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Scratching the Surface of "Mawage and Twu Wuv" Part I

As promised, here is a marriage-related passage that I intend to break down using all that I've learned about love and marriage during my journey through life as a Catholic Christian woman. I can assure you that this passage will make any feminist cringe if taken at face value (and out of context) so I am going to do what I can to keep things within context in order to save the feminists any unnecessary heart attacks. Keep in mind, I am not married. However, I have been in a relationship with a certain young man for over 5 years and marriage is something we are considering in the future....when we are ready. Unlike a lot of people out there that get married on a whim, we are taking our time. Rather than focusing on "the dress," "the ring," and "the venue," we are considering our futures beyond the big day.
"Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam..."
 -The Impressive Clergyman from the Princess Bride

The future we want as a wedded couple and the future we want as a family will require a stable financial setting as well as a true understanding of the sacrifices that marriage will require. We know we are not ready for it yet. In my case, for example, I spend most of my time on school and the laboratory (one of the many joys of PhD candidacy). With such a huge commitment such as this, I will not be able to start a family for some time. However, in the meantime, I have researched the theology and requirements pertaining to Catholic marriage in my spare time. Until the time comes, it stinks living 45 minutes away from my boyfriend and not getting to see him as often as I would like. However, when the time comes, we will be ready for it and the wait will be worth it...if I ever get out of the laboratory long enough to plan a wedding.

Okay, so now to the passage that may lose me some readers and ignite a few bra-burning bonfires...
“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.’  This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” (Eph. 5:21-33)
I read this and have no problem with everything it contains. The vast majority of the female universe, however, is probably fuming right now. So why am I the odd man out (err…odd woman out)? Is it because I am in a male-dominated relationship and lost my voice as a woman? No. Is it because I was raised by a domineering father and subservient mother? Heck no. Is it because the media has brainwashed me? We all know that’s not true.

So, why am I okay with this passage?

Rewind a few months. I was sitting at the dinner table with my family. My older sister was arguing with me and my younger sister saying that women need to be dominated by man. She is trying to tell us that men have to make decisions because this and that and this and that, citing examples in history and different cultures. My younger sister and I, however, are arguing against this. My younger sister (theology major and fellow Catholic) is quoting JPII like there’s no tomorrow and I am arguing that there is equality within a true, sacramental marriage.  My dad must have heard enough about all of this because he enters the argument with his own 2 cents. He looks at my older sister and tells her something similar to this, “There was not a single decision I made in this marriage without your mother’s advice and support. When I thought about (insert big decision here), I didn’t do anything about it until I talked with your mother and got her support.”

The Portuguese don’t exactly have the best reputation when it comes to the machismo and having guys take over marriages. Therefore, coming from my dad, this 2 cents was the holy grail as far as winning our argument went. The important thing I got out of this argument was this idea of what “holy matrimony” in the Catholic tradition truly means. It’s not about domination. It’s about mutual love and respect.

Based on what I have read and what I have studied over the years, the Catholic Church is right on target with the roles of women and men in a marriage. I am not married yet, so I haven’t gone through the pre-Cana meetings and training. However, I have read up on it. I won’t be able to write everything I want to say on the subject because there’s so much information out there. However, I will try to stick to essentials here. Perhaps one day, I may follow up on them and add now. However for now, just bear with me and consider this as an intro. If you want details, please PLEASE check out Theology of the Body by JPII or check out C.S. Lewis’s ideas on matrimony because I am only going to scratch the surface here.

So let us begin with the basics. Ideally, when a man and woman decide to enter a marriage, they must do so with COMPLETE honesty and clarity towards their future spouse. Alcoholism, potential out-of-wedlock children, and other potential marriage-breakers must be put on the table before the Church will consider marrying these individuals. However, here’s the problem; People lie. A man or woman may lie to a future spouse or to themselves as they consider marriage. Therefore, this system isn’t fool proof for huge and obvious lies like alcoholism…because the Church assumes honesty from both the man and the woman when it comes to marriage.

Then there’s the issue of abuse. This one is particularly tricky because, in this case, an individual not only lies to their future spouse and the Church, but to themselves as well. They may convince themselves that they are not abusive or that they will not be abusive…but, in reality, they cannot stop or refuse to stop being abusive. This is why it is extremely important to TRULY know your significant other before marriage. This is why I would highly suggest waiting before getting married.  You see, a marriage is only a true marriage if it is done with free will and honesty. This goes for men as well as women. You cannot be forced to marry someone because doing this, in God’s eyes, results in deception rather than true marriage. You cannot marry someone under false pretenses because, in God’s eyes, this is not a true marriage. You may get a wedding certificate, some nice rings, and a reception afterwards, but these would not be true marriages because you can’t fool God. You can fool everyone else, including yourself, but not God.

Unfortunately, the Church can get fooled by imposters that pose as loving spouse-to-be’s and some marriages that should have never happened do end up happening. I mean, think about how  inappropriate and socially unacceptable it would be to actually get up and voice your concerns when when the presiding padre asks if there are any reasons why the couple should not be together. Even after the wedding, there are also occasions when one party bails out on a marriage even when the other party put in everything they can to make it work. This includes cases of domestic violence, estrangement, substance abuse, double lives, infidelity, you name it. Let's face it, human beings have an affinity for evil things and this can lead to all sorts of trouble for ourselves as well as our spouse. I mean, let's face it. When you marry someone, your problems become theirs and vice versa...and not all of us are capable of taking on our own problems let alone someone else's. Also, sometimes we expect the best in people that probably don't expect the best in themselves. It's a sad reality. Yes, the Church is able to grant annulments in some pretty severe cases. However, these aren’t “Get out of Jail Free” cards  regardless of what others may say.  I am sure there is a lot of heartache associated with annulments as well as divorces.

As a woman living in this century, I am deathly afraid of becoming one of those individuals that enters one of those marriages that will end in divorce. I don’t take divorce lightly because I understand that divorce is not just the separation of a husband and wife, but the break of a promise to God and his Church. Marriage, in the Catholic sense at least, is not just an agreement between two people. You make a promise before God when you marry in the Church, a life-long promise. I don’t see divorce as a simple solution and it should never be treated as such. Rather, I see divorce as a painful last-resort that is anything but a simple solution. Therefore, make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into before taking the plunge.

As far as divorces go, though they are severe and damaging, I firmly believe that they ultimately cannot separate us from God's love. God alone knows what we can handle and how many sacrifices we can take for someone else before a marriage becomes little more than a word and a pair of rings. Therefore, while I find it difficult to truly accept divorce as something "okay," I must admit that sometimes it is a better alternative. It is my belief that people who ignore God's call to love one another within a marriage (especially those who use marriage as an excuse to abuse and torment their spouse continually) are in far worse shape in God's eyes than those who divorce their spouse to avoid unimaginable abuse. You see, in my eyes, the abusive spouse break the promises they made at the altar with or without the divorce papers...unless, of course, they actively attempt to change their ways (through counseling, and other methods). I don't scorn divorced individuals who did what they could and withstood what they could before they walked out. It's what they do with their lives after the divorce that truly matters. I mean, God's love for us is so great that it is impossible to deem divorced individuals as lost souls. Don't believe me? Check out this passage.
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword...But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.- Romans 8:35, 37-39
One thing I must stress is that the first  passage in this post is not designed to keep women in abusive relationships. It is designed to prepare men and women for marriage and ensure that they live in a healthy, holy marriage. If a future spouse treats an employee like crap, this should be a red flag. If a potential spouse treats their feeble grandparents with disrespect, that’s a big red flag for me. If a potential spouse has a string of abused ex-girlfriends, it’s over (in my book at least).  When you find yourself infatuated with an individual, you will make excuses up for this person. You will believe that this person will change for you. You will believe whatever you want and it will be difficult for others to dissuade you. Therefore, this is why it is important to see the red flags from the beginning and why it is important for individuals to wait before getting married.  Wait until you have stable situations (poverty and marital troubles seem to go hand-in-hand).

Believe it or not, God wants us to be happy….in spite of what those “sinners in the hands of an angry God” preachers would have you believe.  If we are called for marriage, we are called to live fulfilling lives with another individual that will ensure our happiness and well-being. Since this is the case, you can be assured that God has given us the abilities to find the right person to marry. He gave us free will to chose our partners (regardless of what shot-gun wedding or arranged marriage advocates would have you believe). He also gave us a true understanding of how to achieve happiness…through LOVE. We’re not talking Hollywood movie love. We’re talking about Christ’s love for his fellow man as well as his Church. I mean, just look at the first sentence of the passage….
“Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
This sentence is particularly beautiful. In this sentence, we are all called to follow Christ’s words to love one another. This means, loving your spouse as Christ wants you to love your spouse. We are to love our spouse unconditionally, regardless of how hard it may be at times. If both parties in a marriage truly love one another in this fashion, you get a strong, stable marriage that can survive any kind of trial. Both parties here are called by Christ to put their spouse’s needs above their own. They are called by Christ to forgive. They are called by Christ to see the best in the other person and to support them. They are called to do all in their power to encourage their spouse and bring out the best in them. I was lucky enough to have parents that exemplified this love. My father stood by my mother even with her bipolar disorder and the heartbreak it caused. Likewise, my mother stood by my father through heart surgery and a number of other difficulties. Furthermore, nothing was able to separate my parents from the love they shared in this life and to this day, seven years after my mom passed away, my father refuses to find another woman. (Even though he’s had many an older lady vying for his attentions since he was widowed.) That shows you how much they loved one another. Forget what the media or statistics would have you believe these days, it is possible to be happily married to your spouse by following these words. 

My parents are a shining example of this. Unfortunately, in this day and age, one spouse may take advantage of these words. However, in these cases, it is not the fault of the Church, scripture, or the offended spouse. Rather, it is the fault of the individual who cannot fulfill Christ’s call to love their spouse unconditionally and above their own wants and needs. In this case, again, this individual can lie to themselves and their spouse…but never to God. Furthermore, they may think that they can take advantage of their spouse…but ultimately they will have to answer to God. Again, I must stress my beliefs that a true, holy marriage cannot come into existence unless both parties love the other as Christ asked them to love the other. This goes for potential husbands as well as wives. Again, this is another reason why I stress waiting before taking the big plunge. I would never walk into a marriage unless I knew, absolutely knew, that the guy waiting for me at the altar was capable of loving me as Christ had commanded people to love each other.

Before you EVER get married, don’t look at the “socially accepted” manners in which someone demonstrates their affection. Ignore the flowers, chocolates, and all that other crap people buy to profess their love.  The media tells us these things mean true love…but true love isn’t something that can be boxed or purchased. Love certainly isn’t the “kiss at the end of a romance” hoopla you see in Disney princess movies. Love, at least as I have come to find, is a form of mutual self-giving to one another. It is wanting the well-being of another above your own. It is loving selflessly and endlessly even when the first sparks of sexual love (venus) have fizzled and been replaced by a unconditional love (charity, or agape). It is caring for your loved one even if both of you come home tired from a full day of work. It is the willingness to stand by this person even if you’re tempted by another. It is the willingness to put this other person before yourself and for this other person to do the same. If neither you nor your future spouse is ready for this form of mature and selfless love, don’t get married.

True love is also seen in the way your future spouse treats themselves as well as others besides yourself. It’s how they treat their feeble grandma, the hobo in an NYC street, the lost child in a theme park, employees, and any other individual they don’t HAVE to love. If your potential spouse goes out of their way to care for their family and loved ones AS WELL AS strangers, they may be keepers. I am not talking about the potential spouse that shells out a fortune in tips to show off (that’s pride, not love). I am not talking about the individual who spends a fortune on their hair to look nice (that’s vanity, not love). I am talking about the individual that still treats their grandma with respect even though she has alzheimers. I am talking about the individual who will strike up a conversation with the maintenance crew at their work place with just as much ease as they would with a potential client. I am talking about the person who does not need to take drugs or alcohol to get through the day.

True humility and charity (the love kind of charity, not the alsm-giving kind of charity) go unnoticed a lot of the time in this day and age. However, they are two of the greatest indicators of potential husband material as far as I am concerned. When you marry someone with true humility and charity, the cringe-worthy “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord” line takes on a new meaning. It no longer means “You are ordered by God and all that is sacred in marriage to take whatever beating your husband dishes out.”
It means something else entirely...which I will get to in part II of this series.


To be continued....



Pax Vobiscum

7 comments:

  1. This is great! My Theology of the Body study group just discussed this passage. “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” This sentence is particularly beautiful. In this sentence, we are all called to follow Christ’s words to love one another." It is beautiful!

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  2. To think I used to be one of those feminists that would cringe whenever I heard the line about wives being subject to their husbands...but when you truly start looking at the whole picture...it all makes sense. I just wish I could explain it like C.S. Lewis explains things. Thanks for stopping by.

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  3. Lovely post. As a person who has not been married all that long but happily longer than most people my age (our 11 year anniversary and my 31st birthday are both coming up next month) I can say that holy marriage really is possible. And beautiful!

    The Ephesians passage doesn't bother me one bit because my husband, even before he was my husband, truly did...does...love me more than himself. As such, me being subject to him is never to my detriment. On the contrary, it is always to my benefit! Just as he cares for himself so he cares for me. It's a beautiful thing, truly.

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  4. Thank you for sharing Dwija! So glad to hear someone else's holy marriage success story. Hoping the best for you both!

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  5. Great post! I have no problem with Ephesians, either, because I knew I would never marry a man who intended to treat me as anything less than an equal in Christ ... and that God wouldn't want me to! And I have such trust in my fiance that even though we're far from perfect, we will both strive to be subject to one another in love out of reverence for Christ ... even if we don't always get it right!

    I think that the "romance" of chocolates and flowers can be a very real expression of agape--we have to demonstrate love in concrete, meaningful acts, and those can be little gifts of self--but of course they aren't the end, but rather ought to be an expression of something deeper. :)

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  6. Yes, you are absolutely right. It can be an expression of agape as long as it's not the only manner in which love is being expressed.... I guess I didn't word it the way I was thinking it. :)

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  7. Very insightful. It's wonderful that you're not rushing into marriage. Just like there's a period of discernment for religious, so too there needs to be a time of discernment for marriages. Each is a life-long commitment, and shouldn't be entered into lightly.

    The Eph. verse that sticks out to me (as a man) is 5:25. "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her". That is what's expected of me as a husband, that's what I'm called to do. Holy cow, that's a heck of a commitment, and a heck of a responsibility. How in the world can I manage to do that?

    Hopefully I've done a passingly good job of it over the past 12 years.

    One thing that helped us was this: Before we were married, my wife and I both agreed that divorce wasn't the "option of last resort", it simply wasn't an option at all. With both of us fully committed with absolutely no recourse to divorce, we took life's struggles in stride (including a micropreemie that spent 15 weeks in the hospital, and 19 months of unemployment that started while my wife was pregnant with #6), finding joy in our trials. All thanks to God's grace.

    I look forward to part II.

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