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Good evening,

I have discovered your column recently, I have read some of your answers and above all the doubts and concerns that you raise on a daily basis. I think a tool like this is very important, especially with regard to sensitive issues that are unfortunately little talked about and which still create misunderstandings and perplexity. 

I am happily engaged to a boy who shares my beliefs. We come from two traditional and practising families who have been able to teach us values that we both share and consider indispensable, and for this we are very grateful. 

Over the months we have had the opportunity to discuss many topics including sexuality in Christian life, which we still find difficult to fully understand, and that is why I decided to turn to you.

We decided together to have premarital relations, aware of the immense gift we were giving each other. We are convinced in saying that ours was not a choice dictated by the selfishness of pleasure or as a prerequisite for our relationship, but as an act of Love. We both know that this is not permitted by Christian doctrine and it is precisely this point that I would like to discuss with you. 

I have read a lot on the subject and attended meetings that tried to explain the issue but I have always remained not fully satisfied, as I feel that it is difficult to talk about this subject and that it is not really fully explained, and that is why I am asking you a few questions. 

1. Why is a relationship between two people who love each other considered pure only if it is aimed at procreation? I think that first of all it is an act of love that only later results in the birth of a child. Having a relationship with the sole purpose of procreation I think risks being deprived of the gift of love that the two people give each other.

2. Sexual relations in marriage can be regulated through natural contraception, which is admitted by Christian morality. The fact of abstaining during certain periods of the cycle is a consequence of the fact that the two spouses are not seeking a child at the moment and that the relationship they will have during the woman’s periods of non-fertility will be an expression of a desire for love that does not include a child. Why in this case is the relationship not equally condemned, even though it is not aimed at procreation?

3. I am against abortive contraceptive methods or methods that alter the person, but where is the difference between having a relationship with a normal contraceptive and one with natural contraception? The goal is the same, which is avoiding pregnancy.

Please correct me if I am wrong, but for me the sexual act is first and foremost a gift that a couple gives to each other. Also, I believe it starts from a basis of love and mutual respect, otherwise it is just pleasure-seeking. 

The thought that this gift is solely for the purpose of reproduction, I admit, makes me sad.

I just want to add one last thing before concluding.

Times have changed. I am not saying that we should adapt to our current society which unfortunately is unbridled and superficial, but I think we should try to understand what are the prospects for a young couple that today chooses to start a journey together. 

As a believer, my goal is to create a family on the basis of Christian marriage, which I firmly believe in. But like my fiancé, I still have years of study and an uncertain job ahead of me, foundations on which it is known to be difficult to build and think about creating a family. The extension of time that brings a couple to the moment of marriage is not a factor that can be neglected. One cannot think of living the engagement period in the same way as it was lived only 50/60 years ago. I think the Church realises it, and I hope it can get ever closer to its future families.

Forgive me for having spoken at length and for having opened this small aside to conclude, I hope that it will fill in some of my perplexities, but unfortunately I believe that we young people are often little helped in making a conscious journey in the faith and that this generates continuous doubts in us. 

Waiting for your reply, I sincerely thank you. 

Priest’s answer

Dear you,

1. I hope that in the meantime you have had the patience to go and read the many answers I have given on premarital relationships. But I’ll come to your email and its contents.

2. First of all, I am sorry to see in you and your fiancé a lack of trust in God’s law, considered among other things as a norm of the Church. You tell me that you hope that the Church will update because you can’t live the engagement in the same way as 50/60 years ago. Now that the way of living the engagement changes, it is right because the demands have changed. But as far as chastity is concerned, it must be said immediately that God’s law does not change because unchanged and infinite is God’s love for man.

3. By your determination to have sexual relations – even though you claim to be from traditional families – you have already practically ousted God from the deepest core of your life. You continue to believe in God and therefore theoretically profess to be believers, but God is no longer the ultimate motive of your love. Impurity – even if it does not lead to sexual intercourse – cuts into the innermost core of a person and tacitly ousts God. In impurity or sin, God ceases to be the starting point, the guide and the goal of your love.

4. In making the decision to have sexual relations you unfortunately did not consult God. In order to protect love and to make people permanently happy, God gave the commandment: do not commit impure acts. He didn’t give this commandment to take anything away from man’s happiness, but to put it on the right path and to protect it for a long time. He didn’t give this commandment to take away freedom, but to guard it and so that it does not become a slave to selfishness and concupiscence.

5. The commandment of the Lord is not an imposition, but a gift and indeed, it is the testimony of a love of predilection: “Take care therefore to do as the Lord your God has commanded you. Do not deviate either to the right or to the left; walk in all things in the way that the Lord your God has prescribed for you, that you may live and be happy and abide long in the land of which you will have possession” (Deut 5:32-33).

6. You say you have read a lot. But if you had read the documents of the Church you would have better understood the Lord’s precept. In Familiaris Consortio John Paul II enunciates a principle that also enlightens us on premarital relationships: “Total physical donation would be a lie if it were not a sign and fruit of total personal donation, in which the whole person, even in its temporal dimension, is present: if the person were to reserve something or the possibility of deciding otherwise for the future, for that very reason he would not give himself totally” (FC 11).

7. Well, the engaged couples are aware that they do not yet belong to each other totally and definitively.They know that they are free and can leave each other without any burden. Whereas the donation of the person by its nature is irrevocable because it brings about the expropriation of self and makes one the property of the other. While you have perfect awareness that you have not yet expropriated yourselves. You know that you are free. Therefore, premarital relationships are a sign of a reality that is not there. That is why John Paul II calls them a lie.

8. But they are also lies for another reason: that of contraception. John Paul II says in this regard: “Thus to the native language that expresses the total mutual giving of the spouses, contraception imposes a language that is objectively contradictory, that of not giving oneself to the other in totality. The result is not only a positive rejection of openness to life, but also a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, called to give itself in personal totality” (FC 32c).

9. You ask why an act of love is considered pure when it is aimed at procreation. Rather than finalized, it is more correct to say oriented or open to procreation. And this is because by their very nature not all acts are in fact procreative.The reason for this orientation then is simple and obvious: the sexual faculties are intimately structured to be ordered to procreation. When you say you are making love, you are in fact uniting not in any way, but with your reproductive organs. Not only that, but this act of ‘making love’ ceases and ceases – willingly or unwillingly – as soon as the procreative purpose is fulfilled.

10. John Paul II goes on to say: “In the conjugal act, it is not licit to artificially separate the unitive meaning from the procreative meaning because the one and the other belong to the intimate truth of the conjugal act: the one is realised together with the other and in a certain sense through the other. Therefore the conjugal act deprived of its inner truth, because it is artificially deprived of its procreative capacity, ceases to be an act of love” (22.8.1984). He said this for spouses. But of course it also applies to engaged couples.

11. It is true that that act is first and foremost an act of love. But it is an act of love that is structurally oriented to giving rise to life. Whereas in contraception, this purpose is contradicted and frustrated precisely while it is being aroused.

12. In your email you speak of ‘natural contraception admitted by Christian morality’. Apart from legalism (as if the morality the Church teaches is simply a set of precepts and that’s all), the Church teaches no contraception. Natural methods are not contraceptive. And this is not because the Church says so, but because they do not contracept anything, i.e. they do not prevent anything. It is simply a matter of enjoying the rhythms of nature. And, knowing that they are potentially procreative, one is potentially open to putting oneself at stake to the full. Whereas in contraception the opposite happens. Contraception is not only a closure to potential procreation, but it is a clear refusal to give oneself to the other in totality. That is why John Paul II said that the act of contraception ceases to be an act of love.

13. It is true that by resorting to natural rhythms, the aim very often is not to increase the number of children. But it is equally true what John Paul II observed: “If the potential element of paternity and maternity is radically and totally excluded from conjugal relations, the mutual relationship of persons is thereby transformed. The union in love slides towards a common enjoyment, or, rather, towards that of the two partners” (Love and Responsibility, p. 216). And “by violating the laws of nature, one also violates the person, making him an object of enjoyment, instead of making him an object of love. The disposition to procreation, in conjugal relations, protects love, is the indispensable condition of a true union of persons” (Ib., p. 218).

14. As you see, God’s law is well motivated and intends to found marriage on the lasting basis of authentic love. Indeed, it is necessary to distinguish between concupiscence or erotic attraction and love. Love is easily mistaken for attraction and concupiscence. These certainly go to the top especially when sexual relations are initiated. But love that gives itself to the full and brings people together without contradicting the truth of the act is something else.

15. Finally, do not wait for the Church on this matter to adapt to the world. The Church has the mission to adapt the world’s behaviour to God’s will, which is undoubtedly wiser and holier than all human wills. This is the only will that makes one happy and guarantees the permanence (the biblical ‘living long’) of engagement first and marriage later.

With the wish that you may understand God’s will and fully embrace it in order to be happy and never have to regret your behaviour, I will remember to the Lord and bless you.

Father Angelo