Knights and Family Life as a nucleus of the Church and Society
Knights and Family Life as a nucleus
of the Church and Society
Most Rev. Joseph Osei-Bonsu
Bishop of Konongo-Mampong
I deem it a great honour and a privilege to be given the opportunity to deliver this address to you today at the Standing Committee Meeting being held here in Sekondi on 12 January 2018. The theme of this talk is “Knights and Family Life as a nucleus of the Church and Society”. I would like to begin by quoting Pope Francis who says: “Take care of your spiritual life, your relationship with God, because this is the backbone of everything we do and everything we are” (Pope Francis, “Top New Year’s Resolutions”). This advice from the Pope should be the guiding principle of our lives, especially in relation to our family life. This should guide us as knights in promoting a good family life. Pope Francis says again, “Take care of your family life, giving your children and loved ones not just money, but most of all your time, attention and love” (Pope Francis, “Top New Year’s Resolutions”). The family is the nucleus and basic cell of every society. It is also the nucleus of the Church.
From the beginning, the Church was formed from believers “and their whole household”. New believers wanted their family to be saved (Acts 18:8). In our modern world (often hostile to religion), religious families are extremely important centres of living faith. They are “domestic churches” in which the parents are the first heralds of faith (Second Vatican Council). In the home, father, mother, and children exercise their baptismal priesthood in a privileged way. The home is the first school of the Christian life where all learn love, repeated forgiveness, and prayerful worship (CCC 1655-1657). The early Church Fathers understood that the home was fertile ground for discipleship, sanctification, and holiness.
Given this background, it is obvious that parents have a crucial role to play in the upbringing of their children. Since children derive their lives from their parents, these parents have a serious obligation for their upbringing. They are therefore the primary and principal educators of their children. This is how the Catholic Church sees the role of parents in the education and the upbringing of their children. Canon 1136 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law says, “Parents have the most grave obligation and the primary right to do all in their power to ensure their children’s physical, social, cultural, moral and religious upbringing”. Parents are responsible for creating a family atmosphere animated by love and respect for God and man, in which the well‑rounded personal and social education of children is fostered. Therefore, the family is the first school of the social virtues that every society needs.
Christian parents have a serious responsibility towards the children whom they have brought into this world. They should take good care of them and bring them up in a Christian way. Working parents should ensure that they have time for their children. Some parents do not have time for the upbringing of their children because of the time that they themselves spend out of the house working to earn their living. When parents are away from their homes for long periods of time with no one to supervise the children, these children may not employ the time usefully studying or doing their homework. Rather, they will spend the time watching whatever they want on television and on the internet. They may even watch pornographic movies on the television or on the internet. They can also engage in other immoral acts. When parents do not have time for their children, they will discover painfully one day that after they have made all the money in the world, they have wayward children. They should see to it that their children grow up with the traditional value of respect for elders and authority. They should also make sure that their children take their studies seriously because that is the key to success in our modern world. They should ensure that their children go to school instead of selling all manner of things, including dogs and dog chains, by the roadside.
However, when we look at our Ghanaian situation today, we notice that some of the factors that militate against the provision of quality education can be traced to the homes of the students. Their moral upbringing in the home creates problems for them and other students when they go to school. Some well-to-do parents spoil their children who go to school, pampering them with too many things and giving in to their every wish. Some parents give their children too much money to take to school; some even give them quality mobile phones, which some tutors in their schools may not have. Some go to the extent of allowing their children to drive to school in their cars (i.e. the parents’ cars). Some of such students tend to show off to their friends and try to make an impression on the girls, sometimes with disastrous consequences. Some parents, especially the rich ones who have house helps, do not allow their children to do household chores like sweeping the house, scrubbing bathrooms and doing dishes. When such children have to do these chores at school, it becomes a problem, and they think that they are being subjected to modern-day slavery!
There are also poor parents who are unable to give their children the basic things that they need for school. When this happens, it can lead to the pilfering of things belonging to the children from rich homes. It is important for parents to be able to provide the basic needs of their children. This is especially necessary in the case of the girls, who might be tempted to acquire these necessities, at a price, from unscrupulous teachers or boys from rich homes. Some children come from broken homes and they do not receive the necessary education and training they need for life.
Sometimes parents do not really know their children. Some children fear their parents, especially their fathers, and so are well behaved at home. However, at school, they are different, and they do things that they will not dare to do at home. It is for this reason that sometimes some parents will defend their children when they are accused of misconduct. Some parents even go to the extent of challenging the school authorities, maintaining that their children are incapable of the acts of indiscipline of which they are accused.
Children need the support of their parents for learning. Parents may not always have the tools and background to support their children’s education throughout their school years. Their level of education, for example, can have an influence on their children’s ability to learn in school. For example, children whose parents have primary school education or less are more likely to perform more poorly than children whose parents have at least some senior high school education. Parents with little formal education may also be less familiar with the language used in the school, limiting their ability to support learning and participate in school-related activities.
Marshallan knights are required not only to be good parents but also good spouses. As Knights we belong to families. We are fathers and husbands, but sometimes we do not take our marital duties and responsibilities seriously. Sometimes we are harsh to our wives and insult them, or even beat them. Even though we have contracted matrimony with our spouses, we are not faithful to our marriage vows, as some of us have girlfriends. Some of us are breaking the hearts of our spouses by our extramarital affairs. We are also insensitive to the complaints made by our spouses in relation to the affairs we are having. We do not make any efforts to end these illegal and immoral extramarital relationships. Failure to do all this will not make for unity and peace in the home.
Education of Children in Sex and Sexuality
The education and the moral development of children is an essential responsibility of families. The family home should be a place of support, guidance and direction for a healthy and balanced growth of the children. While parents rely on schools for the basic instruction of their children, they cannot completely delegate the moral formation of their children to others. As educators, the parents are responsible for instilling in their children trust and loving respect and shaping their will, and for fostering good habits and a natural inclination to goodness. Equally important is the provision of sex education for the children as they grow older. The information provided to children and young people should be commensurate with their level of emotional and psychological maturity. In a culture that often commodifies and cheapens sexual expression, children need to understand sex within the “broader framework of an education for love and mutual self-giving” (AL 280). Sadly, the body is often seen as simply “an object to be used” (AL 153). Sex always has to be understood as being open to the gift of new life.
Matrimony and Traditional Marriage Rites
Today, some Ghanaian Catholics after performing the customary marriage rite will follow it up with holy matrimony within the shortest possible time. We are grateful to God for this development. However, for the majority of our Catholics, once the customary rites are performed, nothing else happens for years, a situation which hampers their full participation in the ecclesial life of their communities. In most parts of the country, the percentage of Catholics receiving Holy Communion at any given Sunday Eucharistic celebration is on the low side and one of the main problems is the marital situation of many of the faithful. A vigorous family apostolate animated by priests, religious men and women and experienced and trained lay faithful is needed today to effect a lasting change. There is the need to create a real Catholic marriage culture in Ghana which will ensure that our Catholic faithful naturally and as a matter of course contract the sacrament of Matrimony and which will also ensure that customary marriage does not become a stumbling block to their full participation in the sacramental life of the Church. To this end, adequate and appropriate catechetical instruction should be provided to children, young people and even adults on the meaning of Christian marriage (cf. Canon 1063, par. 1). It should spell out clearly the connection between marriage, baptism and the other sacraments. Within our local context, this can be done through our youth organizations such as CYO, COSRA, Catholic Young Adults, etc. It can also be done by associations like the Noble Order of the Knights and Ladies of Marshall.
In Ghana, as in many parts of Africa, marriage is a bond between two families. These families could play a role in ensuring that the customary marriage is followed immediately with holy matrimony. Since mixed marriages are quite prevalent in the country, Catholic families should be properly catechized so that at the time of the arrangement for the customary marriage, they can insist on and obtain a firm commitment from the non-Catholic party to contract holy matrimony within the shortest possible time. This is all the more important because most of the Christian churches and ecclesial communities in Ghana do not share the Catholic Church’s understanding of marriage as a sacrament, a fact which can make the non-Catholic party reluctant or even unwilling to contract holy matrimony.
The parish pastoral care of families should not be limited to the preparation of engaged couples for marriage. There should be a team of experienced and trained couple to offer guidance and assistance to couples, especially to couples in crises. Members of the already existing “Aware Kronkron Kuo” (Holy Matrimony Society) could be trained and entrusted with such an apostolate under the guidance of the parish priest or his assistant.
Not all marriages last till death. Some unfortunately end up in separation or even divorce. Maybe we are Marshallan brothers who have contracted matrimony but may have obtained a civil divorce. In this case, we cannot go on receiving Communion until we get the marriage annulled by the Church. However, if we cannot go on receiving Communion for this reason, it does not mean that we are excommunicated from the Church. “They are not excommunicated and should not be treated as such, since they remain part” of the church (AL 243). Divorced and remarried couples should be made to feel part of the church. According to Amoris Laetitia, experienced and trained couples should offer guidance to couples experiencing crises so that they may not be tempted to take hasty decisions. According to Pope Francis, the Church’s pastoral approach towards the divorced who have entered a new union should aim at making them feel that they remain part of the ecclesial community. In the unfortunate situation of marriage breakdown, the church should always hold on to the possibility of reconciliation and work towards it.
Family Life and Homosexuality
From the biblical point of view, marriage is between one man and one woman and so same-sex marriage is not considered marriage. However, we live in a country where some people are now vigorously advocating the legalization of homosexuality and the marriage of homosexual couples. Nevertheless, we must know that the practice of homosexuality goes against the teaching of the Bible. In the opening chapters of Genesis, the creation of the sexes by God is presented as having a twofold purpose: men and women are meant to come together in a one-flesh unity of life (Gen 2:24) and to beget children (Gen 1:28). Since sexual activity was seen to be ordered to procreation and the continuance of the human race, any form of sexual activity other than heterosexual intercourse is against nature and is a clear violation of right reason. To choose someone of the same sex for one’s sexual activity or for marriage is to annul the rich symbolism and meaning, not to mention the goals, of God’s sexual design. Homosexual activity is not a complementary union, able to transmit life, and so it thwarts the call to a life of that form of self-giving which the Gospel says is the essence of Christian living.
Homosexuality is condemned in no uncertain terms in a number of biblical passages including the following: Lev 18:22, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination”; Lev 20:13, “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them”; Gen 19:1-28, which deals with the sin of people of Sodom who attempted to have sexual relations with Lot’s male visitors who were indeed angels. The men of Sodom in this context were punished with death for their desire to commit this abomination.
Most of the references to homosexuality in the New Testament occur in the letters of Paul. The clearest is Rom 1:26-27 where Paul argues that pagans, even without the biblical revelation, ought to have honoured the true God but they turned instead to idolatry. As a consequence of this primary disorder, God gave them over to sexual disorder as well, both women and men exchanging natural relations for unnatural ones. In Rom 1:26 we read, “For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error”. In 1 Cor 6:9-10 Paul says, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God”. In 1 Tim. 1:10 Paul speaks of “immoral persons, sodomites, kidnapers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine”. The terms “sexual perverts” and “sodomites” in the two passages translate the same Greek word (arsenokoi) and refer to homosexuals.
The Church sees the practice of homosexuality as something condemned by the Scriptures and cites in its documents the biblical passages that condemn homosexuality. The Church makes a distinction between “the homosexual condition or tendency” and “individual homosexual actions”. For the Church, the latter is “intrinsically disordered” and is “in no case to be approved of”. In other words, while the Church does not condemn people for being homosexuals or for having the homosexual tendency, it condemns the homosexual acts that homosexuals perform.
Even though the Church strongly condemns homosexual acts, it insists that the rights of homosexuals as persons should be respected. Homosexuals are also human beings, created in the image of God, and they should enjoy the same fundamental human rights that all people enjoy. By human rights are meant the universal, inviolable and inalienable rights that are due to the human person as a rational being possessing a free will. In the light of the foregoing, it is not right to subject homosexuals to any form of harassment simply because they are homosexuals. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law. Homosexuals must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. According to Pope Francis, the homosexual person needs to be “respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, and ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression or violence” (AL 250). Families with LGBT members need “respectful pastoral guidance” from the church and its pastors so that gays and lesbians can fully carry out God’s will in their lives (AL 250). Nevertheless, according to the Church’s understanding of human rights, the rights of homosexuals as persons do not include the right of a man to marry a man or of a woman to marry a woman. For the Church, this is morally wrong and goes against God’s purpose for marriage. In this connection, I must commend the Noble Order for the Press Statement that it issued in Accra in February 2013 condemning Homosexuality and Lesbianism. The Noble Order should be alert all the time to defend our Christian religious values and tenets. I thank you for your audience.