When my husband and I got married we were both Catholic, but we weren’t fully practicing the faith. Not only were we not well formed, we didn’t know it. My husband and I went to Mass on Sunday occasionally, if it was convenient, and also on Christmas, Ash Wednesday, and Easter.
One Sunday, we arrived at Mass and found there was a new pastor. This pastor’s homilies were like nothing I had ever heard before. In fact they made me angry! I didn’t speak to the pastor, didn’t even shake his hand on the way out the door, but for some reason I felt like I was arguing with him and so I started going to Mass every Sunday to continue the argument.
Each Sunday I would go to Mass and I would leave angry because I had just been informed of yet one more thing that I was doing wrong. I was overwhelmed with all of the rules. I was also skeptical of the pastor. I thought, “He can’t possibly know what he is talking about. He must be some kind of Catholic wacko.” I started researching and I didn’t have to dig very far to find that my pastor knew what he was talking about.
As I sat in that pew week after week I discovered that there were many areas of my life that were not in line with Church teaching. I had walked in the door pro-choice, pro-contraception, the list goes on. I found out that I was wrong.
Many other parishioners left. Several of our neighbors started shopping for a new parish with softer homilies. Some went to neighboring parishes; others went so far as to leave the Catholic Church. My husband found the difficult homilies amusing. When I tried to engage him in discussing our faith and what we should do, he would say, “Whatever you decide is fine.”
I decided we would stay. Somewhere deep inside I knew that this wasn’t about shopping for the right message so much as it was about finding the truth. My only explanation for this is that God, in His great generosity, must have given me a huge dose of grace. I began to change. I studied Catholicism. Everything I learned made so much sense that I couldn’t help but to grow in my faith. I fell in love with Holy Mother Church. I began going to daily Mass and volunteering in earnest. I was disappointed that my husband wasn’t interested, but I didn’t let that hold me back.
My new faith and his disinterest started to put stress on our marriage. It became really clear to me one Valentine’s day, when I received a Valentine’s gift basket from a girlfriend of mine. When my husband saw it I asked him to guess who had given it to me. “Probably Father Jones or Deacon Smith or the Youth Minister,” he said and walked out of the room. I was stunned. He proceeded to tell me how tired he was of my life revolving around God and the Church. He thought at first that it was a phase and that he just had to wait it out, but it was pretty clear that it wasn’t ending any time soon. He was tired of it and he wanted it to stop. I was no longer the person he had married.
I was devastated and yet it was clear to me that he felt jilted, like I had dumped him for God. I could understand that. My husband had been the center of my universe and now God was, and rightly so, I thought.
I sought counsel from a priest during confession and he told me that perhaps my cross right now was that I needed to tone things down a little. He didn’t mean for me to be less faithful. He meant that I should tone down my outward expression of the faith to give my husband a little space. This was my cross to bear. I left the crucifix on the wall but pulled the holy cards from the refrigerator. I cut back on my volunteer responsibilities. As I considered my primary vocation as wife, I realized that God didn’t want me to neglect my spouse in pursuit of my faith.
There was however, one area in which I couldn’t compromise. We were contracepting. Very early in my conversion process I stopped contracepting and at that point my husband chose to continue. This was very painful for me. I had learned of the beauty of the marital embrace and all that God had intended for it—that it be a complete gift of self. I yearned to give myself to my husband. And yet each time we came together I made my desire to be open to life clear and each time he denied me. The act that was supposed to be unitive was tearing us apart. I found myself wishing for a marriage “do-over”. It was humiliating to go to confession and confess my participation in my husband’s contraception. I was hurt and angry at my husband.
I finally realized that my wish for a do-over was nothing more than a pity party. I started to treat my husband with charity, not because I thought he deserved it (to the contrary, I thought he was being quite a jerk) but because I loved God. I began Natural Family Planning (NFP) on my own. My husband would have nothing to do with it. I began to refuse him on fertile days (not because I was opposed to conceiving but because history had proven that he would contracept). He continued to contracept on the other days but I found much peace in my own practice of NFP.
This went on for 3 years until I became pregnant and subsequently miscarried. My husband had surprised me by welcoming the pregnancy, and then was greatly disappointed and saddened as well. This loss was a turning point for me. I was done. I told my husband, “No more contraception. I won’t participate.” I had been patient and prayerful for 3 years but now I was done. I prayed for God to please pick up the pieces of my marriage and hold us together and mercifully He did.
Since that day my husband has never contracepted.
Several years have passed. I am at peace because my husband’s concession has allowed me to live in alignment with my faith. I continue to tone down my outward expression of my faith, and my husband is slowly but surely growing in his faith. We both have a long way to go, but praise be to God at least we are heading in the right direction!