Wives, Be Submissive to Your Husbands...?
Fr. Miguel Marie Soeherman, MFVA
10/31/2006 - 30th Week of Ordinary Time “II” - Tue
7am Mass — PCPA Hanceville, AL
The First Reading (cf. Eph. 5:21-33) this morning reminds me the time when I had dinner with a family in a different state. We were talking about various things. And then we got into the subject of Scriptures. The wife all of a sudden start yelling out loud to me in front of her husband and her children: I hate St. Paul! I can’t stand him! Why does he have to tell wives to be submissive to their husbands? I hate him! She yelled out loud with such a deep hatred in her tone of voice. Typically, in our modern society, wives hate St. Paul’s teaching — particularly when dealing with today’s passage!
In addition to that, this passage is often quoted by husbands to their wives especially when the wives do exactly the opposite or do not do what the husband desires them to do! If husbands hardly read the Scriptures, all of a sudden they become Scripture experts in quoting St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians — the call for wives to be submissive to their husbands.
Unfortunately, a husband may hang on tightly to this passage to justify his actions of abusing his lovely wife — abusing her physically, or sexually, or even just verbally! They are all forms of domestic violence! And any forms of domestic violence or any violence violates the dignity of each person and offends Almighty God gravely and seriously! Often times, St. Paul’s passage from today’s First Reading is taken out of context! It often is misunderstood what St. Paul is really trying to teach us through his letter.
And for almost two weeks now, we’ve been listening to St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians for the First Reading of the Mass. We are now in the second part of this letter where he gets very practical on how we are to live our Christian calling. Today’s passage specifically begins the section of “Christian Family Life.” Today’s reading covers the duties of husband and wife.
Tomorrow’s (if it weren’t the Solemnity of All Saints), the reading would cover the duties of children toward parents and parents toward their children (cf. Eph. 6:1-9).
To the children, he says, “Obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother. This is the first commandment with a promise, that it may go well with you and that you may have a long life on earth.” So children, this is your duty: honor your parents! And this is the only commandment with a promise. And what is the promise? The promise is that if you honor and obey your parents, God promises you that everything will go well with you and that you may have a long life on earth.
To the fathers, he says, “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up with the training and instruction of the Lord.” So fathers, you are to discipline your children at times. But God does not want you to get your children to be angry. He doesn’t want you to cause them anger.
But going back to St. Paul’s passage for today, like I said, it is often taken out of context! It is often misunderstood! Let me read to you what Pope Pius XI taught in 1930 which is still very relevant. He said (Casti connubii, 10 cf. The Navarre Bible — Captivity Epistles):
“The submission of the wife neither ignores nor suppresses the liberty to which her dignity as a human person and her noble functions as wife, mother, and companion give her the full right.
It does not oblige her to yield indiscriminately to all the desires of her husband; and his desires may be unreasonable or incompatible with her wifely dignity.
It does not mean that she is on a level with persons who in law are called minors. And minors are ordinarily denied the unrestricted exercise of their rights because of their immature judgment and not having enough experience.
That’s what Pope Pius XI taught regarding submission of wives to their husbands. And this is the proper and authentic interpretation on St. Paul’s teaching:
1) it does not mean violation of her rights according to her dignity as a human person;
2) it does not mean for her to submit to her husband’s desires blindly, totally, and completely because his desires may be unreasonable and not compatible to his wife’s dignity;
3) it does not mean she is to be treated like minors who are not able to make mature judgment.
In a nut-shell, submission of wives to their husbands does not mean violating her dignity as a human person!
In addition to that, it does forbid the abuse of freedom where the wife ends up neglecting the welfare of the family. In Pope Pius XI’s own words: “It refuses... to allow the heart to be separated from the head.” Husbands are called the head of the family. And wives are called the heart of the family. And the head and the heart must work together. There has to be some harmony between the two. “As the husband holds the primacy of authority, so the wife can and ought to claim the primacy of love.” Again, the head and the heart must be in harmony for the sake of keeping the body united. They must be in harmony for the sake of keeping the family united!
The role of husband and wife is not about competing with one another — competing in the authoritative level! But it is about complementing one another! Again, one as the head and the other as the heart! And both possess the dignity of being human persons and being children of God.
St. JoseMaria Escrivá said (cf. The Navarre Bible — Captivity Epistles):
“On this basis of fundamental equality, each must achieve what is appropriate to him. Each must achieve what is appropriate to her.
Women are called to bring to the family, to society, and to the Church characteristics which are their own and which they alone can give:
— their gentle warmth,
— their untiring generosity,
— their love for detail,
— their quick-wittedness and intuition,
— their simple and deep piety,
— and their constancy.”
As I mentioned earlier that frequently a husband likes this passage because it seems to his benefit to get all he desires. But when taking this passage in the proper context, the demand for a wife to submit herself to her husband is nothing compare to the demand the husband has! When a husband reads this carefully and understands it well, he might not really like this passage after all because the demand for him is much heavier than for his wife. (cf. The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesiansby William Barclay)
A husband is called to love his wife as Christ loves the Church! He is called to love his wife as Christ loves the Church! And how does Christ loves the Church? He loves Her with a sacrificial love. And this must be the husband’s love for his lovely wife. It must be a sacrificial love! He must love her as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for the Church. It must never be a selfish love. Christ loved the Church, not that the Church might do things for Him, but that He might do things for the Church.
St. John Chrysostom wonderfully said to the husbands about this passage:
“Have you seen the measure of obedience? Hear also the measure of love. Would you have your wife obey you as the Church obeys Christ? Then you care for your wife as Christ cares for the Church. And if it is necessary that you should give your life for her or be cut to pieces a thousand times or endure anything whatever, do not refuse it. He brought the Church to His feet by His great care, not by threats nor fear nor any such thing; so that’s how you must conduct yourself toward your wife!”
For you, my dearest Sisters, this reflection of the duties and the roles of husband and wife should motivate you with deep gratitude. Why? Because you have the Perfect Spouse — Jesus Christ! He will never violate your dignity ever! He will always respect you and love you infinitely! All you have to do is carry out His Will — to be submissive to your Perfect Husband!
For us all, we are to “be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” As St. Francis de Sales said, “Blessed are they who do not do their own will on earth, for God will do it in Heaven above for them.”