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