Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Created to be His Helpmeet
This book has been read throughout the Catholic circle that I live in, and last year I decided to give it a try. I couldn't finish it, couldn't get through it, and I found it to be very harsh and ill-advised. My husband, who absolutely loved that I read The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands by Dr. Laura Shlessinger,
commanded me to stop reading this book by Debi Perl. And yet, all of my Catholic girlfriends who have read it rave about it and think its the best piece of marital literature out there for wives today.
Well, I began to ponder why this book was so detrimental to me. Before reading it, my husband and I were at a good place. We've been married for 7.5 years, we have 4 kids and one on the way, we've had our ups and downs, we're through the honeymoon phase and relieved as now we can work on the more substantive love we've both longed for in our vocation. We had our low point, about 4 years ago, when we almost called it quits. Divorce was not an option then, but we were scared it might become one. It was something we wrestled with as a couple, but with the loving support of friends and family, as well as the counsel of a faithful Catholic Priest, we are still together. And we've come a long way since then, in growing together, in loving each other, and in understanding the person we married.
So, all that having been said, I thought I was in a good place to read this book, recommended to me by a dear friend from my circle. I set to work, got a notepad and started diving into an intense study. Practically speaking, Perl is not trying to advise wives, so much as she's using her own literature to react against feminists. So if you're a roaring feminist, this would be the book for you to read. If you don' t qualify under that category, then this is not the book for you to read.
I have to go deeper in my discernment of this book. For many of my friends, this might be a book review. But I need to tell you that there is an underlying religious dimension here that needs to be addressed. Perl is not a Catholic, she's a Protestant. And I've discerned that's the source of the discord I've taken from this book. No Catholic wife should read this book, for the same reason that no Catholic should learn about the Sacraments from an Anglican. Perl thoroughly recognizes the social institution of marriage. She understands the worth of this institution upon society, for good or for ill. She quotes the biblical premise for her work even depicting what a "helpmeet" is and does from the Old Testament. But Perl is a Protestant. She cannot go deeper than that. As she could not understand the depth of the hidden mysteries of the Eucharist. She could not describe the humility of the Blessed Virgin or her Immaculate Conception. She could not understand the divine grace infused in the Magisterium. She could not undertake to define the Sacramental and Covenental nature of the Catholic vocation of marriage.
Our first hint as a reader of this should be to her constant premise that every rebellious act of a woman toward her husband will result in divorce. Every "if/then" statement made by her ends in ..."you will get divorce". She understands and elaborates well on how terrible divorce actually is. It is no cake walk, and she makes that abundantly clear (to an annoyance). But unlike Protestant marriages, divorce is not an option in Catholic marriages (despite what modern stats show of Catholic marriages in Western Civilization). If a man marries a woman who does not please him, and they've taken the Sacred Vows of the Marital Rite, that's it - he's unhappy until "death do us part". If a woman marries a man who does not meet her needs, and they're in the Catholic Vocation of Marriage, that's it - she's unsatisfied until "death do us part". There is no permanency in Perl's estimation of marriage, because according to her religion there need not be one. But the Catholic estimation of marriage, the raising it to a Sacrament, makes it a blessed and holy act, a covenant between one man and one woman, joined in grace by God and His Church, cannot be broken, cannot be undone. Annulment is not divorce, it is a formal view by the authority of the Church to say that the Sacrament was invalid, the marriage never happened. That is the sacred solemnity that should be given to the discernment of peoples looking to be joined in this Sacrament. Ms. Perl could not understand that. Protestants could never really grasp the Sacramental nature of marriage because they are not fully united to Christ and His one Church. They don't have the theological model to base the love between a man and woman upon (which goes beyond the Scriptures into the union of Scripture and Tradition, Christ and His Church, Christ and His Mother, the Communion of Saints. It's much deeper and more relevant to Catholics and it is built into our Faith teachings.)
Ms. Perl also could not fully understand the Marian example portrayed in the Catholic Faith. Mary, the witness of humility lived in her 'fiat' from beginning to end, was wonderfully rewarded by her Son. She became Queen of Heaven and Earth, the new Eve, the Mediatrix of grace. Her power was won through her humility, her openness, and her constancy. She did not attempt to destroy herself to win her Son's favor. No she took all of herself, her very inmost being, and gave it so readily to God's grace that she became a living Tabernacle for the Lord, akin to a Davidian temple. She was there at Christ's side in the manger, to welcome Kings and shepherds alike. She assisted him in His ministry, calling him to His first miracle at Cana, taking his aberrations in stride "Who are my mother and my brothers?...Can't you see I must be about my Father's work?..." She was pierced by a sword in order to restore grace between God and man. In a much smaller way, but with as much nobility, we Catholic women are called to this example in living by our husbands. We must attend to them in constancy, in humility, and give them our all in body and in spirit in order to better our domestic Church. We were made for our husbands, in the same way (although not on the divine scale) that Mary was made for Christ. We were given strengths to aid our husbands, and weaknesses to be cleansed with the help of our husbands. We are not meant to throw our entire personality, our every virtue and vice out the window to become subservient to our spouse. And this is what Ms. Perl would have us do. Yes, we are to serve, and to do it in the example of humility as Mary to her son, and in the example of obedience of the Immaculate Bride of Christ His Church, to Christ. But if we withhold our time, talent, and treasure from our husbands, from our families, then all the gifts and graces God had give and planned for us would have been in vain, and a spurn to the Lord who created us.
Ms. Perl's book could only help two classes of people: Women who are not "type A" personality, and men who are "type A" personality. Everyone else is left on their own to change into these two categories in a "sink or swim" approach. But it is not in the salvific vision for a woman to relinquish all that she has been given from the Lord in order to "empower" her husband. Take for example a situation that occurred during my reading of this book. I called my husband at work and asked him what he'd like for dinner throughout the week. He responded that he didn't care and didn't have a preference. I was not able to make a decision according to this book without my husband's input, and therefore was stuck. I was not able to create a grocery list, could not go shopping for groceries, and thus did not have dinner for my husband prepared. We were both left very unhappy, and fought about it for much longer than it would have taken for me to just prepare the menu and to look to serve him with some of his "favorites" for the week. I've heard women in my circle tell me that they have not been able to venture into any aspect of their family life with their husbands because it has to generate from their husband. It has to be uniquely his thought, or she cannot even broach the subject. Say what? So in essence you're barring communication with your husband in order to allow him to lead. This would make sense in a Protestant marriage, where even the most intimate act of marriage, the sexual communication between a man and a woman, can be barred through the use of artificial contraception for the convenience and dominance of one spouse over another. Not only is this a disrespect to the dignity of your womanhood, but it is an inadvertent disrespect to your husband as well. Are you another adult in this relationship, posing your thoughts and beliefs, your heart as gift to your husband? Or are you an overgrown child - not speaking unless spoken to - to the detriment of your family?
Catholic women, don't read this book! Protestant women, you'd be better looking into Fulton Sheen's writings on marriage, as "Created to be His Helpmeet" will not serve you either in the long run. Model your marriage after the true bride of Christ, His Church. Love him in the spirit of his most Blessed Mother, and your marriage will be blessed. You were created for your husband before there was time. Serve him with everything you have and you will meet his needs through God Who is present in your Sacrament of Marriage that is open to His grace.