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Evolution for the Catholic Student

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Marriage with an Atheist?

Marriage with an Atheist?

          Earlier in the week I pointed out the great differences between believers of any kind and atheists.  The main point was to highlight the importance of our not losing touch with our Christian identity as a nation. 
          But what about individuals, especially married individuals?  The Church does allow marriage to a non-believer, with the proper dispensation.  Does the vast difference between the world views of a Catholic and an atheist doom such a union to a cold and loveless reality?  I don’t think so.
          A couple of years before I met my wife, I decided that I would only date Catholics, because I wanted to share my Faith with my spouse.  There have certainly been countless blessings we have received being united in the same Faith.  But that is not everyone’s experience, and perhaps not everyone’s call.  I have known couples with successful mixed marriages.  The reason, I believe, is that God’s Grace can not be limited.  Because marriage was instituted by God, there is a stamp of the divine on it.
          Certainly two Christians share a great deal in common, even if their faiths differ.  And even a Christian and a non-Christian share a common world view.  But what about a Christian and an atheist?  The gap there is pretty wide.
          And yet, at the deepest level, there is something similar.  Both have been created by the same God, and in His Image.  Every atheist is created in the Image and Likeness of God as much as every Christian is.  Perhaps that is why a Christian might fall in love with an atheist.  One must find something good or beautiful in that which he loves.  In every human being, the Divine Image is there.  Some atheists are actually quite open to the Goodness of God, even if they are not yet open to God Himself.  There is authentic beauty in them.
          There is something else, too.  Every human being is created with a desire for God.  Many don’t recognize what it is, but St. Augustine described it very beautifully when he said, “You created us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”  The great saint spent many years trying to fill that restlessness with all sorts of things – desires of the flesh, heretical philosophy.  But eventually he found the Lord that was ever seeking him.
          Many of those who are atheists today may be great saints tomorrow.  They are being pursued by the same Divine Lover, and they have the same hunger for Him, even if they do not yet recognize it.
          Scripture tells us that a believing wife can sanctify an unbelieving husband, and vice versa.  Perhaps those who are married to unbelievers are being called to just that.  The faithful love of a Christian spouse can be a powerful witness.
All of us can, in some way, help the atheists we know recognize their desire for God, and guide them as to how to fulfill it.  A Christian spouse can do this in a most intimate way, although each circumstance will require its own approach.
          Take the example of St. Monica, the mother of Augustine.  She was a holy Catholic woman married to a pagan man who was a very bad husband.  She suffered abuse at the hands of her mother in law, and watched as her wayward son Augustine strayed far away from her.  But her constant love and faithful prayers won the conversion of all three.
          More recently is the story of Elisabeth Leseur.  She married an atheist man who promised not to interfere with her Catholic Faith, but after they were married, despite his deep love for his wife, he did not keep his promise.  Elisabeth prayed to be given suffering that she could offer for the conversion of her husband.  She received that suffering and died at a young age.  But she had won many graces for him.  Shortly after her death he received the grace of a conversion and spent the rest of his life as a Dominican priest.
          Certainly there are many things for a Christian to consider if marrying an atheist, especially regarding the raising of children.  The most important thing for a Christian to do is discern a call to marriage, not just decide to get married.  Particularly with the help of a good spiritual director, one who is earnestly seeking to do God’s Will will be led down the right path.  “Ask, and you shall receive,” says the Lord.  
Although there are so many blessings of a marriage united in faith, God has shown that the love between a Christian and an atheist can be very real, and potentially the source of many graces as well.  If we as Christians put our lives and our marriages in the hands of the Lord, we will be channels of that Grace.