by Rev. T.L. Dunphy, C.Ss.R.
Fr. Dunphy uses this fictional story to illustrate a situation relatively common here in South Africa - that of the mixed marriage. He shows that though from the start the situation is fraught with difficulties and, indeed, dangers with perseverance and prayer it may lead to a happy issue.
IT was dim in the tiny Baptistery. The woman, kneeling a little way from the font, liked the dimness, as she buried her face in her hands and tried to pray. She was quite elderly, with fast whitening hair, and hands that indicated plenty of housework. Now they were joined as she looked at the priest who had lit the candle, and was prepared to go on with his work of regenerating another soul in the waters of Baptism. She wasn't praying that is, in prayer but her numb heart was saying words, words so simple that she almost laughed at their simplicity afterwards, when her husband drove their battered family car back through the quiet suburban streets to their now fully Catholic home. She almost laughed because the words in her heart had been simply, “Thank God, Thank God, Thank God...” endlessly, endlessly.
But that was afterwards, and this was now. It was like eternity. Not because it was long. She knew that eternity had no length or breadth. But because it was one great packed moment, in which her heart, mind, body were caught up and held, as if that moment would never move forward or backward. And in that moment she heard the swift flow of Latin words, that she did not understand, but which had all the soothing of God's hands on her heart. Then there was the repetition in English, and she heard the queries and answers, one gruff voice answering the question of the other. Then it was the moment; “Wilt thou be baptised?' and the subdued and rather shaken answer: “I will”.
The man at the font it was her man bent his head downwards and sideways a little, and the water ran like the stream of life or the fount of living waters, and the words came clearly to her: “I baptize thee in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost,” and it was done. All done. He was now doubly, trebly, altogether hers, not only in body and mind, but now in soul as well. For he was a member of Christ with her in time and eternity.
The rest of the ceremony passed like a dream. She saw the white cloth on her husband's shoulder and heard the words about innocence and keeping his soul ready for the coming of the Eternal Bridegroom. She saw him standing with the lighted candle in his hand, rather self-consciously, while the priest said something about the light of Faith and other wonderful things. Then he had bent his head over hers for a light, but very firm, kiss as the priest put out the candle and closed the continued on p.12
font. She stood quietly while the priest and her husband went down the nave of the Church to the dark closeness of the confessional.
While she waited she went to kneel before the picture of the Madonna who held the Child in her arms, with the gold gleaming like a great glory behind her, and the two angels telling of a Passion to come. She thought: “My Passion is over now.”
That is a true story. It is the story of prayer; prayer in a mixed marriage that has been answered; prayer that was a conviction deep down when she took on herself the responsibility of marrying one who was not of her Faith. Mind you, this marriage had been what the Americans, in their casual way, call “one of those things”. She had done her best to have her husband-to-be properly instructed before she agreed to the engagement. But he just didn't get the Faith. He saw that the Catholic position was logical. He even admitted that some of his born prejudices had taken a beating as the priest progressed with his friendly talks. But when it was all over he couldn't make the decision. So they were married with a mixed marriage, in those days without music, in the sacristy, and with all the trappings of nuptial “spirituals” removed.
However she had a firm belief in prayer. She had meditated on Our Lord's extraordinary insistence: “Ask, and you shall receive; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” Those insistent words were like the ringing of a steel hammer on the anvil of her memory.
So, from the very first moment of her honeymoon, when she felt more than ever alone spiritually, she began her campaign of prayer. It was her own lonely campaign in the beginning. Never a Holy Communion, never a Visit, never a Rosary, but that her man's conversion was the spearpoint of her desire.
Then the children began to come along. Five of them. No, six; because she always counted the one who died in infancy, and she often secretly prayed to her child in Heaven. So, they too became her allies. She never gave them any impression other than that her husband was a good father to them all; encouraged them to draw him into all their religious enthusiasms; but she put before them all that, as Daddy wasn't a Catholic, only God could do this for them. And so, her children learned to pray at all times with perfect calm and confidence for their father's conversion. The family Rosary always had the last decade devoted to that intention, even when in later years he, as a Protestant, joined in with them.
For this became also her ideal. It was not long after the honeymoon that she proposed to him to pray with her. It took a lot of courage to broach the subject, but, of course, her ambition for him was so strong that she let nothing stand in her way. He was a bit shy at first. So she was patient. She said something one night, as they talked before going to sleep, about the complete intimacy of marriage, when two people not only lived, loved and thought together, but also went to God together, in prayer. He was a bit thoughtful about that one; and finally agreed to a short formula of prayer at night and in the morning. She taught him the Sign of the Cross; he knew the Our Father, though she always smiled at his pigheadedness in adding, “for thine is the kingdom, etc.”; (she thought of that as his mental protest, and rather admired him for it); she taught him the simple morning offering and the act of contrition. And these they always said together sometimes, when he was malely lazy, in bed together. But they always got said. So she taught him to pray with her.
Yes, my dear partners in a mixed marriage, prayer is the great weapon that will attack powerfully the citadel of your partner's soul. You, your children, and above all, HE or SHE must be in this campaign. It will go on a lifetime, maybe; or at least for many years; maybe, it will have to follow into eternity. Because there is another thing to remember. God will certainly answer your prayers. He will OFFER grace to your partner. But it can happen that a thousand things will prevent that partner, beloved as he or she is, from accepting that grace. But who can know the depth of the goodness of God? Who knows that even if the waters of Baptism do not flow for him or for her, there is still Baptism of desire, and your prayers may earn that most precious of graces in the long run?
But if you get your partner to pray with you and there are many loving wiles that your heart will teach you to use for this end you are surely on your way to victory
All these things she thought as she got rather stiffly out of the car as it was garaged that Sunday evening. “Darling,” she said as he locked the garage doors, “do you know that all our life I have prayed for this for you?” He looked over his shoulder as he snapped the lock, and with unfeigned delight answered, “Yes, of course. But then I have prayed for it, too”. So you never know, do you?