Monday, November 23, 2009

11-29-2009: First Sunday of Advent (C)

First Sunday of Advent
Jeremiah 33:14-16/ Pslam 25/ Thessalonians 3:12-4:2/ Luke 21:25-28,34-36
November is National Adoption Awareness Month. Being adopted, I couldn’t let the month pass without a word…or two. Adoption has long been a solution for two groups of people facing difficult situations: parentless children and childless couples. In the past, well-intentioned professionals thought that you could solve the problems of both groups through adoption; that once the baby was placed in the arms of the adoptive family the problems of both would be resolved and no one need look back. Only in recent decades have we become more aware that adoption is a complex phenomenon involving fundamental issues surrounding self-identity and self-awareness. Adoption may make childless couples into parents (and sometimes into the best of parents) but it doesn’t cure their infertility – that pain never completely goes away. Adoption, likewise, may provide a loving family for relinquished children, but it doesn’t remove the curiosity, desire and need (sometimes long denied) to know where you have come, who are your ancestors, and why you needed to be placed with another family to begin with. This is why, today, most professionals would ascribe to practice open adoption where the prospective adoptive family knows the mother of the soon-to-be adopted child. In our present culture of increasingly blended families where children may have multiple sets of step parents, grandparents and siblings, knowing one’s birth family can be understood as just another way of being a blended family.

In today’s first reading the prophet Jeremiah reflects on the import that loss of family and identity can have. He is writing in that turbulent sixth century B.C. at the time of the Babylonian invasion when Solomon’s Temple was destroyed, Jerusalem laid waste, and untold numbers of her citizens underwent deportation from Jerusalem to a fifty-year exile in Babylon. In that forced migration much was lost; but much was also gained. The Babylonian Talmud was produced, Jews regained a sense of their ethnicity, and they revisited the notion of their unique covenant with the true God: precisely because they had been separated from their origins, they began to value what they had lost. Then the Persians conquered the Babylonians and King Cyrus repatriated the Jews to their ancestral home. Although an act of justice on the part of the Persians, I wonder if it were not perceived, by some at least, as another forced migration of sorts. After all, fifty years had passed; many of those repatriated had been born in Babylon – it was the only home they knew. It must have been complicated, a mixed-bag so to speak, and the young especially must have felt pulled in two directions.

Pulled in two directions is often how the adopted describe themselves, whether or not they’ve searched for their families of origin. It’s the heart of the adoption experience and it’s always a bitter-sweet experience. That’s why secrecy found its way into adoption practice some seventy or so years ago, the thinking being: what the adopted person doesn’t know, can’t hurt him. But secrecy always hurts, precisely because it never works: those kinds of secrets are impossible to keep. Sadly, though, secrecy and sealed records continue to be the practice in most states of the union, keeping vital information from the very persons to whom the information pertains.

November is also the month when we remember those close to us who have died. We commemorate All Souls’ Day and pray for the eternal rest of family and friends long, and not so long, gone. When I began to search for my birthmother nearly thirty years ago I discovered that her maiden name was Jones and she subsequently married a man named Brown. Not knowing where she had been from, you can imagine the odds of finding a Jones-become-Brown from anywhere in the United States. I did know though the name of the church where she was baptized: Our Lady of the Holy Souls in Purgatory. It was a unique dedication for a church and perhaps the only church in the United States with such a name. I found her in a matter of days.

Those holy souls may need our continued prayers, but they provide us a favor or two as well, investing themselves into our lives in surprising ways. The mysteries of Divine Providence leave clues for us to follow when we find ourselves in the darkest of times. True religion is not so much the pious routine of rubric, the theologian von Balthasar would say, but the realigning of previously separated parts. We may not be potential parents in search of children or relinquished waifs in need of a family – but we are all pilgrims, journeying toward the home we will only fully recognize when we’ve arrived.

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