artwork of the woman caught in adultery laying on the ground in despair, gender and sexuality

Misguided ideas about gender and sexuality have infiltrated schools, homes, families, marriages, parishes, and communities, causing many Catholics to feel lost in how to approach conversations related to those topics. 

How do we react?

The possibility for conflict and tension around these subjects is high, and our tendency is usually to do one of two things: ignore/avoid those who think differently than we do OR beat them over the head with objective truth in an effort to ease our consciences. 

It’s true that, as Catholics, we hold objective truths about our personhood that differ vastly from what modern, popular culture proclaims. And it’s also true that we need to be bold in sharing the beautiful truths of our faith, especially in the area of sexuality and gender. 

However, it’s important to remember that there is also such a thing as subjective experience to take into consideration as well. 

For instance, someone may know the objective truth that their gender is unchanging, yet struggle with not feeling at home in their body and experience all the confusion, disorientation, and ultimately estrangement from themselves that may bring. 

So we have objective truth on one hand and people who are hurting on the other. How do we approach this as a Church? How can we enter deeper into communion with those who are suffering and left out and set aside? 

Our call is to follow the example of Jesus. Which is a bit radical, and may mean we’ll upset some people. But I think it also points the way forward and ultimately shows the way through. Let’s break this open a little more. 

Unfortunately, religion has become for some – myself included – an opportunity for mediocrity in following Jesus. I have a sneaking suspicion that it has been this way for thousands of years. (Jesus certainly spoke out pretty vehemently against this sort of mediocrity in His time.)

By mediocrity, I mean to say that religion gives us categories into which we can snuggly and safely place ourselves. It gives us a moral system to fall back on that distinguishes “us” from “them.”

However, we can’t let church become for us a system of dividing “us” from “them.” Despite some “spiritual” traditions, trends, and movements, the Church is not to be primarily a megaphone on the street corner calling out peoples’ sins. Likewise, members of the Church – the body of Christ – are not to have these megaphones blaring out from our hearts. 

If mediocrity, then, can be seen as a mentality of “us vs. them” – those of us behind the megaphone, and those that are on the other side of it – and we know we’re not called to mediocrity…what, then, is the universal church supposed to be?

The mission of the Church is to make a proposition of Jesus to the world: we must propose Love. 

How did Jesus react?

a closeup on a statue of Jesus

For an example, consider the story of the road to Emmaus. What happened first on the road to Emmaus? The two disciples walking with Jesus did not recognize him. They were the “them.” 

Did Jesus chastise them, saying, “Don’t you know who I am, you idiots?” or “How can you be so blind and dumb?” No. He walks with them. He speaks with them… as one of them. He builds friendship with them and leads them into a true encounter with Himself, after which “their hearts burned” within them.

I’m also reminded of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus finds this woman in her brokenness. Let’s remember that she didn’t first have a conversion and come to Jesus begging his forgivenessHe found her in her brokenness.  

He steps in for her, advocating for her against the religious leaders of the day. Could they have stoned her according to the law? Of course. Jesus instead writes in the sand what some scholars believe to be the sins of the religious, then dares one of them to throw the first stone. 

Did Jesus stop to think how others would interpret his action? Did He worry that He would be providing a sign of acceptance to all the other adulterers out there? No. He loved the woman. He validated the woman. And after that, she loved Him back. After that, her heart changed and she went on to “sin no more.” 

Jesus loves first, and then we respond: that’s the proper order of things. 

If we think morality comes before love, we are very confused. Our mission as a Church is to propose the love of Jesus to the world. 

If we are to love with the love of Jesus, if we are to be Jesus as members of His body, His Church, we will seek to love all men and women, even those who experience, and maybe even act out on, their gender confusion or their homosexual desires in the same way we love ourselves or our friends when we know the types of sins we commit.

We can do this by meeting people where they are. Entering into their life where they are. Developing a relationship with them where they are. 

It’s from this place of understanding another’s subjective experience that we can propose the truth. It’s from this place that we can then propose Love.

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Related Resources:

Being Human Podcast Gender Series