Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Chill out, dude!

ONE basic attitude and habit to develop is to refer ourselves to the Pope whenever we want to be clarified about matters of faith and morals.

This is not some kind of special duty reserved only for certain people. This is actually a duty for all of us. It comes with our being a member of the Church. We cannot be casual about this duty.

Of course, we don’t go to him to learn about physics and politics. But when
these fields of knowledge touch on questions of faith and morals, as they sometimes and ultimately do, then we have to listen to the Pope.

This is because as successor of Peter, the Pope is our supreme teacher entrusted by Christ himself with the duty to teach and perpetuate the living and eternal word of God.

For this, in a mysterious but effective way, he is endowed with infallibility. “Whatever you bind on earth is bound in heaven. Whatever you loose on earth is loosed in heaven.” (M 16,19) What the Pope says, in effect, is what our Lord is telling us now.

This truth of faith is most relevant especially in the world of media. This is because while immersed in the world of opinions, the media cannot help but touch also on matters of faith and morals.

In Pope Benedict’s last message for the World Communications Day, given sometime ago, there was one idea, one truth worth highlighting because in spite of its objective importance, it continues to be widely ignored.

This was when he focused on the idea of “communion”—we are supposed to be in communion with God and among ourselves, always and everywhere—and
then said:

“The call to be true to the self-communication of God in Christ is in fact a call to recognize his dynamic force within us, which then seeks to spread outwards to others, so that his love can truly become the prevalent measure of the world.”

In my understanding, he reminds us that God’s revelation to us, made full
and definitive in Christ, continues up to now through us. It’s never just a frozen historical fact which we try to preserve. It goes on now, alive, and involving us in a vital way, not just in a formal way.

More than that, it is a living and continuing self-communication of God to us that draws all our processes of communication, in whatever form and circumstance, into this source and ultimate reason for whatever communication we do in this life.

This is the basic reality, a truth of faith, which we on the whole are still ignorant about. We think our communications are just our own thing. They have nothing to do with God’s self-communication to us and our response to him.

This is unfortunate, because with this kind of mentality we become most prone to the wild tendencies of our weaknesses and the malice of the evil spirits. Instead of promoting love, truth, justice, etc., we get into all sorts of ugly situations especially when we have differences and conflicts of views.

Thus, it is common nowadays for us to get sprayed by the slime of lies, half-truths, intrigues, shallow, even inane and reckless reporting, and heavily slanted fallacies. Just read the papers, just listen to talk shows, this garbage is rampant.

There also is the foul odor of self-righteousness, arrogance, bitterness, hatred, prejudice, skepticism, bickering, fault-finding, etc. Indeed, a real mess, a poisoned atmosphere!

Refinement, civility, prudence, discretion, etc. seem prohibited to exist. We seem to be losing our capacity to discuss and argue with reason enlightened by faith and driven by charity.

Chill out, dude! Don’t take things too personally or too seriously. We have to find a way to treat each other as children of God, worthy of being loved all the way, in spite of our differences and even the mistakes we commit.

We have to realize what we really matters in this life, what really will endure to eternity. Our opinions on temporal matters will come and go. What remains is that we love each other, for love of God, a love shown and lived and died for by Christ himself.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Typhoon Da Vinci

I think that’s a good description of the furor surrounding Da Vinci Code, both the book and the movie. There’s really nothing to worry. It will just come and go, also much like a pain in the neck.

Or it can be like many of these young star wannabes, who can cause quite a
stir with their looks and some talents and are propped up by clever handlers and managers, but who unfortunately do not possess enduring qualities.

Da Vinci Code is a passing fancy, a transient sensation, detached from a self-renewing, life-giving spirit. It just reveals the kind of people we are. Typhoon Da Vinci obviously is not a natural calamity. It is a spiritual disaster affecting many people.

But again, let’s not get too worried. Yes, it can cause some damage in its wake, but repair and reconstruction will always be around. Let’s just make some assessment and focus on what ought to be done.

At first I thought St Paul’s words about people at a certain time not anymore willing to listen to truth but would rather turn to fables, heaping on themselves teachers according to their own lusts, were most apt to describe the situation. I now think they are too drastic and sweeping.

I feel that many of those seduced by the book are simply confused, ignorant, weak and inconsistent in their faith, irrespective of how fervent they say they are solid Christians whose faith cannot be affected.

This is the challenge to face—how to make people more consistent to their faith. There’s a lot of spiritual lukewarmness and moral complacency, a lot of inconsistency between belief and practice that need to be tackled more effectively.

I was amused to hear people saying that their faith would be not affected just by reading the book or watching the movie. They say they are just there for the fun and curiosity—it’s just fiction anyway, so why the big fuss?

Besides, they say expressing disapproval of the book and movie would just arouse more curiosity and whip more popularity for the products. They present themselves as being practical.

There are also those, styling themselves as intellectuals and avant-garde in Church concerns, who ask why not take advantage of this controversy to get into more valid issues concerning Church life?

Thing is we always have some valid points behind every rationalization we make. My only concern is that I just hope there can be more loyalty and fidelity even if at certain moments these virtues can be very costly.

Truly it takes real courage, honest-to-goodness balls, to be loyal and faithful especially to what is considered to be our most precious treasure—our faith and everything related to it: the Church, norms and customs of piety, etc.

The gospel figure of the Good Shepherd is relevant to this point. The paid hacks or hirelings, whose hearts are not really with their flock, are the first to run away when certain dangers threaten the sheepfold.

Certainly, to be a Good Shepherd a lot of things are needed—solid piety, doctrinal orthodoxy, an openmindedness that would enable us to be sympathetic with everyone in the right order, etc.

To be a Good Shepherd we need to be Christians not only by name but also by deeds, not only from time to time but always, not only in some aspects of our life but in all. Not only Sunday Christians, but Christians all year

Typhoon Da Vinci is a call, a warning for us to be more authentic Christians, who follow Christ closely and who love God with all our might and who love others as Christ loves us.

Typhoon Da Vinci is a stirring reminder of the need to develop our Christian life not only by ourselves but also within the Church always. We cannot be free-lance, individualistic or private Christians. We have to be Christians always within the Church. Anything against that should be held suspect.

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Rediscovering beauty

VATICAN officials are recently studying the possibility of rediscovering the true essence of beauty and of how beauty can be used as a way of evangelization and dialogue among different peoples and cultures.

This, in my view, is a most welcome development that promises to be a very exciting endeavor, considering the level of confusion we have with respect to what causes and constitutes beauty.

I believe that many things will be clarified at last, snatching us from the grips of narrow-mindedness and ignorance. What is worse is that many of us are not even aware of this sad predicament of ours.

Like freedom and love, beauty is a very misunderstood concept, often reduced to ridiculous low and shallow forms. Nowadays, when one talks about beauty, it is almost invariably spoken of in terms of the physical, the external, the material.

It is hooked to whether one has a shapely figure, tall, charming, nice, shiny hair, blemish-free skin, oozing with sex appeal, etc., etc. In this understanding of beauty, only very few persons and items can be considered beautiful, an outlook that is very discriminating.

There is nothing wrong when beauty is spoken of in these terms. The problem arises when such concept is considered, wittingly or unwittingly, to be the exclusive definition of beauty or at least the main consideration to be made about beauty.

That would put us in a world of illusions and false images that can lead us to unfair and dangerous situations. It can degrade humanity. It can turn man into an object, a shell without the living substance.

And that's what we are having now. Wherever one goes, this is the message that is conveyed, regardless of whether it is done intentionally or not. There seems to be an invisible hand that leads people to think of beauty in this superficial form.

It is the usual consequence of a poor vision of humanity. It is an understanding of man stuck in the physical and external aspects, focusing more on the body and ignoring the soul, intoxicated with freedom without any reference to God as freedom's author.

That concept of beauty cannot enter the world of human suffering. It cannot understand such world, and would not know what to do with such reality. It is a stranger to the world of the spiritual and the supernatural.

That Vatican effort, if pursued relentlessly, will hopefully help us to expand our understanding of beauty. It can point to us the most important element that causes and constitutes real beauty. And this is none other than one's intimate relationship with God.

At the moment, the idea of mixing God and beauty appears to be strange, if not unthinkable. You can hardly hear people talking about God and beauty in the same occasion. This is one of the funny anomalies we have in our time.

And this anomaly appears to be reinforced again by the media, with characters as in stars and celebrities freely talking about beauty, styling themselves as experts in beauty, without knowing where beauty comes from.

For sure, this Vatican effort will have to face tremendous challenges. Changing mindsets and purifying and enriching cultures are not easy jobs at all. But this initiative has to be done. Yes, it may take a thousand steps, but we have to make the first ones.

I only hope that people are mature enough, as they often present themselves to be, to realize there are very important elements related to one's understanding of beauty, long ignored and neglected, that now need to be grappled with very seriously.

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Our sister death

THE expression comes from Opus Dei founder, St. Josemaria Escriva. He articulates the proper Christian attitude towards death.

Remember that Christ himself was talking a lot about his own death, even predicting it. We have to understand that we need to have death in our minds. In fact, we need to be friendly with death.

Thus, St. Josemaria said: “Don’t be afraid of death. Accept it from now on, generously…when God wills it, where God wills it, as God wills it. Don’t doubt what I say: it will come in the moment, in the place and in the way that are best—sent by your Father God. Welcome be our sister death.” (The Way, 739)

As a priest, I get to talk a lot about death. I often get invited to wakes, and to say funeral and death anniversary Masses. Truth is I always find death a theme ever rich in meaning, a mystery every inviting us to fathom and plumb. I can never say enough about it.

My wish is that not only priests in general should be talking about death. Everyone of us should. There’s a lot to learn from it, a lot of advantages to derive. It’s a great teacher, an important illuminator and rectifier in our life.

I would even say that if our culture becomes more friendly and even intimate with the reality of death, we can expect a change for the better, a boost to sobriety and objectivity where we tend to be frivolous and subjective.

The youth, the businessman, the politician—all of us—can have a wonderful built-in mechanism to effectively tackle the weaknesses, limitations and
temptations we all are exposed to in this life.

Being the last part of our life—no repeat performance here—and often accompanied by tragic elements like sicknesses, accidents, crimes, suffering, pain, trials, etc., death puts us at an edge, giving us a very strategic vantage point.

It makes us consider the real meaning of our life here on earth, and to acknowledge the reality of our life hereafter. In other words, it makes us realize the real essence of time. It also gives us glimpses of eternity.

In short, the consideration of death enables us to acquire an added and crucial dimension in our over-all outlook. Sad to say, this is a dimension often ignored, neglected, taken for granted. Even derided! This is unfortunate.

This is the dimension that completes our understanding of things, that helps us to distinguish between the essential and the merely accidental, that reminds us of the most radical and ultimate elements of our life. It identifies for us the irreducibly necessary in our life.

While we have to pay attention to the here and now, we should never forget
what is beyond the present and the actual. As persons and as children of God, we have to realize that our actuations do not only have a temporal scope. They also do have an eternal character.

This point, in my view, deserves to be pounded a bit more in our head and heart, because there’s a common thinking that considering death is just some kind of theoretical, abstract—read, useless—exercise.

Worse, there are those who think the habit of considering death regularly is kind of weird, a sign of a sick and unhealthy mind. Again, this is very unfortunate.

The challenge now is how to make the frequent and practical consideration
of death a normal part of our thoughts and concerns. I would say that such consideration stimulates our prayer. It leads us to get in touch with the spiritual world. It fosters our supernatural outlook in life.

Far from developing a dark attitude toward life and the world in general, the habitual consideration of death will redeem us from being hooked simply to the material and the here and now. It will lead us to our genuine freedom!