Start your meeting with the Sign of the Cross and prayer.
Someone read: A reading from 1 Peter 4:7b -11
Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
The Joy of Love (Amoris Laetitia)
Last Year the Pope completed a reflection from the Synod of Bishops titled "the Joy of Love" or Amoris Laetitia. I am going to put the references I use from this reflection on a separate sheet in case anyone wants to look them up, but it stops the talk being messed up with them.
There are some great tips and reflections from Chapter five of the document "On Family and Love."
No 1: He says "Children are never a Mistake. There are those who dare to say as if to justify themselves that it was a mistake to bring these children into the world. This is shameful." He asks that children always be recognised as "a gift of God" even when they are not within the couple's original plans.
No 2: He goes on to say that "no sacrifice is too large when made for your child". Having a child and living with them, raising them to all the things that are important, especially if they have special needs, it involves huge sacrifice.
No 3: Pope Francis cites Pope John Paull II and refers to pregnancy as "participating in the mystery of creation which is renewed with each birth. These nine months" he says, "are full of hopes and dreams as the mother wonders what her baby's life will be like." We can think of Mary, a young mother discovering that she is pregnant, not understanding exactly how perhaps, being filled with both joy but also perhaps, with all sorts of confusions, fears and even terror if it was found that she had no husband.
Pope Francis encourages expectant mothers, "Keep happy, let nothing rob you of the interior joy of motherhood, your child deserves your happiness. Don't let fears, worries, other people's comments or problems, lessen your joy at being God's means of bringing new life to the world. Prepare yourself for the birth of your child" he says, "but without obsessing and as much as you can, join in Mary's song of joy. 'My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit exults in God my Saviour...' He says, "Try to experience this serene excitement amid all your many concerns and ask the Lord to preserve your joy so you can pass it on to your child." We know that things do get passed on from the womb so staying in that place of peace with God as you go through your pregnancy and trying to help someone else do that; these are crucial gifts that we bring to our communities and also to our families.
No 4: "Children are not the result of personal goals or expectations. He or she is not an accessory or a solution to some personal need. He or she is a human being. "A child is a human being" Pope Francis says, "of immense worth and may never be used for one's own benefit, so it matters little whether this new life is convenient for you, whether it has features that please you, or whether it fits into your plans and aspirations." The Pope adds, "we love our children because they are children not because they are beautiful, or look or think as we do, or because they embody our dreams. We love them because they are children. A child is a child." The Pope invites parents to await the birth of their children with tenderness, to accept them unconditionally and to welcome them without expecting something in return. For myself, having raised a daughter with ADHD and a range of health issues and now raising my grandson who is on the Autism spectrum also, it can be really difficult to put aside our own personal dreams and expectations for that child. It involves grief and letting go and I don't think it can be done without a loving community around us, because it is so hard to raise a child on your own. We need to be able to share the difficulties, the joys, the sorrows, the heartaches, the highs and the lows of being a parent with a community that loves and supports us unconditionally.
No 5: Children need the love of their mother and father, who help to nurture and mature them harmoniously. They also need the love that parents have for each other. He says, "The love of parents is the means by which God our father shows his own love." The Pope says, "Husband and wife, father and mother both cooperate with the love of God the creator and are in a certain sense his interpreters. They show their children the maternal and paternal face of the Lord. Together they teach the value of reciprocity, of respect for differences and of being able to give and take."
I think the key thing is to make sure that there are good role models, good witnesses of parenting, mothers and fathers, men and women, who can input grace, unconditional love and what it is to be a man, and what it is to be woman, what it is to be loved unconditionally and to pour these into your children, regardless of the complicated lives parents have around them.
No 6: Pope Francis recommends wisely integrating the demands of a job with the responsibilities of motherhood, especially noting the importance of accompanying children in a special way during their early years. He says, "An absence of the maternal presence with its feminine qualities poses a grave risk to our world."
Those teen years are so critical. I certainly went home to an empty house every night from the time I was about twelve and it was a big ache and emptiness in my life that I wouldn't choose to hand on to a child. So it's an issue, 'being present' not just having 'quality time' but a ministry of presence for our children.
No 7: He reminds women of the need to use their "feminine genius', (Isn't that a beautiful turn of phrase), their tenderness and compassion and their capacity to welcome. He quotes "Their specifically feminine abilities, motherhood in particular, also grant duties because womanhood also entails a specific mission in this world, a mission that society needs to protect and preserve for the good of all."
The Pope thanks mothers saying, "You are the strongest antidote to the spread of self-centered individualism. It is you who testify to the beauty of life. Certainly a society without mothers would be dehumanized for mothers are always, even in the worst of times, witnesses to tenderness, dedication and moral strength. Dear mothers," he says, "Thank you. Thank you for what you are in the family and for what you give to the church and the world."
I would also say thank you to spiritual mothers. I have been spiritually mothered over my adult life and it has healed many of the wounds that I carried from some of the issues in my childhood and I am very grateful. For those of you who don't have children of your own like I don't, Motherhood is something women are made for. It involves welcoming, it involves unconditional love, it involves tenderness and compassion so whether you are single, whether you are married without children, whether you are in consecrated life, the role of motherhood is part of the mission of what it is to be a woman and there are many ways to express it and live it. So dear mothers, Thank you. We thank our own mothers, we thank our spiritual mothers and we thank one another for being witnesses in the world.
Read the Script
And simply use these questions as a starter to guide your sharing.
We are called to serve 'with the strength God provides'. What happens when I take on too much?
In what way does your experience confirm or challenge what the Pope says about family, pregnancy and love?
How do you feel when the Pope thanks women and mothers and says you have 'feminine genius"? What do you understand by that?
How do you manage (or plan to manage) integrating family with your personal needs and work life?
How can women be the antidote to self-centered individualism? What support do women need?
No. 3 From our Charter
For your reflection this month
At baptism, through the power of the Holy Spirit, a child becomes a member of the church family, a child of God and heir to God's kingdom. Parents, together with god-parents and the church community, are given the grace and responsibility for nurturing this new life in God.
"We were baptized in Christ Jesus … (so that) we too might live a new life." Romans 6:3-4
Concluding Prayer Time:
for your own intentions and other needs.
Home is where the heart is,
We've often heard recited
So we pray you help our family
To keep our hearts united.
With thanks we come to worship,
We offer up our praise
We marvel at Your goodness
As mercy renews our days.
We cast our cares upon You,
We bid You, take the lead
As You fill us with Your presence
To more than meet our needs.
Now, may we serve each other,
with the strength that you provide,
Help us grow in wisdom
Lord always be our guide.
Lord, You are where our heart is,
Our treasure beyond compare
Holding this family together
And answering our deepest prayer.