I recently finished a month-long workshop hosted by my diocese. The topic was going over The Genesis of Gender by Dr. Abigail Favale. There were many wonderful insights regarding the philosophical roots of the modern gender movement. The sessions were incredibly insightful, educational, and fruitful. In the future, I may write about some of the history that has led the world to embracing a gender ideology that is contrary to the Gospel truth.
But today I would like to focus on where the book leads. Education and apologetics can be incredibly useful. However, these are tools that are ultimately at the service of a larger mission: the salvation of the soul.
How do we minister to those struggling with their gender identity?
This is a larger question that could be applied to anyone who feels alienated from the faith for whatever reason. Some may feel as though the Church has abandoned them because of their addiction or because of their divorce or because of a same-sex attraction. Regardless of if the abandonment is real, the emotional reality can primary for the person. If they feel rejected from Christianity, we must meet them where they are. I believe it was Archbishop Nelson Perez who said that “Of course we should meet people where they’re at. Where else would you meet them?”
God always meets us where we are. But He loves us enough not to leave us there.
This means when we meet people in their sin, we must accompany them without affirming their sin.
When someone feels abandoned by the faith, we must let them know that they are not alone. We must accompany them on their journey. This is what Christ did. He did not wait for the sinners to seek Him out. He went out to tax collectors and the prostitutes. He entered the homes of those who were considered unclean. He spoke to the Samaritan Woman at the well, even though she was living in a public state of sexual immorality. And He began not by lecturing her. He engaged with her as a person.
Do we reach out to those who are alienated from Church? Do we get to know them as a person? Or do we box them in and label them because of their struggles.
Favale tells the story of a young person who had a gender identity issue. This person ended up with a Catholic roommate. There may have been an expectation that the Catholic roommate would immediately ostracize this person. Instead, the Catholic roommate engaged in conversation and they got to know each other. This involved asking questions of the other and getting to know their thoughts and views.
This can be an incredibly important part of ministry: listening. As a teacher, my instinct is to answer every objection and give direction to every error. But sometimes the most healing thing for a person is simply to be heard.
As a teenager, I thought that most of what I had to say was worthless. I remember once at a party, a couple of people knew I read comic books and asked me about what I was reading. This quickly evolved into a nearly hour-long run down of the comic book X-Factor, particularly how the character Angel transformed into the antihero Archangel. While I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I do remember constantly asking the two other guys, “Are you sure you want to hear this?” and “Am I boring you?” I could not believe that anyone wanted to hear about something that was important to me.
Regardless, I always remembered that because I felt like my thoughts and my perspective had value. And I was always grateful to both of them for that opportunity, no matter if it seemed small to them.
Often someone struggling with something like a gender identity issue may simply be waiting to be verbally confronted by a Christian. And while sometimes you have to be St. Ambrose and publicly hold the line against scandalous evil, sometimes wisdom is required to patiently listen. In Favale’s example, the Catholic roommate developed a friendship with the person and was even able to successful invite them to Adoration.
A danger must be acknowledged. Too often, accompanying a person can look like affirmation of sin. For example, we acknowledge that people with same-sex attractions are to be treated with equal human rights and dignity, but this does not mean that sexual contact between two people of the same sex is morally acceptable. It is a good thing to reach out to people who are divorced and remarried without an annulment. But it would be wrong to override Christ’s teaching to say that an illicit marriage is now licit.
When we listen to someone’s story, we must be careful not to explicitly or tacitly affirm them in something that is incorrect. Out of a misplaced sense of politeness or kindness, we don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings. And while this sentiment might be laudable in general, we do no one any favors by leading them into untruth.
I have had conversations with someone I know who wants to get remarried to someone is divorced but has not received an annulment. In my conversations, I make sure to let the other person speak and be heard. I offer to them all the understanding I can. And yet, I never waiver in standing with the Church and Her teachings in this area. I try always to be very careful not to affirm any plans made for an illicit marriage. At the same time, I assure the person of my unconditional care.
Recently, I was speaking to a parent who was having a struggle with an adult child who has embraced an alternate lifestyle. This parent has reached out to the child and has kept a listening heart, so that the child feels free to say anything. Sometimes the things the child says deeply wound the parent. The parent told me that they struggle with the line between accompanying and affirming. This is especially difficult when the parent has to say, “I cannot go along with you on this.” Every time this happens, there is a worry that the child will pull completely away.
But I said to this parent, “Do not compromise on this. If you were to affirm them in all these life choices, you would be as lost at sea as they are. But when God touches your child’s heart with a desire to return, your child will be able to see you on solid land with your arm stretched out to bring them to shore.”
We hold the line because we must be the ones anchored to Truth Himself, who will set us all free.
And above all, we must pray.
Conversion of heart is only done by the grace of God. We are His instruments, His partners in this mission, but only God can bring someone back. And in our prayer we must constantly pray for the conversion of our own hearts. We cannot give people what we ourselves do not have. We must be reflections of Christ Himself.
For Christ accompanies us sinners without affirming our sin.
Copyright 2023, WL Grayson