‘Amoris Laetitia’ V: ‘Why Male and Female’

This is the fifth in a series of six articles by Archbishop Cordileone on Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (the Joy of Love).

In these articles reviewing Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation “Amoris Laetitia,” I have made reference to the relativistic culture in which we live, which tells us, in effect, that we create our own reality. Indeed, for quite some time this thinking has been enshrined in the law of our land, with just one example – albeit significant – being the by now famous (or infamous) Supreme Court decision in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (June 29, 1992), which asserts: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

However, beginning with reason we can see that the universe is a well-ordered system, characterized by certain consistent principles. Of course, as Christians we believe that all of creation has a purpose and goal, given it by the Creator; our role as human beings created by God is to discover and develop what God has created, including our human nature.

What does the Church teach us about our nature? The starting point is that every human person without exception is created in the image and likeness of God, with the purpose to love and be loved, and to share eternal life with Him in heaven. While this divine image in us has been tarnished by original sin, nonetheless, this starting point means that every human person is endowed with intrinsic dignity.

It is also fundamental to point out that, at the beginning of creation, God made them “male and female” (Gen 1:27). Virtually every human culture throughout history has recognized the fact of this biological design. It is Sacred Scripture, though, that teaches us about the deeper spiritual reason why God ordered creation in this way: It is to allow a “complete gift of self” – spiritually, emotionally and physically – between a man and woman in marriage. This is the only union capable of “creating a new life out of love,” and while this provides great benefits for the flourishing of individuals and of societies as a whole, it takes on an even greater meaning on the spiritual level: Because the conjugal union of husband and wife is designed to be both unitive and procreative (open to life), it uniquely images the love within the holy Trinity. As Pope Francis says: “In the human family, gathered by Christ, ‘the image and likeness’ of the Most Holy Trinity (cf. Gen 1:26) has been restored, the mystery from which all true love flows” (AL, n. 71).

At the same time, the Holy Father is careful to point out that “masculinity and femininity are not rigid categories” (AL 285) and have a wide range of expressions. However, while “biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished,” he warns that they “[cannot be] separated.” Instead, he says, we are “called to protect our humanity … accepting it and respecting it as it was created.” To do otherwise would be to accept the claim that personal identity can be “radically separated from the biological difference between male and female.” Ignoring our complementary design as male or female would “ultimately [lead to] … eliminating the anthropological basis of the family,” which is the basis of society. (All quotes from AL, n. 56.)

Given the first starting principle cited at the beginning of this article, the Church certainly respects the inherent and inviolable dignity of every person, including those who experience “gender dysphoria,” that is, a dissonance between their own biological sex and self-perceived gender identity. Since we understand the human person to be a unity of body, soul, and mind, the Church teaches us that true compassion is to help persons in those difficult circumstances to truly integrate all three.

This is of particular importance for children. “Young people need to realize that they are bombarded by messages that are not beneficial for their growth toward maturity,” he says (AL, 281), and, “The young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created” (AL, 285). Teachers, parents, and all those responsible for the care and rearing of children must be very conscious that “in an age when sexuality tends to be trivialized and impoverished,” true sex education “can only be seen within the broader framework of an education for love, for mutual self-giving” (AL, 280).

Pope Francis’ words here point to the great human enterprise that God has entrusted to the human race in creating us in a sexually complementary binary way: To use our bodies not in whatever way we please – which, in the end, only leads to loneliness – but rather to give ourselves away out of love. This is how we imitate the love of God Himself, whose only-begotten Son took on a human body so he could hand himself over to death for our salvation. To give oneself away out of love: This is the meaning of sacrifice, “to make holy,” and in God’s design for our happiness, it is what makes us capable of true intimacy – ultimately, intimacy with Him, which is our eternal happiness.

In my next and final article, I will discuss some of the endeavors in our Archdiocese to respond to Pope Francis’ recommendations for helping our people live God’s plan for family life in a wide variety of ways.

This column was originally published on October 20, 2016 in Catholic San Francisco.