Tuesday, July 29, 2008

@ 40

THAT’S in 1968. Among the million events that happened all over the world that year, a batch of 200 boys and girls finished high school at what was known then as Divine Word College, now Holy Name University in Tagbilaran.

Tagbilaran then just became a city, but it was so awfully small and sleepy that any stir at one end of it would most likely be felt in no time at the other end. Everyone knew everybody else. A newcomer was immediately spotted.

Aside from the Cathedral, the public market and the schools, the other places where we tended to go ‘to see and to be seen,’ were the two or three movie houses which were still showing wholesome movies.

Now, of course, I realize that at that time the city was already into a quiet, hidden but intense ferment of change. No matter how isolated, it could not help but be affected by what was happening in the country and the world in general then.

Marcos was still into his first term. The socio-economic and political atmosphere was still relatively peaceful and stable. But one could already detect traces of dark forces lurking around.
In those years, I never heard my parents talk about budgeting. There was total trust in God’s providence. Though we had our share of hardships, quite common in many families, miraculously we fared rather well. We just worked and did what we thought were the practical things to do. God did the rest.

I seldom went hungry, because as a last resort there was always the sea to get some mollusks from during its low tide. My siblings and I survived with something like a 10-centavo daily ‘baon’ to school, but I didn’t hear any complaint. Envy was kept low. I also raised hogs. Life was fantastically simple.

The movies started retiring the Amalia Fuentes-Susan Roces tandem, and began to show the likes of Divina Valencia and Stella Suarez. That’s when I started going to the movies less and less, in spite of my free passes, courtesy of the owners who hired by father as their lawyer.

When I went to Manila for college, I was exposed to a sharper contrast of a more innocent age that was slipping away and a supposedly ‘enlightened’ generation that was coming in.
I, for sure, would have gotten lost in that kind of environment, if not for the fact that I did not have money to go around and get involved in some experimentations. I must say, poverty saved me.

That, plus, the fact of course that I met some good friends who always brought me down to earth whenever I stupidly thought I could fly to some make-believe world. They became my prophylaxis.

The environment I’m referring to was that of a liberal, free-thinking, free-dissenting and free-loving one, where you could smell marijuana both in the classrooms and in the boarding house. And smut was just around the corner. Its icon was the hippie movement.
Agitation and student activism gripped many school campuses. Many of my college classmates went underground. Alongside these were the discos and the bad films many of my contemporaries got hooked to. Discipline and obedience to authority almost disappeared from the horizon.

The Church situation was not spared. Many crazy experimentations, especially in the area of liturgy, were made. The sacraments, especially confession, emptied of their sacred nature, became either just a social event or a purely personal affair with no social character.

There were a few theologians who seemed to have specialized in doctrinal dissent. Many priests abandoned their cassocks and would wear them only during demonstrations against the government. Vocations dwindled. Doctrinal error and confusion spread. Scandals exploded.
Sad to say, many of these things that I saw in Manila found their way to my province. It was a painful sight. But God has his ways.

During the class reunion we had recently, I can’t help but think of these things, and tried to discern the hand of God guiding us through all these years and the many things we still need to do.

It took me effort to recognize many of my classmates. Time and its vagaries have left surprising changes in us. But on the whole, I found everyone happy and the class spirit vibrantly intact still. Thank God!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Youth need signposts

EVERYDAY we meet crossroads. That is, we constantly make choices., big and small. This is how our life is. Thus, we can never exaggerate the importance of signposts, which are the criteria for judgments and the basis for decisions.

The other day, while negotiating an 18-km trail amid vast expanses of pineapple plantations that went into the foot of Mt. Kitanglad (Bukidnon), with all its dense growth of trees and wild plants, I was relieved and happy that the owner of the place I was heading put signposts in every junction along the way.

It was very easy to be confused and to get lost. The two paths of most of the crossings were hardly different from each other. And I immediately thought of how similar that observation was with most of my experiences in life.

Now that we have just concluded the World Youth Day in Sidney, Australia, I thought of the crossroad that the youth as a crucial stage of our life is, and the many pivotal choices they have to make, especially these days.

We know that the youth can be the meeting point of great potentials on the one hand, with all the effusive energy and creativity inherent in them, and on the other hand, also of possible destructive forces. Youth is that transitory part of life that is still seeking stability and maturity.

More than ever, today’s youth need clear guideposts. And I’m happy that as a way of addressing this need, the Vatican is regularly organizing the World Youth Day (WYD) held in different parts of the globe.

If only to give focus and attention to this concern, the WYD is already doing a lot. But I’m sure there are a lot more that can be done and are being done and achieved through it and from it.

First of all, it can monitor the running developments concerning youth life and ways. Everyone agrees that the youth phase is a very dynamic one. We need to constantly find the proper spiritual and moral moorings for their quickly-morphing ways.

This is no easy job at all. They can not be left on their own. Society and human development cannot be confined to purely youthful ways sans the check-and-balance, the wisdom and experience provided by the elders.

Thus, the elders somehow have to learn to adapt to how the youth think, speak and behave. This should not be that difficult if there will always be attention given to the youth.

No matter how creative, outlandish and rebellious their ideas and gimmicks are, the youth’s mind can easily be read and molded, their logic and rhetoric can be smoothly triangulated.

In fact, it’s not so much words and arguments that should be used, but more on affection and understanding, patience, constant presence and example. In short, the approach is more of the heart than of the mind.

We need to help them tackle their usual vulnerabilities—mostly things of the flesh as well as the need for focus, direction and constancy. Then we need to show them how to live by faith, how to pray, and understand the meaning of suffering in all its forms.

Early on, they should be made to understand the intrinsic relation between freedom and responsibility, freedom and obedience to authority, spontaneity and naturalness, independence and solidarity, etc. They have to learn to see God in everything and in everyone.

The environment should be made as conducive as possible to the proper maturation of the youth. We have to avoid pandering to their weaknesses. Their integral development—physical, intellectual, spiritual, moral, etc.—should be enhanced.

In difficult situations where seemingly conflicting values are involved, as in blending creativity and novelty with our dignity, common in the field of entertainment, there has to be clear infusion of the spiritual and supernatural values.

I believe this tricky duty can be done without compromising the full weight of both material and earthly values, on the one hand, and the spiritual and supernatural ones, on the other. We have to acquire the appropriate skills.

In the end, what is really important is that the youth be with Christ, knowing how to discern and follow God’s will. When they have this, they can be in any crossroads, and they would instinctively know which way to choose.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Christian secularity

WE have to be more familiar with the concept of secularity. This is because whether we are aware of it or not, we cannot escape from it. And there are good and bad kinds that we have to choose. We have to learn to discern which is which.

Secularity, quite simply, is our attitude towards the world in general. How we see the world in terms of where it came from, what its purpose is in itself and for us, how to deal with it, what we can get from it and what our duties are towards it—these more or less define our idea of secularity.

Lately, the word has acquired some negative connotation. This is mainly due to the trend, perhaps not so much as a professed philosophy or ideology yet in our country, of treating the world simply “as it is,” that is, rid of any relation to the concept of God.

More than secularity, what is actually referred to here is secularization. That’s precisely the process of ejecting God from our human and earthly affairs, like in our business and politics. That process may come in a subtle but effective way.

That’s what’s happening now! The Pope and many other Church leaders, past and present, have warned about our secularized world. Thus, we have to be more aware of the proper meaning of secularity and what its bastardization—secularization—is.

We have to give due attention to this concern, which figures as a crucial aspect of our life, since being attitudinal, it gives shape and form to our whole life, and determines the path we take and the destiny we are aiming at in this life.

Christian faith teaches us that the world, being God’s creation, is good. God is always there and guides it with his providence. It cannot be without God. It cannot be developed outside of God’s designs.

But its development also needs us. “Increase and multiply,” God told our first parents. “Fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and all living creatures that move upon the earth.” (Gen 1,28)

God wants us to be stewards of the earth, developing and governing it freely and responsibly according to his designs. It’s the usual Christian phenomenon where our freedom ought to coincide with our obedience to God’s laws.

That is why we have to reconcile ourselves with the truth that our true freedom is when it goes together always with obedience to God’s will. We have to disabuse ourselves from the fallacy that freedom and obedience are against each other.

The Christian concept of secularity considers the world as the place and time God has given us to pursue our goal, both immediate and ultimate. It is the setting of our encounter with God, our work of sanctification and identification with him and his plans.

We don’t have to go out of the world to look for God. We can and should find God there in the world, in the midst of our human activities and earthly concerns. And we ought to bring God also to these human affairs of ours.

Christian secularity, then, has a very positive attitude towards the world. It asks us to love the world. We should not be afraid of it, thinking that it separates us from God. We have to be wary of certain religious mentalities that pit the world against God.

Obviously, we do not deny that there are dangerous elements, millions of them, in the world too. We have to understand though that evil came to the world because of sin, first, that of our first parents, and then those of ours.

“By one man, sin entered into this world, and by sin death. And so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned,” (Rom 5,12) St. Paul said, affirming the character and history of our present world.

But not everything is lost. Precisely, Christ, the son of God who became man to redeem us, has given us the proper way of handling the world. We have to identify ourselves with Christ, follow his teachings, now taught by the Church, so we would know how to behave in the world.

We have to master Christian secularity—its teaching on respecting the autonomy of earthly things, respecting freedom of all, purifying them and infusing them with true Christian spirit.

Population issue the nth time

SORRY if I have to bring up this issue again. I’m actually tired to death talking about it. But there are just some people, even senators and others who tout themselves to having not only high IQ but also sharp human sensibility, who just don’t get it.

I must say that if I were not a priest and have not studied this matter thoroughly, most likely I’d be like them. Perhaps, even more rabid than them, more sharp-tongued and critical, since I too used to have strong anti-clerical sentiments, I do have a temper and I’m quite capable of creating a mess.

Now though when I hear positions contrary to that of the Church about this issue, I tend to be very compassionate, because I know very well what the practical and concrete difficulties are when one has a big family to raise and he’s poor.

I come from one such family, and I’m in touch with many other such families. I am fully aware of their situation. It’s never a bed of roses. In fact, to survive is a daily concern. All sorts of suffering come.

And so, I try to reach out, to explain and clarify things as patiently as possible. Of course, these are just the consequences. What truly takes place before anything else is a lot of prayers and sacrifices to make people see the wisdom of the Church’s teaching.

This is not easy at all, especially if one has to contend with a party who’s both combative and articulate. One such party that has figured recently in the media is Senator Lacson who openly said the Church’s position is “parochial” and “downright stupid.”

No problem. Everyone is entitled to his opinion. No matter how much I disagree, we should respect the freedom of everybody else in expressing his views. My respect for him and his view has not diminished one whit.

I just would like to invite him to study the matter more thoroughly, and consider or reconsider an angle, so crucial and basic, that he seems to have missed, or worse, to have derided.

And also, if he can be more refined in his choice of words. We can always register our contrary views in a civilized way. We have to presume we are all honorable men. To mock anyone, let alone the Church, is below the belt.

The angle I’m referring to is that of morality, of faith, of the spiritual and supernatural reality that also governs us. We have to go past the purely economic, practical, convenient or popular arguments. These do not give us the ultimate answer.

If we would get stuck there, we can always come up with the most effective ways, like just killing the old and handicap. Of course, that may be illegal, but I’m sure if one is clever enough, eliminating these people without getting entangled with the law should not be a problem. There, lamentably, had been precedents.

The moral-religious angle is indispensable, and no one, much less, a senator, who is still at least nominally a Catholic or Christian, can claim exemption from such consideration simply because it’s supposed to be a civil matter only, not a spiritual or religious one.

This is actually the underlying problem we have nowadays. People are not living by their faith. They are just keeping themselves afloat simply by using their reason and human abilities. Faith is just a word, and not much else.

Without faith, it makes no sense to have many children when these can only mean troubles, sufferings, frustrations, etc. Without faith, there’s no point talking about a morality that goes beyond what simply is practical and the like.

Without faith, the negative things in our life possess no meaning, serve no purpose, and the only proper thing to do with them is to hate and discard them.

Some women even have the temerity to say they are losing their religion because of the Church’s position. Some have called themselves “Catholics for choice,” which means their Christianity is first and foremost theirs and not Christ’s.

They play their own God. They fail to see the link between God, Christ, Church and personal conscience.

I wonder if they have a religion to lose in the first place, since it would seem their religion is just an illusion, a religion where God and his moral teachings are what they want them to be, not what God has revealed to us.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


LIFE, of course, goes on regardless of whatever circumstances define our present time. We continue, even unknowingly, to exchange things with everyone else here and now, and also with those before and after us. This is how life goes.

We always feel the need to communicate. This is how we transmit customs and traditions, cultivate cultures, wage an ongoing process of education, of socio-economic development, etc.

As we gain more hindsight about the world in general and ourselves, we can readily discover that all these aspects of communication comprise a unity, a dynamic one that has a beginning and an end, and that has a meaning and dimensions that transcend our earthly, material and temporal yardsticks.

This is where we realize there’s a mysterious world out there with which we are unavoidably related. This is where we also notice that within ourselves a certain tension exists that needs to be relieved and given due attention.

If we reflect a little more, we are bound to realize that we are actually a vital part of a very dynamic overall composition—an eternal plan—where there is God and we are creatures, and where, whether we are keenly aware of it or not, we—God and us—are bound with each other in a living relationship.

It’s a relationship that has to be maintained by both parties—God and us—in the way each one of us is, that is, God as God, the fullness of being who loves us and continues to deal with us, and us as persons with intelligence and will and as God’s children who have to learn to love him in return.

That is why we have to understand that our urge to communicate is a vital part of this endless, universal communication that is the source and end of all our earthly communications.

God takes the initiative to share things with his creatures, and with us, he shares nothing less than his own self. Thus, he is not contented with creating us and endowing us with the best of things. Even if we sinned and continue sinning, he keeps loving us, and loving us to the full.

Though we can know and start to love him just by observing things around us, God reveals himself directly to us. This revelation reaches its fullness in the coming of his son who became man like us except sin, Jesus Christ.

He, Jesus, showed us the way to be like God. That way is a living way, no less that Jesus himself who becomes alive to us in the Holy Spirit, and who will continue to be with us up to the end of time.

But we have to do our part. Among the things we need to do is to fulfill what our Lord asked us—to evangelize, since he said: “Go therefore, teach to all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (Mt 28,19)

This duty of evangelization has been studied in the Church through the ages. It may just be worthwhile to echo some of the salient points involved, like:

- To evangelize does not simply mean to teach a doctrine, but to proclaim Jesus Christ by one’s words and actions, that is, to make oneself an instrument of Christ’s presence and action in the world;

- Evangelization is not only done through public preaching or works of public relevance, but also and always by means of personal witness;

- Evangelization enriches both the recipient and the giver;

- Every Church activity has an evangelizing dimension. It can never be separated from the commitment to help everyone to meet Christ in faith. We should not limit ourselves only to giving people knowledge, ability, technical competence and tools. These are not enough;

- Evangelization proceeds by dialogue and respectful proclamation. Coercion or improper enticement that fails to respect the dignity and religious freedom of people has no place in evangelization.

There are more, but these suffice for the moment. What is important to realize is to effectively carry out this duty, one has to take care of his own spiritual life and continuing formation.

These will insure a living identity with Christ, accompanied by the appropriate attitudes, supernatural instincts, virtues, skills and competence. These will turn us into Christ’s witnesses and bearers of his teaching and spirit.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Year of St. Paul

POPE Benedict has just proclaimed the Year of St. Paul, starting last June 29, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. He’s asking us to listen to St. Paul , to know what he is trying to tell us today. The Pope assures us St. Paul has a lot to say and show.

Yes, sir, this business of listening and talking to saints is an idea we have to be more familiar with and adept at. Saints are no mere historical figures. They are alive and are more relevant to us now, albeit in a mysterious but no less real way.

Try to visit the Christian doctrine on “communion of saints,” and you’ll see how we continue to get linked in a vital way with every member of the Church, be he in heaven, here on earth, or still purifying himself in purgatory, sharing spiritual goods among ourselves.

If we enter all out the world of faith and spiritual reality, the limitations of time and space pose no problem. Death and distance do not separate us. We continue to get together in a phenomenon called in theology as “communion.”

Let’s remember that there’s something spiritual in us, enabling us to go beyond our physical, material and natural dimensions. With God’s grace, we can enter a deeper and richer universe.

We really have to be more consistent in our thinking with faith. Our tendency is still to be stuck in some dichotomy. At one time, we feel pious and religious, and at another time, we are utterly worldly. We have to bridge the gap.

The Pope tells us that with the fearless character, generous fidelity and heroic ministry of St. Paul, as recorded in the Bible, we are taught to adapt ourselves to his mind and spirit, because this is how we can identify ourselves with Christ.

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ,” (1 Cor 11,1) he boldly said. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me,” (Gal 2,20) he added. This identification with Christ by all of us is what the Church and the world need today.

Our world is in crying need of an effective evangelization, of which St. Paul is the poster boy, where Christ can be brought to all our human affairs, and vice-versa, where all our human activities can be linked to Christ.

Christ cannot and should not be confined to some people, to some moments and events of our life. Christ belongs to all of us, just as we all belong to him.

St. Paul as the apostle of the Gentiles highlights this truth. And for this he was not afraid of any suffering and pain involved in the endeavor. “Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Tribulation or distress or famine or nakedness or danger or persecution or sword?” (Rom 8,35)

He knew how to be all things to all men, bravely bringing the word of Christ to friends and foes alike. He contoured his teachings according to the mentalities of the people he preached to.

St. Paul represents a believer who has grown “unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph 4,13) As such, he had no business other than to do Christ’s command for him to reach out to the Gentiles, that is, to everyone.

This is what we have to understand well. After due thought, we should realize we have no business other than to do God’s will. And this is none other than our own sanctification and that of all others. This is what salvation means.

We have to leave behind our childish ways, our pagan or inconsistently Christian ways. We have to update our knowledge of the doctrine, bring to par the state of our attitudes and virtues. We have to embark in a sustained apostolic work.

These duties should be ordinary and commonplace, not esoteric. They are really no big deal. And we should learn to carry them out with competence. At this age of super-advanced technologies, it’s a crime to be amateurish in this much more important aspect of our life.

Whether we are in business or politics, in sports and entertainment, at home or in public places, we should know how to be like St. Paul . We have to know how to bring Christ to all.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


POPE Benedict in one of his speeches used this term, otherness, to characterize what is in the depth of our being. Let’s quote him and start to familiarize ourselves with this essential and crucial note about ourselves.

"Man," he said, "is characterized by his otherness. He is a being created by God, a being in the image of God, a being who is loved and is made to love. As a human, he is never closed within himself. He is always a bearer of otherness and, from his origins, is in interaction with other human beings."

In short, we are meant for others, and ultimately for God, the Final Other for whom we are destined. We have to be more aware of the practical implications of this truth.

We have to be wary of our strong tendency to think only of ourselves, our own interests, projects, achievements, our own family, clique and class, culture, etc., and to succumb to an I-me-mine mentality, instead of a we-us-ours attitude.

Let us remind ourselves very often of the truth that our true joy is not in self-contentment and satisfaction. Our true development is not in our self-perfection. Life is not about ourselves. We are designed to be men-for-others.

Our life, our authentic joy and perfection always involve God and others. They are achieved when day to day, moment to moment we seek to be with God and others, if not physically then in our mind and heart.

We have to go beyond our comfort zone, our personal and professional elements, and even our social, cultural and human affairs. While we cannot escape from them—in fact, we have to be immersed in them—we also have to find a way not to be held captive by them.

We are meant for something greater always, no matter how much we are endowed and have achieved. Thus, in a recent speech Pope Benedict said that we are beyond our sciences, no matter how well developed they already are. Let’s listen to him again:

"Human beings always stand beyond what can be scientifically seen or perceived. To overlook the question of man’s ‘being’ inevitably leads to refusing the possibility of research into the objective truth of being and, effectively, to an incapacity to recognize the foundation upon which human dignity rests."

We are also beyond our culture and history. "Not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God," (Mt 4,4) our Lord said. In fact, we are meant for God.

We should not be enclosed by the limits of what is known and experienced by us so far. We are actually a mystery, regardless of how much knowledge about ourselves we have already accumulated.

We have to find a way to enter into a living, not just conceptual or theoretical, relationship with God. We have to find a way to transcend beyond, but not avoid, our material and temporal conditions to enter into a loving relationship with God.

We have to learn to find God in the very things that we handle everyday, even if these things are the pots and pans in the kitchen. Finding him is not a matter of escaping from the world with all the mundane things involved there or escaping from our present life.

God is in everything. He is waiting for us in our domestic activities, our professional life in offices, business and politics, in schools, farms, shops, etc. Wherever we are, God is there waiting for us.

In our present age of frantic developments, we still can manage to find God if we know how to discern the spiritual and moral implications of the technical details involved in our work.

This would mean allowing God to enter into our life in all its aspects, and not shutting him off, plunging ourselves to the logic and dynamism of our human world.

What enables us to be a "bearer of otherness" is our spiritual nature, our intelligence and will that let us enjoy freedom whose proper operation is to want, to love. On this point, the Pope again said:

"Man is not the result of mere chance, of converging circumstances, of determinism, of chemical inter-reactions. Man is a being who enjoys a freedom which transcends his nature and is a sign of the mystery of otherness that dwells within him."

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Life and God’s word

WE have to find the vital connection between our life and God’s word. The latter is the real, ultimate and constant nourishment of the former. What a pity if we just go on living with nary any relation to God’s word.

This is what we are seeing nowadays. There’s so much ignorance of the saving word of God. And if there’s any knowledge or recourse to it, it’s often distorted by confusion, error, inadequate attitudes and misunderstanding.Even among our educated class, there’s that widespread misunderstanding, an urban legend that God’s word is just meant for a few people, or that it’s quite irrelevant and inapplicable to their affairs.

Our life seems to be fed and developed solely by purely human words and knowledge. They can be scientific and practical, impressive and high-grade in their technological know-how, but they miserably fail to feed our soul. They’re just incapable of doing so.

They only feed our body and anything material and social about ourselves. These aspects are, of course, necessary. In fact, these are what we first are conscious of, before we are aware of our spiritual needs.

But without feeding our soul by God’s word, we can have a tree rich in foliage but deficient in roots, a body without soul, a real monster and anomaly that can only invite trouble. We can be very practical, efficient, running fast—but outside the track.

We have to be more consistent to our faith, and recognize the indispensable importance of the word of God. We have to develop the appropriate attitudes, practices and habits.
The word of God is the genuine good news. It’s God sharing his knowledge and wisdom with us. It’s the beginning of how our life ought to be—supernatural and not just merely human and natural.

This means always exercising our faith, and subordinating all our human efforts to God’s word. In fact, we have to orient all of them to it. There’s nothing in our life that is not and cannot be related to the Bible.

We have to find a way to relate our everyday lives to the Bible text, and vice-versa, the Bible text to our everyday lives. We have to frequently ask ourselves, how can we read the Bible with our lives and our lives with the Bible?

This will require a lot of training, of course. And for this purpose, everyone who can should help. We have to open the ways, the bigger and more accessible the better, for others to follow to interrelate our life and God’s word.

Someone observed that because of the malls and the internet, among many other things that just seem to pop up in our present age, there’s also the diminution if not the loss of spiritual life, including of course the interest in the Bible.
There may be a lot of truth to that observation, but it’s not meant to be taken as an iron law. At best, it’s a social phenomenon that can be rectified. Thus, it presents us with a problem, which is actually a challenge.

Among the first things we have to do is to revise our attitudes toward these new things in our life. When we consider these things as purely human or technical without any relation to God, then we are starting with the wrong step.

We cannot get stuck in the technical and practical level. We have to go much further. We have to discern the role they play and the place they occupy in Christ’s redemptive mission. We have to see God in them.

Obviously, a lot of purification has to be done, knowing that these new things come with a lot of elements that are foreign if not hostile to God’s plans. There’s a lot of greed, vanity, etc. in them.

But to ignore them completely, and not to see God in them would be fatal to our Christian life. This is the challenge we face now. We have to learn how these new developments relate to God’s word, and vice-versa, identifying both the positive and negative aspects.

These new developments have to be seen in the context of religion, with due highlight on the good more than on the bad features. We cannot be fundamentalist or purely traditionalist in approach.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Our crisis of faithBy

WE are supposed to be creatures of faith, but I wonder how we are living according to that ideal. We can look around, and we can readily see signs and symptoms that faith is not lived as it should. Faith seems to be in crisis.

Faith is a human necessity. We cannot rely simply on our reason or intelligence, no matter how high it may be. Much less do we solely depend on our senses, no matter how indispensable they are.

We need faith. We need to believe, because we are meant for it. We need faith because we know there’s a world beyond what our intelligence can penetrate, and we need to enter it since it’s a world to which we belong also.

Our intelligence is more like the moon rather than like the sun. It reflects light, and thus its light is a reflected light. It’s not the original source of light. In our system, that light source is the sun. Our problem starts when we make our intelligence like the sun instead of the moon.

Our intelligence emits light insofar as it receives and processes data first from outside itself, and then once it has accumulated some data, it can emit light also from within itself. It has to receive something first, before it can give.

Usually we start using the information we gather from the material world. But from there, it can build its own reservoir of knowledge and can continue reflecting on it, emitting more light along the way.

Still our intelligence can detect that there is still another source of light other than the material world and itself. In fact, this source is the higher and the ultimate one, ever stimulating the mind to catch it but can never quite get it.

It’s the world of the spiritual, and more than that, the world of the supernatural, shrouded in mysteries that are truths that surpass our intelligence’s capacity to understand. This is where we simply have to believe. Of course, we can also choose not to believe.

This is the world where we are asked to have faith. This is where we are capable of going beyond the limitations of our human condition to merge ourselves into a deeper, richer albeit supernatural reality.

Our problem often is that we get stuck with the sensible and intelligible realities. We ignore the supernatural realities. We prefer to stay on the natural level, failing to see our nature’s longing for the supernatural.

We can even go to the extent of claiming that there’s nothing supernatural, nothing outside what is natural, what we can understand. But our catechism says:

“The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.” (27)

Obviously, the skepticism about the supernatural world and about faith can stem from the fact that myths and superstitions have very often spoiled if not annulled whatever tendency we may have toward the supernatural.

We are afraid that all talk about faith and the supernatural world may just redound to some subtle human invention or some tricks that our mind and will can play on us, that is, that such claim really has no objective basis, that everything is purely subjective.

This predicament does not totally negate the existence of objective basis for faith and the supernatural world. Rather, it leads us to discern which among the different faith systems truly have an objective basis.

In the case of the Christian faith, it is based on a divine revelation—God coming to us—that is historical, involving a real person and other personages, and events and teachings that can be historically verified. It’s not a figment of someone’s or a people’s imagination.

We need to live by faith. For this we need to learn how to think using not only our reason, but also faith. This requires study and the development of certain habits—like praying, reflecting, recollecting, etc.

The ideal to reach is that we get to develop such a life of faith that would enable us to see God and his ways in all our daily events and activities big and small. We become contemplatives.

This is our crisis of faith. Not so much doctrinal controversies as our indifference to our task to live by faith at every moment.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Mountain retreatBy

I JUST had the very precious privilege to spend a few days in a mountain retreat somewhere in the elevated fastness of Bukidnon. It was a very cool place, windy, often wet and shrouded in mist and fog.

But when the air cleared up, it showed a breath-taking view of green rolling hills, valleys, trees swaying, clouds forming and chasing, with the hint of the sea in the horizon. It was as if God himself painted and was showing his work in all its splendor.

Beautiful flowers abounded. Cows, sheep and horses kept me company, and colorful birds simply decorated the pines and sky. For sounds, there was the murmur of the brook, the chorus of the insects, the fluttering of leaves. This must be paradise, I imagined.

Obviously, my heart was exploding in gratitude to God and to all, even as I ventured into that very delicate task of recollecting, reflecting, studying and praying. I strongly believe that we need to have a time for silence.Silence enables us to go deep into ourselves. We’ll be surprised that in spite of our age and experience, there still are uncharted waters and unmapped territories to be discovered. Truly, our human condition is soaked in mysteries.

The hubbub of the city, with all its comings and goings, has a way of paralyzing our spiritual faculties, of disorienting and even of alienating us from our own selves, not to the mention, from the others.

Imperceptibly, we build walls around us, separating us from the others, and establish our own mechanisms to complete our own make-believe world where God and the others become mere props, decors and tools.

With silence and the help of untouched nature, we can readily see the tricks played on us even by our own senses and reasonings. These powers, supposed to bring us to God and to reality, often hijack us to another world, if we are not careful.

Reality for us, of course, is a malleable thing. With our intelligence and will, with our freedom and creativity, even if there’s an objective reality established by God, we are capable of bending, molding and making it also according to our own designs.

The reality we live in is never rigid, fixed and inert. It’s constantly flowing and morphing. We have to understand that our subjective reality is supposed to coincide with God’s objective reality for us.

For this, a very dynamic process is involved. There’s always in our life an interplay between God’s will and ours, between God’s laws and our intelligence and freedom. We have to train ourselves rigorously to do our part well in this lifetime dance.

We have to frequently check what and how we are thinking, how we are using our will and freedom, to see whether we are truly in love and whether we are loving properly, that is, in the truth.

Silence helps us to see the basic structure of our mind and heart, and the objects to which they get oriented. This is where we see whether these human powers are in their proper condition and are properly used.

They are supposed to be locked on God always, immersed in him even as we grapple with our earthly affairs. But if we don’t take pains, they can dare to detach themselves from God and be and work on their own, an anomaly gripping many of us.

That’s when we start constructing our own world and reality. True, we are intelligent and free, and in fact we need to be so as best as we can. We just have to remember that our proper and constant object is God, and not just some earthly, sensible or intelligible matter.

We have to develop the proper skills and virtues to spend our whole life in God’s presence, driven with rectitude of intention, even as we handle mundane things. Thus, we need to continually renew and enrich our routine and lifestyle to fit this need.

Silence also facilitates internalizing things, attuning our senses and faculties to their proper object. It also merges us with time, allowing us to run from the present to the past and then to the future, rectifying and refocusing things along the way, until we reach the doorsteps of eternity and infinity itself.

I’d like to thank the owners of Mountain Pines Place in Kalubmanan, Manolo Fortich town for giving me this privilege.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Labeling and branding

THE practice of labeling and branding is a fact of life. But I personally don’t quite like it, especially when applied to people, precisely because it tends to confine and stereotype us.

We are persons, not things, not animals. As such, we are intelligent beings and free spirits that could not and should not be reduced and straitjacketed to a set image or type.

There may be something permanent in us, or characteristics that are stable, but we should never forget that we also change, and in fact in certain aspects, we need to change.

We have to learn to grapple and blend these two facets. It’s no easy task, and given their ticklish linkage and the profuse confusion around, we really need to have the appropriate understanding and skills to carry it out.

Of the permanent category would be our nature as rational beings, as persons with intelligence and will, and as beings subject not only to reason but also to faith. We also are social beings, and not just individuals. These should always be a given, and continually reinforced.

But alas, nowadays and especially in some supposedly thinking circles, a few of these permanent features are doubted and questioned. Categories that used to be traditionally or culturally obvious and taken for granted are now put in reservation.

Our more stable characteristics would be in the area of our character, personality, social background, IQ, physical and biological constitution, etc. In our dealings with one another we should also consider all these to attain greater propriety in our relations.

But there are many things that change. Flux dominates our physical and affective life. And this is more so in our ideas, thoughts, desires and plans. And yet in this flow, certain steady traits can be noted, giving rise to the need for labeling and branding.

This is where we have to be most careful. This practice of classifying, pigeonholing and packaging should be pursued with the constant awareness that there are elements in us that change, or are capable of changing and should change. This needs frequent self-checking and self-renewals.

Especially in our social life, and in politics to be more specific, this unavoidable business of labeling and branding has to be pursued with extreme care.

Now that our politics is entering a more intriguing phase, especially in the more developed countries like the US where politics is increasingly reflecting a culture war, we need to be most charitable.

There, it is common to brand people as either conservative or liberal, right-wing or left-wing, etc. While there are valid reasons to do so, we should not allow this labeling to deteriorate into name-calling, insulting, carping and things like those.

We need to continually remind ourselves in our political discussions that we are dealing with persons, and not just a faceless crowd, a mob that can be treated without attention to refinement and charity, or mere points. We are all brothers and sisters, all children of God.

Our differences and conflicts should not undermine this basic requirement. Thus our Lord put it as the acme of charity to “love your enemy.” We just have to find a way to resolve our differences with patience, knowing that truth and charity cannot and should not be separated.

We have to go beyond top-of-mind responses, and learn to process and deliberate our reactions. We have to be good-mannered always, seeing to it that our emotions, while allowed to show always, should be under control.

Our arguments and reasons should be crafted with clear orientation to the common good. We have to learn to listen to one another, and to be magnanimous. We have to purify our discussions of any accumulating traces of resentment and bitterness.

The forcefulness with which we infuse our views, if we know, can be done with affection. It can even be given with a dash of humor. The result will always be a smashing hit that gladdens everyone, including our opponents.

What is more, discussions under these conditions facilitate the search for more fruitful and useful findings. They also foster solidarity among ourselves so we can attain our common good more easily.