When Marriage is an “Office” Not a “Right”

Over at First Things, I’m wondering if perhaps we have been thinking about marriage, and about all of our roles as human beings, in the wrong way. What if we thought about life in terms of Office; can we comprehend equality — all quite natural and unforced — then?

While all offices are equal, the Office of Marriage 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, 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? 

You’ll have to read the whole thing to find out.

About Elizabeth Scalia