Are We Really Family-Friendly?
It’s amazing! What jumped out at me immediately on reading Pope Francis’ message for the World Day of Prayer for Care of Creation was this: “We exist only in relationships.”
Quoting from his encyclical Laudato Si’, the pope said: “Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth.”
In a way, I hardly need to say anything more, as this is what my column “Family Friendly” has been all about for the many years it has been published. How many I can’t remember, but certainly more than 15. And my involvement with The Southern Cross goes back further, as one of the most significant events in my life, the death of my husband Chris, is still remembered by some who have faithfully followed this column.
The pope’s message makes reference to the theme of jubilee, chosen for the 2020 ecumenical Season of Creation that began on September 1 and continues until October 4, the feast of St Francis.
This year is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, hence the jubilee theme. The pope explains that scripturally, jubilee was a time to remember, restore, rest and rejoice. Is this appropriate for me and for MARFAM, the marriage and family ministry that has recently celebrated 25 years?
As this is my last “Family Friendly” column, I believe it certainly is appropriate to remember how long and hard I laboured to promote the concept of a family focus—“We exist only in relationships.”
The primary and essential relationship in creation is family, as a source of life, reproducing new life, journeying together through life, and acquiring lifeskills. “Parents are co-creators with God,” has been a refrain of mine.
And certainly restoring what family should be has been a constant message, too. In our early days of ministry we began with the beauty of marriage, marriage enrichment, which led to marriage preparation, and wider family enrichment. Along the way it included restoration of hurting marriages and the need to collaborate with other organisations to strengthen the relationships that exist.
But the most recent focus that I have adopted—courtesy of Pope Francis, no doubt—on my journey, while studying the signs of the times, is MARFAM’s current theme: “Our World—A Family of Families”.
St Francis of Assisi has been hovering on the sidelines for many years. Adopting and understanding the vision of animal, plant and human creatures living and growing in family relationships with the specific qualities of love, care, intimacy and commitment speaks of the essence of family. The belonging in families should be a source of rejoicing.
A ‘lone crusader’
However, this pilgrim journey of mine has been a lonely one, too. I’ve been labelled a lone crusader, even a mad prophet, as the particular vision has not gained general acceptance in the Church.
I have asked and reflected whether being truly family-friendly is too challenging, too threatening to an individualism that is more common in today’s society. Society and the Church do want to heal the hurts caused by religious and lay family people both, through not truly being family.
I would like to note in particular that living the ideals of the African family has been a guiding vision for me since the 1994 African Synod with its image “Church as Family of God”. In my work I have complemented it with the Vatican II image of “Family as Church”.
Now in 2020, after a time of enforced rest due to the coronavirus pandemic maybe, beginning with the Season of Creation, it is time to continue more gently on my journey. Maybe rest a little more, or maybe write of my memories, spend time with family, listen to music, play the piano and revel in some of the other wonders of creation with which God graces us.
My more than 50 year jubilee of life has been a long and growth-filled season, with good companions and encouraging supporters too among the staff and readers of The Southern Cross.
All in all, I thank you and thank God. I hope that as I have shared my journey month by month, I have contributed something meaningful to making society and the Church a little more “Family Friendly”.
After many years, this is the final column by Toni Rowland in The Southern Cross. We thank Toni for her many insights, often coming from unexpected angles, her tireless activism on behalf of the family, and her conscientious adherence to deadlines.