Monday, November 30, 2009

Time for refocusing

WE have just started the season of Advent. And with it, we begin another liturgical year, a specific aspect of time that reminds us we are in union with Christ in his person and his redemptive work in spite of our weaknesses and sins, through the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist.

No, we have not been left orphans because of the death of Christ. He resurrected and ascended into heaven. He now sits at the right hand of his Father, and yet he is also with us here. It’s a mystery, a truth we cannot fully understand or explain. It’s God’s love that makes all this a wonderful reality.

Our life here on earth is a continuing cycle of beginning and ending. And if we follow by our Christian faith, these cycles are meant to catapult us to eternal life, in heaven, where...

“God shall wipe away all tears from their (our) eyes, and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more, for the former things are passed away,” (Rev 21,4) and where “the gates shall not be shut by day, for there shall be no night there.” (Rev 21,23)

On the more human level, Advent is the preparation for Christmas that, thank God, still holds a palpable mystique over us. God knows that whatever crisis we may be in, we manage to feel different and special when it comes.

It’s just that we have to make Advent not merely a time for worrying about the material aspects of the preparation. We need to enter into its true spirit, a deeply meaningful one that gives us the sensation we are being brought home again, regaining our true bearings as God’s children.

Advent should be a time of longing for Christ. Truth is as we go through the years, we often lose our Christian footing for endless reasons and factors. We get distracted, we get tempted and many times fall into sin. We can succumb to spiritual lukewarmness, and other worse things can follow.

In fact, we can even say that in spite of the over-all world progress in the sciences and technology, we still remain Jurassic in the field of the spiritual and supernatural realities of our life. It’s an unbalanced, monstrous picture of our human development.

We feel awkward at praying. We don’t understand why we need to make sacrifices. Oceanic loopholes and gaps clutter between what we profess and what we do. We’re good at intentions. But many times we are failures in deeds.

Advent is appropriate for correcting these anomalies. It’s a time for self-corrections, atonement and reparation. It’s also a time to strengthen our spiritual life and tighten our focus on what is absolutely necessary.

I think that’s the main challenge most of us have these days. With an explosion of things coming our way and asking our attention, we need to be most discerning, prudent and competent in integrating all the elements in their proper hierarchy.

For this, we can take comfort in the example of Christ. He came to save us by re-creating us. He came to put back everything to where it truly belongs—God. He was and continues to be involved in everything, I suppose, including our business and politics and all our earthly affairs.

Yet in the Gospel, it is clear that he refused to have to anything to do with certain things though they are good in themselves. He only rejected temptation and sin outright.

He did not get involved in politics. He did not like to be made king. He declined to be a judge in a dispute between brothers concerning family inheritance.

He made that distinction between what is Caesar’s and what is God’s, and though he rendered his duties towards both, he definitely focused on the things of his Father.

Clearly, he observed a certain scheme of priorities that made him refuse to do certain things though they are good. This is what we need to develop in ourselves—a sense of priority that would guide us everyday in organizing all our activities and concerns, seeing to it that we really do God’s will.

For this, we need to train ourselves to be discriminating in the many options presented to us daily. We have to learn how to say “no” to certain things if only to focus on what is truly necessary.

I feel this is the character Advent these days is proposing to us.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Call for civil disobedience?

THERE’S an intriguing manifesto issued recently by some 150 American religious leaders who threaten to call for civil disobedience if US laws compel them to do what is against their beliefs and consciences.

The coalition includes some Catholic bishops and cardinals, Orthodox and evangelical leaders who react strongly to the drift in American laws that pressure their faithful to participate or get involved in activities like abortion, same-sex marriage and others that violate their Christian faith and morals.

It was released only last November 20 though the draft was made a month earlier after, I suppose, a long period of consultation among the religious leaders. It’s entitled “The Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience.” It’s 4,700 words long.

It laments the proliferation of social ills that undermine the culture of life, marriage and the family in American society. Divorces, the group’s spokesmen say, have risen dramatically, marital infidelity is becoming more acceptable, and marriage is detached from childbearing.

They also say that the statement is meant to educate their faithful, especially the young ones, that there is a hierarchy of issues that they have to identify clearly and react accordingly. And the most important ones, they say, are those about abortion, marriage and religious freedom.

The manifesto, however, has not specified exactly what actions to take to carry out this possibility of civil disobedience. But it reassured all that civil disobedience is a legitimate and a moral option to resort to when proper conditions are present.

“Throughout the centuries, Christianity has taught that civil disobedience is not only permitted, but sometimes required,” says the document, citing the example of Martin Luther King, a civil rights hero who was willing to go to jail for his beliefs.

To me, this new American development, thank God, may not be immediately applicable to the situation to our country, but it certainly can serve as a great learning opportunity regarding our duties towards our faith and beliefs.

Very often, we seem to take our religion lightly, easily entering into compromises with hardly any effort to determine if a concrete planned action is good or bad to it, or to know the good side as well as the dangers of such action, so we can be properly guided.

A case in point is the Reproductive Health Bill now pending approval in our Congress. Many of us Christian believers give scant attention to it, even dismissing it as unimportant.

Truth is, just like what that American manifesto said, the issue of the reproductive health possesses far greater significance than many of the so-called raging political, economic and social issues we have. Without disparaging these latter issues, the reproductive health belongs to a higher category.

There is indeed a hierarchy of issues, and we have to admit that the one of reproductive health has potentials to harm us more deeply than any mistake committed in the other issues, because it affects us in our soul more than in our material and bodily dimensions.

But since it requires more introspection and discernment, the objective importance of the reproductive health issue can escape many of us. That’s why, religious leaders are there to remind, clarify and explain things to everyone.

Sometimes though, we have this saddening development when religious leader are remiss of their duties, and instead of giving clear and prudent indications, issue confusing directions. That’s when they can actually cause unspeakable damage to the spiritual and moral lives of the people.

They handle their prophetic office badly since instead of teaching what the Church says, they prefer to peddle their own ideas. Instead of stating the clear doctrine, they would rather have opinions and other casuistic arguments. Their words and actions often are not in tune with official teaching.

Sometimes, they want to mainstream what is actually meant to be an exception. Thus, with respect to the reproductive health, the morality of natural family planning method is diluted sometimes to a fatal degree such that the method becomes a tool of contraception rather than of true conjugal love.

We need to be aware and be alerted to these developments in our midst. We should avoid being alarmists, but neither should we take our little daily duties of living and defending our faith for granted.

Let’s remember that big catastrophes are often caused by little neglects we commit everyday, much like the unstopped drip or unattended leakage that can eventually collapse a large edifice.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Overpopulation alibi revived

AFTER being caught for not being earnest in their surveys by withholding the ugly penal provisions of the Reproductive Health Bill in Congress, the supporters of the bill are now calling for a compromise, insisting that the bill is still necessary. Really?

Again their ultimate reason is, hold your breath, that there is overpopulation and that it is the main culprit for the poverty we see around. Some of our politicians are mouthing that mantra. We have to be careful with these simpletons passing for our most concerned leaders, as if they have the exclusive rights to compassion.

The overpopulation argument is a myth. In the first place, who among us can really say that beyond a certain number or level of population of our country, we are already too many?

Who among us can really say that such-and-such a person, for being old or handicapped or poor or whatever, should not have been born? And worse, who among us can really say that such couple or such family should only have so many in their household?

But thatś what this overpopulation alibi in the end amounts to, already shorn of its beautiful adornments. It tells us, nay, it dictates to us how many we should be. Crazy! The congenital infirmity of this approach is that it reduces the population issue into a numbers game mainly. And that is always wrong.

We are not dealing here with animals, plants or some products. We are dealing here with persons whose exercise of their reason and freedom, no matter how improperly done, just cannot be confined to a math exercise.

We need to deal with this population issue in a more humane way. And while the economic aspect is important, and even indispensable, we have to recognize the more important aspect of the morality involved in crafting any policy related to population or reproductive health.

Granted that there is some relation between the incidence of poverty measured in economic terms and population, this is no absolute, ultimate reason why we have to stop our considerations there. Our dignity requires a lot more.

Morality probes far deeper into human dignity and propriety than what the best economics can hope to cover. It should always be considered and in fact given priority over other criteria when dealing with delicate matters like the population and reproductive health issues.

Obviously, there are those who are quick to produce a morality to suit the numbers bias. They can talk about freedom of choice, cafeteria approach, etc., as if morality is just at these primitive or infantile levels.

Sorry to be blunt about that. But if all this talk about freedom and rights are not based on an absolute law, on God, but rather on oneś ¨best” ideas, I don´t think we will see the end of that talk. We´ll all be wrangling all the way to our tombs.

There had been so much playing around in this field itś no wonder we continue to remain precisely in those levels. To somehow resolve the issues, attempts at dialogue had been aplenty, as well as efforts to conclude everything in the level of legality alone, never mind morality. Fine.

But unless the dialogues and the legal efforts are based on the solid foundation of a moral law, one coming from an absolute source, we would just be shadow boxing and not really taking the bull by the horns.

Besides, some dialogues with a very questionable character had been made. They were dialogues meant to delay things, or worse, as in the case of some Church people dialoguing with population controllers, to undermine morals again.

In their desire to find some common ground, they have entered into unacceptable compromises with immorality. Their eagerness for unity and harmony is pursued without clearly drawing the line as to where white that becomes gray now has gone really black.

Pope Benedict in his encyclical, Caritas in veritate (Charity in Truth), has some relevant words to say: ¨Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way.

¨In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love. It falls prey to contingent subjective emotions and opinions, the word ´love´ is abused and distorted, to the point where it comes to mean the opposite.¨ (3)

The population and the reproductive health issues just cannot be handled by economics and our human laws. Morality should their primary criterion.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Bubbles, cocoons and the handicapped

GERMANY recently warned the US that its current economic policies might be creating a market bubble. Germany reiterated the same warning issued earlier by China on the once powerful American country that seems to be sinking in quicksand.

Of course, this is financial talk, and I have long ago abandoned that field. As priest, I talk about something else, though I must confess that with my economics background, I still follow market developments around the world. It’s my form of rest.

But I’m more interested in talking about “bubbles” as they relate to our spiritual and moral life. They are something to be avoided at all costs, and we always have to be on guard since they can come to us in a most subtle and deceitful way given our present conditions.

Bubbles are, of course, fantasy worlds that we create. They are an artificial, false reality that we spin in our head and that can afflict many people and even societies, because of our weaknesses plus, not to forget it, the tricks of the devil. He exists!

They are a very vicious phenomenon since they have that uncanny quality of convincing us precisely that with them we are most tightly in touch with reality. That’s their specialty. But the objective reality cannot be fooled for long. Bubbles are meant to burst sooner than later.

They emerge as soon as we disengage our mind, will and heart from their proper source and goal, none other than God’s will and providence. That’s the blunt truth about this whole affair, though people might want to question or discuss it further. We don’t have space for that now.

Suffice it to say that our mind, will and heart, the most precious treasures we have, did not just come to exist spontaneously. They come from a source, and no matter how we look at it, that origin can only be traced ultimately to God.

Coming from a source, God, they also are meant to have God as their object. They need to be vitally connected to him for them to function properly. Our problem is that we get intoxicated with the powers of these endowments and we tend to use them as if we are our own Gods, our own source and goal.

We need to do all to be in touch with God always, strengthening it along the way as we encounter all sorts of challenges and temptations that can weaken such grounding proper to us. And these challenges and temptations are many.

We need to pray always, rectify our intentions, deepen our knowledge of things by going beyond what our senses and reason show us and plunging deeper into the world of faith, the spiritual and the supernatural, and all the time doing all this with a lot of naturalness, never losing our basic humanity.

At the same, while trying to avoid creating bubbles and given some bad elements in our environments, we need to find some refuge, a kind of cocoon where we can be protected and can pursue the process of growth and transformation, much like the worm into the butterfly.

This cocoon can be in the form of a strongly established and clearly defined plan of life, consisting of practices of piety and other elements that remind us and encourage us to develop virtues in an abiding way.

Different schools of spirituality offer such plans of life. All we need to do is to choose the one that suits us best and start to live it.

Linking with God, the source and goal of our reality, is not easy. But all the effort we need to make is all worth it. Let’s just remember the wonderful stories of some handicapped people who managed to overcome their difficulty to blend with the world beautifully and contribute a lot to it.

We have Hellen Keller, deaf and blind, who with the help of her teacher Anne Sullivan, found a way to know the outside world and to offer her wonderful contributions to it.

We also have the blind Louis Braille, responsible for giving the blind a way to read and to get connected with the rest of us. Then there’s that Irish Christy Brown, sick with cerebral palsy who hardly moved. He discovered that his left foot can still move, and with it he learned to write and paint and other things.

It’s all worth it. God is around. He never abandons us, though he may want to play with us, sometimes easy, sometimes tough.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


JUST like in some aspects and affairs in our life, in our spiritual life we also need to be hot. If we truly are to be spiritually alive, thatś what is necessary. Otherwise, weĺl just be wasting our time and exposing ourselves to danger.

In the Book of Revelation itself, the exhortation to be hot (or cold) is made. ¨I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I would that you were cold or hot. But because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will begin to vomit you out of my mouth.¨ (3,15-16)

In the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, though marked with a certain calmness and restraint, what is clear is the determination and single-mindedness to carry out this mission. When it was time for him to go to Jerusalem to finish his work by offering his life on the Cross, he could not be stopped.

Peter tried to, and he received a stinging rebuke: ¨Get behind me, Satan. You are a scandal to me, because you savor not the things of God, but only the things of men.¨ (Mt 16,23)

In another part of the Gospel, our Lord showed that determination by saying: ¨No man takes my life away from me. I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.¨(Jn 10,18)

A closer scrutiny of our Lordś life reveals that he was always doing the will of his Father. ¨Not my will, but yours be done,¨ (Lk 22,42) goes that famous line showing how united his will was to his Fatherś will, in spite of all the suffering.

It might be good for all of us to examine how we use our own will, and in what condition it is found. Is our will simply our own, completely possessed and used by us as if it did not come from somewhere and meant to be engaged somewhere? Is that will hot in pursuit of something, or is it simply taking it easy, waiting for things to happen?

Very often we take this matter for granted, in the thought that our will is simply our own, our most precious treasure where no one is supposed to enter or to influence, except what we want to do with it.

This attitude, to my mind, is the very basic anomaly that can come to us. Itś the unfaithful spouse and parent who begets all the other disorders in our life. Unless we realize this, I don´t think we can start to really understand the nature, purpose and meaning of our life here on earth.

Our will is a gift from God. Together with our intelligence, itś what makes us image and likeness of God. With grace, it makes us children of his, meant not only to come from him and to belong to him like all other creatures, but also to participate in Godś very own life.

We need to engage our will with the will of God always. We cannot use it just by ourselves, hooking it up with just anything. That would be unfaithful to its origin and objective. That would hold it captive merely to our own designs and detached from the very mighty source of its life and energy.

We need to continually reinforce this union and consonance between Godś will and ours, given the fragile human condition we are in, what with all our weaknesses of the flesh and of the spirit, not to mention the confusing allurements of the world and the snares of the devil.

Thatś why thereś always need for it to be revved up and made hot frequently. Itś actually a bad sign when that will is idle and quite empty of the good stuff it is supposed to feed on, that is, the things of God and things of the others that should always occupy our mind and heart. This is what true love, our will’s best use, is.

This is our main problem. We do not know how to plug our will on God, and make it hot all the time.

For this, of course, we need to be trained. This should be our first and constant concern. This is possible. The means are there. In the first place, this is Godś will for us.

Otherwise, we will receive the reproach of Christ: ¨What does it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and suffers the loss of his own soul?¨ (Mt 16,26)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

From one bigotry to another

POPE Benedict recently reminded the academic world to do its task of educating students properly. He zeroed in on the need for solid, clear ethical grounding that the youth need if they have to be properly equipped to face the multi-challenges of the present and the future.

“University communities cannot be satisfied with merely imparting knowledge. They must also teach students values and profound motivations,” the Pope said.

This is, plainly speaking, a tall order. The task of imparting knowledge alone is already a gigantic job, what with all the explosion of data that are now almost literally floating in space, waiting to be known and utilized.

At the moment, many people are at a loss as to what to make of the profusion of information glutting our media and other places. In this kind of situation itś very easy to appear knowledgeable without being truly educated.

But the task of teaching “values and profound motivations,” which is actually the real McCoy in the business of education and formation, is simply beyond description.

It involves nothing less than entering into the minds and hearts of the students, and forming them in the truth and in charity in all their aspects and levels. This is mainly a spiritual affair, to which many of us are still very much uncomfortable.

And mind you, this cannot be done simply by giving classes and dishing out lessons plans and modules of data and information, no matter how indispensable they also are.

Our problem is that we are often stuck with the collective means of formation, remaining most of the time on the surface only, on the formal and external levels. Thereś a crucial gap that is not effectively addressed by us. We are still averse to the idea of getting into peopleś interior life.

This is not to mention that many teachers and educators are in the dark about what to say and teach about values formation and motivating students. In many instances, deformation is made rather than formation, because of ignorance and incompetence in this area.

My experience is that every time I get to talk to a student individually, especially when I look at their eyes, I see an abyss, a veritable whole new world and universe that needs to be explored, understood and tutored.

It’s a delicate world out there that needs to be handled properly. A lot of patience is required, plus a great capacity for understanding and compassion, for creativity, flexibility and optimism.

Of course, one has to be well grounded on the clear if not correct anthropology, on a good understanding of the true nature of man, in all his aspects. He too has to learn the art and skill of dispensing pieces of advice in a timely manner.

I don’t think it’s an impossible task. But definitely it’s a very difficult and most trying job. Just the same, if the will is set on it, and that will is translated into action stretched in perseverance and is made to develop into a kind of system, things can be a lot easier and even enjoyable, gratifying and enlightening.

What we have to avoid is to allow the process of education to stay in the external level. It has to go all the way to touching the very mind and heart of the student, conforming them ultimately to the mind and heart of God.

A stunted kind of formation will produce the anomaly known as bigotry or narrow-mindedness. In time, its ill-effects on the persons and society will appear, leaving a mess of one kind or another.

In the past, when the religious kind of formation was dominant, this disorder of religious and clerical bigotry came about, precisely because the education froze in the formalistic aspect without touching base with the hearts of people.

This bigotry produced people who could not apply their professed faith into their work and other earthly affairs like business and politics. There’s inconsistency. And it breeds all forms of deceit and hypocrisy.

Nowadays, when education is dominated by a secular approach, a swing to the other extreme takes place. When the same neglect is also committed, we get the phenomenon of secularist bigotry, intolerant of things spiritual and supernatural.

What we have to aim at is an education and formation that is ongoing and abiding, that goes all the way both to its foundations and to its real goals, and is holistic since it blends all the aspects of man, material and spiritual, natural and supernatural, temporal and eternal.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The gap between morality and legality

THESE are two different realities. Itś good to know each of them—their nature and properties—and how they are related to each other. Thereś a lot to gain from this knowledge, especially the light we need to cruise through our increasingly complicated times.

Morality is the objective quality of our human acts, starting with the internal ones like our thoughts and intentions, insofar as these bring us or not to our proper end. Thus, our human acts can be either morally good or bad.

Morality covers everything that can be called as a human act, one that is done knowingly and freely, and thus one for which we are responsible. The morality of our actions, good or bad, is most clear to the extent that our knowledge, consent and responsibility for such actions are also at their fullest.

Thatś in theory and in principle. In practice and in real life, things are a lot messier, since assessing oneś knowledge, consent and responsibility for his actions is a very dynamic affair, often shrouded in mystery and beset by ignorance and confusion by the persons concerned.

In the end, morality depends on oneś self-knowledge and on God, who is the Creator of all things and continues to govern everything with his Providence. Thus, we can readily see how important it is to have good self-knowledge and clear and deep convictions about religion, our relation to God.

Weak and vague in this fundamental aspect, we may as well set off a course that later will turn to pure chaos and anarchy.

Thus, morality is based on our nature and dignity as persons and ultimately as children of God. It depends on our core ideas and beliefs about who and what we really are. These will ultimately define what our nature and dignity is, who we really are.

Legality, on the other hand, is a human construct made to promulgate and determine the content of morality. Its purpose is to regulate our life in society so that we can attain our common good.

Since our common good always include not only the material, social and political, but also the spiritual and personal, legality cannot get away from morality.
Legality can only have a very limited scope compared to the one of morality It cannot promulgate, determine and regulate everything in the moral law. But it cannot stay away from morality. It has to be the moon to morality’s sun. It can only reflect and work for morality, never against.

Thus, we can have the following principle to follow: no act morally bad can be sanctioned by civil law, and no act morally necessary can be prohibited. But not all morally good acts can be regulated civilly, nor can all morally bad acts be coercively prohibited, Only the morally bad relevant to our social or political common good can be prohibited.

It’s this gap between morality and legality that we have to most cautious about these days. At the moment, many pieces of evidence all over the world point to how this gap is cleverly manipulated to pursue questionable objectives.

A case in point is the Reproductive Health Bill. Its good intentions are patent, but its means are immoral. Our local version may not yet include the clearly immoral abortion, but it promotes contraception and other things that are also clearly immoral, though not in the same category as abortion.

This is an example of how legality is made to go against morality. Of course, many justifications and rationalizations are now made, including rewriting Christian morality by those who claim to be Catholics but do not follow Christian moral doctrine. They look like mongrel Christians.

Of course, those who are not Christians or Catholics, not to mention, the professed atheists and non-believers, make their own version of morality derived from their own understanding of the natural moral law that highly favors what they want: contraception, sterilization, etc.

Fortunately, there are also many non-Christian people who follow the correct morality based on their own religion and their own efforts to know the contents of the natural moral law. This only shows that the natural moral can transcend religious differences.

Whatever the situation may be, we need to raise everyone’s awareness to work for an increasingly harmonious relation between morality and legality. Our leaders, especially Church and civil leaders and politicians and other people of influence, should be in the forefront of this effort.

How we behave in this gap will show the kind of persons we are!

Thursday, November 12, 2009


WE have been warned amply in the Gospel about this anomaly. The story of the master who came home and expected his servant to serve him even if the servant was working the whole day, had the following conclusion that drives home the point—

“When you have done all you have been commanded to do, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done no more than what we ought to do.’” (Lk 17,10)

We should be repeating these lines often to keep us from playing into the hands of self-pity!

Truth is our tendency to fall into self-pity because of reasons like tiredness, big and heavy load of work, persistent problems and miseries personal and otherwise, etc., is quite deep and pronounced. We need to be very aware of this weakness and do all to avoid succumbing into it.

Self-pity comes about when we make ourselves, not God and the others in God, as the ultimate arbiter of what we are supposed to do. It’s this basic mistake that curtails and truncates our sense of duty.

With it, our knowledge of our duties can easily be held hostage by our personal weaknesses, without mentioning the other consequences of our sins that can greatly impair it. It becomes shallow, narrow-minded and Pavlovian in its behavior.

We would not know the real reasons for our actions and obligations. We become prone to improper motives that ultimately zero in on ourselves—our advantage, comfort, pride and vanity, etc.

Of course, we can also go to the other extreme, as in exaggerating our capabilities to the point that we can think we have no limits in our powers. Many politicians have this kind of sickness. They can be so soaked with ambition that they can fail to acknowledge their limitations. But this is another story.

Self-pity is a more common disease, especially when in a poor society beset with all sorts of problems, like ours and many others, there is also inadequate and improper human and Christian formation.

Situations like this can make people’s attitude towards their problems and difficulties to become very negative, steeped in easy discouragement, despair, sadness and depression, finding no value in them.

Self-pity can also be a cover for laziness, complacency, envy, greed, self-centeredness, and a number of psychological aberrations like low self-esteem, etc. It can also trigger a slippery slope toward graver disorders like insanity.

As Shakespeare would say, “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.” St. Josemaria Escriva used to call sadness the ally of the enemy, the devil.

Self-pity isolates people from others, leading them to build their own worlds and hampering their capacity to work with others in solidarity. It shrinks their sense of the common good. It detaches them from reality. One can be in a crowd, yet he would still feel lonely.

It simply lends credence to the poetic insight, “Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Weep, and you weep alone.”

We should develop the knack to detect the beginnings of self-pity in ourselves and in others. Better still, we should do all to protect ourselves from it, by developing the proper attitudes and virtues.

First, we should always trust in God and enliven our relation with him. This can always be done, and in fact should be done, since this is fundamental. Without this, other human resources and measures, no matter how brilliant and impressive, will just come to grief.

We need to refer everything we do to God, offering it to him and trying to figure out how it fits in God’s plan, a difficult but not impossible task. Let’s remember that Christ gives meaning to everything in our life, including our pains, sufferings, problems, difficulties, failures and tragedies, and even death itself.

We have to develop the relevant virtues: patience, fortitude, joy, prudence, optimism, openness to anything, since in life, anything can happen to us, but God would still be in control.

For this, we have to be familiar with his doctrine and start to assimilate them into our life. Our life, let’s remember, is always a life with him. It’s not simply one by ourselves completely. It’s a participation in his, but we need to do our part to cooperate with him.

Let’s not forget what he said: “Come to me, all you that labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke upon you and learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart, and you shall find rest to your souls.” (Mt 11,28-29)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Preaching from the heart

PREACHING the Word of God is a task entrusted to his apostles and shared by all of us in different ways. The clergy take a leading role in this affair. It’s a serious business that involves our whole being, and not just our talents and powers.

First we need to examine our understanding and attitude toward God’s word, especially the Gospel. On this basic understanding depend what we do with the Gospel and how we handle it.

Do we really know the true nature of the Gospel? Or do we take it as one more book, perhaps with certain importance, but definitely not as the living word of God, in spite of its human dimensions?

The Gospel is actually the proclamation of Christ as the Emmanuel, that is, God with us. This is an on-going affair that did not stop with the death of Christ. Christ lives with us up to now, and continues to do things with us.

All these affirmations are captured in the last lines of the Gospel of St. Matthew where our Lord said:

“Go, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them…. And behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.” (28,19-20)

Our Catechism tells us that “We must continue to accomplish in ourselves the stages of Jesus’ life and his mysteries and often to beg him to perfect and realize them in us and in his whole Church” (521)

Obviously, to carry out this mission, we need to know our Lord and his teachings. We have to go to him and read the Gospel. Reading and meditating on it should be regular practice for us, a habit meant to keep us in touch with him.

Thus, every time we read the Gospel, we have to understand by our faith that we are engaging with our Lord in an actual and living way. We are listening to him, and somehow seeing him. We can use our imagination to make ourselves as one more character in any scene depicted by the Gospel.

For this, we need to look for the appropriate time and place. We have to be wary of our tendency to be dominated by a lifestyle of activism and pragmatism that take away our need for recollection and immersion in the life of Christ.

The drama of Christ’s life here on earth has to continue in our own life. Thus, we need to continually conform our mind and heart to the Gospel, an affair that demands everything from us.

Our problem is that the Gospel has ceased to be what it ought to be to many people. It has been downgraded as one more book among many others that we have. And worse, since it does not give us immediate practical knowledge, many of us give it low priority.

For us priests, especially, we need to internalize it, not in the way an actor internalizes his script. We internalize it by making it the very life of our mind and heart, the very impulse of our emotion and passions. It should be the soul of our whole life.

Thus, when we preach we cannot help but somehow showcase the drama inside our heart, giving others a glimpse of how our heart is actually taking, handling and delivering the word of God.

Preaching should reflect the condition of our heart as it grapples with the living word of God. It should not just be a matter of declaiming or orating, reduced to the art of speaking and stage performing, a mere play of our talents.

Neither should it be just a display of our intellectual prowess or our cultural wealth. It should manage to show the actual living faith and love our heart has for God’s word, how our heart is receiving it and reacting to it.

Thus, preaching is a matter of how effectively we manage to show and teach Christ to the others. It’s never about us, the preachers. Rather, it can be about us in our effort to bring Christ to the others. Its success or failure depends solely on this.

St. John Mary Vianney, patron for priests, is an example of an excellent preacher. Though not very gifted intellectually and humanly, he managed to preach well because his heart burned with great love for Christ.

That love led him to an amazing eloquence, full of common and supernatural sense, that attracted all kinds of people, even the most sophisticated and complicated ones.

We need to learn to preach from a heart immersed in Christ!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Banning God in public places

THERE seems to emerge in places like the US a certain strain of religious freedom thatś highly controversial, to say the least.

Instead of promoting religion—any kind as long as the minimum requirements for peaceful common living are met—they are banning any mention and references to God and his images in public places, because according to them, these already go against the rights and freedom of some people. As if there can ever be a totally religion-free society!

I know that we have different, and even conflicting ideas and views, but I could not figure out how praying in public schools, putting religious images in office buildings, making the sign of the cross, etc., especially if a good number of the parties involved so desire it, could already be held as an infraction of freedom.

In Europe, for example, they are now prohibiting the display of crucifixes in public places.

If some people do not like these, they can always ignore them and do something else, just as those who believe in some religion have to respect the ways of those of who do not believe in any. But what we cannot do is to prevent people from expressing their beliefs in public. That in itself is already against freedom.

This new unfortunate development is putting God in the same category as smoking in confined public places and some forms of public display of affection if not of indecency in public places. God has become a strictly private and personal affair should not be given public expression.

I also learned the other day that in Australia recently, they held a festival of dangerous ideas, and together with the different ideologies, the Catholic faith was also included, represented by a Cardinal who tried to defend the Church.

Things are now getting exciting in the world! We have to know how to handle these problems and challenges well. We have to continue to clarify and engage different parties in a dialogue that hopefully will always be conducted in charity and understanding and with eagerness to know the truth.

I don´t think it would do us well if we choose to disregard this question.

At the moment, what seems relevant is to define religious freedom. What does it really mean? What does it entail?

To me, religious freedom is the most basic of our freedoms. I would even dare to say itś the mother freedom. All other aspects of freedom flow from it.

Itś where the fundamental exercise of our conscience is made, the one that tries to give us an over-all picture of who we are, where we come from and where we are supposed to head. In short, it gives us our origin and end, defines us and gives meaning to all the happen in our life.

Different people, of course, have varying understanding of this religious freedom. Even the professed atheist has, in a way, his own idea of religious freedom, since regardless of his allergy to anything religious, he maintains some core beliefs and convictions that comprise his religion.

Thus, we have to distinguish between the subjective religious freedom and the objective religious freedom that can only come about after so much study, insights, experience, etc., among ourselves. We should do nothing to hamper this process.

Our whole life here on earth, in a way, can be described as an effort to discover the authentic religious freedom meant for all. Its ultimate purpose, seen from a different angle, can be that. This religious freedom is like a hunt for the true God, whatever and whoever he may be.

Already in history and in the different cultures, several religions have arisen with their own systems of beliefs and doctrine. Let there be a way to coexist among themselves and to engage in a healthy exchange that would help all to be enlightened without compromising oneś freedom.

Thus, we need to be respectful of one another and be endlessly patient. But the dialogue has to continue, and ought not to be stopped by some arbitrary rules. Making those laws forbidding the harmless public expression of religion should be avoided.

Obviously, proselytism and apostolate cannot be avoided, since it is in the very nature of oneś religion, whatever it may be, to share what one has. But all this should follow certain basic rules to keep peace and harmony in our dynamic and fast-changing world.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Holy shrewdness

IN many parts of the Gospel, we are encouraged to develop a certain kind of cleverness and shrewdness that can only be qualified as holy.

For example, in the Gospel of St. Matthew, we hear our Lord say: “Behold I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be therefore wise as serpents and simple as doves.” (10,16)

Then in the Gospel of St. Luke, we hear our Lord tell a parable about a dishonest steward who was praised not for his dishonesty, but for his astuteness, his being creatively enterprising.

The story ended with these words: “The owner gave his devious employee credit for being clever! Why? Because the worldly take more initiative than the otherworldly when it comes to dealing with their own kind.” (16,7-8)

We should take note in this particular passage of our Lord’s swipe at those who follow him—the otherworldly—who are quite naïve and simplistic in their ways, and do not know how to handle tricky earthly affairs like our business and politics, and now our emerging culture and faith war.

Holy shrewdness is an urgent necessity these days precisely because our environment is fast becoming inhabited by human wolves and hissing snakes full of tricks and deceit and ready to strike and to turn our country into a Godless one.

And they can do that even by shamelessly using the name of God and morality. Sometimes they can occupy high position not so much in civil society as in the Church itself.

Relevant to this, St. Paul already issued the appropriate warning still effective now: “For such false apostles are deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.” (2 Cor 11-13-14)

It’s with this backdrop that we have to consider the Reproductive Health Bill, a highly divisive and invasive issue, now pending approval in our Congress. I’ve read it many times, and I have no doubt that it is a summary of all deceits that we and the devil can play on ourselves.

Its proponents say abortion is not included there, but contraception is, as if contraception is already morally ok. This is not to mention that in all countries where contraception is legalized and promoted, abortion unavoidably comes as a consequence.

They say that contraception is a matter of choice, but they are silent about its morality. And if they are not, they say that to allow and even to impose contraception on people and companies is part of our human freedom and is, ergo, moral. Sorry, but this sounds like the devil reasoning out.

They say that a vast majority of the people, even Catholics, are for contraception or at least are open to it or are somehow pressured to use it. They cite various survey results to prove their point. Thus, it should be legalized and promoted.

These survey results are no surprise to anyone. They simply reflect that we are all sinners and commit all sorts of sexual sins and marital infidelities. This will always be our problem that we should try to fight and solve.

But committing sin, even in large scale, is one thing, and legalizing, promoting and institutionalizing it is a completely different banana. We can continue committing sins and let’s hope we also can find a way to say sorry. But we should try to avoid legalizing, promoting and making it part of our culture.

The first is personal and, while already an anomaly, still remains in the domain of the moral order. The second is already institutional and cultural, and is a clear attempt to get out of that moral order. Being institutional, it can affect the whole of society adversely.

The proponents of the RH Bill appear to be Christian believers, even Catholics, but are not consistent with their faith. Some of them have gone to the extent of saying that their Christianity is a matter of conscience rather than some official affiliation to a group.

Again this is a devilish logic. It’s as if now we just depend absolutely on our own conscience. Our conscience becomes our own God, the source and maker of good and evil.

We need to react to this kind of mentality, with a lot of prayers, sacrifice as well as action. We have to be ready to make a war of peace and love, to keep our country safe from the tricks of the devil who makes use of some of us to go against God.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Person over ideas

IN our dealings with others, a daily, constant affair, we should pay a lot of attention to the concrete circumstances and conditions of the persons rather than just pursuing the abstract merits and demerits of our ideas, views and opinions.

We need to be personal rather than just go ideological, simply because in the end it’s not ideas we are actually interested in but rather the persons themselves. The ideas are hollow without the persons who are their subjects or targets, their sources and goals, their beginning and end.

Not that the ideas are unimportant. They are indispensable. But we need to hew them according to our actual grip of the who and how the persons we are dealing with are

We should not allow our ideas to have a life by themselves. They have to be made fit to all the persons involved—us, others and ultimately and constantly God. This is not just a theory. This is simply how things ought to be!

Without this conscious effort to adapt ideas to the circumstances of persons, they can go wild and extreme, absolutizing what is relative and vice-versa, and easily deteriorating into biases, rash judgments, and other forms of lack of charity.

That’s why our Christian faith always admonishes us to put charity and truth together, as well as mercy and justice. Truth and justice get spoiled once they get detached from charity and mercy. These latter virtues precisely lead us to treat others the way they should be treated—as persons and ultimately as children of God.

In Pope Benedicts’s third encyclical, Caritas in veritate (Charity in the truth), the same point is reiterated when he said: “To defend the truth, to articulate it with humility and conviction, and to bear witness to it in life are therefore exacting and indispensable forms of charity.” (1)

He also said that it’s when charity and truth are put together when meaningful and substantial dialogue among different and even conflicting parties as well as genuine integral human development can take place.

This, of course, will be a very dynamic affair, for which a lot of patience is needed, a lot of adjustments and adaptations made, an abiding monitoring of personal and other circumstances done.

Of course, this presumes the fundamental virtue of humility, since it’s only when one humbles himself—that self-denial that Christ told us—can we be patient and progress in our task of blending charity and truth together.

We need to develop the necessary attitudes and the appropriate skills to comply with this human requirement, because our tendency to go impersonal and to be led simply by ideas is strong and sadly quite inherent in us.

We need to go through a perpetual cycle of mutually relating theory and practice, doctrine and experience, ideas and persons, study and work, isolation for purposes of recollection and immersion through actual contact with people.

In our dealings with others, we have to know when to move fast and when to go slow, when to be demanding and when to be tolerant, when to be driven and when to waste time with them.

We have to wary to with our inclination to be indifferent to others, to consider only our own preferences and views, to control or herd others according to our schemes and plans.

We should find time to really get to know others thoroughly. Thus, we have to invest time and effort to improve our relationship with them, enhancing our friendship and fraternity with them.

And in this, we have to go all the way, down to the personal and even the intimate spiritual and moral levels. We have to learn how to listen, and simply to journey with them, but always trying to be a good friend, a help, a light.

We also have to be wary of the alienating elements that are sprouting thick and fast in our environment nowadays. These are the gadgets and other facilities that worsen our self-absorption by putting up invisible walls that separate us from others.

We need to continually examine ourselves just to be more discerning, since we are now living in a world where the line between good and evil is often blurred and where the new things can trigger dormant weaknesses that can lead us into a spiral of unhealthy obsessions.

Indeed, we need to constantly focus our mind and heart first of all on God, then on others before we think of ourselves and of our brilliant ideas.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Eucharistic adoration and social concern

IT’S good that the devotion to the Eucharist, through its adoration outside of the Holy Mass, is spreading quite well in our country. Wherever I go, I see special chapels where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed for adoration, and even for perpetual adoration.

I consider this another sign of the abiding faith we, a large number of Filipinos, have in God, and in particular in the real presence of Christ in the sacred species. This is something to be thankful to God for. But we also have to realize that we have in our hands a tremendous and delicate treasure that we need to take extreme care of.

This is a challenge actually to everyone, though certainly the leading role falls on the bishops, priests and other religious persons. We need to give more attention to this responsibility so that the devotion can truly mature and produce fruits not only for the individuals but also for the whole of society.

Truth is many people have complained that in spite of our supposedly Christian background and culture, our society is still wracked with all sorts of shameful anomalies in its different sectors and levels. We need to have more consistency between what we profess to believe, and what we do in our business and politics, etc.

First of all we need to highlight, as constantly as possible, the intrinsic link between the celebration of the Holy Mass and the Eucharistic adoration outside of the Mass.

In a 2007 document of Pope Benedict XVI, “Sacramentum caritatis” (Sacrament of charity), he noted that sometime ago there were some people who thought that the Blessed Sacrament is not meant to be looked at but only to be eaten.

This, the Pope said, is a false dichotomy. Quoting St. Augustine, he said that “no one eats the flesh without first adoring it.” He argues:

“In the Eucharist, the Son of God comes to meet us and desires to become one with us. Eucharistic adoration is simply the natural consequence of the Eucharistic celebration.”

He said that receiving the Eucharist means adoring him whom we receive. The adoration outside the Mass prolongs and intensifies all that takes place during the liturgical celebration itself.

We need to understand and discern this dynamics of the Eucharist. The Pope said that it is precisely this personal encounter with the Lord in the Eucharist that strengthens our social mission contained in it.

“The Eucharist,” he said, “seeks to break down not only the walls that separate the Lord and ourselves, but also and especially the walls that separate us from one another.”

These are nice words that certainly convey a deep insight about the mystery of the Eucharist. The challenge now is how to make everyone aware of this reality. We the clergy have to demonstrate and act this out ourselves first before we can dare to convince the others. But everyone has to do his part.

Little things count a lot here. The care and devotion we give when we kneel or genuflect before the Blessed Sacrament, for example, can already go a long way in helping us enter deep into Christ’s presence and into the lives of people.

This will be an entering that goes beyond our psychological, temperamental or social and cultural conditionings. It will be an entering that is led by faith and love. It will enable us to savor Christ’s presence and people’s lives in a manner that beggars description.

To achieve this in a stable way, we can think of developing the habit of making visits to the Blessed Sacrament everyday, spending time with the Lord there, talking to him not only about our personal affairs, but also about the affairs of society in general.

There is an awful lot of things to consider and bring up with our Lord in these visits. First of all, we need to ask for more light and strength, for more grace and courage. And then we need to consider the nitty-gritty of the different issues right in front of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

Many saints have done this and came out of it enlightened and enabled to undertake tremendous tasks. This Eucharistic moment is like the heart purifying used blood and pumping fresh arterial blood—the divine impulses—to our entire human system, from the personal to the social, material to spiritual, etc.

If only all of us, especially the clergy and our civil and political leaders, can have this Eucharistic devotion!