What to Say to a Pregnant Teenager?
I felt disturbed at how little focus there appeared to be on the issue of abortion in February when the country was reminded that it was 20 years since the Termination of Pregnancy Act came into force.
Way back in 1996, leading to the parliamentary vote in November, there was a lot of awareness and attempts to stop the bill by various organisations, as was recounted in The Southern Cross last year.
In Cape Town the Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office called the faithful to the annual Mass at the cathedral to mark the anniversary of the abortion law being implemented. Marfam posted notices, but I know of few other Catholic initiatives.
In Amoris Laetitia Pope Francis used strong words, saying that abortion is always a grave sin. In his document on the Year of Mercy, Misericordia et Misera, he referred to abortion again, and gave his permission to pastors to continue to forgive this sin. It is understood that even after many years a woman may have difficulty forgiving herself for having had an abortion.
Are we in our families and parishes dealing with pro-life issues sufficiently well — not just in terms of abortion but also in the value of life-giving and life-promoting in a much broader view?
It is an accepted view that experience has an impact, if reflected upon sufficiently. If one reflects on an experience and its related feelings, rather than suppressing them, the reality takes on a different hue.
Clearly we shouldn’t be influenced by feelings alone, but feelings highlight needs and values. The heart does have a message; as scripture says: “I will take away your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ez 36-26)
This week, around the feast of the Annunciation on March 25, I find it helpful to reflect on the incarnation in a simple, human, almost personal way.
Consider the story. Mary was an unmarried teenager, but engaged (or betrothed, as they called it). We do see her as very spiritual and coming from a religious family. A visit from an angel with that all-important message must still have been quite a shock to her, and to her family.
Think of Joseph and the stress and agony of mind he went through until an angel in a dream told him not to worry but go ahead and do all he could to support and protect his chosen bride.
Then in Luke’s account, Mary went off to visit her cousin, quite independently it seems. How many families when they discover a teenage pregnancy, in distress, send their daughter away? Or ask or consider any other questions. Then, bring God into the picture for all of those matters.
We know Mary’s answer, her “Yes”. But every child who is conceived also asks for a “Yes” from its mother, her family and the baby’s father.
The situation around an unexpected pregnancy arises only too frequently and still needs to be addressed in society and the Church in a wide variety of situations.
Not every pregnancy is greeted with great joy initially. There are any number of reasons—from carelessness, promiscuity, rape, war rape, incest. Often there’s anxiety in a family that already has a number of mouths to feed.
It is an issue that could face any family as we know of the high incidence of coerced sex in our society and young people’s own behaviour is not always premeditated.
Sexuality in general and pregnancy in particular are issues that should be part of family faith-sharing and couple-dialogue. These are issues where parents model and share their values. These are issues that the Church could address in parish homilies, adult and teenage courses on sexuality, and also in justice and peace.
It is opportune that the feast of the Annunciation falls in March, Human Rights month in South Africa. I have referred groups to the Church’s Charter of Family Rights, many of which are also enshrined in our Constitution and other international charters.
Marfam’s family theme for 2017 includes the well-known and all-encompassing quote from the prophet Micah, “Act justly, love with tenderness and mercy and walk humbly with your God.” That, as individuals and families, is what God requires of us this Lent and any time as “Families Walk the Talk.
For a range of Marfam Lenten and Easter publications see www.marfam.org.za.