Today's second reading was the one that I think sends some priests into a panic when it comes up every three years. Ephesians 5: 21-33 (Jerusalem Bible translation):
Give way to one another in obedience to Christ. Wives should regard their husbands as they regard the Lord, since as Christ is head of the Church and saves the whole body, so is a husband the head of his wife; and as the Church submits to Christ, so should wives to their husbands, in everything. Husbands should love their wives, just as Christ loved the Church and sacrificed himself for her to make her body. He made her clean by washing her in water with a form of words, so that when he took her to himself, she would be glorious, with no speck or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and faultless. In the same way, husbands must love their wives as they love their own bodies; for a man to love his wife is to love himself. A man never hates his own body but he feeds it and looks after it; and that is the way Christ treats the Church, because it is his body--and we are its living parts. "For this reason, a man must leave his father and mother, and he be joined to his wife, and the two will become one body." This mystery has many implications; but I am saying it applies to Christ and the Church. To sum up; you too, each one of you, must love his wife as he loves himself; and let every wife respect her husband.
I have to say, I'm curious to find out whose pastors chickened out and had the lector proclaim the shortened version, which omits the whole "Submit to your husbands" thing. But I digress.
I've got to say, I love this reading (Our priest today didn't preach on it, choosing to focus on the Gospel and the Bread of Life discourse). Verse 21 says we must "give way to one another in obedience to Christ." See, St. Paul is coming from the fact that we are charged to love each other with a perfect love, the love that Christ has for us, His Church--a love uncorrupted by sin. In this love, there is no room for using and abusing each other. We are in fact charged to do our best, with the help of God's grace, to live like this always; to always strive for living in perfect love for others and God. We fail at this, of course, being human and tainted by the after effects of original sin. But this does not relieve us of our obligation to strive (and to go to Confession when we fail).
Many people read this as saying St. Paul says that women are to be subservient to their husbands. I don't see anywhere in these verses that says "Woman, you'd better have dinner on the table when I get home from the salt mines and stay barefoot and pregnant, too." These people have obviously turned off their ears after that because St. Paul exhorts husbands to love their wives just as Christ loves the Church, sacrificing Himself for her and her well being (indeed for her very existence). Guys, don't you feel that's a tall order to fill? I mean, all us ladies have to do is let you be in charge. You've got to give your lives for us. I don't mean to be flip, but there is a lot of give and take here.
Jesus tells us over and over again that in order to reach heaven, to be with Him for all eternity, we must empty ourselves and be humble as He is humble. Isn't it worth humbling yourself to your husband or for your wife in order to be with Christ forever.
I find it especially appropriate that today's reading falls on the feast of St. Monica. St. Monica was married to a pagan. She was a Christian. He was a drunk and regularly physically and mentally abused her. If you think YOUR mother-in-law was bad, Patricius' mother lived with them and got in on the action, too. They tormented her because of her faith. But she always gave Patricius the love St. Paul says a wife should give to her husband and she always loved and respected her mother-in-law.
Monica is the mother of St. Augustine, who left the Church and followed a couple of heretical sects. Her other son and her daughter also left the Church. We hear mostly about her heroic virtue on behalf of Augustine, because we only know about Monica based on what Augustine wrote about her. She followed him all over the Roman Empire, praying for him and pleading for him to come back to the Church. Doubtlessly, she exerted the same prayer and effort on behalf of her husband, mother-in-law and other children as well. Patricus' mother converted on her deathbed, and so did Patricius. After she begged him, St. Ambrose went to Augustine and eventually the very proud young man came back to the Church and is one of the greatest saints and Doctors of the Church. Augustine became a priest, as did his brother. His sister became a nun.
Monica would probably have been justified in leaving her husband but she didn't. She heeded St. Paul's words and loved her husband and children and mother-in-law with a perfect love. She prayed constantly for their conversion. And by her example of what it is to be a Christian and by the grace of God softening their hearts, they came to see that Monica's meekness was her strength and that Christianity wasn't a religion for the stupid.
So, today, with this Epistle in mind and with it being St. Monica's feast day, pray for those who are married, that they may learn to love perfectly and for those whom you love who have lapsed from the Church that they may return to the Mystical Body of Christ. We all miss them.