When Jesus said “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man ‘against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household'” (Mathew 10:34-36), you know the teachings of His Church will be hard to accept for those living in the world. Indeed, the conditions for discipleship are quite heavy as we continue to verses 37 to 39: “Whosever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
I am sure that the struggles of living in the first to third centuries are just as hard as in the 21st and 22nd. There were, as there are now, practices, beliefs and traditions that would be in conflict with Jesus’ teaching. Some of those practices, beliefs and traditions of old — their lifestyles — still linger today. It wouldn’t be hard to picture those living at the time of Jesus trying to marry their lifestyles with those teachings, and, in a way trying to water down the teachings so as to accommodate or excuse that which they cannot do without. My guess is that these watered down or deviant beliefs would eventually be labeled heresies precisely because they are not consistent with Jesus’ teachings and the traditions of the Church.
That’s the same struggle we go through in this day and age. We may look different, act different, or think different but those same lifestyle issues still exist today; and, unsurprisingly, people today also try to water down Catholic teachings in order to accommodate or excuse their lifestyle.
At this point, allow me to disclose that I am not a priest, theologian or even an extraordinary Catholic. I was born and raised a Catholic. Graduated from Catholic schools and universities, except for my law degree, which I got from a state university. I was married under Catholic rites, and in all probability will die a Catholic. So, by way of disclaimer, whatever I write here is not the official stand of the Catholic Church on the matter but my own appreciation of Catholic teaching. I hope that is clear.
One particular issue that is prevalent today is gender identity. In today’s thinking, people are not bound by their genetic genders but are supposed to be free to choose their gender; so, even if you were born with male XY chromosomes (as against the female XX), or, to be blunt, with a penis, it really doesn’t matter because if you identify yourself as a female, then you can be a female, your Y chromosome or penis be damned. Under this theory, male and female genders, or masculinity or femininity, are nothing more than social constructs and as such, may be abandoned. Without having to be Catholic, I am afraid I have to disagree with a theory such as this. As a Catholic, it becomes totally unacceptable.
In the first place, one should readily accept that there are masculine females and feminine men. Not all men are manly, or females girly. It would, therefore, be wrong to simply think of individuals in terms of their masculinity or femininity. Various cultures recognize a broad, and quite acceptable, class between male and female as in some North American native tribes, or those referred to as asog in the Philippines.
However, this does not necessarily mean that you are any less male or female. If you are a gay man, then the fact that you are effeminate does not make you any less a male, even if you don’t see yourself as a man. Even if you decide to “transition” into a woman, genetically, you are still male, even with all the hormone treatments you decide to take.
Let’s take the idea to extremes: there are those who think, or would like to think, that they are dogs. Some even wear fur designed to make them look like a dog. They walk around on all fours, and eat and act like a dog. Does that make them a dog? No, they are still people. We can say the same thing about males or females who transition to females or males. Do the physical changes they go through take away the fact that they were born male or female? No, it does not. It may change the way they look but not what they were at birth. Gender identity is, therefore, an escape. It denies what you actually are in favor of what you believe. Psychologically, that can’t be good. I think acceptance is the better solution.
Moreover, gender identity makes a distinction between your spirit and your body. Your body is not you. Not if you think you are something else entirely. Your body is a mere vessel for your spirit. Unfortunately, it seems that once in a while the stork makes the mistake of putting the wrong spirit in a vessel and you have males thinking they are females, and vice versa. Therefore, we, being free spirits, can believe ourselves to be otherwise, and, as the theory goes, it is so.
This is where Catholic teaching may really be challenged. In my simple Catholic mind, when Jesus, the Son of God, came to earth, He was both God and man. He was completely a God as He was completely a man. Therefore, to think that our bodies are nothing more than mere vessels is contrary to what Jesus himself accomplished when He came to earth. He sanctified us. People. He made us holy. Not just our souls but the body that is in His image and likeness as well. To say our bodies are disposable would belittle that which made Jesus a man. Remember, we see the body as the temple of God. It’s a package. Body and soul. That’s us.
All this may be viewed as backward or outdated. On the other hand, it is just an example where Catholic teaching is different from worldly views. The world would allow it. In fact, in some countries, children as old as ten are allowed to choose their identity. 10! We don’t let them contract marriage but they can choose their gender. Wow. However, the very idea is contrary to what the Church teaches. We do not really choose our gender. Man and woman we are born. That’s just how it is, and it’s not as if it’s based on nothing but faith. It’s based on human experience. The world will try to convince us otherwise; to join them in their belief that gender is something we can choose for ourselves. That is not something the Church can accept. Pope Francis himself was very vocal about that. He sees it as an ideology that seeks to annihilate man as an image of God. (Pope Francis vs. Gender Ideology, The Catholic World Report, August 13, 2016.)
Of course, this doesn’t mean that the Church can just condemn those who are trying to convince them to adopt this concept of gender identity. No, the Chruch is still a Church of love and compassion. Judgement is for Jesus when He returns as King. For our part, we can only lovingly engage these people to rethink their position. People may condemn us for our teachings they think is so outdated and violative of human rights but we don’t get to do the same. We are Catholics. That’s who we are.