Wednesday, July 29, 2009


IT was a funny, if embarrassing, month. I’ve been told to have a Latin Mass in our school. Of course, I immediately knew the reason and the reasonability of it, in spite of the fact that the students are mostly coming from the province.

I’ve been saying Mass there in English, and there was no problem at all. Now with this move to have a Latin Mass, I thought it would be strange if we don’t have Mass in the vernacular also.
So, as a compromise, I scheduled one Latin Mass a week, and also a Bisaya Mass once a week, the rest in English. This was where my embarrassment began.

Though a certified Bisaya (“Bisdak” we fondly call ourselves, meaning Bisaya through and through, from hair tip to toenail), I grew up with English as my working language. I think in English, and if possible, I speak in English. I am more at ease with it than with the dialect.

There are reasons for that, er, “anomaly.” I don’t remember deciding or choosing to have it that way. It was just given to me. It was what my school, from kindergarten up to college, taught me and I just found myself warming up to it. I liked it right from the start.

I don’t know why I felt that way. Maybe, I thought it was “cooler” to speak in English than in Bisaya. I must confess that I many times would laugh or make fun at some of the Bisayan peculiarities, as when the i’s and the e’s, the o’s and the u’s are inverted. In fact, I would deliberately do that to remind my friends I’m Bisaya.

Now, of course, my attitude is much different, and my ardent prayer is that I be able to speak Bisaya like there’s no other language I know. I realized this when I started saying the Mass in the dialect. I was stumbling from start to finish, and my homily was like my Calvary.

I was groping for the right Bisayan word, since the ones that automatically appeared in my mind were all in English. I realized that through the years my Bisaya did not grow to mature and formal levels. It was kept in the domestic and puerile level, even so vulgar and raw you would not want to show them in public.

That’s really shameful, because I feel like I’m a traitor. I believe one’s language plays a major role in defining one’s identity. I don’t like to lose my Bisayan identity, even if I like to have a very universal outlook. But it should be a rich, solid Bisayan identity, not a flimsy one.

I remember that when I was studying abroad and was forced to learn Spanish and Italian, it became clear to me that a language cannot be spoken properly unless one immerses also into the culture that language sprung from and developed.

In my case, I marveled at the richness of the cultures these languages embodied and expressed, and I tried hard to plunge deep into them. One time, I could not help but feel inferior, because I was comparing their cultures with ours, and I found ours poor.

Yet, in spite of that, I also saw that no matter how poor, there is something in our ours that is so distinctive of us that it cannot be captured by the other cultures, no matter how rich or superior they are to ours.

This reinforced my belief, as taught to us by the Church, that we should respect the different cultures of different people, preserving their distinctiveness. We should avoid having one culture dominating the others as to obliterate them.

In short, we should avoid homogeneizing culture, forming a rigid one meant for all. This simply goes against our human nature and human condition. Yes, we need to have unity, but a unity that does not suppress the natural diversity that we have.

I think what we have to do is to develop the skill to be open to all cultures, but to always retain the one that is native to us, enriching it with what we can get and learn from the others along the way.

We need to have an inter-cultural lifestyle, but one with clear foundations on one’s native culture. This way, we will not get lost and confused, we will avoid being disloyal to what is originally ours.

Now I have to really learn my Bisayan culture and help it grow.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Emerging in our local horizon?

IN some developed countries, the popularity of their leaders is closely monitored. They have devised a continuing tracking system that in a manner of speaking takes the pulse of the nation and show how they view their leaders.

This, of course, only gives at best a sociological profile or political picture of the country at a given time. It indicates the mood and the sentiments, and the prevailing concerns of the people. It shows the current cultural landscape of a given place.

To a certain extent, it offers a good service. It can tell us many things about the people and the place, and these things can be useful for whatever purpose we may have in mind.

But it has to be said very clearly that it does not make the standards of what’s supposed to be good and evil, right and wrong. It can only mirror, it can only reflect the people’s state of mind or something, but it does not create, much less dictate, what is supposed to be moral or immoral.

We have to say this because there seems to be a runaway mentality that tries to equate polling results and statistical data with the legal or moral standards. In things sociological, economic and political, where opinions are given a lot of weight, survey results can be the deciding factor.

Businessmen, for example, are keen in knowing how the market is thinking at the moment, so they could make the necessary adjustments to their plans and moves.

Not so when we talk about legality and morality. A stricter and even metaphysical method has to be used to determine what’s supposed to be legal and moral. There are certain realities that do not depend on the shifting sands of opinion because they pertain more to the nature of man and things, and this nature is permanent albeit dynamic.

Thus, in our country where we have population-control advocates citing all sorts of surveys to justify their immoral positions, this distinction and reminder is worth reiterating. It’s actually a cheap act truly unworthy of the dignity the people behind these polls struggle to project.

We need to alert the more vulnerable sectors of our society regarding the chicanery played on them and on all of us. Most of these surveys are blatantly biased, if not rigged to come out with tendentious results.

But going back to the proper role of these tracking systems, in the US these days, they are witnessing through their monitoring devices some dramatic changes in their political and sociological demographics.

In effect, they are saying that there’s a strong trend toward an even more liberal culture. Liberalism is becoming more mainstream. This is not so much a phenomenon that is emerging in the horizon as something that has already arrived in our midst.

This piece of information should be very interesting especially to those who place great importance to faith and the things of God. Liberalism is freedom gone wild and has no other tendency but to precisely weaken faith and our perception of the spiritual and supernatural world.

And while the general nature of this ideology is already quite known, together with its history, assumptions, consequences and implications, we need to know its concrete manifestations, arguments and actual tendencies that vary from place to place, from person to person, so we would be able to engage it more effectively.

It’s good to know its past as lived by a particular people or even by a specific person. The past tells us a lot about the present, just as the present can give us leads as to how the future will be.

It’s important that we get out of the confines of theories, descend from the tower of principles, to get a hands-on, real-time experience of the breathing reality of liberalism as lived by actual, not virtual, persons.

We need to attune our styles and approaches, our words and reasonings to the mentality of persons soaked in liberalism. This is the challenge we have now locally. Our horizon is giving signs with colored clouds that reflect what’s happening in many other places, especially the US.

These can come to our shore, and we better be prepared!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Virtues and celebrities

THIS is still a dream struggling hard to become a crisp reality. Imagine if our celebrities, instead of showing off their inanities, frivolity and the like, become models of virtues, showcasing the many aspects of these ideal human qualities!

At the moment, it sounds very unbelievable, quixotic, even impossible, but there’s always hope in our world. We need to put teeth into that hope by making a concerted and sustained effort to create a culture of virtues in our world of media, entertainment and showbiz.

Of course, all this should be pursued on the basis first of all of spiritual and supernatural means of prayer, sacrifice, sacraments, doctrine. But all the human means, like the virtues and all the way to the art and skill of making war, should not be neglected either.

Perhaps, an immediate task is to do some thorough housecleaning, especially in the papers, TV and other major media outlets. By now, we should be aware of the rotten excuse that because of freedom, right of expression, creative and artistic rights, etc., we can just show anything in the media.

No, sir! These rights and freedom need a clear foundation of truth and sense of responsibility to spring from. Otherwise, they become a spout of licentiousness, a source of malice and evil in all their varied expressions and subtle forms.

There has to be a better understanding of these human powers and privileges that have often been misused and abused. At this time, with all that we have accomplished as well as the dire lessons learned from sad experiences, we should already know the delicate character of these privileges.

They have at least dual effects, good or bad, and in between them, endless possibilities and variations and combinations that we should try our best to rein in, control and direct properly.

There are signs we have lost control of these crucial human elements, and we just allow ourselves to be at the mercy of chance. This latter thinking is naïve, because things are never happen purely by chance. They are ruled, if not by us, then by higher spirits, that is, either by God or the devil, to be simplistic about it.

I cannot understand, for example, why everyday newspapers should highlight the escapades of so-called sex-kittens and brute hunks, their strange peculiarities and idiosyncracies, etc.

They seem to glorify vanity and to flaunt a certain disturbing notion that at some point, certain people, precisely the celebrities, can be above moral considerations. They can do anything in public and for public consumption without having to account for it.

One time, while in a taxi, I heard over the radio the driver was listening to, songs with clearly risqué lyrics embedded in double-meaning words. And the announcer was reeking with flippant commentaries soaked with sexual innuendoes. All this, done with an air of impunity!

Ok, it’s all very easy to complain, and we should not stop there. We need to build, to construct and sustain a culture of goodness, of virtues, of what is truly for all of us.

If what comprises human goodness is still to be argued and proved, then let’s start there. But we already have to make a stand. What is good and bad can be known by us in a general way right from the start. Let’s discuss their finer points as we go along.

But right now, people are in extreme need to be encouraged and supported in their life’s endeavors and struggles that are becoming more difficult. They need to know how to be patient, hopeful, cheerful, resourceful, orderly, sincere, humble, simple, in control of their emotions, passions and urges, etc.

Virtues perfect our humanity. They too are a foundation for more significant developments in our spiritual and supernatural life.

The celebrities, if they want to contribute to the common good, can do a lot in giving out ideas, words and ways of coping with our current difficult situation. Since their every move becomes an example to many, they have to be very discriminating in their words and actuations.

Those who handle them—from their managers to the media people—should help to make their wards and talents comply with the standards and requirements of the common good.

Of course, the people should also do their part by promptly reacting to any deviations these celebrities may make and also encouraging them to stick to what is truly good to all.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Meet Sarah Geronimo

I’VE seen her face and heard her sing, but only peripherally. That’s when I’m on the road, in the barber and they happen to watch TV, or in the mall to buy my toiletries. Granted she has some face and talent to sing, I still wonder why she seems to be everywhere. It was a wonder that did not push me to look for the answer.

But the other day, while driving with a friend, I got some inside information about her. This friend started by saying how happy he was to be in a concert of the singer in Cagayan de Oro. It was jampacked, and was a whopping success. He was there mainly because of his little children who wanted to see the singer.

This made him curious about Sarah, and did some research. He found out that she was discovered by Vic del Rosario who apparently gushed upon seeing her that he has found another “Sharon Cuneta.”

He immediately got her into a 10-year contract, and started building her up, packaging her as a wholesome young girl worth emulating to millions of youngsters in the country. The idea seems to click, because now, you have legions of young fans adoring this girl

So that’s it. You have a market waiting to be tapped. You have a talent who clearly shows good potentials. Then the business cycle just needs to be closed with a man who knows how to link the two together.

My friend, ever so business-minded, chuckled at the cleverness of Vic del Rosario. I suppose he was thinking if he could also pull the same smart move. But there was still something in his mind that he wanted to share with me.

“Father,” he mused, “I wonder if God and his things can be made popular like Sarah Geronimo.” I immediately knew he meant well, though it sounded like a blasphemy. And I remember that in the Gospel, our Lord took pains to present his mysterious lessons in parables to attune himself to the people. I caught his drift.

It certainly would be nice if the mysterious things of God can be made attractive in a visceral way, in the manner young people react to a rock star and his loud songs! Of course, without compromising, if possible, on God’s nature and words.

In fact, there is a crying need for the things of God to reach all people, because God is the God of all, and not just of some. But how is this going to be?

The phenomenon of Sarah Geronimo can give us some ideas, according to my friend. He said that again upon the instance of his little girls, he watched movies of hers, and he said not only are they clean, but also they conveyed the right messages and lessons. “Why don’t you try watching them, Father?”

I’ve received this kind of invitation before, and frankly I don’t know if I should take this one seriously. I have been disappointed a number of times before. The hype and expectation often failed to match with the actual seeing. So I just told him, I’ll try if I can find time and the right mood.

I must admit that there had been a few new Tagalog movies—the few and accidental times I saw them—that managed to improve my impression of them in general.

But yes, it has always been the perennial challenge for us priests and for anyone who has some ideas to sell, to come up with an effective way of presenting things to the people.

I know that preaching is not easy, and that it’s more the Holy Spirit than the human effort that makes it click. Just the same, the human element is indispensable, and should be done in the best way possible.

Anything that would enhance it, including the human art involved in preaching, is always welcome. It certainly would not do any harm to know those qualities of Sarah that make her the magnetic idol of many youngsters.

My friend recommended that I watch some local telenovelas to get ideas. Again I tried to be courteous and said, “I will try.” But I remember that there are also people who get bored with telenovela gimmicks and sleep through homilies, while trying to get the essentials.

I myself am of that type. I think I survived because I managed to be patient. But I prefer to be told things straight and simple, rather than being given the run-around or presented with a heavily overlaid thing.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Infuse business with proper values

THE other day, I had a nice 2-hour drive from Cagayan de Oro to a certain place in Bukidnon where I gave a retreat. The fellow who brought me there was a young businessmen, a friend who’s a very enterprising and entrepreneurial man with a string of businesses, and a lot of social work to boot.

I know he is a very generous soul, who manages only to see the good side of life and leaves the other side alone. He’s something of a balance to me, since I tend to immediately see the wrong side, while struggling to make it right.

Also, where I tend to come up with ideas, he comes up with concrete, implementable plans. Where I speak of doctrine, he talks of specific details that put doctrine to action.

So I was not surprised to hear from him that a few months ago, some nuns approached him to ask if he could help them build an orphanage. I didn’t ask how much was the cost of the project, but along the way I figured it must have been below 10M.

Typical of him, he just said yes, although he did not know how to do it. It was his first time to get involved in such a thing, and to think that he had no prior connections with the nuns. He must have had created a name before for the nuns to go to him.

So he sat down, did some planning and started to call friends and came up with many ideas. To cut the story short, he managed to put up the building in a short time, with the help of his friends and many others whom he got to know and befriend as the project went under way.

This, of course, left the nuns crying in profound gratitude, and the little orphans jumping with joy. But he said, the project taught him a great lesson in generosity based on faith in God and in man.

“There are many good people out there, Father,” he told me, “waiting for the chance to help. We just have to discover them in the proper time and in the proper way. A lot of patience is needed, and also a certain creativity to make things attractive and a win-win to all concerned.”

So I asked him about his micro-financing venture which he told me some years ago was his way of helping the poor people in the towns. As soon as he started to talk, I know it was also another successful, if painful, initiative.

“Oh, Father,” he said, “I have broadened it into micro-enterprise development. I realized I just cannot remain in the level of financing. I have to get involved in the development of their little businesses. I have to do more for them.”

And so he narrated to me how it was in the first years of the venture, where he met all sorts of disappointing results, with a good amount of his money lost and his goodwill to others, especially the poor ones, shaken.

He said that business as a way to help people is not just how to make money. It is about how to help people grow and develop as mature, responsible and also God-fearing persons.

“I have to give them talks on work values and attitudes. I practically have to give them an on-going formation that even includes the spiritual. My friends get amused when they learn I talk to the barrio people about prayer and sacrifice.”

When we passed by some public markets along the way, he pointed out to me the small stalls whose owners were the beneficiaries of his social work. And there were quite a number of them already.

Since I didn’t like to make him feel proud, I discreetly congratulated him and challenged him to do more. He took the challenge well, was even smiling, and somewhere inside me I know this guy will do it. I promised to pray for him and his family.

I also told him I will give him a copy of the Pope’s new encyclical called “Caritas in veritate,” which precisely talks about how to do business in a Christian way. I told him, “Just read it. You will find the ideas there already familiar to you, since you are already doing them.”

As we arrived at the place, I proceeded to give the retreat, talking about God, and he went back to the world to do business. But I know we are involved in the same thing. Somehow.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Charity in the truth

ITS original Latin rendition is “Caritas in veritate.” It’s the title of the third long-awaited encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI that just came out first week of July.

When two years ago its idea was first brought up in public, the common attitude was that it was to be the papal social encyclical to tackle our festering current global economic crisis.

Expectations and suspense ran high. What made it more so was that there were announcements that the document would come out last year. But it didn’t, thus, all sorts of speculations came thick and fast.

So it was quite a major letdown that when it finally came out, only the “usual people” (ecclesiastics, Church commentators, seminary professors, etc.) were the ones making noise. Hardly anything came out from the secular press. It seemed that interest in the encyclical was restricted to a certain circle of people.

Even in our country that’s supposed to be very Catholic, there’s almost total silence to its reception. The bishops preferred, it seems, to talk about politics or something else, though it must be said that what they said one way or another have some relation to what the encyclical is saying.

This phenomenon has been hovering and bothering me at the back of my mind. Why is it like that? His second encyclical, “Spes salvi” (Saved by hope), despite its tremendous content, suffered more or less the same fate. It was only the first one, “Deus caritas est” (God is love), that caused some stir.

Several reasons can be put forward. But I prefer to think that most people are not prepared for it. Many are those who do not know how to think theologically. They can think emotionally, rationally, sociologically, economically, politically, not but yet theologically.

I’m afraid some have gone to the extent of considering documents like this as a foreign body to their system. They have already developed a certain allergy to any Church document.

Underpinning this could be an attachment to the superficial aspects of the current situation, plus a certain soft or subtle narcissism that keeps one thinking of oneself only, or worse, a hostile attitude backed up by some ideologies like secularism, a wild liberalism, etc.

Which is all a pity because the encyclical puts the whole issue of our current socio-economic-political predicament in its proper perspective. The Church has the duty and the charism to read the signs of the times, and this is what the Holy Father is doing in this encyclical.

It does not offer technical solutions, but it points out the fundamental causes of our problems these days and the way to correct them. The Pope knows the vast scope as well as the limits of his authority. He toes the line.

In this document, the Pope says that while truth always has to be pursued and given in charity, as St. Paul says, charity, which is the driving force of human development, should always be developed in the truth.

Everyone, I suppose, wants to love. But we have to make sure that our love is in the truth, otherwise we would just be going in circles, pursuing a false and dangerous love.

He defines what true integral human development is, grounding it on its ultimate source as a vocation coming from God and highlighting the spiritual component more than its material aspect.

The Pope tries to highlight the connection between our earthly affairs on the one hand, and our origin and destination in God, on the other.

Our usual problem is to understand our autonomy in our earthly affairs as total independence from God. They are just a human thing, we tend to think. God has no place in them. Wrong! We need to make drastic changes in this mentality.

The Pope goes on to touch on a number of crucial elements regarding our earthly affairs that all need clarification. Among these are the social principles of common good, solidarity and subsidiarity as lived in the context of our present crisis.

There are references to how international cooperation should be developed, and other issues like migration, aid to poor countries, care for the environment, delicate responsibilities in finance, etc.

There’s one point that I find most interesting. It’s about how openness to life is at the center of true development. “If personal and social sensitivity toward the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance valuable for society also wither away.”

We cannot say that we have not been warned.

Simulating goodness

I’VE heard this complaint a number of times. A mother says that in spite of all the good things given to her child—he was well provided for, sent to a good Catholic school, etc.—the child, now in his teens, has dropped all practices of piety.

“He was not like that when he was a child. He was prayerful, came to Mass with us, was even active as a Mass server in school. I don’t understand why he is now so different…”

I commiserate with parents with this kind of problem. Their disappointment and frustration can cut deep. And they sometimes feel helpless as to what went wrong in their parental duties.

That’s when a thorough investigation of the case should be made. For a good thing to go wrong, only very little is needed. And in the life of a person, the possibilities for good and evil arise from beginning to end of his life.

We need to look at the heart of the person involved. Or better said, persons involved, since problems like this is a result of a confluence of many factors where many people are involved, not to mention the world’s bad influences and our spiritual enemies.

It’s in the heart where the choice between good and evil is made. We have to find a way to look into the heart. And parents, being naturally close to their children, have the inside track of knowing how to read their children’s hearts.

And yet very often, as attested by many people, it is the parents that get to know last about their children’s predicament. Something—a certain kind of parental love that keeps them from going all the way in knowing their children—seems to blind them.

It’s when attention to the children does not go this far and deep that we can expect surprises. This is because in spite of the many wonderful things that our nature is capable of doing, because of its woundedness it is also capable of many malicious things.

The worst cut is that we are capable of simulating goodness to avoid detection and to pursue our selfish ends. This is already well-known and should not be ignored. Parental love should include this element of prudence.

We need to enter the heart of the children. We have to be wary of the heavily polluted environment of ours now that gives premium to appearances and worldly values while starving the spiritual ones.

Try to look at the fashion and entertainment pages of our local papers. I particularly pity the kids who can indiscriminately swallow the images and messages cluttered there day in and day out.

It’s no simplism to say that the air we breathe now is not only contaminated by material dirt. It’s heavily polluted with ideological anomalies and moral perversions. We now have to contend with sophisticated harmful elements.

Whatever innate innocence and goodness these kids have, if they are not guided while being exposed to these elements, they can’t help but, so to speak, ferment and sour.

Children are most prone to pornography, gluttony, vanity, frivolity, irresponsibility, laziness, greed, selfishness and a whole caboodle of disorders. These lead to spiritual lukewarmness, moral weakening and even loss of faith.

The factors involved in the play of these irregularities should be promptly identified and properly handled.

How children use their time, their freedom, their money, the gadgets like the Internet, etc. have to be looked into. How they think, discern and judge, how they behave and react to things should be constantly assessed, not to control but to guide.

The parents have to be ready for this challenge. They have to know how to blend the soft and hard arts of taking care of their children. They have to be demanding on themselves first, because they can’t demand on their children if they don’t know how to demand on themselves.

If they themselves are confused and lost regarding what’s good and bad, what’s right and wrong, what’s safe and dangerous, then they should not expect their children to be any better. They have to realize they need an on-going formation for this most delicate responsibility.

They need to spend time with their children. They need to be both parents and friends to their children.

Lastly, parents should not forget to use the spiritual and supernatural means—prayer, sacrifice, recourse to the sacraments, continuing ascetical struggle, etc.

In fact, the exercise of these means should be the goal to which they should encourage their children to attain.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thrill of the mystery

THIS is not about the books and the movies that are called mystery thrillers. No matter how inventive and suspenseful, these are poor copies of what takes place when one manages to pray at the level of meditation and contemplation.

There’s something distinctive and unique in these moments of intimate prayer. One becomes aware he is not simply thinking, imagining and inventing. He gets engaged not only with an idea or a topic and is developing it.

He enters into a conversation with a being at once so close and yet so far, both known and familiar and yet shrouded in pathless mystery. He knows he’s in contact with someone, and yet the contact is ethereal and elusive.

He also knows he is not just being tricked by his own mind or is engaging in solipsism. How does he know it? That again is a mystery hard to explain. But if ever one is pressed to answer that question, he will just invoke the full weight of his conscience to prove it. It’s beyond regular human ways of verification.

But there’s profound peace. It’s always there even if the considerations involve painful and sorrowful thoughts. This peace does not disappear even if one is shown a free range of things that can include unpleasant items in the human or natural sense.

The mind, or better said, the soul seems to travel, not so much of its own accord as of its being led and shown. One knows he is not just dreaming. He is seeing and hearing things. He knows he is talking, or better still, he is simply with someone.

Aside from peace, an indescribable joy and tenderness soak his consciousness. And there’s love too. One is always moved to react, reciprocate and correspond.

He does not come out of it simply knowing something. He glows, is transformed and filled with desires to do something with God, with others and with himself. A mysterious bonding takes place.

This experience, if really true, makes a person humble rather than proud, willing to suffer and undertake heroic deeds rather than merely enjoying the privilege. It launches him into an adventure of love that involves everything. A certain fear of God grips him, but a fear that makes him fearless in his actions.

This was the example of St. Paul and of many other saints and holy men and women down the ages. In the case of St. Paul, this was how he described it:

“I know a man in Christ above fourteen years ago (whether in the body, I know not, or out of the body, I know not. God knows), such a one caught up to the third heaven…

“I know such a man, that he was caught up into paradise, and heard secret words, which it is not granted to man to utter.” (2 Cor 12,2-4)

As to the effects of this experience, St. Paul had this to say: “For such a one I will glory. But for myself I will glory nothing, but in my infirmities…And lest the greatness of the revelations should exalt me, there was given me a sting of my flesh, an angel of Satan, to buffet me…

Thrice I asked the Lord, that it might depart from me. And he said: My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in infirmity. Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (5-9)

We have to understand that this kind of prayer is meant for all of us. We can not make any excuses, because in the first place this is what God wants and he himself enables us to have it.

We know that he reveals himself to the weak and simple, and so whatever claim of weakness and inadequacy we have can actually be our passport to be intimate with him.

He even goes to the extent, as in the case of St. Paul, to reveal himself to one who is hostile to him. We have no excuse. We are meant for the fullness of God, as St. Paul also said.

We just have to develop the proper dispositions, and some skills to be able to enter into meditative and contemplative prayer. At least, we have to set a proper time and place for it, irrespective of our earthly concerns.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Beyond I do

I WAS invited the other day to say Mass for a group of couples who were having a seminar on marriage and family life. I was pleased to know that such group exists and is doing its best to spread their message with a missionary zeal. I encouraged them to go on with the good work, wished them luck and promised to pray for them.

They call themselves “Beyond I Do,” and offer couples hands-on help to make their marriage work and hew it to how it should be. There are now confusing ideologies that deform the true nature of marriage, and these have to have handled competently.

The group of the ¨Beyond I do¨ monitor developments that have any effect, good or bad, on marriage. They provide a ground-level view of the state of marriage at any given time.
Certainly, there’s need to keep marriage and family life vibrant years after the couples exchanged “I do’s” and committed themselves to live in love and fidelity up to their death. This is crucial. Society needs it. Everyone needs it.

If we are not careful, there are things in life that tend to deaden our sense of commitment and harden our ability to adapt to new trends and challenges. We have to learn to renew this commitment often, giving fresh impulses of life and love to it. We have to understand though that in the end, this renewal can only come from God.

But, of course, this concern, as we all know, is not anymore simple. We now contend with many complicated factors that come from all directions. It’s not anymore as easy as it was during the time of our parents and grandparents, and in the province. The old-time kind of simplicity and serenity seems impossible to have these days.

Someone told me he gets the sensation that his married and family life looks like a road almost choked with heavy traffic. Because of this, he has to be patient, flexible and quick with the reflexes, capable of ignoring many irritating details that come along the way, and ready to get stranded at any point.

The main idea is to survive and arrive at the proper destination, not only for oneself, nor for the couple alone, but also for the children and in fact for all the others. We are in the same earthly pilgrimage and we need to help one another.

And yet no matter how daunting the challenges are, as long as there are deliberate efforts to study and find ways of how to make marriage tackle these daily pressures, one can see that peace and joy can always be found not only amid these problems, but also through these problems.

It’s a matter of having the right attitude and understanding of things, based mainly on faith that should be made to integrate all the empirical data involved. Of course, the necessary skills to grapple with the challenges should also be learned.

Marriage, like anything else in our life, just cannot be developed within the confines of our human system. That’s bound to fail, sooner or later. It has to find its true bearings in God’s life. But this is easier said than done. We need to outgrow the bias of considering marriage solely as a human affair.

God is and should be in the middle of it. Everyone has to learn how to relate our human and earthly affairs touching marriage and family life to God, and vice-versa. We need to hurdle the usual problems of awkwardness and incompetence in this regard.

That’s why, initiatives like Beyond I do offer a lot of hope since they help couples to ground their marriage and family life on God, while going through the tedious details of their daily life. They don´t offer short-cut solutions. They journey with the couples.

What is important also in married and family life is that everyone is always developing human virtues. I know that talks like this are not popular. Ok, we can repackage them, but we cannot escape from the fact that all of us need to develop virtues.

In fact, I think we need to talk a lot about human virtues, since they make our human foundation ripe for the grace of God to work wonders. Foremost would be sincerity, then loyalty, fortitude, hard work, a certain kind of detachment and poverty, optimism, order, etc.
In the end, one has to realize that he needs an on-going formation for his marriage and family life!

Monday, July 13, 2009

The two faces of the world today

I WAS amused to see recently the photo of US President Barack Obama with Pope Benedict XVI. The differences between these two leaders, as is widely known, could hardly be any bigger, and yet there they were, smiling in a cordial meeting.

It’s a lesson to all to learn how to go above serious differences so that the gap can be bridged somehow. And this for the good of the whole world. But, of course, efforts should continue to resolve the conflict. These should never stop.

Sad to say, in our local scene, we have Church leaders whose attitude toward our political leaders is regrettable. And to think that the differences between them are not so much doctrinal, moral or ethical as merely political! There’s really no reason to go down to sarcasm and name-calling.

Obviously, the Pope and the US President have come in through different routes. One is a spiritual leader, whose election is through a college of high ecclesiastics. The other is a national, and to a certain extent, world leader chosen by popular vote.

They have different backgrounds, outlooks and ways. And though they play in different fields, we have to understand that their differences should be only a matter of distinction, not so much of conflict, since both serve the same people for the common good.

Their authority ultimately comes from God, though this truth may not be clear to one of them. In Obama’s retake of his oath of office, since there was a mistake in the first one, he did not bother to swear by the Bible, a standard practice.

That may not mean much, but then again it can already reflect an attitude that’s becoming clear given other actuations that indicate he thinks little of religion. We still have to follow how things unfold. The drama continues.

In the photo op, I could not avoid looking at the eyes of both men. Eyes can be both mirrors and windows of what’s inside. And without making undue judgments, some thoughts came, reminding me of certain things.

Both men look charismatic and clever, but we have to distinguish where that charisma and cleverness come. There’s certainly charisma and cleverness that come from God. But they can also come from the world, if not from the devil.

Our Lord wants us to be clever as serpents even as we should also be innocent as doves. A truly God-fearing leader should really know how to combine these qualities together.

The cleverness of the world and the devil is most cunning and subtle. Remember that in the temptation of Christ in the desert, the devil quoted Scripture.

Evil and temptations always make use of the truth, since the truth is always the raw material for doing good or evil. In the case of evil use, truth is distorted, twisted or deformed. It can also be misused with the wrong intention.

There’s also wisdom and prudence that come from God, as well as appearances of these virtues that can come from the flesh, the world and the devil. We have to be very discerning.

At these times, not only should we know how to read the signs of the times. No matter how tentative, we have to learn to read minds and souls, and to be wary of the many tricks and traps strewn along the way.

We have to be careful with the deliberately planned multi-effects, both good and bad, that public actuations of public figures possess. They are presented to us cleverly packaged with the appeal to tolerance and respect for plurality of opinions and views.

In a recent issue of the ultra-liberal American news-magazine Newsweek, an article trumpeted that Obama now represents the American Catholics better than the Pope. That’s supposedly due to Obama’s more tolerant views on abortion and other ethical issues.

It seems that now, faith and religion are a matter of sociology, of personal views only. They are not anymore about divine revelation, about a thoroughly theological understanding of the doctrine of the faith.

In his meeting with the Pope, Obama said he will try to reduce the “number” of abortions. He initially said he will reduce the “need” for abortions, even if at the beginning the number may still go up.

But he already missed the boat. Perhaps it’s this kind of reasoning that gives him an appearance of consistency between his stated policy and his move now to have universal access to abortion. This is the kind of cleverness we have to be careful about.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The dynamism of faith

WE are beings of faith. Not only do we think and reason out. There’s something in us that leads us to believe. Even if we deny it, the truth is we are exposed to an infinite reality which we cannot cope with our reason alone.

One way or another, we handle it through faith. It’s a willful leap of our reason that recognizes its own limitations, allowing it to be taken up by a mysterious force that enables us to say yes to what we see and discern without fully understanding it.

It’s our way of tackling with the infinite, the spiritual and supernatural. And since this is a life-long condition of ours, we have to understand that our life is a life of faith. We are not ruled only by reason and will, nor by feelings and instincts alone.

We are designed for faith. Sooner or later, we end up just believing in something. Even if one were to say that he does not believe in anything, that position alone is already an act of faith.

While there can be an endless variety of beliefs, the distinctive mark of the Christian faith is that it comes from outside and above us. It’s supernatural. It’s not completely subjective nor merely human. It’s based on a revelation that has Christ at its center and as its fullness.

He is known as the son of God who became man to tell us who we really are, and what we are meant to be. And his presence and action on us and with us are kept in the Church he established through the different means he also made available—his word, his sacraments, his ministers.

The Christian faith has a personal, private and intimate aspect, as well as an institutional, public and official dimension. It comes to us from hearing. It’s something received, a gift, and thus not man-made. It lives within the context of the Church.

It’s a dynamic thing that demands an existential response for it to prosper in us. It puts us in an adventure with God unlocking the secrets of life along the way.

Thus, we have to understand it as requiring us to continually exercise it one way or another. Christian faith is not just an intellectual exercise, though that is done. Nor is it just an act of the will, though that too is needed. It is a living affair with a living God. It’s God’s grace for us, and our correspondence to it.

While it has defined doctrine to guide us by, a structural way of transmitting and cultivating it, as well as an ecclesial and historical dimension, etc., Christian faith is basically one’s personal affair with God.

As such, it waxes and wanes depending on one’s dispositions and effort in cultivating it. It certainly is not just a matter of being able to profess the creed, or to memorize the catechism, etc., though these again are involved.

With Christian faith, one gets to reflect the vital thoughts of God. It gives a supernatural tone to our outlook in life. After all, our whole life, as defined also by that faith, is a life with God. In fact, we are called to live the fullness of God.

The faith is the beginning of that life. Charity perfects it. But the two, plus hope, are always together in this earthly life. Faith always has something to say with respect to all our concerns and affairs. It’s never aloof to these things.

And so we are supposed to go ever deeper into that faith by studying it, then praying, reflecting, meditating all the way to the point of contemplation. An act of love, quite deliberate and cognizant of the need for sacrifice, should move it.

Prudence dictates that we be careful not to confuse our thoughts with God’s thoughts. This is the tricky part that somehow can be overcome if one practices a little restraint, is humble and discerning always, consulting with spiritual directors, etc. One has to continually rectify as well as rev up his intentions.

More or less, with these characteristics, one’s faith can go deeper. We have to remember that faith always involves lights and shadows. It’s like journeying. It should not get stuck at a certain point. It has to move on. But it will not reach its final destination here in this life.

While it can effect certainty, it’s a certainty that’s never rigid and completed. It can and should always grow.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Joy in this vale of tears

WE need to know the real nature and character of this virtue, now facing possible extinction amid the complicating air of modern times. It’s sadly has suffered many distortions lately such that its common understanding is now quite off the mark.

We also need to update our ability to develop and strengthen it, realistically factoring elements that now define our lives, as well as acquiring the relevant skills and art to effectively tackle our tricky times.

We cannot remain in the superficial level, restricting joy as a function only of biological, emotional, social causes, etc. Joy has deeper roots that go all the way to our Creator. We need to realize this truth more deeply, and do all, helping one another, to work out the proper mentality and culture of joy for one and all.

As such, joy has an eminently spiritual and supernatural nature. To develop it, we need faith, hope and charity, we need to pray and appreciate and live the value of sacrifice, and everything else that go with these elements.

It has to go all the way to the theological level as well as to the most cutting-edge practical skills we can get. The complexities and challenges of our times demand nothing less.

We have to wean ourselves from that childish notion that joy is just an emotional thing or some chemical or biological phenomenon that can be effected by certain drugs, potions and therapeutic exercises. Joy is neither a matter of character or temperament.

Not that these things do not contribute anything. They do, and we need to give due consideration to their objective good effects as well as to the objective needs and conditions, both good and bad, of our body in all their aspects.

But we have to understand that they are always in a secondary and instrumental role. They are useless if they are not attached to the real source of joy, and that’s nothing less than God himself.

Without God, these elements have no other way but to sooner or later succumb to our weaknesses, to the temptations around and eventually to death. With God, we can always find ways to go on and ultimately enter into eternal life.

Certainly we need to be very discerning in knowing the actual state and conditions of our life insofar as the virtue of joy as a goal is concerned. We have to be very practical on how to go about developing it, doing the usual give-and-take that is unavoidable.

But we have to learn first how to be theological in developing and living our Christian joy. Thus, we need to see the example of Christ, trying to enter into his mind and heart, such that our thoughts and even our feelings can reflect the thoughts and feelings of Christ himself.

We have to convince ourselves that it is only in him that we find true joy and peace. It’s in his heart where we can find the way and strength to grapple with any trial and difficulty, and to derive some good from evil.

As St. Paul said: “To those that love God, all things work together unto good.” (Rom 8,28) We have to be deeply convinced of the truth and wisdom of these words.

In fact, that is the proper way for us to think and feel, that is, theologically, infusing faith, hope and charity into our thinking and feeling. Our thinking and feeling cannot be pursued in a vacuum. They need the proper air which can only be God.

We should never think that we can just reason out, judge and perceive things completely on our own. That would be the path to get us disoriented. That would lead us nowhere. That would even be the way to expose us to danger.

So we need to master the teachings and ways of Christ himself, the doctrine of our faith, the ascetical means offered to us by the saints and taught now by the Church.

Inspired by these and also made to support these, let us develop those wonderful items—pills, exercises, therapies, etc.—so that our joy becomes a living thing that can be seen and can produce good effects on all.

We need to make this Christian joy known and appreciated by the people. Many appear to be wandering about in the wilderness, getting stuck in some oases and mirages of joy, but not quite the real thing.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Another Obama trick

RECENT reports have come indicating that the Obama team is pushing for universal access to abortion at a UN conference, contradicting what they officially claim as wanting to reduce the need for abortion.

This gives the lie to Obama’s cool words at the controversial commencement exercises of the US Notre Dame University last May, where he said he wanted to find common grounds with pro-lifers.

With this new development, we seem to observe a defining pattern in Obama. He can be very good at words. But we are worried about what’s really inside his heart. We want to hope that nothing drastic be made, but that hope now appears to be badly bruised.

We need to know immediately what this “universal access” means, since my initial understanding of it is that abortion can be had by anyone, anytime, anywhere and for any reason.

If one abortion is already an abomination, since it’s a killing of an innocent human being, imagine what massive, universal abortion can amount to! Things have gone so bad that abortion is now considered as if it’s just one more item to sell and bargain on negotiating tables.

In the present US proposal, the term used is: “universal access” to “sexual and reproductive health services including universal access to family planning.” Hillary Clinton already clarified that reproductive health includes abortion.

Before a US House subcommittee some months ago, the sweet-talking Hillary declared: “We (the Obama administration) 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.”

It would be interesting to compare these words with what they are pushing now at the UN—a move for universal access to abortion. In fact, this is not the first time the former First Lady contradicted herself in her public statements. And I’m afraid this will not be the last. There’s seems to be something serial in her.

And in a previous discussion at the UN, it was also clarified that “services” precisely include abortion also. Proponents of abortion usually hide their real agenda behind euphemistic terms.

Together with abortion, they are also promoting the so-called “sexual rights,” that actually is license to do anything sexual as long as there is some kind of mutual consent among the parties involved. Morality is completely down the drain.

Besides this trick, at the World Health Organization (WHO), officials are massaging data to show that maternal mortality is high and therefore a top world killer like cancer, malaria, AIDS, heart disease, etc. This is, of course, a big lie, done to again make abortion legal in all countries. That’s the ulterior motive.

Maternal mortality is not even among the top 10 causes of death these days. It is even lower than deaths caused by car accidents. I suspect abortion is more a killer than maternal mortality. The boldness of the abortion proponents is simply over the top.

Our local population control and family planning advocates should chew on this recently unearthed data to clear themselves of the suspicion they are part of a worldwide conspiracy to make abortion legal in our country.

It cannot be denied that they use the same language, the same statistics, the same ideology. They cannot play coy and say that they are just for family planning sans abortion and wild sexual rights, since they are playing the same game.

Evidence are aplenty that the path to the legalization of abortion in many countries is precisely through family planning programs without abortion yet. And then when the time is ripe, they introduce the demonic bill to a society already made soft and vulnerable.

This is the time to make a clear stand on abortion and many of its guises—reproductive health, health care, responsible parenthood, etc. There has to be a stronger campaign to expose the lies and fallacies of the abortion/sexual-rights bloc.

Let’s be wary when they say they are looking for a common ground with pro-lifers. While continuing dialogue and where possible a certain cooperation are desirable, we cannot be naïve in accepting at face value their invitations to discuss the issues and negotiate.

These latest developments are a clear proof there is lack of sincerity and transparency in their behavior. They play tricks and are not earnest in their words. In fact, they use many camouflaging terms. We should not play footsie with them.

To many of our local Catholic schools that tend to accommodate family planning people, caveat emptor!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Ethical economics

I THINK we need to be familiar with this concept and try to help build it up, making everyone as far as possible to get involved in the task. I think that as we progress and face more challenging times, we need to see to it that we are also doing our economics properly.

We just can’t allow our economy to work by the principle of the so-called “invisible hand.” That would be working by blind faith, tempting God and creating an environment that favors the privileged, the strong and the rich to take advantage.

We have to discard the idea that some mechanism inheres in the economy that would automatically make things right. That simply is not true.

While we have to respect personal freedom and right to private property, we also need to not only to have some regulations, but also to expand and tighten them, so that the whole system can function really well.

I was reading the other day the speech of the Vatican observer to the UN conference last June 26 on “The World Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development,” and this—ethical economics—was what at bottom he was driving at. I agree with the idea, though it sounds fantastic still at the moment.

Let’s quote some words of his: “Underlying the current economic crisis is an ideology which places individuals and individual desires at the center of all economic decisions.

“The practice of economics has reflected this ideological focus and has sought to remove values and morality from economic discussions rather than seeking to integrate these concerns into creating a more effective and just financial system.”

He concluded by saying that this attitude has created a society in which short-term economic and personal gains are made at the expense of other and have the effect of creating an individualism lacking recognition of the shared rights and responsibilities necessary to create a society respecting the dignity of all people.

He then called for integrating ethics into our economic activities. This is easier than done. Not only do we need to know the relevant ethical principles. We also have to know how to apply these principles, what adequate structure and support system would be needed to make the ethical dimension workable, etc.

A lot of pertinent education in all levels of society is needed to make everyone at least to be aware of this concern, if not to empower them to effectively participate in shaping and keeping our economic system alive and healthy.

What is desired is that more and more people develop a growing sensitivity to the requirements of the basic social principles of the common good, solidarity and subsidiarity in their different aspects and levels. Alas, I wonder what efforts are made to pursue this particular goal.

Besides, there are basic questions that need to be clarified yet. Like, how do we strike a healthy balance between profit and social responsibility, private property and universal destination of goods, individual initiatives and corporate activities, confidentiality and transparency, etc.

I could readily see that there can be no easy answers to these questions, nor rigid formulas to follow. What’s needed is a continuing vigilance and a deepening formation of consciences, since we are actually appealing to the sense of freedom and responsibility of persons.

In the end, there is a clear spiritual and moral dimension in all these economic activities. And that’s where the main problem lies, since at present we are still stalled by a formidable obstacle starting with people’s attitude and mentality.

The obstacle has two sides: one is that those in business generally feel religion has no place in it, and two, that those in religion also generally feel the economy is not their business.

To be sure, there had been attempts to link the two, but so far, they generally succumb to a common fatal anomaly—that of thinking that business and economy can be run like faith and religion, that is, in terms of dogmas that do not respect a certain autonomy of our business activities.

These points are still wild, new frontiers that need to be cleared, developed and settled. And one basic and indispensable task is to spread the idea of ethical economics to pave the way for more concrete actions for our economy to work properly.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Where death is life

AS priest, I get to see many people already on the verge of death. Their families invite me to give them the last sacraments of the anointing, communion or viaticum. If the patients are still able, I would hear their confessions.

But it’s the effort to convey the Christian meaning of suffering and death that I find most challenging. I’m aware of the different levels of faith that people have, and it’s in how to adapt the doctrine to their level, such that they get to appreciate it, that would leave me gasping for divine inspiration.

I just can’t dish out the teaching in the raw. I need to dress it up, using the appropriate words, tone, arguments and examples. I also need a good sense of timing, feeling the pulse of those around to see if my words are entering or not. A tricky affair, but all worth it. I learn something every time I do this.

But we actually don’t need someone to be dying to savor the tremendous truth about Christian suffering and death. Each day offers us many occasions to touch base with this crucial truth.

The other day, I was invited to the celebration of the 45th wedding anniversary of my husband-and-wife teachers in first-year high school back in Tagbilaran also 45 years ago. The woman was my English teacher, the man my vocational (electrical) subject electrical.

It was an intimate gathering of friends and relatives, and the occasion turned out to me as a good reminder precisely of the Christian meaning of suffering and death.

As different people were called to give some testimonials, I relished at the sincere expressions of what they saw and learned from the couple. I myself know them as a simple and sincere pair, to the point of being self-effacing, but truly hard working and cheerful. It’s a combination of traits that’s getting rare these days.

I was the first one to be called. I didn’t prepare anything for this occasion, but I found myself saying many things, since there were just so much to say and to thank for. To Ma’am, I said: “With your beautiful smile, I learned fast from you. That I could now speak and write in what may be called as passable English was because of you.”

To Sir, I said: “Thanks a lot for the electrical skills I learned from you. I’m not known for manual skills, but I must say that with my knowledge in electrical circuitry, my mother came to depend on me whenever we had electrical problems at home. I always became an instant hero whenever there was a brownout, since I could fix it.”

It was what the 5 children said that moved me a lot. They are now all professionals, married with children, looking happy and yet looking simple and unaffected. They talked about how they grew up under the close supervision of the parents who combined affection and discipline very well.

They were talking about how they had to study and work hard, and be quite demanding on their daily schedules, and go through hard times to be able to finish their studies and find work. In the end they all finished and found good jobs.

Their father was a working student himself, who finished his studies by being a handy man to the priests who ran the school. Part of his work was to teach some electrical skills to high schoolers like me. I remember spending a lot of time understanding and doing hands-on experiments in electrical matters.

A friend of his, also a working student, narrated that though he was not part of my teachers’ wedding entourage, just the same he helped a lot on that wedding day, because he was the cook and everything else for the couple. He said he and my teacher worked hard to finish their schooling.

I found the testimonials simple and springing fresh from the heart. The thought came to my mind that if we still have families and friendships like this, then our country has a lot of hope, in spite of the hard and complicating times. These are fountains of pure goodness that simply would produce wonderful effects on all of us.

I saw in them what one saint used to say—that we need to die a little everyday to ourselves, so we also live a little more in God everyday, like a grain that has to die on the ground to germinate and become a plant.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Simplicity and spiritual childhood

IF we are interested in keeping our humanity, or at least our sanity, it may be good to be reminded about the need for us to develop, keep and strengthen our simplicity and spiritual childhood. This integral part of Christian asceticism should not be forgotten as we progress.

With our neck-breaking pace of development, with its unavoidable dust cloud of complications, we need to realize more deeply that the way to go is not by being quixotic, tilting at windmills and grappling with phantoms, but by being simple.

The temptation to be quixotic can be strong, since we always feel we can handle things by ourselves. Our sense of freedom and responsibility often blind us to the basic truth that we need to be grounded on God always to be able to live properly, let alone, do things rightly.

This quixotic attitude can lead us to that situation of self-righteousness, denounced by Christ himself when he told some of the people’s leaders that “they have eyes, but don’t see, they have ears, but don’t hear…” It’s the wide, easy, seemingly practical road to perdition, mentioned in the gospel.

Simplicity is the way to objectivity, and to all the other values connected with objectivity. It keeps us in touch with reality, the one meant for us. We have to say this, because as human beings, we are capable of creating parallel realities. That’s our abiding problem.

Of course, our subjective world will always vary from person to person. But at least this variety can still be linked to an objective reality. Our predicament is that we can have a subjective perception of things that has nothing to do with the objective reality anymore. It can be propped up merely by a system of rationalizations.

In fact, even at this juncture, some of us can already question what this objective reality really is. This is the likely question of those who believe more in themselves than in God, of those who rely on reason while neglecting the faith.

For those who have faith, they can manage to escape the grip of their rational and sentimental subjectivity to go into an objective world outside of themselves. Without faith, one opens himself to the possibility of being invincibly imprisoned in his own world.

Simplicity helps us accept and live the faith. It’s what makes us children who accept things first, who allow ourselves to be guided and taught, before asking questions, not out of unbelief but rather for greater understanding.

Remember what our Lord said about the kingdom of heaven. He went as far as to say that it is for little children precisely because of their simplicity: “Suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come to me. For the kingdom of heaven is for such.” (Mt 19,14)

We need to devise an interior mechanism, more spiritual than material, to keep ourselves like children even as we grow in worldly knowledge and skills, and prone to thinking that we can already live by ourselves, independently of God.

This mechanism can include anything that fosters our presence of God all throughout the day, the practice of rectifying our intention and relating everything that we do to God. We have to break the barrier of awkwardness and incompetence in this regard. We actually have the means. What’s missing is our will to use this mechanism.

And lest we think simplicity is naivete, and gullibility, let’s remind ourselves of what our Lord said: “Be wise as serpents and simple as doves.” (Mt 10,16) Simplicity would not be true simplicity if it does not come with cleverness and shrewdness.

Our Lord himself, the epitome of simplicity, is also the epitome of shrewdness. Remember how he read men’s minds, and formed his statements according to what he knew!

That may be a difficult act to follow, but we can always try. We have life itself, with all its cultures, civilizations and our ever-expanding personal experiences, to teach us how to be both clever and simple as our Lord wants us to be.

But we should always be aware of our need to develop this virtue of simplicity. We cannot take this duty for granted, because the logic of our flesh and the logic of the world tend to complicate us.

The false glitter of the celebrity world, the escape mechanisms of sex and drugs, the anomalies of abortion, contraception, same-sex unions, etc., indicate the extent to which our complications have worsened. We are actually ripe for a disaster unless we change.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Spiritual and moral auditing

AUDITING need not only be financial. More important than financial, it should be done to verify the spiritual and moral conditions of our life. Are we in good shape? Are we aware of the problems? Are we already thinking of the appropriate solutions and remedies?

This spiritual and moral auditing is done mainly through the examination of conscience, which we should try to do regularly, if not daily, just before going to bed. It will give us a good picture of our spiritual life, monitoring its developments and challenges, and defining its directions for growth and fruitfulness.

More importantly, it gives an occasion to say sorry to God, to patch up things with him and to begin again. It’s where the theories of spirituality are poised to practice, where desires are positioned to action.

The examination of conscience is a wonderful tool for our spiritual maintenance, where we do a little tweaking here and there, a little tightening and oiling of the different parts of our life, a little self-motivating exercise for our tired if not harassed selves.

We cannot deny the fact that even without major trials and sins, we need to do some regular cleaning of our spiritual life. Everything else needs that—our body, the car, the garden, our tables, our cabinets, etc. Without this frequent dusting and wiping, things just pile up into a mess. We always collect dirt all day long.

And these days when we are subjected to so many competing elements, we cannot deny the fact that we have to contend with an environment whose spiritual and moral ecology is complicated, if not downright polluted. Precisely, the complicated and confused air can unleash and create more deforming factors.

Even our most civilized methods of communication are swamped with twisted and distorted values. If we are not careful, we would unknowingly imbibe these contaminated values, slowly building up a disaster that can explode sooner or later.

We have to be more sensitive to our need for examination of conscience. In it, we put ourselves in the presence of God, who is a father to us, ever understanding and quick to forgive, and who gives us light to see things objectively.

When done well, we can see the roots of our problems, and can have an idea of what to do with them. We should never remain only in the level of symptoms. And solutions and antidotes, one way or another, are always available to our problems no matter how difficult they are.

It’s amazing that if through the examination of conscience we manage to micro-manage our spiritual life well, always coming up with prompt resolutions no matter how small they are, then we can really take giant steps in our spiritual life. Impossible dreams, like chastity, become a throbbing reality.

Truth is we just cannot allow ourselves to go namby-pamby in our lives, letting ourselves to drift to any direction our moods, feelings and instincts may take us. We need to be quite serious, putting reason infused by faith and charity as the lead agent of our life.

Obviously, this would need a certain discipline and training. And as they go, they will always require effort and a lot of sacrifices. We have to convince ourselves that these are important. They are indispensable. We need to rebel against that enveloping culture that makes us long only for the good time and rot in complacency.

Our true joy, our genuine liberation, as our Lord has told us, can only be attained through the cross. There’s no other formula. Our loving can only be put right, with the proper motive, content and direction, when purified by the cross.

We have to help one another learn this most indispensable skill. At the moment, most people are yet ignorant of this practice, and those who know are often stifled by awkwardness and sheer incompetence.

We need to know, more or less, the parameters involved in our spiritual life, so we would know how to develop it and not feel lost. For this, we need to study and get advice from experts and spiritual directors.

While the examination of conscience can always be done in simple ways, I think we also need to know some arts we can borrow from the fields of accounting, medicine and military science, like inventory reports, intelligence work, diagnosis, proper prescriptions of “pills,” special diets and regimens, etc.

With our challenging times, we cannot remain in the level of the “provinciano.” We have to be very literate in our spiritual affairs!