Thursday, April 30, 2009

Work and rest

A YOUNG friend of mine, who is a wizard on the computer and more so on the piano and organ, told me once about his amusing experience while training for his work in Japan.

We, of course, know that the Japanese have a high standard in work ethic. Their danger often is to overwork. Ours seems to be to underwork.

Because of certain reasons, this friend could not afford to stay later than 5 o’clock. This is a no-no in Japanese offices. No one leaves before the bosses, and the bosses usually leave already late in the evening.

So he explained his predicament to his boss, who grudgingly approved. But he was made to go through a certain routine. When he had to leave, he should stand by the door and then say:

“Osaki ni shitsureishimasu.” (Sorry! I have to leave now ahead of you.)

Then the other Japanese officemates would say: “Otsukaresamadeshita.” (You may leave! You worked hard already.)

It seems that’s how the Japanese take their work seriously. I can only hope that we Filipinos improve in our work habits. While we can find many who work hard, with order, discipline and effectiveness and efficiency blended well, we can also find still many others who are simply going around in circles.

Work is part of our nature. It is not a punishment nor a duty forced on us because of certain circumstances. We are meant to work. We are designed to work. We have been born to work just as the birds were born to fly. It’s not our invention.

Besides, our faith teaches us that work is a path to holiness. It is a participation in God’s continuing work in his whole creation. When we work, we touch God, and we get involved in the things of God. It can only be done in God’s way, that is, out of love and for love.

Our work perfects us, as it occasions the development of many virtues. It can’t help but contribute to the common good. In fact, everything we need and ought to be involves work. Our work fosters socialization. It destroys isolation.

This, as long as we work with God and for God. Any kind of work, be it sublime or lowly, as long as it is honorable, not sinful, is always pleasing to God and is in fact working with God.

It’s high time that we develop a theological attitude toward our work. We should not remain in the shallow part. Though we already have good work habits, we should not get contented with them, but rather continue to improve, purify and enrich them by always working with greater love for God and for others.

Of course, if we work hard, then we also need to rest. In the human level, work and rest can constitute a symbiotic relationship. But when related to our spiritual and supernatural destiny, we need to understand that rest acquires a special meaning.

Our Christian faith teaches that rest is not just a physical or bodily need, or a way to recover strength, physical, mental, psychological, emotional, etc. Christian rest, of course, involves all of these, but it is still a lot more.

It means the fullness of our life, the reaching of our final destination, the coronation of our work. It is a symbol of our eternal rest where we enjoy communion both with God and with everybody else.

It would be good to ask ourselves if we are consciously developing this mindset regarding our rest, especially when we go to bed at the end of the day, or when we approach Sunday, which is supposed to be not only the day of the Lord, but also the day of rest.

We have to be aware of the spiritual and supernatural dimension of our rest, and to form the appropriate attitudes and habits. In our Christian life, we have to understand that our attitude towards rest needs to be worked out.

The Christian attitude toward rest just can’t come out spontaneously. God’s grace always needs our cooperation. We have to reach that point when we can sincerely echo St. Augustine’s words:

“Lord, my heart is restless until it rests in you.”

We have to learn how to rest in God. Resting cannot and should not have any other mode than to rest in God always!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Demographic panic

I WAS amused to read in an op-ed article of the ultra-liberal New York Times recently that Japan and practically all the Western countries are facing a grave aging crisis.

It seems that the global financial meltdown is not enough to punish them for their greed. They also have to face the dire consequences of their crazy idea of controlling population, theirs and that of the rest of the world.

These are excerpts of the piece written by Philip Bowring, entitled “This crisis is getting old,” published on April 24:

“The global annual average growth of 5 percent in the five years ending in 2007 was bought at a high cost to the future, and a slowing growth in the workforce means expectations must be lowered further. Policies need to be shaped to demographic realities…

“As for aging countries, the crisis has clearly shown the need to raise retirement ages by five years to reflect increases in life spans to relieve the state budgets now weighed down by bank bailouts, and to reduce the burden on corporate and other pension schemes…

“Only a return to replacement-level fertility rates will provide a lasting solution.”

The article then made a litany of countries with this aging problem, plus the economic woes it leaves in its wake: Japan, Germany, Britain, Spain, Ireland, etc.

Even China is already experiencing the devastation, what with their one-child policy. Someone told me that Chinese males far outnumber females, since they tend to kill baby girls, not only while inside the womb, but also when already born. That’s population control for you!

Among the economic problems caused by this dangerous demographic winter are the shrinking of the local market, decrease in buying and in business activities in general, decline in the innovative and creative energy of the country.

Of course, the pension and health burden is ballooning. More old people need to be supported, while less young people are working and in position to support the elderly.

I think this is a formula for disaster. And here we are in our country still foolishly infatuated with family planning and population control that are now beautifully and deceptively packaged as reproductive health, women’s rights to their bodies, and other devious inventions.

We prefer to consider only their short-term benefits and not their long-term desolation. We prefer to enjoy their practical dividends, and ignore their immorality. We are quite short-sighted!

It has been said time and time again that when we tamper with the natural working of things, especially when we deliberately go against moral laws, and not just economic laws, we will get the consequences we deserve, sooner or later.

And the consequences will be far worse than what are forecast for global warming that many self-appointed prophets of doom are predicting. The latter, if true, will only affect our material side. The former will destroy our interior life, a far more valuable part of our life.

That people in general seem to be more concerned about global warming than about population control can only indicate an unbalanced sense of values that is now prevailing in many places.

This disturbed sense of values can be seen especially among many political leaders we have. They can appear good and decent in public, but they can have no qualms in systematically stealing and engaging in graft and corruption, demanding SOPs for projects, and other forms of anomalies.

Compare them with some of our simple folks who even in their difficult situations would still refuse to commit some wrongdoing. We can mention heroes the likes of 11-year-old Gicoven Abarquez of Dagupan who returned the $400 he found in the street.

Or the lady mall guard Trinidad Quintana of Baliuag who also returned the amount of P2.4M in cash and checks that she found somewhere. Or that honest motorcycle taxi driver who found $17,000 and returned it to its owner.

We have to wake up. There’s always hope, as long as we are willing to make changes, if not conversion. All of us, especially our political leaders, have to return to authentic spiritual and moral roots. Let’s stop playing games.

RH includes abortion

WE have to be wary when the proponents say that their Reproductive Health Bill does not include abortion. Given the country’s still Christian culture, they naturally would not openly say so.

They certainly would go on denial mode, and employ ambiguous words, much like a squid tactic. This has always been the pattern of their campaign. But pieces of evidence to the contrary are aplenty.

In the first place, all this business of promoting Reproductive Health is a global effort organized by some ideologues who want to impose their ideas on the whole world. Bluntly put, what is waged is a war between Christian faith and secularized ideology.

Let’s not be deceived by their strategy. They want us to believe that the issue involved is only a socio-economic matter, that it’s just a question of practicality.

The RH bill is touted to respect freedom, to allow people an informed choice on family planning methods, to improve their quality of life, etc. These are tricks to sidetrack us from the real issue. Paraphrasing former US President Clinton, we can say: read my lips, it is morality, not economics, stupid!

Making the RH bill into a law will enable the ideologues to use government resources and structure for their social engineering. It will use the government to reshape people’s minds and ways according to their tenets.

Obviously, the RH bill proponents can count on a certain degree of popularity. They also can bank on tremendous financial support. But when the bone of contention is on morality, these aspects should only play secondary, not leading roles, in resolving it.

What we have in Congress is not an original brilliant idea of some of our lawmakers. It’s a handed down copy, at least in substance, of the Reproductive Health laws now blighting many countries all over the world, all of them including abortion.

We can be sure that the RH bill is a part of a worldwide lobby network that the liberal ideologues are trying to establish. In spite of its apparent popularity, based on their own surveys, it does not spring from the objective needs of our people. It’s an imported and contrived move, not a spontaneous one.

With such context, the RH bill can include, at least, implicitly, the possibility of abortion. It just cannot stop at contraception. It has to go all the way. In fact, no less than Mrs. Hillary Clinton says so.

In a recent hearing of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Chris Smith asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

“Does the United States’ definition of the term 1) ‘reproductive health’ or 2) ‘reproductive services’ or 3) ‘reproductive rights’, include abortion?”

Mrs. Clinton answered:

“We have a very fundamental disagreement. It is my strongly held view that you are entitled to advocate, and everyone who agrees with you should be free to do so, anywhere in the world. And so are we.”

“We happen to think that family planning is an important part of women’s health and reproductive health includes access to abortion that I believe should be safe, legal and rare.”

If the thinking of the current US administration is to include access to abortion under reproductive health, we have no business saying our own version will not include it.

How can we resist legalizing abortion when the fine print of the term “reproductive health” already includes abortion? In many documents of NGOs and even of the UN, the concern over maternal mortality and unsafe abortion is actually a code for legalizing abortion.

In countries where abortion is now legalized, the road to it started with these altruistic-sounding affairs.

Give it a few more years, come out with more favorable surveys, then the natural ugliness of abortion will disappear in the minds of our people, and abortion will sooner or later be made part of the family planning methods that everyone should be given an informed choice of.

This is precisely the pattern in their campaign, their strategy to do some social engineering according to their principles. It can skillfully use the democratic system, with vast appeal to freedom and people’s rights, but being vulnerable to abuses, they are emptied of their real and original value.

We have to expose the wolf in sheep’s clothing that is the Reproductive Health Bill, now waiting for approval in our Congress.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Law and conscience

I’M sure most people agree that as we plunge into more complicated, pressure-packed times, we need to remind ourselves of some basic, must-know concepts, precisely because they run the risk of being forgotten and set aside.

Among these concepts is the intimate relationship between law and conscience. We cannot deny that these days many people think law and conscience have practically no relationship at all, or that they work in different levels. They don’t meet.

In my chats with people, and somehow verified in many readings of current developments, I get the impression that conscience is increasingly considered the ultimate bastion of personal freedom, the seat of one’s real and barest self, where nothing extraneous like law should be let in.

I am afraid this is a dangerous drift in people’s understanding of things. It betrays a treacherous and even alarming idea of freedom. It detaches freedom from any clear, fixed reference point, allowed to spin and fly in any direction

Freedom, in this view, is prone to become nothing other than a whim or caprice. It considers itself self-created and self-defining, its own law, completely at the mercy of arbitrary impulses, like one’s moods, passing fancies, current crazes and fads.

Freedom without a fixed reference point can go everywhere but can end nowhere. It becomes a wild and destructive force that frustrates our desire for peace and joy. It’s highly deceptive, strongly seductive but completely dangerous.

And yet no matter how distorted and even denied, the objective truth about freedom, especially as it relates to the link between law and conscience, cannot be contradicted.

A wayward freedom, if it does not crash, will be forced to correct itself. It cannot escape the working of its own nature, and its own origin and purpose. It might take centuries, wars, pain, blood, but it cannot go against itself indefinitely.

Recently, I read that the Asia-Pacific population is slowing down. In fact, it is feared to start shrinking. It is nearing below-replacement-level. The region is joining other ageing nations in the West.

The culprit? The vicious contraceptive mentality, an abuse of freedom, is taking its toll. Some countries affected by this disease are desperate in reversing the trend. Let’s pray for them.

Meanwhile, it is also reported that countries that still have high population growth are expected to perform well economically and to ride out the storm of our worst global economic crisis to date.

But do you think many people will realize this? I have my doubts. They would rather be scared to death by the highly speculative, suppositional, if not rash threat of global warming. Oh, well….

Thus, it is important to educate everyone about the real character of freedom. And for this, the core of how freedom is lived by connecting one’s conscience with an objective law should be understood well.

Sad to say, a dense and almost impenetrable fog of ignorance and confusion surrounds the understanding of this matter. Have you, for example, heard of such thing as eternal law, natural law, and natural moral law?

The common belief is that these concepts have not stepped out of the ivory tower ever since they were conceived. And no one seems to be concerned. No one is doing anything to correct, even if people, on the other side, have gone overdrive in knowing technical items even to the nano level.

To say the least, this is a monstrous disequilibrium, a totally unfair selectivity in our pursuit for knowledge!

We need to make everyone, especially the young, understand what conscience is and how it needs to respect and follow a law which it has to discover, a law not of its own making.

This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about this matter:

“Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment…For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God…” (1776)

“The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings.” (1783)

This is actually an old teaching, but to many nowadays, it is hot and fresh breaking news.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Legality, morality, conscience

CEBU in the past days has seen desperate efforts by pro-population-control-and-family-planning advocates to sway some Cebuano anti-Reproductive Health (RH) Bill congressmen to their side.

The rest of the country can expect similar backdoor maneuverings in the near future. The evil and powerful empire of the pro-population control people will stop at nothing to push their devious agenda.

Right now, they can feel emboldened because of the current highly sympathetic current US administration. Tons of money are expected to come in, part of the American stimulus plan precisely geared toward population control.

We have to ask ourselves if we are willing to accept this rotten piece of unethical culture from a Western world that is degenerating not only morally but also economically now.

It seems a creeping retribution is catching up with them. Our problems are nothing compared to theirs. Ours fall more under material difficulties. Theirs clearly indicate a spiritual illness. They are losing their soul.

Just watch at the almost daily reports of suicides and massacres, even within the family! American society, for long spoiled by the short-run benefits of abortion, contraception, and other legalized moral aberrations, is cracking up. It’s breaking down.

Back in Cebu, one of the cheap gimmicks played by the pro-population control people was to conduct a survey, obviously biased, showing that the constituents of the anti-RH congressmen do not support their position.

They seem to have forgotten that lawmakers do not turn bills into laws by popularity alone. In fact, at times what is required is for them to go against the popular view.

If popularity were the dominant criterion, then no tax laws could be approved, since these would surely be unpopular bills in the first place. Yet everyone knows that these tax measures, properly deliberated upon, are necessary even if they can never be popular.

When bills are presented with important moral repercussions, the commonsensical thing to do is really to examine them thoroughly. And if serious questions are raised, they should at least be suspended, even shelved.

The phenomenon we are observing these days is that many of our public officials, who also are officially Christians or Catholics, are trying to legislate morality. This is a dangerous development. They are mixing up things.

Our legal system has to find its moorings in a sound moral system. Now morality is eminently a religious, spiritual matter, whose province belongs more to the Church than to the state.

Whenever various and even conflicting positions on a moral issue are made by different church groups and sects, then the political leaders better avoid making any positions unless there’s immediate need for political and legal actions.

In this case, the reason for their political or legal actions is not anymore matters of conscience, but rather matters of public good, as in peace and order, public decency, etc.

For them to legislate in conscience matters makes them overstep their authority and competence. We have to respect freedom of consciences, a part of religious freedom, by not favoring one position over another. Just let things be, as long as there is no public disorder.

I in conscience am against contraception. But another person, also in conscience, may be for contraception. No problem. We don’t have to fight. We can respect each other, as long as no human and unjust law forces me to support his position, nor him mine. We’ll discuss it amicably.

Matters of conscience are not settled by voting. Everyone should be left to follow what his conscience tells him. And if I remember right, religious freedom is still sanctioned by our constitution.

The settling of these conscience matters is not the responsibility of the state, nor of the government, and much less of politicians.

That is why, whenever our politicians stray into moral issues, they better be ready to answer questions that will be raised by the Church. They cannot complain about violations of Church-state separation, since in the first place they are already intruding into the competence of the Church.

That is why I would like to ask Congresswoman Nerissa Soon Ruiz to reconsider her position. She says the RH bill respects freedom and will raise people’s quality of life.

Good! But for goodness sake, she’s already inputting a lot of conscience elements coming from a clearly ideological school into her legislative work. That’s foul!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Open to life

THIS was never put into question before. Even without studying, people in general, especially during our parents’ and grandparents’ time, took it for granted that every conjugal act should be open to life. They understood that such act is meant for that.

Now there’s need to be reminded about the objective nature and purpose of the conjugal act. This is what the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church says about it:

“Conjugal love is by its nature open to the acceptance of life...The dignity of the human being, called to proclaim the goodness and fruitfulness that come from God, is eminently revealed in the task of procreation.” (230)

The Compendium goes further, explaining how procreation resembles us with God, whose image and likeness we are:

“Human fatherhood and motherhood, while remaining biologically similar to that of other living beings in nature, contain in an essential and unique way a ‘likeness’ to God which is the basis of the family as a community of persons united in love.”

But with the intrusion of the contraceptive mentality that has gone viral and, worse, left unchecked and allowed to fester, this pristine mindset and culture was changed. The wreckage and the devastation it caused are all over the place.

People were told many things and seduced to abandon their natural attitude toward the conjugal act. Difficult circumstances favoring this criminal contraceptive mentality were put in bold relief to distort people’s reasoning.

There was even that no-brainer, begging-the-question type of argument that to have better and faster development, we should decrease our population, because with less people, then more resources can one have. What a brilliant nonsense!

Later on, sophisticated philosophical and even theological and moral rationalizations were cleverly formulated to undergird the disturbing phenomenon. With this anomalous thinking prevailing in many centers of influence, the slippery slope to abortion and other moral aberrations started to take place.

This is how Pope John Paul II analyzed the situation in his encyclical Veritatis splendor that tried to overhaul the current sad state of moral theology:

“Today, it seems necessary to reflect on the whole of the Church’s moral teaching…It is no longer a matter of limited and occasional dissent, but of an overall and systematic calling into question of traditional moral doctrine, on the basis of certain anthropological and ethical presuppositions.” (4)

The Pope then identified some troubling trends:

- rejection of traditional doctrine regarding the natural law, and the universality and the permanent validity of its precepts;
- currents of thought that detach human freedom from its essential and constitutive relationship to truth. Freedom is made to be self-created and self-defining;
- the questioning of the capacity of the Church Magisterium to intervene in matters of morality, limiting it only to ‘exhorting consciences’ and ‘proposing values’ while allowing the individual to decide on his case independently; etc.

It’s thinking like this that has produced the reasoning that the conjugal act is not necessarily meant for procreation. It may be resorted only for its recreational, not procreational purpose. It’s just an act. It doesn’t have to affect our nature and dignity. Morality has no connection to the kind of person we are.

Pope John Paul II in Veritatis splendor explains that people are detaching freedom from the nature of the body, leaving man in a divided and fractured form, his spiritual component separated from his material and bodily dimension, with no way for the two to become a single living entity.

Many people nowadays do not anymore know how to properly determine and assess the morality of their actions. For them, morality is just a matter of what is merely practical, popular, and in some bizarre cases, what gives money.

This is the reasoning, sad to say, of many public officials. I have asked some mayors why they were coming out with laws and decrees that clearly are not pro-life, and their usual answer is: “Don’t take it seriously, Father. We are there just for the money.” Unbelievable!

I know that there are many NGOs heavily funded by foreign sources that stop at nothing to push the family planning and population control agenda. Even the Church-approved natural family planning efforts are not exempted from this contamination.

Thus, the global pro-life struggle is still very alive!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Love and marriage

IT might do us real good to remember an old Frank Sinatra song that says love and marriage should go together like the horse and carriage. The lyrics hit bull’s eye how things ought to be with respect to these basic human affairs.

I think we now urgently need some advocacy work with regard to them. There seems to be a horrible sea change in this area, where many people, for one reason or another, are separating love from marriage, and vice-versa.

To me, the crisis is mainly because people are losing the real essence of love, and thus are distorting and corrupting also the nature of marriage, and the other related things, like family, education, etc.

At least for many Christians, love is now largely understood without any reference to the Cross of Christ. This is a real anomaly that we all know is reinforced by some ideological groups and by the media that, being a perennial fence-sitter in moral matters, appear now to be dominated by ideologues.

Without the Cross of Christ, forget it, love in any form, whether personal, family, social, patriotic, etc. can never prosper. That love will just be a façade without the substance, a rich foliage without the roots.

It’s going to be a quixotic kind of love, devoid of realism. It will not have the power to grow, let alone, last. It will end up completely helpless in the face of life’s many challenges. It will be prone to go into self-justifying positions.

And for married couples, they will be very vulnerable to fall into a contraceptive mentality that seems to prevail to many places these days. Love has to be genuine, it has to find its real foundations, for it to sustain and strengthen marriages and families.

If we now see many failed marriages and broken families, it’s actually not hard to ferret out the culprit. It’s the disappearance of the spiritual and moral outlook of life, and the madness just to look for shallow human solutions to our problems, that’s responsible for all this mess.

It does not mean that these human solutions are of no use. They do have tremendous importance, and we need them. But when not rooted on faith and religion, and for Christians, on Christ’s cross, no amount of brilliant human solutions would do. They will fail to touch the very core of the problems.

The advocacy work that we can suggest here is to clarify, widely and massively, the true meaning of love and marriage, and the many practical implications and consequences such clarification involves—chastity, openness to life, etc.

This will require a lot of manpower and other resources. But if the will is there, strong and vibrant, ready to do any battle if needed, then no amount of difficulties can stop this now deeply-felt crucial task.

We can already make use of the many structure in the different levels of the Church and society to pursue this advocacy work. Parochial groups, schools, some clubs can be made use of.

Volunteers willing to make sacrifices are most welcome, and are encouraged to recruit more minds and hands for this cause. They have to see to it that their very own life and example can be shown as a living witness to the truth and beauty of Christian love in marriage and family life.

A very tricky area is how to handle those who with good intentions are quite wrong in their teachings, as can be gleaned by their opposition to the official teaching of the Church.

We can refer to groups within the Church, already quite established and with a large network of schools and other centers of influence, who not only not follow Church teachings, but also openly defy these doctrines. This sad phenomenon is not anymore classified. It’s now quite public and undisguised.

Again, in this advocacy work, it’s very important to be reminded about the requirement of truth and charity. Its good and ardent intentions should not be allowed to deteriorate into bitter zeal and self-righteousness.

A lot of patience and understanding will be needed. The capacity to drown evil and error with an abundance of good and truth should always be cultivated. The ability to enter into meaningful and sustained dialogue, with tact and prudence, has to be developed.

Try to see if you can be part of this advocacy work!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Hope in a darkening world

BY some mysterious twist of fate, I found myself in the burst of liturgical celebrations during the Easter Triduum (evening of Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday) assigned to sing the most difficult chant which was the Exsultet. It was clear to me that I was the desperate remedy to our predicament.

It’s the Easter Proclamation in Latin, done at the beginning of the ceremony of the Easter vigil when the Easter candle has just been lighted and placed in the church.

Though beautiful and set mainly in monotone, it has abrupt rise-and-fall parts, with some pirouetting notes to boot and varying patterns in the whole 10-minute rendition that truly are a real challenge to any liturgical singer.

I love to sing, but I’m more of a crooner, a la Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin (just ask your grandparents if you don’t know them), and so I had to prune and purify my style to make me sound liturgically acceptable. It was a painful make-over.

I don’t remember now how many times I had to go through the score to practice, but in the end, as my friends and critics told me, I did a fairly good job. And so, I concluded, there is still hope in this world.

That—i.e., hope—happens to be the main message of the homilies that I gave in those celebrations. That the world is darkening can hardly be debated now. Pope Benedict himself said in one of his Easter Triduum homilies that “we are drifting into a desert of godlessness.” I immediately nodded in agreement.

And in a lead article of an English magazine that I read in the Internet, the question was raised: “Will Jesus Christ really come back?” Of course, everyone is entitled to his opinion, but I just found it unsettling that a main doctrine of the Christian faith is questioned in such a public, kind of unfeeling way.

I am of the opinion that there are matters, issues and questions of faith that need to be discussed mainly in more intimate dialogues or small circles, precisely because of their delicateness.

They should not just be indiscriminately dragged to the public forum where most people are not equipped to discuss them. This, to me, is part of prudence and discretion and common sense. But then again, people can have varying views on this point, and so I just have to be open to any possibility.

Truth is there seems to be a lot of skepticism, unbelief, doubts and indifference to faith and religion that we can observe in the world today. Here in our country, we are still relatively lucky in that the situation is not as bad as in many First-World but deeply disturbed countries.

I remember that when Pope Benedict issued his second encyclical, Spe Salvi (Saved by Hope), back in November 2007, hardly any ripple of media commentary was made, indicating that hope as a virtue is hardly known and appreciated by many people.

And yet, hope is what we do most of the time. It can be so spontaneous that we may not even be aware of it. The problem is that our hope is stuck in the human and natural level. It is not made to go to its more perfect form and level, which is hope in God, in eternal life, in the spiritual and supernatural realities, etc.

I think that at the root of the problem is the loss of the sense and capacity for transcendence. This is the power we have to go beyond the material, purely human and natural dimensions of our life. We refuse to go beyond these aspects.

We seem imprisoned in the world of pure reason alone, if not, worse, in the world of senses, and we don’t like having anything to do with faith. And this predicament is constantly reinforced by an environment of liberalism, consumerism, moral relativism, etc. that seem to prevail in many places.

Thus, many people are averse to any talk about eternal life. Worse, the idea of eternal life is corrupted by the thinking that interest in eternal life would only show selfishness and disregard to earthly and social welfare, which, to me, is completely untrue.

I think that hope as a theological virtue can still rise from the dead, if it is explained properly in classes, spiritual direction, etc., and when there is abiding effective witness to it by those who want to be consistent with their faith.

Friday, April 10, 2009


IT’S, of course, an understatement that the world today is sunk quite deep in ignorance and confusion. That may at first sound a bit surprising, what with our modern information technologies and other amazing developments, but that’s quite it, folks—ignorance and confusion still reign supreme in many places.

This phenomenon is actually to be expected. Given the way we are designed, plus, the messy history we have traversed since Eden up to now, we are prone to them. Ignorance and confusion are not only a possibility. They have a high probability of occurring.

Our weaknesses and limitations, and worse, the effects and consequences of sin that lead us to a certain blindness and insensitivity, and the offshoot of malice, concupiscence, disordinate attachments, etc.—all of these can bring us to different situations of ignorance and confusion.

And yet, even if all these were so, we still can affirm with certainty that truth has not disappeared from the face of the earth, and our capacity to know it objectively, while handicapped, is not totally destroyed.

And given our subjective nature, we have to understand that our knowledge of things, while it can be objective, is always something dynamic. It can wax and wane, grow or get stunted. It can develop with many conditioning factors and elements—material and spiritual, personal and social, etc.

That’s the reason why we have to continue to study and teach, learn and transmit things, dialogue and others. It’s a never-ending duty of ours. And this is even more so when we realize we have to purify and clarify things in the face of creeping ignorance and confusion that can envelope us.

Nowadays, we cannot deny that there’s a battle of truth. In blunt terms, it’s a battle between faith and ideologies. This a most tricky battle, since the two share many things in common. But we need to be clear about where and when they part ways.

Faith should not remain abstract. It has to be worked into something operative, translating itself into a kind of practical ideology that can result in a palpable culture. Ideologies need to be inspired by faith. Ideally, the two should work in tandem.

It’s when faith is not put into practice and ideologies are developed contrary to faith that we get into trouble. And this is what we are witnessing these days.

Much of faith is kept in the realm of theories, and ideologies are sprouting like weeds that grow not from the seed of faith. And so we have all sorts of isms blighting our society now: liberalism, modernism, relativism, exaggerated pragmatism, run-away feminism, wild environmentalism, etc.

Thus, these days we can witness many forms of ideological struggles and culture wars: Right vs. Left, culture of life vs. culture of death, conservatives vs. progressives, etc.

What is important is that we make the truth of faith bear on the many issues we have at hand. A big part of the problem is the metastasizing mentality that Christian faith has nothing to say about many of our questions.

This is where we have to enter into advocacies to take part of the action of infusing faith into our earthly concerns and problems. We need to find effective ways to join advocacy groups defending and promoting all sorts of causes: pro-life, environment, anti-corruption, etc.

Everyone, as much as possible and in accordance to one’s own possibilities, should try to participate to be able to reach all levels of society, imbibing everything with a Christian spirit.

Many things are needed here. First we have to know the Church’s doctrine really well, especially its social doctrine. We have to spread this doctrine as widely as possible.

Then we need to know the skills and art of engaging in meaningful and charitable dialogue, one done in a pro-active way but full of charity. Nothing can be more repulsive than a zealot taking off into a self-righteous and bitter barrage of attacks. We don’t have to put down anyone to bring up a point!

In this task, we have to be wary with staying in the level of justice alone. While it’s good always, justice is not enough, since it often leads to coldness. We need to meet the standards of charity, where we would be quick to understand, ask forgiveness and give it to others where the circumstances demand them.

Most important is that everything should proceed from a genuine source of sanctity. Otherwise, we would be indulging in dangerous and even counter-productive moralism.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Easter, new life, liturgy

EASTER time is, of course, glorious time. It means Christ has risen, he has conquered sin and death. It means we are saved, rescued from our state of condemnation because of sin. That is, if we are willing to die with Him so we also will rise with him.

With Christ’s resurrection, we are now reconciled with God, our Father and Creator. We now just don’t live a human, natural life, much less, a damned, hopeless one.

Ours is life with Christ who in the Holy Spirit abides in us. It’s a supernatural life, nourished in faith, hope and charity. It cannot just be a product of genetics, of physical laws, nor of economics, politics and sociology.

Though spent in time, with Christ that life already acquires an eternal dimension, which makes it always new, since in eternity, nothing gets old, nothing gets swallowed into the past. In its pure eternal form, it will be always in the present, and the future becomes irrelevant.

Easter reminds us that this is the life that is being offered to us. A result of grace, this new life in Christ also requires of us an abiding effort. It’s never just an automatic, spontaneous growth.

Given our nature and bar any disabling handicap, it has to be developed as knowingly and as willingly as possible. It cannot be purely a matter of inertia. It has to be directed and intentionally developed.

We actually pine for this new life that never ends. Even if we are not aware of it, or worse, we profess to be against it, we cannot deny that deep inside us is a longing for eternity.

History, traditions and popular practices even in the present attest to this truth. This is what the Catechism teaches: “In many ways, throughout history down to the present day, men have given expression to their quest for God in their religious beliefs and behavior…” (CCC 28)

Thus, we have those marvelous manifestations of popular piety especially during Christmas, Lent, Easter, and some special feasts, like those of Santo Niño, Our Lady, St. Joseph, All Souls, etc.

A lot of catechesis is needed to make these truths of our Christian faith shine and truly guide our life. Of course, a lot more than catechesis is needed. We have to develop virtues, we have to wage war against the enemies of Christ and our soul, etc.

Among the truths that we need to highlight is the significance of Easter and its relation to liturgy. We need to understand that Easter represents the goal of our life here on earth. It gives us a complete vision of our life. It is what gathers and summarizes all the elements of our life.

In short, it is what gets our act together. We cannot go halfway only. We have to go all the way, much like what our Lord did as described in St. John’s gospel—

“Jesus knowing that his hour was come that he should pass out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them unto the end.” (13,1)

This “going all the way” is his passion and death on the Cross, the offering of his life. We need to understand that our resurrection in Christ, our victory and redemption can only be achieved through the Cross of Christ. No Cross, no Christ, and thus, no resurrection, no redemption.

This dying and rising of Christ is made available to us in this life up to the end of time through the liturgy, where Christ “continues the work of our redemption in, with and through his Church,” meaning, us.

We need to realize and understand more deeply what our participation in the liturgy of the Church, especially the Holy Mass, means and involves. It means we are doing things with Christ, and not just by ourselves with our good intentions and inventions.

It means we have to follow Christ, everything that he was and did, and continues to be and do. And in this, there can be no end. This is possible only in the liturgy.

Thus, Christian life is necessarily liturgical life. It cannot just be a life according to one’s designs.

We have to help one another in developing this conviction of our faith in the liturgy. I am sure that once we realize the true significance of the liturgy, hardly anything that we do would be an exaggeration.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The radicalness of love

WITH Holy Week we celebrate the root and summit of the whole Christian liturgy, the contact point between the long penitential period of Lent and the glorious season of Easter. In youth speak, it is “the” week of the year.

Once again we witness a wonderful transformation in our society when almost all of a sudden and in mysterious ways, a good number of the people become extremely pious, streaming and crowding the churches, doing all sorts of devotions, etc. There’s a veritable explosion of popular piety all over.

This, to me, is definitely a great blessing from above. Whatever maybe our defects—temperamentally, socially, culturally, historically, etc.—we cannot deny that the Holy Week phenomenon we have only shows where our basic faith is.

It shows that our heart and mind are in the right place. The fundamentals, so to speak, of our spiritual life are healthy. We just have to continue nourishing and developing our Christian beliefs and life itself. This is the proper attitude to take.

Thus, Holy Week again provides us with a marvelous occasion to fathom and savor God’s love for us, the beginning, pattern and end of our life. Let’s try to sound and measure the radicalness of God’s love for us, because that is the only kind of love proper to us.

We should have every reason to be suspicious of any love that we may feel and start to play out that is not based on this love of God. It mostly like would be a fake and dangerous love adventure. Let’s not be naïve.

I recommend some exceptionally long periods of meditations on the life of Christ, especially on his Passion, Death and Resurrection. The purpose and meaning of our life is found there. The very principle and germ of Christian life is released there.

For example, we can plumb deep into some words of Christ, like, “Greater love than this no man has, that a man lays down his life for his friends.” (Jn 15,13)

Or, “Before the festival day of the pasch, Jesus knowing that his hour was come, that he should pass out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them unto the end.” (Jn 13,1)

Or still another, “No man takes my life away from me, but I lay it down of myself, and I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it up again.” (Jn 10,18)

Let’s accompany these reflections with a generous dose of sacrifice, penance and mortification, to make our understanding of these words more deep, thorough and capable of becoming the principle and leaven of our thoughts, desires and actions.

I think it’s only with these conditions, together of course with the grace of God, that we can have glimpses, appreciation and power to make as our own the very radicalness of God’s love for us.

These conditions somehow enable us, in spite of our weakness, defects and mistakes, to live the very life of Christ who’s is “the way, the truth and the life” for us.

They equip us with a certain wisdom that convinces us that willingly embracing the cross is where true love can be found, because in our life here on earth that’s where Christ always is. “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mt 16,24)

I saw this lesson acted out in a fascinating way sometime ago. I met a very good-natured boy who studied in one of our schools. He came from the mountains, 3 hours away from the city by car, and he used to take care of goats. But he was a genius in school.

When I met his mother, I was impressed by the simplicity and heroism with which she lived her life. These qualities were like second nature to her.

She told me that to attend our monthly sessions on parenting, she many times had to borrow money for the fare, wake up as early as 2 am to be on time for the seminar. And she never came late! That’s why she received a special award during her son’s graduation.

She, of course, went to Mass in their village chapel without fail, walking quite a distance. She prayed a lot and worked hard in the farm. And she managed to smile always.

The conclusion I made: loving the cross is loving Christ. It is loving truly and radically…

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Filipino male

IT seems that we from time to time need to have an outsider to tell us some unpleasant but undeniable truths about ourselves.

In a way, this phenomenon is understandable, since on the average we tend to see only what we like to see among ourselves. Our objectivity-subjectivity correspondence can be way below perfect. It can even get an F-mark.

Recently, I’ve been having some email exchanges with an American who has been reacting to my columns. I will not mention his name, but his opinions have given me fodder for thought and reflections. I think his views are worthwhile sharing.

Since he has been courting a Filipina mainly through the Internet, though he also has been here for a while precisely to see the girl, he has been quite fascinated by what he discovered in the Filipino woman.

When I told him that many Filipinas are simple in character and pious, this was how he reacted:

“That ‘simple’ statement, while accurate, does not begin to do justice to who she is as a person. She is an extraordinary example of something that I have discovered about the Filipina personality—the unique combination of hyper-femininity and strength of character and dignity of personality that I can only describe as remarkable.

“American women tend to be either (1) very feminine and weak, or (2) very aggressive and anti-feminine. Filipino men are blessed, if you don’t mind my saying, with extraordinarily special women.”

When I read that part of his comments, I had to do a double take. I know the observation is at best cursory, but I feel there’s a lot of truth contained in those words. They touched an open issue about what I feel is an imbalance between the Filipino male and female especially in relation to faith and religion.

I don’t think there could be much question about women being more active than men in this most intimate aspect of our life. Any random look at churches, prayer meetings, religious activities would reveal that women clearly outnumber men. They lead by a mile.

I was amused one time when I joined a Good Friday liturgy. My friend, the parish priest, only asked the men to kiss the cross during the celebration. When I asked him why, he simply said that that was about the only time men can be seen to be dominating the ceremony. Usually they take the role of extras.

This, to me, is kind of unfair, since in the last analysis it is the men who become priests, bishops and popes, and who preside in the ceremonies, not the women.

Of course, that observation may be true not only here but also all over the world. It would seem that religiosity is determined by the X-chromosome. This, to me, is of course nonsense, since religiosity is more a spiritual phenomenon than a biological one.

This does not mean that the sex factor has no effect on our religiosity. It has, but it’s more on the way we express or manifest it. It has nothing to do with causing or determining it.

Perhaps what’s more correct to say is that our religiosity appears to be stranded in the biological or social level. It has not yet entered into its proper medium, which is our spirit, with the intelligence and will as the main faculties.

It appears stuck in the emotional level, and thus men could truly be far behind the women in this field. But it should not be so. A challenging task awaits the clergy and others to correct this anomaly.

I remember that as a kid, I saw only women busy praying at home or in church, while the men just took care of fighting cocks. I had never seen a man making a novena, or a public penitential act. During the homily at Mass, the men automatically went out of the church to smoke or something.

I’m afraid this phenomenon is reflective of the primitivism of our sense of religion. It’s still stuck in the sensitive level, in the sensational and the instant-result mentality. It refuses to grow and develop into a truly spiritual concern that goes beyond the purely human and natural.

It’s about time we rectify this irregularity. The Filipino male is in urgent need of some drastic transformation!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Sense of Church

THIS, I think, is a goal all Christian believers need to pursue. And if somehow we already have some traces of this sense of Church, I’m sure we can still improve it. It’s actually a never-ending affair. For all the defined doctrine about the Church, she remains largely a mystery.

The sense of Church is that abiding awareness and the corresponding behavior that a Christian faithful is not just an individual person trying to be good and holy. He by necessity belongs to the Church and is a living cell of the Church.

In a way, he is the Church. The Church’s concerns are his concerns too. Her mission is also his. In a mysterious way, the Church is each one of the believers and all of them together.

We have to understand that the Church is not just a society or an organization in which we can choose to enlist and join. Our being in the Church is not something external which we can just wear like a shirt.

The Church is and should be an integral and essential part of our Christian identity. It affects us not only externally, but also internally, in our soul. Our being in it is not only a social affair, but a spiritual one that expresses itself all the way to its juridical and social dimensions.

Having the sense of Church means each one of us believers is conformed to Christ, is another Christ. At the same time, it means that together we form one mystical Body of Christ, with Christ as the head.

We just cannot think and act only in terms of our individual selves. We always have to think and act in terms of being with Christ and with everybody else, starting with Mary and the saints in heaven, the Pope, hierarchy and everybody else on earth, and those in purgatory.

This is because our Christian belief tells us we are not creatures who just break into existence without any previous divine design and accompanying law to govern our whole life. It tells us we are children of God, we are his people who have to learn to be such to the fullest possible sense and degree.

It’s important that we grow in our understanding of the nature and mission of the Church. The objective dogmatic definitions given so far about the Church can already give us many ideas of how we ought to behave in the Church.

This is no easy task. In the first place, because many and endless elements need to be blended well for us to have a working sense of Church.

How to put together, for example, her visible and invisible aspects, her doctrine and mission, her hierarchical and charismatic dimensions, or how to delineate the relation between the clergy and laity, etc., can admit many valid nuances of interpretations.

In her history, no small effort has been made to continually clarify the nature and purpose of the Church. Her history has been filled with dramatic episodes that later on produced precious if painful lessons for all to learn.

And from what have already been defined, many new and fresh corollaries continue to be drawn. For example, everyone should be concerned about personal sanctity and apostolate, because in the end these are the core interests of the Church. And yet this idea is still foreign to many of us.

Having the sense of Church also means that we should try our best to be united, with due margin for a variety of valid interpretations, in doctrine, in the recourse to the sacraments and in hierarchy.

It can also mean that while we should actively participate in earthly and temporal affairs, we should realize that we are in a pilgrimage here on earth and that our aim is nothing less than eternity in heaven, that supernatural union and life with God.

In the end, what’s clear is that this sense of Church has to be continually renewed, refreshed and re-stimulated. It has to be constantly re-examined to see if it is vitally corresponding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit who is the Church’s soul and principle of life.

As evidenced by her history, we need to be watchful with certain tendencies to dilute, reduce if not contaminate the essence of the Church by subtle conditionings that can come from questionable social, philosophical and ideological factors.