Thursday, June 26, 2008

Our spiritual life needs care

WE have to be more aware of our spiritual life, and even more so with respect to our abiding responsibilities toward it.

Our problem is that we tend to take it for granted, attending to it only on certain special occasions. And this latter we do more for show than for truly living and developing it. We need to improve our grade in this area.

Though many are now questioning it, the existence of our spiritual life cannot be doubted. Our Lord himself told his sleepy disciples during his agony in the garden: “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mt 26,41)

And even without getting very scholarly, we all know that there’s something spiritual in us because we can do spiritual operations. We think, we choose and love, we reason, discover things and an endless etcetera of acts that can be abstracted from our material dimension.

A philosophical principle, formulated more through common sense than through labored thinking, tells us that “Operare sequitur esse” (operation follows being). A thing acts according to what and how it is. Applied to this case, if we can do spiritual operations, it’s because there’s something spiritual in us.

To repeat, we have to be more aware of our spiritual life. We need to go past the awareness of only our physical, psychological, intellectual, social conditions, etc. If we need to take care of these aspects, we need much more to take care of our spiritual life.

This is because our spirit is actually our principle of life, unity and direction. It’s not food, air, water, etc. that give us life and sustain us in it. These too are necessary, but only insofar as our physical organism and natural life are concerned. The body without the soul cannot live, is helpless and clueless.

It is our spirit that brings us to look endlessly for the truth and for happiness. Our body simply enjoys them, but does not look for them. It’s our spirit, through its faculties, the intelligence and will, that looks for them.

Pertinent to this point, the Compendium of Social Doctrine teaches: “Through his spirituality man moves beyond the realm of mere things and plunges into the innermost structure of reality.” (128)

Our spirit has the natural tropism for this. Thus, this tendency has to be reinforced always, seeing to it that it does not get frustrated by getting entangled with merely material things and external impressions, nor even earthly truths and goods.

Samples of the merely material things are when we allow ourselves to be dominated by our senses, by our feelings and emotions. Sad to say, many do not anymore distinguish between what is emotion and what is intelligence.

Samples of earthly truths and goods are the worldly elemental forces involved in “feng shui”, geomancy, divination and horoscope. Or the sophisticated, esoteric knowledge derived from the human sciences and arts. Our spirit goes beyond these.

Ergo, while it can be assisted by our senses and faculties, our spirit should not be allowed to be dominated by them. It has to soar toward its infinite possibilities, toward the purely spiritual world.

We should try not to interrupt this process or course. Rather we should foster it. Thus, we need to adapt the appropriate attitudes and acquire the relevant skills. We need to learn the art of praying, of meditating and contemplating. These are the best acts of our spirit.

Ultimately, it is our spirit, with the help of grace, that allows us to be elevated to the supernatural order, to a sharing in the life of God. This is our spirit’s proper and ultimate object.

In this respect, the spirit has to be freed from the clutches of the flesh.St. Paul has this to say about this point: “Walk in the spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh.” (Gal 5,16-17)

With our praying, meditating and contemplating, we hope to deepen our faith, hope and charity, our wisdom, understanding and knowledge, that will enable us to achieve communion with God while on earth, and with everybody else.

This is the beauty of taking care of our spiritual life.

Reading the signs of the times

THIS task already had its tricky parts since time immemorial. But compared to present conditions, the past was rather a very simple and easy task to carry out.

Given the multiplying forces and influences that go into our current culture, reading the signs of the times has become a formidable task that approaches the level of a nightmare.

And precisely because of our complex, intricate and puzzling world, this task has become more necessary. We need to stay away from the grip of ignorance, confusion, error, the ingredients of perdition.

Still, not everything is lost and beyond hope. The amount of information, given our ever-developing technologies, is not only massive and profound but is also much easier to access now.

Besides, we are never lacking of people with great potentials to effectively undertake this delicate task. We just need to discover them and inspire them.

What we needed at present is the discipline to have an abiding concern to read the signs of the times. This is no simple thing, since it’s not just a matter of attitude, habits and skills, though they figure prominently in this task.

Yes, we need to learn how to collect data, compare notes, dialogue with different parties, consult experts, study, reflect, make conclusions and plan, etc., but all these are not enough.

Rather, this discipline in the end depends on our living contact and relationship with what we consider as our God, what we regard as our ultimate source of light and understanding.

This is where the main problem comes. Many of us still rely almost exclusively on our own devices, our own natural endowments. Many still have not managed to link our best resources with an objective and transcendent God.

Instead, many of us still feel our high intelligence, our cleverness, our increasing scientific expertise are enough. It is as if these can be equivalent to God. Thus, we fail to realize that our sophistication can turn into naivete.

Remember St. Paul saying: “The foolish things of the world has God chosen, that he may confound the wise. The weak things of the world has God chosen, that he may confound the strong.” (1 Cor 1,27)

Many of us still don’t realize that this objective and transcendent God, completely supernatural to us, makes himself accessible to us in ways that are revealed as well as established by him, with our cooperation.

There are the doctrines, the sacraments, the Church, etc. that can truly connect us with this living God. What’s needed is that we have the necessary dispositions, and from there, the appropriate practices and virtues, to keep this bond alive and abiding.

With these prerequisites, we can aspire to read the signs of the times. We can penetrate the externals and appearances, expose the ethos animating our society, and monitor its development—from gestation to maturity and decay.

With these prerequisites, we can have the needed criteria for judgment, and keep distance from shallow and narrow perceptions. We would have a running account of how things are evolving in the different areas.

We have to acquire the expertise of identifying the significant elements of our current culture, and to articulate what is good and bad in them, what is right and wrong. Only then can we attempt to come up with the appropriate remedies. And I believe that there always are cures for our problems.

These days, for example, the Pope has warned us about the dangers of relativism, both in belief and in morals. We need to be familiar with its nature, ways and manifestations.

There are other disturbing isms affecting us today, like individualism, hedonism, positivism, etc. We need to know them and see how they are affecting us.

From there, we can try to clarify matters, pointing out their lack of basis, their inherent contradictions, and the unavoidable dead ends that they lead to. Of course, we have to do all this with utmost charity, shunning unnecessary frictions with other people.

We have to outgrow whatever hesitation we may have with respect to this responsibility. Sometimes, we think this is too cerebral, too abstract and not relevant, since its need and effects are often not directly felt.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Knowledge and its pursuit

A PRAYER struck my attention recently.

“Grant us the gift of knowledge,” it said, “to make us understand properly what created things are, and what they ought to be according to the divine plan of creation and elevation to the supernatural order.”

It was a prayer addressed to the Holy Spirit who gives us the seven-fold gift of wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, piety, fortitude and fear of the Lord. But it reminded me of what knowledge is all about.

The pursuit of knowledge should always be understood as an effort that is linked with God, with his will, plans and designs for us, with the fact that we and everything we know and discover are meant for a supernatural life.

It should not be done independently of God, and much less contrary to his laws. We should never think the knowledge we accumulate, no matter how mundane, has no relation to God.

This is because everything comes from God and belongs to God, and everything is under a divine plan that is of course completely mysterious to us. Yet, in spite of the mystery, we are capable of knowing and understanding at least parts of it.

Our problem, of course, is that we often pursue knowledge fully at our own designs, with our own motives and purposes. We hardly relate it to God and his plans.

We sometimes even go to the extent of thinking that God has no business in this effort, or worse, that there’s really no God, and that we are just on our own to know and discover whatever we want and whatever we can.

In this kind of set-up, we make ourselves prone to all sorts of dangerous possibilities—vanity, pride, greed, sensuality, exaltation of pleasure and earthly power, etc.

And the knowledge we accumulate is of the distorted and corrupted kind. Legal knowledge becomes legalism, the sciences develop without ethics, and the arts and entertainment easily succumb to immoral pragmatism.

The higher knowledge of philosophy and theology cannot help but get entangled with the allures of relativism. They transform into ideologies with extremist and fundamentalist molds, or with lax and happy-go-lucky tendencies.

Thus we need the constant effort to remind ourselves of relating our work and knowledge with God. As much as possible, we should articulate this link personally. We have to develop the habit of asking ourselves what relation any piece of information and knowledge we get, has with God.

The ideal is that we automatically become conscious that what we are doing and knowing are directly related to God and his plans, and that our knowledge of earthly things brings us closer to God.

This, of course, is not easy to achieve. We have to contend with so many difficulties. First, there are our weaknesses, like our laziness and our attachment to worldly things. They hinder us in our effort to connect our knowledge of things with God

There also are temptations from the devil and the world itself that seek to bind us to our own world, keeping us quite egotistic and increasingly unmindful of God and of others.

Besides, the objective connection itself between our knowledge and God is charged with mysteries that can easily lend itself to confusion and indifference. It can lead us to get discouraged at the dark prospect of ever knowing it clearly.

But if our mindset is to know and discover this connection and relation, sooner or later we will see it more and more clearly. Obviously, we have to be patient, pursue the effort without let up, and use all the means to make this possible.

We, for example, need to reflect and pray. This practice has to be deeply ingrained in us. Our problem is that very few people realize this need. Many prefer simply to be very active and to enjoy things.

Then, we need to know more about God’s doctrine, fully revealed by Christ and now taught by the Church, so we can begin to be familiar with God’s will and ways.

We also have to develop virtues that conform us more and more with God. Hopefully, with these things, we can readily see the connection between our knowledge and God’s will, between the events of our life and God’s providence.

Monday, June 16, 2008


WE have to be more aware of this world of affectivity—its nature, its workings, its need for management and development, etc. In fact, it should be in the cross-hair, since we are now living in hyper-emotional times.

We have to be wary of taking this concern for granted, stuck in denial. The ballistic advances of our technologies have super-stirred our feelings, emotions, hormones, urges, etc., such that we are seeing more disturbing phenomena these days.

The cases of extreme sadness and depression, obsessions-compulsions, stress, and other aberrant forms of behavior, if not vices and perversions, have increased. We are seeing a lot more of drug addictions, dysfunctional and broken families, and mental illnesses.

Even in my normal run of hearing confessions and giving spiritual direction to what I consider as regular people, I notice a proliferation of emotional wounds, some deep and grave. I consider these as fertile ground for worse things to develop.

Frankly, it’s getting harder for me not to get affected and to remain dry-eyed when I see even children and young boys and girls manifesting signs of deep emotional anguish and torture due to a variety of reasons and causes. They are not spared.

This is not to mention that those who seem to have a healthy affective life, humanly speaking, have it but without or with hardly any relation to God and to things of God. Piety is often stiff, because the proper feelings are absent.

I think we have to understand that there is an architectonic shift taking place in our world today. The great value added in the area of technology has, sadly, not been matched by a corresponding value added in the area of attitudes.

Put bluntly, we seem to be getting sophisticated in our technologies, but still quite primitive in our mentalities. In biblical terms, it’s like putting “new wine into old wineskins.” New wine should go with new wineskins.

While before, it was enough to have a very general and shallow knowledge of our affective world, now it would seem such knowledge could be very dangerous.

There’s a need, especially to parents, teachers, and to people like me, priests, to know more about the affective life. There are tricky, even treacherous areas when we start touching the affective lives of people, and we need to master them.

In the classical system, feelings rank low in importance, rating far below that of our spiritual faculties—our intelligence and will. Doubtless, there’s good reason for that. The problem is that such system often tends to ignore our emotions completely. And that’s criminal.

Feelings and emotions, the world of our senses and passions, are an integral part of our personhood, because we cannot be without them. We have been designed by God to have them.

Our Catechism teaches us that: “The passions are natural components of the human psyche. They form the passageway and ensure the connection between the life of the senses and the life of the mind.” (1764)

We should never forget this truth, not even to disparage it, since as our Catechism again tells us: “Moral perfection consists in man’s being moved to the good not by his will alone, but also by his sensitive appetite, as in the words of the Psalm: ‘My heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.’” (1770)

We just have to learn how to attune and conform our emotions to the ideals and standards of our Christian life. We have to have a good understanding of what is healthy affective life and what is not, and what causes and reinforces them.

Besides, we need to know certain skills that are adapted to the growing needs of how to effectively handle our feelings and emotions so they keep in the proper orbit.

It’s nice to know that some serious studies are being made in this regard. Many of them are inspired and built upon the Christian concept of man. This is a good development that needs to be fostered. Its more certain findings should be widely spread out.

We cannot deny the fact that there are also schools of thought in this area that are not quite compatible with our Christian faith. We have to be careful with them, and engage them in a continuing dialogue to seek clarifications and focus on the objective truths about our affective life

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Life of prayer

THIS is serious business for all of us, and in fact it admits of no exception. Prayer is the lifeline of our soul, just as eating and breathing are for our body. We need to do it not only to survive, but more to keep us spiritually vibrant and productive everyday.

Life should be a flow of prayer. Prayer should stream the whole of our life!

We therefore have to feel the constantly urgent task of improving the way we pray. We cannot allow it to be held hostage by the fluctuations of our moods and the ebb and flow of our human conditions, physical, social, psychological, etc.

Even in the worst scenario when we feel impeded to pray, or we find ourselves completely without energy, or like a dry and dead fossil uninspired, we simply have to find a way to do it. And there are always ways available.

St. John Mary Vianney, a simple but very holy priest, gives us an idea. “My God, if my tongue cannot say in every moment that I love you, I want my heart to repeat it to you as often as I draw breath,” he once said in his pious reasoning.

Let’s remember what St. Augustine once said: “Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

Those, who by reason of health, handicap or any problem are unable to consciously pray, can always be helped by others. What are we social beings for if we cannot also help others to pray? Our sociability can also extend to our spiritual duties, you know!

We have to be more aware of our vast powers and infinite ways to pray. What the body is unable and our feelings cannot cope, our spirit always can.

And in our spirit, what our mind cannot penetrate because of the mysteries, our heart always can. The heart does not seek to understand these mysteries. It simply enjoys them and gives witness to them.

This is our challenge. Especially these days when we can get harassed by many pressures, or drowned by information overdrive, or led to blind activism, it’s good to be reminded that the possibility to pray is always there.

Obviously, our usual concern in this regard should be that we manage to do some personal mental prayer, at least for a few minutes everyday. If we want to convert our whole life into prayer, this task is a must.

We have to see it as something indispensable. We should stop treating it as if it competes with our other activities. We don’t allow our work to compete with our meals, do we? We somehow manage to make them go together. The same should be true with our prayer and our other activities.

Growing deep in our prayer means a persistent desire to know and love our Lord better. Christ should not just be an idea, a slogan, a historical figure. He is a living person in the Holy Spirit. We have to be aware of this reality always, so we can behave accordingly.

We need to make many acts of the will and of the heart, that is, acts of faith and love, to sustain our mental prayer and engage our Lord in a loving conversation, or at least to simply feel and rejoice in his presence.

It’s when we pray in this way that we enter deeper into reality, actually a richer reality, since it will be a reality that goes beyond what simply are sensible or even intelligible. It’s the reality of the spiritual and the supernatural.

This is when we become spiritual, and not just material and carnal. This is when we acquire a supernatural outlook, and not just having some human attitudes.

This is when we behave according to faith, hope and charity, and actively enjoy and exercise the gifts of the Holy Spirit like wisdom, understanding, knowledge, piety, counsel, fortitude, fear of the Lord.

This is when we become contemplatives even if we are in the middle of the world.

We have to frequently ask ourselves whether we are praying and whether we are praying well. Are we growing in our identification with Christ?

We have to ask ourselves these questions because we can always deceive ourselves. With our capacity for plasticity, we can appear like praying, but really not praying.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Eucharistic life

SOME weeks ago, we observed the solemnity of Corpus Christi , the liturgical celebration of the Body and Blood of Christ.

Usually after the Mass, a procession around town of the Blessed Sacrament was made, drawing a big crowd of devotees. In some communities, the celebration was extended to a week-long adoration of the Eucharist.

They’re Christian practices, happily common in many places all over the world and deeply rooted in the long history of our Church tradition.

In our country, these practices are still popular, thanks be to God. But they certainly need a lot of boosting, given the secularizing tendencies of our times. We ought to be more aware of this concern that should involve all of us.

To date, we already have a very comprehensive theology about this central mystery of our faith. And a good number of relevant spiritualities have developed through the ages. There also are several groups who ardently dedicate themselves to this devotion.

Just the same, we need to multiply and sustain our efforts to transform this Eucharistic devotion into a Eucharistic life, involving not only a few or even many people, but in fact all of us, as it should.

This is because the Eucharist is the source and summit of our Christian life. It’s where we have Christ sacramentally present and where he continues to offer his life on the cross for us and who gives himself as our spiritual food.

To put it bluntly, our Christianity ceases if this sacrament gets completely obliterated.

This truth of our faith is that with his death, Christ has not left us orphans. He continues to be with us, through the sacraments and in the Church, thanks to the Holy Spirit who extends Christ’s presence and work throughout time without any diminution, regardless of our conditions.

Especially through the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, Christ has not left us not only with some symbols and signs alone.

Through the liturgy, the real Christ, in the entirety of his divinity and humanity, who is now seated in the right hand of his Father, comes to us, remains here on earth and makes himself intimately available to us.

With this sacrament, Christ and us are not held hostage by the limitations of space and time. We manage to be together—in fact, in so direct and personal a way as to be properly termed as communion, a union of life and love.

With this sacrament, time and eternity merge, and so do heaven and earth. United to it, even our smallest and most insignificant detail in our life, including our sufferings and things we don’t like, acquire eternal and redemptive value.

This is the supreme treasure of a truth that we all need to be more aware of. Hopefully, we can then start to earnestly conform our whole life to this reality—our thoughts and desires, our feelings, outlook and attitudes, etc.

In fact, this is the ideal that we should pursue always. This is because the Eucharist, the real Christ in the sacrament, is the ultimate and constant food for our life. We don’t depend on food, water and air. We depend on Christ.

And neither do we depend on our intellectual progress and technological and scientific advancement. These things can be very impressive. But they don’t completely satisfy our soul. We long for more. It’s Christ that does that.

Our usual problem is that we don’t go all the way in our Eucharistic faith. Our devotion to it often appears simply posed, scripted and staged, and not really issuing vitally from our heart and life. Thus, it is also not abiding, but rather intermittent. It’s on and off depending on conditions.

It should be no surprise if we are often dominated by our weaknesses, not to mention, the continuing temptations around us.

Our catechesis on this truth of our faith should never stop. Parents in their respective families should talk ceaselessly about this. Priests, of course, should preach about it in homilies and in other occasions.

Everyone should do something to help one another live an authentic Eucharistic life. We have to foster going to Mass often, making visits to the Blessed Sacrament, spending time adoring our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament chapels, making frequent spiritual communions, etc.

We have to understand that our life should not be any other than Eucharistic!