Few concepts in Christianity are more misunderstood than obedience. Words like submissive, subject, and obedient can appear utterly incompatible with the fundamental equality that Jesus offers to us in baptism. Yet headship and obedience within marriage has been preached authoritatively throughout the Church’s history.
When properly understood and lived out, obedience is, in fact, liberating. The Obedience Paradox illuminates the subject by examining the relationship between husband and wife in marriage as an image of Christ’s relationship to the Church. Presenting the sexual complementarity of husband and wife as an expression of gift, this book probes the meaning and power of receptivity in a relationship.
While a marriage certainly involves mutual giving and receiving, a husband most authentically lives headship when he acts as a generous giver towards his wife. Correspondingly, a wife practices authentic obedience when she graciously receives of her husband’s self-gift. Understanding obedience as the free reception of a gift unveils its unique potential to make us more free and to bring about deeper spiritual union between persons, both human and divine.
“Modern Catholics often have difficulty identifying with traditional concepts of masculinity, femininity, and marriage. Rather than gloss over these seemingly troublesome categories, Mary Stanford offers a new path forward. In her novel exploration of the true meaning of obedience, Mary reveals the freedom God offers to men and women in their vocations as loving wives and husbands.” – Fr. Patrick Mary Briscoe, OP, editor of Aleteia.org
“Mary’s book is fresh and delightful, provocative and persuasive. She blends biblical and theological knowledge with wisdom derived from attentiveness to the practicalities of married life and with impressive insight into the male and female psyches. She writes so beautifully that one wants to pause regularly just to appreciate her phrasing as well as her illuminating concepts. This book makes a true contribution to the ever-vexing question of right relationships between spouses. It explains well the importance of freedom and trust involved in women lovingly submitting to their husbands in marriages dedicated to following Christ in all things.” – Janet E. Smith, Ph.D., Father McGivney Chair of Life Ethics (retired), Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit, MI, author of Humanae Vitae: A Generation Later and A Right to Privacy
“For our culture, perhaps the greatest stumbling block in the Catholic faith is its emphasis on obedience. Not only the faithful’s obedience to God and his Church but also (and primarily) the Son’s obedience to the Father. Drawing from the Church’s Tradition and Pope Saint John Paul II’s writings in particular, Mary Stanford brings out both the beauty and the challenge of obedience in God’s highest natural creation, the family. Her work will benefit engaged and married couples in particular and all who desire to deepen their appreciation of this great paradox, the obedience that frees and ennobles.” — The Very Rev. Paul D. Scalia, Episcopal Vicar for Clergy, Diocese of Arlington, author of That Nothing May Be Lost
“Any couple—new to marriage or old—would do well to consider the exposition of Scripture and Tradition set forth by Mary Stanford, as well as her enlivening exposition of theological ideas in a contemporary setting. The volatile aspects of marriage are given ballast from Stanford’s pondering that most weighty matter: How to bring concord between two hearts bound in the Sacrament to mutual service and devotion and yet part of a human world of passion and weariness. In effect, Mary Stanford dares to ask the question of how marriage can work. Bolder still, she attempts an answer.” – William Fahey, Ph.D., President, Thomas More College of Liberal Arts
“This book opens a new way to understand obedience in marriage and in the Faith. As such, Mary Stanford rescues the subject from much of its contemporary bad psychology. Very important and highly recommended.” – Paul C. Vitz, Senior Scholar/Professor, Divine Mercy University, Professor of Psychology Emeritus, New York University
“There was a time when the words, ‘love, honor, and obey’ were standard fare for marriage vows. No longer. Over the years, the word ‘obey’ mistakenly became synonymous with the word ‘slavery,’ thus offending our modern sensibilities. Consequently, it has been replaced with more generic words, such as ‘cherish’ or ‘respect.’ In The Obedience Paradox: Finding True Freedom in Marriage, Mary Stanford breathes new life into the word ‘obedience,’ arguing that obedience, correctly understood, is the ticket to authentic freedom.” — Terry Polakovic, author of Life and Love: Opening Your Heart to God’s Design and Women of Hope: Doctors of the Church
“That true freedom is the fruit of obedience is paradoxical indeed. But if obedience featured squarely in the saving action of Jesus (and now the Church), then it must also occupy the heart of the believer. Mary Stanford shows — for those with ears to hear — how obedience leads to a life of freedom, joy, and holiness for all — wives, husbands, clergy, religious.” — Christopher Carstens, Office for Sacred Worship, Diocese of La Crosse
“A work that combines courage and wisdom, Mary Stanford’s The Obedience Paradox successfully negotiates one of modern Catholicism’s ‘Third Rails.’ This work is deep yet approachable, an incarnational outworking of learned theology and lived praxis valuable for both clergy and laity, but particularly for those preparing for marriage. In it, obedience and belief are recast in robust, optimistic ways that mirror our bodily and spiritual realities. This is a sensitive counter-cultural affirmation of human dignity in light of modern efforts at dehumanization and depersonalization.” – Donald Prudlo, Warren Professor of Catholic Studies, Department of Philosophy and Religion, University of Tulsa
“Few today have the courage publicly to defend the hierarchical primacy of the husband and father. Stanford does, and she offers compelling and attractive arguments in defense of the beauty and wisdom of this teaching.” — Christopher J. Malloy, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Theology, University of Dallas, author of False Mercy: Recent Heresies Distorting Catholic Truth
About the Author
Mary Stanford is a speaker, teacher, and writer on Catholic marriage and family life. She is an adjunct professor at Christendom College and has a master’s degree in theological studies from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. She and her husband, Trey, have seven children.