Friday, October 4, 2013

Letting Our Children Bloom

Creation holds God’s own signature to teach us how to nurture our children.

Ever  nurtured a sapling ? It is beautiful to see it grow while you till the soil ,add manure, water , prune it, protect it from external harm –at the same time allowing it to be exposed to the environment- gentle breeze , sunlight - to make it stand stronger with deeper roots and greener leaves , finally revealing the bud which longs to bloom from within into what it was called to be , a beautiful flower bringing a smile on your face , preparing to face the life journey ahead. Let me  pause for a moment ……

Sounds quite ‘other’ worldly ? Isn’t it difficult to  find this sight in the concrete jungle most of us live in ?  Yet this is the best analogy I could find as  God’s own model of letting children bloom in freedom. I prefer  the concept of ‘nurturing’  instead of ‘formation’ because nurturing is what  helps  children grow and continue growing throughout life. Formation on the other hand  seems like moulding the child into a  pre-decided form  and  may stop further growth.

What I mean to say is that our children  have several dimensions of their being . Physical, Intellectual, Emotional, Spiritual, Social. While being rooted in the family and faith community, it is important to allow enough freedom to  not  let their growth be stifled in any dimension . It calls for wisdom and right choices  in everyday life.

FREEDOM seems to be a controversial subject in every family , often also leading to parents banging their heads against each other. But it is an important part of parenting.  I won’t talk about  psychology or techniques  in this article . Let me share with you about some attitudes

Healthy communication within the family:

Sharing of feelings verbally:

Even tiny tots have feelings. Ask them to share with you their feelings  in words – when they  are angry, sad, happy,  hungry, satisfied , jealous , sorry , lonely , fearful etc.  Being in touch  with feelings will help them gradually understand the cause of these feelings . As they grow up  train them to understand the good feeling when they make  right choices until they learn to do the right thing not because it is a rule but because it feels good and not do the wrong thing because that feels bad. Help them to understand difference between temporary pleasure and lasting joy.

Sharing of thoughts, dreams, joyful or sorrowful events etc.

Develop  in them a habit of narrating everything that happened from morning to night . They will learn not to hide anything from you . Instead of  learning lessons by –heart,  help them to understand their lessons in school . Children have much to teach us in these times of advanced  media and communications. Be open to learn from them. Keep the computer in the living room or a place where family members keep moving around  .This will balance freedom with  monitoring what they do on the internet. Let them learn to value the trust you place in them. I am  grateful to my parents who  always trusted me to maintain my integrity . This has helped me stand for my values through every situation, peer pressures and storm in life.

Non-verbal interaction and physical presence in family

Children  grow up in a healthy manner if both parents are around . They learn the greatest lessons from family life . How to share little tasks , take responsibilities, care , enjoy , overcome differences , forgive etc.  Let them know what you think or feel – through  your facial experessions. But NEVER use  physical violence to teach them a lesson.

Praying together

The family rosary is the best traditional family prayer . In today’s noisy world silence is also important. Try visiting the Blessed Sacrament Chapel as a family  if attending Mass together is difficult due to Sunday school etc. or go on pilgrimage to a Shrine. Sing spiritual songs or hymns together during special family moments. These memories will always last.

Social life together as a family

Family vacation,  annual outings , meeting friends and relatives , even  doing some act of social service together will bring blessing  and wholistic growth of children.

These are suggestions for the growth of children in all dimensions of their being . The role of parents is to show them in which direction to  grow freely ,  allowing them to learn from their own experiences in daily living , while we assure them of  our loving presence to encourage them , trusting that the best in them will bloom through this freedom.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Teens and sexual morality

[The  question  below was sent to me by a reader. I  have tried to answer it in the post ]:

“As we all know physical needs vary according to individuals and age and it
is not fair to judge all equally with uniform codes relating to sexual morality.
Moreover though ,  in an individual the totality of the person with  spiritual ,
mental and physical dimensions are to be considered ,  the priorities
differ according to stages in growth.Sexual fantasies and  yearnings naturally  get a
predominant place in teens and adolescents and youth.Repressing them leads to
mental perversions and affects the total person , especially when there are safe methods of
relieving/satisfying them.”

Whether there should be  a uniform code regarding  sexual morality , applying to all humanity irrespective of  gender, age-group, economic, social, geographical, cultural conditions and religions etc.  is a perennial question debated by moralists around the world. 

The sexual instinct  is  hormonal , it is Natural and a gift of God to humans . The attraction to a person of the opposite sex, is a Natural law imprinted in humans for their own good and for procreation. It is Universal. However God has also given Reason to  humans  and this is what differentiates between  a man and a beast.  The Natural law is regulated by society through Human law based on Reason for the common good depending on the context of every society.

e.g.  In  some parts of India, it is considered  immoral  for a man to even hold the hands of his wife in public . In  cities the public expression of affection  between spouses is more accepted  but still limited , compared to what the cultures and practices in Europe and America  permit.  There  it is common  for men and women who are strangers to  greet with a kiss. The same  is unacceptable between man and wife in  most parts of India. Every society has its own customs and Human laws. It would not be fair to judge everyone equally with uniform norms around the world. And yet , human laws can be challenged by Natural law from which they is derived.

In some parts of the world , it is  considered normal  for adolescents to indulge in sex without marriage , both in the advanced /contemporary societies and the primitive tribes. 

Human  law varies according to  country, cultural group, situation etc.  Yet there is something broadly common to it [based on Natural law imprinted by the Creator].  Since time immemorial  and all over the world,  Marriage as an institution  has been practiced only between men and women . Today of course  there are debates and struggles for same sex marriages etc.

I’m sure as a Jew  Jesus Himself was influenced by  Human law in His society [based on Reason]  which had got refined  into Jewish law  made explicit through the Ten Commandments revealed by God to Moses, from the natural law written on the heart to be written on tablets of stone  . Jesus’ own teachings have refined  them further.  His life and teachings are  THE reference point for decisions on morality because He  revealed Himself as the Way the Truth and the Life. 

Imagine a situation of a young boy  in whose culture it is common practice for adolescents to  give free expression to  the sexual urges by having sex with any girl  he wants to.  He  moves to a place where it is  considered immoral for a girl to even talk to an unknown boy before marriage.  If the boy   rapes  her ,  would his act be justified because it is an acceptable  practice in his own community ? Here we see a conflict between the Human laws of two different societies. In one society he would be declared innocent according to  law of his own people and in another  he would be declared guilty.

How does Jesus look at this situation?

Would His judgment  be based on whether  the accused  was a Jew , a Gentile, a Samaritan, an adolescent , a married man  etc ? 

Would His judgment be different  towards His own followers / disciples ? Would He be lenient with some and strict with others ?

Did Jesus define morality from person to person on Individual basis or according to the Common good of the community , or  equitably by being Fair to all involved ? 

We cannot deal with all these questions in one post but lets try to understand  the Mind of Jesus Christ in this matter. When God created man and woman, He had a Plan which was thwarted  due to Original sin, [humankind’s  deviation from God ]. He had to send  His Son Jesus into the world  to reconcile all to Himself , to bring that Plan to fulfilment. So it was necessary  for Jesus to show us  that we are different from beasts , not only we have Reason as human beings, but  we are created in God’s image and likeness , destined  to a refined , beautiful  life   which  promotes the possible reality of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus did not preach against  natural or human law or Jewish law . He fulfilled it in Himself  , making it advanced in quality. Christian Discipleship is   easy to recognize through  its Quality. 

To  an adolescent boy in whose society it was normal to give free expression to his sexual urges by sleeping with any girl  , Jesus would be understanding  but  teach him  the dignity of  every boy and girl created in God’s image and likeness ,  He would  teach him the need and value of marriage lived in faithfulness , to promote  the Kingdom of God. He would  gift him the Spirit   to enable him to exercise  Self-control . He would teach him the  value of Agape  ,  the importance of the common good  and the rightful place of Eros  in  marriage.  He would teach that a Disciple  is enabled to take up his cross and follow Him .   

In context of   catholic adolescents in today’s  world , the same could be said.  Being a Christian is demanding . It is a  choice to follow the values of the Kingdom and not  those of the world. 

The phase of adolescence with its sudden surge of hormones  is a  phase of transition . How  pastors , parents , teachers help them to  mature thru  the phase is important.   They can help them understand that  sexual fantasies and yearnings are normal and a gift from God .  But to  act on them, to relish them   would become sinful.   Repressing them  is not the answer .  Relief  and satisfaction thru masturbation ,  sexual activity with another  will  also  not prevent mental  perversion or deviation  but may  lead to  burden  of guilt feelings and complexes in the mind. So how should they deal with this phase ?

Let me share a concrete example of a  family that came to me for therapy. 

The parents  are devout  Catholics . As their  son entered  adolescence  , he had a sudden  growth spurt  and  became a man physically  , but  emotionally and mentally he  was  still making transition from childhood to adolescence.  This boy  became guilt ridden due to  sexual fantasies  involving  his own  little sister and  mother.  His  guilt  reached such proportions that  he fell sick ,  would not get out of his room and  stopped attending school .  He  asked to go for Confession everyday and   was told by the priest to  ‘kill’ his  fantasies  which he couldn’t.  The situation worsened  and the entire family was  distressed. The boy would spend much time praying  and said he wanted to become a priest because he thought sex is dirty.

When  they came to me for help ,  I  explained to the boy  exactly what was happening in his body.  I told him  that his fantasies  were a normal part of growing up  and given by God at his young age  to help him learn to be in control. So he should not fight against  the thoughts  and feelings .It would  be sinful only if he acted on them or relished them. His sudden  growth spurt had made  him physically weak , anaemic and hence unable to cope with  other stress like  studies , his sexual fantasies etc.  We  put him on  nutritional supplements  to take care of his malnourishment.  Gave him some  bach-flower remedies  to  assist him to deal with  his feelings of  depression ,  guilt  etc.  The family was asked to pray the rosary together with him.  He was asked to return to school  instead of sitting at home  and to have  physical activity like walking , sports. He was also asked to volunteer for some charitable activity.

This Holistic approach taking care of the body, mind, spirit, social life etc.   helped the boy tremendously and  very soon he  became normal. It was the Safest method  to deal with the situation , without any repression. It could not be managed alone by the boy. It meant involvement and support by the entire family  which was possible because  they  had trained their child to share all his feelings with them  and he was loved unconditionally.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Marriage and the Paschal Mystery

Recently  I received  the following question from a married , lay theology student  :

".If one of the partners immediately after marriage falls a victim
> to accident/disease and becomes incapable of leading a sex life
> dont you think it would be inhuman  that the other partner should lead
> a celibate life thereafter ,and not seek secret  physical relief elsewhere?
> The church as such does not permit an acceptable solution in such cases.

I think I should share with  Readers , my  insight  in prayer regarding this and which I wrote to the person asking this question.  It is as follows :

- There is a difference between  marriage as a social institution
which  has been present in almost all cultures and times around the
world , and specifically  catholic sacramental marriage.

- Every catholic sacrament  is immersed in the Paschal Mystery .  The
union between a baptized man and a baptized woman  due to their mutual
self giving and acceptance  of each other [ their consent]   ,  is
very similar to Jesus Christ's  self giving  to  humanity thru His
passion, death and resurrection.

- Marriage  involves all dimensions of the spouses . When it is
consummated , it is a union not only in body but  also in spirit ,
thus  the two become  one flesh and also  have a spiritual bond.  I
think  one can compare  this marital union  with  mystical union with
God in prayer.   In Church history the union between spouses  has
been treated as inferior  to the celibate life  and lay people have
started studying theology  quite recently .  Actually  catholic
marriage can be seen as a Vocation , in no way inferior to  celibacy.
It is a sacrament . God is present  in the act of union between the
spouses and they co operate  with God and each other  to such a deeply
physical and spiritual level that  this love can bring a new life , a
soul  in this world .  Catholic marriage  is for the good of the
spouses  and for the procreation and education of children.  The
physical  union  is not merely meant to satisfy their human  desire or
satisfaction  , but  is  an act of  self giving and acceptance of each
other . It is  perhaps so similar to the highest forms of mystical
union in prayer   that  its time  married laity claimed   that  this
can be   THEIR  way of  coming close to God.

If after  a catholic sacramental marriage which is already consummated
, one of the partners  is unable to lead a sex life , you wonder why
the partner should be forced to live like a celibate.  I am wondering
,  isn't the  injured / sick  partner also  forced to live like a
celibate ?  Then why only the healthy  partner  feels  injustice ?  Do
they not vow to be with each other in sickness or in health ? After
the two have become one flesh and are bonded in spirit  , immersed in
the Paschal Mystery ,  when Jesus Christ Himself  was an innocent
victim  ,  is it Christian discipleship for the  physically healthy
partner to seek secret  satisfaction with someone else outside
marriage ?   Here the question is not about  human and inhuman . The
question is about  being an authentic disciple and  not being
authentic disciple of  Jesus Christ.   If the  marital  act is  so
sacred that  I will dare to call it a  Prayer that  brings the couple
very close to God  ,  how can  it be right to fall so low as to forget
ones  vows  to be faithful to ones partner and seek  fulfilment of
lust ?

I know  the  sexual instinct is God's  gift to every human being. But
at least I  believe it  IS possible to  exercise self control ,
abstinence etc  for a  higher  good that   catholic sacramental
marriage is supposed  to live.

Will it be Christian for a married  man or woman  to  fulfil the
sexual urges  by committing adultery , or  self indulgence thru
masturbation , or  abusing and raping innocent victims ?  Discipleship
can never permit this.

Christianity has the traditon of channelising these instincts thru
service , by  loving the  whole world. Can not the couple  be inspired
to adopt children ?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Love in return for Love

In the intercessions  of the Evening Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours , the phrase ‘Love in return for Love’ struck me deeply  . It said,
Let us pray to Christ, who, of his fullness, gives his brothers love in return for love.”

What struck me  is  Jesus’ love  for me . How do I  give Love in return of Love ?  What is Jesus’ desire ?  How can I love Him in return of His love ?
Simply by loving others with Him .

The sign of my love for Jesus   , is giving Jesus who is Love  , to the whole world.