March 18.    Charles contributed his thoughts,  “I find it interesting but also a worry.  In March 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic was still in its early days, Pope Francis and the WHO president kept emphasizing the need for solidarity in dealing with it.  “We are all in the same boat, all in this together” they reminded us and I do believe that most people agreed and felt the same and we had a positive attitude towards the threat we were facing.  But nations and leaders and parties soon started to want to do their own thing and act out of self-interest even when it came to developing a vaccine. Even now conflict and jealousy and certainly a lack of the needed solidarity lack a search for the common good. 

Scripture: The Lord said to Moses, ”Go down for your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside and made for themselves a molten calf and worshipped it. I have seen this stiff-necked people, now let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them.”  But Moses begged the Lord and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people?”. And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do to his people.  From Ex 32:7-14.

Pope Francis: As I was writing this letter (Fratelli Tutti) the Covid-19 pandemic unexpectedly erupted, exposing our false securities.  Aside from the different ways that various countries responded to the crisis their inability to work together became quite evident. FT 7

The common vision of St Francis and St Clare. At a young age, Clare developed a deep spirituality and was drawn to the teachings and lifestyle of Francis. She met with him on a number of occasions until finally, at the age of 18 in the middle of the night after Palm Sunday, she left her parents’ home and found her way to Francis and the brothers.  There Clare made her commitment to God and to the poor and simple lifestyle that Francis preached. Even when her uncles came to try to remove her from the convent where Francis had placed her, Clare did not waver. She was happy when other women, some of nobility, including her younger sister, joined her. Like Francis, she cared for her followers, taught them by word and example, wrote for them a simple rule of life, modelled on that of Francis, except that the sisters were contemplatives and did not leave their convent. She stood up to bishops and popes for the privilege of living the life to which she felt called. Her rule for her sisters was finally approved on her deathbed in 1253 . Many lay people also wanted to join St Francis and adopt his vision of simplicity but because of their commitments of family and work were not always able to join the Friars or nuns.   They could join the Third Order for those who remained in the background, in the secular world.

Followers of Francis and Clare can be found today in every walk of life and on every continent—still joyful, still seeking a simple lifestyle, still seeking to love and follow the God who lives in their own depths and in all of creation. Theirs remains a common vision: identification with the poor, care for creation as a sacred trust, embrace of each person in relationship as sister or brother. From Franciscan Media.    Reflect, share, act, pray. Spend some time on a common project together as a family. How well can we work together?

March 20.  Damian, a political analyst was invited to address the groups about the internal conflicts, factions and injustices around the long outstanding issue of corruption.  When elections are on the agenda people have a need to understand what is going on behind the scenes in their own town, country, region and the world. 

He noted that Fratelli Tutti almost addresses the same situation as the Old Testament prophets faced and it seems that nothing has changed, we go through cycles of growth and regression, although psychologically and sociologically surely we have advanced vastly, along with technological advancements.

Pope Francis: “War, terrorist attacks, racial or religious persecution and many other affronts to human dignity are judged differently depending on how convenient it proves for certain, primarily economic interests.   What is true as long as it is convenient for someone in power stops being true once it becomes inconvenient. These situations of violence, sad to say, have become so common as to constitute a real “third world war” fought piececemeal. FT25. 

We see protests including pro-democracy protests all over the world.  Some economic rules have proved effective for growth but not for integral human development, in practice human rights are not equal for all. What does this tell us about the equality of rights grounded in innate human dignity?   (FT 21-22)   A concept of popular and national unity influenced by various ideologies is creating new forms of selfishness and a loss of the social sense under the guise of defending national interests. (FT 11). 

Damian added, still quoting from Pope Francis,  “In St Francis day it was hardly any different. ‘In the world of his day bristling with watchtowers and defensive walls, cities were a theatre of internal wars between powerful families, and classes of people, nobility, merchants while poverty was spreading through the countryside.’” FT4   Francis was inspired to risk travelling to Damietta, in Egypt, during the crusades in a peace-making mission. He told his brothers his desire was to meet the leaders of the Islamic world.  He and brother Illuminato were captured by the Muslims and brought to Sultan Malek al-Kamil who was intrigued by these two unassuming Christians who didn’t even carry a weapon.  They spent two weeks of amazing, eye-opening spiritual discussion together.

Pope Francis in 2019, himself, met in a quest for “fraternity” with the Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb in Abu Dhabi where they signed a declaration and recently, in February 2021, again they celebrated the 1st International Day of Human Fraternity which had been approved by the United Nations. Antonio Guterres received a special award    

Scripture. “I was like a lamb led to the slaughter, I did not know it was against me they devised schemes. But O Lord, who judge righteously, who test the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause. Jer 11:18-20.  St Francis expressed the essence of a fraternal openness that allows us to acknowledge, appreciate and love each person, regardless of where he or she was born or lives. FT 1.

Reflect, share, act, prayCan interreligious dialogue about common and shared values lead to a greater sense of human fraternity and acceptance? What can our particular religious family do?    

March 21. Sunday Lent 5B.  Human Rights Week, South Africa.  Fr Brian was beginning to look forward to Holy Week and all the special ceremonies, but he reminded himself that he should “keep his eye on the ball”and that the central figure had to be Jesus, his love and commitment in offering up the sacrifice of his life and his mission of building the Kingdom.  In his whats-app message to the congregation he shared the explanation from the Missal.  “The gospel today sees the death of Jesus as the manifestation of his love.  A human being fulfills his goal and grows to maturity only when he is capable of love and when he gives his life for others.  The world might see this gift of life as a defeat but we see it as a victory.”   He also quoted from the 1st reading, a favourite passage of his which could be put into the mouth of St Francis just as well as the prophet Jeremiah. 

Scripture. God says,The days are coming, says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with them. I will put my law within them and I will write it upon their hearts.   I will be their God and they shall be my people.” Jer 31:31-34

Pope Francis:  The spiritual stature of a person’s life is measured by love which remains the criterion about a human life’s worth.  Yet some believers think that it consists in the imposition of their own ideology or a violent defence of the truth.  All of us believers need to recognize that love takes first place and must never be put at risk. FT 92. 

In Laudato Si  Pope Francis focuses on all of creation in the sense of an eco-covenant and writes, The created things of this world are not free of ownership: “for they are yours, O Lord, who love the living.”   This is the basis of our conviction that as part of the universe called into being by one Father, all of us are linked by unseen bonds and together from a kind of universal family.  God has joined us so closely to the world around us that we can feel the desertification of the soil almost as a physical ailment and the extinction of a species as a painful disfigurement. LS89.  Each creature has its own purpose.  The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us.  Soil, water, mountains, everything is a caress of God. LS84 

Reflect, share, act, pray.  How aware are we of the extinction of many species around us happening constantly? 

March 22.  Human Rights Day. (This day is transferred from the Sunday)  Zanela shared, “Today we commemorate Human Rights Day in South Africa. It commemorates an ugly but a sad incident in our political history. In Sharpeville in 1960, in one of the first anti-apartheid demonstrations, police fired on a crowd killing some and wounding up to 250 people. In commemorative speeches on many such occasions it is so often said, “Never again.” And yet other incidents like this have occurred over the years and human life at times appears to be too cheap. Political and relationship conflicts deny the right to life to men and women, to strangers, foreigners and those close to us, a right which is the most basic of human rights. 

The reality of gender-based violence is as old as the hills and remains a sign of our own times and is even described as a pandemic. Women, and men too, march and demonstrate regularly as plans are proposed and interventions presented such as the recent  NATIONAL STRATEGICV PLAN ON GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE AND FEMINICE 2020-2030. I believe that it is essential to address the family as a unit, not just the victims or the perpetrator separately.  This is part of the holistic vision of our family project.

A story relevant for our time from the reading of today is the intriguing story of Susanna, an innocent wife threatened by perverted elders of the community wishing to seduce her, and when she cried out they falsely accused her. Through the intervention of the prophet Daniel her innocence was proved. 

Scripture: Susanna would go into her husband’s garden to walk.  The two elders used to see her every day, going in and walking about and they began to desire her. Daniel 13. 

Pope Francis: the word of God constantly testifies to that sombre dimension already present at the beginning, when through sin the relationship of love and purity between man and woman turns into domination. AL19   

From The Little Flowers of St Francis: In his Rule Francis forbade his brothers to visit the sisters in their convent.  However the special close friendship between Francis and Clare was treasured by them both.  “Yet again and again they restrained themselves and refrained from seeing each other although they shared inspiring occasions of deep communion.” 

Reflect, share, act, pray.  Discuss with others in the groups, how can human life and relationships be valued and treated with mutual respect?