MSGR. HIGLEY: On power and service in marriage


In my homily for the weekend of Aug. 21-22, I chose not to dwell on the second reading (Ephesians 5:21-32), in which St. Paul presents his teaching on married life.

Instead, I want to address it in this column so that you can reflect further on what Paul has to say in light of my own observations.

I grew up witnessing married life with my parents; I continue to do so with my married siblings, and, of course, I am surrounded by married persons every place I have pastored.

This teaching of St. Paul is rarely chosen as one of the optional readings to be proclaimed at a wedding Mass because it can be disturbing to a lot of people, especially women, and has been applied heavy-handedly for far too many centuries ... partly because it has not been explained well.

I was visiting with a former schoolmate of mine who has spent 40 years as a psychologist focusing on family counseling. I commiserated with him about the staggering divorce figures and tragic break-up of so many marriages that started out with the best of intentions but didn’t last.

I was sharing with him many things I have learned over my 40 years of priestly ministry regarding the deterioration of marriages, through my spiritual direction of couples.

He told me that in a marriage, a husband and wife somehow have to learn about “power.”

He said that “power” is so mishandled, misapplied and misdirected in married life that eventually, it is often the underlying cause of a marriage break-up.

Oftentimes the partners don’t even know or realize that they are misusing their power.

This misuse of power, most of the time “to get one’s own way,” is what leads to deep and painful hurt that results in intense and enduring resentment.

Paul is addressing the misuse of “power” in marriage. He actually does it on another occasion when speaking about parenting.

What Paul is trying to impress upon us in the married life, and can be applied to plenty of other vocations and avocations and relationships, is that the greatest use of our “power” is “service!”

He uses the word subordinate not meaning subservient, but rather in the sense of “being of service.”

Because it was a patriarchal society, he mentions wives; but to be relevant for us today he would have said “spouses be subordinate to each other,” “spouses be a servant to one another!”

That is why he says that husbands and wives should love the other as Christ loves the Church: Jesus said, “I came to serve, not to be served.”

With this in mind, true “power” is being “of service” to others. The correct use of power in a relationship, especially one as intimate as marriage, can be centered around “being of service” to one’s partner.

Paul didn’t stop there. He made it clear that this better and more correct use of one’s power in service to others, is also the way we are called to treat our neighbor, in the home, outside the home and wherever God puts us.

Msgr. Higley is pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Columbia and judicial vicar for the Jefferson City diocese.