The Pressure of Interfaith Marriage

Virginia Gonzalez // Tell Your Story


November 14  

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Thank you for the introduction.  My name is Virginia Gonzalez, I have been a parishioner here for about 10 years. I wanted to start with telling you a little bit about my background because it has had a big impact on my life as an adult and a mother. I’m the 2nd of 5 girls. I have large extended families on both sides, who are both deeply rooted in the Catholic faith. My grandparents were very Catholic.  My dad was number 18 of 20 children and my mom number 8 of 9 children. My grandparents helped to build their parish in El Paso where they are from, my grandfather opened the church in the mornings before work and the priests would send my grandmother immigrants that needed help with meals, haircuts, help finding work or anything else. My dad and his siblings spent so much time at the church it was like their playground.

My dad told us stories about how he and his brothers were always getting into mischief. They would do things like put a wad of gum on a stick to reach the money in the poor boxes or “taste” the altar wine and replace it with water and then get wrath of the Sisters after they would find out. On the flip side, they were altar servers for all the Masses and helped my grandfather take care of the grounds. My grandparents were great examples to me through the stories I’ve heard growing up. I had a pretty idealic childhood. My parents were very involved in our lives and made our family their number one priority. The list goes on of how they sacrificed for our family and put us first-they sacrificed newer cars, vacations, time with friends, higher paying but traveling jobs and even serving in the church. One example of this is that parents were youth ministers for the high schoolers in the community we were in and they loved it. They would have big groups of kids over for bible studies and outings. After a short time, they started to see the toll it took on our family so they decided it was best to give it up. They loved working with the youth group and I know that was very hard for them. They still keep in touch with some of the youth they ministered to. They were very careful to not make us feel like we were getting the leftovers of their time and energy. All this to say is that my parents gave me a great example of how I wanted to live my vocation as a mother.

I married my husband Gabriel in 2001 and we have 5 children. I met Gabriel and a youth event with my parish although he isn’t Catholic. From the moment we met, I was struck by Gabe’s devotion to his family and his faith. We had very similar upbringings, except that he was brought up in the Church of Christ. We both grew up pretty much centered around church and the church community. His dad was a deacon and an elder in their church and his is mom was very involved in Sunday school and women’s retreats. As we got older my dad and mom served in the church in many different ways as well-they were part of the Church Council, did Marriage prep, they were catechists and they were both heavily involved in Pro-life ministries. Gabe and I knew very early in our relationship we wanted to get married but we ended up dating for 8 years because neither of us was willing to give up our church and we knew it would be very difficult and confusing to raise our children in a home with two different faith traditions. We tried so many different things to resolve our differences-we attended each others churches, we studied the Bible together, we went to Bible classes and visited neutral churches to see if we could find common ground but in the end neither of us was willing to budge. We decided we would take a leap of faith together and hoped for the best. Not something I would necessarily recommend to someone in my shoes! At times the decision has been very difficult. The hardest part for me has been feeling like I have the weight of my children’s and husband’s salvation on my shoulders. I feel that the only way my children and my husband are going to see faith as important is with the importance that I give it so I’ve put alot pressure on myself. When our children were little I would bring them all to Mass by myself and sometimes it felt like torture. I couldn’t pay attention or focus and I felt like I looked like a circus. There was no one to sit at the other end of the pew and help. I felt very alone, self-conscious and envied the families that had both parents there together. My life line was when every so often a little old church lady would tell me she went through the same thing or complimented me on the kid’s behavior. At home I was very frustrated and sometimes tried to push or manipulate Gabe into coming to Mass with us. It caused problems in our marriage and pushed him further away from faith. I felt if I could get him in that seat at Mass God would surely reward my efforts and convert him-like on the spot. Obviously, it didn’t work. I actually just felt more pressure when he was there. I would get frustrated if the kids misbehaved or the homily wasn’t excellent. The worst was when he would come with us and the homily was about asking for money. I understood but I mean, didn’t they know he was there-finally!! Our differences caused problems in our extended families too. Our parents had expectations for their grandchildren that just didn’t work in our family. My in laws wanted to take the kids to church-they still have a difficult time with why we don’t let them. My family had a hard time understanding why Gabe wasn’t ok with baptizing our children as babies. Gabe believes baptism is a personal choice and so felt very strongly that our children should decide for themselves when to be baptized. This was so sad for me but I just prayed that God would understand that I was trying to be obedient to Gabe and they would still have the graces of Baptism. I would go to confession and tell the priest how frustrated and angry I was at Gabe and (pridefully) how I felt I was doing my part. I would hear the same thing over and over “is he a good man, father and husband?” My answer was always the same-the best! The priest one time told me to get out of the way of what God was doing in Gabe’s life. I realized I had to change my thinking! Mother Theresa once said “God has not called me to be successful, but to be faithful.” I was maybe what was standing between he and God. So I started to pray for Gabe and for my own patience and that I can be a good wife and mother and most of all a good example. The kids and I pray a rosary or at least a decade of the rosary on our way to school in the morning with these intentions and every Sunday we, as a family, offer the Mass for him. I don’t ask or manipulate Gabe to come to Mass with us. I pray. I believe that God has a plan for Gabe. Over the years things have gotten so much better.  All our children are baptized, have all their sacraments and attend Catholic School. Gabe is very supportive of the kids and I and helps me in any way that he can in bringing our children up in the Church. Sometimes he even surprises me and comes to Mass or he answers questions that the kids have about church teachings. That being said it is still an ongoing struggle for us as a family. I answer questions almost every Sunday about it from the kids. Even our children worry about his salvation! I still wish he was walking with us in our faith journey and I still get frustrated with God’s timeline but I truly believe that God has a plan for Gabe and that my job is not to convince him or change him but it is to love and pray for him and be the best example of our beautiful faith.  Like St. Bernadette said “My job is to inform, not to convince.” The help of my family, the example of the church community and my children’s school has played a critical role in sustaining me and my family. I’m grateful all of you.

Aside from being a mom, I am also a nurse. When I was in High school my dad got cancer for the first time and my mom shortly after. I loved being the go to “nurse” at home. This really helped to form in my mind what I should do with my life. Nursing was a perfect fit for me because it would allow me to be a mom which is also what I wanted more than anything. My various nursing jobs-working as a PRN IV nurse and now as a school nurse have been compatible with being a mom because of the flexible schedules. God has always directed me in my work and helped to sustain us financially and maintain our family as a priority.

Another thing that has greatly influenced me as a mother lately has been my health. In 2014, I went in for my routine annual checkup and found myself in the middle of a health crisis that would last for several years. Over the course of a year and a half I had 6 surgeries, the last being just a few months ago. Our family was affected in so many ways during this time-I couldn’t care for myself, my home or my children and those around me had to take on so much because of it. I would pray over and over “Jesus, I trust in you” but it was actually hard to live it through all the hospital stays, pain, scars, and changes in my body. As a mother, one of the hardest parts was watching my family have to continue on and not being able to do the things I would normally do with them and for them. I would try to keep a brave face for them and I wanted things to be as normal as possible but trusting in God’s greater plan was difficult and I couldn’t see the other side of all of it.

We have a tradition at Halloween that we would have our entire extended family over for dinner and we would walk the neighborhood in our Saint and animal costumes. We are a sight to behold- Little Mother Theresa’s and Virginia Mary’s everywhere. Our sweet neighbors look forward to seeing all of our kids as much as we enjoy visiting them. That year I was recovering from a very difficult surgery but I made up my mind that we were still going to do have the party. I was in so much pain but I was determined to continue on and even go for our walk through the neighborhood. Gabe knows me and my stubbornness so he didn’t argue. He put a super girl cape on me and we slowly walked arm in arm to the end of our block by the grace of God. Another time that comes to mind was when I was again recovering from surgery in bed. It was difficult to get around and Gabe came and got me out of bed. He wanted me to see that Lucas was going to take his first steps. Even though I knew it was not advisable I got down on the floor and Lucas took his first steps to me. Having a health crisis showed me just how much the little things like a baby’s first steps and having family traditions really mean to me as mom (although a lot of work and tiring sometimes-which is what I focused on before). I definitely don’t take as much for granted.

A couple of things have really helped me during this time the Anima Christi: It brings me such consolation.

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O Good Jesus, hear me.
Within Thy wounds hide me.
Suffer me not to be separated from thee.
From the malignant enemy defend me.
In the hour of my death call me.
And bid me come unto Thee,
That with all Thy saints,
I may praise thee
Forever and ever.

Every time I say it I am reassured that Jesus hears me and is with me.

Pope John Paul wrote:

“You must never be content to leave them just the crumbs of the feast. You must take of your substance, and not just of your abundance, in order to help them. And you must treat them like guests at your family table.”

I feel strongly that my vocation is in my home with the 6 souls God has entrusted to me for a short time. I, as my children’s mother am best suited by God to show His love and witness to them through my life and example in whatever it is that I am doing-being a wife, being a nurse and a mom. The souls in my home need me.

I wanted to end my testimony with a few titbits of mom humor…

You know you’re a mom when…
…You lock yourself in the bathroom just to get a break.
…A 15-minute shower with the door locked feels like a day at the spa.
…When going to the grocery store by yourself feels like a mini vacation
…When the most exercise you get is putting a diaper on a toddler
…A glass of wine counts a serving of fruit

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