Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Carried away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Seeing God’s face

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Checking wild sympathies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Enriching our human formation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 12, 2007

Past present future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Guarding our internal world

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Media and charity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Simplicity of heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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