Thursday June 7, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Ninth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Tobit 6:10-11; 7:1, 9-17; 8:4-9a)
Gospel (St. Mark 12:28-34)
In the first reading today from the book of Tobit, we hear, once again, about marriage. For those who are married, I would strongly recommend that you go back and read the whole passage because in the reading we heard today, we only heard stipites from chapters 6, 7, and 8 that they just put together. There were large pieces of it that were taken out. We see again, as we saw yesterday, that Sarah had been oppressed by a curse. There was this demon Asmodeus and they prayed for deliverance so they would be freed from this curse. Each of the young men whom she had married (there were seven previously) had died before they made it to the marriage bed. Of course, Raguel assumed this was number eight. In part of the passage they cut out, he went out back and started digging the grave, assuming that his new son-in-law would be dead in the morning like the others.
But the difference was that the archangel Raphael had taught Tobias how to break the curse. It had to do with a couple of things. First of all, they had to burn some stuff that he had. Secondly, he had to pray. We are told that it was three days before he actually approached Sarah for the consummation of their marriage. Each night they got up and prayed. They prayed for deliverance. The important thing to recognize are the words that he used: "You know that I do not take this sister of mine for lust. But it is out of love."
This lays out for us very clearly the way things must be in marriage. For a couple who is united in marriage, it is a unity of love. It is two persons who have given themselves to one another. You did not take the other you received the other. The other gave himself or herself as a gift to you. You did not "take" them, that would be slavery, that would be a violation of the dignity of the person. Consequently, in the physical relationship of a couple you may not "take" the other person for your own pleasure. That is a violation, once again. The other person gives himself or herself to you as a gift for your pleasure. But you cannot assume that you can do that for yourself. In other words, in the marital union both must be there for the sake of the other, not for oneself - that is lust.
Married couples often fall into the trap of thinking: "Now that we are married, we can do anything." That is wrong. There are many, many sins in marriage within that physical union because, often times, it is not a union of love; but rather, it is a union of lust. It is two people using one another as objects and that violates the marriage. It violates the dignity of the person and it violates the dignity of human sexuality.
God has created the male and the female to love one another. That love is expressed in a marriage physically. The spiritual union of souls is expressed in the physical union of the bodies. The physical union of the bodies is not a game, it is not a hobby, it is not a pleasure-seeking exercise so "I can selfishly desire my own pleasure"; but rather, it must be for the good of the other. Each member of the marriage must approach the other with the attitude that "I want this for my spouse. I want this to be the most wonderful experience for my spouse. I want to give myself totally in love to my spouse." As I often point out to the young couples, the married couple does not give a gift to one another. You invite lots of people to your wedding and they all give you gifts, but the couple does not give a gift because you are that gift. The gift is given and the gift is received. The gift is not demanded and it is not taken, but it is given and it is received.
So, the spiritual union is the primary union in the marriage. The physical union is merely the expression of it. We look at the Gospel reading today and Jesus tells us that the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love your neighbor. That must be the way that it is for a married couple in a specific manner regarding their marriage. God must be first. He must be the center of your marriage. You need to pray together, you need to develop that spiritual unity because God has united your souls on the day you were married. That must be developed and built.
Then, you must love your neighbor. The neighbor that is closest to you is the one you have made a vow to love. Nobody else have you vowed to love, just this one. That means: "I will never approach you in any way that is selfish." It is never self-seeking. It is never about me. Love seeks the good of the other and that is the way it must be in marriage. If you are going to be able to fulfill these two greatest commandments, as a married couple, you can look very easily to see how that is working in your marriage. Is God first? Is the spiritual union the primary union? In the way you approach one another (not only in the physical relationship, but in everything in the marriage) are you seeking the good of the other? Or are you seeking the good of the self? That is what love of neighbor is all about: putting the other one first, seeking always the good of the other, trying to build up the other one and make that person a saint. That is the goal of marriage.
Imagine how beautiful married life would be for the couple if they really lived what God intended. That is possible for us in Jesus Christ because He has given us the grace to do what God intended for marriage. And that is to love God and to love neighbor…perfectly.
Note: Father Altier does not prepare his homilies in advance, but relies solely upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.