Friday August 17, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Joshua 24:1-13) Gospel (St. Matthew 19:3-12)
When we consider the readings today, Our Lord in the Gospel speaks about marriage. He talks about the sanctity of marriage: the two become one and they are one for the rest of their lives. He gives only one exception, and that is lewd conduct. And it must be made clear that it is something that happens before marriage, not after. In other words, it is not an exception for adultery; it is an entirely different word. He is talking about the fact that if there is something seriously wrong before marriage, which is exactly what the Church maintains to this day, then divorce is permissible because there was never a sacrament that took place when the couple attempted marriage. Other than that, there is no reason for getting a divorce. It has to be something prior to the marriage and something so serious that it would invalidate the marriage. Otherwise, the hardship of all the struggles and all the sufferings that will inevitably arise within the relationship of the couple does not take away a marriage. In fact, what it does is to perfect it. It helps the couple to grow; it helps them to learn perfect love - and the only way we learn that is in the midst of severe suffering, at times. We need to be very clear about that.
At the same time, we can look at the relationship between God and Israel because we need to understand that when it comes to marriage. Israel was considered the "bride" of God. God did all these things for His bride, and still she was often unfaithful; but He remained faithful through the midst of it all. He talks to Israel today through Joshua, and He says, "Look at all the things I did for you and for your fathers: I brought you from the land of Egypt, I brought you through the desert, I brought you into the Promised Land - all these things. You did not have to do much of anything. These different groups fought against you, but I took care of them for you."
Then He looks at each and every married person and He says, "You did not choose your spouse. I chose your spouse for you." This is provided, of course, that you were praying and trying to do God's Will, that you knew what it was you were doing, that you cooperated with God; but God is the One who chose you to be married and who chose your spouse for you. He chose that person because that would be the individual who would be the one most perfectly suited to make you a saint.
And so, that is the way you need to treat the person you are married to: like a saint, and as one whom you are to help become a saint. You have to remember: If that person is most perfectly suited to make you a saint, then you are the one most perfectly suited to make the other person a saint. A part of that, as I already mentioned, is going to be through the suffering that will come. That does not mean to go out of your way to cause suffering for the other person - that is not what you are supposed to do - that will come all by itself, you do not even have to try.
What you need to do is to make sure you are going out of your way to respect the other person, to love the other person, to build up the other person, to try to point out the faults of the other person in charity so that the other person will be able to grow. It is that mutual love and that mutual support, that total giving of self (which I remind you is what you vowed on the day you got married: that you would pour yourself out, give yourself entirely and never be selfish, always looking out for the other person), that is your task in marriage. And it is the task of your spouse toward you.
But God is not going to hold you responsible for what your spouse did. He is going to hold you responsible for how you lived your half of the marriage vows. Even if your spouse does not, you must still live yours. God has made that very clear in the way that He worked with Israel and it is the way that married couples must work with one another: to love one another completely, to learn how to love perfectly. This is a foretaste of Heaven. It is the union of two persons, which symbolizes the union that each one of us is called to in Christ for eternity. That union with Christ for eternity is one of perfect love. That is what a married couple is to do. It is practice for Heaven. It is to learn to love so perfectly that you will symbolize the union of Christ and His Church, and be made saints so that you will love one another and love Christ forever.
Note: Father Altier does not write 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.