Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Christmas spirit

IN spite of varying times and climes, favorable or unfavorable, the Christmas spirit thrives not only in the hearts of children and the simple, but also in those of mature men and women, wearied, hardened and even jaded by ugly worldly affairs.

It’s a spirit of joy, bred by faith, which cannot be simply kept inside. It has to show itself externally, generating a beautiful gust of popular piety that boosts the faith, whether sagging or vibrant, of people both young and old.

“A child is born for us, a son given to us; dominion is laid on his shoulder, and he shall be called Wonderful-Counsellor.” (Isaiah 9,6)

Though repeated countless times through the ages, every time they are spoken, in faith, on Christmas Day, these words of Scripture leave an electrifying effect, mysteriously evoking an undeniable truth and an unspeakable joy that only our heart, made by God and for God, can relish.

Whatever they say, there is in man an inherent goodness that readily recognizes the spirit of Christmas. It’s a goodness that frolics with the good news of Christ’s birth, it sings and dances no matter what adverse circumstances there may be.

Of course, our theology deepens this truth of faith by telling us that with Christ’s birth, God becomes man to save us, and eternity re-acquires our errant time and world and sets them in their proper course. A very beautiful truth we are celebrating in Christmas!

This irreducible and inalienable goodness in us simply shows that in spite of our weaknesses and failures, in spite of some weakening of faith or whatever, we somehow understand we are meant for the eternal, for the infinite.

We are not simply earth-bound or time-bound. Our true dignity seeks a much higher level of existence. We may not be very aware of this, but we actually
yearn for this goal.

Our natural goodness makes us discern where our true home is and what our true happiness really is. It makes us realize that we are meant to live on beyond this life and time, and beyond this world.

This innate goodness, I like to think, is the original language that unites us with our Creator, before other layers of languages come between God and us. If taken good care of, it’s a language that can lead us to loftier realities about ourselves.

We are not mere creatures who try our best to make the most of what we have in this world. We are something much more, a lot more. We are God’s children, meant to participate in his very own supernatural life.

Christmas brings this phenomenon about. There is something in it, regardless of the contamination of commercialism, paganism, etc., that causes this sublime realization to surface.

Yet, despite this mysterious law, it is incumbent on us to exert all we can to purify the way we celebrate Christmas. In this duty, we cannot be passive.

There can be many things to take care of, but I’d like to reiterate what a Church document wants us to pay special attention to during Christmas. This is to keep the celebration from falling into becoming too emotional and shallow. These points can be:

- all manifestations of popular piety should be linked and harmonized with the liturgy, which is the official prayer of the Church, the prayer of Christ himself with all of us. Popular piety should climax in the liturgy;
- the “spirituality of gift,” proper of Christmas, should be highlighted, based on the truth that “a child is born for us, a son is given to us” (Is 9,5), and God “so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (Jn 3,16);
- to convey the message of solidarity, also proper of Christ, since with Christ’s birth God lives solidarity with sinful man and the poor;
- Christ’s birth should also stress the sacredness of human life, now threatened gravely in many places;
- also to emphasize the spirit of simplicity and poverty, humility and trust in God so conspicuous in Christ’s birth and so direly needed by us today.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Living the Bible

THE Bible should always by our side. If we still think we are Christian believers and really know what the Bible is, then we should realize it’s something indispensable in our life.

It should not be considered just like any book. It’s not merely some religious literature, or a scholar’s material, or an object of social curiosity, etc. No, no, the Bible is much more than these. Its relevance has not expired.

For Christian believers, it is “the” book. It is where one meets Christ, the living Christ, no less. It is not only a human document. In spite of its human limitations, it is foremost a divine document, needing a living faith for its use.

Sad to say, to many Catholics today, the Bible suffers a painfully reduced status. That it’s an inspired book, written in some mysteriously harmonious way by God and man, and thus, in some way, a living book, is lost in the minds of people.

In fact, the very concept of inspiration today is painfully devalued. Its original religious meaning is now replaced by poor, cheap if glittering imitations, geared more to petty romances and other expressions of mundane creativity.

Modern man’s concept of inspiration is actually an empty shell, a gravy without the meat, stuck with the accidentals but missing the substance. It has become a soulless creature, emasculated and castrated, a victim of the prevailing crisis in religion.

Forgotten is the fact that being an inspired book, it contains God’s self-revelation to us, made full in Christ. With faith, the divine self-revelation takes the leap from written word to living word.

Reading it, again with the proper dispositions, is entering into a vital dialogue with God, bringing us to a deeper level of reality. That’s when what is described in the Letter to the Hebrews becomes a beautiful event:

“For the word of God is living and effectual, and more piercing than any
two-edged sword, and reaching unto the division of the soul and the spirit, of the joints also and the marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intent of the heart.

“Neither is there any creature invisible in his sight but all things are naked and open to his eyes, to whom our speech is.” (4,12-13)

I know there are some people who get upset when talks like this are made. They say that faith and religion are at best purely private, personal affairs that have no place in public, because these can’t be “scientifically” accounted for and verified.

The idea of God revealing himself to us in a dynamic way can taste like poison to them. They consider it a gratuitous and extravagant claim, completely baseless and bereft of any convincing reasons.

That’s the problem we have. The deepest yearning we have in our hearts is made to stay down deep there, not allowed to show itself externally. There are people who get an indigestion when any talk of God is made.

But in spite of the supernatural character of the Christian faith, we have more than enough reasons to justify why the faith can and even should be a public affair.

In the case of the Bible, there are strong reasons to discuss its validity and relevance not only in our personal lives, but also in our social life. In fact, it always has something to say in every aspect of our life.

The need, for example, of how to read and interpret it demands that it be discussed in public. These points just cannot be left to purely personal and individualistic interpretations. There are principles, derived from faith, that need to be followed.

Being both a human and divine document, it requires also both human and supernatural means to savor its juice, so to speak, and to make it alive.

To know the precise literal meaning of its text, to discern its spiritual sense, to learn how to relate it to our present circumstances, etc.,

Monday, December 11, 2006

The sense of the spiritual

THAT may sound like a contradiction in terms, “sense” being something associated with the body, as in the sense of sight, with the eye as its proper organ, and “spiritual” being precisely what is contrary to anything material.

But if we still believe that man is composed of body and soul, something material and something spiritual, then there must be some sense in talking about developing “the sense of the spiritual.”

That’s just how it is. We have to contend with the peculiarities of our human condition that make us neither purely material nor purely spiritual, but material and spiritual all the same time.

This sense of the spiritual, in my view, is what is most needed these days. We seem to be so dominated by the material, the external, the bodily and sensual, that even our spiritual faculties—our thinking, our willing—appear unduly compromised.

The horror expressed by St. Paul when he wrote about the differences between the carnal man and the spiritual man is taking place right before our eyes. We are having more of the carnal than the spiritual.

I would even say that if there is any reference to something spiritual, most likely it is made to highlight and enhance a purely material and earthly value. To exaggerate a little, it’s like our thinking and willing are made only to heighten our feeling. They are not made to tackle their proper object who is ultimately God.

Looking around, we just see and hear in billboards, newspapers, radios, TV,
Internet, etc., images and sounds that convey, often in a subliminal but effective way, almost exclusively material, external, temporal and earthly values.

We are cajoled to look good, to feel good, to be rich, to be successful, to have a champion body, to be powerful, popular, etc. We are made to envy those who have won the genetic lottery, because they are physically beautiful and well-endowed.

To be rich and famous now means to “have arrived.” If you are neither of
these, then, sweetie, you still have a long way to go in this life. It’s a diabolical frame of mind that, I’m afraid, is threatening to become a generalized culture.
There’s hardly any mention about the need to be humble and simple, to be prayerful, to do sacrifices, etc. There’s no mention about virtues, like prudence, temperance, fortitude, justice. Nothing about ascetical struggle. Definitely, no mention of God. Shucks!

This is truly weird, since if for those who still believe in God, God is known to be our Creator, our Father, and all that, why is it that many find it hard to relate themselves and their affairs to God?

This is the problem. While the material and earthly values are legitimate, it seems they are pursued without proper reference to the spiritual and supernatural that should serve as their goal.

Thus, we also yield what we sow. Precisely because the spiritual values are
neglected or are not given proper attention, people who still believe in God find it harder to resist temptations and to handle their weaknesses.

How can it be otherwise when once stuck with the material, they simply become ruled by things like moods, temper, tastes, hormones, instincts, emotions, passions, fads and fashions.

These things, as we know, are always shifting or cover only a partial aspect of our life. They are not meant to be a constant element, guiding us to unchanging truths and what is truly good for us.

They give us a certain good, but they are notoriously shortsighted and narrow-minded. Worse, they spawn other evils like envy, greed, avarice, lust. They are like kids, charming but certainly needing direction and discipline.

Without the spiritual values, there’s no way one can resist the lures of the devil and the sting of the flesh. One can have an appearance of goodness, but inside it’s a different story altogether.

We have to develop a sense of the spiritual, one that puts God always in our mind and heart, in our feelings, our affairs, etc. We need grace for this, but we also are equipped for this lifestyle.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Christian social sense

We are told that this year is the Year of Social Concerns. Our Bishops declared this, I suppose, in a bid to help all believers to develop a genuine and effective social sense, infused with Christian faith and charity.

In this life, a Christian faithful is not only a member of the Church. He is also a citizen of a country. He is not only an individual person, he is also a social being.

Thus, Pope Benedict recently said that the Christian identity is not only an “I” but a “we”, since it does not consist simply with our individual identities, but also with our permanent awareness that we are children of God and that we are all brothers and sisters.

God and others necessarily enter into one’s Christian identity. We need to link our individual identity with this requirement. And a Christian social sensibility is one way of doing this. That’s the challenge we have now.

This is a lofty and noble goal that should not be trivialized, treating it as a mere social event in the Church. The challenges that it can tackle are many, complicated, daunting.

In this regard, two aberrations need to be corrected: the drift to what is called as secularism, on the one hand, and the tendency to clericalism, on the other. Both are irregularities regarding God’s role in society.

Secularism is marked at least by indifference to God. God is seen to have no role to play in our social life. Our earthly affairs, especially those with social dimensions, like our business and politics, are purely ours.

In this frame of mind, we need not bother about moral considerations that have God and his commandments as basis. Everything depends on us. We make our own rules.

Since this is highly subjective, it will favor the strong, the rich, the clever, and disparages the weak, the poor and those who are naturally lowly endowed. This can be very discriminating and can lead to scandalous cases of injustice and inequality. We don’t have to look far to find proofs of this.

This anomaly can have many causes: atheism, agnosticism, skepticism, to mention a few. But even underlying these aberrant systems are the usual culprits: pride, greed, vanity, ignorance, confusion, etc. These are the ones that should be tackled directly.

Clericalism, on the other hand, is when faith in God is turned into a social or political ideology. There is an illegitimate marriage between religion and politics, a poisonous mix between our spiritual and social dimensions.

In this attitude, God is often portrayed as partisan in issues that are open to many, even conflicting but reasonable and moral opinions. The duty to put God in our business and politics is wrongly understood and applied.

We would be quick to call God to our side in matters that are just for us to agree on. To exaggerate a little, it’s like asking God to side with us in a boxing match, or in a debate about what color of uniform should be used by students.

In reality, the problem of clericalism is quite common and hard to cure. It’s deeply ingrained through the centuries of misunderstanding the role of God in our business and politics. It can afflict all of us, both clergy and laity.

In my view, clarifying the social dimension of our life should be the underlying goal to pursue in the celebration of the Year of Social Concerns. All pertinent programs and projects should spin around this purpose.

I imagine that a lot of catechesis, especially on the social doctrine of the Church, should be made. There’s a crying need to have this doctrine assimilated properly by our leaders—bishops and priests, politicians, teachers, parents, etc.

Given the strong cultural and historical conditionings of our social life, it would be good if we can undertake an ongoing, deep and systematic effort of clarifying social issues under the light of the social doctrine of the Church.

We should be brave enough to point out the good and bad traits of our culture insofar as these impact on our social life, the right and wrong turns we made in the past. Etc., etc.

Monday, November 27, 2006


I was happy to learn about the two high school boys who turned over to the
police a lady’s handbag they found near the cemetery during the recent holidays. The bag contained P100K, and some bankbooks. This took place in a town in Cebu.

When asked why they decided to return the money, their spontaneous answer was, “It was not ours.” They kept flashing their boyish grin, which impressed me as natural, not put on just for the cameras.

When the mother of one of the boys was asked the same question, her answer was direct and without much curly arguments.

“It did not cross our mind to keep that money, even if we needed money for my foot operation, because I’m sure the owner of this money must be crying now.”

True enough, when the owner came, she was in tears and overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. Her eyes were clearly puffed. A young enterprising woman, her face was twisted by the pain of the possible loss of some sizable earnings.

The husband, a rather tough-looking hulk, melted like wax at the experience of receiving pure goodness at the hands of strangers. And since goodness generates more goodness, he quickly gave some money to the boys and to the mother. A very beautiful sight, indeed!

Surely, the gesture of returning the money was one of honesty, but the words uttered expressed a deeper trait that served as the basis for honesty. This, to me, is none other than the trait of simplicity.

Simplicity is the virtue that keeps one to stick to what is fundamentally true and good, to what is the original order of things, refusing to get lost in the maze of rationalizations that one can invoke to get what he wants.

I would say it’s a virtue that enables one to keep his innocence in spite of the temptations and the great amount of acquired knowledge and experience that often are won at the expense precisely of one’s innocence.

With the young and the unexposed, simplicity is an innocence that is pristine, unspoiled but untested. With the older ones and those exposed to the world, simplicity is an innocence that is cultivated, defended and armed.

It’s a result of the interplay between God’s grace and our effort. It grows in the soil of trials and temptations. It can be wounded, but it can get healed. It can even die, yet it can also resurrect.

With it, one’s integrity is maintained and protected from the lures and tricks of corruption that can come from the acquisition of power in all its forms: superior physical and genetic endowments, wealth, fame, authority, etc.

Vanity and pride can cause the loss of simplicity in a person. Greed, lust and the other capital sins also can. They alter one’s perception of things. They spin illusions, a web of make-believe, that can truly complicate one’s life, as well as that of others.

Simplicity makes one to stay away from any trace of affectation and, more so, of hypocrisy. There is limpid transparency in his behavior, which can include the due amount of discretion. There’s consistency in one’s thoughts, words and deeds. Hardly anything is lost in the translation.

Simplicity has nothing to do with naivete and thoughtlessness. Much less is it a matter of genes, or a necessary consequence of some social environment. It’s not a static, inert thing. It is highly dynamic and alive.

It is rather a result of an abiding sense of piety that binds him to some superior law and to a superior authority. It never builds a self-contained life. It develops a life vitally linked to God and to others. That is its natural habitat.

It pursues a reasoning which, while allowing the requirements of prudence and discretion, is free from sophistry, malicious calculation, mental reservations, pedantry. There is an earnest and transparent quality to its logic.

It protects one from the virus of envy and jealousy. It makes one calm and
serene, open and compassionate with others. It’s a virtue that we have to propagate more actively these days.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Loving the world

THE Gospel has warned us about the world being one of the enemies of our
soul. St. John is clear about this: “For all that is in the world, are the concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but is of the world.” (1 Jn 2,16)

And yet the world is where we are. It is where our Lord has placed us. We believe it was created not only for us to stay in, but also for us to develop. As such, it is good and holds a tremendous meaning for us.

The problem, of course, is that we have spoiled and perverted it. And it now has the effects of our sin, such that if we are not careful, it can lead us away from God and bring us to our own destruction.

But originally the world is good. It just needs to be purified and reconciled with God, which is now our task, with God’s grace, of course, and thoroughly applying his teachings.

Just the same, we should always remember our Lord’s words: “God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting.” (Jn 3,16)

Ergo, we too should love the world. I would say, we have to passionately love it. But we have to do it properly, that is, with the love of Christ. That’s the only way. Again, our Lord says: “For God sent not his Son into the world, to judge the world, but that the world may be saved by him.” (Jn 3,17)

There are two extremes to avoid with respect to our attitude toward the world. One is to so hate the world that you would not like to have anything to do with it. You run away from it. You consider the world as naturally evil.

The other is to love it in such a disordered way it becomes everything to you. It becomes our God, our end-all, our definitive destiny and home. Our fate is completely tied with that of the world. There’s nothing beyond it.

There are a few of us, those with a religious vocation, etc., whose lifestyle puts them at a certain distance from the world. This is not because they hate the world, but rather because they want to give witness to our final destination, which is not in this world.

But for most of us, for the tremendous majority of the Christian faithful, we ought to live right there in the middle of the world, making it our very own, and making ourselves the primary agents responsible for its life and development. We should not run away from it.

We are of this world, and in this world, but we should not be worldly. We have to understand that the world is the necessary setting for the main drama of our life—to build our love for God, for others and ourselves precisely through the things of this world.

Thus, our attitude toward the world should be that of a healthy, vibrant love, knowing that our supernatural fate depends on how we live our life in this world.

We should be very interested in developing the world, actualizing whatever potentials it possesses for the purpose of giving glory to God, of serving others and of perfecting ourselves.

That is to say that whenever we do business and politics, whenever we go into creative work or plunge into the sciences, or immerse ourselves in cultural activities, etc., this should be the motive to drive us.

We have to learn to look, find, love and serve God and others in these earthly affairs. The problem we have at the moment is that even among Christian believers, this attitude is agonizingly missing.

We have to be convinced that only in this way can we properly love the world. Thus, we have to learn to be real contemplatives in the world. Outside of this condition, we will be abusing the world, in spite of the wonderful accomplishments we may be making.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Get real

THAT’S a common and popular expression these days. Commercials use it often, and even kids like saying it.

I myself have come to use it a number of times. And I also receive it sometimes, usually in some strong, emphatic way. For sure, when it is said, it means the conversation has turned very exciting, to say the least.

That’s when I realize we can have different meanings of “getting real.” To many people, to “get real” can mean expressing what’s right in the tip of one’s tongue, or how one feels at the moment, or what so far he has understood.

To “get real” can also mean to be utterly frank, to give vent to what is deep inside one’s heart. It can also mean to get to the barest minimum of things, to get to what one thinks is the naked, plain and unvarnished truth.

Yes, to “get real” can have a variety of meanings, with a great profusion of shades and nuances. But to me, this whole discussion about the meaning of “getting real” can only reflect the kind of persons we are. Reality can mean different things to different people.

St. Paul articulated this point one time in his first letter to the Corinthians. I think it’s worthwhile to read what he said about it to remind ourselves of a fundamental truth about us. Here was what he said:

“God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what person knows a man’s thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him?

“So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit.

“The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

“The spiritual man judges all things, but he is himself to be judged by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” (10-16)

I must say that these words of St. Paul speak volumes about what to “get real” can mean. In the end, things depend on how one is, whether one is spiritual or unspiritual, as St. Paul said it.

Sad to say, many people are not aware of this. To them reality is just what they see, what they feel, or at best, what they could understand. Spiritual and supernatural realities are excluded from their world. The world of faith is not known to them. They prefer the virtual reality of their games and inventions.

A worse case are those people who do not have faith not because they are not told about it, but because they question the reality of faith itself. To them, this business of faith is foolishness, just like what St. Paul said of the unspiritual man.

Spiritual and supernatural realities are full of mysteries which are beyond our capacity to understand. But that problem does not mean that they don’t exist. They do, and we happen to have the natural capacity to catch at least a glimpse of them, though we may not be able to penetrate them deeply.

This is because of our intelligence and will, which are faculties that show there is something spiritual in us, there is something in us that would enable us to consider the spiritual and supernatural realities.

These are faculties which can be taken up by the Spirit of God, enabling us
to see and “understand” things the way God sees and understands them. And this can be in ways far beyond what our words can express, or our logic can articulate.

This is when we are truly “getting real.” This is, of course, very mysterious. That’s why Christ would often say, “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear,” to stress the need for faith to capture what he meant when he transmitted supernatural truths in parables.

We have to examine what we mean when we say we have to “get real.”

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Family as priority

ALL over the world, the family has increasingly become a focus of priority
attention by Church authorities due to the many challenges it is facing. The flight from God brings with it the itch to tinker and tamper with the nature of the family, that’s the problem.

For one, there is a spreading erroneous understanding of man, which separates him from his family roots. He is now supposed to transcend or outgrow his family ties. His development is hardly seen in the context of the family.

There is reason to believe that in the current culture of professional work and labor, man is seen almost exclusively in terms of output or results, in terms of being a worker simply, without any due consideration to the family. Man’s economic value is outpacing his intrinsic value as a person with a family.

As a result, now the family is often seen as a hindrance to one’s fulfillment. There seems to be a social drift to individualism and selfishness, driven strongly by the pursuit of worldly goals: pleasure, comfort, power, wealth, etc.

The family becomes an expendable prop, an easy casualty along the road to
development. In our country, it should be interesting to find out how the increase of OFW’s, otherwise with good economic effects, is affecting the family.

My hunch, based on direct personal knowledge, is that the economic benefits of husbands or wives separated from their spouses and children just to work and earn abroad, come at a great price with respect to family health. We can
even speak of a rip-off when we start comparing benefits and costs.

We often talk a lot about the economic benefits, but are deafeningly quiet with respect to the harm inflicted on the family. But the harm and damage are all there to see. This anomalous situation has to be corrected.

Besides, there is also the trend to detach man from the supreme and fundamental value of life. More than life, what is held important is how man performs, especially in terms of practicality, achievement, human convenience, etc.

In short, man is now seen more often for what he has, what he does and accomplishes, what he gives, rather than for what he is. These aspects in man are increasingly put into conflict, and are given wrong priorities, again making the family among the first victims.

That is why we have an explosion of abortion being legalized in many countries. And the relative scourges, like euthanasia, forms of discrimination against the handicapped, etc., are already popping their heads in many places.

Many other problems face the family today. Conjugal love is now often debased. It is pegged more on the carnal than on the spiritual. Thus it is a love that is very vulnerable to acquire the contraceptive mentality. Divorce, separations, infidelities are getting common.

The sense of commitment is loosening up. There a clear inclination toward
the family being separated from marriage. The family is now fast becoming a purely private affair, giving rise to phenomena like trial-marriages, live-in arrangements, etc.

Congresses and parliaments all over the world are also strongly pressured to legalize other forms of family that are not exactly natural, as in the case of homosexual unions. Organized ideological groups are behind these moves.

Then you also have some radical feminist influences to contend with. While
it’s good to see the status of women improve over the years, there’s also a spreading effort to remove women from their basic roles as wives and mothers.

To these feminists, being wives and mothers is to work against womanhood. They are supposed to undermine the feminists’ idea of freedom and choice. This is a challenge to be handled expertly.

Certainly, this state of affairs with respect to the family demands priority attention not only by Church authorities, but also by everyone, especially the laity. Everyone should cooperate vigorously. We cannot be lukewarm in this.

In some places, family institutes and other centers dedicated to tackling family matters are put up. We should have this kind of structures also to better face the challenge we have with respect to the family.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Bishops in Politics?

DON’T look now but our political pot is heating up again. It should come as no surprise that the question of clerics in politics is once more brought up.

Some sectors, in fact, have boldly called priests and bishops to quickly step into the arena, directly intervening in political affairs. Stop playing coy, they say. We are now in modern times. Things have changed. Attitudes should, too.

Some opinion-makers went to the pitiable extent of telling one and all that the Church should change, that theology, ecclesiology, and other ecclesiastical sciences should change to accommodate this new fact of life, they claimed.

I wonder if they knew what they were saying. What I could gather was that there was more passion than reason in their arguments. The discussion, which breezily touched on many points, started with the wrong key, and did not manage to end with the right one.

The problem is that many of our so-called political pundits, with clear ideological biases, cannot picture the Church beyond being one more socio-political force or element in our body politic. It’s a terribly poor understanding of the Church.

They seem unable to stomach a Church that is spiritual and supernatural in origin, character and mission, from start to finish even if it has to deal with a material world. Talking to them about these things would be like talking to the wind.

They are still stuck with the simplistic black-and-white mindset that if one is spiritual and supernatural in orientation, he necessarily is not concerned with the material and temporal affairs of men.

The clerics cannot be directly involved in political activities, period. It’s not in their job description, in the nature of their vocation and mission. It’s not the example of Christ, and even if violated many times, it’s not in the Church laws.

But this does not mean that they are indifferent to the political situation of any given place and time. Their interest in politics, as in any other human temporal affair, is deep and constant, but pursued in a different way.

In this regard, I would like to remit some relevant texts from the Church document, Pastoral Directory for Bishops (Apostolorum successores), issued by the Vatican on February 22, 2004.

Its Paragraph 117, entitled “The bishop and the public authorities,” gives us a picture of how bishops should behave in political matters:

“The pastoral ministry and also the common good of society normally require that the bishop maintain direct or indirect relations with the civil, political, socio-economic, military authorities, etc.

“The bishop has to fulfill said task always in a respectful and courteous manner, but without ever compromising his proper spiritual mission. While he personally nourishes and transmits to the faithful a great appreciation for the public office and prays for the representatives of the public authority, he should not tolerate any restriction to his own apostolic freedom to openly proclaim the Gospel and the moral and religious principles, even in social issues.

“Disposed to praise the effort and the authentic social accomplishments, he
should equally condemn any public offense to the law of God and to human dignity, always working in such a way that would not give the community the slightest impression that he is interfering in areas over which he has no competence or that he is favoring special interests.”

As to priests’ and bishops’ concern for politics, we can do a lot by way of providing from Christian faith “principles for reflection, criteria for judgment, guideline for action,” as the Church’s social doctrine commands us.

With these, without assuming specific positions and while respecting the freedom of all, we can significantly clarify issues, point out possible dangers, enlarge or enrich views, etc. In short, we can give a Christian tone to all positions, and create a proper atmosphere for a healthy dialogue.

Perhaps this is an area to be studied more thoroughly and given more action. It’s when the people hear hardly anything from priests and bishops in this regard that they tend to think that priests and bishops are doing nothing in our socio-political concerns.

Saturday, November 4, 2006

November blues?

With its overshadowing commemoration of the dead, November may evoke
somber notes. My friends in business, especially store owners, also tell me November is a dead month, business-wise.

But I must say that like any month, it should connote joy. Memory, let’s remember, has better modes other than sentimental nostalgia and foggy melancholy. Of course, for this we have to widen our perspective.

Reasons to be happy abound. For one, let’s not forget that it begins with the Solemnity of All Saints, a vivid reminder of what the Church teaches as the communion of saints. We all are called to it. We all truly belong to it. We are God’s people, God’s family.

This means that we have a very glorious beginning, because we come from the hands of God. And we are meant for an even more glorious end, because we are destined to share the very life of God. This is God’s will, before it becomes our own.

This thought should abide in us permanently, forming our basic attitudes and outlook in life. This should not just be an intellectual thing. It’s a fundamental truth meant to infuse every pore of our being.

Let’s not worry too much about the means to achieve this. We are told that what God begins, he ends, what he starts, he completes and perfects. Of course, all this will require our cooperation.

Yes, we know all too well that we are sinners. Still we cannot deny that it’s God’s will that we be holy like him, since we are his children, not just any creature. “Be holy as your heavenly Father is holy.”

We need to expand our mind and heart to conform ourselves more fully to this reality. That’s the challenge we have. We tend to have a very narrow and shallow view of things, which we have to correct.

With weak faith, we invite doubts and fears. We would live in a world of uncertainties. We then become vulnerable to skepticism, even cynicism. The slide to worse things, even faith’s loss, becomes inevitable.

To strengthen our faith, we need among other things to be deeply grounded
on the doctrine of our faith. We have to study our catechism, assimilate and master it.

And since we always live in society, we need to help one another in this regard. There’s so much religious ignorance and doctrinal confusion that we have to overcome. The challenge is truly daunting, but not impossible.

Nowadays, we need to be more precise in our understanding of the articles of our faith. There’s this disturbing talk about invincible ignorance, in the face of which the suggested action to take is just to let the parties concerned be.

These doctrines of our faith are not simply ideas. We need them to immerse ourselves in the very life and mystery of God, in his mercy and justice. We need them to take part in Christ’s salvific work. We have to be careful with our tendency to simply “intellectualize” them.

Let’s hope that we can be more aware of this grave responsibility to study our doctrines seriously. Even more, that we be truly adept in fulfilling it, putting all sorts of initiatives our loving creativity could occasion.

Catechesis should be a continuing activity especially at homes. More than in schools and parishes, it’s in homes, the domestic church, where the teaching and deepening in Christian doctrine should be carried out.

Parents especially should take active part in this task. Theirs is not simply a matter of feeding and clothing their children, sheltering them, sending them to schools. Parenthood means a lot more than these.

Participating in the creativity of God, parents do not only beget children. They educate and form them not only to be their children but also God’s children.

Educating children should not be limited to the merely human aspects. It has to go all the way to the spiritual and supernatural dimensions of our life, to its religious aspect. This is the core of education.

This is one way of effectively blowing the so-called November blues away!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


THIS piece is not about alcoholism. It’s about something more serious.

The intoxication involved here goes far beyond the effect of whiskey. It’s due more to a spiritual handicap. And its consequences are way more devastating.

Marks and traces of this illness are all over the place, but are especially found in the media, where one readily sees all forms of vulgarity and bad taste. Gossip shows are notorious in this regard.

But even worse than the gossip shows are political discussions, whether oral or written, where sobriety seems to be thrown out of the window. There’s just too much bickering, intrigue-sowing, carping, griping, fault-finding, a veritable display of moral bankruptcy.

Self-righteousness comes out in thick billows. A writer portrays himself as having all the reasons and others just don’t have any. He is all right, the others all wrong. He is the God, the others are all scheming devils.

Aggravating this is when the writer happens to have a clear talent for expressing himself. His words flirt; his style, in shrill tones, hijacks attention. He can even glibly articulate what actually should be his cause for shame.

This is actually a funny, usually pitiable sight, one that begs patience. It can remind one of a child in tantrum or a raving drunk. The problem is when he makes a nasty public disturbance.

Many political opinion-makers tend to exaggerate in defending their position or in disputing their opponents’ views. All this makes one often wonder whether the issues involved deserve to be argued that vigorously.

We get the impression we are made to choose between life and death, between heaven and hell. We are made to believe we live in an attack-or-be-attacked world. I don’t know why so much uproar is given to these issues.

Whether one is for charter change or not, for elections next year or not, everyone should be allowed to choose without corrupting his conscience with trash.

My understanding of things is that in considering varying or conflicting political options, one has to be calm to weigh the pros and cons of each side. As long as no option is inherently evil, everyone should be allowed to choose according to his judgment. We have to respect his choice.

When one has heard all the reasons and arguments for and against, please let him make his decision quietly. We don’t have to pollute the whole planet with outlandish accusations that the other party is rotten, playing God by prying into the motives of parties concerned.

We all have to learn to be careful with our words. Just like in anything else, sobriety and moderation are always desirable virtues to have in this department. I think this is part of today’s challenge.

We have to be more aware of the villain that can be called “inflation of words.” This is a clear abuse of words, a multiplier of foul elements. This is when we put in more than what the words can legitimately convey.

This is when we infuse venom in whatever form (hatred, envy, rigid ideological bias, etc.) into our words. As a result, we lose our sense of balance and propriety, and become vulnerable to wild passions.

The problem we have is that many of us do not even realize there’s such thing as sobriety and moderation in our thoughts and words. These virtues appear to be relevant only when talking of food and drinks.

Pope Benedict reminded students recently to spend time in silence to be able to converse with God, and acquire the proper sense of the use of words. He recommended temperance in our thoughts and words.

We have to understand that good manners should also extend to the way we
manage our thoughts and words. This is a sign of self-mastery, a proof of maturity.

“The tongue,” the Bible tells us, “is a fire, a world of iniquity…an unquiet evil, full of deadly poison…Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing…” (James 3,6-9)

We should never forget this truth. We need to discipline our speech, conforming it to the molds of charity by making it an organic extension of our permanent conversation with God. That’s the ideal to pursue always.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

False prophets

SINCE time immemorial, we have been warned about false prophets. The Bible is full of such warnings. Now, sadly, we seem oblivious to these warnings. I get the impression many feel these warnings have become obsolete or irrelevant.

We have to understand that the quest for truth always brings with it the accompanying concern to be watchful with falsehoods. And so, given our human condition, we also have to learn to distinguish between true prophets or teachers from the false ones. There are guidelines on these matters.

This is not to drive us paranoid, but we need to be reminded that the worst falsehood can be made to look and sound like the truth, and that the falsest prophet can be made to appear precisely like the true teacher.

They can have the form, but not the substance, the fiery rhetoric but not the message. We cannot exaggerate our duty to be vigilant, and to do all we can to properly carry out our part, whether we are cleric or lay, in the prophetic mission of the people of God.

Problems abound in this matter. For one, the concept of truth has suffered tremendous defacement. Instead of truth, people talk more of opinions. There are no more absolute truths or truths of faith, only relative and personal opinions.

Not that there is no room for opinions. They will always be around. But nowadays, there’s hardly any effort to try to conform them to truth. Their weight and power is often derived from sources other than the truth and some objective universal law. They come more from brute force, naked political maneuvering or subtle cultural conditionings.

In the meantime, truth or reality is often reduced to what simply is sensible, or practical, or intelligible. Beyond that, there is no more truth or reality. Thus, spiritual and supernatural realities are systematically blocked and discarded.

At best, they are considered mere figments of the imagination, or material for one’s reasoning. They don’t exist by themselves. They may just be products of one’s psyching his own self.

With such understanding of truth, you can just imagine how the concept of
true prophet or teacher can be greatly disfigured, almost beyond recognition. Fact is it has been twisted, distorted, severely reduced, detached from its source and goal.

Mention the word, prophet, and the immediate idea that comes to the mind of most people is an ancient figure, obviously held irrelevant in the present, who made some predictions of events that now also have little resonance to many.

I’m afraid it’s a concept that has been fossilized in the lives of many, hopefully not yet in the culture of peoples, together with the reality of religion, faith, God. The curiosity that it generates today is precisely one that a typical guy at present has toward a fossil.

Mention the word, teacher, and there’s hardly anything that goes beyond the idea of a mentor in the class room, transmitting merely technical data. Its foundation to God, its eminently religious dimension, is almost completely obliterated.

To a certain extent, this phenomenon is understandable in the secular world. But I’m afraid it is creeping even into the ecclesiastical world. A few ecclesiastics are acting less of prophets and teachers in the name of Christ, head of the Church. They act more like opinion-makers themselves.

They are quick to make their opinion on socio-political issues known, giving as excuse the need to evangelize these aspects of our life. And yet, many indications on this matter as articulated in the Church’s social doctrine seem to be ignored.

This, to me, is a problem that needs to be urgently resolved, before things really go out of hand, producing a real mess. Some Church leaders are cheapening their clerical dignity, misunderstanding their mission, and are adulterating the Gospel message with their own personal opinions.

In the Gospel, Jesus showed his anger to the people’s leaders then precisely because they distorted all the prophecies, doctrines and tradition related to the coming of the Redeemer. Terrible words were used, like:

“Woe to you, lawyers, for you have taken away the key of knowledge. You
yourselves have not entered in, and those that were entering in, you have hindered.” (Lk 11,52)

I wonder if these words could still be uttered by Christ to us now.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Family visioning

THE other day, I was invited to say Mass for a group who was having a seminar on family visioning. Curious, I immediately read their brochure. I got the impression the initiative was an effort to put more science into family affairs.

That gave me some measure of pure satisfaction. For some time, I have been toying on the idea of groups putting some serious effort to monitor developments affecting the family.

I always believe that the family plays a very important, in fact, indispensable, role in the development of persons and societies. The family, you see, somehow determines the kind of persons and societies we are. Its health and vitality are crucial.

I believe that the family should not be taken for granted, as it seems to be largely the case now. Its fate should not be left only to good old unscientific common sense or to a vague sense of what comes naturally. Circumstances are significantly changing.

Our present conditions are posing new challenges, different problems, unfamiliar situations to the family, baffling to most of us. It’s about time we get a good grasp of what is happening so as to be in better control of the course the family should take.

We cannot afford to be oblivious to this need. We are now swimming in a big ocean of fast-paced developments, and we need to stick our head up from time
to time to see whether we really are heading toward our proper end. This is a basic demand of prudence.

There is a crying need for couples to be adequately equipped with skills to properly read social changes, and to be more discerning and prudent since the good and bad or dangerous elements often come together.

Families, especially the parents, ought to be guided and supported in adhering to the truly fundamental values, without getting lost in the maze of things. They have to be taught the basic and traditional virtues, and how these can be lived and developed amid changing circumstances.

Fact is I’ve seen families weakening, if not dissolving, then breaking up, leaving behind a plethora of problems affecting husbands and wives, children, communities, offices, etc. It’s truly a painful sight. My heart bleeds. Tears irresistibly come.

I was happy to note that the organizers were young, energetic, professional couples, properly inspired and motivated, with a good grounding on the Catholic doctrine about the family.

They are trying to infuse whatever elements in their professional and scientific background could be useful in tackling family matters. This is a good development, worthy of all encouragement.

There’s still a lot of experimenting being done, of course, but I am already happy to note their upbeat attitude toward the prospects of success in their initiative.

And what was most gratifying to note also was the palpable human touch that filled the air at the venue of the seminar. It was not just stiff, formal lecture and all. There were tender, happy looks among the couples. There was laughter and pure, unadulterated good time.

This, to me, is more important than whatever brilliant ideas may be floated
around. The latter cannot prosper if the basic human touch is missing or deficient.

My spontaneous prayer upon seeing all this was an angelic hymn of thanksgiving and a furious petition that this initiative should prosper and give true help and practical benefits to more and more families.

This observation reminded me of what the Church’s social doctrine teaches
about prudence. Permanent Christian principles should be made to impact on the changing social realities, and should lead to some plan of action that naturally should know how to reinvent itself with the flow of time.

For this to occur, continuing massive consultation and dialogue should be fostered. Participants should be active, open and thorough in their discussions, while at the same time remaining refined and delicate in their manners. Bitter zeal should be avoided.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


WE have to be reminded of this virtue, indispensable not only to achieve
personal integrity but also to attain a certain level of social harmony.

Now that we are growing into more complex socio-political life, we all the
more need to be sincere—with God, with others, with our own selves—to achieve authentic personal and social development.

At the moment, we seem to be drowned by an ocean of data and opinions, while truth is actually left out in the cold. This situation has been with us for so long that we already consider it normal.

Everyone is claiming he is sincere in his views, then cites all sorts of
info and other pieces of evidence to support what he says.

While these claims are good, sincerity actually goes far beyond these purely subjective affirmations. It goes far beyond simply reporting what took place or what we see, feel or know. True sincerity is never cold and callous.

Sincerity is love for the truth. It presumes a certain living as contrasted to a formalistic relationship with how one understands truth to be.

This is the source of the problem. Truth to many is just what we see, feel or know. Or it’s what we studied, researched on, what we learn from other sources. Truth is seldom considered to have anything to do with God, who is Truth himself and the source of all truths.

When sincerity is not actively linked to God, then what we have is a very precarious, even dangerous kind of sincerity.

It would be a sincerity prone to pride, arrogance, pursuit of self-interest. It would be a sincerity devoid of charity, compassion and mercy. It would be a divisive sincerity, susceptible to be easily manipulated and to lead to self-righteousness.

It would be a sincerity that serves the tricks and wiles of human malice, sowing intrigues, creating contentions, fuelling loquacity and rash judgments.

We have been amply warned about these caricatures of sincerity in the gospel, but sadly these are what we are seeing around us these days! And in abundance.

Authentic sincerity is always a function of a living relationship with God. It is a sincerity that always upholds the truth in charity. Humility, simplicity and refinement always accompany it. Prudence and discretion temper it.

A truly sincere person considers his statements as a living part of his continuing dialogue not only with men but mainly with God. He lives a sincerity that makes him realize he has to make changes and conversions in his own self first before he can expect these in others.

It is a sincerity that is patient, willing to make sacrifices and to suffer for the truth. It is always accompanied by some kind of interior struggle against the constant enemies of the soul that also are the enemies of truth—pride, selfishness, vanity, etc.

These vices distort truth and reality. And when left uncorrected, they can
build a culture that actually harms and demeans humanity.

To be sincere, it is indispensable to be prayerful. Truth cannot be handled
simply relying on our good senses. It can only be handled properly with God, and prayer is our constant contact with God.

There are other requirements of sincerity. But I think that the most basic, the most indispensable, is to pray. Everything else has to flow from it. Otherwise, we would just be tossed and fro in an ocean of so-called “truths” that are none other than self-affirmations detached from the source of Truth.

This is something we have to understand well.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Heroism in the ordinary

LAST October 6 was the fourth anniversary of the canonization of a holy priest who made a quiet but effective revolution in the world of spirituality. His name—St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei.

The first time I read his books many years ago, what immediately struck me
was the forcefulness and practical sense his words possessed. While always educated and refined, they transmitted a lot of common sense, of affection and of being street-smart.

He seemed able to open people’s consciences, to read and understand them with what later on I learned to be Christian compassion and charity. He did not present theories. He just talked in a language the heart could easily assimilate.

Right now, theologians are studying his thoughts and arguments, and are drawing precious lessons, indicating the richness of his spiritual and pastoral legacy.

As far as I was concerned, it did not take long for me to realize that he was talking about a sanctity that was not lost in sophisticated theories and elaborate practices.

There was the quality of immediacy, of the here and now, about the kind of
holiness he was preaching about. I understood that holiness cannot and should not be some remote ideal to pursue. It has to be lived now, no matter how imperfectly.

I understood from him that the drama of sanctification takes place in one’s heart, and is played out mainly in the small, ordinary things of our life, and seldom, if ever, in the public stages of extraordinary events.

It’s the drama of to whom you give your heart—to God or to oneself. And this choice is always at the center of our life, our thoughts, words and actions. It’s the choice that we always have to make and that ultimately defines us.

The drama can have its difficult moments, but St. Josemaria practically screamed his reassurance that God is our Father who loves us even to the point of sending the Son to us, and the Son finally offering his life for us.

When I started the practice of reading the gospels, I then met divine words that explain these convictions St. Josemaria was so full of. “Where sin abounded, grace abounded even more,” St. Paul said (Rom 5,20). And in another letter, “For this is God’s will, your sanctification.” (1 Thes 4,3)

For most of us, our sanctity is in the heroism of our self-giving to God and to others in the ordinary circumstances of our life. It’s in the effort to try to understand an annoying companion, or in putting the finishing touches to one’s household chores.

It’s in the smile we try to evoke in spite of contrary feelings, or in the hidden and persevering effort to study and work. It can be in the faithful and generous living out of one’s commitments, big and small, public and private.

It can also be in maintaining both human and Christian integrity in one’s business and politics, even if the environment is filled with structures of sin.

The expressions of sanctity can be endless because the love that propels it never says enough. They remain constant whatever the circumstances, converting ordinary circumstances into paths to love God and others.

There is nothing mushy nor showy in his idea of sanctification, but it can generate tons of tender feelings, of exuberance, and of apostolic zeal. It finds thrill in the routine of every day, joy and peace in every moment.

And the more I got to know about St. Josemaria, the more I got convinced of the consistency between his words and his deeds. And yes, he can easily throw a spell on you, the kind that leads you to conversion and self-giving.

When I read St. Paul’s “We speak not in the learned words of human wisdom, but in the doctrine of the Spirit, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” (1 Cor 2,12), I think of how St. Josemaria entered my life and affected it.

The greatest lesson I learned from him is that loving and achieving sanctity is just a matter of decision of the heart that can and should be made at any time and in any place. On the part of God, his grace never lacks. It’s our call.

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Beware of Reason

Reactions were varied and often amusing to Pope Benedict’s supposed Faux pas of quoting an old Byzantine emperor’s offensive view about Islam recently.

One said that the Pope’s language, in the first place, is abstract and high-falutin. It somehow provokes bewilderment, even unease, among his listeners and readers. In other words, his language alone courts

Forgotten is the fact that the Pope can choose to speak in simple words and in simple ideas, as he did when he successfully engaged little children who recently received first communion in some informal conversation about the sacrament.

Pope Benedict is a very gifted and holy man. Aside from a peak intelligence, he has the gift of tongue that enables him to adapt his language to his audience. Thanks to God, he knows how to simplify very
complicated ideas.

And complicated issues are what he likes to grapple with head-on. He is not the type who just wants to say the final word, a common defect among leaders. He obviously wants to get there, but always through a process of a highly analytic reasoning.

We have to be warned that the thoughts and words of the Pope can at first spring in drips from different fields of human interest, then gather And gain strength and momentum like a river formed from different tributaries, until they end in an ocean of knowledge, both perceptible and hidden, both verifiable and mysterious.

In that address in question, the Pope was talking to tough German theologians and philosophers. Being a theologian and philosopher himself, he talked in their language. He should not be faulted for that, should he? He certainly was not in an anti-Islam campaign.

Intellectual talk has its purpose. It may not be for everyone, but it serves to emit a very nuanced view of things, giving a wealth of texture and distinctions, especially needed by modern man now to have some substantive considerations.

This does not mean that the Pope cannot commit some error of judgment by citing in a speech a passage that can offend the sensibilities of some people. This happily is not included in the definition of papal infallibility.

In fact, some opinion-makers made a big issue out of that apparent slip of papal discretion. They offered reasons, and good, valid reasons they all had.

Thing is we always have reason to support what we want to claim. But we would have a very poor grasp of the situation if we choose to get stuck with this minor, and debatable papal lapse in judgment. And miss the bigger concerns.

This point was what the Pope also tried to articulate in that lecture In question. He wanted to warn us about reason, that is, reason alone, without any support from a higher authority and source of wisdom.

He lamented over what appears as a deep cultural defect in the Western Mind today. This cultural defect is the Western mind’s tendency to limit the scope of reason to what is simply empirical, practical, mathematical.

He said that if “only the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific” in the West today, then we understand where that “hardness of hearing” where God is concerned comes from.

It’s in this way, he said, that Western positivistic reason drastically curtails the range of our relationship with reality and is incapable of opening itself to the rationality of faith, which requires a metaphysical drive.

Simply put, our human reason, while it should always be used and not be suspended in any moment as much as possible, should allow itself to be open to and lifted up by a higher source than what it by itself can manage.

It’s in this refusal of reason to be lifted up by a higher source—by a supernatural faith—that it gets stuck with silly problems and petty conflicts and controversies.

This can explain why we get entangled with little things and miss out the more important things in our life. We can strain out the gnats, but swallow a whole camel.

Yes, in a way, we have to be careful with how we use our reason.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Man needs religion

I was happy to again bump into a very interesting point while I was reading
recently parts of the “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.”

I remembered that this point made a deep impression on me the first time I read something similar many years ago. It put in clear and precise words what I strongly felt in my heart then, but was groping for the right words to express it.

It had to do with religion, with the important role religion plays in our life, and with how we somehow look for it without being quite aware of it. The Compendium has this to say about it:

“Religiousness represents the loftiest expression of the human person, because it is the culmination of his rational nature. It springs from man’s profound aspiration for truth and is at the basis of the free and personal search he makes for the divine.” (15)

Contrary to what some people may say, in my view we tend to enter the world of religion as we try to exhaust and reach the limits of our human reason and feelings. Religion comes as one possible consequence of our quest for truth.

This, of course, presumes that we consistently try to reach the edges of our reason. The problem often is that we get stuck along the way, and simply get contented with something, if not material then ideological.

The search for truth leads us to spiritual and supernatural realities, and ultimately to God. We cannot be confined to a material and temporal world. Something in us strongly tells us there’s a lot more beyond what we simply see and even understand.

And I would say that this innate tendency of ours for the spiritual and supernatural realities, though felt in varying degrees, does not invent these realities. To me, it simply means we have been made to discern these realities.

Another corollary would be that the heavy problems and crises we have in many fronts can only mirror a sad state of affairs where many of us do not go all the way in developing ourselves so as to reach the culminating religious part of our life.

When reason is made the ultimate source of knowledge, the final arbiter of what is good and bad, then we are in for some disaster. Our reason can only be a discoverer, a transmitter and processor of truth. It cannot be the source of truth. It abuses itself when it considers itself as truth’s ultimate author and creator.

Of course, the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes man as basically a “religious being.” (cfr 28) No matter how pagan or atheistic one may be, it is believed that at least a trace of religiosity somehow flickers in his heart.

“The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.” (CCC 27)

St. Augustine corroborates this with his famous words: “Lord, our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Saints and holy men and women down the ages have somehow given similar spontaneous testimonies.

We need to put more seriousness in the way we live and develop our religion. In my countless conversations with men and women, I can readily see traces of religiosity in them. The problem is that the desire is hardly matched by action.

In the first place, there is a lot of doctrinal ignorance and confusion, leading people to unknowingly enter into superstitions and other false beliefs. Many are Christians or Catholics by name only. Their deeds often belie their words.

Then also, many do not know the importance of virtues and ascetical struggle, study of the doctrine, regular recourse to the sacraments, prayers and sacrifice, etc. How can religion prosper with this neglect?

In several cases, it can easily be seen that religion becomes a highly personalized and private affair, tailored to suit one’s so-called religious whims and caprices. Religion is not anymore something given from above and dutifully received by us. It simply becomes one of our inventions.

Monday, September 25, 2006


WE have to be more aware of this need of ours. While we normally like to be spontaneous in our behavior, we sooner or later realize that spontaneity alone, without self-mastery, can be dangerous. That would be like an energy without direction.

You see, we are a very complex creature, with many layers of awareness and tendencies, with conflicting forces and competing impulses, due to the many different parts, aspects and stages of our life.

We are at once body and soul, material and spiritual, individual and social, private and public, local and global, in time and outside of it, etc. Each aspect has its peculiar properties that need to be integrated with those of the other aspects.

We are subject to different times and places, historical and cultural conditionings, that certainly exert some influences on us, often in very subtle but effective ways.

Besides, our Christian faith teaches us about our sinful origin and wounded nature that would make our life more complicated and exciting, and our need to integrate things properly more challenging.

“Breaking the relation of communion with God causes a rupture in the internal unity of the human person, in the relations of communion between man and woman and of the harmonious relations between mankind and other creatures,” (29) the Compendium of the Church’s Social Doctrine explains.

If there’s no conscious and well-thought-out effort at self-mastery, we’ll soon find out we are terribly lost, we can unwittingly harm ourselves and others. We’ll be adrift in some ocean not knowing where we would be heading. We’d be ill-prepared to face our increasingly complex world.

There are different forces, both inside and outside us, that tend to dominate us in their own selfish terms without due regard to what is truly good to us, according to an objective truth about man or to any reference to the common good.

What worsens this is the modern attitude that denies there’s such thing as an objective truth about man. The truth about man, they say, will always be changing and shifting. Nothing can be held absolute and permanent. And so what our Christian faith tells us about ourselves is thrown out of the window.

Thus, our mind can go one way, while the heart can go the other. Our speech can just be some mindless chatter, rid of balance and direction. Bad manners, instead of refinement and delicacy, prevail. There is chaos instead of peace and order.

Sometimes, our appearance has nothing to do with what is inside us. Hypocrisy and deception get systematically cultivated, undermining our integrity. And these discrepancies and anomalies can go on endlessly.

Then you have the hormones and the urges that can just pop up anytime, urgently needing discipline. The young ones are most vulnerable to these, often leading them to obsessions and addictions, to harmful practices and vices.

If we consider our environment just a little, we’ll realize we are constantly teased and titillated, often arousing the body while killing the spirit. We easily become victims of the so-called freedom of expression or artistic rights that often go their own selfish and shallow ways.

This explains why we have to struggle against laziness, complacency, disorder, proneness to discouragement, imprudence. There’s also the propensity to lack focus and determination in our activities, to be dominated by changing moods.

We should not be surprised therefore that given this state of affairs, we often find ourselves in some quarrels, both small and big, from petty feuds with neighbors to devastating wars between countries.

We have to understand that underlying the big conflicts we have, for example, in politics is this often ignored problem in the personal level where self-mastery is missing.

There has to be a continuing awareness of this need, starting in the personal level and always reinforced by the family, community, the Church, schools, etc. Plans and strategies to attain or improve in it should be initiated and pursued.

We need to foster greater self-knowledge among ourselves. Networks of helping others cope with their personal difficulties should be put in place. If we put our mind and heart into this, we will realize this ideal is quite feasible. It’s not quixotic.

Together with the appropriate human means, the spiritual and supernatural
means should never be neglected. These are prayer, sacrifices, sacraments, ascetical struggle, doctrinal formation, spiritual direction, etc. These are indispensable.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Memory and class reunions

THESE past few days in that exotic island called Bohol, some kind of fever
is gripping everyone. The reason is because they are organizing a so-called general reunion of Boholanos from all over the world, or 'Tigum Bol-anon sa Tibuok Kalibutan' (TBTK).

Being a Boholano myself (we call ourselves 'sano', short for 'paisano' or fellow countryman, for we consider our island as some kind of independent republic), I was flooded with frantic invitations by texts, emails, etc., from classmates, friends and relatives.

I had to gently and patiently beg off, a mortal sin I think, because my schedule just would not let me. A joke has it that in heaven St. Peter hastily ties up the Boholanos during the fiestas since they would escape to Bohol on those days. That's how 'bad' this thing is with us.

Of course, I go to these fiestas and reunions in my heart. It's something that is part of our human nature, or our being inherently a social being, which always feels the need to be with others, especially friends and relatives.

No man is an island, no matter how much of a loner one is. He will always need someone else, if not physically then morally or spiritually. We somehow feel incomplete if in our heart we find no one else except ourselves. We are always in need of God and of others.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “The human person needs to live in society. Society is not for him an extraneous addition but a requirement of nature.” (1879)

While this social nature of ours can be expressed in many ways, I would like to give special mention to class reunions, especially when held really far from the time the classmates were together.

These are reunions full of memories, good memories always even if particular events in the past were not exactly nice. Time and life have a way of softening whatever negative things took place before. We always have a chance to learn, to purify, to rectify, etc.

They remind us that we are creatures of memories and intentions. Our sociability is never confined to the physical. It becomes more meaningful and more intense when expressed in our memories, in our intentions and in our other moral and spiritual faculties.

These reunions connect us to our years of childhood and youth, when we were still quite raw and green, quite thoughtless and senseless. And yet now we are convinced that in spite of those conditions some significant things were developing and shaping up imperceptibly.

I have no doubt that all my classmates, however we were, even if we caused some pain, were actually blessings and God's precious gifts to each other. We might have laughed a lot, or fought and cried, but I have no doubt we were helping each other in some mysterious ways when we were making those awkward first steps toward growth and development.

I believe that mistakes, gaffes, failures are excellent teachers. They wake us up to certain realities we surely would ignore if these mistakes did not happen. If they managed to teach us humility, then the road to a good transformation was laid open.

I believe we learned more from those mistakes than from the good deed we made. The latter often led us to vanity and pride that were sweet and intoxicating in the beginning but were terribly poisonous later on. Life can spring very surprising lessons.

I believe reunions highlight the fact that life is a continuity. An invisible hand is directing it. The so-called disruptions and mutations in our experiences do not destroy this continuity. They can always be made use of, one way or another.

There is God, and he is never passive in his providence. Now I seem to see
how God played with us to lead us to some measure of sensibility and rationality, and later hopefully, to faith and charity.

God can write straight with crooked lines. He certainly made use of our childishness and all our other forms of foolishness and weakness to make something useful to us. I just hope we did not give him a really hard

Of course, the process continues. The room for improvement is the largest room in any house of life we build. It never gets finished. I have reminded my classmates of this, to warn them also of the ever-present danger of complacency.

Lastly, i would like that these reunions would always be open to life, to whatever challenges it gives. This is because we need to attain a better communion we should have with God and among ourselves. In the end, reunions are for that purpose.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

New evangelization

The expression, “new evangelization,” has been around for quite some time
now. Pope John Paul II in his 26-year pontificate had been talking a lot about it, and, mind you, he was not the first one to do so.

It’s not new anymore. It’s rather old and, in my view, even tired. But the concept will always remain new and relevant. There’s no doubt about that.

Jesus Christ, who is at the center of it all, can never become obsolete. He is the one who will make everything new. He can even make the dead rise to life again. So, relax, there’s no reason to despair, no matter how bad the picture may look.

The problem is us. We are not doing what we ought to do about it. There is so much laziness, ignorance, lukewarmness, doctrinal confusion. There is mad pursuit for earthly pleasures, a veritable systematic effort to “protect” oneself from God. It’s today’s version of people building their own Tower of Babel.

And if there is some flicker of interest, it is promptly spoiled by petty quarrels, envies and a strong crab mentality, if not by sheer incompetence and naked pride and vanity. It’s really a shame.

The truth is evangelization will always be an activity of the Church, a duty of every Christian faithful, that is, the clergy, the laity and the religious. But how many realize this, and how seriously do we take it?

As St. Paul once said: “Woe to me if I don’t preach the gospel!”(1 Cor 9:16). Pope Paul VI paraphrased this by saying: “Evangelization is the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize.”

When Pope John Paul talked about the new evangelization, he wanted us, both clergy and laity, to find a new fervor, new methods, and new expressions in proclaiming and giving witness to Christ, given the rapid flow of developments nowadays. But what have we done about this indication?

The first thing to remember is that this new evangelization can only be done as a result of a vibrant spiritual life of intimate, personal relationship with Jesus. This is indispensable. There’s no other way.

How can we talk about God and his things if we don’t talk to him and earnestly assimilate his teachings?

Modern man especially has developed the knack to distinguish what is authentic from what is not, given the amount of sales talk he is exposed to these days. So we need to be authentic evangelizers, who first live by what we preach before evangelizing.

All effort at evangelization has to start with prayers, with serious study. It has to be nourished by a life of sacraments and continuing ascetical struggle, developing virtues and assimilating values in their proper hierarchy.

This is the only way to acquire some traces of credibility and to convince others that we are not simply transmitting our own ideas, but the teachings and even the very life of Christ.

Just as Christ said that anyone who sees him sees his Father who sent him, we should so live and act that anyone who sees and hears us can see and hear Christ who asks us to evangelize.

All the creativity needed in this task in the present context can and should flow only from such fount. Otherwise, all efforts will just go to waste. They cannot be expected to last nor to bear much fruit, etc.

The challenge here is how to make people feel the presence of God and realize the command of Christ. The laity especially should more keenly feel their duty to participate more actively in this task of evangelization.

In this regard, the lay people who are immersed in the world are especially expected to bring the message and spirit of Christ to all the corners of the world. That’s why they have to be truly adept in this task. That’s their challenge today.

They are especially crucial in evangelizing marriage and the family, the educational world, culture and entertainment, business and politics in all levels, from the local to the national and the international.

Aside from praying, studying and really trying to be holy, they need to know very well the social doctrine of the Church, which is that aspect of the Christian faith that impacts with man’s life and responsibilities in the world.

Saturday, September 9, 2006

The one thing necessary

By some fluke, I have been a recipient through these past few years of a number of modern gadgets that drastically facilitate my work. They open for me a bigger, wider, and definitely more exhilarating window to the world.

There’s of course the computer with its connection to the internet and other functions. Then you have the personal digital assistant (PDA) that allows you to virtually carry a whole library of books and documents in your pocket.

Then there’s the laptop and the flash drive or USB (universal serial bus) hat enable you to do instant research, study and writing practically everywhere and even in those odd moments in-between appointments and activities.

I’m left with a raging sense of gratitude to God and to many kind-hearted donors for all these. All of sudden I find myself paddling in a much bigger ocean of data and information. As they say, these indeed take my breath away.

But they also come with a price, even an exorbitant price. If we are not careful, we can lose our soul. I’ve seen cases of people falling into some kind of invincible obsessions and hard-to-cure addictions because of these gadgets.

Like any instrument, these gadgets are good to those who are good, and bad
to those who are bad. Their morality depends on their users. For one, while with them many good things are made accessible, temptations also proliferate.

Then we have to trade in our intellectual paddles with much stronger and swifter thinking tools. This is not easy to do, especially if we are already of a certain age. The capacity to upgrade our skills and to adapt to new things becomes harder by the year.

What seemed enough for us for many years, and served us quite well in our work so far, suddenly appear puny in the face of the tremendous possibilities these gadgets provide.

This is where we can stir certain dormant potentials we didn’t realize we had. We know that not all of them are good. Many need to be purified. When awakened, they need to be restrained and somehow regulated, otherwise we can get into trouble.

This is where the need to be more discriminating and to be more dominating of oneself becomes keener, because it’s very easy to get lost in the world these gadgets offer, and even to be enslaved in ways that are most subtle.

Yes, it’s quite easy to be sucked into a frenzy of curiosity and activism and to be so absorbed by them that we can easily forget our other duties, even the more important ones like praying and eating and resting.

These gadgets seem not to run out of images, icons, ideas, sounds, etc., to engage both our senses and faculties. They can knock us out, completely leaving us beaten and helpless.

The pursuit of knowledge can be so intoxicating that we can ignore what St. Paul once warned us: “Knowledge puffs up, but charity edifies.” (1 Cor 8,1) We need to constantly rectify our intentions as we plunge into the ocean of possibilities these gadgets give us.

We should not lose our sense of priority. This should be shown in the way we plan and budget our time. This is a crucial aspect of the matter. Order should be a permanent concern, because disorder can just come spontaneously. No need for invitation.

In the end, there’s only one thing that is truly necessary in our life. Let’s remember what our Lord told Martha who was doing quite well by fussing about household chores but complained about her sister, Mary, who was simply listening to our Lord.

“Martha, Martha, you are troubled about many things. But one thing is necessary, and Mary has chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her,” (Lk 10,41-42) he said.

We need to see that all this facilitated and accelerated pursuit of knowledge afforded by these gadgets truly brings us closer to God and to others. Knowledge is worthless and can be dangerous if not driven by charity and if it does not lead us to love—God and others.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Godless Ideologies

Ideologies are not bad in themselves. They are often heroic and ambitious attempts to make a kind of world-view of things, explaining them scientifically and extensively. In a way they are an unavoidable stage in man’s effort to develop.

Going beyond the merely philosophical and theoretical, they enter into the practical world of action, with programs, strategies and a network of agencies to carry out their ends. They convert doctrine into action.

As such, they can be useful. They can serve legitimate purposes. They can do a lot of good. Today, whether we are aware of them or not, they are a part of our lives, influencing us one way or another. We need to be discerning.

It’s when they are wrongly inspired, or when they overstep their limits, oversimplifying or exaggerating things, absolutizing the relative and relativizing the absolute, that they can become bad and dangerous.

History, sad to say, is full of such harmful ideologies. A product of some questionable philosophies and ultimately of human pride and vanity, they have proclaimed, for example, that there is no God, that there are no spiritual, much less supernatural realities.

With the assertion that there is no God, the authors of these ideologies make a world mainly consisting of their own selves. The world seems to begin and end with them. In short, there is no world outside their egos.

They seem to envision a world made exclusively of material things. Reality
is simply what one sees or feels. At best, it can be what one can understand and discover. But it’s a reality that dies with man. There is no reality after death.

Some have promised utopias based simply on earthly progress. Others have pontificated total human liberation exclusively through some socio-economic or political operations. There is no mention of liberation from sin, the real evil that fully corresponds to man’s condition.

Because of this congenital defect, these ideologies can lead to terrible consequences. If there is no God, the understanding of what man is gets warped, the use of power and authority can be easily abused, prone to use force.

The relation between person and society, private good and common good, etc., get twisted. Freedom is often understood as detached from the sense of responsibility or from an objective moral law. It tends to serve merely selfish ends, and thus easily gets corrupted, with matching results.

And so we can have that endless adventure of making all sorts of assertions, questioning every element in a established culture, religion, tradition, or moral order. Theories automatically are made into laws. Suspicions are given the same treatment as facts. We quickly create a surreal world.

The objective hierarchy of values, based on the nature of man and his relation with God and with others, gets altered to suit one’s subjective preferences.

Because of these dangerous features of the Godless ideologies, we have suffered the scourges of communism and socialism where the rights of the individual person are swallowed by the rights of the state. They thrive on atheism and totalitarianism.

There are also the abuses of capitalism, where self-centered individualism and consumerism are promoted, and the inhuman practice of holding the laws of the markets over human labor is observed.

Then you have the intoxicating strange blend of liberalism where, with freedom detached from an objective universal moral law, anything can be legalized—divorce, abortion, infidelity, same-sex union, wild scientific experiments like cloning, test-tube babies, etc.

The biggest mistake these ideologies commit is when they replace faith in God with their own ideas and doctrine, and when they derive their life and strength not from a living unity with God but from some human and earthly source.

Among them, the easier to detect and overcome are those associated with the Left, as recent history has confirmed. With their often absurd positions in issues, they are easily uncovered. They take advantage of the ignorance and poverty of the people. They lure them to fanaticism.

Those associated with the Right, because they are more subtle and deceptive, will take time and a lot of inhuman crises before they get finally exposed as they really are, that is, evil. But they’ll be exposed.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Media should foster dialogue

NO one can deny that the media play a very important role in society. They
are crucial in the task of transmitting news, promoting culture and development, and eliciting public opinion.

It is specially in the task of eliciting public opinion that they can exert great influence on the people, since they not only monitor but also shape public sentiments.

For this reason those involved in media should realize their need to be firmly and correctly grounded on what is our authentic common good, the ultimate guideline for everyone, and also adept in the art of fostering dialogue.

The idea is for media to have a very clear understanding of the common good and the expertise and prudence to achieve it. Of course, this is a dynamic thing, thus everyone should take time to study the concrete requirements of the common good at any given moment. This is a constant task.

One big disappointment that can be observed sometimes is the impression that some media people seem not to have a good understanding of the common good. They appear confined to private, sometimes openly selfish, interests clearly at odds with the common good.

This situation can only lead to conflict and disaster, and often can poison the atmosphere to the detriment of everyone. This should be avoided as much as possible.

Thus those in media should always feel the need for ongoing formation. Good intentions are not enough. Neither is the possession of some data. Much less
should one write or speak in public just because he is hired. Professionalism has a much deeper meaning than that one is simply paid for his service.

That those in media should also be adept in the art of fostering dialogue is due to the need to achieve as wide a participation as possible of people in the continuing discussion of public issues. Dialogue helps much in clarifying issues.

The idea is to make everyone responsible for the society we have, albeit in
varying degrees. It’s true that while the principles and elements of the common good can be clear, their application to relevant concrete situations can be tricky.
Thus, some kind of ongoing dialogue among all parties of society should be
fostered. And, therefore, the proper atmosphere for a healthy and substantive dialogue should be created and maintained.

This is where the media can play a truly important role. They can start by always reassuring everyone that they are open and receptive to all views, and prove this with their actions.

While those in media can assume a specific position with respect to an issue—social, economic, political, cultural, etc.—they should see to it that this stance does not turn off other people with different views.

Thus, opinions that are within the bounds of faith, morals and the common
good, should not be dogmatized as if they are the only correct opinions and the others are necessarily wrong. They should be given due consideration.

For this, good manners in the exchange of opinions should be maintained and fostered. Inflammatory talks and articles should be toned down. The public should be given as wide a variety of positions on an issue as possible. Wanting to dominate or to have the last word, is always impolite at the very least.

It is quite painful to see and hear media people posturing about as if they have the exclusive possession of what is right and correct. While they can be strong on their points, they should never forget to be personable and open-minded to everyone, especially to those who disagree with them.

To achieve greater balance and objective, a certain detachment from one’s views is always a must. This is normal in ordinary conversations. This should be more so in the field of public opinion.

It’s good that from time to time, media people should submit themselves to
some reality check, because they can tend to build their own world, their own virtual reality. An appropriate system should be found.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Unity in plurality

BECAUSE our society is getting increasingly pluralistic, it’s good that we all learn how to keep a sense of unity and solidarity among ourselves as we deal with each other in all our diverse views, situations, orientations, etc.

This necessity is a natural consequence of our human condition. It is due to our being at once both body and soul, spiritual and material, individual persons and social beings, living both in local and global, temporal and eternal, natural and supernatural orders.

But it’s also a condition that we need to work on, to foster and even defend if need be. It just doesn’t come about automatically. We need to realize keenly and constantly that it’s a duty incumbent on everyone to fulfill. Neglect in this duty can only spell disaster for all of us sooner or later.

For this purpose, we need to learn very well the art of dialogue and effective communication among ourselves in the different levels of our lives—from the individual to the social to the cultural and universal.

This dialogue has to be done always in the context of an abiding awareness of the requirements of our unity and our legitimate plurality and diversity among ourselves.

This can be achieved if we make an effort to know more deeply what makes us one. This is basically a matter of educating everyone in a sustained way about the common good, or what is truly good for all of us.

In this way, we can have an idea of what are the permanent elements of this
common good that should bind all of us, irrespective of race, culture, creed, gender, etc., as well as of the changeable elements that give rise to our legitimate differences.

These permanent elements can be the fact we are all creatures and children of God, we are all persons and not things deserving of unconditional love whatever may be our actuations and station in life.

These permanent elements can be the fact that we have a universal moral law and set of basic human rights and duties to rule us, that we live in the same world, that despite our differences we are actually responsible for each other, etc.

With respect to the changeable elements, we would know which are legitimate and not legitimate precisely when our knowledge of the common good is deep, going all the way to the ultimate causes and goals of our life.

For this purpose, we need to go beyond our individualistic tendencies and parochial mentality, cultivating attitudes and habits that enable us to be flexible and to acquire a more universal outlook even if we continue to be defined by local conditions and factors.

Thus, we need to polish and refine our manners, always being open-minded, eager to listen to all, respectful of everyone regardless of social status, discerning of what are essential from what are not, willing to make sacrifices, etc.

We also need to have a certain detachment from our views and opinions, in
order to facilitate a better consideration and discussion of issues. When opinions are dogmatized, we will have a good formula for division.

We need to study the sciences, including philosophy and theology, to broaden our minds and hearts, and to attain a more sublime knowledge of the truth, goodness and beauty.

This will help us to see more things, and to see them more analytically. This will also help us to integrate and synthesize these things, thus leading us to capture the more universal values as we face an ocean of varying options and opinions, each one with its relative value.

Of course, what is even more basic and indispensable is when we pray, when we strive to dialogue always in the presence of God. This will infuse us with an uncanny sense of what will work and what will not work for a fruitful dialogue.

This is the challenge we face now. But I must say it concerns more our leaders, both in the Church and in society—our priests and bishops, our parents and teachers, our public officials and politicians, etc.