Friday August 13, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Ezekiel 16:1-15, 60, 63) Gospel (St. Matthew 19:3-12)
In both of the readings today, we hear about marriage. In the first reading, we hear Our Lord saying to Israel that when He passed by and saw that Israel was now old enough for love He put the corner of His cloak over her to cover her nakedness. That is an Old Testament way of saying, “I have taken you for my own to be married.” When someone would cover a person with their cloak, they would enter that way into a marriage. It was a statement of intent and it was a statement that this is the relationship that is going to be. And so God entered into this marriage covenant with Israel. Remember with all covenants that there are three elements: They are all permanent, faithful, and life giving. So God always is faithful to His covenant. Saint Paul, we recall, in his Second Letter to Timothy says, Even if we are unfaithful, He will still remain faithful because He cannot deny Himself. That is why He is talking to Israel now, saying, Even though you have given yourself over to harlotry, I’m going to forgive your sin; and you will be silent with shame when I forgive your for everything that you have done, because He remains faithful to the promise that He has made even if we do not.
That becomes, then, the foundation for what it is that He is talking about in the Gospel. Our Lord tells us that anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery. The apostles immediately recognized that this could be a pretty difficult thing to do – to get married and actually be that way for life, imagine! So they asked the Lord about that, and He makes very clear exactly what He means. Not only is it for life, but the reason why this can be done now (and He tells us that not everyone can accept this, but those who can ought to do so) is because in Christ we have the ability to live according to the way God created us, that is, He tells us, It was not so in the beginning. And so what Moses allowed for the people was, He says, because of their hardness of heart, because of their sinfulness, because of their brokenness; they were not able to live according to the way God intended for them. But in Christ, with His grace and the redemption that is ours, we can live according to the way God intended from the very beginning. That does not matter whether you are married or single or priest or religious; all of us, because of Baptism, can live according to the way God intended. Not merely according to the vocation which is ours, but in every single aspect of our lives. It is possible for us. Now we are still affected by sin, but in Christ, as we grow in holiness, we can actually live according to the way God desires for us.
The problem is that people do not believe that. We know in our heads that it is theoretically true, but when we try to do it on the practical level we do not see that it is possible because it requires an awful lot of effort on our part. It requires really wanting to live according to the way God created us to live; it means rejecting everything that is contrary to that. And that, by itself, is not easy. The devil is smart enough to provide all kinds of things we really like, and therefore we do not want to get rid of them. He has set things up so that we live in an exceedingly selfish society, which is exactly the opposite of how God created us to live, but it is kind of hard to be unselfish when everybody around you is being selfish. It is easier to be just like everyone else, to fit in. In a dog-eat-dog world, why would you want to be eaten if you can be the one who is going to chomp on the other? That is not what we are called to be. That is not what God created us for. And so while it is easy to fit in, and while we think that we have to protect ourselves and therefore we cannot do what God wants because if we do somebody is going to hurt us, we need to step back and look at it in a very, very serious way and ask ourselves, “If I know that God has set things up in such a way that I can live according to the way He intends, that I can overcome sin, that I can actually live according to the way Adam and Eve were able to live in the Garden, how do I want to live?” That does not mean with original justice and original integrity, we do not have that, but by God’s grace we can live the way He wants us to live. And so look around the world and ask yourself, “Do I want to live like this?” Or go back to the first couple of chapters of Genesis and ask, “Do I want to live like that?”
It is pretty evident, I think, for all of us, which is the better way, but we have to choose it and we have to work at it. It is not going to be an easy task; it is something that is going to take years. But it is something that is within our capacity with God’s help – not by our own doing – but with God’s help we are able to do this. It means living a life of prayer, it means getting rid of whatever in our life leads us away from God and stands between us and Him, and it means making the changes in our lives to be virtuous and to do whatever we need to do to live according to what God intended, whether that is in a relationship of marriage, or whether that is in any other aspect of our lives. That is what Our Lord is laying out for us, that we can live according to the way God intended from the beginning – and that is only through the grace of Christ. So we need to unite ourselves with Him, with His Cross, with the grace that flows from the Cross which is available in the Eucharist, and in so doing we can change the way that we live so we can live according to the way God intended from the beginning.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.