A year and half ago, a married couple asked me if it would be possible to start a group for families in the parish. So we started to meet monthly with five families, confronting topics that they felt were the most urgent: communication between husband and wife and relationships with in-laws. After these first few meetings, I proposed that we also ask ourselves about the themes of communication within the family and the use of technology, particularly cell phones.
In the same period, I met Shuwen, a parishioner who has been coming to church for a little more than two years and -beyond being a mother of two children with a daughter in college and a son in high school – is the principal of a Catholic high school with more than three thousand students. The idea came to me to invite her to speak at November’s family meeting so that she could share the criteria with which she educates her children and her students.
Speaking on the theme of the use of technology, Shuwen shared simply and profoundly the reasons behind the choices that she makes at home and at school: it’s about educating our children to leave space for others in their lives. She used an expression that can be translated as “having others in your gaze”. The risk of technology is that, despite how much it assures us that it will bring us closer together, it actually only leaves us in front of ourselves: we cease giving space to others and remain alone and distant. It is for this reason, she continued, that it is important both at home and at school to define spaces and times of life: when and where to eat, rest, do homework, and use the phone. Paying attention to each one’s needs, it is necessary to help the kids make decisions consciously, supporting them with patience and clear, well-explained rules, and always starting from the example that we set. With this in mind, Shuwen challenges the kids at school to leave their phones in a bag set aside for that purpose before each lesson in order to avoid distractions. At home, she asks her kids not to bring their phones into their rooms. I was struck by the clarity of Shuwen’s choices: I found them similar to the way in which I was educated by the Fraternity during my time in seminary and in these first years of priesthood. It has been a grace to share with our new friends the choices and reasons that I have at heart through the witness of someone who already lives them out.
During the first meeting of the new year, we took up again what Shuwen had said. One mom told us about her current situation at home. The years of marriage have not been easy and she came to the meeting alone. The husband isn’t in good health mentally, and has trouble admitting it and letting himself be helped. Lately, he has become a third child to take care of on top of the five-year-old and newborn. The situation is sometimes tense for this mom who works two jobs. “Why don’t you leave him?” her colleagues and friends ask her. “I want to be faithful to him in joy and pain, in health and illness,” even when the cross seems too heavy. “But how do you manage to get by and even seem happy?” asks one colleague. She confided to us: “I think the key is in what Shuwen said: you need to have others within your gaze. Thanks to God, I have my husband, my children, and above all Him in my gaze. This helps me confront everything in a different way, to ask for the strength that I need.”
We concluded the meeting promising to remember each other in prayer to the Madonna. The beauty of Christian companionship isn’t in having the answers to every problem. What is given to us is a friendship that reawakens our sight and lets us go forward with our gaze turned towards Him.
Antonio Acevedo is pastor of St. Francis Xavier parish in Taipei, Taiwan. In the photo, the recitation of morning prayer during the vacation of the community of Communion and Liberation.