Speaking as they do to equal access to a sacrament, last Sunday’s verses from Acts 10 might have seemed, to those fixating on the question of same-sex marriage, like something of a rebuke to the Catholic church and her bishops:
Then Peter proceeded to speak and said,
“In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.
Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly
is acceptable to him. . . Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people,
who have received the Holy Spirit even as we have?”
Here we see Peter endorsing inclusivity; following the example of the Christ who interacted with all, the church—through the authority of Christ and the workings of the Holy Spirit—offers Life-in-Christ to all. If all proclaiming Christ are accepted to baptism, one might wonder, then why not all to marriage?
I think it comes down to offices, and the equality to be found therein. We talk about vocations and “one’s state in life,” but I wonder if we would not better serve both clarity and charity by considering that beyond baptism we are called to an Office. Since all Offices are callings, then all servants are equal within them and each office is lived within the fundamental calling of all baptized people, which is to chastity, first and foremost.
This brings home the barely-recognized fact that, except for those called to the Office of Marriage—who are themselves meant to be chaste within that Office—the rest of the world, the majority of humanity walking about, gay or straight, are meant to resist sexual concupiscence, whether within the Office of Singleness or Religious Consecration.
From a Western perspective, that sounds severe, but Eastern religions teach similarly, that all are called to sexual continence. Buddhists and Taoists understand that sexual energy has a “right” and “wrong” use. I know a Taoist couple who have sexual relations only for procreative purposes and during rare “seasonal” occasions. As the church calls homosexual activity “disordered”, Taoist understanding of Yin (feminine) and Yang (masculine) energies calls same sex activity “unbalanced.” In his book Beyond Dogma, the current Dalai Lama clarifies the Buddhist view: “A sexual act is deemed proper when the couples use the organs intended for sexual intercourse and nothing else . . . homosexuality, whether it is between men or between women, is not improper in itself. What is improper is the use of organs already defined as inappropriate for sexual contact.”
Despite differences in origin of understanding, the Dalai Lama’s pronouncements are remarkably similar to Catholic teaching, and next to the Taoist couple, Catholic sexual teaching—particularly Blessed John Paul’s teaching on the Theology of the Body—seems quite free. And yet gay activist Dan Savage is not attacking the Dalai Lama to cackling, appreciative crowds; no one is calling the Taoists “haters” or “homophobes.”
From a religious perspective, therefore, it does seem that in our nation of 300 million people, only a distinct minority of about 120 million (even less, discounting non-sacramental unions) are meant to be gifted with the duty of delight that is the sexual expression of love, within marriage.
Why does this Office get all the fun? Because, while all offices are equal, the Office of Marriage—far from being “for everyone” or a simple expression of a mood subject to change—is one of especial humility and sacrifice. The essentials of procreation residing within us are so powerful that unless one ardently works to prevent it, new life will come (a recent study found that 54% of abortions stem from contraception “failure”). The little bang of sperm and ova are the microcosmic reflection of the macrocosmic big bang of Creation; co-operating with God in the continuance of that creation means humbly accepting—for the rest of one’s life—involvement and responsibility for specific human beings of varied gifts and challenges. There are no days off; if you don’t like your job, you can’t just move away; you can’t re-staff. Parenthood contains moments of surreal bliss countered by a lifetime of work, self-abnegation, stress, and anxiety. Besides procreation, sexual tenderness in marriage brings a depth of consolation meant to balance out the fullness of that burden or—for a childless couple—the pain of longings unfulfilled.
For the rest of the world—the majority who are called to chastity—what are they meant to do within their Offices? Serve God and others by helping the helpless and companioning the lonely; feeding the hungry; comforting the frightened; really listening to another, even when we’d rather not. In other words, precisely the same things the married folks do, but without the extra gifts, responsibilities, and stresses of children, and without the consolation (and life-creating complications) of sexual intimacy.
Can this idea of Office and Calling exist in a secular society that promotes an earth-bound worldview informed less by transcendent dogmatic principles than by transient democratic ones? Perhaps it can. Making a secularist argument against gay marriage, economist Adam Kolasinski writes: “Homosexual activists protest that they only want all couples treated equally . . . [but if] sexual love becomes the primary purpose [of marriage, as opposed to procreation], the restriction of marriage to couples loses its logical basis, leading to marital chaos.”
I once heard a young nun say that being in a monastery was “like being married to 25 people”; by that she meant that her particular Office—as a consecrated religious—called her to pray for the world, but also to put others before herself, in service to the whole monastic organism. It is, once again, precisely what the Married and Single Offices are called to.
In terms of service, then, we are each married to 300 million others.
The Human Offices, then, are Offices of true equality.
Elizabeth Scalia is the Managing Editor of the Catholic Portal at Patheos and blogs as The Anchoress. Her previous articles for "On the Square" can be found here.
Readings for Sunday May 13, 2012
Theology of the Body
54% of abortions due to contraception failure
Dan Savage attacks Pope Benedict XVI
Kolasinski's Secular Case against Gay Marriage
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