Reading (James 5:9-12) Gospel (St. Mark 10:1-12)
In the Gospel reading today, we have one of the readings that would be the most difficult for many people in our modern day, just as it was difficult for the people two thousand years ago. Remember a similar reading from Matthew’s Gospel where the apostles said to the Lord, “If this is the case between a man and his wife, it is better that a man doesn’t get married at all!” The fact of the matter is that when you get married there is a vow that is made for life. It is a vow. A vow is something that is binding under the pain of sin; therefore, there is no getting out of it, which is partially the reason why you need to be so completely sure of what you are doing when you get into it, to make sure that this is the person you intend to spend your entire life with, because it is not going to be easy. But listen again to what Job says: Indeed, we call blessed those who have persevered – those who have persevered through difficulties. There is not a marriage that does not have its problems because you have two human beings who are imperfect living with one another. Then throw in the fact that they are from the opposite sex, and put them in the house together; it is not going to be easy. But this is how married couples will become saints.
Unfortunately in America, we like to run away from trouble. We do not like to deal with it; we like to avoid it. If there is any kind of suffering, we can take a pill or we can do this, that, or whatever it might be. With regard to marriage, if you go to most people who call themselves marriage counselors today (the vast majority of whom are themselves divorced, and the first thing they are going to do is counsel you to get divorced), what is going to happen is that they will tell you, “Well, if you’re not happy, you need to get out of this marriage and find somebody who will make you happy.” That is not the purpose of marriage. But we see in our selfish society that it is all about me: “If I don’t feel happy today, then I guess I can get out of this.” That is not an option.
There are many situations where people have persevered through difficult things in marriage, and by persevering through the pain and the difficulties what has happened is that they have truly learned to love the other person. When many people get married, they are certainly in love, but they do not truly love the other person in the fullness of who that person is because they do not really know who that person is yet. After being married to them for a while, you know them through and through. Then the question is: Are you going to do what you have vowed to do? To love that person just for who that person is, not for what you get out of it, not for your part in it, but just because you have made a vow to love that person for the sake of that person? Are you willing to do it? It should not even be a willing – “Am I willing?” – because you have already vowed to do it. You have already told God that you are willing to do that, and now it is a matter of putting it into practice. This is not an easy thing. But God never said it was going to be easy because God has called people to be married in order to become saints and in order to raise up new saints, and to be a saint is not an easy thing. God wants married couples to be saints. Therefore, there are going to be things that a married couple will have to work through.
Now there are certain circumstances that we have to take into account. If there is somebody who is abusing a person physically or sexually, or violating the children, things like that, there are certainly cases where it is legitimate to get out of a bad situation. But there are many situations today which really are not all that bad that people are abandoning. That is where the problem is coming in. In our false sense of compassion, what happens is we keep telling people, “It’s okay. If it’s okay for you, then it must have been okay.” That is not necessarily true. We have to stand up for the truth, even though sometimes it is not easy, and we have to persevere through the hard times. That is what is going to help us grow in virtue, and that is what will help make us into saints.
And that will be in any vocation. Whether you are called to consecrated life, the priesthood, single life, it does not matter; there is going to be suffering in any vocation. The suffering, of course, is of a different type in each vocation, but that does not matter because the suffering is designed to go with the particular vocation and to help the individual in the vocation to become holy. It is not just that marriage is about suffering, because there are certainly many wonderful things that happen in the course of a marriage also. That is what needs to be kept in mind, and in the midst of the hard times, to remember the good and to pray specifically for this other person to whom you are married so that you can love that person even in the midst of all the things that person may be doing that you find irritating. That requires a saint, and that is what God wants. He wants you to become a saint.
So it is not a matter of looking at what anybody else has. You cannot even compare your marriage to somebody else’s. All you can do is try to learn so that your marriage might improve and be better, but it is a matter of dealing with your own individual circumstances with the Lord. And how is this done? The same way as everything else: prayer. You need to pray. You need to pray alone, you need to pray together as a couple, and you need to pray together as a family. Remember that marriage is first and foremost a spiritual union, and if you are not doing anything to develop the spiritual union, what is going to happen to the rest of it? It is being built on an almost nonexistent foundation because the foundation is not being augmented at all and you are trying to build up everything else. You need to keep the foundation growing so that everything else will grow too. So turn to the Lord. If He is the One Who has called you to this state in life and He is the One Who has called you to be married to this individual, then He also is going to provide every single grace that you need to be able to live out that married state and to live it out well. Through living that out, you will become a saint.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.