One of the things we have lamented together on this blog is the silence of too many clergy, catechists and parents on the important moral issues of our day. Too many Catholics are uninstructed in basic moral principles.
Surely one of the critical moral issues in our sex-saturated culture is premarital sex and cohabitation (aka “shacking up”). We have discussed this topic on numerous occasions here in order to reiterate the biblical and Church teaching wherein we are commanded to live chastely. For example see:
- Sober Serene and Scriptual about Sex
- Greed Theft and Sexual Immorality
- Pondering Permissiveness
- Bad Translation Misses the Point
Fundamentally all the biblical quotes about premarital sex (fornication) can be summarized by this quote from Ephesians:
Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No fornicator, no impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. (Eph 5:3-5)
Now these are very strong and clear words. Fornication is a very serious sin which excludes one from heaven. Those who die unrepentant of it go to hell.
Yet, despite the clarity and gravity of this, I will say, that growing up in the church in the late 1960s and 70s I cannot recall ever hearing this clearly taught in a parish that I attended. I think we had some notions that adults might not approve of teenagers having sex, but we simply thought this had to do with the fact that they were old fuds who were uptight. Further, they did not listen to Rock music, so what did they know? But no one ever sat down and reasoned with me from Scripture, I never heard a sermon on it, and even my parents, good though they were, didn’t really talk about sex with us, except the “facts of life talk.”
We have to do better. I have tried as a priest to be clear from the pulpit about this. Further, I try each year to talk with 7th and 8th graders about the sinfulness of fornication. Last year I also preached to our local Catholic High School students. And I tried to give them the clear biblical teaching I never got.
More good news on this front is that Most Rev. Michael J. Sheehan Archbishop of Santa Fe has recently issued a pastoral letter on the question of premarital sex and cohabitation (i.e. living together outside marriage). In it he clearly calls cohabitation a mortal sin and instructs young people not to cohabitate. He calls on pastors to ensure proper instruction and formation of young people in this regard
Here are some excerpts:
We are all painfully aware that there are many Catholics today who are living in cohabitation. The Church must make it clear to the faithful that these unions are not in accord with the Gospel, and to help Catholics who find themselves in these situations to do whatever they must do to make their lives pleasing to God.
First of all, we ourselves must be firmly rooted in the Gospel teaching that, when it comes to sexual union, there are only two lifestyles acceptable to Jesus Christ for His disciples: a single life of chastity, or the union of man and woman in the Sacrament of Matrimony. There is no third way possible for a Christian. The Bible and the Church teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman and opposes same sex unions….
[Cohabitors] should marry in the Church or separate. Often their plea is that they “cannot afford a church wedding” i.e. the external trappings, or that “what difference does a piece of paper make?” – as if a sacramental covenant is nothing more than a piece of paper! Such statements show religious ignorance, or a lack of faith and awareness of the evil of sin.
Christ our Lord loves all these people and wishes to save them – not by ignoring their sin, or calling evil good, but by repentance and helping them to change their lives in accordance with His teaching. We, as His Church, must do the same….
Many of these sins are committed out of ignorance. I ask that our pastors preach on the gravity of sin and its evil consequences, the 6th and 9th Commandments of God, and the sacramental nature and meaning of Christian marriage. Our catechetical programs in our parishes – children, youth, and adult – must clearly and repeatedly teach these truths.
The Full Document can be read here Pastoral Care of Couples Who are Cohabitating
Bravo for Archbishop Sheehan. Premarital sex, cohabitation and other forms of unchastity are just too serious and too common fro us to remain silent or unclear.
I am personally a fan of going right to the Scriptures and reading the texts to young people right out of the Bible. The texts are beautifully clear and unambiguous. To this end, I assembled some years ago a list of New Testament Scriptures on this subject. If it can be of some help to you I have put it in PDF format here: Biblical Texts On Premarital Sex (Fornication).
Please remember not merely to leave this important text to clergy. Clergy count on the help of parents, catechists and church elders to reinforce and personally testify to young people on this matter. Encourage your priests and deacons. Indeed, I would say pressure them, if they are not already teaching clearly on this topic. We absolutely must be clear on this topic and so many others. Consider printing out the PDFs in this post and make use of them in this great task of teaching and proclaiming the Kingdom of God.