Suæ domui bene præpositum: filios habentem subditos cum omni castitate. Si quis autem domui suæ præesse nescit, quomodo ecclesiæ Dei diligentiam habebit?
He must manage his own household well, keeping his children under control with perfect dignity; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of the Church of God?
1 Timothy 3:4-5
It sounds odd to our ears to read this for three reasons. One: since the 70s, at least, these have been shared duties – in theory. Two: for the 200 years or so prior to that, although the man was the “head of the house” the woman was the manager. We see this in such bizarre images as the 50s housewife, and the Grand Dames of Downton Abbey. Even downstairs, Carson may be the muckety muck, but it is Mrs Hughes that actual runs all things – even Carson.
The third reason this sounds odd: no one does adulting any more. Managing a house? Blergh.
Jesus raising from the dead the son of the widow of Nain is often seen as an act of cultural compassion. The woman had no man to fend for her, she was to become an outcast. By restoring her son to her, he gives her household a head. So it seems.
Neither Jesus nor Paul waste a lot energy critiquing the culture in which they find themselves. Paul makes comments about the sexual morals of the gentiles, Jesus makes comments about the religious liberals of his day being “whited sepulchers”, but in the end, neither says “boo” about the Roman power structure, or the ways different groups of people are treated in the society. Jesus doesn’t question Pilot’s authority over him, Paul blatantly appeals to Caesar in an attempt to get away from his own people.
Paul appeals to the family structure of the time. Jesus uses the political, ethnic, and religious forces in his homeland to God’s greater glory.
Does this mean “God approves these things” and “cultures at variance are to be considered sinful”?
What about rather, at minimum: God uses what’s there. God starts where people are and moves them to where they need to be. God leaves none of us unchanged, sinful, alone. But God gets to us where we are.
I’ve been thinking about the Story of St Mary of Egypt a lot recently. Very brief, Mary enjoyed sex. A lot. In fact, she did a lot of things just to have sex – or to have time to have the sex she wanted to have. She’s very clear: she didn’t sell her body for money. She was doing this because she enjoyed doing it. One day she saw a bunch of young men waiting for a boat and, flirting with them, she discovered they were going to Jerusalem to visit the Holy Places and attend the Elevation of the Holy Cross – a feast we celebrated last week. She decided that all these youths on a boat was too much fun to pass up and when they said “you need money to get on the boat” she said, “Take me with you, you’ll not find me superfluous”. And they all had sex all that time…
When she got to Jerusalem, some invisible, spiritual force kept her from entering the Church.
Realizing this “force” is her own sin, she prays before an Image of the Virgin and asks for grace to venerate the cross… which she does… and then she begins 40 years of struggle to get back to purity.
God got her.
God used her own addictions to pull her to him.
And then got her. Grace builds on nature. It is our weakness that lets God take the lead.
What if God does that even to cultures?
A slow process of meditative, prayerful change brought out of the death-happy world of Rome (where the Father of the House could expose a child or an older person on the hillside just to improve the economics) a Christian culture of life where abortion, euthanasia, political murder, even war itself was seen as sinful. How did that happen? And where did it go?
Today we struggle with the same sort of Questions. How do we engage the culture without becoming contaminated by it? How do we dance the Gospel in the world without becoming part of that world ourselves? Can we use the internet for evangelization? Is there a place for technology? What do we do with all this sex?
Rome has come back with a vengeance.
Can we walk alongside the culture and find the good things, and let grace build on nature? The Salvation of many depends on the answer. The only way to show them how to escape is to go inside and draw a map to the exit.