Monday, September 26, 2016

Poverty helps piety

THE story of Lazarus and the rich man (Lk 16,19-31)
reminds us of a basic truth of our faith. Poverty helps while wealth
tends to harm our relationship with God as well as with others.
Poverty is a good path to heaven. We need to live poverty for us to
effectively be with God and with others, and to be assured of heaven.

            Christ reiterated this truth when he said: “Truly, I tell
you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and
sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Mt 24,40) Here he clearly tells us
that he identifies himself with the “least of these brothers and
sisters.”

            As for the rich, he told us in no uncertain terms how
difficult it is for them to enter heaven. “It is easier for a camel to
go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter
the kingdom of God.” (Mt 19,24) Wealth usually would make us
indifferent to the needs of others.

            With those indications said, we should now see what would
comprise the poverty and the richness that are being referred to. We
cannot deny that poverty and richness can have different meanings
according to our human standards, and can even conflict to what Christ
meant.

          It’s important that we know there is good and bad poverty.
At the moment, it seems people know more about the bad one, the one
that demeans us as persons. There’s hunger, ignorance, inhuman
conditions that rightly need to be fought if not eliminated.

            But while that concern is just perfectly fine, we should
not forget that it’s even more important to know and live the good
type, because it is truly necessary for us. We should do everything to
live this good type of poverty, even if we may happen to be well
endowed materially and financially.

            Our problem is that we seem to be exclusively concerned
about bad and inhuman poverty and we appear completely clueless about
the good one. We have to exert deliberate effort to correct this
anomaly.

            The good poverty can be gleaned from one of the
beatitudes. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom
of heaven.” (Mt 5,3) I’m sure many of us are familiar with these
divine message, but I wonder whether we take it seriously, aware of
its practical implications and really eager to attain the goal it is
inviting us to reach.

            This good poverty is meant for all of us, and not just for
some who happen to be more religiously inclined. This is one of the
first battle grounds we need to win to have a proper understanding and
attitude toward this virtue.

            Good, Christian poverty is actually a happy poverty. While
it involves some self-denial and sacrifice, it on the whole and from
beginning to end is a very positive element in our life.

            With it we free our soul, the very seat of our identity
and the linking point between God and us, from any obstacle that would
impede our relation with God and with others. With our wounded human
condition, we tend to have material and temporal concerns dominate our
soul, desensitizing it from its true source and end.

            That’s why Christian poverty is not so much about poverty
in material terms as in poverty of spirit. It does not keep a negative
attitude toward material things, but rather considers them always in
relation to our duty towards God and others.

            And so Christian poverty can be and, in fact, should be
lived even in the midst of material prosperity. It is not averse to
earthly wealth as long as this wealth is taken as means in our total
self-giving to God and to others.

            Thus one should not be afraid to be a millionaire or a
billionaire as long as he is detached from earthly things and his is
heart to totally given to God and others. Christian poverty is
compatible with good taste, good grooming and certain level of human
comfort.

            It is also open to any situation. As St. Paul said: “I
know both how to be brought low, and I know how to abound; both to be
full, and to be hungry; both to abound and to suffer need.” (Phil
4,12)

            This is, of course, easier said than done, and so
Christian poverty demands of us constant struggle. We need to
continually examine our conscience, rectify our intentions,
increasingly get involved in the lives of others, always promoting
religion and social justice.

            This is the only way this Christian poverty can be lived
regardless of the situation.


Saturday, September 24, 2016

Frontiers and front lines

IN a sense, our life can be described as having to do with
frontiers and front lines. As something dynamic that needs to develop
and grow, our life cannot avoid having to discover and explore new
frontiers as well to guard and defend the front lines.

            We cannot afford to be complacent and get stuck in a
certain level of life. We need to grow and to be better always in a
lifelong process that knows no limit until death intervenes.

            We can never say that we already have enough in our life.
That attitude would clearly constitute a kind of self-satisfaction
which is the antithesis of man’s purpose of life as taught to us by
our Christian faith.

            At the same time, we need to protect and defend whatever
we have gained and accomplished in our life. And in case we slide
back, we need to recover the lost ground.

            Our life has to do with frontiers because we are always in
a quest toward human and Christian maturity, fulfillment and
perfection. And the ultimate frontier to discover is heaven which, in
a letter of St. Paul, is described as where “eye has not seen, nor ear
heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which
God has prepared for them that love him.” (1 Cor 2,9)

            In another part of the gospel, we can say that heaven as
the final frontier is when God appears to us and we become fully
identified with him. St. John describes this in these words: “when he
appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him just as he is.” (1
Jn 3,2)

            Before we reach that final frontier, we have to open many
subordinate frontiers that will always need thorough exploration until
we can master them. These frontiers are the many virtues that we have
to acquire to make ourselves more and more like God.

            At the same time, in our pursuit for new frontiers we need
to take care of the front lines where we have to deal with hitches,
roadblocks, setbacks and open enemies whose purpose is precisely to
keep us from reaching our ultimate goal.

            These front lines are endless, because any mastery we can
attain in a particular frontier will always be tenuous, at best. It’s
a mastery that cannot be definitive, although a high level of
stability can be reached, after so much effort is exerted on our part
and we correspond to the grace that God always offers us. It cannot be
definitive because we always have to contend with our human weakness,
the temptations and our sinfulness.

            Besides, a front line that has been conquered often
mutates into another front line. We may, for example, have attained a
certain level of humility at one point, but another strain of vanity
and conceit can emerge in a subtle way. This is true in all other
virtues. Their weeds that can look like the real plants can often
sprout nearby.

            Our Christian faith tells us that we have to contend with
our own wounded flesh, the world and the devil. In the words of St.
John, the world contains nothing other than “the lust of the flesh,
the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” (1 Jn 2,16)

            Insofar as our wounded flesh is concerned, we have to deal
with what St. Paul termed as the works of the flesh: “fornication,
impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy,
anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness,
carousing, and the life.” (Gal 5,19-21)

            And insofar as the devil is concerned, St. Paul warned us
that we are ranged against powerful enemies. “Not only do we wrestle
against our flesh and blood, but against principalities, against
powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against
spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Eph 6,12)

            That’s why we can never think that we can be totally at
peace in the world. We somehow have to engage in a lifelong warfare,
and thus learn how to guard, defend and do spiritual combat in the
front lines of our life.

            Peace, relative peace here on earth, as one saint put it,
is a result of war. It can never come without some struggle. We just
have to feel at home with this fact of life and cultivate the
necessary skills.

            We should not get nervous at the prospect of this dual
challenge of having to always break new frontiers and to fight in the
front lines. For, as St. Paul told us, “If God is for us, who is
against us?” (Rom 8,31)


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Focus amid distractions

THIS is a big challenge we have today, considering the
tremendous amount of distractions we have, both the legitimate and the
illegitimate ones, the latter far outnumbering the former.

            Yes, we need some distractions as a way of rest and
relaxation. But in this human need, we should not lose our proper
focus. Rather, we have to learn how to stay properly focused while
having those legitimate distractions. We have to be most wary of our
tendency to be so carried away by them that we compromise that focus.

            At the moment, we can see a disturbing development
involving many people, especially the young. A big segment of the
people is getting addicted to games and the many other novelties
played out in the Internet and in the new technologies.

            They are now more self-centered and self-absorbed, prone
to idleness, laziness and comfort and pleasure seeking. God and their
relationship to others are all but blotted out of their consciousness.

            For example, a priest-friend of mine told me recently how
surprised he was to see a sudden gathering of people visiting the
grotto in his parish grounds at certain times of the day. He
discovered later on that they were there not to pray before the Marian
image but rather to catch some Pokemon. And many other Internet games
hook them.

            Of course, we just cannot be condemnatory and dismissive
of these games and fads. I am sure, there must be something good in
them, otherwise people would not spend time and energy for them. We
just have to learn how to channel this keen interest so that it is
purified and can truly contribute to our human and Christian
perfection.

            It does not mean, however, that there would not be some
prohibitory indications. There will always be a place for the
“you-should-not” advice. We just have to make sure that the negative
aspects of any pastoral attention given to the people are always done
in the context of the over-all positive purpose of the ministry.
People should be able to see that. Otherwise, we will alienate them
further.

            This will require a certain development in the sensitivity
and creativity in dealing with this new phenomenon. It would be good
if more studies and consultations be done to see how to handle this
situation.

            What is clear is the challenge of how to make God the
be-all-and-end-all of our life. We need to present Christ’s words in
this regard in a way that would be attractive to the people of today
with their peculiar sensitivity and culture. Let’s remember that
Christ himself did everything to adapt himself to us to carry out his
redemptive mission.

            How can we present, for example, the following words of
Christ to the people of today without scaring them: “Seek first the
kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be
added unto you?” (Mt 6,33)

            Or when he said: “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant
in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value,
went and sold all that he had and bought it?” (Mt 13,45)

            Or when St. Paul said: “Whether you eat or drink or
whatever you do, do all to the glory of God?” (1 Cor 10,31)

            It’s not an easy task. One really has to be truly inspired
by the Holy Spirit to be able to make these words hit a chord in
people’s hearts. At the moment, what can come to mind are some words
of Pope Francis when he said to the effect that priests should be
“shepherds living with the smell of the sheep.”

            It’s a more catchy way of what St. Paul said about Christ:
“He (the Father) made him (Christ) to be sin for us, who knew no sin,
that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (1 Cor 5,21)

            Again, it’s not an easy task, for the simple reason that a
priest’s immersion in the world, if he is not so identified with
Christ as to be strong and clear-minded, can suck him to the world
rather than him taking the world back to God.

            For this, we have to see to it that the spiritual life of
priests, and of everyone actually, is truly vibrant, one that is
regularly nourished through prayers, sacrifice, recourse to the
sacraments, study of doctrine, continuing ascetical struggle, etc.

            It should be a spiritual life that knows how to flow with
the times, very sensitive and adaptable to new developments, not
frozen and rigid in a certain mould.