Beyond Sunday Mass
When you grow up everything in life seems to be normal and in its right place. In my case, growing up in the 1970s, that meant that my parents told me about the laws of the country including the Apartheid laws. I suppose every parent in South Africa had to do that, even when the laws were against you. I also suppose that it was hard for them to tell us (children) but they had to. The feeling I had at the time was that I wanted to be born in a different country. But I received consolation from the involvement of Churches in the struggle, fighting against injustice. Even as a small child, I became a friend of the Church and that was my ultimate refuge. I remember seeing the value of being a Christian.
The second part of my life in the Church was during the student protests in 1986. Then I was at high school and faced directly the issues of Apartheid. I and many others learnt a lot through the Church; the Church became our safe haven. It was not a good time in the country; our education had come to a stand- still. But at church we received informal lessons: how to look forward to the future; the need not for division but for unity; the hope of reconciliation. The Church became a place where I was able to see life as a whole.
Now I feel I am in a third phase of my life in the Church. In the past we Lay people used to attend Sunday Mass and then go back home. We watched as the Priests and Religious Sisters went visiting the sick. But today the picture has changed. First of all many of the sick are now young people. And the Church duty of visiting them, as with so many other Church duties, is shared by us all. Life in the Church has shaped itself differently. The Church has had to devise means to encourage and train Lay people to share its work. This has been a great move for the Church. The sad part was, and still is, that there are those who do not want to open the way for Lay people, especially for Lay women.
We all have our own image of God, of the Church and of ourselves. Each day we are hearing more and more about Pope Francis’ images. In Holy Week, we saw him washing the feet of prisoners (some of them men but also some women; most of them Christian but also a Muslim). Later he told a secular Italian newspaper that atheists who follow their consciences will not be damned. Earlier this month he accepted a car donated to him by a country priest. But it was not a bullet-proof Mercedes; it was a 1984 Renault 4. Were you taken aback like me? And then this week he gave an interview for Jesuit magazines. He described himself as a sinner. And he described the Church as a Field Hospital which needs to treat the wounded – and my heart went back to my experience of the Church in the 1980s.