A Pastoral Letter On Co-habitation

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Marriage:  A Sacrament

Marriage is a sacrament of Jesus Christ and a sacred vocation given to us by God.  Consequently, it is a means to holiness in the life of the spouses. Those married in the Church receive a special sacramental grace that helps them to live a life of love and fidelity.  The Church wants to help engaged couples prepare well for marriage so that their union will be lasting and fulfilling.  Consequently, the Church encourages couples entering into marriage to join a pre-marriage preparatory course.  The course contains not only practical suggestions for a good marriage but also encourage the spiritual readiness of the couple.  The best preparations for a Christian marriage is to live a truly Christian lifestyle, with Sunday Mass, the sacraments, prayer and works of justice and charity and chastity as hallmarks of a life in Christ.

Confused?

Unfortunately, many couples who ask to be married in the Church come confused and are already living together.  Even though co-habitation is accepted in our society, it is clearly contrary to the teaching of the Word of God.  St. Paul says that our bodies are temples of the Holy Temple.  "Do not be deceived, neither fornicators nor idolaters... will inherit the kingdom of God".  (1 Cor 6: 9-10)

What The Church Teaches


The Church teaches that co-habitation and sexual union between the unmarried is sinful (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 2350 - 2400), and as such undermines the very holiness of life one seeks in the Sacrament of Matrimony.

Co-habitation Is A Scandal And Lie

Co-habitation is scandalous and detracts from the sacredness of marriage.  This failure to grasp the essence of holy matrimony is cause for serious pastoral concern.  The love of man and woman is so sacred a gift from God that we come to understand its real depth in the chaste love of husband and wife.  This chaste love between a man and a woman expressed through the sacrament of marriage, is a sign, a powerful sacramental sign of faithful relationship between Christ and the Church.  This means that the sexual union between a man and a woman within the context of marriage points to a deeper reality which is the love between Christ and his Church.   Hence to engage in pre-marital sex, a sign of the giving of oneself to another is to call God and community to witness to a lie.

To live such false lives undermines the most fundamental aspect of married life-integrity, commitment and self-communication.  Those who are Catholic should seek to be reconciled with God by receiving the Sacrament of Penance (Reconciliation).  In this sacrament, God's forgiveness and strength is always available to us.

The Challenge Of Love

The love which a couple is called to is only learned through encountering the challenges one faces in forgoing conjugal pleasure outside the sacred covenant of marriage.  The lessons of spousal love-patience, kindness, forbearance, trust, hope and endurance (see 1 Cor 13) are learnt in a period of courtship which acknowledges the desire for the other but forgoes its pleasure so that an even greater love may grow.  Too often, couples are led to believe that if they sleep together these essential qualities will follow automatically.  They may be convinced that since they love each other, they should sleep together.

Communication In Marriage

But the love sought in the Sacrament of Matrimony requires a trust established in chastity and self-control.  It is a time in which the couple learns intimacy apart from sexual expression.  Marriages do not fail because of poor sex; they fail because of poor communication.  Co-habitation is a bad way to prepare for marriage, as it leads to a lack of real commitment to each other.  Couples living together before marriage have a higher divorce rate and incidence of domestic violence.

Faithful To The Teachings Of Christ

The Church is sensitive to the needs of such couples, but she must also be clear and truthful in her teaching.  The integrity of Christ's sacraments is to be safeguarded both for the Church and for every couple seeking the sacrament.  Consequently, it might be more  fitting for co-habiting couples to celebrate their sacramental marriage in a simpler manner.

Christian Marriage Is Witnessing

Our popular culture is often in conflict with the teaching of Jesus and His Church.  Married life can be trivialized by the media and given an unreal understanding through its commercialization by the wedding-related industries.  It should be noted that a church wedding need not be expensive.  Costs can be kept to a minimum.  Christian courtship and marriage are counter-cultural, and our young adults need the support of the Church in order to live up to the challenge of the Gospel.

We urge engaged couples not to go away from the wisdom of the Church's 2.000 year tradition of teaching about the sacredness of human sexuality and marriage.  We ask Mary the Mother of the Lord and the holy men and women who have gone before us to pray for young couples that they may choose marriage in the Church.
 

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