November 1, 2022 | Opinion
Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

Fr. Ray Clark is pictured with his newly adopted dog, Panni. One of his other dogs, Fallin, is seen on the left. COURTESY OF DON WILKINS, MESSENGER-INQUIRER

Adoption as a metaphor for Baptism


I have long stood in awe of parents and those who adopt, who accept or seek out children born of others and make them their own flesh and blood. Adoption has become more personal as I have adopted several dogs. The latest of these is a gray, miniature pinscher named Panni. I led the funeral for Panni’s master, an older woman, and when Panni didn’t fit in with the dogs of the adult son I took her in.

Unlike my other dogs Panni stares into my eyes. At first her eyes showed the sadness she felt as she grieved the death of her master. Now her eyes say: “I’m hungry, time to eat!” or “Get off that computer thing!” At other times she licks me and says: “I love you.” Wherever I am, Panni is close by. She has gone from being “their” dog to “mine,” a member of my family. 

Adoption is a concept St. Paul uses in his letters to describe what takes place in Baptism. In Baptism God adopts me as His son along with His natural-born son Jesus. 

But the concept of adoption goes back in the Scriptures even farther. It is in the very language God uses to describe His relationship with His people. The book “Marriage and Family in the Biblical World,” edited by Ken Campbell, notes that the words for adoption in ancient Israel were: “I will be his father and he shall be my son.” Throughout the Old Testament the phrase that God uses: “You will be my people and I will be your God,” is that of adoption. 

The song “My Boy” by the country artist Elvie Shane from Caneyville, describes what this looks like in our American culture. He tells the story of meeting the eight-year-old son of his girlfriend for the first time, and as the relationship progresses: “It hit me like a train the first time he called me ‘Dad,’ with a three stick-figure crayon drawing with all of us holding hands. / His mama said: ‘I understand if it’s too soon for this,’ I didn’t let her finish, I took it to the kitchen and I stuck it on the fridge. / (Chorus) He ain’t my blood, ain’t got my name, but if he did I’d feel the same, / I wasn’t there for his first steps but I ain’t missed a ballgame yet, / And that ain’t ever gonna change, I could never walk away, / Yeah, he’s my son and that’s my choice, / He ain’t my blood but he’s my boy.”

Adoption is the experience God uses to help us appreciate the relationship we have with Him through Baptism.

I hope that I may be as attentive to God as Panni is to me. But apart from the closeness I may feel to each of my dogs, depending upon their behavior at the moment and the kind of day I am having, each has a place in my home. I claim each as my own.

My home has become Panni’s “forever home” and she has won a place in my heart. Through Baptism God has become my forever God and I have gained a place in God’s heart and become His son.

Fr. Ray Clark is a priest of the Diocese of Owensboro. This column was dedicated to the memory of David Bartholomy, writing instructor at Brescia University for 48 years, from whom Fr. Clark learned the skill of writing. Bartholomy died June 18, 2022.

This column was originally published in the Messenger-Inquirer on June 25, 2022, and has been reprinted with permission.

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