By Cardinal Justin Rigali
Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese is highlighting the gift of adoption on our Archdiocesan web site. It gives us an opportunity to reflect on the wonderful blessings adoption can bring to all those involved in it.
Truths proclaimed by adoption
This is a very appropriate time for us to reflect on the gift of adoption. We have just celebrated the birth of Jesus and, within that liturgical season, we have appropriately celebrated the Solemnity of the Holy Family. It should be a constant source of wonder to us that Jesus chose to be born not only in the bosom of a family but also into a family in which he who was treated as his earthly father was not such in a biological sense. If God the Son merely wanted to fulfill what was biologically necessary in order to bring about our salvation, there would have been no need for St. Joseph.
Jesus was not the biological son of Joseph and yet He was certainly treated as such. In the Italian language, St. Joseph is referred to using a beautiful term: “padre putativo,” he who is thought to be or who is treated as the father. We are even told in the Gospels that Jesus was obedient to Mary and Joseph. All of this places us in a wonderful context as we reflect on the blessings of adoption and the dignity of both parents and children in the adoptive home, which has so many similarities to the home of Jesus, Mary and Joseph at Nazareth.
Adoption: An affirmation of life
From its very beginning, the Church has been called to live out the teaching of Scripture, which calls us not only to proclaim the dignity of childbirth but also to care for children in need. Many of the works of charity lived out by the Church down through the centuries have included the care of children, especially those who did not have parents who could care for them. Many religious congregations of men and women have been founded to carry out this very work. I would like to point out just one touching example of this work in our own country.
In Lackawanna, N.Y., there is a remarkable basilica built in honor of Our Lady of Victory. After building up many works of charity housed in institutions surrounding this site, it was the dream of Msgr. Nelson Baker to build this great church. These institutions were, and are, all concerned with caring for children in need.
For many decades a dramatic example of the dedication of Father Baker and the sisters who conducted these homes of charity was seen in the following way: the outside entrance to the hallway of the residence that cared for babies was left unlocked day and night. In that vestibule, there was always an empty crib. Any mother who felt that she could not care for her infant could bring him or her there and place the child in that crib. No questions asked. No judgment made. Complete anonymity was assured. The sisters and Father Baker would check the crib regularly and welcome any babies placed there into their home. Many of these children would then be adopted into loving homes.
The work of our own Archdiocese
In order to look at this work as it has been accomplished in our own Archdiocese, we quote the following, taken from the web site of Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which gives us a background to our apostolate of adoption: “Following the Revolutionary War, a Yellow Fever epidemic swept through the city of Philadelphia leaving many orphans in its wake. The Catholic community mobilized to provide for these children and our commitment to children has been growing ever since that time. In 1912 child care services in the Archdiocese were reorganized under the Catholic Children’s Bureau which was authorized as an adoption agency. We have completed over 11,000 adoptions since that time.”
So many parents have been blessed with the children they have raised as their own. Indeed, they are “their own” through the generosity of heart, love and sacrifices they make for these children, which bind them together through means as strong as any physical bond. Adoptive parents face many challenges, just as birth parents do. Adoptive parents are not perfect, just as birth parents are not perfect. Children who grow up in loving adoptive homes have their problems, just as birth children do. Children who are raised in an adoptive home sometimes do not appreciate the love and sacrifices their parents make for them, just as birth children do not appreciate the same in their own lives.
Adoption: A glorious concept
Adoption is such a glorious concept because it is also the word that defines our relationship, as baptized Christians, with God Himself. This has been the constant understanding of the Church and there are many commentaries on this idea of “spanine adoption.” At the very beginning of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we read: “To accomplish this (a sharing in the very life of God), when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Savior. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life” (CCC, 1).
In another place, the Catechism teaches: “We can adore the Father because he has caused us to be reborn to his life by adopting us as his children in his only Son” (CCC, 2782). Pope John Paul II reminded us to “be always aware of the dignity of the spanine adoption” (Redemptor Hominis, 18).
Finally, I would like to mention a theologian and spiritual writer of the 20th century who has meant a great deal to me and many others in our own spiritual lives, Blessed Columba Marmion (1858-1923). He has been proposed to the Church as the “Doctor of spanine Adoption” because this idea of our being God’s adopted children was so central to his teaching and to his understanding of the Scriptures and of our spiritual lives.
As we review this extremely brief and very much simplified concept of our own adoption in Christ by God the Father, how can we ever view adoption as making that child or his or her parents “second class citizens” in any way? They share in a glorious concept, which God’s inspired word and centuries of theological and spiritual reflection has made use of to describe our very life in God. How fortunate they are!
Challenges of adoption
As we reflect on the genuine dignity of adoption and the generosity of adoptive parents, we do not underestimate its challenges. Frustrations and resentments can be a part of the adoptive relationship, just as it can be of any birth relationship. It is necessary for both adopted children and their parents to realize a very basic fact: this child was willed by God. Regardless of the circumstances of his or her birth, the child’s birth parents were mysteriously called by God to bring this specific child into the world. He wanted this child to be a part of His world and he chose a man and a woman to do His work. This adopted child of God became an adopted child of another set of parents, who perhaps were better able to care for this child. They also have mysteriously received this treasure from God.
Just as our Heavenly Father is not a “second class Father” because He has adopted us in His Son Jesus, and we are not “second class children” of this Father, so the child of adoption is very much a true son or daughter of his or her adoptive parents.
If you wish to learn more about the adoption program of the Archdiocese, I encourage you to go to the web site I referenced earlier in this article, http://www.adoption‑phl.org/aboutcss.html or call: 215-854-7050.
14 January 2010
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