Monday, November 27, 2006


I was happy to learn about the two high school boys who turned over to the
police a lady’s handbag they found near the cemetery during the recent holidays. The bag contained P100K, and some bankbooks. This took place in a town in Cebu.

When asked why they decided to return the money, their spontaneous answer was, “It was not ours.” They kept flashing their boyish grin, which impressed me as natural, not put on just for the cameras.

When the mother of one of the boys was asked the same question, her answer was direct and without much curly arguments.

“It did not cross our mind to keep that money, even if we needed money for my foot operation, because I’m sure the owner of this money must be crying now.”

True enough, when the owner came, she was in tears and overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. Her eyes were clearly puffed. A young enterprising woman, her face was twisted by the pain of the possible loss of some sizable earnings.

The husband, a rather tough-looking hulk, melted like wax at the experience of receiving pure goodness at the hands of strangers. And since goodness generates more goodness, he quickly gave some money to the boys and to the mother. A very beautiful sight, indeed!

Surely, the gesture of returning the money was one of honesty, but the words uttered expressed a deeper trait that served as the basis for honesty. This, to me, is none other than the trait of simplicity.

Simplicity is the virtue that keeps one to stick to what is fundamentally true and good, to what is the original order of things, refusing to get lost in the maze of rationalizations that one can invoke to get what he wants.

I would say it’s a virtue that enables one to keep his innocence in spite of the temptations and the great amount of acquired knowledge and experience that often are won at the expense precisely of one’s innocence.

With the young and the unexposed, simplicity is an innocence that is pristine, unspoiled but untested. With the older ones and those exposed to the world, simplicity is an innocence that is cultivated, defended and armed.

It’s a result of the interplay between God’s grace and our effort. It grows in the soil of trials and temptations. It can be wounded, but it can get healed. It can even die, yet it can also resurrect.

With it, one’s integrity is maintained and protected from the lures and tricks of corruption that can come from the acquisition of power in all its forms: superior physical and genetic endowments, wealth, fame, authority, etc.

Vanity and pride can cause the loss of simplicity in a person. Greed, lust and the other capital sins also can. They alter one’s perception of things. They spin illusions, a web of make-believe, that can truly complicate one’s life, as well as that of others.

Simplicity makes one to stay away from any trace of affectation and, more so, of hypocrisy. There is limpid transparency in his behavior, which can include the due amount of discretion. There’s consistency in one’s thoughts, words and deeds. Hardly anything is lost in the translation.

Simplicity has nothing to do with naivete and thoughtlessness. Much less is it a matter of genes, or a necessary consequence of some social environment. It’s not a static, inert thing. It is highly dynamic and alive.

It is rather a result of an abiding sense of piety that binds him to some superior law and to a superior authority. It never builds a self-contained life. It develops a life vitally linked to God and to others. That is its natural habitat.

It pursues a reasoning which, while allowing the requirements of prudence and discretion, is free from sophistry, malicious calculation, mental reservations, pedantry. There is an earnest and transparent quality to its logic.

It protects one from the virus of envy and jealousy. It makes one calm and
serene, open and compassionate with others. It’s a virtue that we have to propagate more actively these days.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Loving the world

THE Gospel has warned us about the world being one of the enemies of our
soul. St. John is clear about this: “For all that is in the world, are the concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but is of the world.” (1 Jn 2,16)

And yet the world is where we are. It is where our Lord has placed us. We believe it was created not only for us to stay in, but also for us to develop. As such, it is good and holds a tremendous meaning for us.

The problem, of course, is that we have spoiled and perverted it. And it now has the effects of our sin, such that if we are not careful, it can lead us away from God and bring us to our own destruction.

But originally the world is good. It just needs to be purified and reconciled with God, which is now our task, with God’s grace, of course, and thoroughly applying his teachings.

Just the same, we should always remember our Lord’s words: “God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting.” (Jn 3,16)

Ergo, we too should love the world. I would say, we have to passionately love it. But we have to do it properly, that is, with the love of Christ. That’s the only way. Again, our Lord says: “For God sent not his Son into the world, to judge the world, but that the world may be saved by him.” (Jn 3,17)

There are two extremes to avoid with respect to our attitude toward the world. One is to so hate the world that you would not like to have anything to do with it. You run away from it. You consider the world as naturally evil.

The other is to love it in such a disordered way it becomes everything to you. It becomes our God, our end-all, our definitive destiny and home. Our fate is completely tied with that of the world. There’s nothing beyond it.

There are a few of us, those with a religious vocation, etc., whose lifestyle puts them at a certain distance from the world. This is not because they hate the world, but rather because they want to give witness to our final destination, which is not in this world.

But for most of us, for the tremendous majority of the Christian faithful, we ought to live right there in the middle of the world, making it our very own, and making ourselves the primary agents responsible for its life and development. We should not run away from it.

We are of this world, and in this world, but we should not be worldly. We have to understand that the world is the necessary setting for the main drama of our life—to build our love for God, for others and ourselves precisely through the things of this world.

Thus, our attitude toward the world should be that of a healthy, vibrant love, knowing that our supernatural fate depends on how we live our life in this world.

We should be very interested in developing the world, actualizing whatever potentials it possesses for the purpose of giving glory to God, of serving others and of perfecting ourselves.

That is to say that whenever we do business and politics, whenever we go into creative work or plunge into the sciences, or immerse ourselves in cultural activities, etc., this should be the motive to drive us.

We have to learn to look, find, love and serve God and others in these earthly affairs. The problem we have at the moment is that even among Christian believers, this attitude is agonizingly missing.

We have to be convinced that only in this way can we properly love the world. Thus, we have to learn to be real contemplatives in the world. Outside of this condition, we will be abusing the world, in spite of the wonderful accomplishments we may be making.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Get real

THAT’S a common and popular expression these days. Commercials use it often, and even kids like saying it.

I myself have come to use it a number of times. And I also receive it sometimes, usually in some strong, emphatic way. For sure, when it is said, it means the conversation has turned very exciting, to say the least.

That’s when I realize we can have different meanings of “getting real.” To many people, to “get real” can mean expressing what’s right in the tip of one’s tongue, or how one feels at the moment, or what so far he has understood.

To “get real” can also mean to be utterly frank, to give vent to what is deep inside one’s heart. It can also mean to get to the barest minimum of things, to get to what one thinks is the naked, plain and unvarnished truth.

Yes, to “get real” can have a variety of meanings, with a great profusion of shades and nuances. But to me, this whole discussion about the meaning of “getting real” can only reflect the kind of persons we are. Reality can mean different things to different people.

St. Paul articulated this point one time in his first letter to the Corinthians. I think it’s worthwhile to read what he said about it to remind ourselves of a fundamental truth about us. Here was what he said:

“God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what person knows a man’s thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him?

“So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit.

“The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

“The spiritual man judges all things, but he is himself to be judged by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” (10-16)

I must say that these words of St. Paul speak volumes about what to “get real” can mean. In the end, things depend on how one is, whether one is spiritual or unspiritual, as St. Paul said it.

Sad to say, many people are not aware of this. To them reality is just what they see, what they feel, or at best, what they could understand. Spiritual and supernatural realities are excluded from their world. The world of faith is not known to them. They prefer the virtual reality of their games and inventions.

A worse case are those people who do not have faith not because they are not told about it, but because they question the reality of faith itself. To them, this business of faith is foolishness, just like what St. Paul said of the unspiritual man.

Spiritual and supernatural realities are full of mysteries which are beyond our capacity to understand. But that problem does not mean that they don’t exist. They do, and we happen to have the natural capacity to catch at least a glimpse of them, though we may not be able to penetrate them deeply.

This is because of our intelligence and will, which are faculties that show there is something spiritual in us, there is something in us that would enable us to consider the spiritual and supernatural realities.

These are faculties which can be taken up by the Spirit of God, enabling us
to see and “understand” things the way God sees and understands them. And this can be in ways far beyond what our words can express, or our logic can articulate.

This is when we are truly “getting real.” This is, of course, very mysterious. That’s why Christ would often say, “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear,” to stress the need for faith to capture what he meant when he transmitted supernatural truths in parables.

We have to examine what we mean when we say we have to “get real.”

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Family as priority

ALL over the world, the family has increasingly become a focus of priority
attention by Church authorities due to the many challenges it is facing. The flight from God brings with it the itch to tinker and tamper with the nature of the family, that’s the problem.

For one, there is a spreading erroneous understanding of man, which separates him from his family roots. He is now supposed to transcend or outgrow his family ties. His development is hardly seen in the context of the family.

There is reason to believe that in the current culture of professional work and labor, man is seen almost exclusively in terms of output or results, in terms of being a worker simply, without any due consideration to the family. Man’s economic value is outpacing his intrinsic value as a person with a family.

As a result, now the family is often seen as a hindrance to one’s fulfillment. There seems to be a social drift to individualism and selfishness, driven strongly by the pursuit of worldly goals: pleasure, comfort, power, wealth, etc.

The family becomes an expendable prop, an easy casualty along the road to
development. In our country, it should be interesting to find out how the increase of OFW’s, otherwise with good economic effects, is affecting the family.

My hunch, based on direct personal knowledge, is that the economic benefits of husbands or wives separated from their spouses and children just to work and earn abroad, come at a great price with respect to family health. We can
even speak of a rip-off when we start comparing benefits and costs.

We often talk a lot about the economic benefits, but are deafeningly quiet with respect to the harm inflicted on the family. But the harm and damage are all there to see. This anomalous situation has to be corrected.

Besides, there is also the trend to detach man from the supreme and fundamental value of life. More than life, what is held important is how man performs, especially in terms of practicality, achievement, human convenience, etc.

In short, man is now seen more often for what he has, what he does and accomplishes, what he gives, rather than for what he is. These aspects in man are increasingly put into conflict, and are given wrong priorities, again making the family among the first victims.

That is why we have an explosion of abortion being legalized in many countries. And the relative scourges, like euthanasia, forms of discrimination against the handicapped, etc., are already popping their heads in many places.

Many other problems face the family today. Conjugal love is now often debased. It is pegged more on the carnal than on the spiritual. Thus it is a love that is very vulnerable to acquire the contraceptive mentality. Divorce, separations, infidelities are getting common.

The sense of commitment is loosening up. There a clear inclination toward
the family being separated from marriage. The family is now fast becoming a purely private affair, giving rise to phenomena like trial-marriages, live-in arrangements, etc.

Congresses and parliaments all over the world are also strongly pressured to legalize other forms of family that are not exactly natural, as in the case of homosexual unions. Organized ideological groups are behind these moves.

Then you also have some radical feminist influences to contend with. While
it’s good to see the status of women improve over the years, there’s also a spreading effort to remove women from their basic roles as wives and mothers.

To these feminists, being wives and mothers is to work against womanhood. They are supposed to undermine the feminists’ idea of freedom and choice. This is a challenge to be handled expertly.

Certainly, this state of affairs with respect to the family demands priority attention not only by Church authorities, but also by everyone, especially the laity. Everyone should cooperate vigorously. We cannot be lukewarm in this.

In some places, family institutes and other centers dedicated to tackling family matters are put up. We should have this kind of structures also to better face the challenge we have with respect to the family.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Bishops in Politics?

DON’T look now but our political pot is heating up again. It should come as no surprise that the question of clerics in politics is once more brought up.

Some sectors, in fact, have boldly called priests and bishops to quickly step into the arena, directly intervening in political affairs. Stop playing coy, they say. We are now in modern times. Things have changed. Attitudes should, too.

Some opinion-makers went to the pitiable extent of telling one and all that the Church should change, that theology, ecclesiology, and other ecclesiastical sciences should change to accommodate this new fact of life, they claimed.

I wonder if they knew what they were saying. What I could gather was that there was more passion than reason in their arguments. The discussion, which breezily touched on many points, started with the wrong key, and did not manage to end with the right one.

The problem is that many of our so-called political pundits, with clear ideological biases, cannot picture the Church beyond being one more socio-political force or element in our body politic. It’s a terribly poor understanding of the Church.

They seem unable to stomach a Church that is spiritual and supernatural in origin, character and mission, from start to finish even if it has to deal with a material world. Talking to them about these things would be like talking to the wind.

They are still stuck with the simplistic black-and-white mindset that if one is spiritual and supernatural in orientation, he necessarily is not concerned with the material and temporal affairs of men.

The clerics cannot be directly involved in political activities, period. It’s not in their job description, in the nature of their vocation and mission. It’s not the example of Christ, and even if violated many times, it’s not in the Church laws.

But this does not mean that they are indifferent to the political situation of any given place and time. Their interest in politics, as in any other human temporal affair, is deep and constant, but pursued in a different way.

In this regard, I would like to remit some relevant texts from the Church document, Pastoral Directory for Bishops (Apostolorum successores), issued by the Vatican on February 22, 2004.

Its Paragraph 117, entitled “The bishop and the public authorities,” gives us a picture of how bishops should behave in political matters:

“The pastoral ministry and also the common good of society normally require that the bishop maintain direct or indirect relations with the civil, political, socio-economic, military authorities, etc.

“The bishop has to fulfill said task always in a respectful and courteous manner, but without ever compromising his proper spiritual mission. While he personally nourishes and transmits to the faithful a great appreciation for the public office and prays for the representatives of the public authority, he should not tolerate any restriction to his own apostolic freedom to openly proclaim the Gospel and the moral and religious principles, even in social issues.

“Disposed to praise the effort and the authentic social accomplishments, he
should equally condemn any public offense to the law of God and to human dignity, always working in such a way that would not give the community the slightest impression that he is interfering in areas over which he has no competence or that he is favoring special interests.”

As to priests’ and bishops’ concern for politics, we can do a lot by way of providing from Christian faith “principles for reflection, criteria for judgment, guideline for action,” as the Church’s social doctrine commands us.

With these, without assuming specific positions and while respecting the freedom of all, we can significantly clarify issues, point out possible dangers, enlarge or enrich views, etc. In short, we can give a Christian tone to all positions, and create a proper atmosphere for a healthy dialogue.

Perhaps this is an area to be studied more thoroughly and given more action. It’s when the people hear hardly anything from priests and bishops in this regard that they tend to think that priests and bishops are doing nothing in our socio-political concerns.

Saturday, November 4, 2006

November blues?

With its overshadowing commemoration of the dead, November may evoke
somber notes. My friends in business, especially store owners, also tell me November is a dead month, business-wise.

But I must say that like any month, it should connote joy. Memory, let’s remember, has better modes other than sentimental nostalgia and foggy melancholy. Of course, for this we have to widen our perspective.

Reasons to be happy abound. For one, let’s not forget that it begins with the Solemnity of All Saints, a vivid reminder of what the Church teaches as the communion of saints. We all are called to it. We all truly belong to it. We are God’s people, God’s family.

This means that we have a very glorious beginning, because we come from the hands of God. And we are meant for an even more glorious end, because we are destined to share the very life of God. This is God’s will, before it becomes our own.

This thought should abide in us permanently, forming our basic attitudes and outlook in life. This should not just be an intellectual thing. It’s a fundamental truth meant to infuse every pore of our being.

Let’s not worry too much about the means to achieve this. We are told that what God begins, he ends, what he starts, he completes and perfects. Of course, all this will require our cooperation.

Yes, we know all too well that we are sinners. Still we cannot deny that it’s God’s will that we be holy like him, since we are his children, not just any creature. “Be holy as your heavenly Father is holy.”

We need to expand our mind and heart to conform ourselves more fully to this reality. That’s the challenge we have. We tend to have a very narrow and shallow view of things, which we have to correct.

With weak faith, we invite doubts and fears. We would live in a world of uncertainties. We then become vulnerable to skepticism, even cynicism. The slide to worse things, even faith’s loss, becomes inevitable.

To strengthen our faith, we need among other things to be deeply grounded
on the doctrine of our faith. We have to study our catechism, assimilate and master it.

And since we always live in society, we need to help one another in this regard. There’s so much religious ignorance and doctrinal confusion that we have to overcome. The challenge is truly daunting, but not impossible.

Nowadays, we need to be more precise in our understanding of the articles of our faith. There’s this disturbing talk about invincible ignorance, in the face of which the suggested action to take is just to let the parties concerned be.

These doctrines of our faith are not simply ideas. We need them to immerse ourselves in the very life and mystery of God, in his mercy and justice. We need them to take part in Christ’s salvific work. We have to be careful with our tendency to simply “intellectualize” them.

Let’s hope that we can be more aware of this grave responsibility to study our doctrines seriously. Even more, that we be truly adept in fulfilling it, putting all sorts of initiatives our loving creativity could occasion.

Catechesis should be a continuing activity especially at homes. More than in schools and parishes, it’s in homes, the domestic church, where the teaching and deepening in Christian doctrine should be carried out.

Parents especially should take active part in this task. Theirs is not simply a matter of feeding and clothing their children, sheltering them, sending them to schools. Parenthood means a lot more than these.

Participating in the creativity of God, parents do not only beget children. They educate and form them not only to be their children but also God’s children.

Educating children should not be limited to the merely human aspects. It has to go all the way to the spiritual and supernatural dimensions of our life, to its religious aspect. This is the core of education.

This is one way of effectively blowing the so-called November blues away!