Did you know that many Catholic Churches throughout America avoid reading the entire passage of Ephesians 5 at mass? Instead, they opt for a shorter version, which deliberately leaves out the words: “Wives, be subject to your husbands as to the Lord.” Ephesians 5:22
This omission, which may seem innocuous, hints at a much deeper issue: the meaning of marriage has been grievously attacked, even within the realm of the Catholic Church.
We can be stalwart soldiers fighting for Truth in the midst of gender confusion, but if, at the heart, we fail to understand what it is we seek to defend and uphold, we will always be fighting a losing battle.
Marital Love Is More Than Sensuality
“What some people love is not a person but the experience of being in love. The first is irreplaceable; the second is not.” — Dietrich von Hildebrand
The love between husband and wife is profoundly unlike any other kind of human relationship. Unfortunately, many individuals, Christians included, believe the difference is embedded in sensuality. But this is not so, the profound difference between husband and wife and any other relationship is the mutual gift of self. In the marriage relationship, it starts in love and exists entirely in love. It is a complete pouring out of one’s self and is freely given to the other. “The beloved belongs to the lover,” in a way that is so deep, it penetrates the soul. Husband and wife belong wholly and completely to each other; there is no other human bond like this. Conjugal love reveals the entire person of the beloved.
Love is not blind, but rather sees the entire being of another and delights in the beloved. This union is so intense and beautiful, as it reflects the love that God has for us. This union is a gift from God.
“I love you” — I don’t love you so much, I don’t love you immensely, I simply love in the fullest way a human being is capable of doing so: a complete outpouring and giving of the self.
It’s important to acknowledge the profundity of marital love because it is violently attacked by the sensual world.
If we fall into the false belief that the marital union is unique because it’s essentially a committed “friends with benefits” dynamic, we have completely failed to grasp marriage and love. This is a profound evil and we must be ever vigilant to never fall into this mentality. That kind of infatuation devalues the marital union by failing to understand that sexual intimacy doesn’t exist solely for pleasure, and if we only seek the pleasure of intimacy, we will never experience the fullness and joy of love because it has become tainted by selfishness — a sense of taking as opposed to giving.
This is one reason why fornication is so grave. It completely denies the mystery and unity of sex: “The basic reason why erotic experiences outside of marriage create psychological strain is because the void between spirit and flesh is more closely felt.” — Venerable Fulton Sheen
Impurity denies that sexual union rightly belongs to God. “Purity,” on the other hand, Dietrich von Hildebrand explains, “perceives and respects the character of sex–its depth, seriousness, intimacy, and true home within wedded love, which alone makes possible the total and mutual gift of self.”
If we— in any way— deny these truths, we devalue sex. We pull it down from its sacred home and instead enslave it to the crude and vulgar. It becomes vapid; dividing, as Fulton Sheen pointed out, the spirit from the body. This thwarts our ability to give, and consequently, it becomes difficult to truly love another.
What a degradation, especially when we acknowledge that in sacramental marriage, love is ennobled to such an extent that in loving one’s spouse, one loves Christ. As husband and wife belong wholly to each other, they also belong wholly to Christ. In loving our spouse, we love God. Human love is transfigured in sacramental marriage. “There is no past tense” in real love — love that exists within a holy marriage.
Eve and Adam’s Rib
Genesis 2:22, Eve is created from the rib of Adam. In this, we see the unbelievably close relationship between the two. Eve comes into existence from Adam, “bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh.” In marriage, husband and wife become “two in one flesh.” Matthew 19:5
In this communion, man and wife reach the highest human bond and form of love. It is so intense; God offers the couple the privilege of partaking in His creative power: bringing forth new life. It is deeply sacrilegious to thwart this Divine mystery of life.
And yet, we see this all the time, even in Catholic marriages, with the acceptance of contraceptives and denial of the profundity of marital sex. We see a rejection of the intense mystery and gift given to us by God. Jennifer Fulwiler stated in her autobiography, Something Other Than God, that “we will never respect life if we fail to respect the act that creates it.”
When Catholics fail to grasp marriage, they will be more likely to turn a blind eye to impurities and contraception; in doing so, they enable the war on marriage and the family.
How many Catholic parents have given their sons condoms before heading off to college with the excuse, “well, if you must, just don’t get a girl pregnant.” Or turned a blind eye when their children began to engage in promiscuity?
How many of us accept the lack of modesty and even choose to follow the trends of objectification?
When we accept these evils in our own lives, we abdicate from the life God calls us to live.
How could we even grasp the mystery and beauty of marriage, if we find ourselves more often siding with the world rather than with God?
If our rudimentary understanding of the marital union has become so influenced by a Godless world, is it any wonder that we get watered down readings from the pulpit?
In Order to Restore Marriage We MUST Accept That Ephesians 5:22 Is Beautiful
In the Old Testament, God is symbolized as the Bridegroom and Israel the Bride. In the New Testament, the God-Man, Christ, is called the Bridegroom and His Bride is the Church. The Church is always referred to as female; she is Holy Mother Church. Men are to emulate the role of Christ, the ultimate Bridegroom, and women are to reflect the steadfast devotion of the Church.
Christ gives up His Body for the Church, and we are reminded of this profound love every time we attend Mass: “This is my Body, given up for you.” In marriage vows, husband and wife commit themselves wholly to each other, “with my body, I thee honor.” Essentially, “I give up myself in love for you.” There is a mutual surrender; it is the giving of one’s self wholly to another. The sacrament of marriage reflects the union of Christ and His Church.
Expounding on this point, Fulton Sheen writes, “The man is the ‘head’ of the wife, as Christ is the Head of the Church. What did Christ do for the Church as her Head? He died for it. Hence, husbands must show love to their wives. The ‘headship’ is not overlord-ship, but love unto sacrifice. The wife, in her turn, will show to the husband the devotion and love the Church does to Christ.”
This union is intensely beautiful and perfectly ordered. Male headship in marriage isn’t a role of tyranny, but one of Christ-like selflessness and love. It is sacrificial unto death. And in turn, women are to respect, love, sustain, and be entirely devoted to their husbands. These very distinct roles are what form a perfect, poetic marital union: head and heart, Christ and His Church, man and woman.
Through the distinct roles of men and women, marriage reveals the complementary nature of men and women and why marriage can only exist between a man and a woman.
We can’t dispatch Ephesians 5:22, unless we wish to do away with the Catholic understanding of marriage and men and women.
Dietrich von Hildebrand once said something along the lines of: “The two manifestations of the human person — male and female — represent two distinct ways in the imitation of Christ. Men and women have a unique way of complementing each other having been made for one another.” Thus why their union in marriage is truly that, a union: two becoming one.
Catholic Marriage Blesses Men & Women, Ennobles Love, and Brings Us to the Most Profound Human Union
The sacrament of marriage invites us to experience the consuming love of God. Its union is the highest community that human beings can attain here on earth.
The sacrament of marriage highlights the beauty and necessity of both men and women, since marriage can only take place between men and women: the head and the heart. It is that union alone that mirrors the love of Christ and His Church.
“A soul which is lifted up, lifts up the world.” — Elisabeth Leseur
Even holy marriages that are tried by infertility still possess spiritual fertility: husband and wife are elevated in a “spiritual ascension.” Their love is fertile and bears much fruit. In true love, one wishes to see his beloved more and more transformed in Christ, and in this, “the love of the beloved lifts the lover himself to the heights.” In giving themselves to each other, husband and wife are transformed and renewed in Christ, for they give themselves to Christ.
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:
That he might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life:
That he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy, and without blemish.
So also ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife, loveth himself.
For no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, as also Christ doth the Church.
Recommended Reading on the Issue:
Three to Get Married by Fulton Sheen
Marriage: The Mystery of Faithful Love by Dietrich von Hildebrand