Carmen Lappe reflects on her vocation to marriage, and the command from St. Paul for spouses to love one another as Christ loved the Church.
During a recent trip with my husband Jeff, many of my insecurities were blown wide open. It gave way to a conversation about the depravity of our culture, the worldly distractions from holiness, and how a married couple is to respond to such situations.
As Jeff and I talked one afternoon, I told him, “I’m just trying to get my family to heaven.” After all, this is the purpose of the sacrament of holy matrimony: heaven. Just like the other six sacraments, marriage is another route to unity with Christ. Accomplishing this in today’s world is no easy task! Of course, avoiding things that may cause us to sin can be a good place to start. But perhaps more important is living as a disciple of Christ in such a way that points those around us to Him; to let them see Christ within us and our marriages.
A very dear friend who is currently in AA helped drive this point home: folks who attend meetings don’t talk about how they “can’t” or “don’t” drink. Rather, they manifest the joy and freedom they have found since removing this habit from their lives which, for them, was destructive. So, too, are we called in marriage: to not only remove or avoid the “bad” things which may cause us to be unfaithful to our vows or to one another, but embracing and showing forth the “good” things that may be born of this union. In doing so, we are witnesses to the spousal love of Christ for His Church.
One of my favorite passages in Scripture speaks to the beauty of marriage that springs forth from this self-sacrificing, other-focused union. Considered controversial by many, it is arguably one of the most widely misunderstood passages in the Bible:
Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:22-27)
What I find beautiful about St. Paul’s letter, and what I truly love about it, is the call to humility and service within marriage. Wives are not ordered to be lowly, subservient, second-class citizens. And although the scriptural command for husbands is to be the “head” of the wife, this does not translate to “boss” or “dictator.” Rather, both husband and wife are called to mutual service and self-sacrifice; to be subject to one another.
Jeff and I recently celebrated nine years of marriage, and it was the perfect opportunity to reflect on all we’ve celebrated and endured. In the 11 years we’ve been together and the nine we’ve been married, there has certainly been both bliss and suffering; joy and pain. There has been undergraduate and graduate school, two children, career changes, family members passing into eternity, mental health diagnoses and challenges, and increasing demands on everyday life.
Through it all, I have seen Jeff live out the command put forth by St. Paul:
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her. (Ephesians 5:25)
This might bring to mind an image of the crucifix: the ultimate sacrifice. We may not be called to physical death for our spouses, but I believe we are called to nail our own desires, perhaps even our own needs, to the cross every day out of love. I see Jeff live out this call to humility and sacrifice in everyday life: folding the laundry when he’s already exhausted from a long day, changing dirty diapers when it’s probably my turn, or mowing the lawn when the game is on. Perhaps without even knowing it, he is living as Christ did for His bride.
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We are called to nail our own desires, perhaps even our own needs, to the cross every day out of love. #catholicmom
Through the mundane and the extraordinary, I have seen my husband lay it all down to support Gemma, Damien, and me. I have seen him rise early to go to work, come home late after working overtime, and still give everything he has to his family. Giving Damien a bath or reading Gemma’s saint book with her at bedtime may seem small, but these loving actions have a profound impact on all of us. He provides endless love and grace, especially when life doesn’t go as planned, or when the path forward is foggy and unsure.
Of course, neither of us is perfect. That’s where the grace of God and the nourishment of prayer and the Eucharist at weekly Mass is essential to our vocation to each other and our children. Just as with Christ as the Head of His Church, with Jeff as the head of our domestic church, we will always be led by love.
For Jeff: my love, my light.
Copyright 2022 Carmen Lappe
Images: (top) Canva; all others copyright 2022 Carmen Lappe, all rights reserved.
About the Author
Carmen is a wife and mother of two in midwestern Iowa. She has a Master of Arts degree in Sacred Theology and has a special passion for writing about the grace of motherhood. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling with her husband and exploring breweries and baseball stadiums across the country.