One of the astonishing truths of our faith which can keep us grounded and joyful through the hardest times is our divine filiation or spiritual adoption in Jesus Christ. Let me explain.
As Christians, we believe that in Jesus Christ – his life, death and resurrection – we receive a new identity, initiated at baptism, by which we enter into the very life of the Blessed Trinity as sons and daughters of the Father. The Sonship which Jesus enjoys in relation to the Father and Holy Spirit is graciously shared with us.
In multiple places in his epistles, e.g., Romans 8, Galatians 4 and Ephesians 1, St. Paul articulates his understanding of spiritual adoption. On a mystical level, Paul came to believe that the Christ event fundamentally changed humanity’s relationship to God. Jesus gains for us the forgiveness of sins, the promise of eternal salvation and a new intimacy with God, sprung from our filial relationship with the Father.
Jesus loves us so much that he shares his total self, even his divine relationships. Clinging to nothing as his own, Jesus opens up his own relation to the Father to us. What he is by nature, we become through divine adoption. In baptism, we can call God “Abba” just as Jesus does, because we are sons and daughters of the Father, brothers and sisters of Jesus, temples of the Holy Spirit. One gets the sense in Paul’s writings that he never got over the amazing graciousness of this divine filiation.
As St. John says, we are children of God, baptized into the priesthood of Jesus Christ, anointed by the Holy Spirit, created for love, destined to live forever. When we fall into sin or despair, we suffer from temporary amnesia; we have forgotten who we are.
I know this probably sounds crazy, but when I am walking through an airport or sitting on a subway, I feel the urge to go up to people and ask them if they know they are children of God. Maybe they do, but oftentimes it seems we have lost our way, as we painfully see the violence, poverty, hatred and disregard for human life that daily wracks our planet.
When we know our identity in Christ and our divine purpose, we can do all things through the One who strengthens us. Our lives matter and what we do in this life has eternal implications.
All of us struggle to authentically love ourselves. I know people who almost despise themselves, so often because they were not loved and nurtured as children. When we wholeheartedly embrace our identity as children of God, we can ground our self-esteem in the love of the Father. Then it doesn’t matter so much what other people think of us, or even what we think of ourselves.
The greatest truth is that God finds us loveable and good. I find the greatest antidote to self-hatred, despair, fear, anger and self-pity to be a solid meditation on spiritual adoption.
When the saints experienced the extraordinary love of God, they came to know themselves, the deep and real “soul” of their human nature, as a daughter or son of the Father, loved and created to love. When Paul experienced Jesus on the road to Damascus, when Francis of Assisi kissed a leper, when Augustine heard Ambrose preaching, when Therese of Lisieux read I Corinthians, when Edith Stein observed a stranger at prayer, when Mother Teresa picked up her first dying person, an explosion of divine love occurred which changed them forever.
The extraordinary deeds of the saints are grounded in their self-understanding as children of God.
Try meditating every day for several minutes on who you are in Jesus Christ. Go to the index of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and look up the passages on adoption in Christ. When I do this, I find peace, patience with others and myself, a deeper ability to forgive, a greater capacity to see the bigger picture; I find it easier to love others because they are children of God as well.
In heaven, we will all be walking around more radiant than the sun, filled with the glory of God, free of sin, conflict and division. So why do we need to wait until then to live out our identity as beloved children of the Father? Let’s go live it now!