Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Catching up with Pope Benedict XVI

EVEN amid the grief and excitement surrounding the death of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI, funny and amusing moments were also found, especially when one followed the TV coverage of the events.

I, for one, was amused to see journalists squirm in awkwardness and grope for light and air when they had to tackle issues spiritual and supernatural in nature. They veritably looked like fish out of water.

In many instances, TV interviewers could not find a sensible way to follow up a certain spiritual commentary. Some attempted, but soon fell flat on their faces as they realized their reactions were not going anywhere.

Their use of clich├ęs, terms and concepts borrowed from different ideologies and even from fiction books and movies miserably failed to intelligently handle religious issues.

The more sensible ones opted to ask for commercials to escape the difficult situation. Net effect was that many viewers, even those who may not exactly be Christian believers, felt frustrated.

All these only indicate that the study of theology has become a real necessity to all of us, especially those in media. This is the proper language to use to make some fruitful and credible job following Church events.

Especially with Pope Benedict, a good grounding in the different aspects of theology, from the spiritual to the pastoral, parochial to the universal, historical to canonical and liturgical, etc., is indispensable.

I feel that this Pope will actively engage a high-level and multi-faceted dialogue with the world in general, and all of these done in a fast, even dizzying pace.

He is no stranger to difficult situations, having faced serious doctrinal dissents before. He can go down to street talk, if need be. But he will always maintain the point of view of the Christian faith, necessarily infused with charity.

What may be considered by the average individual as deep and complicated ideas are banal and common-place to him, indicating that he has considered these points thoroughly, not only in his study, but also in his prayer.

I imagine that any journalist could just ambush him for an interview, or could just get some sound bite from him anytime. But the journalist has to be prepared to receive and digest a mouthful of ideas that literally speak volumes.

There had been no traces of bitter zeal in him. Even when contradicted or
misunderstood, he always managed to blend precision and firmness with great refinement, humility and fairness with his interlocutors. His tongue and emotions are in good control.

Never one to just dish out simplistic responses, he enjoys giving out richly textured and nuanced explanations of issues. But he is also good in integrating different relevant aspects and giving focus to what is essential.

He even welcomes dissenting views, and encourages others to speak their
mind without reserve. I’m sure this character of his papacy will rouse many intellectuals to actively ask and talk about faith as it impacts with the issues.

For him, faith is one element that has to be respected by all. While he respects the points of view of everybody, regardless of where they are based on, he demands that the same respect be given also to his point of view of faith.

The challenge of keeping pace with our new Pope Benedict can mean that
we have to start taking up theological studies more seriously. He very well knows the language of the world. For some dialogue to prosper, the world has to learn his language too.

It’s just but fair, don’t you think? If our new technologies demand new languages for us to make use of the gadgets, we also have to learn the language of theology to understand better the points our new Pope will be making.

This way, those in the media could truly give a good service to all, believers and non-believers alike, since the questions and issues would then be much better discussed and resolved, freeing us from bigotry and narrow-mindedness.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Pope’s life and death

SQUEEZED like a lemon, giving his last drop up to the end, Pope John Paul II faced and embraced death in the manner befitting the Christian ideal spelled out by Jesus himself when he said:

“I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have the power to lay it down, and I have the power to take it up again.” (Jn 10,17-18)

Years before his transit to heaven came on April 2, already bent and twisted, trembling and stuttering because of his many ailments, John Paul II talked about his death, saying he was looking forward to it.

But he continued to work, never allowing himself to be pitied. To the other elderlies, he reminded them that they still have an important role to play and cannot and should not be contented with a passive life.

He lived to the full what he preached with so much passion and forcefulness. What a man! I imagine that only grace and his generous correspondence to it could be the sole explanation for this phenomenon.

Of course, in his case he was aware that he was the Vicar of Christ, a father to all Catholics here on earth. He knew he was not just a president or a CEO who may resign or retire because of old age or infirmity.

Thus, when some people suggested that he retire and have a well-deserved rest, he clearly said that he would rather hold on until God would bring him back to him.

And when it came, he went quietly, even smiling and joking. One anecdote has it that one of those who saw him in his dying moments, still heard the Holy Father telling him, “And what makes you think you will outlive me!”

He repeated the word “Amen, amen,” to signify his total obedience to God’s will, conforming his will to God’s, that indeed his end has come. That’s how our death should be—it should be both in God’s time and in our own will.

Death has to be welcomed, embraced. No use running away from it, since it will always come. And when it comes, we know it is God’s will and that it is the best hour, in spite of its horrible manner and timing as seen by our human eyes.

In death, as he was in his whole life, John Paul II offers us a tremendous example of love and generosity, faith and total self-giving. This combination can explain the courage and serenity he had when death finally knocked for him.

Some of us may say he was like that because he was a very tough man, forged by a long history of suffering.

Maybe. In fact, certainly, to some extent. But definitely it was his faith, his deep, authentic spirituality that has made him embrace death the way he did. It was his love for the Cross that made him behave the way he did.

One time, while considering why Our Lord seemed to be giving him any sufferings in spite of his many activities carried solely in God’s name, he came to the conclusion that Our Lord wanted to conform him more to Jesus through the Cross.

His death capped a life full of total self-giving. Just judging from what we could see and hear about him, with all those trips that he made, writings, interventions, etc., he gave his all.

We need to study and go deeply into many of his writings, in fact, into his
whole thought, because he was a Shepherd who was not only tremendously charismatic. He was also immensely substantial.

Gifted with a brilliant mind, he managed to make the richness of the Christian faith accessible theologically, and thus in a more systematic and scientific way.

This lent the faith, supernatural and mysterious as it is, the capacity to be spread out more widely, to be more understood and transmitted more effectively. It made the faith impact on the different aspects of our lives in a more detailed and practical way.

Thus, we have a wealth of useful doctrine in the area of spirituality, Church life, family life, business, politics and the whole gamut of our social life. We need to study all this.

In this way, we truly honor him, not only in his phenomenal death, but most especially in his very enriching life.

The Holy Week and the power of liturgy

THE Holy Week is undeniably the most important week of the Church’s calendar. All the weeks of the year, even time in general, find their fulfillment and perfection in the Holy Week, especially in its Easter Triduum that caps it.

And that’s because it’s in the Holy Week that the Christian world, in a real but mysterious way, witnesses and even participates in the much-needed transition from spiritual death to life, from sin to grace, from darkness to light, from defeat and condemnation to victory and glory.

The Holy Week is when the contrast between good and evil, between divine mercy and human malice is at its sharpest. It’s when the triumph of God’s goodness over man’s stupid rebellion is at its clearest. It’s a very intense week.

In other words, the cosmic drama involving the interplay of the will and freedom of God, man, and the devil as the main protagonists, reaches its climax in the Holy Week. We cannot allow this event to pass by with us paying little attention to it. We have to rise to the occasion.

In a way the Holy Week marks the end of human slavery to sin and the beginning of man’s recovery of his full dignity as a child of God. It ends man’s alienation from his Creator and Father, and resumes his friendship with God.

But the Holy Week also highlights one very important truth. To participate
in the resurrection of our Lord, we also need to participate in his passion and death. We need to die with Christ to also rise with him.

This is what is meant by the phrase, to be born again. We have to make the old man we have inside us to die, in order to give birth to the new man that we ought to be.

Thus, our Lord said very clearly that if we want to follow him, we have to carry the cross. The reason behind that commandment will be the subject of a future article. For now, let’s just have faith in that indication Christ himself said.

Yes, dear, this is the formula taught us very vividly in the Holy Week. here’s no other formula to make our life worth living. We can choose to ignore it, run away from it, dispute it. We can follow another formula, but in the end, we really cannot escape from it.

This mysterious way that allows us to participate in a living way in the redemptive life, death and resurrection of Christ is what in Church language is called liturgy. It’s a reality accessible only through faith and grace.

It’s good to know what this liturgy is, so that at least we can develop the proper dispositions. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines it, “Christian liturgy not only recalls the events that saved us but actualizes them, makes them present.

“The Paschal mystery of Christ is celebrated, not repeated. It is the celebrations that are repeated, and in each celebration there is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that makes the unique mystery present.” (1104)

The reason that can immediately come to mind in our effort to understand this truth of faith is that Christ is both God and man. It pays to make our faith as theological as possible, that is, treated with reason, so we can be more aware of what we have in our faith.

The events that took place in Christ’s life as man may be subject to time and space, but as God those events assume an eternal, ever-present character. They are always actual. They refuse to be swallowed by the flow of time.

Thus, in every liturgical celebration, we have to be aware that we are stepping into a deeper level of reality, the reality of faith, and we have to learn to react and behave accordingly.

Yes, it’s awesome. But could we expect anything less from God?

Monday, April 11, 2005

Wallowing in moral ambiguity

THAT, I’m afraid, is what characterizes many of our movies and shows these
days.

They may be exciting or dramatic, colorful and artistic, but insofar as their moral quality is concerned, they more than not are simply confused, ambiguous, or even openly offensive.

This is unfortunate, really unfortunate! Commanding a vast following of people all over the world, they should be produced and treated with utmost care and sense of responsibility. But what do we have?

Shamelessly primitive and childish attitude toward their art! That’s what many in the film and entertainment industry seem to be still stuck with. Really ironic, given the many amazing developments in the different fields of our life!

They often cite artistic freedom and creative license to justify whatever they like doing with their films, failing to see the glaring anomaly involved in contrasting creativity with prudence, freedom with responsibility.

Artistry to them is reduced to mere self-expression, completely detached from any consideration of an objective norm or law. Freedom becomes an entirely personal affair, with no reference to any other authority. Real madness!

I shudder at the thought of what we will likely find when we start probing into what inspires them. You see, artistic inspiration can only come from two sources: God or the devil. There’s hardly any in-between, let’s be clear about this.

They fail to realize that their freedom and license are never absolute. Just like anything else in our life, they need to exercise them within the purview of morality.

Sorry to make this reminder, but our human acts always need to reinforce our dignity as children of God. We are not just our own being. We are creatures, made children of God, and so we have to behave always as such.

Many movie producers appear to want to treat us more as brutes, whose hormones should constantly be titillated. Man with a soul, with a supernatural end, what’s foolishness is that, they can ask.

Our Catechism teaches: “Like any other human activity, art is not an absolute end in itself, but is ordered to and ennobled by the ultimate end of man.” (CCC 2501) And man’s ultimate end is God, not himself. Yes, dear!

Instead, many of our film makers continually engage in self-justification. They can even go to the extent of revising morality. The extreme case is when they declare themselves above any law or nor or authority.

Sometimes, this delusion can become invincibly incorrigible. Worse, it can become so widespread that it’s not just a personal thing, but a social phenomenon.

Of course, with this basic flaw in the understanding of their art, many other deficiencies and mistakes follow. The proper order of the different aspects and parts of human life is destroyed.

Thus, the material aspect of human life often smothers the spiritual, the here and how takes away the consideration of what lies beyond.

The flesh and the body, as in sex, violence and frivolity, snuff out the proper aspirations of the soul. Man becomes a tangle of sorts, thanks to some of our so-called creative and artistic people.

A worse scenario is when we start talking about unscrupulous people, their consciences chilled and muted, who have no qualms pandering on the weaknesses of others just to make money.

Given this significant picture of our current movie industry, we can see how big the work of evangelization, of apostolate, of sanctification and conversion involving this sector of our society, is.

Our problem is that hardly anyone dares to pursue this kind of work in the entertainment industry. We seem to prefer that one day, some divine intervention would just happen making our movie makers as meek as lambs, as good and holy as the angels.

There are many things that need to be done yet in this area. The media, for one, can lend their facilities to initiate, foster and sustain some kind of dialogue where the truth about man and our vocation, about true artistic freedom and inspiration, etc., can be amply ventilated.

As it is, we are still awfully stuck with an almost adolescent attitude toward the movies and shows, and toward most forms of art. This does not speak well of us as a people.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Da Vinci Code?

FOR months now, friends, acquaintances and even strangers have asked me whether I have read the book and what I thought of it. I suppose they wanted to hear some explosive response from me.

But my standard answer has always been, no, I have not read the book, and I have no intention of wasting my time reading it, after knowing from all sorts of sources what the book is all about.

An anonymous person even gifted me with an expensive, de luxe, coffee table edition of the book. I thank him for the gesture, but I had a grand time burning it. That’s what I do with useless books. Yes, I go to that extent.

It might be finely written, making a good read for many people, and this makes it truly dangerous, since its content I imagine must be rotten from start to finish.

Imagine, a book trying to pose itself as fiction but conveying ideas that are asking to be treated as true. It requires a very crafty, wily writer to achieve such effect.

As I understand it, it questions basic doctrine of the Catholic faith, and weaves a complicated story of intrigue citing real institutions and thinly veiled real characters.

As an Opus Dei priest, I know that its references to that Church prelature are just a hogwash of lies and nastiness. I find it difficult to understand someone can find joy in doing such a thing at the expense of many people with hardly any trace of hard evidence to back up his claims. I pray for that person.

The book reminds me of the old apocryphal writings. Some of them were good, products of some exaggerated and often misplaced piety, but containing falsehoods that were subtly blended with pieces of truth.

But there were others that were simply bad, nasty, and malicious, taking advantage of certain commonly-held vague notions of things and cultural deficiencies of a people to inject their lies and venom.

It’s the same old tall tale woven by those crazy Gnostics of old who claimed they had some hidden knowledge of things but refused to be investigated nor their data verified, claiming that they are above these things.

In fact now, I understand a Church official have asked people not to read
the book, because of its dangerous character, and that a group is now seriously investigating the claims of the book, just to reveal the real score.

But what do we hear? Some people are accusing the Church of making another edition of the notorious crusade. They are again giving the image that they
are being pilloried and threatened of being burned at the stakes, yada, yada, yada.

Oh, well, such is life. That’s why I always advise others to just relax, keep you head intact, and not to be taken easily by fantastic stories.

That there are many people, millions of them, fascinated and intrigued by
this book, reminds me of what St. Paul once said in his second letter to Timothy:

“There will come a time when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but having itching ears, will heap up to themselves teachers according to their own lusts, and they will turn away their hearing from the truth and turn aside rather to fables.” (4,3-4)

That’s how I read the phenomenon. And so following the advice of St. Paul, I suppose the thing to do is just to continue and sustain the effort of evangelization, real-to-goodness and integral and thorough evangelization.

There are many souls in this world who may be well-educated and all that, but sad to say, they are ignoramuses when it comes to the faith. In fact, their basic understanding of faith is congenitally defective, since they take faith more as a result of their reasoning, and not as a divine gift.

Still, the advice of St. Paul just has to be followed. “Preach the word, be urgent in season, out of season. Reprove, entreat, rebuke with all patience and teaching…Be watchful in all things, bear with tribulation patiently, work as a preacher of the gospel, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Tim 4,2-5)

I hope many take this advice to heart, not only the priests, but even and especially the laity who also have the duty to evangelize because they are a part of the Church.

Let’s stop wasting our time being tricked by some stories. Let’s do our work! We have a lot of work in front of us.

Wednesday, April 6, 2005

What’s happening, America?

HOW ugly! How barbaric! How have things gone down to this pit of human insensibility, to this abyss of brazen stupidity?

It’s ironic that in a country that boasts itself of being the most developed if not the most civilized in the world, a world leader in democratic principles and a powerful guardian of human rights, a very basic point of common sense and human compassion is painfully and cruelly contradicted.

I’m referring to the now well-known Terri Schiavo case, today’s object of
intense and seething debate not only in the US but also all over the world.

Here’s a helpless 41-year-old woman, severely brain-damaged, but definitely alive and awake, needing no extraordinary care other than tube feeding that can easily be administered to her by anyone with a bit of sacrifice.

The husband, now living with another woman, thinks that after 15 years of such condition, his wife must not like to live any longer, and should be allowed to die. The parents, and the rest of the life-loving humanity, think otherwise.

Of course, if you have a weakened person, what do you do? Do you kill him? Would you not rather help him as far as you could?

The shocker is that the American legal system, supposedly well-honed in democratic legal justice, seems to have so lost its common sense, or so trapped in its own conceits that it allows the inhuman option of the husband to happen.

They have taken away the feeding tubes and are now leaving the woman to die. I have never seen such callousness, such barbarity before.

To top it all, the American legal system prohibits anyone—the parents of
Terri, for example—to feed and take care of her, since the husband is unwilling. What is this?

Am I missing something? America, I just could not understand what you are doing. If you cannot take care of her, send her here quick to our poor country, and we’ll take care of her, gratis et amore.

When my father was dying and was needing special help, we did all we could, no matter what the expenses, no matter what the odds, to help him, even if it was just to make his inevitable death as pain-free as possible.

We don’t have to talk theology to handle situations like this. It’s just plain common sense, a very obvious and basic element of human compassion that would lead anyone to save or help any person in a difficult situation.

What is this madness and foolishness called? It’s unbelievable! This is pure and simple euthanasia, the so-called mercy-killing that has nothing to do with mercy.

Rather what is shown is the perverse dislike for any sacrifice and inconvenience, for any suffering. So inhuman, so unlike what Christ did and taught, so unlike what the Pope is showing us right now!

I think what we are seeing is a world that is going mad, deranged, blinded
by its own immorality, a result of its systematic indifference to God and to his laws. We are seeing a world that has become impatient with suffering, where the inevitable Cross has no place.

The Pope has been warning us about the spread of the culture of death, that starts with justifying simple immoral acts like contraception and infidelities, and then legalizing them like abortion and divorce.

Now they are talking about same-sex unions, and even euthanasia. I don’t
know where this perversity will end. But certainly, looking at what is happening now in the Terri Schiavo case frightens us. The slippery slope to more evil is already very clear.

It’s a culture that excels in blurring if not erasing the distinction between good and evil, right and wrong. Only what one likes, what one society likes, detached from an objective law, from God, are pursued.

In an attempt to soften the ugliness of the Terri Schiavo case, some people talk about the “living will,” where whatever is said there should be followed.

They forget that this “living will” is no absolute thing, but is subject, like anything else, to an objective moral law.

So even if a patient puts in his “living will” that no life support be given in case he goes to some sickness, that provision should not just be followed blindly.

As I’ve always said, we have to go back to God. Let’s take our faith more
seriously. Let’s stay away from the smugness of our own self-sufficiency, because frankly that attitude is simply ridiculous.

Monday, April 4, 2005

John Paul II the Great

WITH world attention now riveted on Pope John Paul II, it might be good to take another look at this man who has unquestionably shaped and influenced our lives, our times, our world.

Many will make their own commentaries on the vast and rich heritage the
Pope is leaving us. I hope we can take time to go through them, for they surely can only nourish our soul, deepen our understanding, widen our perspectives.

Mine is just a little personal testimony of how John Paul II has made God
more known and loved by a world that’s also bent on turning its back on its Creator and Father.

No, I’ve not spent much time with him. That is, physically. But yes, I have been following him closely through all materials that come from him or are about him—his encyclicals and other writings, homilies, speeches, biographies, etc.

Plus the fact that I truly pray for him everyday. I’m not ashamed to admit
that. It’s much, much more than just a fan thing. It’s a devotion, a very religious thing. So even if I’m physically far from him, I feel a certain closeness to him.

The closest and longest time I had with him was when he ordained me priest back in 1991. That event alone already left me with a deep, unforgettable impression of the kind of person John Paul II is.

He started the Holy Mass really dead tired. He looked tired, he moved tired. He was dragging his feet. I remember pitying him. He just returned from another trip, and he looked as if he had not recovered from his jet lag.

But as the Mass progressed, I witnessed a wonderful transformation in his
face and behavior. He was regaining strength and color. He was radiating with something mysterious that made me forget about my own nervousness. It was pure delight just to see him so close.

After the ceremony, while in the sacristy, he greeted each one of us. Never one to show emotions before personalities and more of a skeptic before them, I literally melted when he looked at me.

Something convinced me I was looking at a very holy man. His eyes were
deep and straight, yet calm and loving. I thought he saw me down to my core, warts and all, and he seemed to understand me. He enveloped me with warmth.

My “affair” with him started when he got elected Pope in 1978. I was then a young professional man but with some intellectual pretensions. Though immersed in business, I pursued as some kind of hobby the study of philosophy.

His homilies and speeches immediately caught my attention. I was thrilled to discover that he articulated in a very clear and strong way ideas which started to charm me but which I was still groping to understand and express.

This encouraged me to read all his writings. I marveled at what I learned from him. The depth and breadth of his writings simply amaze me, and I felt I was lent some wings to fly high.

Of course, the way he thinks and his writing style demand some discipline. Reading him is sometimes like climbing Calvary. But once you get the hang of it, you will get to see many wonderful things often missed out by many people.

I still remember a friend-priest sort of complain that this Pope writes faster than he, my friend, could read. I was amused, but I told him that he is missing a lot not reading him.

This Pope has touched just about everything related to Christian life, be it in the big or small things, be it in the personal and family aspects or in the business, social and political fields.

He has blended both the spiritual and material dimensions of Christian life, the temporal and the eternal, the here and now and the beyond.

And yet one very important lesson I learned from him is that all his writings are never simply an intellectual exercise. While they are deeply intellectual, they are undeniably human and Christian, full of love, patience and understanding.

Though there had been some voices of dissent to his teachings, he never succumbed to any strain of bitter zeal.

This has convinced me that his writings and speeches are no mere official
functions, but a vital expression of his deep life of prayer, his constant relationship with God. There can only be love when one lives in that way.

Thus, they can only have the qualities St. James described in his letter:

“The wisdom that is from above, first indeed is chaste, then peaceable, modest, easy to be persuaded, consenting to the good, full of mercy and good fruits, without judging, without dissimulation.” (3,17)

There are still many things to be done, many people still do not understand him, but there had been many things that had been done, changed, corrected, improved, and many souls brought closer to God, thanks to Pope John Paul II.