My mom called him a "convertible." That was her way of saying that even if my husband wasn't much of a Catholic, he had a lot of potential.
But I had to wonder. There was that Sunday, three weeks before our wedding. We were driving home from the 10:30 Mass. I was sitting in the passenger seat reading through the church bulletin when he tossed out this: "I just don't get anything out of church."
I dropped the bulletin and stared at him. This was the man who wanted to marry me, a cradle Catholic, and who had promised that he would become a Catholic before we had any children.
"I just don't get anything out of church. It doesn't do anything for me."
That elaboration was not helpful.
"You don't get anything out of church?" I was starting to feel like the Grand Inquisitor.
"Nope," he answered, as if I had just asked him if he wanted cream in his coffee.
So I did what any good Catholic girl would do. I called a priest. "He doesn't get anything out of church! Can I still marry him?"
Eventually Eric (that's my husband's name) and I came to an agreement: He would continue going to Sunday Mass with me, even if he drifted off to sleep or thought about his golf swing the whole hour. He would honor his promise to convert to Catholicism before we had kids. We got married. Four years of Sunday purgatory for him ensued. Then I got pregnant. I enrolled him in RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) classes. As his sponsor, I made sure he attended every week and also participated in the group discussions for catechumens after Mass.
We were only two classes away from the Easter Vigil service that would mark his formal reception into the church when I dropped the bomb: He had to go to confession before he could be confirmed. (He had already been baptized, as a Presbyterian. That had come as a surprise to him, but with a little help from his mother I had unearthed his baptismal records.)
Confession. That almost killed the deal.
"I'm not going into some dark phone booth to spill my soul to some celibate man with a 90 percent chance of being gay or a pedophile," Eric said. "Besides, I can't really think of anything I've done wrong."
"I'll help you with the list," I said. "We're almost there. Please just do this one thing."
"I go to church with you. Isn't that enough?" he asked.
The more I pushed, the more he resisted. I finally called up the deacon who directed the program.
"Listen, is there anyway Eric can skip the confession? He's a little freaked out about the whole thing," I explained.
"Well maybe if he's freaked out, he isn't ready to be confirmed," the deacon replied.
I looked down at my very large belly. In less than two months this kid was coming, and this kid was going to have a Catholic father.
"Could you at least tell me which priest would be the easiest?" I asked. As a college religion major, I knew all the shortcuts. Knowing the right priest and which documents to sign had saved Eric and me hours of otherwise mandatory marriage preparation--which in retrospect might have come in handy.
"Father Flynn. He's the confessional on the back right if you are facing the altar."
"Thanks," I said. I felt the baby kick inside me. He was happy, too.
But even after Eric officially became a Catholic, problems persisted. One evening we were having dinner with his religiously eclectic family. Everyone at the table brought up a highlight of his or her day. My mother-in-law mentioned her channeling workshop, and my Muslim sister-in-law told us about a conversation with her father, who had just gone away for a weeklong seminar on hypnosis as a way of regressing to former lives. My day had been rather ordinary. I had walked my kids (I now had two) around the Naval Academy (we live in Annapolis, Maryland), and answered the questions my son, David, now five,was asking about good and evil.
David had seen some Marines there, and he wondered if soldiers accidentally shoot good people, and so might accidentally shoot him. David recounted our conversation to everyone at the table. Then he looked at his father and wanted to know, again, exactly how many good people die accidentally.
"Not very many at all," Eric said. But David's eyebrows furrowed and his lower lip quivered.
"What if they shoot me?" he asked.
His grandmother was quick to chime in.
"They will never touch you, David. As long as you stay in your bubble of light and call on your angel."
The angel part I got as a Catholic. Every morning as I left for school, my mom would yell downstairs from her bedroom, "Take your angel with you!" And for the most part, it seemed to work, especially given all the car accidents my sister (to whom we gave the nickname "Crash") walked away from.