Monday, October 02, 2017

23 Keys for Unlocking the Mystery of Gender, Identity, and Human Sexuality

Who am I? This fundamental question is asked ultimately by every person ever born. What is this great mystery of human life; what is our origin and what is our destiny? As Catholics, informed by Sacred Scripture (God's Word) and the great gift of reason and human experience (Man's understanding), we propose the following points to serve as a kind of manual on this mission of self-discovery.

1. The Catholic understanding of the human person is that we are more than just a biological organism. Our body is animated by a soul. We are, in fact, a body and soul marriage, a harmony of spirit and matter. We have a transcendent and immortal destiny that makes us different from the animals. We laugh, cry, sing, love, hate, and yearn more than any creature in the world for something more than what the world can give us. Deep in our hearts is an unquenchable thirst for an unending happiness that lies somehow beyond us. "My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God." (Psalm 84:2)

2. The human person, however, never departs from the body. This immortal destiny in God is for the whole person, body and soul. Catholics believe we are not ghosts in a machine, or spirits trapped in bodies waiting to be set free. Nor would we ever say something like "the real me” is a disembodied thought, or a detached mind that's opposed to our body. We are our body.

3. Our quest for identity is always and deeply linked to our sexual nature, because "what God has joined, (body and soul) no one may separate.”

4. In the beginning God made us in His image, male and female. Biologically, existentially, our quest for our identity flows then from a mother and a father. Not a single person on earth comes into existence without this combination of male and female. Catholics believe this means something. This signifies something that is us and is also pointing beyond us.

5. Because of original sin (the easiest dogma in the Church to prove, just look in the mirror!), we are born into a kind of identity disorder, a struggle, a wrestling match with ourselves and the world. We're always searching "through a glass darkly" for our true identity. It is always inescapably linked to our sexuality.

6. We are all the fallen sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, and our beginning in this world is already a “trail of tears” - a pilgrimage to a wholeness we know somehow must exist but which our parents could not give us. We all have a mother wound and a father wound.

7. In the quest for our identity we should all prayerfully ponder our relationship or lack thereof with our mothers and fathers. There are significant graces and crosses in this self-reflection.

8. The gender dysphoria and the myriad of gender variations offered to us today through gender ideologies are all cries to reconcile the mother wound and the father wound within us; to find essentially a reconciliation and a harmony within our heads, hearts and bodies; a peace within our given masculinity or femininity.

9. There are many variables and factors that come to play within us and outside us to form us in our human identity. It would be a disservice to pretend we are only spiritual, and ignore the body, just as much as it would be wrong to imagine we can be reduced to only our physiology or genes, at the expense of the soul.

10. This isolation and separation of body from soul, gender identity from sexuality, will only deepen our mother and father wounds, and distract us from our quest to discover authentic femininity and masculinity.

11. Nothing in our quest for identity should compel us to do violence to a healthy body or act in a way against the nature of our sexual organs and their procreative dimension.

12. We should listen to creation, it speaks a truth. We should listen to this potentially procreative, generative meaning inscribed in us as male and female.

13. Every one of the trillions of somatic cells in the human body has 46 chromosomes, except the gametes, or sex cells, which hold 23 chromosomes. Only they hold half the number, as if to say “We hold the two halves of a key to the mystery of every human life!"

14. Catholics believe we are made in the image of God, Who is a Blessed Trinity of Love, a Communion of Persons; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We believe Man, Woman and Child, the human family, are theological, imaging the love of the Three Persons of the Trinity.

15. So motherhood and fatherhood — expressed either physically in marriage or spiritually in loving service to others — are the true ends of all women and men. All human beings are made for relationship through either form of life-giving complementarity.

16. The goal of a man is to have a "feminine-integrated masculine heart, and a woman to have a masculine-integrated feminine heart.” (Roch Gernon)

17. There are certainly abnormalities and anomalies, like rare intersex births, deep-seated same sex attraction, impotence and infertility in individuals today, but none of these should negate the norm or cast a cloud over the deeper spiritual sign of the human body as an image of the life-giving love of God as a Blessed Trinity, in Whose image we are made for this life-giving communion.

18. An over emphasis on epigenetics, hermaphrodite anomalies, or certain genetic proclivities as the defining factors of our identity puts more weight on the flesh than the spirit; it is a deterministic approach that ends with taking away our freedom, our free will and our hope!

19. We must not place our whole identity on a feeling or attraction, but on the whole arc of the human person as an embodied thirst for the Infinite. In the words of the late Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, "We talk about different 'sexual orientations' in human life. But the ultimate orientation of human sexuality is the human heart's yearning for infinity. Human sexuality, therefore, is a sign of eternity."

20. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church observes, "The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided." (Catholic Catechism, #2358)

21. Through the body God is teaching us about Love, especially in the incarnate body of Jesus, the Bridegroom, the Word Who became flesh! “Jesus Christ fully reveals man to himself and makes his supreme calling clear.” (Vatican II, GS, 22)

22. Rather than attempt to redefine the meaning of our gender, we should recall our genesis in Genesis, wherein God generously generated human life to generously generate the generations of men and women who would continue to reflect the image of God in this great dance of human life and love, of the masculine and the feminine.

23. "The dynamics of the relationship between God, man and woman, and their children, are the golden key to understand the world and history, with all that they contain…” (Pope Francis)

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Sacramental Vision

With Christians, a poetical view of things is a duty. We are bid to color all things with hues of faith, to see a divine meaning in every event. 
- John Cardinal Newman

This quote of Cardinal Newman's reveals the key for the interpretation of all reality. We are a mysterious harmony of flesh and spirit. We are not merely of this earth, but have, as it were, one foot in eternity. We are in fact, an embodied thirst for the Infinite! This truth explains the ache we feel in the face of beauty, or creation, of music, love, and even suffering and death. It defines the pull in our hearts for immortality. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, "Genuine beauty... gives man a healthy ‘shock’, it draws him out of himself, wrenches him away... from being content with the humdrum – it even makes him suffer, piercing him like a dart, but in so doing it ‘reawakens’ him, opening afresh the eyes of his heart and mind, giving him wings, carrying him aloft.”
- Pope Benedict XVI

This poetical view, this vision that pierces through flesh and bone to reveal the spirit, this is the lens through which we are called to perceive the world! It is a specifically Catholic vision, a sacramental vision; it shows us that the things we can se, and smell, and taste and touch are in a certain sense sacramental signs, visible realities housing invisible truths. In a certain sense, everything is a sacrament. Nature itself is a book that speaks of God. Shakespeare once wrote that we should "find tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything."

The truth about God "breathes" through creation, for He made it, and most of all through the creation of man and woman, made for life-giving love in the image of the Trinity. The body is a sacrament that proclaims the Mystery of God! It speaks, and our spiritual life, which animates and is knit inextricably to our physical life, is crowned with the gifts of intellect and will. But our reason and so much of what it gathers from the senses is like a rocket that can propel us only so high. Like a trapeze artist letting go, faith grasps our hands from above when reason can barely touch the fingertips. This is the path of the human person: to harmonize both faith and reason. To look with human eyes, to scrutinize with our intellect, and using reason like a launchpad, to leap into Love. 

This is a journey, as Pope Francis alludes to in his recent work, Laudato Si: “The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face. The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things.”

The temptation today, as it always has been, is to divorce the marriage of the invisible and the visible. To close the door to the Other World and simply grasp and gather to ourselves what we can for the here and now, because, as they say "You can't take it with you." But a sacramental vision would assert  that, if it's God you are seeing through it all, you CAN take it (or better, Him) with you! As Venerable Fulton J. Sheen once wrote, "To materialists this world is opaque like a curtain; nothing can be seen through it. A mountain is just a mountain, a sunset just a sunset; but to poets, artists, and saints, the world is transparent like a window pane - it tells of something beyond... a mountain tells of the Power of God, the sunset of His Beauty, and the snowflake of His Purity.”

The poetical view is the wholistic view. It is harmony. It is not a reduction, a less than, but an illumination, a more than. We see more than what meets the eye! As Pope Benedict XVI says, "Parables interpret the simple world of everyday life in order to show how a transcendence... occurs in it.... Reality itself is a parable. Hence, it is only by way of parable that the nature of the world and of man himself is made known to us."

Let us pray for those with only a singular view; the tunnel vision of the terrorist, the ego of the angry evolutionist, the clouded view of the creationist. And for all of us who feel that we cannot hold the tension of two, and so resort to violence to make a point. For violence is a clear sign that reason has been abandoned. May God give us His peace and make us sensitive to His quiet whispers through all creation

"Whoever wants to become a Christian must first become a poet…”
- St. Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia

Monday, June 12, 2017

Soul Meets Body

If they knew how big they’d become on the music scene, lead singer Ben Gibbard of the band “Death Cab for Cutie” once confessed, they would’ve thought twice about picking that obscure name. In these days of an even deeper obscurity over what gender we identify as, I’d like to reflect on one of my favorite DCFC’s songs “Soul Meets Body.”

From their album, Codes and Keys, released in May 2011, “Soul Meets Body” soars as an achingly beautiful song with echoes of the original plan of God for humanity, despite Gibbard’s apparent religious “wound” in other songs of the band. It begins…

I want to live where soul meets body and let the sun wrap its arms around me and bathe my skin in water cool and cleansing and feel, feel what its like to be new

I always thrill at the hearing of songs like this in popular music, from bands not necessarily religious. It points to that universal thirst for a harmony between flesh and spirit that can be found everywhere, in everything. Musicians today are scratching out their notes in the cynicism of a post-Christian age, amid scandals and hypocrisy, and even radical doubts and attacks on not only God’s identity but now our very own. In this quest for meaning, I find a certain raw sincerity in Death Cab for Cutie (DCFC). It shows us that nothing can snuff out the desire for the truth about God and man, not even a poor first experience of religion, or the scandalous example of some believers. It seems a wound from the past shaped lead singer Gibbard’s vision of the Catholic faith he was raised in. It’s revealed in the song “I Will Follow You Into the Dark”:

In Catholic school as vicious as Roman rule I got my knuckles bruised by a lady in black and I held my tongue as she told me “Son, fear is the heart of love” So I never went back

This experience is beyond tragic, since we know St. John tells us “perfect love casts out all fear.” (1 John 4:18) The wounds of an earthly father can change our view of the Heavenly Father. The sins of a school master can alter our knowing the love of the Divine Master. I wonder how effective this teaching of fear of punishment might be for the young as an introduction to God. Yet it seems to be a part of our pedagogy, individually and universally. Dr. Karl Stern, a Jewish psychoanalyst who converted to Catholicism once wrote: “The child receives, even before any formal moral training, a kind of ‘natural’ premoral formation. Its first encounter with a world of regulations is predominantly negative. The world of the forbidden precedes the world of the ideal. The very first regulatory education, such as training for order and cleanliness, warning against the handling of breakable objects and so on, may signify to the child an initiation into dread. Even under the most favourable circumstances the child gets to know the ‘Don’t’ associated with the first notion of punishment and reward, of retaliation and pardon, before a positive ideal, a ‘Do!’, can develop… It is the same in the child’s life as in the history of human society. Something analogous also exists on the level of the historical drama of salvation.” (Stern, Flight from Woman, 1965)

Now ponder this thought of Pope Benedict XVI: "Our first experience of God is so important; we either experience Him as the police guard ready to punish or as creative love that awaits.” Creative love is what we long for, and in fact it’s what God wants to pour out over our hearts through the Church’s sacraments. Sadly for many of us, the individual pieces of the conduit this truth can flow through (namely fallen human beings) can often limit or even obstruct that flow of truth. But that’s our fallen human nature, not the Divine water of grace (which by the way, always finds a way in). Gibbard sings that he “never went back” to the Catholic Church (he refers to himself as an “indoctrinated Catholic even though I haven’t been to church of my own volition in 10 or 15 years now.” But not going back doesn’t mean he’s not in some way moving forward in his quest for the truth of who we are. The French philosopher Simone Weil wrote that even when we run away from Christ, if it’s toward what we consider true, we run in fact straight into His arms!

Now away from the personal to the more culturally expansive seeking for healing in our world today. Our gender dysphoric age gives us an ever-expanding list of letters with which to identify. LGBTTQQFAGPBDSM and the list goes on, becoming every day increasingly more and more obfuscating. Recall Jesus asking the possessed man his name and the man replied “Legion is my name. There are many of us.” (Mark 5:9) This fracturing of our personhood, soul from body, is nothing new. It’s simply an attempt to cloak our ever present wound; the age-old identity crisis we’ve suffered from since the Fall in Eden. We are a splintered race, racing along, seeking reunion, and communion, of our hearts, minds, and bodies. Our identity has been disintegrated and our hearts dispossessed of the integral truth of what it means to be human, soul and body. But we must keep digging, seeking our original face. The ancients termed it fides quarens intellectum – faith seeking understanding. And we do this together as the song sings, for we need a reunion of not only soul and body, but of person to person, and God and humanity:

And I cannot guess what we’ll discover when we turn the dirt with our palms cupped like shovels but I know our filthy hands can wash one another’s and not one speck will remain

This digging deep into life’s experiences, and origins, can reveal hidden treasures. In the music video for “Soul Meets Body”, which I highly recommend watching (, we see a host of musical notes peeping out of the earth from a darkened forest floor as Ben Gibbard walks past. He meets his band in a little cabin and they play their song. We watch the notes rise up from the ground and through the canopy of trees, over forest and field, past houses and towns and cities, to the sea.

Listening to the ache for meaning can itself reveal to us the meaning. If we listen to the Music that made the world and follow those first two notes, the masculine and the feminine, that first came together to form the song that is our own personal life, our story, we see, hear and experience our place in the Song. The Song is the vocation of the human person, synthesized in St. John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio: “God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion. Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.” (FC, 11)

Caryll Houselander wrote “We are all syllables of the Perfect Word.” We are more than a single letter, we are the beginning of an utterance of a Fullness, a fullness we are already but not yet experiencing. So let’s keep going, aching, coming to terms with the truth that we are made for the other. Ultimately, our utterances must keep going up, into that Perfect Word Who encompasses and surrounds and unites all of us! In His Love that satisfies that original harmony between soul and body, the spiritual and the material, man and woman, and all of humanity is realized. There is a Creative Love that awaits in the Heart of Jesus, in the ocean of His mercy. Yes, even despite the oil spills of humanity’s sins, He’ll wash one another in this mercy, “and not one speck will remain.”

And I do believe it’s true that there are roads left in both of our shoes but if the silence takes you then I hope it takes me too. So brown eyes I hold you near cause you’re the only song I want to hear. A melody softly soaring through my atmosphere… Where soul meets body…

Talking to Your Little Ones About the Big Topic of Sex

A much repeated sentence we hear at our Theology of the Body retreats and courses is "I wish I heard this when I was younger!" ...