Are We All Giulia? Reflections on Spiritual Adoption

The Pope’s recent baptism of Giulia, the daughter of a couple married civilly but not in the Church, has garnered much attention, especially by those seeking to categorize Pope Francis as the Church’s PR lifeline. While Fr. Z and others have clarified some of the facts of the case (read here for a list of good, quick analyses of the events, including speculation about what the cryptic statement by Giulia’s father that “this problem was overcome” might mean), it does bring to mind the idea, for me, of our own spiritual adoption into the body of Christ.

In a recent video gone viral, a young couple prepares to meet their adopted son for the first time. In the video, the father makes the following observation:

Anytime I think about adoption, I think about spiritual adoption…about how Jesus went to infinitely greater lengths to adopt me into the family of God. What a privilege it is to, in a smaller way, a human way, live out some of the truth of the Gospel.

The Pope’s actions have (unsurprisingly) sparked a larger discussion about Canonical form and the ambiguity of some of the requirements for the Catholic baptism of an infant, particularly the condition that there must be “a founded hope” that the infant will be brought up in the Catholic religion.

Why does my mind bring these two things together? The relationship between this characteristically charitable act of Pope Francis and the reflections made by the father in the video lies in the idea of the “great lengths” to which Christ has gone in order to adopt us into his inheritance. These great lengths are mirrored, albeit in a much more human way, in the efforts of the video’s young couple (and hopeful parents everywhere) to find and claim the child they desire to adopt into their lives. For the couple in the video, that means money spent, miles traveled, tears shed, etc. Our “greater lengths,” however, are inestimably less than Christ’s, for while human adoption adds nothing to the inherent worth of the adopted child, Christ’s divine adoption “works inward, penetrating to the very core of our life, renovating, enriching, transforming it into the likeness of Jesus, ‘the firstborn among many brethren.’”

There’s too much speculation to make any clear knowledge of Giulia’s case possible. It’s better instead to rejoice in her new inheritance, and remember the then-Cardinal Bergoglio’s own words:

In our ecclesiastical region, there are priests who don’t baptize the children of single mothers because they weren’t conceived in the sanctity of marriage.

These are today’s hypocrites. Those who clericalize the church. Those who separate the people of God from salvation. And this poor girl who, rather than returning the child to sender, had the courage to carry it into the world, must wander from parish to parish so that it’s baptized.

Great lengths, indeed.

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