A few weeks back, a reader wrote in with a powerful question: She had been drawn to the Catholic Church because of her boyfriend. Should she convert without a promise of marriage?
Rakti has been dating her boyfriend for five years, since she was 19 and he was 21. Rakti is Hindu, and her boyfriend, Mark, is Catholic. While Rakti was in college, she began to question elements of her Hindu faith. “After a lot of reading, research, investigation and time I knew in my heart that what I had been raised in wasn’t the truth,” she writes.
From the start of their relationship, Rakti and Mark had discussed religion at length. She even started attending Mass with him, but after a certain point, both she and Mark stopped attending because they would get into frequent arguments about religion.
Then things began to change for Rakti: “After not attending church for several months I started feeling like something was missing and I could feel a void in our relationship because of it. I convinced him to start going back to church even if it was without me. And eventually I started going back too.”
Soon Rakti was paying closer attention at Mass. She writes:
“I could feel God’s presence in my life again… after having avoided Him for so long. I was ashamed of getting close because I didn’t feel worthy. My boyfriend and I started talking about religion and the future and he expressed to me that he ideally wanted to marry me however he knew he wanted to marry someone Catholic in order to preserve unity within the family and also fulfill his duty of passing on the Catholic faith and tradition to his kids and wanted a wife that would be willing and able to do the same. I saw where he was coming from and agreed completely. As I was already starting to feel drawn to Jesus and the Catholic faith, I saw this conversation as a sign from God to consider joining RCIA.”
Rakti emailed me at this point, in early March. “I have personally experienced God’s grace ever since I opened my heart to Jesus, and my faith has deepened greatly over the past several months in ways I cannot even begin to describe.”
But here’s the dilemma: Rakti’s conversion is intertwined with her relationship to such a degree that she doesn’t know how to separate the two. And in recent months, her boyfriend has been expressing doubts and concerns:
“Although this journey was influenced by him and the thought of us having a future together, it has evolved into my personal spiritual voyage. However, I am getting frustrated by the fact that my boyfriend has been mentioning that he’s not sure whether I’m doing this for him or for myself. I don’t know how to explain to him and eventually to my parents as well that I am doing this for myself and not anyone else.”
Realizing that Easter was fast approaching, I wrote back immediately with the following advice:
My expertise is in relationships, not conversion, but I’ll offer you the same initial advice I’d offer to anyone seeking an answer in a challenging situation. Deep down, you know what the right thing to do will be. The answer is in your gut, in your soul, but you’ve got to be quiet enough, and open enough to God’s words, to hear it. In reading your email a few times, it seems like you are called to become a Catholic — and you feel deeply about this conversation over and above your feelings for your boyfriend. But let’s play out some scenarios:
- You convert, your boyfriend proposes, and you are married in the Catholic Church. Does he question your devotion to the faith? Or is he concerned that you’ll become a more devout Catholic than he is? Or is the question of religion a stand-in for some other concern that he has about the relationship? In this first scenario, which of course is my hope for you, everything very well may work out beautifully. But communication — real, open, honest communication — will still be crucial.
- You convert, your boyfriend does not propose, and the two of you break up. How do you feel? Are you supported by your Catholic faith, or will you put it to the side? Are your parents hurt? Have you told them about your conversion? Sit with this scenario for a while — and you’ll get a gut reaction about what might happen. Follow that instinct.
- You do not convert at this time, but continue to deepen your faith — and tell you boyfriend that you will strongly consider completing your conversion after becoming engaged. How would he react to this? How would you feel about this?
There are so many scenarios here, and the only answers are going to come from you. I do, however, want to point out one thing: In many situations, one member of a couple will use the religion question as a stand-in for some other problem in the relationship — or as a roadblock to marriage without really considering whether it is the actual issue. I’ve seen this break up many couples, and it’s unfair, because it’s not really about faith, it’s about covering up true feelings.
Your boyfriend’s hesitation as you near the final steps of the conversion process worries me a bit. If he were committed to you and committed to marriage, this would be a time of celebration — and engagement. But if he is concerned that you are doing this “only” for him, perhaps he is having second thoughts about the future of your relationship. This isn’t the end of the world: Many of us have long-term, serious relationships that end in our mid-twenties. It would be better to end things now — before you have converted, before there is pressure to get married for the wrong reasons — if you think that this is what’s going on.
And then I waited. On Good Friday, I heard from Rakti with the wonderful news that she has continued on her conversion journey, and would be welcomed into the Church this Easter.
Lent was indeed a time of discernment for Rakti and Mark. After many conversations about the future, they plan to marry after they finish their schooling and get settled in their careers.
Rakti says Mark’s hesitation about her conversion stemmed from some “old-fashioned cold feet and freaking out about the challenges we could face” down the road. “It was more so him realizing how we’re actually ‘growing up’ and that the next step would inevitably be marriage.”
Indeed, Mark was playing a bit of the devil’s advocate role: He wanted to be sure that Rakti “was converting for myself and not for him. His question was similar to yours: Would I still continue practicing this newfound faith even if we were to break up? And the answer is yes, I would.”
Another obstacle: Their parents are not thrilled with the match. Both Rakti and Mark are Indian, but speak different languages and come from very different cultural backgrounds. With time and lots of persuasion, they hope to win the approval and blessings from their parents. But she has not yet told her parents of her faith transformation.
“I’m leaving that up to God to guide me through, too. As much as the guilt of secrecy and sort of living this second life is eating away at me, I know it would be selfish of me to tell them because even though I would be freed from my guilt, I don’t think they will be able to handle it now. So I will wait and I have faith that God will tell me when the time is right.”
As she ended her email, Ratki said, “I have prayed and contemplated a lot over this Lenten season and have listened to God speak to me in various ways. I know that no matter what happens in my life that I can and always will turn to the cross, and that’s all I need.”
I certainly send my prayers and good wishes to these two on their journey. What’s your take? Have you wrestled with a similar issue? Let’s get a conversation going about conversion and interfaith relationships. Post your thoughts in the comments section below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.