Thursday, January 29, 2009

Spirituality for our troubled times

IN the face of a crescendoing barrage of negative and depressing news, especially in the economic sphere, we need to be above water by cultivating a spirituality that can meet the demands and take on all the troubles of our times.

Global financial meltdown, mass lay-offs, rising suicides and criminality, etc.—these should spur us to action rather than grind us to a halt.

Let’s take advantage of the current favorable dispositions of many people who are forced to seek solace in some spiritual exercises due to our problems. It should be a spirituality that offers not refuge only, but also a positive, active and effective attitude toward the present difficulties.

Going beyond but never neglecting our praying, offering sacrifices, frequenting the sacraments, we need to attune our most fervent appeals to God with the objective requirements of the challenges these days.

Today’s holiness should possess the distinctive character of our times. It should offer us a way to tackle the problems effectively, rather than to flee from them.

We need to go beyond pious generics and try to come to grips with the specifics. We need to go past holy platitudes and get down to operationalizing the true demands of sanctity in our work places. We need to outrange a purely personal mentality to adapt a more social spirituality.

I think these are the goals to pursue today insofar as our spirituality is concerned. Repeat, it’s not to do away with the basic and traditional means, but rather to let them go some notches higher, deeper and wider.

It should be a radical spirituality as our times demand. It should be at home with the things of God and with the things of this world. It should know how to blend the spiritual and material together, the sacred and the mundane, as well. A truly demanding spirituality, not comme ci comme ça.

In fact, it greatly helps that one already observes a working program of acts of piety, like mental prayer, Holy Mass and Communion, spiritual reading, examination of conscience, rosary, etc.

I’d say that those with this stable program are lucky, since they already have a structure to work on. They’re not lost at sea, not knowing where exactly they’re heading. What’s needed now is how to make these pious acts grapple with the actual problems we now have.

While these acts of piety have a dimension that goes beyond our temporal concerns, I don’t think they are meant to ignore these affairs either. I believe they are meant to leaven these matters with the Christian spirit and message, which always has something to say about our present conditions.

This is often the hard part of this spirituality. It is how to recognize the will and designs of God in the maze of events, made trickier because of the human elements involved.

These acts of piety should make us more aware of the situation around us, more eager to look for solutions, more adept in establishing tighter bonds of solidarity among ourselves.

They should help us to assume a positive outlook toward the present challenges, fuelling our enterprising instincts, and giving teeth to the fact that as social beings, we are supposed to be responsible for one another.

We have to stay away from spirituality caricatures, common in the past and even up to now, that restrict our prayers and asceticism to dimensions purely personal and spiritual. These are anomalies considering that our nature is also material with strong social character.

Thus, we need to be more aware that any spirituality by definition also involves the duty to do apostolate. Sanctity without apostolate is false sanctity, just as apostolate without sanctity is also fake.

This is terribly required these days. People seem to pursue even the loftiest goal of holiness without giving due regard to the duty to do apostolate with those around them. This has to be corrected. We need to remove the blinders that make people self-absorbed.

We need to help one another not only in tackling the present crisis, already a tough job, but also in attaining true sanctity, the ultimate goal and the only thing absolutely necessary in life.

Let’s pray that while everyone has to develop this kind of spirituality, our leaders—Church, civil, political, economic, etc.—precisely take the lead, and refrain from unnecessary politicking and intrigue-sowing.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Media savvy

THANKS to the wonders of the Internet, we now have easy access to many things, among them, newspapers and magazines. We don’t have to subscribe to local and foreign papers to be able to read them.

At the moment, for example, I’m very happy to get almost daily dosage of news, opinion columns, articles on arts, business, sports, etc. from Google News, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, The Economist, CNN, Fox News, Drudge Report, and an endless etcetera, not to mention the local ones.

With this exposure, I’m certain we are also forming many views and opinions, and we slowly discern the various underpinnings, political, ideological, religious, and otherwise, that the media outfits have.

I personally find it very interesting to compare opinions, styles, approaches, and see how they play out. There’s thrill always in observing the flashes of genius as different writers argue and often clash.

Also I want to fish, even if only tentatively, the different trends and biases the different papers can have. These considerations always shed some light that makes things more understandable.

Almost automatically, several categories emerge in the mind as I instinctively try to sort out, classify, brand and label the different positions. Among these categories are the conservative/liberal, right/left, open-minded/close-minded, serious/commercialized.

I know there can be many other categories, in fact, endless ones, as we go along and discover further nuances in the growing array of pieces of media information. This only proves that we are involved in a very dynamic world where seemingly infinite events take place.

But there’s one aspect that seems to be neglected. The effort to find spiritual and religious significance to secular events appears to be absent. This aspect is still a virgin forest, waiting to be explored. This can be a fruitful niche for some enterprising writers with the proper attitude and skills.

Not that there had been no attempts in this direction. There had been. But so far, they can be characterized as either too shallow and abstract, a bit distant and off-the-mark, or too politicized, partisan and downright wildly ballistic.

The latter kind is particularly jarring, as they can bristle with a righteousness that’s more self-generated than inspired by God and the common good. Along the way, we can notice traces of narrow-mindedness, exaggerated attachment to ancient views and all sorts of one-sidedness.

In the end, they at best only preach to the choir. They fail to catch the attention of a sober audience. Worse, they alienate many people. Truly sad!

For sure, it is not an easy thing to do, but I believe that if we have to be consistent to our Christian faith, then there must be some relation between these events and our religion. We have to be wary of just allowing the discussion of issues to flow in strictly human and natural terms.

This effort to link and connect is, I believe, a worthwhile enterprise and one that is crying to be made, if only to correct an anomaly that temporal events have no spiritual or supernatural dimension at all. I think the time is ripe to highlight this angle.

This should not mean that the events can only have one meaning or interpretation. Christian spirit does not allow a monolithic view of things. There can be many, and they can even be conflicting, but at least, they should have some spiritual or religious character. This is what is lacking in the present trend.

Some training in this area is, of course, necessary. And I believe we already have enough materials to support writers and thinkers who can contribute in this direction. The Church already has the Compendium of Social Doctrine and a constellation of literature that can truly be of help.

Besides, there are now schools that try to blend theology with the secular sciences and our temporal affairs. This is also another good development. Ecclesiastical sciences are trying to pace with world developments.

Obviously prudence and discernment should be strictly practiced. But this requirement should not be taken to mean that we hardly move or always keep a distant attitude to events. The spiritual and supernatural character of religion should, in fact, take a leading role in them.

This, I believe, is what constitutes a true media savvy which everyone should aspire. It may need a large war chest to attain this goal, but I think it’s all worthwhile.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Our psychosomatic unity

I THINK that from time to time, we need to jolt ourselves to get acquainted with certain concepts that actually are basic and very important to us, especially in our times of rapid changes and extreme pressures.

In our general culture and knowledge, we cannot remain in the level of the previous generations. Many things have changed. Many things also have been discovered. Objective knowledge has expanded exponentially. Don’t you think our subjective knowledge should keep in step with it?
We cannot remain indifferent to these developments, although it’s also true that we have to be more discerning and selective. The chances of our getting drowned and lost in the welter of info these days are increasing. We need to be discriminating.

And I don’t mean just the technical data. There also are quantum leaps of newly unearthed things in the world of the speculative sciences like philosophy, theology, and in other sciences that previously were considered kind of restricted areas that are meant only for some experts and specialists.

Well, these days, these specialized fields are getting to be more and more of common interest. While it’s true that the focus of specialization has tightened, the range and scope of general culture also has widened and deepened.

We seem to have waken up to the realization that these two aspects of knowledge, the specialized and the general, are meant to complement more than conflict with each other. And I think that’s a very welcome development.

And so I was happy to recently get into the field of Christian anthropology, or the study of man using scientific data but inspired by Christian faith. This was because I had to give a class to our school staff who are given continuous formation to be effective tutors of our students.

The ambitious goal of our technical school is to have a universal coverage of tutors for all the students. And so there I was, making a foray into the allied field of psychology, which I, as a priest, previously regarded as taboo. But truth to tell, I enjoyed and got tremendously enlightened while studying it.

For example, I was truly fascinated when I studied the part on what was termed as our psychosomatic unity. I used to associate that p-word with self-induced illness.

Now I realize it is a natural aspect of our life that, in fact, plays a crucial role. I believe it should be learned thoroughly especially by teachers and counselors.

As an amateur trying to understand that concept, I learned that since we are made up of body and soul, something material and something spiritual, it would be necessary to know how the contact and relationship between these two constituent components take place and work.

This, in a nutshell, is what our psychosomatic unity is all about. It’s a very interesting study that can give light to why we behave and react to things in a certain manner, or why we have a definite character and temperament. It can tell us what is healthy and not, what is ideal and is not quite so.

The soul is supposed to be the essence of our life. It gives us our nature. It integrates all the parts and levels of life, and determines how we act.

But while the soul is spiritual and oriented toward the universal and the infinite, it is united to the body, like the form cannot be separated from the substance. And the body individuates the soul, because of its materiality.

It should be very interesting to catalogue and classify the possible combinations, in general terms, of the ways the spiritual is individuated by the material. Actually, there are more interesting, even endless things that can be discovered.

This study on our psychosomatic unity surely makes us understand ourselves better, and helps us to know what to do to grow and improve our life in all its aspects. It can be a wonderful tool to help those with special problems. And these days, cases with special problems are proliferating.
I feel this is one important reason why the Vatican, for example, has recently issued a document on the use of psychology in the formation and selection of seminarians and priests.

As a priest who gives spiritual direction to students, I consider this knowledge indispensable. May we all develop an earnest interest in pursuing this knowledge!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Beyond rationality, into mystery

RATIONALITY, of course, is what defines us. It is what makes us human, because it enables us to reason out, think, reflect, plan, communicate, etc. Together with it, we have the will that enables us to choose, love and be responsible for our actions. We are truly free and not completely subject to physical and material laws.

We always have to use our rationality to be able to act human. It enables us to know the essences of things, to judge, to distinguish the causes and effects, etc. We should try to avoid falling to irrationality, never allowing ourselves to be dominated simply by instincts and emotions. But rationality has its limitations.

If we are to follow the Christian doctrine about who and what we are, then we realize that our humanity has a spiritual character and is oriented toward a supernatural goal, nothing less than to enter into communion with God and with everyone else.

Such view of what we are puts us to get in touch with a deeper and richer reality that can be accessed by our intelligence but cannot be fully comprehended by it. This is the supernatural reality which our will and reason can enter but cannot fully grasp.

This is where we have to allow the language of grace to speak through our heart, a language that goes beyond rationality and even of what we call factuality, to which we naturally tend. We have to train ourselves in this activity. We need to overcome our clumsiness and, perhaps, our lack of belief in this reality.

We have to understand that the range and reach of our intelligence and will is infinite, with the latter playing an active part, and the former the passive part. These human powers need to swim not in just an empty space of infinity, but in the infinite mystery of God, the creator of everything.

These human spiritual faculties are like containers that can endlessly contain anything that we want to put into them. Our problem is when we decide to say enough, by just remaining at the level of rationality and factuality, of our materiality, and closing themselves to the infinite possibilities of the mysteries of God.

We have to prime our will to continuously plumb into the mystery of God, and to prompt our intelligence to learn and get as much as possible of the things that the consideration of God and others will show us.

In this regard, Pope Benedict XVI has the following to say when interviewed some time ago when he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. I think it’s worthwhile to go through the text, drawing from it some precious lessons.

He was asked: “Can we say it is necessary to broaden one’s mind to come to know God better?”
His reply was quite direct and elaborate. “Even a simple person can know God quite well,” he reassured his interviewer. In short, one need not be very knowledgeable about worldly things to know God.

It’s more of the heart. If it earnestly seeks God and wants to be united with God, then worldly knowledge would not be that important and that relevant. Except that, God also wants us to get immersed in the things of the world. That’s why we also need to know worldly things.

He continued: “You can drown understanding in facts. Anyone who fails to perceive the mystery at work within the facts of nature or of history is just stuffing his head and his heart with a lot of things that may even make him incapable of any breadth or depth of perception.”

This is what we have to be most careful about. Worldly knowledge, especially when it becomes exciting and absorbing, can lead us away from God instead of leading us to him, can weaken instead of reinforcing our natural tendency toward God.

This is what is commonly taking place these days. Many people are “just stuffing” themselves with data but are impoverishing their desire for God. They get stuck with rationality, but fails to enter into the world of mysteries.

Not that we have to behave in a strange way to get into this world of mysteries. We always use our rationality, even our senses and emotions, but be we have to go beyond them, to enter into the spiritual and supernatural world of God. This is always possible because of the powers of our will and heart.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Sense of beginning

WE need to develop a strong and correct sense of beginning. At the moment, many of us seem oblivious to this need. We appear to live only for the present. The past and the future are merely given a lick and a promise, that is, a shallow and fleeting consideration.

It could be because contemporary conditions often lead us to act only for the moment. The problems and pressures of modern life badger us to mind only what is at hand at present. They tend to erode our sense of time. They seem to keep us narrow-minded, short-sighted and Pavlovian in our reactions.

It's one of the urgent challenges nowadays to develop this abiding sense of beginning. It's what gives us a greater perspective and depth in life, a guide to help us assess things properly as we go on and encounter all sorts of situations.

In fact, I would say that this sense of beginning should be a crucial element in everyone's character. All of us should have a permanent, abiding sense of where we came from, for that would tell us who and what we are, what our proper end is, how we ought to behave.

In short, it's important that we always have an accompanying sense of the ideal goals we need to pursue. We just can't have an anything-goes, free-for-all attitude in life. Peculiar to our human condition is the effort to conform our life to an ideal, no matter how puzzling and difficult to get that ideal may be.

We are not just what we are at the moment, as-is-where-is. While there is something permanent in us, we also have something dynamic that needs to be always worked out, defended, renewed, etc. The sense of beginning imbues our life with meaning and direction.

For Christian believers, this sense of beginning is anchored on our faith that we come from God and we also belong to him. We spring from God's most loving and merciful will that is eternal. It's paramount that we are always aware of God's will.

No matter how mysterious it is and how tricky it is to follow, it is worthwhile to exert the effort to know and follow God's will. That's because it would be much funnier, if not absurd to think that we just came to exist spontaneously on our own, without any cause, or to behave in any way we want.

It's also important that we understand well the very basic lessons we can derive at our beginning, that is, at our creation through our first parents, Adam and Eve.

In their state of original justice, that is, before their fall, they enjoyed many things--they were in a state of sanctifying grace, they enjoyed what are known as the preternatural gifts of integrity, exemption from tiredness, immortality, etc.

This state is actually meant for all of us. But we lost it because of sin, our first parents' and ours, but we are given a way to recover it or even something better than it. This is through Jesus' work of redemption.

God already gave them some knowledge of good and evil by telling them what they can do and eat in the garden of Eden. The only prohibition was to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Why? Because that tree signifies the pursuit of knowledge of good and evil independently of God. With it, we ultimately make ourselves, not God, as the author of what is good and evil. This is a sure formula to separate us from God.

This truth of faith is important because it shows us what the basic attitude we should have in the exercise of our most fundamental power: to know and to choose and to love.

It's the attitude of always depending on God's will, and never to set on our own alone, depending on our own will and estimation of things. We need to be humble and to have faith and trust in God in everything, even as we use the full potentials of our intelligence and freedom.

The neglect of this fundamental truth about ourselves in our relationship with God is at the center of all the troubles we have in this world. Because of that neglect, sin came in and its consequences cannot be avoided.

That's why we need to have an abiding sense of beginning, one that is clear and attuned to this fundamental truth of our Christian faith.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Theology and the current issues

IT was gratifying for me to note that in a number of articles in newspapers and magazines recently, the role and relevance of theology in understanding current issues is increasingly felt.

For example, there was a review of a book entitled, “Blind spot: when journalists don’t get religion,” a collection of essays about news stories with prominent religious components which were not given due treatment by the reporters.

I just hope the awareness of such “blind spot” will trigger a systematic effort on the part of journalists to study theology more seriously. In fact, the duty to study theology is incumbent on all of us, since we cannot avoid theologizing.

We need to at least explain, if not transmit, beliefs to others. For Christians, we need to give reason for our faith, hope and boundless charity. And this is what theology does.

Besides, at present when we feel the growing need for dialogue among different cultures and religions, we realize we should have some working knowledge of theology to discuss things with depth in the world of public opinion.

In fact, we should try to stay away from the stage of being a mere amateur or dilettante in dealing with questions and problems nowadays. The issues in the world theater now demand a deeper and wider approach. We have to graduate from the song-and-dance routine. And theology can bring things to another level.

Yes, it’s true that while there are forces that tend to make the world more secularized, freed from elements of God and religion, there are also influences that tend to reinforce people’s faith and beliefs. In either case, theology is needed for us to get a good understanding of these developments.

I personally feel happy that this growing public interest in theology is taking place. For long, we have been neglecting this. The new development only shows how the world of faith and religion, one way or another, sooner or later, has influence even on our mundane and temporal affairs.

I believe that theology plays a very important role in understanding and resolving our current issues, even those that seem to have strictly natural dimensions. Our faith has something to say about them, if not directly, then indirectly. It just cannot be ignored.

But for all that, we need to know the true nature and purpose of theology. For sure, theology is not a social science that mainly if not purely takes on social developments. It’s not as much about us as it is about God. It’s not essentially a natural science since it deals with supernatural truths and mysteries of faith.

Understanding theology that way would contradict and undermine theology itself. It will give out doctrines detached from their proper moorings. Morality will turn to moralism. Dogmas to dogmatism. Religion can spawn bigotry and fanaticism. Theology ends up rootless and headless.

Theology has to be animated by a living contact with God. It just cannot be an exercise of reason alone wanting to understand religious phenomena, or to explain certain spiritual experiences. It has to develop in the milieu of prayer and personal relation with God. In theology, reason has to flow with faith.

Of course, theology can engage and should embrace all human concerns. But this should be done in the context of their relation to God. In short, God has to be the beginning, end and center of theology.

Though we may not be able to clearly establish the connection, or worse, that we can come out with a wrong nexus, the effort to link things with God should be an abiding interest. We cannot remain in the purely temporal and natural where human affairs are involved.

My prayer is that we develop an unceasing sense of relating everything to God. This attitude should not be seen as a big deal, as something extraordinary. It should be natural to us. We have to overcome the prejudices and clumsiness involved in this concern.

A relevant point is what Pope Benedict told some theologians recently. “The first priority of theology is to speak of God, to think of God,” he said. “It speaks of God because God himself speaks with us.”

Let’s hope we can find a way to translate this ideal into reality.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Let people's devotions be

WHEN some of my troubled friends, especially those abroad, tell me their faith is weakening because of problems, I usually tell them to come visit Cebu in January for the feast of the Sto. Niño and participate in the Sinulog.

Through the years, I have formed the conviction that seeing the devotees throw themselves in heart-felt devotion to Señor Sto. Niño would be enough to get a strong stimulant for one’s faith, no matter how sagging that faith may be.

Regardless of the impurities that surround the celebration, it cannot be denied that the germ of faith is active there. It’s faith in the raw, unedited and unexpurgated, that spontaneously expresses itself in mass piety.

Yes, there had been claims that the celebration has been marred with commercialism, superstition, irrationalities, or that it's just staged and all contrived. But to me, these ought to be expected. Even a good seed sown in good ground cannot avoid weeds when it starts to sprout.

Thus, these gatecrashers can only mean the faith celebrated here is real. Nothing is perfect in this life. Good and authentic things attract bad and fake things. This has been the law of our life ever since we fell into sin.

Rather the perfection resides in one’s heart, when it tries to understand and cope with the abject reality of things the way our Lord understood, coped and loved everyone in his earthly life and even up to now.

It’s a matter of discerning and reconciling, forgiving, drowning evil with an abundance of good. Perfection is in charity, expressed and lived in all aspects of our life.

I would say, let these expressions of popular devotion be. We can try to regulate the peripherals of the celebration, making them more theologically sound, socially attuned, respectful of the demands of peace and order, etc. But there’s nothing we can do to regulate the core of such devotion.

The heart of this expression of popular piety, irrespective of its human and natural limitations, is a mysterious and supernatural event. We cannot fully define it. We can only describe it, but that’s going to be an endless process.

It’s a heart that is vitally in contact with God, ever breaking new frontiers, ever emitting fresh insights and experiences. Relevant to this point, Pope Benedict once said:

“The adventure of Christian faith is ever new, and it is when we admit that God is capable of this that its immeasurable openness is unlocked for us.”

This is what happens in the celebration of the feast of the Sto. Niño in Cebu!

How can you explain a massive turnout of people, in the most diverse conditions, sinners all with earnest desires to be holy, all of a sudden turn “religious” and pious in an organic way, drawn in trance-like fashion to an image? It’s as if the great multitude is just one body.

For sure, there are psychological, social, cultural and historical factors involved here. But we would be sorely missing the point if we just stop there, and we make them the primary elements to explain the phenomenon. No, there must be something deeper.

There’s a spirit that moves us together, and thanks to the way we, the Cebuanos, are in general, this spirit thrives because the people are largely a people of faith. We as a people are not stuck in the purely human and natural level.

We believe more than we understand. Our deepest knowledge of things is based on faith more than on our reason. We still are largely an innocent and simple people, because we stick to faith more than to our thinking.

Innocence and simplicity are no mere absence of knowledge, as happens in a little child whom we describe as innocent and simple. They are a matter of having God rather than us as our ultimate guide and source of knowledge.

Thus, innocence and simplicity are compatible with having great knowledge of things, including knowledge of evil. But it’s a knowledge derived from one’s link with God, and not from one’s own idea only.

Let’s thank God that we have this popular piety when we celebrate the feast of the Sto. Niño. It only unravels the kind of people we are.

We can have all sorts of defects and commit the whole gamut of mistakes. But we have faith. And we correspond generously to this gift God is giving us.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Free Spirit?

I HOPE it’s not indicative of what’s in store for us this year. But with all the noise about a global crisis, financial meltdown, Ponzi schemes and scams, etc., one tends to be a bit paranoid when things unusual occur.

Recently, I was stranded in Cagayan de Oro because of the bad weather. It rained, not hard, but long. The river swelled mightily. The current went mad, thundering and gurgling its way to the sea. I saw people on top of their houses that were in the riverbank. I think it’s what you call a state of calamity.

In the airport that day, the terminal became a veritable ocean of passengers, their faces alternating between hope and gloominess. Thankfully, there was no anger outburst. Everyone understood we’re all the in the same boat, and so we tried to behave as best as we could.

I came early just to make sure I got my flight to Cebu. Four hours later, we were told the flight was cancelled. I immediately considered my options. Conclusion: I still had to take the plane at the next earliest date.

Upon rebooking my ticket, I was told I could fly two days later yet, and not directly to Cebu, but via Manila. Oh, that means, I had to do some laundering. It’s been a while since I last touched a detergent. I decided to be game with the idea, because getting cross just because of it would not be worthwhile.

In a situation like that, one has to do his best to survive the barrage of negative thoughts, insights and feelings. The spirit wants to be freed from them all, but the effort needed can be herculean.

It was dark outside the terminal, the clouds bent on clamping us down. I prayed hoping to lift them, but there was no way. In the meantime, more and more passengers in all shapes and sizes came, quickly filling the seats, and then they started to fill even the floor space.

The place was bursting at the seams. We were sardined. I understood that a new, bigger airport just got started to be made, and so the present one was left without any improvement. I began to perspire, and prayed we would not produce such natural gas as to cause an explosion.

With my PDA, I managed to pray my breviary, and to read some books. With my MP3, I also prayed rosaries, and listened to some music. But the waiting still stretched. I was approaching my wit’s end. Boredom was setting in.

I already offered my seat to a young mother with healthy squirming twins in her arms. My legs started to tire. To lighten up, I decided to make eye-contact to as many people as possible and to flash a smile, and they also smiled back. It’s what I call the mirror trick, and it never fails. It’s my way of recovering strength and composure.

For a while I amused myself watching two little boys, between 3 and 5 years of age, enjoying each other by running all over the place before their space was eaten up by the people. I was sure they didn’t even bother to know their names. They just met there and became instant friends and playmates. They only knew one language—play.

They reminded me of one aspect of freedom, that of being totally carefree while using all one’s energy to pursue what he likes. This thought saved the day for me. While watching those tykes, I managed to weave a sizable fabric of intriguing and enlightening thoughts.

I know that that freedom of those two kids is not the essential part of freedom. It’s the dispensable and waivable type, otherwise their mothers would not have been following them, worry writ large on their faces.

The kids might have looked like free spirits, but it’s the bonus-type of freedom that they have. Welcome it and be thankful, if by luck you can have it. Otherwise, just go on with what you have to do, even if pain and sacrifice accompany it.

A true spirit is when one is willfully engaged with God’s will, doing good to others no matter what it costs. In this life, genuine freedom almost invariably involves self-denial, but its unmistakable essence and meaning cannot be missed. It’s this freedom that can give one a true high, always new and fresh!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A dangerous moralism

IN one of the books he wrote before becoming Pope, Benedict XVI warned us about what he called as “political moralism.” It’s not something that is altogether wrong. There are a lot of good things in it. But it misses one essential element.
These are his words:

A new moralism exists today. Its key words are justice, peace, and the conservation of creation, and these are words that recall essential moral values, of which we genuinely stand in need.”

We can not deny that these big words glut most slogans, catchwords and battle cries these days. If you’re supposed to be socially concerned, it’s de rigueur and politically correct to shout these words. But here’s the catch:

But this moralism,” the Pope continued, “remains vague and almost inevitably remains confined to the sphere of party politics, where it is primarily a claim addressed to others, rather than a personal duty in our own daily life.”

In other words, these beautiful concepts tend to be uprooted from God, their source and origin, and pirated by self-appointed prophets and ideologues who cleverly mask their ideas as God’s will, and hardly apply the implications of these words on themselves first before applying them on others.

Benedict’s observation reflects a spreading and disturbing phenomenon of people who are good in the art of rhetoric and persuasion but miserably fail in consistency and integrity.

Two danger signals can be noted here. One, the good intention is hardly rooted on God’s will. It’s more on one’s or a group’s designs, projected as God’s designs. And two, the requirements and changes involved are to be expected more from the others than from oneself.

Again the words of the Holy Father:

“The political moralism we have experienced, and still witness today, is far from opening the path to a real regeneration. Instead, it blocks the way.

“Consequently, the same is true of a Christianity and a theology that reduce the core of the message of Jesus, that is, the ‘kingdom of God’, to the ‘values of the kingdom’, identifying these values with the great slogans of political moralism while at the same time proclaiming that these slogans are the synthesis of the religions.

“In this way, they forget God, although it is precisely he who is both the subject and cause of the kingdom. All that remains in the place of God are the big words and values that are open to any kind of abuse.”

The combination leads to an anomalous situation that, in spite of one’s or a group’s best efforts, can only produce more tension, division and conflict. Relevant to this, the Pope has this point to say:

“Our greatest need in the present historical moment is people who make God credible in this world by means of the enlightened faith they live. The negative testimony of Christians who spoke of God but lived in a manner contrary to him has obscured the image of God and has opened the doors to disbelief.”

Of course, the way to correct this anomaly is really to focus our attention on Christ, the fullness of God’s revelation, who is both historical and contemporary to us, since as God, he goes beyond the limitations of space and time.

And to understand Christ, and ultimately to know God’s will, we need to meditate on Christ’s sacred humanity, for that is what will take us his divinity, the goal to which we are called.

The Church’s social teaching is derived from such careful and inspired meditation of Christ’s sacred humanity, so that our socio-political concerns can really be infused by the proper Christian spirit.

We have to remember that the Church’s social doctrine is developed in an organic way from Christ’s life and redemptive work, which remain the perennial pattern for our life, words and deeds, no matter what circumstances we may find ourselves in.

It is important that we understand deeply and appreciate the role of Christ’s sacred humanity in developing our own life and actuations. We need to learn how to meditate Christ’s sacred humanity in a way that would give us practical impulses and guidelines everyday.

For this, we have to go beyond just doing theology. While that is always necessary, it should be imbued by a faith-driven personal meditation of every detail of Christ’s life as recorded in the Gospel, Tradition and taught by the Magisterium.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Seed good and bad

A friend of mine recently told me his daughter just got hired as a stewardess in an international airline. She finished nursing, but at this time it seems one has to pay to get hired as a nurse in hospitals. Yes, it’s that bad!

To be a stewardess was an alternative, a kind of forced one. The family needs the money, and the starting rate told to her daughter was 70K. Who would not be happy with that kind of salary? But it comes with a stiff price too.

The father, who’s very protective of the apple of his eyes, has sharply conflicting feelings. He’s caught in the horns of a dilemma. He has heard many not so good items about girls in that kind of work.

I understand him perfectly. The girl is an eye candy, and she will surely attract attention. She has been bagging beauty titles since she was in grade school. But for all that, she remains level-headed, her feet firmly rooted on the ground and very responsible. She has been helpful to her siblings.

After so much painful deliberation, the father allowed her to accept the job, with a list of conditions. The girl, who has become like a niece to me, dutifully thanked her father, and promised to comply with them and to deliver.

My hunch is that she could hack it, not only professionally but also morally. I have observed her from a distance, and she seems to be a sensible girl, who knows what she has got and the accompanying advantages and dangers of her effortless charms.

But I join her family in deep prayers for her. The world is littered with tricks and traps. One has to be truly clever, with the cleverness of the serpent as the Gospel tells us, to survive, especially in that area that is most important—the spiritual and moral.

This is the challenge we have these days. There are good and bad elements around always, and one has to learn how to sail his boat safely. For this purpose, the need for continuing formation cannot be overemphasized.

Precisely at these times, when we are all exposed to plentier and subtler temptations, we need to be properly formed and ably supported by a strong and stable network of good family-Church-society environment.
Another friend who manages a call center also told me about some not-so-good observations he has of the people in that kind of work. These are usually young people who get good pay but who really have to work hard.

It’s a combination that can be highly combustible in the spiritual and moral sense. These young ones tend to overspend, abuse their new status, seek compensation in some dangerous pursuits, and sooner or later get into trouble.

This friend of mine, who has to handle many of the problematic cases, strongly feels that these young people should be given continuing formation. They need to be truly grounded and properly oriented.

As chaplain of a technical school whose graduates often work in these call centers and other similar outfits, I always feel the need to continually invite the alumni for some means of formation—retreats, recollections, doctrine classes, and personal spiritual direction and confession.

Like a father to them, I get to tell them things straight to their faces—even telling them to take their haircut, change their clothes, observe physical, mental and spiritual hygiene, live order and poverty, modesty and purity, and pray, etc.

These details should be attended to assiduously, since they have the tendency to be set aside, ignored and forgotten. And these reminders should be done as well by the companies, families and society in general. They should not be the exclusive tasks of priests. Everyone can and should help.

We are facing a new world speeding in developments, such that we can hardly cope with them. Sometimes I get the feeling we don’t know anymore what’s hitting us.

We, of course, should be open to the world, but should be quick also to discern and identify good and bad seeds, and flexible enough to flow with the times.

We have to have a kind of black box that records developments in a certain period, and examine it from time to time to study what went right, what went wrong, and how we could avoid dangers.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The moral learning curve

IT’S worthwhile for all of us to know about the learning curve. It tells us how fast or slow one is learning. And it can give us an idea of the different elements that come into play in this very dynamic process of learning.

Technically, the learning curve may be defined as a “graph that depicts rate of learning, especially a graph of progress in the mastery of a skill against the time required for such mastery.”

Other similar terms can be the experience curve or the efficiency curve. There’s now a growing science about this. The common attribute is the attempt to measure how one learns or acquires a skill. And learning and acquiring skills is a lifelong business of ours.

In learning, we have to realize that each one has his own pace. One’s learning curve reflects how he at the beginning will have to go through a slow stage until he gathers enough knowledge and experience so as to gain speed, height and breadth later.

In this learning curve, we have to give allowance to the expected little stumbles so that a big fall later on can be avoided. This is a basic law in life.

Once one’s learning curve is known, I think it’s a matter of justice and fairness that the time needed for one to learn be given to him. We should not push him too much. In fact, all facilities should be given to help him in his learning.

This learning curve also leads us to look into the factors and circumstances that influence the picture it gives. It can tell us about the innate capabilities of the person, as well as the external conditions that can affect the process. Thus, it is a very important tool.

Whatever can enhance one’s powers and make up for his weaknesses is always welcome. Whatever can reinforce the favorable conditions and compensate for the unfavorable ones would be a great help. Let’s try to be good at this task of helping.

This concern about the learning curve is most relevant these days, since we are all bombarded with new things, which can be a Pandora’s box. We have to help one another establish his learning curve in these new things, and aid each other achieve the most out of the challenge being posed to us now.

We have to learn to respect the requirements of our learning curve. We should be wary not to get lost or to allow ourselves to be blindly swallowed by the new things and developments. We have to be effective stewards, not slaves, of these new things.

In my conversations with people, I realize that the challenges of the new things are not small or insignificant. They have great potentials for good and for evil, to build people’s lives or to destroy them and their families.

Even the matter of how to handle and dominate the use of the Internet can require heroic efforts. Many people have somehow lost their “sanity” there. They develop addictive symptoms.

Then you have many other gimmicks and games, like the Sudoku, for example, that can offer means for resting, but can take a lot of time and can be disorienting if not alienating. Here the need for mastery and dominion, the skill to follow the proper priorities, are indispensable. They need to be learned.

This is not to mention other moral aberrations that need urgent and constant attention by way, for example, of anger and stress management, or any game plan to develop virtues like temperance, sobriety, chastity, prudence, Christian poverty, obedience, etc.

In these cases, the establishment of one’s learning curve of the appropriate moral virtues cannot be confined to an individual or private affair. It has to be done in consultation at least with some experts, guides or friends who can give effective help, usually the help of caution.

We have to do everything to promote the attitude of socialization, especially in this sphere of concern. We should not get stuck in the denial stage, where we may feel that we can still handle the challenges by ourselves.

We have to be open to seek as well as give help to others. I think this is the challenge we have these days. In today’s drift of things, we cannot afford to island ourselves from others. We have to form one organic whole, where one’s concerns somehow become the concern of everyone else.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Our different languages

WE may not notice it, but we actually use different languages with different people and in different occasions. Just the same, we need to know how to integrate all of them into one that’s consistent with our human condition and goal.

I remember that as a kid I talked with my parents in different ways. With Papa, I had to use reason a lot, I had to make and defend my points. I had to make a score most of the time, otherwise I would not get on well with him. I had to be careful with my words. But I adored him, since I learned a lot from him.

With Mama, there hardly was any word needed. I used a completely different language. Since she was invariably affectionate and sweet, I had to be tender also with her. She understood me always, and I didn’t have to explain anything to her. My love for her could not be compromised.

But when I overstepped, her injured glances were more painful than my father’s very explosive reprimands. Thankfully, there were just few of them. Well, that’s part of growing up in the family.

With her, I tended to be an instant penitent. But with him, I usually turned into a rebel, adept at reasoning and wrangling, because my father always wanted me to explain my mistakes. He had reasons, I also had mine.

In fairness, he made sure that at the end of the day, there was always peace and reconciliation, and I managed to do my part. I learned, especially from my mother, that peace was more important than settling issues. It has to be above differences.

Nowadays, with all the developments around us, we need to learn the lingos and idioms of the different fields we get involved in—academics, legal, sciences, cultural, sports, entertainment, technological as in the Internet and other gadgets, etc.

One time, a friend texted me something that I didn’t quite like. I failed to get the joke it was meant to be. So I tried to be delicate in wording my reply. Just the same it came out negative.

His answer was, LOL. It depressed me in the thought that I offended him. I also was surprised how my friend could have over-reacted to my response and could go to the extent of calling me “fool,” as in “ulol”.

I learned only later that LOL meant “laugh out loud.” From that time on, I resolved to update myself with some of these abbreviated responses that are now common among gadget users.

There’s just one language which I hold most dear, because I consider it the most important, the most basic, the one that ranks and gives meaning to all the languages we use.

This is the language of the heart, the language of faith, of our beliefs, of piety. It’s the one that involves all aspects of our life. It tackles the very essence of life, of love and freedom, truth and justice, and the like. It can use words, but it can go far beyond them. It can plumb deep into mysteries, going beyond reason.

It’s for these reasons that I consider it the most delicate, one that must be protected and defended always. Thus, I get nervous with any undue misuse of it.

One time, someone gave a theological discussion about a certain topic. It was brilliant, and I agreed wholeheartedly with almost all of it. The only problem was that it was presented as if it was the last word on that topic. All other views, especially the differing ones, appeared anathema.

That’s when I felt my blood boil. I was convinced it was a case of a theological view exaggerating itself, such that it sounded to me like it was emptied of charity and understanding for those who for one reason or another could not agree with it or would just have a different take.

It could not come from God, I remembered telling myself. For I remembered that our Lord’s words, for all their forcefulness and precision, were, and are, always full of compassion and mercy.

It’s always good to go to the maximum potentials of our reason and theological reflections. But let’s always remember that these are not supposed to be the last word, claiming for themselves the very essence of faith.

They are mere tools and servants of faith, of our direct conversation with God that takes place in our heart. They have to recognize their true condition and behave accordingly.