Friday, October 30, 2009

A saint in Hollywood?

JUST got hold of the latest issue of the magazine my old alma mater in Spain sends me regularly. A feature about a movie actor, now also a producer, immediately got my attention.

First, a magazine that tries to be serious in character would normally not talk about actors and celebrities. Second, though I’ve heard of the story before in a tangential way, I thought it would just have a short shelf life, just a flash in the pan, you know.

In short, the article broke my guiding principles. It deserved to be read. And I did. Now, I feel I was not shortchanged in my effort. But I must confess that my prayers and hopes for a definitive happy ending of the still unfolding story have surged.

Is it possible to have a saint or at least a saint-in-the-making in Hollywood? Let’s try to follow the story of Eduardo Verastegui.

A typical actor who started young in his career at 18 as model and singer in his native Mexico, Eduardo enjoyed all the perks of the notorious industry, with “stains” and “scars” to prove it. But at a certain point as he was preparing for Hollywood, grace touched him and led him to a deep conversion.

At that point of the story, I immediately remembered St. Augustine, that pillar of patristic theology who also had a very colorful life before his conversion. But Eduardo likens himself more with St. Francis of Assissi. Of course, I also saw the similarities.

All these conversion stories remind me that God’s grace can touch and fell us anytime anywhere. It’s no respecter of persons. God can choose anyone to be a special vessel of his divine redemptive will for the world.

Think of St. Paul, to cite just one example. Also consider the apostles. They were a bunch of ordinary people, mostly fishermen, whose personal flaws were more obvious than their virtues.

Yes, God can choose anyone. In fact, he chooses everyone since all of us are called to take part in his life. But he sets aside a few to give them a special mission to carry out his plan that is meant for all of us.

But mind you, God’s grace never takes away our freedom. We can even go to the extent of pitting, stupid but true, our freedom against grace, our will against God’s will. Thus, we can have cases like Judas, who clearly misused the divine privilege given to him.

Still, as the Pope told us sometime ago, the final judgment on Judas can only belong to God. We cannot condemn him definitively. We can only judge him for some of his actions, like his betrayal of Jesus, but the final verdict on his entire life can only come from God.

Back to Eduardo, that path that led to his conversion was in the person of an English professor hired to polish his speech for Hollywood standards. It was a woman by the name of Yasmin who, according to the actor, was so consistently Catholic that every class with her left him deeply stirred spiritually.

God’s grace, of course, works in very mysterious ways. As someone said, God writes straight in crooked lines. Eduardo just felt that though he had “everything” in life, he felt empty inside. He was not at peace. He was not happy. He needed to fill it up urgently.

That’s when he sharply realized he had to change his life drastically. And he did it, in a painful road-to-Damascus process, disappearing from the scene for a while. At one point, he thought he would enter the monastery, but he was advised to stay put in Hollywood and do something about it.

He’s now back there, all fired up and has started to produce films. The first one was “Bella”, about a woman who decided to save her baby from abortion. The pro-life movie won the People’s Choice Award in the Toronto Film Festival. More are coming, all infused with Christian values and packaged like any movie.

Eduardo’s story is still rolling. For sure, he is going to meet all sorts of trials. That’s why, we on our part should realize that since we form one spiritual family called “communion of saints,” we should feel the duty to pray for one another, and especially for Eduardo so he fulfills his mission faithfully.

Hollywood is in dire need of conversion itself!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Be realistic but not too political

THAT’S what Pope Benedict told African bishops recently as they closed their synod in Rome. The synod’s theme was “The Church of Africa at the service of reconciliation, justice and peace.”

It’s obvious that the assembly was meant to tackle a tricky and delicate situation where the Church, especially the bishops and priests, have to know how to strike the balance between the spiritual and political dimensions of Christian life. I can just imagine how things are in that volatile continent of Africa.

It’s a situation similar to ours, and I suppose to many other places. That’s why that piece of news immediately grabbed my attention, since I would like to know exactly how the balance is made, what requirements and considerations are kept.

Especially now when we are celebrating the Year of the Priests, and the clergy is agitated to sharpen the exercise of their prophetic role in social matters, clear guidelines from the Vatican would be most welcome and helpful.

We cannot deny the blatant fact that controversial interventions, confusing at the very least, by some of our ecclesiastical big shots in social and political issues have left many of us bewildered and even scandalized.

Many of the faithful have complained that some Church leaders are too condemnatory in their statements, with words and tone that are laced with a condescending know-it-all attitude and sarcasm.

They also observe that the leaders seem to speak more vociferously in areas where they do not have or have less competence, while almost being silent or weak in the media in questions they should be clear and loud about.

For example, a bishop told some priests in their retreat that contraceptives like condoms are ok as long as it is not abortifacient. Many were wondering what happened to Pope Paulś Ḧumanae Vitae” after listening to that enlightenment.¨

Also, the irregularities within the Church structure give the impression Church officials are remiss in their duties as they stray into matters they should not be.

In short, people think these leaders only manage to embarrass the Church and religion in general in the eyes of the world. Thatś why there is also a growing fallout of the faithful.

In that address to the African bishops, the Pope only hinted that the synod was successful in identifying the way to reach that balance, but no details were mentioned. I suppose we have to wait a little for the relevant document to come out. That should be very exciting!

Also the Pope pointed out the significance of a synod, saying that it is ¨a common journey,¨ referring to the truth that in serving God and men the Church has to go together, talk and discuss things together, especially to determine solutions and remedies to problems along the way. Beautiful idea!

Let'ś quote some lines of that address:

¨The theme "Reconciliation, Justice and Peace" certainly implies a strong political dimension, even if it is obvious that reconciliation, justice and peace are not possible without a profound purification of the heart, without a renewal of thought, a "metanoia" ("conversion"), without a newness that must come precisely from the encounter with God.

¨But even if this spiritual dimension is profound and fundamental, the political dimension is also very real, because without political realizations, these new things of the Spirit are not commonly realized.

¨Thus, the temptation could have been to politicize the theme, to speak less of pastoral work and more about politics, with a competence that is not ours.

¨The other danger was -- precisely to flee from the first temptation -- that of retreating into a purely spiritual world, into an abstract and beautiful but unrealistic world.

¨But the discourse of a pastor must be realistic; it must deal with reality, but from the perspective of God and his Word.¨

How I wish the spirit and flavor of these words become palpable every time we read and hear Church leaders' interventions in social and political issues!

Obviously we cannot discount the likely possibility of how media play up these interventions that distort and even annul their original intent. This has been happening often lately. It is also an area clamoring to be studied well and remedied.

In the end, I think it is a matter of continuing formation for all parties involved—clergy, the lay faithful, media, etc.

Reproductive health a defining issue

CONTRARY to what a local churchman said recently, reproductive health is not just one more issue among the many that we have to consider when choosing our candidates for this coming election.

Occasional reckless and erroneous statements from ecclesiastics are actually no surprise to us anymore. In Church history, false prophets have always arisen. But they sooner or later were exposed, corrected and neutralized. Still we have to be careful and prompt to clarify matters as they come.

Reproductive health happens to be a defining issue, one that can drastically change the complexion of our society, since it goes directly on the spiritual and moral aspects of our life. It just cannot be one more issue to tackle. It is “the” issue.

Just look now at some countries swimming in reproductive health. There’s no correlation between it and its vaunted political, social and economic benefits. What’s obvious is the surge of irreligion and immorality.

As an issue, reproductive health certainly is not simply a matter of opinion, taste or preference. It touches on God’s law insofar as our own nature is concerned. To Christian believers, it clearly goes against natural law, no ifs or buts about it.

The other issues, though with moral implications, are more political, social or economic in character, and we are free to take any positions, with their relative advantages and disadvantages, as long as they all respect the spiritual and moral requirements of our human nature.

Not so with the reproductive health as defined and described by their proponents. It involves not just economics or politics. Its essential features already tamper with our basic spiritual and moral nature.

It’s all-out for contraception, and thus violates the unitive and procreative nature of the marital act. And though our local version does not include abortion yet, it certainly heads toward that direction.

It fosters sexual promiscuity not only among the adults and married, but also among the young. It undermines the virtue of chastity. It weakens parental rights in forming and educating children.

It forces us to subscribe to its tenets and ordinances. Going against them is now considered a criminal offense. This is really funny, because it brags about being pro-choice, ever respectful of people’s rights and freedom.

Besides, it is not an original Filipino initiative. Alien parties, heavy with funding and tricky in their ways, are the main pushers of the idea. It’s now common knowledge that many public officials are on the take from them. It certainly does not promote health.

It is clearly inspired by wild feminist, liberal and materialistic ideologies that are now infesting many Western and developed countries. Among its bizarre ideas is to give women absolute right over their own bodies. God and his laws have no more authority over them. Women are now their own God and law.

It’s truly a part of what is now known as the “culture of death.” But I feel what we have here is more than just conflicts in a culture war. It looks more to me like a war of beliefs.

The powerful people behind the reproductive health have actually waged a persistent propaganda campaign for decades. And they continue, this time busily introducing reproductive health language into other pieces of legislation, like in our Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, etc.

They are also into asking cities and towns to make reproductive health ordinances for their localities. More, they often offer aid purportedly for poverty alleviation, for example, to push their hidden agenda.

They obviously are now enjoying some dividends. They can count on many supporters, lackeys and those open to their ideas. But, for sure, this is not an irreversible phenomenon. The situation simply calls for more active and aggressive reaction from Christian believers.

Obviously the Church hierarchy and clergy will give the guidelines and the inspiration, but it’s the laity who should do the leg work. There are a lot of things that need to be done. An effective organization with the specific mission to counter reproductive health has to be made in different levels and sectors.

At the moment, we need to closely monitor the RH bill now being deliberated upon in Congress. We also have to examine the different candidates as to their stand on the reproductive health and give helpful indications to the people.

To underlie all this should be an abiding effort to have formation, highlighting the true meaning and value of human sexuality, marriage, family, and care for our spiritual and moral life.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Patience, lots of it

THE thought came bursting spontaneously as I reread in toto Pope Benedict’s last encyclical “Caritas in veritate” (Charity in the truth). The challenge I saw it was presenting is indeed formidable.

In capsule, the papal document, meant to tackle today’s very complicated global crisis, is asking us to consider not only the socio-political and economic aspects, but also and mainly the spiritual dimensions.

This to me requires not only a cosmetic make-over but rather a thorough conversion of heart. In fact, in that document the Pope is asking us to have new eyes, a new heart and new energy to be able to face the challenge squarely.

I can already hear the liberals, pragmatists and other worldlings snickering in disbelief at what for sure they consider to be a naïve, off-the-mark assessment of the situation on the part of the Holy Father. This, to them, is just another fairy tale that can be listened to but never to be taken seriously.

Even the conservatives and those who more or less can be expected to hew themselves after spiritual values can be flabbergasted at the thought of the enormity if not impossibility of what was implicitly suggested by the Pope.

Of course, it’s a given among liberals to laugh at any talk on spirituality and morality in tackling world issues. Among conservatives, their problem is their inconsistency between what they say and what they do. More or less, both give the same effect when faced with a spiritual and moral challenge.

That’s why a lot of patience is needed here, the kind that should not just be passive and waiting for things to happen, but rather active, with a lot of prayer, sacrifice, ascetical struggle, study, catechizing, apostolate, etc., using means both traditional and cutting edge.

But what the Pope articulated in the encyclical is worth reiterating. Let me quote some lines:

“Development must include not just material growth but also spiritual growth, since the human person is a ‘unity of body and soul’ born of God’s creative love and destined for eternal life.

“The human being develops when he grows in the spirit, when his soul comes to know itself and the truths that God has implanted deep within, when he enters into dialogue with himself and his Creator.

“There cannot be holistic development and universal common good unless people’s spiritual and moral welfare is taken into account, considered in their totality as body and soul.” (76)

Again, these words can sound fantastic and pompous to liberals, and too basic as to be irrelevant to conservatives. But they are worth repeating and spreading, because they clarify a fundamental truth that plays a crucial role in resolving our present world predicament.

We can do a lot of things in the level of economics, sociology, environmental care, politics, etc., but if this basic requirement of spirituality and morality is not taken care of, all that fuss and buzz would just be a tempest in a teapot.

I feel that the Pope is aware of the problem besetting many people who get skeptical about the connection between the material and spiritual dimensions of our lives. That’s why in another part of the encyclical, he said:

“Knowing is not simply a material act, since the object that is known always conceals something beyond the empirical datum. All our knowledge, even the most simple, is always a minor miracle, since it can never be fully explained by the material instruments that we apply to it.

“In every truth there is something more than we would have expected, in the love that we receive there is always an element that surprises us. We should never cease to marvel at these things...

“In all knowledge and in every act of love the human soul experiences something ‘over and above,’ which seems very much like a gift that we receive, or a height to which we are raised.” (77)

What all these affirmations tell us is that the main and crucial battle to be won in our war against our present crisis is not simply ideological or economic and much less physical and material.

Itś in the heart, in our soul. Itś in seeing how our heart and soul tilt and tend towards—either to God or simply to ourselves. This is the area where greater effort has to be put into without neglecting the other areas.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Novena for the dead

TAKE it from us, Filipinos. When it comes to remembering and honoring the dead, we do it in full force, even with great hoopla, especially come November when a day, extended into days, is dedicated for those who went ahead of us.

This, to me, is a great blessing, a strong indicator that in spite of our flaws and cracks in character and culture, we have a vivid sense of unity and family, theologically described as communion, among ourselves, both living and dead.

Distance and transitions from here to the hereafter are no hindrance to us. In our heart will always burn the belief that physical separation is no obstacle to our togetherness. We regard the whole of humanity as one big family and ultimately the people of God, despite our differences and mistakes.

We believe in the spiritual character of our life that underlies our earthly existence. It’s this aspect of our life that enables us to be above our earthly life’s wear and tear, and to transcend time itself. We never lose this seed of our immortality despite our physical decay.

Besides, if we go by the full extent of our Christian faith, we know that our life is always taken up by God himself, who wants us to participate in his very own life. Our life is never just our own. It’s always his and ours.

Thus, death is not an end. It’s simply a kind of change of residence. If we are to describe our life as a mathematical equation, we see death as the equals sign that connects and relates the left side, our life here, with the right side, our life hereafter. It summarizes our life here and determines the state of our afterlife.

We have to keep nourishing our heart in this faith, especially now when the world is bombarded with a dominantly materialistic and temporal outlook that holds death as a period, the end of the book of life.

My opinion though is that underneath an attention-grabbing layer of a Godless view of life held by a noisy group of unbelievers is a great mass of silent simple people, who still believe in our Christian faith. Sinners also, no doubt, but struggling to love God just the same.

Thus, I was happy to take hold of a booklet entitled, Novena for the Dead, compiled by Fr. Fernand Cruz and published by Theological Centrum of Manila, that puts together not only prayers and readings but also the relevant Christian doctrine about death.

It can strengthen our faith in Christian death, giving us a clear picture of the why and wherefore of our life and death here on earth. This, to me, is becoming a real necessity, given the ignorance and confusion engulfing us.

The reflections are gathered from a wide variety of writings from saints and Church teachings that surely will guide us in our tribute to the dead. There are several citations from St. Augustine and St. Josemaria Escriva.

A very interesting part is the prayer called, Acceptance of Death, that concludes the novena. To me, it captures the ideal over-all attitude we should have toward death, putting it in a good light, like a friend or sister and not a hunter eager to hunt us down.

It helps us to understand that with Christ’s work of redemption that culminated with his death on the cross, the sting of death itself has been eliminated. In its place is the balm of our salvation, a very Christian outlook on death.

Truth is, often our goodwill for the dead is not adequately supported by solid devotionary acts. Precisely because of this, many of us find ourselves clumsy. We do not know what to say or do.

This booklet will help take away that awkwardness. I consider it a good material to have when visiting wakes or celebrating death anniversaries or the All Souls’ Day.

It will deepen our faith and enhance our piety for the dead, providing us with appropriate thoughts, words and gestures. It can give more meaning to our commemoration of the dead, freeing us also from traces of superstition that unfortunately have also found their way into our practices through the years.

It certainly can help in creating a proper atmosphere on these occasions that often have seen the proliferation of rather inappropriate pastimes like card games and mahjongs.

In short, with this booklet and all the other similar ones, we can expect to improve and mature in our understanding of death.

Charity in politics

BEFORE we think that it is the odd man out in politics, we should remind ourselves that precisely because of the complex and tricky nature of politics, charity should be the main character in it.

Charity and politics are not meant to fight each other. They need each other. Charity should be the soul of politics. And politics, given our social nature, should be one of the best exercises of charity.

Charity is what makes us to be real men and women, not human caricatures stretched and warped by our petty shenanigans. It’s what we need to live and have, if we want to keep our humanity, sanity and sanctity intact. It’s what leads us to truth and objectivity, freedom, justice, fairness and mercy, especially in our politics.

And so we just have to learn how to keep our emotions and judgments in control, and quick to rectify our instinctive or spontaneous reactions. Charity needs to spring first from a heart, mind and will that are vitally linked to God, and then packaged with the best refinement we are capable of. Again, especially in our politics.

We have to disabuse ourselves from the thought, sadly quite common these days, that in politics some exceptions from charity can be tolerated and even expected. We can insult, we can attack, we can even make up charges, indulge in some below-the-belt gimmicks… No, that’s not true at all.

The real test to see if we are doing politics truly fit for us is when we manage to live charity even in the midst of the dizzying variety of possibilities and conflicts politics can occasion. It’s when the heat generated by politics also fans the flames of love for God and for the others.

One time, I felt so gratified when I happened to take dinner in a private setting with, among others, two politicians who were supposed to be at odds with each other, at least in the papers. At that time, they were chummy and exchanging jokes, and they refrained from talking politics in my presence.

What we should do in politics, whether we are politicians or ordinary citizens and voters, is first of all to pray and offer sacrifices, to see to it that our spiritual life is strong and healthy before we enter into the intricacies of our unavoidable politics. Never ignore this requirement. They are what will link our politics to the very providence of God.

Then we have to know and study the issues well. In this regard, we have to be open-minded and willing to listen to all sides as much as possible. We should try to make a conscious effort to reject biases and prejudices that we find to have no good basis.

Dialogues are crucial in this area. Thus, they should be conducted in the most charitable way, always respectful of everyone no matter how much we disagree with them. We should avoid inflammatory rhetoric, rash judgments and tactless statements.

We should just stick to the objective points of our views, letting them swim or sink on their own merits in the ocean of opinions that can be floated by others. We need to be highly sport here, seeing to it that an atmosphere of civility and good spirit pervades.

That the others do some anomalies is no excuse for us to do the same things. Remember that charity “is patient, is kind, it does not envy, does not deal perversely, it is not puffed up, is not ambitious…it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things.” (1Cor 13,4-7)

Then we have to know and study the politicians and candidates. This is the most tricky part, but we just have to try our best to get a good picture especially of their integrity and competence, the two basic elements to know about them.

Again here, it’s more of establishing the positive aspects rather than of the negative side of the personalities involved. We have to be careful to distinguish the traits that we think can serve the needs of our political life, from the personal defects that should not be put out in public unless they have some bearing in public life.

Then we have to really understand the essence of freedom which should infuse every step of our political exercises. Freedom and charity go together always, and they give more importance to the persons than to the issues. Our attitude to politics should have this basic orientation.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Beware of the technocratic ideology

PHENOMENA like young men and even women already taking beer at 6 in the morning in convenience stores, seminarians engrossed in Facebook but cannot master the Latin declensions even after one year of classes, etc., are getting rampant these days.

They indicate a big, worrying shift not only in behavior but also of attitudes and values that is now asking to be regulated properly. This is a challenge for everyone. Of course, the elders and those in authority—parents, teachers, clergy, public officials—should take the lead.

Those call center workers are inverting their days and nights. To some extent this can be done and is necessary. But identifying the limits, and respecting basic, unchangeable values can be a tricky problem. They tend to invert things indiscriminately.

Those young seminarians remiss in their academic requirements while immersed in cyberdistractions are just a thumbnail image of a widening problem besetting our youth today. Obviously, the computers and the internet can stimulate their thinking, but they can also stimulate other unwelcome practices in them.

The predicament actually has deeper causes and needs to be framed within a wider perspective. Pope Benedict hits it bull’s eye when he said in his encyclical “Caritas in veritate” (Charity in the truth):

“Technological development can give rise to the idea that technology is self-sufficient when too much attention is given to the ‘how’ questions, and not enough to the many ‘why’ questions underlying human activity.” (70)

This is the problem we have to tackle. We are slowly being lulled and intoxicated by the many wonders of the technological potentials. We are being detached from our true human foundation as we are slowly being made into slaves, victims and preys of the predatory side of our increasingly technocratic culture.

With this frame of mind, our grip of reality hardly goes beyond what is instantly practical, pleasurable, popular. We get hooked to a knee-jerk, Pavlovian way of reacting, without giving any thought to long-range effects.

We get restricted to the material and sensual aspects of our life, forgetting the spiritual and supernatural. We find it harder nowadays to pray, to find leisure time with family and friends, etc. We get prodded to act without giving due attention to thinking and planning.

In its wake, we can find the debris of disorder not only in the physical and external order, but also and more seriously in the internal side, since our sense of values and priorities are pressured to go haywire.

In short, we are being emptied of our substance as persons and as children of God, and are massaged to become hollow automatons, reacting only to external or mechanical stimuli, and not anymore acting from a soul.

For sure, technology offers us a lot of advantages. As the Pope says, technology “draws us out of our physical limitations and broadens our horizon.” But we have to make sure that technology is used properly, that is, directed by a solid sense of moral responsibility on our part.

It should not just be allowed to fascinate us with its many possibilities. The immense sense of freedom that it gives should be accompanied by a well-grounded sense of responsibility.

Therefore, we have to work out a program of formation on the “ethically responsible use of technology.” This obviously will require an interdisciplinary approach, since the requirements of our spiritual and material dimensions, of faith and science should be met.

There can be the usual learning-curve involved here, where the beginning of the process would involve a lot of effort, investments, the mess of the trial-and-error or the experimentation stage, etc. But the basic principles and goals should be made clear.

Technology should serve us in our objective needs, and not the other way around. It should make us better persons, better parents and children, better workers and students.

Most of all, it should make us better children of God, who know how to live the fullness of charity in the very midst of our mundane and temporal affairs that now rely a lot on technology.

The program of formation should focus on how virtues can be pursued and continually developed amid many competing values. The skill of discernment should be enhanced. When to say, yes and go, and when to say, no and stop and reject, should be learned.

Again for Christians, the ultimate test is whether the use of technology will make us be more like Christ! Short of that, we open ourselves to danger.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Integral development

WE need to expand our understanding of our development. Our problem now is that that term is often restricted to mean economic development only, or at most social, political or cultural development. Sorry, but it does not go far and deep enough.

Obviously, the elements and factors that go into these aspects of development are already bewildering and exacting. But common sense alone would tell us we should not get stuck there. These aspects, while indispensable, do not capture our over-all dignity and stature.

Such understanding of development would lack its radical foundation and ultimate purpose. It can have colorful and stimulating moments, but in the end it would just be going in circles, with all the probability of going bad and dangerous.

Pope Benedict tells us how development should be understood in his encyclical “Caritas in veritate” (Charity in the truth). In the first place, he reminds us that development is not just a purely human affair.

Development is a God-given vocation, both a divine gift and our responsibility, the arena where the interacting love between God and man and the love among us in God are played out.

It’s not just a product of the brilliance of some people, no matter how extraordinary that brilliance may be. It cannot be pursued by simply using human means, no matter how practical and convenient they are.

The fullness of both faith and our sciences has to go into it. The requirements of both piety and pragmatism, sanctity and competence have to be met. Not one or the other, but both. It should be a holistic development, not a reductive one.

We have to avoid the extremes of the pietistic and spiritualist approach on the one hand, and the purely secularized and pragmatic approach on the other hand.

The former led us to the anomalies of unhealthy clericalism in the past, with some vestiges of it still remaining in the present. The latter has grounded us on a certain law-of-the-jungle, dog-eat-dog world of Godless pragmatism now raging in today’s society.

Ok, this is easier said than done. Still, with our wealth of experience and knowledge gathered through the years, I’m sure we have better insights and tools to effect the ideal way to achieve genuine and integral development.

We just have to be hopeful and optimistic, slowly but steadily putting into action those things we think can help achieve this kind of development. We may have to go through the mess of the trial-and-error approach, we may be heckled and taunted, but we just have to move in the most prudent way we can.

Yes, it’s true that when I’m with priestly company, there’s still a tendency to get simplistic, idealistic and moralistic with respect to world problems, often not giving due consideration to the realities of things.

But I also note a growing improvement in this area. More clerics are now more sensitive to the distinctions between the ideal and the actual, and more respectful of the legitimate autonomy and differences in temporal matters while pursuing the ultimate eternal goal of man.

The same when I’m with laypeople immersed in business and politics. There’s still a lot of secularized attitude, where God and religion hardly enter into their calculations.

Still, I can see a growing number of them learning how to integrate faith into their earthly affairs. There may be awkwardness and incompetence, but I think a trend in this direction can be seen in many places. We just have to sustain it and make it gain momentum.

There’s a need to clarify the true nature and scope of human development. And the Holy Father is giving us abundant ideas.

When he, for example, talked about what constitutes “decent work”, he said:

“It means work that expresses the essential dignity of every man and woman in the context of their particular society,

-“work that is freely chosen, effectively associating workers, both men and women, with the development of their community,

-“work that enables the worker to be respected and free from any form of discrimination,

-“work that makes it possible for families to meet their needs and provide schooling for their children, without the children themselves being forced into labor,

-“work that permits the workers to organize themselves freely, and to make their voices heard,

-“work that leaves enough room for rediscovering one’s roots at a personal, familial and spiritual level,

-“work that guarantees those who have retired a decent standard of living.”

Let’s try to listen to the Pope in our journey toward integral development!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Nature is one and indivisible

IT’S good that we study the words of the Holy Father. If we go by what Christ told Peter, “Whatever you bind on earth is bound in heaven, whatever you loose on earth is also loosed in heaven,” then what the Pope says, being the successor of Peter, must be what heaven says.

Besides, you can be sure that the words of the Pope are truly well studied, meditated upon, consulted. They possess a kind of interdisciplinary quality, giving due respect to all fields of sciences involved in a particular topic or issue.

His avoid the extremes of fideism (all faith no science) and scientism (all science no faith). Faith and reason blend exquisitely in his words. Thus they are a good reference point especially now when we are often pushed and pulled by the forces of these dangerous and erroneous attitudes.

In his latest encyclical, Caritas in veritate (Charity in the truth), he tackles several issues related to our current world affairs, and there’s one segment dedicated to the environment. I thought it’s a very relevant point he’s making as he encourages us to expand our understanding of the ecological question.

I’ll quote parts of point no. 51, interspersing them with some comments. But I eagerly encourage you to read the document. Whatever nosebleed it causes is all worth it. Here it goes:

“There is need for what might be called a human ecology, correctly understood. The deterioration of nature is in fact closely connected to the culture that shapes human coexitence: when ‘human ecology’ is respected within society, environmental ecology also benefits.”

Here the Pope obviously makes a connection between our nature and culture, between environmental ecology and human ecology. This is a point often presumed but badly understood. He continues:

“In order to protect nature, it is not enough to intervene with economic incentives or deterrents; not even an apposite education is sufficient. These are important steps, but the decisive issue is the overall moral tenor of society.”

Here the Holy Father highlights the role of morality in protecting nature. This is a delicate issue, because there are now powerful sectors who tend to redefine morality strictly in terms of economics, sociology and politics. No mention of a transcendent God, spiritual and supernatural, is made. Only the sciences are made God.

“If there is a lack of respect for the right to life and to a natural death, if human conception, gestation and birth are made artificial, if human embryos are sacrificed to research, the conscience of society ends up losing the concept of human ecology and, along with it, that of environmental ecology.”

Thus, I find it surprising that there are people so vociferous in their advocacy for protection of nature, making all sorts of fervent declarations based on human sciences alone, yet supporting abortion, contraception, euthanasia, etc., not knowing that there is a blatant inconsistency in their position.

“It is contradictory to insist that future generations respect the natural environment when our educational systems and laws do not help them to respect themselves.

“The book of nature is one and indivisible: it takes in not only the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations: in a word, integral human development. Our duties towards the environment are linked to our duties towards the human person, considered in himself and in relation to others.

“It would be wrong to uphold one set of duties while trampling on the other. Herein lies a grave contradiction in our mentality and practice today—one which demeans the person, disrupts the environment and damages society.”

I think we need to savor these words of the Pope and then start to do anything that would correct our present predicament insofar as our attitude toward the environment is concerned.

His words make us think that our typhoons and other calamities are not just purely natural and physical phenomena. They might by physical phenomena but they too do have some spiritual conditioning, since nature includes our spiritual and moral dimensions.

Another corollary we can derive from this “nature-is-one-and-indivisible” principle is that whatever we do even in the most hidden way will always have an effect on others and the environment. If it’s good, then the effect is good. If bad, then the effect is also bad.

We don’t have to do extraordinary things to contribute to a good or bad environment. Our daily actions can already take care of that.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Saints as suicide bombers

SORRY to hijack your attention. But let me explain.

Precisely because of a biting sense of helplessness, of being on the brink, we often wonder what to do with suicide bombers. We try to understand these creatures. We overwhelmingly disagree with their actions and motivations. But we cannot deny the glaring fact that they do it out of a sense of commitment.

Distorted, completely wrong… These can immediately come to mind to describe that sense of commitment. Still, the reality remains that, right or wrong, they do it in their own subjective calculation as an act of heroism. It can be their ideal for sainthood.

We even try to downgrade that part by claiming that these suicide bombers are mad, out of their own will, completely deprived of reason, made an automaton, etc.

Granted they are true, still the people around them, those who manage and direct them undeniably hold a burning sense of commitment that they extend to a human instrument, whose freedom cannot be totally wiped out no matter what the conditioning.

This realization certainly disturbs us. The often unspoken conclusion is whether we too can have that sense of commitment, of the kind that goes all the way to death, even if we follow a route different from the terrorists’ kind of life offering.

In my reading of the lives of saints, the answer can be found. A common element in many of them is precisely their willingness to offer their lives for the salvation of souls.

It’s their ultimate and total sacrifice, which they do consciously and freely. Of course, the standard here is no one else than Christ himself who offered his life lovingly for our redemption. Remember what our Lord said:

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

The saints believe in these words of Christ, and follow them. They are convinced that if they die with Christ, they also will rise with Christ. Death for them acquires a very special meaning, infused with powerful redemptive value.

We need to penetrate into this reality of our life and death. We cannot remain in the superficial, in the level of self-serving reasoning, confined only in the fields of politics, diplomacy, pragmatism, etc. They certainly are important, and also indispensable, but they are not meant to be everything.

Death, to a consistent Christian believer, is not simply the end of one’s earthly life. It can be his final act of love and reconciliation with God. It has tremendous nuclear power to effect goodness in the whole network of humanity known in Christian doctrine as the communion of saints.

The little act of love, done even in isolation, affects not only the one who does it, but also everybody else. And somehow an element of dying is involved in loving, not matter how little that loving is.

This is simply because love involves a certain self-denial to be able to give oneself to others. That is the ultimate essence of love. It entails a dying to oneself to be able to give oneself to the other.

Thus, the example of our Lord who told us to learn of him, “for I am meek and humble of heart.” (Mt 11,29) There’s a mysterious constructive force that is released whenever one dies to himself through humility, obedience, meekness, and ultimately our physical death. This is what St. Paul said to refer to this truth:

“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.

“And the base things of the world, the things that are contemptible, has God chosen, and things that are not, that he might bring to nought things that are.” (1 Cor 1,27-28)

We have to learn to relate all our human efforts to solve our problems here on earth, including terrorism, to the requirements of the spiritual and supernatural character of our human condition.

Our life cannot be viewed only on its temporal and material dimensions alone. Our life is one and indivisible. It has natural and supernatural dimensions that we need to learn how to integrate together. Death is actually not an end nor a rupture, but a transition, a passage from time to eternity.

That’s why saints are not afraid to die. They welcome it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The logic of gift

SAD to say, what’s supposed to be common knowledge and practice now sounds new if not strange. That’s because we have veered so much and so long from our Christian ideals such that our relations with others, and especially in our temporal and economic affairs, have become a nosebleeder.

I’m referring to the concept of the “logic of gift” that peppers that grand encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI, “Caritas in veritate” (Charity in the truth), meant to tackle today’s formidable economic and social crisis.

Let’s quote some lines:

- “The human being is made for gift, which expresses and makes present his transcendent dimension… (34)

- “We must make it clear, on the one hand, that the logic of gift does not exclude justice… on the other hand, economic, social and political development, if it is to be authentically human, needs to make room for the principle of gratuitousness as an expression of fraternity.” (34)

- “Commercial relationships and the principle of gratuitousness and the logic of gift as an expression of fraternity can and must find their place within normal economic activity.” (35)

There are a lot more. You may read the whole encyclical to get a wonderful discussion of this point. What interests us now is how to restore this lost concept as well as how to give it more teeth, more flesh and bones so it can really walk and take its place in our society and stop being a ghost.

Let’s hope that after recovering from our initial stun from this awful discovery, we can move forward and gain momentum in our effort of cultivating this mentality and culture of gift. There are a lot of things to be done in this regard.

For sure, this concept of gift has to be understood well. It cannot be set within the framework of the purely human. That would make gift-giving a shallow and showy act of goodness, full of icing without the cake, rich in packaging with poor item inside.

The logic of gift referred to in the encyclical carries with it nothing less than the full wisdom of God. It involves justice but goes beyond justice. It brings the full weight of prudence to bear on all the steps of decision-making.

It involves nothing less than total self-giving, and necessarily leads us to the cross. It surely has its moments of sweetness and tenderness, but it cannot avoid being exacting, since things have to conform to nothing less than God’s will, and not only to ours.

This is how the logic of gift becomes charity in the truth in motion. As the Holy Father said: “Only in truth does charity shine forth, only in truth can charity be authentically lived.” We have to disabuse ourselves from the urban legend that gift-giving is all sweet things and roses. It has strict requirements, my dear.

In the current problem facing the US, for example, there’s a lot of debate now about the wisdom of the stimulus-and-bail-out approach adapted by the present government.

The skeptics of the government’s policy argue that the stimulus and the bail-outs have not produced the desired results. Unemployment remains high, the dollar value is plunging—in fact, there is talk that the dollar might lose its world’s reserve currency status.

The touted Keynesian, government-led approach to economic recovery, effective in the years of the Depression, now seems to falter. What could be the reason?

There can be many reasons. But it seems to me that this tremendous infusion of dollars together with some institutional reforms in the economic structure will come to nothing if in the first place the people are not ready to be truly productive.

More than institutional reforms including the combined best features of capitalism and socialism, what seems more needed, and urgently at that, is a radical change of heart of all the economic players involved—which means everyone.

When that heart is hooked only on what is convenient, practical, popular, profitable, in short, greed, while largely ignoring the requirements of solidarity, social justice, etc., it will not be productive. It will soon get into a dead-end.

It can give only an appearance of economic activity and growth, but not real human development that is self-sustaining. It can only have fat but not meat.

The logic of gift has to permeate our economic affairs, setting in motion real charity in the truth, so we can really get on with a development proper to us.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Alone but never lonely

I REMEMBER an old song of the 70s by Burt Bacharach. Its opening lyrics go: “Loneliness remembers / what happiness forgets / I have to lose you to recall…”
A love song, it’s supposed to evoke a romantic effect by eliciting a certain kind of nostalgia, a formula with a high degree of success, especially among the young. The heart gets crazy when it plays the longing and yearning game.

My friends, when we were that young yet and still foolish (well, even up to now, you judge), loved to sing it—I suppose with some flights to fantasyland. I for my part would sing it along with the original Dionne Warwick more for its catchy tune. But something else would come to my mind.

The song simply reminded me of how fascinated I was to be alone. That’s when I could study and reflect, doing some mental explorations that led me to many places and times, and introduced me to different characters and lifestyles. It truly broadened my outlook.

I don’t know whether that would qualify me to be what now is known as a nerd. But I really don’t mind it. Truth is I enjoyed it immensely and I felt I was really learning a lot. Besides, I had no problem in my relations with friends and others. I didn’t find any need to adjust to them. I was simply one of them, warts and all.

I also did not use this penchant to escape from some household chores and errands my father usually asked me to do. I was his clerk at that time and we had nice time together. To be honest, only a very few times did I say no to his requests. He took it well. He understood I was entitled to some of my adolescent moods and caprices.

When I went to college and was introduced to a priest for some regular confession and spiritual direction, I felt happy that I was encouraged to continue with my intimate personal musings. This time, though, he gave me some tips.

He taught me how to meditate and pray, making many acts of faith and going deep into spiritual and ascetical topics but always in the presence of God. Prayer is not just an intellectual exercise, he told me. It’s a heart-to-heart meeting with God. That’s what the priest made sure I managed to do.

He taught me how to prepare my prayer—what possible topics to consider, what intentions to pray for, what materials to bring with me, etc. We spent time together in the oratory—he reading some points from a book and me trying to figure out what to make out of them, but always aware I was in God’s presence.

Awkwardness was only for a while. A natural liking to it soon developed. I felt my personal musings rose to a higher level.

When I finally could do it on my own, I was surprised to discover many things. I worked on my dispositions for prayer, for working, for studying, for relating with others. I became more aware of my weaknesses and difficulties and tried to do something about them.

When I had problem with sincerity, I worked it out in my prayer. When I had trouble with sensuality, the same. When the allure of pride, vanity, self-righteousness, greed, and so on would captivate me, I had to go deep into prayer, alone with God, to fix it. I was convinced the cure usually started there.

When my faith wavered, when I could not understand the requirement of sacrifice, I just spent a few minutes in prayer, or in worse case, consulted my director, and then I would be out of the woods.

It became a continuing, daily affair, a kind of human need and sacred moment to be guarded and defended should anything tend to take me away from it. It gave me light, it gave me direction, it provided me with meaning in anything I got involved. I certainly did not like to be deprived of it.

Why am I saying all this? Well, I’m just hoping people realize how important it is for us to find time and place to be alone to be with God, and through God, with others. That what prayer does. It may be done alone, but it never is a lonely exercise. By definition, it brings us to others.

We have to debunk the myth that says prayer is useless.

Monday, October 5, 2009

It’s the Filipino character?

AMID the pain and misery in the aftermath of Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng, images of victims waist-deep in water or huddled in makeshift shelters but still managing to smile have warmed many hearts all over the world.

An American asked: “What’s in the Filipinos that makes them smile even while wading through a terrible crisis?” I can understand that question very well. In similar situations, many people in other places would hardly smile. A smile would be as rare and as precious as a diamond still to be found.

I have often asked that question myself, and through these years I have tried to find answers.

My take is that in the first place we are blessed with a wonderful natural environment of tropical weather, responsible for all the green around us and the flowing water, all rudimentary ingredients for having a sunny disposition.

No matter how poor and uneducated one is, he will not die of hunger nor of utter neglect here. Our support system, even without any governmental intervention, is quite ingrained in our culture. It’s aboriginal in us.

Of course, this could be abused, as when we become lazy and complacent since we are not exposed anyway to extreme situations of heat or cold. But those who take the right turn will most likely develop a bright outlook in life.

Then it would seem that our biological endowments, being Asians, predispose us to be more restrained and gentle in our reactions, and more eager to please others even if it’s only by giving a smile.

Other people, especially Caucasians, have many good traits and qualities that we may not be good at. But in this department, they cannot beat us. Thus, many Americans and Europeans prefer Filipino nurses and care-givers, for example.

With strangers, we tend to be friendly and greet them at least with some movement in our eyes. We can hardly afford to ignore anyone. This is especially so in the provinces.

Plus the fact that through the years, and of course in varying degrees, we have been drilled into the Christian way of life that highlights joy and victory in and through the Cross.

Our concept of pain and death is organically connected to a future resurrection. So we cry in grief only for a while. A smile replaces it quickly. Hope springs in us easily. We are as resilient as our famed bamboos. We know how to make do with anything.

This, to me, is the rough, general sketch of the Filipino character. Obviously, many exceptions can be found, both in the sides of defect and excess. In fact, I’m afraid this Filipino character appears to be vanishing especially in the big cities and to be pushed further to the provinces.

But I feel it’s worthwhile acknowledging these elements that seem to be basic to our character as a people. They will serve to guide us as to how to keep and strengthen it as we go along in time, facing all sorts of challenges and difficulties.

With the quickening pace of development and the changing patterns of people’s values and lifestyles due, for one, to an increasingly globalized world, we greatly need to know how to navigate to enrich our character. Otherwise, we will get lost in the whoosh of confusing ideologies and cultures around.

For this purpose, what holds key importance is education and formation, the type that gives due cognizance to our natural endowments, to our natural assets and liabilities, as well as to an objective and universal standard.

Of course, for Christian believers this standard is given to us by our Christian faith. This faith impacts on every aspect of our life, thus it can give us light in our journey of life.

For this, it’s important that as much as possible, the Christian believers realize the crucial role of the Church in this regard, especially her teachings. One problem we have is that we have Christians or Catholics who are so only in name but not in practice. They are not consistent.

Besides, many have a very subjective approach to Christianity, declaring themselves Christians or Catholics but not wanting to submit to Church authority, especially regarding certain doctrine.

I think it’s in how we play the game in this particular requirement of our Filipino culture that will determine whether we manage to forge a strong character or lose it.