Sunday, April 15, 2018

Saints also committed sins


THAT is one thing for sure. Never think that to be a
saint, one has to be spotlessly clean from beginning to end. We need
to disabuse ourselves from this false idea of holiness.
  
            In fact, the opposite is quite true. To be a saint, one
has to be prepared to be hounded by all sorts of temptations and to be
buffeted by all kinds of weaknesses. And yes, from time to time, he
might fall and commit even a grave sin. But he also knows how to
bounce back.
  
            This is the real secret of becoming a saint—his capacity
to begin and begin again, never allowing himself to get discouraged by
his defects and sins, always quick to go back to God asking for
forgiveness and for more grace, and also fast to learn precious
lessons from his mistakes and sins.
  
            In fact, in a certain way, his defects, the temptations
around, and the sins he may commit would constitute as a strong urge
to go back to God as quickly as possible. He does not allow them to
separate him from his Father God.
  
            And on the part of God, we can be sure that he would be
filled with tremendous joy when we come back to him after we fall.
This is what we can conclude from those very consoling parables of the
lost sheep, the lost coin and the prodigal son.

            Pope Francis, in his latest Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete
et exsultate, echoed the same truth. “Not everything a saint says is
completely faithful to the Gospel,” he said. “Not everything he or she
does is authentic or perfect. What we need to contemplate is the
totality of their life, their entire journey of growth in holiness,
the reflection of Jesus Christ that emerges when we grasp their
overall meaning as a person.” (22)
   
            On our part, we should try our best to be very faithful.
But it is also understood that our best efforts can sometimes fail us.
We can still commit errors and even grave ones. But there’s always
hope. God does not abandon us. He is willing to go through the
complicated process of becoming man and dying for us on the cross and
remaining with us for all time in the Church and with the sacraments
just to bring us back to him.
  
            This truth of faith should fill us with joy and
confidence, and instead of mainly worrying about how to avoid sin, we
should be more interested in doing what is good, what God wants us to
do and to accomplish in this world. True sanctity is not so much a
matter of being too concerned about sin as of doing the will of God.
Sanctity is more joy than worry, more action than caution, although
the latter have their role to play.
   
            Let us remember that God wants all men to be saved. (cfr.
1 Tim 2,4) He created us for that purpose, to be like him and to be
with him for all eternity. And even if we spoiled the original design
God had for us, he has repaired so well that we can say that we are
better off this time after sin than before sin.
  
            That’s because with our sin, God became man and gave us a
better deal of how to be with him in spite of our tendency to go
against him. Somehow our dignity as children of God enjoys a greater
status since by becoming man God shares our nature so we can more
intimately share with his divine nature.
  
            It goes without saying that we should not trivialize our
tendency to sin. We should fight it as much as we can. But that
reality should not undermine God’s will that he is bent on saving
us—of course, with our cooperation also.



Friday, April 13, 2018

True face of humility


I WAS happy to learn that Pope Francis tackled the
question of humility in his latest Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et
exsultate (Rejoice and be glad), which is about holiness in today’s
world.
  
            In paragraph 118 of the document, he said it very clearly:
“Humility can only take root in the heart through humiliations.
Without them, there is no humility or holiness. If you are unable to
suffer and offer up a few humiliations, you are not humble and you are
not on the path to holiness.
  
            “The holiness that God bestows on his Church comes through
the humiliation of his son. He is the way. Humiliation makes you
resemble Jesus; it is an unavoidable aspect of the imitation of
Christ.”
   
            These words resonate strongly with me. Years ago, when
still as a college student, I was very intrigued by the words of St.
Josemaria Escriva in his book, The Way. Point 594 of that book said:
“You are humble not when you humble yourself, but when you are humbled
by others and you bear it for Christ.”
  
            I remember that these words prompted me to make some
radical adjustments, a paradigm shift, in my understanding of
humility. I thought humility was a matter of humbling oneself, which I
was willing to do, at least to some extent. What Escriva’s words told
me, and now what Pope Francis is reminding me, is that humility is a
matter of being humiliated by others and by some external
developments.
  
            That was hard to do and to make as an organic part of my
attitudes. It means that I have to go beyond my feelings, my
preferences, my ideas of humility. It means that humility does not
depend on me, but on how things go in the world, no matter how
unpalatable they would be to me or to anyone.
  
            To be sure, this character of humility can only be found
in Christ who precisely said: “Learn from me for I am meek and humble
in heart.” (Mt 11,29) And he expressed this very vividly in his life
by going through all the mockeries, insults and ultimately the
crucifixion during his passion and death just to complete our
redemption.
  
            We need to adapt this understanding of humility as taught
and lived by Christ and as Pope Francis now reminds us of. Yes, it
will require tremendous effort on our part, but the grace of God will
always be there. Let us just keep in mind Christ’s reassurance: “My
yoke is easy and my burden light.” (Mt 11,30)

            Let us not over-react to all the humiliations we can
encounter in our life by not insisting too much on the tit-for-tat
kind of justice. Let us remember that even those humiliations and
expressions of hatred and injustice that can be inflicted on us will
always play into the redemptive game-plan of God for us, if not now
then in the end.
   
            When Caiaphas, for example, said that “it is better for
you that one man dies for the people than that the whole nation
perish,” (Jn 11,50) he was actually playing into God’s game-plan. St.
John in his gospel said: “He (Caiaphas) prophesied that Jesus would
die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for
the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them
one.”
  
            Thus, we should not over-react when all insults,
injustice, violence and all other forms of humiliations would pour on
us. We need to react the way Christ reacted to his humiliations.
   
            That is the only way we can truly be humble and in the end
to be truly holy, as Pope Francis said his latest Apostolic
Exhortation. We need to make some radical adjustments in our
understanding and ways of living this particular virtue of humility.


Thursday, April 12, 2018

No need to be canonized


WE all can be and should be saints even if we are not
canonized, that is, to be officially declared as saint by the Church
after a long process of verifying the holy life of a person that
definitely should show how heroic he lived his fidelity to his
vocation and mission.
  
            In fact, for the great majority of the saints, this is the
case, because sanctity is not a matter of public knowledge but of
being faithful to what God in the Holy Spirit is asking them to do at
every moment.
  
            Many times, this holiness is achieved not by being special
in the world, like being a Pope, bishop or priest, or a hero like
Rizal who was shot at the Luneta. It can be attained by anyone by
simply doing the small little duties of everyday with great love for
God and neighbor and with heroic consistency despite difficulties.
  
            That is why I was happy to read the following words in the
latest Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis, “Gaudete et exsultate”
(Rejoice and exult), which is about holiness in today’s world:
  
            “This holiness to which the Lord calls you will grow
through small gestures. Here is an example: a woman goes shopping, she
meets a neighbor and they begin to speak, and the gossip starts. But
she says in her heart: ‘No, I will not speak badly of anyone.’ This is
a step forward in holiness.
  
            “Later, at home, one of her children wants to talk to her
about his hopes and dreams, and even though she is tired, she sits
down and listens with patience and love. That is another sacrifice
that brings holiness.
  
            “Later she experiences some anxiety, but recalling the
love of the Virgin Mary, she takes her rosary and prays with faith.
Yet another path of holiness. Later still, she goes out onto the
street, encounters a poor person and stops to say a kind word to him.
One more step.” (16)
  
            The Pope continued by saying that while we can be inspired
by the lives of some holy people, we are not meant simply to be
copycats, since in spite of similar aspirations and desires and of
having the same particular spirituality, we all have different
conditions and circumstances. Each one is unique, and his way to
holiness is unique and peculiar to him.
   
            In this regard, the new document says: “’Each in his or
her own way,’ the Council says. We should not grow discouraged before
examples of holiness that appear unattainable. There are some
testimonies that may prove helpful and inspiring, but that we are not
meant to copy, for that could even lead us astray from the one
specific path that the Lord has in mind for us.
  
            “The important thing is that each believer discern his or
her own path, that they bring out the very best of themselves, the
most personal gifts that God has placed in their hearts (cf 1 Cor
12,7), rather than hopelessly trying to imitate something not meant
for them.
  
            “We are all called to be witnesses, but there are many
actual ways of bearing witness.” (11)
  
            I believe that what is really important is that each one
of us learns how to discern what the Holy Spirit is prompting to us to
do at every moment and what he is showing us as our particular
vocation and mission for our life.
  
            That is why we need to learn to pray, to live always in
the presence of God, to have recourse to some spiritual direction to
better discern the things of God for us, etc., etc. These I believe
are basic things that are common to all who aspire to be truly holy in
today’s very complicated world.