Catholic marriage envy

I think we all have sins that we know we’re guilty of, that we bring to Confession again and again – gossip, anger, judgement. But we also have sins that we think don’t apply to us, that we have never struggled with. For me, one of those is envy. I’ve never really envied the wealth or beauty or intellect of others – not because I’m totally happy with my own performance in these areas, but because any insecurities I have do not manifest themselves in the cardinal sin of envy.

Or… so I thought. I realised recently that I am guilty of envy. I’m guilty of envying people with ‘perfect’ Catholic marriages. I look at their blogs or Instagrams and think, “Why not me, God? Why can’t I have a faith filled marriage?” And then I start telling myself that maybe those couples aren’t as happy as they look. Maybe they suffer in areas of their marriage that I do not. Maybe it’s all show.

And maybe I’m right. But that’s the danger of envy, and why it’s so bad for our souls. It makes us whine to God, “Why can’t I have that? What you have given me isn’t enough!” And then we start wishing bad things on other people, hoping that their blessings aren’t really so much greater than ours as we perceive.

This is something I’m working on. Now that I’ve recognised that I am, in fact, guilty of envy (and pride to boot, for thinking that I was above envy!), I need to figure out how to combat it. Perhaps I need to unfollow certain accounts on social media, or say a prayer of blessing for anyone I have uncharitable thoughts toward. Furthermore, I need to focus on gratitude for a life which is, in fact, abundantly blessed. I offer a decade of the rosary each day for my marriage, but from time to time, I say it in thanksgiving for the gift of marriage, for my loving husband, for my beautiful daughter.

Envy is ugly, and it feels horrible. It makes us feel like stroppy children who aren’t satisfied with their offering of birthday gifts. God doesn’t want us to feel that way about our marriages; He wants us to rejoice in the gift of our spouses, to pray for them, and enjoy His gift to us! Yes, matrimony is meant to sanctify us, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t also meant to enjoy it. I think us Catholics forget that sometimes – that although redemptive suffering is a beautiful dimension of our faith, it isn’t the only one. God also meets us in joy and thanksgiving, and above all, in love.

Lessons from Elisabeth

The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur was one of those books I read where more of the text was highlighted than wasn’t once I reached the end. Whilst this is testament to the beautiful wisdom, encouragement and spiritual insight contained within the pages, it makes it a little tricky to flick back through the pages to find the particularly useful or interesting passages. So many of them are useful and interesting!

So, I decided to compile the key takeaways from this spiritual powerhouse. I also hope this will be a useful resource for those who don’t have time to read it themselves.

  1. Prayer is the most humble and effective act of charity

This is perhaps the most spiritually transformative lesson I learned from Elisabeth. She talks constantly about the importance of both charity and humility in the Christian life, and tells us that prayer is the most humble and useful act of charity that a Christian can do. How so? Well firstly, it is a private act, maybe even completely silent, so it will not attract the praise and affirmation of onlookers. But even more importantly, we may not get the gratification of seeing the answer to our prayers. Whilst we know with certainty that God hears and answers all our acts of petition or prayer, we do not always see how. Perhaps He has breathed peace into the heart of a suffering loved one; maybe He has spoken words of comfort through one friend to another; or it could be that a small sacrifice offered for His glory has brought a suffering soul in purgatory a little closer to Heaven.

Don’t be mistaken. Elisabeth is also clear that more tangible acts of charity are essential when circumstances allow. However, her words remind us that wherever we are, whatever our circumstances, we can offer the most important act of charity simple by offering our prayers to the Lord.

2. Love unbelievers wholly, entirely, without restraint

Many people, myself included, are initially drawn to Elisabeth’s writings because of her marriage to Felix, an atheist until after Elisabeth’s death when he not only converted but became a priest! Elisabeth writes a lot about her deep desire for Felix to know God and to share her faith. She speaks frankly about the loneliness and isolation she feels at not being able to share the deep, unshakeable love and joy she has in the Lord. She longs for Felix to know his Creator, to experience faith in a deep, personal way as well as to understand it intellectually.

But what is especially striking is that she has no sense of superiority, or frustration with her husband – in spite of the fact that Felix could, reportedly, be very cruel to her about her faith, going so far as to try to prevent her from participation in the sacramental life. Having a husband who doesn’t share my beliefs myself, I know all too well the inclination to feel exasperated by his lack of interest in learning about Christianity, and can so quickly become rigid and cold and defensive when matters of faith (or lack thereof) and family life arise.

Elisabeth shows us that we should pray unceasingly for our unbelieving loved ones, but that we should be soft, gentle and loving towards them. We must never view them as deficient because of their unbelief. We must be willing to learn from them, rather than believing that they must learn from us. And this should be done in a spirit of true love and devotion to them – not simply in the hope that we can charm them into coming to faith.

3. We should educate ourselves about faith 

This point was intriguing to me, as I consider myself too much ‘head’ and not enough ‘heart’ when it comes to faith. I can read and read, but I struggle to sit down in silence and talk with God. Of course, Elisabeth is not telling us that ‘heart’ doesn’t matter; she has a beautiful interior spirituality which we learn about in her diary. But she’s making the case that especially for those of us who find ourselves surrounded by non-believers, it is a duty to ensure that we are well grounded in theology, doctrine, writings of Church doctors, and of course Scripture, so that we can feel secure and confident when expressing our beliefs in a way that is communicable to those who cannot understand the ‘heart’ aspect of faith.

These are my main takeaways from Elisabeth’s diary, but there is so much depth and richness in the book that I encourage everyone to read it! In the meantime, I am keeping all those who pray for the conversion of a loved one in my own prayers, and asking for Elisabeth’s intercession.

Servant of God, Elisabeth Leseur, pray for us!

 

The power of a (spiritual) mother

You know that old adage that adrenaline can allow a mother to lift a car if a her baby is trapped underneath? (Apparently that’s true, btw). I’ve been thinking more and more about the fact that we Catholics who are praying earnestly for the conversion of our spouses, partners, children, etc., are “lifting the car” for our unbelieving loved ones.

Sometimes, it is exhausting to pray every. single. day. for the same thing, without seeing much progress. “Is there really any point?”, you ask yourself and God. It can feel like a physical strain, and physically tiring, to feel like your prayers have to cover your whole household.

The same image kept coming back to me, though. One of me using all I have – my physical, emotional and spiritual strength – to lift up my loved ones to God. If you had to lift a car from above your trapped child every day, would you do it? Of course you would, even though it would leave you feeling sapped.

I’m not saying that I do my best every day. I could pray more, make more sacrifices, go to more Masses, and so on. But when I feel like giving up, this is the image I come back to. Our spiritual motherhood is indispensable to the coming of God’s kingdom.

Get ye to Confession! (with a good confessor)

We’ve probably all had good and bad Confessions. For me, a bad Confession is when the priest just listens to you reeling off your sins, and offers you no input other than your penance (which was actually also forgotten once). I know that I am still absolved of my sins and that’s what matters, but let’s be honest… that isn’t usually all that we want. We want some advice, some guidance in how to overcome our sins and grow in holiness.

I have been to Confession a few times at my local parish, but it was always as described above. I left feeling frustrated that I was none the wiser on how to work through some of the sins that I repeatedly have to confess, and that the priest didn’t seem to think they really mattered. So I knew I had to find somewhere else for Confession.

There’s a Latin Mass parish not so far from me, so I decided to try there. Although I am not a TLM devotee, I imagined that the priests there might be more ‘involved’ confessors. I was right.

When married to someone who does not share your Catholic faith, there are certain marital issues that come up time and time again. The Catholic theology of marriage and the body is unique and beautiful and one of the most wonderful teachings the Church has to offer the world… but it’s VERY counter-cultural, and tends not to go down well with anyone who did not receive good Catholic formation.

As such, I have ended up in the confessional with the same sins time and time again. I have never received good guidance about them, until yesterday. Whilst I will not disclose the details of the conversation in the confessional, the priest reassured me that as long as I am praying about these issues and broaching them with my husband when the time feels right, then I need not feel the burden of the sins. He encouraged me to come back to Confession as often as necessary to work through the issues.

I left with such peace. I am not absolved of responsibility; through prayer and perseverance, I must try to lead my husband towards the Church’s understanding of marriage and sexuality. But if I can honestly sit before God having done everything in my power to live the Church’s teachings in my marriage, then I can be absolved of my sins.

A post-rosary prayer for my marriage

This is an approximation of a prayer that I offer each day after the rosary I say for my husband, my marriage and my family. Of course, it can be tweaked according to your circumstances and doesn’t need to be offered after a rosary.

Lord, through the intercession of your Blessed Mother, please accept this rosary as an offering for the good of my marriage.

May our union be long, happy, healthy and holy.

May your Most Holy Mother pray for me that I would imitate her, striving to love my family as perfectly as she loves hers, and that I would grow in the virtues modelled so flawlessly by her.

I pray that through the intercession of her spouse, your foster father, St. Joseph, my husband will come to love You and Your Church. May St. Joseph intercede for him to grow as a loving husband and father, who will ultimately lead his family towards Christ.

May the Spirit guide me today and always to be the wife that my husband needs me to be, and the mother than my daughter needs me to be. I pray that, by your Grace, I will help to lead them Home.

Through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

The Annunciation and the unexpected

The story of the Annunciation is beloved amongst Catholics. It is here that we see Mary’s indispensable role in the story of Salvation begin to unfold. It is here that Mary teaches us that by giving our ‘yes’ to God, even when we afraid (especially when we are afraid), we can participate in God’s plan for mankind, helping His Kingdom to come.

That narrative is a little overdone. It is beautiful, and certainly true; we must follow Mary’s example, and give our fiat to God, asking for the Blessed Mother’s intercession when we feel afraid to take bold steps alone. I am certainly not questioning the goodness and truth of this lesson. It’s just that this seems to be *the* ‘teachable moment’ that gets reeled off again and again when it comes to the Annunciation.

As I prayed the first Joyful Mystery of the Rosary yesterday, something else stood out to me. We know intellectually that Mary must have been confused by what God asked of her, and that the people around her must have gossiped and accuse her of all sorts of terrible things once they knew she was pregnant. But because we know so well that this was a fundamental part of God’s plan for Salvation, have we perhaps forgotten that, when it actually happened, people didn’t know that? All they saw was a young girl, not yet married, who had suddenly and mysteriously fallen pregnant?

If that happened today, would you believe Mary’s story? Would you think that she was the axis on which the story of Salvation turns? Or would you just think that she was delusional, kidding herself, or outright lying – even blaspheming against God by using Him as an excuse for her sin?

I suspect I might think the latter. And that got me to thinking – how many times have we inwardly or outwardly questioned God’s call for someone else? Wondered whether they are simply using God as an excuse for something they want to do whether or not it is God’s will? How many times have I let someone else’s raised eyebrows or judgement thinly veiled as ‘advice’, make me question God’s plan for my life?

No one except God can tell you who you should marry. Maybe God will speak through someone you know – but you shouldn’t let someone’s unsolicited and perhaps uncharitable opinion be a deciding factor. Your non-religious friends might say, “What’s the problem? Why does it matter whether he shares your beliefs? This is the problem with religion – it divides people!”. Whilst your devout Catholic friends might say, ‘There’s no way that God wants you to marry a non-Catholic. How can you give your whole self to God if you can’t share your beliefs with your spouse?”

God has a special and unique plan for each of us, one that may seem surprising or even shocking to outsiders – as Mary’s story shows us. Mary also shows us that it’s OK to be afraid or even to question God about His plan. Ultimately, she demonstrates that if we accept a plan that may cause whispers and gossip, we can bring glory to God.

As I always say, I do not wish to suggest that any and all relationships with non-Catholics are willed by God. You need to be honest with yourself and open to God’s voice when discerning how any given relationship will impact your relationship with God. But don’t be put off by other people casting doubt on your role in God’s tapestry of Salvation.

Obstacles and excuses

As I was going about my day today, I was mentally grumbling about the deficiencies in my prayer life. Having started a 54-day rosary novena for the first time, I’ve gotten into the habit of praying a scriptural rosary with the Rosary Cast podcast when I get up with my daughter around 6am. Which is great! But, I was thinking, first thing in the morning is the only time I have for fruitful prayer: my husband is asleep, the baby is occupied with her milk and renewed joy to play with her toys. If I had a devout Catholic husband, we could pray together in the evenings – perhaps a litany to our favourite family saints, bedtime prayers with our daughter, an examen before sleeping.

But then, as if St. Michael or Our Lady or some other saintly friend had my back, I almost felt these complaints, sent by the devil, being squashed by the Truth of God. Yes, I have some specific obstacles to my ‘ideal’ prayer life. But doesn’t everyone? It’s my choice to either let those obstacles stand in the way of my relationship with God, or to recognise that my prayer life will be as fruitful as I make it. Would it not be more beneficial to offer up those frustrations as prayer, thereby making them part of my prayer life? Does God not always make space for more prayer when we look for the parts of our days and our lives in which we can grow in intimacy with Our Lord?

This is not to undermine the real sadness and sorrow that comes with being unable to pray with my spouse. If it did not cause me pain, I probably wouldn’t be moved to pray daily for my husband’s reversion. But I am firmly convicted that, at this point in my life, this is my cross. This is my path to holiness, not my excuse for laziness in prayer. As I have prayed through the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious mysteries of the rosary (the Luminous mysteries aren’t traditionally prayed in a 54-day rosary novena), I’ve been reminded starkly that Jesus and Mary know our pain; they both felt it in their own earthly lives. If we unite our suffering with Our Lord and Our Lady, we will grow in faith and spirit.

And further, this verse from the Joyful mysteries has kept coming back to me:

For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. (Luke 1:49)

The devil wants us to feel that our quest for holiness is doomed, that our circumstances make it impossible. He wants us to feel despair, and ultimately, to give up. How can I despair, though, when I look around and see all the wonderful things that the Lord has done for me? Our challenge is to keep our eyes, minds and hearts on those things, to let our hearts sing a Magnificat; and that when we feel sorrow over our perceived obstacles to unity with God, we do not let it become an excuse to give up as the devil wants, but to lean ever closer into the suffering, redemptive love of our Saviour.

Elisabeth Leseur

Elisabeth Leseur (1866-1914) is a Servant of God, meaning she is being investigated by the Church for possible canonisation. Whether or not she is eventually recognised as a saint (I pray that she will be!), she has had a profound effect on my life and spirituality. It is really her example that led me to feel that I can confidently pursue sainthood, even in the absence of a devout Catholic spouse.

The short story is that Elisabeth Leseur was a devout Catholic married to an atheist/agnostic, Felix Leseur. Furthermore, her circle of friends were overwhelmingly non-believers, and had little respect for her beliefs. This caused Elisabeth a lot of pain, in addition to significant physical suffering. But rather than growing bitter and defeated by her situation, she embraced it as her cross and used it as a means by which to grow closer to the Lord. She lived a life of constant prayer and sacrifice, as well as unceasing love and charity towards those who derided her faith. She even begged the Lord to take her life in exchange for the conversion of her husband.

Alas, the good Lord granted her prayer. After her premature death, Felix discovered Elisabeth’s secret diary in which she had intimately detailed her prayerful quest for his conversion, as well as her deep and abiding love and respect for him in spite of their differences. This started a spiritual journey that led not only to his return to the Faith, but to his being ordained a priest. I’m sure Elisabeth rejoiced ecstatically in Heaven!

I’ve adopted Elisabeth Leseur as patroness of this website, as well as considering her one of my own personal patrons. I try to remember to ask for her intercession in my marriage daily, as well as doing my best to follow her example as set out in her diary (which I strongly encourage you to read!). You will certainly see many more references to her here, as she’s become a saintly best friend of mine, and the first (future) saint whose story truly resonated with me.

Elisabeth Leseur, pray for us!

A morning prayer for my marriage

Lord,

Thank You for the gift of a new day of marriage.

A new chance to love better;

To serve better;

To embrace my vocation.

I ask you, Lord, to help me embrace my cross,

As You embraced Yours,

Out of love.

I pray, Lord, that You will show my spouse Your love,

That he will come to know You, love You and follow You,

Not for my sake,

But for his.

I am sorry, Lord, for when I have failed to reflect Your love,

Your compassion, Your mercy and Your patience.

I beg You, Lord, to use me, Your humble servant,

To shine Your light in my marriage today.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

A blog for those in mixed marriages

I started this blog because I couldn’t find a voice in the Catholic social media sphere that spoke to my position as a devout Catholic, married to someone who does not share my faith. I suspected that I am not alone in this situation.

I converted to Catholicism in 2016, a few months after I met my husband. I began the process of RCIA before I knew him, and once I met him, I explained my religious journey and he was supportive of my conversion. He attended the Vigil Mass in which I was received into the Church even though we had only been dating for about three months at that time, which is a special memory for me. Although that is when I officially became Catholic, I would say that much of my love for, and commitment to, the faith has grown since then.

My husband is, in fact, Catholic by baptism, and would consider himself as such. However, faith is not an important part of his life: I go to Mass alone (with the baby) 90% of the time, our daughter’s faith formation is entirely my responsibility, and we certainly don’t pray together as a family. On the other hand, we agreed that our daughter should be baptised in the Catholic church, and he generally is not resistant to me encouraging a faith life for her.

I mention all this to demonstrate that my situation may be ‘easier’ than that of others, whose spouses may be more antagonistic towards their faith. I want this blog to be for anyone who feels that their faith is not shared by their spouse, but I recognise that there is a spectrum of difficulty and that my situation is not the hardest. However, I strongly believe that God wants us all to delight in our relationship with Him no matter our personal circumstances, and that He absolutely does not want any of us to give up on faith simply because we do not have families that are perfectly unified in belief.

There have been times when I’ve felt that God is disappointed in me because I didn’t wait for a practising Catholic spouse, or that He must think I just didn’t love or trust Him enough to break off my relationship when I realised that we may never be on the same page about matters of faith. I feared that I was doomed to a life of imperfect faith because I had failed to find a man who shared my beliefs 100%. I even worried that I would have to choose between my relationship and my faith, and was afraid that God would abandon me if I stayed in the relationship.

But here’s the thing: despair does not come from God. Yes, God asks us to do hard things. Yes, God sometimes wants us to walk away from things that make us happy because He has a better plan for us. Only you know what God is asking of you, and you must be honest with Him and with yourself in order to discern what He wants from you and your relationship. I can promise, though, that He is not going to abandon you because you went off-script from His plan. And I can also promise you that the Catholic mommies of Instagram, Facebook and the blogosphere do not know better than God does what is good for you. 

I believe fully in Christ, His Church and Her teachings. I am not here to promote heresies. I am here to tell you that you can live your faith fully and fruitfully no matter the circumstances of your marriage or relationship.