“Ask a Priest: How Should I Prepare for Visiting Cohabitors?”

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Q: How do I explain to a secular relative who lives in Europe whom I have not seen in years, that he and his girlfriend when staying with us can’t sleep in the same bed or bedroom, as we are devout Catholics? – M.M.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It’s good that you don’t want to encourage behavior in your home that is objectively sinful.

This could be a good opportunity to evangelize your relative and his girlfriend.

A key factor in evangelization is being aware of where your audience is. Your relative might be living in such a secularized environment that he doesn’t even consider cohabiting a sin. (It’s not just a problem in Europe!)

Without knowing much about him, I would suggest a few steps.

First, you might consider writing him an e-mail now, saying how much you look forward to seeing him. Then explain that you can accommodate him and his girlfriend so long as they don’t mind sleeping in separate venues in your home.

Here it might help to say less rather than more. Even the very notion of their not being able to share a bed might be a shock that will take them time to process. So it’s better to let them come to their own conclusions and decisions.

I suggest the e-mail, rather than a call, because an e-mail gives the recipient time to think and react. A phone call can catch your relative off guard.

If your relative asks why he can’t sleep with his friend, you could try to explain as simply as possible that you and your husband’s beliefs hold that the place for physical intimacy is in marriage and that you as a couple are committed to maintaining that ideal in your own home.

In the meantime you might want to pray for the couple. Ask their guardian angels to help them.

It might help, too, to draft an e-mail and then let it sit for a few hours or overnight. Come back and review later and see if it hits the right tone.

For now, you might try to assume that your relative and his friend have all the best intentions. It’s just that they might have grown up in a culture that didn’t instill Christian values in regard to chastity.

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