My Dear brothers and sisters in Christ
Grace and peace to you in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. When I was in seminary, Wednesday was a bit of a sacred day. We had mass a little later in the morning so we could sleep in. We had a one-hour conference with the rector after breakfast and then had the entire afternoon to either get caught up on homework or visit the parishes we were assigned to work at. You can, therefore, imagine how frustrated we were when we found out, shortly into the first semester, that we were going to have an all-day domestic violence awareness workshop. I remember walking into the seminar thinking that it was going to be a waste of time on a topic that was obviously a concession to certain feminist ideologues. However, I walked out of the seminar thankful for what I learned. I learned, for instance, that between 97 and 92 percent of abuse that happens domestically happens to women. It’s possible that more men are abused than report it because of the fear of being called names but we also know that men are generally raised in an environment where physical violence is more acceptable than women. Regardless, I also learned that there are certain biblical passages that are used by physically abusive husbands to control their wives. And, we just heard one of them.
Now, before we get to that reading, let me try to put it in the context of the rest of the readings where, I think, it belongs. For the last four weeks, we’ve heard the sixth chapter of John’s gospel known as the bread of life discourse. Jesus has been teaching us about what the Eucharist is. Three weeks ago, he warned us against grumbling and the detrimental effects that gossip and grumbling has on the church. Then, two weeks ago, he tried to open the eyes of his hearers to a deeper understanding of the bread, that it was also his body. St. Thomas Aquinas explained this by using the word “transubstantiation”, which means that, even though the smell, touch, taste and appearance remains the same of the bread and wine, the substance has changed to become the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ. Then, last week, Jesus told us that, if we are willing to believe that the bread that we eat his really his flesh and the wine that we drink is really his blood, than we are supposed to become what we eat. We are to be the body of Christ on earth. That means that we need to be willing to live out the teachings of the church, that by coming forward and saying Amen, “I believe” we aren’t just affirming transubstantiation but a willingness to be part of a larger organization that is the church. This is what some of Jesus’ disciples are walking away from in the gospel. It’s not just that the bread and wine are really his body and blood but the expectation that they are supposed to: by eating his flesh and drinking his blood, stop complaining and trust in the church.
St. Paul gives us just such a difficult teaching to accept today in the second reading from his letter to the Ephesians. This is the letter, as I said before, that is used by abusive husbands and boyfriends to keep wives and girlfriends in their situation. And, if you were to only read the first few sentences, you would be justified in this. In that passage we heard St. Paul say, “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church…” The trouble is that St. Paul didn’t end there. He went on to say, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church…” How did Christ love the church? Every time you walk into a Catholic Church, you will see the central symbol of how Christ loved the church: By dying for her. In the letter to the Galatians, St. Paul said that Christ so loved the world that he emptied himself and took the form of a slave. You see, St. Paul used the word “love” but he may as well have said husbands be subordinate to your wives. That’s what he meant.
Now, you may say to me that if both the husband and the wife are subordinate to each other than you’re going to have a rudderless ship and then the kids will run wild. Well, I think what St. Paul was talking about was that, in any marriage relationship you have to have compromise. And, both the husband and the wife will probably feel like they are always the one making the compromises and this can lead to resentment on the part of one or the other of the spouses. He’s saying that marriage isn’t about winners and losers, it’s about mutual submission for the sake of the larger entity that is the marriage.
One of the things that concerns me about our present state of “tolerance” is that we have a tendency to look at people who may be trapped in an abusive relationship and say that they are living their lives and we are going to live our lives. If we are connected as members of the body of Christ we have to be concerned about each other. If you are concerned about someone who may be in an abusive relationship, reach out to the person and offer to help get them out. Do whatever you can to make the person feel safe, even if it is just by contacting law enforcement and telling them of your suspicions. And, most importantly, let us look into our own hearts for those times when we are tempted to use violence to resolve a problem and seek ways to be subordinate to each other as Christ was to the Church.