St. Antoine Residence in North Smithfield has Holy Mass offered every day in the facility’s chapel. Occasionally, family members who live in the area will arrive in time for Mass and celebrate the sacrament with the residents. One elderly nearby neighbor waits everyday at the chapel door for his wife to arrive from her room guided safely by her walker. One morning the wife was slow to make an appearance and the husband became understandably anxious. When the wife did finally appear, the older gentleman declared with joyous relief, “Oh, here’s my girl!” How touching that these two spouses, well into their 80s, could still look at each other with the same eyes that first drew them together perhaps as teenagers! She was his “girl” and he no doubt was still her “guy.”
The first reading from the Book of Proverbs this coming Sunday presents another touching portrait of the good wife. The inspired words are worth reading in full: “When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls. Her husband, entrusting his heart to her, has an unfailing prize. She brings him good, and not evil, all the days of her life. She obtains wool and flax and works with loving hands. She puts her hands to the distaff, and her fingers ply the spindle. She reaches out her hands to the poor, and extends her arms to the needy. Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her a reward for her labors, and let her works praise her at the city gates (Prv.31:10-31).”
The responsorial psalm for its part continues the same theme: “Blessed are you who fear the LORD, who walk in his ways! For you shall eat the fruit of your handiwork; blessed shall you be, and favored. Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the recesses of your home; your children like olive plants around your table. Behold, thus is the man blessed who fears the LORD (Ps.128:1-4).”
The traditional male and female family roles are certainly clearly described here. The man is the spouse who goes out to work: “For you shall eat the fruit of your handiwork; blessed shall you be, and favored.” Yes, the man is the one who earns a living by his achievements in the community: perhaps a farmer, a carpenter, a merchant, a soldier. The woman on the other hand stays at home. She is the fruitful vine who brings forth many children of whom a family can be proud. She makes cloth at the spinning wheel and tends to the needy at her door. These traditional spousal roles have been quite clear for centuries: the husband is the breadwinner; the woman is the caregiver. These roles were emphatically included in God’s revised plan after the tragedy of Eden: Adam would work by the sweat of his brow; Eve would endure the pangs of childbirth.
This Scriptural notion of man as breadwinner and woman as caregiver might today be viewed more as penalties than as professions. As researcher Richard V. Reeves neatly points out in his recent book “Of Boys And Men,” women today are especially beginning to forego their customary social roles and are clearly beginning to enter traditionally male careers.
Research shows that women are entering the conventional male areas of employment (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), up from 13% in 1980 to 27% in 2017. Men however have become more reluctant to enter the usually female vocational areas (health, education, arts, and literacy), down from 35% in 1980 to 26% in 2019. Author Reeves suggests a 50/50 split in vocational goals might be an ideal for the future of mankind.
Occasionally in obituaries, but more and more rarely, one will find a deceased wife and mother listed as a homemaker. Is there any more noble vocation on the face of the earth than to serve as a homemaker, as a woman who provides support for her husband and care for her children? Currently financial concerns would seem to make the prospect of full -time wife and mother rather challenging for many married women. And the contributions that professional women have made to society must not be dismissed. Yet homemaking and caregiving, for which women seemed to be especially endowed by their creator, must never be dismissed as an old-fashioned, out-of-date- or, worse, inferior preference.
Much, perhaps most, of society’s ills nowadays can be traced back to the lack of homemaking. Out of wedlock births, single parenthood, divorce, mere cohabitation, and of course abortion are all an affront to authentic homemaking. And these calamities sadly burden women more than men. More respect and preparation for homemaking as an exalted vocation should lessen the many ills that result from a poorly started or sadly broken home. This Sunday’s Gospel commends and rewards all eager workers. Likewise homemaking is not mere housekeeping. Homemaking is eager and earnest caregiving to one’s nearest and dearest.