Reading I (Deuteronomy 18:15-20) Reading II (1 Corinthians 7:32-35)
Gospel (St. Mark 1:21-28)
In the second reading today, Saint Paul tells us that what he is most concerned about is that we are wholeheartedly devoted to doing the Lord’s work. That is what we all have to be about. It matters not what our state in life might be; all of us have to be seeking the Will of God. That is what is most important. Saint Paul makes the distinctions for us today between the married life and those who are not married, whether that be the woman who is a virgin, whether that be simply a young woman, even a widow, or whether that be a single male. He says that those people are able to keep themselves focused solely on the Lord, whereas if you are married, there is a division because you have to be concerned about the good of your spouse.
Now we need to put this into context. While it is true on one level that if you are married you will not be able to devote yourself as easily to the life of prayer and to other things of the Lord, at the same time, we have to remember that the vocation to Holy Matrimony is a call from the Lord, and that it is precisely by living out your vocation that you will become saints. It is by doing what you are supposed to do as a married person that you are doing the Lord’s work.
It easy for a single person who wants to be married to get caught up in the wrong things, and it is also easier for a married person to get caught up in the wrong things. Perhaps we can get caught up in materialistic things. Perhaps in the effort to try to please one’s spouse, if we look at it quite honestly, we would realize that the effort to please the spouse is really an effort to please the self, that is, “If I can do this, then my spouse will do something for me or my spouse won’t be angry,” whatever it might be. Really, it is a selfish thing. That is not what a married person is supposed to be about. Married people are supposed to be truly loving one another, seeking only the good of the other person, and therefore striving only to serve the other person, not to be served and not to be self-serving. That is where the risk comes in.
A person who wants to be married runs the risk of forgetting about prayer and running around looking for somebody they want to marry. It does not work very well. They take their focus off the Lord, and they get entirely caught up in themselves. Unfortunately, very often they get caught up in lots of immoral things which lead them directly away from the Lord, while all the time they are claiming that they are striving to do the Lord’s Will. A word of advice for the young people: First, you need to go to prayer and ask the Lord what your vocation is. Do not tell Him what your vocation is because the word vocation means “a call” – it is a call from God to you – therefore, it is not your task to tell God what you are supposed to do; it is your task to ask and to listen. And do not think you are going to get your answer in one or two sittings in prayer. I can tell you from experience that on average it takes two full years of praying every day to discern your vocation. This is not a quick and easy thing.
Number two, if you believe God is calling you to the married life, then begin now to pray for your spouse, not only to pray that God will bring your spouse to you, but pray for that person. After all, that is the person you are going to have to be with for the rest of your life. One look in the mirror will remind you why you need to pray for that person – they will be with you for the rest of their life. Therefore, they need all the help they can get. So you need to make sure you are praying for that person.
Now the other point that is so critically important: Ask God to bring the two of you together. Do not run around going out to bars looking to see if you can find somebody to marry. That is the most foolish thing you could possibly do. Get down on your knees and ask the Lord to put the two of you together. If we truly believe that marriage is a vocation, then if God is calling you to be married, He is calling you to be married to a particular individual. And God is also calling that other individual to be married to you. God is big enough to handle putting the two of you together. He will do it only when the time is right. You might look at yourself and say, “I want to get married now.” God might look at it and say, “You know what? You’re not ready,” or perhaps, “The other person I have chosen for you is not yet ready.” Therefore, in His mercy and in His charity, He is not going to put the two of you together yet because it is not time. So just wait and pray. If He is calling you to get married, He will take care of it. He will do what is necessary when the time is right, and not one minute before. You might think when you are 18 or 20 that it is time, and God might say, “It will be time when you’re 35.” Then at 35 He will put you together with the person you are supposed to marry. If you and the other person are ready when you are 18 or 20, then that is when He is going to put you together. You do not need to worry about it. All you need to worry about is doing the Will of God, seeking His Will for your life.
Then once you are married, you need to continue to seek the Will of God for your life. You need to go to prayer and ask yourself, “How can I love this person more? How can I love this person better? How can I serve this individual more perfectly?” Do not be worried about yourself, because that is not what marriage is about. Marriage is about two people seeking to serve one another. It is not about “How can I get something out of this?” And for heaven’s sake, it is not about whining about your spouse. That is not what you are supposed to do. You are supposed to help your spouse to become a saint. If there are problems with your spouse, point that out in charity and then help your spouse to be able to grow in virtue. Encourage them, give them ideas about how they can do something better. Do not complain about them. Do not get together with the coffee klatch and rip your spouse to shreds. What good is that going to do anybody? It is not good for you, it is not good for your spouse, and it is certainly not good for the people who just heard you rip your spouse to pieces because now they think your spouse is a one-eyed ogre who is just the most horrible person on the face of the earth. That is not what anybody needs, and that is not an act of love for your spouse. When there is a problem, turn to the Lord, not to complain and whine, but to ask for insight into how you can deal with this problem better, how to handle this situation, how to love this person in the midst of these difficulties you are experiencing. These are the things we have to be about.
Regardless of our vocation, the principle is the same: We have to seek the Will of God no matter what the circumstances of our lives. Why? Well, we see it right in the first reading. Because the people themselves have asked not to ever hear God’s voice again, God says to Moses, I will raise up for the people a prophet like yourself. That prophet is going to speak the Word of God, and the people are to obey everything the prophet says. That is the reason why in the fourth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel, the Samaritan woman at the well looks at Jesus and says, “Are you the prophet?” Then she goes into town and says, “I’ve found the prophet!” That is what she is talking about. Remember that the Samaritans rejected the entire Old Testament except for the Pentateuch, the first five books. And so they were waiting for the prophet Moses had promised. The Samaritan woman recognized in the person of Jesus that that is Who He was. All these years they had been waiting, and now He had arrived.
It is interesting for the Jewish people, that for the fifteen hundred or so years which followed after the time of Moses until the time of Jesus, nobody was raised up to be that prophet. In the two thousand years since Jesus, nobody has claimed that title of prophet. There is only one person who can say that he is the prophet God raised up, and that is Our Lord. We see that also in the Gospel reading. We see Jesus going into the synagogue and casting out this demon, and the people recognize there is something different about the way He is. The scribes and the Pharisees, who were charged with teaching the faith to the people, did so but without much authority. With Jesus, on the other hand, they recognize there is something entirely different, a new teaching with authority.
It is precisely because of that authority, which is the authority of God Himself, that we need to seek His voice and we need to be obedient, because God makes very clear when He speaks through Moses that the prophet is to speak only the Word of God; and if there is anything that prophet speaks which is not the Word of God, then he will be condemned. But Jesus is God, and therefore every single word He speaks literally and truly is the Word of God. So when we read in Scripture what He says, and when in prayer the insight becomes clear that we know what His Will is for us, then we need to be obedient because we can know that that is the Word of God. We are told by Moses that we have to be obedient to that prophet, and we hear from the people in Capernaum that He spoke with authority, and not like the scribes.
Now the question is: Are we willing to do that? The demons were obedient to Him, but unfortunately we who claim to believe in Him oftentimes are not. We, number one, try to take matters into our own hands rather than seeking His Will. Number two, we know what His commandments are and we refuse to do them. You want to go back to that question where we started with marriage? What is the one commandment that Jesus Himself gave us? To love. To love your neighbor. To lay down your life for your friend. That is what He commanded us. It is true for every last one of us, but in a particular way it has to apply to married persons because you have made a vow to love one person, not to complain about them, not to rip them to shreds, not to treat them like trash, but to love them. As I often point out at marriages, this will at times (as all of you who are married know) be the most difficult person in the world to love. Sometimes they will be the easiest person in the world to love; sometimes they will be the most difficult person on the face of the earth to love. That is why you do not make a vow to love everybody else. They go home; you do not have to deal with them. But there is one other person who is at home, and you have to deal with that person every day. That is the person you are called to love, while being required, of course, to love everyone else in the proper sense. There is this one person who is your means to holiness, who is your means to become a saint.
And so whether you are married or single, it matters not. Your whole focus must be on doing the Will of God. That is what Saint Paul is calling us to. It is more difficult for a married person to do that because it is easy to be divided. But if a married person recognizes the vocation to which they have been called and seeks to do the Will of God in the midst of that vocation, then there is no division at all because everything you are to do in that marriage is the Will of God for you. Your spouse does not take you away from God, unless you allow that to happen. You are to build one another up. You are to pray together. You are to help one another to become saints. For everyone here who is married, you really need to look at that and ask yourself, “Am I living the vow I made? Am I truly loving this person the way Jesus loves me? Am I praying with this person? Am I helping this person to grow in virtue?” Not by being so miserable that they can only grow in virtue by having to live with you, but rather by helping them in charity to be able to grow in virtue. That is what a married couple is supposed to be about. Your marriage is a spiritual union, first and foremost. What are you doing to build up that spiritual union?
If you go to a marriage counselor today, they will tell you all about how important it is to work on communication. They will talk about the relationship. They will talk about the physical aspect of marriage. All of those things are important, but they all build on the spiritual foundation, which marriage counselors completely ignore. You cannot have a truly good marriage if it is not spiritually based. So you need to pray, not only alone, but together as a couple and with your kids. You need to make sure you are helping one another, building one another up, not tearing one another down. That is what married life is supposed to be about.
If you are doing that, then you are truly living according to the way of God; you do not have a divided heart then. But if we claim to believe in Christ and we claim we are going to be obedient to Him, then we go off and do our own thing and refuse to live the way that He chooses for us to live, we do have a divided heart. We have to make that choice of how we are going to do things, and we need to recognize Who it is we are listening to: the prophet God raised up like Moses to tell the people His Will, and when He speaks, He speaks with authority. He speaks the Word of God. He speaks with such authority that even the demons obey Him immediately. Now the question is: What about us? Are we willing to obey Him? Are we willing to seek His Will? Are we willing to listen to His voice and follow Him? Are we willing to recognize that in Him we have an entirely new teaching with authority? In that obedience which we choose to give to Him, are we willing to follow Him with an undivided heart to be completely obedient to Him, seeking His Will in all things and striving in our daily lives to carry it out as perfectly as we are able?
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.