A Refreshing Perspective on Respect, Love, and Obedience in Marriage
Today I’m giving this platform to the Rev. Mr. Patrick Conway, Deacon serving at Resurrection Catholic Community in Aptos. Patrick is Pastoral Associate in our parish, married for well over 20 years, father of 5, and a fine musician. He brings a welcome perspective to the study of scriptures such as the reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (5:21-32) in which Paul addresses the relationship between husbands and wives. With Patrick’s permission, I share it with you.
Elbow Sunday 8-26-2012 Deacon Patrick Conway
Today is officially called the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time. But unofficially it’s called “Elbow Sunday”. That’s because in Catholic churches all over the world today, during the Second Reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians when he says that wives must obey their husbands, husbands elbow their wives, and when he says that husbands must love their wives as Christ loves the Church, wives elbow their husbands right back!
Actually, this is a tradition that’s sort of gone by the wayside, because for decades now the Church has made that first paragraph about wives obeying their husbands optional, and most parishes don’t read it anymore, because most lectors, especially women, don’t want to read it, and most Catholics, especially women, don’t want to hear it, and most preachers don’t want to touch it with a 10-foot pole! But I, just back from vacation and feeling strong, relish the challenge! Either that, or fools rush in where angels fear to tread!
So, what about it? It says here in the Word of God that wives must submit to their husbands in everything. 12 years ago the second-largest group of Christians (after Catholics) in the United States, the Southern Baptists, included it in their Statement of Faith, and many evangelicals and other Christians also believe and teach that wives must submit to their husbands. So what does the largest Christian Church in the world, the Roman Catholic Church, say about this?
Nothing. If you look at all the current Church teachings on marriage – in the Catechism, Canon Law, teachings of John Paul II, Engaged Encounter, Marriage Encounter – you won’t find a word about it. So now hear this, wives (and husbands): the Catholic Church does not teach that wives must submit to their husbands. Wives, you get to give the final elbow!
Just has it has in the lectionary, the Church has basically dropped or at least de-emphasized that notion of inequality that is wrongfully implied in Paul’s letter. The Church takes the rest of the passage to come up with a wonderful understanding of marriage as an equal partnership in which both husband and wife submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Both husband and wife give one another the love of Christ, loving each other as Christ loves the Church.
It’s like a dance – one partner leads, the other follows. But it’s not always the man who leads. In some things the woman can lead better, and so she should, and her husband should follow. Other times, the wife should follow her husband’s lead. Mutual submission to one another, and always, to Christ. There is no place for domination in this relationship. Domination is a serious and destructive sin, whether it is done by a husband or a wife.
Paul says that the marriage relationship is like the relationship between Christ and the Church, and so it is. But, unlike our relationship with Christ, who is always the Christ to us, husbands and wives take turns being Christ to one another. Now, as a husband, I take very seriously my call to love my wife as Christ loves the Church, and that’s my prayer every day. But every day I see all the ways that I fail to do that, unlike Christ who never fails me. And I see that, regardless of my best efforts to be Christ to my wife, it is more often she who is Christ to me. The greatest incarnation of Christ in my life is, and has been, my wife, whose constant love, faithfulness, mercy, care and devotion never cease to amaze and humble me. She has given herself to me completely, just as Christ has given himself to me. She gives herself to me through Christ, and Christ gives himself to me through her.
But marriage is not just for the good of the married, or even for the children that may come from a marriage. Marriage is for everyone, that is, for the good of everyone. That is Paul’s greatest gift in his teaching about marriage, that marriage is a sacrament, a sign and symbol for the whole world of the relationship between Christ and the Church, between Christ and humanity. Marriage reveals that this relationship between Christ and humanity is not one of divine domination, but of tender, intimate love, like the tender, intimate love between a husband and wife. It is deeply personal.
Marriage is to remind each one of us of what is possible between us and Christ, a tender, intimate, profoundly personal relationship that is truly everlasting. And each one of us is called to this dance of love with Christ, with Christ who has first loved us and who has come down from heaven into our world to give us his love, to give us himself, and who seeks only our love in return.
That’s all he’s been trying to tell us in these Gospel readings these past few weeks, that he’s giving us himself, his whole self – flesh and blood, body and soul, humanity and divinity, and he’s just dying with passion for us to receive him.
May our response to him be like St. Peter’s: “Lord, to whom else shall we go? You have the words of eternal life and love. We know that you’re the one for us.”
Reprinted with permission.