Finding the joy and peace of Christmas in our families and community.
With the children on school holidays, Advent and Christmas are ideal times to bring the family together, to include one another in the day’s activities, and to invest time in relationships. However, Christmas can sometimes feel stressful, as expectations about what things should be like or memories of what has happened in the past can be foremost in our minds. Carols like ‘Silent Night, Holy Night’ sing of the peace that only Christ can give. Christmas is the time to find that peace in our lives and, as Catholics, to radiate that peace to the world. The family has a key role to play here. As Pope Francis observes, in his Message for the World Day of Peace 2017: “The family is the indispensable crucible in which spouses, parents and children, brothers and sisters, learn to communicate and to show generous concern for one another, and in which frictions and even conflicts have to be resolved not by force but by dialogue, respect, concern for the good of the other, mercy and forgiveness. From within families, the joy of love spills out into the world and radiates to the whole of society. An ethics of fraternity and peaceful coexistence between individuals and among peoples cannot be based on the logic of fear, violence and closed-mindedness, but on responsibility, respect and sincere dialogue.”
While everyone is important in a family, older people, especially, can be instrumental in helping the family and community to see beyond the trivial things. Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia states: “Their words, their affection or simply their presence help children to realize that history did not begin with them, that they are now part of an age-old pilgrimage and that they need to respect all that came before them. Those who would break all ties with the past will surely find it difficult to build stable relationships and to realize that reality is bigger than they are. “Attention to the elderly makes the difference in a society. Does a society show concern for the elderly? Does it make room for the elderly? Such a society will move forward if it respects the wisdom of the elderly”.
In another way, Pope Francis has recently asked young people to share the joy arising from the discovery of God’s love with their grandparents: ‘Think well about this: this joy is shared with all, but in a special way with grandparents. Speak often with your grandparents; they also have this contagious joy. Ask them so many things, listen to them, they have the memory of history, the experience of life, and this will be a great gift for you which will help you on your journey. They also need to listen to you, grandparents also need you; they need to listen to you, to understand your aspirations, your hopes.’
Older people have so much to offer our community. According to the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Social Justice Statement, ‘A Place at the Table’: “Ageing brings gifts: a centeredness that allows one to rise above the frenetic pace of modern life; a sense of history that reaches far beyond the transience of popular culture or the media’s news cycle; the wisdom gained from past mistakes or failures; and a sense of community, which a culture of individualism cannot provide… The wisdom of age brings with it the ability to be a prophetic witness in society and a force for positive change… The way we shape our community will set an example and the standard for future generations.”
As communities, we can come together to embrace those who may have been on the periphery of our thoughts during the year. It is the ideal time to overcome indifference and to recognise the innate dignity of each and every individual. In particular, consider visiting your local Aged Care Home. Take inspiration from the Bishops Conference Social Justice Statement: “Pope Francis challenges us all to change the way we view aged care facilities. Rather than being places where people are hidden away, he says, they should be regarded as the ‘lungs of humanity’ in our neighbourhoods and parishes.” The holiday season is a great time to follow-up the suggestions from the ACSJC arising from the latest Social Justice Statement, particularly steps 4 – 7:
- “Visit elderly people in aged care facilities, or at home.
… Families, parishes, schools and individuals can visit the elderly, especially in aged care facilities where they may feel isolated or lonely. A visit may be simply talking together, sharing some events in your life, sharing the excitement of children’s exploits, a walk in the garden or a drive to a favourite place.
- Assist with activities in retirement facilities or in the community.
There are many programs designed to reduce isolation among older people. There are home visits and pastoral care in the hospital and residential care settings, and transport and social activities aimed at developing community networks and peer support. All of these are vital to maintaining a healthy life and good social connections. Other interventions like support groups, skills development, bereavement support and counselling also help to manage the transitions of later life. (Social Justice Statement 2016–17)
Most retirement and aged care facilities already have activities programmes. Offer to help with these or volunteer your skills in some different activities such as crafts, music or dancing.
Offer to help with special events such as celebratory dinners or Christmas lunches. You could also assist with Meals on Wheels or similar services in the community or help on a board if you have experience in governance.
- Older people, volunteer your time and talent
Old age is a vocation. It is not yet time to ‘pull in the oars’. This period of life is different from those before, there is no doubt; we even have to somewhat ‘invent it ourselves’, because our societies are not ready, spiritually and morally, to appreciate the true value of this stage of life. Indeed, it was once not so normal to have time available; it is much more so today. (Pope Francis)
Many older or retired people already volunteer their time and gifts in many ways, in their families and communities. Check the local papers or inquire in your parish and at community centres for ways you can contribute your time and talent.
- Listen to the stories and life experience of older people
The memories these men and women possess are your heritage. The story-telling shows you who you are rather than what you do or how much you possess. You may come to better understand your own place in the narrative – the ‘living history’ of your family, your neighbourhood and your country.
(Social Justice Statement 2016–17)
There are many possibilities for hearing the stories of older people:
- Sit with older relatives and neighbours and ask them to share past experiences.
- Invite guest speakers to schools to speak about their experiences – past and present!
- Arrange a project to collect stories from older people around their memories of special events, either local or important world events (for example, the first moon landing).
- Make a video or a sound archive of these stories.”
Domestic violence can be an alarming reality during the holiday season. Listen to the recent interview of Annette Gillespie, CEO of Safe Steps, which provides a 24/7 Family Violence Response Line: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/breakfast/domestic-violence-demand-increasing-over-christmas/8144066
Links that may of assistance in relation to this issue include:
- Safe Steps 24/7 Family Violence Response http://www.safesteps.org.au/
- 1800 RESPECT National Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service, a national counselling helpline providing information and support 24/7.
- Domestic and Family Violence Issues, St Vincent de Paul Society https://www.vinnies.org.au/findhelp/view/158
- Rewrite the Story. Let’s end domestic and family violence, Archdiocese of Brisbane http://rewritethestory.org.au/
- ‘Domestic Violence, Separation and Church Teaching’ , Mark Bowling, 20/5/16, the Catholic Leader http://catholicleader.com.au/analysis/hot-topics/domestic-violence-separation-and-church-teaching
- Relationship Counselling, CatholicCare Sydney https://www.catholiccare.org/families/relationships/counselling/relationship-counselling
- Choosing Change, a 15-week group program for men who have been abusive or violent in an intimate relationship and choose to change. https://www.catholiccare.org/families/relationships/men-and-family-relationships/choosing-change