Maureen and I were married on February 2, 1991, during the Gulf War. At that time, people were tying yellow ribbons everywhere as a reminder of our loved ones who were away at war. We all needed reassurance during this time of conflict and uncertainty.
The homilist at our wedding told us that our marriage needed to be a yellow ribbon, a witness to life and love amidst the hatred, despair, and death we saw around us. We were newlyweds when the Gulf War ended, and of course now our nation is again at war in Iraq, as well as embroiled in the ongoing, complex war against international terrorism.
Meanwhile, Maureen and I have quietly lived our marriage vows for over 16 years. We remember Pope John Paul II telling us over and over again that civilization passes by way of the family. We are far from perfect, but we have taken seriously the challenge we received at our wedding–a challenge issued to all Christian families–to be joyful witnesses to Christ in the midst of the world.
The Lord has abundantly blessed our marriage with children. We now have six beautiful children (they take after their mother) and 14 godchildren. We’ve welcomed at different times many others into our home, including our elderly parents, siblings, and college students. I thank the Lord every day for the singular gift of our family, our little domestic Church.
Yet we’ve also endured times of sorrow. Maureen has had several pregnancies end in miscarriage. Many families have experienced miscarriages and know what a silent cross they can be. After all, here we are in a contraceptive society, in a “culture of death,” willing to accept new life, only to have the child taken from us before we can even hold him or her. We’ve entrusted these little ones to our merciful Father, trusting amidst the tears that these tragedies are part of a larger, more glorious plan.
Family life isn’t a game in which the players with the most children at the end of the game win. Yet Maureen and I wanted to be as open as possible to the Lord’s blessing. We have always considered adoption at some point, and after much of the pain from the miscarriages subsided, we realized in 2001 that we had room in our hearts and our home for another child. So we took the next step…
We didn’t have the money to go through an expensive agency. Further, we weren’t looking for a “designer baby” with all the “right” qualities. We simply wanted to be open to accept whatever gift the Lord would want for us.
We decided in February 2001 to receive 36 hours of “training” through the county to become certified as foster/adoptive parents. We also obtained a home study, a comprehensive report prepared by a social worker concerning the suitability of an adoptive family. We figured that by going through these at times onerous steps, we would be ready to act quickly should a child become available.
We had our home study sent to various Catholic Charities offices in our region. We expressed a willingness to consider any age, race, gender, or special needs, but we hoped for a younger child so that there would be a better chance of forming good attachments. We made ourselves available, and then we had to wait.
One morning in September 2001, months after completing our home study and only a few days before 9/11, Maureen commented to me how nice it would be to have a son. I nodded as I left for the CUF office. Later that day, I had slipped out of the office to go to our parish’s adoration chapel to prepare for a talk I was going to give that weekend. While I was there Maureen and my three youngest daughters tracked me down. They told me that we just received a call from Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh. We were going to be able to adopt a baby boy!
The baby was only two months old. Interestingly, the foster parents were calling him Samuel. I would have been inclined to go along with a noble biblical name like Samuel anyway, but remarkably I happened to be studying the book of 2 Samuel when I received the happy news from Maureen. Only later did I learn that Samuel John’s birthday was June 24th, the feast of the birth of John the Baptist, the new Samuel. (I do assure Maureen that she’s considerably younger than St. Elizabeth!)
Baby Samuel quickly became an integral part of our family. I couldn’t imagine a biological child being more loved and accepted by his or her family. He is also now a loving big brother to Raymond, whom we adopted at birth in 2004.
We have much to teach Samuel, but he has already taught us so much. For one thing, his pleasant disposition and his “I’m just happy to be here” smile (now without the front teeth) continually calls us to gratitude for God’s gifts and to put our worldly concerns in perspective. Further, his addition to our family has been a concrete lesson on the gift of adoption that all of us received at Baptism. We are not second-class citizens but truly children of God. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 Jn 3:1). As we rejoice in the expansion of our little family, even more does our Heavenly Father take delight in sharing His glory with the creatures He has fashioned in His image and likeness.
Samuel’s story would not be possible without a whole network of people who were committed to the Gospel of life. I’m thinking of the various social workers and Catholic Charities personnel, Samuel’s loving foster parents, and our many family members and friends who have stormed heaven with their prayers and who have materially helped us in myriad ways. Above all, my heart goes out to Samuel’s birth mother. She read our anonymous “birth parent letter” and chose our family for her child. I pray with utmost confidence that our Lord will bless her heroic generosity and draw her closely to Himself.
I think we need to proclaim these little pro-life “success stories” to our contemporaries. In a world in desperate need of “yellow ribbons,” we must be ambassadors of a supernatural hope rooted in the goodness and promises of the Lord of Life. We know that Jesus Christ through His Church is the world’s salvation and hope, and in the power of the Holy Spirit we are able to tell one another and the world, “Do not be afraid.”
I originally wrote this article for Lay Witness magazine in 2002 (see www.cuf.org), but happily reprint it here in honor of the sixth anniversary of Samuel’s Baptism this weekend.