Husband & Wife Articles


Fortitude and Faith

How a Catholic-Protestant marriage found a true home in the Church

By Bill Keimig

My wife is a person of truth. She will move towards the truth when she identifies it as such. She will count the cost. And then she will still move towards the truth.

The Keming Family

Her actions of this kind, done in grace, are why we each received the gift of the Holy Spirit that our religion books called “fortitude.” It’s akin to worldly courage, which itself a beautiful human act, but godly fortitude is higher. It makes possible the martyr’s gift of life itself for the love of God.

So, what does this have to do with my wife, Heather? As I mentioned in last week’s column, she was, is, and perhaps ever shall be, stronger than me in the faith. Her burstingly clear love of our Lord was a huge attraction for me, right along with all the worldly things that brought me happily to her side. Also noted last week was the intensity of her parents’ faith as Protestant missionaries, and the fact that the three of them together brought this nominal Catholic boy to a genuine desire for God and for his plan for me.

Heather and I got engaged about two months after seeing each other for the first time, and were married two years later in a ceremony witnessed by a Catholic priest and a Protestant minister. Heather and I made a commitment to one another that we would be one faith, one day, so we agreed to study each other’s faith background. We trusted that if we really sought the Holy Spirit we would also find the truth.

What a ride. Through the latter part of our engagement, and through our early months of marriage, this mostly took the form of me reading voraciously, listening to countless tapes and radio programs, attending Catholic Mass together on Saturday evenings and a Protestant service every Sunday. So much learning and discovery of God’s goodness, God’s truth! At this point, Heather was more or less waiting for me to figure out the obvious – that Protestantism was the way to go.

Yet, even though I was not learning much from Catholic sources, and was not having nearly the spiritual experiences in Catholic Mass compared to the powerful Protestant preachers, music, and prayer forms, there was still something that I could not identify. And that something kept me from totally accepting Protestantism or totally abandoning Catholicism.

Heather’s missionary parents were also feeding me an immense amount of anti-Catholic books and articles. Although their faith rested firmly within the evangelical tradition, their views of Catholicism much more lined up with fundamentalism, and thus were uncompromisingly opposed to Catholicism as anything but a severely corrupted and corrupting form of Christianity. Because of this background, years later, Heather described her first experiences of the Catholic Mass as – hold your breath – nauseating. She was sickened to be present to such profound and misguiding heresy. So she was just waiting for me to read enough and listen enough to understand.

After a few months of marriage, and much water under my bridge in terms of Protestant studies, I found that my inability to decide was sickening me. I badly wanted the truth – not to be on the fence. By this time, we had discerned a call to ministry. How absurd it felt! To be wanted to do God’s work without a place to do it! Where did we belong?

Then it happened. Through my parents, a friend passed along to me two books. I had never seen them or heard of their authors. They were Catholic books. Something told me, in a powerful and entirely spiritual way, that answers were in these books. I read them both in 24 hours; not eating, not sleeping.

Wow. By then end of them, I didn’t have all my questions answered, but I knew where I had to be. I had to be Catholic!

This was a real shift for me, since my best guess at the outcome of my searching had already led me to seek and receive acceptance at an evangelical seminary in New England. Now Heather had a problem.

I asked her to read the books.

As she tells me in retrospect, she did not even want to touch the books on the coffee table, much less read them. And I had to leave. At this point of marital and spiritual tension, the U.S. Naval Reserve sent me to Guam for two weeks of annual duty.

With a third book in my hands that would prove helpful to me, I got on my flight, and half a world was soon between us. And then, for Heather, fortitude kicked in. For Heather, that is always dramatic.

Check this column next week for Heather’s story, and the titles of those earthmoving books!

Bill Keimig writes from Maryland, where he lives with his wife, Heather (who wrote the Husband & Wife column for May 2011), and their five children.