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Catholic Spiritual Direction

Does God give the gift of faith to some and not to others?

July 19, 2011 by  
Filed under Dan Burke, Family Prayer

Dear Dan, I just read your entry about Our Lady of Mount Carmel’s influence in your conversion. I noted your deep hunger for the Eucharist to the extent of asking for and receiving earlier reception into the Church than first anticipated. What a wonderful thing! The question that burns in my heart is why the Lord doesn’t call my husband to this reality of His presence in the Eucharist. Years ago he went through RCIA, was confirmed and participated in the Mass, receiving Our Lord in the Eucharist etc. Then he stopped, said he preferred the Protestant tradition of his youth, and revealed that he never believe in the Real Presence. Occasionally he goes to Mass with me. He is very deeply spiritual, reads mostly Catholic authors, including many of Pope Benedict’s books, and says he doesn’t so much disagree with the Church as that he prefers the Protestant way of doing things he knew as a child, especially the music. He doesn’t talk about it, but he still doesn’t believe in the Real Presence, that Mary is anything other than an ordinary human being, or the power of the Mass. I know that this is between God and him and that I must trust God and not interfere or try to control. He loves and supports my faith and devotion, which is deep and the core of my life, but he believes that I love it because it is the faith tradition that I grew up with and therefore and am familiar with. I don’t understand why God doesn’t give him the gift of faith, though He obviously gives it to others. Can you help me with this? By the way, my concern isn’t whether or not my husband is saved. I know he is precious to the Lord and is a better person than I am. Please help me understand.

Dear Friend, this must be a very painful situation. I have no doubt that your husband is a good person as you say. If I can boil down what you are asking to its simplest form, it seems to me that this question is at the heart of your struggles: Why does God give the gift of faith to some and not to others?

The short answer is that under normal circumstances, God does not withhold anything necessary for anyone to come to him by their free choice. Throughout redemptive history, and particularly in the clear invitation of the New Covenant, God has offered himself to all without distinction. In the second letter of Saint Peter chapter three, verse nine, God says to us:

The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

This verse reveals a powerful truth, God calls everyone to himself, without exception. Further, your husband was created by God, and as the psalmist reveals, God formed him in his mother’s womb and brought your husband into existence for the purpose of having a relationship with him. This isn’t a general principal. God specifically called your husband into existence in order to commune with him. In Psalm 139 the Lord puts it this way through the heart of the psalmist (loosely translated to apply to your husband).

For I formed you in your inward parts; I knitted you together in your mother’s womb. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. I know your soul well. I made you in secret, as you were intricately woven in the depths of the womb. I saw your unformed substance; in my book is written every part of your design, the days that were formed for you, when as yet there was nothing.

Beyond the amazing beauty of this thought, without the freedom to reciprocate the love the God has for us, your husband’s love toward God would be forced and not freely offered. Forced love can never be true love. God has invited all of us to his great banquet feast, but we must accept and embrace that invitation and do what it takes to get to the table. For reasons unknown to us, some seem to be satisfied with or only able to see the crumbs under the table rather than the great and endless delights of the feast above. There are many reasons for this but only God knows the specific barriers that exist in any man’s heart.

The other comforting element revealed in the verse from our first Pope is that God is patient. Of course, time and the flesh are our enemy when it comes to our redemption but God is always ready and willing to give us all he has if we will turn to him. So, there is a place reserved at the table with your husband’s name on it. Not only is there a place for him but God has also given him all he needs to find it – he need only to chose to receive the invitation and join in.

Finally, there is, in the mystery of God’s provision, a way that we can participate and even somehow increase the grace that an individual can receive from God. God has chosen to work through the prayers of others to bring his grace to his people. So, what can you do? Pray, pray, pray, and pray some more…. and be holy. Be ready to answer any questions he might have. However, the greatest testament to the real presence is how that presence changes those who encounter him. I have never heard a husband say to his wife, “Dear, please stop going to mass, you are being far too nice and helpful to me.” As you might imagine, the reverse is more often the case. Pursue Christ with all your heart, pray, and may your husband hunger for what God is working in you.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". He has also published four other titles: "Seeking First the Kingdom", "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions", "Meditations for Mothers", and "A Guide to Christian Meditation". Fr. John currently splits his time between Rome and Rhode Island, where he teaches theology as an adjunct professor at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum and at Mater Ecclesia College. He is also continuing his writing apostolate with online retreats at www.RCSpirituality.org and questions and answers on the spiritual life at www.RCSpiritualDirection.com. FATHER JOHN'S BOOKS include: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer", "Inside the Passion"--The Only Authorized Insiders View of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, "Meditations for Mothers", and "A Guide to Christian Meditation".

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  • Mary@42

    Dan, your response to this lady is stop on.  All I can add is that she is being called – as you have advised her – to pray unceasingly for her husband.  A  ‘St. Monica Apostolate” is in order here, but this time not for a son, but for a beloved husband. And she will, without doubt, be richly rewarded here and hereafter.

  • Sfbierly

    Dan, you have given excellent advice to this woman.  God calls all of us to holiness, one person at a time.  The pure of heart can see God, and through daily Mass, Scripture, and praying from the heart we open our hearts to know God’s unending love for us and our love for him deepens.  The Christlike change in the person who is in a deep relationship with Jesus is visibly seen by others who want to have what that person has.  Another great saint besides St. Monica to pray to assist in conversion is St. Ananias, the saint who converted St. Paul.

  • Dismas

    Despair not!  My father was agnostic his whole life.  He was never brought up in religion.  My mother was Catholic.  She brought us kids up Catholic and my Dad never interfered but never wanted to be involved.  After us kids were grown and out, my Mom became much more involved in the Church, prayer groups and RCIA.  Years after my father retired he suddenly decided to go through RCIA.  He is now baptized and confirmed.  Although my Mother is gone now and Dad is mostly on his own, he still attends Mass each Sunday.

    None of us remember Mom ever harping on Dad about religion and salvation.  Most in my family consider his conversion quite a miracle.  We attribute it to the suffering his agnosticism caused her, her constant prayers (especially the Rosary) and Dad personally witnessing her ever deepening conversion to Jesus in the Eucharist and our Church. 

    Let your life and ever deepening conversion be your husband’s witness.  Indeed, despair not!

    • Petrus

      Dear Dismas

      I quite agree with you. My father also was not a Catholic. Just before dying, he asked for baptism and communion. I had the wonderful grace of baptising him. This has taught me that we should never despair. My mother and with my bothers and sisters we have been praying for decades for my Dad’s salvation. We also consider his conversion as a miracle. Petrus.

    • Rjk123

      thank you to all the encouragers responding to my question to Dan  Dan’s response was so helpful and each of you has added hope that will sustain me as I continue to pray for my husband.  God bless you.  Let us pray for each other!

      • Anonymous

        Do not lose hope!  Please have faith and keep praying for your husband!  God does answer prayer.  I too was a protestant and went through RCIA, joining the church prior to marriage.  I was in love with the Catholic church, but after my faith was shaken by the challenges of my protestant friends I quit attending mass seven years in and was frustrated.  So was my wife.  I must say that in  the beginning I was content to just do my own thing , but ultimately I wanted her to see things my way.  I was not too nice about it and she to became frustrated with me.  To her credit she has always had an admirable steadfastness to her faith and she prayed for me for years and has been a loving and supportive wife and mother.  Thirteen years later, God answered her prayers, so do not give up…..Please!

        I know it seems like it has been so long and you long for that oneness in your marriage, but God has a plan for you.  Perhaps he is working on your husband’s heart as God did me.  God showed me that he has left a rich treasure of who he is, here on earth and it is not all just in the bible as protestants believe.  God has left not only his inspired word in the form of the bible, but also other inspired writings, traditions, and the understanding of it all in the teachings of Jesus, the apostles, and early church fathers kept safe and handed down in his church thoughout the ages.  What a rich faith we have.  Once I understood that, I could accept everything else that the church taught.  God also taught me humility, that I don’t have all the answers  and do not have to.  He taught me to put my faith totally in him and now in the Catholic church I have a fullness of faith and a oneness in my marriage that I never before thought possible.

        How faithful God is!  So please have faith in God.  He never fails or abandons us.  I wish I could speak to your husband, there is so much that I could tell him, but I will pray for you and believe that God will work in his heart as he did mine!  Your husband was attracted to the church in the beginning, sometimes fear and doubt can paralyze us, especially about something so important as this.  Know that the Holy Spirit is working in your husbands heart right now and will reveal his truth to him.  Keep praying and allow God to love your husband thourgh the life you live in front of him.  May God bless you and answer your prayers!

        • Rjk123

          Barjonah:
          Thank you so much for your message. My husband is a gentle, loving man who even criticizes gently; but, like you, he has not been, as you call it, “nice” several times and has been downright rude and insulting.  I have never known him to make comments like that for any other reason than to ridicule beliefs of the Catholic Church.  He even sits back in the pew during the whole Mass when he attends with me as if to signal his disagreement, even though he used to participate fully.  For a man who is consistently polite and kind, this is astounding behavior.  You have given me insight that this and all his touchness about Catholicism may reveal an inner struggling that I’m not aware of.  I love the faith he has, but I long for him to experience the profound Presence of Jesus, the joy and peace in times of struggle, and the powerful grace of the sacraments, as well as the knowledge that I am part of wonderful praying, loving Body of Christ praying and praising God together in the Mass and Liturgy of the Hours and the rosary and all our prayers and works for God.  It’s like Dan said in his answer: he is content (not really) with the crumbs when he could have the banquet of the Lord.  I do appreciate your prayers for my husband and for me because I do believe you understand.  God bless you on your journey.  I am so happy you have the fullness of the Lord’s gift of Himself to us.  Let us grow together!

          • barjonah

            I remember those days with profound shame and regret.  Just sitting in the pew and not participating.  Oh, the wasted years, but God can redeem those.  He is such a good God!  And a faithful and loving Father and he hears the cry of your heart and your husband’s.  If he is like I was, he thinks that participating may violate his beliefs or confirm that you are right, but isnt it interesting that he still attends mass with you as I did with my wife.  So he is not drawn to another church, he is just conflicted in his beliefs.  He doesn’t know what to do and his pride will not allow him to admit that he may be wrong.  I was definitely there.

            I got to a point where I knew things could not continue as they were , but God in his infinite wisdom sent a friend (non-catholic) into my life that new my struggle.  He new my desire for oneness with my wife.  He suggested that I participate in mass as far as my faith would take me.  That reciting the creed is nothing that I did not already believe and that kneeling during the celebration of the Eucharist was an opportunity to pray to the Lord, whether I believed he was truly present or not.  Though, now I do believe.  This was the impetus that got me off of “dead” center.

            I started listening to a podcast of church history and something that the protestant theologen said was so profound that I stopped my car and started crying.  He said that there was something to be said for the Catholic church because in their tradition (2000 years old), they had handed down the understanding of the scriptures from the apostles and early church Fathers and that Protestant religions due to their relative youth simply did not have that. Wow, that was all I needed to hear.  God had prepared my heart and I knew that was the sign I needed to know that the Catholic church was the place for me.  The only church with the fullness of faith as handed down from our Savior and Lord Jesus.  I immediately told my wife and called a priest friend the next day, so that i could go to confession and attend mass, participating fully with the confidence that truly Christ was present in the Eucharist. What joy filled my heart that day, to be home in the Catholic church and to be able to share my faith with my wife and children! 

            I will continue to pray as I said earlier and I will ask that God send someone into your husbands life, like he did mine, that will give him the courage to seek out the things you have in common in your beliefs rather than differences and moving “back toward Rome”.  I believe that God can help him to see that attending Mass with you is where he belongs and that the Catholic church is the one true church for the fullness of faith. Keep praying, have faith, and know that God will answer our prayers!  Blessings.

  • Totus2us

    …and my soon to be 83 year old father is still not Catholic either!  He hasn’t been to his church in who knows how long (I can’t recall this happening even as a child).  He didn’t go with us when we were children but accompanied my mother to daily Mass when the kids grew up, after she could not drive any more.  Just last week, the hospice health aide for my mother said to me, “Your father is so cute.  He’s watching the rosary on TV.  I know he’s not Catholic, but he’s praying the rosary–Hail Mary full of grace, Our Father, Glory be!”  Wow!  My mother faithfully prayed the rosary all her life.  Remember to ask for the Blessed Mother’s intercession for your husband’s continuing conversion…and the continuing conversion of the whole world and all of us as well.  We are one body in Christ.  And, what one part of the body suffers, we all suffer as well.  Trust in the Lord’s abundant mercy and continue to be faithful, even against seemingly all odds.  I have heard many total conversion stories that happen towards the end of life.  God rewards even laborers called at the end of the day.
    God bless you and all your family.

  • joan

    I wasn’t sure whether this person is seeking the conversion of her husband or just trying to understand things as they are.  Negotiating the different spiritualities in a marriage can be a challenge, but it helps to trust the Holy Spirit as the 3rd being in your marriage.  Some parts of our souls can only be shared with God.  Even when on different wavelengths, spouses are still spiritually joined “in the Holy Spirit” by virtue of their marriage and they benefit from each others’ journeys.
    In all the instances I know of where people returned to the church after an extended time or faith crisis, prayers were said for their spiritual well-being and salvation, rather than for a certain belief or practice to come about.  I prayed for my husband this way, continually talking to God about my love for my husband and how I deeply cared about his eternal fate.  I don’t know why I didn’t ask that my husband return to Catholicism.  I guess I cared more that he remain in God’s grace than I did about how that played out in our lives.  My husband returned to the church after 20+ years away without my ever mentioning my preferences or concerns (he is very stubborn and there would have been no point in doing so).  A friend of mine suddenly scheduled a confession and began to attend mass after 30 years not practicing his Catholic faith.  The circumstances around this were also loving prayer rather than discussion.  But it could be perfectly fine to have things be as they are in this situation, in which case the one spouse’s concern and pain (if any) over the matter can be addressed with prayer.
    “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much!”  (I am hoping that applies to the prayers of women too)

    • C J Sebastian333

      Nowhere in the bible is it recorded that a woman abandoned Jesus at any time, not one. I think it’s interesting to note, that you seldom hear, if at all, of a similar story where the shoe is on the other foot, i.e., a man praying for a woman, a wife, to return to the Church. God Bless all women, there is no other way into this life – that alone should provoke a profound respect. I couldn’t agree more with the sentiments you expressed.

    • Rjk123

      Thank you.  I see in your way of praying a humility and a realization that God’s ways are mysterious.  We cannot know what God’s will is for another, even for our beloved husband.

  • Canefan007

    I know how this woman may feel because my husband has drifted from his Catholic faith as well.I am actually enrolled in the R.C.I.A.  I long for the day when I can finally participate in the Euchrist and recieve the body and blood of Christ. I think to myself who would’nt want to recieve such a rich and precious gift. I am a former Baptist and I find the Catholic faith so rich,beautiful and spiritually fullfilling for myself. My husband is cradle Catholic and has all his sacraments,yet he does’nt seem to take much interest in his faith or participating in the Euchrist.He states that he can worship at home and he does’nt need a physical building to worship God.I do alot of praying as well for my husband and I try not to judge him.I have been told that alot of strong (in faith) Catholic wemon with prayer, patience and faith have by example led their husbands back to the church.That has given me so much hope.I have 3 beautiful young childern that for now ,it is my vocation to bring them up in faith. I have faith in God and prayer and continue to pray daily for my husband. I believe as a wife it is my duty——.Blessings

  • Anonymous

    What this woman says about the “Protestant way of doing things, especially the music.”…….reminded me of what Dr. Scott Hahn says in “Rome Sweet Home…..Our Journey to Catholicism”  he mentions missing the robustness and fellowship of Protestant services…………….and a Protestant friend asks him, “But if you really have Jesus, do you need all the rest?”

    I am a cradle Catholic and as I have often found…….I learn a LOT from those who convert from other faiths. I highly recommend this book by Scott & Kimberly Hahn.  It’s an easy read……….with much humor.

    • Dismas

      Becky313, it’s interesting that you mention this particular book.  Years ago when I was much younger, my job relocated me across the country from my family and friends to Texas.  I was on my own and very much alone.  Although I still identified myself as Catholic I really wasn’t practicing or frequenting the sacraments.

      Things weren’t going well for me and my Mom knew I was unhappy.  She  sent me this very same book, Rome Sweet Home by Dr. Scott Hahn.  It played a very important part in my reversion back to the Church those many years ago.  I am very indebted to Dr. Scott Hahn and this book.  Few have done more for our Catholic Faith and our Church than our dearly beloved Protestant converts to our Church!

  • Kenzie Le

    what a beautifull thing you said Canefan007.  I really admire you strong belief, especially it is said from a converter.  But at the same time I feel ashame of myself, as a cradle Catholic, for those years staying far away from Jesus!  Yet, he waited & waited for me to come back. 
    thank you

  • Rjk123

    Wow, Barjonah:
    You have helped me so much to understand what is going on with my husband.  I think you are exactly right.  In your first response and now this one, you have given me such joy and hope.  I know I can trust that God is working in my husband in ways I cannot imagine and certainly couldn”t plan.  I do so appreciate you and your willingness to share your journey.  It fills me with joy to read about the moment that changed your whole perspective, to see how God how prepared you all along for that moment and how it was has brought you such conviction.  “To be home in the Catholic Church.”  I went to the PRotestant Church with my husband for 36 years, praying the whole time that God would call him to the Catholic Church so I could “go home.”  The brief time that we did go home when he went through RCIA and for a time afterwards was heaven for me.  When he went back to the Protestant church, I did, too.  Finally, at age 62, I realized that if I wanted to go home I was going to have to do it whether he did or not.  I am so glad I did.  I wish I had done it 40 years ago.  If I had had the strength of character and integrity to stay with the Church, we would probably have gone through the process many years ago.  But I have been weak, anxious to please, and afraid of losing him if I didn’t do things his way.  Our life and our marriage is so much better for both of us since I have grown up enough to have some integrity and courage.  He was shocked, however, when for the first time “all his best moves” that had worked in the past to rein me in no longer worked.  I think that has been part of the issue, too.  We have a deep and solid love and respect for each other now, and we both have basically gentle and conciliatory natures so that throughout our marriage remains full of love and devotion,  Anyway, I’ll never forget being back in the  Church and feeling “At last, I am home.”  My feelings of humility and gratitude that God has enabled me to return and has been so merciful still well up in my soul constantly, even after three years of being back.  My husband understands that I will never leave the Church again.  I am a lector and Eucharistic minister and attend daily Mass.  I am so happy.  He totally supports me now.  I do so appreciate your sharing and your prayers.  I can’t tell you how much you have helped me to understand and how you have encouraged me.  God bless you, Barjonah!

  • richT

    to c j sebastian333…well, I’m here to tell you that it is I who desperately pray that my wife return to the faith of our youth and wedding. She became ‘born again’ about 10 years ago and  has never looked back(so it seems). She proudly speaks of the day she was ‘saved’ out of ‘idolatry’ and ‘religion’, and only now has a ‘personal relationship’ with the Lord. Her 12 years of Catholic school has left her with “only’ bitter memories(I really love her, but I doubt she is being honest). She has actually accused me of being unfaithful because I visit my ‘whore’ on Sunday’s(Jack Chick’s influence)…I daily petition(sorry to split the infinitive) the Blessed Mother’s intervention to soften her soul and join me at Mass(she wouldn’t even attend her only nephew’s Baptism)..actually, anyone so led, please join in the prayer that my wife sees the truth…in Jesus’ name, amen

    • Anonymous

      Dear Friend – I am very sorry to hear this. Your suffering must be tremendous. We will pray.

    • Anonymous

      I echo what Dan said……and add that I also know many men who pray for their wives and daughters, sisters, etc; it’s a wonderful thing to see.

      We need more men like this - prayerful men and good spiritual fathers…..thank you for being one of them.

      God Bless You!

    • Rjk123

      richT: I will pray for your and for your wife.  It is so hard to understand sometimes what is going on in the heart of someone you love.  But my heart goes out to you for the hard things you hear, the pain I know it causes you.  There used to be a book about the power of a praying spouse.  You will know someday that your prayers, which now seem in vain, are really doing wondrous things.  I have been so encouraged by some of the comments to this blog in that regard and I pray that you, too, will be encouraged.  I pray the Lord will soften your wife’s heart toward you and the Catholic Church and will reveal to her how un-Christian are the things being preached to her against the Catholic Church and who knows who else.  There is nothing you can say to change her mind, but the Holy Spirit heaers your prayers and He can.  Barjonah earlier said he would pray that God would put someone in my husband’s life that my husband would trust and listen to.  I pray the same for your wife.  God bless you and give you comfort and strength.  Elisabeth Leseur was a woman who prayed for her atheistic husband in France at the turn of the last century .  He converted after her death and even became a priest.  He published her journals which revealed some of her struggle as the husband she loved dearly and his atheistic friends even ridiculed her about her faith.  But her faith remained firm.  Perhaps it might offer you some reassurance and insights.  God bless you.

    • joan

      Just another thought on all these faith differences, the resulting pain, and ridicule – none of it should surprise us.  We are expected to help others bear burdens and are also warned about the challenging narrow path.  How so many people are so sure that they’re on the right path, I don’t know!  A spouse may be “blinded” so that the “already seeing” spouse may grow in patience and perseverance, and demonstrate their true love for decades with no reward (not easy, but not surprising either).  The whole ordeal may actually be for the tremendous spiritual development of the one who thinks they are “saving” the other.  In your suffering you may be receiving an unrecognized divine favor – the opportunity to humble yourself, love and quietly persevere in supplication with no regard for your own benefit.  I think if you can do that you will be far ahead of most of us!

      • Anonymous

        Dear Joan: Your words are profound and worthy of a great deal of reflection.

      • Rjk123

        Thank you for what you said, Joan.  My husband just told me he is going to try an Assemby of God Church and another Baptist Church, that it isn’t that he disagrees with the Catholic Church, he just prefers the worship of the Protestant Church.  Frankly, it broke my heart after all the hope I have had this week.  I encouraged him and told him to follow his heart and where the Lord is leading him.  But your reminder really hits home.  I needed to read this this morning.  I blush at my advice-giving to other readers.  I have a lot to learn.. We are on the right path, aren’t we? We think we are, as you said. It’s odd how I have to fight my own discouragement.