Sunday, February 28, 2010

The struggle to experience God all day

THIS may sound a bit strange, even presumptuous. But actually, if we do our math, all this talk about faith and religion, all this theologizing and pastoralizing, the recourse to the sacraments and devotions, should redound to nothing other than our experiencing God all day long.

We should not limit ourselves to proclaiming our faith. We have to live it and give witness to it, not only from time to time, but all the time. This is the challenge we have everyday, and we just have to learn how to handle it with God’s grace and with all that we have got.

We have to break free from the current culture, mentalities and lifestyles around that tend to freeze religion into mere formalistic ways. We need to give life to it, a continuous supply of fresh warm blood, so that the fullness of our faith and religion would really come to play as we grapple with life moment to moment.

That abiding and living union with God should be there with us all the time, obviously done with naturalness but never watering it down. It’s an ever exciting affair that can launch us to a joint divine-human adventure, giving us surprises and precious lessons in its creative itinerary.

Our problem is that we tend to lose steam in our fervency, and sooner or later settle to a state of spiritual lukewarmness and complacency. While that is understandable, given our fragile human condition, we have to understand also that precisely that condition is a challenge to be faced with ever growing faith.

We cannot and should not get stuck at a certain level of spiritual growth, no matter how high it may already be. Our relationship with God needs to be worked on all the time, giving it impulses and stimuli for it to move on and grow.

That’s God’s will. Christ said, “You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, and with your whole soul, and with your whole mind.” (Mt 22,37) And he reassured us: “Behold, I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.” (Mt 28,20)

Thus, we are not inventing things here, building our own religious fantasy. We are simply trying, as we should, to correspond to God’s will and the utter reality of our life.

Obviously, a spiritual and ascetical plan, program or system would be most welcome to support and sustain this living union with God. This is what the saints and many holy men and women down the ages have done.

These days, one should readily understand the importance of such programs. Even among the young ones who now work with computers, they are continually concerned with installing new, updated computer programs so they can do more and better. In our spiritual life, something similar should be felt.

We need to stay away from the constant temptation to turn religion into just a routine set of practices and behavior. The clergy, religious men and women and seminarians are usually vulnerable to this temptation. We need to shake it off and really do everything to make us truly experience God.

For this, we have to see to it that the training in the seminary, for example, helps those young students develop a vital relationship with God. While the academic and other co- and extra-curricular items are important, all of it should lead the seminarians to have a living experience with God.

But everyone needs to be helped to learn to have this living experience of God all day. What is important is that we help all to develop the habit of always praying, getting to relate their life to the different mysteries of Christ’s life, and vice-versa.

This is what contemplative life in the middle of the world means. There’s a conduit between contemplation and action. Contact with God translates into greater contact with others. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be contemplating properly nor acting properly.

This obviously involves exercising as fully as possible one’s faith. This definitely involves but transcends the full use of our senses, our memory and imagination, our desires and feelings, our intelligence and will. We have to go deeper into ourselves to discover that space where we share our life with God.

There is such a space. We may call it our heart, our conscience, whatever, but it’s where we are with God. We may need to purify ourselves, go against the usual tendencies of our human powers, but we have to get there to experience God all day.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Learning from the global warming fiasco

ALL of us, whether as private citizens, working in government or especially in the Church structure, should quickly learn from the most embarrassing fiasco of the global warming/climate change madness.

As emerging now in the news abroad but not yet duly played up locally, many of the so-called scientific data made as basis for the scary, supposedly man-made global warming scenario, portrayed as inevitably coming to us, are now found to be seriously flawed.

It’s now widely seen as a case of bad science getting mixed up with bad politics. The sources of the data were indubitably compromised. The findings were not peer-reviewed. There was lack of transparency in the whole process of reaching the disturbing conclusions.

Skeptics and critics of this global warming/climate change brouhaha now naughtily concede that there’s indeed a man-made impending disaster in that all the hype and spin about it are just made up by some men.

The whole issue is now summarized as “climate-gate,” after that notorious Watergate scandal that forced American President Nixon to resign in 1974. It involved abuse of power by public officials, violation of the public trust, bribery, contempt of Congress and obstruction of justice.

In this case, as reported by Fox News, it involved the so-called

- “Africa-gate,” an exaggerated prediction of drought and crop losses on the continent;

- “glacier-gate, a false claim that Himalayan glaciers would disappear in two decades;

- “disaster-gate,” an unsubstantiated claim that extreme weather, caused by global warming, was responsible for growing billions in financial losses;

- and “Amazon-gate,” predicting that the Amazon rain forest was dangerously shrinking.”

I remember that just recently some of our local environmental officials made presentations of disaster scenarios in our country if the sea level would rise by some meters. That claim of the water level rising due to the melting of the glaciers was also recently debunked by scientists.

What now? I suppose we just have to learn our precious, if painful lessons. Our problem is that we sometimes are too quick to believe science fictions and urban legends, to ride on a bandwagon phenomenon, more eager to enjoy the perks than to examine the findings closely.

We like to play fawning pawns in the games of world big powers. When a big government delegation recently went to Copenhagen for a world climate change summit, I wonder if it was really worth it and if the delegation really had something substantial to contribute. It looked to me a pure waste of money and time.

What makes things worse is when some clerics and nuns start mouthing global warming slogans. Again I wonder if they really know what they are screaming to high heavens.

At these times, we should not be that na├»ve not to realize that there are powerful network of groups playing games to satisfy all sorts of self-interest. There’s the ideological angle, the political angle, the economic angle, etc, all pulling strings to generate mass hysteria and herding.

We need to be more discriminating or at least be more prudent by listening to both sides of a given issue. The media should be most sensitive to this requirement, since their work easily shapes public opinion.

They should be very clear about their capabilities and limitations, and try their best to work within these dimensions, resisting the temptation to overreach themselves and sensationalize. They can foster more exchange of opinions in the hope of having a clearer picture of a given issue.

Thing is nowadays truths and falsehoods are often mixed together, intentionally or unintentionally. The line between the two is made blurred. All kinds of propaganda tools are used, more to attract attention than to spread real news.

Notice the shrill and affected voice used in the TV newscasts to convey what actually are normal occurrences in a city—fire, petty crimes, frivolous gossips, etc. You’d think the end of the world is coming with all the exaggerated excitement injected into the stories.

Let’s hope that we can overcome this tendency, making it a thing of the past, dead and buried. We need to learn temperance and sobriety in handling our communication requirements, and to go into more in-depth reporting, delivered calmly and allowing viewers to think and reflect things properly.

Another issue akin to the global warming fiasco is all this buzz about reproductive health. This issue, more serious than global warming, deserves utmost scrutiny.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Is smiling now vanishing?

A NUMBER of people are now wondering about that. In fact, even Pope Benedict recently referred to this observation. People worldwide seem to be smiling less. In its place, we are seeing an increase in tension, nervousness and irritability such that many people are now talking about the need to learn anger management.

If people smile nowadays, it´s most likely in the shallow level. In the media, for example, the elements of smile seem to be observed only the sports and entertainment sections. They are seldom observed on the front page or on the Op-ed page.

We really do not know up to what extent this observation is true. But it cannot be denied that even if its factuality is limited, it already evokes pity. Smile is a wonderful human treasure that should not be allowed to wane, let alone, lost.

I googled some sayings about smiling, and I got a good number that reflect the many amazing facets of this human gesture. Here are a sampling that I bet will amuse you as they have amused me.

o A smile is an inexpensive way to change your looks. ~Charles Gordy
o If you smile when no one else is around, you really mean it. ~Andy Rooney
o I've never seen a smiling face that was not beautiful. ~Author Unknown
o A laugh is a smile that bursts. ~Mary H. Waldrip
o The shortest distance between two people is a smile. ~Author Unknown
o You're never fully dressed without a smile. ~Martin Charnin
o Smile - it increases your face value. ~Author Unknown

There were a lot more. We need to do something to promote this habit, since it is always good and healthy and produces wonderful effects on everyone.

My personal experience is that a smile helps me tremendously in my ministry. When you smile, people will find it easy to approach you, to connect with you, to be sincere with you. It initiates friendship and develops trust.

It is good in breaking the ice between two persons. It´s beautifully contagious. You smile at someone and most likely he´ll smile back. It easily offers bridges over whatever gaps there may be among us. Differences and conflicts are softened and put in condition for calm dialogue.

We have to recover this habit that seems to suffer when the pressures of progress and the challenges of growth and development unavoidably come. For this, we need to understand that what is needed is to ground it in a much deeper foundation.

The main problem, I think, is that we tend to root it on a shallow, shifting ground. We tend to keep it in the material, external and visceral level, held captive in the world of the unreasoning instincts and feelings. It seems caught in a stunted, arrested stage of development.

In other words, to smile, now when there is so much pressure to contend with, is urgently looking for a deeper, more authentic source. It is gasping for a genuine lifeline, not mere palliatives, stop-gap measures and escape mechanisms. It is grasping for its proper anchor and purpose.

If you notice, we usually tend to smile as an instinctive reaction to something sensible, whether soothing, funny, amusing, physically beautiful, etc. Since we were kids, that´s how we have been behaving.

Those who are better endowed, that is, with greater intelligence and therefore greater capacity to understand things, can manage to smile at engaging ideas and at the continuing flow of discoveries and realizations.

If you are not that endowed, then it would seem you are doomed, which is unfair and actually not true. I believe everyone, regardless of his endowments, physical, emotional, intellectual, etc., can manage to smile always if he knows where to get its proper impulse.

And this can be no other than God. We need to expand our understanding of the dynamics of our smile. We cannot restrict it in the sphere of biology, nor in that of our intelligence. It has to grow and develop in its ultimate and proper milieu of faith and beliefs, where the spiritual and supernatural forces are made to augment, purify and perfect our natural forces.

When this understanding and mechanism are in place, we can manage to smile even in trying and difficult times. We´ll always find a reason, a forceful reason to smile. For believers in Christ, they know that their smile has to be rooted on Christ´s Cross. With that foundation, nothing can drive it away. Hardships would only enhance it.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The duel between sin and grace

OUR life can be described in many, endless ways. But definitely one way of describing it is the duel between our boundless capacity to sin and God’s infinite mercy. Somehow, the season of Lent highlights that aspect of our life.

Our sinfulness is tied to the way we use our freedom. Since our freedom has tremendous possibilities, our capacity to sin can also go without limits. There might be external boundaries of our sinfulness, but inside us we can recognize no borders.

I’m sure many of us, if not all, recognize this. Sometimes we get scared at the thought of what we can do, if not externally then internally. We experience what our faith tells us about our wounded nature—that we have some kind of an inherent attraction to evil. We call it concupiscence.

We many times go through the drama once expressed vividly in the Letter to the Romans: “The good which I will, I do not. But the evil which I do not will, that I do.” (7,19)

Like it or not, this is our lot. That’s why it’s good to cultivate as seriously as possible, always asking for God’s grace for without it nothing is possible, a genuine spirit of penance, a sense of our sinfulness and of our abiding effort to fight it and to ask forgiveness for it.

This is what we are encouraged to do especially during this season of Lent. We cannot deny the fact that in many places in the world today, especially in the highly secularized, developed world, the sense of sin is disappearing.

Many people are considering sin as something normal, an ordinary consequence of their freedom, and therefore a right. The only limit would be some human consideration of public order. If one manages not to mess up in public order, he can do practically anything.

Thus, in many places they have gone to the extent of legalizing abortion. Nowadays, many countries are debating the legalization of euthanasia. If what is sinful and evil is just a matter of human consensus, there can be no other way but to expect worse things.

Already, all kinds of sins of the flesh are not only tolerated but held as sign of human maturity. When priests talk about them, they distort the issue by saying that we hate people. We will always love people even as we clarify and even condemn sins, following the example of Christ.

The sense of sin depends on one’s relationship with God, who as Creator of the whole universe, is the ultimate definer of what is good and what is evil. When that relationship is left to rot, what can we expect?

Lent should be a privileged time to go back to God, to regain our spiritual and moral bearing, to strengthen our faith and reinvigorate our piety. This is how we can restore our sense of sin and develop the much-needed spirit of penance.

We need to pray, we need to confess our sins, we need to deepen our humility and simplicity so that we can clearly see the path proper for us to follow. These are human necessities we cannot afford to go without.

What is important is that we realize we need to be with God, cultivating a relationship that is always kept vibrant and engaging. Our problem sometimes is that this relationship is maintained only in the formal and external level, while the real substance and the internal requirements are ignored.

Still in all this, we have to keep our faith that where sin has abounded, the grace of God abounds even more. God’s mercy is forever. God’s delight is not in man’s condemnation, but in his conversion. He’ll do everything to effect that.

Christ himself, while about to die, appealed to his Father: “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” (Lk 32,34) And he proceeded to his own painful death to achieve that divine desire.

We need to realize that it is God’s mercy that somehow limits our endless capacity to sin. Thus, Christ told us to forgive not only seven times, but seventy times seven, meaning, always.

It is through the pain and dying involved in forgiving that mysteriously transforms evil into good, converts death into life, darkness into light. If we forgive the way God forgives as shown by Christ, we are going to do a lot of wonders.

Let’s not get stuck with our sinfulness. Let’s always hope and work for God’s mercy.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

We are meant for communion

THIS may sound abstract, quixotic, irrelevant, but the truth is that we need to know it. It’s one of the big and ultimate things in our life that we need to know and, in fact, to achieve and live.

We are meant for communion—with God and among ourselves. It’s a complex, very dynamic goal, but at least we can talk a little about it. Even those with Christian faith don’t have a working idea about it, and we cannot remain there.

We have been equipped for communion because we have faculties and powers that enable us not only to know but also to love one another. We are meant to enter into one another’s lives, not as an intruder, but as a necessary element in everyone’s development.

This is what communion means. Though we are individuals, we need one another. And this need goes all the way to our being and nature. It’s not just a practical need, or a physical need, or an economic need. It goes deep into our nature.

That part of the creation narrative where Adam looked for another one like him after spending the day with the other creatures, happy but not quite, sheds light on the extent of the need we have to be with others, and of course, with God.

We have senses, intelligence and will, and a heart that not only knows but also loves. The distinction is crucial. With our senses, intelligence and will, we get to know things. We receive things.

The object known enters into the subject who knows, confirming that classic adage that the known is in the knower. The knower possesses the known object. Knowing enriches us, but it’s kind of a self-centered kind of enrichment.

It’s quite different with how the heart operates. Our heart also knows, but it does not get contented with that. By its very nature, it always tends to reach out, to give itself. Its proper language is loving whose trajectory is the reverse of that of knowing.

In loving, the lover gives himself to the object of his love. The lover is in the beloved. He loses himself willfully to his beloved. And yet, it’s losing that is actually a gain. In love, both parties gain—a win-win situation—as long as love is given and received properly.

So it’s quite an anomaly, a radical violation of its nature when the heart is made to love simply its own self. Sadly, this is possible, and in fact we are seeing a lot of cases of it, because we can misuse our freedom.

We can subordinate and restrict our heart and our loving first to the mechanics of knowing, then later on to greed and selfishness. That’s when we get self-absorbed, starting to create our own world, distancing ourselves from the real one. It’s a world that does not have its foundation in God.

In this distinction between knowing and loving, some words of St. Paul can be most relevant. “Knowledge puffs up, but charity edifies. If anyone thinks that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, the same is known by him.” (1 Cor 8,1-3)

It’s clear from this Pauline doctrine that knowing can only be proper if motivated and driven by love of God. It will be a knowing that finds, handles and defends the truth in charity. It will be a knowledge that has the characteristics of charity as described by St. Paul:

“Patient, kind, envies not, deals not perversely, is not puffed up, is not ambitious, seeks not her own, is not provoked to anger, thinks no evil, rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices with the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor 13,4-7)

But we should not put knowing and loving in conflict. They are both necessary to achieve the communion with God and among ourselves. But we have to understand that it is the loving that perfects the knowing. “We know in part…But when that which is perfect has come, that which is imperfect will be done away with.” (1 Cor 13, 9-10)

We have to be wary of our tendency to approach life in general with our senses and intelligence alone, and not with the heart. That can easily happen to us since the dynamics of our senses and intelligence often mesmerize us with instant sense of satisfaction, while that of the heart requires effort and sacrifice.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Lent is about dying to be born again

WITH Ash Wednesday, we enter a new season of Lent. In spite of the gloom and austerity usually associated with it, there’s actually something new and bright to it. That’s because Lent involves a certain dying to ourselves so we can be born again in Christ.

That’s the plain truth about Lent. All the sacrifices, mortifications and penance, the fasting and abstinence, are meant to cure us of our old man so we can be a new man in Christ.

Remember St. Paul to the Ephesians: “Put off…the old man…and be renewed in the spirit of your mind. And put on the new man, who according to God is created in justice and holiness of truth.” (4,22-24)

We need to proclaim this truth of our faith more widely and vigorously these days. Even if, thank God, we can still count on a large number of Christian faithful who still retain this understanding of Lent, we cannot be blind to a growing sector that seems oblivious to this reality.

To a certain extent, this truth is facing the possibility of an endangered species, what with all the secularizing elements around us now, the consumerism, the hedonism and greed, etc.

Our evangelization about Lent has to reach further than the usual traditional areas. It now has to enter deep into cyberspace, and has to tango and tangle hand-to-hand with current issues in the different fields of human affairs—business, politics, sciences, etc.

We have to find ways to make this truth shine out in all its glory. For, indeed, Lent is good news, not bad news. We need to show the whole happy truth about it, without avoiding and without getting entangled with its essentially penitential character.

With gift of tongues, with elegance and naturalness, let’s tell everyone we need to embrace the cross, the Cross of Christ, to be able to resurrect from our damaged, sinful nature.

Obviously, for this we have to recount the whole truth about ourselves. I know that there are all sorts of ideologies and isms about what and who we really are. We should not hesitate to offer the Christian view, using the appropriate terms and arguments to transmit it as integrally as possible.

Of course, we have to respect everyone’s views. No matter how different and even conflicting these views may be, let’s continue with an abiding dialogue in search for the whole truth about ourselves.

Toward this end, let’s foster friendship and mutual trust always. Truth should always be pursued in charity. Its search should not be just a matter of who is right and who is wrong, but more of growing in our love for one another, since it’s love that ultimately makes truth come out.

This is the “game plan” lived by Christ himself even offering his life on the Cross for it. With it we can hope to soften the rough and sharp edges of our differences, paving the way for true unity among ourselves.

We ought to be one since we are all children and people of God, and we are all brothers and sisters, regardless of our differences.

Lent should put our full attention to the necessity of the Christ’s Cross in our life. It is what re-creates us. It perfects the precarious condition of our first creation, when we only knew how to enjoy the good but would not know what to do when we get into the ways of evil.

The Cross brings us to Christ. “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mt 16,24) This is actually a formula we should always engrave in our hearts.

The Cross teaches us the true and complete ways of love. We often have our own ideas of love that are usually sweet and sugary, but actually incomplete, even twisted and detached from its true source and pattern.

The Cross extends the dimensions of our life, going beyond our natural limits so it can merge with God’s own life. We are meant for this. We have been designed for this.

That we have the senses, that we have intelligence and will, that we have been given grace—all these are meant to enable us to enter into communion with God and with everyone else. They are not for us to enjoy by ourselves.

It’s the Cross that makes all these feasible. And Lent is there is to remind us of it, and to rehearse and prepare us for it.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Productivity unbound

WHENEVER we talk about productivity, we almost always frame it in the context of management, business and economics. Actually there’s nothing wrong there, as long as we don’t stop there either.

Productivity in those terms alone looks interested only in the fruits without its roots, the end result without looking into the effort it needs, and its ultimate sources and purposes.

It’s notorious for its being measured always. It’s helplessly bound to the external and material aspects of things. It seems averse to any entanglement with its internal and spiritual requirements.

It diminishes our personhood and tends to convert us into automatons. It shuts out our spiritual self and just builds up our material and economic self. This is, of course, impoverishing us.

With this frame of mind our own work becomes a hindrance to our own proper development, even if we only consider the human side of our development. It can bear fruits that can taste sweet but actually are poisonous.

We thus need to unbind our idea of productivity from that very restrictive understanding. Truth is productivity can only have its ultimate source and objective in God.

This reality is not meant to hamper economic productivity, but rather to enhance it, purify it and put it in its proper orbit. Far from undermining the practical and immediate requirements of productivity, this truth of faith enables us to understand and live them better.

God can only be the source and purpose of our productivity, since everything comes from him and also belongs to him. Even our talents and other endowments that allow us to be productive ultimately come from him and belong to him. We have to acknowledge this truth always.

For this, we need to live our faith, and consistently apply it to all aspects of our life, including our professional life and the endless little and ordinary things that make up our daily life.

We need to overcome the initial awkwardness involved in living this reality. Given the temper of the times and the character of the current culture we have, we may have to exert some effort to recover the original role this truth of faith about our productivity plays in our life.

It’s time we relate our interest in productivity with our faith. This particular aspect has long been neglected. It’s usually taken for granted, then set aside, and then rejected and ridiculed. We need to correct the situation.

With this underlying understanding of our productivity, we expand its coverage not only in the area of business and economics but also in all aspects of our life—when we are alone or with others, when we are at home, in the office or with friends, when we have difficulties or when we enjoy a good time, etc.

Let’s remember what St. Paul said: “I know how to live humbly and I know how to live in abundance (I have been schooled to every place and every condition), to be filled and to be hungry, to have abundance and to suffer want. I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4,12-13)

We are told also that it is God who really knows how to guide us always, including in our work, because he knows what is best for us. “We know not what we should pray for as we ought. But the Spirit himself asks for us with unspeakable groanings.” (Heb 8,26)

We should try to keep this truth in mind always, but especially in our work, making the necessary adjustments and adaptations so that even in our mundane activities, we can always remember it and allow it to shape the way we work.

This truth can even greatly help us when we have to tackle with difficulties and our own weaknesses plus the temptations around. It will keep us going in spite of whatever, and doing it with gusto and sense of purpose, understanding why things are the way they are.

For example, with respect to our weaknesses and temptations, this truth will tell us that these events and elements in our life actually indicate where we have to struggle.

Putting us to the edge, they actually invite us to go beyond ourselves and to always go back to God. We should never depend on ourselves alone. We are nothing without God. These weaknesses and temptations, in fact, are clear occasions when God tells us he is very close to us.

This truth about the real source of productivity will help us to be serene and cheerful always, optimistic in spite of whatever.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Low population causes recession?

THAT was the drift of an article I read recently. The president of the Institute for the Works of Religion, aka Vatican Bank, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, claimed that bankers are not the cause of the current global economic crisis, but rather the low birth rate obtaining in many countries these days.

“The true cause of the crisis is the decline in the birth rate,” he said. The cause is ordinary people who do not “believe in the future,” and have few or no children. The bankers and other economic players are only agents and tools of an ailing social structure that needs to be transformed.

The Vatican economist said that since people are not anymore interested in having children, we are creating a negative economic context that can only lead to recession.

He noted that in Western developed countries, the birth rate has fallen to 0%, i.e., 2 children or less per family. This can only mean impending disaster to said countries.

I personally feel there is at least a correlation between low birth rate and recession. I won’t go so far as to affirm a cause-and-effect link, since there are just so many factors affecting the dynamics to isolate low birth rate as the cause of recession.

But I also believe that low birth rate is a significant factor, if not the defining one. We in the end are the ultimate resource responsible for our economic growth. Of course, it’s not just numbers that matter, but also the quality. Just the same, all things considered equal, the more we are the better we are going to be.

We just have to make the necessary investment, the necessary sacrifice, trying to make it effective and productive, so that we can put everyone in his best condition to be assets not liabilities to our economic development, as well as in the other aspects of our growth. Education and continuing formation should be a prime concern.

My exposure to different families leads me to conclude that the bigger family more than the smaller one is better able to fend off all sorts of difficulties and to tackle all sorts of challenges.

Of course, this is easier said than done. In real time, the dynamics can be so complicated to dare to simplify it with some theoretical guidelines. For sure, there are moments, when a smaller family would have the advantage over the bigger one.

But we can’t stop there. There are short-term and long-term considerations to be made, and a proper blending and scheduling of these aspects is important. In any event, some amount of sacrifice is unavoidable, and we should be ready for it.

To me this question of the relationship between population level and our economic status should not be framed only within purely economic and financial terms. That would impoverish the analysis of the issue.

We always have to consider the moral and spiritual dimension, since we are not only economic entities, but firstly and lastly, moral and spiritual persons. Much of the economic crisis we are suffering can be traced to moral and spiritual causes—vices, laziness, greed, lack of care for the others, and worse, lack of faith and charity.

There are now many studies that reinforce the thesis that in the end the main cause of our current global crisis is precisely our crisis in the spiritual and moral life. We are spending more than we earn. There’s a lot of imprudence in our spending behavior, focusing more on instant comfort and pleasure than on productive investments, on self-seeking than on solidarity.

What happened in the States regarding the sub-prime crisis, what is happening in Dubai and in Greece now, are all indicative of a lifestyle that is more wasteful than productive. Perhaps, we can say they are getting what they deserve, a comeuppance they have been building up themselves.

It’s a lifestyle that is afraid of the authentic responsibilities and sacrifices in life. It tends to create a fictional world, its own version of the land of milk and honey. It luxuriates in consumerism and all forms of hedonism and intemperance. It is allergic to having children, to caring and bringing children up to maturity. They even kill babies.

It is this sick mindset that needs to be broken and replaced with a healthy one. Now, do we like to get into that anti-life culture? Let’s be very careful with things like the RH bill. Let’s elect leaders who are truly competent, with integrity and pro-life, pro-God, pro-country.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

God and sports

THEY do mix. In fact, they have to mix. God and sports, just like God and everything else—business, politics, arts, etc.—need to mix. But they have to mix properly.

One of our challenges today is precisely to discover the right formula or recipe for this blending, given first of all the nature of each of these elements (sorry for speaking in irreverent terms, as in God is just one more element in the equation?) and the conditions and circumstances of the parties involved.

At the moment, there is a lot of awkwardness in this topic. Much of it is left to individual and highly private interpretations. Clear standards and sure methods in this matter are largely unknown.

In fact, there’s still a lot of unexplored area to be mapped, and I must say the general interest is rather weak. And so the dominant atmosphere is indifference to God, and widespread albeit quiet neglect of the duty to relate things to God.

If ever there is some God-talk in a sports event, it’s because the winner was thankful for the victory, giving the impression that God was only for the victor and not for the loser. Of course, many people don’t like that, and rightly so.

Same in political exercises. References to God are sometimes shamelessly used to bolster a politician’s credentials, as if he is the only one anointed by God to win. And if he does win, the situation can be a lot worse in that a greater distortion of the truth can happen.

God is always for everyone. He can be found everywhere and in everything and in everyone. He is always relevant to any situation we might find ourselves in—whether we’re up or down, hitting it big or small, gaining or failing.

Much of the problem can be traced to ignorance of the doctrine of faith and morals which is already in an alarming scale. Even our so-called educated and cultured elite are a know-nothing when it comes to relating their activities to God.

Of course, the worse cause is the lack of consistency in the moral lives of people. Many may have a good theoretical knowledge of God but bringing it to practice is completely a different story. This is the more rampant situation.

We have to find a way to spread the truth about God and his relevance to any human affair and activity, not only in the remote sense but also in the immediate sense.

Of course, this has to be done without falling into fanaticism, fundamentalism, integralism and other isms that distort the proper relation between God and our sports and other human affairs.

We have to do all this with a certain naturalness that knows how blend the supernatural and the human elements, the spiritual and the material, the global and the local, the social and the personal. We have to know which can be said in public and which is better kept in private.

And for this, everyone can and should always play a part, taking advantage of any circumstance and situation he is in. The big-shots as well as the small fries can say something.

The Pope, the bishops and priests, of course, can say a lot of things. And the sports managers, players, referees, waterboys, the winners and losers, can also say something, or at least give some personal testimonies.

This is what we need these days—a certain acknowledgement of the role of God and religion in all our endeavors, respectful always of the nature and will of God and the nature and character of things, so that we don’t cause unnecessary division and conflicts.

And thus I was happy to learn that in the US very popular Super Bowl, a sports superstar by the name of Tim Tebow, whose parents used to be missionaries in the Philippines, came out to talk about the danger of abortion.

When he was still in his mother’s womb, a doctor advised the mother to have an abortion because of a certain sickness she was suffering at that time. The doctor was afraid the baby might turn out deformed.

But the mother did not follow the advice. The baby was born, healthy in fact, and the rest is history. Besides, many details of Tim’s life of faith are worth telling, since they are edifying. I’m sure there are also dark spots. But who doesn’t have any?

The important thing is to know how to relate things, good or bad, to God. We are all saints in the making. We have to be!

Sanity amid insanity

YOU know that it’s an election year when many people start behaving, thinking and arguing in a strange way. Tongues are loosened. Thoughts are given a holiday in promiscuity. Lies, detractions and calumnies are given licenses and franchises.

All of a sudden the media get glutted by spins and hypes, exags and simplisms, ‘praise releases’ spewing thick and fast from different camps together with a torrent of ‘ad hominem’ attacks and insults against other camps. We have to be ready for a lot of pollution.

The ways of persuasion and deception are mastered and unscrupulously used. Public relations outfits with sophisticated weaponry are hired. Truth and charity are the first victims. Objectivity is in life-support, while the monster of subjectivism is released from the cage, or is it from hell?

Words and ideas get inflated to bursting point, aimed at revving up both good and bad adrenaline, giving us a flash that blinds us more than enlightens us. We may need blinders and beta-blockers for protection. Noise and excitement are staged, more to rob us of our need for reflection and discernment.

Rash judgments explode everywhere. Opinions are made into dogmas. Theories become laws. Suspicions turn into facts. Possibilities are now certainties. An isolated case assumes a universal application.

Clear fallacies and non-sequiturs are given the feel of logic. First, raw impressions are hardened into convictions. Civility is now just a mask, nothing more than a word. Reason and will are taken over by dark passions driven by things like greed and lust.

Roles get reversed and confused. Many politicians suddenly start behaving like saints and flaunt it. Even their efforts at self-deprecation are calculated to give them more political points. Priests sometimes stray into the arena, like fish out of water, as they make some partisan commentaries or worse, run for office.

These days it is going to be hard to distinguish between politicians and clowns, senators and entertainers, officials and thieves. We can expect all kinds of combinations between saints and sinners, decent citizens and criminals. Some politicians even dare to play God, acting and speaking as if they know everything and are omnipotent.

It’s an insane world that all of us have to suffer. We cannot escape it, as of now. The general culture, the mindset, the attitudes are such that we cannot avoid the circus. And yet, we can be sure, that some good thing always can come out. What it is, how it is going to be—all this will be a mystery for now.

Thus, we just have to take it easy to retain a level of sanity. We can always choose just to be amused at all these calisthenics displayed before us in this election year. Let’s be game. We can talk, discuss, exchange opinions, but let’s not get too serious as to create unnecessary tension and enmity among ourselves.

We have to be open to all people of all stripes. We need to respect each other in spite of our differences. Let’s try to cut out the puffed-up rhetoric, the shrill assertions, the barbs and the verbal molotovs. They hardly serve any purpose. We have to be quick to understand others and to forgive.

What we need to do is to pray for everyone no matter how sharp our differences are. In fact, the sharper the conflicts, the more prayerful we ought to be. This is the only way to keep not only our sanity and our humanity, but also our Christianity.

No matter how right we feel we are in our views, we have no right to take a break from charity, not even in the slightest way. If we have to suffer because of this way of acting, so be it. That suffering will be only in the short-run, in the temporal order. We will gain a lot more in the long-run, in the eternal order.

As priest, I keep quiet when the discussion turns into partisan politics. I allow everyone to express his views to the full. Even if I think there are already those things mentioned above, I just keep quiet. If ever I have to open my mouth, it is to evangelize politics.

In this regard, I quote what Pope Benedict said recently:

“I confirm the necessity and urgency of the evangelical formation and pastoral accompaniment of a new generation of Catholics working in politics, that they be coherent with the professed faith, that they have moral firmness, the capacity of educated judgment, professional competence and passion for service to the common good.¨

Monday, February 8, 2010

Bringing our fugitive justice home

POPE Benedict’s message for Lent is already out. It’s entitled, “The justice of God has been manifested through faith in Jesus Christ.”

My dear friends, it’s worth the read, and the corresponding reflection. Hopefully it can provoke deep changes in us. I think it’s really meant for that purpose. The process may be long and painful, but, heck, we truly need it.

For long, our concept and practice of justice has been like the prodigal son. It got its rich inheritance from its father, left him to be on its own, enjoyed a period of profligacy, and now is in serious trouble. It has to come home. We have to bring it home, to God, its source and end.

Our human justice is actually a kind of fugitive justice. It has flown the nest. So far it is surviving by dint of a series of disguises and masks that skillfully blend the true and the false, the good and the evil. But it is alienating itself from its nature. It cannot remain that way forever.

It, for example, has made practicality as its end-all, often deriving its strength from what is culturally prevalent or currently popular. It can never manage to render universal, lasting justice, and lends itself easily to favor the strong, the majority, the better endowed, the better placed and the plainly lucky.

It’s a justice that does not go all the way. It gets stuck somewhere, often in a dead-end, sweetening the situation with all sorts of human flavorings. But the human heart will always ask for more and sooner or later will find a way to get what it really yearns.

The main virtue of Pope Benedict’s message is that it has dared to remind us of this very basic, religious character of justice. Such grounding is often taken for granted by us nowadays to the extent that we make our own selves, and not God anymore, as the source and object of justice.

Our legal system, for example, is getting to be more and more enmeshed in what is called as legal positivism, an ideology that precisely sees law merely as a human invention. Faith and religion have no place in it at all, thus confining itself into a purely man-made world.

This ideology detaches law from morality and is responsible for the legalization of divorce and abortion, for example.

I’m happy to note that the Pope is bringing this crucial aspect of justice to public attention, letting it step out from strictly ecclesiastical or academic circles to impact on the real world of men in our actual, not theoretical, situations.

In that message, he makes a scholarly discussion of the true nature and foundation of justice that ought to be known by all in appropriate ways and dosages. Let’s hope more people in their varying capabilities will help to translate this truth into more concrete terms, providing the practical linkages.

In so many words, the Pope explains that if justice is giving to another his due, then human justice cannot perfectly fulfill it since man in the end needs God more than just things, and God can only be given by God himself through us.

Justice, by definition, is first of all a gift which we try to live as faithfully as possible, always relying on our relation with God first before we make use of our human efforts. It knows how to pray and use spiritual means. It blends easily with mercy.

Yes, for ages we have made this consideration as too good to be true, very improbable, too quixotic to be feasible. It’s true that there are intangible and mysterious aspects that will always elude our human formulation of justice, but our justice system should respect them, not negate them.

This is the challenge that we have—how to cultivate a culture of human justice that is respectful always of its divine origin and purpose, while its feet, so to speak, are firmly rooted on the ground, on the here and now.

We just cannot allow ourselves to simply drift along the mindless inertia of the current understanding of justice, tone-deaf to its authentic meaning. We have to do something to correct the situation. It’s a formidable task, all right, but not impossible.

The little thing we do in this regard, often regarded as insignificant, will always have cosmic effects. For this, in the end, is the system that works for and in us, whether we like or not, whether we are aware of it or not.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The bigger picture of sexuality

OUR main problem with respect to our understanding and attitude toward human sexuality is that this has been reduced to a purely biological and human aspect of hormones, passions, urges, instincts, sensual stimuli and genital activity, and a naturalistic sense of decency and nothing more.

This is giving it an incomplete, inadequate if not distorted and dangerous treatment. We need to bring it to the terra firma of its true nature and character, its authentic beginning, purpose and end, away from the swamps and marshes of the sensually, if not genitally, dominated aspect.

Sexuality is reduced to sex. Worse, sex is made the climax and end-all of our sexuality. All other considerations are made secondary, and even ignored, ridiculed and finally rejected. Thus, there is that growing, headlong drift toward an erotic and pornographic culture, at first hidden and later open.

Because of this phenomenon, sexuality is not anymore inspired by reason, let alone, by faith and love. Instead the savagery of the passions and urges is given free rein, with the matching fruits of all kinds of anomalies and perversions.

Many people are abandoning even the basic natural idea of masculinity and femininity. That our sexuality is first of all a gift from God, meant to enable men and women to complement each other not only for human development but ultimately for the final communion among ourselves and with God, is forgotten.

Our sexuality is a necessary condition of our humanity. Since we are not pure spirits, since we are what may be called as body-persons, our nature has been endowed with sexuality for a variety of reasons and purposes.

Among them would be the obvious differences between the masculine and feminine qualities in their varying degrees and levels that are meant to enrich everyone’s development and growth to maturity in the human and Christian sense, in the material and spiritual sense, etc.

For example, one can see the differences between masculinity and femininity in the way a room is cleaned, the food is cooked, the car is driven, clothes are worn, etc. And yet, in all these differences everyone can always derive something for his own good.

Truth is we all need both toughness and gentleness, action and contemplation, farm and home, etc., and these are contributed in different ways by the masculinity and femininity of our sexuality.

Of course, given our subjectivity, we can also get wrong in our understanding of our sexuality and misuse or abuse it, with the corresponding evil effects. That’s why we have to be vigilant and help one another live our sexuality properly.

One time in a family reunion, a sister of mine, in her 50s, said that she found it odd that when she visited a place frequented by call center agents, she found the girls quite dressed up like “kikays” while their male companions were kind of rugged, unkempt with beard and all, and she could not figure out how they could be together and even quite cozy with each other,

I kept my thoughts to myself, but in my mind, with what I’ve read, seen and heard, what sprang was the suspicion that these youngsters are playing a game very different from what youngsters of our generation played. I just told my sister to pray.

Among the big challenges in this area is the spreading of the bigger, if not the full picture of sexuality to everyone. It’s a delicate topic, I know, but it simply cannot be marginalized, especially given its character of immediacy, vulnerability and obstinacy.

This has to be handled with utmost care, relying first of all on spiritual and supernatural means of prayer, sacrifice, penance, sacraments, devotions, etc., without neglecting the appropriate human means of discipline, self-control, work, the art of sublimation, etc.

A lot of clarification need to be done, especially on the doctrinal level. The theology of the body has to be explained well, giving both its temporal and eternal dimensions. But the practical aspects of developing chastity, modesty, prudence, self-giving, etc. should not be neglected. This is the real challenge.

Besides, we really need to do a lot of cleaning up in our environment—in the media, the billboards, entertainment centers, malls, internet cafes, sport facilities, wellness hubs, etc. We have to break down the wall of biases that prevent us from giving ethical considerations to sexual matters.

With these things done, we can hope that more people understand the true meaning of virginity and marriage, and that in the end, we all are meant to be celibate in heaven.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Putting God in the digital world

THAT’S what settled in my mind after reading Pope Benedict’s message for this year’s World Communication Day. That event will take place in May yet, but the advance copy of the message has already been released last January. Its study is definitely worthwhile.

The message is entitled, “The Priest and Pastoral Ministry in a Digital World: New Media at the Service of the Word.” Though its immediate targets are the priests who are celebrating the Year of the Priests, it actually is addressed to everyone, since hardly anyone now can escape from the digital world.

My first reaction was kind of skeptical. As if the complications of putting God in the real world are not enough, now we also have to contend with the more tricky task of putting God in the digital world!

Of course, I have no doubt that it’s important that we manage to put God in our computer-generated universe. But how do we do this? How can we make God directly relevant and actually connected with the persons and issues involved in the digital world? What road map can we use?

I’m sure there are now studies being made to answer these questions. I think we are still at the pioneering part of the learning curve, and we have to expect mistakes and failures. Anyway, as long as we remain patient, humble and open, I believe we can prosper in this new challenge.

But we cannot ignore the enormity, and worse, the complexity of the challenge. The digital world instantly thrusts us into the global stage with a universal cast of characters and into the world “agora” of ideas and issues. These are no small things.

In the digital world, you swim not anymore in a pool or in your favorite beach resort. You will find yourself in the middle of the ocean, and anything can happen there, including drowning.

We just cannot go there and say our piece without considering the kind of audience and concerns that we need to engage with in a meaningful way. That would just create more trash, more pollution in cyberspace.

While it’s true that mere Christian presence in the web, by way of posting doctrinal items, for example, can already serve some purpose, I think that it would be much better if we really can get into a substantial dialogue with the public in general in all their variety of situations and predicaments.

This has to be done with the view of creating greater understanding among ourselves, a better atmosphere of peace and harmony, instead of generating more tension and conflicts due to our unavoidable differences.

Thus, the dialogue—cultural, political, religious, etc.—should be conducted with utmost refinement and respect for people’s freedom. Pride and roughness contribute nothing other than causing division and enmity among ourselves.

But priests and all those who wish to be consistent to their Christian duty should be truly competent in handling all kinds of questions that can come up there.

This is what Pope Benedict said recently. In a recent address to Pontifical Academies, he invited the members to give “adequate” and “creative” answers to the problems posed by contemporary culture, while also taking recourse to the “riches of the Christian tradition.”

He particularly made mention of the situation of today’s youth who are growing up in a society dominated by “relativism” and “subjectivism.” These are ideologies or mind-frames that enclose people in their own world, unmindful of God and spiritual values.

He said that the youth’s predicament is often aggravated by methods and attitudes that are shallow and trivial. He appealed for more serious, scientific approaches in tackling this problem.

There are actually many, practically endless things that can be done in the digital world. One just has to identify his own niche where he finds himself confident and competent, and develop a continuing strategy of proclaiming, clarifying and dialoguing.

The Pope, for example, spoke about the need for promoting a true Christian humanism, always using both faith and reason in addressing the questions posed by the dialogue among cultures. He reassured everyone that this is not only possible but also indispensable in reaching out to all people.

Let’s hope that everyone, especially us, the priests, realize more deeply the urgency of this concern. It cannot be denied that there are clear signs the world is drifting away from God, and the values associated with him are disappearing little by little. We need to put a stop to this, and reverse the trend.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Priests need continuing conversion

EVERYBODY, of course, needs it, but we, priests, especially need this continuing renewal of commitment and conversion of heart. We cannot overemphasize this.

I was happy to hear from priests-friends who just came from the National Congress for the Clergy gushing over the results of that 5-day event. “There’s going to be a transformation among the clergy and the Church in general,” everyone I talked to remarked, saying it with an air of confidence.

I was not able to attend the meeting but my heart was all there. I followed it closely in the internet. Seeing the images and hearing the reports were enough to convince me that the Holy Spirit was busy inspiring the priests from all over the country.

There’s magic when a big number of priests congregate, driven by a unity of purpose. It moved me to see the juices of piety flowing clearly on the faces and in the behavior of my brother priests. These made me burst in thanksgiving.

All of a sudden, priests were acting like those old women in churches, touching the relics, sighing and even with tears emerging in the eyes, waving hankies as they sang hymn to our Lady… It’s nice to see their hearts melt with love, both human and Christian.

Kudos should be given to those who organized and ran the event. There must have been long and tedious preparations made, and all of it paid off. They also invited speakers who were clearly gifted and who served as good instruments of the Spirit. Thanks be to God!

All these convince me that this kind of activity should be made an ongoing program. True, it’s just an instrument and the attendance to it should never be mistaken as the very substance of priestly holiness.

But it’s a wonderful and effective instrument. It’s good to hear that the bishops are thinking of making it a regular event for the priests. May it be turned into a reality!

What is really important is that the continuing activities of priestly formation and spiritual assistance should vitally and organically blossom from formal and planned congresses like the recent one.

In this regard, we can think of an abiding program of both personal and collective formation that can include a plan of acts of piety assumed with a sense of commitment, like mental prayer, Holy Mass and Communion, spiritual reading, examination of conscience, confession, Rosary, retreats, recollections, etc.

That delicate and indispensable practice of spiritual direction, where one bares his heart and soul to another priest with vast experience and the grace of state as spiritual director in order to receive guidance, should be promoted.

Sadly, this is hardly done. To me, it’s here where the nitty-gritty of nourishing one’s spiritual life and ministry, of correcting and healing certain spiritual ailments afflicting us, and even of resurrecting already necrotic parts of one’s spiritual life are made. These should be done regularly and promptly.

We, priests, should understand that we have to lead the way to sanctification. This requires nothing less than continuing conversion. We have to go beyond the human conditions of our character, temperament, culture, etc., to be able to attune ourselves closely to the will and ways of God.

This is always possible, and this is actually necessary. It’s true that we are conditioned by many human factors, but we have to go beyond them. We should not rely simply on our natural talents and endowments. We have to be actuated by nothing less than God’s grace, achieved through living union with Christ.

This is in order to avoid turning our subjectivity as persons into arbitrary subjectivism, our activity into activism deprived of divine character. This is to make sure we are doing God’s work truly, and not just our work.

Priests have to enter into the very mind and heart of Christ. In fact, we have to live the very life of Christ, complete with the unavoidable suffering and personal holocaust.

For this, we need to study and pray always, to convert ourselves into authentic contemplative souls even if we find ourselves in the hustle and bustle of daily life. This should be our default page. We have to be wary of the tendency to be swallowed up by an on-the-go lifestyle that kills prayer life.

We have to spread the doctrine and the truths of faith with gift of tongue and with abiding and consistent witnessing. We have to avoid just giving a performance and show out of our priestly ministry.

For all this, priests have to realize we need conversion always.