Monday, December 5, 2016

Conscience our immediate but not ultimate guide

WITH all this controversy surrounding the “dubia” raised by 4
Cardinals before Pope Francis, the issue of conscience once again
comes to the open. It’s about how to understand the so-called primacy
of conscience which so many people, especially some theologians, like
to invoke.

    It’s true that our conscience enjoys some kind of primacy in our
spiritual and moral life. But we have to understand that primacy as
our conscience being an immediate guide in our spiritual and moral
life but never as our ultimate, absolute guide.

    Our conscience needs to follow an objective moral law which is not
ours to make or invent, but that of God who is our Creator and Father.
It’s God who sort of sets the rules of the game for us insofar as our
spiritual and moral life is concerned.

    After all, being the Creator, he designs the nature of our humanity
and points out what is good and bad for it. Our conscience, in short,
cannot and should not be self-guided. It needs to be educated, formed,
disciplined and purified, given the wounded condition we all are in
because of sin.

    That is why it is wrong to say that since our conscience, as our
Catechism teaches, is “man’s most secret core and his sanctuary
(where) he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths (1776),
no one can tell anything to anyone about what his conscience tells
him, because it is supposedly an affair strictly between God and man.

    That is quite a stretch to make, since God also makes use of human
and natural instruments and devices to make his voice heard by us. No
one can just say that he alone can authoritatively hear and interpret
the voice of God to him. He also has to listen to some instruments who
are precisely endowed with authority to guide all and each one of us.

    The usual problem here is that even if in principle and in theory we
know this truth about our conscience, we can find it hard to follow
and live that principle for a number a reasons, prominent among which
is that we always have to contend with our weaknesses, temptations and
sin itself.

    In my chats with people, and somehow verified in many readings of
current developments, I get the impression that conscience is
increasingly considered the ultimate bastion of personal freedom, the
seat of one’s real and barest self, where nothing extraneous like law
should be let in.

    I am afraid this is a dangerous drift in people’s understanding of
things. It betrays a treacherous and even alarming idea of freedom.
Freedom now becomes detached from any clear, fixed reference point,
and is now allowed to spin and fly in any direction

    Freedom, in this view, is prone to become nothing other than a whim
or caprice, a purely subjective affair. It considers itself
self-created and self-defining, its own law, completely at the mercy
of arbitrary impulses, like one’s moods, passing fancies, current
crazes and fads.

    Freedom without a fixed reference point can go everywhere but can end
nowhere. It becomes a wild and destructive force that frustrates our
desire for peace and joy. It’s highly deceptive, strongly seductive
but completely dangerous.

    And yet no matter how distorted and even denied, the objective truth
about freedom, especially as it relates to the link between law and
conscience, cannot be contradicted. The truth about it, sooner or
later, will prevail. It cannot be hidden and frustrated for long.

    A wayward freedom, if it does not crash, will be forced to correct
itself. It cannot escape the working of its own nature, and its own
origin and purpose. It might take centuries, wars, pain, blood, but it
cannot go against itself indefinitely.

    If freedom has to be grounded on truth and ultimately on God, then
conscience too should be so grounded. We need to realize more deeply
that our conscience needs to be vitally united with God not only in
terms of knowing the moral laws and principles but also and most
especially of developing a living piety and spirituality. Otherwise,
our conscience will most likely miss, or at least, misunderstand the
voice of God.

    It’s in this ideal condition of our conscience that we can more
sharply and promptly discern what God is telling us in any given
situation. We will have the true wisdom of God as well as have the
proper counsel we can give on ourselves and on others.

    The condition of our conscience depends on the condition of our
spiritual and moral life itself.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Our offering attitude

THIS is the fundamental and indispensable attidue all of
us ought to have. It corresponds to the reality that we are God's
creatures, created in his image and likeness, made children of his
through his grace, and meant to live our whole life with him.

            Absent this attitude, we would be living our life wrongly.
We would undermine our own nature, our own freedom, peace and joy. We
would be at the mercy of improper forces that may give us temporary
advantages but will surely destroy us in the end.

            By offering ourselves to God, we would meet the most basic
requirement of our human dignity as persons and children of God.
Otherwise, we detach ourselves from the very source of life and of
everything that is proper to us. We would stupidly dare to live our
life  by our own selves, relying simply on our own powers as if these
powers did not come from God himself that ought to be used according
to his will and laws.

            We need to strengthen this offering attitude. It would be
good if right at the beginning of the day, as we wake up, the first
thing that we do is to offer our whole life, our whole day to God,
renewing this offering every so often during the day.

            This is the simple language of love. God, who is love,
made us in love and for love. He expects us to repay his love for us
with our love for him.

            This offering attitude now assumes the character of
sacrifice, because it has to contend with the consequences of sin. It
now involves an element of pain and self-denial, where originally it
came as pure delight.

            That’s why, since the fall of our first parents, God has
been tutoring us, all throughout the history of mankind, to learn the
language of sacrifice.

            From Abel and Cain, to Noah, down to the patriarchs
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and to the prophets and other holy men and
women, this divine pedagogy on offering sacrifices has been done step
by step.

            First, they—we—were asked to offer some burnt offerings
out of the fruits of the earth and of our labor. Thus, plants and
animals were burned as offerings.

            Then some laws were given for us to be able to give God
not only things but also an integral part of us, if not our mind and
heart. These divine commandments are a way to form our minds and
hearts to receive a greater gift.

            Then came the perfect sacrifice, the sacrifice of Christ
on the Cross. This makes our loving and self-giving most pleasing to
God, since it is done for us and with us by Christ himself, the Son of
God who became man.

            On this point, the Letter to the Hebrews has these
relevant words attributed to Christ, addressed to his Father, to
describe how his sacrifice supersedes the previous forms of sacrifice:

            “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body
have you prepared for me. In burnt offerings and sin offerings you
have taken no pleasure. Then I said, Lo, I have come to do your will,
O God.” (10,8-9)

            And this economy of sacrifice continues to work up to now.
Christ’s sacrifice invites, not exempts, all of us to participate, as
can be gleaned from the words of St. Paul in his second letter to the
Corinthians:

            “We always bear about in our body the mortification of
Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our
bodies.” (4,10)

            There’s no doubt that in the Christian understanding of
the meaning of our life, the spirit of sacrifice plays a central role.
Sacrifice is not only an ingredient, much less a seasoning in our
life. It has to be the very essence of our life.

            This spirit of sacrifice meets all the requirements of
love, for which we have been created. We have to learn how to develop
that spirit in our day-to-day affairs.

            In fact, nothing should be done without this spirit of
sacrifice permeating it. We have to check if indeed our every deed is
primarily motivated by this spirit of sacrifice.

            Otherwise, we can go through life on the wrong footing,
badly if not fatally handicapped. This spirit of sacrifice keeps us
always in the frontiers of love, avoiding complacency and lukewarmness
that has been described as the tomb of love.

            We are supposed to offer our whole life as a sacrifice by
uniting it to Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross made available to us
through the Holy Mass.


Saturday, December 3, 2016

Time for another conversion

“REPENT, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Mt 3,1)
Words of St. John the Baptist who prepared the way for Christ to be
known to the public. These words continue to be breaking news, their
relevance and urgency never fading away. In this season of Advent when
we prepare for the birth of Christ, we should give these words our
immediate and operative attention.

            We can never say we are already good enough. As long as we
are still in this world, there is no level in our spiritual life that
can be considered as good enough. It’s time we remind ourselves of
that old saying, ‘the good is the enemy of the best.’

            We need to move on always, to continue conquering new
frontiers in our spiritual life which is a matter of growing in our
love for God and for others. Let’s avoid falling into self-indulgence,
complacency and lukewarmness. These will put a stop, or at least to
divert us, in our continuing journey toward our eternal home and they
do it with lulling and most tricky appeal.

            With love, there is actually no limit. It will continue to
make new demands on us, because life itself will also make new
challenges and trials on us. Let’s never forget that our life will
always be some kind of warfare. We have to contend with many enemies
of our soul.

            With every conversion we make, we get closer to God, we
grow in his divine wisdom and goodness. No doubt, we get to gain a lot
more than what we seem to lose every time we make a conversion.

            We should put our faith in this personal testimony of St.
Paul: “Whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as
loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be
loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord,
for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but
rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3,7-8)

            Let’s hope that we can echo these words of St. Paul
ourselves. Christ has already assured us: “There is no one who has
left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or
lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a
hundredfold now…and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mk 10,29-30)

            The mark of true saints is precisely this hunger and
thirst for repentance and conversion. Whatever good they did humbled
them instead of leaving them proud. They knew who and what was behind
all the accomplishments they made, and were more keenly aware of their
inadequacies, their mistakes, faults, infidelities, etc.

            It’s not that they led a miserable life of having a dark
outlook in life and a negative attitude toward their own selves. They
were a happy lot, whose joy sprang from their living and faithful
union with God, their father, but aware of their total dependence on
God.

            It’s their driving love for God and souls that keep them
feeling always the need for penance and conversion. It’s not just fear
of sin and evil that provokes this hunger. It’s love of God and souls.
It’s this love that made them see more things that they need to do.

            Due to this love, they also sharply knew that on their
own, all they could do is evil, not good. St. Augustine said something
to this effect. We are actually nothing without God.

            Our problem is that we often think that we can do good by
our own selves, without the grace of God. We think that with our
talents and good will alone, we can be and do good independently of
God.

            We easily forget the fact that all our talents and our
capacity to do good will all come from God. Our problem is that we
usurp the goodness and power of God, and make them simply as our own.
This anomaly, done at the very fundamental level of our life, would
have tremendous repercussions in all the other aspects of our life.

            This is something we should try to avoid. I know it’s easy
for us to fall to that predicament, and that’s precisely why we need
to have continuing repentance and conversion. We should not go to bed
at night without expressing some penance and reconciling ourselves
with our Lord. We have to end the day always reunited with God.