Thursday, April 26, 2012

Powerful Contradictions

[The last couple of posts have been personal and profound; so, let’s switch gears this week and explore some provoking ideas.]

    For those who didn’t know, I have written a book called “Woman, How Great Thou Art” and it is being decided upon at a publisher presently.  Part of this process is obtaining peer reviews for the manuscript and I love all the reviews, but one struck me particularly.  It holds a key point that will be quite valid for today’s thoughts.  Part of the review said,

“Fun, fresh, real, and insightful, Theresa Martin presents us with a beautiful ideal of Catholic Christian femininity, grounded in the reality of hope in the Resurrected Christ.  She explores both commonly-held and little appreciated truisms about the nature of women, often turning them on their heads to get at an even greater truth.  No maxim, whether feminist or fundamentalist, is safe in Woman, How Great Thou Art…” - Rhonda Ortiz, Catholic convert, wife, mother, and writer

    The line that struck me was “No maxim, whether feminist or fundamentalist, is safe in Woman, How Great Thou Art. I can’t take credit for the thought; it’s the same truth it has always been.  God just gave me a gift to explain it simply.  (On a side note, many of you had inquired about the book and how you can help get it published.  Thank you for your concern!  Truly, you are so kind!  The best thing you can do is to share this blog.  They wider the audience, the more likely they’ll take it up.)

    "No maxim is safe" – it’s true.  Taking a black and white approach to anything is easy.  Being extreme in any sense, is easy.  It’s at least easier then walking that rocky trail of truth.  What you think simplifies it in your mind, often minimizes it and therefore, destroys it.  When you see the first idea led to its destruction, you swing to the opposite extreme and again lose truth.  Truth is found in that steady middle ground, that constant commitment.  It’s not a state of compromise, but a willingness to be in the mess of things, in the great whirlwinds of life, and still plow forward in consistency - unafraid.

    I say all this to let you know that truth is not always easy and in fact sometimes challenges what we thought we knew.  Many truths seem like great contradictions.  Looking at our Christian faith, the contradictions are frequent: you must die and be buried in order to live, you must love your enemies, to serve is to reign, you must have faith in order to see.  (That last one definitely flies in the face of our scientific world where “seeing is believing”!)  Even the crucifixion itself is a contradiction.  What God would allow Himself to be murdered by His own creation?  In our view, it seems to show weakness and confuses us.  Isn’t this God who is all powerful?  Why would He do this?

    Our logic is at a loss to understand Jesus’ words.  (And I do go into this in much more detail in my book, but for the time being, this will have to do.)  So, you have to suspend, if you can, your personal understanding of power, might, leadership, in order to understand Christ.  Even many of the Apostles were confused by Him and did not understand.  It’s difficult to separate ourselves from our culture’s definitions, but we must try if we are to understand.

    There is a certain issue concerning the role of women and men in marriage, which I have recently heard discussed and is most intriguing.  It is often thought and understood in conservative circles that the husband is  the “head” of the wife and that he is active, she is passive.  Some even explain it in the right words saying the husband is to be “head of the wife as Christ is head of the Church”.  Yet, what happens in the very next moment is where it gets all sticky.  The next thought is that this “headship” of the husband means the final say comes down to him, and that he must be the one leading his wife and his family (in other words, he’s the one in control).  Did you see that red flag go up?  (Or ladies, did the hair on the back of your neck stand on end?)  Not to worry!  Even Blessed John Paul II blows this idea to smithereens. 

    Remember how we have to read apart from our cultural influence?  Apparently, as I learned Saturday evening, the “headship” term and usage in marriages came both from Protestant circles and the influence of the lack of equality of women in culture (can’t go into much background here, but it is thought to have entered into Catholic circles during the charismatic renewal).  Yet, this is NOT what we believe!  In JP II’s Apostolic Letter On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, he addresses the text this comes from (Eph 5:25 - 32) and not once – but FIVE times[i] he reiterates the first line of that text: that the whole passage MUST be read in context of the fact that there is a “mutual subjection” of both “out of reference for Christ”.  (Can I emphasize that again?  He repeated this FIVE TIMES!)  We see “lead”, “head”, or “headship” and it is immediately defined in our minds through our world-view: in control, leading the way, taking care of everything, making all the decisions, and being in charge.  But that is NOT how Christ meant it.

    For Christ, to serve is to reign.  Christ’s leadership was at the filthy feet of His Apostles, not with the decision makers of the Church.  He gave His will up to the Father.  He lead the Church by sacrificing His pride in every moment, by giving of Himself totally (time, energy, love) over to His people.  A husband and wife must submit to each other with Christ as their head.  The husband particularly is called to be the first to lay down his will, to sacrifice his pride for the love of his family - this is the definition of leadership as Christ exemplified.  Both husband and wife work together in that mutual submission, that mutual self-giving love that creates the foundation for their family.

    If I have upset the norms for you, here’s a little solace.  Blessed John Paul II never dictates in detail how that mutual submission must be played out; it must be the decision of each individual couple.  The interpretations will be as numerous as the distinctness of each relationship!  What I found reassuring for women, is that Christ is not asking us to “just go with what your husband decides, because after all, he’s the head of the family”.  It is a vibrant complementarity of the sexes that brings in the unique gifts of each spouse and through mutual submission under Christ and respect of each other’s personhood, each person is able to fulfill their divine potential in a much more profound way.

Well, that's my view of it!  And I welcome yours!  (Please comment below!)
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A Personal Note: Please do not take this as a judgment piece on anyone or on any particular group, community or movement.  It is definitely not that.  It's merely a discussing of the misunderstanding of this scripture passage.  I have many personal friends who have been a part of the charismatic renewal and are in full agreement with the "mutual submission under Christ" idea.  No sweeping judgments or stereotypes here!  God bless you!

[i] Blessed John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem 24.


  1. LOVE this! SO well put. AMEN. proud to have been raised by progressive parents who said "we're co-captains of the same ship!" :)and raised me to believe I too deserved the same...and blessed to have my co-captain in Kevin! xoxoxo

  2. Well said! This is often misunderstood and it is so simple - LOVE. Christ died for the Church out of love and we, the Church, follow and live Christ's teachings out of love. If we all strive to love each other, especially our spouses, as Christ loved, then we will find that we will constantly be putting their needs above our own since love is "willing the good of the other." (Not that any of us are perfect at it, but that's the general goal!)

    Theresa, since women who may find themselves in a marriage where their husband does not fully understand this passage probably won't have a husband open to hearing it from their wife or another women, can you suggest links to the direct teachings of JPII? (Yet another example of how the Bible and the Church must go hand in hand in communicating our faith! But that's another topic! ;)

    1. To answer your last point - You are right on! It's so important to have the Holy Spirit guiding our Church because there could be so many interpretations of scripture!

      The bulk of this particular point is found in Mulieris Dignitatem 24. You can view the English translation here:

  3. I followed you over here from Jen F.'s blog (a commenter linked to you) and I am so excited. I know that the "male headship" thing, as understood by Protestants (I used to be one) is misguided, but I need more clarity. I am happy to have found your blog and look forward to reading more.

    1. Oh how wonderful, Nayhee! Welcome!!! We are most happy to have you in the conversation! (I'm curious...can you share the link of the blog that linked you here??) You can follow my link on facebook if you want to send a private message :-)
      Welcome again!!

  4. Theresa,
    I agree that Christ is not asking us to “just go with what your husband decides, because after all, he’s the head of the family”. He calls spouses to grow in authentic intimacy which includes respect, empathy, discussion, compromise, sharing and sacrifice. Intimacy can't be formed in a relationship where only one person is active.

    I also fully agree that women must be seen as equals in the marriage relationship. To compliment what you have said, it is important to note that "equal" does not mean "the same". Maybe that is pointing out the obvious but I do believe that a failure to understand this is the root of a lot of personal and cultural problems we face today. JPII addresses this concern in Mulieris Dignitatem far more eloquently than I can.

    I am very much interested in your comment that there is an influence from some Protestant circles regarding idea of "headship" that would be different from the traditional Catholic one. I have been suspecting that to be the case since I've not generally heard that term used and it seems to carry heavy negative connotation. I would love a little more background!

    I would also be very interested in your take on this homily on Colossians 3:18 and Ephesians 5:21–25:
    Fr. Ryland, in a different way, says much of what you write. He does do more to address the nuances in the specific use of the words "head" and "submission" we find in the above passages while he emphasizes mutual subjection. Reading to the end, I found that he had some really beautiful, inspiring things to say that fit with the emphasis that JPII puts on the beauty of the "personal resources of femininity" we women are given. I see it as another way to come to conclusions that are very similar to what you have shared here.

    God Bless!

    1. Carrie, what great insights! I'll check out the homily. And I'm researching the background of "headship" terminology, so I'll keep you posted! ;-)
      Thanks so much for your comments!! I look forward to our future discussions! Friend me on Facebook too to stay in touch!

    2. The entire mutual submission ideology has nothing to do with the bible. Otherwise the body of the Church and member would be commanded to submit to wives who are commanded to submit to their husbands in everything.

      Do we change the Word and remove protection of the wives; making them subject to their husbands in everything and the Church and others all at the same time?

      Do we change the Word or the just the definitions of subjection (to heed authority) and sacrificial love (to provide when and what is needed); somehow merging the two? We would also have to change the Word or figure out how to get around the blasphemy part in Titus 2:4,5 and what to teach the young.

      I guess we could no longer enjoy the GOD sanctioned Covenant of marriage; instilled in Grace. Do we still use the same word; marriage? I will miss that Grace.

  5. Join the equalists. But i think men are better.

  6. a womes only purpose in life is to be a mans sex slave