Sunday, March 29, 2009


I KNOW there’s a nice song by that title. It’s by the famous Brazilian composer, Antonio Carlos Jobim, who captures the strains of sadness in an endearing beat irresistible to anyone who has a feeling heart. He makes melancholy sweet.

But I mean something else. In fact, this is about the serious business of reflecting more deeply on the word of God, allowing the impulses of one’s faith and piety to go winding and branching into considerations that can eventually lead to contemplation.

This kind of prayer is, I think, what we of this modern, fast-paced age need to learn well. From what we can gather, we are wired for this activity. We are not just for action. Though often frustrated, our spiritual DNA intends us to meditate and contemplate.

This gives us a sense of anchor and root, a sense of direction that can bring us where we truly belong—communion with God and with others. It provides us glimpses of the complete view of things, where the eternal becomes current and vice-versa.

Now, we seem so lost in a swelling ocean of developments that we just pretend we are enjoying life’s adventure to lull us or to quell the persistently creeping realization that we are going nowhere.

Or we immerse ourselves in musings of all kinds, romantic, literary, intellectual, etc., that can give us a good measure of joy, but still cannot satisfy our deepest longings. We know that such mental exertions are mainly fictional or functional meant for entertainment, therapy and other merely practical purposes.

In short, we try to equate the thrill and suspense of the life process as the eternal joy our heart will always long. We dare to exercise our creativity outside of the abiding creative moment of God. This error will not do, and will sooner or later be exposed.

We are meant for meditation. If not hampered by undue earthly attachments, our spiritual faculties, namely, our mind and heart, our intelligence and will, will look for their proper objects. That’s their natural appetite.

And these objects are the truth and goodness which make for authentic happiness for us. We squirm at anything that’s not true and that’s not good. We may be deceived for a while by things that appear true and good. But once the deception is uncovered, we repel them.

And this ultimate truth and goodness cannot be found in our material world. It cannot even be found in the best possibilities of our human world that can already include spiritual realities.

These spiritual realities need to be grounded by their proper author, their proper beginning and end, and this can only be God. That’s why, man is called a religious being, because even if he is not aware of it, he tends always toward God. His quest for truth and goodness will give him a sense of God.

Obviously, we have to train ourselves for this. Meditation just does not come about automatically. It has to be developed, and its requirements of attitudes and dispositions, art and skills, time and effort have to be met.

I remember the first time I attended a meditation given by a priest many years ago. I was, of course, struck by the novelty. But I also was aware of the critical thoughts that spontaneously came to my mind.

My experience with sermons during my childhood days made sure of that. I felt I was going through a survival course. I thought the priest was just acting, or was trying to impress. I always discovered defects. Yet I also could not deny that together with these negative thoughts, I discerned something good.

And that was that if I wanted to, I could make that meditation my own conversation with God. Never mind the human quality of the meditation. Things depended on whether I opt to turn that meditation into a human soliloquy or an intimate dialogue with God.

With some prodding from my spiritual director then, I chose to make it a dialogue with God, no matter how imperfect. And again with his help, I made an effort to develop a discipline of doing meditation with others or on my own.

And I must confess that the result has been wonderfully different since then. I was not just thinking about anything. I was talking with God. And the insights and realizations I made were not just my own. I was aware that regardless of their quality they were done with God…

Thursday, March 26, 2009

P-words to reckon with

NOW that elections are coming, I think some P-words have to be considered. We can start with four: patience with politics, politicians and the people.

Patience is, of course, a virtue we have to practice everywhere and with everyone. In the first place, our life is a journey. We just have to be patient to be able to reach the end. We have to move toward the destination, without getting stuck at a certain point. Patience is what keeps us moving. It’s hope in action.

Besides, with all the challenges and trials, problems, difficulties and failures that we have to contend with in life, patience indeed is a virtue that has become indispensable. Because of this, patience requires strength. To be weak-hearted works against patience.

Then try imagining God without patience. No one would have survived now. We would have become extinct long time ago. Thus, if he is patient, you can just imagine how much more we ought to be!

With politics, we have a special reason to be very patient. Politics is an indispensable aspect of our life. By its nature, it demands of us patience since we often get involved in raw issues and uncharted waters of social development.

We have to learn how to go slow to sort things out properly. We need to use a lot of restraint, holding our horses to allow reason and good sense rather than emotions to lead us in our discussions, consultations and dialogues. We have to be wary of the temptation to rash judgment, uncharitable thoughts, etc.

Politics is unavoidably like a contact sport. We cannot help but commit some fouls, all sorts of infractions and mistakes, big and small. We just have to learn to move on in spite of these hindrances. That’s part of patience.

With patience, we can afford to be open-minded as opposed to being close-minded, gripped in biases and prejudices. We can manage to be sport, to focus more on the essentials and not to get entangled with irritating non-essentials.

Patience facilitates forgiveness, purification of memory, optimism and positive outlook. It prevents ill-feelings and heals resentments. It fosters unity and reconciliation.

Then if we take into account how we are as persons and citizens, we have greater reason to practice the most exquisite type of patience when dealing with politicians.

As things are, politicians can come to us in many, endless forms and combinations. Let’s be wary when we tend to see only their defects and mistakes. For sure, they have, and given the games they play and the pressures they bear, theirs can be bigger and worse than the average.

But it would be unfair if we just give all our attention to these negative elements. Let’s try to be more understanding to them. And if we have the chance, let’s help them to be truly Christian, to be men and women with real integrity.

Though we can have our personal choices, let’s always be open and civil to everyone, no matter how in disagreement we may be with some of their views, or how we disapprove of their performance.

Let’s be always kind in our thoughts and words with respect to them. They may be crooks, and we have more than enough evidence of this type of creatures, but they too are our brothers and sisters who deserve to be loved and helped. Let’s never forget that they too can be real saints, if often disguised.

As to the people, another demanding type of patience is needed, since we cannot deny that they should be continually educated and motivated about their duties as the electorate.

We have to put more passion to our desires and actions to help one another to be responsible citizens and fair voters. We need to teach everyone the practical ways of prudence, anchoring it on prayer and due study and consultation.

For all these, we need to develop a more focused and abiding sense of cultivating this patience and prudence with politics, the politicians and the people.

Our problem is that often we tend to improvise on the spot and to give only ad hoc and stopgap solutions to problems. In the process, we make a lot mess, much like that of an emergency fire truck rushing with sirens and all to a burning scene.

Let’s reflect on these P-words and draw some concrete resolutions.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Resting and recovering

WITH bags packed and tickets ready, I flew to Tagaytay from Cebu the other day for my annual 3-week seminar. This has been a routine for me for almost 40 years now, part of a continuing formation that I submit myself to.

Tagaytay in summer is, I think, the perfect place to be. It certainly will make you forget about global warming. It’s like a lucky halfway house, right at the middle between urban and rural life. It’s got flowers, fruits, views, nice people, serenity and isolation.

The activity is actually many things to me. First, it affords me a wonderful time to rest, a most welcome break from my usual work load. I get to wake up later than usual, I have time to do sports and exercises, and to go to excursions where I don’t worry about getting lost in the mountain, for example.

This is still a mystery to me but I can’t deny the fact that I yearn for this change of regimen. Part of me pines for an occasion to rough it up with others, doing physical, even strenuous things, away from my usual intellectual work. It soothes nerves, relieves stress, dissipates tension.

This type of activity has a peculiar and effective way of being united with others. I am getting convinced that this direct physical contact with people and with things gives one a different kind of communion that can’t be attained through ideas, words and arguments. I can’t explain this yet.

I get a certain kind of satisfaction when I can let go of the usual amenities and savor again the hand-to-mouth way of life. One time when I gave a seminar to young altar boys, I realized I enjoyed dipping my fingers together with theirs in a common bowl of food.

I also get the chance to indulge in my hobbies—reading, singing, and just allowing my thoughts free-range movement. I feel like a child who suddenly gets scot-free to play under the rain, or a prisoner who manages to escape.

And it’s amazing what thoughts and insights one can get out of this situation! Truly, many mysteries of life get revealed in these occasions. A certain lavishness bursts out amid the Spartan conditions.

Of course, the yearly activity provides me with precious moments to go deeper in my spiritual life. I seem to discern more clearly the enigmatic ways of Providence and to feel more keenly the inexplicable stirrings in the heart and soul. These will always remain intimate and personal.

But there’s also a serious part of this affair. I get assigned to teach something. This year, the class I give is on ecclesiology, a discussion about the nature of the Church. This is always a very fascinating subject to me.

The students are all professional men who already know a lot of things. What they need to have is to get an organized over-all understanding of the subject. The usual problem is that their knowledge is often one-sided, and not very systematically theological. It’s more anecdotal.

But they are quite aware of the problems and the issues in current Church life, and some are conversant of the historical background. Thus, the classes end up in very animated exchanges of thoughts. I just have to worry a bit about seeing to it the bare essentials of the subject are well taken up.

Another blessing of this activity is the chance to mingle with more people and to know new ones. At this stage, I am becoming more conscious of the inter-generational, inter-regional and even inter-racial wealth the activity provides.

It warms the heart that in spite of the variety and differences of temperaments, backgrounds, characters, professions, etc., one can still notice a certain unity of spirit and continuity of the same vocation.

The joy this gives me is indescribable, and it can only lead me to an outburst of thanksgiving, and a more ardent resolution to be ever faithful, eager to find ways, big and small, to be such.

I think this is the real beauty, importance and relevance of our need to rest. We get to act out God’s rest after the creation of man and the world. We get to realize more deeply that true rest is when one is with Christ, who said:

“Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Mt 11,28) Once rested, one is raring to return to ordinary work.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Faith and education

IT’S graduation time, and with all the flurry of activities related to it, one can’t help but ponder again on the nature, purpose and meaning of education.

I think it’s an exercise that has perennial value, worthy of resorting to from time to time if only to be reminded of certain basic aspects of education that tend to be taken for granted.

To ignore and even forget these things is not a remote possibility. With all the pressures coming from different sources, everyone in the education business—from management to faculty to students and parents—can reduce his understanding of education even into precarious levels and degrees.

How many times do we get the impression that the main concern of education is shrunk, for example, to just how to send the most number of children to school, or to provide the necessary infrastructure, or to have adequate budget, etc.?

Education is not just transmission of some ideas. Nor is it merely an acquisition of skills. It’s not just a business enterprise, nor a human endeavor with strictly material, social and natural purposes. For sure, education involves all these, but it goes much further and deeper.

Especially if seen in the light of Christian faith, it assumes a much richer nature and character. For education would be understood as nothing less than forming one’s soul to conform it to the mind and heart of Christ, the living Christ, and not just the ghost of Christ.

St. Paul somehow expressed that idea well in his Letter to the Ephesians when he said: “Until we all meet into the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph 4,13)

So education does not only affect the minds or the hands of people, nor their economic or social aspects. It affects the very of seat of a person’s being, the very principle of his life—his soul that needs to be as much as possible consciously and freely patterning itself to Truth and Wisdom.

The development and maturity of a person’s soul does not come about automatically or simply by being itself. It has to relate itself to the ultimate source of truth, goodness, wisdom, beauty, etc. It’s never a solitary or isolated affair. It necessarily connects us with God, or our concept of God, and with others.

We, by nature, tend to these perfections. Thus, we have to understand that education is a life-long, abiding and vital process. It’s always a work in progress. It employs and uses everything simply because it actually involves everything in our life.

It touches on our material and spiritual aspects, our personal and social dimensions, our temporal-and-eternal, local-and-global, sacred-and-mundane, contemplative-and-active, theoretical-and-practical concerns, etc.

For believers of Christ, this education is animated by faith and charity, which is made possible only if there is a living and loving relationship between Christ and the person concerned.

For Christian believers, this education offers them a universal and complete vision of things. It truly brings them to the real world in its entirety, where there is unity and consistency amid the great diversity and growing multiplicity of data and information from different fields.

It keeps them away from repeating the story of the Tower of Babel, creating fantasies and what are now known as parallel universes. It can accommodate fiction, but precisely as fiction, not mistaking it for reality.

It’s an education that, while grounded on the here and now, would go all the way to the hereafter. It does not remain on the purely human and natural levels, but relates them always to the divine and the supernatural.

Sad to say, nowadays we are witnessing a creeping tendency to do away with God, with faith and religion, in order to create a new world order according to our own human standards, reached not by adherence to truth but more through consensus.

Thus, we now have a “culture of death” instead of a “culture of life.” Immoralities are now considered mainstream morality. Abortion rights are expanded, designer babies are now made while euthanasia is increasingly legalized. And more barbarities are still in the pipeline!

We need to give our Christian education a shot in the arm to counter these disturbing developments. We have to know how to get our act together to make that education a functional one, converting a dream to reality.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Enterprising and entrepreneurial

THE good thing about problems and difficulties like what we are having now with the much-talked-about global financial crisis is that we can surface again an often ignored truth.

And that is that the human spirit can take on anything, even to the point of heroism and martyrdom. If one wills something, nothing from outside nor inside him can stop him from carrying out what he has decided to do. Much depends on how we use and turn our will.

This is how our spirit is. It has the capacity to be above the fluctuations, the ebb and flow of life, its unavoidable wear and tear. Though in our case, it is inseparably united to the body, it still can function according to its nature and rule the body. This is when we can talk of the spiritual man.

The problem is when we allow that spirit to be dominated by the law of the flesh, instead of having it the other way around. This is the challenge we have at the moment—how to make that human spirit rule the ups and downs of the flesh and the outside world.

As chaplain of a technical vocational school for boys, I clearly see the need to give a continuing and effective reason for the spirit of the boys to float and even take off. Their faith has to be nourished steadily.

This is a task that truly demands the art of brinkmanship. We have to go to the limits of reason and to other human devices to be able to infuse the needed hope and optimism to otherwise harassed souls.

It’s also a very delicate task, because one has to enter into the interior life of the boys. One needs how to deal with their character and temperament, their psychological frame, their cultural upbringing, etc.

Given their youthfulness, the boys can be unstable and volatile, quickly alternating between buoyancy and lethargy, creativity and routine, razor-sharp interest and dulling indifference. It’s clear their spirit is not yet in full control of their own selves. They can easily be held captive by their moods and the fads and gimmicks outside. They are not yet with God’s grace self-propelled. They have to be propped up most of the time.

Thus, we have implemented some kind of universal mentoring, that is, providing everyone with a mentor or a buddy with whom they can talk about all sorts of things.

But with the present global economic downturn where some of our boys now find difficulty in getting a job, there is great need to elicit in them their enterprising and entrepreneurial possibilities. Only those who work with faith and hope can survive any onslaught of trials.

For this, we have thought of pairing each one with a business mentor, no matter how modest the business may be. This is just to expose the boys to the real world of making business, of making money from any venture.

It’s also a good way of snatching them from the claws of helplessness, always a threat to them given their background. It would be quite a blow to them if after all their sacrifices in trying to get some education, they’d see that everything just fell to futility.

Difficulties are actually challenges and occasions either to rise or fall, to win or lose. We should not allow these trials to just scare us. They should be confronted properly in a variety of ways. One would be to generate an air of optimism. Everything that would contribute to making the atmosphere hopeful should be done. We have to be careful with our words and spontaneous reactions to negative developments.

This hope and optimism should be ably supported by a strong, solid spiritual life, first of all, and by practical plans and practicable strategies. There has to be a way of making more available quick and flexible retraining programs, for example, spearheaded by both government and NGOs.

The world nowadays is in faster flux. To effectively grapple with the challenges and possibilities, there has to be a tighter sense of solidarity and cooperation, a quicker transmission of ideas and translation of insights into action.

All of these should be deeply anchored on the true foundation of our life, God himself! Let’s disabuse ourselves from thinking that with our cleverness and our resources, we can manage to solve problems. We have to begin and end with God always!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Making chastity doable

OBVIOUSLY one of the biggest challenges facing people, especially the young, is how to live chastity. This has to be a continuing affair that everyone, as much as possible, should also be involved. Yes, we have to help one another here.

We just can not throw in the towel that easily in this warfare. In fact, we should not, no matter how intimidating the battle, or how hopeless it looks. In our earthly life, chastity is more a matter of struggle than of a state. It’s dynamic, not a static virtue.

It cannot be understood in a very restrictive way, that is, the capacity not to fall into some ugly practices. It's a living component of love, and in love, anything goes. One is open to all possibilities, but there's always that desire to give oneself to the beloved, no matter what it costs.

As such it will always require fresh and ever renewed efforts, driven by new impulses of reason. It should never be allowed to go on automatic pilot. The constant and erratic movements of our hormones, the ever-present sting in our flesh all require an abiding vigilance and motivation.

This is not to mention the external elements—occasions of sins and temptations—that assault us in one of our most vulnerable spots. There has to be a concerted effort to dismantle the growing social structure that seems to foster impurity.

In its place, we should create a healthy and conducive environment for this virtue to take root, grow and mature. It should be a set of practical conditions and factors that are doable. Chastity should become second nature to us, enabled by grace and our correspondence.

I just would to gather some pertinent words of saints to support what I've just said. St. Augustine, for example, says: “To be truly chaste is to have your sight fixed on God and live as an offering to him.”

We need to cultivate this mentality. We cannot live simply pursuing our own plans and desires. We have to fall in love, and that can only happen if we our mind and heart are fixed on God, and because of that, they are also fixed on others in their proper hierarchy and ways.

How should we understand the implications of this need to love so as to live chastity? St. Gregory gives us an idea. “There are some who want to be humble without being despised. They want to be content with what they have without suffering need.

“They want to be chaste without mortifying their body... When they try to acquire virtues while fleeing from the efforts that virtue requires, it is as though they hoped to win a war by living comfortably in the city, without having anything to do with the combat on the battlefield.”

What's clear here is that we have to wage what's called as ascetical struggle, the constant effort to fill and keep our minds and hearts with love and all the expressions of goodness.

It's a struggle with endless frontlines. Even our weakness, physical or otherwise, can be a frontline where we can also win, if we know how to live out what St. Paul once said: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12,10)

Making chastity doable is a matter, first of all, of grace, but it's also a matter of ever-renewed struggle. St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, says the following relevant point:
“We have to fight against our passions by increasing our life of piety daily. I will never get tired of saying that nobody...can imagine they lack the necessary means for the fight. Nor will I get tired of repeating that if anyone abandons those means, they will fall.

“It's a clear symptom: when the energies of someone's soul are habitually enfeebled, when they are dull or their life is languid, you can be sure that they already abandoned the fight some time ago; that their hearts are empty of God and filled instead with selfishness, love of comfort, and the flesh...

“So feed your soul on God's love. Give it to him completely.”

Alas, this is a tall order! Hard, but not impossible. Thus, we need to help one another, giving good example and timely reminders, and doing all to make chastity doable to everyone.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The inner man

WE need to be more aware of our inner man, and more so of our duties and responsibilities toward that core of our being. I get the intuition that with all the rush of developments we’re having, with their pressures and concerns, we are neglecting this fundamental aspect of our life.

The other day while reading the papers and going through cybernews, I noticed that while its understandable to package all these info outlets with pictures and stories of stars, celebrities, new products, etc., there’s practically nothing about how all these items relate to our inner being.

They appear to cater only to our external and material needs. Nothing wrong there as long as they don’t stop there either. This is the problem we are facing these days.

We are constantly massaged, tickled, stimulated in our outer layer, but somehow starved and left to atrophy in our inner self. This is a dangerous situation.

Our inner man refers to our spiritual life. To be aware of our inner man is to be a spiritual man, as opposed to an unspiritual or carnal man. St. Paul practically interchanges these two terms.
In his Letter to the Ephesians, he says: “According to the riches of his glory, may he grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” (3,16-17)

The immediate corollary of this passage is that our inner man ought to be fed by the Spirit of Christ. It should not be fed by any other pabulum. We are what the spirit in us is. We behave according to how the spirit in us moves us.

This truth is reiterated in St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. “The unspiritual man,” he said, “does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

“The spiritual man judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.” (2,14-15)
Many practical conclusions can be derived from these words, all pointing to the importance of caring for our inner man or our spiritual self. We have to be wary of the strong and pervading tendency to treat ourselves simply in a physical or material sense, without going deep enough to our very core, our soul.

We cannot underestimate this danger. Nowadays, many people’s idea of beauty, strength, success, triumph, for example, is stuck in the physical or economic level, measuring things in inches and in pesos and in popularity.

In late Pope John Paul II’s words, we tend to assess ourselves in terms of “having” rather than in “being.” That is to say, if we have more, then we are ok. We don’t bother about being more, or being better as a person and ultimately as a child of God.

When our inner man is weak, we would be at the mercy of our biological hormones and would start acting like any animal, or we would become easy prey to passing fads, commercial or ideological propaganda, etc.

We would fail to get hold of the objective essences of things that would determine our moral judgments and behavior. We would miss the proper values that are supposed to govern us. Instead of loving, we'd simply be using people and things.

We actually would become dehumanized. The possibility of degrading ourselves is unique to us since we are thinking and free creatures. Other creatures do not have to worry about this possibility.

Of course, by the same reason, we are also capable of elevating and upgrading ourselves. In this, the sky is the limit, since with the help of grace we can never exhaust the possibilities of being God’s children, created in his image and likeness.

We have to help one another in this business of taking care of one’s inner man or spiritual self. We have to know the relevant doctrine, acquire the skills and the virtues. In short, we have to avail of the necessary formation, which actually is a continuing affair.

We need to help everyone keep one’s true humanity, and to check the trend to empty ourselves of our inner man, leaving us with a plastic substitute, a façade, a mask, an empty suit, a scarecrow, and other manifestations of the unspiritual or carnal man.

Secularism the new orthodoxy

WE seem to be entering a new era in our world civilization. A new order appears to be shaping up. It looks like there’s a sustained process to set aside tradition and other things of the past.

I don’t think it’s the usual rhythm of renewal as we march on with time. I don’t even think it’s just the natural course of evolution that’s taking place and that we happen to witness one of its expected or easily understandable watersheds.

No, it looks more like mutation, a heterogeneous, completely different outgrowth from what have been so far, though you can be sure it also had its gestation period in a subculture that now tries to assert as being mainstream.

I really hope that I’m wrong here, that I’m simply exaggerating or dreaming. But there are signs around, and what look like troubling symptoms that are showing.

In the US, their new, howlingly popular president is fast changing the moral tone of society. Abortion rights are not restricted, but rather expanded. There’s even a move to withdraw the so-called “conscience rights,” supposed to protect doctors and nurses from performing things against their conscience.

In the present stem cell controversy, science, now with government backing, appears to set aside moral guidance and limits and is pursuing study, research and application as it damn pleases.

The new, intoxicating air of tolerance ushered in by the new administration is also causing a new brand of intolerance, more subtle and more deadly than what so far have been experienced.

If for some reason sin can be tolerated, at least, temporarily, it need not come in exchange of making virtue intolerable. But the latter is what is happening these days.

No less than the World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations has declared that Obama has begun his term with actions that will undermine respect for human life, human dignity and religious freedom.

He seems to be lefty in the militant sense not only on political and economic issues, but also on the social and moral ones. There are strong suspicions he is engaging in dangerous social engineering. I must say we are living through very exciting moments these days.

At this point, we seem to be caught in a riptide of contrasting currents of faith and ideologies, and we just have to resolve this turbulence one way or another, hopefully for the good of all, and with truth, justice and charity upheld.

The new orthodoxy that is emerging may be called secularism, an all embracing world-view that has as its roots a weak or absent belief in God, in all its forms—theoretical or practical, merely professed or actively lived, etc.

Secularism arises from a misunderstanding of our freedom and human autonomy, their nature, origin and purpose, their scope and range and the corresponding law that governs, but not limits, it.

It dislodges us from the orbit of our proper system where God is our sun, the center of our universe, and not our individual selves. It affects our relations with others and our attitude towards things in general. It can go deep into the capillaries of our system, where the crucial changes start to take place.

What is important now is how to brace ourselves for the challenge. Pope Benedict encourages us to engage the issue properly, that is, getting into the mind and soul of this dangerous ideology, and try to correct and purify it from within.

We cannot deal with it purely from outside. We have to enter it and go beyond it, distinguishing what is good and salvageable in it and what is outrightly wrong.

This goal is, of course, very demanding, and requires nothing less than a solid grounding in the doctrine of our faith and a tight and strong integrity of life. All aspects of our life should be held together in a consistent way.

Charity in all its forms should always prevail. In all these, nothing less than authentic sanctity and Christian maturity is required. Certainly, patience and the art of dialogue are a must. Same with the capacity to adapt and to be flexible without getting lost in the process.

Short of this would expose us to danger and could worsen the problem, as the weak or sickly condition can make the secularized world more immune to the spiritual and supernatural realities.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Get-together between Pope and priests

IN a previous article (Short pants, long pants), I referred to a get-together Pope Benedict recently had with some priests of Rome that’s becoming a traditional practice of his at the start of the Lenten season.

I got hold of the transcript of the whole affair, and I just can’t help but get ecstatic over what happened there. To me, it was a clear example of a good meeting—enlightening, positive and encouraging, substantial and attuned to the temper of the times.

My prayer is that something similar be replicated in the local setting. Such get-togethers will go a long way in strengthening the bonds between bishops and priests, and in enriching everyone in the dioceses and parishes.

Obviously, they have to be handled well—with competence, grace and elegance, and in an atmosphere of a healthy family gathering, where unity and love can be felt amid the great diversity and even conflicts of opinions and sentiments.

Nowadays, with easy access to different sources of information, it’s good to be reminded of the duty to be discriminating and to exert the effort to consult not only the experts but also the real authorities.

The Internet, for example, is a tremendous window of information. But it can delude us to thinking that with it we can get into an infinite-freedom forum, an anything-goes kind of discussion that can touch anything but can get us nothing, that can lead us both everywhere and nowhere.

In that Rome get-together, the priests freely asked questions, including difficult and pointed ones, and the Pope was open and game, and he responded with great depth and easy fluency. Truly a marvel to behold!

It appeared like there was no previous screening of the questions, since the answers of the Pope included many tentative or provisional views. I got the impression it was a no-holds-barred kind of discussion. But there was cordiality in the manner.

Just the same the Pope replied not only magisterially. In spite of their informal quality, his responses had the character of the Magisterium, the official teaching office of the Church vested with infallibility.

I think there were eight questions raised and answered, indicating the primary tier of priestly concerns articulated by the clerics. The Pope handled himself well, often saying, “If I understood the question, you wanted to ask….” And true enough, the Pope got the crux of the questions bull’s eye, which was not easy to do, since the Italians, along with their many wonderful traits and charms, have the tendency to go into streaming, if not overflowing verbosity.

There was one question which I found very timely. It had something to do with how we ought to administer the goods of the earth, how we can be true Christian stewards of God’s creation.

I found the question most relevant given our current global financial crisis that is exposing the intricate irregularities all of us in varying degrees are responsible for. I’d like to paraphrase part of the Pope’s answer to give us an idea of what needs to be done. In effect, he said:

- That while denunciation of errors should be made, it has to be done in a reasonable and reasoned way, not with great moral statements, but with concrete reasons understandable in today’s economic world.

- That the Church should be vigilant, and must discover the reasons of the economic world, entering its reasoning and enlightening this reason with the faith that frees us from the egoism of original sin. The purpose is to help and correct, and we should expect resistance and know how to handle it charitably.

- While there is original sin, we will never achieve a radical and total correction. But we must do everything to implement provisional corrections, sufficient to enable us to live and hinder the dominance of egoism that often masks itself under the guise of science and national and international economy.

I find these ideas worth pondering and pursuing further. We have to reach that point where the requirements of our faith and morals reach not only our personal lives but also our collective life in society in all its levels and aspects.

He also said that to reach these goals, there is need for conversion, to make men truly just, since a just society needs just men. Thus, a sustained and serious effort to educate everyone in justice is a must.

Alas, a big challenge primarily for the clergy!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Momentum from religion’s decline

A NEWS item in the internet reported recently that more Americans are saying they have no religion.

The lead declared: “A wide-ranging study on American religious life found that the Roman Catholic population has been shifting out of the Northeast to the Southwest, the percentage of Christians in the nation has declined and more people say they have no religion at all.”

It was said that fifteen percent of the respondents said they had no religion, an increase from 14.2 percent in 2001 and 8.2 percent in 1990.

Though we don’t have the relevant figures in other places, including our own, it might be safe and prudent to assume that, given our current world conditions, more or less the same downturn in religious interest can be noted in many countries.

This, of course, is not good news, but there's no reason why it should remain that way. Religion is a very dynamic phenomenon involving intimate and core beliefs of people, and it should be no surprise that from time to time we have this rise-and-fall movements.

This problem of tremendous proportions can be an opportunity to do great things. The current predicament can unleash bolder apostolic efforts of Church people. Of course, it requires of them a higher level of self-giving and sanctity, a tighter consistency of their mind and heart, their words and deeds, etc.

The more important thing the report seems to indicate is that Church authorities have to do some drastic rethinking, retooling and regrouping to cope with the challenge articulated in that report. For indeed the challenge has grown not only in size but also in complexity.

We don’t have to think much to realize that with the present global economic crisis, many people can loosen their grip on religion, if not even lose it. That’s the knee-jerk reaction of many when faced with a big problem.

This situation can be made worse if questionable ideological influences are made to bear down on it. And in cannot be denied that such conditionings are not only present but also are many.

In the US and in other countries, developed or not so developed, a secularized or neo-paganized outlook in life is getting mainstream. God and religion are considered at best a prop or a decoration, a relic that can be made use of in certain occasions.

What seems to be the prevailing mentality is to be pragmatic, to achieve some useful benefits from anything as long as some semblance of consensus can be counted. There are no more absolute rules and laws anymore. Everything can be made relative.

Thus the concept of power, authority, charism and leadership has nothing to do anymore with one’s relationship with God. Everything depends on one’s luck, clout, talents, popularity, connections and cleverness. Leaders can have the trappings, minus the substance.

This is the time to remind everyone of God’s Word, of his love and mercy for us, and of our ultimate and constant end and purpose in life. We should not allow ourselves to be held captive by purely natural or earthly criteria, no matter how indispensable they are.

This is the time to go deeper into the understanding and development of our proper work ethic, knowing how to find, love and serve Christ and others in our work. We need to convert our faith and love of God into action, developing it in the context of our actual conditions.

God, though he is the farthest from us because he is the Ultimate Other, is actually also the closest to us, since he is at the very core of our own existence. We have to learn to deal with him according to the way he is and to the way we are.

This may involve a longggggg and aaaaarduous process, but I think it’s worth it. Truth is we need to graduate from an amateurish kind of Christian life to a more serious and professional one, so to speak. We’ve been Christians by name for long, but not by actual life yet. We have to bridge the yawning gaps in our life as children of God.

The world at the moment, thrown in such precarious situation, is in great need of this kind of religion, one that we live with utmost consistency day to day, moment to moment.

So from this apparent decline of religion today, let’s just gather the momentum to catapult it to its proper place in our lives.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Short pants, long pants

HE, he, he. This is not about fashion. This is actually about the serious business of priestly formation needed for the clergy to be mature and effective in carrying out their—our, me included—evangelizing mission.

In a get-together the Pope had with parish priests and the clergy of the diocese of Rome recently, this short-pants-long-pants business came out during the question-and-answer portion.

Pope Benedict is developing this tradition of meeting the clergy for an open discussion of priestly concerns at the start of the Lenten season. Pope John Paul II used to write letters to priests on Holy Thursdays.

Pope Benedict seems to go a step further by engaging them in a direct meeting.

In this last get-together, the priest who asked the first question said something to this effect: that when he was still a new priest, he felt confident he was doing very well with his homilies and talks because of his theological training and all that. According to him, one time a believing and wise woman of his parish jolted him when she asked him when he was going to wear long pants.
She meant when was he going to tackle the real spiritual and moral problems and pastoral issues objectively, that is, going beyond the short pants of theories and motherhood statements.

These were the words used by the priest: “That woman was trying to explain to me that life, the real world, God himself, are greater and more surprising than the concepts we elaborate.

“She was inviting me to listen to the human aspect, to try to understand, to comprehend, without being in a hurry to judge. She was asking me to learn how to enter into relationship with reality, without fears, because reality is inhabited by Christ himself who acts mysteriously in his Spirit.”

It’s actually an observation many parishioners have of their priests, again highlighting the grave need for priests to take good care of our continuing and hopefully deepening formation.

With our complex and complicated world today, we priests should be up to par with the challenges.

We have to learn to take things on the chin. We play a very crucial role because we actually are responsible for the care of the most fundamentally determining part of human life—one’s spiritual and moral life.

All the powers we have, all the authority and privileged dignity we receive, are geared for this purpose. Failure in this task simply means misusing or even abusing the entitlements that go with priesthood.

Well, the Pope’s reply was a study in effective and profound response to a difficult query. In summary, the Pope’s answer can be divided into four parts.

One, that priests should not ignore or belittle their theological or theoretical training. This is always important and indispensable.

Two, that this theological framework should be personalized in our own experience of faith and made concrete in our actual dealings with people. It has to be internalized and made to guide us in our affairs. We priests actually know souls well because outside of what we know in public and externally, we know them interiorly through confession and spiritual direction. There, they bare their heart and mind. They come unmasked.

Three, that the priestly work of evangelization today, though contextualized in current situations, should not lose sight of the simplicity of the Word of God.

Priests are not supposed to focus on the technical side of the problems of the times. These have to be known and studied all right, but priests should focus more on what the Lord says to the man of today.

“We do not propose reflections, we do not propose a philosophy, but rather the simple proclamation of the God who has acted, and who has also acted with me,” he said.

We have to understand these words well. They don’t mean that we don’t do any reflecting, philosophizing and theologizing. They mean that we have to go beyond them, not stuck with them, and really do what is necessary: proclaim the Word of God.

Lastly, the Pope advised that it is important to be really attentive to today’s world, and also attentive to the Lord in oneself: “to be a man of this time and at the same time a believer in Christ, who in himself transforms the eternal message into a current message.”

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

An American reacts

THANKS to the Internet, you don’t only get to read and react to articles in papers abroad, you also get to be read and reacted on. Recently, an American reader emailed me his commentary on my article on the religious views of Obama.

I’d like to share his views with my readers, since I think they poignantly illustrate the situation of those now living in the Ground Zero of this religious anomaly, of which Obama is now the icon. What I say more out of philosophy and theology, he says them with the warm blood of experience. Here it goes:

Kumusta ka, Father Cimagala;

“I read your opinion piece entitled "Obama's views on religion." I would like to make the following comments:

“First, my name is Tom Diebold and I live in Shelby, Michigan in the United States. Many Americans have been aware of Mr. Obama's personal views of religion, with the emphasis on the word "personal." Attempts were made during the recent presidential campaign to publicly discuss Mr. Obama's approach to religion, but the mainstream media in the US cut-off any discussion, in effect protecting Mr. Obama from any detailed scrutiny by the electorate. It worked.

“Mr. Obama's approach to religious faith and belief is a very common situation in the Western World today, particularly in Europe and the United States. I believe that it is not a favorable situation for the future of the Western World.

“You are right, Man has an inherent pull toward religious belief. In his heart, Man knows that God exists, that there is a transcendent explanation for existence. But modern Man has been taught, and has convinced himself for many complex reasons, that the ultimate understanding, the source of "enlightenment" is internal to Man's rational mind. So God, the eternal presence, becomes an internal manifestation of Man's rational thought. This is quite convenient, as the views, beliefs and acceptable practices around religion are then open to Man's imagination. This is one reason for this phenomenon. Man does not want to be restricted by an external, absolute, transcendent source of morality; he wants the ability, the power, to make up the rules for himself. Internalizing God is the sure way to do this.

“It is the Garden of Eden, the tree of knowledge passage from Genesis, in a modern context.

“Obama's beliefs manifest this tendency with remarkable clarity. Every belief is tailored to the personal, the preferential, very little to personal sacrifice or anything that is personally difficult to accept according to each individual. There is no community of believers, everyone makes it up for themselves, to suit their own needs. "Whatever feels good, do it," that old mantra from the 1960s, has become the prominent cultural attitude, with disastrous consequences.

“It is a testament to his popularity that he can so openly display this tendency and be so widely applauded. To hold orthodox religious views today in the US is seen as quite backward, even dangerous -- close-minded and unintelligent. You get called a "fundamentalist" and the discussion is over. The current belief is that only the weak-minded would rely on an external, absolute belief system. You would be amazed at the number of times, in discussions with friends and acquaintances, that I have been told, "Anyone who believes in an external, absolute morality is not in touch with their own feelings or emotionally developed as an autonomous, independent person," or words to that effect. It is as if having a traditional view of morality makes you some kind of mindless robot. People actually believe this.

“What this means is that people make up their own moral system for themselves. Whatever is personally comfortable is therefore moral. Whatever is personally uncomfortable is immoral. This may or may not comply with traditional views of morality. This is why Western culture has grown so decadent. It is as if an immature, adolescent view of reality has become dominant among the Western adult population.”

Succeeding emails revealed this American knew more Visayan words, so I asked him how he learned these words. He said that he was in Davao for three weeks last year to meet a girl he got to know through the Internet.

He has very nice words for the Filipino people, without ignoring what he thought were also our cultural weaknesses.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Soul of the economy

ONE precious lesson learned in the current global financial crisis is that business and the economy just cannot be handled as if they are soulless institutions and practices governed by purely economic laws without any regard to morality.

This anomaly was evident in the heady housing boom in the US generated by the notorious subprime housing loans which were and still are at the eye of the present economic typhoon.

They were a reckless way of doing business, driven by false socio-economic principles and greed. It was as if our Lord’s words were completely forgotten: “It’s not by bread alone that man lives, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

We have to understand that unless we recognize the soul of the economy, going beyond its purely technical aspects, and act accordingly, we would be not only going nowhere but also exposing ourselves to tremendous dangers.

Now, the US economy, and together with it, that of the whole world, notably Europe, are paying dearly for these mistakes. Top businessmen and investors, like Warren Buffet, are claiming that the American economy will be “in shambles” in 2009 and probably well beyond. Imagine ours!

This crisis should remind us of the need to imbue our economic activities with a keen sense of justice and solidarity, as well as temperance, prudence and an abiding concern for the common good.

It might be good to download the relevant social teachings of the Church and upload them in our society so as to be better known by everyone, especially those who are active participants in the business-and-economic arena.

In the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, we have the following points that can shed light on the nature and purpose of the economic activities. They can serve as guiding principles in doing business:

- “Goods, even when legitimately owned, always have a universal destination; any type of improper accumulation is immoral, because it openly contradicts the universal destination assigned to all goods by the Creator.” (328)

We have to know what improper accumulation of goods means. For this and other pertinent concerns, everyone, of course, should be involved. But the greater responsibility falls on our leaders, especially our spiritual leaders who have to give prompt and effective guidance to the faithful.

- “Riches fulfill their function of service to man when they are destined to produce benefits for others and for society.” (329)

We have to help everyone develop this mentality of continually attuning his pursuit of wealth with the needs of the others.

- “The relation between morality and economics is necessary, indeed intrinsic: economic activity and moral behavior are intimately joined one to the other. The necessary distinction between morality and the economy does not entail the separation of these two spheres but, on the contrary, an important reciprocity.” (331)

- “The economy has as its object the development of wealth and its progressive increase, not only in quantity but also in quality; this is morally correct if it is directed to man’s overall development in solidarity and to that of the society in which people live and work.” (334)

Let’s hope that these points at least get well known and assimilated by all, because even at these times of supposedly high level of development, there is still a lot of ignorance and confusion regarding these basic economy-and-morality principles.

An ongoing social and cultural formation driven by a genuine spiritual stimulus, of course, has to be undertaken to infuse these vital moral values into the mentality and practices of everyone.

Besides, we need to develop the proper mechanisms where these ethical and moral requirements get protected and upheld juridically as far as possible.

Insofar as the clergy is concerned, it’s truly a big challenge for the bishops and priests to be updated with the developments so we can put our preaching and guidance in proper context.

Lastly, my favorite point of social doctrine is the following, which I think explains much of our problems these days:

- “A financial economy that is an end unto itself is destined to contradict its goals, since it is no longer in touch with its roots and has lost sight of its constitutive purpose.” (369)

We have to be most wary when we make our business and economic activities to serve only our own self-interests. That’s the sure way to perdition.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Thinking big and peripherally

I’M afraid this is something we have to learn to do, and learn it quick and fast. Before some burning issues, especially those asking for legalization, we just should not look at what is explicitly said. We have to be more wary of the implications and the consequences.

These controversial issues do have a moving spirit behind them, and we just have to discern what kind of spirit it is. They are no inert, abstract concepts that hardly have any impact on our lives as individuals and societies. They are alive and are meant to influence our thoughts and behavior.

In short, they have a prominently moral impact on us. They just cannot and should not be treated as mere technical items that should be judged only in terms of the convenience and practical advantages they give.

They touch the very core of our being, and our true relationship with God and among ourselves. They can question fundamental things like who and what we are, what our purpose is, etc.

They certainly have to be assessed slowly and thoroughly. We have to read between the lines, look into their inspiration and motives, know the ideologies behind those advocating them, etc. This is not paranoia. This is prudence, foresight and even common sense.

In short, we cannot be naïve and accept things at face value. Times are now so very complicated we have to be watchful and cautious in sorting and identifying things—factors, elements, circumstances, etc.—giving each its proper value.

Perhaps, the underlying crisis that gives rise to this complication is the crisis of values. There are signs many of us are confused about what values should truly govern us. Giving proper value judgment to things seems to be missing in action these days.

We have to be wary of how things are framed and presented, the beautiful language used that’s cleverly attuned to what may be considered at the moment as being politically or socially correct. Intense and covert maneuverings are done, you can be sure of it.

Tricks are already done in this level, tricks that count on a massive support structure in terms of ideology, finances and linkage network. Besides, they can count on many prominent social and political leaders, and yes, some significant following.

There will be attempts to limit the discussion and debate within the field of economics, for example, or of social pragmatism, making any consideration of faith and morals, of religion, as taboo, or as uncalled for.

Polls and surveys are conducted to show how the people are supposed to favor certain positions. But we all know that there are things that cannot be determined by polls and popularity.

We have to be careful when these gimmicks are resorted to. They are clever ruses that take advantage of people’s current problems and difficulties to make a general rule about how we ought to behave.

We have to go into the real essence of things, plunging deep into their nature, passing beyond the made-up or even made-over appearances and their cultural and social conditionings.

To do this, we have to realize that our ultimate source of knowledge and guidance cannot be just what we see and understand. We have to go into the sphere of faith and beliefs.

We have to go past the sciences, especially the so-called social sciences that often give fluid and inconclusive findings. We even have to go past ideologies which are man-made and often biased attempts to have a world-view of things. Many of them are downright questionable and rotten.

These can be materialism that denies the existence of the spirit, liberalism that corrupts freedom, Marxism and socialism that tramples on rights of persons, unrestrained capitalism that usually spawns greed and individualistic culture.

The gospel has warned us to be clever as serpents even as we ought to be simple as doves. We have to know the hidden agenda of many activists who tend to ram their positions on all of us.

As much as possible, we should nip in the bud any attempt of these ideologies to take a foothold in our legal system, our culture and our society. We need to think big and peripherally when we discuss issues like the Reproductive Health Bill and the Magna Carta of Women now pending in Congress.