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A Program of Spiritual Formation for Candidates to the Priesthood

The Lay Monastic Community of Caryana


 
 
 

 

 


THE MAKING OF A
TRUE CHRISTIAN FAMILY


 

by:

 

Dom Basilio Magno



(The problem of living the Christian

 life in a pagan materialistic society.)

 

 

I. Introduction 

Aiming at Holiness

    St. Paul tells us to seek the peace and holiness without which it is impossible to see God.  So whether you live a life of virginity or are in your first or second marriage, pursue after this holiness.

          And from where shall we learn this? From Scriptures, where we can find all the lessons that will guide us on how to be pleasing to God, how to grow in virtue and how to gain all the good things promised to those who love Him.

          And as we aim towards a life of holiness, let us beg God to help us. If He sees that we wish to be holy, He will assist us; but if we are unconcerned He will not offer His helping hand. God helps those who work, not those who are idle. If we work, the good God will bring our work to perfection and count us worthy of the blessings He has promised through Jesus Christ. 

          I am writing this treatise not for praise or applause but that you may profit from the wisdom of Scriptures and the Fathers. Now let us see the wisdom of St. Paul as he legislated on family life as an instrument for the attainment of holiness in 1 Cor. 7, Eph 5:22-33 and Eph. 6:1-4. The interpretation of the above verses shall be taken from St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, St.Caesarius of Arles and St. Cyprian of Carthage.

          The are many books on marriage and family life written by men which give one good advice and countless useless ones. The advice  from Scriptures and the Saints, on the other hand,  are filled with great wisdom and salvation. They show us how Christ honored marriage, how St. Paul legislated on it and how the Saints described in detail the making of a true Christian family.

          With this wisdom let us remove every harmful and erroneous practice in our marriages and introduce holy practices instead so that our family will be what God intended it to be, a harbor in a life filled with storms.


II. Purpose of Marriage


A. Virginity and Marriage

          St. Paul states “It is well for man not to touch a woman,” i.e. if you are searching for the best and loftiest path to God, then take the life of virginity. But if you are strongly tempted towards immorality, then the marriage is the medicine for your weakness. God created man to be a virgin but because of the fall, marriage became necessary for most.

          “Are you free from a wife?” Paul continues. “Then do not seek marriage,” i.e.  remain a virgin. “But because of temptation to immorality each man should have his own wife.” Marriage is the medicine against this temptation; it helps man develop self-control.

          Note how Paul always encourages us to be continent but does not force those who cannot be, for fear that total defeat may result. It is better to marry than to burn with passion. Uncontrollable passion has a great tyrannical control over man. If he suffers these violent movements, he may relieve the anguish through marriage…otherwise he could be overwhelmed.

          St. Paul spoke of marriage to the Corinthians because they lacked self-control. Emphasizing the superiority of virginity, he said, "To the unmarried and the widows, I say that it is well for them to remain single as I am," but quickly adds, “But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry.” Marriage is not evil, it is fornication that is evil. Marriage is meant to develop self-control for the avoidance of fornication.

          Marriage is for those who have tried virginity but are unable. For St. Paul, if you are able “it is better not to marry.” It is well for a person to remain as he is.”

B. Virginity

          Why does St. Paul encourage us to be virgins? Firstly, because of the present distress (i.e. there are too many problems in our world today.) Secondly. the time has grown short (i.e. the end of the world is near.) Thirdly, you will have afflictions (i.e. you will have family problems.) And fourthly, you will lose your freedom, "You are bound."

          Virginity does not mean abstention from sex. It means having no worldly attachments. In fact, the difference between a wife and a virgin has nothing to do with sex but is in one's attachment or detachment from worldly cares. Sex is not evil, but it is a destruction for someone who desires to live a life of intense prayer. This is the only reason St. Paul allows husband and wife to abstain..."in order to pray," i.e. to devote some time to intense prayer


          Besides, think of it... if you desire to have children, isn't it better to do the nobler thing of begetting spiritual children rather than mere natural children?

C. Marriage

          The Saints are agreed in saying that one of the great blessings in life is a husband and wife living in harmony. From the beginning, God, foreseeing the fall of man, had planned that man will work his salvation through the “union of man and woman.” This is the most powerful union in nature if they are united as they ought to be. Though this is not the strongest passion, it is the passion that never fades because it is implanted within our inmost being. Because at the beginning woman came forth from man unnoticed, there is always that tendency to return and become one.

          The union of husband and wife is the force that welds society together. And a man will take up arms and offer his life to defend, not his country, but his family. When husband and wife are what they ought to be, harmony prevails, the children are raised well, the household is in order and neighbors, friends and relatives will like what they see. When it is otherwise, both family and nation will be in disarray and upside down.

          Marriage was not established to legalize wantonness or fornication; it was established first and foremost for chastity and secondly, for parenthood. Of the two, chastity takes precedence, especially now that world is well- populated. Not all marriages result in childbearing but all marriages must be chaste. So if you will fornicate after marriage, you have taken marriage in vain and for your harm.

          Marriage was established so that man and woman might help each other, thus becoming a calm harbor amidst the vicissitudes of life, a refuge and consolation amidst the troubles in the world. Marriage was not established to fill our houses with fights and quarrels, putting one against the other and making life unlivable.

          So, let us first and foremost know the purpose of marriage, why God introduced it in our lives, not for the acquisition of wealth but for the avoidance of fornication, to restrain our lusts, for the attainment of chastity…that we may be pleasing to God. Do not seek less. Seek marriage to avoid sin and immorality that you may attain piety and the holiness without which no one can see God.


III. This is a Great Mystery


          The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church. And as the Church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Herein St. Paul laid down the foundation of family life and assigned to husband and wife their proper places: to the husband the leadership and role of provider, and to the wife one of subjection “as to God.”

          Marriage is a mystery. Why should a man leave his family who had cared so well for him and be united to one he has known only recently and honor her more than all others…because Christ did exactly the same thing for the Church and this is a mystery indeed. And this is said of the wife as well.

          After leaving their respective families, the husband must now love the wife as Christ loved the Church, and the wife must respect the husband as the Church must respect Christ before the Church can love Christ.

          Whatever good husband and wife do to each other, they will receive the same from the Lord.

          Like the Church, the wife must not demand equality for she must be subject to the head. Like Christ, the husband should not belittle the subjection of his wife. If the head despises the body both will die. The husband must make her subjection easy by his love, without which obedience becomes impossible.

          There can never be peace in a family where husband and wife are equal. A household cannot be a democracy where everyone has equal voice; the authority must rest in one person. The same is true for the Church; she cannot demand equality with Christ.

          Thus the Church in Jerusalem had 5000 members, yet they lived in peace because "they were subject one to another."

           The husband's  spiritual love for his wife is compared to Christ’s love for His Church. His natural love for his wife is compared to the way he loves his own body. 

          Love and respect must prevail, not fear. Where there is love everything good will follow. But where love is absent even fear is of no use.

          The apostle Paul looked up to marriage so much so as to compare it to Christ and His Church.

          What does it mean “to marry in Christ?” When the husband loves as Christ does and when the wife is subjected as the Church is. Here divorce is impossible and love will grow intensely. If Christ, the Master, loved the Church, the servant, how much more must the husband, the servant, love the wife, his fellow servant.

          Christ did not wed the Church because of her beauty and comeliness; she was unattractive, unclean, unholy and impure. Yet He gave Himself up for her that He might sanctify her. Christ did not abhor her ugliness but transformed and beautified her. You, husband, must imitate Him and present your wife to God in spiritual splendor.

          When a limb is diseased we do not cut it off. We expel the disease and save the limb. If your wife is wicked, expel the wickedness but save your wife. It is always possible for someone to reform.

          It is so unbelievable that Christ could do what He did for the church. Now humans are expected to do the same. Christ left His Father's house and came down to the Church; the husband must leave his home to come to his bride. Christ did not summon the Church up to heaven. No. He came down. This is the great mystery, so do not take marriage lightly.

 

IV. The Roles of Husband and Wife
according to St. Paul


A. The "Conjugal Rights"


          The husband should render to his wife her conjugal rights, i.e. her rights over his body; and the wife should give her husband his right over her body. 

          This means that neither has power over his own body. The husband has power over her body and the wife has power over his body. And anyone who does not honor this right offends God. That’s why St. Paul calls this conjugal right a “DEBT” for, by this, each one becomes the other’s servant.

          The husband should say: “My body is not my own but my wife’s.” If the wife owns the husband’s body, much more does she own his possessions.

          Yes, in another respect, the husband is superior and the wife is inferior. But with respect to conjugal rights they are equal. They have equal responsibilities when it comes to fidelity.


B. Abstention in the context of “Conjugal Rights”

          “Do not refuse one another except by agreement.” To refuse without the other’s consent leads to great evils-- adulteries, fornications, impurities and broken homes.

          If men fornicate even when they have the company of their wives, how much more if they are deprived of it. St. Paul calls such an act of refusal as an act of “fraud” (the vulgate uses the word defraud instead of refuse). Abstention without the other’s free consent, therefore, is an act of defrauding because you are refusing to give what rightfully belongs to the other. But if there is consent there is no fraud…this is what happens when, let us say, a wife, whose body is owned by the husband, refuses to give what is his upon demand (because she is fertile, for instance). Such fraud is a sin and leads to adultery, licentiousness and broken homes.

          If a wife, because she is fertile and does not want to have a child, abstains without the husband’s consent, the consequences could be that he would commit adultery or other impurities. Or, if not, he would probably fret and complain and lose his temper and fight with his wife. What good did the abstinence do? None. Instead, it has broken love to pieces and probably the home, too.

          Do not endanger your salvation. Do not offer your soul to the devil by the sin of adultery. By such sins many families were broken, many fights were started. Such sin drives out love and destroys good will.

          According to St. Paul, the only acceptable reason for abstention is “… that you may devote yourself to prayer,” not to regulate birth. Marital sex is not evil and does not distract one from prayer, but it is a distraction for intense prayer. Thus, while it is possible for married couples to pray, their prayer can only be intense with abstention.

          But if, while abstaining, you weaken your self -control, thus opening your-self to the temptation of Satan, St. Paul says, “Then come together again.” St. John Chrysostom warns, “Abstention without mutual consent is forbidden.”


C. The Role of the Husband, in general

         
Husbands, have the same providential care for your wife that Christ has for the Church. And if you have to undergo hardships and even give up your life for her, do not refuse. Christ suffered for her who was not yet wedded to Him. You are asked to sacrifice for her who is wedded to you.

          As Christ through patient love converted the Church who had always turned her back to Him, the husband, even if his wife belittles and mocks him, should convert her through patient affection, kindness and honest regard.

          Husbands, rule your wife with love, not fear. She is not a slave but a woman staying with you on her own free will. Never disgrace her, for Christ never disgraced His Church. 

          Christ sacrificed Himself for His Church "to cleanse and sanctify her," because she was originally impure and ugly. You will never find a bride as monstrous as the Church. Yet Christ did not abhor her but treated her as if she were the worthiest of brides, “He died for us while we were yet sinners.”

          Christ gave the Church all the nice and good things that she possesses: husbands, do not expect something from your wife which you have not yet given. To abhor your wife is to abhor Him who made her.

          As the wife must submit to her husband and the husband must make worthy of her obedience by loving her, likewise he must lead his children to obedience by “disciplining and instructing them in the Lord.”

          Never judge by outward beauty, this is the sport of impure souls. Seek beauty of soul. Physical beauty is full of conceit and licentiousness; it makes man jealous and full of lustful thoughts. Yes, it gives pleasure for a while , then pride, foolishness and contempt of others follow. But when attraction is for spiritual beauty, love is on firm grounds.

          Having presented a spiritual motive for the husband’s role, St. Paul now presents a natural or plainer motive. He states, husbands should love their wives, not as a favor, but as an obligation because “No man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it.” Your wife is “flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone.” So, in fact, the husband is loving his own flesh and bone when he loves his wife... just as Christ loves His Church, His own Body. For this same reason, when your arm is diseased you do not cut it off. You try to expel the disease and save the arm.

          What if your wife is so hard-headed and refuses to do her Christian role? So what? Your duty is to love her; do your duty. Even if others do not do their duties, you must always do yours. Your duty is to God, not to your wife. If your wife disobeys, it does not mean you may stop loving. A husband should love his wife even when she shows him no obedience…for this is how Christ won the love of His Church.

          “Let the husband show his wife good will which is her due,” meaning, your body is owned by your wife, keep her property intact without diminishing or damaging it, without misusing it in a manner she would never agree. “Whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God.”

          Husbands, love your wives. How? For the wiser and nobler minded, St. Paul gives a divine exemplar, “as Christ loves the Church.” For the weaker and lowly minded, St. Paul gives an earthly exemplar “as you love your own bodies.”


D. The Duties of the Husband, more specifically

          If the husband truly cares for his wife and children, his task as head will be easy. If the husband is a sound head, the rest of the body will be fine.

          What must he do, then?

1.       Be detached from money, for the love of money is the root of all evil.

2.      Strive above all else for virtue.

3.      Keep the fear of God ever before your eyes.

4.      Avoid quarrels and disagreements.

5.      Do not believe accusations from third parties against your wife.

6.      If she wants more of your time don’t be annoyed. She is behaving thus because in her love and affection for you she fears losing you who is her head.

7.      Do not insult, abuse or correct in front of others.

8.      Teach her not to seek high social positions.

9.      From the beginning, show gentleness, temperance and self-control.

10.  Persuade her not to decorate herself with earrings, necklaces or other jewelry and expensive clothes. Instead, let her looks be dignified and need no worldly excesses.

            Teach each other more by deeds, not merely by words. 

11.    Shun immodest music and dancing that are fashionable. And don’t associate with people who enjoy such profligate entertainment.

12.   Don’t engage in idle conversation. Talking too much profits no one.

13.   When you correct or give an advice, assure her first of your love. Your affection will convince her of your wisdom.

14.   Assure her that money is not important. Only thieves think of money all the time. A pious wife is worth more than gold.

15.   Tell her that life on earth is nothing; what counts is being pleasing to God and being together in heaven.

16.   Show her that it is painful for you to be at odds with her.

17.   Show her that you treasure her company and prefer to be at home with her.

18.   Esteem her in the presence of your friends and children. Compliment her “good works.”

19.   Pray and go to church together. And discuss the readings.

20. If you are poor, remember that Christ’s favorite disciples, Peter and Paul, were also poor. Remind each other that poverty is not to be feared. The Saints even embraced it.

21.   You may have dinner parties; but do not forget the poor and especially those close to God whose very shadows can bring blessings to your home.

22. To be a virtuous wife is difficult. So teach her with compassion and humility; coat your words with grace and kindness.

23. With regard to material goods, erase all concepts of “mine” and “yours.”

24. Call her, not by name alone, but with words of endearment. If you honor her, she won’t look for it elsewhere.

25. Do not be concerned what part of the property will be whose. Be concerned that all have a part of heaven.

          Seek to obey the commands of God and the words of St. Paul and every good thing will follow. If you do the above, your wife will turn out well, and the children who usually are formed in the mold of parents will also turn out well.

          Even if your wife is incurably defective you will still receive your reward for your attempts to teach and educate her. Even if she does not improve, your patience will be rewarded.


E. The Role of the Wife

1.       Wife, you must stay with your husband as long as there is hope you can save him. If your husband is not quarrelsome, there is much hope for him.

2.      “Respect him,” i.e. do not stubbornly contradict him nor rebel against his authority.

3.      If there is anything you want, ask your husband… at home.

4.      Wife, do everything “for the Lord's sake,” i.e. in a spirit of obedience to Christ. This will prevent unnecessary quarrels and disagreements.

5.      Do not unreasonably monitor your husband’s comings and goings as long as he is beyond suspicion.

6.      Never nag your husband saying, “You have no ambition. Look at others, they have much money, their wives can travel.” It is not for you to dictate but to submit and obey.

7.      God has assigned to the wife the management of the household, while to the husband all business out of the house. Her opinions must be concentrated on household matters.

8.      The proper raising up of children is greatly dependent on the wife, thus making her who is inferior do the superior work. This makes the wife a necessity to the husband.  

          God made man incapable in her area and she in his area. If each can be capable in both roles, both would be presumptuous and despise the other finding the other superfluous. Neither did God make them equal, for equality breeds strife and contention. God provided hierarchical roles in the family for the purpose of peace.




V. On “Separation”

          The rules for separation are clear: “The wife should not separate from her husband, but, if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband.”

          When the apostle allowed the wife to separate, she was exhorted at the same time to remain and live in the same house with the husband to forestall each rushing into adultery. This advise was given for Christians.

          But if a Christian is married to a non-Christian and the latter consents to live with the former, the Christian should not divorce the other. When St. Paul advised us "to avoid immoral persons", he meant those "among the brethren," i.e. Christians. For St. Paul therefore, an unbelieving wife is better than an unfaithful wife; the same goes with the husband.

          Note that the rule on unbelievers is for those who are already married when they became Christians; it is NOT for  Christians who are still contemplating marriage. Thus, Paul did NOT say, "if a brother wants to marry an unbeliever." Instead, he said, "if a brother HAS a wife who is an unbeliever."

          If the unbelieving partner separates himself, i.e. tries to force the wife to do evil and, upon her refusal, leaves her, she should let him go. If he hurts her and constantly picks fights, it is better for her to leave him.

          If a husband leaves his father and mother for his wife's sake and then abandons his wife, why did he leave his parents in the first place? To commit adultery?


VI. On Parents and Children

A.     Role of Parents towards children


          When teaching your children, do not use God's kingdom too early for motivation. This is difficult to imagine. Tell them first what they want to hear...how to have a long life. Use the easier precepts and stories of the Old Testament before using the New Testament.

          If children see their parents obeying God's commands, they will willingly submit to the same laws.

          "Fathers, do not provoke your children but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." For Christ to command parents to love their children is superfluous because nature draws even unwilling parents to love their children...though this is not so today. "Do not provoke them," by disinheriting or disowning or overburdening them. "Instruct" them in obedience because an obedient child is a joy to his parents. Neglect this instruction and the child will cause you a thousand heartaches. How do you make them obedient? Bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

          The "discipline and instruction of the Lord" is much needed especially today when children are exposed to sin, all sorts of folly, bad example and pure stupidity from popular entertainment. Children need remedies for these. Yet you are usually more concerned with their worldly schooling than with their schooling in the Lord. And then you wonder why you reap the bitter fruits of insolence, licentiousness, impiety and vulgarity. 

          Hannah brought her only infant son to the temple and offered him to God. And the child became a great man. How come your children are not great? Because you don't want to give them to Him who alone can make them great. 

          Though her only son, Samuel was entrusted to Heli, who failed to train his own children. Samuel still became great because he was given to God, not Heli. 

          Hannah did not know whether she would still have children. Samuel was her first. She never even thought, "Maybe later, when I have another child, or when he grows up or after he has tasted the world", as most mothers would. No, she only thought of bringing up her child in the instruction and discipline of the Lord.   

          The wife possesses equal authority over the children and equal dignity, though the husband retains headship.  

          So parents, let this be your first concern for your children. This "instruction" is better than wealth and glory. It is better to teach them to be detached from the world than to possess the world. This lesson is not learned from a skillful teacher but from Divine Revelation. Teach him, not how to enjoy life here, but how to enjoy looking forward to heaven. Give him the great things, not the little things. Don't strive to make him speak well; instead, teach him to think well, for when he has problems, nice words will not help, wisdom will. Do your part, dear parents, and God will surely give all of you wisdom and knowledge of things divine.

          Do not content yourself in surrounding your children with mere external safeguards, like fame and fortune. These are like a fence; they do not really protect the house. Fortune, in fact, makes them unprepared for the hardships of life. Your children must be able to face any problem and must never be surprised when difficulties come.

          Bring out God's image in them. Tell them to be good, gentle and forgiving...just like God; and to be generous, to love their fellowmen and to regard this world as nothing.

          And now on the topic of providing for your children. Assign the portion you are saving for your heirs to Him. Let God be the guardian and administrator for your children. Let Him be their protector against all the uncertainties of this world. 

          Properties which are entrusted to God will not be confiscated by the state nor disturbed by civil law. Inheritance placed under the guardianship of God will remain safe and secure. This is the way to provide for the children you love; this is to provide for their future. "I have not seen the just forsaken nor his children want for bread." The parent's piety is what makes the children blessed.  

          What your children need is a way of life that is Christian, not speeches. Worldly wisdom is alright; but it should not be your main preoccupation. 

          You are a false father unless you provide your children with true religious devotion. You who are more concerned with providing them with earthly inheritance rather than a heavenly one are giving your children to the devil rather than to Christ. You are sinning twice and are falling into a two-fold guilt: firstly, you have not procured for your children the aid of God, and, secondly, you have taught them to love their inheritance more than God.

B.     The First Duty of Children towards their Parents

           "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother for this is the first commandment with a promise." The commands of Christ to avoid evil have no promise attached to them. The commands to do good have promises attached to them. And the above command for children is the first good thing children should do, otherwise, they will not be able to do the next good works.

          "What if my parents command me to do what is wrong?" Even if parents do wicked things themselves, they usually don't force their children to imitate them. But there will always be a few who might just do that. So St. Paul made the provision, "Obey your parents in the Lord," i.e. if they command you to do what is pleasing to God. But if they command what is sinful or heretical, you ought not to obey because the command is NOT "in the Lord."

          Honor and respect for one's parents is the foundation of a virtuous life for children. It is the first good work commanded to children. Only after this can they do other good works. If a child does not honor his parents, he will honor NO ONE.


VII. A Summary


            Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and 318 in their household lived in piety and in harmony. Sarah respected her husband and Abraham loved her in return, doing everything she asked. Their son, Isaac, was virtuous and their servants loyal and willing to risk their lives for their master without asking why. The head servant was so admirable, he was entrusted with arranging Isaac's marriage. Abraham was like a general with a well-organized army with no place for the enemy to penetrate. Because everyone's concern is the same--to please God. When the concerns are diverse the home is easily broken up  and destroyed. 

          Husbands, you cannot be saved through individual righteousness alone. You have other responsibilities. You must render an account for the good or unruly behavior of the members of your family.  

           Adulterers give to the devil for a brief moment of pleasure what Christ redeemed with His Precious Blood. And drunkards do the same; for a moment of pleasure in their throat, they store up punishment. "No drunkard shall inherit the kingdom of God."  

          Let your concern for wife and children be uppermost in your mind and earnestly beg God to help you in your task. If God sees you are serious in your intent, He will help; but if you are careless, He will not help. It is by your chastity that you will attract the good will and protection of God for yourself and your household. 

 

VIII. How to choose a wife (...or a husband)


          When we buy a house or a horse we examine them thoroughly. When we marry we must exert the same solicitude, if not more. If the house is defective it can be returned or disposed of, but not so with a marriage partner. 

          When you buy a house, you must study the laws of the state regarding houses. When you marry, you study the laws of God. On your marriage God will judge you, not by the law of the state but, by His laws. 

          So, know that if you take a bad wife, you must endure her. To abandon her is to commit adultery. If you cannot endure a bad wife, be sure you choose a good one. How? 

          Look for affection, gentleness and humility in a woman. These are the true tokens of beauty. 

          Don't look for wealth; this is to overlook the more important thing which is a common mistake today. You have a son. You are more concerned that he marry a rich wife rather than a good wife. A woman's wealth is nothing compared to the taunts and demands that will come from her. 

          And you, young girl, choose one who will really be a husband and a protector. Remember you are choosing a head for yourself. Don't look for wealth either. Instead, look for piety, gentleness, wisdom and fear of the Lord. A rich man will just hurt you, not help you. He will treat you like a slave because you are poorer.  

          While a virtuous man can never neglect nor scorn his wife, an adulterer can never love his wife. 

          In a wife, choose virtue of soul, nobility of character. With this you will enjoy tranquility in your family. A man who marries  a rich woman is marrying a boss. Look for piety and chastity. Such a wife, even if she is poor, is a treasure. 

          When taking a wife, do not seek for human aid. Turn to God for help. He will be happy to be your match maker. 

          Let us see the wisdom with which Abraham chose a wife for Isaac. 

          Abraham  called his wisest servant in the house to choose a wife for Isaac, not among the Canaanites where they were dwelling but, far among his own kindred. Abraham did not let anyone choose; he chose his most trusted servant, one whom he had trained well. And Abraham did not choose from the beautiful and rich women of Canaan but from those of noble character among his own people. 

          Note the wisdom of the servant shown in his obedience; he made no objection. Then he further showed his intelligence and foresight with only one but pertinent question, "What if the woman is unwilling to come?" Abraham answered with faith, "God will send His angel before you and make your journey prosperous. He will make all our tasks easy and He will accomplish this undertaking for which we pray." 

          How did the servant choose the woman for Isaac? Upon reaching Abraham's kindred, he did not consult anyone in town. He consulted God, "O Lord, God of my master Abraham, grant me success today." Then he stood by a spring where the daughters of the city drew water. Then he asked a sign from God, "To her whom I shall say, "Give me to drink," let her give me drink...AND for my camels also. She will be Your choice for Thy servant, Isaac."  

         To avoid most of the devil's attacks, flee avarice, the root of all evil, drunkenness and adultery. These 3 enslave careless souls unless swift repentance come to their assistance.  

          Note the wisdom in the prayed for sign; he did not ask for beauty or riches or high birth. He asked for nobility of soul to be exhibited in an act of generosity. The woman must be generous because she was going to a house where generosity shined, a household open to strangers. What marriage would this be if the husband is generous while the wife is stingy. If this marriage must work, she must be generous, too. Generosity is important. All God's blessings came to Abraham because he was generous. 

          Is the woman generous? If she was, she would give MORE than what was requested. 

          Alas, even before the servant was done praying, Rebecca came to the spring. "The maiden was very fair to look upon; a virgin whom no man had known." Her bodily beauty was enhanced by her chastity. She was described a virgin TWICE; a.) "she was a virgin," and b.) "whom no man had known,...meaning she was a virgin in body and soul. For one can be a virgin in body but licentious in soul.

          Rebecca gives her response, the sign the servant was waiting for... "Drink, my Lord AND I will draw for your camels until all have drunk." Note not only the generosity, but also her modesty in that she did not run to meet the servant nor address him first. If she addressed him first she would be bold and shameless. If she completely avoided him, she would be cruel and inhuman. She did neither. She showed her modesty by waiting for the request and showed her generosity by assisting him with water. Generosity is judged, not by the value of what was given but by the resources of the giver. Thus the poor widow who gave only two coins was more generous because it was all she had. Rebecca was going to offer her best.  

          Our task is to educate ourselves and our children in godliness; if we don't, we will have to answer before Christ's judgment seat. 

          Rebecca performed her generosity with eagerness, not unwillingly, "for quickly she ran." Pitching water for the servant and the camels was no easy task. 

          Rebecca's modesty permeated her generosity in that she didn't ask, "Who are you? Where do you come from? What are you doing here?" These were superfluous questions and make strangers hesitate and shrink back. She was generous in that she gave even if she knew nothing about this servant. 

          The servant "gazed at her...to learn whether the Lord has prospered his journey." Gazed in that the servant studied her carefully, how she dressed, how she walked, how she looked at him, how she spoke...thus learning the condition of her soul form the movements of her body. 

          Not satisfied, the servant sets a SECOND test of exactly the same nature. "May we lodge in your father's house?" Though he merely asked for a room, Rebecca offered the room AND many other things, like straw, provender, etc. Rebecca did all these knowing full well the rewards of generosity. We are burdened when friends stay a day or two. Yet Rebecca received a total stranger...and his camels. 

          The servant showed his worthiness in that when offered to eat, he refused: "I will not  eat until I have told my errand." Then he first praised Abraham, not by endowing him with human honors, but by enumerating the blessings he had received from God...to show he was a man loved by God. Then the servant described Sarah and the blessings she received form God. This is the trademark we must look for in others...if they are loved and blessed by God. With this, all good things will follow. Without this, even wealth will NOT make them happy. 

          Then God blesses the servant's efforts one last time. Rebecca's parents saw clearly God's hand in the events unraveling before them and made no objection, "The command has come from the Lord. Here is Rebecca." Even the servant's only worry was solved, "What if the woman in unwilling to come." 

          See how all obstacles are removed when we do things according to God's will. Everything should have prevented the marriage, like the mere fact that they were all strangers. Yet nothing prevented it. Everything went easy, though really difficult, because God was in their midst. So don't say or do anything before you call upon God and have beseeched Him to assist you in everything. 

          See Abraham's great concern to find a virtuous woman as Isaac's wife. He looked for nobility of soul and left the choice to God because He alone knows who is noble in soul. And you, mothers, bring up your daughters as Rebecca was brought up.  

          If we proceed thus in starting our family, there will never be divorce, suspicion, adultery, jealousy, quarrels or strife. Rather tranquility and harmony will reign. And marriages that start this way will certainly raise virtuous children.

 

 

(updated 01-03-02)

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                                                                                        - Teresa of Avila

 


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