Growing up as a Roman Catholic, I learned there are two sacraments of service: the priesthood and holy matrimony between a man and a woman, who are both baptized and in full communion with the church. It was easy for me to understand the sacredness of a priest’s ministry. But I wasn’t convinced that my union with my boyfriend had much holiness in it. But to keep the peace (mostly with my mother), we got married in the church and later had our children baptized.
Ten years into our marriage, we had everything a couple could want: Two beautiful healthy children (a boy for him and a girl for me), a lovely home and good paying work. But there was something missing. It felt like we were Adam and Eve after the fall hiding in shame from our nakedness. I could almost hear God calling, “Where are you?” Genesis 3:9
At first we blamed each other for our unhappiness. I wanted him to be less focused on work and more focused on his family. He wanted me to be happy with the blessings we had. We started talking divorce. There was no love life between us, nothing, except one time, while using birth control, on his fortieth birthday … then nine months later …
The birth of our third child changed my life dramatically. I saw her as a miracle and a complete blessing from God. But my husband saw another twenty years of duty as our provider. Now it was me who was counting our blessings. And it was him who wanted me to focus less on the spiritual and focus more on the daily cares of the world.
With time, I became absorbed with my faith, and my husband became more skeptical. He would rarely join me for church. And if he did, he would not receive communion. His lack of interest in the sacred made no sense to me. Then I started to remember when we first prepared for marriage. My husband could not produce his baptismal certificate. He was born in Holland during the war, he told us. The church was destroyed. The priest finally agreed to a wedding ceremony with no Mass.
Finally, forty years into our marriage, I demanded to know the truth. “You were not baptized, were you?” I asked. “I don’t think so,” he finally confessed.
Panic overtook me. Was my marriage valid? I asked anyone who would give me the time of day. Not wanting to take too much of my pastor’s time, I quickly whispered my predicament to him as he was leaving after morning Mass. He smiled understandingly and walked away. Frantically, I yelled across the parking lot, “But it’s been forty years!” I gasped as I noticed everyone stop to listen to his response. “Give him another forty years,” he yelled back. “And maybe he’ll get baptized!”
I came to see that God’s time is not my time. “How romantic!” a girlfriend exclaimed after I told her of my dilemma. “He lied to you because he wanted you so badly. He knew you would not have married him if you knew the truth!”
The truth is that I was married to a heathen. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the more technical term for our marriage is a “disparity of cult” (CCC 1637). And according to St. Paul, my husband is “consecrated” through our marriage (1 Corinthians 7:14). He has not received the sacraments, but he is consecrated.
I finally told my husband of what I had found in my inquiries. “But I still don’t understand the difference between being consecrated and receiving a sacrament,” I said. “I understand when a host is consecrated on the altar, but when does it become the Sacrament of Communion?”
“When it is consumed,” he answered simply. Wow. I was amazed. At times it seems my unbaptized husband understands the faith better than me, a daily communicant. “You mean our marriage is consecrated, by not consumed?” I asked. He shrugged his shoulders and did not answer.
I finally asked a priest who specializes in the annulment of marriage. And my suspicion is correct. Though we had three children together, our marriage has not been consumed, it is not a sacrament, and can easily be annulled. Oddly, knowing the truth has given me peace.
Seven years later, my husband and I are happier than ever. I no longer feel envy toward Catholic couples that are living a sacramental life. I have come to accept that God has a special plan for every marriage and every person whether Catholic or not. I no longer feel like Adam and Eve hiding in our shame. Now, if I hear God calling, “Where are you?” I answer simply, “Here I am, Lord. I come to do your will.”