It should have been the happiest day of my life. And, it was — until I made the phone call home. It started with the excitement of, “I am engaged! I am getting married!” and ended heavily with, “Do you denounce the Catholic Church? You know you are giving up your rights to heaven?”
I was born into a Catholic family. We went to Mass every Sunday and most Holy Days of Obligation. I received all my Sacraments, went to Catholic school from kindergarten through 12th grade, but I just didn’t get it. And to be honest, by the time I graduated from high school, I couldn’t care less. I was far more interested in parties, friends, and fun. I saw no place for the Church and its rules in my life. I truly did not know what it meant to be a child of God, and I was looking for God’s love in all the wrong places. I was raised in the times when catechesis was … well … somewhat less than on point. I was a “cultural Catholic” who had not allowed Jesus to change my heart. My parents had given me the Faith, sent me to Catholic schools and did all the other things they knew how to do. They really gave me the best gift possible by keeping me in the sacraments, but I definitely didn’t understand the value of that gift.
While I was distancing myself from the Faith in high school, my parents were having a deep conversion back to it. My dad attended a life-changing retreat called Cursillo and suddenly wanted our family to say the Rosary together on a daily basis. My brother and I were weirded out and begged him, “Just don’t become a deacon.” Well, we must have had the gift of prophecy, because guess what happened about eight years later? He became a deacon! God does have a sense of humor.
At 19, I met a tall, good-looking guy named Jim. He treated me better than any of the guys I had dated before. I knew I wanted to marry him, but he was not Catholic. Jim would ask me all kinds of questions like, “Why do you have a pope?”; “What does Vicar of Christ mean?”; “Why do you worship Mary?”; “Why do you have to confess to a priest?” My answers typically went like this: “I don’t know. We just do.” I told him that I was pretty sure we didn’t worship Mary, though I had no means to apologetically defend why we pray all those Hail Marys. Funny, at that time, my dad was teaching RCIA at our local parish and attending seminary to become a deacon. He could have answered all those questions, but in my pride, I never went to him. We didn’t have the internet to find answers together, so Jim was digging through the encyclopedia to research Catholicism. That encyclopedia stated that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ started in AD 33, but I was too far removed from religion for this to mean very much to me; I just wanted to be with this guy with whom I had fallen deeply in love.
So when Jim proposed and my dad asked where we would get married, it became a big deal. That whole “Catholics get married in the Church because it is a sacrament” thing was beyond my scope of knowledge or understanding. We just wanted to keep it simple and have it outside of any church building, so as to not be divided by religion. We were trying to avoid disunity in our families, but precisely in that effort, we created a tremendous amount of pain and discord.
I knew so little about the faith of my childhood that, when my father asked me if I was denouncing the Catholic Church, my answer was, “I do not even know what that means, nor if I even have the authority to do such a thing.” My father’s conversion was causing his convictions to grow deeper, and he was nearing his time of ordination as a Catholic deacon. His reply to my answer was, “Becky, I do not even know if I can attend your wedding if you do not get married in the Church.” I was devastated, and I didn’t understand any of it. It was supposed to be the most exciting time of my young life, but it was tinged with hurt, sadness, and rejection. Thankfully, my dad was not yet ordained, and his spiritual director gave my parents the encouragement and approval to be part of the wedding and to do what it took to keep our family together. I could never, ever be more grateful to that priest for having the heart of unity and familial love. My parents participated and seemed to enjoy the wedding, despite how hard it must have been for them. For our sake, they buried their hurt in God’s gift of humility. As a parent now, I have the utmost respect for that decision to love rather than fight for what, ultimately, was right.
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