Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Give body due attention

FOR at least one second, I had to grapple with some mixed feelings when I was asked recently to bless what they called a wellness hub. So far, no one has invited me yet to bless a spa or a massage parlor. I’m afraid that will take more time for me to grapple.

The wellness hub was a big, spacious room with a manager and instructor, and outfitted with all sorts of benches, bars and weights, a treadmill, a stationary bike, and a wall-to-wall mirror that made me even more uncomfortable.

I’m used to see my face only before a mirror, and frankly to see myself in full length, showing how my clothes hang on my body frame, mortified me. Later, of course, I had a good laugh at myself, which has always been my way of resolving what I don’t understand or like.

I knew I could and should bless it, but I realized I was carrying a baggage toward anything that looked like pampering our body. I was brought up to be a bit harsh on my body, and through the years I could only agree why it had to be like that.

I’m more in the body-vs.-spirit frame of mind. I’ve been suspicious of anything the body likes. My automatic attitude toward it knows only one mode, that is, discipline it, give it less than what it asks, never spoil it, even punish it a little just to make sure.

I know what is going to the extreme, as in being a puritan or a Manichean whose ideology is to consider the body as the principle of evil, and I’ve been careful not to fall there. But this has not prevented me from being strict with the body.

Remember what our Lord said, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,” and this has always made such a great impact on my mind it has become a guiding principle.

My experience can only attest to the veracity of the warning, and I’ve always felt I have to do something about it. Thus, since my college days, I’ve imposed on myself some kind of 24/7 guarding, doing this as discreetly as possible, though this attitude gave some unpleasant openings for temptations.

In principle, I know that the body and spirit should go together. But I’m afraid I have neglected to work that theory out. Not until some doctors have recommended that I do some exercises. No diet yet, but I was warned that may be the next step.

The body also has to be given due care. It cannot and should not be taken for granted. This is because the body, for all its shortcomings and failings, form a unity with the spirit.

There has to be a more pro-active effort to establish and keep a link between the body and the soul. These two constitutive elements of our being should work harmoniously for each other’s advantage and benefit.

“Your bodies are the shrines of the Holy Spirit…glorify God by making your bodies the shrines of his presence,” St. Paul tells us (1 Cor 6,19-20). We have to take care of it, because as St. Paul says, sin finds an ally in our body, that is, the flesh or the lower part of man—our senses, instincts, passions, etc.

Taking care of it means to submit it to Christ’s spirit which does not nullify but rather purifies and elevates the natural condition of our body.

In other words, if done properly, our exercising can connect the natural condition of our body to its supernatural goal, the Adonis perfection or Venus beauty to Christ’s cross.In short, you can develop a six-pack and be holy, not vain.

If done properly, this attention and care of our body can generate a sense of self-dominion we can have over our body. It creates a certain energy for us to develop virtues, to give glory to God and work actively for the others.

It prevents us from falling into pride and arrogance, as well as into sensuality and greed. Going to the gym need not be an exercise in self-indulgence. It can be a form of praying and putting ourselves in better conditions to love and serve.

I think we need to highlight these proper values that can be found and fostered in places like the wellness hub that I just blessed. We have to help one another to discern these values amid the many possibilities which can spoil what in principle can be an objective human need.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The sense of Sunday

I FEEL that we have to recover the proper sense of Sunday. While it’s heartwarming to see our churches filled with people on Sundays, we cannot deny the fact many do not know the true significance of the day.

Many go simply out of routine. Thanks to God, in spite of the inroads of modernist attitudes that erode our sense of the sacred, our culture is still predominantly Christian, at least in form and practices if not anymore so much in substance.

Yes, many still go to Church to Sundays. That’s because in spite of the imperfections in our knowledge, we still get some glimpses of sanctity in this activity. The heart can go further than what the mind and the social customs can show. The duty for continuing catechesis on this topic is therefore really a must.

This is not to mention the usual elements that tend to undermine the proper understanding of our Sunday obligation. These can be our daily concerns, or the mere passage of time that can blunt what’s referred to as the “radical newness” that Sunday as the Day of the Lord possesses.

Thus, I was happy to be reminded recently of the relevant Catholic doctrine in the document “Sacramentum caritatis” of Pope Benedict XVI. In it, he traced the origin of the Christian meaning of Sunday.

According to him, the early Christians already had a customary practice of gathering on the first day (Sunday) of the week—after the Sabbath, which is the last day—to celebrate the resurrection of Christ.

Understanding Christ’s resurrection as his ultimate victory over sin and death, or the ultimate victory of his cross, the early Christians understood Sunday as the “new day,” the day of our re-creation, of our salvation, “the day the Lord has made.”

The first Christians were convinced that the commemoration of Christ’s resurrection on Sunday was the attainment of our authentic freedom and liberation, a goal reached and made available to us by Christ but requiring our cooperation.

That’s why they looked at Sunday in a very special way. St. Ignatius of Antioch coined an expression to describe the attitude the early Christians had toward Sunday. He said they were “living in accordance with the Lord’s Day.”

This “living in accordance with the Lord’s Day” simply meant that the early Christians were keenly aware of the liberation won by Christ. They also sharply felt the duty to make their lives a constant self-offering to God, so that Christ’s victory can be reflected in their deeply renewed existence.

Sunday became paradigmatic for all the other days of the week. It’s “the” day from which all the other days flow and derive its meaning, and to which all the other days also tend and seek as to their goal and fulfillment.

Sunday therefore gives us the proper Christian meaning of our life, of time, of everything in our life. This was how the early Christian understood Sunday. This is how we should understand it also.

Of course, the best way to “live in accordance with the Lord’s Day” is the celebration of the Holy Eucharist or the Holy Mass, which is the sacrament—a mysterious but no less real and actual re-presenting—of our Lord’s passion, death and resurrection.

In Christian liturgy, the sacrament is not merely a dramatization of what happened in the past. It is an actual re-presentation of the very same event that took place centuries ago, this time through words, signs and our human cooperation. This is all due to God’s will and omnipotence.

In the Holy Mass, we celebrate the very climax and summary Christ’s redemptive work for us. In it, Christ makes available to us all the gains and merits of his redemptive work.

The challenge we have today is how to convey and keep alive the overwhelming richness of this reality about our Sunday obligation in all of us. It is how to make everyone see that the Sunday obligation is actually everything for us.

This means also that we need to find a realistic way of linking everything to it. And of how Sunday with its intrinsic requirement of the celebration of the Mass is necessary in giving proper meaning and direction to everything that we have and do.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Glimmer in somber November

DESPITE the gloomy sound and feel of November, what with its widespread commemoration of the dead, there are many bright and sunshiny reasons to be happy in this penultimate month of the year.

November invites us, even challenges us, to think big, to leave behind our small-town outlook, our earth-and-time-bound mentality to consider the ultimate dimensions of our life.

We are meant for heaven, for supernatural and eternal life, for communion with our Father-Creator and among ourselves, etc. We are meant for things that can never be found in our life here on earth, no matter how rich and successful we may be in our endeavors.

We honor these very sublime truths with the celebration of the Solemnity of All Saints on November 1 and the Solemnity of Christ the King on November 23. We are meant to form one family, one kingdom among ourselves with God.

Remember that parable of the rich man with a good harvest? “What shall I do?” he asked himself. “I have no place to store my harvest. I know!” he said. “I will pull down my grain bins and build larger ones…Then I will say to myself: You have blessings in reserve for years to come. Relax! Eat heartily, drink well. Enjoy yourself.

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life shall be required of you. To whom will all this piled-up wealth of yours go?” That is the way it works with the man who grows rich for himself instead of growing rich in the sight of God.” (Lk 12,15-21)

Yes, we are meant to be rich in God’s grace. That is the true measure of our dignity. It’s not in our possessions. It’s not even in our accomplishments, though these have their value. It’s in how deeply our heart gets identified with God’s will. It’s whether we are truly in love, not entangled with love’s caricatures.

November challenges us to expand our perspectives so that we can keep an abiding sense of eternity and supernatural life, even while here on earth and immersed in its affairs. We have to learn go beyond the sensible and the sentimental.

November invites us to derive practical lessons from the frequent considerations of the Last Things: death, judgment, hell, heaven. We should lose the fear of making these considerations. They actually complete our vision and understanding of things, and help us to distinguish what is essential in life.

We have to be wary of our tendency to get trapped in a purely earthly outlook. This is the big problem we have. While there’s a need to get fully immersed in our worldly affairs, material and temporal, this should not be at the expense of the spiritual and supernatural dimension of our life.

We have to learn to combine both dimensions, just as St. Paul said: “Just as we have borne the image of the earthly, let us bear also the image of the heavenly.” (1 Cor 15,49) More, even if we get deep in human matters, we ought to keep our conversation in heaven. St. Paul said so in Philippians 3,20.

We have to convince ourselves that this blending and linking between the material and the spiritual, the temporal and the eternal, the natural and the supernatural are not only possible and feasible. It is also what is proper to us.

In fact, the need for integration does not stop in those areas alone. It extends to our need to combine our individual and social dimensions. We don’t live for ourselves alone. We are meant to live for and with others.

Our social character is not an optional thing. It is an essential part of our being. There is no human perfection unless it is considered in the context of our social nature. We are not only individual persons. We are meant to form one organic family.

The ways to do all these combining processes are all available. We have the capacity, we have the ways. Besides, in the first place, there is also the grace of God that insures the effectiveness of our efforts.

We need to pay more attention to this need. We need to break the barriers of time and space, and the other limitations of our human earthly condition, so we can enter into the real world meant for us.

This is the challenge we have in November. Don’t you think it should be an exciting month rather than a somber, gloomy one?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Profiling the Christian youth today

THIS is just a rough sketch to capture an emerging disturbing trend among Christian youth today. This is like an exercise in case study. It’s not to give a typical picture, but rather to detect a disquieting tendency.

The details are culled from many sources who happen to voice out more or less similar or common impressions and perceptions regarding the lives of many Christian youth today.

Let’s call the protagonist John Paul, a junior Law student, who comes from a good Christian family and studies in a Catholic university. He practices his faith, does some prayers, goes to Sunday Mass, etc.

He struggles to live the virtues, and meets more or less the same difficulties common among his peers and the pressures typical of the environment he circulates in. He goes to spiritual direction with a priest.

The problem is that in spite of his good background, he is stuck in his spiritual life. He finds hardly any reason to grow more in his spiritual life. He is lukewarm in his apostolate. He considers the faith as good, but rather complex, hard and problematic when made to impact with his friends.

It’s a common phenomenon these days. Many like John Paul do not hide their religion and can go through the usual routine of spiritual practices, but they have no drive to go any further.

A closer scrutiny would reveal that the youth like John Paul are very intellectually capable. They yearn for wider cultural knowledge, and thus expose themselves almost indiscriminatingly to all sorts of materials, including those with clearly atheistic and purely naturalistic ideological viewpoints.

In short, with a Christian life that is not yet well grounded and a Christian formation that is not yet systematically established, they dare to swim in an ocean of information, pretty much left to their own devices.

Compounding the problem is their attitude that they can manage to sort out things by themselves. They tend to resent to be guided. They are suspicious and distrusting of those with clear authority and expertise over the matter. Consulting them would be like giving away their freedom.

Their Christianity is more of a cultural and social legacy inherited from their parents and society in general, than of a personal conviction capable of having a consistent view before all sorts of questions and issues in life. It has become an external formal cover without the genuine substance inside.

They cannot bring their faith to bear on these questions and issues. Much less can they defend it when it is put into question. They can arrive at that point where their faith can be a source of embarrassment to them. They can consider it irrelevant and out of touch with reality.

What to do in this kind of situation is indeed a big challenge. I certainly would like that in spite of these conditions, everything has to be done to keep direct personal contact with such youth.

If possible, the spiritual direction has to be kept. There’s a high probability that the problem is caused more by some moral failures than an intellectual inability to reconcile faith with reason. In this situation, what has to be done more is to show compassion and patience, without letting up on rational explanations.

Together with that, a more thorough and sustained effort at apologetics, or explaining the faith in the context of reason, science and other human fields of knowledge, should be done.

There’s no reason to think that the faith cannot stand rational or scientific scrutiny. In fact, it’s the reverse. It’s the faith that gives meaning and direction to our human knowledge.

It would be good to bring out to public notice many good Christian authors whose work certainly can have great impact on the minds of the young ones. I have no doubt they can help dispel the confusion, doubts and errors in matters of faith and morals floating loosely in society today.

Of course, on the part of elders, teachers and those with certain authority and competence on the matter—especially the clergy—a more consistent lifestyle is not only a must but also should be made more public, echoing St. Paul’s “Be imitators of me, as I am an imitator of Christ.”

This is what is needed these days!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Tyranny of the exception

THERE used to the cliché that goes, “the exception that proves the rule.” Now it seems people are rewriting it and making a new one that goes, “the exception makes the rule.” It would look as if now, if you are not the exception, you are strange, you are being unreasonable and unfair.

They have debunked the idea that precisely because of the exceptions that are due to our mistakes and frailties, the rule has to be spelled out clearly and defended strongly, while giving due adjustments for the exceptions.

This exception-makes-the-rule seems to be the strategy of sectors who are vocal and aggressive in pushing for the legalization of abortion, for example, or for the government to actively promote contraception and reproductive health, even using government money, that is, our taxes, etc.

This is also the tactic of the gay rights movement. This is clear in the recent development of the MacDonald’s in the US getting involved in the homosexual agenda.

The rationale of the hamburger-maker is that the world is diverse and should be respected as such. But their support has actually gone beyond that. By giving money, it is not simply respecting and tolerating. It is approving and promoting.

It should not be surprised if it also suffers a backlash by other groups who may decide to boycott its product, and would rather go to Jollibee or to MangDo’s from now on, encouraging others to do the same.

In the current Reproductive Health Bill now under discussion by our Congress, they are even forcing companies to provide all their employees with the full range of birth control methods, short of abortion, as yet.

My simple understanding of this move is that this is pure coercion. Are we now in some police state? Are we again under a disguised martial law? Things just don’t make sense. They don’t add up. Something has snapped. Some people have flipped.

They often cite very rare and difficult cases to fuel their position that certain immoral measures and actions should not only be allowed, legalized or decriminalized. Not even that they be vigorously favored. They go to the extent of claiming that any dissent to these actions should be penalized. What gall!

This threat is present in the Reproductive Health Bill. In effect, everyone is forced to agree with it. No one should go against it. This is a world-wide conspiracy gone wild. Besides, it has a dangerous if not wrong view on human sexuality.

The conscientious objector, while limply respected, is still forced to refer cases he could not perform to others. I thought that if one cannot perform due to conscientious objection, neither can he recommend it to others.

Going back to the exceptions, they often mention cases of incest and rape, even by one’s own spouse, to justify the legalization of abortion, for example. Of course, now in many countries with legalized abortion, they have not stopped in these cases alone. They can do it any time, even up to partial birth.

They fail to realize that these unfortunate cases are a result clearly of immoral actions that cannot and should not be remedied by having another set of immoral solutions.

I don’t know where the reasoning has gone and fled. It seems that we are entering into a new stage of our national life, our culture slipping from one favoring life to one against life and for immoralities.

Of course, these questionable groups can accuse their opponents of the so-called tyranny of normality, even cruelty of Christianity, a shameless reversal of things, a totally unfair thing to say.

Christianity teaches charity, understanding, mercy, patience, tolerance, openness, freedom. But it also teaches justice, truth and obedience. There might have been mistakes and abuses committed by some Churchmen in the past, but those are more of the exceptions that precisely prove the rule.

A true Christian believer not only can live with everybody. He can also love all including his enemies and the exceptions. If he truly follows Christ, he will always love the sinners but not the sin. He is even willing to die for them.

But he is duty-bound also to defend his faith. He will react when something that is wrong is said to be right, when evil and unnatural things are considered good and normal, and when freedom is trampled especially by noisy and powerful exception groups or by our congressmen.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The bulletin board

THIS may just be trivia, but mind you, I find this experience exhilarating.

I’ve just been bitten by the bulletin-board bug. I mean, there’s a small announcement board outside my office in school, on the way to the oratory, to which I very seldom paid any attention.

I don’t even know who put those notices there, once yellowing with neglect. The management never called my attention, maybe because it really was not my business. Some good soul placed a number of ‘stampitas’ to cover the extra space.

Then one day, I don’t know exactly what happened, I gave a close look at that dusty board, and I was suddenly fired up. I have to do something here, I told myself. It was not because I pitied it, but rather because I saw the challenge and the potential. I felt provoked to grab the bull by the horns.

The other day, someone close to me, who owns a number of department stores, sort of gave me a lecture about the ways and gimmicks of catching the attention of the people and of moving them to buy.

In one portion of the store, I saw items with signs that read, “Hi, I’m new,” or “Hi, I can be fun,” or “This is cool!,” and come-ons like those. I know we’re now in the age of aggressively letting people know what we are selling. Just look at those billboards along the highways!

And indeed, I do have a very important, precious merchandise to sell. It’s not an easy item to sell though, because I’m in the business of the spiritual and the doctrinal.

And yet, I have no doubt that these goods also need to be publicized. I just have to find a way to window-dress them too, not to create a false image, of course, but simply to attract notice. Nowadays, with the people bombarded with so many images, we priests have to learn to compete also for attention.

Popes and other Church leaders have egged everybody to make the faith part of culture, to materialize what is spiritual, to act out what is doctrinal, etc. With our present level of development, this goal is both complicated and easy, thanks to the plethora of materials available.

Again I have no doubt that part of this effort is to engage in some publicity stunt for our faith and our spiritual services, not in the commercial sense, of course, but rather in the pastoral sense.

This effort, I know, should not replace the indispensable personal attention I have to give to each student and staffer, by way of hearing his confessions, having spiritual direction, etc. This should never be an obstacle to saying Mass and performing other liturgical acts. This should rather complement them.

And so I started moving. Besides, this gave me a chance to exercise my dormant liking for artistry and to work with a team. Many times I found myself working alone, at least physically. This one was going to be a welcome break, I thought.

And I discovered many interesting things in the process. I learned, for example, that the young ones always like new things. So I have to change the things that I post almost everyday. I have to constantly rearrange, put color and even frills.

I have to be creative and quick in finding a variety of things that can be interesting to them. The kids have a short span of attention. And as if that’s not enough, they are often capricious in their taste too. So, I have to learn to meet them halfway. I even have to put some cartoons.

Thanks to God, there are many materials available, and my chats with them yield me a rich harvest of insights, perceptions and observations that I later on integrate and put into writing, ending up in the “From your Chaplain” corner of the board.

It’s also amazing that many kids are willing to help. In fact, I think they feel honored when I ask them to do something for me. My “Please” to them falls like a general’s order to their ears.

Since I’ve started doing this, I’ve seen my bulletin board becoming a favorite hangout of students and staffers. Besides, it seems I’m getting more clients who come to my room for a chat.

It’s amazing what drama and pull the tapestry of a bulletin board can have on kids!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

IN the face of the financial catastrophe currently rocking the US and threatening to spill all over, we need to stay sober and restrain ourselves from making knee-jerk reactions that can only hit more panic buttons.

What we need is to try to rebuild an atmosphere of trust in the business world. This is the urgent call today!

In fact, we need to pray, since after all is said and done, the whole affair certainly has deep spiritual and moral roots that can only be properly handled when spiritual and supernatural means are also used.

We cannot deny the fact that even if there are specific people and sectors who ought to get the bigger part of the blame, we somehow are all involved. Yes, all of us, even if we are not quite familiar with the dynamics of the disaster.

This is because of the growing globalization that affects not only the warming of our planet, still a debatable topic, but also our business and politics.

As in, I might buy a simple pair of shoes in Colon (Cebu City), but that purchase can have some effect in America’s Wall Street. Just don’t ask me to explain the connection, but a certain link, no matter how remote, there must be!

If we want to lighten up a bit, we can choose to indulge in humoring ourselves with some amusing developments. Like, it is reported that Iceland may have to go back to fishing because of it.

With that country’s $60K per capita income compared to ours that crawls in the vicinity of the first thousand or so dollars, we can just imagine what’s going to happen to us. We have to brace ourselves to go back to planting “camote.”

The only saving factor may be that since we are short of money always, we could not participate much in the problem that has just erupted. So the effects on us may not be that much either.

I learned, for example, that the average American keeps 13 credit cards. I don’t know how many credit cards the average Filipino has. I myself don’t have any. And most of those I know who have, have trouble repaying for their purchases.

I guess this is the time to reprise St. Paul’s experience: “I know both how to be brought low and I know how to abound, both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all these things in him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4,12-13)

Yes, dear, whether we are going back to fishing or to planting “camote,” we who still are Christian believers need to go back always to Christ. We can talk economics till death, to see what’s wrong and what can be done, but we cannot neglect to pray. That would be criminal!

Of course, many Third World countries, which have been recipients of not-so-kind prescriptions from US business leaders about how to run their business, are now having a heyday LOLing at their supposedly bright counterparts.

It’s said that the American economic models were really the best ones that came out of the minds of their top economists. They were supposed to work 99% of the time. What happened was that the imponderable 1% occurred.

There’s the rub! These economic models, with all the sophisticated math and econometrics put into them, simply cannot capture certain elements also present in business as a human activity. It’s not in their DNA.

These are the elements of human freedom, of intentions and personal integrity, of values like prudence, poverty, temperance, justice, that cannot be quantified, because they are spiritual.

In fact, some knowledgeable quarters claim these models were driven by greed as main motive. People are losing the taste for simple living. It should be no wonder these models collapse at a certain point.

Again the saving grace of the American system is that it is based on the democratic way of life and the free-enterprise way of doing business. It has better built-in mechanisms to correct itself than what can be found, for example, in a socialist state or a government-controlled economy.

The current crisis is a painful lesson for the Americans to imbue their capitalism with true human values. For Christian believers, these values are the ones taught by Christ, and now by the social doctrine of the Church.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Verbal melamine

WE are now sadly exposed to the fact that some food products are mixed with fillers and extenders that are not anymore safe and legit but are actually toxic and harmful to us. They have gone beyond standard food and drugs limits.

The Chinese melamine-diluted milk illustrates this well. I’ve always thought that melamine is used to make beautiful plates, bowls and other table wares. But to put it into dairy products is definitely an improper and immoral transposition. It’s pure and simple cheating with deadly effects!

There’s another melamine affair that we ought to be more aware of and more determined to eliminate, since not only is it septic but is also more widespread and common.

This is the verbal melamine, both written and oral, infesting our media and, worse, in our ordinary day-to-day communication. This affects not only children, who can easily be excused for indulging in it, but rather adults, us, who are supposed to know and behave better.

Gossiping, tactless speech and writing, backbiting, empty inane conversations, pure loquacity and verbal diarrhea pollute our environment. Daily we get a carpet-bombing of these things. Sometimes I get the impression that we have become a swarm of noisy, quacking and clacking ducks.

There are other worse forms, like irresponsible journalism, reckless politically partisan tirades and fiery barbs, shameless propaganda and commercial adverts, self-obsessed and self-absorbed celebrity talks, etc.

Remove the glitter and the glamour, the fire and the thunder, the hype and spin, and we would have as bare bones nothing more than fishwives’ tales—all myths and legends with hardly any objective relevance to our life. What remains is the language of the world’s foolishness. “O vanity of vanities…”

Even some Church publications are not exempted from this danger. Sometimes I get the aftertaste that I’m reading highly ideological, as in leftist or rightist, views even from bishops and priests, and other self-righteous claims when I go through some of these papers.

The root cause is that our capacity to talk, write and communicate has been detached from its proper foundation. It is simply made to serve whatever comes to mind, whatever has become socially and politically correct, without giving due attention to its proper moorings.

We have forgotten that words reveal the kind of persons we are, whether we consider ourselves still as children of God or we have become our own persons exclusively.

Words make and unmake us. They can edify us or destroy us. Remember St. James: “The tongue no man can tame…By it we bless God…and by it we curse men…Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing…” (3,8-10)

The root cause is that we alienate ourselves from God. Many of us have lost the taste for God. We simply go by what our senses lead us, or at best what our reasoning make us understand. We forget God’s word, which has become foreign to us. It’s supposed to be the pattern and power of our own words.

This frame of mind is unfortunately now being reinforced and supported by a growing culture that’s becoming more and more secularized, paganized and Godless. In fact, in many sectors, any talk about God is ridiculed.

Let’s go back to basics. For those who are still Christian believers and desire to be consistently so, let’s listen to St. Paul.

“Other foundation no man can lay, but that which is laid, Christ Jesus. Now if any man build upon this foundation, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble, every man’s work shall be manifest, for the day of the Lord shall declare it, because it shall be revealed in fire.

“The fire shall try every man’s work, of what sort it is. If any man’s work abides, which he has built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work burn, he shall suffer loss…” (1 Cor 3,11-15)

I wonder if there’s any earnest effort to ground and inspire our ideas, words and deeds on Christ. This requirement, I’m afraid, has been heavily overlaid and covered by other mundane considerations that practically annul it.

Is there anyone listening? Well, we can only hope and pray. We can do certain things to correct the situation, but we have to entrust everything in God’s hands for some urgent and deep changes to take place.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Tackling our sinfulness

NOT to be exaggerated, neither to be underestimated, the reality of our weaknesses and frailties, our mistakes and failures, our sins and treacherous attraction to evil is all there to be seen and suffered by all of us.

St. Paul’s incisive and pained cry continues to reverberate in the heart of each one of us: “I am carnal, sold into the power of sin. For I do not understand what I do, for it is not what I wish that I do, but what I hate, that I do.” (Rom 7,14-15)

Thus, we often wonder why even in some most solemn moments, dirty, ugly thoughts, desires and movements of the flesh can assail us. We try our best to look good and decent, knowing fully well there’s something nibbling at our heart.

Imagine how things stand when we are in our more vulnerable moments, as in when we are sick, tired, resting, distracted, confused, lost, etc. What a sitting duck we are to our own weaknesses and the temptations around!

And this, in fact, is the common reality. Given how things are now, we hardly are in some ideal condition to live our life cleanly and honorably. The sad truth is that we are swimming in waters made dirtier each day.

Just look at the papers, the TV, the Internet. We are constantly bombarded, teased and titillated with spiritually and morally not-so-healthy images and messages.

The youth, the uninitiated and inexperienced in the ways of asceticism are the most vulnerable. The worst scenario is when people start to lose the sense of sin. Sadly, this is happening in many places.

But this is a phenomenon we should not be surprised about. Neither should we deny it. These don’t help at all. They worsen things instead. We have to do something about it. Woe to us when we ignore this fact of life.

We have to remember that if we view this stubborn, inescapable reality with the fullness of Christian faith, we actually have reason to be happy, since just as St. Paul also said, “It’s when I am weak, that I am strong.” (2 Cor 12,10)

Let’s once again get the full consoling quote to remind ourselves of how we ought to think toward this sad fact: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in infirmity. Gladly, therefore, will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Cor 12,7)

Our problem is that with all our immediate concerns and our obsession to be politically correct in our words and actions, we tend to marginalize this reality. We have to quit that attitude.

We have to remember always our sinfulness, but also always with faith. This will lead us to be humble, which is a basic and indispensable virtue that helps us to tackle this condition properly.

Humility leads us to always seek the presence of God, stay away from occasions of sin, and combat temptations resolutely. It helps us to develop a spiritual and supernatural outlook in life, nourishing our faith, hope and charity, all these done discreetly.

Humility makes us simple, transparent and docile to elders. It prevents us from being reckless and imprudent as we get to have a clear view of how weak we are.

Humility convinces us that there’s no point doing balancing acts with temptations. It teaches us the effective ways of doing ascetical struggle, using prayers, sacrifices, sacraments and other spiritual and human means.

Humility leads us to develop an abiding sense of penance, knowing how to be sorry for our sins, confessing them to priests to ask for forgiveness, and to do continuing acts of penance and atonement, through mortifications and works of mercy.

Humility makes our conscience sensitive and delicate and at the same time strong and more resistant to the lures of evil. It checks on our tendency to succumb to what St. John refers to as “concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes and the pride of life.” (1 Jn 2,16)

Humility practically makes us immune to the persuasive logic of our sinfulness. The flesh, the world and the devil cannot gainsay and contest the arguments of humility. This is how we attract the power of God to dwell in us. We should do all to grow in this virtue!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Mainstreaming the social doctrine

THE Church’s social doctrine needs to be widely spread, known and practiced. The common impression is that it’s classified information or that it’s a subject proper only to those who like to dabble in social activism.

We have to redeem it from that predicament—quickly and relentlessly, since the effort surely involves a long and even agonizing process. It’s also a never-ending activity.

Since the Church’s social doctrine brings the true spirit of Christ into our social life in all its dimensions—from the family to our business and politics and to the most global aspects of our earthly life—it is indispensable and concerns us all.

In fact, with our increasingly challenging times, it is imperative that the social doctrine be systematically taught far and wide, its corresponding virtues developed and its appropriate structures and network built up progressively.

Given that living the Christian spirit in our social life is most tricky, it is necessary that the Church’s social doctrine be integrally learned and assimilated. Otherwise, we’ll have a terrible mongrel that can cause more evil than good.

That’s what we are seeing now. The few occasions when it’s cited by civil society leaders and even some Church officials show bias, improper selectivity and reductionism. All sorts of exaggerations and gratuitous assertions are made.

Thus, even Church pronouncements can sound politically partisan. And since they often lack interdisciplinary considerations, they end up becoming cliquey, insular and divisive, easily held hostage by the shenanigans of politicians, ideologues and mob forces.

Valid points in the smaller aspects of an issue often fail to reconcile with the demands of a larger picture. They easily get dogmatized and inflexible, powerless to flow with the streaming situations.

Many times, they just show more emotion than practical wisdom, indicating a reactive, not pro-active approach. Traces of agitation, obviously restrained, are all over, causing unease in many people. The net effect is confusion rather than relief.

The fragile link between the social and the spiritual, the personal good and the common good, truth and charity, justice and mercy, etc., is not duly monitored and constantly readjusted. The points come as a result mainly of reflex, rather than reflective reaction.

Thus, in many parts of the media today some statements of our Church leaders have been roundly criticized, aggravated by the fact that Church officials generally do not know how to handle the media.

For this difficult task, the Church’s Compendium of Social Doctrine says:

“The primary responsibility for the pastoral commitment to evangelize social realities falls to the Bishop, assisted by priests, religious men and women, and the laity.

“With special reference to local realities, the Bishop is responsible for promoting the teaching and diffusion of the Church’s social doctrine, which he should do through appropriate institutions.” (539)

This is, of course, a tall order, extremely demanding but not impossible. It requires nothing less than solid and authentic spiritual life. Otherwise, the anomaly will just surface sooner or later.

The teaching and spread of the social doctrine involves everyone in his proper ways, with clear distinctions between those of the clergy and those of the laity. The universal involvement should not blur the specific roles of each one.

Subsidiary institutions that can and should help are the families, parishes and other Church structures, schools, media, governmental and non-governmental agencies. Continuing education on the social doctrine, especially for those holding positions of influence, is a must.

So far, I have not seen any serious effort in this direction. It’s a neglect that certainly has very foreseeable tragic consequences. It’s like cultivating a crisis. This has to be corrected.

We should nurture the sense of constant vigilance and the skill to integrate the different flowing elements of our social life. This would enable us to read and foresee the signs of the times as they come, promptly noting their positive and negative features.

With the social doctrine, we can manage to keep distance from the predatory tendencies brought about by our own weaknesses, failures and sins, not to mention the very subtle snares of the devil and our world alienated from God.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Fertility and productivity

I just attended a forum of farmers the other day. It was organized by some Church people, with some public officials in attendance. The theme was on soil fertility and productivity as key to food security.

The farmers looked on the whole hopeful. Some managed to smile and to show a face of serenity. Others looked a bit concerned and apprehensive. Well, the world is big enough to accommodate all sorts of people, I thought.

That it was organized by some Church people should not come as a surprise. Farming is a basic human concern and need. The Church is very much interested in it. It was done well, so there should not be any accusation the Church was interfering and engaging in purely social action.

The Bible is full of images about farms and agriculture. Our Lord conveyed important lessons through parables that made use of agricultural terms: seed, sowing, plants, trees, sheep, weeds, shepherds, goats, rocky ground and good soil, etc.

In short, farming is very much in the heart of the Church. Obviously, the forum I mentioned was more on the technical side of farming. They were talking about the virtues of organic farming as well as the need for basic infrastructure and investments to support the farmers, etc. All very good!

But then again, the technical side of farming, so basic and indispensable, should not be detached from the religious side of farming. It has to be understood that farming is never just a human activity. It is one that has deep and immense spiritual and moral repercussions.

Consider Christ's indication that before a seed sprouts into a plant, grows, matures and bears fruit, it has to be sown and die first.

That should remind us that farming, just like any human enterprise, requires some dying to oneself, some sacrifice and pain. Without this ingredient, we should not expect that endeavor to succeed and prosper.

There is need for conversion always. That's how we give impulse to our proper growth as persons and children of God. We need to continuing conversions, otherwise, we stop growing and get stunted.

Consider the parable of the sower and the seed. This reminds us that we should try to be a good, well-plowed and prepared ground, so that the seed, God's word, can take root, grow and bear fruit a hundredfold.

We just cannot be hearers of God's word alone, and flaunt it with the rich foliage of our clever, deceptive ways, which unfortunately we can be very good at. We have to be doers of God's word, assimilating it such that it becomes flesh of our flesh, the substance and form of our thoughts and actions.

Consider also that part about the Bread of Life. That's the end result of Christ's work of redemption, with Christ himself being both the sower and the seed. That work produces ultimately the Bread of Life, which is our food that will bring us to eternal life.

We need to connect every human activity to our spiritual and supernatural goal. We should not just stop in the technical level, for that gives us only a short-sighted and very narrow view of life and of our dignity.

Which brings me to wonder why, if we are so interested in achieving fertility and productivity in our farming and agriculture, we are so eager to cut fertility and productivity insofar as human life is concerned.

Now that the Reproductive Health Bill is widely analyzed in the public, it seems that its fallacies and stupidity are getting exposed. A little boy has just declared the king who claims to wear gold apparels is actually naked.

That it's for reproductive health is false, because it neither reproductive since it is for population control, nor is it for health since it considers the reproductive capacity of man mainly as a disease.

That it's for informed choice or freedom of choice is also false. It nothing more than a euphemism to go immoral, and to use what is convenient, what is a weakness, a failure, a sin as standard of our behavior.

That it will solve our poverty problem, telll that to the marines. Unless there is inner conversion, even there are few people in this world, there will always be inhuman poverty.

It's time for the proponents of this pro-death bill to reconsider their points and regroup themselves.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Give reason for your hope

THIS is an indication that appears in the first letter of St. Peter. The complete text is the following:

“Sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts, being ready always to satisfy everyone that asks you a reason of that hope which is in you.” (3,15)

Nowadays, Christian believers are going through increasing pressure to explain their faith and hope in God, in eternal life, in religion, in supernatural life, etc.

This could be because the world is becoming more and more secularized, that is, detached from a culture where the spiritual and supernatural realities not only still matter but are its prime ethos.

The world, it seems, is plunging headlong into a purely earth-and-time-bound worldview. It cannot imagine a reality beyond this world and this time. Everything has to stop in death and in what may be foreseen as the end of the world.

Part of the reason is that the Christian faith, as taught in many places and as practiced by many people, has become, to the eyes of the worldly-wise, out of touch with what is commonly understood as our reality.

Many people are now openly saying, for example, that prayer and the sacraments are meaningless to them, that faith has nothing to say to the developments in science, arts and entertainment, that Christian moral principles are not in sync with people’s mentalities and lifestyle today, etc.

There are those who, in spite of their supposedly Christian education and upbringing, still cannot figure out what the Church is and what role it plays in the life of a Christian believer.

This is the big challenge we are facing now. People are not anymore living by faith. They do not know how to relate their faith to their earthly affairs, and vice-versa. There’s a big, yawning disconnect between the two.

Knowing how to give reason to our faith and hope is truly the urgent and most needed task we have today.

Of course, mastering the doctrine would be a great help. And that’s already a tall order, since it involves a big body of knowledge to be studied. And it’s constantly growing.

The only consolation is that there is a unifying spirit in all of this corpus, such that if one gets that spirit, he would not have difficulty studying it. He kind of gets an automatic key that makes him understand what he believes.

Which brings us to a more important point. Giving reason to our faith and hope is not much a matter of words, doctrines and arguments. It is more a matter of the spirit.

St. Paul says it beautifully: “My speech and my preaching were not in the persuasive words of human wisdom, but in showing of the Spirit and power, that your faith might not stand on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” (1 Cor 2,4-5)

I don’t wish to put into contrast the doctrine and the spirit, but we have to understand that both should come together. They are inseparable just like a living body cannot be separated from his soul.

Thus, faith and hope should not just be an intellectual affair. It has to affect and imbue our whole being, from our thoughts and will to our feelings and desires. Our faith and hope should be seen in our behavior, in our reaction to things, etc., since actions speak more loudly than words.

When the faith is studied not only with the mind but also with the heart, then that faith and its accompanying hope enter into our whole being, transforming us. It would be a faith and hope that truly bring us closer to God, that is, to sanctity.

In this regard, some words of Pope John Paul II are relevant. “Let the theologians always remember the words of that great master of thought and spirituality, Saint Bonaventure,” he said.

“He invites the reader to recognize the inadequacy of reading without repentance, knowledge without devotion, research without the impulse of wonder, prudence without the ability to surrender to joy, action divorced from religion, learning sundered from love, intelligence unsustained by divine grace, thought without the wisdom inspired by God.”

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The universal heart

THAT’S the heart of our Lord, Jesus Christ. It’s also the heart we should try to cultivate, since he himself gave us the new commandment that summarizes and perfects all the previous commandments that “you love one another as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (Jn 13,34)

It’s a love that covers everyone, including our enemies, the unlovable, the sinners, offenders, those who are wrong in a human issue and all others who for one reason or another we may have some reason not to love or like.

In fact, one sure sign our loving is authentic is when we include these people in our loving. Otherwise, our love is fake, no matter how fervently we profess it. Our love gets spoiled and deteriorates into self-righteousness.

Remember what our Lord said about this point. “If you love them that love you, what reward shall you have? Do not even the publicans do this?” (Mt 5,46)

Thus, our Lord explicitly said that we have to love our enemies, to do good to them that hate us and pray for those who persecute and calumniate us. This is how we are going to be identified as children of God who makes his sun to rise upon the good and bad, the rain on the just and the unjust.

Love by definition involves all and is given without measure or calculation. This essence of love is what breaks us loose from our limited human condition to make our world universal, not entangled in some parochial, partisan or isolationist grip.

Love matures and perfects us. It checks on our tendency to be self-seeking and self-absorbed so as to be “all things to all men.” (1 Cor 9,22) It brings us not only to others, but rather to God himself, identifying us with him, for “God is love.”

This love is what properly measures out our true dignity and value as persons and children of God. It’s not just some wisdom or knowledge or talents and any human power. It’s love, babe!

It’s high time that we understand the need for true love, the love of Christ, to give ourselves a universal heart. It’s not the sciences, the philosophies and the ideologies, no matter how good and useful they are, that can accomplish this.

We have to disabuse ourselves from this mentality that, sadly, is constantly nourished and reinforced by some pagan thinking that’s dominating our world today.

We have to go beyond them. That’s why there’s a need to develop the appropriate attitudes and virtues, all done in the context of God’s grace, for nothing succeeds without God’s grace.

We have to learn to be patient, and to be “rich in mercy and slow to anger.” We have to know how to take on different and even conflicting positions in human issues without undermining our love for one another.

This surely means we have to learn how to discipline our feelings and passions, knowing when to talk and when not. We have to learn how to convert difficult, humiliating moments into moments of graciousness and magnanimity.

We have to avoid bearing grudges or worse, nurturing animosities. Let’s remember that whatever happens, we are all men and women, children of God, who are obliged to love one another.

We have to learn how to be positive, encouraging and optimistic in our tack to problems instead of tanking into pessimism and hostility. We can never overdo in our efforts to learn the fine details of tact and diplomacy.

We have to increasingly polish and refine our manners so as to keep the bonds of unity amid unavoidable differences among ourselves. We will always be human as to always need affection, and it should be given. Let’s never forget that we can choose to make these differences to enrich us rather than destroy us.

We have to learn how to drown evil with an abundance of good, dispel darkness with light. We have to understand that ignorance, confusion and error are not corrected by truth alone, but by truth given in charity always. This, even if we have to make corrections that need to be given clearly and vigorously.

Given the present world’s rush to specialized knowledge that inevitably generates divisions, we have to double up our efforts to cultivate this universal heart.