Wednesday, December 30, 2009


AS we begin a new year, let’s remind ourselves about our need for purification. Let’s not fool ourselves and remain in a state of denial with respect to this need.

Even without doing anything scandalous, just the passage of time and the exposure to the daily usual things would be enough for us to accumulate dirt not so much on the physical side as on the spiritual and moral aspect.

Our heart, the center and engine of our life, cannot help but gather some dust, in amounts big or small, as we go along in life. We need to clean it up, tune it up and hopefully put it in tiptop condition for another year of living and struggling.

We cannot actually be casual about this issue anymore. We are living in very complicated times and environment. Gone now are the pristine air of our grandparents in the provinces. The pollution upon us today is much more harmful, much more treacherous, much more inescapable.

The media, the Internet, the billboards, etc., seem to produce a lot more of moral dirt and smog collateral to their legitimate purposes. We need to study this issue more thoroughly and systematically and act accordingly.

Consider the following observations that indicate the extreme of impurity we in general have fallen into:

- For example, the number of vocations to the priesthood and the religious and consecrated life has plummeted drastically;

- Of those who enter, a high percentage do not persevere. There are a lot of defections;

- And of those who persevere so far, a noticeable number are into some trouble and irregular situations, as in having illegitimate affairs with corresponding problematic fruits as a result.

That’s only speaking of the clerical population. The situation is, of course, far worse in the general populace.

There can be many causes and factors for these phenomena, but one of them that figure prominently is the problem in purity. Many are badly handicapped by it, their situation already so compromised that sorting it out to order or to some acceptable terms would require heroic effort.

At the moment, we can safely presume that an average young guy today has already seen if not participated in far worse sexual experiences compared to his peers in the previous generation. One would be naïve to think otherwise. Even the so-called “good guy” already has quite a load in this department.

Pornography is just a click away in the Internet, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Sexual deviancy has become more rampant. The other day, I read that in the States, it’s not only the men who are having affairs. The women are doing it also at a rate that can be considered as widespread and common.

Impurity makes quite a mess in our life. It threatens our spiritual life. It weakens our faith and turns charity into self-indulgence. It dashes simplicity to the ground and spawns deceit and hypocrisy, leading us to lead double lives that can deteriorate into Jekyll-and-Hyde syndrome. It distorts our vision of things.

This is our world today. We cannot stop at lamenting. We have to do the slow and agonizing process of cleaning the environment spiritually and morally, and of helping persons affected one by one. There’s always hope. God is always merciful, and where sin abounds, his grace abounds even more.

For this, we can get some inspiration from the Blessed Virgin. She, who was immaculate from conception to death, submitted herself to purification even if she had to no need for it. She’s more than willing to help us. We all need to go through purification ourselves. Today, this need is urgent.

We have to know how to handle and protect our heart. We have to help one another in finding ways, both practicable and accessible, of filling our heart with true love for God and souls. This love should be immediately felt. It should not remain in the theoretical level.

Personal spiritual direction and confession are a must, but have to be done with utmost respect for personal freedom. Clear doctrine has to be constantly given. Pious acts of prayer, mortification and self-discipline have to be learned and spread.

We need to foster an atmosphere of sincerity and transparency, precisely because these are the first victims of impurity. We have to discover the right mix of things that would make these virtues attractive again and easy and enjoyable to live.

This crusade for purification has to be pursued without stop. Without purity, we cannot go far in life.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Holy Innocents and collateral victims

WE have just celebrated the feast of the Holy Innocents. Those were the male infants, 2 years old and under, ordered eliminated by King Herod in his madness to kill the child Jesus.

In the Gospel narrative, tears flow whenever I read the lines: “A cry was heard at Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation: Rachel bewailing her children; no comfort for her, since they are no more.” (Lk 2,18)

What instantly came to mind as I went through the celebration was the idea of collateral damage, collateral targets and collateral victims. In this life, we have to be ready to end up like the Holy Innocents, who were the collateral targets and victims together with the child Jesus.

We can suffer and even die anytime because we happen to be beside someone at a certain moment, or we happen to be associated with someone or something, etc. We may not have done anything wrong, and yet we suffer the consequences of what another person has done.

Just think of the 56 Maguindanao massacre victims. Most of them were collateral victims. Just a few were the real targets.

A number of times I had to explain this concept slowly and patiently to people who come with complaints about why they are suffering the consequences of the mistakes or inadequacies of others, like their parents or brothers and sisters, or their friends and colleagues at work, etc.

Of course, we suffer not only because of the mistakes of others, but also because of the good done by others, those good things that have fallen unpopular or hateful in the eyes of many people.

Thus, we can be collateral victims because of both the good and the evil done by others. If we have to convert this into some statistical expression, we can say that the probability of us becoming collateral victims is quite high, and we just have to be ready.

We have to be ready to suffer anytime, to lose all of a sudden our possession, our reputation and, why not, even our life. All these can happen in an instant. You may just be having a good time at home enjoying things with the family, and a stray bullet from nowhere can just hit you and snuff your life off.
So we have to be sporty in this life. Yes, we need to be serious and very responsible, but our human condition is such that in spite of our prayers and efforts, our virtues and best behavior, things can just end up the opposite of what we expected. We have to learn to be open to this possibility.

That’s what being sporty is. We kind of treat our life like a game. We play hard, eager to win, of course. But we can still lose, and if we do, we just have to know to move on. Even if losing means losing our life, it’s not the end of everything, because in fact we have life eternal waiting for us after death.

We can still move on, but we have to move on with grace, not with bitterness and rancor. In fact, we have to learn how to move on with humor that springs from a cheerfulness rooted in our faith and love of God.

St. Thomas More, for example, just before his head was chopped off by the executioner, asked that his beard be moved out of the chopping board, because according to him it had no part of his “crime.”

God is, of course, a judge, but he is a most just judge who knows how to blend justice with charity and mercy. We just have to do our best, with the full force of our mind and heart, of our whole self.

That is what he will look at, and not so much at what we achieved or failed to achieve. He is more interested in our heart than in the products. Is there real faith, hope and love in our heart? That’s what he wants to know more.

Some of us can ask why does God who is supposed to be all-good, all-knowing and all-powerful allow evil to come to us? To that, we can only say that God respects our nature, our freedom, our concrete human condition, but also knows how to derive good from evil.

Even if our capacity to do evil is infinite, his capacity to show mercy is even more infinite. His mercy limits our evil. So we should not worry too much. Rather we have to worry about the real state of our heart.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Updating the family

CHRISTMAS time is obviously family time. Let’s thank God that in our country we still see this equation largely lived happily. Let’s pray that in other places, especially in developed countries, the same ideal can also take place. We cannot deny that it is not quite so in many of them, including parts of ours.

We see rising cases of dysfunctional families, with marriages defaced by infidelities and unrefreshed love and a sense of commitment unable to “Reset” when needed, children’s neglect, family life reduced to a minimum, etc.

The family always deserves our utmost attention. We should not be naïve to think that we can take our duties and responsibilities toward it for granted. Especially now, tricky and openly difficult challenges confront it. We have to be aware of them and try to do something about them.

We need to repair the damages, heal the wounds and plot out the paths to make the family healthy, vibrant and capable to do its sacred duty of nurturing persons and citizens.

Let’s remember that we can never outgrow the need for the family, no matter how old, mature and independent we can be. Even those who lead a prominently spiritual and celibate life need it.

It’s a requirement of our nature, given by God and not by some human consensus. The family is a divine creation, before it is a human institution.

With family life given a boost during this Christmas holidays, let’s take the time to see what we can do to reinforce the family, both in general and in individual cases. Let’s not waste the opportunity by spending it solely on having fun. It’s a time for discerning, anticipating, planning things for the family.

May it be that in every level of our life, this concern for the family is taken up seriously. For the Church, for example, there should be abiding diocesan and parochial efforts to help the family in some concrete way, an effort translated into continuing prayers, sacrifices and timely reminders.

For example, the preparation for couples for marriage should be attended to well. Effective programs to nourish couple’s conjugal love should be developed.

Prompters about the evil of contraception, the RH bill, etc. should be frequently made since this now constitutes clear and present danger to marriages.

The government and NGOs should also do the same, trying to figure out the issues families in general are now facing and tackling. There are many of them. It’s good to have a systematic and massive approach to this, monitoring the relevant developments closely and ever presenting solutions.

For one, it pains me to see some workers pressured to do overtime work at the expense of their family life. Stories I hear about inhuman pressures suffered by call center agents are really depressing. The problems involved should be addressed.

Also the environment, especially that part known also as the human ecology, should be continually cleaned and renewed to foster family life among the people. This area is often ignored, its challenges not taken up adequately.

There are situations that undermine the family’s vitality. Pornography, unregulated means of amusement and recreation, etc., are now going viral. People get unduly absorbed by new technologies at the expense of family life.

Obviously, the spouses and the other members of the family should do their part to enrich their family life. Quality time together should be fostered, planned and defended against factors that tend to undermine it. Affection, good manners should be shown in any weather.

Everyone should try his best to be generous in this area, always thinking of details that can brighten the home and warm the relationships among all the family members, heroically fighting against tiredness, attachments, personal preferences, selfishness, etc.

In this regard, the little things of everyday count a lot and are, in fact, the main ingredient to strengthen the bonds of the family. We need to take advantage of these little things in our family life to culture our love for God and for others. There’s actually no other way as basic as this one.

For this purpose, it might be good to realize the need for us to develop a devotion to the Holy Family. Our families should be a reflection, if not a participation in that family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, where everything good for us was lived to the max and continues to be lived.

We should never fail to realize the need to use spiritual and supernatural means, without neglecting the human instruments, to develop our families.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Mary and our sense of sin

WE need to recover our sense of sin. It’s vanishing and subjected to severe attacks. And for this we need to go to Mary. Let me explain.

Just recently, right in the capitol of a US state, and supposedly in the spirit of democracy, together with Christmas decors was a poster saying there is no God, nothing spiritual and supernatural. It’s only the workings of nature. It’s a sentiment echoed actually, and sadly, in many places.

Christmas is nothing other than winter, it said. Thus, there’s no sin as we have been made to understand for years. Of course, in Australia Christmas must be nothing other than summer too. It’s just a season of nature. Nothing more.

Of course, we have to respect freedom. Anyone can say anything he wants. As long as there must be basis, and the process of assessing the veracity of our assertions is not aborted. That would be against freedom too, right?

I would say that there, of course, is God. There also are spiritual and supernatural realities. Even those who deny these truths already betray their beliefs, since their very denials are already an expression of something spiritual that can lead them, if they want, to the supernatural and ultimately to God.

We do not depend entirely on our senses that can capture only the natural and material or sensible things. We are made also to believe, to have faith and beliefs. Our spiritual faculties just cannot get engaged ultimately in something material. They have to be engaged in something spiritual.

Thus, if there is God, there also must be sin. That’s precisely because we, with our spiritual faculties of intelligence and will, with our reason and freedom, can choose to go against God. That’s what sin is.

For Christians, this sense of sin is already highlighted right at the dawn of human history, at the time Adam and Eve in Eden. This was first alluded to when God told the serpent who tempted Eve, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed.” (Gen 3,15)

This passage is called the proto-evangelium, since it contains the seed of the future good news of the coming of the Redeemer, the son of God who became man in the virginal womb of Mary, the second Eve, our new Mother.

For us now to keep and properly reinforce this sense of sin we need to look more closely at Mary. Untouched by sin though exposed to it, she distills the final reality of our life as a choice between good and evil, between God and the devil.

She shows us that our battle with evil will never cease in this life. This is shown in those passages in the Book of Revelations where Satan tried to devour the Son about to be born of her (cfr Rev 12,4), relentlessly pursued her (cfr Rev 12,13), and powerless against her, now makes war with the rest of her children (cfr. Rev. 12,17)

Thus, we should not be surprised if our life will always be a struggle. It’s a 24/7 affair, involving everything, material and spiritual, outside and inside us, personal and social, etc.

But with Mary, it will be a war of peace and love. She will help us, giving us tips and the weapons to use. These mainly would first of all be the virtue of humility, indispensable since the devil, full of pride, can never outwit the ways of humility. He cannot understand it. He is helpless before it.

Humility enables us to be simple, melting away our tendency to get complicated, to build our own world outside of the one objectively meant for us by God himself. It’s brings us to God, instead of burying us in our own selves.

Our Lady’s humility is shown in her life fully spent in the little things, telling us that we don’t need big and extraordinary things to be in touch with Christ and enter into the dynamics of our human redemption.

This realization should embolden us, since it will rescue us from a vicious slavery afflicting the present world that gives little value to little things of everyday. With humility, we see these little things as the capillaries that bring God’s grace to the farthest and minutest corner of our life.

It’s what makes us children of God through and through, and not only externally or formalistically. Mary enlivens our sense of God and our sense of sin. Let’s be very Marian!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Indivisible and not absolutized

THESE were two ideas that got stuck in my mind as I read Pope Benedict’s advanced message for the 2010 World Day of Peace, to be given on New Year’s Day.

It’s a message dedicated to our duty to protect the whole of creation, and not just our physical or climatic environment. The title of the message is precisely, “If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation.”

I think the distinction between creation and environment is worth noting. Precisely these two ideas spring from such distinction and clarify it.

The first idea is when the Pope said: “The quest for peace by people of good will surely would become easier if all acknowledge the indivisible relationship between God, human beings and the whole of creation.”

This is a crucial point. Without this, our basic attitude toward any talk about environmental issues would be congenitally flawed and compromised.

The second is when he said: “A correct understanding of the relationship between man and the environment will not end by absolutizing nature or by considering it more important than the human person.”

With all these talks about global warming, climate change, some impending global disaster, etc., these words of the Holy Father give us some comfort amid the increasingly alarmist tone of this issue.

The problem with much of the arguments put forward so far is that God is put out of the picture. And there’s almost an exclusive focus on the material (mainly economic and financial) and the technical aspects of the issue. The ethical and moral aspects are considered taboo.

It’s as if we would just be concerned about the material environment, without considering the whole of creation in its integrity that would intrinsically involve God, the Creator, man as its chief steward, and the rest of the world.

We seem to be framed and corralled within a Godless system when we talk about global warming and climate change. We dare to tackle these issues through pure reason alone, as if they are just a matter of human and natural sciences.

No matter how important and indispensable these sciences are in knowing more about our climatic conditions, they cannot go far and deep enough without the light of faith.

More than that, the sciences alone cannot claim to have all the means to resolve the problem. Faith and religion play a prominent role here, since this problem definitely needs spiritual and supernatural solutions as well.

We need to overcome that bias that cuts a split between reason and faith, science and theology, in talking about such big issues as global warming or climate change. The Pope reminds us that there is an indivisible unity between our earthly affairs and God.

Obviously, we have to respect the distinctive natures of reason and faith. But we also have to learn how to relate them to each other. This is now an urgent need as we begin to grapple with big issues, and they surely will become bigger as we get into a more complicated world.

Besides, now the debate is entering a very disturbing stage since there are well-grounded claims that many of the data presented to support the alarming view of global warming are not exactly accurate. They have been tweaked and massaged, and have ceased to be factual. They are tendentious.

Because of this basic handicap, nature is reduced now to its climatic dimension and seems to be made absolute or more important than the human person. It’s seen more as mere physical environment whose innate relationship to God and to us is ignored if not practically denied.

Thus nature is now given a more independent status, it has become God-like, to which we have to be subordinated. It’s the new God, the new religion, a recycling of an old heresy. Science is its theology and there is no other.

It’s precisely this attitude that generates a kind of tyrannical, authoritarian approach in imposing its position. They are ironically falling into holy war tactics in dealing with skeptics and unbelievers.

The requirements of charity, understanding, patience, prudence, the effort to explain and clarify things without recourse to threats and violence, all necessary in our human dealings, are ignored.

It’s because of this that whatever goodness and truth they have can get in the end distorted and nullified. This would be a pity, since in issues like global warming, it is imperative that we listen to all sides.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Evangelization of culture

THAT´S the pastoral thrust of the Cebu Archdiocese for 2010. In its icon, Jesus in his usual appearance and robes talks to a man and a woman of today, of course dressed in today´s fashion. A fig tree stands in the middle to remind us of that Gospel message that we as trees should produce fruits and not just leaves, alluding to the need for our faith to bear fruit in our culture.

The whole point is that our faith and culture should meld in some way. Christian faith needs to be inculturated, otherwise it becomes a foreign body to us. Of course, being transcendent to any human culture, the faith can never be made an exclusive property of a given culture. Other cultures, different from ours, can as well be Christian-inspired.

Our culture should continue to be open and receptive to our Christian faith, going from stage to stage until it reaches a certain maturity that needs to be renewed and deepened endlessly. Our culture should feel the need for faith for it to properly develop. The faith-and-culture relation is a living affair. It cannot and should not freeze at a certain point.

The theological basis was explained during its launching recently. It was good and expertly done. The fine distinctions between faith and culture were made, as well as their relation. Already at this point, I think the project will accomplish much, since it will familiarize the faithful, including the clergy, with the fundamentals about faith and culture.

I have reason to believe that these fundamentals are hardly known by many people. And so, this yearly programming of pastoral activity contributes greatly in educating the faithful of our duties.

The ardent prayer is that the whole project finally takes off and can show some tangible results. That´s the challenge now. The pastoral thrust can only give some general directions and orientations that need to be fleshed out by all of us. I hope that some kind of office or body oversees the fleshing out of the general principles.

I was happy to note, for example, that with respect to the specific aspect of culture regarding the restoration and preservation of Church heritage, an office is now formed to check on any plans to renovate churches or to make an inventory of heritage items, etc.

This is a good and most welcome development. For years, I have been in agony to see old, beautiful churches left to rot, or otherwise given a make-over that causes cardiac arrest even to simple people who use common sense to distinguish between continuity and incongruity in what´s being done.

This is because no functioning office gave criteria, standards and supervision to these changes and renovations. Everyone seems to have the right to do anything to churches and other church properties. And the result can only be called horrible.

One time, I entered a church (not in Cebu) and I was shocked that an old image of our Lady, very beautiful and precious, was replaced by a cheap-looking, plastic-like copy. The sight broke my heart.

But the problem in this area is nothing compared to the challenges posed by the other aspects of our culture. Think of our business and political life, our sports, fashion and entertainment worlds, our academes and the different professional fields, and we surely will be bewildered by the enormity of the task ahead of us.

Still, to be practical about this project we need to identify specific areas of our culture where we can focus the infusion of faith.

Culture is actually everything about our life. Whatever we do toward it, no matter how small as long as it produces a kind of consensus among the people, ends up being part of our culture. It needs to be evangelized, since things just can´t be left to develop in a purely natural way. We have a supernatural life, and our culture also has to reflect this character of our life.

We now have to be wary of the secularizing and dechristianizing trends that are subtly looming in our midst. With globalization already entrenched in our lifestyle, we should be very discerning to know what is good and bad, what is safe and dangerous, etc. We cannot afford to be naïve anymore. Our church leaders should give strong and clear leadership in this regard.

More than that, we need to know the skills of struggle and combat, since some give and take, some cut and thrust will be involved in the process of evangelizing culture.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A willful Christmas

WITH all the layers of elements accompanying the celebration of Christmas, we need to be willful in entering the proper spirit of the season. Otherwise we would get lost, most likely deadened and insulated in a very sweet and hallucinatory manner.

Not all the glittery and sentimental elements surrounding Christmas are good, and not all of them are bad either. Christmas should be Christmas, not just Christmassy. We need to be truly discerning, driven by a deliberate effort to live Christmas' essence, and not just enjoy its peripherals.

In its core, Christmas is the birth of Jesus Christ, the son of God, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, who became man in the virginal womb of Mary to be with us, to re-create our damaged nature, to reconcile us with our Father and Creator. He offers himself to the truth, way and life for that.

Christmas is God becoming man so that we can also become like God, as we originally are meant to be. Christmas is God wanting to be born in us so that we can be born again in him.

Its mainly religious character should never get lost in the din and frenzy of the festivities. It is not meant to be a wet blanket to the fun of Christmas. Rather, it is meant to purify and raise that joy to a higher and proper level, while grounding it to its proper root.

As recorded in the Gospel and handed down faithfully through Tradition within the Church, Christ’s nativity took a radically simple form, giving credence to what St. Paul said in his letter to Philippians:

“He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men,… He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.” (2,7-8)

This self-emptying of Christ is the proper attitude to have in celebrating Christmas. If we are to enter the true spirit of Christmas, we too, like Christ, should go through this process of self-emptying. There’s no other way.

We need to learn how to achieve this self-emptying even in the midst of the understandable atmosphere of joy and gift-giving characteristic of Christmas also. This will require of us certain skills and competence, derived from the very example of Christ himself.

We need to continually examine ourselves to see if we still have the proper outlook and bearing. We have to be good in promptly rejecting the many temptations to spoil the Christmas spirit through the many gimmicks of consumerism, frivolity, gluttony, materialism, hedonism, etc.

By this time, we should already have acquired a good amount of experience in detecting the tricks of these isms and in dealing with them accordingly. We have to help one another in safely navigating the now treacherous waters of our Christmas celebrations.

We need to continually rectify our intentions, and to keep a good hold of our instincts and impulses, our emotions and passions. These tend to go wild, daring to go on their own outside the orbit of reason, let alone faith and charity.

We need to learn how to be reflective and contemplative even in the middle of parties and merry-making, because that is how we ought to behave. That conduct distinguishes us from the animals. We should resist the strong and constant temptation to act merely as consumers or entertainers, etc.

In short, we need to live temperance even as we also try to practice generosity and magnificence in our celebration. This blend will take place more in the heart than in the externals. It happens when the heart is truly in vital contact with God.

This temperance can only be lived well if paired with the virtues of justice and solidarity. Justice enables us to think always of others, of what we owe to them. There’s always something that we owe to them, since we all form one communion.

Solidarity complements justice in that it leads us to think always in terms of the common good. It checks on our tendency to get stuck with self-interest and narrow-mindedness.

These three virtues—temperance, justice, solidarity—while governing our attitude toward material and earthly things, will eventually lead us to God precisely through the use of these earthly things. It should be the template of our lifestyle.

Thus, our earthly and temporal affairs are in theory no hindrance in our relation with God. Handled properly, they can strengthen and enrich the father-and-son relationship we have with God and the brotherhood among ourselves.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Pastoral work requires vibrant interior life

I JUST attended a clergy gathering where they presented the pastoral thrust of a local church for the year 2010. I was immediately excited with the theme. It’s a big, ambitious plan, and there’s no doubt about its importance and relevance. I hope we the clergy can truly deliver.

There’s the rub. Let’s pray that the whole thing translates into a living, palpable reality, and not just a beautiful project with brilliant ideas, fiery slogans and catchy sound bites, well-crafted modules, all sound and fury that sadly do not go deep enough as to generate life and effect clear transformations of people.

They need to be given life. And for that, a lot depends on the vitality of the spiritual life and the depth of doctrinal orthodoxy of the clergy involved.

I think that unless everything given and received in this plan is done in the context of sincere prayer, unless both the givers and recipients realize they are doing God’s will, many misimpressions can arise, sowing the seeds of failure of this otherwise most worthwhile effort.

We need to overcome the misimpression, for example, that this annual effort is just a yearly routine of programming the clergy. That, for sure, is never intended, but no one can deny that a good number of those involved understand it that way.

Thus there are many signs of resistance, if not open, then passive and disguised. There are even those who succumb to that psychological anomaly, passive-aggressive. That´s when one is friendly in front of you, but hostile at your back.

The point is while it is indispensable to come out with a well-defined strategy, a lot more effort, often arduous, tricky and thankless, should be given to make sure the personal spiritual life and formation of each priest is in good shape.

The latter concern is many times taken for granted or presumed to be taken care of by each priest. Or again given an officious treatment with more congresses, modules, slogans and sound bites.

But there seems to be no vital system of really knowing the state of a cleric’s spiritual life and pastoral competence, and of giving prompt help. Many of the spiritual exercises given to the priests fail to achieve their real purpose, since they remain in the external and official aspects. They hardly touch the interior life.

Certainly, this problem is already quite well known to everyone, especially those in authority. For sure, solutions and remedies have been pursued and applied. I like to think that they continue to be given up to now.

But a lot more is needed, and the reminder to all priests that they—we—should really take care of our spiritual life and our continuing formation should never be stopped. It should, in fact, be always given, and in a prominent and explicit way, and not implicit.

This is because no one can doubt the inalienable link between a priest’s interior life and his pastoral work. And the challenges, problems, pressures that face any priest today are not only growing in number but also in complexity. The means to help us should understandably be continually refined, modified and adapted to reality.

It’s for this reason that the continuing formation of the clergy is most often done in silence, hidden, face to face with God and a spiritual guide, never anonymous. It can not be mainly done in some public forum. It has to be personally given and received. The collective means are only subsidiary to the personal means.

When this on-going formation is understood by many as done mainly in the collective means, we are lost. Nourishing the interior life, internalizing the doctrine of Christ and the Church requires the hidden, spiritual processes proper of gestation and growth.

It is done mainly through prayer, through a personal encounter with God. Unless this is achieved, all the other means would be useless. Prayer unites one with God. With it the doctrine he knows acquires a certain life that can vitally impact with any situation one finds himself in.

Though there will always be resistance, the priest would know how to handle things, his words becoming not only his, but those of God himself, with the same power to transform and convert people. Again, even if there will always be those who refuse to believe, just like what Christ experienced!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Pollution of the spirit

WHAT a beautiful message Pope Benedict gave on the occasion of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception last December 8! It was truly prophetic because it hit bull´s eye one of the nagging problems we are facing these days.

He talked about what he called the ¨pollution of the spirit.¨ We need to be aware of it, and learn how to deal with it effectively. We need to develop the appropriate attitudes, virtues and discipline. These were his pertinent words:

¨We often lament the pollution of the air, which in certain places of the city is unbreathable...And yet, there is nother pollution, less perceptible to the senses, but just as dangerous.

¨It is the pollution of the spirit. It is what renders our faces less smiling, more gloomy, what leads us not to greet one another, to not look at one another in the face.¨

This is the immediate description of this pollution of the spirit. But it has graver implications. Again the Pope´s words:

¨The city is made up of faces, but unfortunately the collective dynamics can make the perception of their depth disappear. We see everything on the surface. Persons become bodies, and these bodies lose the soul, become things, objects without a face, to be exchanged and consumed.¨

The Pope tried to explain how this pollution of the spirit came about. A good deal of the blame, according to him, would fall on the media. These were his words:

¨Every day, in fact, through newspapers, the television and the radio, evil is recounted, repeated, amplified, accustoming us to the most horrible things, making us become insensitive and, in some way, intoxicating us, because the negative is not fully disposed of and accumulated day after day. The heart hardens and thoughts become dark.¨

How true! Sometimes I wonder if the media are truly serving the common good, since many times they just seem to focus on the negative side of life, without giving due attention to the positive and redeeming side. We seem to be educated into a new normal in our life. The Pope had this to say about this point:

¨In the city live -- or survive -- invisible persons, who every now and then leap onto the front page or on television screens, and are exploited to the end, so that the news and the image attract attention.

¨It is a perverse mechanism, to which unfortunately one finds it hard to resist. The city first hides and then exhibits to the public, without pity, or with false pity.¨

Think of the present predicament of Tiger Woods or our very own Manny Pacquiao. Their sins or ¨trangressions,¨ the word favored more by Tiger, are feasted by the press, now behaving like sharks in a feeding frenzy.

Scandals now appear to be normal fare in the press. The more scandalous the item is, the better for the media. Imagine if the protagonists were clerics!

Another interesting observation of the Holy Father is that the media tend to ¨make us feel always as spectators, as if evil refers only to others, and certain things could never happen to us.¨ He said that in reality, we are all ´actors´ and, both in evil and in good, our behavior can influence others.

We need to be more sensitive to the fact that our actions, no matter hidden and unknown to the public, will always have an effect on others. This is precisely because of what our Christian faith terms as ¨communion of saints.¨ Our humanity binds us together with many invisible ties into one living organism. What happens to one, what one does, will have an effect on others.

To this predicament, the Holy Father offers the image and message of Mary. To him, our Lady highlights that Pauline insight that ¨where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.¨ He wants us not to get entangled with the sin side, but to focus more on the grace side. This is, in fact, the more challenging and exciting part of life in general and of media´s work in particular.

¨Her presence speaks to us of God, reminds us of the victory of grace over sin, and induces us to hope,¨ he said. In the Philippine setting, we are very lucky because the devotion to Mary is quite widespread. What´s needed perhaps is to make it deeper and more abiding. It should leap from the field of the simple people to that of the more sophisticated ones.

Let´s see if we can grow some more in our Marian devotion.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Our standard, our reference

WE celebrated the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary last December 8. We had a school-wide Mass at the gym, and we said it in Latin. Everyone had the English-Latin missalette so they can follow and participate in the Mass more actively.

On my way to the Mass, a student approached me to ask what the Mass was for. It turned out that he did not know about the Immaculate Conception. In the minute that took me to reach the place, I tried to explain to him the nature and significance of the feast. But I can’t help but feel flabbergasted that he was practically ignorant of it.

Of course, I knew that the fellow came from a public high school. But he was already one of our top freshman students. I wondered how many young people were like him, knowledgeable about computers but a “tabula rasa” in religion.

That experience gave me the idea that I needed to talk a lot about the Immaculate Conception. The feast is in fact a very important feast in the liturgical calendar, one of the holydays of obligation together with Sundays and Christmas and the New Year which is actually the Solemnity of Mary’s Divine Motherhood.

That underscores the importance of the Marian solemnity. And rightly so, since it reminds us of who we really are, what kind of dignity we have. The Immaculate Conception of the Mary shows us the standard we should never lose sight of as we go through this world of sin, temptation, problems, etc.

Some lines of the feast’s Eucharistic preface point to this truth: “Full of grace, she was to be a worthy mother of your Son, your sign of favor to the Church at its beginning, and the promise of its perfection as the bride of Christ…You chose her from all women to be our advocate with you and our pattern of holiness.”

Our predicament is that with all the problems, pressures and difficulties we face everyday, not to mention the temptations and sins, we tend to think that the usual state of our life is all that there is to it. So we are tempted to lower our standard, not realizing that doing so can trigger a freefall to worse conditions.

With this feast we are reminded of how we were at the beginning and how we ought to be in the end. That is, as masterpiece of God’s creation, we are made in his image and likeness, elevated through grace to be children of his, meant to participate in his very own life, and not just creatures who simply come and belong to him.

We are supposed to be like God, holy and perfect like him, sinless like him and also like our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary. God chose her to be the mother of his son who became man to save us, Jesus Christ.

The Solemnity of Mary’s Immaculate Conception means that this woman was given the rare privilege of being exempted from original sin, that is, her conception was not accompanied by the handicap of not being in the state of grace as we originally were meant to be. In fact, she was filled with grace.

Original sin precisely means that what was meant to be our state at conception, that is, to be in grace, is missing because that state was lost with the sin of Adam and Eve in paradise. It is not a sin we commit. It is one we inherit. We fall heir to a wounded and handicapped state at our very conception.

Mary’s privilege did not however remove her freedom to commit sin, if she wanted to. To her credit was her total correspondence to the grace given her. She was sinless all throughout her life.

Her example certainly is most worthy to be emulated. At least it gives us a clear idea of the standard we should never forget as we go through our daily life. We may not be like her now, but we can want to be like her, and that’s already a big thing.

She stands as a bright light that leads to our true destination in a world filled with darkness or false lights. Thus it is all worthwhile to deliberately develop a devotion to her, looking at her, knowing her more, loving her, bringing her with us wherever we go, involving her in everything in our life.

She loves to play that role with us, because she was given to us by Christ himself to be our mother too, and not only his.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Quest for beauty, quest for God

IT’S truly nice to hear Pope Benedict regularly talk about beauty. I notice that since he became Pope, he makes it a point to give some incisive thoughts about this reality that we often miss.

Recently, he had a wonderful get-together with some 260 artists from different fields—painting, acting, architecture, literature, music, etc.—where again he told them not only of the elements of beauty—its essence, source, purpose—but also of their—our—duties towards it.

Ever since I got bitten by the beauty bug, I have been into some kind of adventure in search of it. I remember some verses of a poem we studied in first year high school—quit the naughty thought of when it was—that got stuck with me through the years.

They gave me my first taste of what I call the irresistible charm and mystique of beauty and launched me to its quest, sometimes bumpy, sometimes smooth and sweet. I now don’t remember the title and the author, but they went this way:

“Rhodora / if sages ask thee why / thy beauty is wasted on the earth and sky / Tell them, dear / that if eyes were made for seeing, / then beauty is its own excuse for being.

From then on, I had that lingering idea that whatever it is that we consider true and good, whatever it is that can give us happiness, can be summarized under one category—beauty. It was the catchall for all these ideals that somehow satisfy or at least pacify the unutterable yearnings in our heart.

Pope Benedict’s meeting with the artists had that beautiful tone of being both cordial and frank, sublime and challenging. He welcomed them and invited them to “friendship, dialogue and cooperation” with the Church, even if they may still be quite remote from the practice of religion.

What was important, the Pope pointed out, was that there was that common interest in the pursuit of beauty, extricating it from the usual pitfall of “reducing the horizons of existence to mere material realities, or to a reductive and trivializing vision.”

Or even to worse things, like the erupting firework of a wide range of human depravity. We seem to have a carpet bombing of that ugly aspect lately. With the election fever rising, we are witnessing the dark side of humanity, as ad hominem attacks, rash judgments, demonizing arguments, etc. fill the media.

Mere opinions are made into dogmas, suspicions and biases are turned into facts and made the explosives of their mutual accusations. The air is poisoned, the place becomes a war zone and everyone suffers. Really ugly! The Maguindanao massacre now looks puny.

Still, there’s hope. We should refuse to be dragged down to hell by these demonic gimmicks done by a few so-called clever guys we have around. Let’s use these black spots as illuminating contrast to the real beauty meant for us.

But we have to know what authentic beauty is. There had been false but subtle pictures of it, ridiculous caricatures and outright direct assaults on it. We need to be very discerning and prudent, because truths and falsehoods are often mixed up nowadays and found in opposite camps.

Thus, the work of artists is pivotal. They are expected to provoke in others and to sustain the sense of beauty that leads to its true origin and essence, that is, to God. The search for beauty is a pilgrimage toward God.

Pope Benedict quotes Hermann Hesse who said: “Art means revealing God in everything that exists.” I agree with this completely. At the end of the day, that’s what art really is.

With their talent to touch and enter the heart of humanity, the artists in their respective field now face the challenge and bear the duty to captivate all in the appreciation of real beauty, freeing them from a beauty that is reduced, entangled and stifled.

Let’s hope that they manage to pursue their artistic creativity and originality along the lines of fidelity to God and continuity with his will and ways. This is the trickiest part of the artists’ life. They have to resolve the apparent contradiction.

Rightly calling artists the “custodians of beauty,” the Pope cited some words of Pope John Paul II in asking, “To communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the Church needs art. But does art need the Church?”

Let’s pray that they get to see the point.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Don’t’ be afraid to junk RH bill

DEMOCRACY is freedom in search of inspiration. It waits to be given substance, meaning, orientation and direction. By itself, it simply is a mold, a system that requires a lifeblood to warm up and start functioning. It needs to be given life.

So it depends on the vital elements of the citizens that have it—how they are as a people, their culture, their history, their beliefs and aspirations, their sense of life and purpose, etc. These get factored in and eventually get integrated into one workable whole through the democratic processes.

It can only be perfect to the extent that the people involved in it are. It reflects and mirrors them. But it can also project and mold them. It collects the sentiments of the people, but it can also cause other sentiments too, generating a kind of spiral that is open-ended.

That is why we have to take care of it. Democracy needs to be guided, and we the people involved, especially our leaders, should keenly feel the responsibility for it.

Relevant to all this, let me quote some lines from John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus, kind of dense but I must say all worth it. Let’s bear with it. Here it goes:

“Authentic democracy is possible only in a State ruled by law, and on the basis of a correct conception of the human person.

“It requires that the necessary conditions be present for the advancement both of the individual through education and formation in true ideals, and of the ‘subjectivity’ of society through the creation of structures of participation and shared responsibility.”

Then it warns us of a clever attitude that actually undermines authentic democracy.

“Nowadays there is a tendency to claim that agnosticism and skeptical relativism are the philosophy and the basic attitude which correspond to democratic forms of political life.

“Those who are convinced that they know the truth and firmly adhere to it are considered unreliable from a democratic point of view, since they do not accept that truth is a determined by the majority, or that it is subject to variation according to different political trends.

“It must be observed in this regard that if there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political activity, then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power.

“As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism.” (46)

In the current debate for the RH bill that now exposes a few Catholic leaders not quite in step with Church teaching and discipline, this subtle anomaly of democracy distorted by agnosticism, relativism and the mere majority rule emerges.

It is argued that one just cannot be completely for or against it, since there are many good things about it and a few questionable elements, and that the Catholic Church just cannot have its “Humanae vitae” legislated because of the separation of Church and state.

There are a lot of misrepresentations in these claims, gratuitous short-cuts to favor precisely the questionable elements in the bill. This bill has already been scrutinized by many bishops and leaders in the Church and the consensus has been that it is a dangerous bill.

Of course, the bill is crafted to appeal to democratic sentiments—nothing wrong about that—but given the context in which it was created and developed, it will require complete naivete and an almost invincible ideological bias not to see the danger it poses on people’s morals as understood from Church doctrine.

At the very least, that bill is highly divisive. And so if only for that reason alone, it should be dumped. It’s actually not needed.

The good things it contains can continue to be done without the law. And the bad things it contains can also be done. No one can stop anybody from doing it. Just don’t make it a law.

Let’s conclude with some words of St. Paul addressed to those who tend to make exceptions from Church teachings. From his letter to Titus, we have some relevant points:

“Speak the things that become sound doctrine….In all things show good fidelity, that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things.” (2,1ff.)

After all, democracy, while respecting pluralism, should also carry the bedrock foundations of a people’s beliefs. Dialogue and consensus-making are no excuse to sideline the faith. One’s faith is nothing to be ashamed about in public fora.

This is not a call for fanaticism. Rather, it’s for democracy to be properly inspired.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Science should go with faith

THE Bible is always a source of truths—of faith and morals—meant to guide us for all times and all the way to heaven. It can contain prophetic words that predict and describe how things can to be in the future.

All this, if it is handled properly. Our problem is that many times it has been mishandled, and thus we have the understandable human reaction of some people who have come to disregard and discredit the Bible in their thinking and considerations. But that’s another story. We’ll go into that some other time.

For now, let’s focus on how it guides us and gives us glimpses of how things can be as we run along in time. Some words of St. Paul can come to mind. In his second letter to Timothy, there are some lines which I think are relevant to what we are witnessing these days.

“Know this also, that in the last days shall come dangerous times,” St. Paul starts. “Men shall be lovers of themselves, covetous, haughty, proud, blasphemers, wicked, without affection, without peace, slanderers, incontinent, unmerciful, without kindness…” (3,1-3)

Every time I read these words and look at least at what we see in the media that mirror the temper of our times, I can’t help but notice the connection between the warning and the reality around us. I can only gasp, “How true!”

Many people don’t pray anymore. They have made God a thing of the past, or at best, considered merely as a museum piece or an ornament. They now proudly talk about how the present is now a post-religion era.

Obviously, with this mindset detached from God, the source and measure of truth, we should not be surprised when we can witness a lot of delusions and sophisms or circular, closed-circuit reasoning.

But there’s one point farther down that has caught my attention these days. It’s when St. Paul says that these proud people who can be “traitors, stubborn, puffed up and lovers of pleasures more than of God” are “ever learning yet never attaining to the knowledge of the truth.” (3,7)

Yes, we are now swimming in a large ocean of data and information, we are now inventing new things at a rate that has gone ballistic, thanks to our new technologies, and yet we can ask whether we are getting any nearer to God, to truth, to goodness, to loving each other better, etc.

What’s more obvious is that we are getting more controversies, more animosities. Many people are getting more self-absorbed in their own world, practically stonewalling themselves from others.

Other worse things come. Relations among people get corrupted by all forms of greed, and then deceit and hypocrisy. Gossips, lies, detractions, calumnies develop and thicken. Hatred grows and when unchecked it can lead to murders and even to terrorism.

As St. Paul says: “Evil men and seducers shall grow worse and worse—erring and driving others into error.” (3,13) Nowadays, global networking is not only to advertise products, but also to promote evil and error.

The media have to be warned about this. They can easily be used and prostituted by some subtle forces masquerading as forces of progress. We cannot anymore deny that there had been instances when this anomaly has been committed.

Still St. Paul warns us of another terrible scenario. In that same letter, he says that “there shall be a time, when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears, and will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables.” (4,3-4)

When I think of what is now known as Climategate, the unraveling scandal of a science-based superstition spinning around global warming and climate change hysteria, these Pauline words make a bull’s-eye hit.

Cutting-edge sciences are now made into tools of post-religion ideologies to weave a vast complex of fables generously spiced with plot points to entertain people.

What to do? Go back to God, of course. Revitalize religion. Strengthen the faith. Thus, St. Paul says: “Preach the word, be instant in season, out of season, reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine.” (4,2)

Reason and science cannot go alone without faith, without God. They’d be flying in dangerous circles.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

From primitive to sophisticated barbarianism

WE seem to be swinging from one outrage to another these days. In the local scene, we just had that shocking massacre in Maguindanao. Everything in it was just unspeakable. Is it still possible to have such brutality at this stage of our national life?

This looks like our version of America’s 9/11 carnage. The deliberate malice put into it, the conscience-less killing of everyone in the group irrespective of whatever, in short, barbarianism in its distilled form, is simply too much for an average heart to bear.

I normally don’t like to talk about this kind of events. Silence is a preferable option if only to lighten the ugly scenario. Talking adds fuel rather than douses water to the sickening situation. But this one grates at the guts and one simply has to instinctively react.

Let’s pray that this incident will yield us tremendous lessons we need to learn quickly and permanently. Let’s remain positive and hopeful! Let’s do everything to make this a thing of the past, never to happen again in the future.

But as if this black-eye to humanity is not yet enough, we also are now witnessing another form of barbarianism in the world stage, perpetrated by highly educated people, the elite of the world of sciences and technology, the cutting-edge in human knowledge, but, sadly, not much more.

Lately it has been discovered by hacking the computer of the Climate Research Unit of Britain’s University of East Anglia that many of the data made to support all this hysterics about global warming and climate change are not all true.

Some important data, significant to the issue but contrary to their position, have been dumped, and there appears a massive and systematic effort to manipulate the public to believe in their assertions. More and more shenanigans are now exposed. What the hell is this!

Though there are many global warming skeptics who also are scientists, these have been effectively sidelined and projected as obstructionists to what they call as obvious pieces of evidence of global warming.

Al Gore, the self-appointed patriarch of this group, managed to make the film, “The Inconvenient Truth,” that mesmerized a lot of people and won him a Nobel Prize. I heard that he is raking in a lot of moolah!

But the first time I heard about global warming, I checked the relevant write-ups in the Internet, and while I followed the arguments of the supporters, I was also aware that there were dissenters who sounded to me also serious.

I was amazed that the doubters and deniers were not given a fair chance to present their ideas to the public. Dialogue and discussion between the two camps were discouraged. That’s when I started to look deeper into the issue and to probe into who the people, pro and con, involved are.

I just wanted to have glimpses of whether they are competent scientists who also are believers, or just scientists but not men of faith and vulnerable to play politics or to ideological biases.

Sorry, I have to use these criteria in this increasingly maddening world driven by all sorts of man-made inventions but putting God aside. That’s my basic guiding principle. Science has to go with faith. Any attempt to separate the two is immediately suspicious to me.

This issue cannot be resolved by science alone, especially if it’s a science already prostituted by politics and ideologies. Faith has to come in. Our human condition demands it.

And I found out that while all sorts of people can be found in both camps, the supporters tend to be non-believers and just contented with being “pure” scientists, while the doubters and deniers are at least open to the faith.

Of course, there are many who are neither strong supporters nor strong deniers, but are just swept away by the bandwagon effect of the controversy. They like mouthing hand-me-down clichés just to be with the flow.

Among these are clerics and other religious people whose pronouncements peppered with global warming terms sound really funny and ridiculous. I just pray for them and hope their embarrassment will not be too biting.

Of course, many public officials like to play Pied Piper mostly for the fund of it. I often wonder whether they really know what they are talking about.

This is now the modern, very sophisticated barbarianism that seems to be committed flagrantly and with impunity against the whole of humanity, and not just Maguindanao.

Let’s pray, learn our precious lessons and move on!