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My wife is my godmother. On the day of my baptism, my wife stood by me as my sponsor, holding our newest baby girl in her arms. But more than that, she helped lead me to the Catholic Church, nurturing my desire for faith, and preparing me to receive the gift of rebirth. It was a shared journey—one to become a child again, and the other to become godmother to her husband.

I never thought I would become Catholic. I was raised without any religion or faith, and though I longed for it, I also expected to remain outside, “on the border of things,” as Jordan Peterson put it. But my wife saw my passionate love and desire for truth and believed I would eventually find my way into the Church. The challenge for her was that, despite her trust in my eventual conversion, she did not know when it would take place. She could only walk in faith, as I searched for mine.

Because I was an unbaptized non-believer, our “disparity of cult” marriage needed a special dispensation from the Church, and this gave my wife an additional solemn responsibility—to help me find my way to heaven. I was to be “consecrated” or “sanctified” through her (1 Cor. 7:14). In some mysterious way, she would bear some of the burden for both of our souls, for it was her faith that would “set me apart” for the sacred. It was her witness that would serve as the principal example of what it meant to be Catholic, and it was her prayers that would prepare me to freely receive the grace of conversion. And while she shared the beauty and richness of the Church’s teachings with me, she also patiently believed in God’s time. Faith is God’s gift, and it does not happen on our timetable. She trusted that God would lead me to the truth, and trusted that I would follow where truth led me. 

Her prayers were answered in the most unexpected way for both of us. I received an irresistible call from the Blessed Virgin Mary to join the Church. As I was struggling with an ailment that my wife was unaware of, I felt moved to pray to Mary for some relief. That same day, unbeknownst to me, my wife went to our parish, and for the first time in her life, she lit a prayer candle to Mary to show me a sign. When I returned home from work that night, my wife and I shared equal astonishment when the ailment was suddenly gone. It is fitting that Mary would intercede on behalf of a mother's prayer, especially a prayer for her children to be raised by a faithful father. And it is fitting that two mothers would lead me to the Church and enable my wife to fulfill her other “motherly” role—to help give birth to my faith. 

Archbishop Fulton Sheen reflected on the “sacrifices of motherhood in bringing a new life into the world . . . [T]here is not much pain in creation as there is in generation, as it is easier to remain a natural man than it is to be born again as a ‘child of God.’” After my rebirth in baptism, after my new generation as a “child of God,” I began to understand the pain that Archbishop Sheen was talking about—the burden my wife willingly took on when she married me. She would, of course, never describe it that way, but all marriages are sacrifices. We offer up all other potential futures, and we bind ourselves to one person with all his or her weaknesses and failings. In my wife’s case, she committed herself to someone who did not share her faith, and that meant she alone bore the responsibility to raise our kids Catholic. Even though I had promised to support her in that mission, it was her mission, and I was naturally limited in what I could do. It’s why “disparity of cult” can be so challenging to marriages and to the task of raising faithful children. Especially in a world where the Catholic faith is besieged from within and without, parents carry a heavy burden to tend to the souls of their children. When we began our marriage, all of that weight was on my wife’s shoulders. I am now completely humbled by her faith in God and in me.

Of course, the burden of conversion does not only apply when there is a “disparity of cult,” and conversion does not end with baptism and confirmation. As our priest reminded me after I was baptized, “the hard part starts now.” There is a honeymoon period for new converts, and then the real work begins. And in every marriage, we have an ongoing responsibility to tend to the immortal soul of our spouse. We are all called to witness to the truth of the faith, serve as an example of Christ-like love, and pray for our spouse always, so that he or she will freely receive the grace of conversion throughout his or her life.

My wife continues to do this for me. She helps guide me through the mysteries of the faith as we strive to build our own domestic church. I remain in awe of her quiet self-sacrifice, showing Christ's love to me, our children, and those around us. And she constantly encourages me in faith. She reminds me that marriage is a participation in the divine, trinitarian love of God, but also a preparation for heaven, when loving God is everything. And through God’s grace, I now serve a similar role for her. As a convert herself, my wife struggled with Marian devotion, but my conversion opened our home to Mary in profound and beautiful ways. As I was initially consecrated by my wife, we now do a family consecration to Mary, and we thank God for Mary’s intercession. 

Perhaps the most humbling thing about my conversion was the realization that it was not primarily about me; it was about God transforming our family. The foundation of the domestic church is marriage, and when I was baptized, our marriage was reborn as a sacrament—with all the graces that entails. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, using the words of Tertullian, describes the joy of what we experienced:

How can I ever express the happiness of a marriage joined by the Church, strengthened by an offering, sealed by a blessing, announced by angels, and ratified by the Father? . . . How wonderful the bond between two believers, now one in hope, one in desire, one in discipline, one in the same service! They are both children of one Father and servants of the same Master, undivided in spirit and flesh, truly two in one flesh. Where the flesh is one, one also is the spirit. 

Only moments after my baptism, my wife and I offered our daughter to receive the same gratuitous gift of grace, to be reborn in water and spirit. And so this mother brought two children into the faith that day. 

Darren Geist is a practicing attorney.

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Image by Peter Paul Rubens, licensed via Creative Commons. Image cropped.

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