A founding principle of the Knights of Columbus was to help men protect their families from financial ruin should disaster strike the husband and father. As the son of a woman who was widowed with four children ages 5-15, and a member of the Order, I support this work.
Yet a husband’s job goes far beyond providing financial security, a fact that Father McGivney also acknowledged when he said that the Knights should help men grow in the faith. As his highest calling, a husband must protect the purity of his sexual union with his wife and thereby help her get into heaven. As a husband of 33 years, I accept this challenge.
Why is this the man’s job? Pope John Paul II spelled it out in his Theology of the Body. He said that in marriage we are giving ourselves as a gift. The male is described as the one who receives the gift and the woman as the one who is received. The one-flesh union, made visible through the bodies of the spouses, is the expression of that gift.
The pope wrote, “It seems that the second narrative of creation has assigned to man ‘from the beginning’ the function of one who above all receives the gift. From the beginning, the woman is entrusted to his eyes, to his consciousness, to his sensitivity, to his heart.” The man must ensure the integrity of the mutual giving because “The woman was ‘given’ to the man.”
Historically, how has the woman been received? Since about Adam’s “she made me do it” of Genesis 3:16, not so well. Here are three ways in which we as men can protect the sanctity of our wives.
1.Avoid the things that constrain a man’s ability to give himself freely, the most pervasive example of which is pornography. This scourge is addictive – anything addictive can rob of us of our freedom to act – and can drive a wedge between spouses.
2. Accept your wife as she was created by God. Many women must sense that what they have to offer isn’t good enough because they are turning increasingly to cosmetic surgery. Since 1997, cosmetic procedures have increased by 250 percent, and 90 percent of those are performed on women, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. The most common procedure is breast augmentation. We must also accept the woman’s fertility – and she the man’s – as it was linked to the union of the husband and wife from the beginning.
3. Ensure that your wife is never used, that her gift is never taken. Christ had it pegged when he said that whoever looks at a woman lustfully commits adultery with her in his heart. It was as true then as it is now; she has been reduced from a human person to an object for men’s gratification. A man can’t commit adultery with his wife, but he can objectify her. “The heart has become a battlefield between love and lust. The relationship changes from one of giving to one of appropriation,” John Paul wrote. This mutual appropriation “creates a fundamental disquiet in all human existence” and “a lack of trust.”
This lack of trust is behind the drop in commitment in relationships – reflected in the rise of cohabitation – and is a motivating factor in women surpassing men in attaining advanced degrees. According to a study titled “Knot Yet” published by the National Marriage Project, more than a third of women didn’t expect to stay married to the same person and their advanced education and earning potential were seen as a hedge against poverty should their marriages end. The study added that “young adults are hesitant to enter marriage without a sufficient exit strategy.”
It is no wonder so many women reject the Church’s teaching on birth control. It is up to us to end the battle and restore trust.
How can a man achieve this? The instructions are laid out in Ephesians 5:21 ff: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her … 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.”
This requires willpower, self-control and sacrifice, and the desire to get as close as possible to mankind before the fall, who was naked and not ashamed, that is, Adam and Eve did not view one another as an object for use.
Suggesting this in marriage prep at my parish generates resistance and anger. However, in interviews for my book Natural Family Planning Blessed Our Marriage: 19 True Stories (Servant), one of the common threads was the gratitude the wives felt for their husbands who abstained from relations when the two of them decided that it was not a good time to add to their family. In that way, the gift of self was protected, with trust and true balance restored.
This is ultimately what men are called to do: to ensure that their marital union is a source of joy and grace, and that through sacrifice they give all to her without expecting anything in return, so that the holiness of their wives is protected. Most women would marry for that, and we must become worthy of that trust.
This article originally appeared on Fathers for Good and is reprinted with permission.