There is an elephant in the room, and it may seem hard to move but it is best dealt with sooner rather than later. For one thing… it smells and there is no way to just sweep the mess under the carpet.
Cohabitation is so very common in our society that even good and holy family members are at a loss about what to say. However, in RCIA we must say something. Pope John Paul II said "Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought." We are there to help those that haven’t considered what they "ought" to do.
The Internet can easily give us many statistics on the damage cohabitation causes. One such example is that couples are far more likely to divorce if they cohabitate. For those coming to faith, this reason isn’t even part of the discussion. We must speak of chastity, holiness, the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, and then we must speak of sin. For the RCIA coordinator, it helps to begin with the Truth. Sex before marriage is a sin, plain and simple. Just because it is common does not make it less sinful. And we don’t get to decide which sins really count and which ones don’t. God was/is clear on this one: “thou shall not commit adultery” and sex outside of marriage is adultery.
Walking the path of faith with participants takes effort and we must run into the darkness with our light. Since no sin is really private, cohabitation affects not only the couple, but their family, friends, and even their future children. Conversely, changing this will bring grace to all. Their changed example will evangelize all they encounter.
So, the question remains: "How to move the elephant?" The best time to begin is the intake interview (the first meeting). A wise priest once said, “Don’t be afraid, fear is the worst reason for not doing the right thing”. Begin with heartfelt charity and real prayer. A sincere discussion should then take place. Some statements that may help are:
"The Church has very clear teachings on marriage and couples need to wait until marriage to live together."
"I imagine that I am not the first person to mention this to you."
"There is a way to fix this and you will be able to say to your children, 'We began the wrong way, but we wanted to follow what God wanted for us, so we waited until we were married and ______ moved back in with grandma.'"
To the man in the relationship: "You can be like St. Joseph, and this time will bring abundant grace to your relationship and your marriage."
"The next time you hold her unto yourself should be on your wedding night when she is your wife."
"The marital embrace is a special gift given by God to a husband and a wife."
Lastly, "This is something that would need to be resolved before you could move toward the Sacraments."
Inquiry is the time for the participant to decide if they want to live a Catholic life. While in Inquiry, they are free to live as they wish. But, before going through the Rite of Acceptance and Welcoming, they would need to change their living situation.
Now, how to solve the problem? Someone needs to move out, and maybe someone needs to get a roommate to help with expenses. Imagine if everyone started to un-cohabitate. With our difficult economy, people are taking in roommates for financial reasons. A domino effect might actually take place with "Roommate Needed Until Wedding Date" signs popping up everywhere! The couple goes back to courtship and dating. Now is when you would have a conversation about chastity (no sexual intimacy before marriage: anything a bathing suit covers shouldn’t be touched). Assure them that kissing, hugging (and the lost art of hand-holding) are okay. Most couples are headed towards marriage, so a referral to the priest is the next step. Hearing the same message of chastity from the priest (and in marriage preparation) are also important. If we all speak the truth, it is easier for everyone. If the couple isn’t sure they are headed towards marriage, then all of this makes even more sense.
We also need to address the other aspects of marriage that need to wait. The problem isn’t just sex. There are so many beautiful things that need to wait until marriage. Seeing your spouse in their pajamas and snuggling on the couch to watch a movie, brushing your teeth together, seeing each other first thing in the morning. The intimacy that develops in a marriage is sacred and isn’t meant to be rushed.
Finally, it helps the participant to know they aren’t the only person struggling with this and that the same is asked of everyone. Be consistent. The easiest part is telling them that they aren’t alone; God will help them. And may God help us all as we greet each person He brings to our parish family. Amen!