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Q: I’m in an interfaith marriage and want to incorporate both faiths into our holiday traditions. How do I do this while still being true to the Catholic faith?
—Confused at Christmastime
A: It’s wonderful that you want to honor both faith traditions in your holiday celebrations. As Catholics we profess that we believe in the God given dignity of every person and that we honor each person’s conscience. Who better to respect and honor than your spouse? So, I think you have chosen a beautiful path by finding ways to celebrate aspects of both faith traditions.
As you well know, family gatherings can be difficult to navigate when it comes to personalities and relationship dynamics. Certain topics have the potential to create tensions. Not everyone gets along or sees eye-to-eye. Sharing an aspect of your faith tradition requires some vulnerability. It’s an offer to know someone on a deeper level. That offer may or may not be charitably received. Whatever happens, know that you offered the gift of a deeper part of yourself to your family members. Whether it is received or appreciated on the level you might be hoping for, we do not know. Offering the gift is all we can do. That is a powerful modeling of your faith, especially if you allow others the freedom to respond in their own way, non-judgmentally.
In a more intimate way, I suggest talking to your spouse about meaningful ways the two of you would like to incorporate your faith traditions into the holidays. Share with each other not only the customs and their meaning, but what they mean to you personally. Once you know these things you will be in a much more loving space to find ways to share these meaningful traditions. Sometimes, just being lovingly present, even though we might not participate in every aspect of a ritual or tradition means a lot. Find the things that unite you and celebrate them. You can likely share in many things that don’t require a profession of faith.
Finally, let me offer this. Often, we look for obvious “religious things” to do and we might miss things that are actually very religious right in front of us. Consider this, just about every holiday celebration includes a shared meal. Family, friends and guests come together, sit at a table, and break bread together. Most religious traditions value this in some sense. Many cultures place great significance on this table sharing or “hospitality.” Think of Abraham and Sarah welcoming angels or Jesus in his meal ministry, eating with everyone without judgment. The table is a place of transformation and deep religious significance. Relationships are built and nurtured at the table. For us as Catholics, every meal can be a eucharistic encounter. We are called to make the deeper connection between what happens at the altar in church and what happens at our family tables. If you enter into holiday meals in this spirit, you will be living out your faith tradition in a profound way. And, your spouse will likely feel that they are living out their faith in those meal encounters as well. Consider writing a prayer together to begin those holiday meals. Then they will be truly an authentic shared faith. Everything after that will be grace.