This past Sunday, the second reading was from Saint Paul:
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.
The priest said: “I’m not even going to try to preach on that one!” Everyone laughed. He made other derisive comments about the teaching that wives are to be submissive and obedient to their husbands. Lots of laughs. You would think he was giving a stand-up routine.
Christ’s teaching ridiculed by the faithful before receiving the Eucharist.
Rolling On The Floor Laughing (ROTFL) — at God.
The priest was a visiting priest, not our pastor. He tried to explain away this teaching saying that you have to read it in context, and sometimes you have to understand it as having a spiritual meaning, not a literal meaning. None of that is correct.
The spiritual meaning of Scripture is based on the direct meaning (which can be literal or figurative). Truth cannot be based on a lie, so there is always a true direct meaning, which may be figurative.
The Sacrament of Marriage gives a different role to a wife than to a husband. The husband is the head of the wife, and the head of the family. The wife is the heart of the family, she is the heart of her husband. She is asked by Christ to be submissive and obedient to her husband, and he is asked by Christ to love her, to lead her with integrity. And they are both asked to treat one another as equals. Even though they have different roles, the husband is not greater than his wife.
Many Catholic husbands mistakenly think that submission is mutual, and that they must serve their wives. Mutual submission is true for all Christians in the way that submit to Christ by serving one another. But in marriage the wife serves her husband in a way that is not reciprocal and symmetrical. She has a role of service to him that he does not have to her.
The teaching of secular society is that the spouses are equal in every way, and then what happens is the wife ends up as the head of the family. If the husband is in charge and he makes the final decision on difficult matters, society objects loudly. If the wife is in charge and makes the decisions, and she orders her husband around and gets her way in all things, society thinks that is funny and not objectionable. So the idea of an equality that makes the spouses interchangeable parts leads to the wife being in charge. It also leads to same-sex marriage and to gender changes, since genetic sex is seen as being irrelevant to marriage.
The teaching of the Church is true. Wives are meant by Christ to be submissive and obedient to their husbands — but not in a worldly manner that is abusive or dominating. This obedience is not the giving and receiving of orders. It is loving leadership. But it does include authority of the husband over his wife.
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian