Meditation reflections on the spirit of Ubuntu and Fraternity by Toni Rowland. MARFAM   2024.

Introduction. The late Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu put it in a nutshell.  “Ubuntu speaks of the very essence of being human. We say, ‘Hey, so-and-so has ubuntu.’ Then you are generous, hospitable, friendly, caring and compassionate. You share what you have. It is to say, ‘My humanity is inextricably bound up, in yours.’ We belong in a bundle of life. We say, ‘A person is a person through other persons.’  From No Future without Forgiveness.  Ubuntu is African fraternity and synodality. Africans feel it in their bones, others have learned to understand it is akin to true discipleship, Jesus’ way. 

In the more than 10 years of his papacy Pope Francis on numerous occasions called for peace in the world, prayed for peace, visited countries at war and met with leaders of Christian, Jewish, Muslim and other religions searching for a way of peace. In 2019, at a meeting he and the Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb in Abu Dhabi, together formulated a declaration: Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together.  Its various statements all begin: “In the name of…..  and invite all people of good will:  

  • In the name of God who has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity and who has called them to live together as brothers and sisters, to fill the earth make known the values of goodness, love and peace. 
  • In the name of innocent human life, …..the poor,….. the destitute,…. orphans and widows,…. victims of war and many other aspects of human fraternity that embraces all human beings, unites them and renders them equal;    

we declare the adoption of a culture of dialogue, mutual cooperation and reciprocal understanding. From Fratelli Tutti 285.

The spirit of synodality, our new way of thinking, features in this declaration which is not only a call to follow a leader but to become active sharers on the common journey.   (The Synod on Synodality explores the way 2021-2024.)

Although we believe Jesus spent most of his life in fairly remote small towns the country of Israel at that time was in a state of political turmoil much as it is today.   Are Jewish people still expecting a saviour who will be a liberator, or have they taken the matter into their own hands?

Imagine if Jesus lived in today’s world would he be living in Soweto, Khayelitsha, a village in Limpopo, one of our  big inner cities or in a country such as Nigeria or Nicaragua, Iraq or Ireland or Mexico or Makwhakhwa?  There are many “prophets” and powerful preachers today of all kinds of denominations and thousands of people flock to hear them.  Are they promoting Jesus’ way, the way of mercy and love?  Which nation today would recognise him, accept him, honour him as a leader for justice, or imprison and kill him as a revolutionary?   As a leader would he welcome migrants and refugees or bar them from their midst?  What is the impact of the prevailing culture of the power-hungry and of violence on all of creation and human interpersonal relationships? The reflections for Holy Week and Easter try to picture Jesus in a modern context. Quotations from the Songs of the Servant in Chapters 42, 49, 50 and 53 of  Isaiah are used and it is valuable to read the Songs in full and reflect on their applicability then and now.   Quotations from Pope Francis Laudato Si, Amoris Laetitia + Fratelli Tutti are used and these documents merit deeper reflection too. TR

March 24. PALM SUNDAY meditation, “Jesus today?”  A strange thing happened.  The Imbavati region had been in turmoil for months, faction fighting was the norm, every man carried his weapons with him and even women were armed against the risk of being attacked. Leaders had come and gone, some with their own private army seeking control and power. Other leaders had come from one faction or another but had not been able to bring the people together. Towns and villages lay devastated with fields untended as people fled in mistrust of one another.   But quietly in a faraway corner of the land a group had been galvanised by a young preacher. He did not preach of wealth nor of revolution but of concern for others, universal peace not war, respect for life and property and acknowledgement that some greater being, whom he called Father, held their ultimate destiny in his hand as one people. Battle-weary and longing to live his way, a fraternal way of social friendship, somehow ready to share, people listened. More and more listened and as they lived their daily family lives in harmony their numbers grew.  One day they gathered for a mass rally. Would they elect him as their leader? Would he take the throne? Would the whole nation be willing to be converted and follow him or were they too stuck in their traditional and ritualistic churchy ways?

Read, reflect, share and pray. The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught that I may know how to sustain with a word him that is weary.  Is 50:4  the 3rd Song of the Servant of the Lord.   Pope Francis: We lack leadership capable of striking out on new paths. LS 53. Choose appropriate action.

March 25. Monday of Holy Week.  Do our lawyers, our politicians, our law-enforcement officers and the army of security guards stand for true justice?  Who among them has an ethical approach to life and lives by personal moral standards or are they open to corruption or convenient solutions?  Are they purely administrators or interpreters of the law?  Are they captured by visions of wealth and power or true justice?  These were questions young would-be lawyers were asked to debate.  Not easy questions with no easy answers.  Did Judas, who followed Jesus with the others and learned his way and finally betrayed his Master, not, or never believe in justice?   

Read, reflect, share and pray. Why was this ointment not sold and the money given to the poor? This he said not because he cared for the poor but because he was a thief. John 12:1-11. Behold my servant whom I uphold, my chosen in whom my soul delights I have put my Spirit upon him he will bring forth justice to the nations. Is 42:1 1st Song of the Servant. Pope Francis:  The establishment of a legal framework which can set clear boundaries and ensure the protection of ecosystems has become indispensable.  LS 53 Choose appropriate action..

March 26. Tuesday of Holy Week.  “I will love you and honour you all the days of my life.”  These words of faithfulness and commitment are expressed at every wedding and expected to be lived out every future day. As all couples examine their conscience they can ask, “Was I faithful in word and in deed?  Was my mouth like the sharp sword of Isaiah’s Servant of God or were my words idle words, spoken with blunted feelings and a closed mind?“  Our religion can too easily become a series of rituals not embedded into daily lives.

Read, reflect, share and pray. He made my mouth like a sharp sword.  And he said, “you are my servant Israel in whom I will be glorified. But I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity. Yet surely my right is with the Lord.   Is 49: 1-6 the 2nd Song of the Servant.  Peter said, “I will lay down my life for you. Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? I say to you the cock will not crow till you have denied me 3 times. John 13:38. Pope Francis: After the love that unites us to God, marital love is the greatest form of friendship. AL 123. Choose appropriate action.

March 27. Wednesday of Holy Week.   While much of the worldwide turmoil of today is about power and greed much is also ideological. Different and conflicting perspectives determine how we act, often in the name of religion, claiming that God is on my side, even a Christian, Jewish or Muslim God.  Opposing sides inflict horrific injuries and are prepared to sacrifice even their own lives for a cause, or as suicide bombers. Is this truly God-centred, fraternal, ubuntu, true religion?

We are conscious too of the constant message of Pope Francis, of mercy and justice for the poor and disadvantaged. He preaches tolerance of differences but peaceful resolutions to conflict as the only answer in our time. On the domestic front, at this time of campaigning for a political party in the runup to the election, a culture of violence cannot be God’s will.  Are we striving for peace, justice and greater tolerance?   

Read, reflect, share and pray. Morning by morning he wakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear and I was not rebellious. I turned not backward. I gave my back to those who struck me and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard. I hid not my face from shame and spitting. For the Lord God helps me.   From Isaiah 50:4-9 the 3rd Song of the Servant. Pope Francis: The effort to seek God with a sincere heart, provided it is never sullied by ideological or self-serving aims, helps us to recognize one another as travelling companions. FT 274 Choose appropriate action..    

March 28. Holy Thursday.  Are the days of offering sacrifice according to tradition past?  Is there a new way of self-giving to come?  They had wanted to make him their leader and king but he had refused. “I am no leader of a rebel army,” he told them.   “My way is different and for this I will be made to suffer.  These words are my message to you.  ‘Greater love has no one than to lay down his life for his friends. Be one as the Father and I are one.  Love one another as I have  loved you.  Know that I will be with you. Call it a people’s way, a fraternal, synodal way.”  They knew his life was at risk and he would not be with them much longer.  He could be arrested, tortured, killed when the agents of the power-hungry found him.  Those men saw him as a trouble-maker, who was taking up the cause of the poor and dispossessed against abuse by the wealthy.  striving for the value, dignity and rights of each human person. His way was against control of the strong over the weak. He pleaded for the concern of the rich and strong for the poor, marginalised and hurting ones, for families old and young.  

He had given them his vision, given them himself, this motley bunch from all sectors of society, young families, middle-aged and old men and women, sick and healthy, rich and poor.  “Blessed are the pure in heart, the merciful, those who hunger and thirst for justice, the poor in spirit. Blessed are you when from the love you experience you can reach out and share my love with others.”  They knew they were still at the beginning of a journey for life, but they were ready to live out his manifesto, his beatitudes.

Read, reflect, share and pray. Where true love is dwelling God is present there. So when we are gathered together let us strive to keep our minds free of division. May there be an end to malice, strife and quarrels and let Christ our God be dwelling here among us. Ubi Caritas.   Pope Francis: creation is of the order of love. God’s love is the fundamental moving force in all created things.  LS 77. Choose appropriate action.

March 29. Good  Friday.  But why did the mob want him to die?  A mob is the ugliest creature in the world, indoctrinated  but mindless, having lost its inhibitions and even its sense of justice other than mob justice.  Do we not see that repeated time after time today in protests for causes that may even be just or unjust? Chosen leaders are vulnerable too as their cause is overtaken by another power group. 

What would Jesus do today? What would he do in all those violence-ridden protests for rights wrongfully denied or selfishly demanded, at times overriding equal rights of others?   Would he bring an army no matter what their weapons? Would he argue his case through the best lawyers in town?  Would he stand before a judge unjustly condemned? Would he be deserted by those who believed in him, losing face and faith in the desolation of his lonely conviction of truth above all else?  Would he be another martyr in the cause of justice, emptying himself even of his divinity? Would his final message be, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do?” His last pathetic cry, “Father into your hands.” And yet, “having received the vinegar,” with his last breath: “It is complete.”  

The future of the world hangs in the balance more urgently than ever. What are we, his followers, to do?  

Read, reflect, share and pray. He was wounded for our transgression, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray we have turned every one to his own way and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  Isa 53:5-6    from the 4th Song of the Servant. Pope Francis:  by enduring the toil of work in union with Christ crucified for us, man in a way collaborates with the Son of God for the redemption of humanity. LS 98.       Choose appropriate action.

March 30. Easter vigil.  A vigil of hope is an enigma, a strange phenomenon to preserve one’s sanity in the midst of loss and desolation, but hardly practised enough in life today where times of trauma and grief are too often times of bitterness and anger.  A vigil can be a time apart, a time away as some will know who have experienced their personal trauma of loss that marks so many lives. Anger yes, with denial, guilt, remorse and acceptance are human emotions, needing to be expressed as they are in themselves gifts from God.  Hope for the future is God’s special gift that may lead one to quiet acceptance or spur one to action. Is it possible to be grateful for these gifts of life in the midst of death, any death?  The Easter vigil differs as it precedes the Resurrection, but did his followers or yesterday and those of today remember that? 

Read, reflect, share and pray. “On this sacred night in which Our Lord Jesus Christ passed over from death to life the Church calls her sons and daughter scattered throughout the world to come together to watch and pray.  Then we shall have the sure hope of sharing his triumph over death and living with him in God.”   From the Opening of the Easter Vigil rite. Pope Francis:   Hope in a letter to Jews. We must never lose hope for a possible peace and we must do everything possible to promote it, rejecting every form of defeatism and mistrust. We must look to God, the only source of certain hope. Choose appropriate action.

March 31. EASTER – RESURRECTION. There are many religions and belief systems among the people of this world. Less than one third are professed Christians.  Christianity is unique in its belief in a personal God who created out of love, for love.   This God was denied and rejected many times, but in time he himself became human to show once more the way to love. In love God’s Son lived and died, atoning for our human lack of love.  Love remains our byword, a watchword, a password, fraternity, ubuntu. Family life and love designed by God, the creator, is a unique expression and way to spread his love with joy. As Jesus was raised from death to life his followers experienced the unbounded joy of love and friendship, giving and sharing life.  May every believer and family following Christ shout with joy. “THE LORD IS RISEN,  ALLELUIA!” 

Read, reflect, share and pray. They departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy and ran to tell his disciples. And behold Jesus met them and said “Hail!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshipped him. Mat 28:8-9. Pope Francis:  The New Testament shows us Jesus risen and glorious, present throughout creation by his universal Lordship. In him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. Col 1:19-20.  LS 99. Choose appropriate action.

CLOSING REFLECTION PRAYER O God of love, grant that we, Christians, may live the Gospel discovering Christ in each human being, recognizing him crucified in the sufferings of the abandoned and forgotten, and risen in each brother or sister who makes a new start.  Come Holy Spirit show us your beauty reflected in all the creatures of this earth created by God out of love, for love.  Amen.             Adapted from FRATELLI TUTTI.