Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Up Side the Head

Every once in awhile you hear something you've heard many times before that you thought you understood, but after you hear it again, maybe with a little twist, it feels like somebody knocked some sense into you. This happened to me about a year and a half ago.

Troglotyke #1 had a religion class assignment where he was to ask me (and the Troglodytrix), among other things, for a brief answer of what it means to me to be a man (or a woman in the Troglodytrix' case). I gave him a lower case "g," lower case "s" good shepherd analogy. Later that night I was watching EWTN when Fr. Mitch Pacwa had Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers as his guest, who was talking about his then upcoming series, Behold the Man. I have always been drawn to passages in scripture that are mentioned in the Old Testament and repeated in the Gospel and the Epistles. Deacon Burke-Sivers hit on one that night, which John Paul the Great also highlighted in his development of the Theology of the Body.

From Genesis:

The LORD God then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man. When he brought her to the man,

the man said: "This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called 'woman,' for out of 'her man' this one has been taken."

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body. The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame.

(Gen 2:22-25, NAB)

From the Gospel of Matthew:

When Jesus finished these words, he left Galilee and went to the district of Judea across the Jordan. Great crowds followed him, and he cured them there. Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?" He said in reply, "Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate."

They said to him, "Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss (her)?" He said to them, "Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery." [His] disciples said to him, "If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry." He answered, "Not all can accept [this] word, but only those to whom that is granted. Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it."

(Matthew 19:1-12, NAB)

From Paul's Letter to the Ephesians:

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, 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. So (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, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. "For this reason a man shall leave (his) father and (his) mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church. In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband.

(Ephesians 5:22-33, NAB)

Here we can see with the emphasis on a mutual suborning to Christ by man and woman, the sacramental understanding of marriage is revealed as an elaborate teaching on Christ and the church that was prefigured by the Creation. Fine.

A good way to rankle just about any (American) woman is to do the bit about how wives should be subordinate to their husbands. In fact, this makes for an interesting ice breaker at parties--not that I've done that much. Now, of course, I am always dutiful and quick to point out that husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the Church, which is often taken to mean that a husband must be willing to die for his wife and brings head bobs and "Darn right"'s all around.

OK, now the twist. I had always stopped there. But St. Paul didn't, as the good deacon pointed out that night. A husband (specifically as a man) is to hand himself over for her that she may be sanctified; he must serve her. A husband must make himself a better man, so he might be worthy of her, and they may each be brought to holiness. And how ought the wife respond (specifically as a woman)? By letting him serve her in his way, the way in which God has provided him his unique gifts. This imitation of Christ and his bride, the Church, is how we, as couples, are to devote ourselves to Christ through sacramental marriage.

Smack! Of course! Love your neighbor as yourself. Pow! Charity begins at home. Biff! Love your wife. Thwack! Lead your wife to holiness. Bop! You better get to work on being a better man if you think you're gonna do that. Zap! Love is a verb here--so start acting like it.

As I noted, this was more than a year ago. Since then, I think the Troglodytrix' and my marriage has grown considerably as I appreciated what the consequences of my realization were and how I must act. I am no ordinary dummy, and I have to think that if I did not understand the depth of the true nature of Christian marriage, then it is also true for many, if not most, of those in our culture, married and unmarried, otherwise, I am sure, the institution of marriage would not be threatened as it is today.

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