This post has been a long time coming. Over the years, both in my own life, and in the lives of those close to me, the nagging problem (one that isn’t all-that new) of “co-habitation” outside of marriage has reared its ugly head. To be sure, the Catholic Church has been very clear on this. So before I put my own thoughts on the matter out there, and before we cover these 5 points, I want to offer what the Church officially says about relationships of this nature:
“The expression "free union" is fallacious: what can "union" mean when the partners make no commitment to one another, each exhibiting a lack of trust in the other, in himself, or in the future? The expression covers a number of different situations: concubinage, rejection of marriage as such, or inability to make long-term commitments. All these situations offend against the dignity of marriage; they destroy the very idea of the family; they weaken the sense of fidelity. They are contrary to the moral law. The sexual act must take place exclusively within marriage. Outside of marriage it always constitutes a grave sin and excludes one from sacramental communion” (CCC 2390).
Ok, so, it seems pretty clear that the Catholic Church is not on board with sexual relationships outside of marriage. There are a million other references I could offer to support that, but in this reference, we see a very particular set of instances, each outside of marriage, that are all considered unacceptable despite the sexuality of the relationship. Why? Well, lets look at this quote a little closer.
The Catechism seems to offer the term “free union” as a word to describe those relationships that do not necessarily involve sexual activity, but are indeed romantic or sexual in nature, that take place outside of marriage. This includes, as described, “concubinage, rejection of marriage as such, or inability to make long-term commitments.” Concubinage, for the sake of clarity, refers to those women who have sexual relations with a man while maintaining a status “lower” than marriage, according to oxford dictionaries. This obviously refers to sexual relationships outside of marriage. The Catechism goes on to explain that free unions “destroy the very idea of the family; they weaken the sense of fidelity. They are contrary to the moral law.”
So, from the perspective of the Catholic, there’s no getting around the doctrine at hand. Those who seek to practice the Catholic faith, but do not wish to observe the teachings, are not in full communion with the Church. Hard to hear, I know, but that’s God’ honest truth. But wait, there’s more!
The Catholic person who seeks to obey God and the Church he founded would simply follow Church teachings, right? Of course! As a Catholic myself, I only ever want to do what I’m supposed to do. It doesn't really matter whether I like the teachings or not. This particular topic hits close to home for me for that very reason. When I first met my wife, you better believe I wanted nothing more than to have her move in with me and start playing house. Even with past girlfriends, I always imagined how nice it would be if they could just… move in. It was a nice thought, but my Catholic faith reminded me that co-habiting doesn’t make us closer; it only makes us more available to each other. Thankfully, I never went down that path, and I was free to choose for myself my most perfect match: My bride. There’s no question that I would have never met her if I had always “moved” in with other women…
On top of that, there’s the sexual aspect. Many people in this day and age treat the sex act as if it were a free gift for anyone they want to give it to. I don’t exclude myself from that. But if I had moved in with anyone I wasn’t married to, I can’t deny that I would, while hindering my own spouse from coming along, prevent my "co-habitant" from finding that same joy. For that reason, I would, in essence, be robbing pieces of her that belonged to someone else.
A major concern today is the droves of fellow Catholics who are continuing to reject Church teaching. The troubling thing about the age we’re in is that most millennials (and other age groups for that matter) seem to be fleeing the Church and the things she stands for.
So, really… Why is living with a person outside of marriage a bad thing? If you love them, and you think you’ll get married one day, isn’t that enough? Nobody should be telling you what to do with your body or with our significant others, right?
We’ve all heard and asked those questions. I know I did. And you know what? On some level, it’s true. Nobody can make us do something we don’t want to do. Certainly, we have the freedom to do whatever we want. So the question really isn’t whether or not people should be forced to do something, but rather, this is a question of pride and personal value.
If we really claim to be Christians – any kind of Christian for that matter – then we also must be willing to acknowledge that each and every person maintains a level of self-worth. It has always been the Christian understanding that humans are God’s most beloved creation. From the moment Adam was created, God knew his value. He even made man in his own image.
On top of that, God was so pleased with Adam that he created the most suitable compliment to Adam imaginable when he made Eve. It was almost a love story in itself that God, in his infinite love for Adam, acknowledged that even man should have his counterpart. So Adam was completed by Eve.
Today, in the Sacrament of Marriage, the same thing happens. Our most worthy counterpart, our partner, our best friend, is joined to us in a metaphysical way. Once married, those two fleshes become one flesh, and they are joined. One of the most beautiful aspects of the married life is the privilege of coming together in the conjugal act to most perfectly reflect the relationship made before God. In that respect, there is much to behold within a marriage.
This is one of the reasons why sexual relations outside of marriage, called fornication, is so deeply condemned in scripture. It has no basis in self-giving, but rather, in taking of the other to please one’s own self. It forgets, and indeed sometimes denies, the value of the person, reducing sex to nothing more than mere physical gratification. But Sacred Scripture reminds us:
“Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:18-20).
The differences between fornication and conjugal love within a marriage are many indeed. But what about the dangers of pre-marital sex, and co-habiting (living with a person) outside of marriage? Well, here are some of the very severe damages that living with someone outside of a marriage can cause:
It insults the integrity and inherent value of Married life. This one is probably obvious. Historically, married life has maintained its value because man and woman are complimentary to each other. Because of the gift of marriage, man and woman have been able to freely give to the other their whole self. Along with that, the historical implications have always been that both parties preserve themselves until the day of marriage, at which point, both can freely and totally give to the other something that has never been totally and freely given. Thus, the integrity of the marriage act is damaged when one or both parties don’t preserve themselves. Today, it is almost unheard of, and that’s my point. Marriage must maintain its integrity and value.
It denies Natural Law and Order. Like I said above, throughout human history, marriage has remained an integral part of society. Why? Because we were created after the image of God. Along with that comes our tendency to be jealous. Although God is jealous in a different way, it seems fitting that we find for ourselves a person who can devote themselves to us, much like God desires for us to devote ourselves to us. In this way, it is ordered that man should seek a wife. Further, the only natural way to reproduce is to perform the sex act. Within the framework of marriage, man and woman can freely give to one another their whole selves, produce offspring, and devote themselves to the family.
Therefore, it denies the structure of the family, confuses the social order, and damages the integrity of the persons. On the heels of reason 2, if men and women decided not to marry, it wouldn’t be impossible to imagine that the family structure would diminish even more than it already has. Society is based solely on the family structure. Without marriage, the majority of men and women who have created children would not be a “family.” After all, how do you define a family when they aren’t bound to each other? Before you know it, the state considers the mother a single parent, the father, having not been bound to the mother, may be gone, and the children, in most cases, are raised in a broken home. Leading to a number of mental, legal, and emotional problems.
It leads to complacency. If a man and woman decide to live together, but not to be married, nothing is keeping them together. Nothing. Yeah, sure. The popular argument is, “but we love each other!” Another popular one is, “we’ll get married when we can, we just aren’t ready.” Both weak arguments. Who says that loving someone means you should live with them? Love is not measured by your willingness to be around them. Love certainly isn’t driven by attraction. If living with someone is the end, then love is not the means, only the excuse. And if someone is “not ready” for marriage, but still wants to live with that person, eventually, perhaps immediately, both parties will become too comfortable with their living situation to pursue anything further. Case-in-point, moving in with a boyfriend/girlfriend will only cause both parties to become complacent in their goals to be married and start a family.
It does away with duty and accountability. Finally, and perhaps one of the more important issues, is the problem of accountability. Once a couple moves in with one another, the desire to seek marriage will inevitably suffer. Suddenly, the prospect of marriage is only an obstacle, “a worthless piece of paper” as I’ve heard it called. Couples start to convince themselves that they don’t need marriage to prove their love. On the contrary, Marriage, especially a Christian Marriage, is the foremost act of love that a man and woman can share. Marriage literally binds the two, legally, emotionally, and physically. It is the outward expression of dedication and commitment in which one makes to the other the divine promise that nothing but the call of death can separate them. Co-habitation strips the couple of this promise, and allows them to always keep their exit strategy in place.
As I mentioned, each person maintains an inherent value, placed upon them by virtue of their existence. God willed for each of us to live. He willed for each of us to live out holy lives, and for some of us, he desires the married life. For nobody does God desire an open-ended sexual relationship devoid of certainty and promise.
Now that I’m a father, I have seen my own daughter’s inherent value in a different light. To be frank, I’ll be damned if I hand my little girl over to a man who isn’t (or wasn’t) willing to wait for her, whether she agreed with me or not. Likewise, I wouldn’t be okay with my own daughter taking advantage of another person in that way. It makes no difference to me whether either person was willing to defile the other, what makes a difference to me is whether they respect their own dignity or not. What does that tell me as a father? If you can’t wait to make the promise, how can I expect you to keep it?