The American Medical Association House of Delegates recently released a statement calling for sex to be removed as a legal designation from birth certificates. Sandra Fryhofer, the chair of the board of the AMA, stated: “Designating sex on birth certificates as male or female, and making that information available on the public portion, perpetuates a view that sex designation is permanent and fails to recognize the medical spectrum of gender identity.”
The AMA continued its statement calling for sex to only “be visible for medical and statistical use.” Clearly, the medical world appears to be schizophrenic. Noting that sex is based on the science of the body but that someone’s feelings can override the science at the same time is irrational. What is being forgotten is the reality of sex and how it unveils what the human person is made for. Permanence is feared by our culture because it leads to sacrifice, but neglecting sacrifice leads to loveless relationships and unfulfilled lives.
Beginning in September of 1979, Pope St. John Paul II began his lectures on the theology of the body during his General Audiences. In doing so, he initiated a movement of recognition concerning the sanctity of the human person while portraying how the body reveals our nature. Who are you? Why are you here? How can you describe the connection between your body and soul? How can you really be happy in this life?
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His words concern sex, but they also highlight the fact that sacrificial action is the key to fulfillment. Our world today is a playground for men and women who declare that they can be whoever they want and do anything they want. Unhindered liberty is the proposed key to unlocking one’s true happiness and fulfillment. The imposition of contemporary sexual ethics (namely, that there is no right and wrong when it comes to our bodies) is combated most beautifully and poignantly by the Holy Father’s description of love as a gift of oneself.
Here, the pope pulled from his reading of St. John of the Cross and was invigorated by the words from Gaudium et Spes concerning the identity of the human person as rooted in being created in God’s likeness. John of the Cross explained that human beings can only find true happiness and fulfillment when they recognize and live out their relationship with God as “a cycle of mutual giving” (Man and Woman He Created Them, 29).
“This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself” (GS, 24). The spirituality of John of the Cross and this statement from Vatican II formed both the expression and foundation of JPII’s understanding of the human person.
In a fight to erase anything and everything that smells of permanence, our culture—and now the AMA—desire to eradicate something that is literally written into our bodies: our gender. The attempt to do so is mostly concerned with the misunderstanding of what will make us happy and the exaltation of our feelings over our ability to sacrifice.
In its nature, the marital act is meant to personify the radically beautiful nature of sacrificial love. This sacrifice happens in sex (in the complete handing over of one’s body and soul to another), but it is asked of spouses at every moment of their marriage (doing the dishes, watching after your children, working a job you dislike, etc.). Sacrifice is necessary because of Who created us and because of who God is.
The Trinity is the most perfect and excellent example of love, and since the human person is made “like God” we can only be fulfilled by giving ourselves away as a sincere gift. The nature of God is to give unconditionally, out of perfect love and in perfect communion. For this reason, love must be permanent.
Sacrifice can be lived out, and should be lived out, in marriage; but we are called to live from this firm attitude toward everyone we meet—from the annoying boss at work to the neighbor on our street who always seems bitter, and from the guy who cuts us off on the highway to the person in the grocery store whose nastiness emanates at every turn. Sacrifice means we can never, ever, treat someone with less dignity than they deserve. Their human nature means that they are due respect, and yes, love.
This is seen vividly in the act that brings about new life, but it is called for outside the bedroom as well. The love between a husband and a wife is so great that when they engage in the marital act they participate in the creation of a new person with an immortal soul. The man and woman provide the matter while God infuses the soul. In this pinnacle of human action, we view the beauty of what happens when we fully give ourselves away.
The spousal meaning of the body (that man and woman can freely give and that in giving they find their true selves) is personified by the fact that this act of interpersonal love is so great that its effect endures for the rest of time (i.e., another human person is created). Statistically, most couples use contraceptives, and many children are conceived despite this barrier. While the couple’s love is holding something back and is not completely sacrificial, the nature of the act works despite their lack.
The profound nature of the human person’s likeness to God and the unmatched power of the marital act calls for a reverence toward the body that highlights its sacred character. Simultaneously, the theology of the body ushers us forth to sacrifice for everyone we meet. Doing so, in concrete ways that even seem mundane, is the roadmap leading to holiness of life and ultimate joy. Therefore, the AMA does not simply misunderstand theology but how our bodies reveal who we are.
While so many people feel unfulfilled and struggle with anxiety and depression, the answer to all our desires for meaning lies in the face of the Father who created the universe, the Son who gave His life out of love, and the Spirit that enlivens the Church.
Within our bodies and the complementarity between man and woman lies the answer as well: we were made for communion with others and with God, and this union is accomplished through a sincere, radical, and permanent gift of self.
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