BBC News are reporting today on proposed changes to arrangements for adopting children in the UK, proposals which would allow prospective adopters to view the register of children awaiting adoption. The underlying intention is to speed up the adoption process so that children can be placed more quickly; there is not an underlying intention to allow adopters "choice" in the children they wish to adopt. But against the background of the impact of equalities legislation with regard to adoption of children by same sex couples - which was premised on the idea that approval for adoption was a service provided to the prospective adopters - one is entitled to wonder what the on-the-ground experience will turn out to be if these proposals go ahead.
Adoption is not the only context in which it is poignant to ask the question, on the eve of Christmas, as to whether or not the child is a commodity to be chosen or a gift to be received. Medical practices such as IVF treatments and direct abortion of children found in the womb to have a risk of being born with a disability convey the same question.
Is the Child a commodity to be chosen or a Gift to be received? Pope Benedict does not ask the question in these terms when, in the first chapter of his book on the Infancy Narratives he poses the question posed by Pilate in St John's Gospel: "Where are you from?" The answer to the question is both known - he is the son of the carpenter from Nazareth - and yet unknown - he speaks with an authority that comes from elsewhere. When the Church teaches that the office of parents with regard to the generation of new life is a participation in the creative work of God, the same can be said of any child. We do know where they come from - a mother and father can be identified. But at the same time their origin is hidden in that creative act of God.
For those baptised as Christians, this two-fold origin comes to its fulfilment. Pope Benedict ends his first chapter, referring to the prologue of the Gospel of St John:
... those who believe in Jesus enter through faith into Jesus' unique new origin, and they receive this origin as their own. In and of themselves, all those believers are initially "born of blood and of the will of man." But their faith gives them a new birth: they enter into the origin of Jesus Christ, which now becomes their own origin. From Christ, through faith in him, they are now born of God.I do not think a simply pietistic/emotional idea of the child as a gift received from God is a sufficient ground for a pastoral or prophetic mission to family life by the Church. If such an understanding of human origin is to be shared by others outside the Christian family (or even within it), remaining at that level is insufficient. The Christ-Child bears testimony to a supernatural destiny for every child, and some sense of that can be accessed outside of explicit religious belief. It is such a sense that can enable society to experience the child as a gift rather than a commodity to be chosen.
So John has recapitulated the deepest meaning of the genealogies [of the Synoptic Gospels], and moreover he has taught us to understand them as an interpretation of our own origin, our true "genealogy".