Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The reason for meekness

CHRISTIAN believers always regard the beatitudes as the ultimate ideals to pursue in life. They are considered the pitch of Christian perfection, the very canon of God’s ultimate will for us.

As such, they embody and consummate all God’s commandments as revealed in stages through time and recorded in the Scriptures. The Catechism says they are the way pointed by Christ himself that leads us to eternal bliss.

This is how the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches about the beatitudes:

“They depict the very countenance of Jesus and they characterize the authentic Christian life. They reveal the ultimate goal of human activity, which is eternal happiness.” (360)

From this doctrine alone, we can easily gather that the beatitudes must be shrouded in deep mystery, despite the simple human words with which they are expressed. Understanding and living them requires nothing less than grace.

For sure, the “very countenance of Jesus” is not just a matter of physical features. His inner identity is all steeped in mystery, because while he is man, he is also God. While it tells us many things, the revelation is not meant to diminish God’s mystery.

Thus, the beatitudes cannot help but express baffling, puzzling and even confusing ideas. “Blessed are the poor in the spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy…” (Mt 5,3-12)

They cannot help but evoke fits of contrasts, as their substance exhausts and overwhelms what human words and concepts can discern and enunciate. They beggar all description. They break all human molds and limits.

In them, the widest, loosest sense of freedom coincides with the strictest, most painful fulfillment of obedience. The most lenient charity and mercy goes together with the keenest, most exacting exercise of justice. Our weakness becomes our strength.

To understand and appreciate them, God’s grace is needed. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” (Mt 11,15) our Lord used to tell the crowd after transmitting divine lessons in parables, referring to grace.

When St. Peter correctly answered about who our Lord was, Christ told him, “Flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven,” (Mt 16,17) again referring to the need of grace for us to see divine designs.

One of these beatitudes really intrigues me. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the earth.” (Mt 5,4) There is no way we can understand this. How can a meek person ever win and dominate the world?

But this was how our Lord lived. And this was what he taught. “Learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” Though he needed to reveal himself as our Redeemer, he most of the time passed unnoticed, from birth to death.

He did not spend all his time raging at the stubborn, stiff-necked people, though he had every reason to do so. In fact, he was very magnanimous. He forgave all, “for they know not what they do.”

Meekness, in all its forms, appears to be an indispensable ingredient for us to be able to absorb the malice of evil, remove the poison of sin, immunizing us from it and transforming it into a vehicle of our own salvation.

This must be the reason for meekness. It converts human defeat into our victory over sin and death, making us above the ravages of time. It enables us to share Christ’s passion and death as well as his resurrection.

Through it, we can say together with him: “In the world, you will have distress. But have confidence, for I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16,33)

This must be what our Lord meant when he said the meek will possess the earth.

So, we need to live the different forms of meekness: passing unnoticed, always being nice and affectionate to everyone, finding excuses for them, hardly taking any offense from them, eager to forgive and to ask for forgiveness.

We need to be patient and cheerful. Meek persons become sowers of peace and
joy in the world.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Mass and the elections

THE election fever is now upon us. Many feel it’s a nightmare, a madness that beats all other forms of madness. However we may feel about the election, we cannot deny it is a necessary national exercise in a democracy.

We may choose to be angered, sad or tortured by it. Or be amused and play it just like any sport with due study. Whatever, I propose that we do something I feel is truly indispensable.

Truth is no matter how dirty the elections and politics can be, which only show the raw and naked truth about ourselves, there is always hope. Often, great things rise from the scum and slime of our fallen humanity. God’s providence cannot be thrown off by our stupidities.

Whatever our political color may be, let’s be reminded that we need to pray. And for Christian believers, there’s that special prayer, the acme of prayer with Christ himself as both the offerer and the offered, the priest and victim.

This is none other than the Holy Mass. This is the sacrament of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection, the culmination and summary of Christ’s redemptive work.

It has a universal and unifying character, such that however we may be in our life, in business as in politics, etc., we all somehow get reconciled, united and saved in Christ.

Through the Mass, God’s grace and mercy, his redeeming truth and teaching can still manage to rescue us in spite of our sin. It effects our genuine reconciliation with God and with everybody else, in spite of our differences and conflicts.

God’s providence cannot be thwarted, no matter how much we oppose it. This is the effectiveness of the Holy Mass. It is the best way to adore God, to thank him, and especially to atone for our sins and defects, and to ask for favors.

It perfects what is imperfect, heals what is wounded, makes up for what is missing. It empties sin of its evil, death of its sting. Whatever form of human misery we may have, the Mass offers what is truly necessary for us.

All times and places, all men and women find their life and strength, their meaning and purpose in the Mass. Thus, it cannot help but be a living, actual action of Christ with us up to now and even to the end of time.

It links us to heaven while still on earth. It connects us to the very sacrifice of our Lord on the Cross and enables us to receive the fruits of that sacrifice

As a sacrament, its action is not simply to dramatize or symbolize what happened in the past. It makes that event present again right before us. We should understand that in the Mass we have a living encounter with Christ on the Cross.

We then have to understand that every time the Mass is celebrated, beyond its prayers and rituals, we have to see our Lord dying on the Cross in Calvary. Our Lord is inviting us to somehow participate in his suffering, in his loving.

We then cannot remain passive in the Mass. We cannot be mere spectators. We necessarily have to get moved by our Lord’s supreme act of love. Even if we only have the barest of common sense and human decency, we can already make many considerations and resolutions while at Mass.

In the Mass, we are transported to what took place 20 centuries ago, standing beside our Lady, with some holy women and St. John, right there at the foot of the cross.

Our faith tells us more. In the Mass, we somehow would be with everybody else, because the Mass is the act of Christ together with the whole Church, the people of God. So it is the most social thing we can take part in, even if the Mass is celebrated by a lonesome priest with no people.

Given all these data about the Mass, should we not rather take our duties towards it most seriously? Especially, as we plod through the treacherous trails of our elections?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Concern begets initiative

I USED to see him walk some mornings towards the school where we both work, he as a foreign IT consultant and I as chaplain. I always felt obliged to give him a ride, because the approach to the school is a 200-meter steep and, to me, hard climb.

It took me some time to realize that he did not need a lift. An inveterate athlete, he wants to walk, climb and do many physical things, if not always, then often. His body just craves for these exertions.

The other day I was told that he biked from Cebu up to Bogo then down to Balamban at the other side and crossed the island back to Cebu through the transcentral. That’s easily about 180 kilometers of rough terrain, treacherous climbs, and he did it all in one day!

Of course, biking is his main sport. And he has been to many places in the country biking, accumulating enough knowledge of the places to produce an excellent guidebook for bikers in the different parts of the archipelago.

A few months ago, he with a friend also made a more-than-a-thousand-kilometer biking expedition from Pakistan to China. And he continues to make plans of ambitious biking excursions like this. He might manage to make a world guidebook for bikers too.

His name is Jens (pronounced Yens) Funk, fortyish, blond, pale blue eyes, and German all over, with no hint of fat in his bodily frame. But you’d be amazed at how well he blends with the local folks, and with everyone in the school.

The rural setting and rural living are no problem to him. His capacity to adapt is tremendous. In fact, given the economic level of most of our students, I’ve never seen him in formal or semi-formal attire. He dresses and behaves almost like any of them. No first-world airs about him.

The students and staff, of course, love him, and I could see that the distance of deference students normally give to teachers, let alone, a foreigner, is practically non-existent. Respect accorded him is done in true friendship, indeed a beautiful sight to see!

This set-up has produced something wonderful. The other day, I was asked to bless more than 100 bikes together with their new owners, the smiling, obviously happy students.

It turned out that Jens, by his own initiative, arranged for these bikes—slightly used—to be shipped to Cebu from Germany.

As I tried to piece things together, Jens had been concerned with many of the students’ conditions. That concern made him see opportunities, crackled him to action, assumed some responsibilities, etc. He believes a bike is a right, not just a privilege.

He asked some people in Germany to donate bikes. He organized some foundation, established a network of contacts, raised some money just to make these bikes arrive here.

These bikes mean a lot to the students. These save them a lot of fare money. And of course, these enable them to be more mobile, a necessity these days. And there are many other advantages too subtle to enumerate and describe here.

Somehow, I feel in a very special way the great impact this gesture of generosity has made on the students. As chaplain, I am acquainted with the living conditions of the students.

My conversations with them often end up with tears in my eyes. Because of
poverty, ordinary problems become crises of epic proportions to many of them. It has become very challenging for me to give them reasons to hope, to be patient, to persevere in their studies.

This is not to mention the other aspects of formation that they also have to tackle. They may be good in one aspect, but terrible in another, and so any help to relieve some of their difficulties is always welcome.

If only we make personal initiatives, no matter how little, I’m sure we can make a difference, if not big then at least something, if not now then later. Nothing is wasted in personal initiatives.

Let’s thank God for kind hearts like Jens!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Power of Love Songs

LOVE songs, no matter how human and, therefore, imperfect and with limited scopes, can’t help but bear traces of divine love. It’s amazing that with some simple tunes and lyrics, they can make us fly to infinity, to eternity.

This is simply because these love songs have God as their ultimate inspiration. God is love, and anything related to love in our life somehow begins and ends with God. This is true even if we are not aware of this reality.

These songs can be very dramatic. And we can easily excuse them when they exaggerate a little, or even a lot. They exercise tremendous power over us, generating a manifold of impulses that are all meaningful and satisfying to us.

Singing or humming them, or simply playing them in our mind or in our heart, without sound, can evoke peace, joy, thrill, suspense, longing, hope, memories, tears, a smile, a reconciliation, an embrace, a kiss, etc., etc.

This is the power of love songs. With their melody, they easily arouse our senses, activate our emotions and passions. With their words and messages, they can crackle to life and intense activity our intelligence and heart.

Before we know it, we become aware there’s something burning within us. We are brought to different worlds, go through the past, the present and the future, made to consider various situations and precious lessons. If we are lucky, they can even lead us to God—as they should, in the end.

While I was in high school, way before my Bible-reading years and my immersion in philosophy and theology, there was one song that caught my attention immediately. The melody struck me first, but it was the lyrics that hooked me to singing it.

It went: “If it takes forever / I will wait for you. / For a thousand summers / will wait you.” That may sound corny to some, but to my innocent ears then, it gave me tremendous lessons. Love knows how to wait! The realization came with the wonder and surprise of a discovery.

Imagine the thrill I got recently when someone lent me a Sting mp3 entitled, “A thousand years.” The same idea is dramatized in a modern and secular way. Again the music first got me intrigued. It has a different and haunting beat. But the words are just marvelous. As people say, they are to die for.

It goes: “A thousand years / a thousand more / a thousand times a million doors to eternity.” I find these words graphic enough of what is to wait. When one is in love, the distinction between a moment and an eternity dissolves.

The idea is reiterated in finer nuances, making you flow in a beautiful stream of consciousness. “If it takes another thousand years / a thousand wars /…I could shed another million tears / a million breaths / …A million suns / ten million years of uncertainty…”

All of these because, “If there was a single truth / a single light / a single thought / a singular touch of grace,” the truth is “I’ve kept this single faith / I have but one belief / I still love you / I still want you.”

The song ends very powerfully: “A thousand times the mysteries unfold themselves / like galaxies in my head / On and on the mysteries unwind themselves / eternities still unsaid / ‘TILL YOU LOVE ME.”

I must say that the song helps me to pray. When I consider the words, and of course, when I hear the melody, I think of how our relationship with God and one another should be. Sorry, I don’t waste these thoughts on just one creature.

I realize that God, who is love and who loves us first before we know how to love, precisely waits for us in time and in eternity, willing to suffer whatever, if only we learn to love the way he loves us.

However things may be, the bottom line is: love endures and conquers all, dude!

Friday, February 9, 2007

Fragile emotions

THERE is no doubt that emotions play an important role in our life. Next to
our physical features, they are considered our packaging through which people detect our inner identity and character.

True enough, next to the senses, the emotions are the doors and windows that link us to the outside world, and vice-versa. Thus, we can readily see how important it is for us to develop our emotions well, since our knowing and expressing somehow depend on them.

This should be an abiding concern. Our education necessarily has to tackle this important component that can play a crucial role in our life. We have to wake up to our emotions’ now urgent and crying need for due attention.

A lady senator, notorious for going ballistic in public and for her talent for highfalutin foul language, at least admits she needs to have anger management. I would say it’s not only anger that we should manage, but all the emotions.

There are many of them: love, hope, pleasure, joy, hatred, aversion, fear, sadness and anger, etc. It’s worth noting that Jesus Christ, to Christian believers the model of how we ought to be, felt all these emotions, indicating to us that emotions are at least an integral part of our nature.

In themselves, they are neither good nor bad. Their morality depends on how they are used. They are good when they contribute to a good action, and evil in the opposite case.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes them as “natural components of the human psyche. They form the passageway and ensure the connection between the life of the senses and the life of the mind.” (1764)

From this description alone, we can understand that emotions are not meant to be on their own. Their life, growth and development, their health and vitality need to be pursued in constant and proper integration with our higher faculties.

In short, proper management of our emotions is a matter of their proper integration with our reason and our will, and to Christian believers, with our faith and charity.

One big problem we have at present is when people fail to distinguish between what is emotion and what is reason. Sad to say, many people have come to me asking about this distinction. This, to me, is a very disturbing phenomenon. I thought this distinction is always a given.

Our emotions and feelings, our sentiments and passions need guidance and direction. On their own, they can not see far and often are held captive by what is simply here and now, by what is mine, by what is material and sensible.

They cannot go beyond what is merely pleasurable to the senses. They are not expected to look for truth, nor to discern the essences of things, nor to abstract from the material world to enter into the spiritual world.

It’s not their job to bother about morality. No, they don’t have the equipment for such tasks. Theirs simply is to feel, to enjoy and the like. But properly integrated, they can add color and drama to abstract realities.

Without the light of reason and the strength of the will, without the influence of faith and charity, the emotions remain fragile, unstable, vulnerable to all sorts of dangerous tendencies, quite empty in spite of the sound and fury they can produce.

Detached from reason, from faith and charity, the emotions simply shed a light that produces a blinding glare, and their intensity is helplessly self-centered, totally incapable of reaching out to others.

They are notoriously short-sighted, narrow-minded, rigid and inflexible, yet at the same time are capricious. With them alone, we can never expect to have any conviction nor sense of commitment.

Thus, we can see how dangerous it is when emotions are left simply to be on their own. We truly need to educate them, to integrate them with our higher faculties.

Only then can we aspire to develop them in their endless possibilities. Only then is life not only lived, but also is felt in its real

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

We need mortification

SOME years ago, I had an amusing albeit humiliating experience when I gave a meditation to a group I considered to be educated and familiar with religious terms. I was talking about mortification.

With due preparation and using all sorts of arguments, examples, anecdotes, etc., I tried to effect some sound and fury to stir the audience to appreciate the value of mortification.

I thought I gave a good meditation, until someone approached me and asked what ‘mortification’ meant. The question jolted me back to reality. Our Lord
sometimes plays this kind of game on us.

Of course, Filipinos have a general idea of the spirit of sacrifice. We see this spirit lived in very dramatic ways in many places of the country, a part of our Christian culture in spite of its imperfections. But many may not be familiar with the term, ‘mortification.’

Actually, they both mean the same thing. Mortification has death as its root word, and that’s what is central in the concept of sacrifice. It involves a certain kind of dying, of the flesh so the spirit may live, to oneself so Christ may live in us, of the old man in ourselves so the new man emerges.

Now that we are in Lent again, it’s good that we remind ourselves strongly about this very important aspect of our Christian life, a true necessity and an indispensable stimulus to our spiritual growth.

In a nutshell, we have to understand that we cannot go on with our life without developing a spirit of mortification. Failure in this area certainly leads us to the road of our own perdition. It separates us from the very lifeblood of our Christianity.

Especially now that the pace of development is fast and is producing a dizzying variety of things, unfamiliar to many of us, the objective need for mortification should be more deeply felt.

It should bother us to see that there appears an indifference to this Christian need. But this disturbance should also spur us to seek ways, practical and attuned to the mentality of today’s youth especially, of how to instill this thing in the minds of all.

The spirit of mortification gives us endless and tremendous benefits. It helps us keep a spiritual and supernatural tone to our life, removing us from a purely mundane, temporal and materialistic outlook. In a way, it brings us to our senses.

It unites us more tightly with our Lord, and identifies us with him in his supreme act of love. Our true Christian identity is proven when we go all the way to identify ourselves with Christ on the Cross. A true Christian is when he loves to make sacrifices. Otherwise, he is fake—it’s as simple as that.

It would not be enough to conform ourselves to Christ through the sacraments. Our incorporation into him through baptism necessarily leads us to the cross, no two ways about it.

The spirit of mortification strengthens us against temptations, purifying and healing our wounded powers and faculties. It helps us to stay away from spiritual complacency and lukewarmness, intensifying our love for God and others.

It helps to conform our senses, emotions and feelings to the dynamics of our faith and charity. It’s the discipline that gives them direction, and that leads us to our true joy.

With it, our dreams and exuberance are properly grounded. We need it for atoning and making up for sins, ours and those of others.

It also makes our conscience more delicate and sensitive, and yet also more strong and resistant to temptations and sins. It checks on our pride that works in us 24/7, and only leaves 24 hours after our death.

In short, not only should we welcome opportunities to make sacrifices and
mortifications, but also we should look for them. Avoiding them, to Christian believers, is actually an anomaly.

Thus, we have to understand that in everything that we do, whether we are
working, resting, having a nice, shopping, etc., an element of mortification should be included. Forgetting to mortify definitely spoils our life.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

The sense of time

THIS topic was occasioned by Pope Benedict’s review of the past year, where he referred to the scarcity of time that we seem to be suffering today. This was when he talked about the family and the care children need.

Let’s quote him:
“A child needs loving attention. This means that we must give children some of our time, the time of our life.

“But precisely this ‘raw material’ of life -- time -- seems to be ever scarcer. The time we have available barely suffices for our own lives; how could we surrender it, give it to someone else?

“To have time and to give time—this is for us a very concrete way to learn
to give oneself, to lose oneself in order to find oneself.”

How true! Giving time is one concrete form of loving. And how difficult it
is getting for us to give time to others! How we use time could indicate whether we are truly loving God and others, or we are just spoiling ourselves.

We have to understand that time is one of our very precious natural resources, an endowment given to us by God, a gift which we have to manage very well, because it has a sublime purpose.

Time is not only a measure of duration nor a record of events. It is a sacred thing that links us with God and with everybody else, whatever our circumstances may be. It is the space, ever-flowing and non-recoverable, for us to live out life’s drama and purpose.

This, I believe, is the substance of what we call our sense of time!

One peculiar quality of time is that by the way we use it, we can either create it or kill it, multiply it or reduce it, make it fruitful or waste it, keep it to ourselves or give it to others, stretch it or shrink it, etc.

In other words, despite its linear sequencing, it is capable of being a matrix, giving out a rich array of possibilities to us. Again, depending on how we use it.

How we use time reflects the kind of priorities we have. It may also reflect the kind of pressures we are subjected to. But in the end, it shows how our will and heart, our sense of freedom and love work, what we hold most dear.

It is for this reason that the need to examine ourselves on how we use our time comes to the fore. This exercise will show what kind of love we are pursuing, how we understand freedom, what we consider our ultimate good, etc.

Examining the way we use our time will show if we are progressing, standing still or retrogressing in our quest for maturity and authentic fulfillment, if we are systematically developing virtues or falling into the rut of obsessions and compulsions that can give the illusion we are filling up our time with things.

It will surface the motives behind our choices and decisions, behind the way we resolve conflicts and competing values. It will expose our faith or the lack of it, and whether we are already falling into lukewarmness, idleness, laziness, or revving ourselves again to life and action because of love and hope.

In short, how we use time will reveal to us the topography of our heart and the kind of person we are. Are we really God-and-others-oriented, or are we merely and shamelessly self-oriented?

It will give us a running picture of how we are, because we are such a complex creature such that even if there are constant and permanent elements in our being, our true identity and dignity also depend on the continuing movements of our heart and will.

We have ups and downs, good moments and bad. These are not due only to our own personal strengths and weaknesses. We are in the world and we unavoidably get involved in the affairs of others.

We can’t help but use our time grappling and playing with these factors. Examining how we use time is a truly serious business.