Sunday Sermon for January 17, the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B

Readings: 1 Sam 3:3b-10, 19; 1 Cor 6:13c-15a, 17-20; Jn 1:35-42

In the first reading today we hear the story of the call of the Prophet Samuel.  God calls Samuel three times as the boy was sleeping in the Temple.  Thinking it was the priest, Eli, who had called him, Samuel ran to Eli to serve his master.  After the second time, Eli realized it was the Lord speaking to the boy and instructed him, if Samuel heard the voice again, to respond: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”  Samuel responded generously to God’s call and the Lord was able to work with him and through him as a prophet to the people.

In the Gospel reading we hear about the call of St. Peter.  Andrew and John had been following St. John the Baptist, but when the Baptist pointed out Jesus, these two left the Baptist to follow the Lord.  It is Andrew who goes to his brother Simon to bring him to the Lord, telling Simon: “We have found the Messiah.”  It is only when Simon comes to meet Jesus that our Lord calls him and changes his name to Peter. 

God is still calling people to His service.  Many people think about priests and nuns when this is mentioned, but God has a call for every person.  The vast majority of people are called to the married state while others are called to a consecrated form of life: Consecrated Life (religious life–active or contemplative, secular institutes, societies of apostolic life, consecrated hermits, consecrated virginity), permanent diaconate, or priesthood.  Regardless of one’s vocation, the overarching call given to each and every person is the call to be a Saint.

Most of us are not called to the vocation to which Samuel or Peter were called.  If there is something more on the extraordinary level the Lord wants for us, His call will be more clear.  Since most of us are not called to be the Pope or a Prophet, the call is normally not so dramatic.  This does not imply that the vocation is not important, but one thing I have learned over the years is that the more clear God makes the call, the more the person is going to suffer.  So, if your call was not very dramatic, praise the Lord!

I personally think the most difficult vocation in the Church today is the call to married life.  Marriage is the vocation to which the majority of people are called, but it is still a challenging call and a call to true holiness.  Married life has always been a beautiful way of life; it has also always been difficult.  However, in our day, the attacks against marriage and family are manifold making it far more difficult to live it as God intends.

St. Paul speaks of just one aspect of human life, and especially married life, in the second reading today.  This has to do with sexual purity.  We need to be clear on a couple points.  First, every person must follow the sixth and ninth commandments.  Second, any sexual activity outside of marriage is a mortal sin.  Given our present circumstances, we also need to add that marriage is a sacramental union of one man and one woman, so the sexual activity of persons who are divorced and remarried without an annulment, or persons of the same sex who claim to be “married” are violations of God’s commandments and they are mortal sins.

However, many people seem to have the mistaken notion that once they are married, anything is permissible sexually.  This is simply not true.  St. Paul tells us “the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body.”  It is necessary for married couples to learn what is proper and acceptable in marriage so they do not use one another or fall into the trap of making sexuality selfish, seeking pleasure selfishly rather than seeking to give pleasure to the other.

The easiest explanation is to say simply that sexuality within marriage is intended to express physically the spiritual union of the couple.  The spiritual union is forged by a vow to love, and to love another person is to seek only the best for that person.  To use someone is an act of selfishness and is always a sin, even within the context of marriage.  This means there are many ways to commit mortal sin within a marriage.  Contraception, onanism (withdrawal), pornography, self-abuse, and any other act that frustrates the self-giving nature of the sexual faculties violate the other person and the vows of marriage.  St. Paul says: “the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit” and “glorify God in your body.”  This is true for everyone, but especially those called to be saints in the vocation of Holy Matrimony.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit