Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Summer fun and decency

MODESTY and decency are virtues we need to live always. That’s because we are not pure spirits, like angels. We also have bodies, like the animals. But as persons, we need to blend these two elements properly. Modesty and decency have to do with this human concern.

Especially now when we are entering summer and the idea of vacation, fun,
sports and entertainment very much in our mind, it is good that we have clear criteria to guide us on how to treat and “carry” our body.

Fact is there are shameless excesses in this regard provoking both confusion and controversy. The body many times has been used as tool for sheer vanity if not for fostering a sexuality detached from its proper purpose and context.

A neighborhood billboard, for example, showing a bikinied girl inviting all
to some Jamaican Nights is one such provocative issue. We need to clarify matters.

The human body can be looked at from different angles. It’s good that we know how to integrate them into one united view that would ultimately uphold, defend and enhance our dignity as persons and as children of God.

From the physical point of view, we can readily distinguish which parts of the body can be shown and which parts should be hidden. Only those not in their proper mind can commit mistakes at this instance.

From the point of view of purpose and functions, we don’t have to be told to know which parts have to be given as much space and freedom as possible, and which parts have to be restricted.

We can go on with other considerations, and we always get an idea of what to show and what to hide in our body. But the ultimate consideration that gives order to the others, in my view, is that of our faith and religion.

Here we consider the human body according to the will and plan of God. We thus realize that the body is not just a material object. And more than being inseparably united to our soul, we know that it is the temple of the Holy Spirit. It should be treated with utmost reverence and care.

The human body is not to be played around with total disregard to morality.
And morality is not just a matter of what we like or what we find convenient, etc. Morality is referring all our actions to God as their proper end.

This is where some people flunk, often rationalizing their actuations as the exercise of their artistic rights and their freedom of expression, blah, blah, blah.

As if there are people who find joy and ecstasy in restricting the rights and freedoms of others. It has to be told and told again that rights and freedoms are not just a matter of choice. They are ultimately and constantly a matter of upholding who we really are.

Are we just objects and animals that can be played around without relating us to a spiritual end, and to Christian believers, that would be a supernatural end—a life in participation in the life of God?

Or are we persons whose very nature involving body and soul demand a measure of privacy and intimacy that should always be protected? To Christian believers, are we not only persons but also children of God who use the body according to God’s will and not just our own will?

It’s when the exercise of rights and freedom is not referred to God, when one refers them simply to his individualistic idea of what’s good and bad that we get into some trouble with respect to the use of the human body.

It would be good that the effort to know who we really are could be pursued calmly and relentlessly so that we would know and get convinced about the importance and constant relevance of modesty and decency in our lives.

This is also how we can recognize the false values cleverly embedded in many commercial gimmicks that use our body for immodesty and indecency.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

In Joseph’s footsteps

BECAUSE March 19 this year fell on a Lenten Sunday, the solemnity of St. Joseph was celebrated last March 20. Just the same, the occasion offers us a timely reminder of this great man whose life gives us precious lessons. He has not become passé at all.

These are lessons of how one’s simple station in life can be made a vehicle to carry out God’s sublime designs for all of us. What is needed is simply to have faith in God and to live it consistently in one’s life. Ideally, there should be no gaps.

Yes, dear, one of the basic things we need to be clear about is that our life is never just our own. It by definition, by our condition, is a life to be spent and developed always with God. We would be in some void if we were to live without God.

Thus, everything in our life, even the apparently insignificant, needs a divine dimension for it to be meaningful and helpful to us. This is the mentality that we should cultivate. Religion is never just a niche in our life. It has to be our life’s soul, affecting everything we are and do.

The problem we have at present is that we often find ourselves just doing things on our own, pursuing our own goals, bloated with our own idea of self-importance. God is literally set aside, ignored and resorted to only as a matter of formality. We can only reap trouble from this.

This is, of course, a funny situation, but we succumb to it effortlessly. We may not openly profess atheism or agnosticism, but our mentality and behavior just betray such anomaly.

St. Joseph led a very fulfilling life even if spent in quiet and hidden service to God in pursuit of the divine plan of our redemption. There was hardly anything extraordinary in his life.

He just made himself available for whatever task was needed to advance God’s work for and with men. It did not matter to him if the task was big or small. It was the same for him whether he had to stay in a certain place or go to some foreign land.

He highlighted the importance of the “supporting role” that is always needed in any human endeavor. And because of this, he accomplished a very important task in the whole economy of human salvation.

The problem we have is that many of us are just infatuated with taking the “leading role,” no matter what it takes. This is truly shameless, when the indispensable attitudes of humility and meekness are simply ignored.

This can be clearly seen in the world of entertainment and politics. Perhaps because of the nature of such activities, there is a certain susceptibility of the characters involved to fill themselves with self-importance, grabbing attention whenever possible.

This is truly lamentable. While politics and entertainment are always necessary because of our human condition, they now seem less and less meant for the pursuit of the common good. They have simply become the arena for lust of power and for vanity.

The worlds of politics and entertainment now seem to have lost their proper
sense of purpose. Their actors are now engaging in fierce, brutal battles, inhuman and degrading, often using a language full of poison and deception.

Conflicts and division are generated. There’s a lot of intrigue-making, bickering, gossiping, raising tension everywhere.

There is a need to learn the example of St. Joseph. This is the only way to at least recover our sanity and to have a good measure of peace in our human affairs. We have to learn how to be simple and calm as we go about our business and politics.

It is an example that is articulated in the Church’s social doctrine, where the ways of prudence and dialogue are spelled out. If only we could just take the bother to study it…we can be spared many of the useless troubles exploding in many places today.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Don’t take Lent for granted

WE are now in the middle of Lent. For those who, by choice or circumstance, do not know anymore what Lent is, it is that liturgical season when Christian believers prepare for the greatest feast of the Christian faith.

The expected preparation is one of intense prayers and purification, involving fasting and abstinence, almsgiving and other works of mercy. It has a regimen that demands both spiritual and bodily discipline.

The idea is to make one fit to receive the tremendous grace our Lord pours
with his passion, death and resurrection on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. This is the paschal mystery that culminates and summarizes Christ’s redemptive work.

Lent is not supposed to be considered as one more period of the year with more or less some peculiar traits, but is really no different from other parts of the year. Such attitude exposes a believer to be actually a pagan.

Lent is meant to be a very good moment for conversion. It is meant to attain another transformation for both individuals and our society. Only the stubbornly self-righteous believe there is no such need.

This is specially so these days when sins and abuses in the different fields of our life are very evident. In business and politics, in the world of fashion and entertainment, even in family life, inhuman conditions are developing.

Scams and scandals abound, deception and greed now appear to be normal. In politics even the blind and deaf can now detect the ugly shenanigans of politicians and ideologues deprived even of the most indispensable common sense.

The Church has already issued and extensively developed the gospel-inspired social doctrine to guide us in our social life. But who’s studying it? Who’s trying to put this doctrine into practice?

Even high ecclesiastics violate it with impunity, making stupid comments dripping with hatred not only to their ilk but also to the public. Are we surprised why there’s so much moral disorder around? These ecclesiastics have to be rehabilitated.

The so-called heroes and heroines of the past are now showing their feet of
clay, doing political antics that betray more their attachment to their personal, family or class interests than their service for the common good.

There is so much commercialism and materialism around, continually fed and reinforced by the media. Not only goods are advertised. Even persons, as in stars and starlets, male and female, are shamelessly sold and traded and treated like commodities.

For this purpose, these unfortunate men and women are made to wallow in very inhuman conditions, though these may be sweetened by the false values of vanity, fame and some measure of wealth which is not really much in the first place.

Look at those large TV networks that together with legitimate news peddle rumors and gossips, trying their best to improve their ratings at the expense of destroying consciences, theirs and others’.

The people are evangelized with the gospel of purely earthly and temporal values. A dangerous culture is being formed posing an increasing spiritual and moral threat similar to the Southern Leyte disaster in the physical side.

The importance of prayer, of sacrifice and mortification, the need for humility and ascetical struggle, the pursuit of the common good are shut out.

The strengthening of the faith, feeding it with appropriate doctrine and virtues, is ignored and neglected.

Let’s not take Lent for granted. We have this yearly opportunity to cleanse and purify ourselves, regain our true bearings, and strengthen our life from within and then to the other aspects.

Let’s go back to God, let’s have another conversion. At least, we can expect the return of common sense and sanity to our life with these actions. But a lot more can be expected, because God is good, and very eager to forgive us.

Thursday, March 9, 2006

The media challenge to the Church

IN a pontifical university in Rome, a new course is offered to help the Church to more effectively tackle the many challenges of our days and thus to meaningfully flow with the times.

It’s a course on communication, aimed at training both priests and lay people, especially those working in Church communication offices, to ably engage the world of media in the pursuit of Church objectives.

The late Pope John Paul II has described the media as the new Areopagus, referring to the Greek market place of ideas of olden times where men freely discussed issues and argued their points among themselves.

As such the media cannot and should not be ignored. In fact, they have to be dealt with seriously, knowing their nature and their ways, and entering into a healthy relationship for the mutual benefit of both Church and the media.

We all know that the media figure prominently in informing people and in clarifying issues and problems as they arise. The media, in fact, are now an indispensable tool in the formation and nourishment of a people’s culture.

That’s why the Church cannot be left in the sidelines as important world developments are also at least being reflected in the media. It has to give its due contribution, a very crucial one at that, since it works on the ethos of the people.

The Church is often described as the soul of the world, and its work may be
compared to that of a leaven. It is supposed to be the salt and light of the world. And it cannot do these roles from time to time only, but always and in all situations.

The Church’s contribution is always significant and relevant. Rich in history, including its dark episodes, and in doctrine and culture, and pulsating in its daily life of liturgy, spirituality and pastoral work, the Church always has something to say to the media.

Yes, there is a need for discretion and prudence, but there is also a need for the Church to talk always. We just have to learn how to combine both needs properly. That’s precisely why there is need for some professional training in this regard.

The Church, more than anybody else, has greater reason to have access if not to actively participate in the media world. The media cannot be left only to things ephemeral and mundane. They need the contribution of the Church.

This course on Church communication will certainly improve the Church’s participation in the media from being a mere provider of press releases, making announcements about Church events, to being an active agent of public opinion.

It hopefully will make Church communicators to be pro-active rather than passive, defensive and laid-back. It will help them to go beyond the amateur level, always expecting privileges and other special treatment, and to work in a very professional way, quite aware of the complexities of the job.

Fact is we are now living in a pluralistic and complex world. The Church cannot afford to just dish out simplistic press releases. Antiquated formulas also have to be revised and updated if not rejected to give way to more appropriate modern ones.

It has to learn to give prompt commentaries to events and issues properly, that is, with prudence and correctness. Thus its personnel should attain a certain level of competence, always underpinned by an indispensable spirituality.

Their training should include not only the knowledge of techniques but also
a good grounding in Church doctrine and a keen sense of timing. They should be clear in the distinction between doctrine and opinion, between what is the Church’s and what is simply theirs.

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Sobering facts

LET’S just pray. That’s the best advice I can give at this time, now that we seem immersed again in some political jitters. But let’s not waste time participating directly in the dirty game of unscrupulous politicians and

We’ve been had, for quite some time now. It’s time we wake up and do other constructive things. Prayer, for one, can help enlighten all of us, bringing back common sense and the desire to have a peaceful dialogue to settle whatever problems we may have.

Many other concerns and problems deserve our attention and efforts. At the moment, we have the disaster in Southern Leyte. Poverty continues to blight the lives of millions of Filipinos, and a long etcetera of problems still assail us unabated.

And recently there was another thing that forcefully grabbed my attention. This was the address given by Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan last February 11 on the occasion of the World Day of the Sick.

He reported about the world situation on the mentally-ill patients. The figures he presented are alarming. Even worse is the apathy and neglect we in general have toward the mentally-ill. We do not know yet how to handle this kind of sickness.

Do you know, for example, that at present some 450 million worldwide are affected by some neurological or behavioral mental disorders? My math tells me that’s about 8% of the world population sick of such illness.

One time I visited the psychiatric ward of a local hospital, and I was deeply moved to see the conditions of the patients who were confined and those who came for medical consultation. That visit validates the Cardinal’s figures.

Besides, it is said that 873,000 commit suicide each year. Twenty-five percent of countries do not have laws concerning mental health, 41% have no defined policy on the issue and in over 25% of health centers patients do not have access to basic psychiatric medication.

In 70% of the world population the ratio of psychiatrist to people is 1 to 100,000. These are truly sobering facts that deserve our attention and care. While there had been progress in the way we deal with mental disorders, the assistance to mentally-ill patients is still glaringly deficient.

The Cardinal said that this very pitiable condition is due to limited funding, the lack of understanding among authorities, the serious problems of the social stigma that the patients and their families have to face.

As a result, serious mental disorders are simply dealt with using bureaucratic and legal solutions without in the least taking into consideration the daily needs and the quality of life of patients and their families.

Even in wealthy countries, the care for the mentally-ill is clearly deficient. You can just imagine how it is in the poorer countries, like ours. We need to do something drastic about this.

As what to do, I just would like to transmit the suggestions of the Cardinal which I think are worth our serious consideration. He said:

- Establish, in the education systems, solid religious foundations that help one to work out clear and stable horizons, to be followed for a lifetime;
- Be aware of the system of values underpinning the whole human life and
make reference to it, especially to avoid that mental illness is lived with anxiety, sadness and desperation;
- Fight against relativism, consumerism, pseudo-culture of instinctive desires and pansexualism;
- Promote the dignity of mentally-ill patients;
- Foster a healthy development of the child, including his brain functions;
- Make awareness programs on mental illnesses for the society so that people may know about them and prevent them;
- Support these patients with the administration of sacraments where this is possible;
- Be aware of the fact that the rehabilitation of a mentally-ill patient is a duty of the whole society together, within the context of solidarity that shows preference for those who are most in need;
- Promote a social and physical environment that favors human relations and for the mentally-ill patients a sense of belonging to a concrete community.

Let’s hope our energy is poured more in these suggestions rather than in useless political maneuverings.