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The Duties of the Married

The following are the duties incumbent on married persons:
1. It is the duty of the wife to obey her husband, as the man is the head of the family, the representative of God.

That the man is superior to the woman is shown by the fact that he was created first, and the woman was only created of his flesh, and as a helper for him (1 Cor. xi. 9). The man being the head of the family, the woman is subservient to him, as the members of the body are to the head. The Apostle says: “As the Church is subject to Christ, so also let the wife be to the husband in all things” (Eph. v. 24). The woman is commanded to cover her head in the church, to indicate that she is under the dominion of the man; whereas the man uncovers his head, because there is no one over him but God (1 Cor. xi. 10). The wife ought to fear her husband (Eph. v. 33), that is show him the deference due to him. After the Fall God ordained that the woman should be under her husband’s power, and should yield him obedience (Gen. iii. 16), because Eve lusted after power, and ate the apple first. The husband therefore has every right to rule his wife, but he ought to rule with kindness, gentleness and leniency, for she is in one sense his equal, having been made out of flesh taken from his side. Therefore St. Ambrose bids the husband remember that his wife is not to be treated as a servant, that he must not make his authority felt to be a burden. Besides the woman, being the weaker, can claim to be gently treated (1 Pet. iii. 7). It is more shame for the man than for the woman, if he resorts to blows to enforce his authority. As the representative of God, the husband has the right of controlling the household. The angel did not appear to Mary, but to Joseph, when the flight to Egypt was to be made, because the husband’s duty is to rule and govern.

2. The husband and wife owe to each other love, fidelity, and mutual aid in all circumstances of their life.

Husbands ought to love their wives as Christ loves the Church (Eph. v. 25), as their own bodies (v. 28), as themselves (v. 33). The love of husband and wife ought not to be a purely natural love, like that of the lower animals, nor a purely human love, like that of the heathen, but a holy and supernatural affection, like that of Christ for the Church, and of the Church for Christ. Hence they ought each to bear with the infirmities of the other patiently and indulgently, or generously close their eyes to them. An example of this is given by the Greek philosopher Socrates, whose wife was a perfect virago. When she stormed at him, he took no more notice of it than of the rattling of a passing vehicle. One day when he was seated before the house with his scholars, from a window above she rated him soundly, and finally threw a jug of water over him. Socrates rose and changed his place, remarking with a smile: “I might have known that the storm would have ended with a thunder shower.” The wife will influence her husband for good far more effectually by silence, meekness and prayer than by reproaches. St. Augustine tells us that his mother did more for the conversion of her husband Patricius by the saintliness of her life, than by her words. Dissensions between husband and wife ruin their happiness; without peace at home nothing pleases, even amid all the luxuries wealth can command. Married people owe fidelity to one another (Heb. xiii. 4). They ought scrupulously to guard against every appearance of unfaithfulness, and avoid familiar intercourse with persons of the other sex. For where jealousy enters, all conjugal happiness is at an end. St. John Chrysostom is of opinion that the direst poverty, the most incurable malady, fire even and sword, are lesser evils than jealousy. The Jews used to stone the unfaithful husband or wife, for they considered adultery a no less heinous crime than murder (Lev. xx. 10). St. Paul declares everlasting damnation to be the portion of adulterers (Eph. v. 5). The married must not defraud one another of their conjugal rights (1 Cor. vii. 1-5), but they must abstain from excesses inconsistent with the sanctity of their state (Tob. vi. 17), and only keep in view the object indicated by the angel to Tobias (v. 22), otherwise the devil will prevail over them (v. 16). To the duty of mutual aid it appertains that husband and wife should live together, and that neither the one nor the other should avail himself or herself, if contrarieties or calamities overtake them, of any pretext to leave the other; they are bound to assist each other in the training of their children, to succor each other in illness, to aid each other to bear more easily the ills of life, and to perform their religious duties with greater facility. Eve was created for the sole purpose of helping Adam; for God said: It is not good for man to be alone, lot us make him a help like unto himself” (Gen. ii. 18). It is, however, a sad misfortune when the wife is not a support but a cross to her husband; when instead of lightening his burdens, she only adds to their weight. Almighty God declares that a really good woman is a treasure of inestimable price (Prov. xxxi. 10), far above the most costly jewels. Jewels serve to adorn their owner, and that which is to him a brilliant ornament in the day of prosperity, is to him in adversity a timely aid. So a good wife is in herself a source of riches, a valuable jewel which retains its worth amid all the vicissitudes of life.

3. It is the duty of both husband and wife to provide for their children, and train them in the fear and love of God.

Children are no more the property of their parents than riches are; they are a gift from God (Ps. cxxvi. 3). They are His creatures, destined to be happy with Him forever; they are the children of their Father in heaven, and are only given in trust by Him to their parents, to be brought up in His service. Thus parents are only servants, bound to carry out the will of God in regard to their off spring.

The duties which parents have to discharge towards their children are these: They have to safeguard them from every thing which would be prejudicial to their health; they have to supply them with their daily sustenance; they have also to provide for their future.

It is the duty of parents to deny themselves everything which might prove injurious to the health of their children. They must refrain from giving way to their passions, or indulging in excesses, lest they transmit a heritage of disease or sin to their offspring. Like father, like child, the proverb says. Parents ought not to give themselves up to the pursuit of pleasure and amusements, to the neglect of their young children. Let them remember how distressed Mary and Joseph were when the Child Jesus was lost, how for three days they sought Him, sorrowing (Luke ii. 48). Let them learn a lesson from the birds; they do not leave the nest until their young are fully fledged, they are indefatigable in supplying them with food, they teach them to fly. Parents ought to work for the daily bread of their family; even wild beasts take the utmost care of their young, yet some parents are, as Holy Scripture says, “cruel as the ostrich in the desert” (Lam. iv. 3), which lays her eggs in the sand and heeds them no more. “Children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children” (2 Cor. xii. 14). They ought to provide for their children’s future by laying by a certain amount of money to bequeath to them; by sending them to school; by fitting them to follow the calling most in accordance with their inclinations and capabilities; above all by training them in the fear of God, which is the surest means of promoting their temporal as well as their spiritual welfare; (David declares: “I have been young and now am old, and I have not seen the just forsaken, nor his seed begging bread,” (Ps. xxxvi. 25); finally it is the bounden duty of parents to pray for their children, and thus call down on them the blessing of God. Job offered holocausts daily for every one of his children, lest perchance they should have sinned against God (Job i. 5). St. Monica prayed fervently for her son, and with the hap piest results. “Parents,” says St. Francis of Sales, “ought often to speak of God to their children, but yet more often to speak to God of their children.”

In regard to the bringing up of their children it is the duty of parents to have them baptized immediately after their birth, to give them their first religious teaching, to set them a good example in all respects, and to treat them with kindness rather than severity.

St. Charles Borromeo says that training children means bringing them to Christ. Parents ought to have their new-born infant baptized as soon as possible; to defer baptism for more than ten days after the birth of a child, without good reason, is a sin. They ought to instruct their children early in the fundamental truths of religion; to teach them that there is a God in heaven; that He knows and sees everything, that if we obey Him, He will take us to Himself in heaven, etc. They should beware of frightening their children by threats of hell and of the devil, lest they inspire them with a repulsion for religion, also of allowing them to imbibe false ideas, for if later on they find they have been deluded, they will not believe any thing. Parents must instruct their children in the law of God, as Tobias did. He taught his son from his infancy to fear God and to abstain from sin (Tob. i. 10), and when he thought his death was near, he gave him godly admonitions (Tob. iv.). They should endeavor to stifle evil propensities in their children, and bring them up in the discipline and correction of the Lord (Eph. vi. 4). They should teach them to pray, beginning with the sign of the cross and the invocation of the holy name, and proceeding to the Our Father, Hail Mary, and the Creed. The children’s daily prayers should be very short, so as not to become wearisome to them Furthermore parents should set their children a good example. We all know how much more influential example is than precept, and that what is seen makes a far more lasting impression than what is heard. The actions of the father and mother are the lesson books of their children; how careful should they therefore be not to let them see them do any thing blameworthy, and also to warn the servants not to say or do anything in the presence of the children which they ought not to see or hear. For the imitative faculty is strong in children; they are sure to do what they see their elders do. Let parents remember Our Lord’s words: “He that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in Me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. xviii. 6). Those who neglect this warning will have reason to tremble, for if the soul of the child is lost through the Parents fault, they will hear the voice of God saying: “I will require his blood of thy hand” (Ezech. xxxiii. 8). In training their children parents should combine kindness and firmness. Too great severity is a fault; for rebukes and punishments are a medicine, which if ad ministered too frequently or in too strong doses, does harm instead of good. It is not by incessant beating with the hammer that the goldsmith fashions the most elegant ornaments. To be always find ing fault is a great mistake, but it is no less a one to let the children’s wrong-doing pass unpunished, to pamper and spoil them through ill-regulated affection and false kindness. He that spareth the rod hateth his son (Prov. xiii. 24). “Give thy son his way, and he shall make thee afraid” (Ecclus. xxx. 9). To allow a child to have his own will in all things is highly reprehensible; he should be firmly, not sternly compelled to yield.

Of all parental duties, that of training their children in the fear of God is the most important; for on the manner in which it is discharged the temporal and eternal happiness both of Parents and children will depend.

The education of their children ought to be for parents a matter of such moment, that nothing should grieve them so much as to see them turn out badly, or rejoice them so much as to see them walking in truth (2 John i. 4). The religious training of the child devolves principally on the mother, as his earliest years are spent at her knee. The father, engaged in the occupations of his calling, has little time and less inclination for the work of instruction. The father and mother supplement each other. The father, by his position of command and force of character, represents the divine power and justice; the mother, with her gentle kindness and tender love, represents the divine attributes of bounty and compassion. It is the part of the father to confirm with his paternal authority what the mother teaches, and enforce the orders she gives. The future happiness of the child depends upon the early training he receives; for, as a rule, what he is in his youth that he is in his old age. Just as out of a piece of soft wax one may model an angel or a devil, so it is with the character of a young child. The first impressions are always the most last ing; they are never wholly effaced from the soul, any more than marks made in the bark of a young tree ever disappear; they do but widen with its growth. In later years the character cannot be moulded afresh; as the sapling is bent, the tree is inclined. The land, if it is to yield a harvest in autumn, must be tilled in the early spring, not left uncultivated until the summer. The great majority of criminals in houses of correction are those whose training has been neglected in their childhood. Can it be supposed that if the souls of these culprits are lost, their parents are not to blame for it? Consider, O parents, what a responsibility rests upon your shoulders! Those who pay no heed to the bringing up of their children are more culpable than those who put them to death; for the latter only take the life of the body, whereas the former cause the destruction of the soul. Some parents are at great pains to amass wealth to bequeath to their children, but they do not care in the least how they are brought up. The temporal and eternal happiness of the parents also depends in a great measure on the training they give to their children. Those who bring them up badly are generally severely chastised by God in this world, and often it is their own children who are their scourge. By that wherein they have sinned, by that same they are punished. King David, through an exaggerated fondness for his son Absalom, did not correct him for his faults; and in after years he had cause bitterly to regret his weakness, when Absalom rebelled against him (2 Kings xviii.). Heli, the high priest, was too indulgent towards his wicked sons, and the chastisement foretold to him by God through the mouth of Samuel speedily overtook him; his two sons were slain in battle, and the old man, on hearing the sad tidings of Israel’s de feat, fell off his seat and died (1 Kings iv. 18). Nor can negligent parents expect to fare better in another world, for the Apostle compares them to unbelievers: “If any man have not care of his own, and especially those of his house, he hath denied the faith and is worse than an infidel” (1 Tim. v. 8). On the other hand, a rich reward is promised hereafter to those who have brought up their children well. The eternal felicity of a mother depends on the manner in which she has trained her offspring (1 Tim. ii. 15). The father of a good son will not be sorrowful at the approach of death, neither will he be confounded before his enemies (Ecclus. xxx. 5). Good parents who have conscientiously fulfilled their duties will, when they appear before God, be able to say: “Behold, those whom Thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost” (John xvii. 12).


This article, The Duties of the Married is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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