Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Nourishing our unity of life

THIS is an abiding concern for all of us. Even if we have to contend with many aspects and dimensions of our life, it is only one life that each of us has, not two or three. And thus, to build and keep our unity of life is a daily task of ours. We can neglect it only to our own serious risk and damage.

Our life is not only biological that relies simply on our biological functions. Neither is it just purely physical or material that requires merely material nourishment.

Our life has many more important aspects and dimensions that need to be integrated into one whole consistent thing. There’s the manual and intellectual, the active and contemplative, personal and social, the material and spiritual, the temporal and eternal, etc.

And precisely because of our spiritual nature, we open ourselves to a supernatural level. That’s just how the cookie crumbles. Thus, we should also be aware of what is natural and supernatural in our life, the mundane and the sacred.

I must say that of the different pairs of distinctions among the aspects of our life, that of the natural and supernatural is the most tricky, and therefore the most ignored, the least appreciated and lived with consistency.

And yet, we also have this intriguing reality that a good portion of the people all over the world, usually the poor and simple, automatically realize that our life has both these natural and supernatural dimensions.

They may not be aware of it or able to explain it, but they show it in their behavior, their reactions to issues and problems, their lifestyle. They just believe in the supernatural and try to conform their life to it.

I must say that this wonderful phenomenon is an indication of the supernatural dimension itself of our life, because no matter how badly understood, there’s no other human or natural way to explain such faith in the supernatural.

The task of integration falls mainly but not exclusively on our intelligence and will. Moved by grace, they go beyond what is naturally true and good. They look for an object that is metaphysical, and enter into the spiritual and supernatural world.

The proper operation of these spiritual faculties of ours is that of knowing and loving. But it’s not just in discovering some cold facts, or enjoying a certain transient good. It’s more in having and keeping a living relationship with their proper objects.

Since the ultimate object of these spiritual faculties is in none other than God, the pursuit of this object is endless, and is done in a crescendo, since God will always be asking for more from us.

Besides, for Christian believers, being able to keep this living relationship requires constant sacrifice and conversion. Christ himself said so. “If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mt 16,24) There’s no other formula for this relationship to prosper.

And precisely because of our spiritual nature, we are also capable of giving more, and of demanding more from us. We have to understand that whatever we know and love, no matter how mundane, should lead us to know and love God better.

Otherwise, we would not be knowing and loving properly. We would be misusing these spiritual faculties. We would miss building and strengthening our unity of life.

It is this loving relationship between God and us, always immersed in mysteries, which provides us with the highest principle and pattern of our unity of life. This is the gospel we have to spread widely to disabuse those who think our unity of life can be attained by other principles and patterns.

We have to understand then that our unity of life is a very dynamic process, never static. It may need some stable elements from us, like appropriate characters, attitudes and virtues, but these elements have to be alive to be able to grow, improve and be purified endlessly.

We just have to ceaselessly know and love God, a process that will involve sacrifice, since we have to contend with the limitations of our human conditions when oriented to the supernatural. This is not to mention the further limitations and deficiencies caused by our sin.

We therefore have to be willing and ready to undertake this process with a great spirit of sacrifice.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Embracing the cross

THIS, to be up-front about it, is what Christian life adds up to. Indispensable in our life, the cross assures us of being with Christ and of participating in his redemptive work and merits. As saints consistently affirmed, “no cross, no Christ.” It’s as simple as that.

This truth will always be breaking news for us. Even if it’s an old item, it will always strike us as something new since it will always make fresh demands on us to correspond to Christ’s love. It will also lead us to learn new things.

As St. Paul said: “We glory also in tribulation, knowing that tribulation works patience, and patience trial, and trial hope, and hope confounds not, because the charity of God is poured forth in our hearts…” (Rom 5,3-5)

Bearing the cross can never be routine. We are expected to issue another new impulse of love every moment. In short, the cross makes sure we are always vibrating with love—for God and for everybody else. And it’s love that makes things new!

Thus, we have to lose any fear we may have toward the cross. Of course, loving it has to be understood properly. It’s not loving in the masochistic or self-interested way. It’s loving it in the way Christ loved and continues to love it. Loving it means obeying God’s will, which was how Christ embraced the cross.

If the distinction fails you, try studying Christian Spirituality 101. In fact, I think this is what is needed urgently and massively these days.

How ironic that though we in general have already acquired great theological literacy and the cross in all its forms are unavoidable in our lives, we still miss the mark of loving the cross properly.

We are held hostage by a certain popular mentality that fails to digest this truth properly. In fact, it’s a truth that is still waiting to be made mainstream, already 20 centuries after Christ.

Christ was very direct about this. “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mt 16,24) Variations of this teaching are plenty. And saints down the ages come methodologically confirming this.

Embracing and loving the cross is not an impossible act to do. Again our spiritual nature, more than our bodily aspect—and this propped up by grace with its faith, hope and charity—can turn the cross into an object of attraction.

The cross correlatively purifies and strengthens our faith and love for God and others. It makes sure that such faith and love is genuine, not simply put-on. And today, our pretending skill is no pittance. But the cross can unmask that.

One area we can learn to embrace the cross today is to practice a certain detachment from our opinions, no matter how excellent and superior to those of others we believe ours to be.

The weakening of our faith and charity, and of our Christian life, especially as we live our social and political life as a nation, is due to this inordinate frenzy to uphold and impose our political opinions at all costs.

I think this is madness. When one has in a narrow sense a grip of the truth and with that flaunts and extrapolates it to justify his sweeping judgments, we have a clear case of a righteousness that has gone berserk.

Even some bishops, priests, nuns and other public icons are not exempted from this illness. No matter how much I triangulate their position, giving them the utmost empathy, I still could not understand why they are so close-minded that any view contrary to theirs appears like a mortal sin.

The gospel has already warned us about foolish virgins. Our Lord was clear about this: “Be wise as serpents and simple as doves.” (Mt 10,16). Let’s just do whatever we can to clarify and expand their minds to show other possibilities of resolving and Christianizing political issues.

We can presume everyone is for the truth. But if that truth is pursued without charity, we will never get near it. A certain detachment from our opinions can truly constitute embracing the cross these days. It makes our mind more nimble and open to other options.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Promoting priestly vocations

THIS is everyone’s concern. Obviously the bishop is the nerve center of this universal concern. But he would be useless if all of us are not organically united with him.

In this regard, families should realize they are the seedbed of priestly vocations. Everything has to be done for them to be able to do this crucial mission effectively.

Playing subsidiary roles are schools, parishes and seminaries, equipping them aptly to enable them to develop and mature possible vocations. Hard? Maybe. But not impossible. We just have to put our will into it.

All of us have to use both supernatural and human means to carry out this task. We need to pray a lot, offer sacrifices, avail of the sacraments. But the recruiting, selecting, admitting and forming should always be a function of personal apostolate and dealings.

Friendship and confidence should exist between the candidates and the officials, humanizing whatever structures and programs are needed. Genuine, not officious, friendship is indispensable to truly know the candidates’ human, intellectual and spiritual fitness.

Truth is we can rightfully presume that God provides for all the vocations the Church needs in any given moment. They must already be there, waiting to be found and developed.

Priests are indispensable in the Church and in the world. No matter how good and holy the lay faithful are, a point comes when they meet a wall in their path to follow Christ. They need priests to pass through it.

This is because the clergy act in the person and authority of Christ as head of the Church to teach, sanctify and govern it. They sacramentally extend the continuing presence and redemptive action of Christ here on earth.

Bluntly if simplistically put, no priests, no Christ. No priests, no Church. They may be unworthy personally, but that’s who priests are sacramentally. Their unworthiness does not negate Christ’s presence and work through them.

The soul of the world, the Church nourishes the spiritual and moral life of the believers. If the Church is badly serviced because of lack of priests, you can just imagine how the world will be!

Recent reports claim that the ratio of priests to faithful in our country is low: 1 priest for every 10,000 faithful! We have to disabuse ourselves from the occasional thought that we have a lot of priests around.

No matter how you look at it, the picture is bad. Imagine a priest taking care of 10,000 souls. Even if he is holy and competent, and aided by a broad network of help and support, it’s hard to imagine he can do his ministry effectively.

For example, how can hearing sacramental confessions and giving spiritual direction, a very important aspect of the priestly ministry, be done if the priest is only one as against 10,000 people to serve?

The urgent need to promote priestly vocations has to be pursued both in terms of quantity and quality. These criteria should never be separated.

For this purpose, the true nature and beauty of priesthood should be made to shine. Often the problem is portraying the priesthood so negatively, exclusively highlighting the sacrifices, which undeniably exist, that people don’t see its original beauty and its divine character.

We have to correct that. Besides, priests themselves should be adept in making themselves attractive models of priesthood, following the example of St. Paul who boldly said: “Be imitators of me, as I also am of Christ.” (1 Cor 4,16)

The issue is truly complex and has to be studied thoroughly by Church authorities. How to support them, I know, is already a complicated problem. But that’s the least of the problems.

More attention has to be given to the ongoing formation of priests. When spiritually healthy and pastorally vibrant, priests become magnets, a walking commercial for the promotion of priestly vocations.

Of course, we also have to worry about how to improve the culture and transform the mindset of the people who much prefer to go into IT and nursing than to go to the seminary.

We have to pray for holy, generous, cheerful and faithful priestly vocations!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Inflated words and images

POPE Benedict, increasingly known to use if not coin striking phrases to describe current phenomena, warns us about what he terms as “inflated words and images.”

In a recent get-together with the Roman clergy, the expression again came out, and the Holy Father gave a very meaningful commentary that I think is worth sharing with everyone.

A priest asked a question, prefacing it with an incisive observation. Let’s quote him, since his words, at least to me, captures the drama behind the term.

“I believe,” he said, “that all of us realize that we live more and more immersed in a world of cultural word inflation—words that are, in the end, often without meaning—which disorient the human heart to such an extent that it becomes deaf to truth.

“That eternal Word that became flesh and assumed a face in Jesus of Nazareth becomes—because of this inflation of words in our world—fleeting, and above all for the new generations, inconsistent and distant.”

This commentary of the priest, obviously inspired by the Holy Father’s views on inflated words in another occasion, points us to a number of truths that I feel we should try to be more aware of these days.

Words are not just letters and sounds. They indicate a reality, and ultimately their meaning and relevance is a participation of the Eternal Word, who is the source and embodiment of our authentic reality.

What is immediately clear is that words have a certain sacredness to them, since they are not just human inventions. Though minted by us, they ultimately come from God and should reflect God.

Therefore there are certain rules to follow, violations of which comprise what can be called an abuse, or as the Holy Father describes it, a word inflation. Words can be so puffed up and distorted that they can lose contact with reality, and build a false one.

The ideal is that our words should be thought of, used and spoken always with God in the middle. Our words should come from God and end with him, in keeping with our dignity.

Let’s remember that of all the creatures in this world, we are the only ones capable of making our own reality. We can distinguish between an objective and a subjective world. This is due to our spiritual faculties—our intelligence and will.

Our objective world should not be understood as a static reality. It has to correspond to our subjective world that is marked by autonomy and dynamism.

But our subjective world, built up by constant motion and free, creative forces, also has to correspond to our objective reality that connotes stability, laws to follow that reflect our true nature as persons and dignity as God’s children.

Thus, in this regard, words and images play important roles. They are materials, together with our ideas and reasonings, that figure in the constant interplay of the objective and subjective realities in our life.

We have to see to it that our words are inspired by God, that is, by love, goodness, truth, justice, etc. The autonomy, creativity and dynamism we enjoy when using words should be infused by these.

Otherwise, our words would be at the mercy of tricks and games which, at the start, can be innocent but which can deteriorate into something demonic. We can play our own tricks, or we can—willingly—get swept away by a formidable web of devil’s wiles.

The usual forms of inflated words are lies, verbosity and loquacity, exaggerations, glib but deceptive speech. But we should be more aware of today’s more subtle, bizarre if more attractive forms.

If you want to get a sample of these forms, go to the worlds of politics, entertainment and sales or in any environment where God is ignored. You’ll have an excess of sweet and smooth talkers, or those maddened by hatred, envy, vanity, etc.

The Pope suggests we find time and space to be with God always, to regain our proper bearing and restore the Christian sense of words and images, which is never passive but rather can be very active and imaginative.

The Psalm says: “Happy the man who…delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on his law day and night.” (1,2)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Blending old and new

A YEAR is ending. Another is beginning. It would be funny if in marking this transition, we simply get stuck in the fireworks, held captive by the celebration.

The hoopla we give to this event actually points to a most important reality we should not ignore.

In the flow of time, there are things that will and should endure, and things that will and should change, ushering in new elements.

It’s in not getting lost in the mix of the old and the new that we should train ourselves and become experts. As we and the world grow older, with challenges and problems becoming harder and subtler, this is the crying need.

While something in us will always stay constant, as it should, we have to learn to move with the times and confront fresh realities with ever-renewing passion and quick-adapting skills.

This is the core of progress and the dare of development. We don’t destroy things. We retain the essential, discard the outmoding accidentals, and welcome the new things with discernment.

The idea is to organically blend the old and the new elements to connect us vitally with our permanent dignity and vocation, on the one hand, and the changing times, on the other.

The essential is the truth that we are persons who work mainly through the mind and the heart. We are not animals. This means we cannot rely only on routine and structure.

More than this, we are children of God, made in his image and likeness, and called to share his life now and in eternity. This means we cannot remain in worldly and temporal dimensions. We have to enter the spiritual and supernatural realities.

Given our nature and vocation, we need to think always, leading us to continually renew, adapt, reinvent ourselves. We also need to pray and learn to love, to give ourselves to God and others. We need to be men and women of interior life.

In short, the necessary goal for us is to be saints. It’s not so much that we be wise and clever, that we be successful professionals, rich, powerful and famous. It’s rather to be holy. All the rest are secondary and meant only to be occasions and instruments of our sanctification.

“Only one thing is necessary,” Our Lord reminded the busybody Martha who failed to recognize the priority of prayer over work, being with the Lord over being in the world, that her sister Mary upheld. (Lk 10,42)

The beginning of the new year should alert us about the true meaning of life and the purpose of time in general. It should occasion deeper examination of conscience and the resolve to make the necessary changes and adaptations.

What is clear is that for us to truly grow and mature as persons and God’s children, we need conversion, a more radical and extensive one the older we get. This is because age tends to deaden our impulse to convert.

We have to realize that we cannot move on properly if we do not acknowledge our failures, sins and even our limitations. We cannot move on properly if we don’t demand on ourselves to be and to do better than what we have been and done the previous year.

If we are contented with what we have been and done so far, not only are we doomed to stagnation. We are doomed to retrogression. In our case, the principle that applies is that if we don’t advance, we retrogress. We just don’t stay put.

We need to improve our thinking and judgments, as well as our praying. We need to learn to see God in everything, developing a unity of life that is rooted on our abiding faith and love for God.

More than this, we need to improve our ability to know God’s will in any given moment, to work and live with God. These needs should not remain as goals. They have to be tirelessly worked out and really lived.

We have to help one another in this lifelong task. And we should understand that this concern covers all aspects of our life, from our personal and family life, to our politics, business, media, etc. We have a lot to do!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Life is a mystery

THIS truth we should never forget.

No matter how busy we are and are unavoidably sucked into a frenzy of activities, we should never forget life is a mystery. We have to learn to pause and consider the world of mysteries that also govern our life.

No matter how much earthly knowledge we can accumulate, we have to remember that life with such knowledge does not lose but rather gains on its mysterious character. Even the most obvious fact right before us can drip with mysteries.

This is because by our very nature, we tackle not only the material reality. Due to our spiritual powers of intelligence and will, we cannot help but be at least introduced to the spiritual reality where natural mysteries abound. We can, of course, plunge into it.

Besides, in Christian belief we not only enter into the spiritual world, but through our spiritual faculties aided by grace, we are capable of being lifted to the supernatural order where mysteries abound even more and in a much higher level.

Mysteries are truths, repeat, truths and not merely figments of one’s imagination, that surpass our capacity to understand. They are always helpful to us. At least a few are necessary for us to develop properly as persons and ultimately as children of God which, in Christian faith, we are.

The world of mysteries is not an empty space, a limitless void, a dark reality we feel we have the option to bother or not. It is a shoreless ocean of truths and blinding lights that we have to learn to deal with, since they are relevant to our life.

“Man lives not by bread alone, but by every word of God.” (Lk 4,4) For a Christian believer, these words of Jesus confirm the reality and relevance of mysteries in our life.

We should do everything to keep and nourish our sense of mystery that includes a sense of the spiritual, the sacred and the supernatural. Anything that tends to undermine it should be rejected or at least acted upon, never ignored.

This sense of mystery is an abiding openness to the spiritual world, the continuing awareness of the truths of faith and belief, and a constant effort to relate these mysteries to our life, to our activities and concerns.

We should be careful because we tend to reduce reality simply to what is material and perceptible only to our senses. The spiritual reality is often ignored or even denied.

We should cultivate this sense as early as possible when we are still little children, bundles of joy still fresh from the womb, all the way to our old age, when we are already bags of bones ready for the tomb.

When we notice that we getting oblivious of this world of mysteries, as when we just drift into a mindless activism without any effort to study, reflect, meditate, pray, contemplate, etc., we have to react immediately.

We have to develop as early as possible the appropriate attitudes and skills to be adept in dealing with this world of mysteries. We no doubt are already equipped and outfitted for it. We just have to actualize these organs, senses, powers and faculties.

Just recently, I had the chance to prepare little kids for their First Communion. I enjoyed every minute of it as I relished probing their young heart and soul and seeing their very transparent eyes with only childish pranks to cloud them.

Mostly innocent and unexposed to the world of evil, they are all eager to believe and to enter the world of faith and mysteries. They just believe and don’t bother if they understand things or not. They have a naturally metaphysical mindset even if they immensely enjoy material things.

In the homily for their First Communion, I encouraged the parents and teachers to keep this sense of mystery of the children alive, and to develop it. For this, they the elders should give the proper example.

This is the challenge all of us elders face, because we often forget this world of mysteries and our behavior is hardly consistent to this reality

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Balance and fairness

WHAT would constitute as balance and fairness in our life and in our many activities and concerns these days?

This is the question many people are asking. And the answer seems to be elusive. But it’s important that we just have to learn to find these ideals. Otherwise, with the faster pace of life, every breath we take can be traumatic, every step we make can be harmful.

We cannot deny that our life today possesses a peculiar quality in that we are now faced with so many things—whether they are projects, plans, problems, issues, etc. They don’t come few. They come a thousand and one!

The other day, I saw a friend with a gadget sticking out of his ear. I thought it was a hearing aid. He said it was a wireless Bluetooth ear phone, to help him in his multi-tasking, even while he is driving. Frankly, I was horrified!

If we are negligent of our duty to find balance and fairness, we can easily be swallowed by confusion, and prone to react in a mindless way, relying mainly on instincts, with hardly any sense of direction and the consequences of our actions.

If we are negligent of this duty, we can delude ourselves into thinking that we are doing many things, and yet in the end, we fail to achieve what is truly important for us.

Family life often suffers first because of this neglect. Worse is when one suffers loss of health, both physical and mental. Worst is when one loses God and his faith.

I’ve met a couple who forgot about their wedding anniversary just because both were occupied with their many concerns. Cases of forgetfulness and being distracted, many of them very amusing, are multiplying. A sign of the times?

It’s true that everyone has a certain tilt and orientation in life, a certain field of specialization in our work and activities. Still we know, no matter how generic we may feel about it, that we need to have a sense of an over-all goal for us.

This is where we have to do balancing of competing interests and to consider the concrete requirements of fairness, so that we avoid going to extremes of being too specialized or being too general.

In the media, for example, one has to regularly examine himself if he is too negative in his observations and comments, ignoring the many positive developments that will always be there.

More and more of the media audience are complaining that a particular newspaper or TV channel is just good at denouncing, since it hardly makes any effort to affirm something good or to resolve a question satisfactorily. It’s prone to be obsessive and ironic.

Or that it is too biased since it airs only one side of the issue, or is too quick to make judgments without due investigation and research. It seems interested only in generating and stoking controversies, trying to keep everyone tense.

Or that it is too frivolous and sensationalistic in its entertainment section, leaning heavily on gossips and other useless but highly sellable items. Or that it is too commercialized, since most of its pages are just cluttered with ads.

Balance and fairness can be a result of a continuing effort to reflect and examine oneself, to consult and hold dialogues with interested parties. These things should be encouraged always. The worst that can happen is when we think we can just work on our own.

In the end what really makes for balance and fairness is when everybody has a living relationship with God. This will obviously provoke howls of protest especially from those who think little of God, if at all. But this is the only way.

At least, the concept of God, if one cannot yet accept the reality, makes one aware of a higher authority and an objective source of rules that clarify what is to be balanced and fair in media, as in our life and activities in general.

We definitely have to break the mentality that states that our own selves are just the source of what is good and bad in life, what is to be balanced and fair.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Our duty to be humble

One of my most ardent hopes is that any talk about humility should not be interpreted as purely religious, pious chatter that hardly has anything to do with the nitty-gritty of real, daily life.

I feel that would be an unfair attitude to take. Humility is a real, indispensable virtue if we are interested to grow and develop properly as men and women, as persons, and ultimately as children of God.

Humility is a conditio sine qua non in our life, both personal and social. That’s what our mind and heart need if we want to stay in touch with reality, the one proper to us. Pride, its opposite, distorts reality. It can even detach us from reality.

Thing is very often we fail to immediately realize that our own mind and heart are already playing tricks with us. We don’t realize that we are already falling into our own deception. We even become willing victims.

Pride has that notorious ability to blind and desensitize us, confining reality to what is mine and here and now, what is material, etc. It certainly prevents us from entering into the spiritual and supernatural reality.

If pride can be very vicious in the personal level, it is more so—I would say, it approaches the demonic degree—in our social life. Its grip on us can be permanently strong if nothing or hardly anything is done to overcome it by developing its opposite virtue—humility.

That’s the reason we have to vigorously foster humility not only in the personal level, but also and more so in the social and national level. The root of the problems we have as a country is the lack of humility in our collective, national life.

The Bible warns us: “Vanity of vanities, and all is vanity.” (Ecc 1,2) In many parts of God’s revelation as contained in the Scripture, this warning can be found, often in vivid language.

We cannot overemphasize the importance of humility, because near the core of our heart in our own wounded state is the principle of pride. We need to have a conscious, deliberate and constant effort to grow in humility. It’s a duty, an obligation. It’s not optional.

In this effort, we can not be complacent. An all-out vigilance should be made. The goal to reach is that while we can take legitimate pride in our accomplishments, we should always feel the urge to have another conversion.

This is because repentance and conversion, the eagerness to change for the better, to be closer to God and everything his will asks of us, is the engine of our personal growth to maturity and our social development.

And repentance, conversion depend on humility. They actually influence and feed on each other. Unless this is understood, I don’t think we can go far in our quest for maturity and development.

For this, we can do endless things. There’s one prayer that can be helpful in this regard. It’s called the Litany of Humility by Cardinal Merry del Val. It gives us ideas of what humility involves. It goes:

“Jesus! Meek and humble of heart, Hear me. / From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me Jesus / From the desire of being loved,… / From the desire of being extolled,… / From the desire of being honored,… /

“From the desire of being praised,… / From the desire of being preferred to others,… / From the desire of being consulted,… / From the desire of being approved,… / From the fear of being humiliated,… /

“From the fear of being despised,… / From the fear of being forgotten,… / From the fear of being wronged,… / From the fear of being suspected,… /

“That others may be loved more than I, Jesus grant me the grace to desire it. / That others may be esteemed more than I,… /

It goes on and on, tracing the points where humility can be developed. Sad to say, these points appear like an aberration to the modern mind, showing us how far we are from humility.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Strength in weakness

A PASSAGE from St. Paul says it all: “For when I am weak, then am I strong.” (2 Cor 12,10). He reiterates it in another letter: “The weak things of the world has God chosen, that he may confound the strong.” (1 Cor 1,27)

This is divine logic. Christ himself consistently showed this all throughout his earthly life—from birth down to his death on the cross. The saints through the ages have tried to follow that example.

We have to understand that this logic is not meant only for God, but also for us. And I would say, especially for our leaders, clergy, politicians, teachers, people in media, in the arts, or all those who have great impact on society.

The strength more proper to us is not so much physical as spiritual, not so much intellectual as moral, not so much in terms of talents or natural endowments or worldly accomplishments as our living identity with Christ.

Our true strength has its source not in nature, but in God himself, in such a way that with St. Paul we can also say: “I can do all things in him (Christ) who strengthens me.” (Phil 4,13)

There is divine strength in what we and the world usually consider as weakness. We should always bear this truth in mind, so that whenever this weakness comes to us in whatever form, we quickly would realize we have a golden opportunity to derive divine strength from it.

No amount of physical limitations, health problems, financial difficulties, no amount of painful conflicts and failures in whatever endeavors we undertake, should weaken our conviction about this truth. On the contrary, they should reinforce it.

We have to learn to welcome and embrace hardships, our general attitude toward them being more supernatural than merely human. In this way, we avoid the dangers of anger, bitterness, discouragement, despair, sadness. In short, we can avoid the devil who is clueless about the wisdom of the cross.

Thus, we have to learn and cultivate the appropriate attitude and virtues to allow God’s grace to work in us. These could be humility, obedience, simplicity. A certain detachment from things in general is always helpful.

These could be the art of passing unnoticed, of thinking always with purity of heart, of speaking and writing with tact, charity and refinement, of acting with rectitude of intention, all driven by love—for God and for others.

The consequences would be immediate and obvious. We will experience a greater capacity to see things more objectively, to judge things more properly, to do things more effectively.

There will be palpable joy and peace not only on our faces, but also in all our behavior. Our feelings, emotions and passions are held in check. They don’t rule us. Rather we rule them according to the dictates of faith and charity.

We will have greater capacity to be more recollected, to be more prudent and discreet. In fact, what in the book of Isaiah is said can be applied to us:

“The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the spirit of counsel and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge and godliness.

“And he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge according to the sight of the eyes, nor reprove according to the hearing of the ear.” (11,2-3)

These are all possible with God’s grace and our cooperation. Imagine what goodness and transformation for the better we would all have if we learn to derive strength from weakness, how to be strong when we are weak!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Battle for normality

THIS is an unavoidable aspect or front in the fast-spreading culture war taking place in many countries today, including ours. The clash of values, beliefs and lifestyles has led to conflicting ideas about what is normal and natural in us.

Just recently, for example, someone asked me what exactly is being obscene, since there’s apparently a bill in the Senate on anti-obscenity, and he thought he did not quite agree with the definition placed in the bill.

Of course, right now we are familiar with questions like whether homosexuality is normal or nor, whether one has the right to contraception and abortion or not, whether masturbation is natural or not, etc. All these are expressions of what’s known now as the battle for normality.

This is our world today! If you are not aware of it yet, then welcome to it, and be prepared, equipped and armed to take part in it, since you can’t avoid it anymore.

This battle for normality is, of course, a distinctively human phenomenon. The plants and the animals do not have to worry about this problem, because they don’t think and shape their own lives. Theirs are already pretty much defined.

Other than what the slow process of natural evolution can alter, the plants and animals are pretty much the same from the beginning of time till the end. They don’t have to worry about lifestyle and fashion. Culture is unknown to them, simply because they’re incapable of developing it. It’s just not for them.

Not so with man. To define what’s normal and natural for us is a very dynamic affair. It does not come to us in an automatic and static way. It has to be studied and learned, lived and developed, promoted and defended by us.

It’s true that there’s some immutable law governing our nature. But it’s a law that not only allows but also requires our consciously and freely living it. What is normal and natural in us is also a matter of what we make out of it.

Besides, this effort is not simply a personal and individual one. It necessarily involves a social and cultural exertion, a kind of communal and even global task.
More importantly, it involves not just earthly elements and values. It entails things spiritual and even supernatural, since we, if we go by an objective assessment of our nature validated by Christian faith, are not merely material. We are also spiritual with a supernatural destination.

Of course, before and even up to now, this battle for normality has not bothered us. We are not even quite aware of it, and much less, of our responsibility towards it. It largely has been taken for granted. That’s because our culture then has been for the most part simple and homogeneous.

Not so now. With the advent in our society of multiple cultures bought about among other things by the Tower-of-Babel effect, we cannot escape this battle for normality. Our intelligence and freedom can spout not only numerous but also conflicting views about what is normal and natural in us.

Of course, in an attempt to appease this phenomenon, some people have resorted to a kind of d├ętente, where everyone, no matter how diametrically opposed to each other their views are, is respected. This, of course, is a very Christian attitude.

But that attitude should not be allowed to deteriorate into a tyranny of relativism, where everything is relative, nothing is absolute.

What it lacks is the effort to really find out what is normal and natural. For unless we believe that there is no universal human nature, common to all, then we cannot rest in identifying those necessary, as opposed to contingent, elements that go into our nature.

The battle for normality now has to be keyed properly to a clear point of reference. Is it just our personal opinions and beliefs that should be the ultimate arbiter, is it something just cultural, popular, convenient, practical?

I think we have to tackle first a most basic question. And that is if whether we believe or not in a God who is eternal and who has eternal law that governs all the universe. Do we realize that everything has to be conformed to him and his laws? Is he someone who can be known by us? Can his will be known by us?

In the end, this battle for normality is a matter of faith—in God or in oneself.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Crises have spiritual roots

THE current financial meltdown in the US, of the kind that poses real threat not only to the American economy but also to that of the whole world, certainly has spiritual and moral causes.

We have to be clear about this. Social and economic problems have roots that go beyond the merely social and economic. The latter are just symptoms.

This point has to be said to remind everyone that to solve these raging problems, we have to look into the real culprits. It’s a sickness of the soul that causes these economic crises, not just some bad economic or technical judgments.

To be blunt about it, the trouble stems from some serious spiritual malady that’s now showing itself in many and multiplying forms. There’s greed, vanity and pride, insincerity and deception, etc., that make up the lifeblood of the vicious cycle of consumerism, materialism and hedonism.

People are spending more than they earn, they are averse to saving and are hooked to imprudent if not impulse buying, not anymore of consumables, but of much heavier items like houses and other pieces of real estate.

Banks just want to create money even if the portfolios are based more on air than on substance. They have been rediscounting financial instruments under incredibly questionable conditions. So what do you expect? Cracks will soon appear, and collapse becomes imminent.

They are throwing caution and restraint to the winds, deep-sixing due study and planning, while giving instant, almost mindless responses to what can amount to caprices. They have grown complacent, have reached the limits of safety and are falling into a kind of mass madness.

A cartoonist captured the whole situation with a caption that the US economy is running on stupidity. That may be a stretch—it’s a caricature, of course—but it conveys a lot of truth about the turmoil.

The underlying spiritual and moral anomaly has broken away from the confines of the personal and even class dimensions. It has spread like cancer, its ground zero first affecting people’s character, then their mentality and their culture.

This particular crisis has gone beyond Wall Street and is now affecting Main Street in the US . Let’s hope the bailout rescue plan works and contains its spread. The prospects are horrifying, in spite of huge efforts to soften their impact.

This is not the time to talk only of economics. We have to talk about spiritual values and virtues, of faith and morals, in a more serious way. No use staying in the denial stage. We have to explode the myth that talking religion and spiritual warfare is not politically correct in this case.

The Christian concept of poverty has to be more systematically drilled into everyone. Its aspect of responsible stewardship, its requirements of social justice and solidarity, transparency and accountability have to be appreciated better.

It seems that the American landscape is increasingly allergic to these concepts. That is the problem and the daunting challenge that has to be faced. There’s a certain dulling of conscience of a growing portion of the population that needs urgent and drastic conversion.

This disturbing development is writ large in the current electoral campaign where issues go beyond the purely economic and political, and have gone deep into the field of faith and morals.

It’s amazing how those who are against Christian faith and morals in the US appear to be growing. They are less of a minority now, and are not anymore in the fringes. They seem to be more and more into the mainstream.

Those for abortion and who are openly atheistic and agnostic are getting more strident in their views. For example, they fault the candidate Sarah Palin for praying, for not aborting her handicapped baby, for allowing her unwed teen-aged daughter to have her baby instead of aborting him.

For sure, there’s a lot of good elements still in that great country, but I’m afraid a lot of things are changing in a frightening way. Analysts may describe the parties as conservative and liberal, centrist or left-leaning. I feel that at bottom, the divide is created in the deeper recesses of people’s faith and consciences.

The US financial crisis now is just but a tip of the monstrous iceberg now drifting dangerously in the American waters and in that of the world. We need to do something about it.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Proclaiming the gospel

IF we have to get down to it, proclaiming the gospel is one central duty of every follower of Christ. After all, our Lord told his disciples just before ascending into heaven: “Go into the whole world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mk 16,15)

Though addressed directly to his disciples, we have to understand that these words are meant also, in varying degrees and ways, to all of us, members of Christ’s mystical body, his Church.

We just have to feel the unfading urgency of this command, and overcome whatever prejudice or obstacle still keeping us from undertaking this important work.

We should echo St. Paul ’s sentiments: “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.” (1 Cor 9,16) Like St. Paul , we need to relish the full weight with which Christ commissioned him to fulfill this task.

As in, nothing less than the plenitude of Christ’s redemptive work should be made to bear on our sense of duty and mission. We are not just doing some simple job. It’s the whole work of human salvation that is involved.

Thus, ever since Christ’s command, the apostles started to preach the gospel. And from then on, the task has never ceased even up to now. Of course, the process is not just a human effort. The Holy Spirit, in a mysterious way, always oversees it.

Still, this indication needs to be understood better. Several reasons come to mind. For one, our human condition tends to easily fall to routine, to oversimplify and reduce, and to miss many essential parts of this mission.

Like, we have to understand that this business of proclaiming the gospel is not just some mechanical work of spreading God’s word, in itself already a very important task, given our increasingly secularized culture. It goes much more than that.

The gospel is not just a body of conceptual truths that need to be given out in lectures or classes. It is presenting the mystery of the living Christ as he grapples with every human situation that we can find ourselves in.

Proclaiming it is not just an intellectual affair. It involves our whole being, and it requires nothing less than our conversion, and not just our attaining knowledge and familiarization of Christ’s words.

In other words, proclaiming the gospel requires our living it, that is, living the very life of Christ who said: “For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting.” (Jn 3,16)

Proclaiming the gospel requires assimilating it, identifying ourselves with it, making it the flesh of our flesh. It should not just be a possession, a property that we can have and then dispose. It has to be our very own life.

We have to understand that it is Christ’s gospel that brings us to eternal life, not our human knowledge alone, or our sciences, no matter how developed and useful they are to us. Christ’s gospel has the full resources to bring us to our supernatural goal of communion with God and with everybody else.

The challenge we have in this regard is, indeed, enormous! Proclaiming the gospel demands everything from us. Unless we understand this well, I don’t think we can go far in carrying out Christ’s command for us to preach the gospel to every creature.

The consoling part is that Christ himself is eternally patient with us. He can wait until we slowly and hopefully effectively realize what is involved in this business.

At the moment, the big task to do is to relate the gospel to our growing body of human knowledge that seems to develop independently of the gospel, that is, of any relation to God.

Ideally, the gospel should inspire our pursuit of knowledge. Our sciences, for example, should also affirm the gospel. The big problem now is that while the gospel and our knowledge go in different levels, any relationship between them appears to be vanishing.

To effectively proclaim the gospel, there’s need to show how it is relevant and crucial in every human situation and knowledge we may have, including the very mundane realities of our life

It may transcend our human condition, but it has to immerse itself in our life and grapple with every aspect of that life. Otherwise, it’s as if Christ himself failed in his redemptive work.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Providence and us

THE American culture war, whose battlefield now is the current electoral campaign in the US, has led me to dig up this topic. I feel it has become suddenly relevant. I feel many people need to know more about divine providence and the role we play in it.

The trigger of this interest is the choice of the now American sensation Sarah Palin as the vice-presidential candidate for the Republicans. Many good things are said of her—that she is pro-life, a hockey mom who distinguishes herself from the pit bull just by the lipstick, a game-changer, a reformer, etc.

But what immediately caught my attention was the claim that she believes in creationism. Creationism is the belief that the world and us have been created by God. That’s one of the core doctrines, to which I agree. There may be other theories spun around it made by ideologues and these I may not agree.

What’s clear is that we did not come about merely by spontaneous generation, and our development is not all due to the evolution process. There’s a lot of evolution involved, of course, but that alone does not explain everything.

Our creation, our life and existence, our nature involve a supernatural or divine intervention. We did not come to exist just on our own, and by merely natural processes.

At first, I thought, what’s the big deal about this? I have taken this doctrine for granted as a given. For me, it’s a no-question-no-debate matter. Not even when in my university years, I became aware of a group that took a different tack in this topic.

Later, I realized that this topic is a big issue in the US. Many are afraid of this doctrine. One writer even came out with a wild accusation that with this belief of candidate Palin, the US could have its biggest threat, since creationism, said he, is squarely opposed to scientific development.

How that writer arrived at that conclusion, I don’t know. But I thought the fear was completely baseless and entirely irrational. It’s reacting to a phantom, not a real thing.

Even if for the moment we skip discussing the origin of the world and life, since this can involve mysteries and faith, and many people are allergic to these topics, I don’t understand how a person who believes that God created us and the world stands as a threat to science and progress.

In fact, if we are to closely follow Catholic teaching in this matter, we will realize that the doctrine that God created us favors, rather than threatens, science and progress. This is because Catholic faith teaches that God continues his creation through his providence.

God involves us in his continuing work of governing the world, meaning, his providence. He does this without diminishing our freedom. On the contrary, he enhances it as long as we understand that the freedom we have comes from him who also made laws governing our freedom. That’s the moral law.

The problem starts when we think our freedom is solely our own, to be lived strictly according to our own desires, if not whims and caprices.

God creating us is very different from us making things. In the latter, the things we make acquire an existence independent of us. In the former, the creatures keep their existence and their development with God always sustaining and governing them.

God never withdraws from his creatures, because if that ever happens, the creatures revert to nothing. God rules the very existence of things. We, on the other hand, with respect to the things we make, have nothing to do with their continuing existence. We’re only responsible for assembling them.

The issue again brings up the old faith-vs.-science debate, which to my mind is unfairly framed. I believe that the larger picture of this issue is that these two elements actually work together, mutually helping each other, because in the end both come from God.

There may be moments of apparent conflict between the two, and these are more because of our limitations, if not outright confusion and errors in knowledge and judgments about certain aspects of the issue.

But these conflicts are not invincible. They can be overcome as long as with patience we seek to resolve the problems and work out the details of the conflict objectively.

Kids!

“OH, no, they’re coming!” That’s only my initial and spontaneous reaction when the kids, grade schoolers in the morning and high schoolers in the afternoon, descend every Saturday to the place where I stay.

My place is, of course, a nice, cozy home that happens also to be an activity center for different groups, including kids. Well, that’s modern life for you today! We, including our homes, need to be all things to all men and kids!

All of a sudden, the house becomes an anthill, the sound and action level takes a quantum leap, you get the effects of a typhoon or a tsunami, and I have to be more prayerful and supernatural to cope with the reality.

We try our best to make the house kid-proof—minimizing anything breakable, locking the TV, and hiding the computers except for one or two, for you just can’t keep the kids from playing with these gadgets.

Obviously, they need to be accompanied, or at least supervised every minute, and there has to be a well-thought-out plan of activities for them for the day. Thanks to God, that’s always prepared when they come.

I’m not directly involved in the activity. I see them from a distance, but I get moved all the time. Such exploding energy, such bursting creativity actually cries to be given proper direction and supported with an appropriate structure.

When I get the chance, I give suggestions to those in charge. Age has given me a certain understanding of how kids think and behave, and what they need to grow and gain maturity. Of course, this requires constant verification.

That’s why, I even dare to foray into their world, mixing and roughing it up with them. This is my way of knowing them and how they are, and also of what’s the latest in their planet, and assessing them.

The latter task is very crucial, since everything that should be done with the kids should be related to a clear goal. We cannot afford to be off-the-scent insofar as children’s development is concerned.

And the goal should be nothing less than to make them truly Christian. This, of course, demands a lot of things—time, effort, money, integrated systems and programs involving several stages and aspects. But the goal should be clear.

With kids, one has to be patient and endlessly creative and sporty as well. He has to be a dynamo of energy. These are indispensable since he needs to play with them, know how to give and take, demand and tolerate, etc.

It’s important to realize that what ought to be done is to help the kids clearly define and develop their own characters. These can come in many forms, of course, but they can still be animated by one same spirit—that of Christ.

Early on, the kids have to understand that being a person means giving oneself to God and to others. It means serving, thinking of others all the time. They have to be slowly weaned from their natural tendency to be self-centered.

They actually go through the process in some natural way, and thus, they have to be respected in their ways and pace of transforming themselves. We have to be sensitive to their subjective conditions, which can widely vary from kid to kid, and be ready with prompt reinforcing motives to go on.

We should avoid giving the impression that we are controlling them. They can have a fierce sense of freedom and individuality, which has both good and dangerous potentials. We have to discern which is which and act accordingly.

Obviously, a good mix of activities should be found, constantly varying them as circumstances dictate. The physical, social, cultural, intellectual and spiritual aspects should be given due attention.

They have to be helped to discover their talents and other good natural endowments and to employ them properly. It’s important that what they enjoy doing do not become occasions to develop obsessions and self-absorption.

They also need to know how to deal with their weaknesses and temptations, especially those related to chastity.

They need to learn to pray as early as possible, making them understand that prayer is not just some sentimental pietistic act, but rather a realistic way of knowing the truth since with it they talk with God, who is truth himself. Practical examples and direct help should be done to make them see this truth clearly.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Taxi driver, politicians, bishops

I JUST had an interesting if funny chat with a taxi driver the other day. He was young, clearly from the province, what with the accent and the fresh, simple manners he had, and excited to have a priest as a passenger.

He was not listening to the radio nor did he have an Ipod or MP3 stuck into his ears. So I felt lucky, since we had a chance to talk, something rarely done nowadays between drivers and passengers. You know, gadgets tend both to undermine personal dealings and to harden self-absorption.

Perhaps to make me happy, he told me he was glad that Cardinal Vidal launched a signature campaign against the Reproductive Health Bill. I thought, how nice to have a taxi driver having more sense than many of our congressmen and congresswomen!

I soon discovered that he was still single and that he was planning to get married soon. I asked him how many children he would like to have. He said, just about 2 or 3. He gave the usual reasons.

When I asked him how he was going to do it, he said, “Simple, Father, after 2 or 3, I will have a vasectomy.” You could imagine how I reacted at that instant. But I managed to control myself, look at the bigger picture and talk to him calmly without scaring him.

Until we reached my destination, I talked to him about the nature and dynamics of responsible parenthood and conjugal chastity. The nice thing about it was at the end, I really felt that he was sincere when he thanked me and told me he would follow my advice.

“I actually know already what you’ve said, Father,” he said. “Except that these days I don’t hear anything about them, while the wrong view has become the popular position.”

I immediately realized how sadly true his observation was, and how enormous the challenge is of conveying the truth about responsible parenthood and the faith, piety and chastity that accompany it.

I always believe that no matter how wounded and dirtied, the human heart can never forget the natural moral law that is written in it by God. It’s still capable of recognizing what is true and false, what is good and evil.

All this, in spite of the fact that the media is not helping. It seems to go where the money is. Plus, many civic and political leaders, who are supposed to know better, actually give the wrong doctrine often matched by errant behavior.

In the US , for example, we recently heard of how two national political leaders, Catholics both, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic vice-presidential candidate Senator Joe Biden, committed grave mistakes in public.

The woman said that in her long study of the Church position on abortion, she found out that the Church fathers and doctors (theological not medical) did not know when human life actually started.

She was immediately corrected by American bishops who found her misrepresenting the Church teaching on this matter.

The man, more wily, said that while he admitted what the Church teaches on when life begins, he considers such doctrine as a personal affair and religious in nature, and therefore, not to be imposed on others.

Again, the bishops corrected him saying that the claim that life begins at conception is a scientific truth and not just a religious doctrine, and that it has a universal application and not just a personal affair of some individuals.

I was happy to learn about these immediate corrections and direct interventions of the American bishops, and I hope that the same action can be expected of our bishops here in our country.

The impression of many is that our bishops are slow and remiss in correcting our Catholic politicians who deviate in their public pronouncements from Church teachings on faith and morals. They seem to be trigger-happy instead in purely political issues that are open to different valid opinions.

The question is asked: if a taxi driver can be corrected by a priest, and a politician by a bishop, who can correct priests and bishops when they are wrong or at least remiss in their duties especially of proclaiming and defending Church doctrines relevant to public issues?

Actually, the answer is known. But is it followed, is it applied to concrete cases of clear imprudence and neglect? No one seems to hear anything about any such instance.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Promoting dialogue

THIS is what we should be doing always. Engaging in dialogue, first with God and then with everybody else, is a basic and indispensable prudential norm in life, given our nature, dignity and present condition and circumstances.

Our problem often is that we snub the value of dialogue. And if we do some dialoguing, we fail to go all the way, or we approach it with wrong attitudes and inadequate dispositions and ways.

Even up to now, despite the sophisticated information technologies we are having, we still find ourselves largely clumsy about this business. There’s a lot of improvisation and ad hocism involved. In fact, there’s hardly any system or structure for it.

And the little system and structure we have is often set aside when emotions run high. Thus, while we complain against extrajudicial killings, we often have no qualms to go extrajudicial when resolving political issues.

In this regard, we have to be wary with the tricks of media, ideologues and some politicians who stir us to become a rampaging mob bent more to destroy than to correct what is wrong in our society. They have a way of boiling our hormones while freezing our reason.

Worse, our dialogue is often confined to attaining personal benefits only. It’s notoriously self-centered, parochial and shallow. Heavily emotional, it often refuses to go any further after those personal gains are made.

At best, it can be used to derive mutual advantages from among the parties concerned. But there’s hardly any effort to use it to arrive at a deeper, clearer and stronger grasp of what is objectively true and good for all of us. This is the tragedy of the whole thing. We need a paradigm shift.

In many Church documents, the constant recourse to dialogue is abundantly recommended. It’s a way to build and strengthen our unity, tenuous as it is, considering the many and often competing forces that go into it.

Dialogue fosters the sense of solidarity among the people. It facilitates the identification and the pursuit of the common good. Thus, the Church’s social doctrine tries to be interdisciplinary in its approach.

“To better incarnate the one truth about man in different and constantly changing social, economic and political contexts, this teaching enters into dialogue with the various disciplines concerned with man,” the Church’s Compendium of Social Doctrine teaches. (76)

We have to do everything to make this continuing dialogue among ourselves work. It starts with each one of us cultivating the proper attitudes and skills for it.

We have to learn to be open and sincere with everyone, respectful to one another, no matter how different our views may be. We have to learn to listen, restraining our tendency to make hasty judgments and to be dominated by emotional, knee-jerk reactions.

We need a lot of patience, and the strength to discipline our temper and passions. We also need to know how to converge or even integrate diverging if not conflicting views. We should avoid getting entangled in the differences.

We have to learn to quickly disregard irritating details, and instead focus on the essentials. Thus we need to really know the objective content of our common good.

Let’s polish and refine the way we deal with others, knowing how to be consensual, and never hostile, not even bearing grudges. We can never overdo this.

We have to know to forgive and forget, and also to ask for forgiveness. We should avoid cornering a person, giving everyone a graceful exit. The “gotcha” mentality belongs to the barbarians.

Always gracious and magnanimous, we should avoid lording it over. And neither should we give refuge in our heart to any trace of resentment and revenge.

The idea is to fill ourselves with goodness, because that is the way to generate more goodness around us. We sow sarcasm and resentment now, and we reap more of the same later on. Here the principle is we receive what we give.

Inhuman or impossibly superhuman? Well, only for those who don’t want to try and who prefer to remain cynical. But we certainly have the capability for it, and God’s grace is never lacking.