The Church reveals to us that marriage is a natural vocation, in that it aligns with how the human body was made. God designed man to have a natural longing to be loved by another and to raise a family — a desire deeply ingrained in the heart of every person. God himself desires to be loved exclusively, and thus Our Lord, the author of the universe, created marriage as a means to teach mankind of this love, and to draw man to himself. As St. John Paul II taught, marriage is an earthly foreshadowing of the mystical marriage between Christ and his Church. It is through this earthly foreshadowing [of marriage] that men and women can learn of heavenly realities.

Pope Benedict XVI sees love as an important, indeed the element in a vocation. It is at the origin of every vocation, and every vocation finds its fulfillment in love. Thus the pope describes marriage as a vocation insofar as it is to be formed by true love.

If you are engaged to be married, God has a project of love for your future as a couple and as a family. . . . The love of a man and woman is at the origin of the human family and the couple formed by a man and a woman has its foundation in God’s original plan (cf.Gn 2:18–25)….

In your prayer together, ask the Lord to watch over and increase your love and to purify it of all selfishness. Do not hesitate to respond generously to the Lord’s call, for Christian matrimony is a true and proper vocation in the Church.45

The three ingredients for a healthy, happy, holy, and lasting marriage:

  1. To serve and to be served.
    Jesus said, “[I] did not come to be served but to serve and to give [my] life as a ransom for many.”46
  2. To love and to be loved.
    Jesus said: “Love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, than to lay down his life for his friends.”47
  3. To forgive and to be forgiven. Jesus said, “If you do not forgive your brother or sister from the heart nor will your heavenly Father forgive you.”48 Peter approached the Lord and asked, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.”49 What is demanded of the disciples is limitless forgiveness.

What then does it mean to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ so that your vocation will be formed by true and authentic love; a love that is self-sacrificial and unconditional?

Read: Ephesians 5: 21–33.

Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. 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. So (also) husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man shall leave (his) father and (his) mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church. In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband.

Read Christopher West’s exegesis on Ephesians 5: 21–33.

While we must admit that some men throughout history have pointed to this Scripture verse to justify their fallen desire to dominate women, St. Paul is in no way justifying such an attitude. He knows it to be the result of original sin, which is why in this passage he’s actually restoring God’s original plan before sin. He does so by pointing out what marriage was all about in the first place. It was meant to foreshadow the marriage of Christ and the Church. St. Paul simply draws out the implications of this analogy.

He starts by calling both husbands and wives to be subject to one another “out of reverence for Christ” (v. 21) — out of reverence for the “great mystery” that spouses participate in by imaging Christ’s union with the Church. In the analogy, the husband represents Christ, and the wife represents the Church. So, he says, as the Church is subject to Christ, so should wives also be subject to their husbands (v. 24).

Another translation uses the word, “submission.” I like to explain this word as follows. “Sub” means “under,” and “mission” means “to be sent forth with the authority to perform a specific service.” Wives, then, are called to put themselves “under” the “mission” of their husbands. What’s the mission of the husband? “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her” (v. 25). How did Christ love the Church? He died for her. (How many men here would die for their bride?) Christ said He came “not to be served but to serve,” and to lay down His life for His Bride (Mt 20: 28).

What, then does it mean for a wife to “submit” to her husband? It means let your husband serve you. Put yourself under his mission to love you as Christ loved the Church. As [St.] John Paul II says: “The wife’s ‘submission’ to her husband, understood in the context of the entire passage of the letter to the Ephesians, signifies above all the ‘experiencing of love.’ This is true all the more so since this ‘submission’ is related to the image of the submission of the Church to Christ, which certainly consists in experiencing His love” (Theology of the Body, September 1, 1982).

What woman would not want to receive this kind of love from her husband? What woman would not want to be subject to her husband if he truly took his mission seriously to love her as Christ loved the Church?50

“The basis of the supernatural grandeur and dignity of Christian marriage lies in the fact that it is an extension of the union between Christ and his Church. To exhort Christian married couples to live in accordance with their membership of the Church, the Apostle establishes an analogy whereby the husband represents Christ and the wife the Church.”51 When St.Paul exhorts wives to be “subject” to their husbands, he is not only taking into account the social position of women at the time, but also the fact that a Christian wife, by the way she relates to her husband, should reflect the Church itself, in its obedience to Christ. The husband, for his part, is asked to be similarly submissive to his wife, for he is a reflection of Jesus Christ, who gave himself up even to death out of love for the Church.

In 1930 Pope Pius XI taught:

The submission of the wife neither ignores nor suppresses the liberty to which her dignity as a human person and her noble functions as a wife, mother, and companion give her the full right. It does not oblige her to yield indiscriminately to all the desires of her husband, which may be unreasonable or incompatible with her wifely dignity. Nor does it mean that she is on a level of persons who in law are called minors, and who are ordinarily denied the unrestricted exercise of their rights on the ground of their immature judgment and inexperience. But it does forbid such abuse of freedom as would neglect the welfare of the family; it refuses, in this body which is the family, to allow the heart to be separated from the head, with great detriment to the body itself and even with risk of disaster. If the husband is the head of the domestic body, then the wife is its heart; and as the first holds the primacy of authority, so the second can and ought to claim the primacy of love.52

“Above all it is important to underline the equal dignity and responsibility of women with men. This equality is realized in a unique manner in that reciprocal self-giving by each one to the other and by both to the children which is proper to marriage and the family.”53 This can only become a reality in marriage if couples submit to one another out of reverence for Christ who never ceases to “abide with them in order that by their mutual self-giving, they will love each other with enduring fidelity, as Christ loved the Church and delivered Himself for it.”54

The vocation of marriage is truly a path to holiness, which is built upon mutual love and understanding, generosity, forgiveness, humility, reverential service, and, most importantly, self-sacrificial love that mirrors Christ’s unconditional love for his Bride, the Church.

Tertullian on the Sacrament of Matrimony:

Where can I find words to describe adequately the happiness of that marriage which the Church fortifies, which the oblation confirms and the blessing seals? The angels proclaim it and the heavenly Father ratifies it. . . . What kind of yoke is that of two Christians, united in one hope, one desire, one discipline, and one service? Both are children of the same Father, servant of the same master; nothing separates them either in spirit or in the flesh; on the contrary, they are truly two in one flesh. Where the flesh is one, so is the spirit. Together they pray, together they worship God, they teach each other, exhort each other, encourage each other. They are both equal in the Church of God, equal at the banquet of God, equal in trials, persecution and consolations.55