Saturday, July 28, 2007

Love for the Church

LOVING the Church is a duty we all have. But how are we developing and
cultivating it? For, mind you, it is not just a passing sentiment. It has to be love that is deep and strong, able to penetrate the true dimensions of the Church and transform people’s lives individually and socially.

Given the complexity of life in the Church, given our weaknesses and mistakes, the occasional scandals among Church leaders, etc., if we are not scientific in developing this love, we certainly would be lost.

There are at least three points which, to me, are crucial in developing this love. There can be many other elements involved, of course. But in the meantime, I feel these three are basic and indispensable.

First is that our model in loving the Church should be none other than Christ himself. Second is that this love is shown in our love for the Eucharist. Third is that our union with the person and intention of the Pope, and the bishops in union with him, is a sure proof of our love for the Church.

Who can question Jesus as model in our love for the Church? He is the founder, and he considers the Church as his bride, the object of his undying love. He is faithful to her. He is generous in endowing her with the best of things, especially his mercy that limits evil.

On our part, we can imitate him by offering our life to her. Our faith in her should be such that we believe she has the answer to all the questions affecting our salvation, our faith and morals.

We should do all we can to foster the development and growth of the Church. For this we have to be generous in our sacrifices and in our efforts to do active apostolate in any form available to us.

For example, the apostolate of doctrine. The Church is in dire need of men and women who can consistently give witness to their faith in their respective families and in places they work, as well as in business, politics, culture, etc.

Church doctrine should cease being merely intellectual concerns. They have to infuse and leaven our thoughts and deeds, and leave their mark in all aspects of our life. Faith and life should merge.

Then, loving the Church is concretely shown also when we take care of developing true Eucharistic piety. This is because the sacrament contains nothing less than our greatest treasure, Jesus Christ himself.

It is the sacrament that effectively brings us closest to Christ, fills us with his life and goodness, reminds us of everything that Christian life entails. This is the sacrament that builds the Church.

As such, the sacrament brings us closest to others in the endless variety of our possible conditions. As St. Paul explains: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Cor 10,17)

That is to say, union with Christ is also union with all those to whom Christ gives himself. I cannot possess Christ just for myself. I can only belong to him if I unite myself with all those who have become, or will become, Christ’s own.

This is how the Holy Eucharist should strike us. It should not just give us some tender moments of nice feelings. It has very practical consequences that need to be acted out by us.

Thus, Eucharistic piety should give us constant impulses to show our faith and love for God and his Church with deeds.

The third element for loving the Church is to be united with the person and intentions of the Pope, and all the other bishops in union with him.

This is because where Peter is, that is where the Church is (“ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia”). In short, if we are not united with the Pope, we are not united with Christ.

This union with the Pope and the bishops is shown by loving and appreciating the Church magisterium: studying, reading and following the encyclicals, letters and other documents from the Pope and the bishops.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Living by faith

WE have to understand that as Christian believers, we view our life not simply as a physical or biological life, nor a sociological or temporal life. Our life is life with God, a supernatural life born and nourished in faith, hope and charity.

Yes, even while we are still here on earth, immersed in the things of this world without being worldly, we are already meant to share the supernatural life of God. Our life should not only be natural. It also has to be supernatural.

Living by faith is an indispensable characteristic of Christian life. We may be subject to hormones and other physical factors, we can’t escape from the effects of our culture, our business, politics, etc., but in the end our life is governed by faith.

Living by faith can mean thinking like God. If our life is a participation in the life of God, we can’t help but think the way God thinks. Our reasoning is not completely our own. Our reasoning should reflect God’s reasoning.

That may sound strange, I know, but that’s what it actually means. We simply don’t use our reason, actuating it in anyway we can. We use reason, but reason enlightened by faith.

Faith can mean many things. It is first of all a supernatural gift. It’s not something we create and develop. It’s given and received. It can only be lived in grace. We have to ask for it, echoing the apostles” “Lord, increase our faith.” (Lk 17,5)

But it can also mean doctrine or teaching, revealed by Christ and now authoritatively taught by the Church. Thus, faith can mean studying and familiarizing with the doctrines to the point that these become flesh of our flesh.

The faith should be the leaven of all our thoughts and desires. Since our Lord has something to say to everything we do, our faith is always relevant in our life. Our faith is never distant and abstract to our affairs. It is concrete and practical, it is in the core of all our concerns.

Establishing and nourishing this connection comprises the essence of what
it means to live by faith. Faith is not a special-occasion event. A permanent feature, it flows with life itself.

It certainly does not supplant reason and everything natural and human. What it does is to purify reason and the natural and human elements in our life. Then it elevates them to the supernatural order, since we are meant for that.

To be able to live by faith, we need to interpellate it with our reason. That’s why we have to realize that there’s always a need to keep a dialogue between our faith and reason. This is a need of ours.

The basis for this dialogue is the fact that faith in itself is always in need of understanding, and so it needs reason to act on it. At the same time, our reasoning cannot help, unless something extraneous intervenes, but to enter sooner or later into the world of faith.

Keeping this dialogue is a skill we all need to learn. It is not just an intellectual or purely theological affair, though the use of the intelligence or our theology figures prominently.

Better said, this dialogue is done best through prayer, a loving conversation with God in our heart, even if that conversation cannot help but be theological also. Because the moment we try to understand our faith, we would be doing theology.

But this theologizing should never undermine, but rather reinforce the father-and-son-loving-conversation character of the dialogue between faith and reason. Theology should never be pursued outside of prayer.

In fact, theology is always needed. It is the language and necessary tool of our faith. With it, we get to discern endless implications of our faith. Thus, our faith becomes active and transformative, never passive and of little effect.

Doing theology is to live by faith. It makes us know and love God better.
It helps to conform our life to God’s life, that is, to get connected with him. It widens our perspectives, and deepens our beliefs and convictions.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Apostolic zeal

I WONDER how many people realize that their life as Christian believers involve them to be apostolic, that is, constantly concerned with bringing souls to God. There appear signs many are completely ignorant of this life’s purpose.

To do apostolate is a necessary consequence of being a follower of Christ. Our Lord did not preach about holiness only. He wants everyone to help everybody else attain sanctity. Otherwise, one’s claim of sanctity is empty.

In no unclear terms, Our Lord said: “All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. Go therefore, teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father…, teaching them to observe all things…, and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.” (Mt 28,18-20)

While given directly to the apostles, these words are actually meant for all those who profess to believe and to follow Christ. The whole exciting, overwhelming world of Christianity as lived and taught by Christ is entrusted to all of us to share and spread among ourselves.

Actually, the apostolate is the ultimate purpose of our life here on earth. It’s not some achievement or success in the professions or in politics or in just any human endeavor. It’s apostolate, helping one another achieve holiness.

This truth simply corresponds to the ultimate truth about ourselves. We are not just creatures with earthly ends. We are children of God, made in his image and likeness, meant to participate in his very own supernatural life.

That’s why, we are basically a religious being. Even if such awareness may
be stifled by a number of reasons, there is in us a basic thirst for God, who is beyond what our nature can give and make us understand.

We just have to learn to foster and nourish this thirst and hunger for God, by being able to relate everything that we do to God. Apostolate is about relating everything to God. Otherwise, we are deceiving ourselves.

Besides, it is in our nature to care for one another. No man can ever live alone. He necessarily lives with others. He needs others. This is true not only in our material needs, but also in our spiritual concerns.

This is the big challenge we are facing today. Many of us are entangled with earthly affairs, with visions and horizons that do not go beyond the physical limits of our present life.

There is a crying need for Christian believers who are so consistent with their faith that their every action and involvement in earthly matters leads others to the realization of God’s existence and his loving plan for us.

For this, a genuine spiritual life is needed, for the apostolate cannot be other than an overflow of one’s life with God. Separated from God, one would never feel the urge to do apostolate. He can only be held captive by mundane matters.

Of course, that spiritual life is developed through prayer and sacrifice, our usual way to identify ourselves with Christ. Together with this, we need to avail ourselves of the sacraments and assimilate Christ’s doctrine.

Plus, a good grounding of present situation and crisis we are facing today. What makes people ignore God, commit sin almost without any sense of guilt, simply concern themselves with purely earthly affairs, should be known.

Apostolate, while a phenomenon of grace, also requires our utmost efforts to grapple with real problems besetting people. Thus, it can only flourish in an atmosphere of friendship, of trust and confidence with an apostolic friend.

There should be a scientific effort to know the causes of the crisis. For this, n interdisciplinary approach is most welcome, since things now are complicated, and problems can have multiple causes.

There is need for today’s apostles to be mature and knowledgeable of things around us, never na├»ve with the things of this world. They should be beyond
being easily scandalized.

They should be able to give a credible witness and defense to their faith. In all this, they should ooze with charity and understanding, always encouraging, staying away from unnecessary conflicts and resentments.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Governance

THE word is out and we have to actively spread it around. Now that the elections are over and the public officials have been sworn in, we have to focus on the delicate and demanding task of governance.

This is a serious matter that needs to be studied thoroughly and pursued relentlessly by all of us.

We cannot allow the running of towns, cities and provinces, let alone, the whole country to go to the dogs of mere popularity, alleged charisma, strong connections, clever publicists, pressure groups, lobbyists, and the like.

We cannot allow the governance of our government units to be spoiled by useless politicking, shameless maneuvers to wrest power for oneself, etc. I hope we can outgrow this, or at least, that we have enough people who have the weight to correct things when they tend to go the politicians’ crazy ways.

Thanks to our progress in communications technology, more and more people can now have their voices heard, and a greater and quicker consensus on issues, can be achieved.

We have to go beyond feudalism, improvisations, amateurism and knee-jerk reactions to problems and challenges. In this, we have to understand that everyone is involved: the officials and the citizens in general, as well.

We have to retrieve the idea of governance from being an exclusive concern of some people alone. At this time, governance has to be a concern of everyone. Not, of course, in the sense of an anarchic free-for-all.

While it’s true that the public officials are given the mandate to lead, the beauty of a democratic state is that everyone is encouraged to participate in any way one can in the governance of state affairs in the different levels.

In short, while leaders and officials have to improve on their governing skills, there should also be effort to involve more and more people in the task of governance.

Everyone should support this. Surely, a lot of due education and formation is needed here. And it’s truly welcome to have a mushrooming of institutions developing in a scientific way this craft of governance.

Even the remotest “barangay” cannot afford to be marginalized in the global march for development in all its aspects. We have to get our act together. Failure in this, given the present context, can constitute a grave criminal act.

The institutions promoting this art have devised ways of how leaders can develop a vision for their respective unit, translating it into workable plans, with clearly specified means, resources and timeline.

Standards are made, developments and improvements are monitored, accomplishments are certified. This may look like an elementary exercise in the beginning, but then once the take-off point is reached, things can really become different and exciting.

It obviously will be a growing art, subject to the vagaries of trials and errors, and so we also have to learn to be patient and to coordinate. But the objective need is there. We cannot wait until things get irremediably bad.

In this regard, it should be noted that on the leaders and officials is invested a sacred trust they should try their best to carry. Their personal qualities and dispositions play a crucial part in determining the kind of leadership they are going to make.

They should try their best to sharpen their talents, develop those where they find themselves lagging in, always conscious that a continuing improvement of their own selves is at the beginning of any good transformation in society.

The virtue of prudence is especially crucial. Leaders and officials should sharpen their prudential skills—consulting, dialoguing with different parties, studying, making decisions, reviewing, adapting, etc.

Besides, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church reminds us that the first thing everyone should do to effect a change in society is “to renew oneself interiorly.” (552)

We are persons, not machines, and therefore not ruled by impersonal determinism but by the right use of freedom.

This, to me, is indispensable. Regardless of how savvy one may be in the technical part of governing, if he fails in this first requirement, things won’t go very far. Power and its cohorts can easily spoil persons.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Widening our scope of reason

THE topic may sound purely intellectual and academic. But I feel it has an immediate and concrete relevance to our life, because it involves something fundamental about ourselves.

How we think and work, how we conduct our business and politics, for example, how we choose our priorities in daily life, etc. are determined by how we resolve the issue involved. It certainly has far-reaching effects.

And though the issue may first be tackled by our intelligentsia, it is not their exclusive concern only. It’s a universal concern! We have a duty, depending on our possibilities, to spread this concern to all. We just have to find the appropriate ways and means.

Reason or our intelligence, our capacity to know, our faculty to think is not just about a highly personal operation that we do, implying a world that we mainly invent, and thus, very subjective. That is, opposed to being objective or real.

This, sadly, is the dominant understanding of this powerful faculty. Detached from an objective law and standard, it becomes vulnerable to our self-seeking motives.

This spiritual power of ours to think and reason out has its proper object and its proper laws that need to be respected and followed. The problem we are having is that these things are neglected more often these days.

The Pope again alerted us about this point in his recent speech to university professors in a conference about the university’s role in the search for a new humanism in Europe.

It’s an ongoing affair, this effort to understand the mystery of man. The problem arises when the definition of man is confined to certain aspects only, and elaborated to their absurd conclusions.

Through history, several attempts have been made to define man. Some have viewed man mainly if not purely on his material and temporal aspects. The spiritual aspects are marginalized. The Pope himself practically says so.

“The crisis of modernity,” he said, “has less to do with modernity’s insistence on the centrality of man and his concerns, than with the problems raised by a humanism that claims to build a ‘kingdom of man’ detached from its necessary ontological foundation.”

That’s high talk, all right. But that reference to “necessary ontological foundation” is about man’s ultimate origin as God’s creature, made a person and not just a thing, with body and soul, and finally as God’s child meant to participate in the very life of God.

The core problem is when man’s reason is misused, and then abused, as when it is made to focus only on tangible or empirical objects, or on what is reasonable alone. Our reason is held captive by a vicious human attitude that ignores the spiritual and supernatural reality.

Beyond the empirical, reason is made to stop working, which is contrary to
its very nature, oriented as it is to the infinite and always in the state of transcending itself. Our intelligence does not know how to say, “enough.”

Thus, the Pope proposed that we broaden the scope of reason “in order to be able to explore and embrace those aspects of reality which go beyond the purely empirical.”

It’s when this is done, he said, that we can have a “more fruitful, complementary approach to the relationship between faith and reason.” A continuing dialogue between faith and reason takes place. This is a concern we have to learn to be more aware of. We have to sustain that dialogue always.

Our reasoning is led to the world of faith, and faith becomes partly reasonable, and definitely not just a myth, a figment of one’s imagination. Faith assumes a realism based on an objective truth.

It is with this attitude to reason and faith that Christianity’s contribution to modern humanism can be appreciated. Faith is then clothed in reason and can be deepened and presented in ways attuned to modernity’s sensibilities.

This is how we can be transformed spiritually so we can live out our vocation as children of God in the middle of the world. For a humanism without faith is a truncated humanism.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Business ethics

I AM happy to note that an increasing number of businessmen are becoming more receptive to the idea that they have to raise their knowledge of business ethics.

This is evidenced by the fact that more businessmen are enrolling in business ethics, a subject now offered in more and more schools. This is a welcome development that should be monitored closely and improved further.

That businessmen behave like dogs, acting only at the smell of fast money,
is hopefully becoming history, a thing of the past. With how things are now, such mentality is certainly a painful anachronism fit to be buried quickly.

Yes, our technological advances, on the one hand, with their corresponding
improvement in quality of life and sensitiveness, and the still gaping problems of poverty and inequality, on the other hand, practically require every businessman to master business ethics.

Business is a very complicated human activity that involves not only an exchange of goods and money but also the very dignity of human person. It just cannot be resorted to simply because one has money or the opportunity. A lot more is needed.

Business by nature touches us to the core, as well as covers our farthest social dimension. Always a moral act, it is crucial to attain not only our temporal common good but also our eternal common good.

In short, business cannot detach its economic dimension from the concern
for social justice, ecological balance, the principles of common good, solidarity and subsidiarity, and a lot more.

The gains of globalization, for example, would just be Pyrrhic victory if it fails to achieve greater justice and equality worldwide, and if it takes undue advantage of the weaknesses of poor countries. Globalization should have a heart and a soul.

Business should always uphold the basic “gospel of work,” where human labor is seen as a blessing not a curse, where the proper priority of labor over capital, spiritual life and family over work, etc., is kept.

It should foster proper values, arming itself against anomalies to which it is most vulnerable: commercialism, materialism, forms of cheating and corruption, false belief that human development is only a matter of economic progress.

The proper value of sacrifice should also be inculcated, since any ethical business activity would always involve self-denials and sacrifices. We have to understand that business always entails some amount of ascetical struggle and development of virtues.

Business cannot be separated from religion. It has to be seamlessly integrated to our relation with God and others, ultimately marked by charity. It just cannot be the arena for self-interest or even greed to play out their games.

This is an ongoing challenge because our present mindset is still barbarian, stuck only with the economic aspect. A continuing formation is needed and must put in place the necessary mechanisms to help businessmen

Clear guidelines and benchmarks should be made to warn us of what may already be laxity or complacency if not outright violation to business ethics.

More than that, these should help us to develop a sense of duty and responsibility in business. There’s a need to broaden businessmen’s mentality to be specially sensitive to ethical considerations.

Our present fascination for breeding entrepreneurs among ourselves should
not forget this need to develop a certain sensitivity to business ethics. Our entrepreneurial skills would be hollow without the leaven of ethics.

Though entrepreneurial activities thrive best in a fast-moving business environment, it does not mean that they are exempted from ethical questions. The more immersed people are in entrepreneurial activities, the more grounded in ethics they should be.

I pray that we can immediately explode fallacies that blame business ethics
for unnecessary difficulties and failures in business.

It is strongly hoped that the schools and churches, the families, government agencies and other institutions work together to effect a revolution, a thorough overhaul, a paradigm shift in the way we do business.

We have to build an authentic culture of business ethics, to both reflect and reinforce who we really are, that is, that we are children of God

Monday, July 2, 2007

Confession

THIS is about the sacrament, and its requisite virtue of penance. This is not about rumors and gossips of attention-hungry celebrities. Sad to say, the word appears to be more associated with the latter than with the former.

The sacrament and the virtue appear to be falling into oblivion. Aggravating this is the anomaly that while the number of penitents is dwindling, the number of communicants is increasing.

The situation should move all of us to drastic action. Priests should talk more about these topics to clarify and encourage people. Everybody else should really try to develop the appropriate knowledge, attitudes and habits.

Of course, priests should not only talk about them. Now, they have to give
a more overt example. They—we—have to the first to go to confession. We should also make ourselves more available for this sacrament.

One aspect of the problem is precisely the lack of priests or, worse, their unwillingness to administer this sacrament. Of course, that in itself is reflective of a still deeper problem that’s crying for urgent relief.

A priest should have a clear sense of priority, and realize that hearing confessions is one of his first priorities. He should hang out a lot in the confessional.

If he were to choose, for example, between being a parish office manager and a confessor, he should choose the latter, because the former can be well done by a layman, while as a confessor, he is unsubstitutable.

As a confessor and spiritual adviser, a priest is at once a father, judge, doctor and pastor. In Christ, he forgives sins, tells us what is wrong, heals us of our illnesses, and leads us to our true destination. He handles the most intimate part of a person.

We have to remember that the sacrament is such a precious treasure in Christian life that neglecting it constitutes a big, culpable waste!

The sacrament is nothing less than a tribunal of divine justice and mercy. Something in it makes us closest to God. That’s because mercy is God’s most radical form of love for us, and asking for mercy is our extremist form of love for God.

The Gospel speaks eloquently of this. Christ on the Cross, about to die, asked his Father to forgive “them for they know not what they do.” His whole redemptive work culminated in forgiving sinful mankind.

And the sinner of a woman who gate-crashed into Simon’s party for Jesus was considered as loving Jesus more than did Simon, because of her many sins for which she repented and asked for mercy. (Lk 7,36-48)

In short, God is happiest when we ask for forgiveness. “There shall be joy in heaven upon one sinner that does penance, more than upon ninety-nine just who does need penance,” Jesus said. (Lk 15,7)

One reason we see a lot of religious indifference and even hostility nowadays not only against God but also against one another is the neglect of the sacrament of confession and its virtue of penance.

How can one feel close to God when he feels no contrition for his sin? This, of course, presumes that one still has some sense of sin, because in actuality many have reduced sin to what is only externally offensive, not necessarily to God.

Confession reconciles man with God, recovers lost grace or increases grace
if one still is in that state. It also builds up fraternity in the Church, since sin is not only an offense against God, but works to weaken Christ’s body, the Church.

Confession heals our individual conscience of its many defects, and makes it at once more sensitive to sin and resistant to temptation. It knocks the devil witless.

Confession even has very healthy natural, as in psychological, effects. If understood and done properly, it truly makes us feel light and happy, free and unburdened. It makes us simple yet knowledgeable, transparent yet prudent.

We should do everything to promote the habit of going to confession. The
same with its required virtue of penance, the abiding sense of our sinfulness leading us to always ask for forgiveness.