Saturday, March 31, 2007

Mercy, mercy, mercy

IN a priest’s daily prayers, the Breviary, there’s a psalm that never fails to warm my heart. It is a beautiful hymn on divine mercy, meant for us to learn also, since our Lord said: “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful.” It goes:

“Give thanks to the Lord for he is good / for his mercy endures forever. / Let the sons of Israel say: / ‘His mercy endures for ever.’ / Let the sons of Aaron say: / ‘His mercy endures for ever.’ / Let those who fear the Lord say: / ‘His mercy endures for ever…” (Ps 118)

Of course, there’s in the psalms a certain element that makes us flow in a prayerful stream of thoughts. Its lilt makes us recollected in peace, making us feel at home with the one who is precisely our original father—God. I hope many of us can rediscover the beauty of the psalms.

Divine mercy is the culmination of God’s love for us. It shows us who we truly are to God. We are not just any creature. We are no just even the best creature in the material world, able to know and choose.

We are God’s children, created in his image and likeness, endowed not only
with the best the natural world can give. We have been gratuitously raised to share in the very nature and life of God! This happens through grace.

It is this innate, original dignity we all have that, in a way, does not allow God to ever forget us, no matter how bad we have been. We can even say that the more mean we are, the more God shows his love for us.

Remember what our Lord said to Simon who thought ill of the woman who washed our Lord’s feet with ointment: “Many sins are forgiven her, because she has loved much. But to whom less is forgiven, he loves less.” (Lk 7,46)

Many practical considerations can spring from this fundamental realization
of who we are. One is that we have to learn to be truly patient, eagerly forgiving and open to all. We deserve nothing less than this as we deal with one another.

No matter how different one may be from us, especially in terms of culture,
mentality, attitudes, and even of morality and spirituality, we need to be patient, quick to give excuses and to forgive, hardly taking any offense.

That’s why we have to be very open and strong, staying away from being overly sensitive and rigid in our own ways and styles. Flexibility is always a mark of a strong man. Far from weakening our personality, this attitude enhances it as it makes us more like Christ.

Thus, we have to learn the soft and gentle skills of being affable and ikeable to all. Good manners, refined ways, warm dispositions, details of urbanity are always worth cultivating. Same with highlighting the positive and the unifying.

This, of course, does not do away with the requirements of justice and truth. Mercy demands justice and truth, but somehow it goes beyond them, purifying them and setting them in their proper place and context.

Mercy does not allow justice to lapse to revenge, anger, irritation. It does not allow truth to be cold, unfeeling, heartless. It provides the proper solution for justice and truth to serve the ultimate good of man.

Where justice tends to give a defined, focused picture of a situation, mercy gives the large picture and perspective. Where truth tends to be precise and exacting, mercy protects it from being discriminatory and self-righteous.

Mercy reminds us all that we are always brothers and sisters to one another, whatever may be our condition, differences and conflicts. It reminds us to love one another the way our Lord loves us. Even the enemy is object of such love.

Mercy, in the end, elevates justice and truth to the level of God, taking it away from being mere play things and instruments of clever men. We have to learn the ways of mercy! That’s the need today.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Love’s many faces

NO, I don’t mean that love is about double-dealing, hypocrisy or chameleonic deception. Much less is it a form of madness, a kind of bipolar psychological disorder involving multiple personalities.

Sadly, some people have mistaken love to be those, aside from accusing it of being blind. Thus, it is important that lovers be mature persons to be able to distinguish love from its dangerous look-alikes.

There’s one consistent and unchanging core in love. It is to give oneself unstintingly to another. But it is in its nature to be highly versatile, inventive, flexible, creative. Love cannot be caught stuck in only one rigid form of expression. It sings and dances with any tune.

Thus, you have St. Paul saying, “To the Jews, I became a Jew that I might gain the Jews…To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak. I became all things to all men, that I might save all.” (1 Cor 9) Amazing, don’t you agree?

This is because love always feels the need to adapt itself always to its beloved. It’s never selfish. It’s joy is in the beloved’s joy. And it’s not blind at all. It is fiercely perceptive and choosy. And it picks what is best for the beloved.

If anyone says he is in love and does not feel this dynamics of love, he better see a doctor or psychiatrist or a spiritual director. He most likely is sick. A lover by nature enjoys some fullness of life. His condition transcends earthly factors.

A lover does not know boredom. He ignores tiredness and buries complacency and passivity. A certain ardor burns in his heart. For discretion, he may not show these externally. But inside him, he is all in flames.

Of course, it helps in loving for one to be gifted with an open, warm and sunshiny disposition. But a lot more is needed. Love requires all the virtues, and true love actually spawns and develops them. Yes, love is synonymous with fertility.

This is because love itself is the mother virtue. The other virtues cover only so much. Love covers the whole spectrum of all possible human conditions. It’s what gives meaning, order and direction to all the other virtues.

And neither is love an on-and-off affair. It needs to work and function all the time. In fact, it should go with the very beating of the heart, since it actually is the language proper to the heart.

Still a lot more is needed for us to love properly. We need God, for God is love. He is the source, pattern and end of love. We can only love properly when we are with God. Otherwise, we will just be playing games.

Again, we hear St. Paul saying, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4,13) God is the power proper to love. Without God, love is doomed to failure.

This is the kind of love that can fuse and blend contrasting qualities, unavoidable in loving, one soft the other hard, one lenient and tolerant the other strict and impatient, one sweet the other bitter.

If we look at Christ, God’s full revelation to us, that’s what we see. Extremely nice to us, he allows us to use our freedom and even to sin. At the same time, he is extremely hard as to ask us to carry the cross with him and enter by the narrow gate.

In him, the tension between freedom and obedience, mercy and justice, joy and suffering, patience and prompt action, compassion and correction, truth and discretion, etc., is overcome.

This skill to resolve contrasting values, only possible in Christ and with Christ, is what we have to attain. For this we need to study his doctrine and example, we need to develop virtues, we need nothing less than grace.

With all the profusion of things these days, driven by ever developing technologies, and the corresponding profusion of mentalities, styles, situations, etc., we need to rev up our capacity to love by learning to be as versatile as Christ himself.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Church and media

THE head of Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Social Communication recently proposed that Church officials and workers make a thorough examination of conscience as to how they have been using the media.

Archbishop John Foley was quite direct and blunt in his assessment. “We have all sinned in the field of communications, especially through sins of omission and also through sins of commission,” he said.

In his view, not only have Church officials failed to communicate in the best possible way God’s love and goodness to the world, but also are guilty of resorting more often to condemnation than to commendation in the use of the media.”

“Pope Benedict,” he said, “has just counseled us not to be seen as always saying ‘no’, but to reflect, and to be seen to reflect, in our use of the media, the love, mercy and compassion of Jesus Christ.”

I cannot agree more with this standpoint. It pains me to consider that given he stature of the Church as an institution in our society, it is still largely regarded as being naïve, bumbling, simplistic, amateurish and self-righteous in handling the media.

The “mirifica”—the marvelous things—of the Gospel are not given proper airing in the media. What often come out are pitiable caricatures of Gospel truths and hollow imitations of what are popularly considered as “sound bites.”

The distinctive spiritual and supernatural quality of the Gospel message is often lost in the translation. And there appears to be no earnest effort to correct this situation. Everyone seems happy with just dropping his two cents worth.

While it is most welcome to note an increase of religious writing in the media recently, there is still a lot more to be done. There has to be more depth and insight, more spiritual spunk.

At the moment, there is a clutter of bland spiritual messages and pietistic clichés that really turn off people. Many think that some churchmen seem not attuned with the times. They are still stuck with an outdated mentality, more accusing than compassionate in tone.

We appeal to those involved to be more creative and forceful. The possibilities to be such are actually endless. We just have to study more, and of course, to pray more, so things come out more credible.

There’s also that hideous theory that to succeed in attracting the audience, one just has to put in a lot of jokes and stories, never mind if they do not have much relevance to Gospel truths, if they don’t make much religious sense. Really, a cheap shot!

Further dimming the picture is when some public issues need intervention of Church officials. Very often, one observes lack of competence and preparation on the part of Church spokespersons. What is obvious is a lot of improvisation.

The pronouncements often give the impression of being incomplete and one-sided, of failing to appreciate concrete realities, of being rigid. Worse, they sometimes sound like playing into the hands of some interest groups.

Many people have complained that some spokespersons are arrogant in their statements, dripping with a repulsive superiority complex, condescension and
a know-it-all attitude. They seem closed to suggestions and corrections.

Their actuations often lead people to question whether they have prudence, good sense of timing, command of appropriate language, basic good manners.

There is also that ticklish matter of when, in what and how Church officials can make their proper interventions with respect to public social and political issues. In this area, I’m afraid we are still much at sea.

Often, one gets the impression Church people are simply meddling without giving appropriate solutions or guidelines, or are second-guessing and engaged in idle attacks, when they comment on these issues.

Many people are not convinced of the arguments and are becoming suspicious of the motives of these ecclesiastics. They think abuse of authority is involved.

Yes, definitely we all need to have a deep examination of conscience, and come up with effective resolutions. Certainly, competence in this area is very much desired. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten all of us!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Population issue revisited

WITH the election of new members of Congress, concern is now high as to whether the population bills will finally be passed into law. People behind them are campaigning hard to get the numbers to pass them.

These bills are highly contentious. They have provoked a truly sharp clash of positions not showing signs of easing up. Philippine society has been painfully divided as a consequence.

The focus of contention has long shifted from the text and content of the bills, obviously written to sound harmless and benevolent, to the kind of people, institutions and ideologies behind them.

We have to understand that the whole shebang is only a thumbnail of a much larger picture, a mere shadow of a much graver conflict, just one more front in a frontierless war between faith and ideology, between good and evil.

Just the same, the battle in Congress is crucial, for its outcome can significantly transform the complexion of our society. It can open a Pandora’s box. It can be a wedge through which many others more corrupting elements can ruin marriages and break up families.

Whatever relief or help the bills can give seem to be only temporary and shallow. But relief can also be provided by other more acceptable sources. What is clear is that these bills can inflict a deeper and more serious and lasting damage to our culture and ethos.

This is no exaggeration. In fact, I hope I am exaggerating. I know that those promoting these population control and family planning bills will cry that this way of looking at the situation is uncalled for. I understand them perfectly.

But while it is good to be trusting, it is better to be prudent. And in this case, prudence is a result of extensive experience and consistent data gathered worldwide indicating a systematic plan to subvert the very Christian sense of morality.

The issue is not really poverty and overpopulation. If it were just poverty and other social problems, then by all means, we have to go all out in finding the most effective, most practical and cheapest means.

But the issue is not that. The issue is morality. It is our understanding of freedom, responsibility, truth, etc. that is at stake here. There is a most treacherous attempt to undermine morals, using the most seductive arguments.

We are told that we should just be practical, and leave aside the luxury of considering the moral aspects. Why, is it not very moral to be able to eliminate poverty and curb overpopulation? It’s a tired yarn, but many still fall for it.

That is why it is important that everyone is vigilant and generous in helping to clarify the issue. For what is before us is a big challenge, requiring tremendous effort and resources.

We cannot exaggerate the problems and difficulties involved. In defending the truth, what is basically used is also the truth, the truth about us as persons, as children of God, and as responsible social beings and citizens of a certain country.

But it is also truth that can only be given in charity. This is the teaching of the Church, the example of Christ. It cannot be any other way. The goal is not to find out who is right and wrong, who is more clever or practical or popular.

The goal is to convert all to Christ. And this can only be reached through grace, through prayers, through faithful adherence to the doctrine of our faith, through the sacraments and virtues.

This cannot be done by use of force or tricks. No matter how stubborn and dense, no matter how wrong we are, we need to be respected in our freedom.

This approach, of course, is not easy at all. But neither is it an impossible one. As long as one is really with God, he will be with the truth, and he will manage to live, affirm and defend it in charity, no doubt about that.

Bottom line: use more the supernatural and spiritual means without neglecting any human means available to us.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Christian behavior during election season

THIS is an attempt to describe what proper Christian behavior should be during elections. However, this is not meant to articulate an exclusively Christian behavior, since there’s no such thing, given our complex human condition.

I’m sure many of us will have our ideas and opinions on how this Christian behavior should be, all of them with their valid points. My hope, in fact, is that everyone starts to express his views in this matter in public.

The idea is to increase our level of literacy regarding how a Christian citizen should behave in our political exercises. We need to know what attitudes, dispositions and virtues are needed, since we have to liberate ourselves from the inhuman morass our political activities have sunk into.

So far, we have been exposed to the ridiculous ways the political campaigns have been done. There’s so much mudslinging, negativism, hatred-peddling. Polluting noises emit unabatedly from self-righteous ideologues, poisoned partisans and screaming faggots.

Reason, sobriety, objective discussions of issues, not to mention the requirements of charity and understanding in tackling matters open to several valid and moral opinions, are thrown overboard.

Things are made worse when opinions are converted into dogmas, while articles of faith and matters of conscience are held simply as opinions. Some people manipulate truths, facts, data to suit their purpose. Freedom is twisted.

The distinction between the person of the candidates and politicians in general, and the views they hold and the actions they do, is recklessly blurred, leading to serious offenses against charity and freedom. Rash judgments explode in profusion.

Many politicians seem to metamorphose into monsters during the election season, using sly tricks and games, following the unscrupulous logic of greed and disordered ambitions. Conceit spins its own deadly yarn of creativity.

And a big part of the electorate, due to poverty, ignorance, apathy, etc., practically invites political abuses. Often complacent and remiss, they fail to see through many of the hidden selfish agenda of politicians. What a nightmare!

I think it’s really up to us, citizens, to tolerate this state of affairs or not. I think we have the power to set the proper tone of our politics. Yes, we are part of the problem, but we also hold the key to its solution.

But for this to happen, we have to take our social and political commitment more seriously. We have to get our act together. We need to understand that for our social and political commitment to prosper, we need to follow what
the Church teaches.

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we read this relevant point:
“It is necessary to appeal to the spiritual and moral capacities of the human person and to the permanent need for his inner conversion, so as to obtain social changes that will really serve him.” (1888)

Then to reassure us that this teaching is not ineffective as many people feel religious doctrines to be, the same point continues:

“The acknowledged priority of the conversion of the heart in no way eliminates but on the contrary imposes the obligation of bringing the appropriate remedies to institutions and living conditions when they are an inducement to sin, so that they conform to the norms of justice and advance the good rather than hinder it.”

We have to understand that only in God can we learn to be truly concerned about the common good. Apart from him we simply are at the mercy of our subjective, whimsical ideas.

Our social and political commitment necessarily calls us to action, first with our own selves, and then, among ourselves. Many initiatives can come to mind.

Like, having an independent body that systematically gives a thorough backgrounder of the candidates, providing personal, family and professional information, citing their pluses and minuses.

This is to help voters have an idea of the candidates’ integrity and competence. Simply depending on the data given by partisans will take us nowhere.

And an ongoing formation for all citizens should be undertaken, especially
explaining the finer points of prudence in politics, respect for freedom, and the like.

Then to reassure us that this teaching is not ineffective as many people feel religious doctrines to be, the same point continues:

“The acknowledged priority of the conversion of the heart in no way eliminates but on the contrary imposes the obligation of bringing the appropriate remedies to institutions and living conditions when they are an inducement to sin, so that they conform to the norms of justice and advance the good rather than hinder it.”

We have to understand that only in God can we learn to be truly concerned about the common good. Apart from him we simply are at the mercy of our subjective, whimsical ideas.

Our social and political commitment necessarily calls us to action, first with our own selves, and then, among ourselves. Many initiatives can come to mind.

Like, having an independent body that systematically gives a thorough backgrounder of the candidates, providing personal, family and professional information, citing their pluses and minuses.

This is to help voters have an idea of the candidates’ integrity and competence. Simply depending on the data given by partisans will take us nowhere.

And an ongoing formation for all citizens should be undertaken, especially
explaining the finer points of prudence in politics, respect for freedom, and the like.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Challenge to business

THOUGH with priesthood I have left behind active involvement in business, I continue to monitor developments in this area, insofar as they are relevant to my ministry. They too need evangelization, you know.

The newspapers sometimes make good report on these matters. There are of
course some business journals around. And my friends and former colleagues continue to fill me in with data. These are how I update myself.

Right now, I am happy that certain economic indicators are showing good
signs. It seems that the fundamentals are in place.

Inflation and interest rates are low. The peso is gaining strength, many thanks to our OFWs. “Hot money” from foreign investors are pouring in. Price of gas has gone down. Our budget is getting balanced.

There appears to be a surge of activity in the construction industry. Banks
look like they are super-liquid. Treasury bills are selling low. And over-all, I hear more often now that business in almost any field is picking up.

The picture looks good. I would advise our sour-graping ideologues and politicians to be more constructive in their interventions. Of course, not all is perfect, but we cannot deny that there are clear improvements taking place now.

I hope and pray that this present economic upswing continues and its effects trickle down to our people. This is a big challenge to meet. The faces of poverty and misery are still around us.

It’s truly a grating scandal to have these forms of poverty still blighting a good number of our people. Of course, our Lord said that we will always have the poor, but this doesn’t mean we should be complacent with our poverty problem.

I pray that the gains we enjoy now are not wasted because of mismanagement, and things like dirty politics and corruption, not negligible at all in our country, to say the least.

While we hope that the numbers will be always right, we have to remember
that our economic concerns go far beyond figures, and even beyond the best entrepreneurial criteria. They involve our total development as persons and as children of God. This is the real challenge.

This means that while business and economic activities cause many good things like generation of jobs and income, development of many projects, they should be conducted in such a way that we become more human and Christian.

They should foster integral development in the personal, family, social aspects. Not only our material and temporal dimensions should be taken care of. Our spiritual development is even more important.

All players in business and economics should be imbued with such sensitivity that their actions and decisions impact not only on the temporal common good, but also on the eternal common good.

In short, they have to realize that their activities, while obviously enjoying a certain autonomy, are an integral part of their relationship with God. They are a significant element in their virtue of religion. They are never foreign to religion.

They have to be driven by an operative and clearly-defined spirituality that knows how to deal with temporal and mundane affairs. Such spirituality therefore has to be versed with the Church’s social doctrine, especially that of stewardship and solidarity.

Those involved in business should be skilled in dealing with money, power,
fame, temptations, and other worldly perks. More than that, they have to know how to purify the structures to make them conducive to proper human growth.

Good intentions are not enough. There should have real, solid competence.
And with the mentality of a servant, eager to help, humble, passing unnoticed, etc. They should know how to work with anyone and in any situation, without getting lost and without entering into sinful compromises.

To them, the pursuit for money and power should not be a corrupting influence, but rather should always spur their great desires—both practical and prudent—to help the people and to contribute to the common good.

These are not pipe dreams. These are necessary ideals and standards waiting for us to translate into reality. This is the challenge to business.

Thursday, March 1, 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.