Thursday, May 28, 2009

Invocation - CERA Conference 1995

CERA Conference
Doral Inn
September 28, 1995
Rev. Thomas F. Brosnan

I am asked to deliver an INVOCATION, but how shall I invoke the divine? How shall I attempt to place myself and each of you, should you choose to follow, in the presence of the Creator? Yet it is not I who place, but he who has drawn us here by myriad paths amid untold sufferings and unexpected joys. Birth parents, adoptive parents, adopted persons, social workers and psychologists, we all seek to understand at least in part the great mystery of adoption. The experience of the orphan is in some fundamental way the great metaphor of the human experience. From ancient cultures of the distant past to this moment when the Council for Equal Rights in Adoption gathers in a metropolis filled with searching souls, we orphans have journeyed, exposed and scarred, sometimes frightened, often angry, seemingly lost, yet humbly aware of the kindness of strangers, and the Divine Providence which reveals itself in the most intimate of ways. And so, how shall I invoke the Divine, I wonder. I know: I shall invoke Him as Mercy.

Is it humility or shame that makes me flush with embarrassment standing before you this morning attempting to offer a prayer? Is my embarrassment simply the humility of one who has received so many undeserved gifts, or is it the shame of one who has suffered the brand of illegitimacy, and the violence of secrecy and lies? I do not rightly know, so I begin this invocation with the words of others infinitely more holy and far more wise than I. St. Augustine and Cardinal Newman knew their parents sure enough, but also realized they were at heart, orphans.

"A body tends by its weight towards the place proper to it," Augustine writes, "weight does not necessarily tend towards the lowest place but towards its proper place. Fire tends upwards, stone downwards. By their weight they are moved and seek their proper place. Oil poured over water is borne on the surface of the water, water poured over oil sinks below the oil; it is by their weight that they are moved and seek their proper place. Things out of their place are in motion: they come to their place and are at rest. My love is my weight: wherever I go my love is what brings me there."

And Cardinal Newman once remarked: "(If I should) see a boy of good make and mind, with the tokens on him of a refined nature, cast upon the world without provisions, unable to say whence he came, his birth-place or his family connexions, I should conclude that there was some mystery connected with his history, and that he was one, of whom, for one cause or other, his parents were ashamed. Thus (it is only by acknowledging some terrible aboriginal calamity that I am) able to account for the contrast between the promise and the condition of his being."

Next Wednesday, Pope John Paul II will arrive in the United States while Jews will ritually mark the most solemn day of their yearly existence, Yom Kippur. The pope is known by many titles, one of the most ancient being Supreme Pontiff - the Great Bridge-Builder. Yom Kippur is translated Day of Atonement. What is atonement but bridge-building, the bridging of the abyss of a past calamity? What is atonement but the reconciliation, the reuniting of previously separated parts. This is the nature of all true religion and its most basic definition. In this sense each of us is a religious person, in this sense each of us here today begins a religious experience. We find ourselves on a pilgrimage of atonement - the desire to be at-one with what has been lost.

Shedding light on adoption is a radical endeavor. To be radical is to seek to uncover the root experience. Adoption reform is then by definition something radical. The reunion of mother and child, the reconciliation of nature and nurture, the bridging of environment and heredity, this is the journey of the orphan, this is the stuff of adoption reform. This is true religion, the great task of being human. For religion is the experience of atonement - the bridging of a deep abyss, the reconciliation of conflicting elements, the reuniting of previously separated parts, to be at-one again with one's proper nature and destiny. Atonement, religion, adoption reform are all radical endeavors, they seek to understand the experience of the orphan, to get to the bottom of things, to uncover the meaning of human existence. "Wherever I go my love is what brings me there," Augustine wrote so long ago. But this love is not always pleasant; as one birth-mother become saint put it in her autobiography of the same name: "Love can be a harsh and dreadful thing."*

Atonement is not only the experience of forgiveness for wrongs committed, but the humble acceptance of mercy for calamities suffered. Michelangelo knew this when in a rage of creativity he chiseled away the cold hard marble to discover what is inexpressible in words: Pieta - Mary holding her dead son in her arms, reunited after the calamity of crucifixion. This too is atonement.

My friends, you are that Pieta re-lived today. You are that paradox of mercy and sorrow, that image hidden in the stone awaiting liberation. Do not reject the sorrows you have endured but embrace them - for they have made you a masterpiece of embodied mercy.

And so as an adopted person, born a bastard, who has known the kindness of strangers, I dare to open within your hearing today this Council for Equal Rights in Adoption, this radical convocation of pilgrims and seekers, this experience of atonement and thus of true religion, this orphan voyage of which you and I are pioneers. I dare to invoke the Divine Providence who manifests himself as Mercy and of whom the Holy Scripture has revealed as Protector of Orphans.

I invoke Him today, the One whom I seek, and the One in whom I seek myself, with the words of a once popular song echoing a far more ancient prayer deep within my orphan heart:
"Kyrie eleison on the road that I must travel; Kyrie eleison in the darkness of the night." Kyrie eleison as we rage against injustices suffered.
Kyrie eleison on the bitterness we have tasted.
Kyrie eleison until your light illuminates the vast bureaus of vital statistics throughout this nation and reveals to our eyes the Book of Names long sealed and hidden from view. Kyrie eleison as we begin our Exodus, our pilgrimage of atonement, our religious quest for the truth of our origins.
Kyrie eleison as we build a bridge across the years of separation.

Kyrie eleison on the broken-hearted and infertile.
Kyrie eleison on the broken-hearted who relinquished.
Kyrie eleison on the broken-hearted and relinquished.
Kyrie eleison on this Conference for Equal Rights in Adoption.
Kyrie eleison.

* The reference is to Dorothy Day. Her autobiography, however, is entitled The Long

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