Father Vincent Hawkswell

‘Trial marriage’ doesn't work, and God knows why

Voices Jan. 5, 2018

Even when the Church's teaching on pre-marital sex is known, it's often disregarded as a mere formality, not to be taken seriously, writes Father Vincent Hawkswell. 

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
First Reading: 1 Sm 3:3b-10, 19
Second Reading: 1 Cor 6:13c-15a, 17-20
Gospel Reading: Jn 1:35-42

“The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord,” St. Paul says in this Sunday’s liturgy. “Shun fornication!”

Fornication (sexual intercourse between two unmarried persons) is gravely wrong. If committed with full knowledge of this fact and with full consent, it is mortal: it kills our supernatural life, making us unfit for heaven.

The Church’s teaching on this subject is insufficiently known. However, even when it is known, it is often disregarded as a mere formality, not to be taken seriously.

Catholics, in particular, must re-educate themselves about the evil and sinfulness of pre-marital sex; resolve, with the help of God, to avoid it; and learn how to explain their reasons to others.

First: God has forbidden sex before marriage, and he has the right to do so.

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?” St. Paul asks. “For you were bought with a price.”

“It’s my body,” people claim. However, as C.S. Lewis’ imaginary devil Screwtape says, “the word ‘mine’ in its fully possessive sense cannot be uttered by a human being about anything.” Eventually, either Satan or God will say “mine” about every thing and every person.

Second: Sex is not the pinnacle of human happiness, even in this world, and it cannot be compared with the things God has prepared in heaven for those who love him.

Third: Sex is never “casual.” As Screwtape says, “Wherever a man lies with a woman, there, whether they like it or not, a transcendental relation is set up between them which must be eternally enjoyed or eternally endured.”

Fourth: Cohabitation is not a good preparation for marriage. A 2017 article claiming to be unbiased and citing only recent research conducted by “non-sectarian, non-partisan, academic institutions,” says this: “Cohabitation may not increase your chances of getting a divorce, but it doesn’t at all decrease them, either. Further, even when couples who cohabited before marriage don’t actually split up, there’s evidence to suggest they’re less happy in their marriage than those who moved in after the wedding.”

Fifth: The term “trial marriage” is self-contradictory. Marriage, by definition, means the gift of one’s whole self to one’s spouse: all one’s faculties for the whole of one’s earthly life.

Psychologically, total commitment is necessary before a couple can engage in sexual intercourse without fear of rejection because of sexual dissatisfaction.

There is no verbal threat of abandonment, for that would contradict the total self-giving symbolized by sexual intercourse. Nevertheless, the threat is real, present in the very fact that the couple have not made a marital commitment. Presumably, at least one of them has reservations.

It looks as though God and his Church know what they are talking about. That should not surprise us, for God, who loves us, made us for perfect happiness, and he who made us knows what that entails.

“O that you had paid attention to my commandments!” God said through Isaiah. “Then your prosperity would have been like a river, and your success like the waves of the sea.”

Fornication damages us. However, the damage need not be permanent. Like any other sin, fornication can be repented. God’s forgiveness, healing, and strength are as close as the nearest priest in confession.

Let your friends know, in advance, that pre-marital sex is not an option for you. The only dates you will lose are dates you do not want.

The world’s way does not work; try God’s. “Come and see,” Jesus says. Let us reply, with Samuel, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

Note: I am co-author of a book entitled Human Sexuality: Its Christian Meaning, available for $10 to cover printing costs. If you would like a copy, please email me at [email protected]