NEWS SERVICE OF THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF CATHOLIC FAMILIES
A letter to engaged couples
from the Bishops of Pennsylvania
1. What is cohabitation?
"Cohabitation" is commonly referred to as "living together." It describes the relationship of a man and woman who are sexually active and share a household, though they are not married.
you work with your priest during this time of preparation for marriage,
you will speak with him about many issues. But the Church is particularly
concerned about cohabitation because the practice is so common today
and because, in the long run, it is causing great unhappiness for
families in the Church. This is true, above all, because - even
though society may approve of the practice - cohabitation simply
cannot be squared with God's plan for marriage. This may be why
most couples who live together before marriage find married life
difficult to sustain for very long. The Church does not invent laws.
It passes on and interprets what God has revealed through the ages.
No one in the Church has the right to change what Jesus has taught.
To do so would be to deprive people of saving truths that were meant
for all time. Our Christian faith teaches that a sexual relationship
belongs only in marriage. Sex outside of marriage shows disrespect
for the sacrament of marriage, the sacredness of sex, and human
3. We have good reasons for living together before our wedding. Why can't the Church just accept that?
The Church cares for you as a parent cares for a beloved son or daughter. Knowing that cohabitation increases a couples' chance of marital failure, the Church wants to protect you and preserve your happiness. Besides, most couples don't really evaluate the reasons they give to justify their decision. Think about it:
1: "It's more convenient for us."
is a good thing, but it's not the basis for making a decision that
will affect your entire life. Married life is sometimes inconvenient
and even demanding. Cohabitation for convenience is poor preparation
for that kind of commitment. Research bears this out. Studies show
that those who live together before marriage tend to prefer "change,"
"experimentation" and open-ended lifestyles - all of which
could lead to instability in marriage. One study, conducted by researchers
at the University of Chicago and the University of Michigan, concluded
that couples who cohabit tend to experience superficial communication
and uncommitted decision-making once they are married. Cohabitation
for convenience does not allow for the careful thought and adequate
"space" necessary for making wise life decisions.
Reason 2: "We're trying to save money for the wedding, so living together is more economical."
you might save the price of monthly rent, but you're sacrificing
something more valuable. Engagement is more than just time to plan
the party. It is a time for deeper discussion and more thorough
reflection, which are best carried out in a detached way. Couples
who are living together do not have the luxury of such detachment.
So whatever expenses you save, you'll likely pay more in the end.
Dr. Joyce Brothers said it well in an article on cohabitation: "short-term
savings are less important than investing in a lifetime relationship."
Reason 4: "We need to get to know one another first. Later we'll start having kids."
is actually the worst way to get to know another person, because
it shortcuts the true development of lasting friendship. Those who
live together before marriage often report an over-reliance on sexual
expression and less emphasis on conversation and other ways of communication
- ways that ultimately lead to a more fulfilling sexual union after
marriage. Traditionally, the process of dating or "courtship"
has led couples to a deeper appreciation of one another through
conversation, shared ideals and dreams, and a mutual understanding
of one another's values.
5: "The Church is just outdated and out of touch with its thinking
in this matter. Birth control made those old rules obsolete."
That's just not true. In the early days of the church, living together outside of marriage was common among the non-Christians in the Roman Empire - as was the use of artificial contraception. But these practices were devastating for individuals, families, and society. Women were treated as disposable objects, mere toys for sexual pleasure, to be discarded when passions waned. The Christian vision of marriage and family led to happiness and fulfillment for individuals and families - and a great renewal of culture and society. Far from being outmoded, then as now, the church's teaching is revolutionary - and it works!
Sex is intensely private and personal, but it also has deep moral and social dimensions. Sex works as a primary bonding agent in families and the family is the building block of society. Sexual rights and wrongs influence the health and happiness of individuals, families and neighborhoods. That's why sexual behavior has always been the subject of many civil laws. The Church, of course, wishes to safeguard the family and society. But, more than that, the Church wishes to safeguard your relationship with your future spouse and with God. Sex is the act that seals and renews the coupe's marriage covenant before God. Sexual sins, then, are not just between a man and a woman, but between the couple and God. And that's the Church's responsibility. Sex is not simply a private matter. If it's between you and God, it's between you and the Church. You need to ask yourself: "When do I stop being a Christian? When I close the bedroom door? When does my relationship with God cease to matter?"
5. But, really, how does what we do with our own bodies affect our relationship with each other and our spiritual relationship with God?
The gift of your body in sexual intercourse is a profound symbol of the giving of your whole self. In making love, the husband and wife are saying to one another in "body language" what they said to each other at the altar on their wedding day: "I am yours, for life!" God created sex to be physically pleasurable and emotionally fulfilling. But it is even greater than all that. It is, above all, the deepest sign of the complete gift of self that a husband and wife pledge to each other. This mutual gift empowers the couple to become co-creators with God in giving life to a new person, a baby. According to God's design, the gift of sexual union has two primary purposes: strengthening married love and sharing that love with children. The only "place" where this total self-giving between a man and a woman is to take place is in marriage. It is the only "place" where children can be raised with the secure, committed love of a mother and a father. So sexual intimacy belongs only in marriage. Outside of marriage, sex is a lie. The action says: "I give you my whole self" - but the man and woman are really holding back their commitment, their fertility, and their relationship with God. Before giving your body to another person, you need to give your whole life, and you need to receive your spouse's whole life in return - and that can only happen in marriage.
Why can't I just follow my conscience if I believe living together
can be wrong in matters of conscience, and people often are. Where
our self-interest is concerned, our capacity for self-deception
is huge. Here, as in everything we do, we need an objective standard
to tell us if our conscience is properly formed and able to make
right judgments. Morality is not a matter of opinion or "gut
feeling." Conscience is God's voice, speaking the truth deep
within your heart. It's unlikely - if not impossible - that God
would contradict His own commandments just for your convenience
or desires. You are acting in good conscience when you choose to
do what God intends. The choice to live together outside a marriage
is always wrong and sinful.
7. Why does the Church claim that living together is a scandal to others?
Many of our family and friends are doing the same thing. Just because everyone does something doesn't make it right or any less serious. A couple's choice to live together is not simply made in isolation. It affects everyone in relationship with these two people - parents, brothers, sisters, friends, and even other members of the parish. A cohabiting couple implicitly communicates that there is nothing wrong breaking God's law. This can be especially misleading to young children - nieces, nephews, and children of friends - who are impressionable and whose moral reasoning is immature.
8. What is the best way to prepare ourselves spiritually for our upcoming marriage?
"A wedding is for a day, but a marriage is for a lifetime." That can be a long and happy time, but only with good preparation. The best way to get ready for marriage is to practice your faith. Catholics do this by faithful attendance at weekly Sunday Mass, by going to the Sacrament of Penance (confession), by prayer, and by practicing works of charity. If you haven't been attending Mass regularly, your parish priest will want to see you back. If it's been a long time since your last confession, your priest will help you. Confession is a necessary step if you have already been cohabiting. During the days of preparation, you are strongly encouraged to pray together as a couple, read Scripture, and lead a virtuous life. For guidance, look to other couples with strong Christian values.
9. Why should we need to separate now? It's just an arbitrary rule of the Church?
The Church's teaching on cohabitation is not an "arbitrary" rule. Living together before marriage is a sin because it violates God's commandments and the law of the Church. St. Paul lists this sin - technically called "fornication" among the sins (whether within or outside cohabitation) that can keep a person from reaching heaven (see 1 Corinthians 6:9) Cohabitation works against the heart's deepest desires and greatly increases the chances of a failed marriage. If you are honest with yourself, every practical consideration will tell you that separating before marriage is the right thing to do. It is a decision to turn away from sin and to follow Christ and His teaching. That is always the right decision. But it's a good decision for other important reasons, too: * it will strengthen your marriage * it will deepen your friendship * it will foster deeper intimacy and communion * it will build up your problem-solving and communications skills * it will give your marriage a greater chance for success You may think you are unique and that your passion for each other will never wane. But that's what most couples think. No one goes into marriage planning for a breakup; yet a majority of couples today do break up. You want to be one of the exceptional couples who not only succeed in marriage, but also live together in happiness and fulfillment. Some couples who are living together think that separation before marriage is artificial or meaningless. Some fear that halting sexual activity will be harmful to the relationship. But this is rarely the case. Sometimes in marriage, too, a sexual relationship will have to be suspended for a time due to illness, military service, business travel, or the good of a spouse. Relationships not only survive this , but actually grow stronger. God rewards such sacrifices with graces for a good relationship. Abstaining from sex will also enable you to rely on other means of communication, which ultimately will empower you to get to know each other in a deeper, lasting way.
What good will following the Church's teachings do for us anyway?
Catholic teaching in this matter brings rich blessings to those couples who willingly accept it. The Good News of Jesus frees you to enjoy intimacy even more: · by appreciating your spouse as a person, not an object · * by living in a stable, secure, permanent, and faithful relationship · * by expressing true, committed love rather than simply satisfying a physical urge Married life has a special place in God's plan. Like everything good, it require sacrifices. But they're small compared to the rewards. Seek first the Kingdom of God; everything else you desire will be given to you - and more!
As an engaged couple, why did you choose to cohabit before marriage?
What have the two of you learned from your experience of living
together? What have you learned about yourselves as a couple and
What is the driving force behind your decision to marry at this
time? What has changed in the relationship and made you wish to
marry and have your marriage blessed in this Church?
Was there a previous reluctance or hesitation to marry? If so, why?
Have those issues been completely resolved?
Why are you seeking marriage in the Catholic Church?
What does marriage as a sacrament mean to the two of you?
How do you see your faith and love for each other as an intimate
part of your marriage?
8. How do you want your marriage to be open to life?
"At the beginning, the Creator made them male and female and declared for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. And the two shall become as one. Thus, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, let no man separate what God has joined." - Matthew 19:4-6 "The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws . . . God himself is the author of marriage." - The Church in the Modern World, Vatican II, 48
"The conjugal covenant of marriage opens the spouses to a lasting communion of love and life, and it is brought to completion in a full and specific way with the procreation of children. The communion of spouses gives rise to the community of the family." - Familiaris Consortio, Pope John Paul II, 7
"Sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses . . . is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and woman commit themselves totally to one another until death . . .That total physical self-giving would be a lie if it were not the sign and fruit of a total personal self-giving." - Familiaris Consortio, Pope John Paul II, 11
"The spouses' union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple's spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family. The conjugal love of man and woman thus stands under the twofold obligation of fidelity and fecundity." - Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2363
"The very preparation for Christian marriage is itself a journey of faith. It is a special opportunity for the engaged to rediscover and deepen the faith received in Baptism and nourished by their Christian upbringing. In this way they come to recognize and freely accept their vocation to follow Christ and to serve the Kingdom of God in the married state." - Pope John Paul II, The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World
This bulletin is published by the National Association of Catholic Families, UK Registered Charity No.298481. Our main website is at http://www.catholic-family.org.uk The reliability of the news herein is dependent on that of the cited sources, which are paraphrased rather than quoted. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the NACF. Please forward this bulletin to other interested parties. To unsubscribe, send an appropriate email to firstname.lastname@example.org No appended files accepted, unless by prior arrangement.
Saint Francis de Sales, patron saint of journalists, pray for us
GRANT US, Father a spirit of wisdom and insight, so that we may know the great hope to which we have been called.
Let peace and harmony reign among all the dwellers on the earth.
To those who exercise the ministry of authority in the service of their brothers, send a spirit of wisdom and humility.
May all those consecrated to you together devote themselves to constant prayer.
Grant us, O God, to fill up in our own flesh what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for his Church.
To our families and benefactors grant the blessing of everlasting life.
Be ever mindful of your mercy, exalt the lowly; fill the hungry with good things.
Both in life and death, let us be yours, O Lord.
the world from its slavery to corruption, to share
in the glorious freedom of the children of God.