06 May 2009

'Show your wife a preference . . . even above the children she has given you' - St John Chrysostom

Wedding of Junby Saguisag and Mitzi Ramos, Bacolod City, Philippines,
15 December 2007

Last Tuesday I came across a quotation on marriage by St John Chrysostom (357-407) in Fr Francis Fernandez’s In Conversation with God, Volume II, Lent and Eastertide: Show your wife you appreciate her company a lot and that you prefer to be at home rather than outside, because she is there. Show her a preference among all your friends and even above the children she has given you; love them because of her . . . Pray all together . . . Learn the fear of God; everything else will flow from this like water from a fountain and your house will be filled with bounty.

That’s from the saint’s Twentieth homily on the Letter to the Ephesians.

My friends in Worldwide Marriage Enounter, and some others, have often heard me speak of the central importance of the relationship between husband and wife: the spouse must come before anyone else, including the children.

Wedding of Junby and Mitzi

I came across this online . I’m not sure if it’s part of the same homily, or another one. St John is addressing husbands. During a marriage encounter weekend we read the whole of this passage from the Letter to the Ephesians, 5:21-33.

St John Chrysostom - On Marriage and Family Life

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church. (Ephesians 5:25).

You have heard how important obedience is; you have praised and marveled at Paul, how he welds our whole life together, as we would expect from an admirable and spiritual man. You have done well. But now listen to what else he requires from you; he has not finished with his example. Husbands, he says, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church.

You have seen the amount of obedience necessary. Do you want your wife to be obedient to you, as the Church is to Christ? Then be responsible for the same providential care of her, as Christ is for the Church. And even if it becomes necessary for you to give your life for her, yes, and even to endure and undergo suffering of any kind, do not refuse.

Even though you undergo all this, you will never have done anything equal to what Christ has done. You are sacrificing yourself for someone to whom you are already joined, but He offered Himself up for one who turned her back on Him and hated Him. In the same way, then, as He honored her by putting at His feet one who turned her back on Him, who hated, rejected, and disdained Him, as he accomplished this not with threats, or violence, or terror, or anything else like that, but through His untiring love; so also you should behave toward your wife. Even if you see her belittling you, or despising and mocking you, still you will be able to subject her to yourself, through affection, kindness, and your great regard for her. There is no influence more powerful than the bond of love, especially for husband and wife . . . . Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies (v. 28).

What does this mean? He is using a much stronger image and illustration now, much closer and plainer, and much more demanding. Some might not be convinced by his previous illustration, saying, "After all, he was Christ, and Christ is God--naturally he would sacrifice Himself." Paul's method is different now; he says, "husbands should love their wives" because such love is an obligation, not a favor "as their own bodies." Why?

For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it (v. 29). That is, he takes particular care of it. How is she his flesh? Listen: This at last is bone of my bones, said Adam, and flesh of my flesh! and also, They become one flesh. So he nourishes and cherishes his own flesh, as Christ does the Church (v. 29). He returns here to his first comparison: because we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones (v. 30). How is this true? Because Christ was born from our matter, just as Eve was fashioned from Adam's flesh. Paul does well here to speak of flesh and bones, for the Lord has exalted our material substance by partaking of it Himself: Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same nature. It is obvious that He shares our nature, but how do we share His? How are we members of His flesh? We are truly members of Christ because through Him we were created, and we are truly members of His flesh because we are recreated by partaking of His mysteries. There are some who affirm that He came by water and blood but will not accept that the Holy Spirit enables us to share His same essence, through baptism. Foolish heretics! How can the children who confess His truth and are born again in the water not become His Body? St. Paul explicitly says that we are members of His flesh and of His bones.

Understand that Adam was fashioned from matter and Christ was born in the same. From Adam's side came the bearer of corruption, but from Christ's side came life. Death blossomed in paradise but was slain on the cross. The Son of God shares our nature so we can share His as He has us in Him, so we have Him in us.

For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh (v. 31)...

So if you think that the wife is the loser because she is told to fear her husband, remember that the principal duty of love is assigned to the husband, and you will see that it is her gain. "And what if my wife refuses to obey me?" a husband will ask. Never mind! Your obligation is to love her; do your duty!


Fr Seán Coyle said...

From a 'not techo savvy'couple in Manila by email:

Cory and I experienced the WWME in 1983 and we were very involved up until the mid 90's. It was from Fr. Dave Clay that we first heard the statement "as husband and wife you should be each other's priority in your relationship and as parents your children are No.1".

When our kids were growing up and they would ask for an increase in their allowance, ask permission to go to a party and other teenage stuff they would always end their request with "can you please dialogue over it?" and if an answer was long overdue they would ask "have you dialogued about it?". To me this shows an understanding and appreciation from our kids that we as a couple will have to make a couple decision. That our life as husband and wife is a priority because, I would like to believe, they see and experience it in our daily life.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

From a WWME couple in Cebu:

Your inputs/talks in the weekend as well as in your blog, help us in our FLA/involvement in the church like Pre-Cana, Pre-Jordan and more particularly, in our relationship as husband and wife and as parents.

Keep us posted. Your presence in the weekend, in particular and in the WWME movement, in general, makes a difference, because of your fidelity to our guidelines and especially to the Church’s doctrines, some of which some couples may not be aware of.

Anonymous said...

I still think the kids should come first Fr!