The other day I was having lunch with a friend and, out of the blue, she asked me: “What’s the most important quality you look for in a wife?” Sheesh! Whatever happened to polite conversation about the weather?!
I did have to chuckle a bit though… You see, at the moment I’m spending some time reassessing and discerning again my vocation – married life, priestly life, religious life or consecrated celibacy. Therefore, questions regarding the qualities of a future wife may well be, at this point, moot.
“She is worth far more than rubies…”
But I also laughed because of the various texts which flashed through my mind when she asked this question. One such text was from the Book of Proverbs:
“Who can find a worthy woman?” – Proverbs 31:10 (ESV)
I can still remember when, at university, I was asked to be a Reader one evening and I encountered this scripture for the first time. I had to read this passage at Mass without sniggering. I won’t lie, it was kinda hard…
“In time the savage bull doth bear the yoke…”
The other text which ran through my mind was a soliloquy from my favourite Shakespeare play “A Much Ado About Nothing”. One of the protagonists, Benedick, is walking through the orchard, considering the kind of woman it would take to entice him into marriage:
“One woman is fair, yet I am well; another is wise, yet I am well; another virtuous, yet I am well; but till all graces be in one woman, one woman shall not come in my grace.
“Rich she shall be, that’s certain; wise, or I’ll none; virtuous, or I’ll never cheapen her; fair, or I’ll never look on her; mild, or come not near me; noble, or not I for an angel; of good discourse, an excellent musician, and her hair shall be of what colour it please God”
I’m pretty certain that, at some point, like Benedick, most guys have also drawn up a list of requirements for their ideal woman. I’m sure many have lain awake at night, worried about how their future wife will manage to balance family life with her parallel careers of supermodel, chef and Star Trek script-writer…
When I was living in Washington DC, the Folger Library was celebrating Shakespeare’s four hundred and forty-fourth birthday (I didn’t have the heart to tell the Americans that he was dead). As part of the celebrations, there was the opportunity for members of the public to offer a short Shakespearean rendition on Folger stage and, feeling in a particularly belligerent mood that day over a certain female resident of DC, I selected the above passage…
The most important quality
But the question remains: what would I consider to be the most important quality in a future Mrs B?
I have had a little bit of time to mull over this question for the last few days. As I’ve done this, I’ve been reminded of something a friend once said when she was trying to set me up with one of her girlfriends (since, if Jane Austin is to be believed, I should be in want of a wife). After enthusing about her friend’s beauty, intelligence, sense of humour and exquisite taste in music, I pressed her as to what she thought so special about her, to which she responded:
“She’s the holiest person I know”
Those words made a big impression upon me. I didn’t really know what to say to that! I was quite flattered that my friend thought that this would be her friend’s greatest quality to recommend to me.
A Lesson From History
I spent some time reflecting upon my major romantic relationship of a few years ago. I realised that holiness was indeed her greatest quality, and it was this great quality which attracted me to her in the first place.
During the time that we dated, she had a profound effect upon my faith, prayer and the way I chose to live out my life. I saw the nature of the relationship she had with God and wanted the same. When I was last back in England I spent an afternoon reading through some of my old prayer journals and found a section where I wrote “…when I hear her talk about her relationship with Jesus I ache for the same”.
Vocation, vocation, vocation…
This current period of discernment may lead me either towards celibate or married life – at the moment I just don’t know. But what I do know is that the purpose of my vocation is to help me grow in love and holiness. So, if I am indeed called to marriage, please pray for my future wife – she’s going to have quite a challenge on her hands…