Lewis Van Tassel wrote:

Hi, guys —

First, I would like to commend you on your web site. I have enjoyed reading and learning about your religious views.

Secondly, I would like to tell you that I am somewhat interested in becoming a Catholic.

I am a baptized Christian who has attended a Baptist church now for about two years. My girlfriend and I are considering getting married. There is a problem though, she is Catholic and apparently, there is a requirement that for any marriage we enter into, it must be performed in a Catholic Church for it to be valid, and in order to do that, I must be Catholic. This is, for me, a bit irritating to say the least. I have done a bit of soul searching on the matter and have a few questions.

First, I have read that Catholics believe that Mary, the mother of Christ, was:

  • born of a virgin
  • was immaculately conceived,
  • that she never knew a man in her life, and
  • that this is the reason that she was able to bear Jesus in her womb.

When I mentioned this to my girlfriend, she was confused.

  • Am I understanding this point correctly?

Mary's mother, St. Anne, was a virgin when Mary was born, and Joseph and Mary never had any other children the natural way.

  • Secondly, as a Catholic, what would my responsibility be with regard to the confession of my sins?

I ask because knowing that I would have to share my sins with a priest would not be something I would welcome. This is not because I do not respect priests, nor feel they would not have some helpful insights in how do deal with the issues I'm facing. I simply do not believe that one man's voice rings in God's Ears any louder than another. I speak with my father in Heaven daily, many times a day in fact, and I know He hears me, yet I struggle to hear Him, though sometimes I do in an experiential way — though no booming voices yet.

  • If I never went to Confession, would that be a bad thing as a Catholic?
  • Finally, and this is a big one for me:, As a Catholic, is it a requirement that I pray to the Virgin Mary or to the Saints?

My issue with this goes back to the same issue I have with giving my Confession to a priest instead of God Himself. I could never see myself asking for someone else to take my petition to God, or to sing my praises for me.

I guess what it comes down to it is, I love Jesus and I want to serve Him.

I love this woman, and I want to marry her. I can see myself doing both by becoming Catholic, but I can see it becoming a problem if I am required to do things that seem unnatural or unnecessary to me when it comes to worshiping my Father in Heaven.

  • Can you help me out with any of these questions?
  • Is there some recommended reading, or other web sites I might look at that would help me to better understand what my walk with Christ would look like as a Catholic?

I sincerely appreciate your taking the time to read this. Rest assured that I have no ill-will against the Catholic Church. My mother was raised Catholic, and one of the most kind and pious men I've ever known (my great grandfather) was a Catholic. There are people who argue that a Catholic's soul is at risk because of various ceremonial practices that they might engage in.

  • I have no doubt that my great grandfather loved Jesus
  • I have not doubt that Mother Theresa loved Jesus, and
  • I have no doubt that Jesus has welcomed them both home, in addition to a great many other Catholics.

People miss the point sometimes. I do however, have some concerns and questions, and I would love to open this dialogue and hopefully come to some resolution on these issues.

I look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,

Lewis Van Tassel

  { Seeing I'm willing to become Catholic so I can marry my girlfriend, can you help me understand? }

Mary Ann replied:

Lewis,

I hasten to assure you that you do not need to become a Catholic in order to marry in the Catholic Church, so the rest of your concerns are moot.

Mary Ann

Mike replied:

Hi, Lewis —

In addition to what my colleague, Mary Ann has said, I think the first part of my reply in this posting will help:

I use to run a free program that sent Catechisms to seeking Protestants and non-Christians but no longer have the financial or operational means to do this anymore. Nevertheless, if you wish to go deeper, consider buying a cheap copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to learn everything we believe as Catholics.

If you, or any visitor, has been helped by our work at AskACatholic.com, consider financially supporting us today.

If you are really interested in the (argument-counter arguments) of key doctrinal differences between Catholics and other separated brethren I highly recommend buying Catholicism and Fundamentalism by Karl Keating.

I would also recommend reading articles from our colleagues at Catholic Answers in San Diego.

If you keep on searching our knowledge base I think you will find a lot of answers to the questions you have. On our FAQ page we have postings on:

  • Praying to Mary and the Saints, and
  • Call No man father

Hope this helps,

Mike

John replied:

Hi Lewis,

First, congratulations on your engagement and pending wedding. I'm sure I speak for all of my colleagues in wishing you the very best. Mary Ann is correct, you don't have to become a Catholic in order to marry a Catholic. You're fiancée however would still need to get a dispensation from her local bishop and you'd have to agree to certain conditions.

That said; if you are open to entering the Church, perhaps you should explore the possibility by entering an RCIA program. It is a process that takes a few month. You would learn what we believe and why, and through prayer, study, and sharing in the life of the community, you would let the Holy Spirit lead you in your decision. Although many who enter an RCIA program (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) have already made the commitment to become Catholic, it is not necessary. In fact, it is designed to be a discernment process. You would be with others who are also learning and questioning (with the purpose of understanding) teachings of the faith,
so I would pray and consider this.

I'm also a former Baptist/Pentecostal Minister who came back to the Catholic Church in 1996, and am always here if you have any specific questions on teachings that you are struggling with.
I know that sometimes the language or paradigms Catholics use are often different than those many Protestants use. That actually makes sense because we ask different questions and therefore we wind up with different theological outlooks.

I know Mike has pointed you to our data base because I'm sure we've answered the two questions you have asked before but let me try and quickly answer one specific question, in the hope that you will be able to search our data base for more details.

Let's take Mary's perpetual virginity. If you carefully look at the text in Matthew, it is actually implied. When the angel Gabriel tells Mary she is to bear a child, Mary was already betrothed.
In other words, she was married in the sense that vows had been exchanged, but the marriage had not been consummated. That's they way they did things but a betrothal is not a simple engagement. So Mary knew that any day, Joseph would come according to custom to get her and the wedding feast would begin and the wedding would be consummated. Or maybe not. Again, if she realized that she would consummate the marriage with Joseph, then her question in response to Gabriel's announcement makes no sense. Gabriel said, you will be with child. And Mary asks:

"How will this be since I know not man?"

  • Why on earth would she ask this if she knew she was about consummate her vows when Joseph came?

The angel didn't tell her you are with child. He said you will conceive a child or bear a child. Being a woman who is betrothed and knowing the facts of life, Mary should have just assumed that she would conceive in the usual way. After all, she wasn't the first to hear from an angel that she would conceive. Sarah, Abraham's mother, Samuel's mother also heard from an angel that they would conceive. They never asked how. So the question implies that Mary knows something else.

Here is where Tradition comes in. We know from history and Tradition that in those days many young girls were dedicated to the Temple as virgins by their parent at an early age, perhaps even at birth. As you know, in that society, woman weren't very independent. They needed to be provided for even though they had a role to play in the maintenance of the Temple — doing the women's work that needed to be done. They also needed protection so older men, often widowers were found to marry them. In these situations, there was an understanding that marriage was to be a celibate marriage. These women were consecrated to God.

We can find this account of Mary in an early Church writing called the Protoevangelium of James. Though this writing was rejected by the Church, in so far as being part of the canon of Scripture, it doesn't mean that it doesn't contain historical truth or even doctrine — it's just not Scripture. Nevertheless, it is useful and beneficial reading. It was certainly widely accepted, as such, in first four centuries, prior to the canon of Scripture being set.

So while Scripture seems to imply other children and a regular marriage, when we dig deeper,
it actually says the opposite.

In so far as the so-called brothers and sisters of our Lord, there are two distinct traditions and possibilities. In the Eastern Tradition both Catholic and Orthodox, these other children were assumed to be children of Joseph by a previous marriage (Joseph is assumed to be a widower) or they are simply cousins. We find other instances in Scripture when close relatives are called brothers. I believe at one point in Genesis, Lot who is Abraham's nephew is referred to has his brother. However, notice that Church both in the East and West developed different explanations, because from the beginning it had been understood and hand down that Mary had no other children and remained a virgin.

As for your other question regarding Confession, if you can't find anything in our data base, drop me a line and I'll gladly answer it for you in detail.

These and all questions you have, should be covered in a good RCIA program.

I hope this helps!

Under his Mercy,

John

Eric replied:

Hi, Lewis —

Here are some good postings that deal with your questions on Confession:

I note that you seem to focus on the value of the counsel offered by the priest.

You said:
I simply do not believe that one man's voice rings in God's Ears any louder than another. I speak with my father in Heaven daily, many times a day in fact, and I know He hears me, yet I struggle to hear Him, though sometimes I do in an experiential way — though no booming voices yet.

Prescinding from the fact that the voice of the priest is a often lot clearer than God's voice, the point of Confession is not actually counsel or listening to the priest. The point of Confession is receiving absolution and grace. Catholics believe that Christ established certain signs as a sure means of communicating grace to us. We have total confidence that if we receive these signs, called sacraments, with the right disposition (attitude of the heart), that we receive grace from God. The purpose of Confession is to reconcile someone whose relationship with God has been totally severed back into communion (fellowship) with Christ and His Church.

Catholics are only obliged to have recourse to Confession, if they commit a sin that severs them from salvation — a sin we call a "mortal sin". Such a sin must be serious of its very nature, and the sinner must know that it is so, and deliberately and intentionally commit it with full consent of the will.

You said:
Finally, and this is a big one for me:, As a Catholic, is it a requirement that I pray to the Virgin Mary or to the Saints?

Not technically, although they are invoked in the Mass (specifically in the Confiteor) so you'd have to edit that, on the fly, every time you said it. I encourage you to understand why we do this more deeply. All we are doing is asking them to pray for us, just as we would ask our brothers and sisters on earth to pray for us.

If it helps, think of it as asking God to ask the saints to pray for you, if it's His will. That's a request that can't be sinful or wrong. Study Revelation 5:8, Revelation 8:5, and Jeremiah 15:1.

Eric

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