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February 4, 2023
subordinate

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This is not about power and control, about being subordinate or submissive, but rather about sacrifice and self-gift. Paul is foreshadowing the lesson of Vatican II in seeing the family as a domestic Church. And so being subordinate might better be expressed in the language of sacrifice.
Homily given at Christian Brothers College High School, Town and Country, Missouri. Readings for today. Listen to our other homilies.
subordinate
Image by Silvia from Pixabay

Subordinate? This is not at all about power and control

Many priests I know never talk about the first reading from Paul, at least in its entirety. This is unfortunate, if for no other reason than the way in which, on the surface, this seems to suggest that wives should automatically “do whatever their husbands want”. And by avoiding it, it could suggest that this difficult passage from Saint Paul is not really the word of God, if taken to an extreme. We could think that in our current circumstance, this may have been right for ages ago, but not for us today.

But Paul himself clarifies that when he discusses “subordinate” wives, he is addressing primarily not the husband and wife, but Christ and the Church. “This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the Church.” Without seeing the first reading through this lens, it can be the case we misunderstand completely, and could abuse this passage.

This is not about power and control, about being subordinate or submissive, but rather about sacrifice and self-gift. Paul is foreshadowing the lesson of Vatican II in seeing the family as a domestic Church. And so being subordinate might better be expressed in the language of sacrifice. Christ gave his life for the Church, and so husbands imitate this by giving their lives for their wives, and wives sacrifice themselves because of their love for husband and family.

There is one more thing. “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” This suggests that our attitude to others is also one of sacrifice. Can Saint Paul really be suggesting that we should all be submissive to each other? Or rather, is Saint Paul suggesting that we must recognize the high and deep dignity of persons made in the image and likeness of God. And so, if we are subordinate to anyone, it is the person of Jesus Christ.

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