The Challenge Of Intermarriage
Regarding your “Raising Catholic Kids” symposium (December 6, 2013): I am a practicing Catholic father married to a non-Catholic. I am the child of a Catholic mother and a Jewish father. I have some knowledge of the results of surveys documenting very high rates (over 50 percent) of intermarriage among non-Orthodox U.S. Jews. There is a negative correlation between levels of observant activity (in Judaism and probably all religions) and rates of intermarriage—those most intensely interested in their faith are less likely to marry outside it.
Forty years ago, I married a Jewish woman. The ceremony had to be conducted on “neutral territory” by both a priest and a rabbi, under multiple dispensations. Partly because of my own experience, I’d hoped to educate my children as Catholics, but I underestimated both the strength of my wife’s commitment to her faith and the depth of her hostility to most things Catholic. We ultimately agreed that the children would be sent to a Reform Jewish Sunday school—I would drop them off on my way to church and pick them up afterward. I naïvely hoped that they would thereby acquire a belief in “the God of the Book,” and I would have opportunities to advance their religious education by eventually informing them of the good news of salvation. It did not work out.
I cannot speak about Reform Sunday school education generally, but the classes my kids attended walked a tightrope between the various religious theologies held by different portions of the congregation. As a result, according to what I could gather from my children, teaching focused on cultural issues—traditional practices at festival seasons and the like, with little or no emphasis either on the nature of man’s relationship with God or the ethical constraints and requirements flowing from that relationship. As a result, when my two very intelligent children rebelled, I had no answer to their complaint that it all was very trivial. Perhaps if I had been committed to my wife’s religion, I might have been able to provide an adequate response.
I am still married, and our now-married children are both physically and emotionally close to us. But we cannot discuss religious issues—it remains painful. One child married a Swede of (faint) Lutheran persuasion, and the other married the daughter of a Pentecostal minister. I would ask how they hope to answer the question of religious education, but I don’t think they even see it as a question worth asking.
A Familiar Tune
In its April 20, 1990, issue, Commonweal published an article of mine titled “Easter Bunnies & Xmas Trees: Who Will Pass on the Faith?” It expressed concerns similar to those covered in “Raising Catholic Kids.”
Today, twenty-four years later, as the parent of two successful, ethical, and socially conscious thirty-year-olds, I share all the authors’ concerns. Like their children, ours are not hostile to the church; they simply do not see its relevance to their lives. Since 1990, my own thinking has evolved. While the causes of our children’s drift from Catholicism are many, I now believe that the transition to the American melting-pot identity of our once Polish, Irish, French, Italian, etc. communities left behind the Catholic and the ethnic elements. The result is that the dominant worldview of our children is now a composite of the values, practices, and social, political, and cultural loyalties that form the identity of the wider American community. In other words, in our children’s eyes, being an American hardly differs from being a Catholic. In proving ourselves to be good Americans, we have lost our Catholic identity, especially the depth of our traditions and beliefs.
In her contribution to your symposium, Eleanor Sauers looks for remedies in the teaching role of community—notably, the family, the parish, and informal groups of Catholics—which leads her to recognize their respective limitations. In looking for illumination on this matter, I have been struck by the tone and messages contained in Pope Francis’s recent apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. It calls for a more prophetic, missionary, and joyful church. I wait to see how its exhortations will echo in our pulpits. Either way, we cannot let the richness of our faith be buried in American life and especially partisan politics.
J. Paul Martin
New York, N.Y.
Regarding Richard Gaillardetz’s article “Married Priests” (December 6, 2013): When I “left” the priesthood to marry twenty years ago, I wrote to the bishop that I was not “resigning from” a ministry that I felt called to and immensely enjoyed so much as I was “resigning to” the fact that the church would not use me in a married state.
Over two decades of marriage I’ve served as a hospice chaplain, in mental health,* as an officiant at weddings, as an educator, and as a regular homilist in both Catholic and Protestant congregations. I realize how free I now am to celebrate the many ministries I love. Yet I am given the humbling daily challenges of intimacy and vulnerability that come with marriage and parenthood—these are much less accessible to those who serve in the canonical priesthood.
Yet my decision did not come without regret. I have come to appreciate the freedom to take risks the celibate priesthood provides—risks a husband and father must consider more carefully. If I were celibate, I would not need to worry as much about time commitments, financial constraints, and taking more radical stands for the sake of justice.
I am grateful for the different chapters of my life, and do not glibly call for a married clergy, but I do hope that the clerical caste system that has only intensified will become a smashed idol, even as I admire many old friends and colleagues who are “celibate for the sake of the kingdom”—some by calling, some by chosen bachelorhood, some coercively by canon law, but each trying his best to be loving. So I do hope for the gift of a married clergy that will be seen as holy and of its own special value, but only if women are recognized as as “priests/presbyters” too.
*Ed. note: an earlier version of this letter misspelled the writer's name and rendered the list of his jobs incorrectly. It has since been updated to reflect corrrections.
I wanted to offer praise for Richard Alleva’s review of Captain Phillips, “All At Sea” (December 20, 2013), and echo his praise for the film itself. I agree that a more appropriate title for the movie would have been Captain Phillips and Captain Muse. This theme is pressed early in the scene where protagonist and antagonist see one another through binoculars, and recognize each as a worthy adversary. The real accomplishment of the film is that the Somali pirates become full characters with real motivations, families, and pressures.
I was surprised to find myself feeling sympathy for the leader of the pirates, Abduwali Muse, and the difficulties of his life. In a brilliant turn, Muse and Phillips move from opposing one another to being caught in a game no one can win. In that sense, both men become antiheroes, caught up in a complex and evil reality, which leads them to a desperate situation. The characters’ shift from opposition to entanglement is accomplished by a sophisticated plot and superb acting.
Erik Lenhart, OFM
Jamaica Plain, Mass.