Friday August 26, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8) Gospel (St. Matthew 25:1-13)
In the readings today, we see once again the great dignity of the sacrament of holy matrimony and the state of life for those who are called to the married state. Saint Paul says, This is the will of God for you, your holiness. Now we might stop and look at that and some might say, “But he’s not necessarily talking to married people.” Listen to the next line: …that each of you refrain from immorality, that each of you know how to acquire a wife for himself. He is talking specifically to married people, or to those who are preparing for married life. This is the will of God for you, your holiness. God wants you to be a saint. For all too long, people have said, “Oh, well, you know, that’s for the priests and the nuns. That’s for the ones in the monasteries. That’s not for me.” That is just pure nonsense and it is straight from Satan. God wants you as a married person to be a saint.
And so he tells us exactly what that means, that you have to acquire a spouse in holiness and in honor, not in lust. This is so important in our society where lust reigns supreme. All you need to do is drive down the street and you see billboard after billboard and woman after woman that is just half-naked or worse. We are completely ruled by lust. The number of pornographic websites that are out there is in the millions, and the number of people that are looking at that filth is going up and up everyday. Among men, it is now considered that over forty percent of all males in this society are addicted to pornography – not just that they have looked at that filth, but they are addicted to it – over forty percent. This is pure lust. It says, “A woman is an object for my own pleasure.” We have to remember this is a very simple principle: If the woman who is in that picture (or the woman walking down the street or whatever it might be) is an object then so is your wife and so is your daughter. Do any of us want to suggest that? Tragically, there are many in this society who are living that way.
But God is calling married people to holiness. Since marriage has been so denigrated in our society, it is now more than ever that married people must rise to this task, to truly live a holy life, to be able to show everyone else who is not living their married life the way that they should what it is all about. It is about two people serving one another. It is about two people giving themselves to one another. And it is about two people receiving the gift of the other. That is what marriage is about. It is not two people taking from one another or using one another. Saint Paul makes that entirely clear when he says, If you disregard this, you disregard not the teaching of a human being but of God Himself. Then he goes on to tell us that this is what we are going to be judged on. So this is critical for married people. We must understand the dignity of it.
Then you look in the Gospel and people say, “Well, that’s about the virgins.” What is the context? The context is a marriage and it is the marriage feast. So what is married life, but preparation for eternal life? It is the union of two souls who are called to help one another to become saints so that you will be able to enter into something which is foreshadowed by your sacrament, by the dignity of the call that God has given to you, because heaven is going to be a marriage feast where our souls are the bride and Jesus Himself is the Bridegroom. We are called in this life to learn how to love and to perfect that love so we will be prepared to enter into heaven. In a very special way, a married couple has been given the dignity to be able to show us what heaven is going to be like, to prefigure that.
Now if you look at your own marriage and say, “I hope this isn’t what heaven is like,” then you have got some work to do. It means that you are not loving enough. Do not point at your spouse and say, “Oh, this jerk isn’t loving me the way that he or she ought to.” No, that is not the way it works. You did not make a vow to say, “I will love you only if…” You made an unconditional vow to love regardless of what the other person does. That is what heaven is about: unconditional love. So if you have a spouse who is not treating you the way that he or she ought then you have an opportunity to love even more. That person is giving you an opportunity to become a saint the hard way – you have to be a saint just to tolerate them. That is what God is giving you an opportunity to do. But it is not merely going through the motions and tolerating the other person; it is to truly love the other person in the midst of all the problems and difficulties. Regardless of the circumstances, you are to love. That is what you have vowed.
And so we see this great dignity that God has given and very specifically the call that He has given to each and every one of us: holiness, pure and simple. That is what Saint Paul is calling not only the priests and the religious to, but in a very specific way the married couples. And the married couples stand as a sign to those of us who are celibate of what heaven is going to be. We stand, as celibates, as a sign to the married couples that heaven is even greater than the beauty of married life, that heaven is even greater than family life. But the married couples stand as a sign to us of the beauty of the union of the soul with Jesus Christ, the beauty that we are called to in the unity of the Mystical Body, that we are all the family of God. This is why it is so incumbent not only that the celibates live their life in holiness, but that the married couples live their lives in holiness and that their families be holy. That is the dignity God has given to each and every married couple, to be able to be a prefiguration, a sign of eternal life, and to prepare all of us for the marriage banquet of the Lamb where our souls will be united to Jesus Christ forever.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.