Nearly a month ago now, on October 6, our eldest son and his bride welcomed their first child into the world. The birth of a child is an everyday occurrence; all across the globe, fathers fret as mothers labor to bring wriggling, helpless, little humans into this world, as we have for thousands of years. Medicine and technology have improved to the point that many—even the majority—of these children survive past infancy and on to adulthood, so that sometimes we forget how miraculous this is. Sometimes fathers and mothers even think they are primarily responsible for creating the new life they hold in their arms.
They are not.
Biologically speaking, we parents are certainly involved in the earthier aspects of the miracle, and in our better moments, we may even desire, will and proactively seek to bring a child into the world. But no amount of wishing or willing can create a child or bring him or her to term. God does the hard work and invites us along for the ride. So it was for Jodi and me, when we welcomed each of our five children into the world—and in another, profound way, when we lost our little Jude. And so it is for Brendan and Becky.
His name is Augustine James Thorp.* I’m a dziadzi.**
My mom once told me, “You can’t believe you could ever love anyone more than your own children, and then you have a grandchild.” I see now what she means. I would not say that I love Augie more than I love my own children, but perhaps more fiercely. The difference is not in quantity but in intensity. I’ve been pondering why this is, and I see two factors so far.
The first factor seems to be that as a parent, I am maturing, but my offspring are leaving the nest. As I result, I am better able to give love even as my own children demand less directly from me. So I am freer to focus my affections when and where I choose. Augie, it turns out, is a sponge for love and is never saturated. (His diapers are a different story.)
The second factor is that our love is being distilled and concentrated even as it’s poured into successive generations. You might expect it to be diluted, but instead it seems to work like this: If I give all of myself to Jodi, and she gives all of herself to me, that’s beautiful—but it’s also more or less an even exchange: in our best moments, 100 percent of me for 100 percent of her. When the two of us have a child together, however, the miraculous multiplicity of love means 100 percent of each of us is going into this tiny new life, in addition to the love that still exists between Jodi and me. So our children are loved even more intensely than we love each other.
How does that work? I don’t know, except that God, who is perfect Love, is constantly pouring Himself out in superabundance on our behalf.
Now imagine Augustine: He has all the love Brendan and Becky are pouring into him as his parents, as he should. But we also perceive in him all the love Jodi and I have poured into Brendan over the years, as well as the new love we’ve poured into Becky as we’ve come to know her. And we are blessed to have some experience of the love Bill and Jen have showered upon Becky, and on Bren as they’ve gotten to know him—all of which is also manifested in little Augie.
Add to that the love of all his aunts and uncles (who also received massive love infusions from us, their parents); and the love he receives directly from Bill, Jen, Jodi and myself; not to mention the love of great-grandparents, great-aunts and -uncles, cousins, friends and godparents—and this seemingly ordinary male child takes on a significance that begins to approach his actual dignity as a person made in God’s image.
So much love, concentrated in so small a package. We cannot help laughing, crying, babbling and cooing, involuntarily and often at the same time. His gravity pulls us in with such force and velocity that we glow in his orbit. He is drawing all our love to himself, simply by being.
This past Saturday, we experienced another miracle: Our grandchild was baptized into the Body of Christ and the Catholic Church at Our Lady of the Annunciation Chapel at the University of Mary in Bismarck. My grandson has become my brother.
I mentioned this to Lily, and she looked quizzically at me. I asked her what happens when we are baptized, and she said we become children of God.
I asked if Augie was a son of God. “Yes,” she said.
I asked if she was a daughter of God. “Yes.”
I then asked if they were children of the same Father, weren’t they also brother and sister, as well as aunt and nephew.
She smiled and nodded.
“So,” I said, “if I am baptized, I am also a son of God, right?”—and her face brightened with realization that we are all God’s children in Christ.
On Sunday, we celebrated the Solemnity of All Saints at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Bismarck. In the second reading, St. John offers this hopeful message to God’s family in exile here on earth:
See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed.1 John 3:1-2
My grandson and I, my daughter and my wife, my son and his bride—and all of you—are children of the same Father in Heaven.
Scripture tells us, “We are God’s children now; what we shall be has not been revealed.” The rector of the Cathedral, Fr. Ehli, gave us a hint, however, when he reminded us to celebrate All Saint’s as our “future feast day.” If we are children of the King, we are also heirs.
We were “socially-distanced” two pews behind the Wilkes and Brendan, Becky and Augie. As I knelt in prayer after Holy Communion, I saw Brendan kneeling in silence beside his bride, who was seated on the edge of the pew, gazing at her sleeping child, smiling and rocking side to side.
“What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul? What wondrous love is this, O my soul?” sang the cantor, and I choked back a sudden sob that threatened to become audible.
“What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul? To bear the dreadful curse for my soul?”
Brothers and sisters, see what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called children of God? Yet so we are.
Welcome to the Family, baby brother.
* * * * *
*Pronounced uh-GUS-tin; Augie for short.
**Polish-American for grandpa; Jodi is going with the German “oma.”