Pope Francis’s Prayer Intention for July: Our Families – We pray that today’s families may be accompanied with love, respect and guidance.
This year, many families are doing it hard. Refugee families struggle to live day by day. Others are continually anxious about a roof over their head and where the next meal will come from. Others worry about how to pay mortgages, school fees and other expenses. And the many pressures under which families live will surely affect their relationships with one another.
Pope Francis’ prayer intention for the month is well timed. It is significant that he does not pray directly for families, but prays that they may be accompanied. This suggests that families cannot do it alone, but need support in their living. They do not want people to tell them how they should live, nor people to criticise them for their failures, nor people to fuss over them. He prays they will find companions: people who will share a cuppa with them, listen, muck in when they want to do something together, share their happiness, their grief, and the mess of their lives without judgment. Pope Francis surely includes priests and religious among these potential companions, but whatever their status, companions are to be people who walk with them and eat with them.
He spells out further what families might hope for from their companions. Companions are led by love. Love has hopes but not expectations, can withdraw but will not depart, and prefers to smile rather than frown, to eat in the kitchen rather than in the dining room, to dress casually rather than formally. To accompany is to be a friend.
Families might also hope for respect. Love, of course, naturally shows respect. But the respect that we show to people we accompany has a special flavour. Frustration and anxiety can often lead people who are frustrated and anxious to speak and act disrespectfully to one another. Words are said and actions taken that leave wounds and feed further disrespect. To be able to rely on someone who is always respectful to each person in the family, can listen without taking sides, and makes peace not war, is very precious. Such a companion can soothe tensions and model a good way of living.
Finally, companions can offer guidance that has a chance of being accepted, because it comes from a friend. Guidance shows a way forward, sometimes by talking about it but more often indirectly through casual conversation and by a way of being present. It is about showing and not telling.
Accompaniment expresses well the relationship between Jesuit Social Services and the people for whom it works. Its programs focus on building sustained relationships with vulnerable people that in turn help them negotiate the relationships in their own lives.
It is a privilege to have a companion in hard times. That is why Pope Francis prays that families will find one. It is also a privilege to be a companion. At the end of Pope Francis, intention, one question is left hanging. Who will be a companion if I won’t?
Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ writes for Jesuit Communications and Jesuit Social Services.