Fidelity to the Vow of Holy Matrimony
Friday May 20, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Sirach 6:5-17) Gospel (St. Mark 10:1-12)
This teaching of Our Lord in the Gospel reading today regarding the question of divorce was one that His apostles found to be very difficult. In Saint Matthew’s Gospel, they actually asked the Lord, “Who can do this? It would be more prudent not to get married if this is the case.” But Our Lord makes very clear that marriage is a gift from God. It is a vocation and it is not something that can be taken lightly. But, once again, in America this has become a very hard saying for people because in America Catholics have a higher divorce rate than pagans in pagan countries. Let me say that again: In America, Catholics have a higher divorce rate than pagan countries. That is how bad things have gotten in America, and it is how bad things have gotten even among those who call themselves Catholic.
There are certainly many who did not want to be divorced, and have been abandoned. But there are also many who enter into marriage these days not having quite a concept of what marriage is really all about. They enter in these days with the idea: “If things don’t go the way I want them to, I’ll just get out. It’s not a big deal. I’ll just find someone else.” They have no concept of what the sacrament is all about.
The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony is so beautiful and it is the way of saints, but it is a vocation. We have this idea: “If one is married, everything should just be happy all the time and I should get whatever I want.” Well, it is not about “getting what I want.” It is about giving; it is two people giving to one another and two people receiving from one another. But in America it has become two selfish people taking from one another. No one likes to be used because it is a violation of their dignity, and when people know they are being used they want out. The goal of Holy Matrimony is to make the people in the marriage saints, and we do not become saints by using one another.
We become saints by loving one another, which, of course, is exactly what is vowed on the day of marriage. A vow is something which is sacred, under the pain of sin if one fails to live according to the vow. Just as the religious make vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, even entertaining thoughts against those vows are sins (not necessarily mortal, but they are sinful if one violates the vow willingly). So too in marriage, it is a vow to God and a vow to one another. To fail in those vows is a sin. That is not what people like to hear these days because we think we should be able to do whatever we want and it is not going to matter. You are doing exactly what you wanted because it is a vow that you made. That is a choice that was made; and it was an absolute, one hundred percent decision and commitment. Therefore, it cannot be rescinded because it was made with free will and with knowledge. So you did not make a vow to love one another for a few weeks or a few years or for a trial period “to see if we like it.” There is a vow that is made to love one another unconditionally every single day – every single moment of every single day – for the rest of your lives. Again, that does not mean to have gushy feelings about one another every day. That is not what love is. Love is a virtue. It is giving, it is seeking always the good of the other, and so it is to serve one another.
Even if you have been abandoned, if you have been divorced, you still must remain faithful to the vows you have made, to continue to live according to the married state. That means there cannot be any dating if you are still married. If there is an annulment, that is a statement that there was never a sacrament, at which point the Church is saying that you are actually still free to be married because your soul was not joined to the soul of the other person. But without that, you are still married even if your spouse has abandoned you, and you must continue to live in fidelity to those marital vows. So if there is something that would violate your marriage if you were still living with that person, then it violates the marriage even if you are not living with that person. Remember that you have made the vow to God. Your vow is not dependent upon what the other person does. The other person will be held responsible for his or her vow; you will be responsible for yours. When you stand before God, even if you have been abandoned, even if the other person has not been faithful to his or her vows, God is going to look at you and say, “But what did you vow? And how did you live the vow that you made?”
This is why, when we look at the first reading and we hear from Sirach how careful we need to be, that one in a thousand would even be a confidante, how much more important is it that we find the right person to marry? If you have children who are pondering what their vocation is, make sure, number one, that they pray and ask God what their vocation is. Do not just assume they already know what it is. Number one, you have to ask; and, number two, if the vocation is to be married then tell them to ask God to bring the person to them, to bring them to the person they are to marry, and tell them to wait. There is no absolute rush to get married. There is no particular age by which a person must be married. If God is calling a person to the married state, God will provide the other person. He is not going to call you to marriage and then say, “Now just go out and see if you can round somebody up to get married.” No, if it is a vocation from God, it is holy and He will provide the other person if we will just trust – not only the right person, but the right time. If that means at 18 or 20, so be it. If it means at 35 or 40, so be it. When God’s time is fulfilled, then and only then is it perfect. Then the person will be there who will fulfill you, and the person will be there who is going to help to make you a saint.
In the meantime, if you are married, that person is there to make you a saint (as you already know). That could be by trials and difficulties; it could be by the charity that you show to one another. Regardless, the vows that have been made must be lived. God, from the beginning, created us male and female, and in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony He unites the two so that the fullness of humanity is there to help one another to grow in holiness, to learn how to love perfectly, and to prepare you for eternal life, where what begins in marriage will find its fulfillment, that is, there is a unity of all the members of the Mystical Body with one another and with Christ. In that union, there is perfect love, exactly what is expected in marriage today.
That is not an easy thing. It was not easy two thousand years ago; it is not easy today. But the grace is there if we will call upon it, and, by living it out, you will become saints.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.