The beauty of the teaching of the Church on marriage can be seen in the image of a married man and woman walking side by side and hand in hand. They walk in the same direction towards Christ.
In that image, we see friendship and love. In that image, we see partnership and a mutual self-giving of each to the other. In that image, we see a nurturing of the two as one, watered by grace through the sacraments of the Church.
This image is not far from what the Church teaches us.
“Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).
The scriptures “Wives be submissive to their husbands as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22) and “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her” (Ephesians 5:25) create a balance of “mutual submission.”
In the partnership of a married man and woman (Canon Law 1055 §1, 1057 §2), friendship blossoms as each spouse learns to move in a unique complementary way of giving and receiving, keeping in mind the good of the other (CCC #2333). As in a tango, marriage becomes a set of beautiful movements.
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The sacraments of the Church give strength to the mind, body and soul. Known as grace, it helps us to function with the life of God, enabling us to run our lives with greater zeal and unconditional love.
For those of us who are married, the sacraments far outweigh the honeymoon and challenges of daily marriage life. It is the sacraments that stimulate the inner us to move in a fashion that seek God first and seek the good of the spouse.
Partaking of the sacraments of the Church, we are recreated in Christ Jesus, he, in whom we are continually restored to life.
The sacrament of Baptism continuously ignites the couple to love and serve God and others as much as they love themselves; Confirmation makes into reality love and service; Holy Eucharist transforms so that the two become more and more like Jesus.
In marriage filled with sacramental grace, the man learns to love his spouse the way Christ loves his bride the Church: dying and rising for her. With love patterned after Christ’s love, the woman receives the love of her spouse, enabling her to respond the same way, also even unto death. Love becomes mutual.
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To be fruitful and have order in life, it is necessary to observe moral guidelines and God’s natural order for us. In marriage and family, it is essential to put one’s relationship with God first, relationship with the spouse second, and children next. God-spouse-children.
God first. Why we have to make God first in life lies in our being God’s children created and adopted by him through Jesus Christ. We owe it to God to know, love, and serve him. We are bound to connect with him through prayer, reading his word, and acting upon his word with love.
Spouse second. The sacrament of Matrimony binds the man and woman to love each other for better or worse, for richer or poorer, and in sickness or health until death do them part. The divine presence of God provides grace to tackle marital challenges and to love each other based on commitment and not on feelings.
Children next. Grace sustains the parents to work as a team, raising the children in the love of God, preparing them for their future, so they too may be equipped to know, love and serve God. In that cycle, strong marriages and families are formed.
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I look at my husband sleeping so soundly. I smile. Today we celebrate our 29th year of marriage, not counting the ten years of friendship prior to wedding day; we were high school sweethearts. Thirty-nine years of friendship and love! I ponder, thinking of Mary in how she pondered things in her heart (Luke 2:19). "My soul magnifies the Lord": Mary's prayer resounds into the depths and realities of my marriage and friendship with my husband Joe.
I reminisce the day when I gave a retreat to six young married couples. The wonderment of being with them is evidenced by love in the air through the couples' words and gestures. The ambiance is intoxicating but as the facilitator of the retreat, I am faced with the challenge of balancing diversity and a sense of quiet where each of them can meet God and commune as a couple. My theme is "Mutual Loving" based on the Pauline theology of mutual submission, where the Catholic Church unfolds the deeper meaning of unity found in Ephesians 5:21-33. I designed it so much so that the first husband-wife speakers who know the theology would have to paint in the present time the message of St. Paul as it was preached to the early Christians.
A Bit of History
We know this, that when Ephesians 5:21-33 is read in the pulpit during our time, what stands out is “Wives be submissive to their husbands as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22), leaving an unpleasant feeling on the hearts of women. People may think that it has a sexual bearing of male dominance over women, but in actuality not a single tinge of it has relevance.
At the time Paul was writing to the Ephesians, household codes were a norm established by Christian leaders for familial and social order in the Mediterranean, where a number of cultures existed: Jewish, Gentile, Greco, Roman, etc. In the household codes, each person in the family and society has a place; the father is head of the family. The ascribed submissiveness of the wife to the husband is descriptive of daily conduct, the culture in progress of the time. Meant to bring balance to egalitarianism, it served as a reminder for wealthy and educated women to remain respectful of their husbands’ authority.
What is Paul’s message?
Sadly, after the line where the wife is admonished to be submissive, the congregation loses the interest of listening to the next several sentences that carry a heavy weight of Paul’s message. In actuality, the scripture passage that sets the tone of the whole scripture is the very first line: “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).
Paul cleverly explains to us the unity between Christ and the Church who is his bride through the union of a man and woman in marriage (Ephesians 5:31). Lumen Gentium, the primary document of Vatican II, provides a great length of text in explaining the importance of Christ’s unity to the Church. I urge you to check out Lumen Gentium #6, where metaphors of tending the sheep, cleansing and nourishing of the body, and cultivating of the land all relate to Christ’s having suffered, died, and resurrected into new life for his beloved Church. In much the same way, the husband is called to do the same for his wife—to die for her, for her cleansing and re-creation into new life in Christ—which, in essence, is the way to love her as he loves himself (Ephesians 5:28). It does appear that the husband has a greater role in marriage.
However, such is the message Paul sets for the married Christians in his time: As Christ loves his church, so must the husband love his wife as much as he loves himself and the wife is to be submissive to the husband; “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21), is where mutuality in marriage lies. Thus, in marriage in the Catholic Church, it is about self-giving of each spouse—to the other, for the sake of the other. Each is to give to the other unreservedly all for the nourishment and building of the spouse.
In my own space
Thinking of the six couples who attended my retreat, I am glad to have shared the Pauline theology of mutual submission to them. I wish I had understood this in the early stage of my marriage. I am, however, grateful because our Church is filled with many treasures from which my husband and I can draw the grace necessary to make our marriage work—out of reverence for Christ.
As a married couple Joe and I walk with Mary the Mother of Christ, who happens to be one of the treasures in marriage, but she covers many areas that I may have to write about next time. For now…
I wait for my husband to wake to my anniversary greeting and then to pray, as a couple, the Liturgy of the Hours. It sounds like a good place to start the day.
This article is also found at Association of Pauline Cooperators.
Easter Almuena, MPT
Copyright © 2016 Easter Almuena
Gently do I warn you that this post presents different levels. If it pleases you, choose the one that inspires you.
I have known my husband for thirty-eight years; the first ten of those were spent in getting to know each other, being friends, and developing a deeper friendship that led to being best of friends. This past Sunday we celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary. Part of our social life when he was in post graduate and I in graduate years was watching movies and having dinner on a Saturday. Now that our children are older, my husband and I are finding ourselves engaged in activities we enjoyed doing before marriage.
We had a great time! The second movie we watched was McFarland, USA. It left us an overall good feeling, a sense of awareness of realities outside our environment, and a calling to continue doing good beyond common boundaries. We were glad to have watched it last!
Dates are a treasure to my relationship with my husband. Special moments such as watching a good movie and having a meal in a restaurant are a time of enjoyment of God's gift of the moment. Because our wedding anniversary always falls on Lent, our celebration of it goes readily into my space of contemplation. I think about our marriage, our children, and about our life as a whole.
One thing I have learned in life is establishing a paradigm or model that helps me to see things through the lens of faith and teachings of our Church. Oftentimes, the paradigms I create revolve around my vocation as wife and mother. For instance, there is this simple lateral paradigm of priorities: God-Husband-children. God first. My husband next. Then my children. I also recognize our Church teaching that my husband and I are the main teachers of our children (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church #2223). Having understood that, I choose paradigms that help to solidify my role as mother and teacher. How do I do that? How is it done?
We are all broken somehow. Recognizing our brokenness is essential to our journey, so that we can allow the grace of God to work through us, to transform us. Part of our role is to read and study---to make room for growth. In our search of knowledge we understand better. Understanding leads to creating of stronger foundation. When one has a strong foundation, one will not be easily shaken (cf. Matthew 7:24-27).
Here is a paradigm that I use for my children's curriculum. The more I use it, the more I see that this paradigm can be used for almost anything, e.g., watching a good movie, being engaged in a project, working with others, etc. Called Observation-Comprehension-Synthesis, it can be used in our Lenten journey, reading of Scripture, this Holy Week through Easter Triduum, and Easter Sunday---then beyond.
Observation: Key word: senses. In observation, we use the five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. As we know, these are functions of the body through the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and hands---portals of our body---that make us aware of what is around us and what is happening. This includes color, texture, movements, living beings, etc. All that the body takes in through the body parts go into our hearts and minds.
Comprehension: Key word: understanding. In comprehension, we use the different aspects of the activity, movie, or book. These aspects are: persons or characters, images used, plot, events that took place. These so-called aspects are used to understand each segment, chapter, different phases of a project, etc. This is when we begin to understand that the story or event is about friendship, adventure, struggles, or love.
Synthesis: Key word: judgement. In synthesis, we gather all information and bring them to a pool where we can see the bigger picture. Here is where we can make sense of the whole story or experience; then we put them into words according to our enriched understanding of it. So here is where we relate the story or experience with others, adding what we have learned.
The entire process, when used frequently, will help to build a better foundation.
Two things: First, with this paradigm---Observation-Comprehension-Synthesis---I am able to appreciate my husband in my life more. I watch him and all he does: the many ways he cares for me (Observation) and understand that his love for me grows (Comprehension). Seeing the whole picture, I see both of us growing in love for one another by doing more things with and for one another, as we uphold the teachings of our Church on marriage (Synthesis). Second, the movie McFarland, USA parades realities of manual labor, struggles in the field, and brokenness in relationships (Observation to Comprehension). We take all these in and we understand what people do to either get by or to keep the family together; and, what can be done to raise awareness of the dignity of the person (Synthesis).
Try this paradigm if you will. This Holy Week presents to us wonders of Jesus' struggles in the final stage of his ministry on earth. Listen. Listen to the stories carefully. Observe. Comprehend. Synthesize. (Newly added: Read entering into the mystery of the Easter Triduum by Pope Francis.) The process, believe me, will keep anyone from just drifting into the waves that life throws to our direction; in fact, it will bring more meaning to the gift of life that was wonderfully crafted by God for us (Psalm 139:14). Someone said that life is too short. I say, live each moment to the full (St. Irenaeus).
By Easter Almuena, MPT
Copyright © 2015 Easter Almuena