Friday, September 29, 2006

Man needs religion

I was happy to again bump into a very interesting point while I was reading
recently parts of the “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.”

I remembered that this point made a deep impression on me the first time I read something similar many years ago. It put in clear and precise words what I strongly felt in my heart then, but was groping for the right words to express it.

It had to do with religion, with the important role religion plays in our life, and with how we somehow look for it without being quite aware of it. The Compendium has this to say about it:

“Religiousness represents the loftiest expression of the human person, because it is the culmination of his rational nature. It springs from man’s profound aspiration for truth and is at the basis of the free and personal search he makes for the divine.” (15)

Contrary to what some people may say, in my view we tend to enter the world of religion as we try to exhaust and reach the limits of our human reason and feelings. Religion comes as one possible consequence of our quest for truth.

This, of course, presumes that we consistently try to reach the edges of our reason. The problem often is that we get stuck along the way, and simply get contented with something, if not material then ideological.

The search for truth leads us to spiritual and supernatural realities, and ultimately to God. We cannot be confined to a material and temporal world. Something in us strongly tells us there’s a lot more beyond what we simply see and even understand.

And I would say that this innate tendency of ours for the spiritual and supernatural realities, though felt in varying degrees, does not invent these realities. To me, it simply means we have been made to discern these realities.

Another corollary would be that the heavy problems and crises we have in many fronts can only mirror a sad state of affairs where many of us do not go all the way in developing ourselves so as to reach the culminating religious part of our life.

When reason is made the ultimate source of knowledge, the final arbiter of what is good and bad, then we are in for some disaster. Our reason can only be a discoverer, a transmitter and processor of truth. It cannot be the source of truth. It abuses itself when it considers itself as truth’s ultimate author and creator.

Of course, the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes man as basically a “religious being.” (cfr 28) No matter how pagan or atheistic one may be, it is believed that at least a trace of religiosity somehow flickers in his heart.

“The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.” (CCC 27)

St. Augustine corroborates this with his famous words: “Lord, our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Saints and holy men and women down the ages have somehow given similar spontaneous testimonies.

We need to put more seriousness in the way we live and develop our religion. In my countless conversations with men and women, I can readily see traces of religiosity in them. The problem is that the desire is hardly matched by action.

In the first place, there is a lot of doctrinal ignorance and confusion, leading people to unknowingly enter into superstitions and other false beliefs. Many are Christians or Catholics by name only. Their deeds often belie their words.

Then also, many do not know the importance of virtues and ascetical struggle, study of the doctrine, regular recourse to the sacraments, prayers and sacrifice, etc. How can religion prosper with this neglect?

In several cases, it can easily be seen that religion becomes a highly personalized and private affair, tailored to suit one’s so-called religious whims and caprices. Religion is not anymore something given from above and dutifully received by us. It simply becomes one of our inventions.

Monday, September 25, 2006


WE have to be more aware of this need of ours. While we normally like to be spontaneous in our behavior, we sooner or later realize that spontaneity alone, without self-mastery, can be dangerous. That would be like an energy without direction.

You see, we are a very complex creature, with many layers of awareness and tendencies, with conflicting forces and competing impulses, due to the many different parts, aspects and stages of our life.

We are at once body and soul, material and spiritual, individual and social, private and public, local and global, in time and outside of it, etc. Each aspect has its peculiar properties that need to be integrated with those of the other aspects.

We are subject to different times and places, historical and cultural conditionings, that certainly exert some influences on us, often in very subtle but effective ways.

Besides, our Christian faith teaches us about our sinful origin and wounded nature that would make our life more complicated and exciting, and our need to integrate things properly more challenging.

“Breaking the relation of communion with God causes a rupture in the internal unity of the human person, in the relations of communion between man and woman and of the harmonious relations between mankind and other creatures,” (29) the Compendium of the Church’s Social Doctrine explains.

If there’s no conscious and well-thought-out effort at self-mastery, we’ll soon find out we are terribly lost, we can unwittingly harm ourselves and others. We’ll be adrift in some ocean not knowing where we would be heading. We’d be ill-prepared to face our increasingly complex world.

There are different forces, both inside and outside us, that tend to dominate us in their own selfish terms without due regard to what is truly good to us, according to an objective truth about man or to any reference to the common good.

What worsens this is the modern attitude that denies there’s such thing as an objective truth about man. The truth about man, they say, will always be changing and shifting. Nothing can be held absolute and permanent. And so what our Christian faith tells us about ourselves is thrown out of the window.

Thus, our mind can go one way, while the heart can go the other. Our speech can just be some mindless chatter, rid of balance and direction. Bad manners, instead of refinement and delicacy, prevail. There is chaos instead of peace and order.

Sometimes, our appearance has nothing to do with what is inside us. Hypocrisy and deception get systematically cultivated, undermining our integrity. And these discrepancies and anomalies can go on endlessly.

Then you have the hormones and the urges that can just pop up anytime, urgently needing discipline. The young ones are most vulnerable to these, often leading them to obsessions and addictions, to harmful practices and vices.

If we consider our environment just a little, we’ll realize we are constantly teased and titillated, often arousing the body while killing the spirit. We easily become victims of the so-called freedom of expression or artistic rights that often go their own selfish and shallow ways.

This explains why we have to struggle against laziness, complacency, disorder, proneness to discouragement, imprudence. There’s also the propensity to lack focus and determination in our activities, to be dominated by changing moods.

We should not be surprised therefore that given this state of affairs, we often find ourselves in some quarrels, both small and big, from petty feuds with neighbors to devastating wars between countries.

We have to understand that underlying the big conflicts we have, for example, in politics is this often ignored problem in the personal level where self-mastery is missing.

There has to be a continuing awareness of this need, starting in the personal level and always reinforced by the family, community, the Church, schools, etc. Plans and strategies to attain or improve in it should be initiated and pursued.

We need to foster greater self-knowledge among ourselves. Networks of helping others cope with their personal difficulties should be put in place. If we put our mind and heart into this, we will realize this ideal is quite feasible. It’s not quixotic.

Together with the appropriate human means, the spiritual and supernatural
means should never be neglected. These are prayer, sacrifices, sacraments, ascetical struggle, doctrinal formation, spiritual direction, etc. These are indispensable.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Memory and class reunions

THESE past few days in that exotic island called Bohol, some kind of fever
is gripping everyone. The reason is because they are organizing a so-called general reunion of Boholanos from all over the world, or 'Tigum Bol-anon sa Tibuok Kalibutan' (TBTK).

Being a Boholano myself (we call ourselves 'sano', short for 'paisano' or fellow countryman, for we consider our island as some kind of independent republic), I was flooded with frantic invitations by texts, emails, etc., from classmates, friends and relatives.

I had to gently and patiently beg off, a mortal sin I think, because my schedule just would not let me. A joke has it that in heaven St. Peter hastily ties up the Boholanos during the fiestas since they would escape to Bohol on those days. That's how 'bad' this thing is with us.

Of course, I go to these fiestas and reunions in my heart. It's something that is part of our human nature, or our being inherently a social being, which always feels the need to be with others, especially friends and relatives.

No man is an island, no matter how much of a loner one is. He will always need someone else, if not physically then morally or spiritually. We somehow feel incomplete if in our heart we find no one else except ourselves. We are always in need of God and of others.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “The human person needs to live in society. Society is not for him an extraneous addition but a requirement of nature.” (1879)

While this social nature of ours can be expressed in many ways, I would like to give special mention to class reunions, especially when held really far from the time the classmates were together.

These are reunions full of memories, good memories always even if particular events in the past were not exactly nice. Time and life have a way of softening whatever negative things took place before. We always have a chance to learn, to purify, to rectify, etc.

They remind us that we are creatures of memories and intentions. Our sociability is never confined to the physical. It becomes more meaningful and more intense when expressed in our memories, in our intentions and in our other moral and spiritual faculties.

These reunions connect us to our years of childhood and youth, when we were still quite raw and green, quite thoughtless and senseless. And yet now we are convinced that in spite of those conditions some significant things were developing and shaping up imperceptibly.

I have no doubt that all my classmates, however we were, even if we caused some pain, were actually blessings and God's precious gifts to each other. We might have laughed a lot, or fought and cried, but I have no doubt we were helping each other in some mysterious ways when we were making those awkward first steps toward growth and development.

I believe that mistakes, gaffes, failures are excellent teachers. They wake us up to certain realities we surely would ignore if these mistakes did not happen. If they managed to teach us humility, then the road to a good transformation was laid open.

I believe we learned more from those mistakes than from the good deed we made. The latter often led us to vanity and pride that were sweet and intoxicating in the beginning but were terribly poisonous later on. Life can spring very surprising lessons.

I believe reunions highlight the fact that life is a continuity. An invisible hand is directing it. The so-called disruptions and mutations in our experiences do not destroy this continuity. They can always be made use of, one way or another.

There is God, and he is never passive in his providence. Now I seem to see
how God played with us to lead us to some measure of sensibility and rationality, and later hopefully, to faith and charity.

God can write straight with crooked lines. He certainly made use of our childishness and all our other forms of foolishness and weakness to make something useful to us. I just hope we did not give him a really hard

Of course, the process continues. The room for improvement is the largest room in any house of life we build. It never gets finished. I have reminded my classmates of this, to warn them also of the ever-present danger of complacency.

Lastly, i would like that these reunions would always be open to life, to whatever challenges it gives. This is because we need to attain a better communion we should have with God and among ourselves. In the end, reunions are for that purpose.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

New evangelization

The expression, “new evangelization,” has been around for quite some time
now. Pope John Paul II in his 26-year pontificate had been talking a lot about it, and, mind you, he was not the first one to do so.

It’s not new anymore. It’s rather old and, in my view, even tired. But the concept will always remain new and relevant. There’s no doubt about that.

Jesus Christ, who is at the center of it all, can never become obsolete. He is the one who will make everything new. He can even make the dead rise to life again. So, relax, there’s no reason to despair, no matter how bad the picture may look.

The problem is us. We are not doing what we ought to do about it. There is so much laziness, ignorance, lukewarmness, doctrinal confusion. There is mad pursuit for earthly pleasures, a veritable systematic effort to “protect” oneself from God. It’s today’s version of people building their own Tower of Babel.

And if there is some flicker of interest, it is promptly spoiled by petty quarrels, envies and a strong crab mentality, if not by sheer incompetence and naked pride and vanity. It’s really a shame.

The truth is evangelization will always be an activity of the Church, a duty of every Christian faithful, that is, the clergy, the laity and the religious. But how many realize this, and how seriously do we take it?

As St. Paul once said: “Woe to me if I don’t preach the gospel!”(1 Cor 9:16). Pope Paul VI paraphrased this by saying: “Evangelization is the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize.”

When Pope John Paul talked about the new evangelization, he wanted us, both clergy and laity, to find a new fervor, new methods, and new expressions in proclaiming and giving witness to Christ, given the rapid flow of developments nowadays. But what have we done about this indication?

The first thing to remember is that this new evangelization can only be done as a result of a vibrant spiritual life of intimate, personal relationship with Jesus. This is indispensable. There’s no other way.

How can we talk about God and his things if we don’t talk to him and earnestly assimilate his teachings?

Modern man especially has developed the knack to distinguish what is authentic from what is not, given the amount of sales talk he is exposed to these days. So we need to be authentic evangelizers, who first live by what we preach before evangelizing.

All effort at evangelization has to start with prayers, with serious study. It has to be nourished by a life of sacraments and continuing ascetical struggle, developing virtues and assimilating values in their proper hierarchy.

This is the only way to acquire some traces of credibility and to convince others that we are not simply transmitting our own ideas, but the teachings and even the very life of Christ.

Just as Christ said that anyone who sees him sees his Father who sent him, we should so live and act that anyone who sees and hears us can see and hear Christ who asks us to evangelize.

All the creativity needed in this task in the present context can and should flow only from such fount. Otherwise, all efforts will just go to waste. They cannot be expected to last nor to bear much fruit, etc.

The challenge here is how to make people feel the presence of God and realize the command of Christ. The laity especially should more keenly feel their duty to participate more actively in this task of evangelization.

In this regard, the lay people who are immersed in the world are especially expected to bring the message and spirit of Christ to all the corners of the world. That’s why they have to be truly adept in this task. That’s their challenge today.

They are especially crucial in evangelizing marriage and the family, the educational world, culture and entertainment, business and politics in all levels, from the local to the national and the international.

Aside from praying, studying and really trying to be holy, they need to know very well the social doctrine of the Church, which is that aspect of the Christian faith that impacts with man’s life and responsibilities in the world.

Saturday, September 9, 2006

The one thing necessary

By some fluke, I have been a recipient through these past few years of a number of modern gadgets that drastically facilitate my work. They open for me a bigger, wider, and definitely more exhilarating window to the world.

There’s of course the computer with its connection to the internet and other functions. Then you have the personal digital assistant (PDA) that allows you to virtually carry a whole library of books and documents in your pocket.

Then there’s the laptop and the flash drive or USB (universal serial bus) hat enable you to do instant research, study and writing practically everywhere and even in those odd moments in-between appointments and activities.

I’m left with a raging sense of gratitude to God and to many kind-hearted donors for all these. All of sudden I find myself paddling in a much bigger ocean of data and information. As they say, these indeed take my breath away.

But they also come with a price, even an exorbitant price. If we are not careful, we can lose our soul. I’ve seen cases of people falling into some kind of invincible obsessions and hard-to-cure addictions because of these gadgets.

Like any instrument, these gadgets are good to those who are good, and bad
to those who are bad. Their morality depends on their users. For one, while with them many good things are made accessible, temptations also proliferate.

Then we have to trade in our intellectual paddles with much stronger and swifter thinking tools. This is not easy to do, especially if we are already of a certain age. The capacity to upgrade our skills and to adapt to new things becomes harder by the year.

What seemed enough for us for many years, and served us quite well in our work so far, suddenly appear puny in the face of the tremendous possibilities these gadgets provide.

This is where we can stir certain dormant potentials we didn’t realize we had. We know that not all of them are good. Many need to be purified. When awakened, they need to be restrained and somehow regulated, otherwise we can get into trouble.

This is where the need to be more discriminating and to be more dominating of oneself becomes keener, because it’s very easy to get lost in the world these gadgets offer, and even to be enslaved in ways that are most subtle.

Yes, it’s quite easy to be sucked into a frenzy of curiosity and activism and to be so absorbed by them that we can easily forget our other duties, even the more important ones like praying and eating and resting.

These gadgets seem not to run out of images, icons, ideas, sounds, etc., to engage both our senses and faculties. They can knock us out, completely leaving us beaten and helpless.

The pursuit of knowledge can be so intoxicating that we can ignore what St. Paul once warned us: “Knowledge puffs up, but charity edifies.” (1 Cor 8,1) We need to constantly rectify our intentions as we plunge into the ocean of possibilities these gadgets give us.

We should not lose our sense of priority. This should be shown in the way we plan and budget our time. This is a crucial aspect of the matter. Order should be a permanent concern, because disorder can just come spontaneously. No need for invitation.

In the end, there’s only one thing that is truly necessary in our life. Let’s remember what our Lord told Martha who was doing quite well by fussing about household chores but complained about her sister, Mary, who was simply listening to our Lord.

“Martha, Martha, you are troubled about many things. But one thing is necessary, and Mary has chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her,” (Lk 10,41-42) he said.

We need to see that all this facilitated and accelerated pursuit of knowledge afforded by these gadgets truly brings us closer to God and to others. Knowledge is worthless and can be dangerous if not driven by charity and if it does not lead us to love—God and others.