What a delight it always is to see young mothers, truly fulfilled by doing God’s will in the home and rewarded with a gracious femininity which the feminism of worldlings quite destroys! It is in support of these young mothers and their children and their homes that I write these few lines.
Let me begin by lamenting how many households I see either breaking up or preparing to break up. with spouses destabilised and placed in great spiritual danger, with children disturbed for life. Such breaking up may seem no problem to worldlings, but it must give Catholics pause to reflect: these break-ups do not happen overnight – so what am I doing in my own home now- which may be leading in that direction?
Following St. Paul, this article is divided into two parts: “Husbands, love your wife” (as Christ loved the Church, giving himself up for her – Eph. V. 25], and “Wives, be submitted to your husband” (as to the Lord. for the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the Head of the Church, his Body -Eph, V, 22). The complementarity of man and woman, the undertaking of which is the key to understanding marriage, and the living of which is the key to living a happy marriage, is a marvel of nature built by God into the design of the two sexes. Notice, however, the reference to Christ and his Church in the two quotations above, taken from the Epistle for the Catholic Church‘s Wedding Mass. This reference means that only grace, or supernatural Faith in Christ and his Bride, the Church, can take the full measure of, and if need be protect, the natural marvel.
Whereas in the old days the wife could and would endure a great deal in order to save the home, today it is often she who initiates the process of separation because life at home has come to seem unlivable. Yet separation is a non-solution so I ought to begin by addressing the husbands:
Remember first that by nature the wife is more sensitive; more emotional, which is why certain worries or problems in the home weigh on her more heavily. And if she stays at home, she has little by way of conversation or activity outside the home to take her mind off these upsets which thereby take on an importance her husband can hardly understand, which wears on her nerves.
The sensitive side of woman likewise explains how. once she has lost trust in her husband, everything weighs upon her. She becomes tense and withdrawn, and goes on the defensive increasing her nervous fatigue.
To regain her trust is a long process and the husband will need to show great delicacy to prove that he reallv means to change. But that is the price he must pay, because without trust the marriage is going nowhere. Without trust, decisions are never taken together and relations become heavy and superficial while flare-ups and unkind words become more frequent.
Realise also that, by her nature, woman can for a long time take things upon herself and endure difficulties without showing it, but if one day she cracks, it can be very difficult to repair. She then goes into a nervous depression, or she gets fixated on some problem. Finally, realise just how wearying work in the home can be. Many husbands think that keeping house and rearing children is no heavy burden. But while house-keeping may not seem much, it requires time, effort and organisation Rearing children requires in addition a mother’s full attention, self-control, and readiness to put everything else aside. Such obligations also give rise to a real nervous fatigue. Mother has not the same authority as Father to settle problems. Fortunately she has more gentleness, patience and understanding, so she is more selfless. But all of that wears on her nerves.
Bearing children, especially when they follow closely on one another, while still having to keep house, is for mother an extra burden on her health that must be taken into account.
If the husband bears all this in mind and much else besides, he will love his wife with a quite different love, and he will exercise his authority as head of the house with more care and gentleness. Here are a few suggestions:
First, he will make a real effort not to let his work take over his life so that he is never at home to take any active part in family life (children’s homework, games. conversation, helping around the house or with the washing up to make life more pleasant for his wife).
Next he will make time to talk with her, to listen to the major events of her day, to encourage and congratulate her and make a few suggestions. Forgetting his own weariness he will also speak of his own day and of current events,. remembering that she has often had no adult conversation all day long, and needs something to open her mind. He will keep an eye open for his wife’s nervous fatigue, and he will be realistic. That way he can advise her how to organise things better, and to stick to essentials. With his manly authority he will help in the education of their children, so that she is not swamped by their running wild. He will also watch over her rest and health, and sometimes even change his own schedule to enable her to take a few necessary days off.
The wife is sensitive and delicate, so she knows how to please. But she expects something of the sort in return. A little gesture, a little kindness, a little display of affection will make her forget many pains and much weariness, and will give her renewed energy for her work. What may cost him little effort can mean a great deal to her, so let him find out those little things that mean so much to her.
The trust on her part which makes her gladly fall in with her husband’s way of thinking, comes from two things: firstly, from her respect for his good qualities and for his success in what he undertakes, and secondly from his readiness to heed her wishes and her judicious advice, so that when he takes decisions, he does so in view of the welfare of the family as a whole.
This trust is acquired at the beginning of a marriage, but it continues to be earned thereafter. Of course the husband is the head of the family, but he must learn how to exercise his authority firmly but gently. Clashes should always be avoided. Giving way need not mean he loses his authority, on the contrary it can show that he knows how to adapt it to circumstances. Authority can be undermined by his never making up his mind, or by his giving way every time.
In fact, as St. Paul says so well, it is love for one’s spouse that will discover the happy medium between being firm and being gentle.
Under certain circumstances, one must know how to kneel down and pray for light to God, our Father.
To conclude, let me point out that family problems do not arise only in other people’s homes. Let the husband keep watch to preserve the union of harmony in his own.
Thus far my recommendations have been to husbands. There is no space left for much to be said of the need and way for wives to submit to their husbands. Here are a few suggestions:
By becoming a wife, woman enters into a hierarchical society, the family, in which by the will of God man is the head. Just as Christ as man submitted to his Father, so the woman as wife submits to her husband. Neither did Christ lose in dignity by submitting to his Father, nor does the wife by submitting to her husband. On the contrary, obedience makes the soul noble because it makes the greatest sacrifice of self for God, the sacrifice of one’s own will. . . .
Wives, do not listen to the vile propaganda of the anti-culture all around us, which is deliberately anti-Christian and is trampling upon the law of God. Listen to Pope Pius XII, addressing women in 1941: ‘Numerous voices will make out to you that submission is in some way unjust. They will suggest that you be more proudly independent, that you are in all respects the equal of your husbands and that you are in many ways their superior. Watch out for such words of the serpent, temptations, lies. Do not follow in Eve’s footsteps, but keep to the only path that can lead to happiness, even here below. . .’
In practice, the wife collaborates in all family decisions by her judicious advice, and then she falls in with her husband’s opinion in view of the family welfare, God’s will for each and all. She learns how to use the power that her looks and words have over her husband so to enter into his soul as to bring him round to the good of the family. And he learns to take decisions gently influenced by his wife, without losing authority, but also without being weak or giving way to her charm when she is not seeking the common good. There is a whole art in the wife’s influencing her husband for the good. What a misfortune for some wives to have no idea of that art! They openly oppose their husband’s will, and the result can only be a head-on clash. At that point two self-wills compete, and only brute force or blackmail can win out. How far we are then from close collaboration in charity.
In conclusion: let a husband and wife, who both want to make their marriage work, never despair, despite everything the modem world throws at them. A happy home can be achieved. It is an incomparable strength for the children, an edification for one’s fellow men, and it must be a joy for the angels and God to behold. May He bless all of you husbands and wives, young or old, who keep trying!