Pagan Babies

As I was preparing a talk on Dante the other day I had the chance to reread the Inferno, where we encounter the unbaptized babies of Limbo, the first circle of hell. It brought back memories of the Catholic subculture in which I grew up, and in particular my grade school and the collection of money for missionaries in pagan lands. And in pagan lands, there are pagan babies. These babies needed to be baptized, and so they needed missionaries, and the missionaries needed money.

As an incentive for our fundraising, when we raised $5 we were allowed to give a Christian name to a pagan baby. The boys could give a name to a boy pagan baby and the girls, a girl. In eighth grade, the girls (in their ongoing effort to please our teacher, Sr. Veronica, a member of the Sisters of Saint Joseph) would name their babies something like “Mary Elizabeth” or “Mary Margaret.” Catholic babies in those days were always named for a recognized saint, but we boys knew that the girls were sucking up to Sister Veronica, and we wanted no part of it. We decided to name one of ours “Brutus.” (We knew nothing of the noble Brutus of Julius Caesar fame, of course; we were thinking of Popeye’s nemesis.) When we announced our choice of names, Sr. Veronica’s eyes became horizontal slits and her mouth turned a menacing frown; she was not pleased. After glaring at us for what seemed like several minutes, she rapidly announced, “He shall be called Joseph. Open your math books to page 61.”

Medieval theology, reflected in Dante’s poem, recognized the great value of baptism and the incorporation of the baptized into the community of the Church. But it also had a difficult time dealing with the dilemma caused by the need of baptismal grace for eternal salvation while recognizing the innocence of children who deserved no punishment. Hence Limbo, an invention that seemed to have it both ways: no innocent suffering but no eternal salvation either. Contemporary theology, expressed succinctly in the Catechism, has moved beyond the dilemma that Limbo was supposed to solve: “As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved…” (# 1261).

So I was wondering, what can I retrieve from our grade school pagan baby collections? HammondAnd here’s what I came up with. In Dante’s poem, one of the things you can’t miss as you move from the Inferno to the Purgatorio is the change in the inhabitants’ ability to communicate, to be in communion. The inhabitants of hell are people who continue to say no to God’s grace, and this eternal refusal is manifest in their unwillingness to be in community. They do not talk to one another and think only of themselves and their fama, their earthly fame, which they ask Dante to promote when he returns there. But in purgatory, even though there is suffering, there is an underlying joyfulness because the sinners there are repentant, they continue to long for what was given to them as divine images: God. The manifestation of this desire is their sense of community; the inhabitants of purgatory care about one another, ask for prayers, and think of others. Their desire for God is purging their egoism.

Purgatory is a lot like life when it’s going well: a growth in holiness. I remember my mother often saying that one can live out one’s purgatory here on earth, and sometimes she would stare at me and my brothers just a few seconds too long for comfort when she said it. So, when we donated money to the missionaries, besides the foolishness of naming babies or the problematic theology of Limbo, we were also learning that we were in some sort of communal relationship with people far away living in alien cultures, but who were human beings like us, in need of grace and the help of their fellow Christians. Like the inhabitants of Dante’s purgatory, the Catholic emphasis on community and relationship and our equality before God came through. All in all, not a bad subculture to grow up in.

David Hammond teaches theology and church history for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Authentic Love and the Discovery of Fire

The gospel for the 5th Sunday of Easter Cycle C contains one of most powerful admonitions that Jesus offered his disciples:  “I give you a new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you (John 13:34).”  I’d like to share a true story about a young couple from Chicago that will help explain the profound meaning of this gospel.  Peter and Linda were both just 21 years old and had been dating for almost two years.  Peter planned to ask Linda to marry him.

One evening, Peter and a friend were involved in a horrible accident, and Peter was thrown from the car.  He suffered a severe concussion and ended up in a deep coma.  The doctors told Peter’s family and friends that he probably wouldn’t survive.  Even if he did, he would remain in a comatose state.  In the sad days ahead, Linda spent all of her spare time at the hospital.  Night after night, for three and a half months, Linda sat at Peter’s bedside, speaking words of encouragement to him, even though he gave no sign that he heard her.  Then one night, Linda saw Peter’s toe move.  A few nights later she saw his eyelash flutter.  This was all she needed.  Against the advice of the doctors, she quit her job and became his constant companion.  She spent hours every day massaging his arms and legs.

Eventually Linda arranged for Peter to go home.  She spent all of her savings on a swimming pool, hoping that the sun and water would restore life to his motionless limbs.  Then came the day when Peter spoke his first word since the accident.  It was only a grunt, but Linda understood it.  Gradually, with Linda’s help, those grunts turned into words – clear words.  Finally, the day came when Peter was able to ask Linda’s father if he could marry her.  Linda’s father said, “When you can walk down the aisle, Peter, Linda will be yours.”

Two years later, Peter walked down the aisle of Our Lady of Pompeii Catholic Church in Chicago.  He had to use a walker, but he was walking.  Every television station in the city covered that wedding, and newspapers all over the country published the story with pictures of Peter and Linda.  Celebrities called to congratulate them.  People from as far away as Australia sent them letters and presents.  And families all over the world with loved ones in comas called to ask them for advice.  Today, Peter is living a very normal life.  He speaks slowly, but clearly.  He walks slowly, but without a walker.  Peter and Linda even have a lovely little baby girl.

The story of Peter and Linda is a beautiful commentary on the words of Jesus in John’s gospel:  “I give you a new commandment: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.  This is how the world will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

If there is one thing that we desperately need in our world today, it’s to rediscover the power of Authentic Love – self-giving love.  Jesus is calling us to a relationship with others modeled on his love, a love that Saint Paul describes so well in 1 Corinthians 13.  This is a love that we’re never tired of hearing about, a love that we want for ourselves, a love that we are called to extend to others: “a love that is patient, a love that is kind.  It is not jealous, pompous, or inflated.  It does not seek its own interests, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth, a love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things, a love that never fails.”  The story of Peter and Linda illustrates that this kind of love has tremendous power.  It has the power to change the world.  It has the power to bring people back from the brink of death to life.  It has the power to bring people back from hopeless sickness to perfect health.  It has the power to inspire people all over the world and give them new hope, as Linda’s love for Peter did.

In the early 1980s, an unusual film was playing in movie theaters across the nation.  It was called The Quest for Fire.  Its French producer said that it fulfilled a lifelong dream.  He had always dreamed of celebrating in film the discovery of fire, for it was the discovery of fire 80,000 years ago that saved the people on planet Earth from total extinction.  It was the discovery of fire that made it possible DSCF1884for them to make tools for survival and to protect themselves from the cold.

Today, people on the planet Earth are beginning to worry again that we are headed for total extinction.  Today, people on the planet Earth are beginning to worry again that we are teetering on the brink of a global disaster.  This time, the danger comes not from something basic like the lack of fire, but from something even more basic – the lack of Authentic Love, the kind of love that Jesus preached, the kind of unfailing, unconditional, self-giving love that Linda had for Peter.

This makes us wonder and ask ourselves a profound and frightening question.  Will someone 80,000 years from now make a movie to celebrate the rediscovery of Authentic Love in the 21st Century?  Will someone 80,000 years from now make a movie to celebrate the only thing that saved our planet from extinction?  Will someone 80,000 years from now make a movie to celebrate the outpouring for Authentic Love that came forth from the Christian community in the 21st Century and changed the world?  Only the future and only the Christian community will be able to answer that question.  Only you and I, and millions of Christians like us, hold the answer to those questions somewhere deep down in our hearts.

This gospel is an invitation for us to look into our heart-of-hearts today and see how we ourselves are answering that question by our own lives of Authentic Love – especially within our families, for we must begin to change the world in the family, or we won’t change it at all.  “I give you a new commandment.  Love one another, and love them as I have loved you.”

“Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of Authentic Love, and then, for the second time in the history of the world, man will discover fire.”      Teilhard de Chardin

 

Deacon Greg Ollick teaches sacred scripture for Saint Joseph’s College Online. He is a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Atlanta and runs The Epiphany Initiative website.

The Kenosis Continues

Worth Repeating Wednesday – This post originally appeared on May 18, 2014

Gustave Doré – The Temptation of Jesus

Gustave Doré – The Temptation of Jesus

At the university which boasts the motto Veritas, there were some interesting developments recently. On May 9th, it was announced that the NY-based Satanic Temple, under the auspices of the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club, would be holding a “Black Mass” on the university campus for the purpose of “exploring other cultures.” The club which proposed to sponsor this event is student-led, and once the news of its happening was made public, the university and its administration were quick to separate themselves from this debacle. They were equally as rapid, however, in their defense of the organization’s right to exercise freedom of expression. The Harvard Extension School, for example, issued the following statement on May 9th.

Students at the Harvard Extension School, like students at colleges across the nation, organize and operate a number of independent student organizations, representing a wide range of student interests. The Harvard Extension School does not endorse the views or activities of any independent student organization. But we do support the rights of our students and faculty to speak and assemble freely. (The entire statement can be found here.)

Similarly, President Drew Faust – insert Goethean pun here – issued the following statement on May 12th.

The reenactment of a ‘black mass’ planned by a student group affiliated with the Harvard Extension School challenges us to reconcile the dedication to free expression at the heart of a university with our commitment to foster a community based on civility and mutual understanding. (The entire statement can be found here.)

Much to her credit, President Faust refers to this proposed gathering as unequivocally “abhorrent,” “disrespectful and inflammatory.” She also stated that she planned on attending a Eucharistic Holy Hour at nearby St. Paul’s Parish as a sign of “respect for the Catholic faith”, which she did, in fact, do. That the very nature of a “Black Mass” is to parody the Catholic Mass, and is therefore highly offensive to Catholics, was stated, inter alias, by the pastor of St. Paul’s Parish, Fr. Michael Drea: “There is no way to misunderstand a Satanic act that degrades the Catholic liturgy. There is no misunderstanding; it is just a fact.”

After much protestation, including statements from Cardinal Seán O’Malley and a Eucharistic procession from MIT to St. Paul’s Parish, the event was canceled and reportedly moved to an undisclosed private location off-campus.

It is an easy task to note the duplicity of a university at once condemning an act and yet providing a space for its occurrence. Though it was later refuted by Robert Neugeboren, the dean of students and alumni affairs at Harvard Extension School, a spokesperson for the Satanic Temple initially stated that the organization had obtained a consecrated host for the event.

While reflecting upon these sad events as they unfolded, I could not help but recall the great Kenotic Hymn contained in St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians.

Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even unto death on a cross. (Phil 2:6-8)

This hymn, which NT scholars agree pre-dates the composition of the epistle, affirms that Christ’s essence (μορφῇ) is with the Father. But rather than selfishly cling to his divine existence, the Son emptied himself (ἐκένωσεν) in order to adopt a human nature. The Son submitted to the will of the Father completely and entirely; accepting this unnatural condensation “even unto death on a cross.”

While it may be the reflective reaction of the Christian to be repulsed by the recent events at Harvard, – and rightly so! – let us remember that this is yet another instance of Christ submitting himself to the human condition. Surely we need to be witnesses against the offensive and sacrilegious nature of such events, as many members of the local Church in Boston recently were. But it should also deepen our own humility. It should remind us that Christ has made himself vulnerable to the world every day and everywhere since the moment of his conception. He has held nothing back from his embrace of the human person. In short, the recent events at Harvard are simply another instance of Jesus’ kenosis. And if we are to be his disciples, we too need to make ourselves vulnerable to those whom we love and serve. “No servant is greater than his master” (Jn 15:20).

Anthony Coleman teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

A Peek Behind the Veil

The word “revelation” has its roots in a Latin word (revelatio) which means “to draw back” (re-) the “veil” (velum). Often we associate this word with the person who has gained knowledge. He or she has discovered something which was always present but unknown; like a tropical island or a chemical element. But what distinguishes a revelation from a discovery is that the latter can be made according to one’s own powers. The discoverer is the active agent in the process of detection. A revelation, on the other hand, needs to be given. It is the giver who is the active agent, who lifts the veil, and who allows the receiver to accept or reject what has been shown.

In today’s Gospel (Jn 10:27-30), Jesus offers his followers a revelation concerning his true identity. His disciples could not have “discovered” this on their own, nor are they compelled to believe what has been revealed. “The Father and I,” Jesus says, “are one” (Jn 10:30). It is difficult to describe, in both scope and depth, what this one little sentence must have inspired – or perhaps incited – among the Jesus’ Jewish audience. The Gospel states that at least some persons who were present “picked up rocks to stone him” (Jn 10:31). Indeed, to an audience accustomed to praying the Shema – “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone!” (Dt 6:4) – this statement would approach the height of self-aggrandizing sacrilege. But Jesus neither recoils at the threat of stoning, nor demurs from the accusation of blasphemy. Rather, he confirms his previous statement by adding that “the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (Jn 10:38). In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives his disciples, if you will, a “peek behind the veil”; a glimpse of his identity which will only be known after his Resurrection and through the gift of the Spirit.

Christ Pancrator

Christ Pantocrator (mid-6th cen.) St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai

This revelation of Christ’s personhood is not a matter of abstract dogma, or of learning a fact like so much other data available to us in this “Information Age.” The demons “know” that Jesus Christ is Lord (e.g., Mk 1:24), and yet they revile him. Jesus’ mission of salvation is an embrace of the human person. He conquered death so that we might come to him and receive new life. As St. Paul writes: “the Son of God…has loved me and given himself up for me” (Gal 2:20; emphasis added). Nothing could be of greater importance for me, for my present life and eternal destiny, then Christ’s true identity. For if he and the Father are one, if he has conquered death, and if I am united to him as member of his body, then I too can proclaim: “Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:54-55; cf. Hos 13:14).

Anthony Coleman teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Mother Teresa Was A Thin Place

I’ve never really thought of myself as a person who is overly concerned or even that aware of celebrity or celebrities.   In retrospect, it being 20/20, I can see that I’ve been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time on occasion.  Once, when I was a little girl, we were on a family vacation touring Washington D.C.  In simpler times when there were virtually no security concerns or precautions it was easy for a little girl to wonder into the Speaker’s Office where I was welcomed by Speaker of the House of Representatives,  Sam Rayburn,  who invited my stunned parents and older brother to come in and meet Senators Everett Dirksen and Charles Halleck.  After handshakes and gifts of House of Representatives pens and stationery we continued wondering the halls.  I realize now that a little girl who actually knew who those men were is just as unimaginable as a time that existed when that could actually happen. (My Father was very civic minded and talked to me about politics and just about everything else, like I was an adult.)

Once, as my Mother and I exited a performance of Funny Girl in New York, we noticed a crowd gathering across the street.  So we investigated and found Ginger Rogers signing autographs.  She had just completed her performance in Hello Dolly.  She touched my Mother’s face, patted me on the head and signed our Funny Girl program.  (Yes, it really happened.)

IMG_2051

 

Teaching in a high school in a small state (Delaware) it was not uncommon to have elected officials visit.  Then Senator, Joe Biden lived not far from school and often visited.  Besides my memory I can actually document this occasion with a photo…

 

By far and away, however, the most profound meeting came when I was a novice many years ago.  Its impact on me has not waned over time and I can still close my eyes and experience the moment as if for the first time.  Cardinal O’Connor had invited Mother Teresa of Calcutta to speak at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.  Our Mother House was several hours away in Pennsylvania.  Assuming that she would speak during Mass, perhaps at the post-communion, we did not attend Mass before we departed for New York.   We learned when we got there that she would be speaking shortly but not within the celebration of Mass.  She gave a wonderful message, elegant in its simplicity.  When she concluded the Cardinal graciously invited all present to a reception in the lower church.  We were informed by our superior that we would not be attending the reception since we had not yet attended Mass.   We would attend the Mass which was about to begin and depart immediately thereafter for PA.  We were, I must admit, not very devout, because we really wanted to meet Mother Teresa.  All present, except us, filed out of the cathedral to the reception, leaving us and a few others, to attend our Sunday Mass.

End of story?…oh no.  After Mass we piled back onto the yellow school bus and headed out of NYC and onto the New Jersey Turnpike.  About 30 miles down the Turnpike one of the novices in the back of the bus called loudly, “Mother Teresa’s in the car behind us!”  You would have thought someone had just spotted one of the Beatles.  We all stood and looked toward the back and sure enough there she was with a younger sister who was the driver.  Mother still had a dozen red roses on her lap that someone had given her at the Cathedral.    Just then the driver motioned for us to pull over.  So, at the next interchange we did just that.  I can’t imagine what the passersby on the turnpike thought.  We looked like a scene from the Sound of Music.  Can you imagine driving by and saying to your friend, “Is that Mother Teresa in the middle of that?”  Yes, and In the middle of all of that one of the novices began taking pictures as Mother Teresa graciously and gently hugged every one of us.  She offered her roses to us until they were gone.  She said that she was disappointed that we were not at the reception and that she had seen us in the cathedral and recognized out habits.  We explained about Mass.  We said our goodbyes and made our way back to our Motherhouse in PA.

IMG_2050For me the enduring effect of that meeting resides in the experience of grace.  The old Irish speak about the “thin places”.  Celtic spirituality holds that the separation between the natural and supernatural is very small and that in some cases very, very small.  These places are the thin places.  A thin place can be a place.  It can also be a person or an experience.  In this case, the thin place was Mother Teresa.  The experience while vivid is still ineffable, but I can say that I experienced a palpable sense of grace and I felt an urgency to be open to it.  I smile when I think of the details of this story, but I pray when I close my eyes and remember the grace.

Susan O’Hara teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Nature and Grace

During this time of year in New England, nature speaks volumes and louder than any words.

Connors 1

Flowers that are resilient and burst through the snow or endure through a post-blossoming, surprise snowfall … what do they have to tell me?

When I witness these things and take time to listen to the wisdom of creation, what do I learn?

What do I learn about myself?

What do I learn about my brothers and sisters on the journey?

What do I learn about God?

 

What about the plants look like a pile of sticks and turn into a shower of blossoms?

Connors 3Nature has so much to teach us and here in New England, with a deep experience of the four seasons and how they align with the liturgical seasons, we are sitting in the middle of an encyclopedia, a composite of all spiritualities, the Gospel, and an experience of the Living God!

This week, find five minutes to just stop and look around outside — watch a bud, leaf, branch, blade of grass, or a bird, squirrel, or chipmunk — and listen to what they have to teach or reveal to you about you, others, and God.

Nature speaks words of grace if we take the time to listen.Connors 4

 

Sr. Kelly Connors, pm, teaches Canon Law for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

 

 

Breaking News: Pope Francis Values the Sacrament of Matrimony

Worth Revisiting Wednesday – This post originally appeared on September 21, 2014. (With the Post-Synodal Exhortation on its way this Friday, we thought it was appropriate.)

On Sunday September 14, 2014 Pope Francis celebrated a Holy Mass with the Rite of Marriage inside St. Peter Basilica. It also was on the occasion of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. In his homily during the Mass, Pope Francis made some important connections between the feast day and the Sacrament of Matrimony, between the new life that is found through the Holy Cross and new life that is found in Holy Matrimony.

As to be expected, “the press” captured the opportunity to discuss this significant Holy Mass, especially since popes don’t regularly preside over a Mass with the Rite of Marriage. I wrestled with two different options for a topic for this article: (1) point out the errors of the media; or (2) focus on the truth of what Pope Francis stated in his homily. Certainly we must be ready to stand up for the truth and correct errors. One specific passage from Scripture comes to mind: “Always be prepared to make a defense [Greek apologian] to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15 RSVCE). But in apologetics, there is a danger of focusing too heavily on the errors of our critics and not enough on the reason for our hope: the truth that is found in Christ Jesus (cf. John 14:6).

Pope Picture at WeddingIn his homily, Pope Francis reflected on the first reading of the day, and he recalled that when the Israelites were on their journey through the desert, they became impatient (cf. Numbers 21:4). But married couples, too, as they walk together through the journey of life, can become impatient, even with each other. Pope Francis makes this exact point:

Here our thoughts turn to married couples who “become impatient on the way,” the way of conjugal and family life. The hardship of the journey causes them to experience interior weariness; they lose the flavour of matrimony and they cease to draw water from the well of the Sacrament. Daily life becomes burdensome, and often, even “nauseating.”

This is not a great frame of mind for any married person to be in. Whether you’re Catholic or not, you can recognize that married life can be difficult at times.

Because of the impatience of the Israelites, they failed to see the threat which was about to take them by surprise. “During such moments of disorientation … poisonous serpents come and bite the people, and many die” the pope commented. In married life there are serpents that attempt to attack the husband and wife. The serpents which threaten married life are seeking the death of their relationship. But the Israelites had a remedy to the serpents’ poisonous bites: they could look at Moses’ staff and recover (cf. Numbers 21:8). Likewise, married couples and indeed all people have a remedy, as we learn from our Savior:

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him (John 3:14-17).

Married couples, when facing “nauseating” days and weeks, can gaze upon the Cross of Jesus Christ and recognize a preeminent sign of God’s love for His people (cf. Romans 5:8). Pope Francis expresses his confidence in the One who can bring aid:

The cure which God offers the people applies also, in a particular way, to spouses who ‘have become impatient on the way’ and who succumb to the dangerous temptation of discouragement, infidelity, weakness, abandonment… To them too, God the Father gives his Son Jesus, not to condemn them, but to save them: if they entrust themselves to him, he will bring them healing by the merciful love which pours forth from the Cross, with the strength of his grace that renews and sets married couples and families once again on the right path.

One might be tempted to think: “Of course… the Pope is going to say ‘Jesus is the answer’ and the Catholic blogger is going to agree. For those of us who are really in a troubled marriage, what can we do?” But the pope’s advice is the most real, the most concrete, advice that anyone will ever give us. If spouses try to heal their relationship on their own, they will quickly lose hope and they will fail. But if spouses entrust themselves to the living God who loves them beyond measure, they will be able to love each other with God’s love through the Holy Spirit: “if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:12). We always have hope when we trust the One who makes all things new (cf. Revelation 21:5).

Edward Trendowski is Director of the Office of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Providence and teaches pastoral theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

The Goodness, Beauty, and Power of Biological Sex

In today’s Second Reading, Revelation 1:9-11A, 12-13, 17-19, the risen Lord Jesus presents himself “like a son of man.”  His eternal power, extolled by John in Revelation 1:6, and striking and dramatic physical features overwhelm John (v.17).  Jesus’ physicality is palpable not only in our Second Reading but also in the Gospel, John 20:19-31, in which Jesus shows his Apostles his hands and his side, and later tells Thomas to put his finger on the wounds on his hands and place his hand into his side.  Jesus’s risen Body is quite real.  His identity—including that of his biological sex—is the same, only his risen Body is glorified.  Jesus was conceived a biological male (e.g., Luke 1:31), died a biological male, and rose as one as well.  The same continuum is true of the Blessed Virgin Mary: she came into the world as a biological female, and she was assumed into heaven as one also.

When God created our first parents on the sixth day, he created them male and female.  At the end of this day, he not only found that all he created was “good,” as in previous days, but “very good” (tov me’ohd’) (Genesis 1:27, 31). Our biological sexuality is sacred to God—it is a very good, beautiful, powerful gift.  With this gift, through our holy bodies, we can image Trinitarian love physically in the marital embrace, or symbolically by our self-giving love to God and neighbor that mirrors the faithful love between Christ and his spouse, the Church.  We also can incarnate marital love physically by “being fruitful and multiplying,” or symbolically by transmitting, protecting, and nourishing the Word of God in people’s lives by word and deed.

Tragically, in today’s world, contaminated by an ever-growing cancer—the culture of 538px-man-and-woman-iconsvgcorruption and death—we have forgotten the simple biological lesson and yet mystery of the “birds and the bees” applied to human sexuality.  We no longer remember the purpose of sexuality, so easily and well-articulated in natural law and God’s revelation.  A symptom of our cultural amnesia, ignorance, and moral dysfunction is our acceptance, approval, and advancement of transgenderism.  This is an obvious consequence of the nominalistic priority enshrining the act of choice over and against nature and reason, as well its consequent reduction of sexual activity to mere pleasure, in whatever disordered way.

Yet transgenderism is not simply the outgrowth of a bankrupt philosophical trend, but also often reflects a serious underlying disorder, gender dysphoria.  Men and women and boys and girls identifying as the opposite sex or in flux between the two sexes need real, compassionate help, not support or encouragement in “feeling like” or impersonating the opposite sex.  Of course, lest we condescend and forget our own disorders and frailties, we must view someone struggling in this way first and foremost as a person of lofty dignity, a human being made in the image of God and redeemed by Christ’s Blood.

We also must respect the most unbiased medical studies and other studies in health that advance our understanding of this issue.  For example, concerning sex reassignment surgery, the University of Birmingham’s review of more than one hundred international medical studies of post-operative transsexuals shows there is no scientific evidence that surgery is effective as a treatment to improve their lives, with many of them left critically distressed and suicidal post-op.  In a renowned study published in 2011, “Long-Term Follow-up of Transsexual Persons Undergoing Sex Reassignment Surgery: A Cohort Study in Sweden,” considerably higher mortality rate, suicidal behavior, and psychiatric morbidity than the general population characterized these results.

Just last month, the American College of Pediatricians published a statement urging “educators and legislators to reject all policies that condition children to accept as normal a life of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex.  Facts—not ideology—determine reality” (www.acpeds.org/the-college-speaks/position-statements/gender-ideology-harms-children).  I encourage you to read the entire statement.  Also, check out www.sexchangeregret.com.  The ACP highlighted the following points:

  1. Human sexuality is an objective binary trait: “XY” and “XX” are genetic markers of health—not genetic markers of a disorder.
  1. No one is born with a gender. Everyone is born with a biological sex.  Gender (an awareness and sense of oneself as male or female) is a sociological and psychological concept, not an objective, biological one.
  1. A person’s belief that he or she is something they are not is, at best, a sign of confused thinking.
  1. Puberty is not a disease and puberty-blocking hormones can be dangerous.
  1. According to the DSM-V, as many as 98% of gender confused boys and 88% of gender confused girls eventually accept their biological sex after naturally passing through puberty.
  1. Children who use puberty blockers to impersonate the opposite sex will require cross-sex hormones in late adolescence. Cross-sex hormones are associated with dangerous health risks including but not limited to high blood pressure, blood clots, stroke, and cancer.
  1. Rates of suicide are twenty times greater among adults who use cross-sex hormones and undergo sex reassignment surgery, even in Sweden which is among the most LGBQT-affirming countries.
  1. Conditioning children into believing a lifetime of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex is normal and healthful is child abuse.

God made no mistake in assigning each of us a biological sex.  Rejecting this divinely-bestowed identity and assignment is rejecting a very good, beautiful, and powerful gift. In addition, when this rejection includes bodily harm and mutilation, we violate the moral law (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2297) and further harm ourselves and offend God.

If we care about our transgender brothers and sisters, and about the greatness, beauty, and power God has bestowed upon us through our gift of biological sex, we will by God’s grace—even in our fallen world—generate the compassion, courage, and persistence to advance chastity, personal integrity, and God’s honor as the Great Designer—to the end!

Mark Koehne teaches moral theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.