Thursday, February 26, 2009

Everyone’s invisible war

THIS is not about the invisible war on women in some poor African country who are raped and systematically subjected to all sorts of atrocities by some monsters in that area, and whose plight goes largely unpublished and ignored by the rest of the world.

This sad thing certainly deserves our utmost attention also. Rather, this is about the invisible war all of us need to wage in ourselves, where the fate of our life is truly determined. Now that we are in the Lenten season, it’s good to be reminded of it.

It’s really not the struggles we have outside us that hold the key to our life. It’s not in our quest for money and fame, our effort to solve our economic, social, political problems, etc. These struggles depend on an inner, mainly invisible one.

The root struggle, the original stem cell of all our struggles in life is inside us, largely hidden. The frontlines are in our mind and heart, in our conscience, where we choose whether we are really with God as we should be or we keep to our own selves, and thus violate the law that governs us.

With God, we have everything. We have the fountain of love, the pattern and purpose of love. He provides us the strength and the power to love, and teaches us the crucial role of sacrifice involved in love.

With ourselves, we have only what we can manage to have. Big or small, what we have will always have a limit. Worse, they are prone to come to us already corrupted and distorted. And we don’t understand the value of sacrifice.

That’s the ultimate and constant choice we make, starting with our thoughts and desires, and then our actions. It’s the choice that expresses the kind of love we have—whether we love God and others, or we just love our own selves with God and others as mere props.

We are meant to love. This is something that we do quite spontaneously. We are drawn to what we think is good for us, and we pursue it using all sorts of means.

And yet we can easily mishandle this basic function that is written deep in our heart, even going beyond what our DNA defines for us. Many reasons and factors can offer some explanation.

Our laziness, for one, often shoots down the usual spontaneous reaction of love and generosity we have when we too are shown with love. Some disordered attachments to things spoil our initial stirrings of self-giving to God and others. There are many others.

These days, many of us are caught in a widening web of self-love, spun by new things that intoxicate us, taking away our proper senses. Many youngsters, for example, are so hooked to the internet they forget even their basic duty to eat and sleep.

Even many of the not-so-young find themselves defenseless before such a barrage of new discoveries and possibilities, good and bad, offered by the internet. Many fail to master the new experience and find themselves succumbing to dormant weaknesses now triggered by internet images.

Everyone has to be reminded of our need to activate our invisible war and wage it without let up. It’s as necessary as our breathing. It’s what makes our spiritual life alive and healthy. Without it, there’s no way but for it to go kaput.

In spite of some impressive external appearances of goodness and vitality of life, without the invisible war the emptiness and death of our interior life will sooner or later show. The inner decay can’t be hidden for long.

To be effective in this invisible war, we need to identify as concretely as possible the subject in which we need to focus our attention and energy. The subjects are endless, but we need to face them one at a time.

We can go into multiple and varied spiritual challenges, but only after we shall have gained some expertise in the basic fronts that we handle singly at first.

It’s good that we have an idea of what armaments we need to wage that war—usually prayers, sacrifices, fasting, etc.—and a time-frame to do it. Lastly, it stands to reason that we avail as much help as possible from others.

We can go to spiritual direction for example. These are our advisers and allies so crucial in waging any battle.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Communication for communion

THAT, in effect, was the gist of the 10-page speech made by the director of Vatican ’s press office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, before the Spanish bishops’ conference recently. It summarized his vast experience and many insights he gained over so many years of working with the media.

In other words, he was saying that in spite of the many aspects and requirements of media work that need to be integrated as smoothly as possible, one should not forget that the main and underlying interest of the Church in media is to spread the truth, to evangelize and to build up greater communion.

His views certainly deserve to be studied well and learned thoroughly. Everyone in the Church involved in media work, from the parish to the diocesan levels and beyond, would do well to make them a guiding light.

The Church cannot and should not be lagging behind in making use of the tremendously advanced technologies that now greatly escalate media’s reach and scope. With them, a lot can be gained for the good of the Church.

In fact, Fr. Lombardi said that Catholic media should be an ethical model for the secular media by promoting peace, justice and a vision of an integral human development. Yes, dear, it’s about time that those in this task have this clear and deep understanding of their work.

That’s a heavy and dynamic responsibility, requiring constant renewal and creativity, prudence and passion. But as long as those involved have the necessary attitude and continuing training—nothing less than being holy and competent—there’s no question that they can hack it.

If these conditions are met, I believe that not even the worst scenario that the Church can get enmeshed in, as in handling big, screaming scandals involving high ecclesiastics, can undermine the Church’s credibility, her true nature and purpose.

With these conditions, the Church, in spite of her members’ sins and defects, big and small, can still remain radiant and beautiful, ever able to function well in her continuing work for human redemption.

I’d like to highlight some of Fr. Lombardi’s views which I think are relevant to our local Church situation. Among them are the following:

- “We must always try to favor understanding and dialogue between different positions and different people and not accentuate the opposition. We must be able to ‘live’ the tensions with patience, including the price of being criticized.

- “We must always use with determination a respectful, balanced and non-aggressive language towards others, capable of inspiring serenity of judgment and mutual understanding.”

When I read these words, I was reminded of high Churchmen who shamelessly violate this indication. With high-calibered language, they intemperately take partisan positions in political and social issues, pouring sarcasm all over the place and carpet-bombing their opponents with ridicule.

It’s not just a matter of ruffling some people’s feathers that often is unavoidable in expressing opinions. There seems to be a systemic perversity in pulverizing those in the opposite side.

It’s truly a sad spectacle, brutal, ugly and completely unfit for Church officials to do. I remember my mother telling me, no matter how right I may be in my views, I have no right to be ill-mannered in expressing them or in dealing with others. I have always tried to follow that principle.

Fr. Lombardi also said that “the truth must always be told, even in the face of difficult questions. When a question deserves an answer it must be given without waiting.”

Wow! That’s tough. But I agree with it. While discretion is also needed, it should not be an excuse for not doing one’s work punctually and misreading the people’s right to information.

Another aspect of media work that Church personnel should give special attention to is the personal touch they should have when doing business with those in media. They have to avoid being officious, cold, even cavalier in their dealings. They have to learn to be very human, warm and personable.

Even if certain protocol has to be followed, and some steps and systems of communicating have to be pursued, the human need for cordiality and true friendship should never be neglected.

Charity, which generates true communion in the Church, never departs, with God’s grace, from this level, despite our differences.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Fasting is still cool

WITH Ash Wednesday, we open again another season of Lent. It’s a yearly liturgical period that invites us all to prepare for the most important event in Church life—the Easter mystery, the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord.

For this year, Pope Benedict already has given out his Lenten message that focuses on the ascetical practice of fasting. I believe that it’s worthwhile to go through that message to savor fasting’s unfading relevance in our life.

It’s certainly a time-honored practice that has deep roots in the Bible and in Church tradition. Together with prayer and almsgiving, fasting is the usual pious tool to transform our heart, detaching it from itself so it can give itself totally to God and to others, as we are meant to be.

It’s a pity that this duty is fast disappearing in the minds of many people. It’s as if it’s already extinct, and the only remaining value it has is that of a relic of the past, fit for museums, but not anymore in our present environment.

We can never overemphasize the need for fasting. In fact, it should be an abiding practice, and not just a Lenten thing. Given our wounded human condition, fasting offers a continuing corrective to our ever unstable state of being.

Our tendency, constantly fed by our own weaknesses and the many, endless temptations around us, is to be self-absorbed, to such an extent that we don’t even realize we are in that kind of predicament.

We have to understand that this anomaly is highly toxic to us. We are meant to fill our mind and heart with God and others, with thoughts and desires of goodness for others in all its forms.

We slacken in this business, and we sooner or later get into trouble. Our own weaknesses start to dominate us, and the temptations around become irresistible.

Whatever power that we have, big or small, to keep a civil and decent appearance outside cannot last long. If we only live in our own world, with God and others practically considered as outsiders and strangers, there’s no other way for us to go but to perdition.

We have to be wary of the illusion of shutting God and others out of our mind. We can be thrilled by our own ideas and desires only, but sooner or later, without God and others, this bubble will explode, and we’ll exposed to the abject reality of our nothingness without God.

In his Lenten message, the Pope traces the origin and basis of fasting, and how it has developed since. I think it is a knowledge that plays a crucial role in our understanding and appreciation of fasting.

The Pope said that the original divine indication on fasting was when God told our first parents not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They can eat anything in Paradise, except that.

And the reason is quite simple—eating that fruit would lead our first parents and us to pursue our knowledge of good and evil independently of God. With it, we would start to build our own world. We’d become a Jabberwocky, someone who lives in fantasy land.

This is actually our underlying problem. Instead of filling ourselves with goodness, feeding our mind and will with the mind and will of God, we prefer to do things on our own.

God and the others—the two always go together as indicated in the original dual commandment of love God and neighbor—become at best a prop in our system, not its main substance.

We need to correct this irregularity. When we notice that we are sinking in our own world, we need to react immediately. And fasting is one way of correcting that tendency.

We have to follow Christ’s example. He said his food is no other than to do the will of His Father. This should always be our attitude, no matter how intoxicating our human progress can be.

These days, our fasting need not be only in food and drinks, but also in the use of the internet and other gadgets. From time to time, we need to deprive ourselves of them if only to recover our proper outlook that should be oriented towards God and others.

These gadgets are notorious for leading us to forget God as we immerse ourselves with the many earthly wonders they can give us.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Obama’s views on religion

SOMEBODY forwarded to me a YouTube of Obama’s speech on religion. My computer didn’t have the audio when I viewed it, but it was dubbed in Spanish. So I read it more than heard it, which was actually better for me.

My immediate reaction was one of concern. I considered his views as having the marks of what is known as agnosticism, with elements of irenicism and yoism, a kind of religion that is open-sourced and consensual, a man-made religion rather than faith-based.

In our increasingly complicated times, we need to speed up in gaining literacy not only in technical matters, but also in the spiritual and religious issues. Like it or not, we navigate in these waters. We just have to learn how to cruise properly.

That’s why, the idea of really giving due attention to our doctrinal and religious formation has become more relevant and more urgent, in fact. We need to be savvy too in issues related to faith and religion.

We cannot afford anymore to be a babe in the woods in this regard, stuck in the infantile stage or the unstable, adolescent mindset and ways. A lot of precious things are at stake. As much as possible, we have to be adult and mature, as well as truly scientific and professional, not superstitious and amateur.

After going through that Obama speech, I thought that the phenomenon is also quite understandable. His views echo those of a great mass of people who simply cannot deny the need for religion, and try to have some semblance of it, but who have not mastered it past its pedestrian level.

What Obama said was equivalent to saying that the question of God, faith and religion is better left not taken seriously. It can be at best a purely personal, individual affair, with hardly any social manifestation, and much less, political consequences. This is a typically agnostic position.

Agnosticism means that though there may be a God, knowing him for sure is not possible. It’s an attitude that diminishes the role of supernatural faith, given to us as a gift, and relies more on our reasoning, our consensual and cultural understanding of things.

It goes beyond distinguishing faith and reason, the natural and supernatural orders, and puts them in conflict. With it, reason enjoys the upper hand, making it the primary guiding principle, since faith can be divisive. It is averse to anything mysterious and very vulnerable to anything that appears practical.

Practicality, in fact, becomes the be-all and end-all of this religious aberration. Thus, agnosticism with its stress on practicality can be overwhelmingly seductive to politicians, who usually are pressured, sometimes at all costs, to come out with practical solutions to social problems.

That Obama professes it should not be completely surprising. In fact, we have to credit him for that, since he admits it openly, unlike many other politicians who publicly do not say so, but practice and live it 24/7 and, worse, try to appear as good Christians.

Of course, now we really have to be more scientific in handling this challenge. Agnosticism is actually not a radical form of religious mentality. It can be only a stage to something extreme, a clever cover to hypocrisy and spiritual lukewarmness, or worse, to atheism. It’s like marijuana vis-à-vis shabu.

One logical consequence of agnosticism is irenicism. This is mixing things together for practical purposes regardless of their incompatibilities in their essences and religious origins.

It’s a notoriously promiscuous attitude that does not respect any absolute laws. It can play around with anything. Everything is relative. Its guiding motive is practical self-interest. It lends itself easily to deceit, to Machiavellian tactics, etc., much like what we see nowadays with all the massive financial scams we have here and abroad.

We have to be wary of these hidden forces played on us at present. The Reproductive Health Bill and the Magna Carta for Women now deliberated upon in Congress are good examples of this phenomenon.

I read recently that their authors were challenging the bishops to point out which provisions there are anti-God, anti-family, anti-life. Of course, the bills would not openly say these things.

But all the dots are there, and it only needs a kid to draw the line linking those dots, and what we’ll see is agnosticism reigning supreme together with its bizarre company.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Marital problems

THOUGH I talk with a lot of young people, mostly students, I actually get to deal with older folks most of the time. And I must confess that one of the most difficult moments I have is when I have to grapple with painful cases of people with serious marital problems.

These are times when I pray really hard, importuning our Lord for more light and strength to bring me to see things more clearly and resolve them in the most prudent way.

Sometimes, I think there must be something really wrong in the air these days, because my impression is that now we have more couples whose marriages are in deep trouble.

There are times when I wish to run away from the cases, even to go as far as to tell off the persons involved, especially if at first glance I can already detect instances of stupidity committed by one or both of the parties.

I would rather wrestle, hands down, with the current global financial crisis than get mixed up in these complicated marital cases.

But I know fully well that that would not be priestly on my part. I cannot avoid the reality that like it or not, I have to handle these cases, especially if I wouldn’t have any other, more prudent priests to refer the persons to. I can’t deny it’s part of the pastoral care I have to give to everyone who comes.

And so, I just have to brace myself to take on that most delicate, agonizing and thankless task, listening to the endless twists and turns that the parties tell me, stretching my patience for as long as needed, and sharpening my wits and discerning powers.

At the end of the day, I feel many times completely drained. Aside from the monumental effort it requires for study, consultations, etc., it also entails, at least for me, a tremendous emotional stress. I can’t help but empathize with both parties, and thus I suffer with them.

No matter how much I try to protect and defend myself by intellectualizing or objectivizing things, the drama is usually so intense that it manages to get under my skin.

And that’s not the most difficult part. The most trying part is when you start to explain and clarify things. With emotions revved up to their limits, even defining the nature of marriage seems to need a first-class miracle.

Sometimes I get the impression it would be far easier to give a lecture on marriage to bulls and cows than to couples who are bent to decouple.

You can just imagine what is needed when you start making finer distinctions! Let me quote some recent words of Pope Benedict to the Roman Rota to give you an idea of some of these distinctions that need to be made:

“It is opportune,” he said, “to recall again some distinctions that draw the demarcation line above all between ‘psychic maturity which is seen as the goal of human development’ and ‘canonical maturity which is the basic minimum required for establishing the validity of marriage.’

“Secondly, the distinction between incapacity and difficulty insofar as ‘only incapacity and not difficulty in giving consent and in realizing a true community of life and love invalidates a marriage.’

“Thirdly, the distinction between the canonistic dimension of normality, inspired by an integral vision of the human person that ‘also includes moderate forms of psychological difficulty,’ and the clinical dimension that excludes every limitation of maturity and ‘every form of psychic illness.’

“And lastly, the distinction between the ‘minimum capacity sufficient for valid consent’ and the idealized capacity ‘of full maturity in relation to happy married life.’”

I must say that even though I’m no canon lawyer, I suspect that many canon lawyers do not get these distinctions right. And that’s not surprising, since these distinctions are really very slippery to handle.

I feel that what’s needed is a sustained effort to catechize everyone about the nature and requirements of marriage, involving first of all our bishops and clergy, and the experts.

They should be generous and creative enough to make the finer points more understandable to all, especially those who are married or about to get married.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Countering the desensitizing trend

I SUPPOSE everyone is familiar with this phenomenon. In the face of something new, our immediate reaction hovers first in the level of our senses and emotions. Then it goes to our intelligence. Only with some conscious effort can we start reacting in a spiritual and theological way.

We need to give more thought to this event so we can have a more appropriate response to it, especially when it involves something important in our life. We have to learn how to relate things to God, and to avoid getting stuck in the purely human and natural level.

Very often, what we see are people materially aroused or enriched but spiritually made numb as they make the quest for progress and development. We should not be surprised by this turn of events. That’s just how our earthly affairs are.

But neither should just stand by, doing nothing about it. We need to handle things in a manner truly commensurate to our real dignity.

We are not only persons, already a big thing. We are children of God. We have to learn to react to our daily concerns such that it becomes an expression of our relationship with God.

My experience with students confirms this observation. While they are still in school, relatively simple and innocent, and subject to a more controlled environment, they can behave very well.

It’s when they get exposed to the industry, when they start doing their on-the-job training, and they experience new things, that they start behaving erratically in the spiritual and moral sense.

Many find themselves unprepared, with their pants down, highly vulnerable in their new but confusing milieu. They find themselves facing many crossroads, and they don’t know exactly which path to take.

This is obviously a great challenge for any chaplain who tries to be serious with his task of helping students sustain their spiritual life as they move on in life. But it’s one that carries its own rewards too. It’s worth all the sweat and blood involved.

For certain, the first thing to be done is to keep the communication lines open. Everything has to be done, like cultivating real friendship with them, in order to maintain contact with the students and to facilitate transparency.

When the idea of spiritual direction is explained well, then appreciated by the students and then implemented, the battle is already half-won. It’s in an atmosphere of confidence and loyalty that the laborious and meticulous task of sorting out things can take place effectively.

This point is, I think, crucial, precisely because one characteristic of the present scramble for new things is to make people lose confidence and trust in others. The relationship hardly goes any deeper than mutual exploitation of one another. People are reduced to objects. They lose their personhood.

When the delicate part of clarifying things comes, the spiritual director, acting more as friend, always has to be reassuring, encouraging and positive. While he should call a spade a spade, he should always inspire the confidence that everything will turn out all right in the end.

A lot of patience and understanding is needed. But even more important is the skill to give practical pieces of advice. One should not limit himself to condemning errors. He should offer solutions to problems.

One basic advice, for example, is to tell the students to always thank God for everything, no matter how small, that happens to him during the day. This attitude will keep him in contact with God and set the proper tone of the relationship.

From here, he can start to decipher the role the events of his day play in the over-all plan or will of God for him. This is a very tricky subject, requiring great intimacy with God.

Of course, one has to lead by example. The counsels should be a result not only of an intellectual exercise, but also of a lived experience. It’s only in this way, where we can be sure of consistency and effectiveness.

This is the way of the saints. Many of them were ordinary mortals, whose intelligence was average. But their truly holy lives, their living relationship with God, produced nothing less than divine wisdom that shed true light to the world.

Monday, February 9, 2009


WE have to be more sensitive to this aspect of our life these days. With the current pace and widening diversity of development, we need to be truly skilful in handling the intricate and more felt requirements of inter-generational integration.

We cannot help but deepen our respective generational specializations of interest, in all their social and cultural varieties. I suppose this is how things go. We even have to foster the legitimate differences. But we need to learn how to form one organic whole, since in the end we all are one human family.

For example, in any diocesan clergy gathering that I attend, I can’t fail to notice the spontaneous groupings that appear, formed more by generational factors than by any other element. The young congregate among themselves, the seniors keep to themselves.

There are exceptions, of course. But they are more amusing than anything. Like, I met a retired Monsignor, approaching 80, so techie he could shame many younger ones with his knowledge and skill of the modern gadgets. He even used some technical lingo not yet in my vocabulary.

Where there is more unity and harmony in one group, say in a parish, there’s a lot of good that can be done. In contrast, where there is an infestation of envy and quarreling, many things get wasted.

In the place where I’m staying at present, we are just 10 residents—3 priests and 7 lay professionals—but I readily see the differences and feel the normal tension that goes with them, something that needs to be managed well.

At 57, I’m the eldest of the group, followed by a 55-year-old priest who was a former engineer. The rest are in their thirties. And our director is the youngest at 24 years of age. One is a university professor, the others are almost all engineers and architects, working in different schools and offices.

In our daily get-togethers, especially the ones after dinner, I can’t help but feel at the same time happy, excited and challenged by the rich mix of topics that get into our conversations.

I learn a lot from them, especially when they talk about new developments in their profession, people they meet and do business with, and the plans and projects they handle.

I just hope they also learn from me, since I too give a generous share of my views. But it gratifies me no end to see how everyone tries to go out of their own selves to engage everybody else in hearty exchanges, with refined efforts to adapt and please others manifest in a discreet and natural way.

I could see the mutual complementation taking place among ourselves, in an atmosphere of cheerful family life. Each one contributes something, everyone listens. Many times, I say a quiet prayer of thanksgiving for all this, a real blessing.

I suppose this is part of the secret to achieving a kind of inter-generational integration among all of us in society. We need to forget ourselves more and just think of the others, eager to serve and to please others.

And this can always be done, because it always starts with small, normal and ordinary things we are supposed to do with one another. We have to be nice, even affectionate, develop a keen, sincere interest in the others, in what they do and even in their concerns.

With little goodwill that we try to nurture and grow, a lot of good is produced, benefiting everyone. We have to learn to go beyond our natural differences, our understandable likes and dislikes, to be able to enter smoothly into the lives of others.

We need to learn to disregard irritating details, and to keep rectifying our intentions and purifying our memory, since anything can dirty them anytime even within a span of a minute.

We are all human, it’s understood, but we too are capable of rising high above our purely human conditions to meet the standards of real charity. We have to be quick to understand and forgive. We have to be very careful with our tendency to judge.

In my years of talking with people, I accomplish more by listening and understanding and encouraging than by making suggestions. Often the people themselves discover what they need to do.

I find this an effective way to handle inter-generational differences.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Divine filiation

I FIRST met this expression, sounding Greek to me at that time, when I read a book of homilies by Opus Dei founder St. Josemaria Escriva. That was many years ago, when I was still in college.

I remember how deeply moved I was when I understood what it meant. I felt as if a whole new world was suddenly opened to me, and I luxuriated in savoring the million and one considerations that instantaneously came to mind.

It simply means that we are children of God. I know that to many, this expression, though sounding beautiful and worthy of brandishing around, can mean hardly anything and give no practical consequences. It’s about time, I think, that some changes be made.

The basis is that first of all we have been created by God, we come from him and have been endowed by him with such richness that we rightfully can be called the masterpiece of his creation.

The heartwarming conclusion I derived was that God who is all goodness and all loving wants to share what he has with each one of us. We have been made in his image and likeness, and with his grace we also have been made to participate in his life and nature.

And even if we bungled all this divine goodness, God continues to be madly in love with us by saving us, going through the most complicated plan to reach us and to bring us back to him. His divine mercy completes his love for us, his patience is forever.

The reality of our divine filiation is at the root and center of our being. Sadly, though, we manage to ignore and misuse this happy truth. A real pity!

When we don’t develop this spirit of divine filiation, we place ourselves at the mercy of our human devices—some of them admittedly can be impressive—that can prop us, to be frank, only for a while at best. Our integrity would be compromised. We could not go the distance.

Have you seen a bear lying flat on the belly after a hearty meal? That’s what can happen to people without this sense of divine filiation. It’s as if life has gone away in spite of their impressive human qualities.

They can have brains and brawn, money, power, fame, etc., but if they don’t have this spirit of divine filiation, their doom will just be a matter of time. They can’t go beyond earthly dimensions, they can’t fly to eternity, to life without end. Sin and temptation sooner or later will capture their heart.

We need to develop this spirit of divine filiation. While it’s a result of divine grace, it’s also something we have to work out. We need to load ourselves, to borrow a mobile-phone term, with a boosting awareness that we are God’s children.

We can go to the extent of psychologizing ourselves into it, repeating the expression until it becomes our breath and heartbeat and drives our stream of consciousness, enabling us to go deeper into its meaning, to instill its character into our thoughts, will, feelings and deeds.

This certainly would not just be a psychological exercise, for it is based on something real, not invented, though it’s a reality that can be accessed not so much by our senses and our reason alone as by our faith.

This point, I believe, is worth reiterating. It is what truly grounds us to the foundation of our life and nature, giving us the meaning and purpose of our existence. It’s a source of joy, confidence and serenity. It tells us what our filial rights and duties are.

More importantly, it tells us who we are and gives us an abiding sense that we are never alone, or worse, just on our own. It fills us with the conviction that we are children of God, that no matter what happens God will always be with us unless we reject him.

It’s heartbreaking to see that because they don’t have this sense of divine filiation, many souls fall into what we may call as Dickensian Great-Expectations syndrome, where one feels he is succeeding and prospering in life when in reality he is being impoverished and corrupted inside.

But I must also confess that I’ve met a good number who, precisely because of their faith and simplicity, enjoy the true blessings of this spirit of divine filiation.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Crisis of leadership

IT’S always good to check from time to time this social and political requirement of ours. We always need leaders who can effectively orchestrate the different elements of our life so that we can attain or, at least, facilitate the attainment of our common good.

It’s a tremendous responsibility to choose the right people we put at the helm of our society to steer us in the right direction. With challenges getting not only plentier but also trickier, we should know what criteria we are using or what values guide us in selecting our leaders.

Are they the appropriate ones? Or do we allow ourselves to used and deceived by all sorts of gimmicks played around?

Candidates for leadership will obviously try to take advantage of anything they think would help them in their pursuit for positions. They will build up their war chest, bolster their popularity, package themselves as attractively as possible.

If you allow them, they will buy you, drown you with their images, hypnotize you with their names, etc. We have to be most wary of these unwelcome cohorts candidates bring along, and focus on what truly is important in selecting.

Besides, they might think of leadership only in the practical sense, without any reference to God. Power and authority are seen as coming only from the people, and not as a participation of the power and authority of God. Charisma, if they have any, is just pure personal luck, again with no reference to God.

It’s the voting populace that has more or less the last say in the choosing. That’s why, to a certain extent we deserve the kind of leaders we have, since we, in a collective sense, choose them.

The classic criteria in choosing our leaders are basically two: competence and integrity. These, of course, can ramify into countless branches of considerations.

But already at the first level, there’s a significant segment of the people who put these two criteria into conflict. One part is just contented with competence and look down on integrity. As long as the goods are delivered, no matter how, the leader is regarded effective.

Another part just looks almost exclusively at integrity, defining it in some curious ways, with God largely excluded, and hardly gives any attention to a candidate’s capabilities and expertise.

Many fail to see the organic connection, even the mutual relation between these two basic qualities. They can get contented with one without the other, not knowing that both need each other to survive and prosper.

It’s true that the combination is often an elusive ideal, and that we can always manage with our enormous capacity for tolerance and for resourcefulness to get by with any situation. But we have to work on this goal for choosing leaders with greater determination and system.

Our times call for it. We need authentic leaders and we have to learn how to recognize and elect them. We’ve been in some kind of a bubble produced by a democracy that hardly exerts any effort to nourish itself with true values. It contents itself with simple majority.

We need to outgrow this mentality and effect a real conversion, not just putting lipstick on a pig. It’s no easy job at all. It requires tremendous effort on the part of everyone, and especially of our leaders. Of course, the transformation has to start in homes, schools and churches.

Sadly, in many parts of the world today, leadership is understood and pursued in this way. It’s as if the challenges are purely political or social or economic. And thus, the solutions can only come from those provinces. The religious grounding of leadership is at best confined to an ornamental role.

It’s truly funny to hear talks of ethics in business and politics when God is not put into the picture. Instead, shameless maneuverings and brute power plays are resorted.

The crisis of leadership in the world stems from this purely secular outlook. Only time will expose the anomaly of this attitude. Its congenital error will play out in full, as it seems to be showing in the current global economic crisis. Soon, it will paint Godless leaders and peoples into a corner.

At the moment, many of us still feel deeply awkward to admit the role of God in our leadership and in our assessment of leaders’ competence and integrity. We are actually playing into the hands of worsening trouble.

Monday, February 2, 2009

A big bang for dressing

DRESSING may be a routine activity for all of us. We hardly give any serious thought to it other than what common sense tells us. But it can have deep theological basis important for us to know. Let’s put it under the crosshair and see what relevant adjustments we have to make.

This can be gleaned from an interview sometime ago with then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.

When asked about how our first parents, after their fall, immediately realized their nakedness and then wove fig leaves to cover themselves, the Cardinal practically referred to the origin and theological basis for our dressing.

“This demonstrates how man, who is no longer standing in the splendor of God, and of course no longer sees the other in the light of that splendor, now stands as it were naked before others,” he said, to explain the immediate effect of original sin.

That is to say that while before the fall, Adam and Eve felt no shame in their nakedness because they saw in each other the splendor of God in their bodies, that innocence was lost after the fall. Their bodies did not anymore show the splendor of God. They had become a source of shame.

The sin they committed did not only alienate them from God, but also disturbed the pristine order of things and damaged the harmonious relationship between the man and the woman.

The original clothing, the fig leaves, became a way to hide themselves from God and from each other. Later the covering became a necessary element to establish their personal and social identity, and restore and keep their relationship with God and with each other.

This view, I believe, is worth developing further as well as spreading far and wide. It gives deeper meaning to our dressing, and connects it and us to God and others in a more intimate way. It can and should create a big bang in our attitude and understanding of our clothing habits.

It shows us how our garment is not only a covering and an instrument of modesty. It also has become a tool to identify ourselves and to facilitate communication with others, God being the first and the ultimate other for us.

For sure, this idea, which is not yet an official Church doctrine, will go a long way in changing our mentality for the better, affording us to derive spiritual significance from this banal business of dressing up.

It’s time to give our dressing activity its proper moorings and orientations, making it transcend the twists and turns of purely human and natural considerations, which can give us a high if blinding degree of excitement but fail to affirm our true dignity.

We have to understand that clothing, which is at the fundamental level of our earthly life, can exert tremendous and crucial influence on the other higher aspects of our life.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that it can even make or unmake us. It can enhance us or compromise us. A basic need, it can give the fundamental character of our life. It reflects what’s inside us, and can also build it up or harm it.

For the Christian believer, our attire then assumes greater relevance to our personal dignity, our social relations and our supernatural destiny. It’s not just something purely individualistic, at the mercy of one’s whims and caprices. By necessity it is at once personal, social and spiritual or religious.

If we realize this truth about our clothing, I suppose we’d exert the appropriate effort to comply with its due requirements. We just cannot be casual about it, aloof to its objective standards. We just cannot allow ourselves to mindlessly flow with the fashions without knowing where we are heading.

This truth reminds us that there’s a need to be suitably dressed because of part of our personal and social identity comes from our profession, such as being a priest, a doctor or nurse, a lawyer, a policeman, an engineer, etc.

It also indicates to us the criteria we have to use to pursue the goals of functionality, beauty and elegance in sartorial tastes. All these criteria should culminate in the fact that our garments should reflect the splendor of God.

I believe it’s not a restrictive criterion, but rather one that integrates and enriches all the legitimate concerns we have whenever we talk about clothing and fashion.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

An Open Letter to Obama

His Excellency
Barack Hussein Obama
PresidentUnited States of America

Dear Mr. President: Some six months ago at the Saddleback Forum when the topic of abortion was discussed, your Excellency admitted that the question of when human life begins was beyond your pay grade. It is therefore with fear and trembling that I learned that one of your first acts as the new President was to overturn the executive orders restored by your predecessor barring U.S. government funds from any foreign or domestic agency that promoted or performed abortions.

This single unthinking act wiped away any semblance of the benefit of the doubt I willingly invested in you during the campaign: that you were the true maverick and not the impostor like your opponent. Now I know better: you look like a politician cut from the same wretched cloth.

I expected you to do better. Anyone whose mind is mired in doubt on such a vital issue as to when life begins would first seek to clear up matters. You did not. Instead, you swallowed wholesale the unscientific argument, believed by countless people whose pay grades are much lower than yours, that a fertilized egg of twelve weeks is not human and could be disposed of medically and flushed down the drain. Or worse, as you recently signed too, an embryo could be experimented on, genetically tested, or played around with as a specimen at the mercy of high pay grade professionals in white lab coats.

These are some of the basic reasons why I and other citizens of the developing world quake with fear. It is ironic that such a seemingly enlightened politician – who campaigned on a platform of change we could believe in, who enjoyed the triumph of struggle against all the odds that defined him, and who has been an inspiration to many people – signed into law a policy that would eliminate the same opportunity from shaping the minds and hearts of future generations of young people and leaders.

One other thing. Just the other day, you ranted and raved against the outsized bonuses Wall Street bankers gave themselves for their rotten performance in the past year. Unfortunately, your Excellency has no moral authority to do that, because by allowing abortions to resume and stem cell research to be conducted without regard for their moral dimensions, you have acted like someone whose pay grade has been raised beyond those of the bankers you so vehemently condemned.

True, every nation gets the government it deserves. The United States and its President are woven from the same culture, the same woof and warp that led it to its moment of crisis. Mr. President, the greatest problem you and your nation face is not purely financial, and neither is it just economic nor legal. It's much deeper than that, and one need not have a high pay grade to realize that your nation's problem is rooted in moral turpitude. As the axe of investigative vengeance falls on the Madoffs and Fulds who made off with the billions from fooled investors, not only in America, we hope you and your government learn from the lessons of history that mighty empires are not lost overnight by the actions of a corrupt few. Every worldly kingdom – Persia, Egypt, Assyria, Greece, Rome, France, Ottoman, Prussia, Spain and England – eventually collapsed because of the moral weakness of its leaders. If you learn from the lessons of history – and we hope your teachers were at the right pay grade so you learned from them – then America will not join this sorry list of losers. We hope, at the least, that you would not hasten the beginning of the end.

Mr. President Obama, not all is lost. It's not yet too late. We in the Third World chuckle at the kind of democratic politics you have in the West, because there is not much difference between you and us. We too have low pay grade politicians running our affairs, deciding on matters beyond their pay grade, and making the same stupid mistakes signing into law popular policies on issues they don't understand. Like the poor Americans who voted you into office, we too suffer the follies of our rulers. We bleed when untimely ripped from our mothers' wombs. We cry when our hard-earned money is taxed and wasted.

And we tremble, because you have condemned us to suffer the evil that threatens to multiply when economists like your advisers, bankers like those you condemn, and politicians like you who are unthinking decide on matters beyond your pay grade. We tremble at such inconsistencies, because in your efforts to find and punish the culprits that led to the crisis we face, you will discover that without the moral fiber your nation is sorely lacking, you would collectively point accusing fingers at the less powerful: the immigrants, unborn babies, and millions of workers in the world who are on the receiving end of the collective monumental stupidities which we hoped you would stop.Though we tremble in fear, we also tremble with hopeful anticipation of your willingness to learn. You are powerful, not because of your pay grade but because you symbolize change. You can turn the status quo upside down, injecting a sorely needed moral imagination to your dying nation in a world wallowing in the throes of legislated extinction. You campaigned on an optimistic platform of change, responsibility, accountability, a better life and progress for all. Having gone so far and succeeded against all odds, you more than anyone should know that the best things in life have a moral dimension that go beyond pay grades, titles, and mandates.

Dear Mr. President, you talk of our era as the Age of Responsibility. This is a powerful concept with a deep moral dimension. One cannot talk of responsibility without consideration of right and wrong, truth and falsehood. If the Age of Responsibility you speak of would be but a continuation of the shallow, two-dimensional, and hedonistic world your people in the West know so well, then you will fail. However, if the Age of Responsibility you herald were to remind the world's people of our common humanity, our shared goals of respect and appreciation for each other's beliefs and differences and the admission that there lie beyond us realities we may not fully comprehend but that we must respect and cherish, then you truly could be the leader of real change in the world.

You can, Mr. President, symbolize the rebirth of humanity and the dawn of a new age. You more than anyone else would know what direction a genuine democracy must take for true human freedom to take root and flourish. You are in the unique position as the ruler of the first democratic superpower the world has ever known to chart the course of world history and bring the present and future generations to a destiny our common ancestors could only dream about.

Follow your heart, enlightened by your mind, and lead us. You know the right thing to do. Every world crisis results from the lack of good and just people ready to give up their lives to do what is right. America wants you to lead us to a New World, not the old one where unborn babies don't have rights, where colored peoples are discriminated against, and where the poor have no one to care for them. I, and billions of people the world over, trust you to lead us by example through this New Age of Responsibility. Please don't waste that trust.

A London Telegraph reporter ventured to say that you are an emperor without clothes, that you are all bluster and pomp, and that when America discovers you to be in the same mold as your predecessors Harding and Jackson, there will be a revolution so great that its threat to the world would not be matched by that which made us tremble during the Cold War years. We hope he's wrong, not only for our sake, but more especially for the sake of Michelle, Sasha, and Malia. They deserve better, and you can make sure they do.

Sincerely yours,

Manoling de Leon
Senior CitizenRepublic of the Philippines