Joshua 24:1-2, 15-17, 18; Psalms 34:2-3, 16-17, 18-19, 20-;
Ephesians 5:21-32; John 6:60-69
St Paul said: “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her…” “Many of Jesus’ disciples, after hearing Christ said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you? As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
This of course is a combination of today’s second reading and Gospel passage, but it sums up how I feel about the first few lines of St. Paul’s Epistle. When I was ordained a deacon by Archbishop Rodi he told me “Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach.” So there it is. This hard teaching from St. Paul is part of Holy Scripture, yet I am commanded to believe it, teach it and practice it. I admit that the last time it came up in the Mass lectionary I simply avoided talking about it so I wouldn’t stir up controversy.
I’ve spent the past week thinking about why this particular passage raises my hair so much, and I think it is because of the culture I grew up in. From the day of my birth almost 35 years ago I have been surrounded by a radical secular feminist ideology that has permeated the mores, the teachings and the images around me. The teaching was this: we are all born human being, a blank slate, with no intrinsic value. Whether we are born male or female is incidental, and sometimes wrong. Our gender, the idea of male or female we carry in our head, is ours to express. Any difference between us, because of being born male or female, is to be suppressed, tamed, eliminated or changed. And then there is the idea of equality, which means to our culture interchangeability. In order for a man to be equal to a woman, and vice versa, they must be able to do all the same things. The fact that a male cannot bear a child is simply because our technology has failed us in implanting a womb in a male, not because of Divine or Natural Law.
In this environment, which I, and all the generations below me, are being taught those ideas I mentioned, the idea that a family is simply a group of people who are exactly the same who can do whatever they want is the logical conclusion. The idea that we are born with different gifts, abilities, responsibilities and essences is anathema to this idea.
The Second Vatican Council taught us: “since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers [of Scripture] must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation.” (Dei Verbum, 11) So what do we do with this teaching in 2015? We know it is just as worthwhile now as it was 2,000 years ago, yet we would be foolish not to acknowledge its abuse in past misogynistic ideas. In the early part of his pontificate, Pope St. John Paul II, gave us help on interpreting St. Paul’s commands.
He wrote “Within the conjugal and family communion-community, the man is called upon to live his gift and role as husband and father. … Authentic conjugal love presupposes and requires that a man have a profound respect for the equal dignity of his wife: “You are not her master,” writes St. Ambrose, “but her husband; she was not given to you to be your slave, but your wife.… Reciprocate her attentiveness to you and be grateful to her for her love.” …And in respect to the idea of what society should see in the wife he wrote: “While it must be recognized that women have the same right as men to perform various public functions, society must be structured in such a way that wives and mothers are not in practice compelled to work outside the home, and that their families can live and prosper in a dignified way even when they themselves devote their full time to their own family. (Familiaris Consortio, 22 &25)
Professor Monica Miller of Marquette University gives us some guidance on why we need this passage in our Mass lectionary. She wrote: “Liturgists are not setting the Holy Spirit free from patriarchy when they edit out passages on women’s submission. They are stifling the Holy Spirit. It is probable that, at any given…Eucharist, a woman may need to hear the virtue of submission preached to her for the sake of doing what is good and right for her marriage. She also may need to hear of how her husband is exhorted to give himself up for her…And a husband may need to hear that he is to love his wife. Martial love is submission to another. (Miller, Authority of Women in the Catholic Church)
I want to conclude addressing my fellow men, husbands and fathers: Society is working against us, in that it is trying to eradicate true masculinity. It currently presents two ideas of men. One is the over-bearing brute, one step removed from a Neanderthal who is selfish and hates women. The other is a sexless entity that is encouraged to look out for themselves first, to be selfish and to avoid commitment and sacrifice. Christianity call for men to be truly masculine. This means you are to be a devoted follower of God, always putting Him first and always ready to defend his honor and Law. It means that when you become a husband you are to protect, provide and sacrifice for your wife. When you become a father you are to do whatever it takes to make sure your family is fed, healthy, and safe. You are called to always follow the path of God and what’s best for your family, even if that limits your career or makes you unpopular. It means you take a bullet for your family if needed, yet pray every day that your family is never in harm’s way. This will make you understand the depth of the relationship between God the Father and God the Son so much more, and it will make you more dedicated to the Lord as you begin to really grasp what the Fatherhood of God means.
There is a movement in the Church were women are discovering the beauty of their femininity and maternity. They are praying together, supporting each other and evangelizing. Let’s do the same for men. The Men of St. Joseph is a great place to start, but it’s not enough.
Pray this week, through the intercession of St. Joseph, that there will be a rebirth of real, biblical, masculinity in our Church and the world, and that the Church may teach the truth about the mutual submission of marriage.