In the old texts, one would often hear “obey,” which had its origins in the Letter of Saint Paul on the proper attitudes of wives toward their husbands.
It was always understood that while wives must obey their husbands, husbands must love their wives as Jesus loves His Church, that is, sacrificially. Pope Benedict XVI calls this oblative love—love which is willing to make any sacrifice for the beloved. Saint Paul also tells husbands they are to love and to respect their wives as they do their own bodies.
In today’s society, the word obey connotes many negative feelings. The misuse of the term leads to the notion of “lording over someone,” with one spouse becoming subservient to the other and feeling almost like a slave. Abuse can result in the misinterpretation of the word “obey.” As Catholics, we have to look at the word’s original meaning.
It was the pride of our first parents, Adam and Eve, that brought about sin and destruction. Their disobedience had a rippling effect in all generations. To counterbalance this negative effect, the total obedience of Jesus Christ (the new Adam) and His mother, Mary (the new Eve), brought about redemption. Obedience is the hallmark of a good Christian.
First and foremost, obedience must be given to Almighty God. Good Christians strive to follow the divine will of God, not their own wills, in their lives. Secondly, a good Christian tries to follow legitimate authority. All authority comes from God, and when exercised in union with God’s laws it is perfectly laudable to follow.
In the case of marriage, it is a partnership of equality. No one person is the authority, only God. When husband and wife try to ascertain and ultimately follow the will of God in their lives, then they are doing what God wants. In a paternalistic society, it usually fell to the husband to ascertain the will of God. In our modern society, the responsibility falls to both.
At times, one of the members may have to remind his partner about following the will of God. It is understood that Christian marriage is a partnership designed by God in which the partners help each other on the way to heaven. Obedience to God is the most basic and important sign that you are on the right way to heaven.