Cynthia and Joe met on Facebook, but alas, the path of true love is never straight, especially on social media. Due to Joe’s unusual sense of humor, things got off to a rocky start. However, in due course they were engaged in a live video last year, and married in May in a Sung High Mass in Manhattan’s Holy innocents Church.
The Burleys have now settled in a suburb of Detroit
Both Cynthia and Joe were married before. One was annulled; one was widowed. Joe is a cradle Catholic from Michigan. Cynthia was born into an Evangelical Christian family in Haiti but lived in Brooklyn, NY from the age of three.
Here is their fascinating story.
REGINA: Joe, you are a cradle Catholic?
JOE: Yes almost all my family is Catholic. Both parents went to Catholic school and raised us in the faith but it was always sort of lukewarm and my faith was uninspired, in part due to going to a rather bland and modernist Catholic parish. In college, I joined Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and a bible study and started to become more interested in my faith observing the zeal of others in IVCF. Seeing the faith of people of Protestant churches, I decided to start sampling them all: Baptist, Episcopalian, Lutheran etc.
REGINA: That’s a lot of searching.
JOE: I think I hit all the major denominations in my area. I really liked the excitement, intensity, and fellowship I saw in a nearby Assembly of God church. So I started going there after Mass but that only lasted for about a year as I began to see through it. Also, my parents went on a pilgrimage (Medjugorje) and came back changed and much more devout. Seeing the change in them impacted me and set me on the right path. Becoming a catechist (8th grade) was another boost to my faith because of the commitment and the requirement to learn the faith much better so I could pass it on. I remain a catechist at my old Novus Ordo parish going on about 11 years now of doing it.
REGINA: Cynthia, you are a convert. Can you tell us your story?
CYNTHIA: Are you sure you have time? 😊
CYNTHIA: My grandmother converted from Catholicism when she was in her 20’s in Haiti. She raised her three daughters as Pentecostals. Eventually, my mom found a Baptist church. So I am a mixture of Baptist and Pentecostal.
As a child and young teen, I remained pretty faithful to my evangelical faith. I had moments of extreme piety where I would only listen to religious radio and shunned the wearing of pants. I wanted so much to go to heaven. In those days, I believed in the “rapture” and I would wake up suddenly in the night, scared that the rapture had come and I had been left behind. I would run to my grandmother’s room to check if she was there because I knew if anyone was going to be “saved”, she would be.
CYNTHIA: In my early 20’s, I entered into this horrible nightmare of a marriage. However, my faith remained consistent until one event that changed my whole life. In 1995, my brother was murdered at the age of 25. He had apparently been hanging around a bad crowd. I was shocked because as far as I knew he was loved by all. As an adult, he had fallen away from his faith, so my mom really worried that he might be in hell. One day, she had a dream that God told her that she need not worry and that my brother was in heaven. My mom was consoled. The dream had the opposite effect on me.
REGINA: What do you mean?
CYNTHIA: I thought to myself, “If my brother, who was apparently involved in some bad things, made it to heaven”, then why wouldn’t atheists or agnostics who spent their lives, maybe even given their lives, to help the unfortunate in third world countries, go to hell? I also mused: This must mean that God is either an evil God or he doesn’t exit at all – at least not in the way that we envision him. Thus began my spiral of unbelief and abandonment of my Christian faith.
REGINA: What happened?
CYNTHIA: St Augustine said, “Our souls are restless until they rest in you”. Abandoning my faith left a gaping hole, and so I went a little crazy in my explorations.
CYNTHIA: First I explored Wicca. I was a solitary practitioner for 6 years. I would occasionally visit covens where I didn’t feel like I quite fitted in. Something was missing. I longed for the fellowship I had with Christians. Eventually I found my way into a Unitarian Church where the pastor was basically a humanist. My deceived heart leapt with joy when I first entered the Church and I saw flags that recognized a diversity of religions. This was a good thing, right? The church was liberal, but there was community for me and my kids.
REGINA: And Wicca?
CYNTHIA: By this time, I had left the Wicca thing alone and was just starting to believe in God again, but I believed all religions were fine. I was there for about four years when I started to notice something disturbing. There was great antipathy to Christianity, but all other religions were welcomed.
REGINA: Funny how that is the case, right?
CYNTHIA: I knew I had enough when on Easter Sunday, the pastor referred to the “Christian myth” of the resurrection instead of saying, “Christians believe…” and in celebration of Easter, he released a bunch of balloons. I found that so patronizing.
REGINA: Not to mention ‘ignorant’.
CYNTHIA: Fortunately, I had made a friend at the church who was tired of the same thing and told me about another church she had been visiting – Marble Collegiate Church. It’s famous for its previous pastor, Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote the book, “The Power of Positive Thinking”. It is also famous for two celebrity ex-members: Donald Trump & Liza Minelli. Liza Minelli had one of her weddings at the church and Donald Trump supposedly met Marla Maples there.
REGINA: Yes, it’s a famous church.
CYNTHIA: Marble was everything I wanted. It was liberal, yet with a Christian flavor. The church was starting to move away from a New-Agey to a more definitive, yet still liberal, Christian church under its new pastor. The liturgy was traditional (like a Presbyterian liturgy) and yet there was a gospel choir.
The people were nice and supportive, but open to everything. I was at Marble for six years and during that time I was completely happy – or at least I thought I was. But God knows how to shake things up.
REGINA: Yes, He does.
CYNTHIA: During my time at Marble, I had been doing everything I wanted, including keeping my Goth lifestyle. However, I was becoming progressively more Christian again and I wondered if Goth culture was consistent with Christianity.
So one day, I searched on Google, “Can you be a Christian and a goth”?
I landed on Catholic Answers.
CYNTHIA: The Catholic Answers forums was amazing. For the first time, I found Catholics who were discussing their faith. I learned about the Church fathers, our Lady, Catholic theology and something called “traditional Catholicism”. This was in March 2011. Before a month had passed, I knew I wanted to become a Catholic.
There is a lot more I can go into, but let me just summarize by saying, I attended the Latin Mass and was blown away by the reverence. God knows me and knows I would not be impressed by bland liturgy. The mystery of the Latin Mass, spoke to me and resonated in that part of me that craved ritual.
Somehow I was able to learn the faith from a priest who was part of the Fraternity of St Peter and entered the church in September 2011. I am so grateful for God reaching into the muck, pulling me out and leading me to his Church. I have been on fire since then and I do what I can (especially on social media) to share my faith.
REGINA: So, how did you two meet?
JOE: Someone added me to her Soldiers of the Church Militant Facebook group.. Started noticing her and thought to see if she was listed as available on Catholic match and another dating site. She was and so I sent her a few messages. They went unanswered and so I thought she wasn’t interested. So I started to devise a long-term plan of posting and doing things to make myself look more like a traditional Catholic and try to change her opinion of me. It turns out she didn’t intentionally ignore me—she was just too busy to check for messages. So little messages and interactions on Facebook threads slowly progressed towards subtle flirting and then less-subtle things and then finally we started directly messaging and things took off from there.
CYNTHIA: Joe likes to joke around and his jokes are either so funny your stomach hurts or so corny that all you can do is shake your head in amazement. The first time he messaged me, it was a joke that I not only found corny, but offensive. Needless to say, we started out on the wrong foot.
REGINA: This is pretty funny.
CYNTHIA: I don’t normally hold grudges, so I got over it and we started to talk again. The first thing I did was look at his profile pictures. One of them was a picture of him standing barefoot on his porch and the other was a picture of him with a guinea pig on his shoulder.
I thought, “What a hick” and almost dismissed him.
REGINA: Yes, that would be a Brooklyn reaction.
CYNTHIA: However, a couple of friends of mine had noticed that he seemed interested in me and told me to give him a chance. Boy, am I happy I did. Throughout our courtship, Joe was supportive, loving and open to learning more about traditional Catholicism. Fairly quickly, we realized that it was God’s will for us to marry and that we loved each other, so we got engaged 5 months later – live on Facebook
REGINA: How do you think being traditional Catholics affected your love affair?
JOE: Learning Catholic tradition was beneficial in dispelling all the wrong ideas I had about marriage. After we started the courtship, we actually had a rocky period because I was still holding on to some of those false notions. Fortunately, with her being a life and relationship coach she worked on my mindset a lot and set me straight so we could do things the right way.
CYNTHIA: During our courtship, we followed a blueprint: “The Four Stages of Courtship”, which are YouTube videos by Fr Chad Ripperger – a traditional priest”. Joe is right about the notions that he had concerning courtship and the things that were important in choosing a spouse. For example, he thought he wanted someone who could be a running and rollerblade partner and I am definitely an “inside girl”.
REGINA: What about your ideas, Cynthia?
CYNTHIA: I was not entirely without pre-conceived notions. Never in my wildest dreams did I envision myself marrying someone who was not a foodie, as I loved to eat out and try new restaurants.
REGINA: Right, so he wanted a running partner and you wanted an eating partner. Anything in common?
CYNTHIA: What we did know is that we both wanted a chaste courtship. We didn’t want to do anything that would dishonor our faith and our bodies. We wanted to do things the proper way so that God would bless our courtship and discernment process.
REGINA: And after eight months of marriage?
JOE: We continue to pursue the goals of a sacramental marriage and try to diminish worldly expectations. I look at the challenges as an opportunity to build virtue and spiritual toughness.
CYNTHIA: Since we’ve been married, we have fallen deeper in love and our love is becoming more genuine. That’s right. Infatuation is not love and true loves take time. That’s not to say every day is amazing! However, we constantly remind ourselves that we are together to help each other to heaven, which prevents us from being mad with each other for very long. After all, he hasn’t been banished to the couch yet.
REGINA: Well, that’s a good thing.
CYNTHIA: Seriously, we receive many graces for focusing on having a sacramental marriage. We both see the stark difference between this marriage and our previous marriages.
REGINA: Stark difference? How so?
JOE: I was so poorly formed in the faith that I bought into a lot of the modern ideas, such as the 50-50 thing and you can do whatever you want and God will always take care of you and work things out. I was totally ignorant of my proper role as a man. I was never able to establish any position of moral authority or leadership and I ended up in a very emasculated situation.
During our courtship and engagement, Cynthia made it clear that although she was a go-getter, she wanted to be a traditional wife. She is always asking me to let her know where she could improve. It’s good to have clear roles. We don’t have to fight over whose turn it is to wash the dishes. I feel like I’ve grown more into my manhood since we’ve been married.
CYNTHIA: Well, for one thing, my previous husband and I weren’t chaste before we got married, although he was my first. The marriage was 50/50 when it came to household chores, but I pretty much brought home the bacon. It is good to be married to a provider.
My previous husband and I did not understand the proper sacramental nature of marriage (neither of us were Catholic). We weren’t trying to get each other to heaven. We didn’t pray together every night. When things escalated, they got really bad. Joe and I understand the sacrificial nature of marriage and made a vow to each other that no matter what, our marriage is for life.
REGINA: You are a great advocate for chastity.
CYNTHIA: Our Lady of Fatima says more souls go to hell because of sins of the flesh than for any other reason. Marriage is the norm for most people, though some are called to the religious life or the priesthood.
Our current society has created a construct of courtship and marriage which is all about feelings and sexual satisfaction. This unchaste mindset begins in dating and carries into marriage. This is why people divorce because they no longer “love” one another.
CYNTHIA: We live in a society where there are no incentives for marriage. Men get what they want sexually, without marrying. Women have to essentially audition in bed, in hopes that their boyfriend will eventually marry them.
REGINA: Oh yes.
CYNTHIA: The marriage unit is broken and if the family unit is broken, society is broken. If marriage is the norm and most people are called to marriage, we owe it to ourselves to set ourselves up for success and this involves having a chaste mindset and approach. Chastity involves self-denial. Self-denial will not only help us in our discernment process when we choose a spouse, but will greatly increase our chances of getting to heaven.
REGINA: So, you would recommend a chaste courtship?
CYNTHIA: We had a chaste courtship and boy was it worth the wait! So let’s keep our courtships and marriages chaste!
REGINA: You have left NYC for suburban Detroit and a completely new way of life.
CYNTHIA: Leaving my family behind, was hard. Leaving my identity as a “Brooklynite” was hard. There was a study that showed New Yorkers who live in Brooklyn are the most proud of their borough out of all the NYC boroughs.
I moved to get married and marriage involves all sorts of sacrifices. A priest once said that during a a Greek Orthodox marriage ceremony, the couple kisses a cross. The cross is meant to represent suffering. When we get married, we actually embrace our crosses!
There are many opportunities for suffering and sacrifice in marriage. Leaving my grown children behind and moving to Detroit is a sacrifice, just like I’m sure marrying someone who doesn’t have Midwestern values is also a sacrifice. However, if we embrace our crosses, we soon realize that “his yoke is easy and his burden is light”. (Matthew 11:30).