Saturday, April 26, 2008

Ethics in crisis

THAT’S a beautiful way of saying an ugly reality. More and more people, even our educated ones, do not know anymore the nature, meaning and purpose of their actions. Or at least their knowledge is saddled with grave distortions.

Look at the recent Vicente Sotto Hospital scandal. As more data emerge, the more absurd the whole affair appears. It’s kind of funny, but in a bizarre way, since it is betraying a deeper, more serious crisis in us as a people.

The predicament we are in is that we seem to have lost touch with the proper sense of ethics and morality. Each one acts solely on his own. Now there’s really nothing wrong with that. That’s unless we highlight the modifier, “solely.”

While it’s true that as persons we are free to do anything, we seem to have forgotten also that as persons we are meant to be responsible for our actions. Freedom and responsibility are essentially inseparable.

Freedom and responsibility are precious human values that need to have their proper grounding and orientation. Without this condition, they can become very dangerous forces wreaking havoc in their wake.

Ultimately, we have to bring in the question of God, of where our faith finally rests in, of whether we have a proper understanding between the roles of faith and reason.

Ultimately, we have to know who and what we are to also know how we ought to act. These questions lead us to the answer of where we ground and orient our freedom and responsibility, and thus, our ethics and morality.

At the moment, there seems to be a good reason to doubt whether many of us know the significance of our actions, that is, of our human acts, those for which we are responsible, since we do them knowingly and willingly.

Our human acts are supposed to reflect our person and build it up. They can define us, make and unmake us. They are integral to our person. But now, signs are aplenty that indicate that these acts are detached from our person.

They have become purely mercenary, highly corruptible and often done at the behest of questionable motives. Without due reference to our person, and much less to God and to an absolute law, our actions are at the mercy of any motive and intention.

The only prevailing law that seems to rule our sense of ethics and morality is that we can do absolutely anything as long we don’t get caught, we don’t create a public mess, we avoid directly and physically hurting people, and things like those.

That’s at the initial stage, since if this mentality is made stable it surely will descend in a slippery slope toward more bizarre and grotesque forms of ethics and morality.

It’s a highly subjective mindset that makes each one of us our own law and lawgiver. The only consolation is that so far, at least in our country, we are not yet in the stage of formally and systematically rationalizing this attitude.

In the West and in most developed countries, this kind of cankerous thinking is getting dominant. And thus, what in a normal peaceful world are considered taboos and perversions are now regarded as garden-variety.

Infidelity is ok. Sex outside marriage is ok. Notice the number of celebrities who openly talk about coupling and uncoupling with sophisticated insouciance and nonchalance as if nothing’s wrong. In fact, it can sound elegant and cool.

In some avant-garde sectors, they have so discarded any restraint to the total loss of the ethical and moral sense that they are now into what is called as nihilism. That’s the belief that everything here in life really amounts to nothing.

This ism, together with its contrary counterpart like fanaticism, is what makes people prone to fall into terrorism, since life here offers them no meaning and reason to live.

We have to be wary of these developments that are taking place quietly and subtly in our world today. And all of us are duty-bound to do something about this.

The sense of ethics and morality should be restored, strengthened and defended. The challenge and requirements it demands should be faced and met squarely.

This means a lot—praying, sacrificing, recourse to sacraments, catechesis, ascetical struggle, developing virtues, sanctifying one’s work, doing apostolate, etc.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Following the US election

IF only because it gives me thrill, suspense and excitement, I closely track the current US presidential campaign. In a way, it’s like watching a game of basketball or soccer.

I enjoy the punditry that’s daily milled out of the press, giving us fresh insights and confirming or debunking theories and suspicions. The exercise challenges our power to discern and distinguish between spin and reality, between hype and substance.

Tracing possible motives and reasons for a candidate’s actuations and words, hunting and fishing for possible hidden ulterior motives, sniffing potential dangers of any kind in a candidate’s move—these are the usual elements that can give one high feelings.

Since the players are under extreme pressure to win, they can be very vulnerable to tempting and even immoral means. The Machiavellian tactics tend to worsen with each election.

The art of deception and hypocrisy is improved and refined, as players try their best to appear spotless even when caught red-handed in a mistake. Thus, a blatant lie, for example, is now just called a misstatement. An elitist statement is simply dismissed as misspoken words.

I actually don’t have much time for this. But when I can, I connect myself with the many relevant linkages now handily made available in the Internet. I see to it that this does not become an obsession. Rather, it should be a good material for prayer and for knowing where the world is heading.

The increasingly vicious slugfest between the first would-be black president and the first would-be woman president is truly interesting. To me, it exposes a lot of what’s going on in the soul of America .

This is actually my underlying motive for observing this American event. I really don’t care much about the candidates’ positions on Iraq , the economy, health care, global warming, etc. To me, these are matters of consensus.

I focus more on what they think about abortion and other basic moral issues now dogging American and world life—issues that have direct and significant effect on personal integrity, marriage and family, education, etc.

To me, the moral issues are the most important things to consider. They are not a matter of consensus, but rather of what is in accord with our very own nature, with our very own dignity as persons and children of God.

The moral issues therefore concern all of us, not just a part of us, not even the majority of us. They are beyond personal preferences, opinions, statistics and popularity voting. They spring from our common humanity and are meant to build it up.

They become issues precisely because a growing number of people would like to have a differing view about what human nature and dignity is, and therefore about what is moral. They want these things to be a matter of opinion, subject to a continuing process of defining and redefining.

Sad to say, it seems that we are entering into a kind of politics where moral issues, not just political and social issues, are becoming the prominent issues to tackle and decide on.

Obviously, not everybody has this understanding of the moral issues. To many people nowadays, these moral issues are just like any other political or social issue, a situation that clearly needs to be corrected.

That’s why elections are very important, since among other things, they give us a chance to express our position with respect to the moral issues. They give us a chance to choose our political leaders.

I must say that our political leaders should be chosen primarily on the basis of how they stand on the moral issues. It is in the moral issues where their true integrity and the ultimate source of their leadership qualities can be found.

When he flipflops in these issues, when he does not know how to defend them in the face of popular dissent, then we have reason to suspect his capacity to lead.

Sad to say, we are seeing a lot of this phenomenon these days. Many of our politicians, in the US and here, seem to be dancing under the choreography of such capital sins as greed and lust for power, at the expense of morality.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Knowing the truth

AS I’ve been saying since Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI three years ago, we have to learn to catch up with him, because his words just flow from his mouth like a kilometer a second.

And to think that these are not just casual words, but words that carry a lot of weight, that had been invested with hours and days and years of study and prayer, and that truly hit the mark, bull’s eye, where putting Christ to our current complex life situations is concerned!

This was clear during his recent US visit where we heard him speak quite at length in his gentle, mellifluous, heavily German-accented voice. The miracle was that people got mesmerized by him even if most likely they did not get even 80% of what he said.

His addresses, I think, are meant more than just heard. They have to be studied, meditated, parsed and analyzed, and hopefully put into action, applied into life, and made a living culture.

Thus, I am happy to know that the American bishops are conducting post-visit conferences to reflect more deeply and echo more widely the Pope’s many very interesting messages.

For if one is already a practicing Catholic, then he understands that listening to the Pope, and reading and studying his words are like listening and reading and studying Christ.

This is because the Pope, successor of Peter, inherits these words from Christ himself: “I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth is also bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is also loosed in heaven.” (Mt 16,19)

But if more than just a practicing Catholic, one is more sensitive to the Pope’s personal qualities—his deep spirituality and his tremendous mind—then he realizes that the Pope’s words indeed provide him with a wonderful picture of the world as seen through faith.

This is a point I would like to reiterate. Especially for those who may find the Gospel a bit dated, study the Pope’s words and you will most likely be fascinated to see how the Gospel becomes alive again and is directly in touch with our current reality.

The showtime of the papal visit should be accompanied by a quiet and rigorous study time and prayer time!

I myself am still wading through his many addresses. And I admit that I get overwhelmed at many junctures of his speeches. He simply has a way of presenting things that takes you out of your own world, your own cocoon.

In his address to the American youth and seminarians, there was a point that totally struck me. It was the point about our business of knowing the truth. We often think it is just a matter of studying, researching, gathering data, etc., in short, a purely human and intellectual affair.

This was what he said: “Dear friends, truth is not an imposition. Nor is it simply a set of rules. It is a discovery of the One who never fails us; the One whom we can always trust. In seeking truth we come to live by belief because ultimately truth is a person: Jesus Christ.

“That is why authentic freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in; nothing less than letting go of self and allowing oneself to be drawn into Christ’s very being for others.”

I must say that many things can be said of and from these words. To be upfront about it, these words challenge us to make a revolutionary turn in our usual way of understanding of what knowing the truth entails.

At least to me, these words explain quite well what St. John in his first letter said: “He that knows God, hears us. He that is not of God, hears us not. By this we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.” (4,6)

Knowing the truth is dealing with God through Christ in the Spirit. It’s living by faith, by God’s commandments. It’s not just us with our human resources studying and discovering things on our own.

Especially now when we can become easy prey to alarmist claims of some our brighties, we need a sure guide and path to know the truth. And that’s simply dealing with Christ. Everything else follows properly.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Pope in the US

POPE Benedict arrived for his first visit to the US as Pope, receiving a warm, rousing welcome that spanned “from sea to shining sea.”

But he also had to traverse through tricky terrain and turbulent oceans. Even if he had to say big and challenging words, he managed to show his simplicity and gentleness. From a certain angle, he looked like a lamb amid wolves.

This papal visit is very significant because the US is without doubt the leading country in the world. What happens there has tremendous impact on the rest of the world, not only politically, but also spiritually, morally, culturally.

I am sure that the Pope had this in mind, and thus had to prepare a suitable armory of messages to infuse, if not resuscitate and heal the wounded Christian spirit not only in that land but also in the whole globe.

First was the issue of clerical sexual abuse which has caused great pain on everyone. It was very moving of him, amply showing his humanity and spirituality, to apologize for this ugly stain in the American Church .

He met with some of the victims and drew attention to his paternal hurt and affection for what happened to them. But he did not get stuck there. He said that the problem has to be seen and resolved in the wider context of everyone’s proper understanding of human sexuality.

He encouraged and dared the bishops to do their best to put a stop to this highly scandalous problem. He was happy to note that “you have been able to adopt more focused remedial and disciplinary measures and to promote a safe environment that gives greater protection to young people.”

He encouraged them to take care also of priests. He made it clear that it is far better to have holy priests than to have many priests.

His address to the bishops summarized the main challenges of the American Church today. While praising the generosity, vitality and creativity of the Americans, he indicated the problems to be tackled.

Posing the question of how in the 21st century can a bishop best fulfill the call to “make all things new in Christ,” and lead his people to “an encounter with the living God,” he enumerated the difficulties.

First are the subtle forms of secularism that make one inconsistent in his Christian life, professing his beliefs in Church on Sunday and then during the week to promote business practices or medical procedures contrary to those beliefs.

Or to ignore or exploit the poor, to promote sexual behavior contrary to Catholic moral teaching, or to adopt positions that contradict the right to life of every man from conception to natural death.

He wanted the faith to permeate every aspect of the people’s lives, never treating it as solely a private matter. He wanted it lived in the public fora also.

Another problem are subtle forms of materialism which, he said, can easily focus on the present perks at the expense of the eternal life which Christ promises in the age to come.

“It is easy to be entranced,” he said, “by the almost unlimited possibilities that science and technology place before us…This is an illusion. Without God, our lives are ultimately empty.”

“The goal of all our pastoral and catechetical work, the object of our preaching, the focus of our sacramental ministry should be to help people establish and nurture that living relationship with Christ,” he said.

He also mentioned the danger of individualism, a corruption of true freedom and autonomy. This makes people forget their abiding responsibilities towards others.

He told the bishops to give the laity a deep formation in the faith so as to make it impact on people’s lives and culture. He egged them to participate actively in public discussions and in shaping cultural attitudes, making use of the media.

His speech to the UN also tackled many important topics, ranging from human rights, defense of life, international cooperation and solidarity, etc.

It’s quite clear that the Pope has defined for us the challenges we have to face. Now we need to digest his words, and start converting them into strategies, then to action, and hopefully to life and abiding culture.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Right to information

HANDLING data and information has its proper requirements and ways that all of us have to learn. Considering both the level and pace of our development now, this responsibility acquires even greater urgency.

Let’s not be casual about this business because it truly is a serious responsibility. We cannot afford to be tepid, confusing it with being open, because what is needed is a clear and strong commitment to the common good.

We cannot be naïve in thinking that the field is always safe. There are many crooks around, and let’s never forget the real existence of the devil who can cleverly take advantage of our weaknesses to advance his agenda.

We have to be forever vigilant, always checking the different elements involved in handling information. The field is more of a seascape ever dynamic and fluid, with different currents. We need to learn how to navigate it properly.

Let’s first quote what the Catechism says about this duty. It’s a good starting point for our discussion, giving us some guiding criteria.

In point no. 2494, we read: “Society has the right to information based on truth, freedom, justice and solidarity. The proper exercise of this right demands that the content of the communication be true and—within the limits set by justice and charity—complete.”

It continues: “This means that in the gathering and in the publication of news, the moral law and the legitimate rights and dignity of man should be upheld.”

As we can readily see, handling information requires a number of considerations that have to be deftly integrated so that what comes out in the papers and in the broadcast really suits our dignity.

Both the media people and the media audience are not mere objects, much less, animals that can just be handled without care for understanding and compassion. We are persons, and more importantly, we are children of God, even if sometimes, nay, many times, we do not behave as such.

We have to be wary of that subtle but dangerous attitude consisting of thinking that to be fair and objective, we in the media should just be open and simply report the event. We are just reflectors, not light givers.

That’s not quite correct. We reflect things, indeed, and we have to reflect them with objectivity and fairness. But we also affect and effect things. We in the media figure prominently in at least creating the temper of our public opinion.

While openness, fairness and objectivity are always good values to uphold and defend, they easily get abused and are prone to our predatory tendencies for sensationalism, shallow, knee-jerk reactions, reckless inanities if they are not clearly grounded on charity, goodness, understanding, compassion, etc.

There has to be a strong commitment to the common good, a commitment that has to be revved up everyday, renewing and whetting our eagerness to do good and to serve others properly, without ever playing on their vulnerabilities.

Alas, in many instances these guiding principles are violated. And even with flaunting impunity!

In some radio talk shows these days, for example, even the basic laws of logic and good manners are abandoned. One wonders if we are still in the stone age.

We always have freedom of expression, but that is never meant to be a cover for malice or an excuse for irresponsible commentaries. Name-calling and other vicious “ad hominem” arguments are aplenty. Exaggerated and often unfounded claims are made.

Foul words are often used. Wild innuendoes are sounded off. Again one wonders if these commentators have passed basic psychological tests. They seem to spew only venom into the airwaves. And no one seems to call their attention.

Of course, they can enjoy a big following, often composed of a silent, passive and hidden gallery, just like those who secretly read and watch pornography. This is actually a problem and a challenge to our leaders.

We have to teach media users to be vigilant and discerning consumers. We have to learn to discuss issues civilly, using reason rather than emotions. We can disagree, and even with forcefulness, but always within the ambit of charity and genuine, dispassionate search for truth and justice.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Study, doctrine and formation

THIS is not just the concern for priests and all those who occupy positions of leadership and influence—teachers, media people, politicians, etc. This is a universal concern.

In the first place, all of us are meant for this activity. We are precisely endowed with intelligence and will and other faculties like memory, imagination, self-expression, etc., precisely because we need to study and take care of our endless formation in life.

We just have to help one another to achieve this goal. Ideally, each one should be responsible. But real life conditions clearly show that this is not so. We have to make that ideal happen with the concerted efforts of everyone, each in the way he can contribute.

Study enables us to penetrate into the essence of things, to discover the relations that exist among them, to understand what are the causes and what are the corresponding effects, etc. It takes us away from a life merely dependent on appearances and external things.

Study makes us get in touch with reality in a better way. It enables us to grapple with our life’s challenges more effectively. It empowers us to grow as a person, skilful in developing our relations with the others and ultimately with God.

Our big problem these days is that the interest to study is waning in many people. If there ever is such interest, it is most likely pursued in a skewed way, considering the confusion around us now.

Many parents, for example, are complaining that their children are not studying anymore, or are studying less. Instead, there seems to be a great incidence of activities that are actually distractions.

People complain more and more of a certain type of obsessions and addictions that are afflicting many youngsters. Someone said a student of his watched 21 movies over the weekend. He hardly goes out of the house.

Another one said his teener is hooked to the internet up to the wee hours of the morning. It’s not just games that he and his friends do. The parents are afraid they’re getting into porno and other dangerous things.

I’m no psychologist nor sociologist, but I strongly think that these data just tell us there’s something gravely wrong in our world today.

This is a complicated challenge that we have to face. We cannot be naïve and simplistic in our approach. We have to exercise extreme prudence as we sort out things and come up with some strategies and plans of action.

Just the same, that prudence always has to be accompanied with decisive and timely actions. While we have to have patience and certain level of tolerance, we also need to be strong and forthright in giving guidance especially to the young ones.

Everyone should do his part to help in solving this problem which is like a creeping sickness that is affecting all of us. We seem to have lost our proper orientation. Our North Star is not God anymore. We are being seduced by another idol.

Thus, the need to study and to take care of a lifelong formation cannot be neglected. In this regard, we have to give due importance to the doctrines that come from God and are now taught by the Church.

We have to understand that these doctrines contain the ultimate truths about us and the world. We can never set them aside, even if for a moment they may seem to be too mysterious for us to handle.

Our problem is that we seem to be so addicted to a practical mentality and to expecting quick and easy results that we immediately neglect or marginalize the doctrines of our faith when they appear to be mysterious.

What we have to do is precisely to study the doctrine more and undertake a more serious and systematic approach to our formation so that we can immediately see the connection between our faith and the many things in our life.

Otherwise, we can easily be deceived, as St. Paul once warned us, like “children tossed to and from, and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the wickedness of men, by cunning craftiness, by which they lie in wait to deceive.” (Eph 4,14)

We should never underestimate the importance and the power of the doctrine, freely given and taught to us, to attain our true joy and peace.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Expressing artistic inspiration

I CONSIDER it a great blessing to meet a growing number of artists, like painters and poets, and others in allied fields, like those engaged in art critiques and heritage reporting.

I consider them very gifted, privileged people who can play crucial roles in developing and preserving the cultural life of our society. They can become our national treasures and cultural icons indeed!

This view could be because I’m a frustrated artist myself. I know there’s something inside me egging me to perform and dabble in some arts. But this keen desire has never been matched by the corresponding skills and techniques.

My drawings, for example, have never gone further than the level of my kindergarten doodles and caricatures, no matter how much I try.

And my effort at being a kind of art critic or cultural historian has never been supported by one important ingredient—patience. I instantly wilt even at the smell of some difficulty. And there are plenty of difficulties in this field!

My artistic friends come in different shapes and forms. One common thing among them seems to be their propensity to be some kind of non-conformist, if not in dressing and general appearance, then in reasoning and in reacting to things.

When I’m with them, I often get reminded of what St. Paul once said in his first letter to the Corinthians: “But the foolish things of the world has God chosen to confound the wise, and the weak things of the world has he chosen to confound the strong,” (1,27) and I identify myself with them.

They see things differently. They understand things in an unusual way. And more, they manage to express these perceptions in a beautiful manner, leading others, the ordinary mortals, to see and understand things in a deeper sense.

The artists, like everybody else, do their work by complying with the usual requirements of work. Our work is supposed to be a work with God and for God. It’s ideally always a cooperation with God, never just our own. Somehow our work involves a certain inspiration.

Thus, the Catechism teaches us that “arising from talent given by the Creator and from man’s own effort, art is a form of practical wisdom, uniting knowledge and skill, to give form to the truth of reality in a language accessible to sight and hearing.

“To the extent that it is inspired by truth and love for beings, art bears a certain likeness to God’s activity in what he has created. Like any other human activity, art is not an absolute end in itself, but is ordered to and ennobled by the ultimate end of man.” (5201)

But the artists’ work has another special quality. Its inspiration is “sui generis.” It involves uncommon elements. Again, let’s hear from the Catechism about this point:

“Art is a distinctively human form of expression. Beyond the search for the necessities of life common to all living creatures, art is a freely given superabundance of the human being’s inner riches.” (5201)

Arts offers a window to mysterious types of truths that go beyond what words can capture. These truths can be the beauty of creation, the depths of the human heart, the exaltation of the soul, and the very mystery of God.

As can be readily seen, the arts is not just a matter of skills and techniques. Though these elements are always indispensable, it is more a matter of inspiration, of how closely and intimately it is able to mirror these truths that are beyond words.

I would say that the arts is our human effort to reach the very source of truth itself, who is also the very source of goodness, unity and beauty. It, by definition, points us to God. It would be a misuse if pursued any other way.

The arts is the happy marriage between inspiration and execution. It’s when a beautifully inspired message manages to express itself in an equally beautiful way.

Thus, we should feel the great need to develop the arts. Even as we grapple with the more practical needs of our life, we should never neglect the arts.

Our Church’s history reflects this concern. May we always strengthen that trend. We can talk about our rice crisis at present, but let’s not forget the arts!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Immersed in God

THAT may sound fantastic. Wait, a better word might be grotesque, bizarre, weird. Take your pick. How can you in all your senses think of being immersed in God in a world drunk with its own sense of limitless possibilities?

One chronicler of modern growth lampooned that nowadays with our information overdrive, being uninformed seems to be one of the old-fashioned luxuries that are fast disappearing.

To me, though, that cheeky satire actually betrays a deepening doubt worming into many of our pioneering bright guys as to where all their intelligence is leading them—and us—to.

In their haste to conquer not only the material world but also the infinite outer space of possibilities that their intelligence is teasing them, they have forgotten—and very culpably at that—one basic truth. There is God!

That open space of endless possibilities that our spiritual faculties can access is not exactly an anything-goes place were we are absolutely free to do anything. It has laws to be followed or at least respected.

In case we’ve forgotten, God is the creator of the universe, whether in terms of the material, the intellectual, the spiritual or the supernatural. We don’t fool around with that truth without getting into trouble sooner or later.

This truth will always be the breaking news for us, everyday, every minute. Woe to us when we think that news is already dated, and therefore not anymore relevant. It will never lose its relevance.

The problem we often have is that instead of allowing what we see around us and what we feel and long inside us to lead us to God, we choose to get entangled with them.

If we are the intellectual type, then we mesmerize ourselves with the infinite possibilities our intelligence and will can discover. If we are the artistic type, then we make ourselves be completely charmed by the arts.

If we don’t have that much IQ or artistry, and we just like to be very human, then we like to play out the drama of life, its highs and lows, its perks and pains. We snub God. From there it’s easy to alienate ourselves from others.

This is something we have to correct. We are nothing without God. We have to be more consistent to our indispensable and basic need for God.

For this, we have to realize more deeply that often we have to make a conscious, deliberate effort to put ourselves in his presence, to offer everything and do it always with him.

We cannot take this for granted, because there are endless ways for us to get distracted from our orientation to God, to cool down our love for him, to be complacent and later to believe we are just our own God and our own creature.

That’s what’s happening when we see these bright guys pursuing their projects without God. They are prone to exaggerate, to lose sense of balance, to be dominated by obsessions, and all forms of vices like greed, vanity, pride, etc.

The rationalizations behind artificial contraception and the legalization of abortion are pieces of evidence lending credence to this disturbing trend.

We need to learn the art and skill of being immersed in God all the time. This is, of course, a matter of God’s grace, which we can presume to be given to us since that’s His will. But we need to learn the basic essentials and techniques.

Our usual problem in this regard is our tendency to make our experience with God just a fleeting moment, before we freeze, formalize and harden it into some routine, structure or façade. We don’t know how to be immersed in him for long, and in fact, for always.

We need certain practices that organically spring from our authentic faith and love of God and others to keep us with God. These can be prayer, mortification, recourse to the sacraments, waging ascetical struggle, sanctification of work, doing apostolate, etc.

We have to examine whether we are doing them or at least trying to develop them in ways adapted to our circumstances.

Contemplating God is actually easy and can be done anytime. It doesn’t have to involve ecstasies, levitations and stigmata. Just give your mind and heart to him, and you’re already immersed in God.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Rice and population

AT the moment, we have a raging controversy over our rice supply. Different, occasionally enlightening views are aired. As a result we get to know more about the intricate business of our rice and food supply.

This, I think, is good for all of us. It’s part of our continuing education about our social and political life. Discussions like this facilitate our sense of solidarity as a people. Let’s try to keep it that way.

My prayer is that the discussion be kept at the high level of dialogue, especially in terms of range, content and quality. As much as possible, we should avoid partisan politicking, which usually distorts the issue, dragging it to the gutter.

The media should be particularly sensitive to this need. People are already developing a keen sense of discerning what truly has a bearing on the matter and what is extraneous to it, what is spin and what is reality.

They now can easily distinguish between chaff and grain. They can smell a rat from a distance, seeing through the hidden agendas and ulterior motives. More importantly, they know who they are.

Those who have something to say about the issue should purify their intention, and organize and express their position well. They should intervene for the sole purpose of helping solve the problem, and not just to score “pogi” points.

Thus, they should study their opinions thoroughly, verifying their data, checking their theories and hypotheses, and being open to other views. They should always be courteous and cordial in the discussion.

In short, please, let’s do away with reckless commentaries and shooting from the hip. Let’s tone down our emotions and inflammatory language. Let’s hear all sides calmly.

Politicians and media people should submit themselves to a high standard of discretion and sobriety when expressing their views. They should avoid sowing intrigues and witch-hunting.

There obviously can be persons, offices, social practices, etc. that can be blamed for something. Let’s go easy on this, refusing to get stuck there. We should always be constructive in our approach, convinced that solving problems is more important and urgent than blaming some people.

That’s why it saddened me to note that in all this exciting discussion about the rice issue, a nasty topic was made to cash in on it. I’m referring to the attempt to link our rice problem with our supposed overpopulation.

It’s true that everyone is free to bring out anything for all of us to consider and discuss. It’s just that with all our exchanges through the years, we should already know what are the real issues and what are mere myths.

Blaming our population level for our rice shortage is painfully an uncalled for, anachronistic tearing of one’s hair. Like, hello, this kind of thinking has been debunked ages ago.

This is the classic Malthusian fear whose proper place is the museum or the history books of fascinating but failed theories and fallacies. Are we to be told again that we should have a so-called optimum family size, say, of two or four children only?

And that to achieve this population level, we can use any means, mouthing again the mantra of freedom of choice that justifies the use of clearly immoral means of family planning and population control?

This is what the persistent advocates of population-control-at-all-costs are still doing. In our Congress today, there are pending bills meant to legalize immoral means of family planning, sugar-coating them as part of reproductive health.

The sponsors of these bills, who have no qualms both in presenting themselves as devout Catholics and in violating Church teachings, even have the gall to pontificate on what is now the moral way to tackle our supposed population problem.

Everyone knows that there are problems everywhere—food, water, air, our politics, etc. With respect to our food problem, only ideological crackpots believe it’s a problem without solution, or that the world is running out of resources to feed us.

We will always find solutions, and solutions are fit for us, who are not just economic entities, or purely material or social beings. that There are solutions that are fit for us who are persons and children of God.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Work and rest

THIS is the regular rhythm in our life. Sorry for sounding dated, but work and rest are, as an old Sinatra song renders it, like love and marriage that should not be decoupled just like the horse and the carriage.

But if we have to understand this life pattern of ours in the context of our Christian faith, as we should, we will realize that they necessarily have to be spent always with God, never away or independently from him.

This point is echoed abundantly in many epistles of St. Paul. “Whether we live, we live unto the Lord; or whether we die, we die unto the Lord. Therefore, whether we live, or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (Rom 14,8)

Another one: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor 10,31) Yet another: “Whether we watch or sleep, we may live together with him.” (1 Thes 5,10)

Since our life is supposed to be a life with God, we should do everything to keep our Christian bearing even in our work and in our rest.

This is no easy task, of course. A good grounding in right doctrine is required. A lot of discipline is involved, plus, certain skills with the necessary attitudes and dispositions.

Our problem is that we tend to scatter our attention to the wind. We are easily dominated by tunnel-visioned passions.

The theology behind work and rest is quite known already. And yet I wonder how many of us seriously take it to heart, and really live that theology.

A friend, who manages a call center with some 200 young men and women under him, once expressed the concern that some of these young professionals do not have the proper work attitudes. They also have dubious ways of resting.

A housewife sometimes asks me how she could relate her household chores to God. How can she find God in her dish-washing and house-cleaning, in her cooking and laundry?

A college student tells me that he is so caught up with the pressures in school that the only thing that drives him is the need to pass his subjects and to eke time to unwind with friends, like having night outs and other gimmicks. God becomes a formal ornament with hardly has any impact on his life.

Of course, many professional men—imagine the businessmen and politicians—exposed to many temptations and perplexing moral predicaments in their work wonder how God can be made realistically relevant in their work.

I’ve also met quite a number who have tried to live in God’s presence, striving to put love into their work, but with very varying degrees of success.

There’s definitely a great need to sustain some kind of campaign to inculcate in people the spiritual and supernatural character of our work and rest, no matter how mundane, insignificant or full of moral dangers they may be.

The usual problem is that many do not consciously conform their work and rest to the requirements of their faith. They just flow in some kind of a groove and routine, moved simply by some vague inertia that has hardly to do with faith.

We have to remind ourselves very often to break away from this inertial frame of mind. We have to remember that our work, as long as it is not a sin, is part of God’s providence in which we are asked to participate.

Our work has to be done always with love for God and love for others. It’s love that brings us closer to them and will make us understand more deeply our work’s importance and relevance in everybody’s life.

Our rest should also be resting in God, for our Lord himself said: “Come to me, all you that labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Mt 11,28)

What actually tires us is our pride as manifested in getting increasingly absorbed in our own selves, weaving all sorts of pressures and anxieties, and forgetting there’s only one thing necessary—to be with God in order to be with others in intimate communion of life and love.

We have to continually check ourselves whether unknowingly we are drifting toward self-absorption. We need to pray and to offer sacrifices to purify and discipline our flesh that tends to make war with the spirit, and with God.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Divine Mercy and saying sorry

WE recently celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday. It reminded us of the extent to which Our Lord went to show his abiding love for us, a love that perfects itself in mercy.

He just didn’t love us by creating us, endowing us with the best of things, such that we become the masterpiece in his world of creation.

In spite of our sin and infidelity to him, he continues to love us by forgiving us. He keeps loving us even if we have stopped being lovable. That’s what divine mercy is all about.

It’s good to point out some details of this divine mercy. God has to send his Son to become man to share our plight as sinners even if he did not sin, and to show us the way to get out of that predicament.

He preached, performed miracles, did all sorts of good things to win us back to him. Finally, he offered his life as ransom for our sins. Even if we have not asked for forgiveness, he already forgives us and as our mediator he asks for forgiveness from his Father on our behalf.

Then he tells us to follow him, offering his own self as “the way, the truth and the life.” We have to learn how to forgive others always—from our heart--because that’s how God also forgives us.

We only have to say, yes, to this divine indication, and that’s how we recover our dignity as children of God, meant to live not just our own life, but to share the life of God, no less.

A necessary consequence to all this is that we as sinners should try our best to ask for forgiveness. It’s true that God always forgives—not only seven times, but seventy times seven, meaning always—but we should try to ask for forgiveness also.

If we truly have to follow the example of Christ, then we need to ask God our Father for pardon for the sins of all, ours and those of others. He asked pardon for our sins not only implicitly, but explicitly; not only in desire and words but also in deeds, in fact, by offering his very own life.

Thus, saying sorry to God and to others should be habit for us. Even in the human level, such practice does a lot of good. It reduces and even eliminates tension among ourselves, it dissipates conflicts and hostility, it creates a good atmosphere around, facilitating our human relations.

We can confirm these effects in our daily life. Even if we have not committed big offenses, when we are quick to say sorry, how drastically the atmosphere improves! But when we keep quiet instead, we surely would be building up tension and resentment.

In the spiritual and supernatural level, saying sorry immediately brings us close to God, provokes great joy in heaven—“There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Lk 15,7)

We have to learn to say sorry often, even if the offenses we commit are minor or are more imagined than objective. We have to make use of every opportunity to say sorry to God and to others. This is good breeding, a true mark of a child of God with a most delicate conscience.

Thus, it was a big letdown when recently we learned through the media of the unchristian behavior of two leaders, one in politics and the other in the Church. Both refused to say sorry, but rather added insult to injury when their attention was called.

The political leader rationalized by saying we are not anymore in the medieval times when we have to ask pardon from kings, and anyway the one concerned is far from being a king.

I don’t know, but in my book, this reasoning reeks of arrogance. Politics often distorts Christian values and maddens people, considering saying sorry as sign of weakness.

The Church leader, reckless with words, offered no apology either, because he claimed he was misquoted. But he worsened it by saying that the misquote was very understandable. And he continues to dig in, daring his complainants to bring the matter to the Vatican .

When we have leaders and arguments like these, I think we have reason to be very sad. Our future looks dark indeed! God tell me, what’s happening?