Wives, Be Submissive...

Our Southern Baptist brothers and sisters caused quite a stir by reaffirming the biblical teaching: "Wives, be submissive to your husbands..." (I Peter 3:1 , Eph 5:23, etc.). For doing this they had to endure a certain amount of misrepresentation and ridicule in the press. But the reaffirmation came from a genuine concern about the state of the family in our country. The Baptists are hardly unique in this teaching. Back in 1930 Pope Pius XI described the distinct roles of husband and wife in the family:

"This subjection (of wife to husband) however, does not deny or take away the liberty which fully belongs to the woman both in view of her dignity as a human person and in view of her most noble office as wife and mother and companion; nor does it bid her to obey her husband's every request if not in harmony with right reason or with the dignity due to wife... But it forbids that exaggerated liberty which cares not for the good of the family; it forbids that in this body which is the family, the heart be separated from the head to the detriment of the whole body and the proximate danger of ruin. For if the man is the head, the woman is the heart, and as he occupies the chief place in ruling, so she may and ought to claim for herself the chief place in love." (Casti Conubii)

I remember once a woman complaining to me about how immature and irresponsible her husband was. What mattered to him was not her and the children, but his motorcycle! I asked her what she was doing about it. "What can I do?" she lamented. "He always drops the ball so I have to pick it up." I advised to read chapter 2 of Paul's letter to Titus. She read it and it made a lot of sense. When she began being more "submissive" (= supportive) he started becoming more responsible.

Over the years I have noticed that women are quicker to see the wisdom of this biblical teaching. Ironically men tend to back away from it. After all being head and protector of a family is a huge responsibility. But to those who embrace that vocation it brings deep satisfaction and fulfillment. To do so both husband and wife must reject the "exaggerated liberty" which Pius XI warned against and instead learn the meaning of true submission, the offering of lives one for the other.


Homily on Roles of Husband and Wife