Monday, May 28, 2007

Salvaging our politics

AFTER going through hell in the last elections, the seemingly only positive
lesson to learn and action to take is to hurry and salvage our politics. Let’s issue a distress call, an SOS, a Mayday. Let’s call 911 and sound the alarm!

The new gadgets, the increased awareness and vigilance of many people, etc., have just made it more painful for us to witness how ugly our electoral process is. Is the picture truly reflective of us as a people? Are we that depraved?

I don’t know if there are other countries like us in repulsiveness. But if there are, we should quickly get out of that league. It’s sickening. It’s completely depressing.

Why are we still in the primitive age? We need to modernize, and computerization can help a lot. It can reduce cheating into acceptable and irrelevant levels.

It seems our skills in cheating during elections have been polished and perfected through the years by our crooks. And the funny and sad thing is that no one admits to any wrongdoing. Everyone is as innocent as an angel!

But a lot more is needed: nothing less than individual and collective conversions, a circumcision of the heart. If we don’t start there, no amount of sophistication in our computerization can solve our most shameful problem.

I suppose by now, everyone, including our little children, knows how cheating can be done in utter disregard for any trace of decency. What a curse we have here! We are already poisoning the minds of our future generations.

Soon after the elections, there were talk shows assessing the political maturity of the Filipino people. It’s like rubbing it in.

How can there be political maturity when a good sector of our populace are till poor, ignorant, and very vulnerable to be taken advantage of by our almost completely conscienceless politicians? Apathy and cynicism are obvious.

How can there be political maturity when many of our politicians do not even know the true essence and purpose of politics? For them, it’s just about ego-tripping, whether personal or family.

Or politics for them can just be the field to give full play to their avarice, greed, lust for power, their talent and skills in deception. They must feel that they are exempted from moral and legal requirements during elections.

They have the nerve to present themselves as the only hero in town, the indispensable savior and all that nauseating stuff. It seems that common sense has fled, the last shred of good manners and human decency blown away.

The level of rational, objective discussion of issues bottomed out. Only a few managed to say something sensible. For many others, the picture was horrifying. All sorts of fallacies in the book were flaunted. Passions flared up, while reason was paralyzed.

How can there be political maturity when many of the elections officials in
all levels, from the poorest clerks and watchers up, are just dripping with dishonesty? They cannot even mask it. Their rationalizations and even the very tone of their voice give them away.

And the media, how did it behave? There were many shining moments. Sad
to say, there were also many lapses. Partisanship ruled in many instances, not objective and balanced views.

It monitored the events well. But it still needs a lot to learn about how to educate people on politics. There were also many shallow, knee-jerk reactions that were sensationalized and made to scream in the media.

The whole experience approximates the case of a demonic possession urgently needing exorcism! I pity the many good-hearted citizens who tried to help
but were swept away by the savage force of our sick electoral system.

Ok, let’s stop lamenting. Let’s just hope that this nightmare be an occasion for everyone to do something drastic to make a change for the better. God always has to come to the picture.

There should be more stable and ongoing initiatives in this regard, not on-the-spot improvisations. Advocacy groups for this purpose should abound. Church leaders have to do their part in actively evangelizing our people to infuse true Christian spirit in our political exercises.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Homily is God’s word now

YES, this is how the homily, more commonly known as the priest’s sermon at Holy Mass, should be. It’s not just any speech, lecture or show, no matter how brilliant. It is God’s word now to us through God’s minister, the priest.

Relevant to this, a recent Church document says that preaching—and the homily is its best form—is God’s word communicated by a living God to living persons in Jesus Christ by means of the Church.

In his latest apostolic letter, “Sacramentum caritatis,” Pope Benedict asks priests to improve their—our—homilies. “Given the importance of the word of God, the quality of homilies needs to be improved.” (46)

Before we express our own ideas of what this means, the Pope clarifies:

“The homily is ‘part of the liturgical action,’ and is meant to foster a deeper understanding of the word of God, so that it can bear fruit in the lives of the faithful.

“Hence ordained ministers must ‘prepare the homily carefully, based on an adequate knowledge of Sacred Scripture. Generic and abstract homilies should be avoided.

“In particular, I ask these ministers to preach in such a way that the homily closely relates the proclamation of God’s word to the sacramental celebration and the life of the community, so that God’s word truly becomes the Church’s vital nourishment and support.”

Thus, the first thing to remember is that the homily is part of the liturgy. It is part of Christ’s living action through time. Christ’s redemptive work continues—it cannot be stopped—this time with our cooperation.

It’s not just a personal, private act of a priest. It’s an act of Christ, the priest and the faithful, united in faith and love. The priest giving it should always know he is speaking for Christ.

That’s the reason St. Paul says: “For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word; but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” (2 Cor 2,17)

That’s a tall order for us, priests, but it’s not impossible. As long as one has the right condition and dispositions, and prays, studies, observes, relates, asks, consults, prepares, etc., a homily can be made and delivered as it should be, according to its nature and purpose.

For this, priests undergo proper training, which should be ongoing and should cover more and more pertinent aspects, no matter how small. Of course, the bishops should oversee both the training and the performance.

Care should be taken that while everyone is encouraged to be innovative and creative, the homily is not reduced to a mere lecture, an occasion to correct and scold, or to showcase one’s talents, whether of the intellectual or acting type.

God’s word should not be adulterated. While the Church’s social doctrine can and should be articulated, and while a society’s social conditions are considered, the homily is never the time and place to do politics or to voice out purely social theories.

God’s word in the homily is meant to bring us to our supernatural end. It’s mainly a victorious, happy and charitable word, in spite of the sacrifices and denunciations involved. It should not unduly get entangled with earthly affairs.

St. Paul says: “My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Cor 2,4-5)

To attain this goal and standard, aside from the sacrament of Orders and a vibrant spiritual life, one has to have a good knowledge of Scripture and tradition, the whole doctrine of our faith taught in seminaries and other places.

Besides, one needs a running knowledge of the actual circumstances round. He should be good at seamlessly integrating all these elements, giving the proper priorities, so as to come out with the true living word of God here and now.

That’s when we can say it is the Holy Spirit speaking, and not just a priest!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Pinoy pilgrim

THAT’S the title of a book written by a friend of mine. It’s subtitled, “In search of Filipino identity,” and is a personal testimony of what he thinks is our national character and the rich potentials that character possesses.

He believes this national character ought to be developed further, purifying it of some negative traits while highlighting the many positive elements it contains. He is convinced ours is a true blessing from God, endowed with a special mission.

The testimony is based on the author’s insights and the many lessons he learned from his family, his priceless work experiences, travels, encounters with people high and low. He’s a product of the school of hard knocks.

He says all these in an anecdotal style, homey, funny, engaging, much like how the writer is in real life. He’s now in his 70s, at least a generation head of me, kind of retired but still available to serve anyone who wants to take him. Actually, the book also left me teary eyed in some delicate moments.

I first met Manoling de Leon when I started my first job after college in Manila. In my early 20s, I was selling condominiums which at the height of the Martial Law years in the mid-70s were selling like hot cakes.

I remember we finished selling our project along Roxas Boulevard in Manila, a 100-unit affair, in one month. And there was no building yet. We were only showing drawings to our customers. That’s was my first time to join a killing.

Those were dangerously intoxicating days for a young man like me at that time, but I managed, with the help of my guardian angels, to remain sober and focused. I thank God I survived. I managed to sift out the poison that usually went with the perks of a successful business.

Manoling struck me as a very likeable uncle, friendly, cheerful and all. He was not a regular staff of the office, but rather a consultant to our president, or as he likes to say, an intellectual entrepreneur, paid only to think and advise.

At that time, I did not know what he contributed to our office. He was so unassuming that it is only now after reading his book that I realize he brought a real wealth of experience and expertise to our young outfit.

He was the groundbreaker of the condominium business that caused a sea change of the economy at that time. That’s what he is good at—creating very sellable innovative ideas, making money almost out of nowhere.

But he is much more than this. He was a construction and gas station manager, advertising and marketing executive, and consultant to tycoons and Philippine Presidents. Even without a college degree, he gave lectures to MBA students.

The story of his life is very inspiring, to say the least. The 9th of 15 children, he had to struggle for survival early in life. Good Catholics, his parents instilled sense and virtues to the children in spite of tremendous difficulties they had.

Manoling learned quickly how to fend for himself and to care for the whole
family. At age 16, after the war, when things were difficult, he went to work in Guam, a young OFW, his baptism of fire. In the process, he knew what his strengths and weaknesses were.

One day, his mother asked him to sell “maruya” in school to augment the family income. He could not sell a single “maruya” to his classmates, but he managed to dispose the product by selling to a rich neighbor with a large family. Lesson: he was bad at direct selling, but good at bulk sales.

From then on, he was always trying to know more about himself, and to observe very keenly the things around him. He also read, studied and prayed. That’s the secret of his fertile mind.

The title of the book, Pinoy pilgrim, refers to his belief that each man’s life here on earth is a journey toward our definitive homeland in heaven. Whether we are aware of it or not, we have a relation with God. Would that we be more aware of it so as to actively develop it!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Family in a secularized society

I just came across a report of the state of the family in today’s Europe. The figures are alarming. There’s no doubt that the family in that so-called developed part of the world is in dire crisis.

Everyday, it said, 2880 children are killed through legal abortions. In Spain, abortion has increased by 75% over a 10-year period. Since 1980, marriages have declined by 23%.

About 32% of children are born outside marriage in Europe. In Sweden, the
average length of marriages is only 13 years. In some European countries, marriages last for only 9 or 7 years.

Though we don’t have the corresponding figures in our country, I feel that our situation is not much better. I remember reading somewhere that there’s a sharp decline of parents living with their children, from 65% in 2000 to 52% in 2005.

In that article, it was noted that family activities have declined. Spending time with the family, for example, decreased from 29% in 2000 to 19% in 2005. Eating outside with the family also fell from 38% in 2000 to 18% in 2005.

Of course, these are just sociological data. We don’t really know what’s happening inside the hearts of the people concerned. For all you know, some wonderful things may be happening in their lives, through God’s grace.

But to the extent that we are responsible for our actions, we should do everything to strengthen our sense of family, arming it adequately to face the many challenges of our secularized society.

A secularized society is one where God is relegated to the corner, made at best a decoration, but never as our constant guide, or our loving Creator and Father. His laws and commandments, our paths to our true joy, are ignored.

A secularized society is people just doing things on their own, guided in their conceit and vanity by their reason alone without faith. Their understanding of man is purely material, and strictly time and earth-bound. Nothing beyond.

They simply follow what seems reasonable and practical at the moment. Responses to issues and problems easily become shallow, selfish and Pavlovian. They miss our spiritual and supernatural dimensions.

With this frame of mind, hardly anything is held absolute. Everything is relativized. There is a great tendency to slide to trivialize things and to rationalize. One becomes very vulnerable to cheating, to vices of lust and greed, and many other evils.

The sense of commitment weakens, and if no conversion is made, it dies and disappears. To achieve a semblance of peace and order in society, subtle manipulations are made, if not fear being generated, then external threats and force.

Love as the spirit uniting us weakens. Love is corrupted, and is slowly being replaced by its different caricatures. In the end, man is dehumanized. This is the result of a secularized society. Without God, man degenerates.

We have to strengthen our sense of family, first by fortifying the love between spouses. But again, the true nature and force of love can only come from God. On our own, we simply have theories that actually are only a shot in the dark.

It’s unfortunate that many of our celebrities, our popular public role-models, fail miserably in this responsibility. The way the split between a Filipino actress and her foreigner husband was explained away recently, was a mockery of the nature and purpose of marriage.

The indissolubility of marriage is not a Catholic truth. It is an inherent property of the nature of marriage, before it is a Catholic teaching. And marriage is based on true love, not on money, convenience or psychological and cultural compatibilities.

I worry about the effect things like this have on our young. That they scandalize is bad enough. But that they don’t scandalize anymore, as things appear now, is worse. We seem to have lost our sense of sin, of what is good and evil.

We have to purify and strengthen our sense of love, marriage and family. This is indispensable to create and keep a truly human society, not a secularized one fit for the dogs.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Children and Chastity

IT’S nice to see those kids troop to Church these days, bringing little flowers to Our Lady. At least amusement springs in our heart to see the girls in white with angel wings, and the boys, well, trying to put their best behavior.

Seeing them has tremendous impact on us. It rejuvenates our hope. It’s almost like praying. So if you’re grappling with your prayers, try praying by looking at those tykes. They surely will melt your heart.

The “flores de Mayo” speaks of a purity of heart that allows love for God and others to blossom. Though done in innocence, this custom reminds us of what we are supposed to be, no matter what it takes.

Truth is we are all God’s children. In spite of our sins and failures, we are meant to be with our Father God. This is his divine will, and he will do everything to fulfill it—of course, with our free cooperation.

We need to protect and defend our dignity as God’s children. He does not want us to be just any creature. Though we grow in age, stature and wisdom, we should try with God’s grace to remain like a child, whose heart is filled with love of God.

This means that aside from truths and doctrine, virtues and pious practices, our heart should burn with joyful desires, meaningful memories, colorful imaginations, songs, poetry, etc. A sad heart is a heart out of love and very vulnerable.

Among the virtues that keep us childlike and always in love is chastity. It’s a beautiful virtue that can only be a fruit of true love for God, a lifelong interplay of God’s grace and our all-out effort.

It provides us with that crucial link between our sexuality, that very intimate and intense element of our identity, and our true dignity as children of God. It keeps us in the right course of our life.

Chastity protects and saves us from the attacks of sensuality and concupiscence, no matter how vicious their grip may be on us. But let’s remember that it is not only to be desired and talked about. It has to be felt and enjoyed.

Though it involves constant internal warfare, chastity never fails to bring about its effect of peace and joy, and an uncanny sense that we are God’s children, complete with tenderness and confidence.

With it, we experience a sense of self-mastery, of freedom, a return to an original state. It’s a manly virtue that requires both grace and will-power.

With it, we have a cleaning apparatus that automatically works whenever some dirt comes to our mind and heart. It makes our senses clean, our faculties pure, able to see and understand things clearly.

It gives us wings to fly and enter the world of the spiritual and supernatural. It facilitates prayer, making us understand why love is joined by sacrifices. It unites body and soul properly. It prepares us for true love.

Of course, the obstacles can not be exaggerated. We have our own weakened flesh to reckon with. Then the temptations outside and the devil himself can not be ignored. Never deny their influence on us!

Though many have fallen to vices and perversions and have written off this
virtue from their lives, the means to deal with the difficulties are always available. “My grace is enough for you,” (2 Cor 12,9) our Lord told St. Paul. “Where sin abounded, grace abounded even more.” (Rom 5,20)

On our part, we have to beg our Lord for it in all humility. Then, offer sacrifices, keep yourself busy, have a tender devotion to our Lady. Confess regularly. See to it that your heart feels young and vibrant, truly in love.

Be careful with tiredness, idleness, loneliness, because that’s when our body feels it has to recover its lost privileges and compensations. Flee from occasions and temptations. Dominate the imagination and memory. Crush internal and solitary sins.

Let’s remember that chastity is a joyful struggle of love. Once we feel like a dog trying to be chaste, something has gone wrong. Be candid in spiritual direction.