Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Christmas Is In The Heart

IT’S again Christmas! This year though, the mood seems to be a bit subdued, the atmosphere toned-down. The blinking lights and other garish decors appear to be concentrated only in the malls waiting to be bought.

Economists, of course, are quick to explain. People are wary about our current social, economic and political situation, they say. In spite of the heavy cash inflow from our OFWs, our heroes and saviors, people tend to be Scrooges this time.

Just as well. True Christian believers welcome this predicament, since it can help us in savoring the authentic spirit of Christmas. They believe that everything, no matter how considered humanly, will always work for the good.

Sometimes hardships and sacrifices occasion deep spiritual realizations and
sharp insights of faith. They help us in getting liberated from the clutches of a purely materialistic, if not thoroughly sensual world.

They can launch us to the far richer world of the spiritual and supernatural, using the language of faith and piety. That’s why Jesus’s life was one of suffering and privations. He asks us to carry the cross and to enter by the narrow gate.

Pope Benedict recently echoed what we already know quite well. “In present day consumer society,” he said, “this period suffers, unfortunately, a sort of commercial ‘contamination,’ which runs the risk of altering its authentic spirit.”

To Pope Benedict and all the other faithful followers of Christ, this authentic Christmas spirit is characterized by recollection, sobriety, a joy that is not exterior but profound.

These, indeed, are conspicuously missing these days. The challenge we have now is how to welcome Christ into our hearts not only during Christmas, when he comes to us a helpless little child, but also all throughout the year.

This is the challenge of many of the nominal Christians. We have to learn to look for Christ, find him, and love and serve him every minute of our life. And this in a clearly strong and determined way.

We cannot afford to be complacent about this. Some even dare to be cavalier about this, not realizing that they are making a fool of themselves. No, no. We need to be clearly strong and determined in this effort.

Especially now when we are constantly bombarded with impulses—images, sounds, shows, sensations, etc.—that tend to kill the spiritual life while heavily stimulating the bodily if not animal life we also have.

Just looking at many TV shows, reading newspapers and magazines, listening to the radio, this is what we can readily conclude. There’s a systematic effort, almost like a devil’s plot, to stick us to the material and the sensual, the here and now.

There’s no mention of God, or at least any reference or allusion to God. Art and creativity are purely inspired by earthly values, driven by passion and not by faith, pursued mainly with selfish ends rather than by charity that should imbue all our actions.

Such art and creativity generate a spiral of evil, a dynamism of sin, where bickering, hatred, envy, lust, and a long, endless etcetera dominate. There’s no peace, inside nor outside. There’s no real joy, an abiding sense of being in living communion with God and with everybody else.

Yes, there can be blinding lights, breath-taking colors and experiences, absorbing dramas, addictive highs and numbingly comfortable lows, but we are all reduced to the life of the senses alone. The spirit gets lost.

The real challenge of Christmas is when we truly welcome Christ in our hearts such that we become Christians through and through, knowing how to be both human and divine, natural and supernatural, practical and spiritual.

All our actions, our thoughts, our plans, our projects, our shows, our politics, our business, etc., etc., while being truly human and fully engaged with all the requirements of our nature, should never fail to have the Christian savor.

Somehow, while we are still on earth, we already taste the joy of heaven. And this is just natural to us.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


IT’S good that with all this bird flu scare upon us, we are doing everything, or at least many things, to prevent, if not combat and contain the dreaded disease in case it finally comes.

My fervent wish now is that more or less the same sense of alertness and preparedness be given to the far more dangerous and destructive spiritual illnesses and moral aberrations that threaten us just as much as the bird flu.

This, I believe, is a sensitiveness that we still have to develop in a more massive way among ourselves. More than our physical health, it is our spiritual and moral health that requires serious attention and concern from us.

We seem to be quite clueless, completely indifferent to them, ignorant of their causes and their silent ways and effective spread in our society. We take action only when things are already too late.

Among these spiritual and moral viruses that threaten us now is agnosticism. I have come to this conclusion when I recently read an article that clearly showed agnostic ideas. Perhaps the writer was not even aware of this.

Of course, I also have many other observations that confirm this suspicion. The sad thing is that hardly anyone is voicing any warning. Worse, our present environment seems averse to such warning.

Basically, agnosticism is the attitude or belief that one cannot be sure if God really exists. There may be God, and because of that, there may be some absolute truths, but these cannot be known for sure by us.

This is how the Catechism describes it:

“Agnosticism assumes a number of forms. In certain cases the agnostic refrains from denying God. Instead it postulates the existence of a transcendent being which is incapable of revealing itself, and about which nothing can be said.

“In other cases, the agnostic makes not judgment about God’s existence, declaring it impossible to prove, or even to affirm or deny.” (2127)

Still more: “Agnosticism can sometimes include a certain search for God, but it can equally express indifferentism, a flight from the ultimate question of existence, and a sluggish moral conscience.

“Agnosticism is all too often equivalent to practical atheism.” (2128)

The danger of this mentality is that it brings one to the road of relativism. Everything can be held to be more or less ok. The ultimate deciding factor is simply one’s personal judgment, without any objective, universal criteria to guide him.

Agnosticism is clearly against the nature of man, who with his intellect and will is capable of knowing the infinite, of knowing absolute truths, and of knowing and loving God.

No matter how imperfect this capability may be in a person, it already makes one open to the transcendent. He is not invincibly confined to the here and now, to the material and temporal. He can know God. He can know absolute truths.

Agnosticism takes place when one does not make any serious effort to use his spiritual faculties of intellect and will properly. Instead of focusing them on God, they are focused only on some purely material or human things.

This in turn can have many explanations. There could be an element of some human weakness and limitation that is left uncorrected, or laziness, or worse, pride, especially intellectual pride, or being dominated by vices and malice, etc.

In the practical side, it comes when one fails to pray, and to develop a truly personal relationship with God. This is true especially with many nominal Christians. They fail to contemplate God even as they work or play.

It is in these areas where the solutions to agnosticism can be devised and implemented. We need to come out with effective strategies to tackle the ever-present threat of agnosticism in our midst.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Rev Up Your Will

That's my friendly advice. I believe it's a basic skill we all have to learn, and a very relevant one at that, given our present circumstances, whether in the personal or social level.

If problems, concerns, difficulties seem to drown you, you always have a way of tackling them effectively. Just rev up your will—to face them boldly and move on no matter what.

When temptations come, when human weaknesses drag you down, when mistakes seem to tear you apart, again just rev up your will, and you will have a way of saying no to temptations, of bearing the weaknesses, and of confidently facing the consequences of mistakes.

When you have to enter into a commitment, and when you feel weary to be
faithful to such commitment, rev your will up. You can without fear enter into such a commitment and cheerfully meet the requirements of fidelity.

Our will is a great weapon in our armory, a real treasure in our endowment. Together with our intellect, it is our chief spiritual faculty that enables us to transcend our human, earthly and material-bound condition.

With it, we can liberate ourselves from the morally-blind impulses of our hormones and the complicated play of forces in our social and political environment.

With it, we can choose to be optimistic or pessimistic, to love or to hate, to be happy or sad. With it, we can choose good or evil, to go along the ways of virtue or of vice. We can keep ourselves hopeful or wallow in self-pity.

Oh, how important that we really take good care of our will! It is what allows us to be lifted up to the supernatural order, to the world of grace.

You might be suspecting that I'm raving mad over our will's power, or waxing lyrical for its tremendous beauty and potentials. But let's hear what the Christian faith tell us about it.

From the Compedium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, we have the following most enlightening point:

"Man is open above all to the infinite—God—because with his intellect and
will he raises himself above all the created order and above himself, he becomes independent from creatures, is free in relation to created things and tends towards total truth and the absolute good." (130)

The big problem we have at the moment is that many of us are not taking good care of our will. We just allow it to drift to anywhere the wind blows. It can be dominated by our human frailties, instead of ruled by the impulses of God.

Thus, we can see an abundance of cases of people who are stuck in immaturity, being gripped by the impulses of their hormones or easily fooled and lost in the maze of our social life.

Those who may be lucky because of their superior human endowments can succumb to pride, arrogance, sophistry, pedantry, malice, etc., if they fail to orient their will to its proper object and to feed it by its proper food—God's will.

Remember what St. Paul said:

"I have learned to be self-sufficing in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to live humbly and I know how to live in abundance. I have been schooled to every place and every condition, to be filled and to be hungry, to have abundance and to suffer want. I can do all things in him who strengthens me." (Phil 4,11-13)

Sometimes, I feel our life is a will-game. That's why we have to be good at it. We have to rev it up everyday, so that it starts and ends only with God.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The clergy and politics

SINCE many people have asked me how the clergy should behave in relation to political issues, I thought of simply transmitting, without commentaries,
what I consider to be relevant Church indications.

I offer them for the consideration especially of bishops and priests, public officials and politicians, media practitioners and civil society groups, and the ordinary citizens, so they can act according to the spirit of these indications.

The aim is simply to dispel the darkness created by the thickening confusion regarding the matter. Some people feel, rightly or wrongly, that some clergy members are going out of line, or that some people are shrewdly using them.

From the Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests:

“The priest…cannot tie himself to any historical contingency, and therefore must be above any political party.

“He cannot take an active role in political parties or labor unions, unless, according to the judgment of the ecclesiastical authority, the rights of the Church and the defense of common good require it.

“In fact, even if these are good things in themselves, they are nevertheless foreign to the clerical state since they can constitute a grave danger of division in the ecclesial communion.

“Like Jesus, the priest ‘ought to refrain from actively engaging himself in
politics, as it often happens, in order to be a central point of spiritual fraternity.’ All the faithful, therefore, must always be able to approach the priest without feeling inhibited for any reason.

“The priest will remember that ‘it does not fall on the shoulders of the Pastors of the Church to intervene directly in political activities and in social organizations.

“This task, in fact, forms part of the lay faithful’s vocation, in which they work by their own initiative together with their fellow citizens. Nevertheless, he will not be absent ‘in the effort to form in them an upright conscience.

“The reduction of his mission to temporal tasks, of a purely social or political nature, is foreign to his ministry, and does not constitute a triumph but rather a grave loss to the Church’s evangelical fruitfulness.” (33)

From the speech entitled, “Avoid Partisan Politics and Highlight the Pastoral Character of the Church’s Action,” given on June 2, 2001 to CBCP members by now Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, then Secretary of the Section for Relations of the Secretariat of State of the Holy See:

“To preserve the credibility and strength of the Church’s authority, allow me to mention at least two basic guidelines, namely: first, unity among the bishops is fundamental.

“Experiences everywhere, be they from First or Third Word countries, invariably show that the civil society or political community loses trust in divided bishops or a fractious Episcopal Conference to conduct acts of mediation or to make appeals.

“When bishops make contrasting public declarations, even the most humble observers know that those called to be the ‘guardians of unity’ are compromising unity itself and their very own moral and religious authority.

“Second, impartiality must be maintained. It is only right hat at all times and in all places the Church should have true freedom to teach her doctrine and to pass moral judgment in those matters with regard the common good and fundamental rights and freedoms.

“In doing so, however, it is essential both to avoid partisan politics and to highlight the pastoral character of the Church’s action.

“Just as the Church is not identified in any way with the political community nor bound to any political system, the action of her Pastors cannot and must not be identified with any political party or interest.

“The people expect something else from their Pastors, that they be real witnesses to Christ, giving force to the Lord’s teachings by being the ‘conscience of the nation,’ by being prophets in the biblical sense of the word, whose charism is to denounce evil wherever it is found and to call all men and women back to God in true conversion.”

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Media should be humble to be objective

SOMETIME ago, media practitioners reacted almost uniformly to a survey that reproached the press for giving too much negative news. Promptly dismissing the charge, they asked why blame the media when they are only the carriers of news, and not the newsmakers.

I, of course, agree with that statement. But I think we will be missing a lot if we remain in that kind of reaction. It’s quite clear that there’s a lot more than just that the press simply carries the news.

The matter of presentation, the style and tone, the selection of news, the treatment of facts and data, the color and spin, etc., are very significant concerns that go beyond plain carrying of news.

In short, there’s a whole range of ethical and moral questions involved in transmitting the news to the public and specially in expressing opinions. It’s often a motive-and-intention game involved in this activity.

In fact, it’s most often in these aspects that the media are usually judged by the public. That’s just how the cookie crumbles in this life. There’s no such thing as “straight news”. A lot of other things go into that so-called “straight news.”

These are where they can be seen either to be fair, objective and balanced or biased, subjective and partial. These are where the character of the media people, the leaning and slant of the media outfit, etc., are known.

It is in these aspects where we can determine whether we have mature, sober and reasonable people involved or rather reckless, shallow, even plainly malicious and polluted ones.

Some are just reeking in self-righteousness, giving the impression that they cannot be wrong, and openly abusing their privileged position in the media.

To do their job well, media men should constantly realize their inherent need for honesty, integrity and maturity. They have to work on these requirements always, understanding that their formation never ends.

Given their delicate responsibility and the heavy pressures weighing on them, they should have a clear grasp of relevant moral principles as well as the habit of constantly purifying their intentions.

They should also have a good control, not suppression, of their emotions, allowing reason to dominate always. Like everybody else, they have to be humble so as to be objective. Pride simply distorts things.

More importantly, they should have a well-defined vision and culture for their job. Sad to say, many fail in this area, clearly showing that they are just drifting to where the wind may blow them.

I get the impression many don’t have a clear understanding of the common good. They appear guided only by what instantly provokes, what instantly gratifies, what instantly sells.

Thus, they are prone to sensationalizing and to being used and manipulated by powerful interest groups.

They have to understand that media should not only mirror and reflect events. They should also form and direct minds and hearts. This dual character of media should not be made to compete with each other.

If they don’t know how to blend these two together, then they don’t have business to be there, since they can most likely be irresponsible reporters of events or shameless propagandists and spin masters for some groups.

Like everybody else, media people should take every opportunity of receiving suggestions and even corrections to make a thorough and humble examination of conscience. Good results can only come from this.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Work and family

TO immediately give the focus of this essay, let me quote some lines from Pope Paul II’s “Laborem exercens”, his encyclical on human work.

“Work constitutes a foundation for the formation of family life…These two spheres of values—work and family—must be properly united and must permeate each other.” (10.1)

I feel that there’s a tremendous need for us to have a good understanding not only of the crucial roles work and family play in our lives, but also of the intimate mutual relationship that exists between the two.

Work depends on the family, and vice-versa, the family depends on work. I believe much of our problem today stems from our failure, quite common, to blend these two basic values properly.

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church echoes the same concern when it says: “Family and work deserve finally to be considered in a more realistic light, with an attention that seeks to understand them together.” (294)

Work assures a means of subsistence and serves as a guarantee for raising children. It also has a highly educational value so important in the life and responsibility of families.

It is a school of virtues for all the members of the family. The sense of justice and solidarity, the sense of order and priority, the virtues of prudence, fortitude, industry, patience, determination, etc. are learned through work.

Work should not be pursued in a strictly economic way where things are simply calculated in terms of money and of cold, often inhuman inefficiency. It should help in the humanization of men in the family.

The family, on the other hand, should not be so understood and developed as to deny the importance of work. It should also help in the humanization of work, giving work its heart and soul.

In many countries, and even in ours, anomalies regarding this intimate relationship between work and family exist, causing untold damage in the lives of persons and of societies in general.

Everyone should be encouraged, from individuals to different social institutions and even the government, to know and build up the healthy dynamic relationship between work and family.

Thus, the same Compendium says: “It is necessary that businesses, professional organizations, labor unions and the State promote policies that, from an employment point of view, do not penalize but rather support the family nucleus.” (294)

We have to realize deeply that on these values depends to a large extent our authentic development, both as individual persons and members of society, both in our material and temporal aspect as well as in our spiritual and supernatural dimension.

We should try to avoid situations where we have to travel great distances to the workplace, to keep two jobs, and to fall into physical and psychological fatigue that reduce the time devoted to the family.

We should also try to avoid situations of unemployment which have material and spiritual repercussions on families. Tensions and family crises have negative influences on attitudes and productivity in the area of work.

Work conditions should always be attentive to objective and subjective family needs, since we are dealing with persons, and not machines or objects.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The thirst for unity

THIS is what we should actively foster these days. We seem to be running amok, and in a bitterly divisive and destructive mode lately. We cannot go on like this, unless we have no other interest in life than to destroy ourselves until death, doom and irretrievable perdition.

Why, even little issues, faults and problems are blown out of proportion, creating a lot of noise and generating waves of tension in everyone. What is needed is healing, reconciliation, understanding, restraint, prudence, etc. In short, unity.

Unity is a basic need, a law of life. It's not only a necessity for the individual, but also and especially for the society. It is what makes us live properly and decently, and work effectively.

It is a constant and permanent need of ours. But we have to learn to work it out, simply because we cannot presume that it will just come about automatically. We are more complicated than what that would imply.

Disunity can only manifest a wound that needs to be healed, a problem that needs to be solved. Disunity is anti-life. It heralds and leads to death. Before that happens, it causes a lot of waste, in time, money, effort, everything.

Disunity makes men hate each other, fight and quarrel. It starts when one only his own interest in mind, without giving due attention to the common good. Its worst virus is when one's self-interest is seen to be what the common good is, even what God's will is.

It follows the logic of the flesh, the world and the devil. It's good in sowing intrigues, in destroying possible bridges among the people. It's reason on a rampage, unattached to faith and charity, and fed by passions and anger.

Unity, of course, is not a matter of uniformity. This is because we simply are different, unique individuals, unrepeatable despite modern cloning technologies, and with different backgrounds and circumstances.

Unity can tolerate and even foster a certain variety and plurality of views and positions. It respects them and tries to integrate them into a life-enriching combination that would redound to the good of all.

We need to build and live unity because we are all brothers and sisters living in the same world and in the same country. For a Christian believer, these natural reasons can even give way to supernatural motives.

We need to be united because we are all children of God, the image of Christ imprinted on each one of us inspite of our sinfulness. We have to learn to look at each other as another Christ. We have to learn to help each other to be consistent to our Christian dignity.

This unity can only be possible if union with Christ is made its source and fount. It's a union that is nurtured by a continuing dealing with him through prayers, sacraments, sacrifices, active application of Christian doctrine to life and culture.

This is the unity that is able to overcome the fragmentation of our inner life, and the division and conflicts of our life with others. This is the unity that is the antithesis of sin, the cause of all conflicts. It's a unity that requires constant conversion.

Only when we are united with Christ can we aspire to be instruments of unity and peace wherever we may be. We have to develop the habits of praying for everyone, of sowing understanding and charity in our dealings with others.

We have to develop the appropriate attitudes and virtues--wanting always to be agents of concord among us all, ready to overcome conflicts, to forgive and to ask for forgiveness also. We should stay away from any trace of resentments.

These efforts, of course, will need a lot of sacrifices, of self-denial, of acts of humility. We need to know how to be silent, how to listen and understand others well, how to be truly interested in the good of others, giving excuses for them whenever necessary.

This is the thirst for unity that we should always have!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Living the Eucharist

WE are now winding up the Year of the Eucharist, both worldwide and locally. In the Vatican, they are having the Synod of bishops to
discuss varied relevant issues.

I gathered that some delicate points are being discussed, and that some measure of discretion is being asked of the participants in talking to the media about the issues. Let’s just pray for a smooth and fruitful sailing of this Synod.

In Cebu and in many other dioceses, congresses and other assemblies are being held to see what have been accomplished in terms of Eucharistic devotion in the past year.

Were there an increase and an improvement in Eucharistic piety among believers? What initiatives can be made to sustain this devotion?
Questions like these are tackled in these gatherings.

These efforts are always necessary and need to be sustained with ever greater creativity, to perpetuate the awareness of the indispensable importance of the Eucharist, the sacrament that contains the real presence of Christ.

It’s a perennial challenge to all of us to find ways for everyone to develop and live a truly Eucharistic spirit. The Eucharist should not only be a matter of ideas, words and desires. It has to be lived in our daily activities and concerns.

Put in words, the challenge is how we can translate the many richly theological descriptions of the Eucharist into concrete impulses that guide and shape the minds and hearts of the people.

The ideal would be for the ordinary faithful to revolve their thoughts and desires around the Eucharist. The ideal would be for them to realize that everything they do, no matter how mundane, should start and end in the Eucharist.

That is to say, how can we make believers pine and long for the
Eucharist? How can we make the faithful relate everything they are, have and do to the Eucharist? How can they see that the Eucharist is relevant in everything in their life?

This is the most difficult part about the Eucharistic devotion. We tend to lose sight of the Eucharistic relevance in our lives as we immerse ourselves in our daily work.

The Eucharist is supposed to be the center and root of our interior life,the source and summit of the life and mission of the Church. It is what builds the Church. But how can we make these very lofty truths of our faith a reality in life?

Obviously some continuing evangelization of the Eucharist is needed. For this we need teachers, experts and theologians, thoroughly grounded on the proper doctrine of our faith, to keep on talking about this most wonderful treasure.

Let’s hope that we can have sacred ministers as well as lay people who are endowed with a deep sense of mission in undertaking this delicate task. It’s sad to think that instead of doing this, some get entangled with purely political and partisan affairs.

I must say that we in the Philippines are blessed with a people whose capacity for faith is great. We just have to give more substance to that faith, to make it bear real fruits in the different aspects of our life, including business and politics.

But more than teachers, experts and theologians, what are direly
needed are living witnesses whose words and deeds and whose life in general eloquently show their Eucharistic soul.

How wonderful it would be if we have consistent believers whose
presence alone could lead others to discover the marvel that is the Holy Eucharist!

There are many anecdotes of great saints whose conversion to the faith was triggered by witnessing the simple and authentic Eucharistic piety of ordinary people. St. Edith Stein’s conversion was something like this.

Simple things like a genuflections before the Blessed Sacrament
properly done, frequent and active participation in Holy Mass, spending time preparing for it and giving thanks after it—these can go a long way in living the Eucharist well.

Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Chastity in marriage

EVERYTIME I give a talk on this topic, I can't help but get amused by the look of disbelief I see on the faces of many people.

It is as if I'm talking about a very strange, arcane thing, a doctrine from the moon perhaps. I could almost hear their derisive reaction: "Hello, good morning, are you still on earth? Are you an alien?"

This simply confirms my suspicion. There's a lot of ignorance and confusion surrounding this basic aspect of married life. We can presume that from there, a lot of irregular and highly immoral marital acts must be taking place around us!

In the first place, there's that terribly mistaken notion that chastity is just a matter of not doing this and not doing that. It is a killer of freedom, a spoiler of spontaneity. It's even accused of being anti-human.

Many others now believe that chastity, if ever it has some use, is just for the young or the very old, the single if not the abnormal. They claim it has no place in a normally constructed person. And definitely no place in married life.

As if marriage bestows on a person the license to act as brutes, to follow simply the impulses of one's hormones and instincts. It is as if marriage means one can forget his conscience, his spiritual life, his supernatural destination.

Terribly lost in the minds of many is the beautiful truth that chastity is a virtue that perfects man, that makes him more human, that makes him have better human dominion over his animal urges.

Hardly appreciated is the fundamental truth that chastity is an affirmation of love, a defense of the true meaning and nature of human sexuality and marriage, removing them from the clutches of some blind forces.

If ever it involves sacrifices and self-denial, it is simply because as men and women we are free to choose to be either an animal or a person, a merely biological organism or a child of God. And in that choice, some struggle is unavoidable.

Making things worse are the shameless campaigns promoting population control, family planning, reproductive health, sex education, safe sex, etc., that twist, distort and disfigure the reality of human sexuality, chastity and marriage.

We have to remind everyone that chastity is indispensable in marriage because we continue to be human persons and children of God when we marry. We have to respect the nature of human sexuality.

The Catholic Church has always proclaimed the goodness and lawfulness of the acts in marriage by which the intimate and chaste union of the spouses takes place.

But she teaches that these actions should be effectively guided by objective criteria drawn from the nature of the human person and human action. We just cannot be governed by the laws of practicality and pleasure-seeking.

Chastity in marriage follows these criteria that respect the total self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love. It includes as an essential element that of openness to life in the acts proper to marriage.

Thus, chastity in marriage necessarily excludes the intrinsically immoral act of contraception, defined as "any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation, whether as an end or as a means."

Contraception usurps God's power of giving life. It makes man, not God, the ultimate source of human life. It makes man, not God, exercise the power to dictate the coming into existence of a human person.

Besides, contraception breaks the naturally insperable connection between the unitive and procreative properties of the marriage act. It gets hooked with the unitive aspect with all its pleasure-giving component, and rejects the responsibility associated with its procreative aspect.

Actually, no matter how one sweetens or rationalizes it, contraception is a degradation of married love and a corruption of the couple concerned. It makes the marital act not an act of love, but rather an act of selfisness.

We need to make a strong and clear reminder of this fundamental requirement of married life, and to promote chastity in marriage everywhere.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Idealistic vs. Realistic

THIS is actually a piece on prudence, a virtue now most howlingly relevant, especially with our still ongoing political mess that we are in. Not only our political leaders ought to know and live it. Needless to say, it's an indispensable quality of every politician. But also all of us need to live it, whether we are priests or laymen, professionals or farmers, young or old.

It's the virtue that precisely guides us in our decisions and actions, so that these would really fit our true, objective human dignity, and would really serve the common good. Given our human nature, our actions are not simply personal, but also have social effects. They are not only completely temporal, but also have eternal effects. We just have to learn how to integrate these dimensions in our actions.

It's not easy, of course. But we can always learn. And the present crisis can be a good source of lessons, validated by historical facts, personal experiences and plain doctrinal teachings of the Church, the expert in humanity.

As the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church says, prudence is "the virtue that makes it possible to discern the true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means for achieving it." (547) "Prudence makes it possible to make decisions that are consistent, and to make them with realism and a sense of responsibility for the consequences of one's action." (548)

It is a virtue that requires the mature exercise of thought and responsibility in an objective understanding of a specific situation and in making decisions according to a correct will.

The problem we seem to have now is that we have a lot of leaders, political and even ecclesiastical, who appear to get stuck with an idealistic mentality.

This means that they get entangled with one aspect of an issue, pursuing perhaps a very noble goal and upholding a very lofty value, but ignoring other aspects that unavoidably figure, and even significantly so, in an issue.

That's when we say they have become one-sided or narrow-minded or rigid in their views. That's when we say they seem to be up in the clouds or confined in some ivory tower, detached from the concrete details of real life. They likely fail to correctly read the pulse of the times.

Idealistic persons often arrive at their conclusions or decisions without consulting others. They are prone to be guided only by their own personal, if not individualistic, criteria. They likely think what they have or know are enough to guide them. That's crazy, of course, especially in these complex times of ours.

Thus, they often end up with simplistic ideas and rash judgments that may look brilliant in their minds. They fail to realize that these ideas many times are tainted with a lot of bias and prejudice, and carry the clever wiles of human pride, arrogance and vanity, the usual spoilers.

Of course, their views seldom work. If they do, it's just for a while. They will never last. Sooner or later, the infirmities and fallacies of their positions would be exposed.

What is truly needed is the virtue of prudence. Basic as it is, we need to strongly remind ourselves that this virtue necessarily involves at least three steps to clarify and evaluate situations, to inspire decisions and to prompt action.

Many leaders take dangerous short cuts, driven by strong passions more than by reason. They fail or inadequately do the needed reflection and consultation, then the evaluation that would analyze and judge situations in the light of the common good, if not of God's plans, and the decision-making.

To be prudent, we need to learn how to identify steps that can be taken in concrete political situations in order to put into practice the principles and values proper to life in society. This calls for a discernment.

Thus, there has to be constant dialogue with all parties concerned, recourse to appropriate social sciences and other tools to evaluate situations as objectively as possible. Then different choices should be identified and strategies made so as to resolve the problems as effectively as possible.

Prudence dictates that an absolute value must never be attributed to these choices because no problem can be solved once and for all. So, it's very important that we manage to dominate our passions so as to allow right reason to reign.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The World of Public Opinion

WITH the celebration of the Press Freedom Week in Cebu recently, public attention was again focused on the exciting, albeit delicate world of public opinion. I was happy to note that media practitioners took time to make some examination of conscience and formulate certain resolutions.

On the whole, I hope that more and more people get to be more aware of this important aspect of our social and political life. I hope more can participate in forming and developing it as actively as possible.

Public opinion is a necessary element in our life. And the more we develop and move on, the more we need to indulge in it, since that's one effective way to know the views and sentiments of the everyone. Thus we have to encourage all to participate.

And with the advent of many gadgets, people's participation in public opinion should not be a problem. The Internet, the email, the cell phones can facilitate a more massive participation from the people. This is indeed progress.

I'm happy to note that the newspapers, radio and TV have opened their doors more creatively to receive more opinions from the people. I hope more imaginative initiatives be made in this area to sustain and foster this public interest, and use it for truly constructive ends.

I personally marvel at how public opinion is now not so much monopolized by a few opinion-makers as it used to be. Any ordinary Juana can more likely now have her opinion heard or read by others. Again this is progress.

No matter how much we may disagree with others, it's always good to listen to what they have to say, to know how they feel or stand in a certain issue. We just have to learn to listen to everyone.

This point is worth reiterating, since public opinion is now an indispensable tool and forum to develop our sense as a people, as a nation. If you wonder why we are still fractious and deeply divided as a people, the answer could be because we are still light years away from the ideal insofar as public opinion is concerned.

To me, public opinion can be like the heartbeat and pulse of a people. It's a good way to see a nation's soul, whether it is healthy and strong, or not. It can give us a very good idea of how we are, and of what we need in order to attain what we ought to be.

This is because public opinion is not only a reflection of how a people are. It also helps in shaping a people's identity. That's why it has to be handled properly. We have to be keenly aware of its power, and learn how to use it for the common good.

As a priest, I feel that it can also be a very effective instrument to build up our basic humanity and our spiritual life. Public opinion should not be confined solely to issues related to our temporal affairs. It can and should be used also to discuss matters related to religion and faith.

I find it amusing that while many people are very conversant about political issues, and are not shy at all to offer their ideas about them, they are almost like pygmies and helpless ignoramuses when it comes to matters of belief.

A very ancient, primitive bias still grips them, leading them to think that religious questions are best if not only resolved in a strictly individual and personal way. Indeed a stone-age attitude truly out of place in our times.

In this area, there are many, many things that need to be known, learned, clarified, resolved, etc. And public opinion can precisely be of great help. The complexity of our life today, the fast pace of our development simply require it.

Of course, for all these, proper dispositions and manners are a must. We cannot expect to have a fruitful exchange of ideas in the forum of public opinion if we are arrogant, deceitful, highly opinionated, averse to listen to others.

We cannot have a good public opinion if it is littered by a lot of bickering, negativism, fault-finding, petty quarrels, bad manners. We cannot have a good public opinion if we allow the passions to reign over reason, and especially over our faith and basic charity for all, and when we don't study the issues well before speaking or writing.

We have to learn to present our views cordially and in a friendly way. We should not feel enemies of anyone. Everyone is our friend, our brother or sister, no matter how much we disagree with him or her.

We have to learn to deal with others with respect, trying to understand their point of view, learning how to listen and to avoid being rude. We should even assist those with whom we do not agree. We should never be pessimistic or bitter complainers.
Thus, whenever I read or hear opinion-makers doing their thing with all the bad qualities, I can only pray hard that things change and that people get more enlightened and inspired by the Holy Spirit, because only then, in the end, can we have a truly good public opinion.

The true power of the word, of which public opinion is a very delicate manifestation, can only be used properly when one is in the Holy Spirit. Short of that, we can only expect more trouble.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Loving your enemies

WHY do we have to love our enemies? First of all, because it is a divine
precept. Christ himself, in the gospel of St. Matthew, said it very clearly:

“You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute and calumniate you.” (5,44)

Not contented with that, Jesus offers a reason: “So that you may be children of your Father in heaven, who makes his sun to rise on the good and the evil, and sends his rain on the just and the unjust.” (5,45)

So it seems that God who perfectly knows who is good and bad, who is just
and unjust, remains to be indiscriminatingly good to everyone.

He is not good only to those who are good to Him, and bad to those who are bad to Him. He is simply and unconditionally good to all, period.

This is sometimes what is hard for us to do, because our loving is often conditioned to our receiving something in return from others. It is a loving with strings attached.

This goodness, which is what love really is, actually distinguishes us from other creatures and identifies us as true children of God. We are simply not some smart, clever creatures. We are God’s children, made in his image and

Besides, it would seem that our Lord makes this ability to love our enemies
as a sign of perfection, because he concludes this clarification by saying: “You therefore are to be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (5,48)

So human perfection is not so much that one does a very good and perfect job. If that were so, the bees that can make their hives more perfectly than we can build our homes, would be more perfect than us.

Rather, hold your breath, our human perfection is in loving our enemies. In this respect, no other earthly creature can do it, much less, outdo us. It is only reserved for us.

Having said that, we can actually find many reasons why we should love our enemies.

We have to love them, because in the end we are all men and women, brothers and sisters of each other.

No differences, no conflicts among ourselves, no matter how grave, can change or erase that. We have to be constantly on the guard against succumbing to bitter zeal.

We have to avoid being so eaten up by our passions and anger that we forget this fundamental truth about ourselves. We have to learn how to keep cool
and calm even amid very trying conflicts.

We are meant for loving. We are designed for that. But we have to go all the way, to its perfecting component which is loving our enemies, forgiving them, even up to death.

This is what Christ showed us. Notice how the narration of the culminating
part of his redemptive work—his passion and death—starts.

It’s in St. John: “Jesus, knowing that the hour had come for Him to pass out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, loved them to the end.” (13,1)

This kind of loving is what is needed nowadays. We have to move from simply being goody-goody. We have to incarnate this ideal of love, for this is now
the call of our times.

With all the differences and conflicts we have in our human affairs, we need to remain always within the orbit of charity.

Thus, we need to have restraint in our impulses, rectitude in our intentions, refinement in our speech and deeds, goodwill, prudent actions, quickness to forgive, slowness to anger, discretion, etc.

It pains me to hear, especially now in our politics, so much fault-finding, carping, whining, taunting, twitting, complaining, etc., and done mostly by our young politicians. Can we ever imagine Christ behaving like this?

There seems to be so much credit-grabbing, self-righteousness, intrigue-sowing, all contributing to the pollution of our environment in general.

Let us hope and pray that we can get past this ugly stage of our political life soonest. We are going backward, not forward, with these antics. Let us learn to love our enemies. With God’s grace, with our effort, we surely can do it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


I’M, of course, happy and thankful for the recognition given me by the Cebu Archdiocesan Mass Media Awards (CAMMA). I never thought a hobby I started a few years ago would get me such award.

I have always found in writing something relaxing and fulfilling. It affords me a vehicle for escape and diversion, though I never allow it to detach me from reality.

It may bring me to a different world, a different time, with colorful characters and experiences, but I stop short of going literary all the way, putting me in some fantasy land.

Writing, to me, somehow gives me a sense of connection and transformation. It’s an organic extension of my prayers, a link to people, entering their hearts through a language that can only come from my heart also.

It necessarily entails reflecting what one is and what one wants or ought to be. Thus, it always has an effect on oneself, strengthening or weakening him as a person or as a child of God. It has great capacity to renew and transform a person.

It has never been just a tool, an inert instrument that I can use just in any way. It’s something very personal, very intimate. My whole self is involved there. It is the self who tries to establish and strengthen communion with others.

Thus, I am quite aware of the immensely delicate responsibility involved in writing. Especially in the area of opinion-making, where there’s a conscious effort to influence the minds and hearts of others.

I have always been aware that opinion-making is to be pursued always at the service of the common good. It’s never just a personal expression, much less, an exercise in ego-tripping.

This much Catechism teaches us: “The information provided by the media is at the service of the common good.” (2494) I think it’s a point to be well understood, especially today when we are torn with so many conflicts.

Common good, to my understanding, is never an abstract idea. It’s not just a sum-total of conditions that foster the proper development of a people, both as persons and as a society.

It’s much more than that. It is a living thing, quite dynamic, with something that is essential and therefore permanent, and also elements that change, that go with the ebb and flow of life.

For any opinion to truly serve the common good, it has to be firmly and clearly based on truth, on justice and fairness, on respect for the persons for their freedom and rights, on charity, mercy and compassion.

All these elements that go into the common good need to be distinguished and integrated in a vital way, knowing the priorities of values, etc. This is the most difficult part of opinion-making.

This sense of the common good is the one that determines the topics to be touched, the issues to be commented on, as well as the way or style in which these topics are discussed or argued.

The calibration of the forcefulness or softness in which a point is pursued is somehow determined by this sense of the common good. What to highlight, what to downplay, etc., also.

There is always a way of insisting upon a point that is also respectful of the different views of others. I hope that we can be familiar with this approach.

Sad to say, in many instances, views and opinions seem to be expressed without regard for charity and understanding the opposing positions. There is an absence of the needed weighing of conflicting values. This is the case of the idealistic persons.

In our current political crisis, I am dismayed to hear how some people can insist on a particular political option, without giving due attention to the opposite view.

When some say that “we can not move on because the truth about something—the alleged election cheating—is not fully known,” I think we are absolutizing the value of truth.

We are forgetting that even in the Gospel, Christ was not insistent in airing out the full revelation of offenses of sinners like the woman caught in adultery, the thief crucified with Christ, etc. He just forgave.

There is indeed a need for restitution and penalty, but let’s do this in a more charitable way, following precisely the example of Christ. Otherwise, we will just be harming ourselves more than offering a solution to our problems.

Friday, September 9, 2005

Philosophical anthropology

I COULD very well understand if the title scares you. I know it sounds ighfalutin, abstruse, esoteric. Perhaps too academic or intellectual for a newspaper column. But I think it’s very relevant for all to know. Let me explain.

I was fortunate to be asked to give a class on this subject recently to a group of teachers. I was given some notes and books to study and prepare my classes. That’s when I started to get really excited about the subject. Why?

First of all, I would like to say how important it is to always develop and nurture our intellectual life and work. To me, our intelligence together with the will is our highest, most useful human faculty or tool.

It’s worth the effort to distinguish these spiritual faculties from all the other faculties that make up our cognitive system, so we can give due attention and care to them.

Our problem is that we tend to get so mixed up that we don’t know anymore which faculty is really ruling us—the intelligence and will or our emotions. Often, we realize things only too late, when harm and damage have already been inflicted.

Our intelligence and will that comprise our spiritual faculties enable us to go beyond what we simply see and feel, and bring us to the world of finer distinctions that lead us to a greater, deeper, wider understanding of things.

They enable us to know what is objectively true and good, irrespective of how we feel. Besides, they, more than anything else in us, enable us to enter into the world of the spiritual, the supernatural, the world of faith and religion.

So, my prayer is that everyone gets to study and develop the intellectual life. We should find time and exert the necessary effort for this purpose, so indispensable in our life. Otherwise, we will be gravely handicapped in life.

Of course, we have different intellectual endowments. Thus, those who are more able should realize their responsibility to support those who are less able. Our social concern should extend to this aspect of our life. Yes, we also need to help one another in this area.

Now, the beauty of philosophical anthropology is that it studies man by combining the wealth of philosophy with that of the experimental sciences that deal with the study of the different aspects of man.

Thus, with this subject we get both the holistic, integrated picture of man as well as the increasingly specialized knowledge of a particular aspect of man, be it in the field of psychology, sociology, history, politics, business, culture, etc.

It blends metaphysics with the exciting world of the experimental sciences. It has the elements of both the old and the new, the constant and the changing, the essential and the accidental, the immediate and the ultimate, the eternal and the temporal.

It analyzes and synthesizes things; it considers both the internal and external aspects. It’s really a milestone in the development of knowledge about man, neither too philosophical which is the main complaint of the old school, nor too experimental, the weakness of the new school. Too philosophical means the knowledge is too abstract and so detached from concrete situations as to be useless in grappling with real issues. With this mentality, one tends to be rigid and closed to new phenomena. It can lead to self-righteousness and sanctimony.

Too experimental, on the other hand, means the knowledge is too tentative and prone to get lost in the details without sense of direction. With this mentality, one tends to be loose and lax, to be without absolute guiding principles and to be completely dominated by pragmatism and relativism.

I consider this subject to be very dynamic, because it always flows with the times and yet manages to keep its proper bearings. Of course, the integrity of this subject will depend on the players and agents who develop it as we go along.

My prayer is that more and more people get interested in this subject. It’s a field with limitless possibilities. And it’s something to be spread more widely.

In the end, I think we truly would need divine guidance, since no matter how smart and clever we are, we easily can get lost, what with all the maze of phenomena and data we are bombarded with everyday.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Never forget the interior life

ITS other names can be the spiritual life or our life of relation with our God and Creator.

It’s that aspect of our life that constitutes the very core of our being, our principle of unity and of direction. It’s where our deepest yearnings are born and pursued, where our real identity is developed and known.

For many of us, unfortunately, we need not only to be reminded about it, but rather to be introduced to it. My impression is that many hardly have heard of it before. Do we still wonder why we have so much mess today?

It should be distinguished from our physical or biological life, or our social, professional or political life, etc. These aspects cover only part of our being and concerns. We have to be keenly aware of the utility of these distinctions.

Its basis is, of course, the fundamental truth that as persons, we are not soul. Our Catechism says:

“The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual.” (362)

Of these two constitutive elements, the soul holds a more important and leading function. Again our Catechism says:

“’Soul’ refers to the innermost aspect of man, that which is of greatest value to him that by which he is most especially in God’s image. ‘Soul’ signifies the spiritual principle in man.” (363)

This does not mean that the body is not important. It is. About this, the Catechism again clearly says:

“Through his very bodily condition, man sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator.

“For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day.” (364)

I hope we can find time to digest this doctrine of our faith well. By it, we can discern what pertinent practical responsibilities we have toward the body and the material world in general.

But it is very important that we also understand very well the nature of our spiritual soul, so we would know what practical duties we have toward it.

I believe that most of our problems today, politics included, stem from our neglect in the care due to our soul, or to our interior life.

Just as the body needs to be taken care of—feeding and nourishing it, keeping it healthy by a regimen of hygiene and exercise, etc.—the soul too needs to be taken care of.

How? By seeing to it that it is also regularly fed, nourished, cleaned or purified, exercised, etc. Its proper source of nourishment are truth of faith, aside from the highest forms of natural truths.

It is cleaned and purified when, in a manner of speaking, it gets to study, pray and love. In short, when its spiritual faculties—the intelligence and the will—are exercised.

It grows and is strengthened whenever it is allowed to do good, to develop virtues in ourselves, and to spread all forms of goodness around us. It’s when it is immersed in God that it gets its best nourishment.

The main problem at present is that these activities are neglected, and we simply focus ourselves more on the physical and the biological, the social or the political, etc. This is dangerously inadequate.

Very helpful in understanding this need is to go through the pertinent doctrine articulated by St. Paul when he talked about the spiritual man as compared to the carnal or sensual man.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, he says: “We have received not the spirit of the world, but the spirit that is from God, that we may know the things that have been given us by God.

“But the sensual man does not perceive the things that are of the spirit of God, for it is foolishness to him and he cannot understand, because it is examined spiritually.” (12-14)

It’s important that we learn to take care of our soul or our interior life, since neglecting it can only mean that we unavoidably become crooks, whether we are a priest or a politician.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Youth Factor

THE World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany has just ended. Due to my work load, I could not follow it closely—I just got glimpses. But it was always in my heart, like an ember that refuses to die.

I was struck when Pope Benedict, quite youthful in his 78 years, said something to the effect that true joy has a name, and that is Jesus of Nazareth. He told the youth this. Jesus is who you need, he boldly said. Wow!

I was even more moved when he urged the youth to know and deal with Christ—“at all costs.” Double “wow”! I could not agree with him more. But the problem is how to get this very important message across in all its integrity and vividness. It’s often lost in a turbulent ocean of difficulties, temptations, distractions, weaknesses and sin.

Those raging hormones, emotional instability, intellectual softness make them prone to all sorts of unhealthy influences, often leading them to undisciplined and dissolute lifestyles that they regret later on. Making things worse, some unscrupulous sectors exploit this youthful weakness as they bombard the youth with false images and illusions, erroneous ideas and doctrines, dangerous practices and titillating impulses.

These crooks should be exposed and duly penalized. They often hide behind cloaks of legitimate businesses and youthful proclivity for fun and search for meaning.

That’s why, my fervent prayer is that families be truly strengthened to ably carry out their delicate responsibility of forming the youth well. They should be helped by the Church, government and other private groups.

My prayer is that more and more people wake up to realize more deeply how important it is to mould our youth as they ought to be—not only good children to their parents, dutiful students to their teachers, but also responsible citizens and faithful children of God.

Thus, we need to realize that forming them is not just a matter of making them physically fit, emotionally stable, intellectually prepared. It’s more of making them spiritually and morally mature. That’s where a person’s true identity is known.
Yes, they have to develop their human faculties. I just hope that we can find a way to pursue this without sacrificing the spiritual and moral upbringing which the real goal of education.

Even more, these human pursuits should rather boost, not compete with, the
spiritual and moral development of the youth. Their fun, sports and fashions should not compete with their need for prayer, sacrifice and the sacraments.

How Christ is translated into doctrines attuned to the needs of the youth, into the substance of their youthful desire for fun and entertainment, into the goal of their aspirations is the challenge we all have.

We already have a lot of Christian doctrine in modules and what not. What is needed is how to make this vibrant and always attractive to them. The goal is how to make them be consistent to their Christian faith not only at home, nor in the school and in the church, but rather more in the places where they hang out.

That is, how they can achieve true Christian integrity, such that even in their private moments, when no one is around, they continue to be a living, breathing Christian. Though an effect of grace, Christianity should be quite natural to them.

Their age is quite crucial. I believe that’s when a person can already distinguish between what is a carnal or sensual man and a spiritual man, and can choose which one he wants to be.

That’s the age when a person can decide to definitively shed off his old man, so he can assume the new man that the Christian faith encourages each one of us to be.

That’s the age we all have to pay special attention to. The youth should be helped to get clear and correct ideas, and to develop appropriate virtues, knowing how to study, to dominate his passions, and to be led always by reason and then by faith, hope and charity.

With the scandalous situation of our present political world, we need to see to it that our investment for the future is well done and developed. We have to seriously work on the youth factor!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Gospel-inspired political culture

IN a talk about business ethics that I gave to a group of young entrepreneurs recently, one came up with a naughty grin and a naughtier question. “Father,” he asked, “is there also such a thing as political ethics?”

I must admit that I could not help but be naughty myself as I replied: “Well, my son, if ever there was, I’m afraid it had no chance to survive, what with all the crooks and clowns we have as our political leaders!”

Of course, when sobriety returned, I had to say there surely was such a thing, there should be, and that it was important to promote and spread it as widely as possible. It should be the fruit of a Gospel-inspired political culture.

I immediately quoted what the Compendium of the Church Social Doctrine has to say about this:

“Fostering a social and political culture inspired by the Gospel must be an area of particular importance for the lay faithful.” (555)

Politics should not be driven simply by any kind of ideology and much less by purely personal interests.

And I proceeded to describe what this Gospel-inspired political culture may involve. The Compendium gives the following very interesting points:

- For the lay faithful, political involvement is a worthy and demanding expression of the Christian commitment of service to others. (565)

In other words, politics should be encouraged to all those who have the proper conditions for it. It should not be left in some exclusivist hands, those who for practical purposes, more than Christian reason, may find it convenient to be there.

- Those involved should be absolutely convinced of the necessity of the moral dimension in doing politics through thoughtful contributions to the political debate, planning and the chosen actions. (566)

This should be made clear from the beginning. Otherwise, we will be wasting our time and opening ourselves to more complicated problems.

- The exercise of political authority should be seen as service to be carried out always in the context of moral law for the attainment of the common good.

In short, it should not be seen as a function of simply personal interests and goals, using Machiavellian methods.

- A method of discernment, at both the personal and community levels, should be developed to help lay faithful to identify steps that can be taken in concrete political situations with the view of putting into practice the principles and values proper to social life. (568)

- This method of discernment can be structured around certain key elements, like: knowledge of the situations, analyzed with the help of the social sciences and other appropriate tools; systematic reflection on these realities in the light of the unchanging message of the Gospel and the Church’s social teaching; identification of choices aimed at assuring that the situation will evolve positively.

- However, an absolute value must never be attributed to these choices because no problem can be solved once and for all. Christian faith cannot impose a rigid framework on social and political questions.

I feel this is where many times we commit mistakes. We tend to absolutize options that cannot satisfy everyone. We have to have room to accommodate legitimate variety of positions.

There can be many more that can be said, but these few points may suffice for the moment. I hope that we can find time to study them well and to cultivate the relevant attitudes and virtues. This is indispensable.

The clergy should lead the way in spreading these relevant points in the social doctrine so that the lay faithful, the primary players in the political arena, would be properly guided.

Lastly, it should not be forgotten that this Gospel-inspired political culture should include willingness to make sacrifices, to be patient, to enter into constant dialogues with all parties, to forgive and to ask forgiveness, and all that our Lord has shown us with his life and death.

Sunday, August 7, 2005

Truth in crisis

BEFORE we further sink into lower and uglier levels of absurdity in our current political telenovela, we need to review basic concepts of truth, proper witnessing and discretion now shamelessly violated by our political leaders.

There, sadly, is a festering crisis of truth that is at the bottom of all the mess we are having now. Thanks to it, our air has become polluted, people are becoming increasingly skeptical and cynical. Only the devil is happy with all this confusion, together, of course, with his human cohorts.

It’s the crisis that considers truth simply as any piece of information that is useful to someone. Never mind if it has not much basis in reality, as long as it has lots of credibility, or at least can manage to pull some credibility.

Yes, dear, truth is now a matter of credibility rather than reality. It hardly has anything to do with God. If there is, it’s by pure coincidence that it does. Truth is just whether something can be useful to someone or not. It’s terribly selfish.

In other words, truth is now more subjective rather than objective, confined to the interest of particular persons or groups, and usually at odds with the requirements of the common good.

It tends to exploit certain advantages or privileges its holder can have, whether in the field of human law, political power, social position, wealth, intellectual and technical superiority, experience, etc.

In this understanding of truth, truth is deemed self-sufficient, without need for charity. It goes against the Gospel teaching that truth and charity should go together, since one without the other would nullify both.

Truth without charity is not truth, while charity without truth is not charity either. They have to come together as the substance always comes with the form, and the body with the soul. Otherwise, it would be an anomaly.

In this system, truth becomes an inert or dead thing, prone to being used by unscrupulous persons. It’s not alive, vitally connected with God and with everybody else. It’s just a thing, to be used as in prostituting. There is nothing of the sacred in it.

In this system, truthfulness or sincerity is a distorted virtue consisting of blabbering the information when it becomes useful. It hardly has any reference neither to God nor to his commandments. It can easily lend itself to malice and deceit.

It’s much like what the devil said to Jesus, even quoting the Scripture. It’s much like what the high priest Caiphas said when he correctly predicted it was better for one man, Jesus, to die than to lose the whole Jewish nation to the Romans. (Jn 11,49-52)

Truthfulness would be much like the candor of an innocent and naïve child, a drunkard who has lost his senses, or a person pushed to the corner and forced to squeal.

That’s what happens with many of the witnesses being paraded in our political scene these days. They obviously say some truth, but are these truths offered for the common good, for the glory of God?

These witnesses often become irresponsible squealers because they have been implicated by some illegal or immoral activities. They are abusers of truth who cause more evil than good in society.

Proper witnessing can only be done with God in mind. This is when he is
guided by what is known as the virtue of discretion. It’s what gives him the sense of what is proper and what is not in handling pieces of truth and information.

Discretion makes one go beyond the limitations of his position to attend to the requirements of the common good. It links his particular view to the complete picture of things.

It is what converts any damning testimony one may make into something that is constructive to the whole society. It guides one what to say, when, how and to whom to say it. It checks reckless impulses.

This virtue is sadly missing these days. More, it’s not simply ignored, it is ridiculed, as many people just go yakking and yakking ad infinitum, without due regard to the effects their words can make.

Well, as I’ve always said, let’s go back to God to avoid the destructive ways we seem to be taking.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The world needs to have a soul

TO be direct and candid about this topic, the reason why the world needs to have a soul is because it is a world not simply of minerals, plants and animals, but of man. It needs to be humanized, and the soul is what humanizes it.

Months before his death, Pope John Paul II suggested to the framers of the European Union constitution to give due reference to the role of Christianity in the formation of Europe.

For sure, the suggestion was not an act of vanity on the part of the Church
nor of the Pope. It was not meant to merely grab credits. It was simply to acknowledge an obvious historical fact.

In spite of the many ups and downs, right and wrong things that the Church—due to its human element—underwent in its history, Christianity offered Europe its soul.

As Pope John Paul once said, “if history demonstrates that mistakes have also been made by believers…this must be attributed not to Christian roots, but to failure of Christians to be faithful to those roots.”

Also as a human and historical institution, the Church cannot help but be dirtied and stained by the whole drama of the human effort for development and civilization.

But it can be said that Christianity at least helped stimulate, direct and purify its culture, making it aware of a spiritual and supernatural purpose in life, and not just the material and natural.

As Europe’s soul, Christianity became a principle of unity, a sure guide, a
source of inspiration and a humanizing agent to the difficult and often bloody formation of the European civilization.

Christianity opened in the West the frontiers of the worlds of thought and
religion, the arts and the sciences, the law, education, charity work, etc.
It opened universities, hospices, etc. It introduced many useful skills and techniques in farming, cattle rearing, cheese making, water management and raising bees.

It produced great men and women in different fields, and inspired many to embark bold missionary travels all over the world. With Christianity, pain, suffering, difficulties, so unavoidable in life, were given positive notes.

I suppose that the papal suggestion was meant not only to remind but also
to encourage European leaders that for Europe to develop properly, it will always need the inspiring impulses of Christianity.

Especially now when Europe and the world in general are faced with more complicated challenges deriving, for example, from the forces of globalization and rapid technological advances, the world needs a sure guide, a healthy soul.

And Christianity can offer this. Far from being obsolete or outdated, Christianity is always open to any new development and challenge in the different fields of human endeavor. It knows how to humanize and Christianize it.

Christianity will always give the proper guidelines and principles. It for example will always bat for the requirements of solidarity, justice and mercy so necessary when the world moves into more complex network of human relations.

When the world is often tempted to be selfish and to have a very narrow view of life, Christianity will lead it to be more mindful of the others and to work along the ways of charity and justice.

This will require, of course, effort to know more about Christian doctrine.
More than that, Christianity will require one to assimilate this doctrine in his life and activities, no matter what the sacrifice.

Of course, Christianity while being very human, will always remind everyone of God who is the source of all things for us: wisdom, strength, prudence, understanding, patience, charity, etc.

We should realize that we just cannot go on developing our world on our own, relying simply on our intelligence and cleverness. It cannot go on simply on the basis of some economic or social or political laws.

The world needs to have a soul, one whose beginning and end should be
God, a God with us.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Marriage obliges couples to love

LET’S first have some disturbing data regarding marriage and family in many parts of the world today. These can form basis for another reminder about the true nature of these crucial institutions, now badly understood and lived.

Recent reports from different sources give the following data. Italy in 1981 had a rate of 5.6 marriages per 1000 people, for a total of 316,953. By 2001 the rate had fallen to 4.5 per 1000 people, or 260,904 marriages.

Meanwhile, couples living together outside marriage in Italy have also risen. In 1993 there were 277,000 such cases. By 2001 the number had risen to 453,000. That’s an increase of 63.5%.

In Spain, a 60% increase in separations and divorces is reported for the last 8 years, for a total of 134,931 in 2004. Now that they have legalized same-sex unions, they may find more success there.

In England and Wales, it is reported that 41% of births took place outside of marriage, meaning there are many illegitimate children there. The rate was only 12% in these places a decade ago.

While there is an increase of marriages in these places in the last two years, this was due more to an increase in second marriages after divorce. In fact, only 59% of marriages in 2003 were to first-time brides and grooms.

In Canada, a report shows a sharp increase in repeat divorces. In 2003, 16.2% of the divorces granted involved men who had previously been divorced.

The figure for women is 15.7%. I’ve always believed that one divorce deserves another, then another… Unless the true nature and meaning of love, marriage and family is understood, this tragic cycle will go on.

In the US, one-third of men and nearly one-fourth of women between the ages of 30 and 34 have never been married, but the number of single parents has increased by 24% since 1970.

In Australia, the number of single parents also increased by 38% since 1991, from 552,000 in 1991 to 763,000 in 2001.

Commentaries from analysts and sociologists vary. A Canadian professor
says: “We are a very individualistic society, and we value choice, we value romance, and we’ve become much less tolerant of anything that goes wrong. We are less willing to work at relationships. It’s much easier to break up a marriage.”

A newspaper editorial claims:

“Divorce is considered to be a private matter between husband and wife, an individual choice in which government and society have little interests.

“That’s obviously not true. Divorce is not just a tragedy for couples. It’s a problem for everyone else…When a marriage ends, a home is destroyed as surely as when a house burns to the ground. Every divorce is a tragedy.”

Pope Benedict XVI recently explained that marriage is not just a casual sociological phenomenon, a result of some social or economic forces. It is found on what is man.

As a person, the Pope said, man or woman is a child of God who is love, made in God’s image and likeness, and thus made to love. We therefore just have to discover this vocation to love and to live out this love fully.

This can only be done when we are with God, who reveals himself fully in Christ, and now through the Church that works through its hierarchical structure, through its doctrine and the sacraments.

A couple who marry obviously because of love, which is more a sentimental, emotional or purely human kind, should realize that upon marriage they are obliged to love each other to the end.

This means that they have to make that love open to further growth and development, until it is conformed, perfected and united to the love of Christ for us. It would be stupid to rely merely on our own human powers to love.

Love, marriage and family are human realities that are not of our own making, but rather of God. They have to be pursued always in accordance with the law God has made for them.

This, I believe, and a lot more of its practical consequences and implications, need to be explained again and again. Otherwise, the tragic spiral of marital and family woes will just go from bad to worse.

In the end, what can solve the problem related to love, marriage and family, is when we decide to go back to God.

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Humbling yet enriching

IN an earlier article, I mentioned that I recently gave a class on Church history to a group of young professional men. Well, I’d like to say that I came out of that class both humbled and enriched.

Humbled, because the history of the Church is filled with all sorts of sins
and malice committed even by high Church officials. These sins were ugly, really unspeakably ugly.

For sure, there were many good things that happened. Otherwise, the Church would not have survived. But many of these things must have remained undetected or unrecognized by historians.

In this regard, I would like to pay tribute to the many men and women, mostly hidden through the ages, who persevered in doing good quietly and who must have allowed God’s grace to bear its wonderful fruit in its most mysterious ways. These were the real heroes and saints.

But especially in the early and medieval ages, I must say that at least from the human point of view, evil far overshadowed the good.

There was rampant immorality in high places, involving popes and bishops. Imagine popes having children! And the children becoming popes later on. There were popes and anti-popes fighting each other.

The clergy at one point were immersed in concubinage and simony. There was burning hatred and envy among them. Dirty politicking was the order of the day.

There was bigotry, the vice of triumphalism, self-righteousness, deception, evil schemings and calculations, and a long, if not endless etcetera.

Truly, what we suffered a few years ago involving very embarrassing clerical scandals are nothing compared to what happened in the past. The worst priest-pedophile today is a saint compared to many priests of the Church’s dark age!

Still the Church is the family I belong to, and in spite of her dark past, I will continue to belong to her and to defend her, if need be.

I just would have to accept her the way she is, warts and all—founded by
Christ and therefore holy and invincible, but entrusted to us for her growth and development, and therefore subject to our human weakness and folly.

It would be stupid of me to think of debunking her just because of the scandals, and to erect a new family, supposedly one for the saintly and the pure, since that would not change the truth.

Thus, even if one’s mother were a prostitute, or his father a criminal, or his siblings the ‘scum of the earth,’ if he is a true Christian he would still stand by them to the end, helping them in whatever moral way he could.

I believe this is what is called loyalty, which is not a mindless, fanatic or stupid support for someone. It’s rather the flowering of charity, willing to suffer and share the situation of others, an unwavering charity regardless of circumstances.

This is one of the reasons why I deem my Church’s dark past as very enriching also, precisely because it humbles and sobers me. Humility is a basic, indispensable and hard virtue. And it’s learned more when one is humbled than when he humbles himself.

Besides, the ugly history only confirms the obvious that we are just human beings, with all our weakness and failings, but who are given a very noble, supernatural goal.

We just have to learn how to handle this responsibility through a lot or hardships and trial and error. The road to the glorious end is fraught

So without condoning the sins and other evil that happened, we should neither be surprised if these stupid things come out. That’s just how we are.

But we cannot deny that through this hard and difficult road, often marked by violence and blood, a certain maturation and purification of the Church
and of all of us is achieved. Some precious lessons are learned the hard way.

That’s why I like so much that practice of the late Pope John Paul II of asking forgiveness for the misdeeds done by some Church officials in the name of the Church. This practice should be made more common.

We can start it in a personal way, by regularly making examinations of conscience, acts of contrition, then to confession, if need be. This attitude of asking forgiveness and also of being merciful and forgiving will purify and rectify the past and set us in a better way toward our

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The scourge of pornography

A RECENT report from a Vatican study caught my attention when it said
that in Italy alone some 70% of the boys at ages 15-18 access printed or
online pornographic material. I wonder how it is in the Philippines.

With these dirty materials now readily available in the internet, what
with all those pop-ups that just appear on screen anytime, I wonder how many
of our young, not to mention, the old ones also, are corrupted by

This phenomenon is not really a surprise, since we know that the kids
are the frequent users of television and the internet, and thus most
vulnerable to the threat of pornography.

There is definitely a need to more effectively supervise and regulate
the use of these means of communication, since they can easily turn into
instruments of corruption to the young and to people in general.

There is a need to form people in general to be responsible citizens
able to exercise self-control and mature judgment. This will take a lot of
effort, but there is no other way but to undertake such program of education.

As one Church official said, a true pedagogy has to be found involving
the family, the school and society in general, where professionals working
in the field of communication become responsible, and proper ethical codes

This may sound quixotic, but I’m afraid there is no other way to
effectively combat this deadly threat to society.

The bad effects of pornography cannot be questioned anymore. It weakens
the moral fiber of people. It stunts spiritual life. It perverts the
person. It leads people into a world of illusions, of false images and values.

Pornography distorts human relations, since it is based on the
exploitation of persons. It creates anti-social attitudes, erases the moral sense
and obstructs the development of mature relationships among the people.

It is based on selfishness and egoism and leads to an obsessive state
of dependency.

Those who try to soften the evil of pornography by saying it’s just
part of growing up, should be reminded of the moral aspect, and not just look
at the matter from a purely human or biological point of view.

Pornography makes the kids lose their innocence and innate sense of
goodness as it introduces them to a world of dark obsessions with their usual
complicated network of deception and hypocrisy.

I would even say that a good part of the reason why so many people find
it hard to pray, offer sacrifices, and do other spiritual things is the
scourge of pornography.

Pornography has become so common-place that even those living in
relative simplicity in the barrios can already have easy access to it. This is a
very unfortunate development we are witnessing these days.

Why do many young people refuse to grow in maturity, to take on
responsibilities, etc., as are becoming obvious in many places, can be
due to the influence of pornography in their lives.

This is what is happening these days. I get the impression that because
of this corruption due to pornography, many people now exhibit a
know-it-all attitude, or have become skeptical or even cynical in life.

This makes them more prone to other complications in life. Obviously,
not only the personal lives are affected, but also the family,
professional, and even the social and political lives of people are badly affected.

We have to be reminded of our duty to fight pornography wherever it is

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Trinity and us

THE Solemnity of the Blessed Trinity this year is celebrated on May 22. This feast is one concrete occasion to consider once again this highest, most central and mother of the mysteries of our Christian faith.

The mystery, like the other mysteries of our faith, is supposed to forever whet our curiosity in God and to sharpen our piety, not to kill them. It is supposed to give us light and energy to know God and ourselves more intimately.

It is supposed to motor our Christian life, shape our thoughts and desires, guide our behavior, form our basic attitudes it is supposed to be the pattern of our life but this seems not to be so.

Since we are God’s children, made in his image and likeness, we should always be in vital contact with him, for without him, we are nothing. But this seems not to be so.

We seem to prefer to enter into a highly anomalous situation where we are to go about our life on our own, freed from our Father and Creator. We can
even go to the extent of removing God completely from our lives.

Before that happens, we first get entangled with treating God and
religion as a purely private affair, too personal or too intellectual to be
talked about in public. We condemn meditating the mysteries of our faith as
not practical.

The sad fact is that this mystery of the intimate life of God¡Xthat he
one God in three persons¡Xis hardly considered, much less appreciated.
If ever, the consideration is treated as something too special to be of
any use by anyone. This is unfortunate! This is where we are wrong!

Ignoring this mystery is like giving up our quest to know who really
are. We prefer to have our own ideas about ourselves. We don¡¦t seek our
identity in the one objective source that can truly give it.

No matter how brilliant our ideas about ourselves may be, if they
conform with what God wants us to be, they mean hardly anything.

They at best can have traces of the objective truth¡Xachieved more by
accident than by intention¡Xbut detached from what our faith tells us
about ourselves, they are always mixed with errors and are therefore

Of course, right now, many of us impoverished by faith cannot
understand what this business about talking with God, studying theology,
meditating the mysteries are all about. They would seem like foolishness. This is the
real problem we have.

That the mystery of the Blessed Trinity is too much for us to
understand should not restrain us from considering it often. On the contrary, it
should tickle us always to consider it, getting insights and other precious
lights along the way.

This, in fact, is the basic law governing our Christian life. While
and contented with the possession of many settled truths of our faith,
Christian life is forever in search of deeper truths and richer lights.

This is because the content of our faith can never be fully
comprehended. After all, it has God at its core.

And what we so far know about the Trinity is that while God is one and
absolutely one and simple¡Xthere are no parts in him¡Xhe is never
alone, but is in an eternal dynamic motion of knowing and loving¡Xhimself and his

This knowing and loving in God is so perfect that both the subject and
object of these divine operations are real persons¡Xthe Father, the Son
and the Holy Spirit¡Xand not just concepts or modes of being in God. Each
one is God.

Also, our imperfect knowledge can already reach the truth that these
divine persons do not divide the divine substance among themselves, but each
has the divine substance in its entirety. Not three Gods, but only one God.

That is the perfection of God. That is also God¡¦s deepest mystery!

And we are supposed to participate in that Trinitarian life, and to
somehow pattern ourselves to it. You can just imagine the endless possibilities
the consideration of the Trinity can have in our lives!

All these possibilities somehow are revealed to us by Christ by
showing us
how we ought to know and love God and one another, that is, giving our
all up to death.

This truth should not remain in the level of ideas or desires. It
should be translated into life, incarnated into our actions and our own selves!
That¡¦s when we truly become children of God, our ultimate identity.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Christian sense of history

EVERY year, for three weeks straight, I hie off to a far-away place, and together with some priests and laymen, undertake a program of resting, studying and praying.

It’s a cool practice that I highly recommend to everyone, because I believe we all need such a break. It’s also a concrete way of pursuing what is called as ongoing formation that is a necessity to all of us.

Yes, rest and formation can and, in fact, should go together. Human as we are, these aspects of our condition should adequately be attended to. Otherwise, we stunt or distort our development. Our rest should always be formative also.

With a lot of sports and excursions, the body recovers its youthfulness. But it is in those long, quiet and undisturbed hours of study and meditation that I get my high.

I’m simply amazed at the endless possibilities intellectual work and spiritual activities can achieve. We need to develop and strengthen certain skills like intuiting, reasoning, arguing, relating, memorizing, expressing, etc.

These are what make us distinguish between the essential and the accidental in our life. These enable us to penetrate well beyond what we simply see and hear. Mind you, it’s a far richer and brighter world out there.

We need to check our tendency to drift to mindless activism, now made easier because of the many things that tease us everyday. If not that, then our tendency to get stuck with our laziness or disorder.

The mind and our spiritual faculties have to recover their proper places in our life, so that we can regain objectivity and proper dominion over our life and activities. That way, we enhance our humanity.

What usually happens is that these are made to sleep while our bodily senses are made to sing and dance endlessly. What do you think can we expect from that kind of life style?

This year, I was assigned to give a 25-hour class on Church history, from the ancient times to the medieval. After poring over a thousand pages of books and notes, I am now convinced we should all have a strong historical sense.

It’s what makes us more a lord of our own life and our own history, saving us from the fate of the pompous know-it-all guy. It frees us from the onfines of the present to acquaint ourselves with the things of the past, and somehow to prepare us for the future.

It provides us greater perspective and deeper insights into the workings of
the human mind in its different levels of functioning. It’s a tremendous teacher of vital lessons.

A person with a historical mind believes time in general has a certain life and continuity, a certain direction and meaning. While much of what happens remains a mystery, one can easily discern a pattern.

For a Christian believer, history even means a lot more. The Christian historical sense believes that history is both a product of God’s almighty providence—God is always leading us to him—and our use of freedom.

It believes that history is not just a flow of blind forces and events. It’s a fruit both of a constant albeit often ignored divine intervention and man’s effort to shape his life not only on the personal level but also in the global.

A Christian believer studies history always from the point of view of faith. While he uses all the human means—those scientific and historical methods used in serious scholarship—the faith remains his spirit and stimulus.

Rather than inflicting on him a certain bias and narrow-mindedness, his faith opens him to the world of endless human possibilities that our history can take, while also being convinced that God is in full control of things.

His faith provides him with certain criteria to guide him to identify what to learn, what to follow and what to discard in our history. Yes, his faith gives him an open-mindedness, one that does not lead to total disorder.

It’s with this sense that we get to know what things can change and what
cannot and should not change. Pope Benedict, for example, now warns us of certain fashionable ideas that are actually dangerous. This is where the Christian historical sense becomes relevant.

Also, it is with this sense that Pope John Paul II asked forgiveness for the sins of men of the Church in the past that led to some real mess in our history. It’s what he called the purification of the memory so we can go ahead to the future with more ease and conviction.

Yes, we need this Christian sense of history!