Bold Message of Love from Homiletics and Pastoral Review
Bishop Michael Burbidge’s Catechesis on the Human Person
In the month of the mighty messengers of God, the archangels, it is refreshing to hear a hope-filled message through Bishop Burbidge’s Catechesis on the Human Person and Gender Ideology.1 In this Catechesis, we find a theme of love while simultaneously reflecting on the meaning of the Archangels’ names. It is a teaching which our country needs so desperately at as our youth are becoming more and more at risk for depression and other mental health disorders. In modernity, over 2.2 million youth are dealing with severe depression here in America, with the number of youths experiencing a major depression episode increasing by 121,000 since 2019.2
Our youth need a path of inspiration, accompaniment, and love, and Bishop Burbidge provides this in his Catechesis on the Human Person and Gender Ideology. It challenges people to love the person dealing with gender dysphoria while denouncing gender theory, which is antithetical to the Gospel. In reviewing the Catechesis, we see the theme of love manifest in the Archangels’ names through its content. Michael, “he who is like God,” reflects on love as unity emphasizing image and communion. Then we see the “medicine of God” in Raphael pointing to the medicines God has given us to work with our humanity in Revelation, biology, psychology, and phenomenology (experience). Finally, we see “strength of God” in Gabriel which advocates a genuine pastoral approach to people going through gender dysphoria, as well as those who love them so all can go towards the happiness that God has made them.
So, let us begin by looking at love through the lens of St. Michael, who helps us reflect on the question which bears his name, “Who is like God”? The irony is that this question has a double meaning. The first meaning of “being like God” is living out His image and likeness in our personhood and in the way we love others. The second meaning of this question draws out the opposite viewpoint, mocking the image and likeness of God. To explain this, we must first look at what it means to be a person. We find this meaning in and through our bodies.
As a person, we are both body and soul. As Bishop Burbidge notes in his Catechesis, “Each person’s body, given by God from the moment of conception, is neither foreign nor a burden, but an integral part of the person.”3 We know the body and soul should not be separated, which, as Dr. Peter Kreeft notes, is why their separation is the stuff of horror movies.4 A ghost is a soul without a body. A corpse is a body without a soul. A zombie is a spirit which reanimates a body but is not essential to it so either can be discarded. All of these scare us because we know that the body and soul not only belong together but are essential to the human person.
Neither the body nor the soul is an interchangeable part of a human person. This was the point of Frankenstein. The body is an essential part of the person because we are not meant to encourage personal horror movies in the lives of others, especially our youth, but to encourage wholeness, completeness. This “wholeness,” which theologically we call holiness, must be united to love. Thus, as a unity of body and soul, we come to the logical conclusion that being “gift” is an essential part of our humanity. This leads us to understanding that a person must be either male or female.
Our bodies as male or female give us tremendous insights into the puzzle of life. The male body shows we are meant to give something. The female body shows we are meant to receive something. What is the thing we are meant to give and receive? It is God’s love! The giving and receiving of God’s love are what normalizes us as persons which is why Pope John Paul II calls it “The Personalistic Norm.” All people want to be unique to give of him or herself, but also wanted to be accepted, received, by another. When this happens, there is love, but when it doesn’t happen, there is misery. This is the reason John Paul II tells us that it is through our sex, our maleness and femaleness, that we find the meaning of life:
The human body, with its sex, and its masculinity and femininity seen in the very mystery of creation, is not only a source of fruitfulness and procreation, as in the whole natural order. It includes right from the beginning the nuptial attribute, that is, the capacity of expressing love, that love in which the person becomes a gift and — by means of this gift — fulfills the meaning of his being and existence.5
We all want to fulfill the meaning of our existence and we must discover this in and through our bodies! We find the meaning of life in our bodies, but there is an even deeper meaning. As Rom. 1:20 says, “Ever since the creation of the world his [God’s] eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.” Our bodies are transcendent; they tell us something about God! Just as a beautiful painting can tell something about the mind of the artist, so too our bodies tell us something about God. If our bodies tell us that we are meant to be gift; hence made for love, this gives us a clue that God also is “gift” because He is love (1 Jn. 4:8). The Father gives Himself to the Son. The Son receives the gift of the Father and returns that gift back to Him with the same love that was given Him who is the Holy Spirit.
There is a Tri-unity of Love in God just as there is a tri-unity of love between us as persons who love one another. A Tri-une Love is at the Heart of Who God is, because a tri-une love is at the heart of our own identity. The more we are open to image God as “gift,” the more we discover our identity as being in a tri-unity with God, as His children (for God the Father), as His bride the Church (for God the Son), and as His dwelling place (for God the Holy Spirit).
This brings us to a common objection. Some people, even well-intentioned Christians, say, “Transgender ideology is right there in Scripture with Gen. 1:27 which says, ‘God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.’ It shows that God is cis/gender-fluid because He’s neither male nor female.” The problem with this statement, however, is it does not prove that God is a “cis-gender.” As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
In no way is God in man’s image. He is neither man nor woman. God is pure spirit in which there is no place for the difference between the sexes. But the respective “perfections” of man and woman reflect something of the infinite perfection of God: those of a mother and those of a father and husband [emphasis mine].6
We are male and female to reflect God. It is not the other way around, i.e., since we are male and female God must reflect transgender ideology and be gender-fluid. We, as God’s creatures, are His mirror; God is not our mirror! We are God’s masterpieces; God is not our masterpiece. If God were our masterpiece, if He were created in our image and likeness, that would mean He would cease to be God because He would be our creation. Tragically, that would make us God. This is tragic because only God can save (see Acts. 4:12; Jn. 14:6).
So, if we make ourselves into God, we take ourselves off the road to happiness and fulfillment and put ourselves on the road to misery and emptiness because we aim for the impossible . . . to be God! And then we try to do something impossible which is to save ourselves and make ourselves happy. This was the heresy of Pelagianism. When we try to be and do something that is impossible, it leads to misery. So, this theory has huge problems in terms of our identity, salvation, and happiness.
Gender ideology also has huge problems concerning the Fatherhood of God. In gender theory, it is our self-perception that gives life to “our nature.” We do not receive it as a gift from our Heavenly Father who loves us. In fact, we must reject the Father’s gift to “gift” ourselves with a new type of being. We determine that the life God has given us is evil and our self-perceived gender is the only good. We determine what is good and evil. And who told us this lie (Gen. 3:5) and continues to do so? It is the serpent who mocks God’s Fatherhood.
Hence we get to the heart of gender theory. It is a blatant attack on the Fatherhood of God! In gender theory, we as sons or daughters reject the gift and love of the Father. Thus, the gift of our sex which should bring us into union with the Father imaging the Eternal Son’s Co-union/communion with the Father through the Holy Spirit is blurred. Thus, the image of eternal love is replaced with hate and is darkened. We also reject our primary identity as being a child of God and make ourselves a child of the one who hates God. Thus, we see that transgender theory is atheistic in its very nature. It also darkens the image of God and trades our allegiance of Fathers from God to the one who hates God.
Finally, it makes us focus on self rather than being “gift.” The sad reality is that all relationships, even relationships within, can only last to the degree that there is no selfishness in them. That’s why God’s love is eternal; there is no selfishness in it. Thus, we see that in the “Michael” perspective, gender ideology must be put under foot as St. Michael crushes Satan so we are not carrying a wound in which we lose our identity and the connections of love.
Jesus came to heal our wounds, to save us from sin, and to fill us with virtue or abundant life (Jn. 10:10). Bishop Burbidge notes this in his sections on “Goodness/Gift of the Human Person and Human Sexuality,” “Gender Dysphoria,” and “The Witness to Science.”7 Thus, we will next look at St. Raphael, “the medicine of God.” God gives us healing medicine to work with our humanity through Revelation, biology, psychology, and lived experience. Let us look at Revelation. Revelation and natural law tell us to do good (listen to God) and avoid evil (sin). It tells us to aim for things that will help us to have an abundant life. This is the reason the Church does not mince words in describing gender ideology. Pope Francis said it is “demonic” in a 2014 conversation with Auxiliary Bishop Andreas Laun.8 Pope Benedict XVI would even say:
“[Gender Ideology] . . . ends in tragic loneliness . . . It is the duty of pastors of the Church — the “pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15) — to put the Catholic faithful and every person of good will and right reason on guard against the trend of these ideologies. It is a negative trend for humankind, although it may be disguised by good feelings in the name of alleged progress, alleged rights, or an alleged humanism. . . Thus, the Church reaffirms her great “yes” to the dignity and beauty of marriage as an expression of the faithful and generous bond between man and woman, and her no to “gender” philosophies, because the reciprocity between male and female is an expression of the beauty of nature willed by the Creator.9
We see that the Popes condemn gender ideology. Scripture and Tradition (found in the Catechism) condemn it as well. Please note as we continue that it condemns the ideology, not the person. It condemns the ideology to more fully love the person and so the person can more fully love him or herself. Three Scripture verses that go in direct opposition of this theory are:
- God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31)
- “For it was you who formed my inward parts;, you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance” (Ps. 139: 13-16).
- Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
In transgender ideology, the person is encouraged to look at him or herself not as very good or wonderfully made, but as a mistake; something that must be suppressed and destroyed! It does not promote the body a temple, a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, but a façade which needs to be demolished, in which the body and the Holy Spirit must be expelled. The Catechism also tells us important points that are in direct opposition with gender ideology:
Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul. It especially concerns affectivity, the capacity to love and to procreate, and in a more general way the aptitude for forming bonds of communion with others.
Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. Physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life.
The tradition of the Church has understood the sixth commandment as encompassing the whole of human sexuality [emphasis mine].10
To embrace gender ideology is blatantly contradicting to the Catholic Faith, natural law, and violates the Sixth Commandment! As Jason Adkins notes in his commentary on the Theology of the Body which summarizes the medicine of Revelation:
St. John Paul II’s “theology of the body” reminds us that our masculinity and femininity are not limitations to be overcome, as so many cultural forces make us feel, but rather gifts to be lived and shared. Each sex has its own equal, complementary dignity and importance in human relationships, and living in accordance with the way we are made is, ultimately, the source of our happiness and social well-being.11
The medicine of Revelation is also tied directly to the healing medicine of human biology. Biology tells us that every cell in our body is either XX or XY (female or male).12 In those cells, the Weizmann Institute of Science found that there are over 6,500 genes that express differently in males and females.13 Thus, it is biologically impossible to have a complete sex-change. To do so would mean a person would have all the cells in his body change from male to female or vice versa. This is not what happens biologically after “sex-change” surgeries. If that were the case, men and women would not have to take cross-sex hormones throughout life because their cells would naturally align with the sex he or she “transitioned.” Our cells want to live out what we are designed to be in our natural state. It wants to heal so that the mind lines up with the biology (down even to the cellular level).
Speaking of minds, studies show there are even differences between men and women’s minds.14 They are not fluid, but unique. Hence, if there were to be a “transition,” biologically someone would also have to have a brain transplant when he or she transitions which is not only pragmatically impossible but illegal and unethical. Biology shows that there are only two sexes which our mind matches up with (what sex our mind aligns with is known as ‘gender’). Those two sexes are different but complimentary. In this Revelation lines up with biology and psychology.
We must look at the psychology and experience (phenomenology). Truth is defined when our minds match up to reality. So, if you look at an apple and acknowledge that round red fruit thing is an apple, there is truth. However, a psychosis is when our minds do not match up to reality. Thus, if I look at that round, red fruit thing and see it as a car instead of an apple, that would be a psychosis.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual up to DSM IV labeled the phenomenon of a person’s mind (self-identification) not matching up to their given biology as Gender Identity Disorder. The psychosis was based on a person’s biological identity because their entire body manifest someone’s identity as male and female. When a person’s mind does not match up with this reality, it is disordered (does not bring about its purpose as our minds are made for truth).
However, the DSM V (promulgated in 2013) changed this psychosis to Gender Dysphoria. The psychosis now focused on dysphoria (distress) and a person being uncomfortable in their body. It shifted from the objective identity with biology as male and female to the subjective experience of emotions and attraction. This resulted with the numerous combinations of “gender” and “whom the person is attracted to sexually.”
The irony is that personal experience is meant to confirm reality, not replace it. This makes a healthy psychological experience and brings about healing, for all of us are hurting in some way or another. But this is especially important for people that are struggling with their sexuality, thinking transitioning may be the answer to the confusion going on in his or her life.
However, gender ideology flips this around and says, “My mind is what makes reality.” My subjective experience is what makes the world around me and determines my body (including all its cells). Pope Francis notes this misses the point. He writes:
Biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated. . . . It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality. Let us not fall into the sin of trying to replace the Creator. We are creatures, and not omnipotent. Creation is prior to us and must be received as a gift. At the same time, we are called to protect our humanity, and this means, in the first place, accepting it and respecting it as it was created [emphasis mine].15
Our biology reminds that we cannot remake ourselves in our own image, even if we try. It reinforces the theological truth that we are not God. Thus, like St. Raphael we see the medicines of Revelation, biology, psychology, and experience (phenomenology) can bring us healing if we keep it connected to truth. If we allow it to be connected to atheistic ideologies like gender theory, these medicines are turned into poisons because it turns our regimens against one another.
This brings us to the last archangel, St. Gabriel, who is the strength of God. The bishop does a tremendous job of emphasizing the strength of accompaniment, upholding a person’s dignity, and helping others to do this with the love of Christ. It was the archangel Gabriel who was entrusted with the message of God to Our Blessed Mother Mary for the Incarnation. In imitation of this great mystery, we must bring the message of God’s love and have it “take flesh” in our actions, words, and the way in which we walk with our brothers and sisters who are struggling with gender dysphoria.
This starts off by going out to them, not simply waiting for them to come to us. Just as St. Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee to a Virgin named Mary (see Lk. 1:26-28), we too are sent by God to people who are in our town, offices, even within our own homes who are waiting for God’s love to touch their hearts and change their lives. Accompaniment means being missionary disciples of God. Thus, Bishop Burbidge reminds us of things to do and not to do while coming in the name of the Lord:
A disciple of Christ desires to love all people and to seek their good actively. Denigration or bullying of any person, including those struggling with gender dysphoria, is to be rejected as completely incompatible with the Gospel.
In this sensitive area of identity, however, there is a great danger of a misguided charity and false compassion. In this regard, we must recall, “Only what is true can ultimately be pastoral.” Christians must always speak and act with both charity and truth. After the example of the Apostle Paul, they are to seek to speak the truth in love (cf. Eph 4:15).16
Yes, we are called to love all people, even in their wounds, on their good days as well as their bad. We are called to condemn the ideology but build up and embrace the goodness of the person. The person should never be labeled as bad, hopeless, or even “not my problem.” We are, as God reminded Cain, “our brother’s keeper” (Gen. 4:9). However, in being that keeper we must always keep those whom we care about only in those things that keep them on the way to true happiness.
This is the big question where there is so much confusion in modernity. People will say, “Why not support them with the opposite pronoun or in transitioning if that what makes them happy?” So, what is happiness? Many equate happiness with having things, the external. I’ll be happy when I’m popular, or have lots of money, a good job, a title at work, or even a different life altogether. The problem with that is, if happiness is just the external, you’ll always need another thing to be happy. This happens often with people who are transitioning. “Just one more thing, one more change and I’ll be happy” but this is not often the case. A woman named Keira Bell who “transitioned” to Quincey and then “de-transitioned” back to a woman speaks of jumping at the chance to do more because she thought it would bring her happiness.17 Happiness cannot just be external.
Also, happiness cannot be something that a person is manipulated into achieving. This happens with teens and young adults who are searching for happiness (which they deserve) while experiencing confusion about their identities and are not shown research for both sides of the equation. They are not told that if they are given cross-sex hormones, it is likely to sterilize them for the rest of their lives.18 They are not told about post-traumatic stress syndrome that can result from having a double mastectomy as a prepubescent teen or a young adult. They are not told about the trauma it causes on the family, as parents process this transition often like the death of their child because the child that they birthed “is no longer there.” They are not told stats such as studies show that over 80% of children who are given therapy, but NOT medical treatment (such as cross-sex hormones or surgery) resolve their identity distress compared to only 3% of people given gender affirmative care desist (stop identifying as someone other than their biological sex and identify with their biological sex once again).19
If important things are hidden from you and you are not told the truth, you are not free to choose what is best for you. This is the Principle of Informed Consent in medical terminology. Our faith agrees with this as Jesus told us, “The truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:32). So, if we are hiding the truth from kids, teens, young adults, and people struggling with gender dysphoria, we are binding them to bondage. This is not being kind, but cruel, because we are helping them to stay enslaved to a false reality. It is not kind to make a fish live like a dog or vice versa because one needs water to survive, the other needs land. It’s not kind to tell a “Straight A” student that they are a failure; that’s cruel. But the straight-A student might start to believe they are a failure if they are continuously told that. In the same way it is not kind, but cruel to tell someone who is a biological girl that she is a boy and vice versa. As The Catholic Women’s Forum notes, “Charity is inseparable from the truth. Even if well intentioned, it is a false charity to affirm another person’s rejection of the truth. The human person finds happiness only in the light of truth.”20
Thus, we see that happiness is not something simply external, and is something that must be embraced in truth; otherwise there is no happiness, only manipulation. Thus, we ask a final time, “What is ultimate happiness?” John Paul II tells us, “Happiness is being rooted in love.”21 Since “God is love” (1Jn. 4:8), happiness is being rooted in God. It is only in God that we find true happiness and peace. This is the reason Jesus, the God-man, tells us, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (Jn. 14:27). The world can offer externals which leave a person yearning for more, but “only in God is my soul at rest” (Ps. 62:1). Only God can give you internal peace which lasts a lifetime even in the storms and confusion of life.
This is what we as pastors, clergy, catechists, and parents must aim to connect those whom we care about to touch and rest. In this, we live out the Teaching on the Human Person and Gender Ideology in the three-step fulfillment of the names of the archangels. We encourage a true image of love, so we reflect St. Michael “who is like God.” Then we heal others by being “the medicine of God” like St. Raphael by explaining the truth about Revelation, biology, psychology, and experience, since each of them is a soothing ointment for the scabs and sorrows of life. Finally, and most importantly, we image “the strength of God” like St. Gabriel by bringing God’s transformative love to those who are struggling with gender dysphoria. We walk with them on the journey to the true happiness which God made them. I will conclude with inspirational words from Bishop Burbidge’s Catechesis on the Human Person and Gender Ideology to those experiencing gender dysphoria:
More than anything else, the Church desires to bring you the love of Jesus Christ Himself. That love is inseparable from the truth of who you are as one created in God’s image, reborn as a child of God, and destined for His glory. Christ suffered for our sake, not to exempt us from all suffering but to be with us in the midst of those struggles. The Church is here to assist and accompany you on this journey, so that you will know the beauty of the body and soul that God gave you and come to enjoy “the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom 8:21).22
- Bishop Michael Burbidge, “A Catechesis on the Human Person and Gender Ideology,” accessed at http://www.arlingtondiocese.org/bishop/public-messages/2021/a-catechesis-on-the-human-person-and-gender-ideology.
- “2020 Mental Health in America – Youth Data,” Mental Health America, accessed at mhanational.org/issues/2020/mental-health-america-youth-data.
- Burbidge, “A Catechesis on the Human Person and Gender Ideology.”
- Peter Kreeft, quoted in Christopher West, “What Halloween Is and How It Can Point You to Heaven,” Theology of the Body Institute, accessed at tobinstitute.org/halloween.
- John Paul II, Theology of the Body (Libreria Editrice Vaticana: 2006), p.38. Accessed at: d2y1pz2y630308.cloudfront.net/2232/documents/2016/9/theology_of_the_body.pdf.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, §370. Accessed at: http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p1s2c1p6.htm#I.
- Burbidge, “A Catechesis on the Human Person and Gender Ideology.”
- John Henry Westen, “Austrian bishop: Pope Francis told me ‘gender ideology is demonic’,” June 17, 2014. Accessed at http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/austrian-bishop-pope-francis-told-me-gender-ideology-is-demonic.
- Pope Benedict XVI, Address of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to Participants in the Plenary Meeting of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum,” 19 January 2013. Accessed at: https://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2013/january/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20130119_pc-corunum.html.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, §2332–2333, 2336. Accessed at http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p3s2c2a6.htm#I.
- Jason Adkins, “Transgender persons, human dignity, and our response,” Minnesota Catholic Conference, October 9, 2014. Accessed at http://www.mncatholic.org/catholic-spirit-transgender-persons-human-dignity-response.
- “XY Chromosome,” Psychology Today. Accessed at http://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/x-y-chromosomes.
- “6,500 Different Genes in Men and Women,” Weizmann Institute of Science. Accessed at vixra.org/pdf/1705.0102v1.pdf.
- Bruce Goldman, “Two minds: The cognitive differences between men and women,” Stanford Medicine, Spring 2017. Accessed at stanmed.stanford.edu/2017spring/how-mens-and-womens-brains-are-different.html.
- Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia, §56. Accessed at amoris.ie/amoris-laetitia/chapter-2.
- Burbidge, “A Catechesis on the Human Person and Gender Ideology.”
- Keira Bell, “Keira Bell: My Story,” Persuasion, April 7 2021. Accessed at: http://www.persuasion.community/p/keira-bell-my-story.
- “Expert Affidavit from Dr. Stephen B. Levine, M.D.,” State of Wisconsin, Madison School District, sec. 102 on p. 38. Accessed at personandidentity.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Dr.-Stephen-Levine-MD-Affidavit-Doe-v.-MMSD-02-10-20.pdf.
- “Puberty Blockers and ‘Social Transition’ Promote ‘Transgender’ Persistence,” Person and Identity Project. Accessed at personandidentity.com/resources/graphics.
- “What does the Church say about ‘accompanying’ others in these situations?” Person and Identity Project. Accessed at: personandidentity.com/parents/parent-faqs.
- John Paul II, Theology of the Body, p. 41.
- Burbidge, “A Catechesis on the Human Person and Gender Ideology.”