Recently Pope Francis was criticized for marrying 20 couples that had been living together. My friend, Lisa Wheeler, beautifully described the predicament “I see the main objection from most people is that the Pope has potentially caused scandal by the public ‘marrying’ of the couples. The concern I have with the public hand wringing has been and will continue to be that I don’t think people know how to pick their battles. Do we want couples to continue to live a lifestyle that is not in conformity with what the Church’s teachings are on faith and morals or do we want them to be embraced by a Church that extends mercy, shows compassion, and provides teachable moments to ‘turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.'”
Couples that live together before saying their marriage vows statistically have a much higher chance of divorce, as there is an attitude of ‘trying it out’ and lack of commitment that carries over into their marriage. There is no question that it is a grave sin to intentionally reject doctrine as sacred as marriage, and just simply move in together. So the priest who will be preparing a couple for marriage in these circumstances has to simultaneously present the Church as caring and loving, while at the same time convey the gravity of their sinful choices and the sacredness of their marriage vows. Hopefully the marriage preparation will be more extensive than the one hour the priest spent with my husband and I before our wedding. The only memory I have from that meeting was that I had to promise to raise the children Catholic.
One young lady that I know, who doesn’t attend any church, decided to find a minister who would marry her and her fiance. She was quite shocked to discover most of the ministers she contacted refused to perform the ceremony, since she was not part of a faith community. I did my best to explain the importance of God’s presence in a marriage, as well as the importance of being joined with other Christians, which is the body of Christ. Eventually she found a ‘rent-a-minister’ to perform the ceremony.
I think those who skip the wedding and move in with a man or woman don’t realize the severe disservice to themselves, nor the long-term repercussions. In marriage you are giving 100% of yourself to your spouse, but when you jump the gun and just live together, you withhold significant parts of yourself. Without the vow to commit yourself ’till death do you part’, you are at risk emotionally and financially, and of course there is always the chance of pregnancy and abandonment. When just 25, actor Jeff Bridges met his wife Susan and fell head over heels in love with the gorgeous blonde, but he wasn’t ready to commit himself to marriage and children. So the two moved in together, and fell into the dilemma of many similar couples; Susan was ready for marriage and children, but Jeff continued to waffle, unwilling to commit.
As Jeff relates “She (Susan) actually talked to my mother about what she should do; they’d become the best of friends. And my mom, Dorothy — my own, wonderful, loving mother — counseled Sue to leave, forcing me to make a decision. My mother said, “Don’t stay with him.” “So we ended up living apart for six months, though we still saw each other. Then, when Sue got a job offer in Montana, it struck me that she was really leaving. The pressure was on! Finally I came to my senses. I thought, If I let this girl go, I will always know she was the one. So I got down on my knees and asked Sue to marry me.” (From link below) But their marriage wasn’t a bed of roses; Jeff continued to pout for the next year about being ‘forced into marriage’. His saintly wife stuck it out and he finally realized that this stunning, enchanting woman, radiant inside and out, was the love of his life, and the greatest treasure he would ever find. They were able to settle down into a life-long, successful marriage.
Was Bridges ‘forced’ into marriage? Of course not! He was ‘forced’ to make a decision. Too often young men and women date, get seriously involved, and then after a few years experience an agonizing breakup, because one or the other isn’t ‘ready’ for marriage. Some single people foolishly think you have to date hundreds just to find the perfect mate, as though finding a spouse can be reduced to purchasing a car or horse. My husband was just 19 when we married, but he valued me enough to marry me. I think women need to value themselves more and understand that they are ‘worth’ marrying. If the other person doesn’t respect or treasure you enough to marry you, dump him or her and find someone else who thinks the world of you, and will treat you with dignity and honor. Don’t settle for second best. Just like the L’Oreal commercial touting their ultra expensive shampoo “You’re worth it”.
In the movie Pretty Woman, with Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, Roberts played a prostitute paid by Gere to be a companion for his business trip. The sassy prostitute is transformed into a woman of beauty and grace, and Gere falls madly in love with her. At the end of the trip he asks her to move in with him. The harlot-turned-princess tells him she knows it is a “really good offer”, but flatly turns him down claiming unless they married, he was still just ‘using’ her. I was surprised that more people weren’t affected by this prophetic message about co-habitation, which I felt clearly portrayed the true meaning of ‘shacking up’.
I met my future husband at the ripe old age of 15, and being an active participant in the ‘sexual revolution’, we moved in together when I was 17. It was a really confusing time for me, because I felt I was way too young for marriage, but I was deeply in love. We separated for a few months, and I realized that of course I was too young for marriage, but I simply couldn’t imagine life without my ‘soul mate’. So one afternoon Paul said “let’s get married”, and I nodded “okay”. I knew that if regrets came later, I would remind myself it was the best solution for the quandary I found myself in. Paul had changed jobs and moved an hour away, so we wound up constantly driving back and forth to see each other. We made the decision to quit commuting and had a bare bones, do-it-yourself, wedding six weeks later, with simple finger sandwiches and fruit punch at the local VFW.
I was basically an atheist at that point in my life, but I knew having a mass with the wedding would please my in-laws, so I did it for them. Heaven only knows how much I needed the grace! After our wedding I was so surprised at the difference in my heart; being married just felt ‘right’. I think the natural law God places in our hearts nudged me that living together was a grave sin, in spite of the pervasive condoning of premarital sex in our culture.
My husband and I have now been married almost 39 years; was it always smooth sailing? Not hardly! We both had tremendous baggage and anger issues from both of our fathers being alcoholic and abusive; and I had the added problems of parents with multiple divorces and re-marriages. Plus, in the early years of our marriage, our faith was non-existent. It got pretty rocky at times, but we made the decision that we were going to stay together, no matter what. So we vowed to never mention the ‘D’ word (divorce). We discovered that love is a choice and you have to make the commitment to continue loving, no matter how tedious or stressful. Finally after 18 years of marriage our faith deepened considerably, and two years later we renewed our wedding vows. We were just glowing as we promised again to ‘honor and cherish’ each other for the rest of our lives. It was marvelous including God in our marriage this time. He was there with his grace all along; we just didn’t realize it!
I am highly amused when I hear couples claim they want to first live together to make sure their marriage will be successful. I assure them the man I married 39 years ago is definitely NOT the same man today; nor I am the same woman. We have both grown spiritually and emotionally, and our hobbies and interests have also changed. When I met Paul, he was an avid sports fan and enthusiastic gardener, while I had never watched a sports game or even touched a plant, much less planted one. He disliked cats, while I couldn’t imagine life without one. Now we spend most of our days off pruning, planting, and weeding our multiple gardens that are filled with fuschia bouganvilla, and lush hydrangeas, rhododendrums and azaleas. I can proudly yell “go Dawgs” when I watch our favorite football team or “chop-chop” when we follow our local baseball team. And of course we have two annoying kitties!
Many couples have an unrealistic, pie-in-the-sky view of wedded bliss, and spend years searching for the ‘perfect’ spouse. Currently, men and women are delaying marriage until they are 28-30, as they spend more time pursuing their master’s and doctorate degrees, living unencumbered without children or other major responsibilities. This leaves them free to lead active social lives and travel the globe seeing the wonders of the world. Financial success is a priority to these young people, and they want to achieve their goal of a more affluent lifestyle before they delve into married life. Some elect to skip marriage all together; consequently marriages are at a historic low.
The main purpose of marriage according to the Catholic Church is first and foremost procreation; joining with God to create new life. Secondly, husband and wife are to support and help each other in all ways, especially to grow in holiness and attain heaven. Throughout their years together, they provide companionship for each other, and give emotional and physical help as well. Third is to fulfill the innate need for sexual intimacy. So marriage involves physical intimacy, friendship, support and child-rearing, but many idealize marriage as a means to eke out as much fun and joy as possible. Of course marriage should be filled with laughter and love, but it is also accompanied by dedication, hard work, sacrifice and selflessness.
Several months ago a letter surfaced that was written by a young woman, Samantha Pugsley who claimed that because of the chastity program at her church, she was brainwashed into believing sex was “sinful and dirty” and that “I would go to Hell if I did it”. She stated that because she was so traumatized by the program at church, sex after she was married was a horrible, painful experience, that didn’t get any better. Finally, after two years the bride had a mental breakdown and was unable to have sex; she sought therapy and decided that she couldn’t be both sexually active and “religious” at the same time. The troubled young woman explained that her trauma “controlled my identity for over a decade, landed me in therapy, and left me a stranger in my own skin. I was so completely ashamed of my body and my sexuality that it made having sex a demoralizing experience.” She felt “soiled and tarnished”, that she she “wasn’t special anymore” and made the decision to embrace sensuality, and utterly reject her Christian faith.
Obviously this young lady has severe emotional issues, especially when you look at her biography and realize that she is bisexual (and has been since she was a teenager), suffers from severe anxiety and panic attacks and writes for a web page that celebrates a bizarre, hedonistic lifestyle, sexual addictions and perversion. Someone with this much gender confusion and emotional trauma generally has been abused; I have no idea of the extent of other trauma Samantha experienced, but I find it doubtful that a chastity program, no matter how poor or inadequate, could leave this girl so deeply disturbed.
So this confused young woman advises others that it is extremely detrimental to ‘wait’ until marriage. There is no way of knowing the negative influence her words have had, and the number of women and men who take those words to heart and decide to give away the most precious part of themselves, leaving themselves open to shame, guilt, insecurity, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Since marriages are taking place even later in life, it is getting even harder to stay chaste while you are single. Only with supernatural grace can you stay pure before and after marriage; only with God’s mystical grace can you stay ‘in love’ monogamously for decades. Only with ‘amazing grace’ can you get through the sick times, the financially disastrous times, the times of sorrow, anger, unkind words, and rudeness that happen in any marriage, until ‘death do us part’. Only with the explosive power of the Holy Spirit can you weather the storms of cancer and job loss, or rebellious or drug addicted teens.
Pope Marries Cohabiting Couples
The Marriage of Jeff and Susan Bridges
On the Primary Purpose of Marriage
Did Pope Francis Push the Envelope