The Nature of the Human Being, Male or Female


Throughout history, but more acutely in our day, people have pondered the mystery of their life. The details on resumes – occupations, education, residence – really do not answer the fundamental question of our very essence. We want to know the objective and enduring truth about ourselves, “Who am I? What am I? What does it mean to be human?”

To understand this question of our nature, we must begin with the observation that we each have a body – a body that we did not personally make. We are bodily creatures and not simply spiritual beings, and we did not and cannot subjectively create ourselves.

This body is not extraneous, but goes to our very essence. The body is the outward visible sign of the reality of the person.   It is in the body that we obtain our being and existence, our primary nature and identity. It is in and through the body that we think, believe and feel, and how we experience and know things and the world around us.

We see in the body also that we are human. We are different from the birds and fish and animals. Moreover, we are persons and not mere things or mechanical objects.

In a particular way, the body also reveals to us the innate truth of our human nature that we are from the beginning made male or female. Before all else in this world, before we are able to form a single thought or make any decisions, from the very moment of our origin and conception, we have a body that is intrinsically sexually differentiated and constituted male or female in a way that cannot really be changed. Furthermore, the body reveals that man and woman are made to complement one another – they are made for love, the reality that forms the basis of family.

This is the objective, intrinsic, self-evident truth of who and what we are. Revealed in the body and discernable by right reason, this truth thus applies to all regardless of religious beliefs. Also, one’s subjective choices or beliefs cannot alter this reality – what is revealed in the body as one sex cannot be changed to the other.

For its part, religious faith confirms and expands upon this truth of human nature. Scripture teaches that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Humanity is explicitly made male and female and inherently in relationship, made in the image and likeness of God the Trinity who is Love and Truth. Thus every human is to be cherished and respected precisely as he or she is made from the moment of conception.

Jesus said that he came into the world to testify to the truth (John 18:37) and so must we who are his disciples. It is the Church’s duty “to serve humanity in different ways, but one way in particular imposes a responsibility of a quite special kind: the diakonia of the truth” (Fides et Ratio, 2). Central to this mission is proclaiming the truth of the human person. It is only in this truth that one can be free.

This service in the truth is particularly needed today. One of the enervating forces of our culture is the assertion that everything is up for grabs. What was once grasped as objective truth is now dismissed as mere construct, and there is a growing relativism that seeks to reconstruct the most fundamental realities.

Last year we saw a societal redefinition of marriage and family. Today, the concept of humanity itself is called into question with an aggressive “gender” ideology which holds that whether a person is male or female is not an objective reality, but is subjectively determined. Increasingly, those who do not go along with this new order are denounced and ostracized as bigoted. It is as if we all must now affirm that the world is flat lest we be condemned of discrimination.

Now the federal government has issued a “guidance” for “transgender students,” which says that school bathrooms and locker rooms should effectively be open to persons of the opposite sex. This development is deeply disturbing, as noted in a letter from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops objecting to this decree.

“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,” says Pope Francis on this very issue (Amoris Laetitia, 56). It is not an act of discrimination to assert, “We cannot say that what is false is true.” By saying this, we are not advancing an alternate ideology, but proposing and defending reality and genuine human dignity.

In the face of this cultural divide, the Church will do what we have always done – what we can only do – and that is to be a beacon of truth in the darkness, lovingly giving voice to what it means to be authentically human and helping people to appreciate themselves as they were created (cf. Amoris Laetitia, 285). This means standing firm in the truth that sexual differentiation is not a construct of the mind, much less a social construct, but is a permanent reality revealed in the body, male or female, whether or not one chooses to acknowledge or accept this reality (Id.). To do otherwise, to not testify to the truth, would be to deny our own identity as Catholics and as a Church.