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Parents Left Behind?

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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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Stigmata – Human Obsession for Signs and Wonders

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Many of you might have heard the news of a baby in Philippines, born with the stigmata of Jesus that became viral in the social media. While we want to know whether this is a hoax or not, we have seen a similar phenomenon earlier. St. Francis of Assisi was the first recorded stigmatic in Christian history. Later, Christian history records many numbers of comparable occurrences. Mother Susan, a nun of the Malankara Orthodox Church, residing in Kerala is also experiencing this.

a-baby-in-Philippines,-born-with-the-stigmata-of-Jesus
Stigmata refer to the wounds of Jesus that are miraculously reproduced in the body. On very rare occasions, the Catholic Church has accepted an occurrence of the stigmata as authentic but has never defined their origin or nature, thus allowing physical, psychological, and preternatural explanations for these phenomena. Ian Wilson, in Stigmata (Harper & Row, San Francisco), declares, “They [stigmata] are one of the most baffling and intriguing of medical and scientific mysteries.”

It is possible that people had unusual wounds or blood blisters in places on their body that could be related to certain wounds of Christ. But each of these cases would need to be rationally explained. Are the wounds real or forged? Do they match the wounds of Christ or is this a product of imagination or self-inflicted? Are they natural or divine? Could they be the product of satanic activity? (We sometimes forget that Satan uses religion to draw people away from what is important). The question to ask is, how blood spots mysteriously appearing on someone’s hands is an evidence of ‘sharing in the suffering of Christ’. Does the appearance of marks signify that the bearer is taking part in the suffering? If anything, these oddities minimize suffering. Obviously, there are few answers we can give or find about the stigmata.

We can only speculate and not be certain how the ‘stigmata’-wounds of the Passion looked on Christ’s body. But we do know that stigmata appear the same in all who are believed to have had them. Joe Nickell, a former detective and magician, investigates claims of the supernatural and paranormal for Skeptical Inquirer magazine, based in Amherst wrote a book on this topic in 1993. “Jesus most likely was nailed to the cross through his wrists. Once the notion that Jesus was nailed through the wrists became accepted, some stigmatics began to display wrist wounds. Here is my logic: Stigmata are supposed to be a reflection of the wounds of Christ, whatever those were like. If these were true manifestations, they ought to tell us where the wounds were,” Nickell said. Instead, stigmata appear “all over the place. There’s every kind of variant, and they keep changing.”

The evidence available is scanty with much of it supplied by supporters of stigmata. We do not see Stigmata mentioned in the bible. However, most of the occurrences started around 1200 years after the death of Christ, and there is a strong argument that it is a product of the superstitions in the darkness of the middle Ages. The Church is cautious about reported instances of the stigmata for two reasons: the possibility of a hoax (and thus all faith in God might seem questionable) and the possibility that some people could distort the meaning of the stigmata. For example, these marks might appear more central to a person’s faith than the passion-death-resurrection of Jesus, the Scriptures, the sacraments or many other things that are more central to the faith than the stigmata are.

Researchers of stigmata, even Catholic believers like the late Herbert Thurston, S.J., almost unanimously agree that such phenomena are best explained as bodily reactions to intense ecstatic and psychological experiences. The film- ‘Stigmata’, one of the most controversial religious movies, released in the year 1999 was highly controversial due to the manner in which it dealt with issues close to Catholic’s hearts. A Jesuit priest, one of the main characters in this film, discovers a connection between the stigmata and one of the Gnostic Gospels (4th-century religious writings condemned by the Catholic Church). The priest uncovers a plot to keep the gospels “truth” concealed.

Some modern “researches” has showed stigmata are of hysterical origin, or linked to dissociative identity disorders, especially the link between dietary constriction by self-starvation, dissociative mental states and self-mutilation, in a religious belief. Anorexia nervosa cases often display self-mutilation like stigmata as part of a ritualistic, obsessive-compulsive disorder. A relationship between starvation and self-mutilation has been reported amongst prisoners of war and during famines. A psychoanalytic study of stigmatic Therese Neumann has suggested that her stigmata resulted from post-traumatic stress symptoms expressed in unconscious self-mutilation through abnormal autosuggestibility.

BIBLICAL VERSES FOR CONSIDERATION:

“You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.” Leviticus 19:28. It could be said that stigmata are cuttings in the flesh, which seems to contradict God’s command.

One verse sometimes referred to by people who want to defend stigmata, is found in Galatians 6:17 Paul wrote: “From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” The word “mark” comes from the Greek word “stigma” which means a tattooed mark or mark burned in by a brand. Now we know that it was against God’s law to mark one’s own body with cuttings, so Paul would not have inflicted them on himself, so what did he mean?

It was common in Paul’s day for slaves and sometimes soldiers to be branded, and followers of the cult of Mithra were also branded. In later times, the followers of Hinduism marked themselves with the trident of Vishnu. The mark or brand signified ownership, a scar of service and the initiate usually bore it proudly. But in the context in which Paul is writing, he is making a defense to the Judaizer, who practiced circumcision, and he refers to his own physical sufferings which he had had to endure for the sake of the Lord Jesus. These, he says, are his stigma or branding. The scars, scratches, and bruises in his body are proof of His ownership.

The Amplified Bible says: “From now on let no person trouble me (by making it necessary to vindicate my apostolic authority and the divine truth of my Gospel), for I bear on my body the (brand) marks of the Lord Jesus (the wounds, scars, and other outward evidence of persecutions – these testify to His ownership of me)!”

MY PERSONAL VIEWS AND THOUGHTS:

I am sure that stigmata exist as real wounds in some people’s bodies. I also believe visions, apparitions, signs and wonders have been seen and experienced by many people down through the ages and that stigmata are just one of hundreds of other similar marvels. However, it is not the authenticity of stigmata that should be our main interest; it is what these wonders are pointing to. The devil is able to perform signs and wonders too, for example, the wizards of Egypt were able to turn water into blood, as well as Moses, but the wizards were pointing away from God, and were fighting against Moses.

The Bible depicts that Jesus came to the world and gave His life as the ultimate sacrifice. Nothing can be added to or taken from the one great sacrifice. On the other hand, Stigmata is challenging the finality of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ because it seem to be extending it, and repeating it at least in some measure. It would therefore seem that, despite their absolute sincerity, those who manifest stigmata are not being worked on by the power of God. They are manifesting lying wonders with their force being either demonic or psychosomatic, or a combination of both. We would do far better if we put our trust in the finished work of Jesus than seek after people who seem to be in a state of crucifixion all over again. No one could bear the sins of the world except Jesus. It is futile to even imagine bearing those sins in our own body, and a great insult to God to think that we could HELP Him with the redemption of the world.

The media are always looking for ordinary people doing extraordinary things. And it is no surprise how the news about Jejomar Castillo, baby with stigmata of Jesus born on March 15 in Philippines went viral. We have entered the second half of the Great Lent; we meditate and reflect on the sufferings of Jesus Christ. This is a time when we are doing an unusually amazing job, staying focused but newsflash like this are too tempting. It is imperative we should keep our focus on the Cross. Can we compare anything with the sufferings and wounds inflicted on Christ? Can any human being share the pain Christ suffered for us? That is why our father in Christ, St. Thomas who proclaimed the faith in the resurrected Christ demanded to “see in his hands the print of the nails, and put his finger into the print of the nails, and thrust his hand into Jesus’ side (John 20:25)”. For a believer, these are personal marks of the identification of our Lord Jesus Christ who died for us on the Cross. I, as a believer, cannot find the same wounds in anyone or anywhere.

I pray for baby Jejomar’s speedy recovery but am greatly saddened by the so called believers’s responses: “Welcome to the Saviour”, “biblical return of Jesus Christ”. Holy Scripture reminds “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? “(Gal 3:1). This verse compels us to ponder if we wish to be foolish like the Galatians and be infatuated by events such as stigmata or we rekindle our faith in Christ, Our Saviour.

Christians must not waste time or devotion dwelling on miracles and wonders. These ‘stigmata wounds’ does not move me or ‘strengthen’ my faith in Christ, but I am stirred by martyrdom of the 21 Coptic Orthodox young men and the sufferings of the 72 year old sister who was ganged raped in Bengal, examples of true believers taking part in the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Let signs and wonders spark valuable conversation rather than being the manifestations of spiritual realities. Let us be filled with the Holy Spirit leading us into a life of holy living, not be in a state of awe and reverence for the occurrences of body marks corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ.

*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 Co-ordinator for the Pre-Marital Guidance Programme, Diocese of Delhi. He is a research scholar in Psychology