I was reading a letter to a British "Agony Uncle" from an English culturally Christian widower who wants to marry a Muslim lady in the Middle East he met over the internet. She wants to stay Muslim, but although she wants him to stay Christian, and they want to have children, they for some reason think they can't get married. How-do-we-raise-the-children doesn't seem to be the problem, for he talks only about not wanting the children to be born out of wedlock.
It all seems very odd to me. I don't know where she's from, but in the UK there is no ban on Christian men marrying Muslim women, or even on Muslim men marrying Christian women, which I suspect may be less of a problem in the Middle East.
The "Agony Uncle", being unusually thick, suggested that the cultural Christian Englishman become a Muslim. I would love to know what he would say to a Protestant pal whose Polish girlfriend's family was having kittens because he wasn't a Catholic. "So just become a Catholic, what's the big deal?" is not what I would say, and I am a Catholic. Of course, being a Catholic, I don't think the way to enter married life is by telling huge public lies about what you believe.
Marriage is tough enough without people with conflicting values entering into them. Romeo and Juliet were so much the same that it was actually stupid that their fathers didn't get along. They were around the same age, they were the same religion, they were the same colour, the same nationality, the same social class, they spoke the same language and they were from the same town. Shakespeare's point was how stupid and petty their fathers' feud was, not that thwarting your parents' hopes for your future marriage is incredibly noble. There was absolutely no reason for Romeo and Juliet not to have gotten married; they would have been fine. Even dull.
It is an ENTIRELY different play from West Side Story, which was about poor white native-born Americans and Puerto Rican immigrants disputing over a slum. Incidentally, the most hilarious line in West Side Story is Bernardo's dismissal of Tony's citizenship, Tony being "really a Polack."*
Although just a throwaway line, it does suggest that Maria and Tony had something other than love-at-first-sight in common, which is that they shared the same religion. In the film they basically get married in that dress shop. Although illicit, I would argue with a canon lawyer that the marriage was valid. Okay, it's not entirely a desert island scenario. But the intent was there. It was almost certainly consummated, too.
Romeo and Juliet, who were upper-class teenagers, and Maria and Tony, who were just nice half-educated working-class Catholics, shared CORE VALUES. I am not sure the English widower of the letter and his online Middle Eastern Muslim sweetheart also share core values. He doesn't seem to think his Christianity is a core value (style over substance is how he put it), and certainly neither does the Agony Uncle. However, it would seem that his sweetie considers being Muslim one of her core values, which makes me wonder why she wants to marry a Christian Englishman. Maybe it isn't Islam but her family--which she will be able to bring to the UK, incidentally, if she marries this man--that is the core value, and they are shouting, "Nae Christians!!!"
I am no fan of mixed marriage, but the contemporary Roman Catholic Church in Canada sure seems to be, and it was with great shock that I discovered that mixed marriage was NOT considered some kind of ideal.
When I was in my early twenties, the significance that you needed a dispensation to marry a non-Catholic Christian and TWO dispensations to marry a non-Christian was lost on me. It never occurred to me to ask "A dispensation from what?" So imagine my shock and horror when I, engaged to a Protestant, discovered in an old book--written by Father Robert J Fox, I believe--that there is a Church law that Catholics must not marry non-Catholics. That's what the dispensation is from, and the reason for the dispensation is supposed to be the assumption that the Catholic party is so head-over-heels, he or she will stop going to Church if she isn't allowed to marry his or her non-Catholic sweetie.
Well, I'll be. I was very troubled by this, as I certainly loved my faith more than the guy, but I thought my faith exulted in Catholics marrying non-Catholics, for it was an outward sign of growing Christian Unity, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah. I wonder how many guys signing off on those dispensations were born from mixed marriages because if there is anything I--a veteran now of two marriages--can think of more challenging to a Catholic's faith, it's marrying a non-Catholic.
(Incidentally, I went exclusively to ordinary Mass before I met B.A, and now I go almost exclusively to the Traditional Latin Mass. Currently, former Anglo-Catholic B.A. reads me the Anglican Coverdale Psalms before bed. Guess who has the most religious influence in my house?)
However, there are Catholics whose core values do not include agreement on religious matters in the home, and therefore these Catholics will probably be happier in mixed marriages than Catholics who thrive on agreement in religious matters in the home. I also know Catholics Who Really Care who are married to Protestants Who Don't Really Care, and they seem happy.
My home-point is that you cannot be happy married to someone if your Core Values conflict. "The kids should be Catholic" as a core value is always going to conflict with "The kids should be something else", and so if you strongly believe your kids should be Catholic, you must not marry a man who strongly believes they should be something else.
One of the least-thought-out things the contemporary Church did to Catholics entering a mixed marriage was drop the insistence that the non-Catholic party swear to help raise the kids Catholic. Apparently it was decided that error does indeed have rights, and that it was unfair to the non-Catholic party to have to swear the same oath as his/her Catholic intended. Well, hell. That is a stroke against Christian Unity right there. Nothing like the non-Catholic party turning to the Catholic, when all is said and done, and saying, "Well, YOU swore to raise the kids Catholic, but I didn't, and I that means I can thwart you every step of the way."
Not that I'm bitter.
Another thing the Church could do, since I'm on a roll here, is take very seriously the possibility that a devout Catholic is being pressured into marriage with a non-Catholic. Why would a devout Catholic want to marry a non-Catholic anyway, the savvy priest should ask himself. Marriage is hard enough--Catholicism is hard enough these days--without marrying someone who doesn't believe what Catholics believe about marriage, sexuality and family life. So why....? When asking the question about free will, the priest should be dead serious, and treat the question seriously, like there's a real possibility the bride/groom thinks the groom/bride will commit suicide/murder if she/he doesn't marry him/her.
However, if the Catholic party is a cultural Catholic, tra la, and only darkens the door of the church so that he/she can get married in it, then the disparity is not such a big deal. Possibly his/her real core values are vegetarianism and being kind to animals, and these are shared by his/her post-Protestant lover. If so, terrific, and maybe their shared love for creation will lead them together to a greater appreciation for the Author of Creation.
Oh, and all this to say, don't be so tough on the Catholic guys you know from your parishes or FSSP missions. Yes, you may find them disappointing right now, but after awhile, you may grow to cherish them. After all, many of them share your core values.
*As this is, in North America, considered a terrible racial slur, imagine my shock when I discovered that the Polish word for a Pole is, in fact, "Polak." Unfortunately for my giggling Inner Child, I have few opportunities to use it, because if you say someone is one, you have to put it in the Instrumental Case, i.e. Adam jest polakiem.