Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." (Ephesians 5:21-31)

There is infinite beauty in these words! We loved this reading and its message so much that my husband and I chose it for one of our readings at our wedding. In our modern times, however, the message has been misconstrued to be something different. In Roman times, women were seen as property. Our idea of "love" as we imagine it was very different from the contractual agreement between a man and his "property". Women were called to obey out of obligation to this contract. St. Paul's call to action is a reminder of the love that Jesus breathed on the cross in His new covenant, one of LOVE. Women are not property, but precious-more precious, in fact, than jewels. Men, instead of treating women as the Romans did, are called to LOVE their wives- the love in which Christ loved the Church.

As we unpack what that truly means for the husband, it bears a daunting MISSION. Christ died for His bride, the Church. Therefore, husbands are to love their wives by placing the bride FIRST, by protecting her and being ready to sacrifice his life for her like Christ did for the church. This kind of love is not a contractual union that gives a husband dominance over his wife but places his wife FIRST above his own needs and desires. The love that Christ showed us through his death on the cross is a witness to husbands of the very love that is expected of them. Husbands have an important role- to lead their wives and family to heaven. This is the mission.

The word "submission" or "subject" often has a bad connotation. In fact, ironically, some compare it to the feeling of being in bondage or held as property. Careful examination of Roman culture indicates that St. Paul is contradicting this notion. The prefix "sub" means "under" and the Latin root "missio" means "mission". Wives are thus called to be "under the mission" of their husbands. That mission again is to get to Heaven. Wives, therefore, through their own call to daily sacrifice, must also take up the cross and mission for their family. Marriage indeed is a path to sanctity! There is no journey to God that does not involve the cross and sacrifice. Therefore, the faithfulness of the union of marriage is one that involves a daily denial of self for the good of the other, the family, and the goal of getting everyone to Heaven. This is God's design for marriage, not merely a contract, but a covenant of love and sacrifice.

One of the most beautiful witnesses to me of this marital love was shown to me through the love of my uncle and aunt. My uncle was an outdoorsman. He lived and breathed boating, camping, and anything to do with nature. As a young girl, I remember going to their house and seeing their motorhome and boat in the driveway. There was always a camping trip in the works! This all changed when my aunt developed a rare disease known as ataxia.

My aunt was a hair stylist and loved talking to everyone. Their home was always bustling with activity and talk of family get-togethers. One day, my aunt noticed that it was difficult to get her words out. Over the next twelve years, one by one, my aunt lost all her abilities. Words became difficult, and then sentences. After she couldn't speak, she then lost her abilities to walk, bathe, and in the end, breathe.

I still think of Christ's profound love through my uncle in his love for her. This man who ate, slept, and breathed everything outdoors, loved my aunt like no other. He sold their camper and boat to provide for her medical needs. He took care of her every need without complaining. I have never witnessed such heroic love. It made an imprint on me and the way I envision God's love for us and His call to the mission of love that we need to have for our spouses and in our marriages. Undoubtedly, it made an impression on my cousins as well, who lovingly cared for him as he battled dementia in his last years.

But it's not easy. St. Paul says, "We all fall short." (Romans 3:23) It involves a daily surrender and call to denial of selfish wants and desires for the good of the mission. Marriages are under continual attack from an enemy bent on destroying the sacred. There are heavy trials that threaten the goodness, security, and unity of the family like never before. Therefore, it's not only important to cling to one another, but to make God a central part of the marital union. Marriage is more than just physical loyalty, but emotional, spiritual, and psychological fidelity as well. This fidelity seeks to build trust, security, and intimacy within the marriage. When we fall short of the marital mission, we need to return to grace. Today we celebrate the feast of Divine Mercy which reminds us that when we fall short, God is waiting with His infinite mercy to forgive us and call us deeper into the cross and the mission. As husband and wife, we are called to emulate the unconditional love of Christ in our path to holiness- to serve selflessly, to bear each other's burdens, and to forgive readily. In short, the faithfulness of marriage should strive to reflect Christ's love for his bride.

Once my mom had a vision of my aunt after she had passed away. "It's all worth it!", she exclaimed to my mom. "It's all worth it!" Knowing how much my aunt and uncle suffered each in their own ways made me ponder how amazing Heaven must be. That's God's promise… There will be struggles and crosses in our lives, but it will all be worth it, which is precisely why this mission is so important.

Maria Stewart — SFA Theologians Guild Member

Further Reading

Marriage: A Path to Sanctity by Javier Abad
Three to Get Married by Venerable Fulton Sheen
Any of the books by Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak