Monday, March 15, 2010

A Former Anglican Answers: What About a Non-Catholic Spouse?

EPG’s latest question from the opposite bank of the Tiber, about how a convert should deal with a non-Catholic spouse, has drawn some useful comments, with a particularly powerful testimony from Mary P. Coincidentally, I encountered another answer to the question Saturday morning, when convert and distinguished author Dr. Thomas Howard (left) talked before our men’s group about his “Path to the Ancient Church.”

Raised in an Evangelical family where each meal included prayers as well as hymns accompanied by Mother on the piano, Dr. Howard taught from 1970 to 1984 at Gordon College, a “multidenominational Christian college” in Wenham, Massachusetts. A scholar of English literature with books on CS Lewis and novelist Charles Williams, Howard taught an elective on Lewis and JRR Tolkien at Gordon that drew as many as 200 students. By this time, having spent some time in England, he had become an Anglican. It was at Gordon College, he told us, that he began reading his way into the Catholic Church by studying the Fathers and early Church history. In 1984, he was asked to tender his resignation when he announced that he was going to be received into the Catholic Church. Gordon accepts Catholic students but not Catholic professors.

Howard was 50 years old and out of a job, thinking he “might have to sell pencils on the street.” Instead, a dean from St. John’s Seminary in Boston knocked at his door one summer day and asked if he would be interested in teaching English there. This solved Howard’s job dilemma but it did not solve what might have been a thorny problem in his family: his wife had not converted with him.

The Howards were blessed. When Howard told his wife that he “had to be Catholic,” she accepted it quietly. Not long afterward she told him, “The Lord has given me wings of joy about your becoming a Catholic.” Yet she did not cross the Tiber with him for 10 years, saying she was “not ready yet.” Meanwhile, Dr. Howard began writing successful books from a Catholic perspective, including Evangelical is Not Enough, On Being Catholic, and Lead, Kindly Light: My Journey to Rome.

About his wife’s waiting to become Catholic, Howard said, “I never bugged her about it. I never even prayed that she would become a Catholic.” One day, in 1994, Mrs. Howard told her husband, “I’ve decided I want to be an old lady who goes to Mass every day.” And so, he says, she is. Dr. Howard quipped that his wife is “much farther along in the Salvation sweepstakes than I am!”

So there you have it, converts with non-Catholic spouses: You may not even have to pray. Just “don’t bug her,” and try to act with half the dignity and kindness that seem to pour naturally from Dr. Thomas Howard. Who, by the way, drew quite a crowd to our men’s group as our first official guest speaker. Here’s another picture, courtesy of my friend Michael Joens: