One can argue that in contemporary society, Paul’s dictum that wives should be subordinate to their husbands is no longer tenable. This objection, however, overlooks the significance of Paul’s words of advice to husbands to love their wives in the way that Christ loved the church. The term “church” here does not signify an ecclesiastical institution presided over by pope and bishops, but rather the community of believers as the Mystical Body of Christ. Just as Christ offers his Body and Blood  under the symbols of bread and wine in the Eucharist to his followers, so also husbands “should love their wives as their own bodies,” that is, give themselves  wholeheartedly to the service of their spouses and children. As one  Catholic layman  remarked, a wife will usually have no  trouble in allowing  her husband to have the last word on important family decisions if she senses that he truly loves her and their children.

—Fr. Joseph Bracken, S.J. is an emeritus professor of theology at Xavier University, Cincinnati, OH.