Family reunion

I looked up from my toys one day and asked my mother why I had only one name besides my last name. I was around five at the time. There were ten children in our family and I occupied the "lower middle," being the sixth oldest child. It had occurred to me that day that I was the only one among my siblings to have no middle name. "Well, Dan, by the time we got to you," my mother replied, "we had run out of names."

This answer perplexed me. My siblings after me had both first and middle names so how could it be that the naming well had dried up before me? Seeing what must have been a very quizzical look on my face, my mother moved from joke mode to straight answer mode. "We thought that Daniel, a name from the Bible, was strong enough to stand on its own," she explained. She told me again the story of Daniel in the lion's den and how my name means "judge." I liked this answer better and went back to playing, feeling affirmed and more secure.

In August, the descendants from my paternal great-grandparents on the Avila side held a reunion in Fort Wayne, Ind. Over two hundred relatives attended the day-long gathering, coming from all parts of the United States and from Mexico. Reading the list of participants confirmed that the naming well had turned into a fountain that continues to bubble over.

One of my sisters created with the help of her husband and children a set of white table cloths decorated with rose-shaped imprints, applied by inking a stamp and pressing it to the fabric. A name accompanied each rose. Each particular branch of the family stemming from my dad or from his siblings merited its own table cloth. It was explained that the table cloths could cover the main dining table at family gatherings and extra stamps were provided to each branch for adding new imprints when new members came into that particular offshoot of the family. Through the creative use of PVC piping, the table cloths were arrayed along the side of the hall where the reunion was held.

These creations formed the backdrop for group pictures. As branch after branch of the family assembled to have a photo taken, I was struck by the visual interplay between the table cloths and individual groupings. The cloths diagrammed in abstract form the flesh-and-blood generations unfolding in time. After the reunion, I began to reflect on this interplay, and how it captured the intertwining elements of contingency and connection that mark every family's history.

In my reflections, I recalled the many stories, several shared during the reunion, that affirm this conjunction. Let's start with the first. My paternal great-grandfather met my paternal great-grandmother when he was 20 years old. She was an infant, and when he held her in his arms, he had a shocking premonition. He told her parents that someday the two would marry. Twenty years later, the prophecy came true. My grandfather was their firstborn son.

Here's another example. My paternal grandfather, born in Mexico, met my paternal grandmother in Indiana. The meeting would not have occurred had my grandfather decided to stay in Mexico. Instead he moved to Detroit when he was a young adult, found a job in the auto industry, and would come down to the South Bend area on weekends to attend dances in the area, where my grandmother had been born and was living at the time. She thought she was dating a Canadian, as my grandfather, who spoke French as well as Spanish and English, thought he'd have more job opportunities if he was thought to be an immigrant from the north rather than from the south. My dad was their firstborn son.

Here's a final example. This small happening eventually led to the meeting between me and my wife and through our marriage brought our daughter into the great flow of Avila generations.

I had started a new job in the Indianapolis area and was staying with a friend until I found my own place. One day a little ad caught my eye. There was an apartment available in Speedway. It happened to be across the street from St. Christopher's Catholic Church, where Elaine was a parishioner. The rest, they say, is history. Often I will tell Elaine and Miriam that had I not seen that little ad, Elaine and I would not have known each other, and Miriam would not be alive.

Every family can tell its own stories of initially little but eventually momentous happenings, decisions and encounters that helped constitute that family's particular make-up of heredity and kinship. The bond of marriage strengthens the capacity of each generation to build on itself. Thus families rooted in marriage are natural resources that government needs to protect, promote and defend. Bloodlines create names and memories, and memories build bridges, and bridges extend outward, affecting the world to the degree of unexpected vibrancy and ordered progression found in each family.

Daniel Avila formerly served the Catholic Bishops in Massachusetts and now lives and works in the Washington, DC, area.

Apostolic visitor outlines plans for expansion at Medjugorje shrine

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- The Polish archbishop tasked with overseeing Bosnia-Herzegovina's Medjugorje shrine has outlined plans for expansion, including ...

Pope names administrator as Indian bishop investigated for alleged rape

MUMBAI, India (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the request of an Indian bishop accused of raping a nun to be relieved of his duties during the investigation. In ...

In letters to German cardinal, retired pope defends way he stepped down

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his displeasure with the way a German cardinal publicly criticized his stepping down as pontiff, ...

Thousands of Hispanics expected in Texas for Encuentro summit

Fort Worth, Texas, Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- As many as 3,000 Catholics of Hispanic background are expected in Texas this week for the National V Encuentro, ...

Media reporting Vatican-China agreement could be signed in late September

HONG KONG (CNS) -- The long-awaited Sino-Vatican agreement on the nomination of bishops is expected to be signed in September, reported several media ...

Church plans third-party abuse reporting system, code of conduct

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pledging to "heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us," the U.S. bishops' Administrative Committee Sept. 19 ...

Be grateful to parents, never insult them, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Honoring mothers and fathers means being grateful for the gift of life and Christians should never insult anyone's parents, Pope ...

Canadian cardinal: Women should help screen, train priest applicants

Poznan, Poland, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- Increasing the role of women in screening and training priests is among the steps that should be taken to prevent future ...

Vatican delegation will travel to China this month to finalize agreement, Chinese newspaper reports

Beijing, China, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- A newspaper tied to the Chinese Communist Party reported Tuesday that a delegation of Vatican officials will head to ...

Cardinal Marx says mistakes were made, calls for change in German church

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, head of the German bishops' conference, admitted that mistakes were made in the German church's handling of sex abuse of minors ...

Church crisis response: Healing Masses, listening sessions, fasting

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In response to the sexual abuse crisis in the church, Catholics are praying for victims, talking about their frustration and anger, ...

Pope names Minnesota priest as auxiliary bishop of Hartford

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has appointed Father Juan M. Betancourt, a priest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, as auxiliary bishop ...

Listening church: Pope gives new vision for Synod of Bishops

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Synod of Bishops increasingly should be a structure for listening to the Catholic faithful, demonstrating a local bishop's concern ...

Director of Courage releases letter on Penn. abuse report

Washington D.C., Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Courage International, an apostolate to support people with same sex-attraction in leading chaste lives, has issued ...

Richmond bishop apologizes to victims; commits to opening, reviewing files

RICHMOND, Va. (CNS) -- In celebrating the Diocese of Richmond's first Mass of Atonement for victims of abuse Sept. 14, Bishop Barry C. Knestout apologized ...

Stanford University to remove saint's name from some properties

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- California's Stanford University will strip the name of 18th-century Franciscan friar, St. Junipero Serra, from some of its properties ...

Catholic Charities distributes disaster relief to areas hit by Florence

RALEIGH, N.C. (CNS) -- The Carolinas were hard hit with record rainfall and flooding rivers from tropical storm Florence since it made landfall Sept. ...

Archbishop Lori assures diocese he's with them in journey toward healing

WHEELING, W.Va. (CNS) -- In his celebration of Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling Sept. 15, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore said ...

Bishop takes a (sky) dive to get pilgrims to Lourdes

HOVE, England (CNS) -- "The Moth has landed," tweeted the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton. The tweet Sept. 14 and a similar post on the diocesan Facebook ...

Words, promises are not enough to prevent abuse, archbishop says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Inviting presidents of the world's bishops' conference to the Vatican to discuss abuse prevention reflects an understanding that ...

Pope praises Capuchin order's charism of authenticity, simplicity

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Capuchins are called to be men of peace, reconciliation and prayer and to be close to all people, Pope Francis told members of the ...

Path to healing starts with seeking forgiveness, Cardinal Wuerl says

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A "Season of Healing" for sexual abuse survivors began in the Archdiocese of Washington with a Sept. 14 Mass at the Cathedral of St. ...

Archbishop McCarrick's unofficial role in Vatican-China relations

Vatican City, Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Following reports that the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China could be about to sign an agreement ...

Archbishop Chaput: When we forget faith, we forget our humanity

Spokane, Wash., Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- When man tries to cling to reason and separate himself from faith, he forgets who he is and loses his source of hope, ...

Pope Francis warns priests against living a double life

Palermo, Italy, Sep 15, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- During a day trip to Sicily Saturday, Pope Francis told priests and religious to fight their vices and strive ...

What is the pontifical secret?

Vatican City, Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- Following the allegations made by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò about the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, ...

Vatican publishes list of synod participants, including papal nominees

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- To the list of members of the Synod of Bishops elected by national bishops' conferences, Pope Francis added cardinals from 14 countries, ...