Saturday, August 22, 2009

"Wives be subordinate to your husbands"

HOMILY FOR THE 21ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 23, 2009:

“Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord.” Now, let me ask you honestly, how many wives poked their husbands as that was read? How many husbands twisted uncomfortably in their seats? This is perhaps the most dangerous passage in all of Scripture to preach on, in fact, most preachers usually try and avoid it. But, I feel a little dangerous today, so let’s give it a try.

How many of you saw the very funny movie, My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding, which came out a few years ago now? As you remember, it’s about a large ethnic family focusing on their awkward daughter who pursues her dreams, falls in love and marries. But, there is a scene early on in the film that, I think, gives great insight into our dangerous passage from Ephesians. After years of working in the family restaurant, the daughter decides she wants to go to college. She musters up the courage and asks permission of her father, who immediately turns her down. Crying on her mother’s shoulder the mother responds, “Don’t worry, I will talk to your father.” Feeling the hopelessness of the situation the daughter responds, “He won’t change his mind. He is stubborn. ‘The man is the head of the household.’” The mother strokes her daughter’s hair and smiles, “Yes, the man, he is the head of the household. But the woman? She is the neck. And I can turn that head any way I want.”

That scene gives us a new perspective, and that’s exactly what is needed. The problem with this phrase from Colossians, “Wives be subordinate to your husbands,” is that we tend to isolate that passage out and not look at the rest of the reading. Alone, this passage is troubling and seems to support a subjugation of women, but it is out of context. When we look at the bigger picture, we find not a chauvinistic household, but one that is balanced; not one where husbands lord authority over wives, but one where everyone is subordinate, or the servant, to the other. There are two keys to this reading – the first is the initial words we heard today, “Brothers and sisters, be subordinate to one another.” We are all called to be in that position of subordination to each other, deferring to each other, serving each other. So, if “wives be subordinate to your husbands” is true; then it is also true to say, “husbands be subordinate to your wives,” “children be subordinate to your parents,” “parents be subordinate to your children.” This reading doesn’t want to perpetuate a power dynamic, it wants to eliminate it; leaving in its wake a community of servants.

What does this subordination or servanthood look like? Just a few lines before today’s passage, St. Paul details this: “Put on, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful.” This is the point that St. Paul wants to make, we are not called to be powerful in relation to each other, but powerless; not lords, but servants. I think this is a good image to have in mind when thinking about vocations in the Church.

This is the heart of what men and women try to do in pursuing a vocation from God to serve as a priest, deacon or consecrated religious woman or man. We strive to be subordinate, to be the servant, of all. We strive to live as St. Paul says, with “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another.” The Church needs a few good men; and a few good women; who are ready and willing to give their lives to be the servant of all.

I want to counter a popular notion in the Church today. We often hear about the vocation crisis. I want to tell you, from my own experience, that I don’t believe there is a Vocation Crisis because to say that there is a vocation crisis is to say that God has somehow failed to do His job; that somehow, God has stopped calling young people to live lives dedicated fully to Him as priests, deacons or consecrated religious. Our crisis is one of Vocation Awareness. God always calls, but we often don’t take the time to listen; and we as a people don’t often encourage our young people to consider vocation. People regularly respond to someone thinking of a vocation with the question, “Why would you want to do that?”

My friends, it is up to us to encourage our youth to consider this way of life just as they consider the myriad other ways of life presented to them every day. Ultimately it is about doing what God wants you to do. It isn’t that religious and priests never wanted a relationship or marriage or children or a nice big house and a fancy car; rather, it is that we are called to something else. Each way of life is full of challenges – as any married person can attest to. But, when it is what you are called to, you cannot imagine doing anything else. We have to encourage people to be open to the possibility. To open their hearts to listen to Jesus.

Does this mean that if every young person opens their heart to Jesus, if they really and truly listen to Jesus that they will want to become a brother, a priest or a nun? It might, but what it will mean is that they will be open to whatever God has planned for them – whether religious, married, single, or priest. When we make Jesus, manifested in our world, manifested in the Eucharist, Reconciliation and all the sacraments, the center of our life, we look at life differently. You see, it is a domino effect. When we are open to the presence of Jesus, we become the presence of Jesus in the world; we become His servants to a world that needs His message.

So, what can each of us do to encourage greater awareness of vocations? First and foremost, we can talk about it, we can talk about a life given fully to God, we can stop being afraid of raising the subject with someone; we can be encouragers.

A word to the young people here who might be sensing a call from God. First, talk to someone about it. You can talk to me; you can talk to Fr. Frank, or any other priest or religious you may know. Pray. Ask God to show you what He has in store for you. Attend Mass more often, daily if you can. He will reveal His will to you there. I’m here all weekend to talk about Vocations, so please see me after Mass. I will make you this guarantee – you will never be happier in your life than if you are doing what God calls you to do.

In all of my work with young people, I encounter many young men and women who I believe are being touched by God for a special role of service in the Church. I always, always tell them that; and so should you. Ask them to consider the possibility. There may even be some of these young people right here in this church today.

Here is my challenge for everyone here – have you ever thought about someone that they would make a good priest, or a good religious sister, or a good religious brother? If you haven’t done it already, tell them. I have some prayer cards with me today. I invite you to take one after Mass and make it your goal to put it in the hands of someone you think might have a vocation to serve the Church in this way.

Especially in this Year for Priests declared by our Holy Father, let us pledge to be open to God’s call; and to be supporters and encouragers of vocations. Let me end with a prayer written by Pope John Paul II:

Lord Jesus, as You once called the first disciples to make them fishers of men,
let your sweet invitation continue to resound: Come, follow Me!
Give young men and women the grace of responding quickly to Your voice.
Support your bishops, priests and consecrated people in their apostolic labor.
Grant perseverance to our seminarians and to all those
who are carrying out the ideal of a life totally consecrated to Your service.
Awaken in our community a missionary eagerness.
Lord, send workers to your harvest and do not allow humanity to be lost
for the lack of pastors, missionaries and people dedicated to the cause of the Gospel.
Mary, Mother of the Church, the model of every vocation,
help us to say "yes" to the Lord Who calls us to cooperate in the divine plan of salvation.
Amen.

May the Lord give you peace.

1 comment:

  1. This is a lovely way to look at the reading. My friend Loren referenced your post in a comment on my blog post in which I also talked about this reading. http://elizabeth-kathryn-gerold-miller.blogspot.com/2009/08/wives-should-be-subordinate.html

    ReplyDelete