Thursday, June 29, 2006

Sex education

A MINOR controversy erupted recently over the government’s plan to teach sex education to public school students.

It was said that the bishops, with the help of some parents, succeeded in convincing the Department of Education to shelve the delicate subject.

There, of course, were those who were unhappy with this turn of events. They complained that the bishops did an overkill, their understanding of the issue simplistic. Some form of sex education in schools, they insist, is a must.

This has made me wonder whether these people are aware that only recently we complained about the deterioration of our English education in the schools, in spite of heroic efforts to nurture it for many years.

Sex education in public schools? Give it a few months before it degenerates
into something really nasty. We’ll be producing students not only with fractured English but also with ballistic sexual appetite.

Let’s not be na├»ve about this. Sex is an extremely delicate subject. It should be handled most prudently, considering its volatile character. Sex education cannot be given in a generic way. It requires person-specific attention.

This is because sex education is not about being clever to be safe, about practical, technical knowledge. It is about virtue, about chastity, about love, a love that involves God and man and woman down to their bodily dimensions.

In the recent controversy, everyone has a point. Even the devil can make a point, and at times can score a big point, except for a little lie that spoils the whole thing. He can even appear as an angel of light to pull his grand deception.

What strikes me about the reactions as reflected in the press is the haste in the way they were expressed. There was improvisation galore, with ideas whose gestation must not have lasted more than a split second.

The position of the Catholic Church on sex education can virtually be seen in the document: “The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality: Guidelines for Education within the Family,” issued by the Vatican in 1995.

I wonder if that document was consulted before our seemingly all-knowing commentators open their mouth or start to write. This document certainly was not a result of an improvised effort. A lot of research and consultation went into it. Its suggestions and recommendations just cannot be taken lightly.

In that guidebook, everyone is reminded that the task of education is primarily a responsibility of the parents. The schools, the government, etc., only take on a subsidiary, supporting role. The parental duty should not be replaced by them.

This is especially so when sex education is concerned. In one point, it says that parents can ask the assistance of schools that should be under their attentive guidance and control, not the other way around.

Thus, it says: “It is recommended that parents be aware of their own educational role and defend and carry out this primary right and duty.

“It follows that any educative activity, related to education for love and carried out by persons outside the family, must be subject to the parents’ acceptance of it and must be seen not as a substitute but as a support for their work.

“In fact, sex education, which is a basic right and duty of parents, must always be carried out under their attentive guidance whether at home or in educational centers chosen and controlled by them.” (113)

To me, the bigger problem we have is how to make the parents more responsible to fulfill the delicate duty of sex education to their children. Actually, more than the government, the Church has the heavier burden in this regard. Thus, the two should work very closely.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Year of social concerns

I’M happy to learn that our bishops have declared this year as the Year of Social Concerns. I suppose it’s one concrete way of sensitizing everyone of the need to develop a deep and effective social mentality.

We cannot exaggerate that need. We know that man, while an individual person, is also a social being. The two positions, while distinct and demanding specific requirements cannot be separated. They always have to go together.

We just have to find a way to blend these two dimensions together, voiding the extremes of selfish personal individualism and pietism on the one hand, and mindless, impersonal socialism and activism on the other.

With the Church’s stress on social concerns for this year, I guess the idea is to correct a Christianity that tends to be too ‘vertical’ in its attitudes and practices towards God at the expense of her ‘horizontal’ duties towards our neighbor.

Other ways of describing this anomaly are a Christianity confined to the churches and alienated from the world, a Christian life excessively concerned with personal sanctity but indifferent to the apostolate in all its expressions.

Love for God always entails love for neighbor. Our Lord said, “As long as you did it to one of your least brethren, you did it to me.” (Mt 25, 40) Love for God would be nullified if there is no accompanying love for neighbor.

But like Christ, we have to know how to show this love for neighbor, how this social mentality ought to be developed and expressed. I believe we have big problems in this delicate area, not yet properly understood even by ecclesiastics.

One clarification can come from Pope Benedict’s first encyclical, Deus caritas est, where he said: “The formation of just structures is not directly the duty of the Church, but belongs to the world of politics, the sphere of the autonomous use of reason...

“The Church has an indirect duty in that she is called to contribute to the purification of reason and to the reawakening of the moral forces…

“The direct duty to work for a just ordering of society, on the other hand, is proper to the lay faithful. As citizens of the State, they are called to take part in the public life in a personal capacity—in the many different economic, social, legislative, administrative and cultural areas… for the common good.”

I find these words clear enough, and yet they are frontally violated when some Church leaders choose to take concrete sides in social and political issues.

With brazen show of primitive clericalism, acting like prima donnas, if not like clowns, complete with shrill voices and comic gestures, they directly and actively participate in political activities, pontificating on issues that are open to opinion.

Some have managed to convey to the press ideas that are clearly dangerously improvised, with hardly any basis scientifically or pastorally. In the end, only embarrassment for the whole Church is achieved.

Some even dare to quote gospel passages to justify their actions, much like the devil who, in tempting Christ in the desert, also quoted Scriptural lines with clearly twisted intentions.

They say their cause is just and useful. They fail to realize that their actuations lead to recklessly using the Church merely to voice personal opinions and partisan views, or to develop social and political theories, etc. Amazing!

At this age where information come to us quick and fast, it pains me to see these clerics still out in the dark insofar as proper Church attitude and clergy behavior with respect to social and political issues are concerned.

Is this the way to unite the Christian faithful, to strengthen our sense of Church? Where are the corrections, the measures to keep us away from these leaders who are showing clear signs of being false prophets?

The clergy should concentrate on our specific field of concern. That’s more than what we can handle without straying into areas for which we have no direct authority.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Fantasy and mystery

FICTION and reality. Fantasy and mystery. These pairs share things in common, but they are here put together more for their contrast than for their similarity.

I believe that we need to be more aware of their differences. I get the impression that these distinctions are being blurred, to the great harm to many of us. In this homogenizing trend, fantasy and fiction get elevated beyond their limits, while mystery and reality get dangerously diluted.

Fantasies and fiction work are products of a person’s imagination. They are
fruits of one’s creativity and artistic juices. They contain bits of truths, but heavily peppered by exaggerations, tall tales, even lies, allowed by literary license.

Mysteries, strictly speaking, are truths, supernatural in character, that exceed our capacity to understand. They are products of divine revelation, not of one’s talents and efforts. They are to be believed, more than to be understood.

Fantasies and fiction cater to our need for rest and entertainment. They have to be taken with a grain of salt. They require some suspension of the normal working of our faculties, to allow ourselves to be entertained.

As such, they have a legitimate purpose. But just like anything else in this life, they have to be used with certain rules to be followed. Otherwise, some abuses can take place.

For example, they cannot completely ignore the question of God, to ground them to what is truly good for us. Thus fantasy and fiction need to be properly inspired.

Unfortunately, there are literary works that show otherwise. They appear inspired by some rotten idea, if not by a malevolent spirit. Their authors are not contented with playing God. They tend to replace God!

Mysteries, on the other hand, are to be taken seriously. They cater to our need for faith and for spiritual growth. They cater to our need to constantly be in touch with our god. They require our all-out attention and collaboration.

As such, mysteries are always to be considered one way or another, directly
or indirectly. They are a permanent necessity to us. Of course, certain rules also have to be followed, otherwise we enter into dangerous territory.

The problem I am seeing now is that more and more people are hooked to fantasies and fiction at the expense of the attention they need to give to the mysteries.

The worse scenario of the anomaly seems to be that people are losing the sense of divine, supernatural mysteries. All mysteries are reduced to man-made fantasies and fiction work.

This problem usually affects the so-called intellectual and artistic crowd, those who like to read a lot and are more fascinated with best-sellers. The more fantastic these books are the better for these people.

Sad to say, many fail to make the distinction between fantasy and mystery, fiction and supernatural reality. As a result their lives and behavior create a division between their activities and interest on the one hand, and their faith and religion on the other.

Thus, we see them immersing themselves in the world of fiction while distancing themselves from the world of religion. The unity and consistency in one’s life is broken.

Of course, if not corrected, they can develop some split personality, alternating between what they consider to be humanly ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ or ‘special’ behavior, until they succeed in resolving this matter properly.

If no miracle takes place, they can end up completely alienated from God, averse to prayer, to developing one’s faith, to the need for sacrifice which is an indispensable ingredient in Christian life.

We need to recognize and respect the distinction between fiction and reality, between fantasy and mystery.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Christian witnessing

IT’S a concept that, in my view, we need to know well. It corresponds to a reality that is necessary for us to recognize and to live as fully as possible. It requires effort, but, heck, it’s worth all the hassle it entails.

Christian witnessing is not a private affair of individuals, confined to religious moments or to Church circles. Hello! We need to debunk this awfully antediluvian prejudice, typical of the dark ages.

Christian witnessing is a concern for all, especially for those who consider themselves Christians. And it involves all aspects of our life, including our earthly affairs—business, politics, sports and entertainment, art and culture, etc.

It has to be lived always, and not just on some special occasions like on Sundays or other so-called pious moments we have. It has to be lived in all circumstances and events of our life. It should not be suspended at any time.

It’s precisely when we ignore this concept and reality that we enter into situations that are actually anomalous and harmful to us and to others, where all forms of inconsistency in our life can arise.

I would say that much of our problem today is due to our failure to live Christian witnessing. Thus, we have discrepancies between our words and our actions, between our personal, private life and our social, public life, etc.

Remember what our Lord said one time: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. So practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice.” (Mt 23,2-3)

Many people extol the value of integrity, for example. But how can integrity prosper, how can it develop and spawn other virtues, especially the civic ones, if this Christian witnessing is not understood and lived well?

That we are supposed to be a Christian country and yet one entrenched in corruption and other social diseases like injustice, poverty, etc., is one such anomaly that arises when Christian witnessing is not authentically lived.

Christian witnessing is, of course, a much richer concept than the usual meaning that comes to mind when we hear the word “witness,” especially in its legal sense.

The latter concept refers to someone who saw something or who took part of an event. It is a very passive concept, not demanding anything from the person concerned other than perhaps to give a testimony of what he saw.

This human or legal concept of witness is applicable only to some persons who were at a certain place on a certain time. In this understanding of witness, obviously not everyone can be a witness.

Not so with a Christian witness. Here witnessing is not a matter of being in a certain place, seeing a certain event. It is more a matter of having a living faith, of uniting oneself in a living way with Christ through grace.

Thus, despite the distance in time and space, and the infinite discrepancy between God and our human condition, we become contemporaries with Christ. We get to talk to him always and to live in his presence.

We get to follow God, know His will, obey His commandments. We become aware of who God is and of who we are. We enrich our “I”, our identity to
include the presence of God in us and the tremendous riches that our intimate relationship with him would bring about.

Christian witnessing, therefore, is never a passive affair. By definition, it involves a vital and constant dealing between God and us. As long as we do our part, this relationship is enhanced and would yield us great benefits.

Thus, when we learn how to pray and talk to God always, when we study and assimilate his teachings, develop virtues, receive the sacraments, etc., we will soon experience the divine gifts and fruits—joy, peace, justice, wisdom, understanding, patience, chastity, etc., etc.

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Mercy limits evil

THAT’S an expression, intriguing and dramatic, coined by Pope John Paul II. The insight came to him in the course of some personal reflections he gathered in a book entitled, “Memory and Identity.”

There he traced the historical validity of this insight as he considered the defeat of the ideological evils of communism and Nazism that raged in his native Poland. Those evils were systematically vicious, their malice carried out in scientific fashion.

He seemed to tell us of the universal applicability of this truth to all forms of moral evil besetting our world today. I think it is worthwhile to pay attention to the suggestion. We tend to take this for granted. And yet it is a crucial ingredient in our life.

Thus, it’s good that Pope Benedict XVI himself echoes the same idea a number of times already. Fact is we need to be reminded of this basic truth that, of course, needs to be blended with the requirements of justice and prudence.

We have to realize that even without considering the effects of moral evil, our human weakness and limitations alone can easily give rise to conflicts and problems among ourselves.

Given that human condition alone, common sense will immediately tell us that we have to be ready to forgive and reconcile, no matter what it takes, otherwise we can all head towards mutual destruction.

Mercy can do a lot of wonders to us. First of all, it is a divine command, lived first of all by Christ himself. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,” we pray in the “Our Father.”

When Peter asked our Lord how many times we should forgive, Christ was clear about forgiving not only seven times, but seventy times seven—meaning always.

When the woman caught in adultery was dragged before him, our Lord did not condemn her. He saved her from being stoned and later admonished her to sin no more.

And from the cross, that ultimate appeal for divine mercy was made—“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Our Lord just forgave and
forgave, and continues up to now to forgive, especially through the sacrament of reconciliation.

Why? Because we are so precious to him--we are all children of God—that regardless of our mistakes, our Lord is willing to forgive us and to reconcile us with him. He has given us all the means to attain that goal, because our reconciliation cannot also take place without our cooperation.

We can say that mercy disarms evil. It may not prevent evil, but it surely can take away much if not all of the sting of evil and malice. It halts the vicious cycle of evil, and can start the process of healing.

Mercy purifies our hearts, removing traces of resentment and anguish. It bestows on us peace and serenity. It restores joy. It facilitates friendships. As we enter into more complicated webs of relationships, we should neither forget the growing relevance of mercy in our life.

Mercy can teach us how to expand our perspectives, from being purely human to being supernatural as well. It helps us to be more mature, to be more mindful of the over-all picture than to get entangled with childish details.

With mercy, we will more easily understand that evil does not deserve to be given a lasting concern. Parasitical in nature, opportunistic in character, it cannot survive when we overflow with goodness and holiness.

We have to learn the ways of mercy. First of all, we have to realize that it is an effect of grace, of our living union with Christ, following his commandments and receiving him especially through the sacraments.

We have to learn to forgive, and also to ask for forgiveness. We have to give due attention to this task. The dramatic transformation we all want to happen in our personal as well as social lives can only take place if we live the spirit of mercy, which is the spirit of Christ.