Friday, December 28, 2007

Hope is cool

“SPE salvi,” is the title of the second encyclical of Pope Benedict issued last November 30. It’s lifted from St. Paul’s “In hope we were saved.” (Rom 8,24)

After his first encyclical on charity, “Deus caritas est,” comes this magisterial treatise on hope. If the pattern continues, his third should be on faith.

The Pope seems intent in popularizing these three crucial virtues, lowering
them from the ivory tower. Also called theological virtues, as distinct from human virtues, they have God, rather than us, as primary object.

We need them to live the supernatural life, our life with God. In Christian belief, that’s what our life ought to be.

These theological virtues, God’s gifts first before being products of our efforts, attest to God’s grace in us. As such they serve as the source and goal of our human virtues like prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance, etc.

In fact, the human virtues are confirmed authentic only when they are inspired by these theological virtues. Otherwise, they just appear as virtues, not the real McCoy.

Our crying need today is to realize how our life is made supernatural by the practice of these theological virtues. With these virtues, we can expect better consistency in our Christian life, whether in the personal or social aspect, material or spiritual.

In this new encyclical, the Pope wants us to develop theological hope with God’s grace and our all-out effort. This is hoping in God, and not in some idols like money, power, popularity, etc., that we tend to create.

This is the hope that does not frustrate nor defraud us. Based and animated
by our firm faith in the living God, this hope is no rip-off, no bluff. It’s no phantom of our intelligence.

It brings God to us, the future to the present, eternal value to our temporal affairs. It gives us serenity amid trials. It makes us persevere in our struggles, enabling us to renew ourselves as often as needed.

Faith and charity form the proper orbit for hope to develop. Straying from
this orbit, hope weakens and can die. Or it can devise escape mechanisms by
concocting false hopes.

This is what we see aplenty these days. On one side, many people are losing hope, sinking into discouragement, depression and despair. The growing number of mental cases and aberrant behavior worldwide attest to this observation.

On the other, we have many people creating complex webs of theories and ideologies to prop them. If not inspired by God, these things can only spawn injustice, coercion, deceit, hidden worries, etc.

Sooner or later, their errors or fallacies show, dooming their systems. Their doctrines cannot explain away our ultimate problems—our natural limitations and, worse, sin and evil in all its forms, and death.

In this encyclical, Pope Benedict explains the nature, characteristics and dynamics of Christian hope. He also tells us how to develop it insofar as it depends on us.

In it, the Holy Spirit in a way speaks to us in vintage Ratzinger style—a richly textured analysis using many brilliant threads of Scripture, tradition and magisterium, theology and philosophy, history and culture, even anecdotes. It’s simply breathtaking!

It reminds us strongly of basic truths. God began something good in us, and
is bent, no matter how much we spoil his plans, in consummating it. We have reason to be optimistic, patient, cheerful. It dissolves anxieties.

We are beings created and outfitted to hope, because we always long for something which always transcends what we can find here. Thus, hope springs eternal. It leads us to eternal life with God, ultimately hope’s only proper object.

This hope is not merely “informative” but “performative,” terms the Pope
used to distinguish between intellectual hope and a life-changing one. Hope involves action, not passivity.

It’s not individualistic, not only personal hope, but also social. It’s a hope that truly saves us. I invite my readers to read this document.

Now that everyone wants to be “cool,” please know that the real secret to being “cool” is when we live this unfailing virtue of hope. This is no mere makeover, dude!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Prophets or troublemakers?

I’D SAY to my friends and brothers in the clergy who figure prominently in some political issues lately to relax and take it easy. You’ve been causing distress, confusion if not scandal among the people.

Even young students in a technical school came to me to ask bluntly if these clerics were acting as prophets or as plain troublemakers fired up by some nasty bitter zeal.

I was happy to note that they appeared to have an understanding that priests carry out a prophetic or teaching mission in the Church. This is not common even among the professionals.

They’d been studying the catechism, bless their souls, and must have read about the role of priests in the Church and in the world. I learned later that they were studying the Church’s social doctrine.

It was not easy for me to explain, especially if you want to pair truth and charity together. And also to control surging emotions on the heels of some controversial clerical actuations and pronouncements.

Truth is these young ones have a point in asking and in expressing some discomfort. There is a growing perception that some clerics are abusing their position to get entangled in issues so complex they are at least debatable yet.

Aggravating this is the fact that these clerics have become media creatures playing media games.

Definitely we have a problem. Something has to be done. I hope some clear
indications from Church authorities can be made about this matter that is not anymore funny and is dragging stupidly.

One complained that the words and actions of the clerics did not correspond
to their dignity and neither were they proportionate to the gravity of the issues involved.

“They were shouting, and painting the targets of their complaints as if these were the devils themselves, incapable of doing any good thing,” he said. “It was just too simplistic, too one-sided, too opinionated.”

“I may agree with them in some points or give them the benefit of the doubt,” he continued, “but these do not entitle them to act the way they did. They were so self-righteous.”

I held my peace, waiting for an opening. I did not like to hear these words. But I was already amazed at how this 17-year-old, practically still a child, could already talk about serious matters.

Another student butted in to say that he was afraid the clerics involved might cause division among the people.

“Though they were saying they were doing those things on their own personal capacity as citizens, they acted and spoke as priests and bishops, just the same,” he said.

“They were even quoting Church doctrine which sounded out of context to
me,” he continued. “They sounded more like mother statements! Those who don’t agree with them in these issues, and with good valid reasons, would feel alienated from the Church.”

“Besides,” another one spoke, “there are clerics with clearly loose tongues who want to comment on just about any political issue. They only show their political leanings. It does not look good.”

I just told them to keep their views to themselves as much as possible. It’s not good to talk about them openly. I asked them to pray, and to understand that clerics—bishops especially—have a most delicate task of reading the signs of the times. That, I told them, explains part of their actuations.

These comments are actually quite widespread. No matter how I tried to avoid them, they just came, and continue to come, usually in tones of deep disappointment.

This matter ought to be studied thoroughly by our Church leaders to come up with more specific guidelines and corresponding legislations that should include appropriate sanctions.

I know that it would be much better if things are done in private and in confidence, away from the public eye. But if the actuations and pronouncements are made in public, I think the people are entitled to know whether something is wrong and if so, whether the correction is to be made.

This can very well be an SOS, before things really get out of hand.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Tower of Babel updated

IT’S obviously a Tower-of-Babel effect that many people nowadays, especially the young ones, are not aware anymore of the story, significance and unfailing relevance itself of the Tower of Babel.

We need to recall that story and, in fact, to familiarize ourselves with it since it’s a phenomenon that continues to affect us, especially as we march toward progress and development. It sure gives us a much-needed sense of prudence in life.

From the Bible’s first book, Genesis, we have this account of this story’s origin. The descendants of Noah decided after the flood to erect a tower in Babylonia. It was intended to reach heaven as a way to make them famous.

God was angered by this presumption, and caused among them a great confusion of languages before scattering them to different places.

The underlying reason for God’s action is that these men had the wrong understanding and intention in how to proceed with their life. They were more interested in themselves than in God, more in their plans than in God’s will.

The story is now the image of any human effort to pursue development without God or even in competition with God. Together with some signs of progress will be an accompanying state of confusion among the people. We can
call this the Tower-of-Babel syndrome, a cruel curveball.

It springs from ignoring the fundamental truth that everything comes from God, and therefore should be handled and used always in accordance to God’s will. It’s actually a ridiculous state of affairs, and yet it’s what commonly happens.

With it, we will get the sensation we are advancing in knowledge, skills and dominion over the world, but we cannot deny either that together with these gains, pursued without God, is a clear distancing we can notice among ourselves.

We can be close to one another physically, yet still far and remote spiritually and morally. We are not referring here to the legitimate differences we can have among ourselves, but rather to an abiding sense of alienation among us.

It’s a story that continues to be played and replayed even up to now. Not even our great strides in our communication technology have increased our communion among ourselves.

On the contrary, what we notice nowadays is greater misunderstanding, envy and even conflict and division. There is widespread distrust and easy, almost automatic mutual suspicion.

Part of the concern we have to tackle is precisely to hitch our development process to God’s plans. It is to inspire, leaven and drive it with God’s truth and spirit.

This is not easy to do, of course. Our tendency is to misappropriate and misuse things that actually come and belong to God—all things do—to be simply our own.

We easily succumb to this vicious virus, plus, the fact that we also get easily intoxicated by any power we enjoy in life. With this potent combination of factors, we effectively have an epidemic of confusion. This is what we see around.

For example, our capacity to know, quite powerful given our intelligence and will, can tempt us to know things simply on our own. There’s hardly any effort to relate such knowledge to God.

This really looks funny, because we fail to realize the basic truth once eloquently spelled out by St. Paul when he talked about knowledge and charity.

“Knowledge puffs up, but charity edifies. And if any man thinks that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know.” (1 Cor 8,1-2)

As a result, we cannot help but get into useless quarrels among ourselves. We have to be most careful of this fine distinction.

While the pursuit of knowledge unleavened by charity can yield some material gains, it can also sow the seeds of discord among us. It will just be a matter of time before things explode.

We need to strongly remind ourselves that in every affair or concern in our life, in every step of the way, we need to refer everything to God and to his plans. Otherwise, we’ll just be building our own version of the Tower of Babel. Let’s stop acting funny!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Cultivating the Christmas spirit

AGAIN it’s Christmastime, which, Pinoy style, starts way earlier and ends much later than what the Church calendar says, and expresses itself more elaborately than liturgically indicated.

I don’t know whether it’s age catching up or due to external causes that I don’t seem to notice much Christmas décor around nowadays and to feel that palpable excitement I as a kid used to pair the season with.

I remember suggesting to the janitor to put new decors in my office, since I’ve been seeing the same ones for years now. He told me that they may look old to me but they all appear new and beautiful to the new students.

Rather than arguing, I chose to be happy with that smart reply, actually a cover for some budgetary limits. I just have to find a way to make the old look new. Problem is I’m creativity challenged in this area.

Anyway, I felt high when the other day a priest-friend, who has a raging passion and with matching skills for making Christmas crèches, showed me his latest version.

It’s a very beautiful “belen” done in cool architectural artistry and landscaping, with playing fountains and dancing lights, with angels floating on air, and together with the usual cows and sheep, little pet dogs and cats accompany Mary and Joseph to adore the infant Jesus.

All of a sudden, I became a kid again, launched in a sparkling flight into the world of Christian mysteries, but still inflated by childish fantasies. Then I remember the duty we all have every time Christmastime comes around.

The Christmas story is actually a very beautiful story worth repeating endless times. Of course, each time it is considered, we are meant to plumb deeper into its significance and relevance, and to incarnate the lessons.

The Christmas story is about God who loves us so much that he sends his own Son to be like us to save us. And the Son’s work of our redemption is the best that any attempt at saving anyone or anything can ever be.

For the redemption Jesus does is not simply personal but also social, not only material but also spiritual, not only in the human level but also in the supernatural level. It’s a redemption complete, total, and forever. He gives us the fullness of life.

This is all because we are God’s children, created in his image and likeness, and meant to participate in God our Father’s supernatural life. But in achieving that, our redemption presumes the fulfillment also of our human potentials.

We cannot fully attain our supernatural goal without being fully human. Of
course, what is to be fully human is something not quite easy to know, since it is part of the mystery of Jesus’ life. We have to continually deal with our Lord to get insights of this mystery.

In other words, Christmas is a reminder that Christ wants to be born not only in the world, but also in the heart of each one of us. He wants to take hold of us, of course, with our cooperation, in order to reconstitute us, since we have been deformed by our sins.

He wants to be born and to live in our mind, our heart and even in our body. He wants to be in our thoughts, desires, feelings, words and deeds. He wants us to make us like him, precisely to recover God’s image and likeness in us.

The true spirit of Christmas can only take place when we allow our Lord to be truly born in us. This requires tremendous effort and the full exercise of our freedom. This is because Christ cannot enter into our life if we don’t want him.

And wanting him is not just a matter of feeling and desire. It has to involve the whole of us: our mind, heart, body and everything else.

Thus, Christmas invites us to make our faith more and more theological, and to incarnate that theological faith in our life. Every time Christmas comes, we need to make a step further in this direction, such that with St. Paul we can say: “It is no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal 2,20)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Charity averts tragedy

THOUGH given permission, I obviously have to fictionalize and modify the characters and stories involved in this piece since the details are delicate. But most of them are true and, I think, good for others to know.

Antonio is a young fellow in his early twenties who works in a technical
school for less privileged boys. That alone speaks volumes of the guy.

He has almost everything: great looks and keen brains, very athletic and talented. I’m sure many would like him as their son-in-law. He works hard, is reliable in any weather, and damn honest to the bones.

He exudes the quiet air of a gentleman, what you call one with breeding. But he actually has a hard life. Though the parents are still alive, he practically lived as an orphan. Hunger and all sorts of difficulties accompanied him since birth.

His survival and success are due to his heart, his real treasure, which gave no shelter to any trace of evil, resentment and self-pity. I’m sure it was God’s grace that shielded him.

He personifies the triumph of the spirit over the flesh. In spite of the hardships, including the moral ones, he paid attention only to the charity and kindness given him by others. He disregarded the rest.

As a result, he learned only to live by charity and to give charity, immunizing himself to any tragic possibility. He disproved many popular theories in psychology and sociology.

He reminds me of another young man I met some years ago who died young. Fernando came from what you may call a dirt-poor family. But he had a mind of a genius and super-calm temperament.

I learned a lot from him. He showed me the ways of handling life-and-death
situations. Up to now I use his ideas to lift the drooping spirits of poor kids I talk to, and the results are always successful.

The phenomenon of Fernando was that in spite of his harsh background, he
finished college “summa cum laude” and topped an engineering board. But he
was always humble and unassuming. To me he’s both a hero and a saint.

I thanked God profusely for getting to know Fernando and prayed even more profusely for Him to make more Fernandos. We just seem to have a boundless ocean of poor kids around needing help.

Anyway, back to Antonio, the other day he approached me a little distressed. He said that since he just earned his engineering degree and has passed the board, he was thinking of working in some big companies.

He needed money. His parents are sick and his siblings—he is the youngest—cannot help. In fact, they need help. So he started applying. I know he would have no problem getting a job. Many people would like to get him immediately.

But in one company, the one he preferred, he was rejected. His application
as sales rep, he said, went fast and smooth. Until the last interview. To be more precise, until the last question of that last panel interview.

He was asked if he was willing to “go all the way.” Not knowing what they
exactly meant, he asked to be clarified and was told whether he was willing to dine and wine his clients, to offer girls and bribes to close a deal.

He did not hesitate to say, no, he was not willing. He said those were not necessary and there were many other ways to make a sale. The interviewers tried to change his mind, spending an hour for this. But it was still, no. So, he was rejected.

He’s back to applying again. I’m sure he’ll land a good job soon. But I can’t help thinking of the evil ways the world has become. Correction, evil men, because the world is not evil by itself. It is men who make it evil.

I hope and pray, even as I also make this heartfelt appeal, that these men change. There is no use for corruption at all to sell one’s products and to make a living.

We all need to be converted and to purify our hearts, conforming them to God. I’m sure this will go a long way to improve everybody’s lot. I’m sure this will lessen poverty and injustice and put us on the road to progress proper to us.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Beauty and the Mass

POPE Benedict XVI discusses the intrinsic relationship between beauty and the Holy Mass in his apostolic exhortation, “Sacramentum caritatis” (Sacrament of Love), referring to the Eucharist.

Given his powerful mind, the Pope gives a richly analytical as well as a cleverly synthesized treatment of the subject. It’s fascinating to see him weave with quiet ease and skill the data coming from Scripture, tradition and magisterium to make an irresistible presentation.

For sure, the Pope does not discuss this to show off his intellectual prowess. Gaping problems worldwide have to be tackled, even patent irregularities in the celebration of the Mass cry to be corrected. The Pope is out to confront all this, hopefully with the help of everyone.

Unregulated and illicit experimentations in the celebration of the Mass are
taking place, done in the name of all sorts of guises and excuses: inculturation, giving local flavor to the rites, etc. In the end, what’s clear is an individualistic mind behind all these.

These may be true in more developed if complicated countries. What are more locally happening are, for example, that the churches are not clean, the sacred vessels and vestments not in good condition, even the tabernacles are not regularly cleaned—all more in the area of laxity and laziness.

Security even for the Blessed Sacrament is not properly taken care of. Many people also complain about how some priests say Mass—that priests don’t look good, are lousily vested, or that they give the impression they are just going through some robotic routine, bereft of life.

The homilies are not well prepared, and often stray from what people think
is proper for the Mass. They find them shallow and dry, lacking in theological depth and pastoral forcefulness.

A lot of announcements and even scoldings are made through the homilies. If not these, then they resort to clowning and cheap play-acting.

We can go on and on. That’s why a continuing catechesis for everyone, clergy and laity, about what would constitute as proper and beautiful for the Mass is a must.

The Pope tells us beauty in the Mass is how we convert our belief in the sacrament into effective worship. Beauty is not merely a kind of aestheticism, but “the concrete way in which the truth of God’s love in Christ encounters us, attracts us and delights us,” leading us to love God and others.

Beauty in this case is more a sublime experience of exquisite communion with God, with his mind and will, that enables us to understand and be willing to go through all sorts of sacrifices. They are beauty’s necessary price.

It’s a beauty that certainly has material dimensions, but it resides more in the spiritual. It is not to be considered merely as a decoration but an essential element of the Mass, since it is an attribute of God himself and his revelation.

For the Pope, this beauty in the Mass in translated into action by the care we put in celebrating and in attending the Mass. With this effort, he is convinced the innate glow of the Mass simply radiates.

Obviously there are both external and internal elements involved here. Everyone should try his best to have the proper understanding of the sacrament and dispositions, to fulfill the requirements and to meet the standards.

All the external things have to be studied properly to insure their effectiveness in conveying the beauty of the Mass. These include Church architecture, paintings and sculpture, altar and reredo, songs, etc.

The celebration should strictly follow the rubrics to insure a smooth flow and clear interrelation among the different parts and to highlight their unity.

The consecration should be the summit of the Mass, while the reception and distribution of communion should be done in such a way that it shows it is a personal direct and intimate encounter one has with Christ.

Everyone should be constantly reminded about the meaning of each part of
the Mass and prodded to develop the appropriate attitudes and dispositions.

In this way, we can hope that the Mass is truly a glimpse of heaven on earth. This is its beauty.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The corruption of power

WE have been amply warned about this danger. Our Lord himself said: “You know that the princes of the Gentiles lord it over them, and they that are greater, exercise power upon them. It shall not be so among you. But whosoever will be the greater among you, let him be your minister. And he that will be first among you, shall be your servant.” (Mt 20,25-27)

We have to understand that any power that we have in this life is always a participation of God’s power. St. Paul said so: “There is no power but from God, and those that are, are ordained of God.” (Rom 13,1)

Though we are always free to use that power as truly our own, it would be very funny to use it as if it is entirely ours, without due reference to God, its source and purpose, and to the others for whom it is used.

And yet that is what we see around quite abundantly. Leaders, political and
even ecclesiastical, many times act out this “lording it over,” eager to dominate and control others, being bossy and even arrogant and insolent.

Because of this error, they open themselves to other irregularities: hypocrisy, greed, lust, envy, hatred, etc. Some even go to the extent of getting detached from reality and lapsing into insanity.

It’s truly painful to see someone who at the beginning of a political career appears meek and then morphs himself through years of wielding power into an insufferable monster, tinkering with morality and getting inured to rational twisting, grand lying, hatching plots and conspiracies.

It’s hard to understand why some leaders act in that ridiculous way. Of course, there are reasons. Like, they have been elected or appointed, have superior qualities, have been born lucky, etc. Outside pressures and temptations are never lacking.

But these cannot misrepresent the truth that any earthly power is from God and has to be used according to God’s will. One’s proper attitude toward power should be that of being a minister, a servant, not the author or owner, much less, a tyrant.

We have to find a continuing way of educating everyone about the nature and purpose of power. We have to actively inculcate the proper attitudes and dispositions, especially rectitude of intention.

We have to be aware that we are doing God’s work even as we pursue our earthly activities. These are not purely earthly as in being strictly politics. They can and should be part of God’s designs.

Aside from being competent, we need to be humble always, conscious that we are mere servants and instruments though vested with the dignity of being God’s children. We have to be prudent, more of the spirit than of the flesh and of the world.

We have to continually practice detachment, seeing to it that our heart is fully attuned to God’s will. We should not allow the many privileges and perks given to holders of power to spoil us.

We have to learn to distinguish in the course of using power between what is of absolute value that has to be upheld always, and what is of relative value that can be open to many interpretations and therefore should be respected even as we try to make a consensus.

Problems start when people fail to recognize the source and aim of power, and then develop the corresponding inappropriate attitudes and habits. Worse, without God and on our own, we tend to weave a web of deceit that eventually will incriminate us.

We cannot underestimate the many dangers that threaten the proper use of power. First, we have right now an environment filled with bad examples of how power ought to be used.

There also are serious efforts now to discredit the role of God and of Christian morality in the use of power. The religious dimension is often viewed as irrelevant, an unnecessary burden, a mere luxury that can be discarded anytime.

That’s why we have many reasons to embark on a systematic campaign to clarify the issue on the use of power. This is an urgent call of our times.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Carried away

EVERY TIME someone asks me why I write what they call as “deep thought pieces,” I don’t know but I uncontrollably become suspicious and defensive.

Experience warns me that though comments like that can be said as a compliment, many of them actually veil an unspoken criticism.

And that is that my articles are often too abstract or theoretical for local audience, a kind of armchair adviser. Worse, that they actually have neither relevance nor use for anyone! That they are just hot air and above people’s needs!

Of course, I’m fully aware that such comments are highly relative. Compared to writings of first-class intellectuals, mine sound like baby babble or a
child’s doodling.

Just the same, I heartily thank them for their comments, whether sincerely
given or with some hidden complaint.

In the event I get enough basis to think it’s the latter case, I try to reassure them that what I intend to achieve with my articles is to give readers at least another view of things.

Life is so rich and complex that it just cannot be seen and understood in modes we are accustomed so far to having. We have to welcome a more interdisciplinary way of looking at things.

At our age, I think we have to be more open to a rapidly increasing variety
of developments. This, of course, without getting lost or falling into relativism that largely considers every position equal. Not everything can be resolved by purely numerical consensus.

In my case, I try to put in a little of theology and spirituality to any issue at bar. I believe this angle, no matter how amateurishly done, contributes to a deeper understanding of things. It can give a finely nuanced dynamic of things.

Some may find this approach out of place in a world like ours today. But
that is the point. I like that whatever issues or questions we tackle in our public forums be given some theological treatment, since in the end no matter how mundane they are, they will always have some relation to faith and morals.

These issues are not purely political, economic or social. Unless they are given a theological context, opinions in these areas will tend to extremes of being coercive or chaotic. They easily get carried away by all sorts of biases and passions.

We have to overcome the ghost conflict between our earthly affairs and religion. We have to learn to appreciate the crucial link between them, because that link certainly exists and demands to be respected. We've been ignoring it for quite sometime now.

Our faith, especially enunciated in the social doctrine, provides a deeper underpinning and an integrating and sobering element to our diverse views that are often expressed in strident tones.

This is because our faith, properly understood, lived and applied with the
use of theology, links whatever position we may have in our affairs to our ultimate goal. It gives the continuing attention and the finishing touches to our discussions, providing a more universal scope than just parochial.

Our faith provides the constant impulses and the proper directions to our discussions. It takes us away from the pitfalls of entirely human arguments, often divisive, violent and loaded with negative elements.

It enables us to be charitable always, because in the end it will remind us that in spite of our differences and conflicts in views and positions, we are all brothers and sisters.

The unifying quality of our faith goes further than what our common historical and cultural heritage can achieve. This is because our faith gives the basis, guidance and direction even to our culture and historical life as a nation.

As chaplain of a technical school for boys, I always encourage everybody to go further than learning technical skills. The students have to have a clear understanding of the faith.

More than that, they should translate that knowledge into appropriate attitudes and virtues. Otherwise, they will be handily carried away by their passions, an easy prey to the many temptations lurking just about everywhere.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Seeing God’s face

“VULTUM tuum, Domine, requiram.” That’s a psalm which means, “I long to see
your face, O Lord.” (26/27,8)

It expresses a sentiment embedded in the hearts of all of us. We are aware of it in varying degrees. It’s most intense among the saints who have developed a great intimacy with God in the world.

St. Josemaria Escriva, Opus Dei founder, for example, repeated this psalm often as his ejaculatory prayer in the last year of his life. He somehow knew he was going, and he strongly felt the urge to see God’s face.

Seeing God’s face, at least as an expression, is catching fire recently because the late Pope John Paul II talked a lot about it. The present Pope, Benedict XVI, also talks about looking for the face of Jesus, especially in his book, Jesus of Nazareth.

In many dioceses in our country today, I heard that it has become the theme
of their pastoral thrust for this year or next. Many have adapted it as their motto. But it has to be understood properly.

When we talk about God’s face, we don’t mainly mean the physical face of
God, since God has no body. Even if the Son of God became man and lived historically with us in Jesus Christ, and therefore must have a face, this is not what we really mean.

Jesus Christ, who is the fullness of God’s revelation, did not waste time talking about how he looked. He did not make any effort to leave us at least a sketch of his face, so we’d know how God looked.

Certainly Jesus’ face and his physical appearance have great value. We have tried to reconstruct them using various processes. We now even have the image of Jesus in modern get-up, complete with motorbike and guitar. But this is not what we mean when we talk about seeing God’s face.

Seeing God’s face refers more to our effort, always with the help of grace, to know God’s mind and will as Jesus revealed. And more than knowing them, it is to love them to such an extent that we identify ourselves with them.

In this way, we become like him, actualizing what St. John in his first letter said: “Now we are the children of God, and it has not yet appeared what we shall be. We know that when He appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him just as he is.” (3,2)

From these words, we should understand that seeing God’s face goes together with resembling ourselves with him. We can see him only when we identify ourselves with him. The goal to reach is what St. Paul once expressed: when God becomes “all in all” in us. (1 Cor 15,28)

It’s when we attain a certain degree of communion with him, a term we should be more familiar with, that we can see him. That’s when we recover and perfect our dignity as God’s children, created in his image and likeness.

Our task in our earthly life is to actuate this image and likeness of God that we have in ourselves. This involves having to go beyond our purely natural condition with its limitations insofar as our supernatural calling is concerned.

Besides, we have to purify and recover that image and likeness that has been distorted by sin, both the original sin and our personal sins.

Our capacity to see and resemble him certainly is not a matter of our physical and bodily power. This capacity lies more in our spiritual faculties, that is, our intelligence and will, that have to be actuated by grace, and everything that grace involves—doctrine, sacraments, ascetical struggle, etc.

That’s why seeing God’s face necessarily involves the proper use of our intelligence and will, going into the study of Christ’s doctrine, applying it in our lives, availing of the sacraments, submitting ourselves to the hierarchy of the Church, waging ascetical struggle, developing virtues, etc.

We have to be wary of allowing these spiritual faculties to be dominated by
mere feelings and emotions. They have to be fed by faith as revealed by Christ and taught by the Church. That’s what they ultimately are meant for.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Checking wild sympathies

EVERY time I consider the population issue, whether in the media or in conversations with people, I cannot help but feel strongly stirred and even moved to tears, the heart almost always at breaking point.

The problems this issue involves cannot be ignored. They are painfully inhuman, blasting us with hideous images, all crying up to heaven for immediate relief.

There definitely is close connection, yes, like a vicious circle, between ignorance, confusion, “overpopulation” in some areas, poverty and all forms of human misery.

What immediately assails us is the ugly external aspect of this crisis. That would be enough to suck us into the vortex of pity and shame. There are just too many beggars in our streets and churches! There are just too many depressed areas!

It’s true that our Lord said, “For the poor you have always with you,” (Mt
26,11) but I don’t like to admit we will have the poor with us always in the way we have them now.

Sometimes, I wonder if the poor are our social outcasts. There are just so many of them that I think those who enjoy a degree of good life should feel more ashamed, being more of the outcasts than being the elite of society.

But physical squalor is nothing compared to the havoc inflicted in the emotional and psychological aspect of these poor people. Thing is we cannot deny that together with poverty is a clear rise of mental disorders we can see everywhere. This fact truly lacerates the heart.

I dread to speculate on the moral and spiritual aspects. Is the high rate of criminality among the poor, petty in many cases, any indication of some moral and spiritual depravity also?

These are unsavory facts, indeed. But they have to be confronted. No use
playing the escapist ostrich approach. Our consciences, if we still have them in good order, certainly would not let us avoid having to grapple with this problem.

But a closer look at the problem would indicate that the solution to this problem, so vast and complicated, cannot be a simplistic one, as in just legalizing and making available all sorts of contraceptives and population control services.

These approaches at best can only give some instant, shallow relief. They don’t go deep enough. They even can give false hopes and aggravate the situation. Let’s not be deceived by sweet talks of family planners on reproductive health.

Even if we give in to all the demands for these artificial and immoral means as a gesture of respecting people’s freedom, I don’t think we would be addressing the real problem.

The problem is not simply economic or social or political. Much less is it ideological. Solutions spouting from these founts will clearly miss the point. The problem is not just a matter of numbers. It springs from a sick heart and soul.

The problem speaks of a much deeper crisis requiring a more thorough and
solid solution, one that demands total commitment from everyone. Let’s try asking how much time each one of us spends trying to resolve the problem, and we’ll get an idea why the problem continues to fester.

For sure, there’s a big element of injustice and corruption that goes into the severity of the problem. There’s also a tremendous amount of ignorance on reproductive health, strictly so-called, and responsible parenthood.

Still these are only symptoms, not the root causes. The problem lies more in our hearts, since we fail to practice genuine charity and concern for one another.

We can talk a lot about globalization in the economic sense. But can we really talk about globalization of charity, of solidarity, in the moral and spiritual sense?

Our problem is that even among the so-called good and holy people—that’s
all of us—we tend to confine our spirituality to an individualistic dimension. We fail to be truly consistent in extending it to its social implications.

We just get contented with giving easy solutions, not those that necessarily require real sacrifices. We give mostly material solutions, not moral and spiritual ones, those that heal our sick heart and soul.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Enriching our human formation

PASSING by a local seminary the other day, I noticed that an office for the director of human formation for the seminarians was being constructed. Apparently the bishops’ conference has indicated that this aspect of the seminarians’ formation be given serious attention.

I was, of course, very happy to learn about this. For quite some time now, I together with many others have worried about what appears to be a deterioration of the human tone of priests and seminarians.

Basic good manners and proper conduct seem to be missing, as we now see a few priests improperly dressed, lacking proper sense of where to be and to go, adapting adolescent speech and lifestyle, and a long disturbing etcetera.

This concern for human formation is, of course, necessary for everyone, not
just for priests and seminarians. Human correctness as manifested in one’s external appearance and behavior can reveal what is inside one’s heart and soul.

One’s spiritual life and all other aspects of one’s life depend to a large extent on how well one lives this indispensable human aspect of his life. Our human condition is the basic ground on which all the other developments take place. We’ll always be human, never angels nor brutes.

Let’s remember that our supernatural calling is not meant to suppress our human condition, but rather to purify, enrich and elevate it. In fact, without this spiritual and supernatural dimension, our human condition simply degenerates.

How can one be expected to be prayerful and self-sacrificing if he is lazy, disorderly, still held captive by earthly allurements? How can one be socially attuned and pastorally effective if he is self-absorbed, narrow-minded, and tactless?

A town mayor once told me he mistook a priest for a houseboy in a town fiesta, simply because the priest dressed, talked and behaved like a houseboy.

Obviously that priest must have thought he scored high in following our Lord’s command to be truly humble by being a servant. But on the other hand, the priest should know there are basic rules that govern his public activity.

Lest I be accused of just dishing out my unsolicited opinion on this matter, I would like to transmit the relevant indication issued by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy.

In no. 75 of the “Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests,” the following is said:

“This human formation is extremely important in today’s world, as it always has been. The priest must never forget that he is a man chosen among men to be at the service of men.

“To sanctify himself and carry out his priestly mission, he must present himself with an abundance of human virtues which render him worthy of esteem by those around him.

“In particular he must practice goodness of heart, patience, kindness, strength of soul, love for justice, even-mindedness, truthfulness to his word, coherence in the duties freely assumed, etc.

“It is likewise important that human virtues be reflected in the priest’s social conduct, correctness in the various forms of human relations, friendships, courtesy, etc.”

We have to help one another in this area, profusely giving good example to the others, constantly giving reminders, making suggestions and even resorting to fraternal corrections.

In this regard, the lay faithful should not hesitate to help those in the clergy and in the religious state, by promptly giving those timely reminders, appropriate suggestions and necessary corrections.

I wish to reassure them that they will be doing a great service to the Church if they do these duties. Doing them will reduce useless gossiping, and never mean a lack of respect for priests, but rather genuine care for them.

A high standard of human tone should be established and kept, starting with the leaders and officials who ought to be the concrete models of human correctness. They should see to it that priests pass muster in this regard.

This does not mean that we lapse into showy, extravagant, and artificial ways, or rigid and invariable forms. Human correctness can always adapt to any circumstance, whether one is rich or poor, in public or alone, etc.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Past present future

BECAUSE of a visitor from Rome, I had to play recently the role of host, tour guide and driver. It gave me a break in my daily routine of sitting in the confessional, talking to people individually, preaching, giving classes, reading, writing, visiting priests, etc.

It was a most welcome respite for me to go around, seeing people and places. Thanks to God, I had the chance to see more of the sun, the sea, the highways, and the towns too.

It also allowed me to see things in a different light. That’s the beauty of these unexpected changes in one’s routine. On this occasion, I had the sensation I was engaging in a conversation with the past, the present and the future.

I believe that we have to learn to discern the thread of continuity between the past and the present, and to project possible scenarios in the future based on what can be gathered from the past and the present.

I think it’s part of our responsibility to somehow direct the development of our life, both personal and social, not allowing it to drift just about in any direction and subject to pure chance and random factors.

It’s incumbent on us to develop an abiding sense of time and history, and of relating these earthly elements to our eternal and supernatural calling. In this, we have to help one another.

There were observations that struck me quite deeply. When I concelebrated
the Mass with many other priests in a town fiesta, my attention was caught by the sorry state of one of the oldest churches around.

To have antique things, not to mention, an ancient, centuries-old church, is indeed a rare privilege. But I just hope that we of the present generation have a keener sense of responsibility to really take care of our heritage, not allowing antiquity to equate with rot, decay, dilapidation.

There were dangerous, life-threatening cracks in the wall of the church. In
certain parts, it looked like things were ready to collapse. The paintings on the ceiling were mostly faded and disfigured. A cheap coat of gold color was carelessly applied on the reredo.

The church was clearly breathing of pristine beauty and deep meaning to the life of the town. These aspects should be protected and fostered. These can still play a major part in shaping the future of the town. But signs of neglect were all over.

Given the obvious ardor of the faith of the townspeople during that Mass, I felt the physical condition of the church was accusing us of being ungrateful for the service it has given for hundreds of years, forming the Christian spirit of the people.

I heard some explanations and excuses. Still the fact remains that the present generation has not been up to par in our duty towards the past. We have to correct this oversight immediately.

Also with my visitor, I finally had a good reason to visit our local museums. Offhand, I must say that these museums, thanks be to God, are improving a great deal. I was impressed with what I saw especially in the Cebu Cathedral museum.

More than feasting on the physical aspects of the artifacts and other valuable items used in the past, I busied myself imagining the kind of faith and piety these handiwork signified.

These products definitely involved tremendous labor of love and sacrifice, a profound sense of beauty and artistry, mostly of the baroque style. It’s something to be proud of and to be responsible for.

They dripped of a sublime rectitude of intention, since they were items that hardly would be seen by the people. They must have been meant solely for God and for our soul’s vitality.

Obviously, many of the items would look funny if used today. But it’s the spirit behind that should be made to continue in appropriate forms. We just have to learn to detect this spirit.

Again, I believe this conversation of the past, the present and the future has to go on, drawing the essential from the incidental, the spiritual from the material, and ultimately, the divine from the human.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Guarding our internal world

WE have to be more aware of our responsibilities toward our internal world. That’s the world of our thoughts, ideas, desires, plans, ambitions, even our imagination and memory.

We tend to take this fundamental aspect of our life for granted. Precisely because of its hidden and invisible character, we get most tempted to subject it to purely personal and individualistic manipulations.

Hardly anything else can be more dangerous than this situation. We are meant to orient ourselves outside—to others, and to God ultimately. That’s how we have been designed, wired and outfitted. We focus on ourselves, and we’d get a short-circuit.

We tend to simply go on automatic pilot, fully at the mercy of whatever fancy captures our attention at the moment. Hardly any effort to reflect is done. Hardly any running exertion to relate facts with proper values and principles is made.

Conforming our internal world to God’s law and will, a continuing task, is
ignored. The ideal to reach, for a Christian believer, is to say together with Christ:

“I cannot of myself do anything. As I hear, so I judge, and my judgment is
just, because I seek not my own will, but the will of him who sent me.” (Jn 5,30)

I wonder whether we realize this principle in our actions, especially in our internal world of thoughts and desires.

Forgetting this truth leads us to be indifferent, if not averse, to our social duties. It can easily lend itself to deceit and hypocrisy in one’s personal life. We have to be wary of these tendencies, and be active in resisting them.

We have to understand that our world of thoughts, desires, imagination and memory play a very important role in our life. That’s where ideas are hatched and developed, goals set and pursued, plans made and processed.

The humanness of our actions is born and shaped in this internal world of ours. And we have to see to it that our actions are not results of mere routine, or of blind forces. They have to be deliberate and known as thoroughly as possible.

The quality of our external world is actually a direct function of the quality of our internal world. How we are inside—in our thoughts and desires, etc.—shapes how we are outside.

We have to check our proclivity to act purely out of spontaneity, or to limit our behavior on the level of instincts only. We have to go further, deeper, wider. In fact, we have to go toward infinity, because our mind and will are oriented toward it.

Our spiritual faculties not only allow us to enter into the spiritual reality, but enable us to be lifted up to the supernatural order which, to Christian believers, is what we have been called to. Our life is not just purely natural human life. It is supernatural life, a sharing in the very life of God.

This is a point worth insisting. We tend to waste the powers of our mind and will, our most important faculties, by using them only for material, temporal, if not selfish ends. Let’s remember that they are meant for endless possibilities.

But for Christian believers, this infinity to which our mind and will are oriented is not just anything. It has a name and a face. And that’s God who has been revealed fully by Jesus Christ.

Infinity is not just an empty, open space without boundaries where we can play in any way we want. It has a certain substance and specificity. It’s not just some vague field of inexhaustible potentials and eventualities.

It’s true that as some adage puts it, life is what you make it. To a certain extent, it’s a valid affirmation. But it should not be made absolute. Life is both what you make it and a matter of conforming it to some laws.

We need to align our thoughts and desires, our imagination and memory, to God’s designs. For this we have to practice and develop the necessary skills and virtues.

This is the challenge we have today. We need to guard and develop our internal world.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Media and charity

THESE two concepts and realities need not clash. In fact, they should not. Everyone, and especially those in media, no matter how hot on the trail of truth, justice and freedom, should work for charity.

This means that regardless of how we may be in conflict in any aspect of our life and activities, we should always care for one another.Patience, compassion, mercy, magnanimity, good manners, sobriety should prevail. We are all brothers and sisters, first, last and in between.

Besides, whatever amount of reason one may have on his side, the other party always has some reason too, and this should not just be dismissed completely.

Everyone has to learn to listen to everybody else and respect the position of others, even if one is convinced such position is inferior or even wrong. This is the law that governs our dealings with one another.

We always have to practice restraint and moderation in our
discussions, keeping a good grip on our emotions and passions, and even on our reasonings. This is an elementary principle in civil behavior.

We don’t suppress them, because that is not human. It’s just to
put the lid on them, because unguided by charity, they tend to exaggerate, twist and even pervert the proper order of values, making one self-righteous and misleading us.

Without charity, we can easily fall into misplaced ironies, gossipy detractions and calumnies, reckless stereotyping and labeling. Without charity, we tend to live in a black-and-white world, provoking polarity and division among the people.

We have to remember that charity always works within the system of our emotions, passions and reasonings. But because of our personal, spiritual nature, not to mention our supernatural calling, charity has requirements that transcend these human faculties.

Poor Erap, some newspapers automatically refer to him now as
plunderer. He may have been convicted of plunder, but is it good taste, not to mention, charitable to say so?

In many letters to editor, the same transgressions of charity come aplenty. And many editors feel they can just present these letters as they are, in what I consider as an inappropriate show of journalistic objectivity.

They fail to realize that the views expressed are just opinions that need not be held as gospel-truth. Since they do not possess the only position, much less the whole truth, these opinions should be expressed with delicate respect for other opinions.

It would indeed be a great service to the media’s audience if those responsible in transmitting news, views and opinions take utmost care in meeting this fine requirement of good journalism.

They always have to mind balance, fairness and manners. They have to avoid sensationalism at all costs. That sadly seems to be a common sickness, a cheap trick often resorted to by media people to cover up lack of material or worse, one’s partisan views.

With sensationalism, readers and listeners are provoked to be more emotional than rational. This is not to mention that we are supposed to go beyond, not against, rationality to be charitable, which is always the ideal to pursue.

Media people, like everybody else, need to upgrade their communication skills always, polishing them to the point that their technical excellence begins and ends with charity.

They should not remain in the level of the technical, especially now when there are many rationalizations to justify lack of charity.

For example, there are those who claim that due to the rush and lack of time plus the other pressures, media people should be exempted from the strict adherence to the finer points of charity.

That may be true, but that just cannot be held as a principle to
follow. It should be more of an exception. We commit mistakes sometimes, but we should manfully own and correct them.

There also are those who say that to be objective, realistic and just plain human in projecting things as they are, we should just relax the requirements of charity.

These are clearly cases of self-justifying sophistry. Everyone,
including the media audience, should contribute to a fair, balanced journalism by truly living charity.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Simplicity of heart

WE may grow old and wizened by age and by exposure to all sorts of elements in life. But we have to learn to be childlike always in our mind and heart even as we cannot avoid deteriorating physically.

This is a human need. Deep within us, we pine to retain that eternal youthfulness, that spiritual childhood. And if we know how, we can achieve just that, not much because of pills, gels, tonic drinks, or the hypnotizing mantras of the so-called wellness fad, etc.

Rather, the human spirit can defy aging, precisely because it is not subject to life’s wear and tear or the ravages of time. This, as long as we don’t’ allow the spirit to get entangled with our bodily and worldly conditions.

Our human spirit can always transcend these material and temporal conditions, even if it cannot escape them. And that capacity depends on whether we know how to develop, keep and grow in simplicity of heart.

This is the quality referred to by our Lord when he said: “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God. Amen I say to you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, shall not enter into it.” (Mk 10,14-15)

It’s the quality that enables us to keep our innocence in spite of or because of the knowledge and experiences we acquire in life. It brings with it its friends and allies: honesty, transparency, rectitude, integrity, purity, meekness, humility, joy, peace, etc.

It’s the salt of perfection since it orients us toward God always, and resembles us to him little by little. It’s God who is the beginning and end of simplicity, not any other worldly thing. It’s his grace that makes us simple.

The quote above tells us a lot about the nature and character of this particular virtue. It tells us to be like little children who instinctively want to go and stay with our Lord. It makes us uncomfortable to be away from him.

It moves us to conform our thoughts and will to God’s. Every time we exert
the effort to adapt our words and acts to God’s commandments, the genuine sign of love, we grow in simplicity.

It helps us to stay focused, pure and consistent in all our parts and aspects. It defends us from the temptations offered by the effects of our sin: “the concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes, and pride of life.”

It’s an essential ingredient for our spiritual vitality, since it teaches us how to bear suffering, how to be patient and optimistic, how to wage war earnestly against the enemies of our soul.

Thus, it develops and grows to the extent that we properly nurture our relationship with God. It certainly wilts and dies in the face of the current craze of self-absorption.

This is what we have to be most wary about. We are immersed in a world tsunami of self-seeking and ego-tripping, cleverly masked by humanly legitimate reasons. We have to get out of the state of denial many of us are in.

But its evil effects and consequences cannot be hidden. Sooner or later, they appear in spite of enormous efforts to cover them up. There’s so much bickering, envy, bitterness, hypocrisy.

There’s a lot of double think and double talk, mental dishonesty, malicious calculating maneuvers to foster self-interest rather than the common good. Some people have lapsed to skepticism and cynicism. A few even create their own world, quite deluded and detached from the reality.

Simplicity of heart enables one to see things objectively, and to see God’s designs accurately. This is what keeps him from falling into sadness and despair. It helps connect one’s senses to his faith.

Simplicity of heart also facilitates proper dealings with others, as it eliminates offensive airs and biases that form barriers among people. It smooths interactions between persons.

We should do everything to promote this particular virtue. In homes and schools, and even in offices, everywhere, strategies to develop this virtue should be made and pursued.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Taming death

THANKS be to God, our country is still so largely infused with Christian piety that together with the Holy Week, the Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of All Souls on the first days of November draw great crowds of the faithful to cemeteries to pay homage to the dead.

Such wonderful phenomenon may be dismissed as a show of a contrived Deus-ex-machina show of faith, reinforced by a mounting evidence of inconsistencies in the life of the believers.

That’s how non-believers see it. The most they can concede to participating in this yearly activity is for sentimental reasons or for social and political correctness. Nothing more or beyond these.

In short, they consider the phenomenon as a superstition, a gratuitous nonsense built up through years of ignorance and blind obedience to Church teaching. It’s supposed to thrive in a chicken-run kind of locality, still removed from the liberating light of reason and science.

But that is not so. Contrary to what non-believers may say, we have within ourselves, whether strongly or faintly felt, an urge to communicate with our dearly departed.

Such urge springs from the belief that we continue to live in another form after our death here on earth. We believe that there is in us something that refuses to die, in spite of our death here on earth. We just continue to live on.

We can’t explain it thoroughly because it’s a belief that exceeds the powers of empirical verification. But it is not completely unreasonable.

If we think and reason, if we will and love, then we must have something spiritual in us, since spiritual activities presume a spiritual subject. “Operare sequitur esse” (operation follows being) goes a philosophical principle that applies here.

Anyway, without being aware of this principle, we somehow hold on to the truth of our spiritual nature and our supernatural calling. We refuse to be held captive by the limits of a rationality that is hooked to the merely empirical.

And thus we believe that even if we die here on earth, there is something in us that does not die. It is our soul, the spirit that animates us, that is above the wear and tear of earthly life and thus enjoys immortality.

If not destroyed by some factors, this natural tendency to believe focuses our attention to the spiritual world, and then to the possibility at least to a supernatural reality. This will require the gift of faith.

That’s the problem with our brothers and friends who reject the faith. They make their own reason the ultimate guide in their life. But it is a reason that refuses to admit its limits, and refuses to be open to anything smelling of faith and mystery. It refuses to accept what it could not understand.

As a consequence, they can not figure out the objective reality of the spiritual world, let alone, the supernatural realm. These are Greek to them. These just don’t make sense. They prefer to stick to what could be touched, seen and comprehended.

The ways of the simple people who honor the dead on these November days may reek of sentimentality and may be accompanied by imperfections and exaggeration, but they objectively leap from an objective truth about us.

I pray that they be left in that belief even as I encourage them also to go deep into the full meaning as well as the consequences and implications of our death. We have to mature in our attitude towards death.

Death should not be a cause of fear. That would be useless, since we can not escape it. It’s part of our continuing life, a crucial event that brings us from time to eternity.

Something in it should attract us to it, since it is the doorway to our definitive life. But to cross it, we need to be fully ready and live our earthly life the way it should be.

What can help us is to study the dispositions the saints, and especially the martyrs, had towards death. They will give us concrete ideas of how we can welcome and embrace death.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Fraternal correction

WE have to be familiar with this practice which I think is increasingly needed these days.

I know it’s an unpleasant thing, both for the giver and the recipient. But the matter involved can be crucial and silence about it can be fatal or at least can give rise to dangerous potentials.

It’s a practice recommended by our Lord himself in the gospel. “If your brother shall offend against you, go and rebuke him between you and him alone. If he shall hear you, you shall gain your brother,” he said. (Mt 18,15)

All of us need correction, if not always then at least at one time or another. No matter how good, smart and clever we may be, we certainly have defects and we commit mistakes that need to be corrected.

With the present pace of development where we are drawn to more and more new things and unfamiliar situations, the chances of us committing mistakes and getting stuck with our weakness are multiplied.

And given our human condition that blinds us to most of our frailties, we cannot rely solely on ourselves for these corrections to take place. We need others, as brothers and sisters who truly care for us, to point them out to us.

If done and received with the proper dispositions and ways, then these corrections can truly be considered not only as coming from our brothers and sisters, but from God himself.

The fraternal correction can become a genuine manifestation of charity, deepening our friendship and fraternity with the others. It enables us to fulfill an important part of the gospel message of being a Good Shepherd to the others.

We also relive what is said in the Letter to the Hebrews: “For whom the Lord loves, he chastises, and he scourges every son whom he receives…For what son is there whom the father does not correct.” (12,6-7)

We have to understand that God’s love for us, which is the pattern of our love for one another, blends maximum patience and affection with maximum rigor and strictness.

This is more because of our human condition. If God alone would have his way, so to speak, he surely would shower us with all sweetness. This, I imagine, is what heavenly bliss is all about.

But here on earth, God has to contend with the way we use or misuse our freedom. With our limitations, not to mention our mistakes and sins, God has to use both soft and hard means, gentle and harsh ways to guide and govern us.

Since we are his children, created in his image and likeness, we are asked to participate in his divine providence over us. Thus, we too cannot avoid having to use both soft and hard means to govern ourselves.

The fraternal correction should be widely used especially in the family. Children grow mightily when corrections are made on them. But it should also be done generously in other areas, especially among peers and colleagues.

Among priests, for example, the practice of fraternal correction is highly recommended. Bishops should take the lead. This is what the document “Pastores gregis” says about the matter:

“In cases of grave lapses, and even more of crimes which do damage to the very witness of the Gospel, especially when these involve the Church’s ministers, the Bishop must be firm and decisive, just and impartial.

“He is bound to intervene in a timely manner, according to the established canonical norms, for the correction and spiritual good of the sacred minister, for the reparation of scandal and the restoration of justice, and for all that is required for the protection and assistance of victims.” (21)

But even before things become very serious, fraternal corrections should already be given generously. Usually they can be in the areas of prudence, as in the priest’s relations with women and in his public actuations.

Or in the way a priest carries out his duties. First would be his own life of prayer and the sacraments, then in his preaching, in his availability and manner of serving the people. Suggestions and corrections can abound here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Chastity education vs. sex education

THESE two types of education have to be clearly distinguished. Of course, between the two, I strongly recommend chastity education. Sex education? The most charitable thing I can say about it is, be very suspicious of it!

There’s no doubt that we, in general, feel the great need to educate everyone, especially the young ones, on the nature, meaning and purpose of our human sexuality.

Current developments in the world, driven by the wonders of information technology, infuse this need with urgency. These have not served to dull people’s sexual appetites. Rather they tend to stimulate them, or at least to stir them.

As usual many feel they are at the mercy of their sexual urges, with hardly any effective means to dominate them. Their wills have been weakened and perverted, their passions constantly abused, their bodies debased.

And a corresponding culture of distorted sexuality is emerging worldwide. We cannot simply dismiss this sad phenomenon as an unavoidable part of development. That’s a myth. It’s a great responsibility to do something about this.

Things are so bad that the cover of decency is thinning rapidly. Aberrations in this area are now being flaunted even by our celebrities. Many young people enter adulthood with this aspect of their life already compromised.

In the face of all this, it’s puzzling why sex education, touted to be “highly informative” but notoriously morally blind, is promoted. As a solution, it does not go deep enough.

On the contrary, it tends to aggravate things, as evidenced in many countries. In these places, safe sex techniques have not diminished but rather increased the cases of infidelity, promiscuity, pre- and extra-marital sex.

Sex education misses the crux of the matter. It’s merely cosmetic, merely
prophylactic. It is keyed to the sensible aspect of our sexuality, and aimed at the practical, not moral, management of it. It treats men and women as objects, not as persons.

Without the spiritual and moral grounding, sex education tends to make our sexuality a very fertile breeding ground for other irregularities to develop, as deceit, hypocrisy, etc., thrive in it.

What is needed is an honest to goodness training in chastity!

Chastity education is more about virtues rather than about techniques. It focuses more on the maturation of the person himself rather than on data and info meant to help us derive the most practical benefits of our sexuality.

It goes beyond the merely physical, biological or hormonal. It goes much further than making psychological or sociological considerations. It enters the world of one’s heart and soul, and purifies them.

Chastity education is more about love, about self-giving and making sacrifices, rather than just “self-pleasuring.” In the language of Pope Benedict’s “Deus caritas est,” this type of education brings sex as “eros” to its perfect form of “agape.”

Chastity education links human sexuality to right reason, then to our faith. It integrates our sexuality to our true dignity not only as persons but also as children of God. It involves a certain spirituality, more than just a life style.

Chastity education is done more at homes rather than in schools, more between fathers and sons, or mothers and daughters, than between teachers and students. It’s more a personalized conversation rather than indiscriminate classroom lecture.

We have to help everyone, especially the parents, to be properly equipped to handle this kind of education. Where the parents are wanting, then by the law of subsidiarity, higher institutions like schools, governments, Church, etc., have to help.

We certainly need to explode many myths related to chastity education. Like, some irregular sexual practices are allowable since they are part of growing up. Or that we can expose teeners to things like pornography, etc., so as to immunize them.

We have to be clear that chastity is a matter of love for God with the corresponding love for others. The objective content of this kind of love has to be known. But more important is the formation of solid attitudes, practices and virtues.

Chastity is a matter of how ardent one’s love for God and others is.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sweet poison

WE have to be more aware of this. And more importantly, we have to learn how to tackle this problem. It’s actually now a hairy epidemic worldwide, but no one seems to be bothered.

I’m referring to an attitude that is so pervasive it looks like it’s the normal thing to have. This is the virus of pride, of selfishness, greed and vanity. It’s considering what puffs the ego as the ultimate fulfillment of one’s life.

This is the me-first attitude of the I-me-mine generation, a growing sector in the world, whose outlook is notoriously individualistic and blatantly self-interested, self-indulgent and intemperate.

You sadly see the syndrome at every turn now: in homes, among friends, in
malls, internet cafes, in sports, fashion and entertainment, in the media. Read the papers, listen to the radio, watch TV, see a movie, and this poison is there corroding hearts and minds with impunity.

What a painful thing to see people, especially the young, rotting away in laziness, disorder, aimless meandering especially during weekends, spoiled by modern gadgets, excess time and money, and, worst, parental neglect!

How jarring to hear people hopelessly gossiping away, indulging in empty talk, and engaging in activities that from any angle are clearly a waste of time! Everyone seems to want only what is good for him here and now, never mind if it is not truly good for him.

The objective reason to seek rest and recreation, to pursue knowledge, power, influence, popularity, etc., their ticket to social acceptability, is so abused that these human activities now become pathological.

There’s also that phenomenon where those who do many important things so fail to appreciate the true value of these things and thus fall to a sickly build-up of psychological repression that once they have leisure, they become prone to harmful and sinful compensations.

This runs in direct conflict to what we are supposed to be and behave. We
are meant to love, we are wired to give ourselves to others, to share. What goes against this law works against us.

Let’s always remember what our Lord said when asked what the greatest commandment was. It was to love God with all our heart and might, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

We always have to be keenly aware of this natural law that governs our life. Once we realize we are deviating from this law, we have to rectify immediately. We have to help one another to be able to follow this law always.

When we sense we don’t have God and the others in our minds and hearts, when they do not motivate us to do something for them, we should realize that we are heading for trouble, and therefore should react properly.

What is unfortunately being fostered is the opposite. We are lured and hooked to egoism, good time and easy life, to comfort and pleasure seeking. And there seems to be hardly any serious effort to counter this trend.

Instead of being thoughtful, anticipative of others’ needs, eager to work and serve, we now see so much self-seeking, wasting of time, and fuss and ado only to satisfy one’s urges and passions.

The value of virtues, like order, industry, prudence, is disintegrated. The need for sacrifice, mortification and forms of self-denials is completely ignored if not ridiculed. The link between these virtues and our true joy is missed.

The families should see to it that the children are taught as early as they are able to understand very deeply this fundamental law of our life and to develop the corresponding attitudes and practices.

Parents in particular, since they know their children’s strengths and weaknesses, should come up with the appropriate plans and strategies to impart the proper attitudes and develop the proper habits.

They have to know how to use both the gentle and hard methods, how to be
patient and impatient, tolerant and strict. They have to use the full range of possibilities to help their children grow to maturity.

That’s why they have to spend quality time with their children. Away with remote or surrogate parenting!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Families must form consciences

THAT’S what the Pope suggests to the head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, indicating the theme of the 2009 World Meeting of Families in Mexico.

To be more precise, the Pope calls on parents to dutifully discharge the indispensable and delicate responsibility of forming their children’s consciences.

“In these times,” he said, “in which it is notable that there is a frequent contradiction between what is professed as belief and concrete ways of living and acting, the next World Meeting of Families proposes to encourage Christian households in the formation of a right moral conscience.”

I consider this papal concern very relevant. Sadly, the awareness of our duty to take care of forming our consciences is vanishing.

Many parents seem afraid to form the consciences of their children, taking care only of their physical and other immediate needs, and leaving them practically out in the cold.

Many parents fail to realize that forming their children’s consciences constitutes the noblest part of their duty to educate their children. It perfects their parenthood.

At best, any awareness of such duty now often comes with a lot of distortions. Like, conscience is just a matter of how one feels or understands things at the moment. One’s feelings and frame of mind become the ultimate guide for his actions.

Aggravating this is the fact that there’s hardly anything done to counter the bad effects of the mainly materialistic and sensual approaches to today’s questions and issues, prevalent everywhere and especially in the media.

Even the news have spins that highlight these values at the expense of the spiritual and supernatural values. You can just imagine what happens in the lifestyle and entertainment sections!

As a consequence, the difference between good and evil, between freedom and licentiousness gets blurred. The sense of sin evaporates.

Children and the young are the most vulnerable, since they are still without the proper criteria to guide them, nor the proper skills and virtues that should accompany them in their growth and development.

We have to understand that our conscience is the most critical aspect of our life. It’s our judgment, like a voice within, enabling us to recognize the moral quality of a concrete act, past, present or future.

It links our actions to our dignity as persons and ultimately as children of God. It integrates the workings of all our faculties to make sure our actions conform to our innate sense of goodness. In short, it conforms our actions to God.

The Christian understanding of man teaches that God is our last end, our supreme good who reveals himself to us in many ways and in his fullness in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man.

The complete and ultimate truth of man is known through Christ who entrusted it to the Church. Our conscience has to apply what it finds in our heart, checking it with the Church’s teaching, before it makes its judgments.

This is because God’s law for us in our actions, the natural moral law, is both written in our hearts and revealed by Christ and now taught by the Church.

Given our natural limitations, plus the effects of our sins, the formation of conscience has to be undertaken continuously by everyone in all levels and aspects of our life.

We need to study the moral law to be on the offensive against ignorance, confusion and error. We also need to develop the virtues to facilitate our inclination to our true good.

These virtues, like humility and prudence, help us to navigate through the antipodes of indifference and rashness, to which we are prone.

The family, the basic unit of society and our first school, should be the first to fulfill this duty. When it is found wanting, higher entities like schools, government, community, Church, etc., should directly pitch in.

Very fundamental in forming consciences within the family is to teach children to use their reason, guiding their emotions and passions. Then children should be taught to reason with faith, so their consciences could make judgments that relate their actions to God.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


WE just went gaga over the latest win of Manny Pacquiao. Then our excitement reaches another level with the opening of the latest season of the PBA (Philippine Basketball Association). And there are more to come.

Sports understandably gets our instant attention. It strongly invites us to play it out. And so we see a growing number of people, young and not so young, doing some sports. That’s good!

Sports can do a lot of wonders to us, because it corresponds to an objective human need. Not only does it develop our body. It also occasions growth in the many virtues we require, both personal and social, like a good sense of discipline and team work.

With proper management, sports can be expected to strengthen our moral and spiritual life. In fact, we have to see to it that the effects of our sports reach that point. Otherwise, it would not be worthwhile.

As a form of rest, sports is meant to give us a healthy diversion from our work routine. But it is not supposed to make us forget our work, but rather to recover our strength to return to our work and main concerns with greater vigor.

It is precisely because of this inherent goodness of sports that everything has to be done to protect it from deteriorating into something harmful to us. It’s part of our human condition that good things come always with some spoilers.

It might sound trite, but that Gospel story of the cockles growing with the
wheat because of some evil men, remains applicable now, and especially in relation to sports. Given its nature, sports is quite susceptible to viruses.

This concern is not meant to be a wet blanket, but rather to insure that our sports be always consistent to our dignity. We should not be naïve and complacent.

Many more things happen than just having some excitement when we play
sports. Sports is not just a purely physical thing. By necessity, it affects our whole being. Thus, it affects not only the body but also our soul.

We have to be mindful of this basic truth about sports. Especially when it
is played big time, every effort has to be made to foster and reinforce this truth. We have to realize that sports has a tremendous social impact.

We just cannot play out our sports activities in any level in a purely random and designless way, guided only by what is most convenient at the moment, what is practical, popular or pleasurable.

We have to have a certain plan, a certain purpose and strategy. Competition
in sports is not just about winning a game, because winning has many other forms including a certain sense of victory even when one loses a game.

We have to see to it that sports competitions are infused with a healthy spirit of friendship and mutual help so that everybody reaches our common good. We defeat the purpose of competition when it leaves in its wake the remains of envy, hatred and bitterness.

We have to be wary when sports becomes an obsession, dominating our life
such that it ostracizes other more important activities, like our prayers, family duties, and even our professional work.

We have to see to it that sports should not deaden our proper sense of the value of time, our sense of priorities, the awareness of our duties and responsibilities, whether personal, family, social, or religious, professional, etc.

We have to be careful when sports becomes too commercialized that it fosters all sorts of aberrations: vanity, pride, arrogance, body worship. There’s also its proneness to succumb to selfishness, greed and deceit.

We need to help one another in fostering the proper dispositions towards sports. The leading men in the sports industry should give more attention to the ethical and spiritual aspects.

Sportsmen should be the first to show the proper conduct in which the different sports are played. They truly become champions when they manage to relate their sports to our ultimate end, converting sports into a prototype of our ascetical struggle and scoring the right points.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Lay spirituality

THERE are yet many obstacles to be hurdled, yet many things to be done before we in general can have a good understanding, let alone live the very important role the laity plays in the Church and in the world.

At the moment, we don’t have to look far to see how gravely misunderstood the lay people are. They are largely seen as second-rate citizens if not pariahs in the Church, unavoidably immersed in the dirty mundane things of the world.

They are also regarded as some kind of accessories to the clergy. It would seem that their status only acquires a whiff of dignity when they act as assistants and servers to bishops and priests.

For them to have some semblance of goodness and holiness, they are expected to keep distance from the world as much as possible, if not to hate it. They are pressured to fit into a certain religious mentality, doing churchy chores, that tends to suffocate their true lay and secular character.

Whatever may be the causes of this sad phenomenon, the fact is crystal clear that we are still light-years away from the ideal insofar as the role of the laity in the Church and in the world is concerned.

The laity is supposed to be an integral and essential part of the Church. As such, they, like the bishops, priests, religious men and women, have the same calling to sanctity and to the apostolate in ways proper to their condition.

They should not feel nor should they be treated as if they are just a baggage in the Church, or merely a resource to be taken advantage of, as in being used as source for money, or treated as the clergy’s long arm.

They are as much the Church as bishops, priests and the religious are. They
are not merely in the Church, but the Church herself together with the clergy and the religious, lifted to her supernatural nature and intrinsically involved in her mission.

Another thing that should be made clear is that the Church is not just some human social structure. The Church is the people of God, the mystical body of Christ, communion with Christ and everybody else in Christ.

This sublime nature of the Church has to be understood and consciously and freely lived by all of us, depending on what role we play, whether as clergy, religious or lay.

In this tricky matter, we with God’s grace have to help one another. We should not reduce the Church as a social phenomenon, though it certainly has social manifestations. Its supernatural character should always be upheld and defended.

Though everyone has different duties, everyone should also realize, whether clergy, religious or lay, that he forms an indivisibly organic unity with everybody else with Christ as head in the Holy Spirit.

We just have to learn to relate with one another properly, knowing how to keep the mutual need for one another, while avoiding confusion as in clericalizing the laity or laicizing the clergy.

There unfortunately are indications these irregularities are taking place in some areas. The Popes and the Vatican in general have issued guidelines in this regard. These should be religiously followed to avoid perverting the Church.

But what is most important is to vigorously promote what may be called as lay spirituality. This is the authentic lay empowerment many people are talking about. This equips lay people with the correct knowledge and appropriate ways to live their role in the Church and the world properly.

This lay spirituality can mean many things. For one it can mean having a right theology about the world in general, a right understanding of freedom and respect for the autonomy of temporal affairs, etc.

The link from the earthly to the sublime, the material to the spiritual, the temporal to the eternal, should be shown to be very practicable. Everyone, especially the lay people, should be assured of this reality.

The Church’s social doctrine and the more basic Christian anthropology are
indispensable in developing a true lay spirituality. There has to be massive and continuing catechesis about these truths.

Friday, October 12, 2007


WE have to understand this virtue very well. It’s actually part of both the human and Christian virtues of temperance and poverty. We need to consciously develop it not only in ourselves. We need to help everybody else to mature in it.

Even from the human point of view, we cannot help but live it, at least partly. This often disregarded truth can easily be seen when we realize that everyday we make choices that unavoidably involve detachment from certain things, and even from certain persons.

For example, one with some medical condition has to detach himself from certain food, good in themselves but bad to him. One who is married surely has to see to it that his heart just does not fly off getting attached randomly to any other woman.

One, who trains for some competition, has to submit to a regimen that includes a special diet and a list of restrictions. An adherence to a certain discipline marks his life.

That’s the law that governs us. It should come to us quite naturally that if only for this reason we should take the appropriate effort to cultivate this attitude. We’ve been taught about this virtue since we were kids. It’s for our own good.

In developing and living this virtue of detachment, one experiences a certain lightness of feeling, a certain purification and liberation of the senses from unnecessary and even toxic things. It fosters self-mastery.

There’s a certain focus of attention involved in it, an aiming at a specific goal. It is a sure sign that one is progressing, since growth involves not only acquiring certain elements, but also discarding things.

But for those of us who adhere to Christian faith, we know that this virtue
is even more necessary because, firstly, our Lord said so. “What does it a profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?” (Mt 16,26)

Or if you want to be more radical, hear this from our Lord: “If any man comes to me, and does not hate his father, mother, wife, and children, and brothers and sister, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” (Lk 14,26)

Detachment in this moral and spiritual level makes sure that our heart is directed to its ultimate goal, which is nothing less than supernatural. And this is union with God. We should not forget this very important dimension in our life. We are meant for this.

Detachment purifies our body, and preps and conforms it to our spiritual needs. If we want to meet the requirements of our spiritual nature and supernatural calling, we can not avoid having to live detachment.

Our Lord said: “My son, give me your heart.” (Prov 23,26) Besides, Jesus
himself said that the first commandment is “to love the Lord your God your whole heart, and with your whole soul, and with your whole mind.” (Mt 22,37)

There is a certain exclusivity in this kind of love that necessarily entails detaching oneself from other things. But it is an exclusivity that gives us a universal heart, allowing us to love everything else properly, that is, in truth, in their proper order.

To attain this goal in our life, one that is spiritual and supernatural, we will always realize that a continuing process of self-denial and of detachment from the material and temporal elements of the world is necessary.

To those with the Christian view of life, this process is never considered
a loss but rather a gain, not a stunting of one’s growth but rather enhancing it. It does not make one sad but rather happy. It makes sacrifice a touchstone of love.

This is what is meant by the gospel term of circumcision of the heart.

The saints and all who try to pursue holiness look forward to every occasion to practice detachment in whatever form it comes, whether physical, economic and social, then moral, and even spiritual.

We have to outgrow the mentality that consists of thinking there can be a
time or stage in our life when we can freed from having to live detachment.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The saint of the ordinary

WE have just celebrated the 5th anniversary of the canonization of Opus Dei founder, St. Josemaria Escriva (1902-1975).

October 6, 2002 saw St. Peter’s Square overflowing with people who came
from all over the world to witness the late Pope John Paul II raise St. Josemaria to the altars. They were all happy to take part in that historical event.

The aging Pope, thoroughly acquainted with the life and works of the saint,
described him as the “saint of the ordinary.”

This obviously was in reference to St. Josemaria’s constant preaching that
all ordinary activities in one’s life, be it at home or in work, can be a way to heaven if done with love for God and for souls.

In other words, if one stays focused on God and does everything to keep that focus, in season or out of season, in the mood or out of it, he is likely to have the proper focus on everything and on everybody else as well.

In the mind of St. Josemaria, love for God does not take one away from the
world, but rather deepens his concern for the world and for all men.

An iconic statement of the saint was one he preached in a homily in 1967:
“There is something holy, something divine hidden in the most ordinary situations, and it is up to each one of you to discover it.”

Such words hit the nail on the head in moving people from all over to try
to be consistent to their faith not only during extraordinary events, but most especially in the ordinary flow of their daily life.

With such preaching, certainly divinely inspired, St. Josemaria captured
the deepest longing of people’s hearts. In spite of our limitations and mistakes, we cannot deny the primal truth of such assertion.

It also answered the Church call for all to blend our faith with our life itself, bridging the all-too-familiar gap between the two. It was a very ambitious preaching, prone to be interpreted as exaggerated and gratuitous.

St. Josemaria’s words were not just theoretical, theological or abstract. They were all lived words, derived from actual experience, strong, vital and forceful, capable of stirring people to action.

They were a result of his constant efforts to fulfill the will of God no matter what it took. Not his failing health, nor the tremendous difficulties material, spiritual, juridical, etc., let alone the nasty campaigns to bash him, Opus Dei and the Church stopped him from generously giving himself to God’s designs.

He was accused of being a heretic, a fanatic, of trying to control Spanish
if not world politics and business, and even the Vatican itself. Now, all these look very funny. But at that time, it was real, red-hot drama.

He faced all these with serenity, defending himself with prayers and mortifications, and simply working away quietly. He was a dynamo of endless working.

He hardly spoke. He understood why he was misunderstood. Quick to forgive, he was magnanimous to those who wronged him. In the end, he proved to
all he was only doing God’s will, not his. He personified how good would sooner or later overcome evil.

With such character, it was not difficult for him to inspire others to be generous also with our Lord and with everybody else. His presence, his example, his teaching exuded such splendor of charity as to draw others to be generous as well.

He provoked conversions even among those who usually are considered as
hard cases. He motivated others to make all sorts of initiatives meant to help people materially and spiritually.

But he always insisted on sanctifying the ordinary things of life. He cautioned others of the lure for the extraordinary that could dilute their self-giving with subtle traces of self-love. Though imbued with an immense sense of peace and confidence, he stayed away from any show of triumphalism.

His main weapon, which he recommended to everyone, was prayer. It was
through prayer that he managed to be both in heaven and on earth. He told all to convert everything to prayer.