Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hope in S O S

WE have to rescue this virtue, now largely distorted and misunderstood, if not ignored and allowed to drift, it seems, toward extinction.

When Pope Benedict issued his second encyclical, Spe Salvi (Saved by hope) November last, there hardly was any ripple about it in the secular press.

Put bluntly, this extensive discussion on hope, the virtue that forms an inseparable troika with faith and charity, was left out in the cold. It’s telling that this sad phenomenon is happening. It exposes the real, sorry state of our Christian life.

In Christian understanding, these three virtues are indispensable. They bring us to God. They practically form Christian life’s essence.

They infuse our intelligence and will with the capacity to participate in the divine knowledge, activity and life itself, allowing us to be in sync with God’s ways. Without them, there really is no Christian life, no matter how impressive we manage to fake it.

The Pope himself offers some explanation for this turn of events. First, he says that many people are afraid of what faith and hope promise—eternal life.

“Many people,” he said, “do not find the prospect of eternal life attractive. What they desire is not eternal life at all, but this present life, for which faith in eternal life seems something of an impediment.”

This situation truly poses a tall order to those whose business is to evangelize souls. This, of course, requires nothing less than grace. But it also requires us to find convincing arguments and ways to link the present life with eternal life.

We have to find a way to show that it is God who adequately corresponds to our deepest yearning for joy and peace. It’s not just any lofty human goal or worldly idea of success.

This observation can provoke a second concern—that hope leads us to pursue only our own personal salvation, without regard to our duties toward others and the world in general.

The Pope answered by saying that this eternal life with God is always lived not by oneself alone, but in union with a people. Union with God is also always a union with others. It’s never just an individualistic affair.

It presupposes, he said, “that we escape from the prison of our ‘I’, because only in the openness of this universal subject (we) does our gaze open out to the source of joy, to love itself, to God.”

Again, this truth needs to be fleshed out in concrete forms imbued with a sense of immediacy, for us to appreciate it. It’s another hard task for the evangelizers.

A third question can also be raised: how did we come to conceive Christian hope as a selfish search for salvation which rejects the idea of serving others?

The Pope answers by saying that modernism’s attitude of replacing faith in God with modern science and praxis has relegated the faith and hope in God to a purely private and other-worldly level, irrelevant to the here and now.

That’s, of course, wrong. True faith and hope in God, while transcending worldly dimensions, are intrinsically immersed in earthly affairs. They play a crucial role in our lives and history, as individuals and as people.

For these truths to shine out, we need concrete examples and models. And they can be found in the lives of martyrs and saints who with God’s grace and their efforts show how faith and hope in God have shaped their lives.

This is the challenge of today’s evangelizers. And I’m sure that with the proper attitude and skills we can find such examples and models not only in ancient times but more so in contemporary life.

There’s need to present these wonderful narratives in a more secular style. We have to say enough to empty celebrity obsession.

An appropriate theology has to be developed, where the elements of dogma blend well with the cultural character of the people and of the times.

The spiritual has to be materialized, and the material spiritualized. In short, a theology that produces holiness in the flesh, and generates hope with substance and not just a matter of conviction. It should be one where God and we in all our dimensions enter into a living, vibrant relationship.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Snake in the grass

I BELIEVE this is not paranoia. Rather, it is a simple norm of prudence and vigilance.

Even if we seem to have a very civilized world now, what with all the gadgets and technologies coming out, we still need to look out for a possible snake in the grass.

In fact, I would say that our so-called progress in society can offer a trickier cover for serpents to get to us. Mainly material and external development, without the corresponding spiritual growth, makes for a good ground for such treacherous creatures to breed, flourish and later infest.

Thus, it happened recently that in Manila the police had to be called to catch a big, fat python right in the middle of a crowded street. No owner claimed it. But since it was huge, it was easily seen and caught. We have to be more wary of the smaller ones, and even more so of the less material ones.

And we cannot deny that as attested in Church history, both remote and contemporary, when these troublemakers are tolerated and even encouraged, they really can make a big mess in both the Church and society.

So it might be good to alert everyone of such snake in the grass in the form of a heresy called modernism. We need to know what it is, why it’s dangerous, and why it’s condemned by the Church.

We have to do this because it seems it is making a come-back, a revival, especially in our crucial centers of learning, that is, in universities and even in seminaries!

Modernism can be understood in many ways, and there are many good things about it. That’s really the source of the problem, since we often get confused as to what’s good and bad with it, what’s right and wrong with it.

Its controversy came to a head long time ago, with Pope Pius X condemning it with his encyclical “Pascendi” in 1907. Before that, the then Holy Office issued a decree “Lamentabili,” enumerating the modernistic theses that had been disapproved.

It would be good, especially for those in the field of philosophy, theology and the humanities, to be familiar with these proscribed modernistic views, so they can be guided and be more discriminating in their work.

In layman’s language, modernism is a kind of movement mainly within the Church that tends to examine and question traditional belief in the light of contemporary researches.

Of course, at face value there’s hardly anything wrong with it. In fact, it’s good that continuing study and research be done on our Christian faith. By its very nature, our faith requires such study so as to be better understood by all.

The problem arises when the modernist’s efforts to develop and update Christian belief and dogmas starts to give absolute value to modern findings at the expense of the authority of the Church magisterium.

It’s a tendency that causes a kind of paradigm shift in doing philosophy or theology, since it can lean and gravitate toward a purely subjective way of understanding things.

The Church authority is little by little replaced by subjective criteria, albeit presented as being scientific and attuned to modern conditions and mentalities. Doubts begin to be raised about the supernatural character of the Church and the sacraments, about the nature of revelation and dogma, etc.

At bottom, what drives a modernist’s efforts is his so-called religious experience that now plays the leading role in determining what’s from God and what’s not.

He goes on a rampage of “demythologizing” the faith, of distinguishing, for example, the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith, etc. He develops an increasingly hostile attitude toward all Church authority, toward papal infallibility while bestowing that quality on himself.

He most likely will mouth the mantra of academic freedom for effect, accusing Church authorities of overstepping their competence. It’s a well-known ploy.

University and seminary professors in the faculty of philosophy, theology and the humanities should be keenly vetted at least for their doctrinal soundness if not also for their personal spiritual life.

These two aspects should go together, since they make for what can be considered as teachers and models fit for students and seminarians to listen and follow. Church authorities should laser-focus their supervision on them.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Meant to serve

“SERVIAM,” I will serve, has been a favorite motto of many Popes and other ecclesiastics, as well as many other people, prominent and ordinary. It’s taken from the Bible, and expresses a basic attitude we all ought to have.

I think that’s still the breaking news many of us have yet to know. We are still uncomfortable, if not averse, to the idea, and if there’s any serving that we do, it’s most likely to serve our own self-interest, a caricature of how things ought to be.

In fact, to serve must really be an essential part of our nature, because Christ himself did and lived it, and then taught it to all of us. Our sin, first the original and then our own, have distorted and muffled this yearning to serve we actually have deep in our hearts.
But consider the following words and actions of our Lord:

- “The Son of Man came to serve, and not to be served, and to give his life as ransom for many.” (Mt 20,28)

- “If any man desires to be first, he shall be the last of all, and the servant of all.” (Lk 9,35)

- After washing the feet of his apostles in the Last Supper, he said: “If then I being your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you do also.” (Jn 13,14-15)

There’s no other way to interpret these words and actions of Christ. We need to understand that to serve is a necessity of our life, as persons and children of God. By refusing to serve, we violate our own selves.

Of course, to serve properly can only be done if the first and ultimate object is God, and because of God, others. Our Lord said: “No man can serve two masters…You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Mt 6,24)

To serve outside of this orbit is to reduce serving into something servile or enslaving, something that degrades us rather than dignifies us.

The reason we often end up hating to serve is because we serve improperly—we serve ourselves rather than God, first, and then others. Serving in this way would inflict us with a short-circuit sooner or later.

To serve should be our guiding principle, since it gives meaning and direction to our life. It’s what fulfills us, what brings us to our proper end and joy. It identifies us with Christ and unites us with others. It builds up our communion with God and our solidarity with the others.

Said another way, it is only in serving that we can know and love Christ and let others know and love Christ as well. Christ cannot be discerned with the head alone. Knowing and loving him involves our whole being whose different aspects are actuated and integrated when we serve.
It is only in serving that we can start building and strengthening our Christian culture of life and love. We have to do everything to make serving like the motive for our thoughts, desires, words and deeds.

Let’s be wary of the subtle tricks the devil and we can play on our own selves, blurring the distinction between God’s will and ours, and making God’s will to conform to ours instead of ours to his.

Let’s welcome every opportunity to serve God and others, which can always be done anytime, anywhere. In the small and big things of our day, we are always faced with the choice between working for God and others, or working for ourselves.

To achieve this, we need to develop virtues and eradicate our vices. We need to pray, study God’s will and be familiar with his ways and commands. We need to fight against pride, laziness, attachments, etc. that blind us.

We need to fill our hearts with desires to serve always. The moment we wake up, the first thought that should come to mind is to serve God. It’s a resolution that we have to renew many times during the day.

This will make our life simple, imbuing it with a clear sense of direction. This will somehow always attract grace and generate its own energy for us to carry out God’s will irrespective of problems and difficulties.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Can we, clergy, hack it?

WITH our times getting complicated and hot-button issues popping up, one wonders whether we, priests, can ably act as true beacons of light and moral compasses we are expected to be before all the Church’s faithful.

With this recent public debate on reproductive health, for example, not a few people have complained that they hardly hear anything from their priests about this issue, outside of rallies called for this purpose.

They said that it’s lamentable, because the issue involved in reproductive health concerns them everyday, and yet they hardly get any guidance or reminder from priests other than occasional motherhood platitudes.

If ever, they said, the words are full of condemnatory tones with hardly any explanation why, for example, contraception is morally wrong and why they ought to be careful about the reproductive health bills now pending in Congress.

Much less do they hear anything about how to develop authentic conjugal love and conjugal chastity, using both supernatural and practical arguments. This is what they want to hear, they said, and not just skills in natural family planning.

Many, for example, want to know how to live chastity when one of those fierce clashes with one’s own sexual urges takes place. It’s the priestly inability to offer feasible advice in this area that turns many people off and leads them to seek solutions in other, usually immoral, sources.

In the end, they said, the Church campaigns manage to attract only a few and very specialized following—usually old women and what they call “Catolico cerrado”—and can even alienate the young ones who are actually also looking for truth and fairness in issues like this.

I believe this is a concern that has to be attended to urgently. Many Church documents and exhortations have already been issued by Popes, councils, bishops, etc., urging the clergy to be at par with these modern challenges. But what are the results?

I’m afraid these have largely fallen on deaf ears. There’s still a lot of room for improvement. Only a little percentage of the clergy appears to be competent in handling our current Church and world situation.

Most of us are still groping in the dark, clumsy and unsure about what to do and what to say. Many just get satisfied with celebrating the sacraments, without doubt necessary and indispensable. But this, given the times, is not enough.

There is need for the average priest to learn to pray and study, to articulate and apply relevant doctrine to concrete situations, to build and strengthen an abiding sense of the Church, to develop the skill for effective evangelization in today’s setting.

We priests are supposed to be the sacramental representation of Christ, head of the Church. We should be able to say to the people, “It is I (Christ), do not be afraid.” Christ said these words to his apostles who thought they saw a ghost walking on the lake toward them.

A few are wondering how many priests are truly internalizing, not just externally tweaking, our sacramental identification with Christ as priest. We are not Christ’s ghosts, nor Church bureaucrats and performers.

Instead, there is a lot of priestly complacency and mediocrity nurtured in a culture of tolerance and impunity. This has to be wiped out. A strong infusion of authentic spiritual life and a firm grounding in sound doctrine are needed.

It’s painful to hear priests succumbing to spiritual lukewarmness and doctrinal ignorance, confusion if not outright error. It’s painful to see them entangled in petty quarrels, envy and rivalry among themselves.

You can just imagine if they get involved in highly scandalous situations!

The formation of priests should be an ongoing, endless affair. There’s need for continuing renewal of commitment, because this simply is the requirement of love and fidelity that’s supposed to animate the priestly vocation.

The formation in the seminary also has to be carefully developed with eagle-eyed supervision from the authorities. There, heroic dedication, obedience and discipline should be learned as essential signs of love. We have to purge the seminary of bad eggs.

In the end, we priests should try to do our best in our priestly life and ministry, and to make our best better always. This is how we can hack the current challenges.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Contraceptive mentality

THANKS to the sustained efforts through the years to promote family planning and population control, now dubbed as reproductive health, the world is practically wrapped in a seemingly invincible contraceptive mentality.

Depending on where one’s faith lies, whether in us or in God, this contraceptive mentality is regarded as a blessing or a curse. I, for the meantime, consider it a maker of fiction, much like the world of the Kung Fu Panda.

Of course, its consequences are now manifest. But then again, depending on one’s viewpoint, their reading and interpretations can vary widely. There are those who say there is now a sharp decline in population growth rate in many countries. This is good news to some, but bad news to others.

As in…due to this decline, some countries are now facing aging and possible extinction. In fact, a recent US census observes that by 2040, the whites in that country will be a minority. The whites are not reproducing enough.

Others have gone a bit wilder by claiming that due to overpopulation, we have what is now called as global warming. It looks like we are in a wild goose chase in making some sense out of the data related to the population issue.

In our country, the recent move to approve the reproductive health bill is actually a clever effort to make this contraceptive mentality even more dominant while giving an opening to abortion. That’s the bare bones of the bill.

It is banked on the assumption that there is widespread poverty and ignorance in sex and reproduction, and that so-called women’s reproductive rights be accorded almost unconditional accommodation.

This is the contraceptive mentality at work. Its controlling logic does not stop until no one’s left in the world. Or until its proponents achieve what they consider as their heaven here on earth. To them there’s nothing supernatural about heaven at all.

This contraceptive mentality is now so pervasive that even in the Church itself, its claws and fangs are also showing. Some circles are touting the idea of mainstreaming the natural family planning methods.

Nothing wrong there, except that they seem not contented with making natural family planning as an adjunct to the doctrine of responsible parenthood. It has to be the core and essence of responsible parenthood.

Oh yes, they still do a lot of lip service to the official Church line on responsible parenthood. But the theory is hardly translated into practice. In practice, all efforts are focused in teaching everyone, at the slightest excuse, the skills of natural family planning.

Natural family planning has become in effect a part of the contraceptive mentality. It’s not anymore a living component of a couple’s effort to practice responsible parenthood and conjugal chastity, to be resorted to when conditions warrant it.

It has become a kind of Catholic-approved method to achieve family planning, birth and population control, and now reproductive health.

In fact, chastity is hardly mentioned, if ever, in the modules that I so far have heard. It’s skills on how to determine the fertile and infertile periods of a woman, or the safe and unsafe period to make love. Any chastity talk is supposed to already intrude the sanctity of personal conscience.

A priest promoting it had the gumption to say that in his parish, made up mostly of poor couples, he pities them because every time he talks about responsible parenthood, the people just bow down in shame because they know, according to him, that they are not following the Church teaching.

The priest’s conclusion was to teach them natural family planning. It did not occur to him to step up on his teaching about the practical aspects of conjugal chastity. I suppose it’s far easier to teach natural family planning than to go through the hell of teaching the intricacies of conjugal love and chastity.

Aggravating this is the surprising tendency to almost exclusively promote one natural family planning method, called the Standard Days Method, which is the least effective of the methods and the most vulnerable to be complemented with artificial contraception.

It’s a method that is not much different from the notorious calendar method. Its promotion resurrects and feeds past suspicions that there’s a conspiracy to contaminate the Church position on responsible parenthood with the contraceptive mentality.

In fact, there is evidence that groups promoting this method are funded and aided by anti-life groups.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Learning inter-subjectivity

I WAS deeply touched when a staffer of the school told me recently that a young alumnus just called him from deep in the forest of Malaysia where he is now working.

The alumnus just wanted to say hi, and then to ask for prayers, because according to him, he has not gone to Mass for sometime now. The nearest church was like going from Cebu to Manila , and he could not afford it yet.

The staffer then told me he was impressed with the attitude of many of our graduates, who are concerned about their spiritual duties. His high school classmates, from another school, appeared not to mind whether they went to Mass or not on Sundays.

So I told him to be thankful to God. That’s precisely the culture we try to develop in the school, and to spread later on—that together with a thorough technical competence, the students cultivate an authentic spiritual life, a living relationship with God and with everybody else.

Then I told him why we have set up different programs to give hopefully effective attention to this need. Aside from Christian doctrine classes, students are invited to hear Mass everyday in school, to go to regular confession and spiritual direction, attend meditations, recollections, etc.

All of these are done without pressuring the students. They have to be convinced of the importance of these means of formation. If they go and attend, it’s because they want to.

Of course, to achieve this, a conducive atmosphere has to be kept in campus. So for this purpose, we have stepped up our program of providing mentors and tutors to all, not just some, students.

The idea is to make friendship, trust and confidence bloom among the teachers, staff and students. The relationship should not remain in the purely academic. It has to filter down to the personal and spiritual levels.

This means involving everyone, including our old driver and janitor who have been acting like father figures to the students. This means we have to motivate everyone for this task and to equip them with the proper attitudes and skills.

Lately, the school management has organized monthly seminars for the staff to take up matters related to the integral formation of the students. This is where I’m asked to give classes in the philosophy of man.

This is quite a tall order, since I have to adjust to the level and ways of my disparate. Philosophical terms have to be translated into layman’s language. Well, I’m learning also.

But among the concepts that many found very interesting were those of “person,” “self-transcendence” and “inter-subjectivity.” I went through the long and winding road of explaining these terms to them, since I could not find a short-cut.

In the end, I think everyone was happy. I told them that to be effective mentors and tutors they have to respect these basic truths about ourselves.

We are persons with spiritual faculties of intelligence and will that need to be properly engaged, orienting them to their proper objects and keeping them always active.

We grow in our personhood as long as we reinforce our capacity to self-transcend ourselves, that is, to be open to different objects, to act on them and to possess and assimilate what are proper to us.

This is how we grow, and be in the condition to share things with others, which is our basic behavioral pattern. This is where we find joy and fulfillment. This growing up is a self-perpetuating spiral of giving and receiving, of loving and being loved. It’s dialogic and relational.

As persons, we are both individuals and social beings. Both aspects are inseparable and need to be built up. There is a stable subject, but it’s a stability that undertakes an endless process of becoming. Our subject is an active subjectivity.

Thus, in our relationships, progress and maturity develop when we know how to handle the process of inter-subjectivity, a sensitivity to both the stable and dynamic aspects among ourselves.

We cannot remain in the externals. We have to go deep into people’s life, but all through the proper ways. This inter-subjectivity has to start with our relationship with God that offers us the pattern and laws in developing our relationship with others. Samples are needed to illustrate this concept.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

What to do?

IT’S a question I don’t want to ask. It’s fraught with delicate and even dangerous implications. But I’m afraid it has to be asked and its answer or solution sought, no matter how agonizing.

What do we do with Catholics who occupy high public offices or are in positions of great influence, but who are espousing views openly in conflict with Catholic teaching on Christian faith and morals?

The process is clear for erring theologians, but how about those congressmen and congresswomen, and other high-profile political animals who are officially known as Catholics and yet are in effect preaching immoralities clearly condemned by the Church?

In one instance, a friend met in church (not in Cebu) one of these officials who came in looking and acting like Cleopatra, complete with the elaborate eye make-up and an annoying puffed-up presence. He had to force his best appearance, though inside he felt sick.

I read one of her interviews explaining her position in a specific issue with a prominent moral question involved, and frankly, I thought it was obscene and that she had more sense than what she articulated.

But basic decency dictated I had to give her the benefit of the doubt. I might be missing factors that must have come to play. Could it be money or popularity that was clouding her reasoning, I could not help but suspect, and promptly rectified myself and dismissed the thought.

Still I was deeply disturbed that she could cause great damage especially to the young and vulnerable ones with her charming but deviously deceptive rhetoric, a clever honeyed poison!

Remember our Lord saying: “Whosoever shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged around his neck, and he were cast into the sea.” (Mk 9,42)

In the US and in other places, there’s an emerging trend to give public corrections to these clearly erring officials and prominent personalities who are publicly known as Catholics. I wonder if something like that could be done here.

I know it’s a decision difficult to make on the part of the corresponding Church authorities. A lot of weighing and balancing has to be done, a flurry of consultations to be made, especially with experts in Canon Law and in pastoral care.

But I believe the effort has to be done, simply because it is necessary. Despite its price, giving corrections has gospel basis and long Church tradition.

Together with his teaching about boundless mercy and compassion, our Lord himself said: “If your brother shall offend you, go and rebuke him between you and him alone. If he shall hear you, you shall gain your brother.

“And if he will not hear you, take with you one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand. And if he will not hear them, tell the church. And if he will not hear the church, let him be to you as the heathen and publican.” (Mt 18,15-17)

And then you have the fact, a common-sensical thing, that the Church as a society and a human institution also has rights that need to be respected and protected, for it at least to live and function decently.

Let’s remember that the authority, rights and teachings of the Church come directly from Christ. They are not man-generated. They have to be defended with utmost care, combining truth and charity together, forcefulness and understanding, as Christ himself showed. Even if the price is one’s life!

Any offense against these rights has to be duly handled. Please, let’s bury the crazy idea that due to the separation of Church and state, the Church should not meddle in any state affairs, much less censure officials who are Catholics and who are clearly scandalizing others.

Of course, some critics may twit that the Church herself is mired with all sorts of human mistakes and other despicable acts. But these do not take away the right of the Church authorities to make public corrections, just as the government, despite its deep mess, does not lost its right to rule.

As I said, this matter has to be studied thoroughly. But definitely a certain discipline has to be followed by all the Church faithful. I invite all of us to pray for our Church authorities who have to tackle this matter sooner or later.

It’s a concern they cannot ignore for long without harming the Church and their own accountability before God and men.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Iodine on wound

FORTY years have passed since the release of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae vitae. Dissent hounded it before, during and after it came out. Even now, its debate continues, albeit in subtler, trickier forms.

Of course, when it was written, times were very different. The sexual revolution was at its red-hot boiling point. People, especially in the US and parts of Europe , just could not be told to restrain their sexual urges. The bulls would have been more docile.

Obviously, when making whoopee is involved, especially if we try to integrate it with love, marriage and responsible parenthood, I think it is far easier to teach latin metaphysics to gorillas.

Ideological and gratuitous claims were at their peak. There’s overpopulation, the world is going to explode, screamed the ideologues, citing some so-called scientific studies. Also, poverty was all over. That the poor have to be controlled was in the agenda of many leaders.

Then radical feminism also started to act up. Women have rights to defend themselves from aggressive men. They have rights over their own bodies, the feminists shouted. Why should they be prevented from doing what they would think was right for them?

These were strains that prevailed and dominated the environment. Even many Churchmen got swayed by these sentiments and began to think that maybe it was time for the Church to relax her moral standards. At least, artificial contraception should be made acceptable.

Thus, when Pope Paul issued the encyclical, reaffirming the Church’s position on sexual morals and responsible parenthood, there was howling and head-banging. The picture was akin to a child being administered a tincture of iodine to his freshly opened wound.

When the critics got tired of screaming, they went to laughing and ridiculing the document, and eventually ignoring it as they continued to promote population control, contraception, abortion, and the other logical consequences. They were swallowed up by the spiral of their own myopic reasoning.

The dispute simmered down, even hibernated, but the division deepened. Still, the forty years have also brought in some quiet but significant changes. For one, many of the fears of the critics were proven wrong.

Overpopulation? The problem now is depopulation. People in many places are aging. The prospect of a depleting population, even of extinction is getting clearer.

Over-fertility of women? Now almost everyone is convinced we are reaching below-replacement fertility levels. People are getting averse to have babies. Not even big government incentives are convincing them.

Contraception will stop the coming of abortion? Data worldwide show they always go together, one cannot be without the other. Poverty is due to overpopulation? Poverty is due more to greed and corruption of some people. Thus, poverty will stay even if there are fewer people.

In fact, studies show that greater economic activity occurs where there is a greater concentration of people in a certain place.

Contraception and other birth control methods can mean better married life, better attention to children, etc.? They debase marriage and inculcate wrong values in the family. Sex is trivialized, fidelity is undermined.

Birth control enhances women’s rights? Birth control has only reinforced the depersonalization and objectification of women. Church is out of touch with reality? Could it not that the critics are out of touch with the integral nature of sex, love, marriage, responsible parenthood?

The tampering of the nature as in the case of China with her two-child per family policy has led to severe imbalance between the sexes. This is an active social volcano waiting to explode.

There are many other birth-control fallacies debunked through the years. Humanae vitae has been vindicated. That’s why, the birth and population controllers are reengineering themselves.

Thus, you now hear talks about reproductive health, again to appeal more to emotion than to reason, let alone, to faith in God and in humanity. We are now entering into a more ridiculous sequel of the debate.

Added to that is some move of well-intentioned leaders, even Church leaders, who try to blend Church and pagan positions by saying that Humanae vitae can have both Church and secularized governments working together in promoting natural family planning.

But this would be corrupting the spirit of Humanae vitae. It would frame the Church position within the cafeteria pagan position, and would convert the natural family planning from being a way of life to a contraceptive method only.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Marriage besieged

IT’S good that lately we are seeing some stars and celebrities, both local and foreign, getting pregnant and giving birth.

I suppose human nature cannot be tricked for long. I often wondered how these gifted, beautiful women, with all their widely publicized romances, managed not to have children. Are they the experts of the so-called ‘safe sex’?

Of course, common sense tells me not to waste time on the topic. Going there would at best be indulging in gossip. But the thought sometimes flashes in my mind, as if blinking some dangerous signals.

Now that they have babies, and beautiful ones at that, worthy of being photo-oped and gossiped again in the press, there seems to be a mad rush for getting pregnant. Motherhood suddenly has become a vogue.

But while this development is most welcome—babies are always a blessing—a terrible spoiler escorts it. And that is that some of these women are not married. They even look down on marriage and vow not to get married while having a baby.

With this info, we have reason to suspect that having babies is, for these publicity-obsessed stars and celebrities, just a gimmick, a stunt in their clever playbook for gaining points in the public mind.

Of course, we have to be most careful in tackling this phenomenon. There are other complicating circumstances that have to be considered. And we should be ready to be understanding and merciful when we discover some mistakes. We should not get stuck with simply lamenting and condemning.


I think we also have to tackle a problematic fallout or side-effect this development presents us. And that is that the example they give, especially to our young ones with all their wild exploding hormones, can be disastrous.

The few times I got to know about teen-aged pregnancies almost always indicate the big influence these erring stars and celebrities had on them. And since their situations were not as materially favorable as those of the stars, the consequences of their mistakes had been far more painful.

In fact, these irregular situations often inflict unspeakable pain and injury to the parties involved and their families.

We have to make a clear stand here. Especially these days when the environment has become increasingly complex and confusing, I think all of us, again especially the young, need clear and solid, not vacillating, guidance.

While we cannot avoid, and in fact, it is also necessary that we learn how to flow with the times, bending and adapting with them, we should never forget, much less, go against the basic truths of ethics and morality. That would be the sure way to get lost.

In this particular issue, we should reaffirm, re-echo and resonate the natural, organic link among human love, sexuality and marriage. We have to show the full picture of these three elements so their pristine wisdom and beauty surface.

We should make everyone appreciate better the natural properties of marriage, that is, its unity (between one man and one woman) and its indissolubility. We have to explain these things thoroughly, systematically, effectively.

Especially now when we are hearing of same-sex unions now legalized in parts of US and in other countries, we have to patiently and charitably explain why it is wrong, why it is against our own nature even if the parties involved consent to it.

Let us also explain well why the conjugal act, always in the context of love and marriage, is by nature both unitive and procreative, not just unitive without being procreative, or just procreative without being unitive.

Most important, we have to show how fidelity to these moral principles can only take place when one has a living relationship with God. If we just rely on our own cleverness, etc., we put a limit to things, and sooner or later, we start to distort the process.

Many other things can be done. Of course, our Church leaders should take the lead in this constant effort, but all other parties in society should their part. The media especially has a crucial role to play in this concern.

We have to find relief to the institution of marriage that seems to be under savage attacks these days in many fronts.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Our culture war

WE have to be more aware and familiar with this phenomenon. We have to learn how to deal with it. Man, we can not avoid it anymore. Aware of it or not, it’s with us.

This is actually raging in many developed, multicultural countries, like the US . And since the world is now interconnected, synchronized and shrunk into a global village, we in the Philippines cannot escape from getting involved in it, such that we somehow have our own version of it.

First, let us remember that war or conflict, whether we like it or not, is part of our life. Even in Christian teaching, some warfare is, in fact, both to be expected and recommended, though it’s waged more in the spiritual and personal side—against temptations, sin and our weaknesses.

Of course, given our human condition, with the run of life, this spiritual and personal battle will sooner or later show its effects externally and socially until its elements can form part of our culture.

This is where we can talk about a certain culture war, an ongoing public debate involving not only arguments and doctrine but also attitudes and lifestyles, focusing on what’s right and wrong in some hot-button defining issues.

The debate is usually in the area of religion, faith, and morals in all their different levels and aspects. It involves values, and things related more to the human soul than to our bodily and material welfare. In short, it involves things happening in our mind and heart from which our life is shaped.

The problem starts when these fine distinctions are ignored, and people start weaving their own world-view rooted more on the material and temporal values, while neglecting the reality of the spiritual and supernatural values.

Thus, we come out with categories of people like the more spiritually-inclined as contrasted to the more worldly and materially-attached type, the conservative, traditionalist person and the secular, liberal, progressive one, etc.

From another angle, we can identify this culture war’s protagonists as believers and faith-based people, or non-believers, atheists, agnostics, skeptics, pragmatists, positivists, ideologues whether of the left, right or center, etc.

Of course, in each category, we can have endless varieties. What is important is that we know how to identify them in their cultural orientation. This knowledge, which is at best tentative, can help us to effectively tackle the intricacies of the culture war.

The burning issues that can trigger this culture war, at least in the US context, can be contraception, abortion, homosexuality, same-sex unions, environmental extremists, radical feminism, public morality, discrimination against religious schools, etc.

They divide the parties into either pro-life or anti-life, culture of life or culture of death, etc. Somehow they are distinguished by their attitude toward faith and religion, the role of reason and affectivity and their relationship with faith, etc.

Also, they are identified by the tools and weapons used. The Christian-inspired use truth with charity as lived by Christ and now taught by the Church. They are expected to practice patience and to face trials, insults, sacrifices.

Those less Christian if not anti-Christian and non-believers, can use anything and are prone to bullying their opponents. Remember what our Lord said: “The children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light.” (Lk 16,8) But I believe the last laugh belongs to the believers.

In our country, this culture war can be dramatized in the current debate over the so-called Reproductive Health bills now being deliberated in Congress. I consider them as likely provoking a seismic shift in our culture, since they involve basic realignment of personal and social values.

In spite of their proponents saying the bills are actually pro-life, pro-family and even pro-God, our Church leaders have considered them precisely the opposite because of their suspicious inspiration and their association of a certain world network whose ideology is incompatible with Christian faith and morals.

I personally think these bills are meant to get a foothold in our society via our legal system, a wedge that will later open the floodgates of atheistic and agnostic opinions and ways into our country.

Our culture war is on. We need to know how to deal with it!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Trojan horse

My dictionary says that the expression’s origin refers to a wooden horse in which, according to legend, Greeks hid and gained entrance to Troy, later opening the gates to their army.

It’s now used to mean any subversive group or device placed within enemy ranks. It’s also now adopted in computer science to mean a virus, a set of instructions hidden inside a legitimate program, causing a computer to perform illegitimate functions.

I feel that we have a Trojan horse in the move, sometimes initiated by some Church leaders, of putting Church and government elements together to promote family planning.

The rationale often cited is that it’s good to end the hostility between the Church and government over the issue on family planning or birth and population control, now euphemistically billed as reproductive health.

That, of course, is a very good goal to achieve. No one, let alone, the Church, likes to be in conflict with anybody over a protracted period of time. But I’m afraid that while the intention is good, some requirements of prudence are neglected. The result is danger, trouble and disaster for us all.

First things first. The Church’s interest in the issue goes far higher and deeper than what the government’s interest in it covers.

The Church looks into the moral aspect involving the whole human dignity, while the government focuses more on the partial, practical aspect. Unless the respective fields of each party are duly recognized and respected, then we should hardly have any trouble.

The problem starts when one party improperly strays into the area of responsibility of the other. In this case, it is the government trying to undermine the moral aspect of the issue by redefining the concepts of freedom of choice, reproductive rights, responsible parenthood and morality itself.

As of now, for example, our local birth control/reproductive health proponents claim that they are against abortion, but they are openly promoting artificial contraception, considering it not immoral.

In fact, many of these government operatives whose views are widely echoed in the media, often ask what’s wrong with artificial contraception. Aren’t we free to choose any practical and convenient method we want?

Of course, everyone is free to do whatever he wants, including killing himself. But the Church has the duty to teach what is the morally right and wrong thing to do.

Even the government line that they respect the Church-approved natural family planning and can even promote it also is highly questionable, since it is motivated by the immoral attitude of birth control by all means. It is not motivated by the moral sense of responsible parenthood as defined in Humanae vitae.

Thus, for the Church, or better said, for some Church officials to join efforts with the government in the campaign for family planning/reproductive health, is to compromise the Church’s moral teachings on the matter from the start.

The government often flaunts the argument that what they try to do is to give the people an informed choice of possibilities, branding such move as an exercise of freedom. Nice try!

This is precisely where they are wrong and are very maliciously so. They are giving as choices certain methods that are immoral, ergo, unacceptable. It is never an exercise of authentic freedom to do what is morally wrong, though one may choose to do it just the same, for one false reason or another.

In short, Church officials will be welcoming a Trojan horse into the Church and into our society, if not acting the Trojan horse themselves, by cooperating with government in their drive for family planning and reproductive health, given the way these issues are understood by government now.

Despite the blatant incompatibility between the Church and government positions, this move would make the Church position as one more choice together with the government-sponsored immoral ones from which the people are free to choose.

The Church position is therefore unduly framed within an unacceptable context. Many of its crucial nuances would be missed out. This would be a very imprudent move, an unnecessary cooperation in evil.

Church officials should wake up and start a massive campaign to clarify the wisdom and beauty of the Church position, pointing out the hidden snares of the government agenda on this matter that usually are orchestrated by some heinous alien parties.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The subliminal message

WE just had some wonderful days recently when the Prelate of Opus Dei, Msgr. Javier Echevarria, visited us, his spiritual children in the Philippines, last July 27 to August 1.

The last time he visited was in 1998. The ten years that passed aged him quite conspicuously. I could not help but be moved to see him now bent a little.

Yet he moved about calmly, peace and joy radiating from his face, a smile playing in his eyes and lips, and his voice both gentle and forceful. Judging from his talks, I have no doubt whatsoever he has full control of his intellectual and spiritual faculties.

From Rome , he went first to Sidney to take part in the just concluded World Youth Day with the Pope and, of course, to visit his spiritual children in Australia . It must have been quite a hectic time for him there.

I know that it’s winter now in the land of Waltzing Matilda . Thus, for him to come to the Philippines at this time must have required quite an adjustment for him. Still, I saw him without any trace of complaint and stress. Surely, he showed a youthfulness that transcended age and physical conditions.

In fact, as far as I could gather, he had a very punishing schedule here. His six-day stay was packed with events and activities—get-togethers, meetings, etc. I saw a day’s itinerary of his, and I must say that outside of the meals, hardly any minute was left for him to relax. How could he do all of those, I asked myself.

I could attend in only two or three of the activities. I was made to man our place in Cebu most of the time, and all the events were held in Manila . There were requests for him to come to the south. But the people around him thought it was better for him just to stay in Manila .

I missed the breakfast I was supposed to have with him, because of the traffic. But he gave me a most tender embrace when we met in a corridor, and some very comforting and encouraging words. I really felt like a pampered son to a very loving father.

The meditation he gave one early morning made me pray a lot. How nice to hear him talking only about God, about Jesus Christ, and how we can see him, love him and serve him in this life through the people we meet everyday and through the ordinary events of the day!

His words made God close to me. They made talking to Christ easy. They brought me beyond the realm of reason alone, with all its theories and opinions, to enter the world of faith in the sublime language of love and piety.

For sure, they were not merely sweet and sentimental words. Rather, they were words of fire that went deep into the heart and soul, and with immense power to move us to another radical conversion, to greater dedication, to more selfless generosity.

How nice to pray like this, I again thought! And then I wished many others, if not all, can really talk to God like what I experienced during that meditation, without being unduly distracted by earthly issues.

At one point, his voice boomed saying that anything that disturbs our unity with others, weakens our unity with God. He was talking about concern for others, about fraternity and charity, and how this duty of ours is a requirement for our capacity to know and love God.

The corollary that rushed to my mind was that this task of knowing God, which many of us are hard put in achieving, can easily be done if we just know how to care for one another, in all the different expressions of love—being nice and affectionate, doing acts of service, understanding, merciful, etc.

The way to God is not so much in having brilliant ideas. It is more in loving, the way Christ loved and commanded us to do.

The subliminal message I fished out from the whole event was that loving others in order to know and love God necessarily involves self-giving and sacrifice. No sacrifice, no love. No love, no God. This is what I saw in the Prelate.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Media challenge

IT’S nice to know that regular activities are organized by media practitioners themselves in different parts of the country to improve the way they—we—do our job.

Several relevant topics and issues have been tackled, from the most sublime, like press freedom, to the most mundane, like raising scholarship funds for children of media men, etc.

I like to think that these activities should be an ongoing affair, and I pray that as we go along, we really will go deeper, higher and wider in our sense of perspective, in our commitment for the cause of justice, freedom and truth.

Many and endless things can be done in this regard. What is clear is that everyone in the media, just like everybody else, should realize very sharply our need for continuing formation.

This need cannot be set aside, much less, alienated. This is the lifeblood of our profession, as it is in any other profession. Anyone who marginalizes the need for formation in his work is doomed to stagnate, if not fail miserably.

And formation should not just be some vague and generic term. It should strike us as something urgent, and with many concrete elements that need to be attended to.

For example, people in media should know how to attain greater independence and gain better objectivity, how to adapt to a fast-changing world driven by technologies that develop quite speedily these days, etc.

These are some concerns that need to be looked into if we in the media wish to really serve the people and contribute to the common good.

We have to be sensitive to subtle tricks, personal, social and cultural, that can warp the integrity of our profession. These tricks are a constant threat. We cannot be naïve.

It would be good if we could have an inventory of biases and other conditionings that can affect our work. Some of them are unavoidable, but at least if we are aware of them, we can do something about them.

We have to be wary that unless we simply content ourselves to cater only to the ignorant and the impressionable, we need to improve our competence to satisfy the legitimate expectations of a more demanding and discerning audience.

But before we start thinking of what new style and techniques to learn to attain this goal, we have to remember one basic, indispensable requirement, one that needs continuing renewal and purification, given the condition of our life and work.

This requirement hopefully will give us a firm grounding, a sound sense of perspective, a clear focus and sense of purpose. It’s the understanding that our media work is not just our work but rather is part of the divine redemptive plan for all mankind. We have to attune our work to that context.

This is our usual problem. Many of us still have the primitive pagan notion that the business of communication is purely a human affair, so completely personal, private or autonomous that God has nothing to do with it.

Or at best, that it is just a social phenomenon, ruled purely by some social consensus, with God and his commandments playing no more than a cameo role.

Of course, with this attitude we become most vulnerable to all sorts of pressures and temptations that certainly distort the standard of justice and fair play, of freedom and truth, etc.

Unaware of the divine character and redemptive mission of our work, we can tend to go in circles, stuck in the mud of wranglings, self-righteousness and useless speculations or worse, prone to the tailspin of frivolity, greed and inanities.

This does not mean that media work should be some kind of sacred, rigid and monolithic business. It can go mundane. It can and should respect the legitimate plurality of opinions proper of our autonomous earthly affairs.

But when there is this awareness of the divine character of our work, then the search for justice, freedom and truth can be pursued hindered less by our tendencies to be shallow in thinking, rash in judgment, rough in manners.

Even when there are conflicting views, there will always be charity in the discussions. Even when we are having fun, we don’t forget God. This is our media challenge.