During my freshman year of college, I took a seminar class with a lovely, brilliant, soft-spoken older woman. She introduced us to people like Simone Weil and Thomas Merton and Rumi, and she was one of the best professors I've had.
Toward the end of the semester, she invited our class over to her home for homemade soup and salad and bread. Our class was small and we all participated a lot so we had gotten to know each other pretty well by this point. As we were about to fill our plates and bowls, my professor gathered us, looked right at me and said, "Kate, will you lead us in grace before we eat?"
And I completely froze. I'm fairly reserved and was a little caught off guard by the unexpected attention but it was more than that. I assumed she was asking me to say the traditional Catholic grace (after all, I went to a Catholic university and I believe everyone in that class but me was Catholic) and I didn't know the words. I sort of gave a little desperate glance to a friend of mine in the class and he took the hint and saved me by volunteering.
But what was beautiful and surprising and something I still remember to this day is that he didn't say the Catholic grace I was expecting. He closed his eyes and said, Dear Lord. He began to thank Him for the bountiful food and our classmates and the professor who guided us throughout the semester and the wisdom and knowledge we all absorbed. It was short and sweet but it was a profound moment, for me at least. Not that there would have been anything the matter with him choosing to lead us in Catholic grace, of course. I just loved that he decided to speak from his own heart in that moment with words he made up as he went. That he chose to pray in the most non-denominational way he possibly could, and that there was nothing about it that each one of us in the room wouldn't be able to connect with. It was simpler this way. A group of 18-year-olds, our wise, white-haired teacher who explained ancient poetry to us, a homemade meal, heads bowed in honest and open thanksgiving, faith in the very same God.
Some people might characterize my marriage as "interfaith" but we don't. My husband is Catholic and I am Protestant, although at this point, I consider myself sort of half Catholic, due to years of attending Mass and the fact that my husband, my spiritual other half, is Catholic. We both love Jesus and put God first in our hearts and pray every day for peace and perspective and guidance and trust. To me, an interfaith relationship means one between a Christian and a Jew, or a Jew and a Muslim. Not one between two Christians who are of two separate denominations.
There are differences in our faith but almost always, we have found that those differences have been beautiful things for our marriage. They push and pull us, they open up conversations and force us to dig deeper into our faith, to not take our beliefs for granted. My husband often has to explain a particular aspect of Catholicism to me and whenever you have to instruct someone else about anything, you must think a little harder and strive to find the right words to help them understand. I might say that in some ways, being married to a non-Catholic has made him a better Catholic!
We have all of the most important things in common between us and what is different, we choose to share with each other. Recently, my husband taught me to say the Hail Mary and I've found myself saying those serene words in moments when I need a feminine, motherly sort of peace and comfort. I've introduced my husband to the sermons of Tim Keller, the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City, and he finds them to be incredibly stimulating. We listen to them every week and some of the sermons we reference regularly--"Remember that Tim Keller sermon we listened to about prayer?"
The nuances between my faith and my husband's faith--I'm so grateful for those. His faith has brought me so much joy. I truly love the Catholic Mass and so many of the traditions and the fact that the Catholic Church believes in guiding its members through the very real trials of modern life. I love that the Church fights for the rights of babies in the womb and takes a stance on why sex is sacred and should exist only in marriage. And I think my husband would say that he's very glad for my faith too. That I've taught him and stretched him and opened him in new ways. We have expanded each other's faith, really.
I know how to say the Catholic grace before meals, now. I've said it hundreds of times with my husband and with his family and with Catholic friends of ours. It's a lovely little prayer and I really enjoy saying it and being a part of that tradition. But I hope that someday I might have the strength to pipe up and make up a prayer before dinner, not just when I'm with my husband because that has become easy for me but when I'm with other people, just like my friend did that day with our class. Whether the group is Catholic, or Protestant, or a mixture of both, we're all Christians. We worship the same God, we are saved by the same Savior on the Cross, we are blessed by the presence of the same Holy Spirit.