Marriage

Today’s readings feature two “hard sayings,” one on the Eucharist, the other on marriage. One is hard because it defies our sensibilities, the other is hard because it is out of season and politically incorrect.

The first hard saying is Jesus’ insistence that the Eucharist is actually his Body and Blood and that we must eat his true Flesh and drink his true Blood as our true food, as our necessary manna to sustain us in our journey through the desert of this life to the Promised Land of Heaven.  We have examined this teaching extensively in previous weeks and it is clear that the Lord is not speaking in a mere figurative or symbolic way. It is also clear that his listeners understand him to be speaking in a literal way so as to be insisting that they eat his flesh, really truly, and substantially. Their severe reaction to Jesus is understandable only to the extent that they interpret Jesus to be speaking literally as opposed to figuratively. They scoff and murmur but Jesus only doubles down and insists that if they do not gnaw on his flesh and devour his blood they have no life in them (cf Jn 6:53-54).

This leads to today’s scoff: This saying is hard; who can accept it? The Greek word translated here as “hard” is Σκληρός (skleros) and does not mean hard in the sense of being difficult to understand. Rather it means, hard in the sense of being violent, harsh, or stern. It describes a position or person who is stubborn, and unyielding, It describes someone who “won’t budge” (bend, or submit), or what is unyieldingly harsh.

Despite every protest, Jesus will not back down for a moment, will not qualify what he has said, or in any way seek to minimize its impact. So essential is the food of His Flesh and Blood that he will not even hint that there is some way out of this “hard saying.”

The upshot is: many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Knowing this and seeing it, Jesus remains clear on his teaching and calls the question for you and me: “Do you also want to leave?” How will you answer him?

The Eucharist remains a “hard saying” because it goes against our senses. Of the five senses, four are utterly deceived, for the Eucharistic elements still look, taste, smell and feel like bread and wine. Only the hearing is safely believed: “This is my Body,…This is my Blood.”  Yes, it is hard. Will you leave? Or perhaps in a more mitigated way, will your faith in this be tepid, the kind that is un-devoted, drifting from regular reception? Where do you stand on this hard saying?

How consoled the Lord must have been at Peter’s words: Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God. And how joyful he must be at your “Amen” each Sunday as you are summoned to faith: “The Body of Christ.” Yes, you stand with Christ.

Sadly others leave. Only 27% of Catholics go to Mass. Further, many other Christians reject the dogma of the True Presence in the Holy Eucharist even though Jesus paid so dearly to proclaim it to us.

A Hard saying? Yes! but “Amen anyhow!” I stand with Jesus!

*******************

Hard saying number two is “hard ” for a different reason: it is (way) out of season and politically incorrect for its insistence not only on headship in marriage but male headship. The Holy Spirit and the Apostles apparently never got the memo which says this teaching is a “no-go” for a modern and “enlightened” age. Indeed the line “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord” is like a stick in the eye to most moderns. Talk about a hard saying.

There are cultural and worldly notions that underlie the rejection by many Catholics and Christians of the biblical teaching on the headship of the husband. Indeed, such a concept is unpopular in our culture which usually gets pretty worked up over questions of authority in general. But that is because the worldly notion of authority usually equates authority only with power, dignity, rights and being somehow “better.”

But these are not biblical premises about authority. Consider what Jesus says about authority:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority and make their importance felt. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk 10:41-45)

Jesus thus sets aside the worldly notion of authority wherein those in authority wield their power by “lording it over” using fear, and the trappings of power. But in the Christian setting there is authority (there has to be), but it exists for service.

Consider a teacher in a classroom. She has authority. She has to in order to unify and keep order. But she has that authority in order to serve the children, not to berate them and revel in power over over them. The same is true for a police officer who has his authority not for his own sake, but for ours so he can protect us and preserve order.

Further, having authority in a Christian setting does not make one better, for authority is always exercised among equals. Our greatest dignity is to be a child of God, and none of us are more or less so because we hold any position of authority.

But, truth be told, worldly notions of authority affect Christians and many harbor resentments to authority because they think of it in worldly ways. Further, many who have authority (and most of us have some authority) can also fall prey to worldly notions of authority and abuse their leadership role.

The key to understanding the authority of a husband and father in the home is set aside worldly notions of authority and see the teaching in the light of the Christian understanding of authority as existing for love and service, to unite and preserve.

With that in mind let us turn to the “unpopular” and politically incorrect notion of wives being submissive to their husbands.The teaching is found in a number of places in the New Testament: Ephesians 5:22ff (today’s text); Col 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1. In all places the wording is quite similar that wives are to be submissive, that is under the authority, of their husbands. In each case however, the teaching is balanced by an exhortation that the husband is to love and be considerate of his wife.

The most well known of the texts is today’s text from Ephesians 5, wherein the infamous as we have noted is: Wives should be subordinate to their Husbands as to the Lord. For the Husband is the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is the Head of the Church…so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything; (Eph 5:20-21, 23)

Alright, so maybe it grates on modern ears today but don’t just dismiss what God teaches here. One of the great dangers of this passage is that it is so startling to modern ears, that many people tune out after the first line into their own thoughts and reactions, and thus miss the rest of what God has to say. It will be noticed that there is text that follows, and before a man gloats at the first line, or a women reacts with anger or sadness, we do well to pay attention to the rest of the text, which spells out the duties of a husband.

You see if you’re going to be the head of a household there are certain requirements that have to be met. God’s not playing around here or choosing sides. He has a comprehensive plan for husbands that is demanding and requires him to curb any notions that authority is about power and to remember that, for a Christian, authority is always given so that the one who has it may serve. And before we look at submission we might do well to look at the duties of the husband.

So what are the requirements for a husband?

1. Husbands, love your wives- Pay attention men, don’t just tolerate your wife, don’t just bring home money, don’t just love in some intellectual sort of way. LOVE your wife with all your heart. Beg God for the grace to love your wife tenderly, powerfully and unconditionally. Did you hear what God says? LOVE your wife! Now he goes on to tell you to love her in three ways: passionately, purifyingly and providingly.

2. Passionate love – The text says a man is to love his wife: even as Christ loved the Church and handed himself over for her. The Greek word, παραδίδωμι (paradidomi), translated here as, “handed over,” always refers in the New Testament to Jesus’ crucifixion. Husbands, are you willing to give your life for your wife and children? Are you willing to die to yourself and give your life as a daily sacrifice for them? God instructs you to love your wife (and children) with the same kind of love he has for his Bride the Church. That kind of love is summed up in the cross. Love your wife passionately, be willing to suffer for her, be willing to make sacrifices for her and the children.

3. Purifying love - The text says of Christ, and the husband who is to imitate him, that Christ wills to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Now a husband cannot sanctify his wife in the same way God can. But what a husband is called to do is to help his wife and children grow in their relationship to Jesus Christ. He is first to be under God’s authority himself, and thus make it easier for his wife and children to live out their baptismal commitments. He ought to be a spiritual leader in his home, praying with his wife and children, reading scripture and seeing to it that his home is a place where God is loved and obeyed, first of all by him. His wife should not have to drag him to Church, he should willingly help her to grow in holiness, and pray with her every day. And he should become more holy as well and thus make it easier for his wife to live the Christian life. He should be the first teacher of his children, along with his wife in the ways of faith.

Too many American homes do not feature a man being the spiritual leader of his house. If any one is raising up the kids in the Lord it is usually the wife. But Scripture has in mind that the husband and father should be a spiritual leader to his wife and children. Scripture says, Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4). Fathers and husbands need to step up here and not leave all the burden to his wife.

4. Providing loveSo also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it - Husbands, take care of your wife in her needs. She needs more than food money and shelter, these days she can get a lot of that for herself. What she needs even more is your love, understanding, and appreciation. She needs for you to be a good listener and wants an attentive husband who is present to her. Like any human being she needs reassurance and affirmation. Tell her of your love and appreciation, don’t just presume she knows. Show care for your wife, attend to her needs just like you instinctively do for your own self. Encourage her with the kids. Confirm her authority over the kids and teach them to respect their mother. Show her providing love also by taking up your role and duties as a father who is involved with his kids. That’s what God is teaching here.

OK, so scripture DOES teach that a wife should be submitted to her husband. But what kind of husband does scripture have in mind? A husband who really loves his wife, who is a servant leader, who is makes sacrifices for his wife, who is prayerful and spiritual, submitted to God’s authority and who cares deeply for his wife and her needs. The same God who teaches submission (and he does) also teaches these things clearly for the husband. The teaching must be taken as a whole. But all that said, there IS a teaching on wives being submitted to their husbands (properly understood).

And there is just no way around it, no matter how much the modern age wants to insist there doesn’t need to be headship, there does. Every organization needs a head. Consider your own body first. With two heads you’re a freak, with no head you are dead. The members of your body need a head to unify the parts, otherwise there is disunity, death and decay. Every organization needs headship, a final decider, to whom all look when consensus on significant issues cannot otherwise be reached. The Protestants have tried to have a “church” without a head, without a Pope, and behold the division. Even this Country, which we like to call a democracy, is not actually a pure democracy. There are legislators, judges, law enforcers and many other people and mechanisms who exercise local, federal and final headship and authority.

Thus in a family, where consensus and compromise may often win the day, nevertheless needs a head, a final decider, to whom all look and all submit, to resolve conflicts that cannot be resolved otherwise. Scripture assigns this task to the husband and father. Headship just has to be. But please remember to shed your worldly notions of headship when considering the teaching of Scripture and remember, headship, authority, is for love and service, it is for unity and preservation, not for power, prestige, trappings and superiority.

For more on this consider listening to my sermon Teaching on Marriage in mp3 format. But beware, It is 35 minutes! Consider downloading it if you can’t listen just now. You can download this and other sermons of mine by going here: http://frpope.com/audio/recordings.php and then right clicking on the title of any talk and selecting the “Save Target As” option. You can also get my sermons at iTunes. Just search on my name.

This video clip is from the movie Fireproof and depicts a heartfelt apology from a husband who realizes he has not loved his wife as he should. A beautiful movie available at Amazon if you have never seen it.

38 Responses

  1. Charles says:

    But Msgr. Pope, what of the situation where the woman abuses this order just because she has a greater income than husband thereby making the husband look like a house boy in the house?

    • I recommend you seek counsel with your local priest or counselor. The Internet is a poor place to conduct Marriage and other personal sorts of counsel.

    • Ron Jon says:

      Acts 2,42-47

      Income is irrelevant.

      • Joe says:

        Msgr. Pope — The example you gave cannot work with this scripture. Paul is asking both spouses to respect each other, to “submit to one another”! Your example falls outside that model. “What-if” examples usually do that.

        But what would I do in that example? As a husband (if I truly loved my wife) I would love her back into relationship with me. I would have no other choice, for my love for her would compel me to no other course.

        There is a big difference between “submit to” and “be submissive”. When I “submit to” my wife (and she to me) we are doing positive actions. We are giving ourselves (as opposed to absorbing the other when we are submissive.) In giving to each other we are finding our own joy through the joy of the other.

        Paul’s words are magical, if you just look at the other side of the coin.

        • Your interpretation neglects the context of Ephesians 5 and 6. Paul does begin by saying we should be submitted to one another in the family. But then He says how: wives to submit to husbands and children to obey parents, finally slaves to obey masters (no longer in force now since slavery has passed from our midst). In fact the verb in verse 22 actually has to be supplied from the previous verse, 21, since the whole construction is subordinate to 21, Verse 22, spells out what 21 means. In other words, the submission called for in 21 is clarified in 22: the submission of the wife to the husband, later children are to to obey (ὑπακούετε) parents, later still servants to masters. The husband and father for his part is not submitted per se but is to exercise his headship in love and service as I have said in the article. I recommend that you read the whole context of 5 and 6, the interpretation you make is not uncommon today but does not respect the context of the passage and cannot override that the text clearly indicates that “the husband is head of his wife, as Christ is head of the Church” and that the wife should submit to him as the Church does to the Lord.

          Your point about the big difference between “submit to” and “be submissive” is somewhat too semantic. The Greek word is ὑποτάσσω (hypotasso) and does not admit of your subtleties, is means straightforwardly “to place or rank under, to subject.” Husbands are told to love their wives (ἀγαπᾶτε – agapate) not to submit (ὑποτάσσω) to them. Clearly this love should mitigate any notion of authority as power, but it cannot remove the clear teaching of headship, which, I would argue, your interpretation does.

  2. Alicia G. Mendiola says:

    Wow! It is direct and organized. We need your inspiring homily especially now that our Church in the Philippines is suffering with some dissenting Lay and Priests. They maybe small in numbers now, but we can not just tolerate their being a dissenters. We pray too for their conversion of mind and heart as a loving gesture. Fr., please pray for us.

  3. Nick says:

    Men are naturally leaders, it’s just the way things are for humanity, as science has shown. But in a world consumed by sexual sin – which make one unable to use reason and make one rely too much on emotion, such as pornography, which makes you unable to think straight – science is bad, unless it attacks religion or God.

  4. VistaNow says:

    Both hard saying requires submission to the will of God, without it one can not see clear to recognize the time of visitation by our savior Jesus, the other hard saying from Ephesian’s requires both persons to be submissive to the will of God in order to lead the wife and children – simple! But hard especially when there is a lack of maturity or the placing of idols before God and not listening to Him. Make straight His path says Isaiah so the Lord can have an uncluttered direct link to each couple. I enjoyed the clip, wow i thought the wife would be ready to forgive the wrong done by Caleb – perhaps it is sensible to think about it and not divorce

  5. John says:

    I just run along and read my wife this passage (after checking my life insurance policy)!

  6. Steve M says:

    As a husband, I need to follow Christ as the model of headship fo rmy family. I must be the first to sacrifice my own wants for what is best for my family. This is not about getting my way but about leading my family. If I love my family then I want the good for them; I want them to achieve Heaven. My decisions as the head of the family are to be directed to that end not my worldly desires. Even to the point where I must give up watching the last few minutes of a very close Michigan Wolverine national championship basketball game to go get food for the family. I must be the first to sacrifice for my family.

  7. Vijaya says:

    Thank you for bringing clarity, as always, on the Bible. God bless you. V.

  8. RichardC says:

    That was really a shining moment for St. Peter when he said, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God,” especially since he had so many embarrassing moments in the Gospels. Since, the Pharisees were already teaching the resurrection of the dead, he must have been referring to Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse when he said, “You have the words of eternal life.” That is my best understanding.

    My favorite movie about marriage is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I’ve never read the book. Here is my favorite scene from the movie:

    “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” (1945) The ‘Annie Laurie’ Scene, with James Dunn: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-eFOJXVfuM

  9. Linda says:

    Thank you for this greater explanation than we usually hear. A friend of mine sent this to me today after we discussed what great opportunity there was for teaching with these readings, and that we didn’t recieve it in our own parish. The “hard things”were not even mentioned. I am facilitating a women’s group on marriage and we’ve been trying to live by this teaching. Kimberly Hahn’s “Life-Nurturing Love”series is excellent for a better understanding for wives.

  10. Barbara says:

    Don’t we have to be consistent in the way we interpret scripture– if the I AM of John 6 is to be interpreted literally, how then do we interpret the other I AM’s of John’s Gospel as metaphors referring to the greater spiritual reality?
    I would really appreciate your response because this is the question posed to me by a catholic lawyer regarding Transubstantiation. Thank you,Barbara

    • We’re not just proof texting the one liner here, but the whole teaching wherein Jesus’ listeners understand him literally and object, and, rather than correct them, he reinforces the literal understanding of “I am the Bread….the Bread I will give is my flesh….You must eat the flesh of the Son of Man….” These sorts of sayings, given their context stand apart from sayings such as “I am the gate” which are figurative, given their context. The Catholic Church does not proof text, but strives to understand a text in union with the context, the wider understanding of Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Hope this helps

  11. A. Crawford says:

    Thanks for speaking the truth, even when it isn’t popular. It is so important for a woman to marry a man she can respect because, if he deserves her respect, she will find it much easier to submit to him. Women think they won’t be happier if the husband is the head of the house, but they are. The great mistake of our age is our fetish with equality. Love is never about equality; it’s about sacrifice, about pouring out our lives for each other as husband and wife, admittedly in different ways. Thanks again, Father.

  12. Gina Nakagawa says:

    I love this Epistle. We need to understand what if is really saying and take it to heart. “Hard sayings” frequently lead us to truth and peace.

  13. Barbara says:

    Thanks. I will pass that on,examining the context of the passage.

  14. Lawrence Justin says:

    I’d like to add that we can also look at the word Submission as “Sub-Mission” or in other words “under the same Mission”. So both husband and wife realize its not about “Lording over one over another but bringing Glory to God by unity in one spirit for the family and then by extension society as a whole under our Loving God.That is our Mission.

    For Gods Greater Glory

    Lawrence

  15. Liz says:

    At my parish, we read a shortened version of the second reading today, a version which cut out the lines about wives being subordinate to husbands. Those lines were printed in our missalettes, but they had brackets around them, so the reader skipped right over them. I thought it was very interesting that these particular lines were bracketed off and omitted, since they are so politically incorrect these days. Monsignor, do you think my parish left out that portion of the reading in order to avoid rustling some feathers in the pews? It sure seemed that way to me. Your thoughts?

  16. A.A. Cunningham says:

    Since they reference Christ, shouldn’t the pronouns he, him and his be capitalized?

    • Traditionally correct but I mean no impiety and even most official Church documents (e.g. Catechism) no longer use the traditional capitalization for the pronouns, retaining it only for the proper names (e.g. Father) and titles (eg. Lord). Language, grammar and usage does change over time. Hence the final answer to your question is no, though one my admit that grammar has changed in the last hundred years in this regard.

  17. Carol says:

    It was Bl. Pope John Paul II who wrote that the wife should “be subject to her husband’s love, not to his tyranny.”

    God bless Bl. Pope John Paul II

    And God bless my husband —(who so fittingly fulfilled the husband described by St. Paul)—who has now gone home to God.

  18. Tom Soule says:

    A lot of people have responded to the Epistle about marriage today, but I wanted to take a moment to testify about John 6:53-54. I remember Msgr. Pope at Mass a couple of years ago telling everyone to memorize these two verses of the Bible, and so I did. I cannot tell you what blessings I have received by fixing these words in my mind and heart. Jesus isn’t distant. He didn’t just live 2,000 years ago. He isn’t just an historical figure. He becomes truly and really present every time the Holy Mass is celebrated around the world. Just think about how many Masses are celebrated around the world by thousands of priests every day! And Jesus makes himself fully and completely present every time the priest says “this is my body” and “this is my blood.”

    This brings me to a prayer I say every time I receive Holy Communion. It’s actually what the priest says at the traditional Latin Mass: “Corpus Domini nostri Jesu Christi custodiat animam meam in vitam aeternam. Amen.” In English this translates as “May the Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ keep my soul unto life everlasting. Amen.” However the verb “custodiat” means so much more than just “to keep.” We get the word “custodian” from this, and it means both “to take care of” and “to guard” in Latin. So when I receive the body and blood of Christ, I think about Jesus guarding my soul, that is against wickedness and unholiness. I feel fortified and strong.

  19. I Like the Church Fathers says:

    As is so often the case with Msgr. Pope’s missives on marriage, we hear a lot about the heavy burdens of husbands, but nothing about wives’ responsibilities. Msgr. Pope specifically enumerates four requirements for husbands, but no specific requirements are expected of the wife.

    It appears that the only general requirement of the wife is that she “submit” to her husband, but only if the husband meets the specified requirements of headship. And who is to say whether the husband has adequately met the requirements of headship and thereby deserves his wife’s respect? It would appear that it is the wife who makes this judgment.

    And what if the wife determines that her husband is not worthy of her respect? Is she entitled to divorce her husband or to have the marriage annulled [Catholic divorce]? In Msgr. Pope’s favorite movie, Fireproof, it is implied that the wife has a unilateral right to dissolve the marriage if the husband is not fulfilling his responsibilities. It appears that the husband has no corresponding right to end the marriage. So, who is really the head of the family here?

    • You seem to see marriage and life as a power struggle.

      • I Like the Church Fathers says:

        Marriage and life are indeed a struggle but they should not be a power struggle. I was merely trying to point out that it is problematic to suggest that men have a laundry list of requirements to fulfill in marriage while women do not.

        The principle of complementarity of the sexes would seem to imply that husband and wife each have their own unique responsibilities in marriage. A balanced approach would involve enumerating womens’ marital responsibilities as well as mens’. Such balance is all too often missing from contemporary Catholic and Protestant commentary on marriage and, unfortunately, this blog is no exception.

        • Just following the Biblical text, what you seem to call the “laundry list.” Are you a believer? God wrote the text not me so perhaps, you’d like to discuss it with him. As for “this blog” Go write your own blog and see if people read. However, the anger shtick and power struggle thing is not particularly appealing or even biblical for that matter. You might attract a few “also angry” people to read but I think the appeal would otherwise be limited.

    • Tom Soule says:

      PS there is no such thing as Catholic divorce.

      • I Like the Church Fathers says:

        Annulments are often granted so readily that they can become the equivalent of Catholic divorce. The Pope himself recently cautioned against easy annulments:

        http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0900437.htm

        When the Pope himself feels the need to publicly caution against the granting of easy annulments without due regard for canon law, you know there’s a problem.

  20. Dennis S. says:

    I often wonder why we know so little about St. Joseph. It would greatly help us to know more about the interactions of him and Mary as a couple not just St. Joseph and Our Blessed Virgin Mary. I mean, if we could better learn from them about being a normal husband and wife then maybe this politically correct thing would fade away like dust in the wind and make it easier for women and men to always know their place or do what is right for each others sake and for the sake of our families. Without a doubt, their must be one captain of the ship.

  21. Dennis S. says:

    I OFTEN WONDER WHY WE KNOW SO LITTLE ABOUT ST. JOSEPH. IT WOULD GREATLY HELP US TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THE INTERACTIONS OF HIM AND MARY AS A COUPLE, NOT JUST ST. JOSEPH AND OUR BLESSED VIRGIN MARY. I MEAN, IF WE COULD LEARN FROM THEM ABOUT BEING A NORMAL HUSBAND AND WIFE THEN MAYBE THIS POLITICALLY CORRECT THING WOULD FADE AWAY LIKE DUST IN THE WIND AND MAKE IT EASIER FOR WOMEN AND MEN TO ALWAYS KNOW THEIR PLACE OR DO WHAT IS RIGHT FOR EACH OTHERS SAKE AND FOR THE SAKE OF THEIR FAMILIES. WITHOUT A DOUBT, THERE MUST ONLY BE ONE CAPTAIN OF THE SHIP. ANY REPLIES?

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