Sunday, December 9, 2012

Abraham, My Fathers’ Father

Like everyone I have four great-grandfathers. George Bull was a farmer in North Dakota, Muret Napoleon Leland a merchant in downstate Minnesota. Their son and daughter combined to make my father. On my mother’s side, Frank Heffelfinger was a Minneapolis miller, while Tom Ewing was a New York lawyer.

Back another generation, I have at least a couple of Civil War veterans. The one Catholic great-great-grandfather in my group of eight was Thomas B. Ewing, Jr. (pictured). He was the foster brother of William Tecumseh Sherman. As a result, his grandson, my mother’s father, was named Sherman Ewing.

And that is where my knowledge of my own genealogy exhausts itself. Except for Abraham, Moses, and David.

The modern form of geneaology seems to suggest that of all the people in the world, I am unique, though I do have to include my siblings in the set of my genealogical individualism. They have the same family tree as I do. 

Though not the same horoscope. But don’t get me started on that one.

Throw in the modern science of genetics, and I start thinking that in all my specialness I am somehow a very very special result of the combination of the stuff of these men and their brides who all somehow stand two-by-two on the tiers of a wedding cake that goes all the way back to God.

But of course that’s not what the Church teaches. And that’s not the only way to look at things.

Because that very very special individual, who is defined as really nothing more than a unique sac of biochemicals, will die and decompose.

The Church teaches that I am in fact descended not from an infinitude of sperm and egg donors, all converging in ME, but that I am your brother, and that we are all descended from Abraham, Moses, and David. Because of course we Christians are all Jews. The patriarchs, kings, and prophets are our ancestors in the faith.

Furthermore, the Church teaches that because I am defined as that and neither a sac of chemicals nor the solitary ornament on top of my own lonely tree, I am saved.

Here’s what the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about this, based on paragraphs 59–64 and 72 of the CCC:

8. What are the next stages of God's Revelation?

God chose Abram, calling him out of his country, making him “the father of a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17:5), and promising to bless in him “all the nations of the earth” (Genesis 12:3). The people descended from Abraham would be the trustee of the divine promise made to the patriarchs. God formed Israel as his chosen people, freeing them from slavery in Egypt, establishing with them the covenant of Mount Sinai, and, through Moses, giving them his law. The prophets proclaimed a radical redemption of the people and a salvation which would include all nations in a new and everlasting covenant. From the people of Israel and from the house of King David, would be born the Messiah, Jesus.

Yeah, I like that story better than old Civil War tales. 

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