The Marital Embrace Must be an Act of True Love
Thursday June 2, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Ninth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Tobit 6:10-11; 7:1bcde, 9-17; 8:4-9a)
Gospel (St. Mark 12:28-34)
In the first reading today, we hear this story about Tobiah and Sarah being married. And as Sarah’s father, Raguel, pointed out, he had given his daughter seven times to men in marriage but they had never made it as far as the marriage bed. The reason for that was a curse that had been put upon Sarah. She was bothered by this demon by the name of Asmodeus, and the curse was that if anyone approached her with lust (because she was a very, very pretty girl) they would die. So the question then is how this curse is going to be broken.
The story goes on, and Raguel is actually out digging another grave when they wake up in the morning because he assumed that there was going to be another dead young man, just as there had been seven times already. But there is a great lesson for every married person here, and that is to be able to see exactly how this curse was broken. They got up from bed, he did not approach her with any kind of lust or impurity or selfishness, rather they knelt down and they prayed. It was this, which they did for three nights in a row, that broke the curse. And it is something that teaches us what married love has to be about.
So many times, people get married for a selfish reason, whatever it might be. The worst of all of them is when somebody is looking for a trophy, because then the other person is nothing but an object. That is not what a person is. We are made to love and we are made to be loved. To approach somebody with lust, to approach somebody as an object is a violation of that person’s dignity, as well, of course, as your own. It is to be two people who truly love one another. The marital embrace, then, is to be an act of love. It is not two people using one another for selfish pleasure. It is two people giving to one another and two people receiving from one another, which is entirely different from two people taking from one another. Externally, it might look the same; internally, it is a 180° difference. It is an act of love, giving and receiving, but not taking. It is not selfish. That is where the difference comes. If it is selfish, it is not an act of love. That was precisely why these young men died. They approached Sarah out of selfishness, out of lust, and that is not the way it is to be in marriage. It is to be two persons seeking the good of one another, not looking out for their own self. And that is exactly what is vowed in marriage.
It is also what we see in the reading today in the Gospel. The two greatest commandments are love God and love your neighbor. What did Tobiah and Sarah do? They turned immediately to God, and out of love for one another they were able to break this curse. So we see exactly the way it is to be in marriage. God has to be first, your spouse is second, and you are at the bottom rung of the ladder in your own estimation. Your spouse has to look at it the same way from his or her perspective, that God is first and spouse is second. That is not the way we learn in America.
And I should point out that any attempt to contracept is a complete violation of the marriage vows, it is a complete violation of the dignity of your spouse, and it is a complete violation of the gift of human sexuality that God has given to each one of us; therefore, it is never – never, ever – and cannot be an act of love. To contracept is to use another person and to completely violate that person, and it violates the vows that you made on the day you got married. That holds true not only for any external form of contraception, but also for sterilization in any form. It is to be an act of love. Marriage is a covenant of love, and the expression of the marriage is to be an act of love.
These things are of absolutely critical importance. Just look at what is happening to marriage with a nearly 60% divorce rate in this country. The reason is very simple: selfishness. And, ultimately, underneath that selfishness is the expression of selfishness – and that is contraception. It is the number one factor in the divorce rate in this country and throughout the world. So we need to look very seriously at this vocation that God has given to the vast majority of people, to recognize that this is the way you will become saints or fail to become saints. If it is to love God first, it is to obey His commandments. The very first commandment God gave to humanity is to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it – not have two kids and get fixed. Nowhere are you going to find that in the Bible, but in fact the Bible says that we are blessed when we have many children, not just one or two and then cut it off.
We need to make sure that we are loving God first and being obedient to Him. And flowing from that love for God is the love that you have for your spouse, not only the love that you have in your heart but the love that is going to be expressed in and through the body. It must be proper. It must be true love. It must be seeking only the good of the other person and not any kind of selfish pleasure. In that way, when it is two people who are truly loving each other, then the marriage is going to build one another up, it is going to be extraordinarily beautiful, the two of you will become saints, and in this life your love will be perfected so that it will be able to have that perfect unity that will be all of ours in eternity.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.