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.