Editor’s note: This article is part 12 of a series, “The Kingdom of Grace.” Part 11 can be found here.
Every baptized person living in a state of grace has a special mystery taking place in the depths of his or her heart. It is a mystery of God sharing himself with us and drawing us into his own supernatural and divine Life. It is a mystery of love and union. For in our baptism, God has adopted each of us into himself – into the life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In order to understand a little bit of the breathtaking mystery of our adoption into God, let us first ponder the Holy Trinity. What is going on in the depths of God is rather impossible for human beings to figure out just by using our natural reason, but God has revealed to us the secret of his inner life. God has revealed to us that he is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. By the light of grace, we believe in the Trinity.
Within the mystery of the Trinity, the Father eternally generates the Son, and the Son lives eternally from the Father. The Son lives eternally under the gaze of his loving Father, and the Son knows and loves the Father too. The Spirit is the breath of Love between the Father and the Son. The life of the eternal Son within the Trinity is so very exalted. Only the eternal Son knows what it is to be him – to be the Son – and to enjoy his Life. Only the eternal Son knows what it is to be God from God, Light from Light, and to breathe the Holy Spirit without beginning and without end.
For only the eternal Son lives his relation to the Father. No one less than God has by nature the power to be the Son. No one else can rise up by his or her own strength to live the Son’s own Sonship with the Father. But, marvel of marvels, it belongs to the power of God to share something of the eternal Sonship with us if it should please him. And, indeed, it does please him. “Fear not, little flock, it pleases the Father to give you the Kingdom” (Lk. 12:32). In other words, it pleases the Father to give us by grace a share in the eternal Sonship of the Son.
In baptism, “you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons by whom we cry “Abba!’” (Rom. 8:15). What Saint Paul means is that by grace God has transmitted to our souls a certain relation to the Father, not a completely different relation from the eternal Son’s, but something of the eternal Son’s own relation to the Father. What we receive in our baptism is amazing. Something of the eternal Son’s very own relation to the Father, a true share in his eternal Sonship, has been planted in our hearts by grace.
As a result of such a stupendous grace, something of the Son’s own Life of standing before the Father in the Spirit of Love is now the life of our hearts too. Thanks to the grace of filial adoption, it is possible for us to live now from out of the Son’s own relation to the Father – even though we can never live the Son’s relation to the Father in completely the same way or to the same extent the Son does. Nonetheless, it is now possible for us in some way to relate to the Father as Jesus Christ does, to pray the filial prayer of Jesus Christ, indeed, to be Jesus Christ in the sense of belonging to his mystical body. Such is the grace of filial adoption.
The basic way to live out the grace of filial adoption is to believe in the Father, to turn to him, to count on him for everything. For every one of the mysteries of grace is a good and perfect gift coming down to us from “the Father of lights” (Ja. 1:17). Every one of the mysteries of grace is a call to seek his face (Ps. 105:4), and every grace forms us in one way or another to turn with Jesus, like Jesus, and as Jesus to the Father. The point is to go to the Father’s house (Jn. 14:2). “One thing I have asked of the Lord, for this I long, to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life” (Ps. 27:4).
For the Father is pleased to bless us “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:3), and he has blessed us with the grace of filial adoption. Our life in his house is comparable to that of children who have been adopted, so let us compare and contrast natural and supernatural adoption to catch a glimpse of what we have received.
In natural adoption, an orphan stands in need of a home. Similarly, the fallen children of Adam and Eve are like orphans in need of a home. Natural adoption is a free initiative and loving work of the adoptive parents to bring into their home a child who has no home. So, too, it is in supernatural adoption. Foreseeing all along the plot of fallen humanity, God always freely planned, out of sheer love, to adopt the orphaned children of Adam and Eve into the Holy Trinity. The Father sent his Son, his Spirit, and his Church into the world to adopt us – one person at a time – through baptism.
In natural adoption, the child acquires a father, a mother, and perhaps an older brother. So, too, by the grace of filial adoption we have acquired a Father in God himself, we have acquired a mother in Mary, and we have acquired an older brother in our Lord Jesus Christ. He called the disciples my brothers (Mt. 28:10), told them he was going to my Father and to your Father (Jn. 20:17), and taught them to pray Our Father (Mt. 6:9). Just as an adopted child begins to imitate his new older brother, so we are called to imitate our older brother. After all, we live something now of the Lord Jesus’s own relationship with the Father, his filial prayer, his divine Life.
In natural adoption, the adopted child acquires a right to an inheritance. In our supernatural adoption by grace, we too have acquired a right to an inheritance. Saint Paul calls it “the inheritance of the saints in Light” (Col. 1:12). The inheritance of the saints in Light really just is the saints and their God. Just as families on earth hold all things in common, and the members of the family belong to one another in different ways, so too in heaven they hold all things in common and belong to one another in various ways. The inheritance we have coming to us in heaven is to share somehow in each other’s lives – in the lives and graces of all the saints of all times and places. “Whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas…all is yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 7:22-3).
There is one important difference, however, between natural and supernatural adoption. In natural adoption, the adopted child belongs legally to the adoptive parents, but never has the same lifeblood as the adoptive parents. To have the same lifeblood as one’s parents belongs to natural children alone. The bond of blood is of particular power, and cannot be equaled by a bond of law. The bond of blood is internal to our very nature, but the bond of law is not. The bond of law remains external. For this reason, and many others, those who are adopted often feel the need later in life to seek out and find their natural parents. In supernatural adoption, however, God’s act of adopting us is not merely a legal transaction. The grace of filial adoption is not something merely legal or external to us. Rather, in supernatural adoption, the adopted children come to have the lifeblood of God, so to speak, in their souls. Thanks to the grace of filial adoption we enjoy something of the eternal Son’s own relation to the Father, the Son’s own prayer, the Son’s own Life. It was in order to nourish and intensify this grace of filial adoption that the Lord taught us even to eat his flesh and drink his blood so that we might live forever in Him (Jn. 6:54).
Father James Dominic Brent, O.P. is a Dominican Friar who lives and teaches at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC. Several of his homilies, spiritual conferences, interviews, and radio spots can be found on his personal Soundcloud site. He frequently lectures for the Thomistic Institute and appears on Aquinas 101.
Image courtesy of Unsplash.