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.shalomworldtv.org/thelivingword
In the midst of the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic life as we knew it continues to change. We are stripped of so many things that were once a part of our everyday lives. And we stand amidst it all figuring out who we really are in this new normal. Typically, we spend our lives working hard to shape our own identity, to brand ourselves. We want to control the kind of person we appear to be. Depending on our interests, we pour our time into specific activities, sports, hobbies, and into whatever work has helped shape the perception of “who we are” for the rest of the world. We desire to be seen and known as a certain kind of person and sometimes we even flaunt our special achievements or successes. We buy into the idea that the things we have, do, and accomplish are what make us who we are—that they create our identity. And then all of a sudden, the whole world stops. No more sports. No more concerts. No more large social gatherings. No more intimate get-togethers with friends. No more travel. No more sense of security. And for some, a loss of money. a loss of employment. a loss of business. a loss of health. a loss of loved ones. a loss of life. We have been stripped. Stripped of much of what we thought we were, and much of what we thought we needed. Such a process of detachment is hard and painful and sometimes very scary. Sometimes, even without a world-wide health crisis, God allows us to go through a process of detachment from the things and ways we use to identity ourselves so we can discover our true identity. Inevitably, if we do not know who we are and what we are worth, we attach our identity to earthly things that are fleeting and can be pulled out from under our feet at any time. Our sure and solid source is God and God alone. And we need to know him intimately. When we do, we will know how much he values us. You and I, my friend, are first and foremost beloved children of a loving Father. That is our true identity. That is the only identity that matters. The world will try to tell you otherwise. Your friends might try to tell you otherwise. The Tempter surely will try to tell you otherwise. But nothing changes the Truth of who you are. It is your Truth and it is my Truth, and it is every person’s Truth. And it does not matter whether or not we come to own it and believe it. Nothing we say or do can change that Truth. Our identity rooted in the Father is where we find life. And an interesting fact about the Kingdom Jesus established is when we feel we have nothing left; we realize that we actually have everything we need. Now, in the midst of this crisis, when each one of us is being stripped of some aspect of our former lives, now is the time to dig deep and claim our true identity. So I will start. I am Jackie Perry, a beloved daughter of our merciful Father. Who are YOU?
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.
“You touched my coffee!” the customer screamed at the young barista, who burst into tears as she helplessly tried to offer a new cup to the angry woman. We sensed she was not a local and the loyal patrons rallied to defend the young girl. “If you are so worried about contamination, you should not even go out!” shouted one patron. “Stay home!” another butted in. As a pastoral worker, I offered her a word of comfort. While she made my cuppa between sobs, I reminded her that the current environment made everyone tense, so she shouldn’t take it personally and let the incident ruin her day. Just a few minutes later, I had to take my own advice. When I accidentally overstepped the 1.5 meters mark at the grocery store, an elderly gentleman admonished me with disgust: “Stay in your spot!” adding a poke in the arm for extra emphasis. Then, when I took my little granddaughter out for a much-needed exercise, she was berated by a passerby, shouting “1.5 meters!” as he huffed away. Whew!!! Many of us have similar incidents to recount as the COVID-19 pandemic takes its toll. We are all so full of fear and anxiety that we seem to have lost the love, joy and graciousness of life. Hardly anyone smiles now as we walk past them. Heads are bowed, as eyes flit about, alarmingly vigilant but spaced out. The body language signals, “Stay away from me”. This is easily understandable as we face a dangerous, invisible enemy and we do not know who will fall by its sword before the pandemic ends. Thousands of lives and livelihoods are being lost or impaired. Although we all know that social distancing and self-isolation are necessary shields, we all suffer its effects – some catastrophically. Everyone has been affected, especially the dedicated front-line health workers, who heroically continue their care despite the risks. Sadness over the loss of loved ones, for any cause, becomes overwhelming when mourners are unable to receive the comfort of friends and family. My heart breaks for them as I pray for the souls of the dead and for comfort for their families. Government and health authorities are doing everything they can to enforce what they believe to be the best measures to control and prevent it. Many of them compare it to warfare. And indeed, there are casualties. Every nation is at its knees. But what has been its impact on me personally? When the lockdown and the shutdown were imposed, I looked at the projects I was supposed to be working on. At that moment, they seemed irrelevant. I decided to put them away in the garage, knowing that I would not be able to work on them now. My perspective has quickly shifted as I live moment by moment, prioritizing health and safety. I needed to visit the doctor for a medical issue. I implored the Lord to spare me from needing hospital care, as I dreaded the atmosphere there at present. I am forced to be more reflective and examine which parts of my life need to change. Every day I pray on my knees to ask the Lord for help. At every hour, I pray my favorite psalm 91 for the Lord’s protection for everyone, and the prayer “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” I usually get excited about future projects, but with COVID-19, the future is a blur. The unknown has become my daily reality. Because I am accustomed to a busy life, I needed to find activities to help me cope. I cook for the family more. Since my daughter and son-in-law work from home, I have taken on substantial duties in the kitchen. Family life has become our foundation. The first few weeks of staying home 24/7 were trying, but things improved as family solidarity was given greater importance and we appreciated each other more. Each of us contributed more to home duties. The daily laundry has become a consolation; its gentle whirring a sound of normality. Having ample time to clean cupboards and sort the house has given me a purpose. Sleeping-in became an escape at first, but then I also realized how exhausted my body had been over the years and I welcomed the rest and the slowing down. My shower in the morning has moved to an afternoon ritual as I rush to the shops for our essentials in the morning, while stock is still available. Simplicity has become a norm – no make-up, no perfume, just my unmade self. Little miracles happen. When I was desperate for toilet paper, hand wipes and disinfectant sprays and none was found at the shelves, some were left in an abandoned trolley! Reports from some parts of the world reveal that nature is taking a recuperative rest as pollution reduces and sky, oceans, forests revive. The closure of our churches during Lent and Easter was particularly difficult, and I wonder what message the Lord is revealing to us. Where is God in all of this? many people ask. Spiritual messages are plentiful. Most of them are encouraging, affirming that God is not the source of this, as He knows no evil, but He is travelling with us on this painful journey, just as He did when He suffered here on earth with us and His Resurrection gives us hope that we will endure this trial. Our prayer group that has been meeting weekly for the last 22 years was not discouraged by the lockdown. Led by the Holy Spirit, we conduct our prayer meeting and spiritual fellowship by phone conference every Friday and, gather prophetic messages and exhortations to see us through these difficult times. By embracing the use of technology, we can remain connected to our priests who continue to celebrate Mass for us. The blessing from this is that many people who were not previously present at Mass have joined us in tuning in to church gatherings and teachings, paving the way to a deeper, inner recollection and understanding of the faith. Never again will I take the gift of the Eucharist for granted. It is the most profound fast I have ever experienced. Recently, I got a call from a friend who is battling serious illness every day – at any moment she could die from heart and kidney problems. When she came out of hospital after another bout of complications, she told me that her outlook is one day at a time. I reflected that we are all in the same boat now. COVID-19 is teaching us an important lesson – to value each moment and be full of gratitude to God, from the instant we wake and all through the day. Words and deeds of love need to be spoken and performed right now, right here – not tomorrow. And have we ever said a genuine thank you to someone who served us today? “New every morning is your love, great God of light, and all day long you are working for good in the world. Stir up in us desire to serve you, to live peacefully with our neighbors and all your creation, and to devote each day to your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.” Amen. (A Liturgy for Morning Prayer, Upper Room Worship book)
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
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