A friend of mine ordered a T-shirt that states, on the front, “I’m fat but I identify as skinny.” The back clarifies it: “I’m Trans-slender.” I suppose similar claim could be made by the guy on a three-day drunk who identifies as sober while on a Trans-bender, or a college student who identifies as a preschooler (Trans-kinder), or mean and cantankerous old SOBs that identify as gentler souls (Trans-tenders). While those transitions are laughable, Christians live a reality in which each of us is a sinner trying to identify as a saint—we might, therefore, be labeled Transcenders.
The poor bilingual priest in Arizona whose thousands of baptisms were invalidated because he used the wrong word might be a trans-offender. He didn’t mean to misuse or abuse his priestly privilege but, for decades, identified with carrying out his ecclesial tasks. Yet the particular personal pronoun that escaped his lips has sent his archbishop into a state of sacramental chaos. No doubt, words matter but The Word that became flesh matters more. As Pope Francis has said: “Jesus will put things in their proper place. Our heavenly Father does not make a pact with legalists, He is the Father of Mercy.”
It’s a difficult reality to be one way while feeling, thinking, or wishing to be another. There is no easy route for relief. Some things can be fought for and acquired through exercise and nutrition, willpower and perseverance, self-deprivation and hard work. Others can never be. Should we waste time on things that cannot be, or things which natural law claims ought not be (as in the case of transgender)? When grandparents babysit young grandchildren and identify as kids it is playful. But when obese people (and there is an increasing number of us) pretend to be thin it is bogus. Intending to baptize but doing it incorrectly with a wrong word can probably be remedied by allowing Jesus to put things in their proper place. But identifying as the opposite sex, and transitioning because of it, is an issue that is here to stay. Ten years ago, many church leaders seemed more concerned about offering conversion therapy to gay people like a scared straight program than dealing with the serious sexual scandals within the church. I hope we are not more concerned now with sacramental record-keeping than with helping young people find a way in the Lord, despite struggles with their sexual identity.
A greater issue, I think, is the fact that we are imperfect sinners who want nothing more than to one day be saints. We all struggle with who we are and what we want to become. Fat, thin, mature, childish, sober, overindulgent, male, female, frightening, gentle, validly baptized or otherwise, and whatever else identifies us, it is secondary to what we are in the eyes of God and in what ways we are growing in union with Him (or Her) for eternal life. I don’t know about the other challenges we face—and maybe some of them are worth our while—but I am convinced that above all else we can be transcenders. As we prepare for another round of Lent, the season for us to dedicate time, effort, and energy to become better people, let us contemplate who we are and who God wants us to become.