Sunday, November 30, 2008


“SOLDIERS should feel very much a part, a living part of the Church.” This was what a bishop told a camp of soldiers recently, and I could not agree more with him.

There’s the common impression that soldiers are kind of second-class faithful of the Church, staying in the communion’s periphery, if not out of it from time to time. It’s an anomaly that needs to be corrected.

It’s true that their work puts them somewhere in the walls of society. They do some dirty job. But they are there precisely to render a most delicate and indispensable service. Society depends on them for its security, for its peace and order, a fundamental component of our common good.

And they do that duty even at the price of their lives. So, with that alone, they qualify to be the greatest of lovers, for our Lord said: “Greater love than this no man has, that a man lays down his life for his friends.” (Jn 15,13)

Soldiers and all those involved in the military service should feel very much part of the Church. Once baptized, they get vitally incorporated into Christ’s body, sharing the same dignity, calling and mission as everybody else, be he Pope or bishop or priest.

This truth, in fact, needs to be more widely and more vigorously echoed. There is a fundamental equality among all the faithful, even if there is a vast functional diversity.
The latter is supposed to work for the former. Our differences are meant to strengthen the unity and enrich the equality among ourselves. This is because our unity is not uniformity. And neither is our equality merely a mathematical one.

And so, the soldiers should feel the urge to become saints as everybody else also has to feel the same urge. It is their calling. It is what is meant for them. They need to go beyond the military part, and see that their profession springs from God’s will and meant to fulfill that will also.

Thus, the Church is full of soldier-saints. To mention a few, we can cite the following: St. Michael the Archangel, St. George, St. Martin of Tours, St. Louis IX, St. Joan of Arc, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and St. Sebastian.

St. Michael was the leader of God’s army during the uprising of Lucifer. Devotion to him is common to Muslims, Christians and Jews. He is considered the guardian and protector of the Church.

St. George fought and killed a monster dragon-serpent that was defeating armies and devouring sheep and even maidens. He converted many of the locals in what is now part of Libya.

St. Martin of Tours was a soldier before becoming a Christian and then a bishop. He is now the patron of soldiers. St. Louis IX led two crusades. St. Joan of Arc fought battles to restore the true king of France to his throne during her time.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, was a soldier who was sidelined because of his wounds and later decided to be a soldier for the Faith.

St. Sebastian was an officer of the Imperial Roman army and captain of the guard during the time of Diocletian who persecuted the Christians. He helped the Christians in prison, and converted many soldiers and a governor to Christianity.

Our soldiers today, we can be sure, are well accompanied by their own kind in heaven. Besides, Christian life involves a lot of soldiering. To be holy involves precisely the mentality and skills of soldiers. Thus, the Gospel and the whole Bible contain a lot of references to military terms, techniques and tactics.

We are told that our life is a warfare. We have enemies—inside us and outside us—with whom we do constant battle. We are supposed to be always watchful like sentinels on guard duty. We need to train ourselves like army readied for battle, etc.

In Christian spirituality, we are encouraged to wage a continuing ascetical struggle—an abiding battle against sin and temptations as well as the skill to handle our weaknesses properly.

More importantly, we are encouraged to grow and mature in the virtues, so that little by little we truly become the image and likeness of God, and also children of His as we ought to be.

In short, we are supposed to be all soldiers as well. We need to know how to use a certain forcefulness, since as we are told in the Gospel, “the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent bear it away.” (Mt 11,12)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Deriving good from evil

IT has happened a number of times before. Someone commits a mistake, yet it’s a mistake that carries a clear sign of goodwill. And so even if something wrong was committed, one can’t help but appreciate the good it contained.

Recently, a young student gave me an envelope that was supposed to have some amount. Though he meant it for me, I made sure to tell him I would give it to some common fund I share with some people.

But it was empty. I tried to tell the young donor about it, but I forgot and failed. Then days later, the boy texted me asking if the envelope indeed had some money. Apparently, the other envelope he gave to another priest held no money.

So I told him mine did not have either. That’s when he gave me so profuse an apology that I had to reassure him it was all right. I told him I was already deeply impressed by his generosity—at least in intention—for which I was very grateful. That pacified him and he promised to make up, which he did.

I remember that many years ago, when I was still in high school and was helping my father who was a lawyer in typing some papers, something similar occurred.

A client of his, someone who came from one of the towns and clearly with very modest means, suddenly was in need of a typing job. That’s when I offered to do it, meaning it to be gratis, on the house. At that time, I never thought of charging anyone for my services.

But when I was through, the man felt obliged to give me something. He hastily dipped his hands into his pocket and then gave me a “golden” handshake, a discreet way of passing money while shaking hands. I, of course, tried to refuse, but he insisted. Then he rushed out.

When I opened my hands, I saw, not money but a used bus ticket. The whole incident filled me with amusement, because I saw how good that man was, again at least in intention, in spite of his mistake.

Hours later, he came back asking if it was money he gave me. In my thoughtless youthfulness, I just wore my naughty grin, and showed him the bus ticket that must have heightened his embarrassment. He then frenziedly dug his pockets again and fished me a ten-peso bill, quite used and dirty.

Of course, at that time, it was already big money for me, but I was more gratified to see how his heart was much bigger than what he gave. The experience left me floating on the thought I was surrounded by good people.

These might just be simple cases of innocent mistakes that bore loads of goodness. I know there are more difficult situations, involving a degree of malice. But the skill of deriving good from evil is something we have to learn fast these days.

St. Paul says something relevant in his letter to the Ephesians: “See how you walk circumspectly, not as unwise, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” (5,14)

I can’t agree more to that statement. In fact, I think that we already condition ourselves everyday that something wrong and evil can befall us, since the possibility is always there. And from there, to act accordingly.

Though St. Paul’s words are more a call to prudence, we need to develop the skill and virtue to draw good when evil is already done. This is what charity is all about.

For this, certain habits need to be developed. We need to be quick to detect the good intention, the generous effort employed, the many mitigating circumstances surrounding a failure or error.

We need to be quick to find excuses for the one in a blunder, to forgive and forget, and to find ways to correct lapses, solve problems and reconcile, avoiding wasting time lamenting and carping. We have to learn to be magnanimous.

We have to learn how to simmer down our spontaneous anger or a persistent sadness, bad humor, discouragement, cynicism. It would be good to know the finer points of patience, optimism and cheerfulness.

Such goodness should be the oxygen we breathe and the element we use to purify the air around us. We should never allow even a perfect storm of negative events to sink our spirit. In the end, it’s the spirit that can draw good from evil.

Tact, delicacy and good manners are always welcome, for they show a refinement and strength of spirit. Let’s rein in our emotions and with God’s grace rev to the max the goodness of our heart.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Truth and the journalist

THE pair should be like lovers, who never want to get separated. In fact, they should be like a married couple, with strong commitments to each other and whose love is renewed daily.

But their relationship is actually very dynamic, and these days many times tenuous, since it’s subject to all sorts of trials and pressures. Many factors and circumstances, some fleeting, others more constant, can tighten or loosen it.

And nowadays, with stiff competition among media outfits, there are tendencies, subtle but consistent, to distort that relationship and reduce it into something else.

Just like couples who allow their love to weaken, or who marry just for convenience, the relationship between truth and the journalist can also deteriorate and get stuck at a level mutually dangerous for both of them. Truth is not properly served and the journalist is unavoidably corrupted. The market gets a bad product.

Each newspaper and media outlet, I imagine, has its own idea of its market, and each one tries to capture and keep that market’s attention. That’s its niche, and the kind of thing it dishes out is its level of journalism.

Everyone has to feel the responsibility to make his journalism conform to the objective purpose of his profession, while adapting it the local or market conditions. He actually plays a crucial role in developing people, both personally and socially. He should have an abiding awareness of this duty.

It cannot be denied that the journalist has tremendous influence on the people. Forget the claim that he just reports, he only mirrors things, he is objective and neutral. No such thing.

He at least sets the tone, and packs great power to at least suggest. He serves people properly only when he realizes these factors and does something to avoid giving an unfair treatment of things. And this is a living concern, not a fixed one. It needs continuing check and balance.

He has to be wary of the temptation to fall into easy sensationalism, and hasty, inadequately verified declarations. He has to ably protect himself from the lures of commercialism, treating information more as a merchandise rather than a good to foster human dignity, that now seems to prevail in the media world.

Just look at some newspapers. They are fast becoming carriers of advertisements, rather than a spreader of news and a source of good and healthy public opinion.

If it’s not that, then they feast on controversies and intrigues to grab people’s attention, even if only for a moment. They can generate such air of suspicion and negativism that leaves society feeling choked and suffocated.

One time, someone who was into investigative journalism approached me and we talked at length. At one point he said that he hardly did much investigation in his work, since the materials to write on are secretly given to him and his companions by certain interest groups.

Of course, while that situation may not be wrong in itself, the reality of life tells us that it usually leads to many wrong consequences. When some groups seed issues to the press, the motives behind must be strictly checked. In fact, everything has to be scrutinized.

What is important is that the whole matter be placed in its wider and proper context—the common good and the many requirements the common good makes. The ethical aspect should be examined thoroughly. A lot of things are at stake, and the potential to cause big trouble is great.

And this task is not easy, since there are many competing interests, each with its share of validity, and they all need to be properly integrated. Often, the correct blend can be known only in hindsight. But if the journalist is humble enough, he will always make the necessary adjustments, the daily tweaking, and the regular “mea culpa.”

Truth may start with facts and data, but it certainly goes far beyond that stage and enters deep into the world of mysteries. It’s how the journalist navigates its range and scope, knowing where to focus, what to highlight at the moment, how to present it, etc., that determines the kind of journalist one is.

This gives him a wide room to maneuver to fit the endless possibilities of style and creativity as well as his desire to contribute to the common good.

Yes, truth and the journalist should be real lovers of each other.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Try prayer

THIS is a serious suggestion, given in earnest and not in irony.

Now that we are again stirred into some rage, thanks to the Bolante and de la Paz affairs, we have to come back to this basic, in fact, inalienable need of ours.

We need to pray, we need to appeal to God and to everyone in the deepest part of our hearts, because, as we can see, not all the reasoning, the arguing, the discussing of issues, no matter how brilliant and incisive, can yield us the fair solution to our problems, and the joy and peace that we all deserve simply by being human beings.

Reason without prayer, without being engaged in God, is the most cunning, treacherous, and slippery fugitive hard if not humanly impossible to apprehend. Worse, it generates more mischiefs.

This is what I see in the unfolding drama of the above-mentioned cases. There is full recourse to reason, with hardly any mention of prayer. Even some Church leaders are falling into the trap, a most devious trick sweetened by good intentions.

Man can be most clever, since after all we are supposed to be the image and likeness of God. The painful anomaly is that if that Godly image is not really grounded on God but on some ghost, then we can expect truly dangerous consequences.

In recent literature, this point is interestingly captured and dramatized in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Many other literary works have conveyed the same message, trying to elicit the appropriate lessons for all of us to learn. But we don’t seem to learn.

I find it amusing to see our senators and other people, including bishops, wring their hands in frustration, tear their hair in bitterness, as they see their best efforts to ferret out the truth also ably annulled by the antics, legal and otherwise, of their targets.

But what can you expect in a game that pits reason with reason alone, pairing it with some bullying and shaming tactics? Truth, which comes from God and from how we seriously take him, can only be buried, its requirements and timing ignored. Everyone wants the truth according to his own terms. It’s a perfect recipe for truth to hide.

In fact, I see some danger here, since if our leaders are already into hysterics, you can just imagine how the ordinary citizens would feel. What do we get by simply shrieking in denunciation, as in corruption is a social cancer and calling for change of government now? We just generate more idle pathos.

The only reason why no massive hysteria has so far been provoked is because the issues are now common, people are desensitized and feel the issues concern more the rich and power-hungry than us, the vast majority of the poor.

Let them have their games, we seem to say. Don’t bother us. We’re busy surviving. This attitude, of course, is not right and needs to be corrected. But with the daily problems at hand, what can we do?

What we need to do is to pray, to surrender our heart to God in supplication, reprising Christ’s own self-offering to his Father on the cross, because this is the best form of prayer proper to us, this is what corresponds to the ultimate reality about ourselves, this is the ultimate source of power for us to be converted.

Changes in our behavior and in society, in our business and politics, in every aspect of our life will always start and end in our soul that needs to be converted. And they can only happen when we allow the soul to tackle the issue at length not only with oneself but also, and most especially, with God.

This is done usually in prayer, and not so much in noisy rallies, Senate investigations and people power.

With prayer, we derive the power to cover and penetrate what no politics, social conditioning, intellectual and verbal bullying can reach. Not even by sanctimonious appeals by a renegade and break-away pack of Church leaders whose gospel now banks on columnists, so-called civil society leaders, think tanks, etc.

I hope the current political mess will highlight the importance of prayer and other spiritual and supernatural means in resolving our problems. They are not supposed to replace the human means. They are what give the latter their soul, and their link with God, with truth and justice.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tough times demand toughness

THERE’S no doubt we are in for some tough, correction, tougher, much tougher times. The papers, the internet all talk about it. Even though we already are at Christmas’ doorstep, the familiar feel and texture of Christmas are missing.

The government can only admit of some economic slowdown. But people and experts are talking about business contraction, recession, depression, etc. Whatever! Some tightening of belt and screws is urgently needed.

What I know is that in the technical school where I’m chaplain of, many partner companies for our students training on-the-job are downsizing and are suspending the taking in of our student-trainees.

Many students and their teachers have come to me asking for prayers. Good sign! Their faith and hope are still intact. The challenge is how to sustain and strengthen them.

I’ve heard stories of how investments of some local people to the tune, for example, of P10M have suddenly been reduced to P4M in value. Whoa! That’s quite a fall.

Some of my economist-friends are giving me different scenarios of this economic crisis, showing me how macroeconomic factors are likely to play out.

Frankly, I prefer not to know a lot. It’s one of my defense mechanisms against a choking feeling of helplessness. At my mind’s back, though, I pray this could just another cycle. A rebound is going to happen at some point along the way.

Meanwhile, many people are getting depressed. I think most especially of those who barely are surviving with what they have been earning so far. And now this! It’s truly heart-breaking when you start to picture them.

We have to go through these hard times by being tough ourselves. And we can use these times to raise a notch or two in our understanding of this virtue called toughness.

Tough times call for tough actions and for toughness itself. They test our mettle. They surface the kind of spirit we have, for in the end it’s the spirit, more than anything else, that holds the key.

Like a reagent, tough times detect the range and scope, the breadth and depth of our ultimate anchor beliefs. That’s the saving grace of these unwelcome times.

We have to understand that toughness is not just a matter of physical strength or intellectual superiority. Much less is it a question of wealth, power and fame.

Toughness has its roots, branches and fruits mainly in the spirit. And it’s where our spirit takes root, where it’s established and fixed that determines the quality and authenticity of our toughness, whether our toughness can really run the gauntlet.

If it’s just based on things human and natural, then we are in for great trouble. But if it’s founded on faith in God, then even the troubles become a source of strength.

St. Paul says so: “Strength is made perfect in weakness. Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the strength of Christ may dwell in me. Wherefore I am satisfied with persecutions, with distresses. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12,8-10)

We have to understand this reasoning of faith well. This is what truly corresponds to who and how we are. We are not just any creature, biological, social and intellectual. We are persons and children of God. We are mainly a spiritual being with a supernatural goal.

What is proper of us is to live in the life of God. That’s what our spiritual faculties—our intellect and will—are for. We just don’t depend on material nourishment. It’s in our living union with God, through grace and our will, where we develop our true life and derive our toughness.

Such toughness combines both hard and soft qualities, enabling us to be strong without being rigid, energetic without being violent. It lets us to be patient and hopeful without being inactive. On the contrary, it allows us to be creative and flexible, resourceful and enterprising.

Such toughness distances us from the clutches of excessive worries and self-pity. It empowers us to find joy and peace even in the midst of suffering. It teaches us how to suffer with a smile, and how to wait productively. It breeds and keeps our determination.

Our emerging tough times demand such toughness.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Befriending psychology

I WAS happy to learn that the Vatican has recently released a document, “On the use of psychology in the seminary.” It’s about time that something of this sort be officially recommended by Church authorities.

Of course, the immediate context of the document is the clerical sexual scandals that oppressed the Church in many parts of the world a few years ago and continue to haunt us today.

But it actually possesses a very objective importance, regardless of circumstances, and a universal coverage that should be highlighted, especially at these times.

In it, the crucial help that psychology as a science can give to seminarians and, I must say, to everybody else is traced. Insofar as seminarians are concerned, the document says that recourse to experts in the psychological sciences can:

“…allow a more sure evaluation of the candidate’s psychic state; it can help evaluate his human dispositions for responding to the divine call; and it can provide some extra assistance for the candidate’s human growth.”

So you see, psychology is not only for handling mental problems and illnesses, already a tremendous task. It also contributes to human growth, which should always be stimulated by every legitimate means available!

By now, everyone should be convinced that our life always has a psychological dimension. Every virtue or vice has psychological effects and triggers some psychological dynamics. We should try our best to know them.

We don’t talk about it only when there are problems. We always have to take it into consideration in all our dealings with people. That at least would denote a growth in our sensitivity to others.

Thus, in the seminary some psychological profiling has to be done of every candidate to the priesthood, noting each one’s strengths and weaknesses in this aspect, his good and bad potentials, etc. And a close monitoring of this portrait, given its dynamic nature, should be made.

I frankly believe that not only the use of psychology should be promoted but also some serious effort be made to mainstream the skill and expertise on the part of seminary formators and others similarly situated in this vital field of knowledge.

We have to drastically rehabilitate the image of psychology in the minds not only of the Church officials but also of everybody else. We cannot deny that psychology is still treated like a leper in the community or the house fool everyone tries to hide. We have to get out of that antiquated mindset.

At the rate we are developing with all the complicating and insanity-tending elements around, there’s no way but for psychology to be duly acknowledged, its need appreciated and its use spread far and wide.

Again, insofar as its use is relevant to seminary formation, the document lists down several factors that undermine the psychological health of seminarians and those asking admission.

“Those who today ask admittance to the seminary,” it says, “reflect, in a more or less accentuated way, the unease of an emerging mentality characterized by consumerism, instability in family and social relationships, moral relativism, erroneous visions of sexuality….”

Just a few months ago, I noted that Pope Benedict said something that today’s youth are a “fragile generation,” and I could not agree with him more. My everyday experience and contact with people more than abundantly validate this observation.

There are many people with clearly psychological wounds, some very deep and grave, springing even from their own family environment, not to mention, the usual problem areas: pressures from work, social relations, politics, business, showbiz, etc.

I am no psychologist but that does not prevent me from recognizing obvious irregularities in the mental, affective and sexual aspects of many people. These concerns have to be given more effective attention.

Of course, the use of psychology should not replace the spiritual and supernatural means that are always indispensable in the formation of seminarians as well as of everybody else.

It should be the constant accompaniment of these spiritual means, a tool to express and fathom the spiritual developments, since these always have some psychological manifestations. Naturally, it should also be an instrument to enhance the seminarians’ personalities and temperaments.

Thus, a sound psychology should be learned, since there are many schools of thought in this regard, and not all are good.

Friday, November 7, 2008

History cycles and providence

OK, times have shifted. The American landscape has changed, and that of the world, including ours, obviously will be affected. We’re into some exciting period of liberalism, we are told.

That seems to be the unstoppable trend especially in Europe and the so-called developed countries now. They’re into same-sex unions, assisted suicide, assisted drug use, other than the usual agenda of abortion and contraception.

In our country, we are still largely virginal, since these practices are still euphemistically branded as reproductive health. We need some more years of moral deterioration and warped reasoning before we start to openly embrace these practices.

Now it’s the turn for the social and political conservatives to rest and hibernate. For how long, we don’t know. I suppose they tried their best, but human shortcomings and other adverse factors cannot be avoided. Out of the public stage, they need to return to the straight and narrow, and retool themselves—and wait for better times.

There are those who characterize the conservative period as a total disaster, a certified failure. I prefer not to enter into the debate. While I cannot deny the bad spots, there still were instances of solid accomplishments especially in areas which I consider most important.

But life has to go on. I don’t care much if what’s coming is good or bad. Good and bad times depend on what we make out of things. I prefer to look at it as another history cycle that reflects how people, at least the American majority now, feel and think. Don’t ask me if the pulse shows health or sickness. We all are a work in progress, easily affected by all sorts of conditions. We just have to move on.

This history-cycle theory is more like the old Greco-Roman attitude toward history. It’s not completely right, nor is it completely wrong. We just take advantage of what in it can be helpful. We have to learn how to go with the tide without losing one’s sense of direction.

In the forthcoming liberal times, there still are wide spaces of hope that can be useful. We just have to be quick to take advantage of them. No matter how sharp the differences among ourselves are, we share many unavoidably common values. For example, there’s earnest desire to improve economic life and social justice, liberal style. Now, that is not a bad idea.

Of course, this is no declaration that we be passive in this flow of alternating cycles. On the contrary. We ought to take a most active part, since while there is some kind of oscillating law in history, there is also a need to energetically shape it according to one’s guiding ideology or faith. This is just how we are.

The Christian attitude to history always includes a spiritual and supernatural principle often missed out by man-made philosophies. God intervenes in human history, and actively and directly at that, though in very mysterious ways. He is the lord of history. We are his stewards who have to learn to concur and cooperate with God’s actions.

It’s for this reason that anyone who is guided by this Christian view is both confident and tense, because he knows everything is under God’s control while also requiring full human responsibility. Things depend completely on God, and also completely on us. It’s a 100-100 proposition, not 50-50, or 70-30. Of course, this would break our mathematical frame of mind. But that’s how things are.

Christianity considers history not as the product of blind forces nor of chance. It is a manifestation of divine providence and human freedom. Christians are expected to be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.” Ideally, there has to be concurrence between the divine and the human. But that will require us to live by faith, a truly demanding task.

The shape of history is made in the hearts of men, and not so much in politics. And in the Christian view, it is the saints, the holy men and women down the ages that figure prominently in shaping the course of history. While important and indispensable, politics can only reflect what’s inside people’s hearts. Its perfection cannot be achieved here. We have to wait for heaven for that.

In the meantime, let’s go on with our show here on earth, doing our best to concur freely with God’s providence.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Calibrate by charity

SOMETIME ago, a friend of mine, a layman who was an economist, told me that once he gave a basic Christian doctrine talk to a problematic 18-year-old son of a friend of his who just came in from the States.

In the middle of the talk, to my friend’s utter surprise, the boy just stood up and complained that he could not bear what he was hearing. When asked why, the boy simply said that he felt the talk just dealt him a severe blow, like being knocked out.

“But I just said very simple, basic Christian doctrine, Father,” my friend told me in disbelief. “I then realized I had to calibrate my talk further. I knew more or less where my that boy came from, and his was a hard case, but still I must have miscalculated…”

Sad to say, this phenomenon is getting rampant nowadays. The Good News of Christ, his humanizing and liberating teaching has become, in the complicated context of our times, a source of pain and agony to some people.

Of course, we know that the truth often hurts. But we should try our best not to mortify others. Christian mortification is self-pursued, done willingly. It’s not deliberately inflicted on others, though we can neither help but mortify one another.

There appears to be a reversal of things. What were wrong before are now considered right. What were good before now are seen as bad. Nowadays, you can hear some people accusing Christianity of being cruel and tyrannical.

Thus, chastity is now felt as inhuman and unnatural. And self-abuse, premarital sex, promiscuity are presumed to be normal and an integral part of life. In fact, many are questioning why bother about marriage at all.

The friend of mine felt he still had to bend over backward to effectively grapple with the needs of that young boy.

This is not to mention the drama and conflict surrounding the notorious Reproductive Health Bill, all played out in the media for everyone to see and hear. It clearly shows how truths of faith have become polarizing and divisive, not anymore unitive as they are meant to be.

This is the challenge we, especially the priests, are facing these days. It is how to balance clarity with charity, forcefulness with compassion, in an environment, why not say it, that seems to be sick. The truth really is not truth when charity does not go with it, when it fails to create and strengthen unity.

Remember the kindness, patience and mercy of our Lord: “The bruised reed he shall not break. The smoking flax he shall not extinguish.” (Mt 12,20) And, “Learn from me, because I am meek and humble of heart…For my yoke is sweet and my burden light.” (Mt 11,29-30)

And then again, we have St. Paul also saying: “To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak…I do all things for the gospel’s sake.” (1 Cor 9,22-23)

Of course, we know that all the charity and mercy of Our Lord did not exempt him from being misunderstood. In fact, he was, as prophesized, “a sign which shall be contradicted.”

This is what charity does. It is able to integrate a lot more elements than what our best intelligence and human cleverness can capture and tally. This can mean going all the way to dying for others, just like our Lord on the Cross when he said: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Lk 23,34)

We have to be wary with our exuberance of our sense of strength and superiority over others, be it because of our high IQ, more talents, better physical endowment, etc. We have to be extremely careful of our automatic sense of righteousness. This has to be constantly checked, purified and properly grounded.

Our attitude should be what St. Paul enunciated: “We that are stronger ought to bear the infirmities of the weak…” (Rom 15,1) And, “In humility, let each esteem others better than himself.” (Phil 2,3) After all, the strong can bear the weak, but weak can not bear the strong.

To tweak our efforts to the finer requirements of charity involves learning the skills to pray, weigh, listen, talk at the proper time, or just keep quiet otherwise, be good-mannered always, learn to be patient, double up on sacrifices, etc. Avoid arguments, but flood the environment with good doctrine.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Exposing a placebo freedom

FREEDOM of choice is a favorite catchword of those who are for abortion and other moral distortions that make up what’s now known as the “culture of death,” a phrase coined by the late Pope John Paul II. This concept is behind the notorious Reproductive Health Bill now pending in our Congress.

This freedom of choice was the battle cry, the sledgehammer used to ram open the door and walls of the Christian moral order that prevailed sometime ago in many countries. It was a very popular banzai that managed to seduce a good following, for it captured the secret yearnings of those whose concept of freedom is actually licentiousness.

Thanks to this principle, the Christian tone is vanishing in many parts of the world. What used to be crimes are now redefined as rights of a person. It’s now ok not only to abort, but also to engage in pornography, homosexual acts, or to do euthanasia, etc.

Growing in number, the pro-choice people now proudly declare themselves liberated from religion. To them, religious faith is a myth that has finally been dislodged from the world. They are claiming that another era of Enlightenment, courtesy of pure reason and the people’s sense of practicality, is now the mainstream.

They claim they are thoroughly post-Christian, that is, they are past Christianity. Sorry, but I have another reading, and that is that they have become post-human. More than abandoning Christianity, they are actually abandoning humanity. Our sense of humanity is currently in the ICU, in comatose waiting for drastic resuscitation.

They don’t admit this, of course. But it is not only because of faith that such reading can be made. If examined philosophically, it can be shown that this freedom of choice as understood by the pro-choice people is a grave anomaly and an outright attack on humanity.

In their frame of mind, freedom is stuck with the aspect of choice alone. It does not pay attention to any objective bases or criteria by which the choice is made. It’s a freedom that is subjective, depending solely on the whims and preferences of the individual. It floats on the air or drifts in the ocean, without any clear object to engage with or a defined destination to head to. It starts and ends with the individual.

Pope Benedict XVI hit it bull’s eye when he recently said that some people conceive freedom as an “untouchable right of the individual” while the “importance of its divine origins and communitarian dimension” are ignored.

“According to this interpretation,” he said, “an individual alone can decide and choose the physiognomy, characteristics and finality of life, death and marriage.” He insisted that “true liberty is founded and developed ultimately in God. It is a gift that is possible to welcome as a seed and to make it mature responsibly so as to truly enrich the person and society.”

He clarified that our freedom is by definition built on an objective “universal natural moral law that precedes and unites all our rights and duties.” It’s never just a purely subjective affair of individuals.

Related to this disreputable type of freedom of choice is the abused and exaggerated version of what is originally an objective right to privacy. Again the pro-choice people understand this right to privacy as a blanket license for any person to do whatever he wants. The only restriction is that he does not make a public mess.

These two dangerous moral principles are the main ingredient in the very dangerous bill to be discussed shortly in the US Congress. This is the Freedom of Choice Act or FOCA, which seeks to go beyond simply codifying the case that led to the legalization of abortion, the Roe vs. Wade case. It seeks to dismantle whatever restrictions and regulations many states in the US have validly made with respect to abortion.

FOCA therefore represents the peak of the malice of an ungrounded freedom of choice and an unhinged right to privacy. It is the sum and substance of all the harm these questionable moral principles can cause.

The Reproductive Health Bill in our Congress is patterned after the FOCA, though still in its initial stage. But it clearly shares the same philosophy. It uses the same rotten moral principles.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Training in austerity

IT’S a virtue that all of us should cultivate. Mind you, it’s not against progress or creativity. It’s neither anti-freedom nor anti-development. In fact, it’s a requirement for all these values and goals to be achieved.

We have to disabuse ourselves from thinking badly or negatively of this virtue. Austerity is not supposed to be a drag or an impediment in our life. Quite the contrary. It’s what enables us to fly high, to free ourselves from undue limitations and confinements.

This is because austerity, with all its properties of simplicity, humility, sincerity, modesty, meekness, etc., clears our hearts of inappropriate attachments to junky things. It sobers us in situations where we are prone to get intoxicated by new things and the like.

It helps us to keep our senses, to hold our ground and continue to be the master of our life and judgments, when things extraordinary, exciting or controversial assault us.

Austerity helps us to observe the distinction as well as the connection between our being and having, what we are and what we possess, and always gives priority to the former over the latter.

Austerity keeps us sane and realistic. It checks on our emotions, passions and urges, especially when they tend to go overboard. And these days, that’s what usually happens—we are constantly titillated if not directly tempted to do crazy things.

It contributes greatly to the purity and vitality of our heart, making our humanity breathe more freely, as it were, protecting it from the lures of artificiality and deception. It makes us transparent.

We, of course, have to rescue it from the clutches of the rigid and stubborn kind traditionalism or the heartless type of conservatism, because that’s where many people stereotype and freeze it, practically distorting and killing it.

Authentic austerity is flexible. It knows how to combine the old and the new, how to conform and how to innovate, how to flow with the times without getting lost. Its guiding principle is love of God and love of neighbor. It’s not beholden to any consideration of the purely earthly kind.

With the heady and dizzy pace of our development, austerity is what we urgently need these days. In fact, the problems and crises that we are facing now—think of the US financial meltdown—may be traced to the absence of austerity in our life.

Many of us have lost the taste for simple living. We are held captive by the mindless grind of commercialism and consumerism. Many are confused and left helpless not only before outside temptations, but also against the wanton ways of our internal selves.

Austerity puts our heart in the right place, enabling it to recognize the right priority of things, and to focus more on the spiritual values than on the material ones that also need to be given due attention.

That is to say, austerity allows us to detect what truly are the essential things in life. It immediately warns us of the tricks and chicanery of the gimmicks employed in the media to catch our attention.

The training in austerity will involve many things. The most delicate part of this task, as Pope Benedict XVI once said, is to find the proper balance between freedom and discipline.

“Without clear rules in behavior and in life, applied everyday even in the small things,” he said, “one’s character is not formed, and one is left unprepared to face the trials that will not fail to come in the future.”

It’s up to us to come up with these clear, concrete rules to guide us in our relation with things in general. We have to examine our conscience. We have to consult our elders. We have to adapt the attitude of helping one another live this virtue well.

What can immediately come to mind are to be sparing in the use of money, to be discriminating in responding to our likes and desires, to learn how to volunteer acts of service to others, to foster spirit of hard work and fortitude.

And then to be very generous in responding to the needs of others, especially to the poorest of the poor, up to the point of heroic sacrifice on our part.

By teaching us how to truly love, austerity will humanize and Christianize us!