Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Pornography destroys people

That indeed seems like an unnecessary reminder. But with the present developments, validated by many recent studies and even by random observations, this reminder again has become very relevant and urgent.

Fact is together with the many advantages that the progress of technology has brought about, serious dangers and threats to the moral and spiritual lives of people have also multiplied.

A clear case in point is the Internet pornography. Some studies indicate more and more teeners and even young children, often without parental supervision, are into it.

American observers are establishing a link between this fact and the other fact that in the US alone, nearly 900,000 teen-age girls become pregnant each year.

Also, the rate of sexually transmitted diseases is higher now among teen-agers than among adults.

There are other consequences that researchers are trying to attribute to pornography.

These consequences include susceptibility to depression and suicide as well as to alcohol, marijuana and drugs.

In Australia, a hospital reports that the number of children engaged in sexually abusive behavior has increased dramatically, from 3 cases per year in the mid-90s to 28 in 2000 and to more than 70 in 2003.

In Canada, the police uncovered cases of sexual assault done by children on other children. Almost all the children involved were under 12. The aggressors said they were imitating what they saw in pornographic channels and the Internet.

A study has made the conclusion that "there is a modest to strong correlation between exposure to pornography and deviant activity by individuals."

Several studies have established the correlation between pornography and the following six trends:

- Increased marital distress, and risk of separation and divorce;
- Decreased marital intimacy and sexual satisfaction;
- Infidelity;
- Increased appetite for more graphic types of pornography and sexual activity associated with abusive, illegal or unsafe practice;
- Devaluation of monogamy, marriage and child-rearing;
- An increasing number of people struggling with compulsive and
addictive sexual behavior.

In the US, a meeting of lawyers has also pointed to pornography as a prominent culprit in the cases of family violence and divorce.

All these should alert us to be ever vigilant to the presence and the spread of pornography in our society. We should find effective ways in regulating the Internet cafes where pornography is readily available even to little children.

More than this, we should always promote and construct a culture of chastity and modesty, keeping in mind that these virtues are first of all God's gifts that need to be asked for with humility. To pursue them on our own, independently of God, is doomed to failure.

We have to understand that chastity is an affirmation of love, not a list of prohibitions, and its source and goal, its pattern and energy can only be derived from our intimate relationship with God. We would be fooling ourselves if we think otherwise.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Media and public morals

WE are all sinners. We all know that. That’s nothing new. Our own personal experiences can readily attest to this fact.

St. John spells it out for us very clearly in his first letter:

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us…If we say that we have not sinned, we make him (God) a liar and his word is not in us.” (8-10)

Our Catechism also tells us that “the Church, clasping sinners to her bosom, at once holy and always in need of purification, follows constantly the path of penance and renewal. All members of the Church, including her ministers, must acknowledge that they are sinners.” (827)

Still, we should try our best with the help of grace not to sin, not even to give rise to avoidable occasions of sin, and not to scandalize others, especially the little children.

Thus, Jesus told the woman caught in adultery to sin no more after she was forgiven.

And our Lord also said: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it were better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Mt 18,6)

Christ’s charity and mercy, which we are called to live, never do away with
the requirements of justice and prudence. They have to be together always, though we can discern the limitations of justice as compared to charity.

But more than these, I suppose we Christian believers are supposed to actively build a culture of holiness, practical, feasible holiness, around us. But what do we have?

It is in this context that we appeal to those in media and others concerned to be more sensitive to the finer moral aspects of their presentations.

Their work inevitably involves many ethical and moral issues and questions that they should resolve well and properly integrate into their plans and strategies.

Their audiences are not mere economic factors to be played with under purely economic laws. They are persons, made of body and soul, children of God made in the image and likeness of God. The moral dimension is an indispensable factor to consider always.

They have to be handled with great care, always upholding their innate dignity in spite of their earthly conditions. They never should be treated as animals or soulless buyers and consumers.

Media people cannot and should not be solely guided by ratings and popularity, or by purely market forces. Otherwise, we will also have another kind of deadly stampede, of the spiritual kind rather than the physical.

That Valentine gimmick Lovapalooza is a shameless commercialization of the passionate kiss, trivializing a very intimate expression of love between a husband and wife, and not just between any lovers.

What are we trying to tell for example to our youth with such mindless display of erotic love? That it’s just ok to have passionate kissing, as what you see in many European and decadent countries? After the passionate kiss, what next?

I’ve been to such countries before, and I have witnessed these shameless public manifestations of affection. I must say that it was not just kissing I saw. I also saw a lot of used condoms littering the ground.

Ok, we can say that it is just for fun, let’s not exaggerate it, let’s not be killjoys. But Sodom and Gomorrah started that way. We can be tolerant and understanding, no problem with that. But we have to be clear about the limits, especially when public morals get compromised and the more vulnerable sectors are affected.

In this regard, the media should be sensitive to screen product endorsers whose image can wrongly influence minds of people.

As I said, we are all sinners, and these product endorsers can be public sinners also. We should not make a fuss about this. But precisely when these endorsers capitalize on their sin to endorse a product, we should react. We cannot be passive.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Love defines God and man

“DEUS caritas est.” A passage from the first letter of St. John, meaning, God is love, these words are now the title of the first encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI.

As such, the document is meant to present the general thrust of the Pope Benedict’s papacy. It is where we can find the seeds and directions of his activities for years to come.

Yes, a very bold move, but that’s just how it should be. As the supreme authority on earth, the very Vicar of Christ on earth, the Pope is expected to give his all in the service of God and souls. Nothing less is expected.

Focusing on God and love is a good and timely reminder for the world that is getting increasingly indifferent and even hostile to God and, thus, also increasingly confused about its role and purpose.

Such focus is also a vital continuation of Pope John Paul’s rich and Spirit-filled magisterium. The truth is many of us are lost or at least confused in the complicated web we are making supposedly out of love.

The document’s storyline, so to speak, is that since God is love and we are children of his, made in his image and likeness, we ought to know what true love is and live it consistently in all aspects of our life, be it personal, family, social, etc.

This love is revealed in its fullness in Jesus Christ who perfected the old law with the new law of love—love of God with all one’s might, and love of neighbor as oneself.

It is a love that goes much farther than being sentimental. While it always respects and makes use of emotions, it is first of all based on the truth, taught by Christ and now by the Church and lived properly only in the Holy Spirit.

What happens many times is that we meet caricatures and counterfeits, distorting the real one by focusing on one aspect while missing out on the others, or simply showing love’s peripherals without having its real substance.

Some of them can be so subtly deceiving that they can affect big sectors of
society. This is when we can get into real trouble. Cultures can become blighted because of a grave misunderstanding of love.

The Pope clarifies in basic terms what this true love is, reminding us that love can only be one though its expressions are varied. Manifestations of love not in keeping with this fundamental truth can only be fake and dangerous.

Personally, the encyclical reminds me of that excitement when I studied St. Thomas Aquinas’ proofs of the existence of God. I know there are many people still grappling hard with the question of whether God exists or not. To me and to many others, thanks to God, this is a settled question.

St. Thomas’ proofs articulated what I have been struggling to explain about the existence of God. Thus when he came up with the concept of God as “Ipsum Esse Subsistens,” the Subsisting Being Itself, I went ballistic. Things just fell into place.

St. Thomas’ philosophical explanation about God’s existence answered all the questions I had. Such explanation also coincided with what Moses heard from the burning bush—God’s name is simply “I am who am.”

God is not limited by any finite essence. His very essence is simply “to be,” to exist. Thus, God is the ultimate and constant object of our intelligence and will which go beyond the merely sensible and intelligible and toward the infinite.

But the infinite is not void and empty. The infinite exists because of God. Thus the natural tendency of our spiritual faculties, unless thwarted by a number of reasons, is to discover, find and savor God.

This is how far reason or philosophy can go. Imagine how I felt when I discovered from Christian faith that this God is not only a supreme being, existing from all eternity, but is love, and is manifested fully in Jesus Christ!

Try to read and study Pope Benedict’s encyclical. Perhaps you will get an idea of what I am trying to say here but cannot. Words fail me. It is love that defines God perfectly, and it is love that also has to define us.

Thursday, February 9, 2006

A Commandment Ever New

On January 25, 2006 the Holy See published Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical entitled “Deus Caritas Est” (“God is Love”). In this commentary, Bishop Javier Echevarría, the Prelate of Opus Dei, shares his reflections on the Pope’s encyclical.

The Pope chose as the Latin title of his first encyclical the words of St. John, "Deus caritas est" - God is love (as nearly every version of the Gospel translates it). Is charity the same as love? In part, yes; in part, no. The Catechism of the Catholic Church recalls that charity is the virtue that enables us to love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves, for love of God. It also affirms that "charity secures and purifies our human capacity to love."

This is because human beings need to love and be loved. When it is faithful, requited, and refined, love is the deepest longing of the heart. Our whole existence consists in a quest for true love, a struggle to overcome obstacles that rise before us and within each one of us.

Jesus Christ is the fullness of Revelation: In Him we know God; in Him we know man fully, as Vatican II teaches and John Paul II often repeated. In Christ we discover our vocation and our greatness. Charity is an essential part of that discovery; it is the love that Jesus ennobles and purifies. For along with his Love, He has brought us gaudium cum pace - joy and peace.

The word love has undergone a kind of inflation: Perhaps we use it too much, sometimes referring to ephemeral sentiments, or even - as the Pope notes - to manifestations of egoism. But with the word charity there has been something like a semantic restriction: We use it, perhaps, too little, to refer only to certain activities carried out on behalf of others in special cases. But charity is not something exceptional; it is part of a Christian's identity: "In this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another," said the Lord. Pagans recognized Christians that way: "See how they love each other," they exclaimed. Christian love consists of a moral disposition that expresses itself in an enormous variety of actions. Charity means serving, understanding, consoling, listening, smiling, accompanying, correcting, encouraging, asking forgiveness and
pardoning, giving and receiving. Charity spreads out in concentric circles, from
personal relationships to the entire society.

At the origin of the family, spousal love creates the environment in which life is born; the home where new beings receive affection; the climate within which persons reach maturity.

Charity enriches the working world: Exercising one's profession in accord with the Gospel precept means exercising it for the sake of love, with a desire to serve, putting one's heart into thinking of the others. Sanctifying work is the same as converting it into an _expression of love for God and an occasion for giving ourselves to others by filling it with justice and charity.

The Church's geography is embellished by those points of light: the places where Christians are striving to work and to serve in silence for the sake of love. It is enough to think of Africa, the continent that most needs the cooperation of all. There the Church manifests her love as an essential part of her mission - "as an ecclesial act," in the Pope's words. Charity promotes magnanimity, not remaining indifferent to the needs of others. This is how the Holy Father summarizes this process of an expanding charity: "Love is divine because it comes from God and unites us to God; through this unifying process, it transforms us into a We that overcomes divisions and makes us one single thing, until in the end God is 'all in all' (I Cor 15:28; sec. 18). This is what explains the perennial youthfulness of the

The key to the new evangelization is also rooted in charity. In substance, the task of spreading the Gospel consists in bringing many people to experience Christian charity so that their minds might open to the light of faith by means of the language of love, the universal tongue that all of us are able to understand. For as St. Paul writes, faith operates by means of charity.

St. Josemaria Escriva comes right to the point: "The principal apostolate we Christians must carry out in the world, the best way we witness the faith, is by making sure that the climate of authentic charity breathes within the Church."

At the Last Supper, Christ called the precept of charity "new": "a new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you." It was new then, and continues to be new today - for everyone, 2000 years later. If we approach the encyclical to read and meditate on it with the healthy curiosity of one who knows what it is to discover something new, with mind and heart open, we shall find in it the permanent newness of that marvelous revelation: God is love, a love that is radiated to all human beings and to each one. That will fulfill the desire of Benedict XVI: that this encyclical "enlighten and assist our Christian life."

+ Javier Echevarria
Prelate of Opus Dei

Thursday, February 2, 2006

Eucharistic Culture

THESE past few days, I had the occasion to give first communion to two batches of little boys and girls. Doing so always gives me great joy, because I know that with that a Christian faithful, even if still very young, immerses himself more to the sacramental life that Christian life prominently is.

The sacraments, and the whole liturgical life of the Church for that matter, are essential to any Christian believer. With the sacraments and the active participation in the Church’s liturgy, one’s life is mysteriously but effectively hitched with that of Christ.

One is not left on his own. All his thoughts, desires and actions, as long as they conform to God’s will, that is, done with faith and love, and no matter how mundane, become also the thoughts, desires and actions of Christ.

These thoughts, desires and actions are not only one’s own, but become his and Christ’s. They are not simply human and natural. They also acquire a supernatural value and possess salvific effects.

The sacraments, instituted by Christ himself, make sure that Christ’s redeeming presence and action are perfectly applied on us, no matter how imperfectly one’s correspondence to these realities may be. This is how much Christ’s love for us is!

In Church language, the effects of the sacraments are carried out “ex opere
operato,” that is, by the mere fact that the sacrament is administered. This is due to Christ’s power, and not so much our capability, although the better our dispositions to receive them are, the better the effects also would be in us.

These, of course, are truths of faith, and can only be best appreciated when one handles them with faith. They are based, among other things, on what our Lord himself said:

“I myself am the living bread come down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread he shall live forever. The bread I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” (Jn 6,51)

These words should be made to reverberate more loudly and more often if not always in every Christian faithful’s ears, heart and mind. They remind us of the rich supernatural reality that also governs us but which we tend to take for granted.

What would greatly help in this respect is when we consciously develop what may be called as a Eucharistic culture, a kind of mentality accompanied by appropriate practices that give due recognition to the importance of the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ. It contains Christ’s real presence. As such, it is supposed to be the greatest treasure we can have here on earth.

With this realization, it is also very logical to consider it as the center and root of our spiritual life, the source and summit of the Church’s life. It is what builds our Christian life and our Church.

Being the sacrament of the real presence of Christ, the fullness of Christian revelation, it is easy to understand why, as the Catechism teaches, the Eucharist is the summary of our faith.

Thus, every time we avail ourselves of the sacrament, we should be aware also of the invitation to live in accordance to the spirit of the Eucharist, the spirit of Christ himself.

The Eucharistic culture therefore should vitally correspond to these truths, enerating the appropriate attitudes and practices that should characterize all aspects of our lives—personal, family, social, professional, political, etc.

All these may sound, at the moment, too fantastic to be made real. But such
impression or reaction cannot erase the objective reality about this Eucharist.

I think that the earlier we can reconcile ourselves more fully to these truths, the better for all of us.