Thursday, May 28, 2009

CAPA Christmas Mass Homily 1996

Catholic Adoptive Parents' Association
Annual Christmas Mass

Resurrection Church Rye, New York
Rev. Thomas F. Brosnan

Good morning. My name is Tom Brosnan. I'm a priest from the Diocese of Brooklyn and currently work in Flushing Queens at a Korean parish. As the only Anglo, I stand out a bit in a parish of over 4,000 Korean Catholics. Being with this same community now for 13 years, I guess you could say that they've adopted me. But that's not the reason I was asked to celebrate with you today. The real reason is that I am an adopted person, my parents having adopted me through the Catholic Home Bureau a few months after my mother gave birth to me at Misericordia Hospital, then located in Manhattan. My parents took me into their loving home and I was raised an only child, and grew up in Brooklyn. I am also a reunited adoptee, having searched and found my birth mother some 12 years ago in Baltimore, Maryland. I have also met my birth father in Toronto, though he still denies paternity. The fact that I searched and found my birth family has only enhanced my relationship with my adoptive parents - even though it was not easy for them to first accept.

I have given talks about adoption in the past but always to mixed groups of triad members, usually to larger numbers of adoptees or birth mothers, than adoptive parents. Being here with the Catholic Adoptive Parents' Association is a new experience and I admit feeling a bit nervous. Maybe it's because I think of my own parents when I look out at all of you and visualize them when they were so much younger and struggling to start a family. Or maybe it's because I feel a bit cheated because my parents never told me I was adopted till I was 12, while you - by your very participation in this organization - see the importance of facing the truth from the beginning. At any rate my responsibility here at this moment is to offer a connection between the biblical readings, our Catholic faith, and CAPA.

So what possible connection can the prophet Elijah have with the Catholic Adoptive Parents' Association? And what is the significance of this short strange gospel passage we have just heard? And how does it all fit into what it means to be a Catholic Christian? I hear one central theme in it all: the struggle for true identity. Although Elijah was a great prophet, the Bible tells us next to nothing about his origins, leaving it a mystery. Elijah is the one who will return to usher in the great Day of the Lord at the end of time. The disciples ask Jesus in today's gospel about Elijah, and Jesus increases the mystery of his identity, comparing John the Baptist to Elijah. But Jesus, we realize, is very clever here. By equating Elijah with John, Jesus indirectly identifies himself as Lord and Messiah. And this question of who Jesus is - his actual identity is the very heart of Catholic Christianity.
Permit me a small historical digression here. One of the most significant ways Catholics and Protestants differ in their understanding of the gospel is seen in the history of biblical studies. In the 19th century what is labelled liberal Protestantism concluded that the ethical message of the gospels - the golden rule, if you will - was so important and so applicable to humanity, that the person of Jesus of Nazareth became secondary even causing some of these scholars to deny Jesus' existence at all. Catholicism, on the other hand, has emphasized the importance of the person of Jesus over the ethical message. The primary message of the gospel from the Catholic point of view is to encounter Jesus as Son of Mary and Son of God; ethical conduct is important, very important, but it takes second place in priority to Jesus' true identity.

And of course this whole question of identity is the great theme of Advent and Christmas, isn't it? The descendent of those self-proclaimed liberal Protestants of the 19th century are many today. These are the Christians who, when asked if the doctrine of the Virginal Conception is central to Christianity, would probably say no. They would say they believe that Jesus is God, but that whole business of a virginal conception is a bit far fetched - a pre-scientific paradigm. "Let's just admit," they say, "that Joseph was Jesus' biological father, and get on with finding out how Jesus wants us to live our lives. This type of argument is accepted in many quarters today and probably believed by far more Christians then we might at first think. There may even be some here today who secretly, or at least unconsciously, hold such a belief. I do not attack the sincerity of those that believe this, but I only point out the problem with holding this belief - that Joseph was Jesus' actual father. The problem is this: that there is both biblical and extra-biblical evidence which suggests that, for some unmentioned reason, Joseph could not have been Jesus' biological father. In Mark's Gospel Jesus is addressed as Son of Mary, not Son of Joseph - his enemies thus insinuate illegitimacy. In John's Gospel when Jesus is arguing with his enemies about the fatherly role of Abraham, his enemies sneer and say: "We are not illegitimate"; the Greek here clearly implies that they thought Jesus was.

This may sound a bit shocking to some of us because we never really discussed such things, afraid we might be considered blasphemous. But we need only read the first chapters of Luke and Matthew to realize that it is the gospels themselves that tell us that Mary became pregnant before she married Joseph. We can only infer then that Mary delivered her baby before she was married nine months. People would have known and reasonably concluded that Jesus was not conceived while Joseph and Mary were married. Some concluded that Joseph was not the father.

At any rate, what becomes increasingly clear, is that Jesus would have known what it felt like to be called illegitimate. That is a reassuring thought for me - since I was born illegitimate. And it is for this fact that I believe that I, and those like me, have been punished by society, forbidden access to our actual birth certificates. We are even denied access to our baptismal certificates and issued false ones. In my opinion this is an inexcusable practices which degrades the Sacrament of Baptism. Secrets and lies do indeed destroy the moral fiber of families and institutions. Lies belong to another kingdom where darkness reigns. Truth is the gospel imperative.

I believe Jesus is both Son of Mary and the divine Son of God. True Christianity rests on this foundation stone. Removing it will insure the collapse of the whole structure. Jesus' origins is his identity. If he is biological son of Joseph or any other man for that matter, he is not whom he claimed to be, and Christianity is a fraud. That is why the silent figure of St. Joseph is so important - that is why we venerate Joseph as adoptive parent - and we could say that to some degree the salvation of the world hinges on Joseph's free decision to accept his status as adoptive parent and not claim what was not his to claim.

My point I hope is clear - that just as Jesus' identity is the most important message of the gospel, so each of our unique identities also are of paramount importance in life. Your identity as parents must be affirmed - you are the parents of your children. But you must hold the tension for your children until they are old enough to grasp it themselves: namely, that they indeed do have four parents - those that gave them life, and those that have sustained and protected them through the years at great personal sacrifice, born not out of instinct, but out of need and out of sacrificial love. Secrets and lies enslave us and do violence to human dignity: truth is what makes us free.

And the truth is adoptive families are different: not less or greater than biological families, just different. It is the difference that must be acknowledged. The primary difference is that adoptive families are created by a non-sexual choice. Yet, paradoxically, it is sex - and sometimes that sex born of lust rather than love - which lies at the heart of adoption, because it is the story of every adoptee. Which reminds me of a story I'd like to leave you with this morning:

There's a legend about a group of Irish writers that figured out the formula for all great literature. Their ideas eventually filtered down into grade schools throughout the country. Once, in a tenth grade classroom, a teacher with these novel ideas told her class the simple formula for all great literature. "Class," she said, you must incorporate into your writing these three powerful elements of life: religion, sex and mystery." Your work will either sink or swim on how well you have managed to meld these into your story. The teacher then told the class to write a short story incorporating religion, sex and mystery. "You have one hour to finish," she said. "Begin." Not even three minutes had passed when she looked up and saw a student gazing out the window. "Sean, why aren't you writing?" "I've already finished," he said. "Finished?" "How could you be finished already, writing about religion, sex and mystery?" "Stand up and read what you've written." Sean stood, cleared his throat, and read: "My God, she's pregnant, who did it?"

Life, like all great literature, like the life of the adoptive family, is also about the struggle to discover the truth concerning God and sex and mystery. By your choice to become adoptive parents, and by your participation in the Catholic Adoptive Parents' Association, you are emersed in the life of faith. I salute you as you struggle to unravel the wonderful mysteries of Divine Providence who has entrusted you with children, begotten of others to be sure, but placed in your care. Just as the salvation of the world was placed under the protection of St. Joseph, the salvation of these children is placed in your loving hands.

It is an honor to be in your presence today.

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