Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Catholic Genealogy

In Chapter 12 of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Harry stands before the Mirror of Erised and sees his family for the first time. He sees a woman with bright green eyes, just like his, and a man with glasses and untidy black hair, just like his. “Mom?” he whispers as he leans toward the mirror. “Dad?” Behind his parents, Harry notices other people. Some of them have bright green eyes. Others have noses like his. One man even seems to have Harry's “knobbly knees.” Harry stares “hungrily” at his family, and he experiences “a powerful kind of ache inside him, half joy, half terrible sadness.”

As a genealogist, I understand how Harry feels when he meets his family. Every time I discover another ancestor, I feel like I'm “seeing” that person for the first time. I “look” very closely at him or her and try to learn as much of his or her story as possible. I notice characteristics we share and experiences we have in common. I study my ancestor's environment and read documents that explain what life was like during his or her time. I “get to know” my ancestor as much as possible.

As a Catholic, I know that my relationship with my ancestors is very real, for we are all part of the Communion of Saints. The Catechism explains that the Communion of Saints refers to 1. the Church, whose members share in the “holy things” and in an intimate unity that makes them “one body in Christ,” and 2. the communion of “holy persons” who are in Christ (#961-962). These “holy persons” are the faithful Christian believers, both living and the dead. Pope Paul VI says, “We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church; and we believe that in this communion the merciful love of God and his saints is always [attentive] to our prayer” (as quoted in the Catechism #963). Members of the Communion of Saints share a deep, intimate, loving relationship, pray for each other, and join together in worshiping God.

In other words, my ancestors and I share a bond that extends far beyond this life on earth. I pray for each of my ancestors, and I ask him or her to pray for me. We worship the same God. We share the same love. We will, I pray and hope, one day be together in Heaven forever.

For a Catholic, genealogy is more than just discovering names and dates. It's about finding companions for the journey. It's about prayer and love and faith and hope. It's about “seeing” my family for the first time.

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