A Catholic dates a Mormon

Dr. Mathias: It’s madness.

The Operative: Madness? Have you looked at this scan carefully, Doctor?  At his face?  It’s love, in point of fact.  Something a good deal more dangerous.

Serenity (2005)

Patrick Madrid blogged about a call he took on his radio show.  Dominic, a 19-year-old Catholic man, told the story of dating a girl whose Presbyterian faith (and parents) caused her to break up with him.  Patrick responded gently but with a firm message, basically: Date Catholics.  Parents, don’t let your kids date non-Catholics.

This issue is one that evokes strong feelings in many people; this post by Patrick drew more comments than his post about the Archishop of Canterbury urging the Pope to allow female bishops.  Julie D. of Happy Catholic took particular issue, as she was an agnostic at the time she married her husband.  The comments on both her post and Patrick’s fall strongly on either side, with anecdotes like Julie’s to support them.

I have a few of my own.  My mother and her sisters married non-Catholics, all of whom are now among the finest Catholic men I know.  If all devout Catholics dated and married only in the Church, not only would Julie not be writing her blog, I wouldn’t even exist.  The people supporting this side of the issue point out, rightly, that with God all things are possible and that we should fear no evil (such as the evils of ignorance, prejudice, and false belief).

On the other hand, proponents of the “date Catholics only” side point out, rightly, that mixed relationships – crucially, mixed marriages – can cause tremendous suffering.  The problems go beyond the couple – to their families, friends, and most especially their children.

Dominic was forced, after a relatively short period of time, to look down the road and see a certain wisdom in what happened.  The concern revolves around marriage.  I think very few couples begin their relationship with an eye on that possibility.  I think fewer couples, even if they have that foresight, appreciate the difficulties that can come from solid and opposing religious beliefs.

I have no experience of marriage.  Even if I did, one experience is hardly a guide for the rest of the world; the comments on Patrick’s and Julie’s blogs relate any number of “horror stories and happy endings.”  I’m writing because I do have experience in a long, serious, and “mixed” relationship.  The aspiring Dominics out there may recognize the wisdom in the warning but choose to proceed anyway, due largely to unfounded optimism (not that I can blame them).  My story, I hope, might make the potential consequences a little more real.

I began my courtship of a young woman when we were both seniors in high school, just barely over six years ago today.  She was a beautiful, extraordinarily bright girl who made my mouth go dry when I talked to her.  I had learned secondhand that she came from a Mormon family (her 12 siblings might have given it away in any case).  I knew nothing about Mormonism.  I knew not too much about Catholicism.  It didn’t take very long for the subject to come up in conversation, nor very long after that for it to become a debate.  I remember the night she brought me a copy of the Book of Mormon to read.  She slid it across the table and I examined it for a moment, then got up and came back with a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and dropped it on the table (WHAM).  I think we both still have those books.

It was an interesting time for me.  I stayed up late into the night reading internet articles about why Mormonism is wrong and why Catholicism is right.  At the beginning I printed things out and gave them to her to read.  This is to my eternal embarrassment.  The material I gave her took a bullheaded approach at best; it was idiotic or outright false at worst.  I didn’t see it at the time, but I was setting a negative tone that would never entirely go away.  Nor indeed did it do much to endear me to her father.

But my efforts were not all useless.  I did learn an enormous amount about the most ancient Church, things of which I had never heard before.  And I did begin to expose her to those things as well: Ignatius and Polycarp, auditors of the Apostles; Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, illustrious apologists; and other details of the history between the Acts of the Apostles and us.

Around that same time, I began spending a lot of time on the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry’s “LDS” discussion forum.  It exposed me to a wide range of arguments and argumentation.  I recall one person’s signature: “Truth without love is too hard; love without truth is too soft.”  Most of the discussions on the forum fell into the former category.  For the most part I did too.  There was sort of an argument-first mentality that neglects to account for the fact that people don’t always take too kindly to arguments, even if they’re flawless.  With all the time I spent researching patristics, Scripture, history, and theology (both Catholic and Mormon), I became ready to tear any Mormon apologia or article of faith to shreds.  But the ironclad argument does not account for the fact that the opponent happens to love those apologia and articles of faith.

Chalk it up to being young and stupid.  Sparks flew at times, but she was very patient.  Besides, our religious disparity was not what defined our relationship, nor much of a restricting factor at all.  We grew deeper and stronger in genuine love.  As time passed, we both began to develop the concrete conviction that we would never marry unless we agreed on faith first.  Though we weren’t talking about marriage nor kids at the time, I think the reason for both of us was that we could never do that to our kids.

Our families were fairly patient with it, though with entirely different dynamics.  My family, all devout Catholics, was very supportive of us.  They were aware of the problem and very concerned, of course, but they never opposed us dating.  Nor would they have opposed a mixed marriage, had it in fact come to that.  I fondly remember a conversation with my older brother about it.  I said if she married me, her family might disown her.  He said in that case he’d sit alone on her side of the church at the wedding.

Most of her family was not supportive.  In the Mormon church, there is a very definitive answer to the question of dating non-members.  That answer is no.  As all of them are devout Mormons, this was cause for constant worry, and open pressure on her to end it.  (I should note that her younger siblings were likewise opposed in principle, but perhaps not as much in practice.  They liked me better for some reason.)  As one can understand, this pressure was reflected into the relationship.

I mention the family reactions because it is something new couples must consider.  My choice to be in the relationship didn’t cause my family pain, although my mother is still fasting from ice cream to petition the Lord for my girlfriend’s conversion.  My girlfriend’s choice caused her family a lot of pain.  We all loved each other, of course, and they’re fine people.  But her choice did have immediate consequences for her family (which came back down on her).

Going back to the story, in late 2004 we both went to college.  Not the same college.  Hers and mine were separated by a drive of 55 miles.  And for much of our time in college, she didn’t have a highway-worthy car.  But I was happy to make that drive often, and so we saw each other twice a week.  Our relationship was now somewhat long-distance, but it continued to get deeper and more serious.

The tension over religion would grow as well.  It was at some point during my freshman year of college that I started this, my first blog.  I believe I still have all the ancient entries preserved; the reader can go back and see what an idiot I was.  I still had the mentality that everything Catholic was right and everything Mormon was wrong.  I didn’t see much on the internet bringing those two facts together, though, so I started my blog to fill the niche.  There was a time when it did indeed, and readers used to have lively discussions here.

I digress.  During that time, 2004-2005, I continued to read books and websites and whatnot.  I searched for the things that I could present to her to change her mind and convince her to believe in the Catholic faith.  Things continued to go nowhere, as far as I could tell.

I should mention that we both participated in varying degree in the activities of each other’s churches.  I went to services with her sometimes, and to gatherings of her ward (which Catholics would call a parish) or young adult groups, and so on.  She sometimes came to Mass, presentations, or other activities with me.  In 2005-2006 she enrolled in RCIA, as an effort to learn about what Catholics believe.  At the time we agreed that we’d call it quits if we remained split in faith by Easter.  But when it came, we decided to press on.

There were other times she came very close to breaking off the relationship over our religious difference.  Each time, either immediately or after a few days or weeks, we came back together.  It was still basically the only thing wrong with the relationship.  As 2006 became 2007 we began to more seriously consider the future.  I believe it was during this year that we burned out on discussing religion.  My mentality hadn’t changed, and I couldn’t really bring much new material to the table.  And it drove me crazy; it could bring out the best and worst in me.  I remember making impassioned, and I think inspired, pleas to her.   I also remember becoming as angry as I’ve ever been in my life because of the whole situation.

My writing and reading on the subject of “Catholics are right, all others are wrong” fell off almost entirely.  This isn’t to say my religious practice fell off; as time went on, my beliefs only became stronger.  Yet this made it harder for me to live in the faith while she did not.  So for a time we carried on, without touching the subject much.

Finally, in early 2008, she confided that she was thinking about leaving the Mormon church.  She said she heard things being discussed in services and activities and realized she simply no longer believed them.  But at that point, she still wasn’t convinced about the truth of the Catholic faith.  Still, I was excited, to say the least.  In my mind (and I think in hers too), a Catholic marrying a Mormon would be a bad idea – but a Catholic marrying a… something else?  We were okay with that.  I had finally softened somewhat and become less idiotic when it came to religious discussion.  I started to spend more effort trying to find elements of Catholicism with which she could fall in love.

And we had plans.  I had a year of college left; she was going to move on to grad school at a college in my city.  This was where it was all coming together.  Finally we would be separated by mere minutes.  I would find a job and be ready to provide for her.  I was keeping an eye out for the perfect engagement ring.  We had both been through so much and sacrificed so much for each other, and we were ready to commit to a lifetime together.

Then in June 2008, just before she moved to my city, it all fell apart.  For reasons I still don’t entirely understand (though I have not put much effort into it), she abruptly and completely re-committed herself to the Mormon faith.  She broke off the relationship of about four and a half years, and shortly thereafter decided not to even speak to me.  It was the complete end of her in my life, all due to the only thing that ever really came between us: our different religious beliefs.

I can’t speak so plainly as I have in the rest of this story to describe the shattering pain of that summer; it can only be related in something more like poetry.  I remember telling a friend many months later that it was not so much having my heart broken as having it thrown to the gutter and stomped on, then dug in with the heel like a spent cigarette, and scraped up with a shovel into a black garbage bag.  My days were filled with useless distractions and my nights with anything but sleep.  After receiving Communion once I prayed to Jesus to heal the beating abyss my heart once was.  The reader understands, I hope, that those were the darkest days of my life.

That’s not unique to a religion-based breakup, of course.  But a young lover should know what may lie in store if religious differences make marriage prohibited or direly unwise.  My girlfriend and I went all the way to the end – to the point of committing to marriage – and it went down in flames.

And of course, it didn’t end there.  Perhaps this will fade with time, but I still chiefly feel regret when I look back on the relationship.  If I had known all along what I know now, if I had done a better job at presenting the faith, if I had been a better Catholic… maybe we would never have split up, but more importantly, maybe she would have come to believe.  Spiritually, I have never been the same.  My best qualities, all the devotion and virtue and sacrifice which God brought out of me through her, feel foreign to me now, a year and a half hence.  I look back on something like the before and after photos of a city that suffered a bombing.

I do not question God’s love for me, but like a massive high-speed train, one cannot have so much of one’s own being suddenly halted without enormous consequences.  These consequences, for me, are wounds to every aspect of me which I had invested in loving her.  In other words, pretty much everything.  Some of those wounds have healed, no doubt, and some have not.

This is where I conclude my telling of the story.  It’s late, and I don’t doubt I have forgotten many important or enlightening details.  But I hope it will still make an impression on anyone like Dominic: let my story convey to you, in some small measure, how much and how quickly that cross you now embrace cheerfully can become the cause of unspeakable pain to your heart, mind, and soul.  If you still choose to follow our Lord’s example and give yourself up entirely for the one you love, I bid you good luck and pray you come to something happier.  If you choose to go your separate ways, well, perhaps you’ve spared yourself and the other a fate like this.

Please pray about it daily, and choose carefully.

13 Responses to “A Catholic dates a Mormon”

  1. JPBarham says:

    God bless you….My son is dating a Mormon girl, and I pray for them both. He is an inactive Catholic (he says he doesn’t believe anything) in a devout Catholic family. We are homeschoolers, and he’s the oldest of 6 children. His siblings all pray for him. We do love his girlfriend; she’s a beautiful girl inside and out. Only God knows what the future holds for them. I will pray for you and your pain.

  2. Brad says:

    Thanks for your comment. I’ll pray for your son and his girlfriend.

  3. jdr says:

    oh! god bless you darling! perhaps your purpose in her life was to open her eyes to the faith. May God bless your struggle and I will pray for you, for your pain to be eased and to find for yourself a beloved whose love will be true and lasting.

    I became a Catholic 11 years after my first exposure to it!

    Just to let you know, my husband and I were both raised in devoutly mormon families and still remain the only Catholics therein, save my aunt. Our families, along with various members of the mormon church, used everything from imploring us not to reverse our baptisms for the dead (think of those poor souls who will be cast into outer darkness for all time!) or give up our chances for exaltation and to rule over our own universe. (to become gods)
    If you are devoutly mormon, you are aware of being bound by a duty to those living and dead, and that kind of pressure can break your psyche. I really believe that she will see for herself one day. In fact I put my faith in it! But for now, I will pray for you and your plight. Hold to your faith that the love of God for us is strong enough to heal your hurt and to convert her heart.
    (HUG)

  4. Brad says:

    Thank you, jdr.

  5. TOm says:

    Brad,
    So many things come to my mind when I read your post and the responses you received. I am afraid that I do not believe there is a one size fits all answer to the inter-faith dating question and I suspect that I have many disagreements with you and your other repliers concerning many subjects.
    However, I think what I most need to say is that I will pray for you. Christ does not always heal us how we wish He would, but He can make us whole.
    Charity, TOm

  6. Brad says:

    Thanks, TOm. That’s the most I could ask for.

  7. Scott says:

    While reading your entire account, Brad, all I could help thinking about was how much I feel for you. I hope it is some consolation to know that you will be in my prayers.

    I also thought, you and I are a lot alike. I have been dating a beautiful, perfect girl. I met her in high school, and have been with her every since. This may sound corny, and cliche, but I think we complete each other. However, she is a Mormon and I am a devout Catholic from a Catholic family, and needless to say, we have had the discussions about inter-religion relationships. Our one seperating fact.

    I can’t help but feel exactly in your shoes. I have tried to open her eyes to Catholicism, avoiding giving any hint that her or her family’s beliefs are wrong. I do not think they are wrong, but slightly skewed from the fact. But ussually the discussions end up as little fights going no-where, and I sometimes just become very angry at the situation. I feel as though she wont even think of anything different that lies outside her Mormon bubble.

    Now I think I know a good share about Catholicism, and Mormonism. I have been a Catholic all my life and I have started to read more into Catholicism. My Uncle on my dad’s side converted to Mormonism, and I have read up on it as well, trying to gain as much knowledge as possible. But I don’t know how to try and explain to someone that this religion is better, for lack of a more exuberant term, than that one. (I am trying to avoid rights and wrongs). To someoe I love an awful lot, and would do anything for, and who has been taught my beliefs are wrong.

    We are to the planning stage now. I have completed my first semester of college, and she is getting ready to graduate high school and go off to college. She says she wants to be with me, and doesn’t ever want to lose me, and I feel the same way about her. Then, bam, religions jut in. I am not ready to give up on a perfect relationship (minus the one big flaw) that has gone on for two years now.

    I have told her, I do not believe it is a question of who is right and who is wrong, which she seems to think it is. Back to the planning stage, we want to be together. But I feel we wont be able to make it work, being wedged apart by religions. I feel we must make a choice of religions. She thinks one is right and one is wrong, but I have explained to her that I feel this isn’t the case. I feel one will brng us closer to Christ, God, the Holy Spirit, and one wont.

    The choice: I can not fathom the idea of abandoning my strong beliefs in the Catholic church, and my pessimistic view of things tells me she wont want to make a drastic change either. She thinks we can make it work, and I sometimes think that, and sometimes don’t think that. I can’t stop the idea of our future being very bleak, from venturing through my mind daily.

    I found your article while parusing the Internet. I have been praying over this situation a lot, ever since we became serious, and I feel God led me to your account to help me. I have been struggling daily with this, and the struggle has become more prominent. Any advice would be welcomed greatly…

    A young Catholic exploring life, Scott

  8. Brad says:

    Scott,

    I am (very literally) sympathetic. I’ll remember you in my prayers as well.

    To be perfectly honest, I don’t know how to answer when I receive questions like this. I don’t know how to give good advice about it. Sure, I went through it, but mine is hardly the outcome you want.

    Nevertheless, I feel compelled to give you these instructions:

    1) Continue to strengthen your practice of the Faith, and your knowledge of it.

    2) Give everything you can. Does she want to read Mormon scriptures or other materials? Attend meetings or events? Do it, and go beyond her expectations. Stay current with LDS conferences and the issues raised therein. Et cetera.

    3) Remember the words of Jesus: “this kind can only be driven out with prayer and fasting.” Intensify your prayer. Pray as you read these words and then don’t stop. Make your every activity, waking and sleeping, every hour of work and class, an act of supplication to God that His will be accomplished in her and in you. Act like you and she are out of time, and today is the last day. Put all the energy you can into commending the matter into God’s hands. When He chooses to put it into yours (say, a discussion arises), carry on fearfully and give thanks when it’s over. Ask family and friends to pray along with you.

    If this is truly your burden, and if it is the most important thing in your life, you have to do this. It will wear you down, but heaven will take notice. Hell will, too. Be careful.

    Good luck. May God have mercy on us.

  9. Scott says:

    Thank you Brad.
    I only asked becasue it is wearing me down completely. It is something so hard for me to contend with, while just venturing out into life unknown as a young adult. I have so many responsibilities and worries now, and this adds greatly to those. I ask for advice because I assume someone who has gone through what I am going through would be able to offer insite to my dilema.

    I am truly thankful to be able to share this with someone who can understand what I am going through. I pray often about this subject, but I just feel it is not working. I am afraid also that it may not even work in the long run, but I try my hardest to push those thoughts away.

    I am hoping, though, that when she ventures into a life as a young college student herself she will realize who she really is, and what she wants to do. But this in itself is a scary idea, because of the chances of her attending BYU or some other Mormon college, then I will feel that I truly could lose her. But I will never stop loving and praying for her.

    Thank you for your advice on such a touchy subject. I have remembered you in my prayers, and will keep praying for you.

  10. Brad says:

    I wish I could offer more consolation. You have to decide how much it will be a priority for you. If you decide to bear with it, it may end up being the struggle that defines you as a person for a long time (I speak from my experience here).

    Nor can I offer any comfort regarding prayer. Even if you and everyone you know pray and fast nonstop, she may go another way.

    Guard your thoughts of the future. Speaking again from experience, I was sure of God’s will for us from day one to the day it fell apart. From that time on, I have not known the sound of His voice in any part of my life. This may be me being jaded, but perhaps it’s better not to seek to know His will for the two of you; better simply to offer your own hopes along with everything else into His hands and beg for His mercy.

    Sober words for a sober situation. Perhaps the comfort you can take is that there are few people who would do what you’re doing, faced with full knowledge of the situation. Maybe the world needs more such people.

  11. Latter-day Guy says:

    Our families, along with various members of the mormon church, used everything from imploring us not to reverse our baptisms for the dead (think of those poor souls who will be cast into outer darkness for all time!)

    As a sometime lurker on this blog––and a practicing Mormon myself (though I do pray the Divine Office)––I have to say, jdr, I haven’t the foggiest idea what this part of your comment means. Baptisms performed on behalf of the deceased cannot be reversed, and no one goes to hell because someone else “canceled” their (proxy) baptism. (I say this all, of course, within an LDS context.) If that’s what your friends and relatives told you, they were smoking something.

    I do not want to cause offense, but a misunderstanding of Mormon belief this egregious (and this is a biggie) calls into question just how “devout” your Mormon upbringing was. Again, I have no desire to cast aspersions on your character or that of your family, but I have never, ever, ever heard anything remotely like your comment above.

    More generally, I think interfaith relationships/marriages are rife with trouble. Sometimes they work out, but it sure adds major difficulties to a vocation that isn’t simple to begin with. In any case, thanks for telling your story, Brad.

  12. Brad says:

    Oh, I’m embarrassed I missed that. Thanks for your comment, LDG.

  13. nathan000000 says:

    That was a very poignant account. It brought back vivid memories of a girl I dated for a year and a half. Our difficulties weren’t over religion, but I recognized in your story the pain that comes from trying so hard to remove obstacles that just won’t budge, even with both people’s efforts.

    I’d have to agree that your advice is sound, Brad. A married couple should be united on the handful of commitments and convictions that are closest to their hearts. If they have religious convictions, they should be the same religious convictions. I believe the Holy Spirit can whisper an exceptional course to an individual’s soul, but by and large this is a piece of wisdom that has few exceptions.