I would never date outside the Church at this point in my life, although I know good people exist outside the Church. Some of the most touching moments in scripture are those in which Christ finds faith outside the Jewish community. My favorite example is the Roman soldier who says, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof” (Luke 7:6). I am forever amazed by Jesus’ response: “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel” (7:9). At heart, Jesus is saying that he has come to call everyone.
Still, I would never date outside of the Church. The divide between Catholics and non-Catholics (Protestants included) seems wider than ever. I’m beginning to expect anti-Catholic feelings and secularism among co-workers. I’m surprised when I don’t find it. Christ came to call all sinners, but I judge it prudent to put limits on myself regarding those whom I date.
What I Used to Think of Dating Outside the Church
I used to think dating outside the Church was inevitable. I wish I could say I reasoned my way out of this opinion, but it was experience and dates that did it. I have had my share of uncomfortable experiences on dates with a secular person from work or elsewhere.
I think I used to go out with secular women with the idea that even just from a numbers perspective I was doing the logical thing. My thinking was there are more non-Catholics around us than Catholics. The possibility of meeting someone becomes greater when we stop worrying about whether they are Catholic. We also have the advantage of being able to ask out a coworker or someone at school.
I also often told myself that dating or going out with a non-Catholic was good for my faith and tolerance. I liked to tell myself I was helping someone. I think we all have heard a story of a spouse coming to the faith through a marriage. I thought even if I had doubts about what I was doing it would be wrong to give up on someone.
What I Think Now of Dating Outside the Church
Let’s dig a little deeper into the arguments that persuaded me into these dates. Obviously, I was persuaded by the numbers game. More than that, I was scared. Appeals to fear simply should not be a reason to do something like dating or even marrying a non-Catholic (and possibly divorcing later).
Next, while I thought that I could become more tolerant, I learned that dating a non-Catholic can destroy one’s faith. The same could be said of spending a lot of time with friends outside the faith or worse opposed to it. I would wager that in every conversion story that it has never been the significant other who does most of the work of conversion. A person on the way to the faith needs an impartial person such as a priest to talk through doubts and struggles with the faith. Otherwise, the conversion might be done simply to please the significant other.
Dating is even more dangerous than friendship because it usually involves some sort of physical chemistry. This physical chemistry can overshadow differences in values or beliefs. Desire for the magic of the chemistry can lead to closing the door on anything that is a threat to amicable feelings. In my case and probably many others, I was making very little progress in persuading my dates and much more progress in corroding my own belief in order to keep alive the chemistry.
Finally, Catholicism is a culture and if you have been against it your whole life or just simply outside of it, it will be hard for you to become integrated into it. I have always enjoyed talking to women that can understand from where I’m coming, when I talk about confession or Mass and who know what it’s like to go through the Triduum. The women I have dated outside of Catholic culture have not understood what I’m doing or why I’m doing it. This has automatically made it harder for us to understand each other.
Christ says “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matt 5:29). It seems draconian to apply this to dating someone outside the Church, but we should. This is not to say that it never works. I would add this might have been different, if I had met my dates on their way to Catholicism. Usually I met them at a meet up or some other place. We didn’t meet at a Catholic event or anything like it. My brother-in-law is a convert and wasn’t Catholic when he met my sister. That relationship worked because my brother-in-law was already on the way. This made it easier for him to integrate into a Catholic framework. I hope for more conversions like his, but I will not expect them through dating relationships.