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