This week marks the third anniversary of the series of events that led to the adoption of our youngest son, Raymond. In keeping with today’s Mass reading from Romans 8 (“For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry ‘Abba, Father!’”), and filled with thanksgiving to our Heavenly Father, I will once again tell Raymond’s remarkable story. For those of you who have already heard it, tough!
Toward the end of October 2004, our Tucson CUF chapter underwent a name change, taking as its new patron the recently canonized St. Gianna Beretta Molla. All this took place in the context of a regional conference cosponsored by the chapter.
At the Friday night banquet, I was privileged to introduce the keynote speaker, Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis. Even though the presidential election was only a week away, Archbishop Burke was not there to talk about the role of Catholics in political life, much less who should or should not be allowed to receive Holy Communion. Instead, he was there to tell us about St. Gianna, whose image was prominently displayed during the banquet and throughout the weekend.
Archbishop Burke gave a moving overview of the life of this twentieth century saint: a wife, mother, and physician, who ultimately gave her life so that her youngest child, Gianna Emanuela, could live. Her loving husband, Pietro, was present at her canonization. (For those interested in reading more about St. Gianna, I recommend the biography published by Ignatius Press, which is available at http://www.ignatius.com/ViewProduct.aspx?SID=1&Product_ID=2374&AFID=12&.)
I was already somewhat familiar with St. Gianna, but I was struck by Archbishop Burke’s comment that she’s a powerful intercessor for infertile couples. Even though Maureen and I already had five living children, we have struggled with infertility throughout our marriage and we had already lost six children in utero. We were open to another child, but our “window of opportunity” seemed to be closing.
So, hearing Archbishop Burke’s words, I was moved that evening to pray to St. Gianna for the first time, hoping against hope that our family would be blessed with another child.
The rest of the weekend conference was predictably both tiring and fruitful, and Sunday afternoon the CUF staff members who attended the conference boarded the plane for the trek back to Ohio. On the plane, I pulled out a journal I had been keeping for my (then) three-year-old son Samuel, and I wrote him a letter. It was October 31st, Halloween, the birthday of my dear brother Ray who, with my father Leon Sr., died in 1978. In the journal entry I told Samuel about his Uncle Ray. I also mentioned that his mother and I were still hoping that someday he would have a little brother, if that was God’s will for our family.
It’s a Boy!
After two flights and a 45-minute drive, I finally entered my home after midnight and crawled into bed. A few hours later, there was much activity, as we all got up early Monday morning to go to All Saints Day Mass at our parish. Then, as a feast day treat, our family went to a coffee shop for breakfast to catch up on what had happened the past few days while I was gone. I remember thinking at the time that it was one of the nicest mornings our family had ever had, and I rejoiced to be back with “everybody.” But then I dropped everybody at home and drove to the CUF office. We were closed for the holy day, but I had a few things that needed my immediate attention.
As soon as I arrived at the CUF headquarters, I realized that I needed a phone number, so I called home. Maureen answered the phone. She sounded like she was in a state of shock. I asked her what was going on, to which she replied, “Honey, I just got a call from Florida. We are going to adopt a little boy.”
St. Gianna doesn’t waste any time!
Maureen explained more of the situation to me. The birth mother was due to deliver in two weeks, but she wanted to meet us before she went into labor. In addition, we had to get busy to prepare for this sudden addition to our family.
Later that afternoon we talked about a name for the little boy and we selected the name Raymond Leon, not only for the great Dominican canonist St. Raymond and “great” Pope St. Leo I, but also for my brother Raymond, my father, Leon, and Archbishop Raymond Leo Burke, who encouraged the prayer to St. Gianna.
We flew down to Florida that week to meet the birth mother, her family, and the social worker. The birth mother told us she chose our family specifically because of Samuel. She saw that we had already welcomed a biracial child into our family, and so she felt comfortable that her son would likewise be accepted and loved. We also made arrangements with a generous CUF family in Florida who would take in Maureen and baby immediately after the birth, since it takes about a week to get clearance to leave the state. The family was part of our new “Our Lady of Life” CUF chapter!
In His merciful providence, Our Lord ordinarily gives parents nine months to prepare for the rigors of childbirth and caring for a new baby. In this case, though, we had nine days, not nine months. After scurrying to get all our paperwork in order, we received a call on November 10th, the feast of St. Leo the Great, telling us that our son was born.
We put Maureen on the first available flight the next morning, and the baby was only 24 hours old when she first laid eyes upon him. As the birth mother was being discharged from the hospital, she took Raymond in her arms and gave him a long, affectionate embrace. Then she poignantly said, “I’m going to give you back to your mother now.” Then Maureen and little Raymond had privileged one-on-one time as they awaited legal clearance to come home.
Meanwhile, back at the home-schooling ranch, I was staying home with our other children by day and trying to keep up with CUF responsibilities by night. Not only did I develop a renewed appreciation of all that Maureen does as wife, home-schooling mom, and “heart” of the home, but I also quickly went through my cooking repertoire. Thank God for Pasta Roni!
After some anxious moments, including the airline’s refusal (at first) to allow a newborn baby to fly, Maureen and Raymond finally made it home. I picked them up at the airport. What a thrill it was to see them! We got home after the other children had gone to bed, but as Maureen unpacked and Raymond fussed, the children one by one awoke and came into the room to meet their little brother. The experience was part delivery room, part Christmas morning. I’ll never forget that night.
Ray was baptized a few weeks later on the magnificent feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. His adoption into our human family was thus crowned by his adoption into God’s family as His beloved child (cf. 1 Jn. 3:1).
With each adoption experience, Maureen and I have come to an ever-deepening appreciation of how the unique gift of adopting a child teaches us something about our Heavenly Father. After all, when He communicates His divine life to us so that we truly become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4), we are thereby brought into a familial relationship with the whole Christ, head and body. While we all have the freedom and responsibility to persevere in faith, hope, and charity, our rebirth as children of God in the Communion of Saints is the pure gift of an incredibly generous Father who delights in His adopted sons and daughters.
Something of the superabundant love and joy of our Heavenly Father is experienced in the human family whenever a child is welcomed into the home (cf. Eph. 3:15). This joy, in part, led us to name one of our daughters Abigail, which literally means “Father’s Joy.” The sudden, surprising arrival of cheerful little Raymond Leon into our home, however, was simply off the charts. The sheer gratuity of God’s blessing, which far exceeds our own limited expectations and plans, produced in our hearts a joyful gratitude beyond measure.
So now this morning, three years later, with Raymond sitting on my lap and quietly smiling at me, and with the reader at Mass reminding us our own adoption as children of a loving Father, I had to share this story again. Thank you for sharing it with me.