Monday, July 14, 2008

Maureen Dowd, a Catholic Priest, and Marriage: It's Actually Pretty Helpful

This post is, I mean. It's entitled "An Ideal Husband" and it's written by notable (and single) columnist Maureen Dowd and published in today's New York Times. In the piece, Dowd cites at length the wisdom of a 79-year-old celibate Catholic priest who speaks annually to groups of schoolgirls on the subject of the ideal husband. If this all sounds a bit strange and irony-laden, it is: a Catholic priest who's never been married giving advice on marriage in a column written by a single (and very untraditional) columnist. Somehow, though, it works.

Here are some thoughts to chew on from Father Pat Connor:

“Never marry a man who has no friends,” he starts. “This usually means that he will be incapable of the intimacy that marriage demands. I am always amazed at the number of men I have counseled who have no friends. Since, as the Hebrew Scriptures say, ‘Iron shapes iron and friend shapes friend,’ what are his friends like? What do your friends and family members think of him? Sometimes, your friends can’t render an impartial judgment because they are envious that you are beating them in the race to the altar. Envy beclouds judgment."

“Steer clear of someone whose life you can run, who never makes demands counter to yours. It’s good to have a doormat in the home, but not if it’s your husband.

“Does he have a sense of humor? That covers a multitude of sins. My mother was once asked how she managed to live harmoniously with three men — my father, brother and me. Her answer, delivered with awesome arrogance, was: ‘You simply operate on the assumption that no man matures after the age of 11.’ My father fell about laughing.

“A therapist friend insists that ‘more marriages are killed by silence than by violence.’ The strong, silent type can be charming but ultimately destructive. That world-class misogynist, Paul of Tarsus, got it right when he said, ‘In all your dealings with one another, speak the truth to one another in love that you may grow up.’

In sum, I think that Father Pat has a number of things right. He blasphemes (and undermines his religion's teaching) when he calls the apostle Paul a "misogynist", but it's clear that he has keenly observed marriage over the course of his life. It is indeed difficult to trust a man, or a person, who has no friends. Some people are shy, but after a while, you have to wonder if there's something deeper going on. Either the person is too picky to actually befriend anyone, or they don't want to be known on a close level that will invite helpful scrutiny. That's not a good trait, and Christians of all people should be known as those who open up their lives to others for analysis and examination.

When the priest mentions that a man who can be dominated is no good, well, that's also common-sense, itself derived from "biblical-sense", to invent a phrase. I'm guessing that for some women, it sounds good to marry a guy you can control. Sooner or later, though, you realize that this is not such a good thing, particularly when some sort of character is required in life (as it is once or twice in the course of life).

Having a sense of humor seems very helpful for navigation of the ups and downs of life. There are times in a marriage, I would contend, when nothing but laughter will help. Husbands and wives who take themselves too seriously end up crashing and burning on a relational level. The ability to laugh at oneself--and the situations one ends up in--signals the presence of humility. If you want to marry a certain guy, and he can never laugh at himself, think hard before you marry him.

Even more important than humor is communication, and specifically, communication that comes out of a desire to create a marriage that fits into the Creator's cosmic plan for this world and reflects the love of Christ for the church. It's good, after all, to talk things through, but it's way better to talk things through from the perspective of a redeemed heart. When God has saved us, we are freed up by the power of the Spirit to not simply say what's on our mind, and get communication going (which is much better than silence on the part of either or both husband or wife), but to communicate lovingly, carefully, helpfully. I don't know about you, but I often laugh--not unkindly--at the way cultural media often depicts marriage. It defines marital love almost exclusively in terms of sex and marital communication almost entirely in terms of total honesty. This is simply not realistic on either front. Communication has to be a careful blend of honesty, thoughtfulness, desire to edify and build up, and love. Leaving one of these aspects out will result in a blend that, like a poorly mixed cake, means well but tastes bad.

Father Pat has some good insights, and I'm glad when anyone out there wants to strengthen and ennoble the institution of marriage. But for a truly strong marriage, one has to turn to the Bible, not out of religious arrogance, but out of genuine desire to know the mind of God for the betterment of one's life, one's home, one's marriage.

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