A Catholic in Limbo
I am a 41-year old South African, married with 7 children under age 16; we come from an intensely devout and highly traditionalist Catholic background. Our family life revolves around Catholic observance. I have been questioning my Catholicism over the last couple of years, owing to the deplorable antics of Pope Francis – he seems to be undermining Catholic doctrine, and so I began to wonder if it was all not maybe a lie. My wife refuses to delve into these matters, upset though she is by Pope Francis. Her outlook is one should not read or watch that which confuses one, or puts ones faith in doubt, and should concentrate on one’s spiritual life, going to Mass and being a pious Catholic.
I became interested in Judaism, unbeknownst to by wife visit our local Modern Orthodox shul frequently, and have read and learned a lot through certain anti-missionary online Rabbis. My eyes have been opened, and my faith shaken. I do not know what to believe any more. A part of me clings to Catholicism, as it is my heritage, background and family faith, and I cannot convert to Judaism as matters are (without my wife) but I do so without the zeal or conviction I used to. I am frankly miserable, torn and confused.
I am told I can simply keep the 7 Noahide laws but to me that is being in a perpetual no-man’s-land – no identity as such, no religion, no festivals really that one can keep properly, no culture, a kind of limbo. Besides which, my wife and family are deeply Catholic and the Faith permeates the house. Being a non-Catholic as matters are would wreck our marriage….”Mommy, is Daddy going to Hell” “I’m afraid so my dear, so we must pray very hard for Daddy”. The sad thing is the as things are, my wife will not even listen to Jewish arguments – she blows a fuse, as it were, when I mention anything Jewish.
I really, at times, wish I could shut my eyes, forget all I have learned, and go back to being a “fanatical” traditionalist, observant Catholic and not the half-hearted, half-unbelieving one going through the motions to keep the family together while secretly attending Shul and wishing I could lead my family out of error. I hate being in this quasi-no man’s land. To the Jew I am a gentile – not one of them, though they are usually kind to me. The Catholics, well, they will look down upon me if they knew the truth as well.
At the end of the day, I want to pursue truth, wherever it leads me. Please could you advise.
Your concern is complex but by no means unusual. There are many circumstances even within one’s own faith where “religious compatibility” becomes a real issue. I have seen numerous situations where a Jewish couple come under strain because the wife chooses to undertake more ritual or vice-versa. While this may require a professional counselling approach, often that won’t work when one spouse or the other doesn’t feel the therapist has an understanding of their religious needs.
But the bottom line, as with most things in marriage, is finding some element of compromise. If, assuming your wife loves you unconditionally, then as much as she may pray for your soul, she ought to still respect your choices (or your crisis, as she might see it) and in no way should that impact on the bigger picture of your relationship. And even if you were to abandon Catholicism, you ought to still respect your wife for wanting to live that lifestyle, and not look to persuade her otherwise. Beyond that it becomes a question of common denominators where you can accommodate one another, without breaching your own fundamental principles.
Obviously, if the end result is that you want to become a Jew and she wants to remain a Catholic, then your relationship will be untenable, and clearly your individual religious persuasions are more important to you than your relationship. But I am not sure why it has to come to that.
You mentioned the Noachide laws, and were quite dismissive of it. Frankly, from a Jewish perspective, you are better off leading a meaningful “gentile” life, adhering to those laws, than necessarily converting to Judaism. In the eyes of Judaism, when you adhere to those laws you aspire to a very lofty level, “amongst the pious of the world,” in the words of Maimonides. There is plenty available for you to read up on, even a specially designed prayer book and much else besides, available for “Noahides.” Check out asknoah.com for a plethora of information. Above else, that could work well within the framework of your marriage and in the spirit of the aforementioned compromise. Good luck.
Can This Fix My Marriage?
Is it ever OK to be unfaithful to one’s wife if it can help the marriage in the long term?
I would tell you that your question suggests your relationship is in bigger trouble than you think and you need to seek professional help urgently. But, sometimes the best way to get the right answer to a difficult question is to ask the person directly. I suggest you ask your wife what she thinks about the idea. Phrase the question something like this: “Honey, you know we’ve been arguing a lot lately. I’m thinking that if I go back to my ex-girlfriend from High School for a while, that’ll improve our relationship. What do you think?” Then run – fast.