The bishops of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference passed the following resolution in the plenary meeting of August 2010. Resolutions, General A1.3.
“The conference resolves that a Family and Life month be celebrated in each diocese during the month of May.”
The SACBC Family Life Desk is loosely coordinating this event and is inviting diocesan structures, family movements, sodalities and the whole community to participate. Some suggestions and resource material are being provided and all organisations are asked to incorporate a family and life awareness into their own activities for the month.
DAILY PRAYER FOR FAMILIES AND LIFE (can also be prayed at Mass):
Lord God, you created humankind out of love, for love and for life. We praise and thank you for your gift of love lived most intimately in marriage and family life and yet problems and hurt are experienced most deeply in family relationships of all kinds. Through the power of you Holy Spirit helps us to overcome these difficulties. Strengthen our commitment to build strong families and to preserve and support all life from conception to natural death, in our own families and those of others. In that way the Church can truly be the Family of God in the service of the Kingdom.
Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph pray for us. Blessed Mother Teresa, comforter and bringer of love and joy to those who suffer, pray for us.
Blessed John Paul, holy father for the family, pray for us.
Prayer for a Culture of Life
O God of wisdom and love
Thank you for the gift of our human sexuality.
For the wonderful power and opportunity as men and women,
of giving life to our relationships.
Thank you for the gift of our fertility.
As sexual beings, help us to grow in maturity,
understanding and responsibility,
so that we may learn to use and not abuse the gift and power of sex.
May the least of all your brothers and sisters,
the unborn, the unwanted, the homeless and the lost
be welcomed and not turned away;
be accepted and not rejected; be valued and not discarded;
be given life and not condemned to death; be loved as you love them.
We ask this through the power of your Holy Spirit
and in the name of Jesus your Son, who experienced rejection,
homelessness and death for our salvation. Amen.
ARTICLE. For faith sharing.
BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT;
THEIR LOVE WILL EARN THEM THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.
These words struck a chord with the parish’s Evangelisation team who had been promoting faith sharing on the Sunday readings. The team which included the Parish priest, the Justice and Peace and Family representatives among others had been developing small reflection sheets for use by the various groups as well as families at home.
“The beatitudes are a good source for reflection. Everyone knows them one.” Agnes said.
“Yes but what do they mean to us, in our different groups and different types of life situations?” Tony added.
As J&P rep he was more into poverty issues than most.
“Surely it is about spiritual poverty too, not just material poverty?” The catechetics coordinator added.
“Does Jesus really want us to be poor or is it all back-to-front? Are we saying poverty is good?”
Fr Ray gathered their thoughts together. “Mother Teresa spoke of the poverty in relationships, the lack of love in homes and society. Those are certainly not good, nor are hungry people. Our parish is very mixed. We have some pretty wealthy people but mostly middle-class working people, though quite a few have lost their jobs. There are some poor, even poor migrant people, and on the fringe there is the informal settlement. I don’t see many people from there coming to church, but there might be Catholics among them that may feel embarrassed to come here. Let us use this reflection to try to bring everyone in touch with one another or at least with their own views on poverty. Hearing from others might help them grow in greater understanding of the Beatitudes as the teaching of Jesus about the Spirit of the Kingdom.”
The team set out to prepare a simple set of questions encouraging parishioners to really reflect without being too prescriptive or even too challenging. As usual there was a reminder about sharing and discussion to avoid arguments or superficial comments. Sharing requires openness in speaking and acceptance with comment. Discussion can be much more robust.
Groups did some of their own preparatory work. The J&P team had done their own reflection on poverty, using Catholic Social Teaching, stressing the Church’s “preferential option for the poor.” While there was understanding, somehow they found that it did not seem to touch people’s hearts. Were they, the not so poor, feeling too challenged and the poor resentful towards others? Thoko suggested that they enlist the family team to add their perspective.
After some discussion it was agreed to questions similar to the Ignatian Examen as a basis for reflection, sharing and prayer. In this way deeper sharing in families and randomly selected groups that ideally should contain families could be promoted.
1. What do you have to be thankful for? What brings you joy in your family? In other areas of your life?
2. How do you experience any lacks in your life? What makes you distant from God? Ask for forgiveness and healing as appropriate.
3. Think about the graces you may need for the way forward and ask God to grant you these.
Phillip facilitated a group. James began the sharing. “I am deeply grateful for my mother. As a child I was quite sickly and was often off school. I lacked friends and I longed for that kind of interaction. I guess I was emotionally impoverished. But she was there for me, guided me, supported me in my interests and so I studied psychology to be able to counsel others in their relationships. I thank God for this and pray that I can be a support to those in need.“
“You know what really makes me happy is when I think how my children and grandchildren used to come to visit on the farm. I had grown up there and my children did too. It held many memories for us. It was awfully cold in winter and we used to huddle around the big coal stove in the kitchen and tell stories and play games. We don’t do that any more. I kind of feel poorer because of that.” Jane sighed. “We had to sell the farm as we couldn’t work it any more. I need a sense of peace and acceptance.” Thabo added, “Funny you should say that. I also grew up on a farm and as children we herded the cattle, went for long walks, visited our grannies, aunties and uncles and played games by the river. I am thankful for those good days even though we were poor. ”
Stephen spoke up. “I have never shared this before but when I lost my job I also lost my confidence and felt embarrassed to go to these church things because I couldn’t afford to have people come to my house any more. I am thankful that my wife stood by me through all that. She was able to find a better job and I stayed home and did what I could for the children. Coming here is turning out to be a blessing. ”
Martha had been sitting quietly in the corner. No one knew very much about her except that she had come from Rwanda and did not speak English very well. When Phillip invited her to share she was shy at first but as her story came out the group listened with care and compassion how in 1994 she had had to leave her home and possessions, take her children and flee. One of the three children somehow got lost while the other two had clung onto her as they made their way to the refugee camp. “It is like that in so many of these places all over the world,” she said. “Apart from losing everything you own people lose husbands, wives, children and of course older family members too. You lose your roots and your identity along with your possessions. On top of that women so often get raped and may end up with an extra child, an extra mouth to feed and a little person who needs to be loved. I found myself materially destitute but I was lucky that there were people of faith along the way who supported me. I did not lose hope and am grateful that my children are now doing very well.” She laughed as she added, “I love my little granddaughter, even though she is half South African.”
“I do feel sorry for refugees, but can’t help resenting the fact that they do take our jobs.” Martin thought to himself. “I wish I could be more tolerant.”
Anne contributed “I find it difficult to deal with the fact that even within one extended family there are such differences in our financial situations. My brother has lots of money and a small family. Their children get everything they want, while we struggle financially, even to pay the school fees for all the kids. However, I am grateful that we do have our home and healthy children and there is plenty of love and laughter in our home when we all get together.”
So the sharing went around the different groups. There was sadness, disappointment and frustration at the lacks they experienced but gratitude too for what they did have. Materially there was unemployment and some complained of poor service delivery that contributes to keeping people in poverty. Many families lack cohesion and unity and poor discipline does result in poorer relationships. HIV/AIDS had led to illness, financial insecurity and death for some. Teenage pregnancy was an issue too.
“If our young girls, and boys too, really understood the wonder of our bodies and our sexuality and its place in marriage that wouldn’t be the problem it is. That is what I learned from the course on Theology of the Body. It was very enriching and I could never have anything to do with abortion now,” one young mother said.
One of the more educated members in the group complained about not meeting the MDGs. “What are those?” another asked. “Haven’t you heard of the Millennium Development Goals. Poverty is supposed to be reduced by 50% by 2015.” “Really? Is that likely to happen?” “Of course not”.
Nevertheless there was also an amazing degree of acceptance, of faith and of hope.
In his group Phillip kept leading them back to the sharing questions. “Let us keep those other points for discussion later. For now we will use another translation and ask what did Jesus mean by “happy those who are spiritually poor?” Share your own understanding of those words.”
“It is not owning anything like the priests and sisters.”
“For me, listening to some of your stories, it means that my trust and dependence on the goodness and providence of God and the love and support of those around me, makes me feel rich!”
“I wish I had your faith and your trust in God. How does one develop those qualities?”
“I suppose one can learn to be grateful for the little we do have if we look at how other people suffer. We’re always telling our children that aren’t we?
“Yes, quite, but for me the key is love. Just think about how the love in a family makes people really sacrifice for one another. What do mothers do for their kids, and fathers too, though of course not all and then there are those grandparents or young people who head families themselves? I don’t think it is really about comparing and saying we’re not as badly off as others. I do see the key to be love and love is home-grown. If I was able to love and care for others as I love and care for my own family I would be one of those who Jesus says is happy or blessed. Come to think of it I would love Jesus, and love as Jesus loves. If we had that attitude we could actually beat world poverty.”
“Isn’t that the bottom line after all? Isn’t that what these groups are meant to help us to understand and in a small way I think it is beginning to do that for me. I see the group as Good News for me and my family and that is a good start.”
On Sunday Fr Ray began his homily: “During this whole month we are considering the topic “FAMILIES AND LIFE” or “FAMILIES LOVE LIFE” if you like. “FAMILIES CONFRONTING POVERTY” is a topic for our reflection on the UN International Day for Families 2011. We, in our families, do confront poverty in different ways and should do so even more, but we also rely on outside resources which is good and necessary.
The words of Jesus, “blessed are the poor in spirit” are a challenge. Is Jesus saying poverty is good? Then why are we fighting it all the time? Is there a conflict between the idea of confronting poverty and being poor in spirit? Is it not a question of balance? Is the happiness of the spiritually poor not in having the attitude of acceptance and gratitude for what we do have, rather than constantly spending much of our time and energy wanting more?
And yet, most beautifully, I believe the fact that God has built into us this great ability to love and care for one another as families and so value life, underlies all this and can make us confront poverty as well as work for that balance in our own homes.
Will that love and our love for God and our neighbour be the energy that can drive the struggle against the abject poverty in the world? This should not be the condition of so many other families in our world. Please God, love will be that driving force, and then the kingdom of heaven will be yours.”
Using this story and the suggested questions as a basis and having read the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12 and in Luke 6:20-26, reflect and share in families or small groups on your own views about poverty. Consider possible action and end with prayer.