A few weeks after meeting Father Ignatius, Reginald and Helen returned to see the priest. They sat in his office and this time Helen spoke first.
“Thank you Father, for seeing us,” she said, “let me explain … Reg and I have had a long chat … many long chats really. So much so that at one time the possibility of us marrying was totally non-existent.”
She hesitated. The priest decided to say nothing. He noted that Reginald was rather nervous.
“The thing is,” she continued, “I was brought up in a Christian family although we never went to Church on Sundays or any other times. The only time we went to Church for baptisms of other people, weddings and funerals. I’m not quite sure what my parents believed; they are both dead now …”
“I am sorry to hear this,” interrupted the priest.
She smiled briefly and went on, “I guess they were Christian in name only … many people are these days. As I grew up, the more I thought about it the more I was convinced, or perhaps I convinced myself, that God does not exist. Seeing so much evil and so much suffering in the world today, I can’t see how a loving God can allow all this to happen.
“Anyway … the honest truth is that I do not believe in anything. Call me an atheist, or agnostic or whatever, I just can’t get it into my head that God exists. I feel it would be wrong and hypocritical to pretend to believe just to get married in this or any other Church.”
“That’s a very noble attitude,” said the priest calmly.
“As I said,” she continued, “Reg and I have talked about this a lot. I guess he has learnt a lot about himself, we both have … He said he strongly believes in God and that He has seen God’s hand in his life in the past. He gave me examples.”
Reginald shuffled nervously in his chair and crossed his legs. He tried to lean back a little and crossed his arms as well. It was obvious Helen was quite forceful in this relationship.
“The thing is, Father,” she continued politely, “we are truly in love with each other; of that there is no doubt. I would have been happy to marry in a civil ceremony by the registrar, but Reginald is adamant it should be a Christian … Catholic … ceremony blessed by God. I suppose that is testament to his faith.”
Father Ignatius smiled and said nothing. Helen continued before Reginald spoke.
“We are both trying to save this relationship,” she trembled a little, “it would be a tragedy I believe if we were to call the whole thing off and we never met again. I can’t see a way out really … neither of us can.
“Reg told me about what you said about raising children, and in order to keep the two of us together I have solemnly sworn and promised him that should we have children they should be brought up Catholic like Reg. Baptised here, and have Communion, Confirmation and go to your school. I am desperate… we both are … to save this marriage. We don’t want just to live together un-married. I believe in marriage for life.
“But I have to be honest to myself, Father. At the moment I just do not believe in God. I can’t just force myself to believe just to get married in Church as Reg wants. Can you help us?”
Father Ignatius took off his glasses and pretended to clean them. A trick he had learnt when he wanted some thinking time. He also prayed silently for guidance and for these two young people caught in a dilemma born out of love.
“It seems to me,” he said still calmly, “that both of you are honourable people both having different views and yet honest and open about them.
“You are deeply in love and want to make this union you proposed blessed in the eyes of God.
“There is nothing stopping you of course in getting married in a civil ceremony by the registrar. The Church cannot stop that although it would not recognise the marriage as a Catholic one.
“What I could do, is write to the Bishop on your behalf and seek his permission for a marriage between a Catholic and a non-Christian ... an atheist as you said earlier. There are some conditions to be met which I will explain later. If we get the Bishop’s permission then you can marry in Church and the marriage will be valid; although it will not be Sacramental.
“Let me explain … in the Catholic Church a Sacrament like Baptism, Communion, Confirmation, Confession are channels through which God can work. For a marriage to be a Sacrament, both spouses must be Christian; which is not the case here.”
Reginald and Helen frowned. He said, “I don’t understand, Father.”
“Yes, it is complicated a little,” the priest went on, “what I am saying is that with the Bishop’s permission you can marry in Church which will be a valid marriage; but it is not a Sacrament like when you were baptised, Reginald, and had first Communion, Confirmation and so on.
“You will be free to continue in your Catholic faith as you do now, Reginald. If anything, your faith seems to have been re-affirmed because of this. Although you Helen are not received in the faith until you are baptised.
“You are always welcome here at Masses if you wish but you cannot partake in the Sacrament of Communion.”
“I understand …” she said without any emotions.
“I will write to the Bishop,” continued Father Ignatius, “but more important I will pray for you that God may bless your union and give you a long and happy life together.
“Helen … as I said, you are always welcome here. There are many leaflets in Church which you may pick up and read more about our faith. They are all free. Also, should you at any time be interested to learn more, my colleague Father Donald runs Christian Encounter sessions for people wishing to know more about Christianity. He’d be glad to see you there as so will I at any time you wish to discuss anything.
"I'll let you know when I hear from the Bishop."