Tuesday, October 31, 2006


THIS piece is not about alcoholism. It’s about something more serious.

The intoxication involved here goes far beyond the effect of whiskey. It’s due more to a spiritual handicap. And its consequences are way more devastating.

Marks and traces of this illness are all over the place, but are especially found in the media, where one readily sees all forms of vulgarity and bad taste. Gossip shows are notorious in this regard.

But even worse than the gossip shows are political discussions, whether oral or written, where sobriety seems to be thrown out of the window. There’s just too much bickering, intrigue-sowing, carping, griping, fault-finding, a veritable display of moral bankruptcy.

Self-righteousness comes out in thick billows. A writer portrays himself as having all the reasons and others just don’t have any. He is all right, the others all wrong. He is the God, the others are all scheming devils.

Aggravating this is when the writer happens to have a clear talent for expressing himself. His words flirt; his style, in shrill tones, hijacks attention. He can even glibly articulate what actually should be his cause for shame.

This is actually a funny, usually pitiable sight, one that begs patience. It can remind one of a child in tantrum or a raving drunk. The problem is when he makes a nasty public disturbance.

Many political opinion-makers tend to exaggerate in defending their position or in disputing their opponents’ views. All this makes one often wonder whether the issues involved deserve to be argued that vigorously.

We get the impression we are made to choose between life and death, between heaven and hell. We are made to believe we live in an attack-or-be-attacked world. I don’t know why so much uproar is given to these issues.

Whether one is for charter change or not, for elections next year or not, everyone should be allowed to choose without corrupting his conscience with trash.

My understanding of things is that in considering varying or conflicting political options, one has to be calm to weigh the pros and cons of each side. As long as no option is inherently evil, everyone should be allowed to choose according to his judgment. We have to respect his choice.

When one has heard all the reasons and arguments for and against, please let him make his decision quietly. We don’t have to pollute the whole planet with outlandish accusations that the other party is rotten, playing God by prying into the motives of parties concerned.

We all have to learn to be careful with our words. Just like in anything else, sobriety and moderation are always desirable virtues to have in this department. I think this is part of today’s challenge.

We have to be more aware of the villain that can be called “inflation of words.” This is a clear abuse of words, a multiplier of foul elements. This is when we put in more than what the words can legitimately convey.

This is when we infuse venom in whatever form (hatred, envy, rigid ideological bias, etc.) into our words. As a result, we lose our sense of balance and propriety, and become vulnerable to wild passions.

The problem we have is that many of us do not even realize there’s such thing as sobriety and moderation in our thoughts and words. These virtues appear to be relevant only when talking of food and drinks.

Pope Benedict reminded students recently to spend time in silence to be able to converse with God, and acquire the proper sense of the use of words. He recommended temperance in our thoughts and words.

We have to understand that good manners should also extend to the way we
manage our thoughts and words. This is a sign of self-mastery, a proof of maturity.

“The tongue,” the Bible tells us, “is a fire, a world of iniquity…an unquiet evil, full of deadly poison…Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing…” (James 3,6-9)

We should never forget this truth. We need to discipline our speech, conforming it to the molds of charity by making it an organic extension of our permanent conversation with God. That’s the ideal to pursue always.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

False prophets

SINCE time immemorial, we have been warned about false prophets. The Bible is full of such warnings. Now, sadly, we seem oblivious to these warnings. I get the impression many feel these warnings have become obsolete or irrelevant.

We have to understand that the quest for truth always brings with it the accompanying concern to be watchful with falsehoods. And so, given our human condition, we also have to learn to distinguish between true prophets or teachers from the false ones. There are guidelines on these matters.

This is not to drive us paranoid, but we need to be reminded that the worst falsehood can be made to look and sound like the truth, and that the falsest prophet can be made to appear precisely like the true teacher.

They can have the form, but not the substance, the fiery rhetoric but not the message. We cannot exaggerate our duty to be vigilant, and to do all we can to properly carry out our part, whether we are cleric or lay, in the prophetic mission of the people of God.

Problems abound in this matter. For one, the concept of truth has suffered tremendous defacement. Instead of truth, people talk more of opinions. There are no more absolute truths or truths of faith, only relative and personal opinions.

Not that there is no room for opinions. They will always be around. But nowadays, there’s hardly any effort to try to conform them to truth. Their weight and power is often derived from sources other than the truth and some objective universal law. They come more from brute force, naked political maneuvering or subtle cultural conditionings.

In the meantime, truth or reality is often reduced to what simply is sensible, or practical, or intelligible. Beyond that, there is no more truth or reality. Thus, spiritual and supernatural realities are systematically blocked and discarded.

At best, they are considered mere figments of the imagination, or material for one’s reasoning. They don’t exist by themselves. They may just be products of one’s psyching his own self.

With such understanding of truth, you can just imagine how the concept of
true prophet or teacher can be greatly disfigured, almost beyond recognition. Fact is it has been twisted, distorted, severely reduced, detached from its source and goal.

Mention the word, prophet, and the immediate idea that comes to the mind of most people is an ancient figure, obviously held irrelevant in the present, who made some predictions of events that now also have little resonance to many.

I’m afraid it’s a concept that has been fossilized in the lives of many, hopefully not yet in the culture of peoples, together with the reality of religion, faith, God. The curiosity that it generates today is precisely one that a typical guy at present has toward a fossil.

Mention the word, teacher, and there’s hardly anything that goes beyond the idea of a mentor in the class room, transmitting merely technical data. Its foundation to God, its eminently religious dimension, is almost completely obliterated.

To a certain extent, this phenomenon is understandable in the secular world. But I’m afraid it is creeping even into the ecclesiastical world. A few ecclesiastics are acting less of prophets and teachers in the name of Christ, head of the Church. They act more like opinion-makers themselves.

They are quick to make their opinion on socio-political issues known, giving as excuse the need to evangelize these aspects of our life. And yet, many indications on this matter as articulated in the Church’s social doctrine seem to be ignored.

This, to me, is a problem that needs to be urgently resolved, before things really go out of hand, producing a real mess. Some Church leaders are cheapening their clerical dignity, misunderstanding their mission, and are adulterating the Gospel message with their own personal opinions.

In the Gospel, Jesus showed his anger to the people’s leaders then precisely because they distorted all the prophecies, doctrines and tradition related to the coming of the Redeemer. Terrible words were used, like:

“Woe to you, lawyers, for you have taken away the key of knowledge. You
yourselves have not entered in, and those that were entering in, you have hindered.” (Lk 11,52)

I wonder if these words could still be uttered by Christ to us now.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Family visioning

THE other day, I was invited to say Mass for a group who was having a seminar on family visioning. Curious, I immediately read their brochure. I got the impression the initiative was an effort to put more science into family affairs.

That gave me some measure of pure satisfaction. For some time, I have been toying on the idea of groups putting some serious effort to monitor developments affecting the family.

I always believe that the family plays a very important, in fact, indispensable, role in the development of persons and societies. The family, you see, somehow determines the kind of persons and societies we are. Its health and vitality are crucial.

I believe that the family should not be taken for granted, as it seems to be largely the case now. Its fate should not be left only to good old unscientific common sense or to a vague sense of what comes naturally. Circumstances are significantly changing.

Our present conditions are posing new challenges, different problems, unfamiliar situations to the family, baffling to most of us. It’s about time we get a good grasp of what is happening so as to be in better control of the course the family should take.

We cannot afford to be oblivious to this need. We are now swimming in a big ocean of fast-paced developments, and we need to stick our head up from time
to time to see whether we really are heading toward our proper end. This is a basic demand of prudence.

There is a crying need for couples to be adequately equipped with skills to properly read social changes, and to be more discerning and prudent since the good and bad or dangerous elements often come together.

Families, especially the parents, ought to be guided and supported in adhering to the truly fundamental values, without getting lost in the maze of things. They have to be taught the basic and traditional virtues, and how these can be lived and developed amid changing circumstances.

Fact is I’ve seen families weakening, if not dissolving, then breaking up, leaving behind a plethora of problems affecting husbands and wives, children, communities, offices, etc. It’s truly a painful sight. My heart bleeds. Tears irresistibly come.

I was happy to note that the organizers were young, energetic, professional couples, properly inspired and motivated, with a good grounding on the Catholic doctrine about the family.

They are trying to infuse whatever elements in their professional and scientific background could be useful in tackling family matters. This is a good development, worthy of all encouragement.

There’s still a lot of experimenting being done, of course, but I am already happy to note their upbeat attitude toward the prospects of success in their initiative.

And what was most gratifying to note also was the palpable human touch that filled the air at the venue of the seminar. It was not just stiff, formal lecture and all. There were tender, happy looks among the couples. There was laughter and pure, unadulterated good time.

This, to me, is more important than whatever brilliant ideas may be floated
around. The latter cannot prosper if the basic human touch is missing or deficient.

My spontaneous prayer upon seeing all this was an angelic hymn of thanksgiving and a furious petition that this initiative should prosper and give true help and practical benefits to more and more families.

This observation reminded me of what the Church’s social doctrine teaches
about prudence. Permanent Christian principles should be made to impact on the changing social realities, and should lead to some plan of action that naturally should know how to reinvent itself with the flow of time.

For this to occur, continuing massive consultation and dialogue should be fostered. Participants should be active, open and thorough in their discussions, while at the same time remaining refined and delicate in their manners. Bitter zeal should be avoided.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


WE have to be reminded of this virtue, indispensable not only to achieve
personal integrity but also to attain a certain level of social harmony.

Now that we are growing into more complex socio-political life, we all the
more need to be sincere—with God, with others, with our own selves—to achieve authentic personal and social development.

At the moment, we seem to be drowned by an ocean of data and opinions, while truth is actually left out in the cold. This situation has been with us for so long that we already consider it normal.

Everyone is claiming he is sincere in his views, then cites all sorts of
info and other pieces of evidence to support what he says.

While these claims are good, sincerity actually goes far beyond these purely subjective affirmations. It goes far beyond simply reporting what took place or what we see, feel or know. True sincerity is never cold and callous.

Sincerity is love for the truth. It presumes a certain living as contrasted to a formalistic relationship with how one understands truth to be.

This is the source of the problem. Truth to many is just what we see, feel or know. Or it’s what we studied, researched on, what we learn from other sources. Truth is seldom considered to have anything to do with God, who is Truth himself and the source of all truths.

When sincerity is not actively linked to God, then what we have is a very precarious, even dangerous kind of sincerity.

It would be a sincerity prone to pride, arrogance, pursuit of self-interest. It would be a sincerity devoid of charity, compassion and mercy. It would be a divisive sincerity, susceptible to be easily manipulated and to lead to self-righteousness.

It would be a sincerity that serves the tricks and wiles of human malice, sowing intrigues, creating contentions, fuelling loquacity and rash judgments.

We have been amply warned about these caricatures of sincerity in the gospel, but sadly these are what we are seeing around us these days! And in abundance.

Authentic sincerity is always a function of a living relationship with God. It is a sincerity that always upholds the truth in charity. Humility, simplicity and refinement always accompany it. Prudence and discretion temper it.

A truly sincere person considers his statements as a living part of his continuing dialogue not only with men but mainly with God. He lives a sincerity that makes him realize he has to make changes and conversions in his own self first before he can expect these in others.

It is a sincerity that is patient, willing to make sacrifices and to suffer for the truth. It is always accompanied by some kind of interior struggle against the constant enemies of the soul that also are the enemies of truth—pride, selfishness, vanity, etc.

These vices distort truth and reality. And when left uncorrected, they can
build a culture that actually harms and demeans humanity.

To be sincere, it is indispensable to be prayerful. Truth cannot be handled
simply relying on our good senses. It can only be handled properly with God, and prayer is our constant contact with God.

There are other requirements of sincerity. But I think that the most basic, the most indispensable, is to pray. Everything else has to flow from it. Otherwise, we would just be tossed and fro in an ocean of so-called “truths” that are none other than self-affirmations detached from the source of Truth.

This is something we have to understand well.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Heroism in the ordinary

LAST October 6 was the fourth anniversary of the canonization of a holy priest who made a quiet but effective revolution in the world of spirituality. His name—St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei.

The first time I read his books many years ago, what immediately struck me
was the forcefulness and practical sense his words possessed. While always educated and refined, they transmitted a lot of common sense, of affection and of being street-smart.

He seemed able to open people’s consciences, to read and understand them with what later on I learned to be Christian compassion and charity. He did not present theories. He just talked in a language the heart could easily assimilate.

Right now, theologians are studying his thoughts and arguments, and are drawing precious lessons, indicating the richness of his spiritual and pastoral legacy.

As far as I was concerned, it did not take long for me to realize that he was talking about a sanctity that was not lost in sophisticated theories and elaborate practices.

There was the quality of immediacy, of the here and now, about the kind of
holiness he was preaching about. I understood that holiness cannot and should not be some remote ideal to pursue. It has to be lived now, no matter how imperfectly.

I understood from him that the drama of sanctification takes place in one’s heart, and is played out mainly in the small, ordinary things of our life, and seldom, if ever, in the public stages of extraordinary events.

It’s the drama of to whom you give your heart—to God or to oneself. And this choice is always at the center of our life, our thoughts, words and actions. It’s the choice that we always have to make and that ultimately defines us.

The drama can have its difficult moments, but St. Josemaria practically screamed his reassurance that God is our Father who loves us even to the point of sending the Son to us, and the Son finally offering his life for us.

When I started the practice of reading the gospels, I then met divine words that explain these convictions St. Josemaria was so full of. “Where sin abounded, grace abounded even more,” St. Paul said (Rom 5,20). And in another letter, “For this is God’s will, your sanctification.” (1 Thes 4,3)

For most of us, our sanctity is in the heroism of our self-giving to God and to others in the ordinary circumstances of our life. It’s in the effort to try to understand an annoying companion, or in putting the finishing touches to one’s household chores.

It’s in the smile we try to evoke in spite of contrary feelings, or in the hidden and persevering effort to study and work. It can be in the faithful and generous living out of one’s commitments, big and small, public and private.

It can also be in maintaining both human and Christian integrity in one’s business and politics, even if the environment is filled with structures of sin.

The expressions of sanctity can be endless because the love that propels it never says enough. They remain constant whatever the circumstances, converting ordinary circumstances into paths to love God and others.

There is nothing mushy nor showy in his idea of sanctification, but it can generate tons of tender feelings, of exuberance, and of apostolic zeal. It finds thrill in the routine of every day, joy and peace in every moment.

And the more I got to know about St. Josemaria, the more I got convinced of the consistency between his words and his deeds. And yes, he can easily throw a spell on you, the kind that leads you to conversion and self-giving.

When I read St. Paul’s “We speak not in the learned words of human wisdom, but in the doctrine of the Spirit, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” (1 Cor 2,12), I think of how St. Josemaria entered my life and affected it.

The greatest lesson I learned from him is that loving and achieving sanctity is just a matter of decision of the heart that can and should be made at any time and in any place. On the part of God, his grace never lacks. It’s our call.

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Beware of Reason

Reactions were varied and often amusing to Pope Benedict’s supposed Faux pas of quoting an old Byzantine emperor’s offensive view about Islam recently.

One said that the Pope’s language, in the first place, is abstract and high-falutin. It somehow provokes bewilderment, even unease, among his listeners and readers. In other words, his language alone courts

Forgotten is the fact that the Pope can choose to speak in simple words and in simple ideas, as he did when he successfully engaged little children who recently received first communion in some informal conversation about the sacrament.

Pope Benedict is a very gifted and holy man. Aside from a peak intelligence, he has the gift of tongue that enables him to adapt his language to his audience. Thanks to God, he knows how to simplify very
complicated ideas.

And complicated issues are what he likes to grapple with head-on. He is not the type who just wants to say the final word, a common defect among leaders. He obviously wants to get there, but always through a process of a highly analytic reasoning.

We have to be warned that the thoughts and words of the Pope can at first spring in drips from different fields of human interest, then gather And gain strength and momentum like a river formed from different tributaries, until they end in an ocean of knowledge, both perceptible and hidden, both verifiable and mysterious.

In that address in question, the Pope was talking to tough German theologians and philosophers. Being a theologian and philosopher himself, he talked in their language. He should not be faulted for that, should he? He certainly was not in an anti-Islam campaign.

Intellectual talk has its purpose. It may not be for everyone, but it serves to emit a very nuanced view of things, giving a wealth of texture and distinctions, especially needed by modern man now to have some substantive considerations.

This does not mean that the Pope cannot commit some error of judgment by citing in a speech a passage that can offend the sensibilities of some people. This happily is not included in the definition of papal infallibility.

In fact, some opinion-makers made a big issue out of that apparent slip of papal discretion. They offered reasons, and good, valid reasons they all had.

Thing is we always have reason to support what we want to claim. But we would have a very poor grasp of the situation if we choose to get stuck with this minor, and debatable papal lapse in judgment. And miss the bigger concerns.

This point was what the Pope also tried to articulate in that lecture In question. He wanted to warn us about reason, that is, reason alone, without any support from a higher authority and source of wisdom.

He lamented over what appears as a deep cultural defect in the Western Mind today. This cultural defect is the Western mind’s tendency to limit the scope of reason to what is simply empirical, practical, mathematical.

He said that if “only the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific” in the West today, then we understand where that “hardness of hearing” where God is concerned comes from.

It’s in this way, he said, that Western positivistic reason drastically curtails the range of our relationship with reality and is incapable of opening itself to the rationality of faith, which requires a metaphysical drive.

Simply put, our human reason, while it should always be used and not be suspended in any moment as much as possible, should allow itself to be open to and lifted up by a higher source than what it by itself can manage.

It’s in this refusal of reason to be lifted up by a higher source—by a supernatural faith—that it gets stuck with silly problems and petty conflicts and controversies.

This can explain why we get entangled with little things and miss out the more important things in our life. We can strain out the gnats, but swallow a whole camel.

Yes, in a way, we have to be careful with how we use our reason.