Saturday, May 30, 2009

Living the mystery of God

THIS is a truth not yet well-known, let alone, lived. In fact, a good number of people dispute this assertion. They can drive away believers with a savage barrage of scorn and ridicule. Are you nuts, they can say, to believe there’s more to our life than how our biology and sociology define it?


            Our life is not just physical or biological life. It’s not just economic or political life. Not even is it intellectual life, no matter how rich it is. It is a life entrenched in the life of God, our Creator and Father, who continues to intervene in our life. Our Christian faith teaches that God gratuitously wants to share what he has, including his life, with us.


            Our life cannot be other than a life taken up in the overwhelming truth, the mystery of God’s life. For Christian believers, this is because we are made not simply with the DNAs of our parents, but in the image and likeness of God.


            Even a philosophical or scientific analysis of our nature can readily reveal we are designed and outfitted to enter into a relationship with others, and ultimately with God.


            That we can think and know, choose and love, means we are meant to get engaged with objects outside of ourselves. We are meant for others. We are meant to believe and love, more than to simply think and feel.


            We are God’s children, first and last. We are God’s children before we are our parents’ children. Our relationship with God enters a much more intimate, defining and abiding character than what our relationship with our parents can attain. Our parents can only influence us so much. God intervenes in our life always.


            From our parents, we inherit a lot. We also depend a lot on them. But we are quite independent of them. From God, we get everything. On him, we depend for everything. And while we have a certain autonomy, we can never be independent from him, unless we choose to in a definitive way upon our death.


            The task we have is how to correspond to this tremendous reality of living our life within the whole mystery of God’s life. Many of us still think that we are quite by ourselves, and the decision to relate ourselves with God and others is purely optional.


            No, sir. Our relationship with God, while an option—in fact, a fundamental option—is never optional, something we can feel quite free to have or not to have. We would be incomplete without God.


            We need to be more aware of this marvelous truth. And from there, to start the lifelong journey of conforming our life to that of God, overcoming first our initial human awkwardness in the face of our supernatural goal, and then developing the virtues that little by little resemble us with God.


            It’s a process of always conquering new frontiers and defending our fronts from the enemies of God and of our soul.


            May it be that our thoughts are also God’s thoughts. And may our words and actions not be just our words and actions, but also God’s. That’s how we are meant to be!


            On God’s part, everything has been provided for us to reach the goal. He always gives us his grace. He sends us theHoly Spirit, our sanctifier with his gifts and fruits, so that we can concur with God’s actions and designs.


            We’ve been given God’s word, a living and definite revelation so we can enter into the mind of God. We have been given the sacraments and the Church itself, so that God continues to be with us and in us in a very direct and abiding way while still journeying in this earthly life.


            We have to do our part to reciprocate God’s providence over us. We need to develop a theological mind, thinking always in terms of our faith, and not just with our reason and senses. We have to aim at nothing less than being contemplatives, able to see God in everything and everything through the eyes of God.


            I’m afraid we are still light years away from this ideal. But if we put our mind together, we can achieve what is really meant for us. We just have to be aware of what is involved and consistent in putting into action what we know and realize about our life, thanks to our faith, regardless of the difficulties and mistakes.


            Let’s live the life of God! 

Friday, May 29, 2009

Scandals and integrity

WE’VE been warned that scandals are unavoidable. “Woe to the world for scandals! For it is necessary that scandals come, but woe to the man by whom the scandal comes!” (Mt 18,7)


            We are familiar with these words of our Lord. They correspond to the sad reality that precisely because of our freedom, we have the capability not only to do a lot of good, but also a lot of evil, to the point of creating quite a mess of a scandal.


            Even our first parents, while still in the splendid state of original justice, cannot avoid falling into sin. Freedom is such an intoxicating gift from God that its misuse can really cause quite a devastation, just as its proper use can truly make us living images of God, children of his.


            It can raise us to heaven or plunge us to hell. It’s as simple as that. And with the effects of sin, those of the inherited original and those of our own personal, the probability of sinning and creating scandals has expanded and multiplied.


            We should not be surprised if scandals come. What we have to do when they come, or even before they come—since it’s something we try to avoid as much as possible—is to make that earnest effort to build up and strengthen our integrity.


            This is the lifelong task of unifying everything in our life and submitting them to the ultimate source and purpose of our life—God. Short of that, let’s be honest and not call something fake as integrity. Our heroes and leaders and other public figures should be the first to live and promote true integrity.


            Our bodily and spiritual faculties have to be integrated with nothing less than God’s grace and our own efforts. I’m afraid there’s no other formula to achieve this. More, it’s a task that has to be done by each one of us personally and directly. It cannot be outsourced or delegated to others.


            It’s true that we have a social bond among ourselves, and there’s also that beautiful truth of our faith called “communion of saints,” both of which enable us to help one another, but they do not exempt us from our own personal responsibility to develop authentic integrity.


            This is because as persons, who think and are free, we need also to be responsible for all our actions, and even for our life. God’s responsibility and providence over us does not replace, but rather requires, our personal responsibility over our life and that of others.


            And so, our integriy has to be both an effect of grace and a fruit of our efforts. It is both God’s doing and our duty, a divine gift and a human task.


            But how are we doing in this job of building up our integrity? I’m afraid that the word, let alone the concept and truth, has all but disappeared in people’s mind. Hardly anyone talks about it, much less, know what are involved to attain it.


            I think we need a revolution of sorts to allow this human requirement to come knocking at the threshhold of our consciousness. We are so held up by material, earthly and temporal concerns that we become practically incapable of taking care of his spiritual needs.


            Are people praying? Do they spend time to nourish their inner selves with spiritual and moral truths? Do they have an ongoing, endless program of developing virtues? And for Catholics, do we frequent the sacraments? Is our piety real, supported by throbbing faith, hope and charity?


            I have my doubts that these activities are undertaken. And if they are, they are likely to be spotty not consistent, shallow not deep and thorough, confined to a few people and not generalized. In our age of massive information technological capabilities, these facts are in themselves a scandal.


            Some dare to advertize their integrity, only to be exposed later on that what they have is just a mask, a fa├žade, a scarecrow, an empty suit.


            Without integrity, there’s no way to minimize, let alone, avoid scandals. Let’s ask the likes of Hayden Kho, Katrina Halili, Vicky Belo, all public figures, if they know what integrity is, and if they’re doing something about it.


            There’s always hope. We don’t need harsh words and uncharitable thoughts towards anyone. But please, let’s be serious with integrity-building! Let’s help one another in this very crucial aspect of our life.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Brim with thanksgiving

THIS is the ideal situation. Our hearts should overflow with gratitude. In the first place, because there are many, endless reasons to be thankful. Then, such gesture would make us simple, very human and ultimately united to God and the others.


            A heart that is not thankful is an isolated heart. It’s a lonely heart that thinks it can live and do things simply by itself, in violation of our nature and what we actually feel deep in our hearts. It has no other way but to be unhappy.


            A thankful heart will never be alone and sad. It recognizes the many blessings and good things that it continues to receive. And it knows where they come from, and also for what purpose they are given. It will always be happy.


            We need to do everything to cultivate this abiding mentality of thanksgiving. We have to deliberately do this task, given the desensitizing effect of the flurry of activities and other concerns our modern world is bombarding us with.


            Gratitude forms an essential part of our relation with God. It is the adequate response we give upon seeing the continuous attention and care God gives us. It makes us stick to the reality of our life. It keeps us from inventing a world unhinged from its Creator and from others.


            More, when we are thankful, we exercise our heart in one of its most spiritual modes. We bare it to God and to others, and allow it to stay vitally connected with them. It makes our heart a heart of flesh and not of stone. It keeps us simple and humble.


            When we are thankful, we open our heart to the workings of grace and the innate goodness that comes with our nature, at least that part that is still unaffected by sin. In a way, gratitude is a main language of the heart. It’s a major expression of love.


            This is one of the main problems we have. We see people becoming less and less thankful. We now seldom hear the word. And if we do, we can’t help but notice it to be simply formalistic, just an external sign of courtesy, with no soul. It’s quite dry.


            We have to make sure that thanksgiving comes pouring out from our hearts everyday. In the Gospel of St. John, there’s a little expression that can serve as a spur for us to be thankful, words Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman: “If you only knew what God is offering…” (4,10)


            It might be worthwhile to remember these words, if not to say it often during the day, to remind us about God’s loving providence over us. To be sure, he continues to intervene in our life. He can never be detached from us, indifferent to our needs.


            This is our problem. We tend to take all the goodness of God for granted. We are notoriously short-sighted and narrow-minded. We hardly consider anything beyond what our senses can perceive, what our intelligence can understand. We fail to be guided by faith that allows us to see the spiritual and supernatural reality of our life.


            We have to see to it that everyday, we are conscious that we are always thanking God and others. In fact, we need to continue lifting our heart in thanksgiving all throughout the day, as a Latin phrase beautifully puts it: “Ut in gratiarum semper actione maneamus.” (May we always be giving thanks.)


            A day without saying “thank you” is a bad day. It’s a clear sign we are quite self-immersed only, blind to the continuing proof of the goodness of God and the others. We have to get out of that predicament.


            In the Gospel, our Lord was always saying “thank you” to his Father. And he praised the gesture of giving thanks to high heavens as in the case of one, a Samaritan, among the ten lepers who got cured and returned to give thanks to him.


            “One of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks… Then said Jesus, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’” (Lk 17,15-17)


            We have to thank God for everything, including the apparently negative events in our life, because in the end, with God everything works out for the good. (cf Rom 8,28)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Yesterday today

I THINK it’s a great privilege to be able from time to time to visit the past, to view yesterday today, to see the child that a man once was or grew from.

I had that chance recently when I was asked to visit what used to be a little rural, fishing barangay of Cogtong, in the once sleepy town of Candijay, in the still pristine island of Bohol.

The place is now quite transformed, but I could still recognize it. It’s the place of my father, where I used to spend my summer vacations ever since I could remember, which could go back when I was still 3, roaming around with my fellow age-mates, and we were all….pantless.

I went there till I graduated from high school. Since then, I hardly went back, because many other things intervened. But I still hold vivid, beautiful memories of the place and especially of the people.

Without exception, they were all nice. Even the trouble-makers who got drunk at night and made some noise treated me like a prince. But that was all because of my father. I think they loved my father with their lives. He was their first lawyer.

I could enter any house, and even if no one was around, I could help myself to anything they had in their little kitchen, and they would not mind. In fact, they’d be happy when they learned I went to their house with my friends.

That’s how it was. All this never led me to getting spoiled. They were simply nice, and I could not help but be nice myself. I learned to be grateful early in life. The negative things in life, I knew them outside that beautiful place.

There was no running water, so we had to fetch it from a well. There was no electricity, so we slept early and woke up with the roosters. The roads were unpaved and dusty. I could count with the fingers of my hand the times I saw cars coming in to that place.

It was only the radio that connected us to what seemed to me then as the outside world. I spent my day doing chores, and they were endless, and playing with friends, going around, getting firewood, making nipa roofing materials, mending fishing nets, etc.

The sea became my favorite playground, while the spring, a bit inland, was where we rinsed ourselves and did our laundry. The carabao accompanied us in our hikes to offer momentary relief from our tiredness.

The only big building then was the church. But it was hardly used. There was no priest. Yes, the people had their basic expressions of piety, but it was one mixed with superstitions.

Thanks to my schooling with the nuns and priests in the city, and my parents’ attention, I managed to distinguish the true from the false beliefs. That sometimes was not easy, since the environment could be quite confusing.

Fast forward to now, the barangay now has a parish priest. They have just built a new church, unbelievably designed along modern lines. When I celebrated one of the novena Masses for the fiesta, I was teary eyed to see people filling up the church.

I could recognize some, but I could not anymore recognize many others. The faces have changed. There looked like an improvement of the stock, since I already saw many ‘mestizos’ where I used to see only indigenous-looking people.

In fact, among the altar servers were kids with fair skins and long noses. Then I realize the place already has some foreigners married to the locals. How time flies and what surprises it brings!

I was told that a religious congregation of Spanish nuns with their Filipino counterpart will soon set up a school there. Wow! I could not believe that they could find their way there. But, thank you, Lord, just the same. That will truly make a big difference to the place and to the people.

So far, I’ve been the only priest of the place. I’m praying for more priestly vocations, and it seems the possibilities are emerging. I was happy to note that there seems to be a strong community spirit supporting the church.

It goes without saying that there are still many things to be done, problems to be solved, challenges to be faced and tackled. It’s a day-to-day affair, a work-in-progress that needs to be given abiding attention and care.

I have to continue praying and hoping!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Purpose of communication

POPE Benedict has just given his message for this year’s World Day of Communication, celebrated on May 24. It is entitled, “New Technologies, New Relationships—Promoting a Culture of Respect, Dialogue and Friendship.”

It’s a call for all of us to make use of the advantages these new technologies of communication—the mobile phone, computers, Internet, etc.—can give us. The obvious alternate corollary is that we avoid their dangers and other disadvantages. They too can turn traitors, if we are not careful.

Of course, it presumes that we know well the peculiarities of this new development. That’s why, it’s good of the Pope to remind us of basic realities that rule our lifelong business of communication.

They tend to be forgotten, or at least taken for granted, with obvious dismal effects and consequences. In the frenzy and excitement that often accompany these new technologies, we can easily forget the real and ultimate purpose of communication.

Ironically, instead of strengthening our unity with everyone, they can become clever tools of division that can isolate people in the world of their own making. Each one becomes an island with no sense of archipelagic solidarity.

I was struck when the Pope said in one of his opening lines that “this desire for communication and friendship is rooted in our very nature as human beings and cannot be adequately understood as a response to technical innovations.”

That fine distinction is, I think, worth reiterating. We tend to be so captivated by the novelty offered by these new technologies that we forget that this need for communication comes from our nature that has objective laws and requirements to be followed and respected.

It’s easy for us to fly into purely subjective ideas of why we communicate. We tend to make that task to serve narrow, selfish ends. We do not make any effort to attune it to serve God and the common good. If the latter are served, it often is a result of accident, not by intention.

Quite clearly, the Pope spelled out the nature and purpose of communication. “In the light of the biblical message,” he said, “it should be seen primarily as a reflection of our participation in the communicative and unifying Love of God who desires to make of all humanity one family.”

Now I don’t know how many people know this basic truth and how much they are applying it in their communications. What can easily be gathered is that most people communicate merely for very personal reasons.

If not personal, then it’s done more to pursue purely human needs in the areas of professional, social, cultural life. There’s actually nothing wrong here as long as everything is rooted and focused on God’s will and design. This basic truth is, sadly, often set aside.

Often, we make our communication a purely human affair. It’s with this kind of mentality that distorts our communication, resulting in discord and enmity among ourselves. The Pope appeals to all to see to it that our communications promote respect, dialogue and friendship among ourselves.

In fact, our communications should foster communion first of all with God and then among ourselves. It’s a communion that welcomes diversity of opinions in things precisely open to opinion, without compromising the absolute truths.

It’s not one to straitjacket us. Rather it enhances, if not perfects our freedom in all its rich but unified possibilities. It’s like a tapestry, containing so many different threads, but with a beautiful and harmonious design.

Thus, we have to understand that our communication, in whatever form it takes, should always be a way of participating in the eternal communication God has within himself and with the rest of creation. It cannot be any other way.

This is a tremendous challenge for us to attain this abiding sense of the nature and purpose of our communication. It surely would require the cooperation of everyone, according to his possibilities, and massive resources.

Given our human condition, with our need to be subjective, to pass through several stages, not to mention, our weaknesses and limitations, and the temptations around, we need to be patient and focused in this task of educating ourselves about communication.

We have to be quick to detect and heal both the human and devious tricks that can poison the original nature of our communication.

The Pope also encouraged all, especially the young, to make use of these new technologies for the purpose of evangelization. In the end, that’s what they are for.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Speech as an empty suit

MY understanding of the term “empty suit” includes not only a person but also a thing that can have good appearance but actually does not have substance. The term came to my mind as I read President Obama’s commencement speech in Notre Dame University in the US last May 17.

As to style and other external elements, the speech deserves to be praised to high heavens. It was charming, with the right blend of the light and the heavy, the prose and the poetry. It was entirely politically correct. As the young would say it, it was simply cool and gorgeous.

I would strongly recommend it as a model of how a speech should be. Every word was weighed and given its proper place. The flow of thought approximated that of a person in harmony and at peace with the world, in good control of the situation despite problems, and brimming with confidence.

It’s a speech that can have immediate soothing effect. I think this is what the Americans and the others in the world need now, gripped as we are with all sorts of horrifying problems. It’s this Obama capability that contributes greatly to his immense popularity. He is a good sweet talker.

It effectively shows Obama as a reasonable man, trying to be fair and balanced, open-minded and open-hearted—qualities which he is now busy trying to market to everyone. And these are even more highlighted by the fact that Obama is different, being black for one thing. He projects a Messiah image.

There’s nothing wrong with aspiring to have these good qualities. I marvel at the level of expertise speech writers have reached to come out with a real good speech. Let’s have more of this kind of speeches.

I applaud and congratulate Obama for that speech, and I wish him luck in his efforts to convince the world to think the way he thinks.

But I’m afraid I can’t go all the way with him. In fact, given those excellent virtues of his speech and his character, I get more terrified, knowing that evil can be in its worst when covered precisely with an armor of good things.

It’s like the wolf in sheep’s clothing all over again. Sorry for that jolting expression. But at this time, when everyone seems to be nice and correct at the expense of telling the plain if painful truth and issuing warnings of potential dangers, I feel I have to say it, and quite strongly.

Yes, the speech was terrific. But it terribly missed the point!

At bottom, President Obama’s position on abortion and other life and moral issues indicates a dangerous fence-sitting posture regarding an issue that actually is not anymore a matter of personal taste and opinion, or cultural character of a people.

The issue boils down to the very nature of man that is supposed to be objective, universal and immutable, in spite of its subjective, historical and cultural conditionings, given the way we are.

Of course, we have to learn how to handle the peculiarities of these latter factors in our pursuit to know and define what human nature is and what its objective requirements are. We have to learn how to affirm and defend the truth always with charity.

This is going to be a very dynamic affair, with its twists and turns, ups and downs, gains and losses. We have to be quick to identify the good and the evil that often go together, mixed and confused almost to the point of rendering the task of distinguishing impossible.

In that Obama speech, abortion is assured of its legal rights. What for centuries has always been regarded as nothing other than killing an innocent child is now given a right to be practiced by anyone who desires it.

Obama does not want to resolve the issue one way or the other. In a previous occasion, he said it is something above his pay grade. He wants it to leave it the way it is now. He is simply asking that everyone respects each other’s position. He is parading this kind of attitude as the right one everyone should have.

But this position will bring us nowhere other than deepening conflict and chaos. The problem, I think, is that some leaders just do not want to make hard decisions, the kind that surely will not be liked by many.

This is when we can truly have a crisis of leadership.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Spiritual reading

READING is, of course, a necessity to us. What eating and drinking do to the body, that’s what reading does to the mind. It keeps the mind alive, in good health and in condition to work and carry out its proper mission.

We need to give due attention to this need. There are signs we are taking it for granted, and thus we may not realize that we are not doing it well.

Just like there are improper eating and drinking, there is also improper reading. If we are not careful with what we eat and drink, we can get instant indigestion and diarrhea, or we fail to get proper nourishment, or, in long term, we can develop serious illnesses like elevated cholesterol, sugar, obesity, hypertension, diabetes, etc.

In an analogical way, these anomalies can happen to us also if we are not careful with our reading. We have to go beyond random and impulse reading, so rampant these days.

Many people just get contented with reading newspapers and magazines, or even leaflets and other propaganda and advertising materials. This is like eating junk food only. Nothing wrong there, as long as we don’t get stuck there.

The problem is precisely that many do not go beyond what is immediately available and easy to read. We even have to go beyond reading only materials that somehow are forced or assigned on us mainly because of work or hobby, etc.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with this kind of reading. But we should not stop there. A lot more has to be done. We have to make our reading correspond to our needs as persons and also as children of God.

There has to be a more scientific way of determining the proper diet for our reading. This obviously means we have to go through the process of finding out the objective needs of our mind and heart. And since, these are the main faculties of our soul, then we have to know the objective needs of our soul.

Only then should we try to find what reading materials are appropriate for us, what priority to give them, translating this priority in terms of time to be spent, and the other relevant means and resources needed.

This is where we have to realize deeply the importance of spiritual reading. This is the kind of reading that directly feeds and cares for our soul. All other readings, one or another, will have an effect on our soul, but the spiritual reading is the soul’s staple food.

Spiritual reading keeps our mind, heart and soul in proper condition. It keeps in them the natural desire for the greater and ultimate truth, which is God himself. Our problem is that without spiritual reading, our appetite for truth gets stuck in the merely sensible or even intelligible levels, but not beyond them.

If we notice that we find it hard to connect to God what we are doing at the moment or what we are engaged in now, it is simply because the soul is not properly developed. Worse, it can be held captive by the law of the flesh.

Spiritual reading develops the proper desire for God in our soul. It helps us to get the appropriate means and skills to discern the things of God. It at least familiarizes us with the things of God, with spiritual and supernatural realities that are also a big, if not the main part of our lives.

In short, without spiritual reading, we will just be hovering in the human and natural level. We would not be spiritually literate and supernaturally friendly and open.

We have to learn to read the Gospel, study the doctrine of our faith and morals, savor the intimate testimonies of saints and other holy men and women, keep abreast with papal encyclicals and other Church documents. These should be the basic dietary items for our soul.

St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, once said: “Don’t forget your spiritual reading. Reading has made many saints.”

He also said: “In my spiritual reading I build up a store of fuel. It looks like a lifeless heap, but I often find that my memory, of its own accord, will draw from it material that fills my prayer with life and inflames my thanksgiving after Communion.”

This is also what I experience personally. And I, of course, would strongly recommend it to everyone.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Pro-life news

SOME good and bad news have come lately in this area of concern. The good news is that a May 7-10 survey conducted by the prestigious Gallup Poll in the US reports that for the first time more Americans are considering themselves pro-life rather than pro-choice with regard to the specific issue of abortion.

That’s 51% pro-life over 42% pro-choice. Finer categories of the survey reinforce the same finding.

Those who consider abortion to be illegal in all circumstances are a point higher, at 23%, over those who consider it legal in all circumstances, at 22%. This is already a big change. Of course, it is still the middle ground, legal under certain circumstances, that leads at 53%.

In terms of political ideology, pro-life ranks registered a remarkable increase among the self-identified conservatives and moderates (6-7%), while the liberals suffered a slight decline of 1%. There seems to be hardening of views.

In terms of religious affiliations, a good swelling of pro-lifers can be noted among Catholics and Protestants (7-8%), while those who claim to have no religion increased only by 4%.

Just the same, I hope that even those without religion will find a way to become pro-lifers also. That slight increase offers that hope.

In terms of gender, the survey found more men and women declaring themselves pro-life than pro-choice. That’s 49% to 44% among the women, and 54% to 39% among the men. This, to me, is a most interesting finding, considering how American women are known to be strongly pro-choice.

It seems that Obama, the first pro-choice president in 8 years, with his move to fund abortion worldwide, to tend to approve the controversial Freedom of Choice Act, and to rescind conscientious objections on the part of medical workers in abortion, is driving people toward the pro-life side.

We will see how this trend will develop further. But this already represents a very dramatic change in the American landscape. It’s a most welcome development, worth praying and fighting for.

The bad news is that the head of the European Commission delegation to our country, Ambassador Alistair MacDonald, has intruded in the legislative debate of our Congress over the Reproductive Health Bill.

He chided our congressmen for failing to pass the bill and linked its passage to increased foreign aid. The nerve! This guy deserves to be declared a persona-non-grata. He can burn in all that so-called European aid and wealth, but he has no right to dictate to us things that are clearly immoral.

We have been saying all along that this business of the Reproductive Health is an international conspiracy with which some of our politicians are playing footsie. I suspect they are there more for the money. It’s another act of crookery that sadly thrives in our political pit.

Reproductive Health as defined by them is what we don’t need at all. It’s a hogwash of so-called rights that are from start to finish false and without basis except in their own minds.

Yes, it can come with many legitimate things. This is what makes it very ugly, since its main inspiration and character is simply not acceptable. I’m almost sure most of its local political supporters are merely reading from the same rotten page and script written by Western ideologues.

Right now, similar features are incorporated into another bill, the Magna Carta for Women. It’s the same banana that boasts of things like freedom of choice, so-called women’s rights to their own bodies, etc.

And the authors and sponsors are also the same people whose ideology is based more on consensus, popularity and practicality, but not on an objective examination of human nature. They only consider opinions, the more popular the better. And they call this being democratic.

It seems to me that our politics has become significantly mired by ideological advocacies, many of which are imported. It’s not anymore a venue to know and monitor the true sentiments of the people.

Much less is it now our way of attaining our authentic common good. It’s built on shifting sands, with hardly any stable core that’s kept. So far, we can still manage an appearance of stability, but I don’t think this will last long.

Cracks are now visible in our body politic, and they are getting bigger and deeper. These days, we have to be skilful in resisting the clever maneuverings of immoral forces, experts in spreading sweet poison all over the world!

Friday, May 15, 2009

We have feet of clay!

WE, of course, have to be positive and encouraging in our discourses. But we also have to know how to be realistic. Optimism and goodness are not meant to oppose realism, including its brutal kind, because the circumstances can demand it.

With all the scandals that continue to emanate from high and even sacred places, we need to remind ourselves that we have feet of clay. Ergo, there’s always a duty to be careful, to be prudent, to take the necessary precautions so as to avoid falls that precisely can be avoided.

It’s painful to hear of people’s heroes and highly publicized socialites and celebrities, let alone, religious leaders fall shamefully from their pedestals because they failed to remember this basic truth about ourselves.

Consider the case of Mel Gibson. Many people held him in high esteem, practically idolizing him, because of his good movies, especially “The Passion of the Christ.”

For a while he acted according to normal expectations of a worldling who converted and was trying to be a consistent Christian believer. Everyone was pleasantly held in suspense. Many must have prayed for a good ending.

Then came reports about his drunkenness, his anti-Semitic rants, and now his divorce and taking on a sweet young Russian doll. It’s obvious many people were crushed by these developments.

Take the case of a former bishop, now president of a country, who in one week’s time was forced to admit he fathered three children from three different and very young women who could be his daughters.

To top it all, it was said that given the machismo-soaked culture of his country, that news may even enhance his image. The world has indeed gone mad and wild!

Or the case of a young, attractive priest, Cuban-American, a syndicated columnist with TV shows to boot, with an estimated following of millions. Then pictures of him cavorting with a woman in a beach were splashed in the media! In disbelief, the papers screamed, “Dios santo!” And the world kind of collapsed.

Only God, of course, can be the final judge. And there’s always hope, since all of us are a work-in-progress. We can still spring good surprises anytime. But no one can deny that the scandals have knocked us down, like Pacquiao on Hatton.

Our Lord’s words come to mind: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Mt 18,6)

There’s no other way. We really have to remind ourselves constantly that no matter how confident we are of our strength, physical, moral or spiritual, we still have feet of clay.

In the Book of Daniel, we are told of a statue whose head was made of fine gold, its breast and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of brass, its legs of iron. All impressive! But its feet were, sadly, part iron and part clay. (cfr 2,32-33)

It took only one small stone that struck it at its feet to bring the whole statue crumbling down. It’s an image of how we are—we can be majestic in many aspects, but we’ll always have these feet of clay, our Achilles’ heel.

We should always be on guard, distancing ourselves from temptations and occasions of sins, purifying our intentions always so as to ward off unwelcome thoughts and desires, ever developing an authentic spirit of penance to cleanse and strengthen ourselves as we go through the adventure of life.

We need to be humble and transparent, especially in our spiritual direction and confession, to have constant recourse to the sacraments, and also to develop a deep devotion to our Lady, so we can be helped to remain simple and resistant to the allures of the world and the devil.

We have to be good in waging spiritual combats. We are ranged against powerful opponents. Above all, let’s fill ourselves with a continually renewing and cross-driven love for God and neighbor. This is the ultimate way to escape the grasping clutches of our weaknesses.

This is, of course, not an exercise in negativism, in being a wet blanket to human interests. This is prudence and wisdom, the cunning of serpents while having the simplicity of doves that our Lord wants us to have always.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Need for recollection

WE need to work this out. As persons, whether individually or collectively considered, we need to enhance our subjective selves and see to it that we truly correspond to the objective reality around us and the reality meant for us.

Since we think and reflect, we choose and love, we automatically, unavoidably create a world within us that needs to be founded and rooted on an objective truth. Otherwise we would end up living in fantasy land. What we will have in our mind would have no “fundamento in re,” no foundation in reality.

The other day, I saw some youngsters belting and crooning like famous singers. With all this frenzy surrounding Susan Boyle, Charice, American Idol, etc., there’s a kind of epidemic in singing.

It’s actually a good development. I just pray that things are put under control. I already got glimpses of singer-wannabees whose talent remained more in their mind and their intentions, but not in their voice and other natural endowments.

In short, they looked more up in the clouds, with ambitions that are unhinged, unmatched and unsupported by the relevant capability and power. It’s actually a funny situation, deserving a Simon Cowell scorn, though I would not go that far.

We have to be careful about this point. We need to be more aware of both the subjective and objective realities that govern us. And with such awareness, of course, let’s see to it that their correspondence would be as perfect as possible. Only we as persons can and should do this. The animals don’t give a hoot.

Of course, we have to understand that such correspondence is never a rigid and fixed affair. It’s something dynamic and alive, though it has its stable element. We have to know the intimate dynamic of this relationship between the objective and subjective realities, and help one another to achieve this end.

But for now, what is essential is to realize that to work on this correspondence, we need to learn the art of recollection. That is to say, we have to learn to gather all our powers and faculties together so they can be engaged with their proper and ultimate objects.

What we have to avoid is to have them scattered and often in conflict with one another, entangled with objects that, though having some validity, are not the proper and ultimate objects we should try to pursue.

This need for recollection simply indicates that our life consists of different aspects and levels that we have to orchestrate to be able to reach our final end. We just cannot go about reacting spontaneously to things, depending solely on instincts and feelings. We are meant for something much, much more than these.

Our tendency, given our fallen nature and the effects of our personal sins, is to get dispersed in our attention and to plunge into activism. In the process, we lose our interior serenity.

This loss of serenity can lead us to to bad consequences—loss of self-control and dominion over things, proneness to temptations, vices and sins, disorder in our sense of priority, etc.

For Christian believers, the source and end of their consciousness should be God. This is simply because the Christian faith teaches that God is the creator of the whole universe, including us, and continues to govern us intimately in our hearts, thus, a living relationship between God and the believer.

We need to be focused always on him. Straying from him would be to stray from reality. It would lead us to make our own reality and our own world, with consequences that sooner or later will always be bad for us.

For Christian believers, reality is not simply the items that we see or hear or even feel. Reality is a given, not made by us. It has to be discovered, not invented by us. But it has to enter deep into our being, since we have a subjective mode of existence.

And ultimately the one who gives the reality to us is God, since things just don’t break into existence on their own. There is an ultimate cause—God.

This human need for recollection will always bring us to the realization of the existence of God, with the corresponding rights and duties towards him.

We have to work this skill out, helping one another, being patient and understanding with one another, since the road to it, aside from being narrow, is strewn with difficulties, traps and snares.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Time to go to another level

I WAS in a Jollibee outlet the other day for a quick snack after a day of excursion, and I saw plastered on the wall a blown-up picture of the interior of the local church. The picture, in beautiful sepia, was obviously taken some generations ago.

It led my group to comment that the church was certainly a big influence in the community. All the major events of the town must have involved the church one way or another. Think of baptisms, weddings, burials, fiestas, big events in schools and government offices, etc.

In that picture, the church had the pulpit given a prominent place. It was still a functional fixture. Of course, nowadays the young ones do not anymore know what a pulpit is, simply because there are no more pulpits in churches. They’ve been replaced with lecterns equipped with powerful sound systems.

Some churches even have more sophisticated gadgets to facilitate their ministry. Many of them are now airconned, their architecture attuned to modern trends, their altars, reredoes and images gilded or lavishly painted.

In some cathedrals and basilicas, we can see wide screens for a live feed of the ceremonies taking place. Electronics has invaded and blended beautifully with the old and traditional in the churches.

I even saw rolling biblical images painted on canvas serving as backdrops of altars. They are made to shift from time to time according to some plan. Wonderful. This is not to mention the beautiful hymns now produced abundantly.

The churches and chapels of old, especially in the towns and villages, did a wonderful job in evangelizing the people. They practically had a captive market, since at that time the people were more simple, the pace of development was also more leisurely.

That is why we can still enjoy the good effects in terms of a widespread population piety especially during fiestas and other important liturgical events—Christmas, Holy Week, Easter, etc. It goes without saying, that these good things come with some warts and blemishes.

All these are worth praising and thanking God for. We just have to realize more deeply that together with the progress in the technical aspects of church life, there has to be real progress in the spiritual and moral aspects. This is the real challenge now.

We now have to pay closer attention to both the mega, even the yotta level, on the one hand, and the nano level, on the other hand, of Christian life.

Though church life will always be associated with the concepts of remnant and the spiritual, everything has to be done to make it properly reach all people in all their aspects, including our material and temporal affairs.

The churches, from the bishops, priests down to the lay people, should now go to another level if they—we—wish to survive, if not thrive wondefully in a world immersed in deepening technologies.

There is the disturbing trend, observable in many young people today, that considers the Church to be increasingly irrelevant in their lives. We have to tackle this challenge promptly and effectively.

This does not mean that we do away with what we already have. The old churches are still very useful and relevant. The traditional practices of piety, both personal and popular, are truly indispensable.

We just have to make them grow to greater levels of maturity. This will be a process that is going to be very dynamic, and that can involve a lot of suffering and pain, as well as adding and pruning.

But church life has always been like that. Woe to it when it develops a certain allergy to these things. It can only mean it has grown complacent. It has stopped growing and is only keeping an appearance. It has stopped nourishing people’s spiritual lives.

A crucial element here is education to construct a proper human culture. The right of parents to choose their schools for their children, as well as the kind of education to be given to their children should always be upheld. This is a basic right of parents that has priority over state rights.

We have to resist any attempt to make education fully state-controlled, and values-free or neutral. Sadly, this is the trend in many places, orchestrated no doubt by some group. We have to be quick to react when certain public figures echo these sentiments. They are a threat to our society.