“Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the Husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the Church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, that he may sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the Church, because we are members of His body. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is a profound one, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Ephesians 5:21-33).
When my wife and I were planning our wedding, we spent a considerable amount of time choosing the hymns and readings for the nuptial Mass. This passage was about the only really easy choice we made for the readings . It may be an easy choice for a wedding, but to live this out in a marriage is at times difficult.
Among other things, it confirms that the spiritual and moral authority of the domestic Church ultimately falls upon the husband/father. I could certainly get used to the idea of a wife who must submit to my authority—though this would ignore the opening verse in which we are told to be subject to one another—but the part about loving my wife as Christ loves the Church is, not to put too fine a point on it, very hard.
It begins with the statement that the wives should be subject to their husbands in the same sense as the Church is subject to Christ. Here the moral and spiritual authority of the family is granted to the husband, just as “all power on heaven and on earth” belongs to Christ (Matthew 28:18). But then this statement of authority is turned on its head by noting that the husbands is therefore called to do for his wife what Christ did for His Church, which means to lay down his own life for her.
The authority conferred on the husband is ultimately the authority to lead his family through the hard times, through the sacrifices that they must make. Christ’s crown was of thorns and not gold, his throne a cross and not a royal chair: so it is to be for husbands as the heads of households. And just as Christ’s sacrifice was for the sanctification of His Church, so too must a husband make sacrifices of his own for the sake of the family.
In my previous post, I wrote that
“Christ carried our sins for us when He carried the cross to Calvary: He laid down His life for us then. He showed us that it is indeed possible to lay down one’s life for his friends, even when those friends did not understand (see Matthew 16:22-23). The contraceptive culture of death—and its widespread acceptance by women—presents us our own challenge. Here we are challenged to lay our own lives down for our wives, that they (and we) might be holy and without blemish.”
The is a sense in which the husband is called to carry the sins of the family by making a sacrifice of his own suffering for the sake of his marriage. Some qualification is needed here since it would otherwise seem that I was saying a man can save himself or others from their sins. We are saved from our sins through the suffering and death and resurrection of Christ, through the breaking of His body and blood; so I am not saying that a husband’s sacrifice is a replacement for God’s grace, but rather that it is a participation in that grace.
Thus, when I say that a husband is responsible for trying to save his family from their sins, I mean that he has a duty as head of the household to help his wife and children to avoid sins as he is able. At times it may seem a thankless task or a deplorable duty, but that is the first responsibility of husband and father. One particular place in which this duty is discharged is the marital bed. Now, on the one hand St. Paul instructs us to submit to one another in a marriage—and there is something to be said for marriage as a safeguard against concupiscence—but I think that it is another sense in which he admonishes wives to submit to their husbands.
To use a simile, marriage is like a dance, but in a dance there must be leads and follows and, unfortunate as it may seem, the men have been given the role of lead, the women of follow . Now, in a dance the men are the leads, but they have the task of first and foremost finding the rhythm of the music to which they are dancing, and then sticking to that rhythm.
Marriage is in some ways like this, both in that there is a literal rhythm set by the woman’s fertility cycle , and that there is also a sort of music which underlies it . Morality is thus an unpacking of this music, the method by which we keep time with the music to which we are dancing.
Just as in dancing, we can get away from the music when we decide to do our own thing, as it were. Just as a discordant note might ruin a symphony, do too does ignoring the music and dancing to our own tune ruin the dance. Concupiscence—the temptation to sin—is so many deliberately discordant notes woven into the music by bad (or even evil) members of the orchestra . The various sexual sins—fornication, pornography, contracepted copulation, adultery, etc—are so many ways in which we get off-rhythm.
How, then, does the husband save his family from these sins? How, that is, can he lead his wife away from them? First of all, he want not engage in any of them himself. He can certainly not suggest that the two engage in any of these together. And he might take one step further by refusing to engage in such activities as contracepted copulation for the sake of his family’s sanctity. It can be a hard sell since there is a certain amount of sacrifice involved in saying “no” to the contraceptive mindset of the culture of death.
Indeed, the first step to making this a real sacrifice comes when the husband says, “No, I will not participate in the culture of death, even so little as to use contraception,” and then backs that promise with actions. In some cases, these actions mean merely abstaining during fertile periods of the month if you are not ready to add a new member to your family. In some ways, this is the easy route, since it assumes that both the husband and the wife are at least somewhat on board with NFP. The intellect assents, though the will might desire otherwise: “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).
It becomes more difficult still when the intellect also dissents or when the wife insists on contraception. The husband is then forced to choose between contracepted copulation and abstinence entirely—between leading in suffering by abstaining, or following silently into sin by acquiescing. It is a difficult decision which I am not fit to further judge than to say again that the former is a cross to bear and the latter a sin .
With that said, in his Screwtape Letters C.S. Lewis tells us something about healthy pleasures—and about unhealthy pleasures or addictions—and how they may be used to tempt us. The experienced demon, Screwtape, writes giving advice to a junior tempter, Wormwood:
“Never forget that that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not our. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encouragethe human to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula. It is more certain; and it’s better style. To get the man’s soul and give him nothing in return—that is what really gladdens Our Father’s heart” (The Screwtape Letters, pp. 44-45).
What Screwtape is describing—what saddens God and gladdens Satan’s heart—is an addiction. Our culture is addicted to sex , and we cannot sate our desires for it. As with many addicts, we have considerable difficulty admitting that there is a problem; and we ultimately admire the enablers of that addiction. The greatest enabler of our culture’s sex addiction is contraception, since it gives us the illusion of being able to obtain consequence-free copulation.
The vision of being able to break the moral-law without consequence thanks to some technological achievement cannot but be a mirage. Moral problems require moral solutions, not technical ones, and technical know-how is no substitute for virtue. The former gives us a mere phantom liberty, whereas the latter can set us truly free.
Our previous pope, Blessed John Paul the Great, tells us that “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.” Contraception leaves us with the ability to have supposedly “safe” sex—though they will also have a failure rate due to both misuse and defective designs, in short due to so-called “human error.” Contraception also cannot fix the broken heart and broken relationships left in the culture’s wake, as when for example a husband cheats on his wife. That he used a condom or that his adulterous affair avoided pregnancy or STIs does not make up for the fact that it was wrong, nor does it prevent an injury from occurring in the husband’s marriage, even if the wife never finds out.
True freedom is the ability to turn temptation down, to choose to sate a desire—or to deny such satisfaction to our urges. It is the ability to choose to take up our crosses and lay down our lives, not lay down our crosses and take up our lives. It is this former choice which the headship of the household is meant to enable husbands to do: to lay down our own lives, or to insist that the family take up its cross, recognizing that “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25).
As with other addictions, getting free from the addiction to sex is difficult, a struggle . On the other hand, it is a struggle which when won leaves us freer than before.
Men, we are called to lay down our lives for our wives and for our families and as disciples of Christ to take up our crosses daily and follow Him. We do both in rejecting the contraceptive mindset of the culture of death. It is, however, worth noting that the struggle is gain (James 1:2-4) and that we must recall Christ’s other words to us: that in Him, the yoke becomes easy and the burden light (Matthew 11:30). Those of us who live contraception free are ultimately happier for it, sacrifices and all.
 The verse address Ephesians 5:25 is inscribed on the inside of my wedding ring as a reminder of my wedding vows: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her.”
 One of may dance instructors would often frame it this way: “Men, you are the leads; good luck, and try to stay with the music. Women, you are the follows; I’m sorry.”
 Not to be confused with the “rhythm method” of family planning.
 Lest this seem like a stretch, consider that one of the medieval interpretations of creation has God creating the universe according the to rules embedded in the fundamental sciences, which include music. Indeed, a musician’s creating music is a good metaphor for how God creates the universe according to classical theism. Or, read the opening chapter to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion or the account of creation in C.S. Lewis’ The Magicians’s Nephew—the idea that God sings the universe into being is not so far-fetched.
 Or, since these evil members are really demons—fallen angels—perhaps choir is a better term.
It is worth here pointing to the document Vademecum for Confessors Concerning Some Aspects of the Morality of Conjugal Life, where we read that
Special difficulties are presented by cases of cooperation in the sin of a spouse who voluntarily renders the unitive act infecund. In the first place, it is necessary to distinguish cooperation in the proper sense, from violence or unjust imposition on the part of one of the spouses, which the other spouse in fact cannot resist. This cooperation can be licit when the three following conditions are jointly met:
- when the action of the cooperating spouse is not already illicit in itself;
- when proportionally grave reasons exist for cooperating in the sin of the other spouse;
- when one is seeking to help the other spouse to desist from such conduct (patiently, with prayer, charity and dialogue; although not necessarily in that moment, nor on every single occasion).
 Note well that an addiction can be to a natural pleasure—to a good thing, that is—and not only to a drug or other “abused substance.”
 Note again that I am not here saying that all sex is bad. However, there is a matter of trying to enjoy it “at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which [God] has forbidden.” So it is with contraception as a matter of avoiding pregnancy within a marriage (let alone outside of it). The result of such acts are ultimately “an ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure,” as witnessed by such indicators as the high divorce rate among contracepting couples (it’s relatively small among those who use NFP), and for that matter the low rate of satisfaction with contraception or even with sex lives among those who contracept.