Thursday, November 19, 2015

God's wisdom for couples who are living together or cohabiting

Here is a slightly abridged version of the Q and A entitled Living Together from the Diocese of Pennsylvania.

Download the one-page Executive Summary here.

1. What is cohabitation?

"Cohabitation" is commonly referred to as "living together." It describes the relationship of a man and woman who are sexually active and share a household, though they are not married.

2. Why is cohabitation such a concern?

Living together or cohabitation is a concern because the practice is so common today and because, in the long run, it is causing great unhappiness for families. This is true, above all, because - even though society may approve of the practice - cohabitation simply cannot be squared with God's plan for marriage. This may be why most couples who live together before marriage find married life difficult to sustain for very long.

Our Christian faith teaches that a sexual relationship belongs only in marriage. Sex outside of marriage shows disrespect for the sacrament of marriage, the sacredness of sex, and human dignity.

3. We have good reasons for living together before our wedding. Why aren't our reasons acceptable?

Jesus' Church cares for you as a parent cares for a beloved son or daughter. Knowing that cohabitation increases a couples' chance of marital failure, the Jesus' Church wants to protect you and preserve your happiness. Besides, most couples don't really evaluate the reasons they give to justify their decision. 

Think about it:

 Reason 1: "It's more convenient for us."
"Convenience" is a good thing, but it's not the basis for making a decision that will affect your entire life. Married life is sometimes inconvenient and even demanding. Cohabitation for convenience is poor preparation for that kind of commitment and for making wise life decisions. One study concluded that couples who cohabit tend to experience superficial communication and uncommitted decision-making once they are married.

Reason 2: "We're trying to save money for the wedding, so living together is more economical."
Sure, you might save the price of monthly rent, but you're sacrificing something more valuable. Engagement is more than just time to plan the party. It is a time for deeper discussion and more thorough reflection, which are best carried out in a detached way. Couples who are living together do not have the luxury of such detachment. So whatever expenses you save, you'll likely pay more in the end. Dr. Joyce Brothers said it well in an article on cohabitation: "short-term savings are less important than investing in a lifetime relationship."

Reason 3: "Because of the high divorce rate, we want to see if things work out first."
Studies consistently show that couples who live together before marriage actually have a 50% greater chance of divorce than those who don't.

Reason 4: "We need to get to know one another first. Later we'll start having kids."
Cohabitation is actually the worst way to get to know another person, because it shortcuts the true development of lasting friendship.
Those who live together before marriage often report an over-reliance on sexual expression and less emphasis on conversation and other ways of communication - ways that ultimately lead to a more fulfilling sexual union after marriage. Traditionally, the process of dating or "courtship" has led couples to a deeper appreciation of one another through conversation, shared ideals and dreams, and a mutual understanding of one another's values.

Reason 5: "The Church is just outdated and out of touch with its thinking in this matter. Birth control made those old rules obsolete."
That's just not true. In the early days of the Church, living together outside of marriage was common among the non-Christians in the Roman Empire - as was the use of artificial contraception. But these practices were devastating for individuals, families, and society. Women were treated as disposable objects, mere toys for sexual pleasure, to be discarded when passions waned. The Christian vision of marriage and family led to happiness and fulfillment for individuals and families - and a great renewal of culture and society. Far from being outmoded, then as now, the Church's teaching is revolutionary - and it works!

4. Why does the Church interfere in the sex lives of couples? It's really just a private matter between us.

Sex is intensely private and personal, but it also has deep moral and social dimensions. Sex works as a primary bonding agent in families and the family is the building block of society. Sexual rights and wrongs influence the health and happiness of individuals, families and neighborhoods. That's why sexual behavior has always been the subject of many civil laws. 

The Church, of course, wishes to safeguard the family and society. But, more than that, the Church wishes to safeguard your relationship with your future spouse and with God. Sex is the act that seals and renews the couple's marriage covenant before God. Sexual sins, then, are not just between a man and a woman, but between the couple and God. And that's the Church's responsibility. Sex is not simply a private matter. If it's between you and God, it's between you and the Church. You need to ask yourself: "When do I stop being a Christian? When I close the bedroom door? When does my relationship with God cease to matter?"

5. But, really, how does what we do with our own bodies affect our relationship with each other and our spiritual relationship with God?

The gift of your body in sexual intercourse is a profound symbol of the giving of your whole self. In making love, the husband and wife are saying to one another in "body language" what they said to each other at the altar on their wedding day: "I am yours, for life!" God created sex to be physically pleasurable and emotionally fulfilling. But it is even greater than all that. It is, above all, the deepest sign of the complete gift of self that a husband and wife pledge to each other. This mutual gift empowers the couple to become co-creators with God in giving life to a new person, a baby. 

According to God's design, the gift of sexual union has two primary purposes: strengthening married love and sharing that love with children. The only "place" where this total self-giving between a man and a woman is to take place is in marriage. It is the only "place" where children can be raised with the secure, committed love of a mother and a father. So sexual intimacy belongs only in marriage. 

Outside of marriage, sex is a lie. The action says: "I give you my whole self" - but the man and woman are really holding back their commitment, their fertility, and their relationship with God.
Before giving your body to another person, you need to give your whole life, and you need to receive your spouse's whole life in return - and that can only happen in marriage.

6. Why can't I just follow my conscience if I believe living together is okay?

People can be wrong in matters of conscience, and people often are. Where our self-interest is concerned, our capacity for self-deception is huge. Here, as in everything we do, we need an objective standard to tell us if our conscience is properly formed and able to make right judgments. Morality is not a matter of opinion or "gut feeling." Conscience is God's voice, speaking the truth deep within your heart. It's unlikely - if not impossible - that God would contradict His own commandments just for your convenience or desires. You are acting in good conscience when you choose to do what God intends. The choice to live together outside a marriage is always wrong and sinful.

7. Why does the Church claim that living together is a scandal to others? Many of our family and friends are doing the same thing. Just because everyone does something doesn't make it right or any less serious. A couple's choice to live together is not simply made in isolation. It affects everyone in relationship with these two people - parents, brothers, sisters, friends, and even other members of the parish. A cohabiting couple implicitly communicates that there is nothing wrong breaking God's law. This can be especially misleading to young children - nieces, nephews, and children of friends - who are impressionable and whose moral reasoning is immature.

8. What is the best way to prepare ourselves spiritually for our upcoming marriage?

"A wedding is for a day, but a marriage is for a lifetime." That can be a long and happy time, but only with good preparation. The best way to get ready for marriage is to practice your faith. Catholics do this by faithful attendance at weekly Sunday Mass, by going to the Sacrament of Penance (confession), by prayer, and by practicing works of charity. If you haven't been attending Mass regularly, your parish priest will want to see you back. If it's been a long time since your last confession, your priest will help you. Confession is a necessary step if you have already been cohabiting. During the days of preparation, you are strongly encouraged to pray together as a couple, read Scripture, and lead a virtuous life. For guidance, look to other couples with strong Christian values.

9. Why should we need to separate now? It's just an arbitrary rule of the Church.

The Church's teaching on cohabitation is not an "arbitrary" rule. Living together before marriage is a sin because it violates God's commandments and the law of the Church. St. Paul lists this sin - technically called "fornication" among the sins (whether within or outside cohabitation) that can keep a person from reaching heaven (see 1 Corinthians 6:9) Cohabitation works against the heart's deepest desires and greatly increases the chances of a failed marriage. If you are honest with yourself, every practical consideration will tell you that separating before marriage is the right thing to do. It is a decision to turn away from sin and to follow Christ and His teaching. That is always the right decision. 

But it's a good decision for other important reasons, too:
-it will strengthen your marriage 
-it will deepen your friendship 
-it will foster deeper intimacy and communion 
-it will build up your problem-solving and communications skills 
-it will give your marriage a greater chance for success. 

You may think you are unique and that your passion for each other will never wane. But that's what most couples think. No one goes into marriage planning for a breakup; yet a majority of couples today do break up. You want to be one of the exceptional couples who not only succeed in marriage, but also live together in happiness and fulfillment. 

Some couples who are living together think that separation before marriage is artificial or meaningless. Some fear that halting sexual activity will be harmful to the relationship. But this is rarely the case. Sometimes in marriage, too, a sexual relationship will have to be suspended for a time due to illness, military service, business travel, or the good of a spouse. Relationships not only survive this , but actually grow stronger. God rewards such sacrifices with graces for a good relationship. Abstaining from sex will also enable you to rely on other means of communication, which ultimately will empower you to get to know each other in a deeper, lasting way.

10. What good will following the Church's teachings do for us anyway?

Catholic teaching in this matter brings rich blessings to those couples who willingly accept it. The Good News of Jesus frees you to enjoy intimacy even more:
-by appreciating your spouse as a person, not an object
-by living in a stable, secure, permanent, and faithful relationship
-by expressing true, committed love rather than simply satisfying a physical urge

Married life has a special place in God's plan. Like everything good, it require sacrifices. But they're small compared to the rewards. Seek first the Kingdom of God; everything else you desire will be given to you - and more!


God is the author of marriage

"The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws . . . God himself is the author of marriage."
- The Church in the Modern World, Vatican II, 48

"At the beginning, the Creator made them male and female and declared for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. And the two shall become as one. Thus, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, let no man separate what God has joined." - Matthew 19:4-6

Why sex should happen only within marriage

 "Sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses . . . is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and woman commit themselves totally to one another until death . . .That total physical self-giving would be a lie if it were not the sign and fruit of a total personal self-giving." - Familiaris Consortio, Pope John Paul II, 11

John Paul II's list of serious consequences of living together:

1. Religious and moral consequences

a) the loss of the religious sense of marriage seen in the light of the Covenant of God with His people; 
b) deprivation of the grace of the sacrament; 
c) grave scandal 

2. Social consequences

a) the destruction of the concept of the family; 
b) the weakening of the sense of fidelity, also towards society; 
c) possible psychological damage to the children; 
d) the strengthening of selfishness.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

JPII and B16 both allowed divorced and remarried to communion if....

Two great Popes have already given clear indications on conditions in which the divorced and remarried can receive communion:

John Paul II taught: Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children's upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they "take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples. (Familiaris Consortio 84)

Benedict XVI wrote: Where the nullity of the marriage bond is not declared and objective circumstances make it impossible to cease cohabitation, the Church encourages these members of the faithful to commit themselves to living their relationship in fidelity to the demands of God's law, as friends, as brother and sister; in this way they will be able to return to the table of the Eucharist, taking care to observe the Church's established and approved practice in this regard. (Sacramentum Caritatis 29) 

Benedict XVI also emphasized that "the divorced and remarried continue to belong to the Church, which accompanies them with special concern and encourages them to live as fully as possible the Christian life through:

  • regular participation at Mass, albeit without receiving communion, 
  • listening to the word of God
  • eucharistic adoration
  • prayer
  • participation in the life of the community
  • honest dialogue with a priest or spiritual director, 
  • dedication to the life of charity
  • works of penance, and 
  • commitment to the education of their children."

Friday, November 13, 2015

Program of Pope Francis for the Philippines: FEEL PC

In The Key to Love according to Pope Francis, I wrote about the seven-point program of Pope Francis for the Philiippines to build a civilization of love.

Here they are integrated into an easy-to-remember acronym of six points: FEEL PC (feel peace!)

F - Family. Protect the family against its redefinition, contraception and wrong ideas about sexuality.
E - Evangelize. Bring the message of Christianity to everyone.
E - Environment. Care for the environment since we are one of those most affected by climate change.
L - Love. Learn the most important subject, especially allowing God to love us through grace.

P - Poor. Care for the poor and weep with the suffering
C - Corruption. Fight and combat corruption, the roots of poverty and inequality. 

To help fight corruption, let me also refer to my other blog post on the Evil of Corruption and Cheating, which sports another acronym: UBDEVILS (you become a devil when you cheat!)

U – Unfair to others (who worked) 
B – Break trust (classmates won’t trust you) 
D – Disobey God (7th: not to steal; 8th: not to bear false witness)  
E – Egoistic self-interest (weaken companionship) 
V – Victimizes self and others
I  - Injustice (order of justice is disturbed) 
L – Lie (show what you aren’t)  
S – Steal (take what isn’t yours)

It's good to use acronyms when we have to remember a number of things that we need to teach many people. 

Friday, November 6, 2015


Discover a key secret on how ordinary people like you can become a saint. 

Download the one-page Executive Summary here

Mental prayer is loving God by spending time alone with him. It is a heart-to-heart talk with God. It is a conversation with the person we love most. It is also called prayer with our own words, interior prayer, personal prayer, or quiet time with the Lord.
God.  Since he is love, he designed you to be one with him: to be a saint. In uniting yourself with God by loving him with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength, as Jesus asked, you attain the highest possible happiness now.

Because he is our Creator, the source of everything we are, everything we own, and all the good we do; our Sustainer, for without his conserving power we vanish; our Sole Satisfier, the only one who is Infinite Goodness and Beauty who can satisfy all the longings of our heart. God is our End-goal and Purpose without whom our entire life will be meaningless.
Jesus, God the Son and our Savior, is the one real center of our life. He is not only important. He is the only thing important. All the rest of the “important things” (our family, relationships, virtue, career, health, possessions, leisure, etc.) get their importance on how much they lead us to him.  This is what Jesus told Martha who was concerned with many urgent and important things: “The one thing necessary” is to direct our whole heart to Jesus. He is the one Measure of the worth of everything, especially our lives. And not to be totally one with Jesus, not to be a saint, is in the end the only tragedy and failure.
Because we become one with God only through love. And we grow in love only by allowing God to love us, to pour himself into us through the sacraments such as frequent confession and Mass, and through intimate dialogue with him. Since we were made from nothing, we can’t reach God without God. To go up an infinite distance, we need to be lifted by an infinite elevator. We are swept up to God, only if we are in close contact with God.
Thus, Jesus our model spent time alone with God as part of his routine. The saints who followed him taught: “Mental prayer is the breath of life for our soul. Holiness is impossible without it.” (St. Mother Teresa)  “All saints became saints through mental prayer.”(St. Alphonsus de Liguori)  Sanctity, said Benedict XVI, is "nothing other than to speak with God as a friend speaks with a friend, allowing God to work, the Only One who can really make the world both good and happy." Everyone, even children and the weakest sinners, can have a daily heart-to-heart talk with God, and so everyone can become a saint.
Only two:         
1) Be aware of God’s presence. He is the living God, the majestic Owner of the universe and our loving Father, who is everywhere and is “more intimate to us than we are to ourselves” (St. Augustine)   
2) Love and be loved by him: direct your whole heart to God who is Love.  Simple.
Start with 5 to 10 minutes a day. Since you won’t get to know anyone within such a limited amount of time, the bare minimum is 15 minutes daily which you have to build up over time. “One does not undertake contemplative prayer only when one has the time: one makes time for the Lord.” (CCC 2710) To say “I don’t have time” is to prefer to spend the gift of time on creatures rather than our Creator, Sustainer, Sole Satisfier, and Purpose – who has the power to multiply our time.
Listen to what God says and discuss it with him. Aside from what we hear in our conscience, we listen to God when we read and reflect on (1) his Word, the Bible, especially the Gospels where we see Jesus act; (2) the teachings and liturgy of his Church, his Body; and (3) the writings of his saints. Many saints always had a spiritual book handy for whenever their conversation with God stalled.
Share your thoughts and the events of your day. Talk to God about “yourself—joys, sorrows, successes and failures, noble ambitions, daily worries, weaknesses! And acts of thanksgiving and petitions—and Love and reparation. In a word, getting to know him and getting to know yourself—‘to get acquainted!’” (St. Josemaria)  When you meditate on the Bible stories about Jesus, imagine yourself present there and apply them to your daily life.  
Enjoy being with God. "Prayer is not about this or that; it about God's desire to give us the gift of Himself, the gift of gifts."  (Benedict XVI)  How could we “be centered on the gifts rather than the Giver?" (CCC 2740)
Look at his loving face – and his eyes. Let God’s merciful gaze penetrate your soul and gaze at him in return.This is contemplation.
Call Jesus by name and call God “Daddy.” A simple way to pray, called the Jesus Prayer, is to keep on repeating the name “Jesus”, or the phrase “Jesus, I love you.” You can also use the name Jesus uses to call God: “Daddy.”
Do the acts of prayer. A-adoration, C-contrition, T-thanksgiving, S-supplication. Pattern your prayer after Jesus’ “Our Father”, the most perfect prayer which has seven perfectly ordered petitions.    
Discuss with God how you can improve your relationship and your daily life. God who is the Greatest Wisdom will inspire you to be a better child of God, member of your family, worker and member of society. Formulate specific steps and make a firm commitment to put them into action. 
Internalize the deepest truths about prayer, God and yourself.      
This means living in reality, not in a fantasy world of our own making

(a) Most important of all is to receive God’s love. True love of total self-giving is the bottom-line of life and of prayer. And since God’s infinite power is the source of all of ours, love is a matter of allowing God’s love to fill us. So our main task is to receive God: his caress, his mercy, his fire, his wisdom, and his liberating will. Our prayer has greater value when we humble, entrust, abandon, and submit ourselves to God’s action and truth. The basic attitude of the greatest saint, Mary, is: Be it done. Ask like a child for this attitude and you will receive.                                                                                         
 (b) The greatest in the Kingdom are the littlest children. Mary was favored by God for he loved her “lowliness”. “God resists the proud and gives his grace to the humble,” those who know their weakness and trusts God as his littlest child.                                                                         

 (c) We live as we pray. The quality of our life depends on the quality of our prayer. To have the best quality of life, offer the best quality prayer.                    

(d) We pray as we live. If we don’t have a sincere desire to love God with all our heart as he commanded, our prayer will fall into a rut. However, if we truly direct our whole heart, mind and strength to God the whole day –struggling to do his will in our ordinary life and material setting—God will give himself to us.                                       
Do it at a fixed time at the best time.  Love is commitment to give the best.  For love is willing the good of the other, not feelings that come and go.  
Never give up. Love is fidelity. “Be loyal and you will end up madly in love with God.” (Bl. Alvaro)
If you can, pray in front of the Eucharist. It is where Jesus’ body is.  
Get a coach. To be a real athlete requires a coach. How much more the most important quest of our life? The Christian life is a battle – against the devil, sin, our evil urges. A spiritual director will guide us and pray for us.
In all battles, the first step is ask God for his omnipotent help.
(1) Distractions. Talk to God about the events or people that cross your mind. If distractions are persistent, check whether these matters have become higher priorities for you than God. If so, ask God to purify your heart of attachment to creatures. “Therein lies the battle, the choice of which master to serve.”
(2) Dryness. We pray to please God; not to please ourselves. Praying without emotional thrills transform us into a grain of wheat which dies, bearing much fruit.  Faithful prayer no matter how distracted and dry is more meritorious and fruitful than fervent prayer done only when we feel good. (See Jacques Philippe) If dryness is due to a heart entangled in sin, the battle requires a plea for conversion and the confession of our faults.
(3) Discouragement.  Repeated falls should remind us that the sick, not the healthy, need a physician. Be patient and trust God to take you up to a higher level of childlike humility each time you are deeply sorry and begin anew. (CCC 2729; 2731; 2737)  
“Put yourself in the presence of God, and as soon as you have said, "Lord, I don't know how to pray!" you can be sure you've already begun.” (St. Josemaria)

This article integrates the key ideas from Jacques Philippe’s Time for God and the Wikipedia article on Mental Prayer that I wrote in 2007 as Marax

Download the one-page Executive Summary here