As Christ Loves the Church

Family Matters
Curtis and Michaelann Martin
From the May 2000 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

Why is it so difficult for men and women to embrace the Church’s teaching on marital love? These teachings come into a new light when we understand and embrace our masculinity and femininity. Adam and Eve were created “in God’s image and likeness.” Eve was to be a suitable partner, and the two were to complement each other. We need to realize that men and women are different by design, yet equal in dignity and honor as sons and daughters of God.

The most challenging Scripture passage concerning authority in the family is certainly Ephesians 5:21-24:

“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.”

To many this seems like a very outdated passage and one that appears to have little to do with modern family life. But, the passage continues:

“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” (Eph. 5:25-28).

The call for wives to submit to their husbands is challenging, but we must remember that the teaching’s context-that of husbands’ loving their wives with a Christ-like love. Submission literally means to order one’s mission to another’s. The wife’s mission is to follow her husband’s leadership as he lays down his life for her and for their children. As Christians, we are subject to Christ, yet we do not lose our dignity. Rather, our dignity is infinitely greater because we are children of God. So too, a wife’s submission to her husband ought to allow her husband to grant her honor through his Christlike love and

The Church has given us practical wisdom for discovering God’s plan for us: heaven! Yet Satan tricks us into mistrusting God. We must realize that we can trust Our Heavenly Father because He really does have our best interests in mind when He offers us solutions for living happy, holy marriages. It’s a constant struggle to fight the devil as he continually works to undermine our trust in God:

“Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness” (Catechism, no. 397).

Once we realize that we are being tempted to mistrust God, it’s easier to see that we should work to trust Him and fight the temptations. This is particularly true when it comes to the Church’s teaching on masculinity and femininity. We need to trust in God’s plan.

Holy Headship

Before we were married, we had the great fortune of spending many hours together talking about what we thought our marriage and family should be like. We talked about our hopes and dreams, our ideas about raising children, and everything we could think of that related to marriage and family life. We were both convinced that a mother staying at home to raise the children was the most noble and vital role a woman could have in the family and in the world.

This theorizing was great while we were dating and I (Michaelann) was working, but in practice it was very challenging. We had moved back to Ohio for Curtis to attend graduate school. Originally we were both going to attend, but with the birth of our first son-and the news that our second son was on the way-my plans changed. I told people that I was postponing graduate school for a semester or so and left it at that.

It wasn’t long after the move that we realized that being married and having a family was difficult emotionally and financially. Curtis had always said that if we went without a meal or any necessity he would take that as a message from God that he needed to quit school and return to fulltime work to provide for the family. I was okay with that in theory but, again, living it was another ballgame. Tuition and the cost of living were driving us into
poverty, and I spent most of my day in our one-bedroom garage apartment feeling helpless and unproductive. Living out these convictions became a daily struggle.

One day, I noticed an opening in the education department at the university. They needed a teacher with a master’s in education, teaching experience, and a background in psychology. My credentials exactly! Overjoyed at the news of a possible job, prestige, and income, I ran home to tell Curtis. When I told him the news his face dropped. He was devastated that I would even consider putting our child in day care to take a job when I had enthusiastically embraced motherhood and being the bond of love in our home. He said that he would quit school immediately if I was that unhappy and desperate. He was also
confused, because I had given him my word when we took our wedding vows that I would do everything in my power to live as God was asking and as He had designed my life and vocation.

This was our “Ephesians 5” experience. Curtis was willing to sacrifice for our family, but I was having a difficult time with pride. When I realized what God was allowing us to experience, I was able to submit to Curtis’ leadership and recommit myself to motherhood with a sense of joy and happiness, knowing that this was God’s will for us. God continued to provide for our needs and take care of everything. All we had to do was live with an openness to His plan and try to live it out faithfully.

I am so thankful that Curtis has been willing to lay down his life for me and our family as Christ did for the Church. It has made my submitting to his leadership so much easier. It has not been a relationship of an overlord and a servant-as the world would like us to believe-but more akin to a partnership of head and heart working together for the common good of the body. God made us to complement each other, and when we do, things work out well. It all hinges on trusting in our loving Father’s plan and being willing to follow that plan even when the devil and the world are whispering seeds of doubt into our ears.

We have a great role model in the Holy Family. St. Joseph was called to care for and protect Mary, his wife, and Jesus, the Son of God. I’m sure there were times when he would have liked to stay home and be with Mary and Jesus but, in keeping with God’s plan for men, he needed to make sure their needs were met. His sacrifices were countless, as were Mary’s.

In Casti Connubii (1930), Pope Pius XI describes the beautiful analogy of marriage and family as imitating the Trinity in life-giving love. He further explains our masculinity and femininity in light of our married roles. Just as men, through their masculinity, take primacy in the order of leadership, women through their femininity take primacy in the order of love (cf. Casti Connubii, no. 27).

Holy Heart

Just as we can look to St. Joseph as the head of the Holy Family, we can look to Mary as our greatest example of femininity in the family. I had a friend ask me why there was so little in the Bible about Mary and women in general. I was intrigued by her questions and also her indignation that women are always going to be second to men as a punishment for original sin. After some thought and prayer, I was able to take her to Mary.

In Mary we have a woman, conceived without sin, perfect in every way. She was called to be the mother of Jesus, the Son of God, and she spent her life at home being a wife to St. Joseph and raising Jesus in poverty and simplicity. She lived in complete humility and submission to God’s plan. Ultimately, she was rewarded by being assumed into heaven and honored as the queen of heaven and earth, first among all of God’s creation. When things get difficult, when being a wife and mom doesn’t seem like enough, or there aren’t any affirmations for jobs well done, we can go to Our Lady and gain strength from her
example of love through service. She teaches us how best to serve God and remain united with Him in heaven for all eternity. This world is not our home and we don’t want to get too comfortable here, or we may not recognize God and our true home when the time comes. If a body were to have an impaired brain it would be unable to function properly.

If a body were to have an impaired heart, the body’s lifeline would be threatened. Both head and heart are essential to the body’s proper functioning. Without one or the other, the body could only continue to exist with extraordinary means.

So it is with our marriages. When we work together as God designed, our day-to-day activities will go more smoothly than if we try to function on our own.

Talk Tips

  • What do you think about this wonderful call to serve in marriage? Ephesians 5 doesn’t justify man’s domination, but calls husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the Church. The complement of this is seen in a wife’s “submission” to her husband. This means allowing her husband to love and serve her as Christ loves and serves the Church. Wives must also love their husbands in return as the Church loves Christ.
  • Do you (men) recall an experience where you were challenged to make a tough decision for the family and your wife supported you? Do you (women) recall
    a situation where following your husband’s lead was difficult but you did it out of love and honor? Share those memories and discuss how they have strengthened your marriage.
  • Discuss any fears you might have about abandoning your marriage and family totally into God’s hands. There is great strength in being vulnerable with your spouse and growing through difficulties together.

Additional Reading

  • Pope John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem
  • Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio
  • Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii

Action Points

  • If your roles as husband/father and wife/mother are not yet clearly defined, try to take some time and talk about what you think God is calling you to in your marriage.
  • After talking about role changes to better live your masculinity and femininity, commit to making positive changes and hold one another accountable to your goals.
  • Make an effort to affirm your spouse when you notice that he/she is trying to live out your goals.

Personal Application

Trusting in Our Heavenly Father, read Genesis 3:1-4. Notice how the serpent tries to get Eve to doubt the goodness of God’s command. What was Satan was tempting Eve with? Isn’t it ironic that Adam and Eve were already “like” God, but Satan planted seeds of mistrust and doubt about His fatherly care? __________________________________________ __________________________________________

Reread Catechism, no. 397. Are there any ways in which our modern culture may tempt us not to trust God? __________________________________________

Do you trust in God as a loving Father who will love and care for your every need? Do you trust that He has good reasons for creating men and women
equal in dignity, but very different from one another? __________________________________________ __________________________________________

How can I trust Him by living my life as He designed it, either masculine or feminine? __________________________________________

Read Ephesians 5:21-32. Realize that Ephesus was one of the most anti-family cultures of the ancient world. Ephesus a center for cult prostitution. St. Paul’s teaching was as counter-cultural then as it is now. Each spouse is called to serve the other.

(a) How does Christ ultimately serve His bride the Church? __________________________________________

(b) What do husbands need to be willing to do for their wives in imitation of Christ? __________________________________________

(c) As the Church submits to Christ’s authority, how then are wives called to love their husbands?
__________________________________________ __________________________________________

Read Mark 10:42-45.

(a) Why did Jesus come to us? __________________________________________ __________________________________________

(b) If we are to imitate Him, what are we called to do? __________________________________________

Jesus, as always, is our example. Read John 13:12-17. What is Jesus teaching us? __________________________________________

Read Psalm 100:2. What attitude must we have when serving God through serving others? __________________________________________

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