Natural and Supernatural Adoption

This has been a banner week for the Suprenant family. Yesterday was the second anniversary of the finalization of our son Raymond’s adoption. The amazing story of how his adoption came about can be found at http://www.cuf.org/LayWitness/Online_view.asp?lwID=493.

And now today we are celebrating the 15th anniversary of our daughter Mary Kate’s Baptism. We celebrate “Baptism Days” in our family, as we see them–with firm biblical and theological support–as second birthdays. Needless to say, this concept is a real hit with our kids. It’s wonderful to see how the mustard seed of faith planted in Mary Kate when she was less than three weeks old is growing into a magnificent, mature tree. 

Our experience of adoption has enriched our family’s understanding of Baptism as the point in time that we become God’s children by “adoption.” Similarly, an enhanced understanding of our Baptism has shed light on the fundamental goodness of adoption and fatherhood.

Our experience of human family life provides us glimpses of God’s fatherhood. After all, God’s fatherhood is the source of fatherhood and motherhood within the family (cf. Catechism, no. 2214). Yet, even in the most faithful of families, the reflection of God’s perfect, familial love is imperfect. And in our society, the loss of a sense of the divine and sacred has gone hand in hand with the loss of an authentic sense of family, so that even fundamental truths such as the reality of marriage as a lifelong, monogamous bond between a man and woman are called into question. This situation has caused much confusion and pain in families, and has made it more difficult to approach God as “Father.”

Yet, if we are to really come to know and love God, we must come to grips with the fact that God is our Father, and we are His children by adoption. St. Paul teaches:

“But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Gal. 4:4-6; cf. Rom. 8:14-17).

Our status as God’s children is a profound mystery that we should meditate on frequently. I’d like to touch upon four aspects of this truth.

It’s Real: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 Jn. 3:1). In fact, my status as God’s child is even more real than my status as the child of Leon Sr. and Eileen, and it reflects a restoration of what God intended from the beginning, when He created us in His image. Our status as God’s children through faith and Baptism is not merely a present reality, for we know that God is eternally faithful and trustworthy. He will never leave us abandoned or orphaned (cf. Is. 49:15).

It’s Not Second-Class: Being God’s children “by adoption” doesn’t cheapen the wonderful, undeserved gift we received at Baptism. Nor is our status as God’s children merely a legal fiction.

Rather, the term “adoption” reflects the fact that through grace we are able to participate in the very life of God. If we were “gods” in our own right, we wouldn’t need to be adopted. If God were distant and uninvolved with us, we would not truly be His children. The truth is that through Christ God is calling all of us to Himself. The Catechism (no. 1997) teaches us that grace “introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life: by Baptism the Christian participates in the grace of Christ, the Head of his Body. As an ‘adopted son’ he can henceforth call God ‘Father,’ in union with the only Son. He receives the life of the Spirit who breathes charity into him and who forms the Church.”

It’s Ecumenical: God is one and His family the Church is one. St. Cyprian said that one cannot have God as Father without having the Church as Mother. Yet we are painfully aware of the divisions and “divorces” that continue to divide God’s children up to the present.

As members of God’s family, we can’t help but grieve at our lack of full communion with other Christians. Following our Holy Father’s lead, we must make authentic ecumenism a top priority in our prayers and actions. In this regard, I might add that expressions such as “non-Catholics,” “separated brethren,” and worse still “material heretics,” while technically accurate, probably make those to whom such terms apply feel how I felt about being called merely a “half-brother” to my 13 siblings when I was young. While avoiding false irenicism, religious indifferentism, and doctrinal fuzziness, we must still emphasize the ecclesial reality that other baptized Christians truly are children of God (cf. Pope John Paul II, Ut Unum Sint, no. 42).

It’s Eternal: Sometimes we might lose sight of the fact that our status as children of God unites us not only with Christians throughout the world, but also, through the communion of saints, with all those who have gone before us in God’s friendship. Our lives on earth anticipate our true “homecoming” in heaven, where we will be with God in the company of His angels and saints for all eternity.

Whenever possible we should affirm the gift of fatherhood and encourage human fathers to embrace and faithfully live out our vocations. As we do so, how can we not turn to St. Joseph, patron of the Universal Church? He who never had relations with Mary teaches us how to be the best of husbands, and he who was not Jesus’ biological father teaches us how to be the best of fathers.

Dear St. Joseph, pray for us!

Leon is the co-editor with Scott Hahn of the best-selling Catholic for a Reason: Scripture and Mystery of the Family of God, available through Emmaus Road Publishing (www.emmausroad.org.). 

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