By: Sam Howlett There is a beautiful family at our parish with a mom and a dad and three small children. The children are regular welcomers at Mass and take their jobs as ushers very seriously. This little family has found a home in our parish and are loved by all. I start with this because when I first heard their story I was blown away – before they were married they were what we think is the average young catholic couple; living together and infrequent Mass goers. Once they got engaged they both decided that they obviously wanted to get married in the Church so they set up a meeting to see their local parish priest and shared their intentions to wed. He started taking down his details first: name, surname, address. Then he started with her: name, contact details…uh oh…address. After fumbling to justify their reasons for living together before marriage, the priest took the form he had been filling out, ripped it in half and said to them “Come back to me when you are living as brother and sister. Then I will marry you”. And then they left. Boom. The husband-to-be reacted as any of us – “How dare he? Who does he think he is? This outdated notion is pushing people away from the Church” etc etc… They immediately went to find a priest at the next church over but he wasn’t in. Coincidence? The time it took from one church to the next gave them some time to think and to take a deep breath. Could this be something that they could try? For the sake of their marriage? As a sacrifice and an opportunity to align their relationship to what God had originally intended? And they did. The next six months they lived this chaste relationship and could with a clean conscience look that priest in the eye and tell him that they were ready. I am not sure what would have become of this family without this challenge, but I like to believe that this kick in the pants was a defining moment in their relationship with each other and with God. They are now the “exemplary” family in our parish, a family that gives and is joyful, has lots of problems but always lives in the hope of Christ. It is the family that I hope to mirror my own family after one day. The Church teaches against cohabitation – two people who are sexually active and living together though they are not married – not because it doesn’t want us to enjoy our love for our partner but because it was never God’s intention for marriage, for love or for sex. When the world is teaching that life-long commitments aren’t real, that monogamy isn’t possible and that sex is meant solely for personal pleasure; the Church is promoting the beauty of marriage and the reality that God created sex to be the most powerful expression of unconditional love. The total, faithful, free and fruitful core of love and sex can only be expressed in a committed marriage where a couple is open to life. I heard a priest once give a homily on the Wedding feast at Cana; he spoke about how often in marriage our ‘wine’ runs short. That the vocation to marriage is not always easy; to love someone unconditionally and unselfishly requires a massive daily commitment and sacrifice. This is why marriage is a sacrament and couples receive an abundance of grace to be able to live this vocation. Cohabitation, however, takes all the elements of marriage and mimics this vocation without the commitment and the sacramental grace. It is like trying to run the marathon without the training or the tech support. I have been with my now husband for over four years and been married for 7 months. We chose not to live together before we were married and committed to a chaste relationship centred on Christ. This taught us a lot: It wasn’t always easy – the emotional intimacy we shared naturally caused us to desire a deeper physical intimacy. Chastity requires self-control which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. The self-control we practiced before marriage has given us the strength to exercise greater self-control in marriage. The inconvenience of living separately forced us to make more of an effort to see each other and spend time together. Now that I am married, it is the greatest feeling to come home to the one I love. Had we not spent all that effort before, perhaps I wouldn’t be convinced that he was spending time with me because he wanted to and not because it was simply convenient. Something that you don’t often hear is the idea of continuously discerning your vocation in the midst of this relationship. We need to be constantly open to God’s call in our lives, whether it was to marriage or religious life, and this would have been a lot more difficult if we were already living together. Because I was free to clearly discern, I can now live with the absolute surety that this marriage is what God is calling me to. The church teaches against cohabitation in order to give each person an opportunity to experience love and marriage the way God intended. The reality is that living together provides greater temptation to have sex without the commitment of marriage. The Church’s teaching on sex and sexuality is so deep and beautiful and without the sacrament and commitment of marriage, this gift is lost and distorted. I want to end off with a quote from a beautiful article I read: “To marry is put limits on one’s life: allowing the other person to become a boundary for me. To marry is to diminish oneself in order to make room for another. It is to accept being pulled out of our own radical egoism every day. In other words, to marry is to incarnate love!” About the Author Sam Howlett I’m just trying love God the best I can. I married my awesome husband on the 22 August and my wedding day won awards… well it would have if there was an award for WEDDING OF THE CENTURY! Marriage has been just as great 😉 I love working at the church especially with young people. And in my spare time I am completing my PhD in psychology while lecturing at Varsity College and teaching religion part time at a high school.