As a Presbyterian working for the Catholic Church, Bonnie Mack approaches her ministry from a unique perspective. She has been married to a Catholic for 42 years, and for the last 20 she’s volunteered and worked with the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s Marriage and Family Life Office.
She leads marriage preparation classes. Because engaged couples that have interchurch and interfaith backgrounds often have different needs from Catholic couples when it comes to such classes, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati separates its marriage sessions into one for Catholics marrying other Catholics and one for Catholics marrying other Christians and non-Christians.
Mack says she uses a positive approach when counseling couples about many of the practical issues they’ll face in married life. “It’s not going to be helpful for the engaged couple to be negative with them,” she says.
While Mack share some personal stories of how she and her husband have dealt with their own interchurch marriage, she tries not to tell couples what is the “right way” to do something. She does warn Catholics against thinking they can convert their husband or wife down the road.
Along those lines of “must discuss” issues, the Cincinnati archdiocese’s highlights these areas interfaith and ecumenical couples should discuss before marriage:
Will you as a couple be involved in both parties’ faith communities? One? None?
Do you agree with the Catholic party’s required pledge to raise your children Catholic? (Most interfaith advisers recommend children be raised in one faith so they have a clear identity.)
How will the non-Catholic party’s faith tradition be taught to future children?
Does each of your families support your marrying someone of another faith? If not, will this be a problem in your relationship?
How will you find unity in your relationship?
The US bishops’ For Your Marriage website also has resources on interfaith marriage.
Mack believes that what makes a marriage work is the people who form it. “It comes down to a personal choice, and the longer that you live in that universality, the less ridged the lines, the more that we see that we are just trying to follow Christ in our individual lives,” she says.
Mack and her husband offer one more piece of advice to couples of different faiths: “We tell them not to drift away from their faith walk. In your times of celebration and your times of challenges, your faith community is your support.”
This article appeared in the December 2011 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 76, No. 12, pages 12-17).
Image: Tom Wright