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A Help for Our Actions


A Help for Our Actions

by Monsignor Charles M. Mangan
©Catholic Online 2005

Ted and Paulette entered my office to begin pre-marriage instruction. Completing the necessary paperwork, I asked Ted for his address. When I posed the same query to his fiancée, she shifted in her chair, fumbled momentarily and then, regaining her composure, blurted out that she was living with Ted.

Raising the issue of cohabitation, I noticed that Ted was uneasy. A non-Catholic, he asserted: "I'm not a Catholic. Living together isn't against my religion. I don't feel bad about it. I see nothing wrong with it and intend to continue."

This couple is no different from many. Ted wasn't about to be swayed by the "arbitrary" teaching of another Church. Paulette, on the other hand, acknowledged the Church's prohibition against premarital intercourse but wasn't sure why the Church teaches as she does.

It's common knowledge, according to her numerous critics, that the Catholic Church is constantly condemning moral behavior as "sinful." Hence, any pronouncements coming from the Vatican are suspect. And it is our media-fueled popular culture which, often enough, seems to be advancing this position. Ted and Paulette have fallen prey to this unthinking point of view.

In order to confront effectively an ethical quandary, cohabitation or otherwise, a person must have at his disposal a framework--a point of reference that enables him to respond to the pertinent questions. Those who believe in a Supreme Being often introduce the elements of faith into a discussion of morals.

But there is a body of principles that transcends sectarian boundaries. In fact, one who is an avowed atheist can recognize this set of tenets. Persons of all persuasions, because they possess human reason, can grasp these precepts.

What is this cluster of moral guidelines?

The Natural Law has been defined as "the law written on the human heart." Its commands may be deduced from the very nature of the human person. To abide by the Natural Law is to act in concert with reason, thereby respecting the dignity and purpose of the human person.

The first principle of the Natural Law is: "Good must be done and pursued: evil must be avoided." This maxim is as valid in 2005 as it was in 305. For example, to kill an innocent person--regardless of his or her age--is to act contrary to human dignity. Thus, the right to life of that innocent person has been violated.

Today, personal feelings have been substituted in some quarters for the Natural Law. While the emotions should be noted, they have far too often been the barometer by which actions are judged as moral or immoral.

Feelings are often inconsistent and are like the ocean tide: one day high, the next, low. But there is a much surer way to decide the liceity of an act: objective moral truth.

The Natural Law allows one to penetrate reality: it is, as Professor William May has written, "a work of intelligence . . . that respects the self-determining freedom of the human person, but . . . that nevertheless recognizes that evil is not to be done for the sake of good."

Many contemporary topics engender heated debate: abortion, capital punishment, contraception, just war, etc. The Natural Law, using as its basis unchanging human nature, confronts these questions and offers an analysis in conformity to the Divine Law. Without the Natural Law, as Christopher Derrick points out, we would have "no serious objection to Auschwitz or the Gulag Archipelago."

What does the Natural Law say specifically about cohabitation? People should not engage in activities that are detrimental to themselves or others. Fornication is an exercise in sexual pleasure that ignores the dignity of the human person and tends to treat the body as something to be satisfied, regardless of the implication.

Society is harmed when cohabitation is encouraged. Children conceived from fornication are in danger of being aborted, neglected and not properly reared and educated. When chastity before marriage is scorned, fidelity in marriage becomes expendable.

Ted doesn't need to be a Catholic to see that cohabitation is destructive and has many unfortunate ramifications--be they moral, physical, spiritual or emotional. By relying upon the Natural Law, Ted, Paulette and others like them will discover a steady rudder to guide them in an age of moral chaos.

Slightly edited article that originally published in the issue of March 17, 1991 (page five) of the "National Catholic Register." Used with permission.


Mary's Field , VA
Monsignor Charles M. Mangan - Official, 390 66616-1125



Natural Law: Cohabitation

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