Msgr. Michael Heintz
The Human Condition
January 29, 2019 // The Human Condition

The full implications of our adoption by grace

Msgr. Michael Heintz
The Human Condition

It is an article of Catholic faith that, through the regenerating grace of baptism, we are made sons and daughters of God. What Jesus, is by nature, proclaimed by the unseen Father and manifested by the Spirit at the Jordan – Son of God – is imparted to those who are washed in the waters of rebirth. Jesus, the eternal Son of the Father made flesh, extends His filial relationship with the Father to those who are now, by grace, His brothers and sisters and thus children of the Father. His Father becomes our Father.

What Jesus is and experiences by nature, we are granted by grace: Our relationship to God the Father is now like Jesus’ relation to His Father. The same intimacy and freedom of access, or boldness (what the language of the New Testament calls παρρησί), which Jesus shares by virtue of His eternal and natural Sonship become ours, not by nature (that’s true only of the eternal Son), but by grace.

This is what St. Paul means when he uses the language of our being “in Christ.” It’s as if we’re permitted by grace to stand in Jesus’ sandals, so to speak, and address and love the Father as Jesus does. Further, it is precisely the Father’s love, received by the Son and returned to the Father, that we receive by being “in Christ.” The Father loves us with the same love, and we return that love to the Father by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit — who is nothing other than Jesus’ spirit, given to His followers.

What we are sometimes apt to forget is that while our baptism does something radical, it establishes us in an entirely new way of relating to God, and more; enabling us to call God “Abba,” or Father. This, St. Paul teaches, is accomplished in us by the Holy Spirit.

Baptism also establishes us in a new relationship with Jesus’ Mother. We profess each Sunday that Jesus is consubstantial with the Father (that is, Jesus is fully and essentially God, just as the Father is); but by the Son assuming a complete human nature, Jesus is also and at the same time consubstantial with us. He shares in our nature, too. He is fully and essentially human, just as we are — but without sin. And this nature He assumed came from none other than Mary, His Mother. All His human traits and characteristics are naturally drawn from her own.

The corollary to this is simple: Marian devotion is not, for a baptized person, a mere luxury, option or “add-on” for those who may happen to be so inclined. If we take seriously the full meaning of the Incarnation, we cannot but be in awe of the fact that, just as by the grace of our baptism we become sons and daughters of God, so, too, we share a new relationship with Mary, His Mother. What Mary is for Jesus by nature (His Mother), she becomes for us by grace. Cultivating devotion to Mary is about developing and nurturing a relationship in our life that began at our baptism. We truly become sons and daughters not only of God, but, since Jesus is fully divine and fully human, and His humanity is that of His Mother, Mary, we also become sons and daughters of the Mother of God.

But there is one further new relationship to consider. We know that St. Joseph was not the natural father of Jesus; Mary is ever-virgin. He and Mary never had relations. He was, however, chosen by God and entrusted as the foster-father of Jesus and as the guardian of the Holy Family. So too, by our baptism, St. Joseph becomes the guardian and protector of all those who have become sons and daughters in the Son, and whose Mother by grace is Jesus’ Mother, the Virgin Mary.

We should delight in cultivating a living relationship with St. Joseph, who cares for us, as we now share in the life of his Son, by adoption, Jesus. Our adoption through grace by the eternal Father is mirrored in the order of redemption by our adoption by St. Joseph, who loves the Son whom the Father entrusted to him, and who cares for and protects those who are his sons and daughters through the adoptive grace of the Father. This is, by the way, why St. Joseph is the patron and guardian of the Universal Church. As he was entrusted by God to protect His eternal Son-made-flesh and His Son’s Mother (who is always a figure of the Church as well), so too St. Joseph intercedes for the Church on earth. This is perhaps why in the litany devoted to him, one of his titles is “terror of demons”; the Church in our day, as in every era, no doubt can benefit from his particular help.

By the grace of our baptism, we are brought into a remarkable new way of relating to God. We become, as it were, members of God’s family. We are also simultaneously brought into a new relationship with the Holy Family: Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

A final suggestion: In the year of grace 2019, deepen and cultivate your relationship with Mary and Joseph.

Msgr. Michael Heintz is on the faculty at Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Md.

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