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.