seem like another hurdle that may not be overcome-able. It is, however, a hurdle about faith and we can probably all recall points in our lives where we broke away to a greater or lesser degree, only to return home again after encountering some new information or life experience. Your significant other may just be lacking either of these turning-point events, so don’t take the disagreement as a criticism of your character.
- Really, it’s not about you — The second reaction is likely the desire to fix the situation ASAP; in my case, that meant learning as much as I can about Catholicism (which, due to my own idiocy, required a lot of remedial instruction) and then trying to get my then-girlfriend to read/hear all the same stuff I was reading/hearing. I had to put on the cape and make sure that I converted my wife. The great thing about Catholicism, though, is that it’s not my faith. I didn’t make it up or set the rules; He did. I just humbly submit to them because, well, He made them and He made me. If your significant other is not having eye-opening epiphanies after every one of your apologetic arguments, don’t sweat it because…
- It’s about Him — Your significant other will probably wonder why you won’t consider converting. It can be hard to shake the “you’re just being stubborn” comment, but the only real reason to be Catholic is to be as close to Jesus as a sinful human can possibly be. We aren’t Catholic because it’s popular (has it ever been?), or because it’s an easy life (where’s the heroism in that?), or because of the preaching (though a large majority of priests give excellent homilies in substance, if not style), or because of the music (in some parishes, this may be a reason to convert away from the Church; though I think a return to more traditional chant would benefit all involved). We are Catholic because it is the Church founded by Jesus Himself, and therefore has the fullness of grace and truth He wished to impart to us; why would we want to leave? Your significant other will get the message that your faith is the most important thing in the world to you, even more important than they are. This might sound odd, but would your significant other really prefer a situation where you turned away from Almighty God for some lesser reason?
- Really, it’s about Him — It’s easy to fall into the desire of wanting to score intellectual points. “Aha! You cannot refute my argument that Jesus gave Peter unique authority among the other apostles!” This, of course, is pride. Why do we want our significant other to consider the Church? Because it will make a good marriage? Because you’ll feel weird at Mass with a ring on your finger but no spouse nearby in the pew? Hopefully you both recognize that love means willing the good of the other, and since we noted above that Jesus provides us the means to the ultimate good (eternal union with Him) via His Church, the best way you can love your spouse is to do whatever you can to promote their relationship with Christ. While you will be happy that your spouse converts, this happiness should derive from knowing that you’ve put your spouse in the best position to encounter Jesus in prayer and the sacraments.
- Get out of the way — Given all that, on a practical level what worked for me was to be well-prepared to answer questions (e.g., the Catechism, Catholic Answers, and Scott Hahn were very helpful), but then to step aside and let her journey unfold. A sticking point for my wife and I early on was the issue of contraception: her Baptist church instructed engaged couples in different forms of birth control, but my Catholic Church forbade it altogether. After yet another debate on the topic, I mentally threw up my hands and asked God if I could politely bow out and let Him take over. This didn’t mean passivity, though: I devoted myself to a daily Rosary (probably a staple for most of you, but it was a big commitment in my early days of being a serious Catholic) that the problems in our relationship would be worked out. I had no idea what the outcome would be, whether we would be married or break up, but was convinced that the result would be better if God was in charge than if I was. This step was particularly freeing; when before I would normally get upset, feisty, and argumentative, now I relaxed and gave it to God.
The trick to being a good apologist is no different than being a good Catholic in general. It’s a both/and: we have to be both educated in our faith and steeped in prayer. I started out (being the academic) going gung-ho on the education side of things, only to realize that I was bludgeoning my wife with facts and arguments and neglecting the importance of prayer in my/our life. It’s possible to err on the other side, though: prayer is essential but you also have to “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence.” If you don’t know your faith, how can you be expected to live it?
I ask readers to please pray for my friend and her relationship with her boyfriend, and for others in similar tough situations. Let us all seek to do His will in all things.