My ex-husband does not practice his Catholic faith and seems close to being an atheist. How do I deal with this in regard to our two children who are active in our faith and attend Catholic school? It seems hypocritical to involve him in their religious events.
Jesus invites everyone. Not everyone comes. There are many reasons people abandon the practice of their religious tradition. When people abandon their faith in God and adopt an atheistic stance, there is usually some deep wound present. Something has occurred in a person’s life that is blocking his/her perception of God’s love.
Julian of Norwich, a 14th century Catholic mystic, tells a story from one of her visions of the King and the prince. The prince, who loves the King, goes busily off on his way in life with his own ambitious plans for serving the King. The prince promptly falls into a deep pit. He thrashes around furiously and struggles to climb out of the pit by his own volition. While all this is happening, the King watches anxiously, suffering with the prince, waiting for him to call out for help. The King is pure compassion and love.
Understandably it is difficult for you to really know the sources of your ex-husband’s woundedness. It may still seem impossible for you to have kind intentions for him, as there may be unhealed hurts for both of you relating to the breakdown of your marriage.
Given all this, however, you have chosen to live as a disciple of Christ and this is the path you are trying to teach your children. As disciples of Christ, we are Christ’s body here on earth and our assignment is to love one another.
If we are the Body of Christ, then we are to follow his example and cultivate the virtues he modeled. Jesus was many things to many people, but repeatedly in the Scriptures we see that he was compassionate to believers and non-believers, to those leading virtuous lives and those who were sinning. He often unmasked those who thought they were virtuous but really had hard hearts. He called us to abandon our ambitious plans and to follow him to his Father’s Kingdom.
You certainly want your children to love their dad, so teach them to pray for him every day. Invite him into their faith lives in every way that you can by including him in such religious events as school Masses, prayer services, service projects and the celebration of sacraments. He may not come at first, but, like the Lord, keep on issuing the invitations. Look for opportunities to share with him how you see your children growing into virtuous people.
In all of your interactions with your ex-husband, try to put on the virtues of Jesus: Patience, humility, gentleness, honesty, wisdom and, above all, compassion. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the gifts you will need for awkward and difficult times. Courage, understanding and right judgment will all come to your aid. Ask God to open your heart to forgive your husband if you are holding on to the transgressions of the past.
God works in strange ways. Though you are no longer married, God may be using you to bring your husband back to faith through the Christian values you model in your relationship with him. Nothing is impossible for the Lord!
(Christ is a consultant in ministry in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. The married mother of four young adult children, she gives talks and workshops, leads retreats and is a spiritual director. Christ self-publishes materials for parishes, and is the author of “Journeying with Mark,” “Journeying with Luke” and “Journeying with Matthew.” Published by Paulist Press, the books are intended to be used by families in the car on the way to Mass.)