Monday, August 31, 2009


MANTAYUPAN Falls down in Barili town in Cebu is an oasis for tired, harassed souls in need of urgent relief. I experienced this first hand when the other day, taking advantage of a public holiday, I with friends went there.

Its 98-meter water drop, already quite voluminous compared with other waterfalls, immediately gave me an object of intense wonder that brought me, at least in my mind, not only to its geologic source but farther, much further beyond.

For sure, it was not only a feast to the eyes. It was more so to the soul, as I marveled at its natural beauty. It can come not only from some chancy natural events. It must come from the hands of someone more sublime than what our mind and senses can readily admit.

At first, we were just a few souls frolicking in its basin of fresh and gurgling water. Soon after, more groups came, crowding it almost to a Sarah Geronimo concert audience size.

Someone naughtily whispered to me the place was fast becoming like the Ganges, that sacred river in far India dirtied by millions who take their dip daily for some ritual cleansing.

It certainly was not like the Riviera, but I did not agree it was like the Ganges. This was just a simple place, so Pinoy in looks and character that manages to attract families and intimate groupings.

The reason, to me, was quite obvious. It was just the right size, in the right place. You don’t have to be an athlete or a mountain climber to reach it. It just required a very reasonable effort to get there. It was neither too near nor too far.

For the millions of middle-class where I belong, it offers genuine comfort and rest at very affordable prices. I would not be surprised if it’s promoted to stir local tourism to life. In fact, I saw a “Suroy-suroy” tarp, and I gave it a mental thumbs-up.

My heart swelled with tenderness to see families with their elderlies and their babies in tow, fathers carrying their excited little boys on their shoulders, mothers constantly calling for their straying kids.

I saw young men helping their lolos and lolas maneuver through the rocks and to the water. About the only flashes of the extraordinary were some boys of the place who showed their acrobatic leaps into the water from some height.

The experience was already heartwarming, and yet the place afforded me, despite the crowd and the engaging sights, a precious space to think, reflect and pray. This, to me, is very important, and I just hope that everybody else did not neglect this duty.

Otherwise, what is yet naturally clean, pristine and beautiful can easily be spoiled and corrupted. A place, a crowd, to remain human and more, always needs a soul. And that can only be provided if each one makes the effort to imbue it always with spiritual values with no let up.

Remember the crowd who met our Lord with “Hosannas” when he entered Jerusalem. A few days later the same crowd shouted “Crucify him.” That’s what happens when a crowd is not properly animated by the spirit of Christ, but by another spirit—of the world or of the flesh.

We should never allow a crowd to live and act on its own. It needs to be infused with the truly human substance. And that can only happen if we are firmly grounded on God, in spite of the glitter and allurements of the world.

Of course, this has to be done with adapting naturalness and flexible discretion. This is the essence of delicadeza. It enables us to remain in touch with God and the refinement it involves amid the rough and tumble of the world.

Now that we are approaching the election season, where crowds will be roused to vote this way or the other, we should not forget this virtue of delicadeza. It allows us to think, reflect and pray properly, and hopefully make our choices and pursue our goals properly.

My heart breaks to see people turned into a mob, supposedly exercising their right to protest and yet violating the fundamental requirements of charity to their perceived enemies.

Without delicadeza, persons who otherwise are simple and earnest in their intentions and efforts, become easily seduced by worldly values. The crowd would become easily manipulated.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The higher, the lower

A LATIN adage says it all: “Corruptio optimi pessima.” The corruption of the best is the worst of all!

May we never forget the truth of this saying. We should be extra wary when in our journey in life, we, by a confluence of several factors, attain positions of power and prestige. That’s when we really have to be most careful and try our best to grow in humility, doing all that humility would require of us.

This sobering truth is behind the warnings and lessons embedded in many stories, both religious and secular. To cite a few, we can mention the following:

- The story of the race between the hare and the tortoise. From the Wikipedia, we have the gist:

A hare one day ridiculed a slow-moving tortoise. In response, the tortoise challenged his swift mocker to a race. The hare soon left the tortoise far behind and, confident of winning, he decided to take a nap midway through the course.

When he awoke, he found that his competitor, crawling slowly but steadily, had already won the race.

- From the Gospel of St. John, we have the story of the blind man cured by Jesus and causing unbelief among the Pharisees. The story concludes with Jesus saying:

“For judgment I am come into this world, that they who see not, may see, and they who see, may become blind.”

“And some of the Pharisees, who were with him, heard, and they said to him: Are we also blind?

“Jesus said to them: If you were blind, you should not have sin. But now you say, we see, your sin remains.” (9,39-41)

- We are, of course, familiar with St. Paul’s words: “The foolish things of the world has God chosen, that he may confound the wise. The weak things of the world has God chosen that he may confound the strong.” (1 Cor 1,27)

- Still another Gospel story, from St. Matthew: “When an unclean spirit is gone out of a man he walks through dry places seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says: I will return into my house from where I came out. And coming he finds it empty, swept and garnished.

“Then he goes, and takes with him seven mother spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there. And the last state of that man is made worse than the first…” (12,43-45)

These, and many more, simply tell us one common lesson—we always need to be more humble the higher we get in any aspect of our life. Greater humility means having greater trust in God and less in ourselves, having bigger recourse to the help of others than depending solely on our powers, etc.

The more we lead, the more we should follow. The more free we are, the more obedient we should be. The greater honor and power given to us, the more willing we ought to be to serve others.

Remember when Christ washed the feet of the apostles at the Last Supper. St. Peter could not take it, and at first refused to be washed. Our Lord insisted, saying that what he was doing was meant to be an example to be followed by them.

This Christian truth applies to all, but most especially to members of the clergy who possess a special dignity. Priests and bishops should be the first ones to take extreme care of their spiritual lives before they can dare to take care of the spiritual lives of others.

It is undeniable that precisely because of their—our--position and exposure to things, the clergy are subject to the most vicious and subtle evil that can ever visit man. The devil works hardest on those who are closest to God or to the divine things.

For this, they—we—should be the first to avail ourselves of confession and spiritual direction before we dare to dispense these means of sanctification on others. It would really be funny if all that preaching and counseling we do, often with bombast and bluster, is not supported by a solid personal spiritual life.

This would certainly require a deepening and constantly-frontier-breaking kind of humility on the part of the clergy. Without this, forget it—all would be a sham, a hypocrisy, deserving of being branded by Christ himself as frauds, whitewashed sepulchers, serpents, etc.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The cut-and-paste generation

OR how Beethoven and Mozart got mixed with Yoyoy Villame and Max Surban.

The other day, a freshman student leader asked me to give the invocation at the opening of our technical school’s Olympiad.

I was, of course, happy and eager to do it. I consider it a great fringe benefit to get a chance to see some games with young people. That would be a welcome change from my routine, I thought, as long as it is only from time to time.

My age and temperament seem to prevent me from getting into this kind of events. Some people have wondered how I could stay aloof to a Manny Pacquiao fight, for example. I just tell them, it must be the grace of God. Then we switch topics.

When I saw the program, I was amused to note that I was given 15 minutes to do the invocation. What did they expect me to do, I asked myself, as I immediately realized these were young people organizing this event and they must not know what an invocation is or how long it usually lasts.

Anyway, I did not complain. What came to my mind was to say some prayers and then give them a 10-minute reflection on the proper spirit of sports. I knew I had material for that.

So as the students entered the gym amid the hoopla and fanfare and fell into formation, I did my part and was pleasantly surprised to see they were listening. The place became quiet. I felt my words sank in and I thanked God.

Then came the national anthem, and the games started with a contest in cheer dancing. I was not prepared for this. My jaws just dropped as I saw a dizzying variety of creative dance steps performed by 16 to 17-year-old boys, mostly coming from the province, whose background I thought was not that rich.

I knew most of them. They come to me for chats and I am familiar with their situations, mostly hard and difficult. But there they were, completely transformed into focused artistic performers. I was very happy for them.

They were jumping and tumbling and spinning around. They made mock macho and effeminate poses. They flowed into different formations—circles, triangles, pyramids, etc. Some were thrown into the air. I felt I was seeing the opening of the China Olympics.

They executed difficult movements like break dancing steps or even what they call as extreme dancing arm flares and hands wildly gesticulating to the beat of the music. And the music! For a 5-minute number, they managed to mix about 20 songs.

That’s where I noticed that the classical music of Beethoven and Mozart interspersed with the comic foolishness of Yoyoy Villame and Max Surban. All these left me wondering how they ever got to know all these things. My generation was never like this.

Then at the back of my mind, I retrieved some lines from a song of my time, What a Wonderful World!, now revived by Michael Buble. “I hear babies cry / I watch them grow / They’ll learn much more / Than I’ll ever know…”

That’s it! This is the dynamics of life, I concluded. I have to learn how to adapt myself to this fact of life and to do whatever I could to help. Truth is these kids are bursting with energy and creativity, now revved up to the max because of our new technologies.

But they are in great need of guidance and direction, and that’s what the elders, like me, are for. For all the good elements brought about by one’s youthfulness and the current level of development, there are dangers that need to be identified, exposed and neutralized or even taken advantage of.

Our young today are prone to acquire a cut-and-paste mentality and lifestyle. They can easily fall to improvisations that can become a habit.

For sure, there are many advantages in that, but it’s not supposed to replace our youth’s need for a deep and solid grounding that would give them a coherent and correct understanding of life and its many elements.

This is the challenge I realized as I excused myself after their third number. I noticed I got tired for them, after seeing those vigorous and strenuous moves they were performing.

They need to know the skills for study, prayer and the continuing pursuit of virtues.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Different kind of detox and rehab

I’M afraid more and more people are now going to programs of detox and rehab. The general environment has deteriorated so much that we can easily note an increase in the incidence of substance abuse.

The rise of the relevant facilities to attend to this hemorrhaging social problem is proof of this sad development. We need to pray a lot and offer sacrifices so that one way or another this crisis gets resolved soon.

But there’s a far worse kind of abuse and addiction that urgently needs a special kind of detox and rehab programs. What makes it more severe is that the people involved are still in the denial stage and they are quite a smart and slippery lot.

Worse still, their questionable attitudes and actuations seem to be reinforced systematically by certain aspects of our political culture. And, mind you, we’re not talking of a sub-culture, but rather of the dominant, mainstream political culture of ours.

Up to now, in spite of the many years of dramatic developments and experience as a people wanting to be a nation, our political culture is still a no-man’s-land, highly volatile and in perpetual twists and turns, a veritable wild-goose chase. It’s a fertile ground for anomalies to fester.

The people involved never admit something is wrong with them. In fact, you see them in the public arena not only making a lot of noise, but also giving directions to others of how things ought to be. They present themselves as our leaders.

With elections coming and the jockeying for positions now the game in town, politicians are coming out into the open doing all sorts of posturing, showing off and putting on airs.

To a certain extent this behavior is understandable and to be expected. Problem is many go far beyond the limits and are showing their true ugly colors.

And what are these true colors? Nothing other than greed and unhinged ambition, intoxication and addiction to power, of the kind that effectively makes a shipwreck of the consciences of the people involved, often turning them into clowns and heartless users and exploiters.

In spite of their clever packaging, these are what we see in them quite plainly. They go to the ridiculous extent of seeing nothing good in their opponents and nothing bad in themselves.

The serious business of politics is travestized and trivialized by nincompoopic players, who make democracy the excuse for their participation.

And there are many of this kind of politicians. The national scene already has quite a handful. You go to the local scene—from provinces to cities to towns—and the figure can be staggering.

They obviously are into some serious disorder and in great, immediate need for detox and rehab. They need to be told bluntly about it, if not immediately sent to some pertinent clinics or hospitals. The symptoms are just too plain.

But are there healing programs for this kind of sick people? What kind of treatment should be given?

Certainly, this disorder is more of the spirit than of the body, more moral and psychological than organic. The pertinent treatment should be along the lines of the spiritual and the moral, affecting the thinking, the will and the heart, and involving the development of virtues and the attainment of integrity.

Any program of detox and rehab should entail the process of genuine inner conversion, purification of the senses and the faculties, and the establishment and strengthening of virtues. A lot of value clarification and amplification ought to be done.

This idea should not anymore be considered as strange, impracticable or quixotic. This is the most logical thing to do, the normal path to proceed. And the relevant means and resources are actually available. We just have to get our act together.

This is easier said than done. But we can always try. We are always obliged to do the impossible. We need to develop a workable plan of life that would contribute to politicians’ immunization from temptations of greed and lust for power, and trigger a continuing process of renewal and purification.

In short, it has to spring from a well-defined and reliable spirituality, one attuned to the concrete conditions and environment of politicians, and honing their will to serve.

Outside of this framework, we really have no reason to believe our politicians would behave the way they should. We would be in for another wasteful extravanza.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Righteous anger

AS one of the emotions, anger is part of our life. We cannot avoid it. In fact, there are times when we need to be angry, and when not getting angry is actually bad. It’s our instant defense mechanism before a present threat, an outlet for pent-up rotten feelings.

Christ himself, perfect God and perfect man, who is supposed to be slow to anger and rich in mercy, got angry a number of times.

We can recall what he did to those who converted the house of prayer into a house of business. He also barked at St. Peter—“Get behind me, Satan”—when St. Peter tried to restrain him from going to Jerusalem to face his death.

When he could no longer bear the hypocrisy of the scribes and the Pharisees, he went into a kind of rage, calling them “frauds,” “whited sepulchers,” “blind guides,” “stiff-necked people,” etc.

This is not to mention the countless examples of divine wrath recorded in the Old Testament where God caused floods and famines, drowned armies, burned and destroyed cities, killed the first-borns, etc.

We have to understand though that anger, just like any emotion, cannot and should not be expressed without reason and purpose. As much as possible, it should not be allowed to explode in a vacuum, alone and spinning itself on its own self-generated inertia.

More than the other emotions, anger actually has great need to be anchored and focused, to be framed. Its inherent character of immediacy and violent potentials simply demands it. Thus, we should not just wait for it to happen. We have to prepare ourselves long and deep before it happens, if ever it has to happen.

Otherwise, that anger would be no different from a child’s tantrum, a drunk’s outburst, or a lunatic’s rage. It would be an inhuman anger, causing us more evil than good. It would be an anger that destroys more than it builds.

Much like a child that needs to be guided, anger also has to be escorted always by reason, and more—by faith and by charity. We should never allow our anger to go solo. It needs protection and direction. It needs to be educated. As much as possible, we have to avoid spontaneous anger.

Thus, we need to grow always in our understanding of our life in general, going beyond the material, individual, temporal and natural aspects all the way to the spiritual, social, eternal and supernatural dimensions.

Only in this context would our anger play out in a righteous way. Only in this way would it get its proper support and bearing.

Unfortunately, many people do not realize this, and would just allow their anger to develop and burst purely by dint of its animalistic instincts. They keep their anger raw and uneducated.

In fact, many people get surprised by the idea that anger needs to be educated, trained and refined. They even think that by its very nature, anger should be kept wild and crude. Otherwise, it would not be anger anymore.

Some have allowed anger to deteriorate into its uglier forms, affecting more and more people and manifesting itself from simple cases of road rage, passionate killings, to systemic racial hatred, massacres and all forms of terrorism.

We have to disband this mentality, freeing it from any ideological error, cultural deficiency or historical blunders that may go into that attitude. Of course, if it’s already a matter of character, then we have a graver challenge of how to effect the change for the better.

Righteous anger is when we manage to be in control of the situation even if we get angry or even need to be angry, when we still have a sense of proportion between the causes and effects of anger, when we are certain that such anger can lead to a good, constructive end.

Righteous anger also knows how to repair hurts and damages that can sometimes come unavoidably. It always gets resolved in a happy ending, one way or another. It restores and even strengthens and enriches friendships and relations. It stays away from bitterness, rancor and desire for revenge.

It’s an intelligent anger, motivated by faith in God and love for him and for souls. It’s compatible with patience and mercy. The final test, it seems to me, is when the object of such anger becomes thankful for it.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Man with no guile

I’M referring to St. Bartholomew, also known as Nathanael, one of the apostles. Let’s reprise his amusing story…

“Philip sought out Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses spoke of in the law—the prophets too—Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.’ Nathanael’s response to that was, ‘Can anything good come from Nazareth?’ and Philip replied, ‘Come, see for yourself.’

“When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he remarked: ‘This man is a real Israelite. There is no guile in him.’ ‘How do you know me?’ Nathanael asked him. ‘Before Philip called you,’ Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree.’

“‘Rabbi,’ said Nathanael, ‘you are the Son of God, you are the king of Israel.’ Jesus responded: ‘Do you believe just because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You will see much greater things than that.’” (Jn 1,45-50)

Every time I read this story, I never fail to get both amused and moved. The human touch is just so palpable you can feel it right from the start to the end.

Nathanael embodies the ordinary person who, in spite of warts and all, still has that basic, irreducible trait of exposing his heart, no matter how defective, to the truth. He does not run away nor hide from it.

He is truly a man with no guile, no pretensions, no need for covering. Except for the normal need for discretion and modesty, he is completely transparent. What you see is what you get.

More, he is willing and eager to know the truth, and to make the necessary changes and adjustments that such truth would require of him. He is humble enough to accept things as they are, never bending them to make the pieces fit his own ideas. Rather, the contrary.

That’s why you immediately feel good every time you meet such persons. They always exude such welcome and wholesome aura about themselves in spite of their imperfections. They contribute in making society more at peace and in harmony.

Children are such persons, though their being guileless is due to their innocence and lack of exposure to the world. When you see such quality in a person who is already exposed to the world, then you really feel good.

I consider this point most relevant these days, since this quality is getting very rare, even approaching the point of extinction. The other day, CNN reported that among the most hated expressions nowadays is the word “Absolutely.”

That’s because that term is now used “ad infinitum,” “ad nauseam,” even by people who are caught lying “in flagrante delicto,” that is, in the act. Everyone now seems to use that word, such that it has been strained to the limits, drained and made to bleed to death, emptied of its true meaning.

Especially in the media, in the exchanges of opinions, the truth has been warped and deformed into different shapes, stretched or shrunk depending on circumstances by people who have become unreliable experts in opinion-making.

They can say a lot of words, and still miss the truth—and the charity that always goes with truth. Christian standards put these two values inseparably together. Frankness without charity is never the truth, just as charity without the truth is never charity.

More than serving the truth, what many opinion-makers work for seems to be their own self-interest. They are more concerned about their being considered right by people than about getting to the truth, that is, getting to God, since in the end all truths stem from and lead to God.

Let’s remember and imitate St. Bartholomew in his simplicity of heart and sincerity. His story shows that before we look for the truth, it is God first, Truth himself, who looks for us.

Once we find it, let’s earnestly engage ourselves to it, never playing around with it to serve our self-interest, but rather conforming ourselves steadily to its requirements.

This is when we can see more things, just as our Lord said: “Blessed are your eyes because they see…. For amen I say to you, many prophets and just men have desired to see the things you see, and have not seen them…” (Mt 13,16-17)

Otherwise, we will get our just deserts. Let’s remember St. Paul’s warning: “Because they receive not the love of the truth that they might be saved, God therefore shall send them the operation of error, to believe lying.” (2 Thes 2,10)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Apostolic vibration

WE need to be familiar with this Christian duty. We have to do apostolate, and we need to see to it that the zeal for it is always nourished, stoked and fanned to its most intense degree.

Before ascending into heaven, Christ told his apostles: “All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. Go, therefore, teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…” (Mt 28,18-19)

While addressed directly to his apostles, these words are meant for all those who want to follow Christ. To do apostolate is part of a Christian’s duty. It’s part of a Christian’s identity.

A Christian is always an apostle. No one is excused from it.

We have to understand that these parting words of Christ represent his culminating and ultimate desire for our redemption. We can say that all he did in his earthly life—his preaching, doing miracles, his dying—get somehow summarized in this one great desire of God.

That’s because the divine work of human redemption continues. It cannot stop. This time though, it is done with our cooperation, since if we are incorporated into him through baptism and in the Spirit, we can’t avoid getting involved in God’s plans and actions.

The realization of this crucial aspect of our Christian life gives meaning and perspective to our whole life and everything contained in it. It puts our life in the right orbit.

Our life can’t simply be a life in pursuit of personal sanctity without doing apostolate. These two go together inseparably, mutually affecting each other to put us in the right track in our life.
This joint God-and-man effort is also in keeping with our dignity as persons and as children of God. As persons, we need to see to it that we get to be responsible also for our whole life, for attaining its true fullness of purpose.

And that’s nothing less than to participate in the life of God, since more than persons, we are children of his, meant to live with Him.

Thus, to do apostolate engages our intelligence and will in their proper way. It’s how we can best use our freedom and our loving. It’s how we can be truly responsible for our life.

In short, if these distinctive human faculties and activities are not used for apostolate but rather for some other human purpose, we would be misusing them. No matter how noble these human purposes are, if the apostolic dimension is missing, we would be misusing these God-given powers.

That’s also why many of us are deeply entangled with problems of the flesh and of the world, now knowing how to get out of them. Without the apostolic purpose in life, our powers can go sooner or later on a self-destructive mode.

To do apostolate also corresponds to a most basic reality about ourselves. We are never alone, meant to live our life in isolation from the others. Like it or not, conscious of it or not, we live with others. We are somehow responsible for one another.

Therefore, we need to sharpen our awareness of our apostolic duty, since left to our own devices, we would rather give our complete attention solely to ourselves. This tendency is a consequence of our sinfulness. But originally, before man’s fall, we tend to love and care for one another.

To develop this apostolic concern therefore entails sacrifice. We should not be surprised if in pursuing it we are challenged, faced with difficulties and asked to do self-denials and other forms of sacrifice.

We just have to hold firm on our Christian conviction, together with the continuing petition for God’s grace and the generous discharge of our human effort, that to do apostolate is the will of God. He is bent in accomplishing it. It’s his first concern to contend with the difficulties. Ours is simply to cooperate.

We have to continually ask ourselves if our thoughts and desires bear an eminently apostolic character. If not, let’s immediately do the necessary adjustments and corrections.

We have to embark also on a life-long effort to acquire apostolic skills—how to make friends and deepen that friendship, how to pursue full blast the supernatural apostolic goal of our life while respecting our natural conditions, etc.

The apostolic zeal should be revved to the max!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Antidote to passive-aggressive

A FRIEND recently introduced me to a new term for a disorder that seems to be spreading in many places these days. At first I thought it was just a jargon coined by some people to describe a highly isolated problem.

But then I bumped into it in some of the articles that I have been reading lately, and so I googled it in the internet to know more about it. And, voila!, I discovered it is now a well-documented phenomenon occurring in many organizations, not only corporations, but also religious groups and dioceses.

It can affect not only the ordinary, common people in the street, but also, and with even a greater vulnerability due to a dangerous type of sensitiveness, the highly educated, the artistically endowed, and even the clergy.

This is not anymore about simple cases of disobedience, often selective and isolated, but a more or less permanent and pervasive attitude that affects people and organizations gravely. It can poison people’s minds and hearts, and the worst cut is that they would not seem to be aware of it.

It’s about the passive-aggressive disorder. This is how some web pages describe or define it:

- “It’s a long-term condition in which a person seems to actively comply with the desires and needs of others, but actually passively resists them. In the process, the person becomes increasingly hostile and angry.”

In other words, people with this disorder just don’t resist the orders or suggestions given to them. They can come to the point of attacking the person or the name of those giving these orders and suggestions, by going into gossiping, detraction and crude slander, hate campaigns, treacheries, etc.

The web pages continue:

- “It can manifest itself as learned helplessness, procrastination, stubbornness, resentment, sullenness, or deliberate failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is responsible. It’s a defense mechanism and more often than not only partly conscious.”

- “Some common symptoms are: acting sullen, avoiding responsibility by claiming forgetfulness, being inefficient on purpose, blaming others, complaining, feeling resentment, having fear of authority, having unexpressed anger or hostility, procrastinating, resisting other people’s suggestions, etc.”

More things were said, but for now these are enough. I’ve actually seen or at least heard of these cases on different occasions. It’s a real problem that needs to be attended to. There can be a strong psychological aspect in this disorder, and I leave the experts and pertinent professionals to handle it.

But definitely there is also a clear spiritual and moral basis for it. And this is what we should tackle first, before anything else. At first glance, we can see that it must be caused by lack of faith and trust in God with the corresponding suffocating self-absorption that makes one prone to this disorder.

We need to reiterate, in season and out of season, by means both gentle and strong, soft and hard, that it is only when we get fully and stably engaged with God that we avoid this stupid anomaly that’s afflicting many people now.

When we are not anchored on God, we just float and drift anywhere, and very much at the mercy of both our internal weaknesses and deficiencies and the many external factors—the tricks and traps in our public life—that just lead us nowhere but to confusion.

When we don’t pray, when we don’t manage to see the designs of God for us and for the world, then obviously we are prone to make our own fantastic reality, quite detached from the objective one God has meant for us.

When we don’t train our heart to be attached to God, when we just allow our senses to wander about, unguided by faith, hope and charity, and pretty much left to their own devices, what can we expect?

The real problem is that many people nowadays are almost completely bereft of spiritual energies—that is, they are so dominated by the material, carnal and earthly forces of our life—that they find it almost impossible to pray, to do spiritual exercises and get a glimpse of a another richer and supernatural world.

We need to develop certain practices and habits that would keep us within the orbit proper to us. Regular prayer is one of them. Another would be a set of practices that build and sustain our spirit of sacrifice, so necessary in this life.

Then a continuing plan of formation, integral and universal…

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Politics trapped

A PRIEST-FRIEND told me the other day that since the beginning of this year, there have been already about 20 politically motivated killings in his province of origin. Even mayors and barangay captains have not been spared.

This development has obviously made his province-mates, especially the clergy, concerned about their place. They are wondering what they can do to stop this ugly turn of events.

At one point, the local clergy organized a rally that was supposed to be purely against violence. It was supposed to be non-partisan. But as it turned out, one of the speakers, who obviously escaped proper screening, made a partisan tirade. Now, even the priests have death threats.

We do not know how this situation will develop. It certainly is hoped that nothing that is feared would take place. But the whole predicament simply shows the lamentable state of politics our country is in.

Together with election violence, there is such widespread incidence of poor governance and screaming corruption that we can rightly be called a banana republic with a serious case of meltdown in our political system.

This is a challenge to the people. The kind of politics we have depends on how we make it to be. So far, we can say that our politics is trapped in some kind of time warp. It looks stuck in ice age. It’s not given room for its full play.

And this is mainly because our politics has so far been pursued and developed quite independently of God’s laws. It seems to be considered as a “world only for men, God excluded.” At best, God is only given some lip service.

So, a politics without God will sooner or later become inhuman, deteriorating into a dog-eat-dog exercise. No charity, no justice, no regard for common good. Just ambition and greed and their usual companions. Just sly maneuverings and not open and candid dealings.

Instead of a politics centering on issues and qualifications, we seem to have a politics of blind patronage. A great majority of the people are still in the dark ages as to their rights and duties with regard to politics.

There’s widespread apathy among the citizenry, if not sheer incompetence in dealing with political issues. The educational component is still lagging far behind what can be considered as ideal. Even the basic “Politics for dummies” has not reached far enough.

Political discussions have been more emotional than rational, crudely shallow, short-ranged and narrow-visioned. They are very vulnerable to clever manipulations of the rich, powerful and strong.

Many people do not know how to form opinions and make their opinions heard by our leaders. There’s no adequate structure to improve the situation. The current media culture is unreliable.

Even the educated ones could hardly rise above shameful self-interest. So they end up merely carping and complaining, to the point of obsession, without giving practicable alternatives and options. Their pretensions clearly show after their third word.

Aggravating the predicament are the undue interventions of churchmen who go beyond their role of spiritual shepherds and moral leaders and have strayed into partisan politics. Every time they talk about partisan politics in the name of God, my blood and that of many others curdle. God forgive them!

Political parties have not graduated from the purely pragmatic level, with pronounced knee-jerk reactions and stopgap ways. They are notoriously one-track minded, traditionally rigid and hardly flexible to effectively meet the fast-changing demands and needs of our society.

Thus, there’s a strong trend to form political dynasties, because there’s hardly any other well developed selection process for candidates with good qualifications. Political power is often held hostage by a family. Politics becomes a family business.

We need to bring back our politics to the realm of God. These are some of the relevant Church teachings on politics:

“There is no better way to establish political life on a truly human basis than by fostering an inward sense of justice and kindliness, and of service to the common good, and by strengthening basic convictions as to the true nature of the political community and the aim, right exercise, and sphere of action of public authority.” (Gaudium et spes, 73)

“All Christians must be aware of their own specific vocation within the political community…They are to demonstrate concretely how authority can be compatible with freedom, personal initiative with solidarity of the whole social organism, and the advantages of unity with fruitful diversity…” (GS 75)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Extreme care in our public life

WE need to give due attention to this aspect of our life. Our life in public is an integral and unavoidable part of us.

In the first place, to be born we need to have parents and a family, then a community, a school, a market, a church, etc. We can never be alone. Our life is at once private, individually ours, and public, always with others, if not physically then at least intentionally.

Thus we need to know the purpose of our life in public, what it involves, what it requires, what benefits it can give us and what dangers it can pose.

I think that as we develop fast because of our technologies, we have to know how to pull the many levers at hand to reach our proper goal.

For example, how do we handle the many inter-generational and inter-cultural demands of our times? Our public and social life now has certain complexities unknown before. It now is much more diverse. And we need to master them, and not be their slaves or pawns.

It’s a pity to see many people, especially the young, getting lost in the dizzying swirl of our life in public. Many of us are left badly equipped to tackle the intricacies involved. There’s the pressure of the peers and “barkada,” the pull of the mob, the lure of the entertainment world, the tricks and ambitions of business and politics, etc.

We often get stuck in the externals and appearances without getting into the essence of things. Our reactions are mainly knee-jerk and Pavlovian. We hardly think, we barely reflect and study things.

We generate a lifestyle based mainly on feelings and impressions, often fleeting and unstable, rather that on one that has a solid foundation able to guide us consistently through the different phases and situations of our lives.

As a result, we enter into a spiral of a worldly way of life with barely any soul in it. We begin to treat each other merely as facades or masks, quite plastic. Pretensions and hypocrisy become salient features of our society, begetting the other forms of deceit and conceit.

Instead of being persons, we become simply as actors and performers. Our heart is slowly turned from flesh to stone. We become users, manipulators and exploiters of others. The others become mere objects, products, statistics.

Subjectivity, where respect for everyone’s spiritual character and personhood should be enhanced, ebbs away. Instead, objectification of persons takes place, drying us up to make us things instead of persons.

The dynamics created by this set-up allows people to swing from self-absorption to self-assertion, from self-seeking to self-promotion. Thus, the truly human ways to link us into communion with others start to disappear. It’s all about the ego. The “we/us” vanishes.

The field gets littered with the remains of envy, greed, lust, sloth and other capital sins. And, sad to say, there are many exploiters and predators in this field who take advantage of the situation and the vulnerability of the weak and the gullible. We need to expose them and their tactics.

We have to put a stop to this vicious cycle, and reverse it to become a virtuous cycle. This will depend on whether we first establish and strengthen our personal relationship with God.

Without God, we wouldn’t have the energy and the North Star to guide us in our public life. It’s as simple as that. This is no psychobabble nor pietistic rant. A living personal relationship with God is truly the root of our proper life in public. This is the barest requirement.

From that relationship, we can immediately see how we ought to understand our life in public and how to behave there. We see our life in public as both the arena and the source of our development.

As such, our life in public has to be approached with a lot of delicacy and prudence, not wanton behavior driven only by love for money, power or fame. We would understand that we have to be overflowing with understanding, patience and compassion, given the complexity of our public life.

We would understand that we need to build it up according to God’s plan, and not just according to ours. We have to give good example to others always. We have to live all the social virtues—justice, mercy, hard work, modesty, order, etc.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Showing concern

THOUGH mainly an American issue, the Health Care plan proposed by President Obama and now hotly contested all over the US, should elicit grave concern among us in our country.

To me, the most important reason is that this plan could stealthily open wide the gates to unrestrained, universal abortion and the full complement of the freedom-of-choice ideology and praxis that is morally flawed from roots to fruits.

What so far had been blocked in Congress of the most liberal and licentious version of the pro-choice lifestyle could now be easily inserted and brought to fulfillment in this proposed Health Care plan.

What once was a mere parasite, securely contained in a certain part of our body politic, now has found a way to spread and go viral. It now seems poised to take over the mantle of what is mainstream and standard in our world today.

There’s no doubt, the proposal is a Trojan horse, an almost perfect example of treachery, whose effects would not just be limited to the American soil, but also worldwide. It can make abortion, euthanasia, etc., as ordinary, normal procedures just like circumcision.

We need to intensify our prayers and all the other spiritual and supernatural means so that, through God’s mysterious ways and our efforts, this issue could be resolved properly and its potential unspeakable damage avoided.

We cannot afford to be mere spectators and bystanders before this virulent drama taking place in the American theater. We need to act, and to act decisively, cutting whatever strings and threads that might still tie us to this highly deceptive plan.

And so from the spiritual and supernatural means, and never without them, let us also learn the art and skill of making the war for the minds and hearts of the people, from top to bottom.

This detail is crucial so that the battle would always be conducted within the parameters of charity and truth. We avoid bitter zeal that can spoil what otherwise is a good initiative.

We need to know and appreciate deeply the relevant doctrine of our faith and morals, actively spreading it around and undertaking a relentless campaign on all fronts to uphold and defend a clearly, not wishy-washy, pro-life culture in our society.

We are in most dangerous times, when the lines between good and evil are systematically blurred and erased. The craft of deception is continually refined and perfected. And the spread of a still benign Godless way of life, a new paganism, is gaining speed and coverage.

Worse, this dreadful expansion is issuing from one of the highest seats of power in the world today. Immensely popular so far, it uses clever rhetoric, sly and slippery, on the people who are most vulnerable because of the prevalent moral confusion around.

But in many instances, the proponents and defenders of the proposal were found to be fact-challenged, evasive and shifty, provoking a drastic drop in their political ratings.

They are now increasingly questioned, their claims closely examined and cross-checked. Their town-hall debates on this issue have become veritable ugly shouting matches. Passions explode as the conflict of views becomes sharper.

The defenders have been found wanting in a thorough understanding of their own voluminous proposal. They seem clueless as to the possible adverse effects of their position. They seem to be only one-track minded.

They appear bent in having the proposal approved fast. If possible, they want it rammed through the express, non-stop lane. The pursuit for truth and the common good is secondary, if not set aside as irrelevant. At least, many analysts and people in general get that impression.

So their credibility has suffered tremendously such that whenever they try to reassure the people by sounding moral and commonsensical, the whole shebang assumes the airs of a man-bites-dog story. Wow! Incredible! Fantastic!

This development may give us little comfort, but let’s not be complacent. There’s a lot of work to do. A comprehensive and continuing formation of the people is needed. And a whole universe of initiatives is required to convert moral theories and principles into a living reality in individual persons and societies.

This is the real challenge. And unless this challenge is tackled adequately, the world will continue to be vulnerable to the deceptive allurements of an ideology that has nothing to do with the very core of our Christian faith and morals.

Everyone has to do his part to take up the challenge. No excuses allowed!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Playing God

I WAS dismayed recently when I gathered a number of newspaper columns and started to read and study them in preparation for the talk I had to give to a school club of aspiring journalists. I was trying to get ideas on style and content, but I think I got something else, something dreadful.

I have been noticing this disturbing trend in the local scene, but it’s much worse in other places like the US. There many writers and columnists play God, completely lost in their own world. When I look for examples of a holier-than-thou person, they instantly come to mind.

It seems that they make their own law of what is good and evil, proper and improper, fair and unfair. Their sense of balance and perspective, to be charitable about it, resembles an abstract painting. You have to be especially motivated to discern beauty in the bizarre twists and turns and tears.

I know that I have to be open to any writing style, and I should not be surprised if there are things in others that are diametrically opposed to mine. But this is no excuse to go wild into pure malice and poor taste.

When an article is simply dripping with sarcasm, insults, exaggerated one-sided arguments, etc., all articulated in livid eloquence, I can’t help but wonder what’s inside the heart of the writer.

Writers, being creative persons, are vulnerable to get completely unhinged from the basic norms of courtesy and human goodness. When they don’t make deliberate effort to be in God’s presence while writing, they can tend to run amok with their views and ideas, pitiable slaves to their own passions.

When they are not careful, writers can miss the crucial distinction between persons and issues. They can easily fall to the addictive world of creative intemperance and verbal incontinence. They end up already with a poisoned mind and attitude, sometimes at a level that is invincibly incurable.

This ugly state of affairs is most true among political opinion-makers. I suppose the nature of politics itself lends itself easily to this kind of predicament. There, propelled by the will to dominate others, shameless dogmatizing of issues subject to opinion is often made.

One writer can claim to have all the reasons, while the others don’t have any. He can project the image of omniscience, while the others are simply dumber than dumb. Rash judgments, leaky argumentations are spewed out, and they fail to notice it.

Restraint and respect for the persons involved strangely do not make it to their vocabulary. But they can have the latest version in their armory of irony, hyperboles, and other instruments of attack and abuse, etc., and are proud to flaunt them. It’s really heart-rending to see them sink helplessly in this hole.

Writers can be highly selective and biased. There are times when they can claim privileged vision of a most mysterious phenomenon, and yet they can also choose to be indifferent to the most obvious and palpable development.

That is to say, they can weave very sophisticated, solipsistic rationalizations, but they can fail to simply put two and two together to make four in an issue so clear in everybody else’s mind.

Some of them, usually women, get so irritably bitchy in their comments that they seem to validate the saying, “Hell has no fury than a woman spurned.” Of course, the men can also create their own kind of hell. Hell can indeed be gender-specific.

When this state of affairs involves men of the cloth—and sadly there are some of them—the situation approaches apocalyptic dimensions. Only God knows what to do with them.

Compounding this lamentable status quo is a certain aspect of the current journalistic culture that fosters this kind of anomaly. The other day, I read some tips on how to be effective in writing letters to the editor.

I was horrified to learn that people were encouraged just to let their emotions loose and lead them practically wherever. It was said that this style would make them strong and effective writers. Eloquence would just incarnate itself spontaneously.

The worst part of this mess is that many of these writers seem never to feel the duty to examine themselves and make regular contrition and atonement for damages, intended or unintended, made.

What can we do about this widespread predicament?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Guarding the heart

IT’S, of course, good to take care of the heart. As a vital organ, all the blood that circulates in our body passes through it to be purified and pumped back to the different parts. A body without a heart is simply dead. And with a malfunctioning heart, that body would be into pure agony.

Spiritually, the heart is absolutely necessary and its care inalienable. In this sense, the heart refers to our very core that gathers and summarizes all that we are. It’s where our true, ultimate identity can be found.

It is also where God, our Creator and Father, stays with us. He gave it to us to be his home with us. That’s because we are nothing without God. Let’s remember that God sustains everything. In our case, he does that by entering into our heart. Our true identity should always include God.

We have to learn to welcome God in our heart, and to keep him there in as best a condition as we can “afford.” Though he owns it—he made it, in the first place—we also own it, and somehow it depends on us whether to receive him or not in our heart.

Thus, our Lord’s plea: “My son, give me your heart.” And this appeal is reiterated in one of the psalms: “Keep my words in the midst of your heart, for they are life to those that find them, and health to all flesh.” (4,21-22)

I wonder whether we are doing something in this regard. What we can immediately see is carelessness and recklessness in the affairs of our heart. We allow it to go anywhere, hardly giving any attention to God and his request.

We let it welcome, almost indiscriminately, all sorts of things, including those that are clearly dangerous to us. As a result, all kinds of anomalies sprout—pride, greed, anger, lust, gluttony, avarice, laziness, etc. They make our heart sclerotic, taking away its tenderness and undermining its proper functioning.

We have to raise the level of awareness and competence in taking care of the heart as our abode with God. First, we need to be cautious and attentive to the way we use our senses.

Just like we have to be careful with our diet to protect our heart as a vital bodily organ, we need to be prudent in what we see and look at, what we hear, how we feel, what we imagine and remember, etc., to protect our heart as the seat of our spiritual life.

The story of David who peeped on the wife of another and later committed sin with her and other worse deeds to cover up his error is classic in highlighting the crucial role of our senses in our spiritual life.

From early on, even from childhood, we need to learn the tricky art of how to use our senses—where to focus them, how to protect them from danger, how to discard the dirt that unavoidably attaches to us along the way…

I think it is a grave and urgent duty to instill especially in the children this discipline, since this is going to be indispensable the rest of our life. We have to develop the appropriate curriculum and impart it as widely as possible. In this area, we cannot afford to remain in the kindergarten level.

If in the advertisement of products like cigarettes, we are quick to warn people of their bad effects, it should be much more so when we promote forms of entertainment that pose a clear and present danger to our soul.

Our current environment is unfortunately badly polluted in the spiritual and moral sense. There are many devious tricks embedded in shows produced under the name of artistic freedom and business that need to be exposed and avoided.

Of course, the effort required for this is going to be gargantuan and, given the temper of the times, thankless. But I must say, it’s all worthwhile. “Vale la pena.” The fruits that can be expected can more than make up for the costly investment made.

If a lot of resources are poured into the campaigns of such dubious issues like global warming and the reproductive health, we should be generous in giving whatever we can to promote a better spiritual and moral ecology, by giving due attention to the care we need to give to our heart as our sanctuary with God.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Fullness of time

INVITATIONS the past weeks to anniversaries and fiestas led me to visit the Christian concept of time. I thought that precisely on these occasions, this doctrine should be highlighted in the hope of rousing the people to the tremendous significance of those events.

There’s in the Letter of St. Paul to the Galatians a beautiful relevant expression worth considering. “When the fullness of time was come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, that he might redeem those under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons…” (4,4-5)

Now, I wonder how many of us realize there’s such a thing as “fullness of time.” This, just like any human element, has a definitely religious basis. But are we aware of it, let alone, of the practical implications and consequences it has?

For many of us, time is simply a kind of measure or record. Hardly anything else. We fail to go to the essence of time, its origin and purpose, its meaning and proper usage. Thus we neglect our duties towards it.

Especially in the celebration of time-related events such as birthdays, anniversaries, jubilees and fiestas, we get stuck with the icing—the partying, eating and feasting—while failing to go to the real cake. We miss the boat. And we do get into some boat, we arrive at the wrong port.

Time is a most precious treasure given to us. It has its distinctively tricky character, since objectively it cannot be stopped or redirected. But subjectively, of course, that is, in our mind and in our personal life, it can be multiplied or divided, saved or wasted, put in good use or bad.

As such, it first has to be acknowledged as a gift from God. It just did not come to exist spontaneously, out of the blue. It has a beginning, and it also has an end. For sure, it is imbued with great purpose.

That’s our problem now. We have taken this fundamental truth for granted and have pursued our plans and our life itself unmindful of time’s natural, not to mention, supernatural dimensions.

As a result, our every instant of our life seems unrelated to God. With such predicament, it looks like we are breathing in heavily polluted and dangerous air everyday, making us prone to fall sick of any spiritual and moral disease anytime.

In worse cases, we already have in some place a well-developed system that detaches time from any religious foundation and sets it completely at the mercy of man’s designs.

It is the awareness of the proper properties of time that we should exert an effort to develop, infusing it in our mind, attitudes and habits. It’s about time that we take this concern out of the world of abstract theories, and bring it to bear on the real world of our day-to-day activities.

It will not be an easy task. But neither will it be impossible. We just need to be patient and determined in carrying it out, knowing how to present the doctrine with gift of tongue, so people can easily understand and appreciate it.

We need to be pro-active in this business. We are losing the battle of the minds and the hearts of the people, as all sorts of isms and ideologies in their unrelenting and endless campaigns to sell their doctrines are all over the mainstream media nowadays.

Time can only be made full when we allow God to enter into it. This is when our time gets reunited with the eternity of God and goes in step with the will and designs of God.

Otherwise, it will just be spinning in its erratic, unreliable course and orbit, purely relying on our cleverness that is at its best finite and limited. That’s what we are having now, and thus the endless troubles we are having.

A sense of the sacredness of time has to be cultivated, showing us how to use it and how to sanctify it. With this proper sense of time, you can just imagine what tremendous good it will produce, and what evil it can avoid.

All of this, of course, should be done following our natural state of life, without making strange behavior. This is precisely the responsibility of the virtue of naturalness, a most dynamic concern since we have to know how to ply our spiritual and supernatural business within our natural setting, and a wounded one at that.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Sacrifice central to our life

THE spirit of sacrifice is indispensable in our life. It’s what keeps us from losing our proper way and direction in life. Without it, we can’t help but to get spoiled and to get lost.

Sacrifice checks and corrects our tendency to go off-the-track in our life. Our problem since Adam and Eve is that we tend to misuse and abuse the wonderful endowments we have—our intelligence and will, our power to know and to be free and all the other things that we have and enjoy.

These powers that precisely make us the image and likeness of God, as our faith teaches us, and that enable us to become God’s children with his grace, need to get engaged with God and not just with anything we happen to like.

The problem with these powers is that they can be so intoxicating that we tend to easily lose sight of their proper purpose and their proper usage. Our first parents, still in their state of original justice, could not resist the intoxication. Imagine us!

These powers need to be offered to God, and through them our entire selves. That’s how we have been designed at our creation. We need to know how to offer back to God what he has given us. Unless we don’t believe in God, that’s just how the cookie crumbles here.

This is the simple language of love. God, who is love, made us in love and for love. He expects us to repay his love for us with our love for him.

This offering and loving God now assumes the character of sacrifice, because it has to contend with the consequences of sin. It now involves an element of pain and self-denial, where originally it came as pure delight.

That’s why, since the fall of our first parents, God has been tutoring us, all throughout the history of mankind, to learn the language of sacrifice.

From Abel and Cain, to Noah, down to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and to the prophets and other holy men and women, this divine pedagogy in sacrifice has been done step by step.

First, they—we—were asked to offer some burnt offerings out of the fruits of the earth and of their labor. Thus, plants and animals were burned as offerings.

Then some laws were given for us to be able to give God not only things but also an integral part of us, if not our mind and heart. These divine commandments are a way to form our minds and hearts to receive a greater gift.

Then came the perfect sacrifice, the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. This makes our loving and self-giving most pleasing to God, since it is done for us and with us by Christ himself, the Son of God who became man.

On this point, the Letter to the Hebrews has these relevant words attributed to Christ, addressed to his Father, to describe how his sacrifice supersedes the previous forms of sacrifice:

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me. In burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, Lo, I have come to do your will, O God.” (10,8-9)

And this economy of sacrifice continues to work up to now. Christ’s sacrifice invites, not exempts, all of us to participate, as can be gleaned in the words of St. Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians:

“We always bear about in our body the mortification of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodies.” (4,10)

There’s no doubt that in the Christian understanding of the meaning of our life, the spirit of sacrifice plays a central role. Sacrifice is not only an ingredient, much less a seasoning in our life. It has to be the very essence of our life.

This spirit of sacrifice meets all the requirements of love, for which we have been created. We have to learn how to develop that spirit in our day-to-day affairs.

In fact, nothing should be done without this spirit of sacrifice permeating it. We have to check if indeed our every deed is primarily motivated by this spirit of sacrifice.

Otherwise, we can go through life on the wrong footing, badly if not fatally handicapped. This spirit of sacrifice keeps us always in the frontiers of love, avoiding complacency and lukewarmness that has been described as the tomb of love.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Works of mercy

IT’S good to be reminded about these very basic practical expressions of authentic charity. Our Catechism tells us that “the works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities.”

I know that in the current play of things, these works of mercy have been practically exiled to the back of beyond such that hardly anyone, especially those in very good positions in life and even the so-called well-educated, cares for them. That’s the sad reality today!

Ask people in random about “works of mercy,” and most likely you’ll get a blank stare. Same with the Ten Commandments. Ask them about these divine precepts, so fundamental in our lives, and you’re likely to meet a primitive ignoramus.

Sometime ago, I was referring to the sixth and ninth commandments in a talk, without specifying what they were, and many asked me later what I was talking about. And these were already professional men, some of them alumni of Catholic schools! I almost had a cardiac.

Of course, that might be a harsh way to describe the situation now. I know that even without being aware of them, one way or another, people manage to do something with respect to the “works of mercy” and the Ten Commandments.

But we need to put more teeth into the observance of these works of mercy. That’s because they are the ones that keep us grounded in our humanity and fraternity, before they get spoiled with all sorts of rationalizations that we can now easily make.

Without this grounding, we tend to get self-absorbed, building our own world and fantasy, and so propped up by a systematic web of justifications that we would become totally blinded by our own self-generated self-righteousness. That’s when we would need a first-class disaster to wake us up!

This is the ticklish predicament we usually meet in our daily life today. It’s true that we have to be prudent and discreet, knowing that the world is full of tricks. But prudence and discretion should never be an excuse for us not to meet the basic demands of charity encapsulated in the works of mercy.

I refer to that automatic, mindless law that prohibits giving alms to beggars in the streets. Of course, I know the reasons and assumptions behind that law. They have their proper weight.
But that law, purely human and crafted for purely practical ends, does not take away, nor even diminish, our duty to take care of those who truly are in need. Its legitimate rationale, which should be given due attention, cannot erase the fact that there are people who are in great need of help on a daily basis.

What we need to do is to be discerning every time we meet a beggar, and to always favor the demands of charity and mercy when our prudence and discretion cannot clearly establish the reason not to give or share something.

We just cannot, as a principle, refrain from giving alms to street beggars. That would be undermining the proper functioning of our heart, that is meant for love and caring for one another.

The errors of prudence that we can commit in this area do not justify risking the deformation of our heart in this way. We have to trust that with God’s grace and ways, even our own errors, committed in good faith, can work for the good in some way.

And lest we think that these works of mercy should be done only in a passive way, that is, waiting for the opportunities to do so, we should understand that by Christ’s command, these works have to be done in an active and even aggressive way.

We need to do them in season and out of season, because they are the way to make us like Christ who identifies himself with anyone who is in need of something, either spiritually or corporally.

The works of mercy can truly indicate if we are living the very life of Christ, and not just a caricature of it.

Our Catechism says: “Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works consist in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead.” (2447)

“Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity.”
Let’s always do works of mercy!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Leading is following

WE have to be clear about this. Of course, in our usual human way of understanding things, leading and following can strike us as a contrast. Given our human limitations, not to mention, the effects of sin, these two can never be together.

If we have to lead, then we don’t follow. If we follow, then we don’t lead. That’s the simplistic, black-and-white general understanding.

But if we input what we know about ourselves through our Christian faith, these two actually are like a couple married to each other. They need each other. They help each other in a perpetually mutual way. One cannot be without the other.

We cannot lead unless we follow. If we want to lead, we also have to want to follow. And the greater our leading role becomes—in the family, office, society—the more stringent should also be our following.

Our following should have a clearer picture of who we are following, and a tighter grip of that object. Our following should not remain in the cultural, legal or social level. It should be locked on the original and ultimate anchor of our life. Only then can we truly lead.

We have to be wary of our tendency to just follow our own ideas, our own understanding of things, and in the end, our own selves. While it’s true that our following will always be subjective, given our nature as persons, our subjectivity needs to be anchored on an absolute objectivity.

What is this input of our Christian faith that forms the basis of all these affirmations?

It is the consideration that we are first of all creatures of God, made in his image and likeness and elevated into the participation of his very own life and nature through grace, by adopting us as his children. We cannot be, we cannot think, speak and act without God.

And thus, we cannot lead unless it is done to follow God’s will. To lead is, first of all, a matter of knowing God and his will. It cannot simply be a personal exercise using one’s own resources.

We have to understand this reality well. We have to find a way so we can be conscious of it all the time, and make it the principle of our thoughts, words and action.

As a corollary to this, we have to realize that we cannot be truly free unless that freedom is understood as an expression of our obedience to God. Freedom and obedience are an inseparable couple, otherwise neither one without the other would be genuine.

Our freedom is never self-generated. It is something created, an essential part of the gift God gives us, and thus it should be exercised in reference to God’s laws. It would be absurd to think of it as simply coming from us in some spontaneous way. It has to come from somewhere.

Our freedom, and everything related it—our pursuit for the true, good and beautiful, our quest for creativity, originality and authenticity, etc.—can not stand without their proper foundation. They cannot be an anything-goes free-lancer. They need a point of reference.

Which brings us to the point at issue. If we look at our current crop of leaders, especially in the political field, we can readily see a kind of leadership that appears to be out of a God-centered orbit.

For many leaders, their power and authority is understood mainly as a product of their own making—their cleverness, their vast resources, their popularity, etc.

Leadership is deemed as a purely human affair, with a good amount of luck put in. It is hardly seen now as a participation of the power and authority of God. I

Thus, it is not used the way Christ showed it. Instead of humility to serve, there is the tendency to lord it over and to have one’s authority felt by others. Instead of going to the extent of dying for the others, the criterion used to see if one is a leader is whether he has the so-called “killer instinct.”

Sadly, this kind of leadership is now exercised not only in some temporal matters, where a certain autonomy reigns and thus are open to different, legitimate opinions. It’s used in areas that are in open conflict to God’s laws, as can be seen in the life issues of abortion, contraception, etc.

Unless drastic changes are made, this kind of leading can only bring us to the pits.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


THE gospel story of the sisters Martha and Mary (cfr Lk 10-38-42) is classic for its great lesson in priorities. Both did good things, but one got her priorities wrong.

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and upset about many things,” Christ said. “Only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better portion and she shall not be deprived of it.”

It’s a lesson that, despite its age, continues to be new to many people even up to now. Even many priests can fall victim to this predicament. And I can readily understand why. Given their—our—peculiar situation, we are quite prone to this problem.

We do lots of things from way early in the morning to way late at night. Twenty-four hours don’t seem to be enough for the day. Aside from the daily assignments and routine, we are at the beck and call of everyone—just about for any request like confessions, visits and anointing of the sick, Masses at wakes, blessings, etc.

That’s part of the reason why priests are asked to lead celibate lives. It is to make us most available for anyone and for anything. We ought to be ready to minister as requested and to go anywhere.

And so, with this very active lifestyle, the possibility is quite high for us to fall into activism. That’s when we can start neglecting the most basic things like prayer, care and nourishment of our spiritual life. Even our physical health can suffer.

What’s worse is when we unconsciously get into the fix of some obsessions. That’s when we get into a loop, doing our own thing and not God’s, generating energy from our own self and not from God. This can only end in disaster.

Because of these obsessions, many priests can get into unrestrained social action, or get immersed into partisan politics, or to be involved in other temporal affairs not meant for us as in making business, etc.

Another sign of this grip of obsession on us is when we start losing the sense of team work, when we prefer to do things alone, and not to be told anything by anyone, nor to report and account things to someone. We seem to confine ourselves to a certain area restricted to others. It has nothing to do with creativity and originality.

Cases like this are getting rampant, sad to say. They all point to a lack of priority in our attitudes and actuations. We need to see to it that we don’t get lost in the flow of events during the day, and to avoid getting tied down by the subtle threads of self-affirmation.

Thus, a certain detachment in our activities is advisable. It’s the detachment that’s meant to prevent us from being swallowed up by earthly things, thereby losing our contact with God. It’s good that from time to time during the day, we check ourselves if this detachment is still working or we are now sinking slowly into our own world.

When the interest for prayer and other spiritual activities like making sacrifices, going to the sacraments, developing and exercising the virtues wanes, it’s proof that something is wrong and some rectification is needed. Most likely, there is lack of priority involved.

When we experience the surge of irritability, when being nice and patient becomes very hard to do or when we become vulnerable to envy and resentments—these can be symptoms we are losing the proper priorities.

For sure, we have to make use of time, since there simply are just too many things to be done. In the life of Christ with his disciples, there are many references of how busy they were in their preaching such that they hardly had time to eat.

This will always be the situation of those who wish to follow Christ closely. Heroism up to being squeezed like a lemon or even up to death is to be expected.

Yet, priorities should be observed, and there will be times when we have to say “no” to certain things even though they too are good. And we just have to say “no.”

Again, these are easier said than done. To be prudent in making the right judgments, when to say “yes” and when to say “no”, is most tricky. It would be good that everyone avails himself of a spiritual director or confidante who can help him.

In the end, this confidante can only be Christ. We need to be friends of Christ, just as Martha and Mary were of him.