Have you ever wondered why the finger next to the pinkie is traditionally the one with the wedding ring? The Chinese came up with this explanation.
Let’s try a simple exercise. Join your hands in prayer with the fingers pointing up. Now move your palms with the fingertips still touching each other. Bend both middle fingers downward so that the tips of these fingers are now pointing down and the backs of both fingers are touching.
Allow the hands to remain in this position, then try pulling back the thumbs and allowing them to touch again. This is quite easy. The thumbs represent your relationship with your parents. In your childhood, you live with them and important decisions can’t be made without them, but at some point in life, you usually start making decisions on your own and move out. You separate physically from them.
Now, try the same motion for the index finger. Notice that it is also easy to do this with your index and pinkie fingers, which represent siblings and children. You will not be living with your siblings or your children all your life.
Finally, try to move the ring fingers, which represent you and your spouse. It is impossible unless you separate the middle fingers. So, what do the middle fingers bent downward represent? – The sacrament of Matrimony. When a man and a woman make vows of commitment to each other until death, they are bonded by God into a one flesh union, as husband and wife. If the middle fingers are separated it is easy to pull the ring fingers away from each other. So, spouses can only be separated by death, or by breaking their covenant with God and each other.
Today, we see a lot of confusion about the meaning, value and purpose of marriage and an increase in broken families. Tension between spouses is amplified by the modern world’s exclusion of God from relationships. When marriage is about personal fulfillment, people become preoccupied by the flaws, shortcomings and failures of their spouses and of others.
Perhaps this is why Pope St John Paul II, anticipating this degeneration of modern society, exhorted the people of Australia, “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live. Do not be afraid to take a chance on Peace – to teach Peace, to live Peace… Love between man and woman cannot be built without sacrifices and self-denial.” When they fail to do this, we have chaos in the family and chaos in the world. He also reminded the people of the United States that “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”
When the woman caught in adultery was brought before Jesus(Jn 8: 3-11), those who condemned her dragged her into the middle of the crowd to expose her shame and humiliate her publicly. Jesus unexpectedly responded by unmasking their own sinfulness, instead of embarrassing her further. When the crowd melted away in reaction to his challenge, He (the only sinless one among them) forgave her and encouraged her not to sin again.
When we contemplate the Bible’s description of St Joseph’s treatment of women, we see the same compassionate behaviour. When he was told that Mary was with child, Joseph was unwilling to expose her to shame. Jesus and Joseph both followed the same action plan. The woman before them should not be publicly shamed, but treated with respect and kindness.
My wife and I are not perfect. We both have our share of weaknesses. When I became her husband, I received a special grace to be her champion, so that her deficiencies, faults and failures are not exposed to anyone, even close family members.
When I, as a husband, fail to fulfill this mission, then an attitude of disapproval poisons our family life and needs to be remedied. Even before our marriage, we had often spoken about this. Both of us had seen plenty of examples, among our family and friends, of a husband or wife badmouthing the other at social events. Recently my wife pointed out an opposite example. We had known this couple for a long time, but recently, when my wife interacted more closely with the wife, she noticed weaknesses in her character. My wife told me something that made me seriously consider my own attitude in this area. She said that in all the years we had known and interacted with this couple, her weaknesses had never been exposed because her husband shielded her so well.
“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire” (St Catherine of Siena). Becoming the person God meant you to be is not easy or quick to achieve. Short-term sacrifices won’t keep the fire blazing. In the early stages of my marriage, I was motivated to go out of my way to serve my wife. I did this with sincerity, but also some discomfort as I stretched myself to meet her needs. However, I became inordinately proud of myself for doing so.
Those affectionate courtesies that dominated the early phase of my marriage began to diminish because I started to feel that I had done enough to earn the respect I desired. Then I realized that a few considerate actions, were not going to convert anyone in my family, because my intentions were self-centred.
If I wanted to lead my wife and kids to Heaven, I needed to engage in a lifetime of self-sacrificial actions. Marriage isn’t a contract where each of the partners gives 50% and gets 50%. It is a covenant relationship where each of the spouses gives 100% of what they have to give and receives the wholehearted support of their spouse. As Pope St John Paul II put it so well, “Love consists of a commitment which limits one’s freedom. It is a giving of the self, and to give oneself means just that: to limit one’s freedom on behalf of another.” (Love and Responsibility).
So, I began to treat my wife and children as if I were hosting the Holy Family in my home as honoured guests. Sometimes my actions aren’t noticed or appreciated, but the Holy Family never fails me. They taught me true joy and I have never had more refreshing sleep.
The next day I get up and do it all over again, not relying on my own strength but by depending on the Lord’s mighty power. I believe family life is strangled by service that is limited and calculated. However, service that costs us something – that is sacrificial – invigorates and inspires reciprocal loving service. This is the path to sainthood.
Lord Jesus, help me to contemplate The Holy Family. In this age, when the attack on the family is so fierce, help me to spend more time in prayer with the Holy Family so that I may care better for my loved ones. Help me to unselfishly grow in holiness so that I may lead my family to encounter your unfailing love and mercy. Amen.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, protect our families.
©Jenson Joseph has been part of Shalom Media as a speaker at the Shalom Conferences. He is featured in Shalom World’s weekly series “The Living Word". Jenson lives with his family in Michigan, USA. Watch his series at https://www.shalomworld.org/show/the-living-word
The simple and tender words of Jesus instructing us to “love one another as I have loved you” have taken on a deeper meaning for me over the past few weeks as the coronavirus has spread throughout the globe. I have witnessed love of neighbor in action from every end of the earth, and in my own backyard. And if this love had a sound, that sound would be silence: quiet classrooms, empty offices, and desolate parks. The silence is powerful. It is the sound of love. It is the sound of Isolation, sacrifice, and self-denial for the health and safety of humanity. What a beautiful movement in a defining moment. Odd as it may sound, there is an immeasurable amount of beauty in all this suffering we face. As I look in my daughter’s closet and see her dresses for prom and graduation hanging up, now never to be worn, I can’t help but feel a twinge of pain and sadness for the memories she and so many others will never create. But she is living in a moment she will never forget. A moment that none of us will ever forget --when the world came together and love spread faster than a virus. That is the most extraordinary memory to keep. That is what makes this time of pain and loss extraordinarily holy. Like many people, I hope that when love and prayer and science conquer this pandemic, life does not return to normal. I pray kindness and compassion will continue to overflow this earth. I pray the pain, sacrifice, and hardships we are all enduring softens us – softens our hearts, our actions, our thoughts. I pray that each of us will appreciate our blessings in life a little more, that our faith will become a little deeper, that our love for each other will grow a little stronger. My hope is that the little things in life become the bigger things in life, as our appreciation for everything around us flourishes. I pray that we fully understand what it means to love each other as Jesus loves us and actively live this love, because we are all in this beautiful life together.
I had the most extraordinary experience of love of neighbor with a Hindu family. A gentleman came to our house and said, “Mother Teresa, there is a family who has not eaten for so long. Do something.” So, I took some rice and went there immediately. When I saw the children, their eyes were shining with hunger. I don’t know if you have ever seen hunger, but I have seen it very often. The mother of the family took the rice I gave her and went out. When she came back, I asked her, “Where did you go; what did you do?” She gave me a very simple answer: “They [a neighbor family] are hungry also.” What struck me most was that they were a Muslim family. And she knew. I did not bring any more rice that evening, because I wanted them - Hindus and Muslims - to enjoy the joy of sharing. Those children were radiating joy - sharing their joy and peace with their mother because she had the love to give until it hurts. You see this is where love begins - at home in the family.” [Excerpt from “A Call to Mercy” by Mother Teresa] This happened at a time when religious violence was prevalent in India, and thousands of people died in the riots between the Hindu and Muslim communities. The unselfishly generous gift this poor woman unhesitatingly gave to her hungry neighbors, who happened to be a Muslim family, deeply touched Mother Teresa. She often looked to the poor; for their love was simple and their hearts were full of joy. Mother Teresa invites us to learn from the poor and receive their joy by sharing our blessings generously. “Not all of us are called to do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Mother Teresa
I have always loved the Acts of the Apostles and have often recommended it to those who are approaching the Bible for the first time. Filled with colorful narratives, adventure, martyrdom, persecution, and journeys by sea, it makes for stimulating reading indeed. But I love it especially because it shows us the excitement of being a follower of Jesus. Long before there were parishes and dioceses and the Vatican and other institutional structures, there was this band of brothers and sisters who were so overwhelmed and energized by the fact of the resurrection that they went careening around the world and to their deaths with the message of Jesus. It also features some wonderful exemplifications of Christian preaching, for it relates to us some of the earliest kerygmatic proclamations of the apostles. If we attend carefully to these speeches, we can learn a lot about good preaching, but also a lot about the nature of Christianity. A particularly fine example is the sermon given by St. Peter on Pentecost morning and described in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. We hear that Peter stood up with the Eleven and raised his voice. First lesson: all legitimate Christian teaching and proclamation is apostolic, which is to say, grounded in the witness of the first intimate followers of Jesus. Bishops are entitled to preach precisely because they are successors of the apostles; priests and deacons are formally commissioned to preach by bishops. This is to assure that what preachers say is not just a matter of private opinion or the fruit of the present cultural consensus, but is rather rooted in the experience of those who knew Jesus personally. So what does apostolic preaching sound like? Peter says, “Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Notice, first, the strength, confidence, and edginess of this proclamation. There is nothing weak, vacillating, or unsure about it. This is not a preacher sharing his doubt with you or reveling in the complexity and multivalence and ambiguity of faith. This is a man speaking (in a loud voice) about his absolute conviction. And what is he convicted about? “That God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Christos, the Greek term for Messiah from which we derive the English word Christ, has the sense of anointed, which implies the new David, which means the fulfillment of the expectation of Israel. Good preaching always puts Jesus in relation to Israel, for he makes sense only kata ta grapha (according to the Scriptures). A Jesus abstracted from the history of Israel devolves in short order into a mere religious teacher or teacher of timeless spiritual truths. And not only is he Christ; he is also Kyrios (Lord). This term had, at the time of Peter and Jesus, both a Jewish and a Roman sense. On the Jewish reading, it designated Yahweh, the God of Israel, for Adonai (Lord, in Hebrew) was the typical substitute for the unpronounceable tetragrammaton, YHWH. Paul, who continually calls Jesus “Lord,” says that Jesus was given the name above every other name, by which he means the name of God. Preaching that leaves the Divinity of Jesus aside or in the shadows is, therefore, not Apostolic preaching. Now Kyrios also had a Roman sense, since Caesar was called Kyrios, meaning the one to whom final allegiance is due. Do you see how edgy and subversive it was to declare that Jesus is Lord, and by implication, Caesar is not? And do you see why those who made that claim usually ended up imprisoned and/or put to death? A twentieth century Anglican bishop memorably expressed the insight as follows: “When Paul preached, there were riots; when I preach, they serve me tea.” Notice, next, that Peter is not tickling the ears of his hearers: “God has made both Lord and Christ this Jesus whom you crucified.” He’s not pulling any punches or trying to win friends and influence people. About as bluntly and clearly as he possibly can, he names the sin of his audience. And this is precisely what “cuts to the heart” of his hearers. Trust me when I tell you that abstract spiritual principles, tired bromides, and timeless moral truths don’t cut people to the heart. And so they cry out, “What are we to do?” Peter’s sermon continues: “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins.” Every truly evangelical sermon should be a call to repentance, to turn one’s life around. If it doesn’t lead to contrition and a conviction to change, it has not cut to the heart. Mind you, this doesn’t entail moralizing in a brow-beating way, but rather the presenting of the message of Jesus in such a clear and compelling way that people naturally see how they’ve fallen short and want to change. Peter concludes: “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Followers of Jesus are a holy nation, a people set apart. We have renewed minds and wills; we should profile ourselves distinctly against the backdrop of the world. If we think and act like everyone else, we haven’t taken in the Gospel. Relatedly, if all we hear from the pulpit is what can be heard on talk-shows and in discussion groups and in political conversations, we haven’t heard the Gospel. Finally, we are told that, “Three thousand persons were added [to the Church] that day.” I know that everyone and his brother tells us not to worry about numbers and there is indeed truth to that. For God wants us to be, not successful, but faithful, as Mother Teresa said. However, like it or not, the Bible is interested in numbers. And good preaching, if it is truly evangelical, is meant to draw people into the Church. That they are staying away from the Church in droves today says, I would suggest, something rather negative about the quality of our preaching. To all preachers, I might recommend a careful consideration of the kerygmatic sermonizing in the Acts of the Apostles. If you preach like Peter, they might not serve you tea after every homily, but they will know that they’ve been cut to the heart.
Ignoring the Obvious ‘He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done. So, the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation”’(John 11:43-48) I could never understand how the chief priests and Pharisees responded to witnesses reporting such a mighty miracle. How could they ignore the obvious conclusion? They could not deny the miracle. Instead, they adopted the absurd policy of denying the one who performed the miracle! Ironically, they were trying to save the man-made tabernacle (holy place) by destroying the true tabernacle (Jesus). Why couldn’t they recognize the Saviour they had long awaited? The answer is simple: They didn’t want to! Accepting Jesus as the Christ could cost them everything, so they wilfully closed their eyes to the Truth! Whenever we choose comfort and turn a blind eye to the Truth (knowingly or unknowingly), we are in the company of these people. Wilful blindness is a deeprooted problem in many of us. Is it a Right to remain Ignorant? Mr. M is a hardcore atheist. He says he believes in Science, but purposely avoids anything which Science struggles to explain. His wilful blindness doesn’t allow him to see things on their own merits. Everything is filtered through his ‘I know there is no God’ lens. Lately, I started recognising some ways in which I am wilfully blind. As an example, last week, a policeman stopped my car to test my breath for alcohol. As a non-drinker, I always considered myself a safe driver who doesn’t pose a danger to others. However, although my alcohol level is always zero, I have sometimes failed to get enough sleep before taking the wheel. A drowsy driver is as dangerous as a drunken driver! Wilful blindness can affect how a faithful Christian interprets Scripture. That is why it says the Gospel I read is my own gospel. Antony reads Antony’s gospel; Joseph reads Joseph’s gospel and Mary reads Mary’s gospel! Each one interprets the Scriptures in their own way! We tend to give greater importance to verses that give us comfort and overlook verses that could challenge us! For example - A nondrinker who sees the warning against the ‘drunkard’ and ignores warnings against other sins is wilfully blind. A husband who sees the ‘submissive wife’ in Scripture but misses the Christ-like husband, who must love his wife and give himself up for her, is also wilfully blind (and vice versa). A preacher I know used to quote Luke 12:32 which says,“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom”. Every time, attendees responded with familiarity. Then, he would ask whether anyone knows the very next verse. Nobody could ever answer the question. It says, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor”. The first verse is, in fact, a pre-assurance that we need not fear to do the latter, but we tend to ignore the whole message and stick to what is comforting. This is wilful blindness. Eyes become useless when the mind is blind Two thousand years ago, during His trial, Jesus told Pilate that He came into the world to testify to the Truth. Everyone who belongs to the Truth, listens to His voice. Even though Pilate asked Him to clarify this statement, he didn’t pursue his question. He probably knew that knowing the Truth would hinder him from what he was about to do. He had to turn a blind eye towards the Truth to keep his position and reputation. Can we do a better job? In fact, it doesn’t need a great effort on our part! We simply need to turn our eyes to the Lord and keep them open. He, the Light of the World, will come into our hearts to illuminate the darkness so we can see clearly.
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