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Parents Left Behind?

The other day, I met a couple after the Sunday worship in the church premises and asked why they are not in a hurry to go back home as usual. They replied, “Our kids are staying back in Sunday school, we feel uneasy at home without them”. If this is the situation of the parents who can’t stay away from their children for a day, it is worth analyzing the situation of parents who have to live away from their children for a long time.

Compared with their counterparts in developed countries, Indian parents place greater emphasis on their children succeeding in work – published in a report titled “The Value of Education: Learning for Life”. Indian parents are willing to spend more to give their child the opportunity to study abroad as they believe students receive a more rounded education and experience abroad.

The feeling of grief and loneliness parents feel when their children leave home is called ‘empty nest syndrome’. It is not a clinical condition and is not a term you will find in many medical textbooks, but it has become a useful ‘label’ for the feelings of sadness and loss, which many individuals experience when their children fly the nest.

After marriage, the couples love each other and feel complete in the presence of each other. They don’t prefer to have an ‘outsider’ when they are together. However, subsequent to their attempt to achieve the completeness, a child is born strengthening their relationship. The child is not an ‘outsider’ rather the incarnation of their love, becoming an inevitable part of the family. For parents, their kids are always ‘small children’. They will continue to take care of them even if the kids are grown up. That is why the great grandmother, in spite of her age-related ailments, is worried about the health of her son who might have grandchildren. Parents who like to have their kids, always with them should understand that their parents also wish the same.

Our church has successfully completed an awareness program for the elderly and palliative care, an exclusive project for the ones left alone in their twilight years. His Holiness Marthoma Paulose Marthoma Paulose II termed it as a “burning issue” and needs to be tackled on an urgent basis and donated his own land for such a project. I would like to share from my pastoral experience, some practical suggestions for caring for aging parents in Kerala for those in the diaspora.

1. Be in love with your Parents

This is the most important responsibility towards your parents. This is possible only when you accept them as they are. They may have conditioning, habits and convictions that we may not agree with. Buckminster Fuller created the “Knowledge Doubling Curve” and his research revealed that human knowledge doubled every century up to around 1900. The end of World War II reduced that time frame for every 25 years. Today, some parts of our knowledge have advanced faster than others and on average, human knowledge is doubling every 13 months. With this rate of change in human knowledge, it is not surprising to see huge gap that builds between our parents and us.

We may have complaints about our parents on their attitude and bias towards our siblings, our lifestyles, religious and world views. We may succeed in substantiating that our parents are wrong. But we should always remember that they are our parents and understand that trying to change our parents’ lifetime of thinking is brutal and impossible in one or two conversations. We should love unconditionally and learn to accept them as they are and accept the fact that there is absolutely no replacement for our parents. We can persuade them with love, patience, and empathy. Though they may be wrong with many contemporary matters, ultimately they are responsible for our birth and growth. Usually, it’s said, “we can change our friend, we can’t change our neighbors”. But if we have enough money, we can move and change our neighbors too, but it is impossible to change our parents.

2. Be in touch with your Parents

Communication is a way of expressing our love. It is more relevant when we stay away from our parents. Parents are waiting to hear the sound of their children like Hornbill waiting for rain. We should make every possible effort to talk to them for a moment on a daily basis. This is not to convey some information, but a great opportunity to fill the vacuum in our parents’ home with our voice. We should encourage our kids to talk to our parents at least once in a week. Our parents want to listen to the sound of the small babies though they are not able to speak. They are in ecstasy when the grandchildren call them ‘appacha, ammachi’. We can make use of the modern technology to facilitate connection. We can train our parents to use Skype, WhatsApp and video calling. Today with smartphones and data connections, it is absolutely easy to connect on a daily basis by sharing our pictures, videos, and moments.

An old lady used to complain about her phone. Every time the personnel from telephone exchange found it worked. Finally, she asked a question, “Then why my children are not calling?”

Our kids can tell the name of the grandfather of Mahatma Gandhi as they learn it as part of history at school. Will they tell the name of their grandparents? I have noticed if somebody asks about their hometown to kids, parents would step in to say with pride “she/he doesn’t know it. She/he rarely visits there”. Is this actually a matter of pride, we should ask ourselves! We have a system of keeping the name with two initials, the short form of the family name and father’s name. Actually, it comprises the full address of that individual giving his identity. For example, K.A. George means George son of Kavunkal Alias. We misunderstand the house number given by the municipality as our address! When we go to Kerala we should find time to visit the older generation, seek blessing at their tomb and make them familiarize to the new generation.

3. It is your responsibility to take care of your Parents

Taking care of one’s parents is embedded in our culture. Parents are morally and legally obligated to care for their children when they are young. They provide shelter, food, clothes and above all, all the sacrifices they make on a daily basis. Isn’t it fair to ask that when children grow up and their parents become elderly, they take up the responsibility to provide a decent life for their parents? We should consider this as our moral obligation and not be forced as part of our adherence to the recently passed Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act. Today our parents are more financially stable and independent, but that should not stand in our way to our responsibility as their children. His Holiness Baselios Marthoma Mathews II of blessed memory used to give a dhoti to his father every year, as said in an interview. Holy Father says, “Parents enjoy receiving from their children. Not because they need it. But getting it from their children is something special”. Every time when we give something, they share their joy by showing their friends “It’s sent by my son”. They want to prove that their children are taking care of them. We should give something to our parents from our income on a regular basis. It may vary according to our financial situation and their needs. However, we should give them something even in our financial constraints. We can never repay the debts we have to them. Giving something regularly is the external expression of this gratitude.

4. Respect siblings who take care of your Parents

We cannot define our responsibility towards our parents on the basis of money. Parents need our presence, love and care. Sometimes we are unable to fulfill this in a certain situation. If we are one of those lucky ones who have a sibling who could fill in for us, we should be grateful to them as they are fulfilling their responsibility as a vocation. They do the service when we discharge our job by sending something or showing love and care through phone calls.

It is a difficult job to serve parents in their old age, catering to their particularities and obstinate nature, it is essential that we don’t find fault in the care provided. Instead of giving suggestions like, “Give a new bedsheet to ammachi or provide a better blanket to appachen” we should be kind enough to take a few days off our busy schedule and physically give our sibling a break. We may have numerous suggestions in our one week stay with our parents overlooking all the great work our siblings do day in and day out.

It is necessary that we appreciate the efforts and services of our siblings to make sure they stay motivated as their work only gets challenging with time. Always be diligent not to give false promises, suggestions, and guidance. This is not the place to be tactful and smart by saying “If you come with us we could take care of you better”. We should realize the fact that we may not have the capability to take care of them for a week. Let us adore our siblings for their wonderful job. They do what we can’t do.

We all have reasons to be abroad, however, insubstantial, it may look to others, and there is no excuse for abandoning the care of parents in exchange for a career growth, life aspirations or financial gains. We should realize that as our parents live with the fear of aging without us and the uncertainty of how life will unfold, the mutual emotional support and bonding have no equivalent! Can we all make a commitment that caring for our parents is one of the top priorities in our lives because I can confidently say from the lives of many that the best years of their lives were the years with their parents’.

[Fr. Jaise K. George has completed the theological education from STOTS Nagpur and is serving as the Vicar of various parishes in the Diocese of Delhi. He is the Coordinator for the Pre-Marital Guidance Program, Diocese of Delhi. He is a research scholar in Psychology]

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His Holiness Pope Francis – “Marks of a Spiritual Leader”

Some would say getting to see the pope was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Thousands of people got the chance to see Pope Francis. As others across the world, my experience was indescribable; literally made me cry. It was a feeling that is almost hard to describe of peace and tranquility and emotion and spirit. It was really just something. I consider a real honor and myself blessed. Hearing my multi tasked secular and spiritual life, “Live your life abundantly” – was the guidance from Pope Francis. Turning to a friend, I expressed, “wasn’t that an amazing?” I recall him saying, “Yes, and I am a Baptist.” Being a priest of the Indian Orthodox Church, the encounter showed the unifying power of Pope Francis’ papacy.”

Spiritual leadership as knowing where God wants people to be and taking the initiative to use God’s methods to get them there in reliance on God’s power. The answer to where God wants people to be is in a spiritual condition and in a lifestyle that displays his glory and honors His name. Therefore, the goal of spiritual leadership is that people come to know God and to glorify him in all that they do. Spiritual leadership is aimed not so much at directing people as it is at changing people. This is the quality I saw in His Holiness.

Pope Francis’ leadership style appeared to one that other people will come to glorify God, that is, he magnifies the true character of God. According to Matthew 5:14-16, one of the crucial means by which a Christian leader brings other people to glorify God is by being a person who loves both friend and foe. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid, nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your father who is in heaven.” Pope Francis spoke of the reality of God’s promises to take care of us and to work everything together for our good grips of our hearts so that we do not fall prey to greed or fear or vainglory but rather manifest a contentment and a love and a freedom for other people, then the world will have to admit that the one who gives us hope and freedom must be real and glorious. When our hope is strong, we are freed from fears and cares that prevent the free exercises of love. Pope appeared to be a person who has strong confidence in the sovereign goodness of God to work everything together for His good.

Pope was very clear about why he felt so strongly about issues ranging from poverty to climate change. I fully understood because, it is about people and it is not the issues for the issues sake; it is how they impact on people’s lives. I could sense that there has been some resistance from some quarters of the Catholic Church about the Pope weighing in on what have traditionally been seen as more political issues. But, being a priest I could really read the writing on the wall that, the Pope sees all issues through the prism of its impact on people regardless of faith; it is not at all political and this is pastoral.

During his historic address to the U.S. Congress, he reminded of the “The Golden Rule” – “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, from Matthew 7: 12. He also reminded us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development. How much progress has been made in this area in so many parts of the world! How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty! He asked to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope, he said. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. He recognized that, many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem. It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy, which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. He said, he is convinced that we can make a difference and he has no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a ‘culture of care’ and ‘an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.

The charismatic leadership of Pope Francis appeared much like that of St. Francis of Assisi and the effect he had on audiences. He is following the example of St. Francis when he offers ancient wisdom as a cure for today’s climate crisis. St. Francis embodied the integration of care for the poor with care for the planet. The 13th-century saint inspired rich and poor, men and women, faithful and faithless to respond spiritually to the social problems of his age. He preached against greed and inspired many to live in voluntary poverty. St. Francis’s life was a model of humility, without judgment on the sin or failures of others. Though he is the patron saint of ecological spirituality, he did not consider himself a steward of nature. Rather, he viewed animals, elements and the planet as brothers and sisters, and he in their family.

His example teaches that care for the environment goes hand in hand with reverence for human beings — that everything is a gift. This concept is at the heart of Franciscan economics, which governs the Franciscan order.

When I heard Pope Francis throughout his six days of U.S. visit, he demonstrated a deep understanding of his Patron Saint, St. Francis. I believe the example of St. Francis can help us address our environmental problems. Now we know Pope Francis believes this as well — and that gives many great hope. In proposing integral ecology, the pope is calling us to bring together care for our planet and practical compassion for the poor. We cannot effectively protect the environment while more than three billion people are living in poverty. There is no absolute shortage of resources. Pope Francis is calling us to find new ways of sharing creation’s bounty. He is broadly endorsing the environmental movement and its goals but challenges us to take a more holistic, universal view. The integral-ecology framework asks us all to deepen and broaden our compassion, to care for creation and the poor in our neighborhoods and globally. The pope calls into question our own choices as individuals and as a society, urging us to act now.

He highlighted in his speeches that the wealthy countries, like United States, have a special moral obligation to dramatically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. We are responsible for the majority of emissions and need to transform our energy systems — generation, transmission and consumption. He said, poor countries are already experiencing climate disruption and are likely to disproportionately suffer its worst effects. Ingenuity and innovation are needed to create climate resilience — the ability to withstand the coming disruptions. About one-third of all humans, for example, live in energy poverty, defined as lacking access to modern energy for heating, lighting and cooking. He said social entrepreneurs across the developing world have demonstrated that renewable energy can improve the lives and livelihoods of millions of people. Solar home systems, clean-cook stoves and community micro-grids are examples of how innovation and entrepreneurship create exits from energy poverty. These practical initiatives help the poor cope with the climate disruption already underway, while improving the dignity of their lives. Pope Francis said that, the practical need to protect the climate system is real — but so, too, is the moral outrage of billions of human beings denied access to a dignified life. By invoking St. Francis, the pope called us to remember the fundamental interdependence of all life. Everyone has a role to play in the family; everyone can make a valuable contribution.

I was extremely impressed by Pope Francis’ call for ecumenism and unit. In his opening prayers, Pope Francis prayed that God the Father might send the Holy Spirit, Who will guide us to unity. During one of his speech, it is the Holy Spirit, he said, who gives the various charisms within the Church, who works through the variety of gifts in the Church, and who grants unity. Pope Francis asked that Jesus, who prayed for unity in His Church, might help us to walk along the path of “unity, or of reconciled diversity.” Pope Francis also spoke about the idea of “unity in diversity.” Unity is not uniformity, he said, but reflects the confluence of all the different parts that go to make it up.

He warned of the temptation of leaders – or rather, servants – to imagine that they are indispensable, a temptation that can lead to authoritarianism or personalism, which “does not allow the renewed communities to live in the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit, Pope Francis exclaimed, is the only indispensable actor in the renewal, just as Jesus is the one Lord. Pope Francis emphasized the ecumenical dimension of the charismatic movement, rooting it in our common Baptism. Unity among Christians, he said, must begin with prayer.

Pope Francis asked that we value the immense contribution which women, lay and religious, have made and continue to make, to the life of our communities. His Holiness asked that, with gratitude for all we have received, and with confident assurance in all our needs, let us turn to Mary, our Blessed Mother. With a mother’s love, may she intercede for the growth of the Church in America in prophetic witness to the power of her Son’s Cross to bring joy, hope and strength into our world.

The Holy Father said the people who walked with all their dreams and hopes, their disappointments and regrets, the people have seen a great light. The people of God are called in every age to contemplate this light, a light for the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. One special quality of God’s people is their ability to see. To contemplate, even in moments of darkness, the light that Christ brings. He reminds us that Jesus tells his disciples to go out and meet the people where they really are, not where we think they should be. We should go out like the father who goes out looking for his son, and when he returns, embraces him. He moves us from the fray of competition and self-absorption and opens before us a path of peace. That peace which is born of accepting others; that peace which fills our hearts whenever we look upon those in need as our brothers and sisters. God is living in our cities. And God who lives in our cities want to be leaven in the dough, and relate to everyone, to stand at everyone’s side while they proclaim the wonders of the mighty counselor … the prince of peace. The people who walked in the darkness have seen a great light, and we Christians, are witnesses of that light.

Pope Francis’ common theme emphasized the significance of family, equality, justice, kindness, caring for the poor, sick, and the homeless. He called attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture, which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life. In these remarks, Pope said, I have sought to present some of the richness of your cultural heritage, of the spirit of the American people. It is my desire that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land, which has inspired so many people to dream. He ended his historic tour, which I will cherish for eternity, with Apostolic Blessings: “God bless America!”

Author Fr. Alexander J. Kurien is the Deputy Associate Administrator at the Office of U.S. Government-Wide Policy
United States Government
Washington D.C.