Friday December 30, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier The Holy Family
Reading I (Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14) Reading II (Colossians 3:12-21)
Gospel (St. Luke 2:22-40)
Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Family. The family is the very foundation of the Church, as well as of society; yet, of course, at the foundation of the family is the marriage. It is the marriage and family that are under attack today so desperately, and we have very clearly laid out for us exactly what must happen for the family to be sound. It is a reading that most people do not like because they do not understand it. We see it twice in Scripture; it is in Saint Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, and again it is in Colossians, as we just heard: Wives, be subordinate to your husbands…Husbands, love your wives. People get confused about that. They think it makes women sound like they are Nubian slaves in the house, and as long as the husband has happy feelings about his wife she is supposed to do anything that he snaps his finger and orders her to do. Nothing could be further from the truth.
When you think about the word “subordinate” (or “submissive,” as oftentimes they would put in), we ask ourselves, “What exactly does it mean?” It means “under the order or under the mission of.” That means she is under the mission of her husband, under the order of her husband. That does not mean her husband orders her around. What that means is she has to be submissive to what the husband has been ordered to do, and her husband has been commanded by God to love his wife. To love one’s wife means to serve her; it means to seek her good; it means to build her up; it means to make her holy. That is what Saint Paul tells us in his Letter to the Ephesians, that exactly what Jesus did for the Church is what husbands are to do for their wives, because the Church is the bride of Christ, and the husband and wife are one, therefore, the Church is Christ in the mystical sense. So, first and foremost, a husband has to serve his wife and has to seek only her good.
In other words, what Saint Paul is getting at, first of all and to put it in its context, he is looking at what has been so badly damaged in us as male and female by Original Sin. You go all the way back to Genesis 3 and you are going to see the problem right there. It is part of the punishment for Original Sin. Women are supposed to be the desire of their husbands, the apple of their eye, the very love of their hearts. But what happened as part of Original Sin is that men were going to lord it over their wives. Instead of loving their wives, they were going to put themselves above their wives and they were going to try to control things. Wives, on the other hand, have difficulty being submissive; they do not have a problem with loving. Husbands have a problem with loving. Husbands do not have much problem with being submissive; they have a problem with loving. Women do not have much of a problem with loving their husbands; they have a problem being submissive. And so what does “submissive” mean in this case? It means to allow yourself to be loved. The husband’s mission is to love his wife. To be under the mission of her husband, for a woman, is to allow herself to be loved.
It is an interesting phenomenon that happens because a woman is able so much and so readily to love, but we have so destroyed the dignity of women in our society that women do not believe themselves to be loveable. Therefore, they do not accept the love that is given to them. They give and they give and they give and they pour themselves out, but they will not accept the love that comes back. But a woman has to be loved in order to be able to love. And the man has to love in order to do what he was created to do.
Saint Paul is simply laying out the foundation for what must happen in a marriage. If the family is to be stable, it is all right here. A man must love his wife, as he has vowed to do. This is not an option in the first place. Saint Paul is simply saying, “Continue to do what you do well.” Men can soak up all of the love that their wives want to give them–no problem at all–but they are so incredibly selfish that they cannot give. Women, on the other hand, can give and give and give, but the selfishness of a woman is interestingly that she cannot accept it coming back. So he is saying, “Overcome the selfishness. Let the guard down and do what you were created to do. Continue to do what you do well, but learn to do what you do not do well.” And he is asking exactly the same of both. Both are to give, both are to receive. It is not that the woman is being put down by saying, “You just be subordinate to whatever your husband tells you to do.” That is not what Saint Paul is saying. That would violate the dignity of a woman and it would go directly against God’s creation; and the Word of God inspired by the Holy Spirit is not going to order anybody to do something that would be in violation of their dignity. So that is not what this says.
What this says is, number one, the order to husbands to love their wives, and a wife is to be subordinate to that under the mission of her husband, because the husband is the head of the household. Therefore, he is to set the tone. He must love his wife. He must be the one who provides the spiritual foundation, that is, the one who brings the family together for prayer. He is the one who is laying out the direction, providing all of those things for the stability of the family and for the building up of his wife and children. The wife, then, knowing that she is loved and being able to receive that love, is able to respond in similar fashion. As she is served, she is able to serve. As she is loved, she is able to love. As she has received, so she can give. That is what this is all about. It is the proper ordering of the family.
This is so incredibly important today because it is the family which is being destroyed systematically. The devil has succeeded in getting us to focus on our selfishness and destroying the foundation of the marriage and, therefore, the family. If the family is going to succeed, if society is going to succeed, and if the Church is going to succeed, it requires this one point: Husbands, love your wives; wives, be submissive to your husbands.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.