Weddings & Living Together

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

May 31, 2001

Marriage of Convenience and Inconvenience


            This time of year’ weddings are much on our minds.  I have six weddings in six weeks in May and June.  They are joyful occasions and we are delighted for them all.

            Preparation for marriage, however, is a constant worry to pastors.

I do not prepare these couples for the sacrament by myself.  Like most North American parishes, we have involve experienced married couples in “Couple to Couple Ministry.”  I do the initial interview.  Then the engaged couple meets with a trained  host” couple four or five times.  They discuss spirituality, sexuality, natural family planning, communications, finances, and role expectations.

            Many of the engaged couples have not been practicing the faith in any discernable sense for years.  Some have been married before.  Many have children by other relationships.  Most have had several lovers.  Few pray regularly, even privately. Very few are receiving the sacraments regularly.  More often than not they are of different faiths.  Roughly 80% of them are living together.  Sometimes they have come to us because they want a “church” wedding in the photographs or because a parent or grandparent has insisted.

Preparation for Christian marriage in these cultural conditions is a challenge.  The vision of Christian marriage is counter to the one they have received from the culture.

While we welcome the engaged couple and try to make them feel comfortable, we also challenge them with the values of the gospel.

The problem is that many of the couples do not have the foggiest idea of what the church is doing.  Couples who have had so little contact with the church do not willingly accept challenge from the faith.

They also think of themselves not as believers, but as consumers of the church’s “wedding services.”  As far as they are concerned, the church is just one more provider on the list along with the caterer, the band, the photographer and the wedding coordinator. 

While for many couples the “wedding” is an event. We try to get them to see that for us “marriage” is a vocation and a sacrament.

At our marriage ministry meeting, the “host couples” expressed anxiety about what to do about the cohabitation issue.  That is a big problem and nobody has a good solution.

We do not endorse sin, but we don’t want to drive them away either. 

We never refuse marriage because they are cohabitating.  But we do suggest, in a gentle way, that abstaining from sex in our culture is probably a greater sign of love than indulging in it.

The problem with cohabitation is not just the sex.  It is the mindset.

Cohabitation is a mindset of “convenience.”  Couples often get into cohabitation because it is “convenient.”  They say things like, “She lived closer to my work” or “His clothes were already in my closet.”  They have reasons like saving money on the rent or commuting.  Often they say that they are “testing” their compatibility.  Sometimes they have just “drifted” into living together and never really discussed what their commitment was to one another.

If cohabitation is about convenience, marriage is about commitment.  You don’t “drift” into commitment.  You don’t “test” a vow. In Christian marriage we ask for fidelity, even when it is a burden.  We ask for commitment even when it manifestly inconvenient.

Cohabitation is a mindset of self-interest.  Marriage is a mindset of another’s interest.

            We don’t pretend that any marriage preparation program can overcome the culture.  But we also don’t pretend that the church has nothing to say on the topic.  After all, they have come to us.  They are asking us to give not our approval and life long support.  We have a right and an obligation to provide a little gospel challenge.

If challenging the culture makes for some pretty awkward conversations for everybody involved we can’t shrink away from the challenge.   But we are called to preach the gospel, in season and out.

That means even when it is inconvenient.