The sacramentality of adoption

A complicated love

I have often considered how remarkable it is that something as ordinary as marriage could become a sign of God’s own salvific plan of love. I thought about the salvific nature of the married vocation when my wife and I adopted a newborn.

- Timothy O'Malley, America

If indeed marriage is sacramental, drawing all of humanity to participate in the self-gift of Christ to the church, then perhaps the process of adoption reveals something unique about the Christian life as a whole. Adoption is a sacramental sign that gives us unique insights into the wondrous design of love that God has for all humanity.

Before attending to the sacramentality of adoption, one needs to recognize that within U.S. culture there remains an unexamined, albeit significantly decreased stigma regarding adoption. On sitcoms, older siblings continue to taunt their younger brothers and sisters, telling them that they are adopted. When my wife and I decided to adopt, we were surprised to learn from our social worker that many birth mothers cease considering adoption as an option when their parents express disgust at the possibility that another couple would raise the child.

Catholicism, a faith that is wholeheartedly pro-life, has often done too little to counteract this stigma. For years I have attended a pro-life dinner in which the presenters have addressed the need for prayer and political activism (often using violent rhetoric) but have remained silent regarding the promotion of adoption within the various faith communities of our area.

Even the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which speaks with poetic beauty regarding procreation and parenthood, treats adoption as a last option for infertile couples to care for abandoned children. Such language implies that mothers who choose to give up their children for adoption are performing an act of parental negligence rather than witnessing to the very logic of self-gift at the heart of the church. Yet adoption is not a half-way house between the ideal form of parenthood and infertility.

What eventually drew us to use Lutheran Social Services as our adoption agency was their recognition that adopting a child was not a last resort for infertile couples and not a careless act by a birth mother who really should raise her own child. For this agency, the process of adopting is an act of human love, of self-gift, between strangers who are bonded together in the mystery of divine love for the very same child. And in this mutual self-gift, a child does not simply come into physical existence, but instead dwells in a family of love that stretches biological bounds.

Thus, essential to the Christian imagination is a treatment of adoption that gives equal weight to the manner in which the birth mother, the adopting couple and the infant present to us an icon of humanity taken up into divine life.

FULL STORY A Trinitarian love


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