Friday, January 27, 2006

Love stories

ONE of what I consider to be perks of my job as chaplain in a boys' school is when some of these boys just spontaneously confide to me their stories of the first stirrings of love in their heart.

I always welcome these occasions and encourage them to speak. For one I enjoy it tremendously when they start to describe how they have fallen in love—all in raw-fresh, unprocessed details reminding me of novels by Jane Austen and Emily Bronte.

Yes, young as they are, they are already quite capable of making those initial forays, often awkward and clumsy, into the vast, tricky field of love. They just need someone to listen to them. I only hope they can do it also with their own fathers. But, alas, this is not so most of the time.

I also listen to them because I know I have a big job to do with their often intoxicating predicament. There's a lot of explaining to do, of clarifying, of warning and even of scolding. Most of time, I need to give them alternatives to engage their romantic energies somewhere else.

They might appear dazed as they look like they are in some fantasy world, but I see them as souls needing a lot of help to be extended closely, perseveringly and delicately.

It's no easy job at all. The important thing for me is that they continue to have confidence in me. So even if I have to say very strong, unpleasant things to them, I have to make it clear that I'm always with them, no matter what.

Of course, I have to be quick to point out what is good and noble in their experiences. But I need also to tell them what are wrong, dangerous, incomplete, confusing, etc. Indeed, not only a good knowledge of love is needed. Also a lot of human psychology is needed too.

For example, how do you explain to them that love is much more than just a certain feeling of attraction? I know all about “eros”, “filia” and “agape” as the different kinds or steps in loving, but how you do transmit this to them without killing their attention?

The ideas of commitment, fidelity and loyalty are most of the time unknown to them. The idea that when one goes steady with someone, that means he is already thinking of marrying—this connection is not made.

I asked one thirteen-year-old boy why he now has a girlfriend. And he just replied, “for inspiration, Father.” Yes, it's charming, this innocent response. But I can't help thinking of the many danger that lurk just nearby. The devil can always take advantage of human weaknesses.

Which brings me to the realization that many of these boys are hapless victims of what they see around. Yes, the culture can be very dangerous. And the errors, inadequacies and confusion are constantly reinforced, for example, by media and the entertainment world.

A cursory look at the newspapers, TV shows, billboards, movies, etc., quickly give you the impression that what is projected are simplistic, shallow images of goodness and human love, heavily based on what is material and sensual. The spiritual aspects of goodness and love are set aside.

My occasional viewing of movies in boat trips reveals that many of these movies just play upon the emotions of people, without giving due attention to the ethical rightness of the details portrayed there.

The noontime variety shows on TV notoriously present cheap and inane gimmicks and games, effectively hooking people to the idea that what is fun is simply what is sensibly pleasurable. There is no effort to link them to what is spiritually healthy.

In fact, I get the impression that what is considered effectively funny is when one not only ignores, but also ridicules spiritual values. Those behind the production appear to be completely awkward and uncomfortable with spiritual values. This is a dangerous trend.

This is quite ironical a development. Since the world is supposed to be getting bigger in terms of population and more complicated, there should also be a stronger and clearer projection of what is truly good for man. But what do we have?

Because of greed or laziness, people with position to affect culture and social life appear oblivious to the greater responsibility they are having as they plunge deeper into their pursuit of quick profit and whatever would constitute as instant success.

We have to wake up from this nightmare!

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Christian humanism needs social doctrine

CHRISTIAN humanism is the Christian vision of man, of what he is and of what he ought to be. It is based on Christ’s revelation of who we are, a revelation now being taught and elaborated in a living way by the Church.

To Christian believers, no one knows man better than Christ himself, perfect God and perfect man. “It is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man becomes clear,” the Catechism asserts. (359)

What man is, who we are, is really quite a puzzle. We are better off studying the seemingly infinite space of the universe than learning about us.

We may have been able to map the very complicated human genome, but I
don’t think we have lessened the mystery a bit. In man, every piece of knowledge
will seem to push us to a deeper mystery about ourselves.

St. Augustine could only gasp: “Man is a great deep, Lord. You number his
very hairs and they are not lost in your sight. But the hairs of his head are easier to number than his affections and the movements of his heart.”

But more than a vision, Christian humanism is a way of life, very dynamic, never static and confined to ideas and concepts, theories and doctrines. It is a spirit that animates persons and peoples, cultures and societies.

While a product of grace, Christian humanism is also a result of human effort. It is attainable only when we have a vital union with Christ. And with that union, there is that vital acting out of Christian presents, all done with love.

Thus, it is nurtured in an atmosphere of prayer, recourse to the sacraments, assimilating the doctrines, developing the virtues and waging unrelenting ascetical struggle. It’s never just a natural human life.

It’s a life of grace, of freedom and responsibility, of truth and charity. It is a life that blends well the temporal and the eternal, the material and spiritual, the personal and the social.

Right now, it is in the social aspect of man that needs to be developed. This is agonizingly neglected. Christian humanism, we have to understand, is not possible without this indispensable component.

Thus, in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, its first section talks about an integral and solidary humanism that the book tries to promote and pursue.

Let me just cite Point 16 of the Compendium to give us an idea of the enormous challenges we are facing today insofar as Christian humanism depends on the learning and the living of the Church’s social doctrine.

“The first of the great challenges facing humanity today is that of the truth itself of the being who is man. The boundary and relation between nature, technology and morality are issues that decisively summon personal and collective responsibility with regard to the attitudes to adopt…

“A second challenge is found in the understanding and management of pluralism and differences at every level: in ways of thinking, moral choices, culture, religious affiliation, philosophy of human and social development.

“The third challenge is globalization, the significance of which is much wider and more profound than simple economic globalization, since history has witnessed the opening of a new era that concerns humanity’s destiny.”

Let’s not forget this more important concern even as we try to sort out our present problems, personal or political. Developing a true Christian humanism with strong support from the social doctrine is a big responsibility of everyone.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Renewal and obsession

IT’S again New Year! Don’t you find it strange, even funny, that what’s supposed to be new is feeling like it’s an old, stale thing repeated and repeated so many times, “ad nauseam”, in an almost mindless routine every year?

Yes, that’s what is likely to happen if we are not careful. We can harden in our ways, get trapped in our complacency, imprisoned in our world of ideas, really quite dead although we can manage to look alive, and even lively.

Yes, human as we are, we are quite capable of these things. We are good in hiding and disguising what really is inside us. We can go formal, without the substance, often not knowing that this is very toxic to our soul.

Thus, we can drown ourselves in sounds, sights and spirits, all meant to arouse the senses while putting the soul to sleep.

We can go through the routine of resolution-making, if only to pacify for a while our spiritual side that cannot be totally shut off in our life.

But the true spirit of the New Year is somewhere else. It is in the recognition that we in this life will always need a constant renewal, that life-long process of having to begin and begin again.

It’s the recognition that first of all is always a fruit of God’s grace and corresponded to very generously by us. It’s recognition that the renewal expected is far from being merely physical or material. It has to be spiritual.

Thus, we need to understand the phenomenon called inertia that often is the
main culprit that spoils our efforts to renew ourselves genuinely.

In the physical world, inertia is easily observable. It means there should be no variation in things. What is still should remain still. What is moving should remain moving. This, of course, cannot and should not be applied to our life.

But in our spiritual life, things appear to be always moving. What would constitute inertia is when that motion goes on its own, detached from God who actually shows the way, sets the pace and makes everything really new.

This is what takes place is an obsession. It’s a certain repetition of acts driven by a certain blindness, narrow-mindedness, rigidity, self-righteousness, bitter zeal, self-indulgence, attachments, etc.

It differs essentially from virtue which also involves some repetition of acts, because a virtue is never blind, rigid, and all that. Virtue first of all is always reasonable, and also imbued with charity, because it starts and ends with God.

Not so with obsession. While it can spur a person to constant motion, it’s a motion that goes nowhere except to one’s harm and perdition. It’s vicious, addictive and enslaving.

Virtue builds a person up. It perfects him, much in the way expressed one time by St. Peter in his second letter:

“Strive diligently to supply your faith with virtue, your virtue with knowledge, your knowledge with self-control, your self-control with patience, your patience with piety, your piety with fraternal love, your fraternal love with charity.” (1,5-7)

This is what we have to understand very well if we want to capture the true spirit of the New Year. Renewal is mainly spiritual, attached always to the power of God and corresponded to with all our might.

Otherwise, we will just drift to some obsession, now made more possible because of the many subtle and not-so-subtle temptations we are having these days.

Happy New Year to all, and good luck!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Defend Marriage and Family

WE are still at the beginning of the new year. At this time, it’s good that we be reminded of having a clear vision of what we are supposed to achieve for this year.

I would say that one area we should be most interested in is that of marriage and the family. Sad to say, they are veritably under siege now. They need to be defended, protected. In fact, they need to be made vibrant and strong.

We cannot exaggerate the importance of these two basic natural institutions we have. They play the indispensable role of properly educating persons and developing our society.

Truly they stand at a very strategic and crucial point between a person and society. The health and vitality of marriage and the family, or the lack of these, certainly determine the kind of persons and society we will have.

The proper connection between the person and society—a linkage that involves education and other formative processes—is provided mainly by the family, based on a healthy marriage and supported by the school system and others.

As a theoretical principle, this I believe is well known. And yet in the reality of things, it would seem as if this truth is not only neglected nor ignored. It looks like it is often violated, and with impunity at that.

The observation, if not suspicion, is not without basis. There are already disturbing statistics indicating dark trends worldwide in marriage and the family. To mention one item, the number of broken, dysfunctional families is growing.

Also, the number of adults who are still immature emotionally disturbed, socially aloof, or plainly insane is rising. There’s a quiet march toward decadence. If nothing is done, we can expect the march to acquire force and speed in the near future.

But, sad to say, the factors that tend to undermine the health of these two fundamental institutions are still active and contagious. And hardly any organized effort is made to curb, neutralize or much less eliminate them.

Since the effort would generally be moral and spiritual in character, there’s the thinking that it should be done only, as in exclusively, by the Church. The government and other social entities feel quite exempt from the responsibility.

If anything at all, they just concern themselves with the material aspect of any problem in this area. As if moral problems, even when they assume public dimensions, are for the Church only to solve!

Consider the entertainment world. How many movies and shows play up the more exciting aspects of love affairs without making any meaningful connection to marriage and to family or to the ideal of a commitment?

The stars and celebrities themselves just do not act out these aberrations in films. They do them, even flaunt them, in the real world. And what is being done? Hardly anything.

Are we calling for censorship, for public condemnation? Not exactly. But certainly there’s a need to expose the distortions, fallacies, errors and danger that they generate.

There has to be more prompt reaction, consistent with our true dignity as persons and as children of God, a reaction that should be quite public too, and not kept in the confines of homes or churches or some circles of friends.

What is even more disturbing is that we know that in Congress there are bills already being prepared to legalize divorce and promote a very questionable idea of reproductive health.

These are rightly dubbed as anti-life, anti-marriage and anti-family bills. And they deserve to be junked. The public should closely monitor the course these bills are taking in our legislative body.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Sto. Niño devotion

The Church calendar puts the Solemnity of the Sto. Niño this year on January 15. The devotion to the Sto. Niño is happily a part--I would say a living part--of our culture and history as a people.

Just look around and you will readily see images and icons of this kingly child even in jeepneys, V-hires, taxis, sari-sari stores, and of course in many homes.

The devotion may run through a variety of expressions and different degrees of intensity and orthodoxy, but the devotion is simply there, throbbing and pulsating, somehow coloring people's thoughts and ways.

This is one more evidence that no matter how imperfectly lived, the Christian faith inheres in the Filipinos' ethos. It's Christian faith spontaneously lived Pinoy-style. And this is how it should be. Faith becomes true faith when it permeates a people's culture.

In Cebu there again will be the impressive celebration of the feast highlighted by Masses and a big religious procession of the "Pit Señor" matched by the popular Sinulog. Similar celebrations take place all over the country.

These festivities remind me of that beautiful psalm 149 which says:

"The Lord takes delight in his people... Sing to the Lord a new song of praise... Let them praise in the festive dance, let them sing praise to him with timbrel and harp. For the Lord loves his people, and adorns the lowly with victory..."

This is the ideal picture of the people of God enjoying a living communion with their Father and Creator. It's, of course, a living communion that needs to be sustained, deepened, enriched and strengthened.

Thus, the Filipino Christian faithful would do well when together with an active participation in the festivities, there is a serious effort to imbibe the qualities shown to us in a very forceful way by the Sto. Niño.

These are the qualities of both a child and a mature person, the qualities of simplicity and humility together with prudence and wisdom. These are the qualities we all need especially at this juncture when are going through a very rapid pace of development.

Our Lord himself articulated this blend of virtues when he said: "Be therefore wise as serpents, and guileless as doves." (Mt 10,16)

St. Paul echoed it when he said: "Brethren, do not become children in mind, but in malice be children and in mind mature." (1 Cor 14,20)

Childlike simplicity is a must these days, because the allurements of the world, not to mention those of the devil, can easily overwhelm us. This childlike simplicity enables us to go on unaffected and oblivious to these allurements as we swim through this life.

It is the simplicity that makes us firmly pro-God, and everything that is genuinely good, without getting entangled with the confusing world where evil can assume irresistible appearances of good.

It is the simplicity that enables us to be vibrantly chaste and focused on what is truly essential in our life, making us happily tempered and detached from material things and ever revitalizing our spiritual life.

But it's a simplicity that does not remain in being sweet and tender. It's one that blends well and even requires the manly virtues of fortitude and prudence. A simplicity that does not excuse us from our responsibility to a deeper knowledge of our faith and to a more perfect life of virtues.

These are qualities being asked of us now as we start a new year not only as a Filipino people, but also as a Filipino Christian people. It's a challenge we all have. The goal is spelled out. The means are made available. What is simply needed is for us to put our mind and heart to bravely face the challenge.

Monday, January 9, 2006

Sex and gender

If the title baffles you, it may be because you are still happily unaware of the questionable moves some radical feminists are making in many places nowadays.

This may still be a good thing to have, but I must hasten to say that we cannot and should not be naive and complacent with this development. Though it affects more the advanced countries, it is actually also affecting us in our own country.

Even in my native Bohol, once a sleepy place but now, thanks be to God, bustling with life due to tourism, these disturbing maneuvers are taking place.

Imagine, in a supposedly Catholic school run by nuns, the little girls are taught not anymore to address God as Father, because according to them God has no sex and gender. Similar efforts to neuter Jesus Christ are reportedly being made too.

The parents, of course, were alarmed. A mother complained why such fuss was raised over this matter, when it is quite clear that in the Bible, God is referred to as Father or Son or Holy Spirit.

This, to me, already sounds like a radical feminist paranoia, that tries to undo well-entrenched historical and cultural elements with an arbitrary and abrupt move. There are other manifestations of the same paranoia.

Another feminist group, now banding themselves as an NGO in Bohol, is busy teaching young girls about the different techniques of safe sex, including a "taste test" of the different flavors condoms now have.

The problem with the radical feminist movement is that while it raises legitimate questions and issues worthy of public attention and concern, it also pursues and promotes an ideology that not only is anti-Christian, but also is clearly anti-human.

Thus, its proponents deftly use nice words and concepts, such as reproductive health, responsible parenthood, and the like, while at the same time rewriting moral law by promoting contraception, sterilization, even abortion.

They can talk about rights of women over their own bodies, taking this to mean that women have the absolute right to do anything with their bodies because these are theirs. In short, the Church should not pontificate on this matter. Let the women be absolutely free with respect to their bodies!

Now, in many international conferences, radical feminists not only make a distinction between sex and gender, between the natural differences between men and women and the cultural and historical attitudes related to these natural differences.

They are separating them, detaching gender completely from sex, and making gender a purely cultural thing with no relation to the sexual nature of the person.

Thus, because of this emphasis on gender, as defined and understood by them, any person can be anything he or she likes--masculine, feminine, homosexual, bisexual, etc., irrespective of one's natural sexual condition. Every so-called sexual orientation chosen by a person would just be all right.

This is the kind of mentality that is being propagated by some feminist groups these days. This is a clear case of what is termed by the present Pope as moral relativism about which he is warning all of us. This is neither progress nor growth in maturity. This is a regression to barbarianism.

While we all have to love one another as we are, this charity does not mean we can totally forget the objective truth of things. We have to learn to blend both, because one without the other nullifies or empties both.

Saturday, January 7, 2006

Whisper and hush no more

OH my, oh my! There you have it. The Vatican recently has come out with a document about homosexuality, the seminary and the priesthood.

It’s a very bold move, I must say. First of all, because the topic itself is very delicate and volatile. Happy and lucky is the man who can discuss it without whipping up a storm of controversy.

My experience has been that every time I write about this issue—and I do it
mainly to echo official Church teachings, not my personal opinions—I get many scorching hate mails coming mostly from the US.

A good number of people appear unable to discuss issues without getting emotional. This sadly is one of the signs of our times, indicating how our education should be revised. My only consolation is that I’m at least read.

I was happy to learn that a Vatican official said that the document was never meant to bash gays. Following Christ, the Church always loves everyone, sinner or saint, gay or straight, even if it has to teach difficult doctrines.

But more importantly, the document represents the Church’s serious effort
to confront a very complicated and screamingly scandalous problem that exploded in many dioceses some years ago.

For sure, the problem is not confined to the Church alone. It’s a seething problem worldwide, affecting all sectors, again showing us the kind of world we are now having.

But it cannot be denied that because of the conditions under which seminary formation is done, this problem is likely to pop up. Yes, there’s a certain tendency or susceptibility, something that should be constantly monitored.

Actually, many of the problems in this area are transitory and not deep-seated. To a certain extent, they’re normal, and easily curable or outgrown. But these problems should not be ignored. Never!

The document indeed is a source of jubilation in the Church. It certainly
marks a step towards maturity in so far as the Church is a human institution. Church authorities should never forget this human aspect of the Church. They should always remind themselves of their duty to strengthen and enrich it, drawing from both human and divine wisdom to govern with competence and to give good example to everyone.

This openness and transparency hopefully will stop the age of whisper and hush, the culture of gossip and diletantism pervading in Church environment. These latter things are terrible. They deserve to be buried for good.

Let’s hope that the document will be studied thoroughly by the bishops and
seminary fathers. It offers a lot of light and provides clear guidelines as to how the problem of homosexuality in seminarians and priests should be tackled.

The document itself, while clear and charitable, does not descend to concrete details. These are left for local Church officials to devise, obviously so as to input considerations peculiar to particular places.

With all the years and even centuries of experience in seminary formation, Church authorities should possess significant practical wisdom in tackling this delicate problem. It’s time this wisdom is made operational.

Besides, relevant sciences like psychology and medicine have progressed handling this problem. These should be expertly used.

Thus, while the supernatural and spiritual means like prayers, sacrifices, recourse to the sacraments, development of virtues, etc., should always be used, every effort should also be made to make use of scientific advances now available.

Offhand, what I can say is that closer supervision of seminary formation should be made by the bishops and their delegated experts, and a pool of competent and holy spiritual directors should be made available to the seminarians and priests.