In south Africa, being a southern hemisphere country with our summer holiday time from December to January and so encompassing the whole Christmas season, there is lots of potential family time and potential God time. It is also the year end and time for rest, but followed very quickly, it seems, by time for a new beginning, hopefully a good beginning, a recharging of our batteries, Need I say, “as electricity in its usual form has become ever more scarce.”
Most of us would agree that many things conspire to make life more difficult for families, materially, relationally and spiritually. I’m reminded of some quotes from the late Pope Benedict who died recently. “We need the greater and lesser hopes that keep us going day by day. But these lesser hopes are not enough without the great hope, which must surpass everything else. This great hope can only be God, who encompasses the whole of reality and who can bestow upon us what we, by ourselves, cannot attain.” Spe Salvi, Nov. 30, 2007. Our January family theme is “Family Beginnings” and so in his view then the daily lesser hopes would be, putting bread on the table, getting the kids off to school or our youth to find a job or ongoing education and skills. These might be lesser hopes but do play an enormous role in our lives. The greater hope of God who sustains us in both the small and larger aspects of life, does what we ourselves cannot do.
What is a family and when does it begin? A helpful definition from Pope John Paul II is, “an intimate community of life and love bonded together for life by blood, marriage or adoption.” So while the ideal would still be seen as beginning with marriage, even the reality of a blood relationship of mother and child or other forms should be recognized as a family. In fact this mother-child family is certainly the reality in our country and is the most common form of family. But what about a “good beginning?” Is a haphazard, unconsidered coming together, to “vat en sit” the best we can do for ourselves, our children, for God, our Church and society?
When does a family begin? At marriage yes. Marriage matters; it is a potential best practice way for a couple and their offspring. Good marriage preparation as a beginning is available through a variety of programmes and should be well used. A family begins too at the conception of a child months before the birth. Is that taken into consideration in sexuality education? Do we tell our young girls and boys that? Is good parenting preparation offered and responsible parenthood promoted? Hardly I would say, in spite of lots of resources in the media.
Nowadays when we are inclined to think about the future in terms of the environment we say, “what kind of world are we leaving for our children?” but do we ask, “What kind of family are we creating that will build that world of the future.” Ecology and family cannot be separated. Most decisions about ecological matters are rooted in families. A good beginning includes moral decision-making i.e. life-giving decision-making about all these important aspects of life.
Hope is a powerful virtue. With faith and love it is one of the three theological virtues. A good beginning is very important, ongoing support is important too. Even a poor beginning can be remedied with effective support.
All in all family life is extremely complex, it is all encompassing and as Pope Benedict stated, God is the greater hope and can encompass the whole of reality and do for and with us what we alone cannot do. So for a good beginning to our year, let us pray, and teach our children to pray, for the two hopes, the lesser and the greater. There is certainly a need for both. TR FAMILY WEEKLY 18 JANUARY 2023