Wives, Be Submissive

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2017/08/25/wives-be-submissive/

I have witnessed the graceful processions of fathers and brides, as they stride up the aisle. Me? I feared tripping over my feet, pulling Kelly down with me. Maybe that terrifying thought kept me focused, and my tears in check.

We made it to the altar. I lifted her veil, kissed her forehead, shook hands with her imminent husband, and joined my wife in our pew.

Then, for me, the fun began, as the readings that Ryan and Kelly chose were proclaimed. The first readings were decided because of their value, solemnity and, if my suspicions are correct, a little mischief.

From the Book of Sirach, chapter 26 begins:  “Happy the husband of a good wife … A worthy wife brings joy to her husband, peaceful and full is his life …”

But what about the husband being good? Shouldn’t he bring joy to his wife?

That, however, was just the opener. The second reading, the infamous one from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, really jabs our modern sensitivities.

It began simply enough:  “Defer to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

But the reader continued:

“Wives should be submissive to their husbands …”

Mic drop.

Actually, the reading continued, but the words “wives should be submissive” likely turned off a few ears.

When I first heard that reading proclaimed in a Mass years ago, the priest didn’t go near it in his homily. He said, “well, it obviously doesn’t mean that,” and proceeded to talk about the Gospel.

But it must mean something.

And why would my talented and strong-willed daughter allow it in her wedding? Because my daughter is a true feminist – recognizing the call for equal dignity and justice among men and women – who also likes to chide those who turn feminism into an us-versus-them battle for every perceived right.

Kelly had to know phrases like “a worthy wife” and “be submissive” were going to cause some teeth-gnashing.

When I questioned Kelly about this, she smiled and pointed out another part of the reading, about a husband’s role “to make her holy, purifying her …”

“Ryan has his work cut out,” she said, still smiling.

Marriage is supposed to make one another holy, and whole. This young couple chose these readings because they were not entering some legal contract – a 50-50 proposition that makes demands of each other – but a 100-percent buy-in by each spouse to give their all, because a marriage is not a contract, but a vocation. We Catholics call it a sacrament.

I have written previously about spouses’ roles, at least in our home. So, loyal readers (and there are a few) know how I would react to the “wives submissive” reading. I would read further, especially the part about “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church.”

As I recall, one of the last times Christ had referred to himself as “lord” to his apostles, he had just finished scrubbing the dung and mud off their feet (John 13).

So, you fathers demanding submission, are you sitting upon your throne, or crouched on your knees, washing feet?

Marriage calls for submission for both; an end of the me’s and the beginning of we.

It sounds impossible. Some call it unnatural.

After the first two readings, the young couple turned to John for their Gospel proclamation: 

“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Live on in my love.

“You will live in my love if you keep me commandments …

“All this I tell you that my joy may be yours and your joy may be complete.”

I stood in our pew, standing next to my bride of 30 years, knowing how true those joyful words were.

Then the tears came.

Kevin Thomas is a writer and former teacher, living with his wife and children in Standish, Maine.