Dear Parishioners, +JMJ
It has been a while since I have addressed cohabitation with the parish (which has happened in a homily and in a bulletin letter), and I know that we continue to be confused, even as Catholics, about the wrongness of cohabitation. Cohabitation is a very significant pastoral problem we face. All of the adults in our parish are responsible to teach all of our youth the truth about this matter. Even Catholic couples raised in Catholic schools seem to have no qualms about cohabitation. Family is where the teaching has to happen. So here is an attempt on my part to spread the word that cohabiting is a terrible and dangerous preparation for marriage. Parents, you can use all of these angles to explain to your children why cohabiting, pre-marital sex overall, is a horrible way to prepare for a life-long, exclusive relationship with a spouse.
–God’s Law: The Bible is very clear that sex outside of marriage is gravely wrong. Passages such as 1Corinthians 6:9 and Ephesians 5:5 list fornication as an obstacle to entering heaven. Of course, there is always the way back, mercy to be found through the sacrament of Confession. A couple coming to the Church –coming to God– to ask him to create a permanent sacramental bond between them are living a total contradiction by setting up a lifestyle opposed to His laws. Shouldn’t a couple want to show something much more positive to God as they approach Him to ask for such a beautiful gift as the sacramental bond of marriage? Being in a state of mortal sin for the marriage ceremony actually blocks the grace that could come to them from the sacrament.
–The Couple’s Own Relationship: The “body language” of the marital embrace can only say, “I give myself entirely to you.” Doesn’t every couple within marriage want their marital embrace to say this? How can the same body language outside of marriage mean something less? This body language is simply false outside of the marriage commitment. The couple in fact has not committed themselves fully to each other. You want your body language to be genuine before and after marriage. Why should a couple engage in body language that is a lie? Even secular divorce studies not concerned in the slightest about the Catholic faith present statistics revealing that less than 20% of marriages which begin with pre-marital cohabitation last. Those are pretty sad statistics.
Cohabitation is obviously a sign of grave immaturity and/or misunderstanding regarding the married life. A priest in marriage preparation must discern very carefully whether such a couple is even capable of entering freely and fully into marriage as God has designed it. [Along these very lines, I commend to you the address of Pope Benedict XVI in January 2011 to the Roman Rota, the highest church court that handles the most difficult annulment cases in the world. You can find it at the Vatican’s webpage.] He explains how a couple not capable of entering real marriage does not have a “right” to marriage.
One sociological explanation I have read for such a high divorce rate pertains to communication. It is suggested that couples who have not really bound themselves by marriage (basically “playing house” as one article put it) tend not to communicate about essential matters, because they have a “psychological out”. They know they can leave the relationship at any moment, so significant differences are not handled. Each party knows he/she is not really bound in this relationship. He/she could always easily leave. I personally have witnessed this phenomenon in cohabiting couples.
Another explanation for the higher divorce rate is that the “goodwill”, sacrificial part of love –the self-gift stuff– does not develop adequately, because it gets inhibited and deceived by the sensual part of love. [Remember the “four loves”: agape, philia, storge, eros?] The sexual/emotional bond is formed prematurely, and right reason and goodwill/agape/self-gift therefore fail to play a lead role in the relationship. There really are significant incompatibilities, but these are not discussed…. Rather they are masked by the powerful and self-centered pleasure of the marital embrace experienced outside of marriage.
Why should a couple approach marriage with so many factors working against them? They should esteem marriage enough to make the difficult decision to separate during the period of marriage preparation, since they have mistakenly decided to cohabit. Wouldn’t a couple want to experience the beautiful newness and specialness of married life after the commitment actually takes place at the ceremony? Isn’t it strange to go back to the same household routine, the same shared bed; and yet they’ve been to church for a ceremony in which God has created a totally new thing between them? (And, again, grace from that sacrament will have been blocked by the fact that they are living in mortal sin.)
–Family and Friends: As a couple they want to say to family and friends, “This is a real marriage, not just a formality.” That is hard to say, when they’ve been “playing house” together without marriage.
A married couple has a mission to the rest of the world, and grace pouring out through the sacramental bond of marriage will give them the means. Even an engaged couple has a mission to show others in this broken world how to prepare for the beautiful vocation of marriage. Shouldn’t an engaged couple desire to build up the whole enterprise of marriage, including courtship and engagement, rather than adding to its societal demise by their behavior? Shouldn’t a couple aspire to be a beautiful and holy example for all those watching them through the process? Put negatively, a couple should realize that cohabitation inevitably leads to some degree of scandal; i.e., it leads to a lessening of moral thresholds as the community around the couple witnesses the phenomenon. This is one reason why a smaller ceremony is often recommended for couples who have not been able to regularize their living situation before marriage.
Let me add very clearly this warning: A couple will always suffer some in their relationship with God and with one another for having cohabited.
Marriage is a precious vocation from Jesus Christ! Let us spread the word that there is a holy and beautiful way to approach marriage, and cohabitation has absolutely no place in a healthy preparation for such an exalted calling.
Have a blessed week!
In cordibus Iesu et Mariae,