Male and Female: Catholic Teaching and Gender Ideology
Homily for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
“It is not good for the man to be alone.”
The words “not good” jump out in the first reading, from Genesis 2 — especially if we go back and start reading in Genesis 1, with the six days of creation, in which God looks day by day at his work and sees that it is “good.”
The light was “good.” The seas and the earth, the plants and fruit trees, the sun, the moon, and the stars, the sea creatures and land animals — it was all “good.”
Finally, God created man in his image, male and female. Only then, after creating mankind, male and female, in his image, did God take stock of the whole of creation, of everything he had made, and pronounce it all “very good.”
That’s Genesis 1. Now in Genesis 2 we read about the creation of mankind as male and female as a two-stage process, first the man and then the woman. And while this process is incomplete — while man is incomplete — it’s “not good.”
Everything up till now has been “good,” but for mankind to be “good,” there must be male and female.
From the beginning of creation
Now, of course the point isn’t that as individuals we’re incomplete unless we’re married! Quite the contrary. But each of us owes our existence, at least, to a woman and a man. Hopefully for most of us much more than just our existence! Maybe not, in some cases. This world is broken by sin and hardness of heart.
But the plan of God “from the beginning of creation,” in the words Jesus speaks to us in the Gospel today, was for each human being to come into the world through a concrete act of love between a man and a woman joined together, clinging together, as one flesh in a union that is total, mutual, complementary, open to the gift of life.
That’s God’s plan from the beginning of creation. Not always what we experience. But Jesus points us back to the beginning, to creation and God’s plan, to understand who we are and how we should be trying to live.
And the first thing to understand is that God created mankind in his image, male and female, equal in dignity, neither complete in themselves, but ordered toward one another, created for one another, and together, in their interdependence, their complementarity, reflecting the image of God.
Community, marriage, and family
God is love; the Holy Trinity is a community. So humanity, created in God’s image, is inseparable from community, and all human community is founded on the family, which the Catechism calls the “original cell” of social life (CCC 2207).
The word “community” gets thrown around a lot nowadays. Here at St. John’s we have an English community and a Spanish community, each made up of many nationalities and other group identities. People can place a lot of weight on these group identities, and they can be important in our lives.
And yet God didn’t create mankind from the beginning of creation with distinctions between white, black, Asian, and so forth. He didn’t create us English-speaking or Spanish-speaking. None of that goes to the beginning of creation.
Male and female — that does go to the beginning of creation. That does define each one of us, in our being, from the moment of our conception. To be human, in the plan of God, is to be male or female. This is the basis of marriage, the joining of man and woman in a union that is total, lifelong, complementary, open to the gift of life.
Of course many women aren’t wives or mothers, and many men aren’t husbands or fathers — and that’s entirely in keeping with God’s plan. But all wives and all mothers are women, and all husbands and all fathers are men. That’s the plan of God from the beginning. This is good.
God’s plan and the brokenness of the world
Now sometimes in this fallen world God’s plan is obscured. Chromosomes don’t always do what they’re supposed to. That’s a biological and medical issue. When people don’t do what we’re supposed to do, as individuals or as societies, that’s a moral issue — and in this area we face serious moral issues in our society today.
Many people today reject the plan of God for marriage and sexuality. Many people feel that the union of man and woman in marriage doesn’t have to be total and open to the gift of life every time, so they contracept — use birth control. Or it doesn’t have to be lifelong, so there’s nothing wrong with divorce and remarriage; it doesn’t matter whether or not the first marriage was valid or invalid. Or the complementarity of man and woman doesn’t matter, as long as two people love each other regardless what their sexes are.
This is “not good.”
Christianity is good news, and part of that good news is that life is good, existence is good, the created order is good. It’s good that the universe exists, that life exists, that human beings exist. It’s good that you exist, that you’re human, that each of us is male or female.
Our existence, our humanity, our identity as male or female are goods to be embraced. Embracing the goodness of our created nature part of the way of true freedom and fulfillment.
Some people struggle with this emotionally and experience what psychologists call gender dysphoria. That’s a psychological issue. But we live in a world in which more and more people are turning from the biological reality that there are such things as boys and girls, women and men; that these aren’t human inventions or preferences or constructs, like the imaginary lines between the towns and cities we live in.
Many children are being taught to think that what you are is no more than what you feel like and consider yourself to be. What matters in this theory is not whether you are a girl or a boy, but whether you feel like a girl or a boy — or neither, or both.
This is “not good” — this type of gender ideology or gender theory that both Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI have addressed, and that St. John Paul II’s entire “Theology of the Body” stands against.
Feelings and truth
Some people experience life itself as a burden. Now, human life is always sacred, from conception till natural death. We remember that especially today, on Respect Life Sunday, and throughout the month of October, Respect Life Month.
But some people don’t want to exist at all. They want to throw away their life. That doesn’t mean their existence is not a good thing. The goodness and preciousness of life doesn’t depend on our feelings. Nor does the goodness of our bodies in their male or female specificity, or the complementarity of male and female.
I’m far from belittling anyone’s emotional experiences. How we feel is important, and people who experience gender dysphoria or same-sex attraction need and deserve love and respect and support.
They deserve it; often they haven’t gotten it. That’s why the Catechism warns against “every sign of unjust discrimination” against homosexual persons — because too often they have experienced unjust discrimination and even persecution, in society and in the Church.
Women also have been discriminated against around the world, and continue to be. All of this is wrong, and we must resist it. We must insist on the equal dignity of every human person.
We must also recognize that more important than how or what we feel is what we think and believe, and that must be grounded in more than feelings. That must be grounded in truth.
“You will know the truth,” Jesus said, “and the truth will set you free.” This is good.
The truth that sets us free is not just an idea, but Jesus himself, the way, the truth, and the life, in whom we find our true identity as children of God in the eternal Son.
And if the Son sets us free, we are free indeed.