Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Catholic Dating Guidance

I very occasionally get asked, “How far can we go?” which indicates a couple have already set their minds on a trajectory toward acts the Church teaches are gravely wrong. The guidance I give is not geared towards limiting freedom, but to providing safety boundaries for the soul (and for life in this world too -sexually active folk are at risk of STD’s, and of feeling invaluable as a persons since they are easily abandoned when something more attractive comes along).

Dating for Catholics is difficult today because what were once seen as good boundaries by everyone 50 years ago are now seen as oppressive. This is a result of the the sexual revolution, which threw all boundaries out of the window and portrayed sexual freedom in movies, on TV and in books as freedom from oppression and a facilitating of the fullness of humanity. It is under these pretexts that it is now invading the classrooms even of primary school children. Catholic Schools should remain true to the Church’s teaching on sexuality and certainly keep it out of their classrooms so that children are allowed to be children and not sexualised before their time -this can only lead to active sexual dating contrary to the Gospel.

When Catholics do begin dating, what are some of the things they can do to ensure their dating goes well in the sight of God and which keeps them safe in this world too?

Visit one another’s family homes so you discover family situations and build family connections. Go out as a family group too, since this provides the in-built protection of having people around you. Time alone in bedrooms (or in the living room when the family are out) opens the door to unhelpful talk and embraces that may be too intense. (Dating is for the seeking out a life-time’s spouse, not a sexually compatible ‘partner’).

Pray together. Attend Mass together and go regularly to Confession. Join in one another’s family prayer time and thus build up good habits for the future. All this will help retain the Christian focus of the relationship.

Date those who share your views on morality, since a clash on values on as central as marriage, sexuality and child-rearing will only provide for conflict in the relationship and may well diminish the capacity of the devout Catholic to ‘hold back’.

Don’t dress in such a way as to make yourself look sexually attractive but in order to look personally attractive. Clothes that express femininity or masculinity without exposing the flesh inappropriately; clothes that do not ‘cling’ in such a way that they focus the eye on physical contours, are best. Clothes which expose the flesh or cling to bodily contours put the stress on the body, the physical, rather than the personality.


Go to places that you both enjoy so you can build up a life of shared activity, and be supportive of your friend in his/her individual hobbies (if the hobby is morally good, of course...)

Date in places that are public so that you don’t compromise your self-control.

Be careful about sitting talking in cars after a night out; inevitably the lighting and mood are subdued and passions run high, making such situations something that are best avoided.

Avoid that which procures arousal, such as ‘adult’ bars, movie theatres. Similarly, avoid arousing materials on TV, in books etc.

Kisses should be tender and devoid of passion-arousing elements such as ‘French kissing’.

Be careful of erogenous zones: women need to remember that men get aroused very quickly; what seems harmless to the lady may be very arousing to the male. Repeated, gentle stroking of the hair, the arms, the abdomen or upper thigh can be very arousing for either sex. If you wonder how far you can go in subtle touching you are already contemplating steps that diminish purity: heavy-petting is definitely out since its purpose is to procure full sexual acts.

I know it is difficult these days to see rules and guidelines such as these as useful or healthy, since society is awash with sexuality and actively promotes sexual freedom. But rules are not mere limitations; they are boundaries for safety. This being so, it is important that when dating you are sure in your own mind of the value of the celibate relationship outside of marriage, and of chastity within marriage. 

In a word then, pray together; build family ties; dress smart; date in public and avoid that which arouses. Additionally, be on time, be respectful, and be true to yourself and your Faith. God bless all those who are attempting to date in an integrated Catholic way. 

10 comments:

  1. Thank you Father for this post. I think your guidance is sound in these times of sexual immorality which is now classed as the norm in today's society. I wondered what your guidance would be to a person wishing to have the companionship of marriage but who has no inclination to act on an attraction (i.e. to remain celibate in marriage, to be asexual). I am fully aware the importance of the sacrament of marriage is to accept children as a blessing from God but would celibacy ever be acceptable e.g. if one or both partners cannot have children? Or, is it if you lack that desire for sexual intimacy, marriage is just not your vocation?

    God Bless
    Em

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  2. Thank you, Em.
    You ask an important question Em. What advice would I give? Hmm...
    Since marriage requires openness to children, sexual activity is required, but there is nothing to stop a man and woman having companionship of a shared home without undergoing a marriage ceremony (perhaps this is where civil unions could have been helpful?) Celibacy can be accepted for periods within a marriage, but not as a life-long aspect of the marriage –not consummating the marriage would mean the marriage never became a sacrament. Those persons unable to have children are still entitled to/required to engage in intercourse in order to validate their marriage and be open to miracles from God.
    Roughly speaking Em, those who seek sacramental marriage are expected to engage in intercourse, whether they are fertile or not. Those who do not want to have sexual intercourse ought not to undergo a marriage ceremony, but they are not wrong to share a home as flat-mates or house-mates for reasons of companionship. I hope that answers your question.
    God Bless.

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  3. My understanding is that one or both of a couple are not fertile / cannot conceive then, according to traditional catholic teaching (c.f. catechism), they cannot get married sacramentally and would be barred from doing so. There was the news story in the UK a few years ago where a catholic priest refused too marry a man to his female partner who had MS for this reason. Didn't appear very pastoral to me but there you go. Additionally, not being able to conceive / being infertile would be grounds for an annulment since the marriage would be invalid.

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    1. Thank you for your comment, John.
      To clarify this issue we need to say that a couple must exchange the right to have children and be open to having children at the time of the ceremony; they would not know they were infertile or sterile until they were unsuccessful in having a child. As such, sterility and infertility are not impediment to having a sacramental marriage. Nor do sterility and infertility provide grounds for annulment. I think what you are referring to is a situation in which the couple are unable to perform the act of copulation, which would prevent them from consummating the marriage. This would prevent a couple from fulfilling the obligations of marriage. I do not know the facts of the UK case of which you speak, but I suspect this may be the reason the couple were refused a marriage in Church.
      God Bless.

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  4. Finally, a blogging priest has put up some dating advice. Thank you Father, for tackling this. Young people need to see advice like this more regularly from a Catholic priest.

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    1. Thank you...
      One does try!
      God Bless

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  5. So, just to ask a question Father, what if the woman/couple is older, and the woman doesn't want to have any more children re her age, or health. Say she wanted to have a sexless marriage, because fearing following NFP in older age, she could get pregnant by accident in her fifties! What if her fiancé is in his early sixties and they see having a new baby as somewhat daunting! Say the woman had a chronic illness but not Lupus or MS as John D mentioned, but would like to be married. I guess, is it as you say, she couldn't get married, but would have to live in a civil marriage and wouldn't this type of arrangement give scandal? Who would believe they were chaste? They would have to go to church in a different parish where no-one knows them so as to not give scandal. They may not even exchange rings...? Surely an older couple isn't expected to start to producing a family, or if they're widow/ers, a second family?

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    1. Thank you, Damask Rose.
      The thing is there needs to be openness to life (and thus to intercourse) if any marriage is to be valid and sacramental. Not wanting to have children for whatever reason would invalidate any vows if the intention was to actually exclude the gift of life –which is what we are really talking about here: openness to the gift of a child from God. They may find it daunting, but God is there to support them and hopefully, the people of God. In reality, if folk want a sexless marriage they want companionship, not marriage.
      The civil union I spoke of was not meant to indicate a ‘civil marriage’ as in a register Office, but one akin to the civil ‘union’ of homosexuals –which a commentator claimed was enacted so as to provide protection of rights to homosexual pairings and not sexual rights. (Lynda, if I remember correctly, clarified for us that this law was not needed for rights of inheritance etc. I might say then that the claim to guarantee rights was but a ruse of the homosexual lobby).
      God Bless.

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    2. Father, thank you for clarifying. I gain some comfort from your advice. However, do you not think if a man and woman share a house as housemates (which I know I could do for reasons of companionship) people would automatically presume that they were not chaste and scandal would ensue? Also, could you advise, Saint Etheldreda remained a virgin through 2 marriages. Is this not part of the reason for her sainthood and could she be an example to follow? Thank you Father.
      God Bless
      Em

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    3. Thank you, Em.
      I think people might presume more at first, but when one is active in one's parish it doesn't take long to establish that one is with a house-mate and close friend rather than a 'lover'.
      St Etheldreda was indeed married twice and virginal in both because of a vow she made before her first marriage. It was her determination not to break her vow that seems to be the virtue, not that of remaining a virgin during marriage (the first marriage was, I think, a very faith-filled marriage as her husband respected her vow until the day he died. The second marriage was entered into for political reasons and while at first her husband respected her vow, he later wanted to consummate the marriage, which Etheldreda refused to do). Both marriages would lack some element today as the Church's deepening awareness of what marriage means has progressed (notice I say deepened rather than widened -we penetrate the truth of one man one woman in a loving, life-giving union more deeply; we don't widen it to include other lifestyles).
      Hope this helps.
      God Bless.

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