Thank you for your insightful question regarding interfaith relationships. This is a very difficult and sensitive issue. To be sure, the conflicts that can arise from interfaith relationships are plentiful and serious. It is not an issue to be treated lightly. Having said that, many a conversion has come out of interfaith relationships and so we can not close the door entirely to the possibility. What is required of us, as in all areas of our life, is to remain open at all times to God’s will.
It’s true that in my book Joanie has feelings for Brandon before his conversion. Her struggle from the beginning of their acquaintance is that she knows she is attracted to someone who has absolutely no faith. She frequently cautions her heart to slow down as she hands over her feelings to Jesus through prayer. She seeks the guidance of her parents and she tries to remain grounded, allowing her head to rule over her heart.
The fact is – life is not always clean-cut and easy. Sometimes we do become attracted to “the wrong kind of person”. Just because we are attracted, does not mean we need to act out on that! Joanie knew that and so she stuck to her morals. Prayerful discernment is always a must! And that is just what Joanie did.
The important part with Joanie and Brandon in the book was that she had a line that was always clear and obvious. Brandon had to come to her side of the line before she would enter into a relationship with him. Her uncompromising stance, which was always made clear to Brandon, demonstrated her strength in character and faith. It was this, and of course the grace of God, that finally won Brandon over.
I had a young woman read my manuscript for me. (She has since become a very good friend.) She was nineteen at the time and involved in a relationship with a young man who had been raised Lutheran but was no longer practicing his faith. He certainly did not share her convictions, but he respected her integrity and played by the rules she set out in terms of intimacy.
When this young woman read my book she was really angry at first, because in my book Brandon converted so “easily” and yet in her relationship, her boyfriend was not so willing to convert. Then she realized that she was not angry at the book, but at herself. She realized she had entered into this relationship without ever really establishing a line or an expectation about faith. So why should this young man ever rise to meet her standard? He had what he wanted (her as a girlfriend) without having to work for it.
My friend noted that in my book Joanie had a line and she was not willing to compromise it. Brandon would have to meet her on her territory or there would be no romantic relationship. They could be friends, but in terms of a serious relationship, Brandon would have to demonstrate his sincerity of intention by sincerely seeking faith in Jesus. Joanie was willing to walk away from the relationship at any time that her expectations were not met.
My young friend began to make changes in her own life after reading my book. Three months later, instead of becoming engaged to this young man as they had originally planned, they were breaking up. She had set her standards higher and he was not able to meet them. Isn’t it better to find that out before you get married than try to convert a person after the fact?
In Arms of Love, Joanie and Brandon did enter into a courtship while he was newly converted to Christianity and not at all yet a Catholic. However, they did not become engaged until after he had become Catholic. Joanie had stated over and over that she would never marry outside of the faith and Brandon knew this. So, the question is, should she have entered a courtship with a man outside of the faith?
For some people the answer is no! Absolutely not! Yet, I have too often seen the best Catholics come out of people who converted to Catholicism through the love of a good man or woman. I don’t believe we can be closed to God’s will. There are far too many good people out there who I believe are being called to the faith through this path.
What is important, I believe, is that the person of faith involved in such a relationship has the strength of character and uncompromising spirit which allows him or her to not be ruled by emotions. Entering into a courtship, as opposed to just dating, sets the framework for a couple to not be guided solely by their feelings. There are mentoring couples involved to help direct them. They are reserving physical affection which makes it much easier for them to break off the courtship if they so discern. They are entering into the relationship discerning the call to marriage from the very start . . . not just stumbling into marriage after a time of dating.
In the cases of Joanie and my good friend, they both set a standard. In the fictional case of my novel, Brandon rose to meet it. (This does happen in real life, too!) In the case of my friend, her boyfriend just was not willing to go the distance. They broke up! If you ask her today, it was the best thing for them!
She is now dynamically involved with her faith and with other young Catholics who place their faith first. She has no boyfriend at the time, but she is at peace living in God’s will and waiting. She radiates joy and enthusiasm for the Lord and her life is rich and full. I don’t believe she would have all these things had she continued on in a relationship where faith was not central!
Again, coming back to my novel, even when Joanie and Brandon began their courtship, though he was not Catholic, faith had become the central point of their relationship from the very start. I don’t think this point can be overlooked. In a courtship or dating relationship Christ has to be the center. Prayer and discernment are essential elements.
Interfaith relationships are possible, but both people must know where the line is for them, and whether or not it is even reasonable for them to enter a romantic relationship. If both know they are not willing to consider conversion, I would recommend stepping back and remaining friends. I have many good friends of different faith backgrounds, but as friends we don’t have to make decisions on important issues the way a couple does in marriage. So when it comes to friendship, there is no reason to not have interfaith relationships.
But, honestly, I would not recommend to any Catholic whose faith comes first, to marry outside of the faith. Married life is hard enough without having to disagree on that which effects every decision we make – our faith.
For Catholics whose faith is not strong they don’t seem to care. They marry within the Church or outside of the Church. They are sometimes converted to a different faith. Sometimes, as a couple, they just don’t bother practicing faith at all.
When we know persons like this – we must pray hard for them! God is still calling them home, and they might be closer to converting than we ever realize. Sometimes these persons come back to the faith with the greatest fervor, and in the process the spouse is converted as well. Sometimes, it is the spouse who brings the wayward Catholic back home!
We cannot judge others, for we do not know what is in their heart. We must pray for them and be available to support them, to love them and, through our example, to point them toward the truth.
I encourage you, Natasha, and all who read this, to keep your Catholic faith close to your heart. It is the greatest treasure you have, because through it Christ is made really and truly present to you in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist and you have access to all the graces of the Sacraments. Through your Catholic faith you have access, not only to Scripture, but to the authentic interpretation of Divine Revelation, passed down through the teaching tradition of the Magisterium of the Church. Never forsake your faith in Christ or His Church for anyone.
Know and trust that God has a perfect plan for your life. Be open to it and earnestly seek to do His will at all times.
Know that you and all our readers are in our prayers daily. I ask that you keep me and my family and this apostolate work of promoting courtship and chastity in your prayers as well.
In His Most Holy Name,