A View from the Pew on Pope Francis’s Allowing of the Baptism and Service as Sponsors of Transgender Persons
When I was four, I determined that I wanted to be a great saint. I didn’t know for sure what the job involved, but I wanted the results. I wanted the eternal and undying admiration of people all around the world. Securing God’s love, and everyone else’s, meant I would never be unwanted, unloved, or forgotten.
Misunderstanding the Mission
“But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” – Matthew 5:48
I heard this Scripture passage read in Mass one day and took it to heart. I made it my goal to be perfect. I didn’t realize I’d set myself an impossible task.
But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” – Matthew 19:26
The belief that I needed to be perfect to be loved drove every decision I made from that point forward, and it created a disaster in my life and my relationships. I couldn’t admit that I was wrong or made a mistake because it would mean I wasn’t perfect. And, if I wasn’t perfect, I wouldn’t be loved.
That’s how my reasoning went. I blamed everyone else for every mistake. I lied about things. I covered things up. I hid who I really was out of fear people would uncover the imperfections in me and reject me for it.
Perfectionism drove me out of the Church and away from confession. I didn’t want to admit to anyone else that I was not perfect. I didn’t want to be judged. My fear of rejection was deeper than my fear of anything else – including my fear of the Lord. Ironically, my perfectionism proved a mortal enemy of my goal of sainthood.
Receiving the Sacraments in an Unworthy State
For the next decade, I engaged in an on-again-off-again relationship with Christ. There were times when I came back for brief moments but it didn’t last long.
I married my atheist husband at the County Clerk’s office two weeks after my son’s birth. That May, I went to see a Catholic priest at my mother’s encouraging to get the marriage convalidated. That led to me receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation the week before.
I wish I could tell you I received it in a state of true grace, but that wouldn’t be accurate. I wanted a relationship with Christ – but on my own terms. I redefined the meaning of marital fidelity to match my will rather than God’s and crossed my fingers behind my back while I said the vows.
As horrific as that memory is to me now, I know that God took the opportunity to bestow His grace upon an unworthy heart because He saw through me. He recognized a desire for holiness even in the middle of my confusion about what holiness was and what it required.
I doubt that priest would have bestowed those sacraments on me had he known what was in my head, but God’s mercy prevailed. I’d unwittingly opened the door to His love in my heart. That was all He needed to begin work cleaning up the mess.
Encountering the Surprising Truth
At age 26, I realized something disturbing. I’d spent so much of my life trying to please other people that I’d lost sight of who I was and what I wanted. I evaluated what I thought other people wanted from me and adopted that persona.
This created roadblocks to real relationships because nobody ever met the real me. I made a conscious decision to figure out who I was and what I wanted and to take a stand for myself.
Around this time, my son provided me a wake-up call about the misery my perfectionism was causing him and everyone else in my life. He stood in my bedroom telling me not only how he was going to kill himself, but he had a backup plan in case that first plan didn’t work. And he was just seven years old!
I didn’t connect the dots at the time. But I knew my baby hadn’t come into the world broken. I asked myself, “What have we done to break this baby so badly that death is preferable to life?”
I didn’t know the answer, but I knew I needed to find it. The search for answers led me to give in to my son’s persistent requests that I join him and my mother on Friday nights for meetings of The Apostolate for Family Consecration. I didn’t want to go.
I’d left the Catholic Church at 16 because I couldn’t find anyone in the Catholic Church who could provide me answers to my questions about the faith. I assumed there were no answers. It never occurred to me to ask God, since He founded that Church. We didn’t have that kind of relationship.
For my son’s sake, I agreed to attend those meetings. Those meetings provided the answers I’d been seeking. Answers that made logical sense to me. I became increasingly convinced I needed to come back to the Church, but my perfectionism blocked my path. I thought I needed to be perfect before I could go back.
In March of 2004, God sent me three dreams calling me back home to the Church in unmistakable, clear terms. He didn’t want me to wait until I was perfect. He would perfect me in grace. I surrendered to Him, went to confession, and attended Mass that Sunday for the first time in years.
Love Is What Perfects Us
Six years later, during a WorldWide Marriage Encounter weekend with my husband, God showed me one of the biggest obstacles in the path of His love reaching me: my fear of being known.
The retreat leaders gave us instructions to share something deeply personal with our spouse. To my surprise, I found myself shaking in fear. I’d never feared being physically naked in front of him, but the thought of being emotionally naked terrified me.
In that moment, I saw for the first time what angered my husband so much about my conversion. He’d fallen in love with the Rachel I’d pretended to be and now discovered himself married to Leah instead.
During the 19 years of our relationship, I’d never found the courage to remove the veil and allow him to see me for who I was, where I was, exactly as I was. That meant he couldn’t love me – not the real me, at least. Only the illusion I presented him.
God guided the two of us through this devastating revelation. My husband chose to remain with me. Allowing myself to own my past and acknowledge my flaws and failures was painful, but healing, for me and for our relationship. We could build something real this time, on solid ground, rather than on the shifting sands of an illusion.
The Lessons of the Nativity
If you’d have asked me three months ago what I thought about the possibility of Pope Francis allowing transsexual individuals to be baptized and to act as sponsors in the Church, I am sure my answer would not be the same as it is today. However, today, I can see the wisdom of the Holy Spirit at work in this.
Christ could have chosen anywhere on earth to be born. He chose a stable. All the stable owner did was open the door. Christ and His mother took care of making it a worthy place for His birth.
All of our hearts are messy stables. They are full of misguided garbage we’ve absorbed over a lifetime. Every time we step forward to receive the Sacraments, even if we aren’t in the right mind about them, God can get to work helping clean up the mess that we bring.
In sponsoring someone, we must learn about our faith. There is no greater way to learn something than to teach it. The Holy Spirit can then guide us into a deeper understanding of our faith, which can lead to reconciling us with the parts of us that are conflicted about it.
The Lion of Judah Needs No Defense
We are right to want people to be careful with the Sacraments. We are right to want to protect them from sacrilege and blasphemy.
However, we must be ever mindful that while it is true that Jesus is the Lamb of God, He is also the Lion of Judah. He needs no defense. All He needs is to be let loose and He will take care of Himself.
Whether they realize it or not, the transgender person who steps up to receive the Sacraments is allowing the Lion of Judah out of the cage where they’ve imprisoned Him. That Lion is ferocious and will begin attacking the things that are keeping this person from receiving the fullness of God’s graces. All we need to do is place our trust in Him.
Love Is Perfection...and It Is a Journey, Not a Destination
“… for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” – Romans 3:23
Sin, in its most literal since, is falling short of our call to love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves. Love is what gives us the courage to rise again after such a fall. Love is what compels us to keep trying to become worthy of it.
If our trans brothers and sisters are falling short on loving themselves for who they are, where they are, exactly as they are, we must encourage them by following Christ’s example. We must love them where they are and support them in their journey to where Christ wants them to be.
He met the woman at the well where she was, and walked with her to where He wanted her to be. He did the same with the disciples that left Jerusalem on the way to Emmaus. He does the same for us all.
None of us is perfect. None of us is worthy to receive the Lamb. Because someone else’s sins are more visible than our own does not make our own less sinful. It is love that heals the sinner’s heart and love that is needed to cure the broken hearts that lead us to sin.
The walk of learning to love as Christ loves is a journey that is life long and never ending. We will not reach the perfection required in our lifetime. We reach the perfection by striving toward it with patient hearts and steadfast efforts to grow in love.
It is only in striving to open ourselves up to love that we can begin to love as Christ does. We will always find that there is more to learn about love than what we know, for love is a bottomless well.
I encourage anyone who is wrestling with this teaching of Pope Francis to turn to God in prayer. Don’t walk away from the Church, as I did, when I couldn’t find answers to my questions. Turn to the One who provides all answers. Trust in Christ’s promise:
"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened." - Matthew 7:7