Thanks to technology people are becoming fascinated with understanding their family blood line. The rise of genealogy resources illuminates a deep human craving to understand our past and ask those pressing questions such as “Where did I come from?” and “Who do I belong to?” In fact, this genealogy craze has spilled over into the lives of our pets as people are even swabbing the checks of their dogs to understand their canine’s origins.
Why are we so obsessed with genealogy? Is it because it gives us a sense of identity – to know our place in the world. The more we discover about our ancestors, the more we understand our identity, and, in turn, feel a belonging to those that came before us.
Perhaps this inner connection to a distant family is a trigger within our subconscious that points to a yearning for the infinite family of the Trinity.
Pope John Paul II once said, “God, in his deepest mystery is not a solitude but a family.” Notice the pope did not say the God is like a family. Rather, he said God is a family when you look closely into His nature. In other words, if you add up the three persons of the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) you have an enormous, sacred family.
In fact, the entire salvation history is summed up through the lens of family theology. That is, the Divine family created the human family (mankind) to offer a union in which the Divine essence is given to the human family. Unfortunately, the human family separated themselves from the Divine family in that tragic scene in Genesis, while the rest of salvation history is the story of how God rescues His children back to His family. Therefore, God is a family, and He implants His Fatherly method into the human family so we can be in complete union with Him. This will, in turn, allow us to understand how He operates within a family dynamic.
In fact, the very way God entered into the human sphere is through a family line. In Matthew and Luke’s Gospel, they both introduce Jesus’ entrance into the world through a genealogy (see Matthew 1: 1-24, Luke 3: 23-38). This family genealogy in the Gospels showcases that God literally came to humanity through a family blood line.
Moreover, just like our human families have the typical “black sheep” and dysfunctional element in it, God’s family heritage as well has a defective component to it. While Jesus’ family line goes all the way back to Adam and Eve, throughout this line dysfunctional situations continue to arise. The description in Noah’s family in Genesis 9:20-27 shows a strange scene in which Ham likely impregnated his mother, thus creating a curse within the family line. Later down the lineage we come to Jacob. The promises of God’s covenant with Abraham really gets launched with Abraham’s grandson Jacob. Indeed, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel and through Jacob come the twelve sons that would be later be known as the twelve tribes that represent the Israelite people. But, a close look at Jacob’s family reveals a cluster of dysfunction. First off, Jacob deceived his father, Isaac, on Isaac’s deathbed in order to cunningly steal the family inheritance and blessing from his older brother Esau. When he Esau found out about this, he attempted to kill his younger brother. Not exactly brotherly love showcased here.
The dysfunction keeps spreading into Jacob’s family. First, Jacob fell in love with Rachel and asked Rachel’s father, Laban, permission to marry Rachel. Laban agreed and told Jacob to go to Rachel’s tent to consummate the marriage. However, unbeknownst to Jacob he consummated the wrong marriage because he wakes up the next morning, and oops – Laban tricked him and sent him to Rachel’s sister’s tent, Leah, instead. Laban then grants that if Jacob works for the family for seven years he can then marry Rachel. After working the seven years, Jacob married Rachel. However, Rachel cannot get pregnant. Consequently, Rachel gets jealous because Leah had children from Jacob. So, Rachel instructs Jacob take her concubine and have children with her concubine. Leah, then, gets jealous of Rachel and insists for Jacob to have babies with her concubine. So, we end up with one dad, four moms, and twelve brothers who generally despise each other. Subsequently, the brothers decide to get rid of their younger brother, Joseph, and end up throwing him down a well. This paints a rather bizarre picture of how the twelve sons and the twelve tribes of Hebrew people from which all of Israel came from.
We see now that when God entered the world He didn’t simply enter into the holy family of Nazareth as if it was separated from sin. Indeed, if we read keep reading Jesus’ family lineage we see that the family black sheep keeps continuing down the line. One such person is Tamar. Tamar was married to one of Judah’s sons and he died. Then, she married another of Judah’s sons and he ended up curiously dying as well (not sure what Tamar was putting in their soup). Later, Tamar dressed up as a prostitute and seduced Judah, her father in-law, to sleep with her and thus ended up having a child through her father-in-law!
As the family line continues other suspect people show up. Such as Rahab, who was likely a local prostitute. It also names Ruth, who isn’t even an Israelite, and the genealogy attaches itself to the scandalous affair of David and Bathsheba. You’ll recall that David had an illicit affair with Bathsheba and ended up killing her husband. In fact, this incident was so embarrassing and perverse that Matthew doesn’t even mention Bathsheba by name. Rather, he merely states, “Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife” (Matthew 1:6).
Now, what I’ve listed does not resemble the prototypical squeaky-clean family. But, at the end of that long, and yes, dysfunctional family genealogy, it reads, “Then was born Jesus, who is called Christ” (Matthew 1:16). Therefore, it’s not just the saints that are in the limelight of God’s family line – many sinners take center-stage in Jesus’ lineage. Jesus grafts himself into the dysfunctional family in order to redeem and bring clarity to it. Knowing that Jesus entered into the human setting through a family line that had a highly suspect past, allows us to see that Jesus can penetrate into any family – especially the not-so-perfect family.
But, Jesus’ family line doesn’t stop with his arrival onto the human scene. It keeps going, and, in fact, gets much bigger to eventually include those who’ve been baptized. In other words, Jesus’ family line doesn’t merely include those mentioned in Matthew and Luke’s genealogy, it encompasses all people who embrace the Catholic heritage Jesus gave us. Let’s zoom in on the clues that allude to this fact so we can be certain that as Catholics we are a part of this Divine pedigree.
We’ll notice that after Jesus’ genealogy is recited in the Gospels, the New Testament becomes littered with statements that assure us that God wants to adopt us into His family. Such key phrases are:
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8: 14-17)
Notice that St. Paul indicates that we are called to be “adopted sons” and “children of God” and, in fact, goes more specific by saying we are “heirs of God.” Interestingly, he concludes that this adoption into God’s family is only possible if we embrace suffering. What Paul is essentially saying is that if you want to be adopted into the Divine family, you need to incorporate suffering in order to save souls. And only in the Catholic setting is this idea of redemptive suffering articulated. Here are some more key phrases that outline that God wants to adopt us into His Divine family:
“He predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will. . . . Who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:5, 14).
“God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 4: 4-7).
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3: 1-2)
Indeed, there are many other clues sprinkled throughout the New Testament that reveals we are a part of this Divine family heritage. We’ll notice that Christians are referred to as “children of God” (John 1:12, 1 John 3:1-2). Also, Jesus repeatedly describes His followers in family language. Jesus called those who he healed “my son” and “my daughter” (Matthew 9:2, 22). He later called all who do the will of His Father his “brothers and sisters” (Matthew 12:49-50, Mark 3:35). Additionally, Jesus taught his followers to call His Father “our Father” (Matthew 6:9), and right before he died announced Mary to be our mother as he proclaimed, “Behold your mother” (John 19:27).
Paul mentions that when we conform to the image of the Son we “might be the first-born among many brethren [brothers]” (Romans 8:29, see also Hebrews 1:6, 2:17). That the early Christians referred to one another as “the brethren” (Acts 15:23) and “family of believers” (Galatians 6:10) allows us to see the multilayered family connection displayed throughout the faith.
Paul also informs us, “you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (Eph. 2:19-22, 1 Peter 4:17,). The term “household” that Paul uses is indicative of genealogy language because back then when a person said they were a member of the Smith household, this meant they are a part of the Smith family ancestry. To bring this “household” and “genealogy” words all together Paul tells us rather plainly that “the Church” is the household of God (1 Timothy 3:15) and that Jesus’ body is the Church (Colossians 1:18, 1:24, Ephesians 1: 22-23, Romans 12:5). Here, we see that as a member of the Church, you now become attached to the Divine body and the Divine Family of God.
Therefore, given that God is a family let us now wonder what God is doing in terms of the family genealogy craze. What if your family origin reveals that you have Divine royalty in your blood that dates back to Jesus Himself? As a Catholic, your family history in the Church gives you precisely this.
If you did all the research and investigated the early writings of the Church through today, you’d find the actual historical lineage of the Catholic Church is, in fact, the church Jesus established. Only she can map her roots back 2,000 years to Jesus and his disciples. In fact, under the search term “Roman Catholic Church” the Encyclopedia Britannica states, “The church that traces its origins to Jesus.” As a side note, no other church can claim this fact. So, from a genealogy investigation, only Catholicism can trace its historical lineage back to Jesus.
Now that we know this, we can see that our history as a Church is a part of a family ancestry that comes from God himself. We’ll also notice that just like in Jesus’ family line there existed scandals and suspect people. So too in God’s family, the Church, there exists scandals and dubious individuals. However, we’ll also notice that in Jesus’ dysfunctional line, God raised up certain people (such as Mary and Joseph) to help clear a clean path from the weeds of dysfunction so Jesus could enter in. In a similar vein, throughout the ages of the Church, God always raises up certain people (i.e., the saints) to bring us clarity and allow Him to enter in us.
In the middle of the Mass, we proclaim these family ties during the Eucharistic prayers as the priest announces, “Therefore, Lord, we pray: graciously accept this oblation of our service, that of your whole family.”
As Catholics let us embrace the family lineage, we hold. We truly have a family religion where Mary is our mother in heaven. The Church is our mother on earth. God is our Father in heaven while the pope is our “papa” here on earth. The saints are our brothers and sisters and their feast days are a birthday celebration for the whole family.
Our family history goes beyond our names and dates we find in our tree. It’s about what makes us who we are. It’s about people whom we form deep connections. Isn’t it astonishing to realize that instead of being connected to ordinary ancestors from the past, because of God’s adoption into Christ’s Church, we are actually are a part of a grand family – the mystical body of Jesus.
Several years ago I was fascinated when I realized there was a faint chance I could be related to the famous Vanderbilt family. This Vanderbilt ancestry wish turned out to be a dead end. Today, I could honestly careless about having Vanderbilt genealogy because as a Catholic I know I have a family connection that is much greater. Through the Sacraments we become adopted into Jesus’ Church that has stood the test of time. As member of the Church we have a familial connection to God’s family. Now, this is a family genealogy that can get us excited.