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Meet Me Halfway - On Catholic Marriage
“Thus a man and a woman, who by the marriage covenant of conjugal love ‘are no longer two, but one flesh’ (Mt 19:6) render mutual help and service to each other through an intimate union of their persons and of their actions.”
-Second Vatican Council
Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World), 48
A healthy relationship when it comes to marriage involves balance and an equal distribution of give and take with regards to making decisions that concern one another. Despite challenges and ups and downs, overall a strong partnership between a man and a woman involves being a team that supports one another. Marriage is a mutual relationship between man and wife. After all, to love, is to will the good of another.
When couples are a part of a relationship it is pertinent that they think about the other and consider his or her feelings, especially when making decisions that will strongly affect the other in the relationship. For example, faith, wedding plans, the raising of children, living situation, finances, etc. The question then is for us Catholics, “What does the Church say on this matter”?
A commonly misinterpreted passage in Sacred Scripture is Ephesians 5:22-25, so then let us take a look at the verses, and understand what it means through the lens of the Catholic Church:
Let women be subject to their husbands, as to the Lord: Because the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the church. He is the saviour of his body. Therefore as the church is subject to Christ: so also let the wives be to their husbands in all things.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the church and delivered himself up for it.
It is often that at Mass these verses are omitted out of fear of offending women, and coming off as telling women that they are subordinate to their husbands and need to allow themselves to be dominated and controlled under a reign of tyranny and oppression. The husband as the head of the family and having authority over the woman does not mean that she is under blind obedience to her husband, and that she must obey his every whim if it ignores or challenges her freedom and dignity as a human person. The role of the husband should not involve verbal, emotional, psychological, spiritual or sexual abuse towards his wife. This is not at all what St. Paul is discussing in these verses, so then what is it that we need to understand as Catholics from his words?
It is important as Catholics that we realize that women are called to offer themselves wholly and entirely to their husbands, that which is an offering of her heart for the family. Then when we look at the verse about husbands, we better understand the context of the verse about women.
Husbands are called to love their wives in the way that Christ loved the Church, and Christ loved the Church so much that He sacrificed Himself on the Cross for His Bride. Husbands also give themselves wholly and entirely with sacrificial love even to the point of death. The verse is not only talking about physical death, but death of self where the man is willing to give all for his wife; for her good, and his family. Men are also called to act as a savior to their wives by being the leader in guiding them to Christ.
Both men and women as a part of a marriage offer themselves wholly and completely for one another helping one another to grow in holiness and become closer to Christ. It’s all or nothing. The head of the family and the heart of the family must complement one another to create harmony. What does this look like in a Catholic marriage?
I will share some of the stories from friends of mine who are in authentic and loving Catholic marriages. My friend’s now husband went to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and his wife went to the Ordinary Form of the Mass. How did they meet halfway? For the wedding nuptials they were married in the Ordinary Form with the Latin Mass parts. They both considered one another’s feelings and compromised together.
Another couple I know whose wife’s family lived in Long Island, and his family lived in New Jersey, decided to move to Staten Island, which was the in-between for both families. They chose a living residence somewhere in the middle, where they clearly showed meeting halfway.
There are friends of mine where the husband wanted to homeschool the children, and the wife wanted to send them to Catholic school, so they compromised by starting the children off in Catholic School and would assess the situation together each year since the wife was open to homeschooling. Today the children are currently being homeschooled because both husband and wife decided together that moving forward homeschooling would be the best option for their family.
Authentic love involves a man and a woman being willing to meet one another halfway. Compromise is necessary for major decisions in order to completely and totally offer themselves to one another for the sake of Christ. A man as the head should not try to dominate and control the woman because that is not a partnership, but a dictatorship. The head and the heart must work together just as Christ and the Church are in harmony with one another. Men and women are equal in dignity despite our differing roles in the Church, and both a husband and wife are called to respect one another in a loving relationship where both strive towards helping each other to get to heaven.
“The organization of societies worldwide is still far from reflecting clearly that women possess the same dignity and identical rights as men. We say one thing with words, but our decisions and reality tell another story. Indeed, “doubly poor are those women who endure situations of exclusion, mistreatment and violence, since they are frequently less able to defend their rights”.