The Eucharist is a sign of the Catholic Church's reverence for the human body.

RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

The Eucharist is a sign of the Catholic Church's reverence for the human body.

February 8, 2016
FR. GLENN MCDONALD, CSB
SPECIAL TO THE WCR

The Catholic community must engage in a constructive dialogue that seeks, not only to respond to Alberta Education's new guidelines accommodating gender-diverse students, but to address them with a Spirit-filled response.

We must find a solution faithful to our Catholic identity but which also responds to the presence of transgender students in our schools. I urge you to read the guidelines because we need everyone praying for and discerning the will of the Holy Spirit in how we ought to respond.

The Catholic Church teaches that sex determines gender and that there are two: male and female. The biblical passage Genesis 1.27 is often quoted as the pithy summary of this teaching: "So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them."

For hundreds of years the teaching highlighted by this verse has guided the Catholic understanding of the human person. Alberta Education, however, confronts us with the pastoral reality that not all identify with this male/female understanding of sex as the indicator of gender.

"All individuals have the right to be addressed by their chosen name and to choose pronouns that align with their gender identity and/or gender expression. . . .

"Some individuals may not feel included in the use of the pronouns 'he' or 'she' and may prefer alternate pronouns, such as 'ze,' 'zir,' 'hir,' 'they' or 'them,' or might wish to express themselves or self-identify in other ways" (Guidelines, 5).

The Catholic Church teaches that, having been born either male or female, we are called to grow in acceptance and appreciation of our bodies and respective genders. In contrast, the guidelines acknowledge there are more than two gender identities and that students may choose to identify with any gender expression.

How will these two ideas be reconciled? I do not know, but I have confidence the Holy Spirit will find a way. Solving the impossible is the specialty of the Holy Spirit. Virginal conception? Check. Resurrection of the dead? Check. Proclamation of the Gospel to all nations? Done. Resolution of doctrinal crises? Yes, that too.

Let us call upon the Holy Spirit to help us resolve a situation that, right now, seems impossible.

ONE BODY, MANY MEMBERS

In 1 Corinthians, St. Paul speaks of the Christian community as a single body comprised of many members. "For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. . . .

"But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it" (12.13, 24-26).

These words of St. Paul were proclaimed in the Sunday liturgy in the midst of this current conflict. They remind us to address everyone, whatever our response to the guidelines might be. A community called to unity cannot leave anyone out.

EVERY SACRED BODY

Genesis offers God's first teaching on the body and 1 Corinthians describes the Church as a unified body with many members. In addition, the Catholic Church and its schools are shaped by an even more primary teaching on the body: the Eucharist, the body of Christ.

The Church's teaching on the Eucharist should be considered as we formulate an understanding of the body that applies to everyone, whether or not we believe that sex determines gender.

Here is a brief summary of our understanding of the Eucharist:

  • Because the Eucharist is an act of thanksgiving, we give thanks for every body that God has made.

  • Because the Eucharist is a memorial, we remember that God has redeemed every body and loves everyone.

  • Because the Eucharist is a sacrifice, every body is called to a life of self-gift and service, especially to the poor.

  • Because the Eucharist offers healing, every body is called to turn from violence and walk the way of peace and love.

  • Because the Eucharist is a sacred body, and every body is made in the image and likeness of God, we are called to show reverence to every body and everyone.

The provincial guidelines on creating learning environments respectful of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions give children tremendous freedom.

However, the document offers little guidance in understanding the nature of the body and its freedom. Fortunately, the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist offers a framework that affirms and encompasses every body.

Catholic schools are called to do more than simply create safe spaces. Instead, we must build sacred places for sacred bodies where we show reverence to all: the strong, the weak, those with disabilities and illness, the dying and even the dead.

Our response to Alberta Education should not be limited to the issue of gender diversity, but should prepare students to reflect critically on all experiences of the body. It's a lofty goal, but we are called to nothing less.

(Basilian Father Glenn McDonald is chaplain at St. Joseph's College, University of Alberta.)