Friday, April 30, 2010


THERE’S a story in the life of Christ with his apostles that exposes an anomaly that can lurk even in the hearts of good people. It’s in Matthew 20,20-28. The mother of James and John made a special request to Jesus—that her sons would sit one at his right hand and the other at his left in God’s kingdom.

Christ gave a most gentle excuse that it was not his to grant that request. “It belongs to those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” That’s when the other disciples became indignant at the two brothers. And so Jesus made the following remark:

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. Not so is it among you. On the contrary, whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant. Whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave, even as the Son of Man has not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

We can term this moral abnormality, this attitudinal glitch that can come to us in very subtle and beguiling ways as careerism. As defined in some dictionaries, it is the “practice of advancing one’s career at the expense of one’s personal integrity.” It can also be an overwhelming desire or urge for professional advancement.

It corrupts one’s proper attitude to work and serve, and whatever is legitimate in one’s natural desire for professional growth. It’s a terrible illness that has spoiled many people who started to work well and to be properly motivated, but something went wrong along the way.

It can have a very complicated network of root causes. But the real viruses are found in the spiritual and moral aspects. One can readily see traces of pride, egoism and vainglory, disordinate attachments to worldly things, ignorance, error and confusion in relation to the true nature and purpose of work, service and authority, etc.

It develops in a heart that is anemic due to lack of spirit of prayer and sacrifice. And if this is reinforced by a morally sick culture and environment, where the proper values are lived only in the exterior but not in the interior, then we can have quite a pandemic.

Sad to say, signs of these irregularities are getting aplenty these days. It does not require much skill to discern that many people are afflicted with this illness, no matter how much they try to cover it.

It can be gleaned in their attitudes, in their views and reactions to things, in the questions they ask, the interests they pursue, the behavior they project in private and in public. It can be seen in their eyes and faces, the kind of smile they put on. It can be felt in the tone of their voice and the trajectory of their words.

On the other hand, there’s also a lot of “lording it over” around us that tends to cultivate this fixation on careerism. People in position like to show off their power, to flaunt their privileges and all the glittery trappings of their office.

Boasting seems to have found a niche in society. And the corresponding practices of flattery, bootlicking adulation and exaggerated, fawning complaisance are gaining foothold in people’s culture.

We need to go back to what Christ said about just wanting “not to be served but to serve.” We need to generate and develop a strong culture inspired by this attitude. We should be happy to work and serve wherever we may be, whether up or down, front or back, in the city or in the barangay, in public or in private.

Truth to tell, I had the luck of witnessing this kind of culture for a number of times already. And it always makes me happy to see these genuine manifestations of unselfish dedication and service, leaving me truly edified and inspired, and wishing I too could be that way.

When you see people working from the heart, unmindful of what position they have and of the advantages and disadvantages of their condition at the moment, I’m sure you will be moved.

I’ve seen persons who one day were presidents and heads of some groups and then the next day became clerks and assistants and still doing their work with gusto. It’s truly a marvelous experience.

What matters actually is the love one puts in his work. It’s not the position or prestige or privileges. Love equalizes and elevates everything.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Drowning evil with good

WE have just celebrated the feast (April 29) of St. Catherine of Siena, the 14th-century gutsy Dominican tertiary credited for bringing back the Pope from Avignon, France to Rome, and for establishing peace among the warring Italian city-states then.

She was the 25th child of an Italian wool dyer. Poor, she hardly had any education. She was practically unschooled. But by a special grace of God, she enjoyed such great knowledge and wisdom as to become a philosopher and theologian. The Catholic Church even proclaimed her doctor of the Church in 1970.

She knew how to argue and convince, using both homespun, commonsensical arguments and sophisticated theological reasoning. A brave woman, she was not afraid to face anyone to transmit what she thought ought to be told to that person, be he the Pope or any public official.

Opus Dei founder, St. Josemaria Escriva, made her intercessor for the apostolate of public opinion, precisely because of her feats. To me, she is worth emulating. A devotion to her that includes being inspired by her example is what we badly need these days, because we too are gripped in a similar terrible crisis.

There’s a lot of doctrinal ignorance, error and confusion around. Aggravating this is the moral and ethical anomalies that are slowly hardening up into the attitudes, mentalities, lifestyle and cultures of people.

Just visit some of the blogs in the Internet these days. You´ll immediately have an idea of the runaway, wild and rotten ideas many people, even the young, are having. There´s a lot of verbal rage. Not knowing spiritual and supernatural realities, many roar into mockery, the mockery of the impious, complete with obscenities and vulgarities.

Sad to say, this gutter level of opinion-making is daily reinforced by a subtle but powerful air of secularism, materialism and the like. Just read the papers, look at the billboards, watch the movies and TV, etc.

People are incessantly bombarded with purely worldly values, locking them with exclusively materialistic and temporal messages that are blind and deaf to faith and religion, to the things of God.

Their sensibilities are so constantly titillated as to inure them to mundane pleasures, while their spiritual faculties are left to hang in the air. People do not know anymore to relate whatever they are doing to God and to others. They are increasingly held captive in their own world, intoxicated by their own aroused passions.

Those who manage to extricate themselves from the grip of passions and start to use their intelligence, yet short of faith, can come out with brilliant ideas and even with practical initiatives that pose a greater danger to their spiritual lives.

Here, the predicament sinks into a deeper level, harder to handle and resolve. This is where people start to rationalize in the wide sea of relativism and secularism, paving the way to atheism and agnosticism. They only have space in their head for their ideas. Faith is not welcome. In fact, it is often hunted and attacked.

We can go on and on in describing this horrifying scenario we are seeing in the world today. But we cannot remain in that stage only, let alone, in simply lamenting. We have to recognize the challenge and be prepared to tackle it. We need to drown evil with an abundance of good.

There´s a great need to wage an unrelenting apostolate of public opinion. Everyone has a role to play in this effort. We need to get our act together, consolidating first our spiritual life and then going all out to master the doctrinal aspect so as to enter into a meaningful dialogue and debate in today´s many Areopagi.

The search for truth and justice, as dramatized in the many issues that confront us today, cannot and should not be limited to purely human reasoning alone. We need to bring in the light of faith, the designs of God in these issues.

To be sure, these questions are not simply earthly affairs with exclusively temporal dimensions and effects. In spite of their autonomous character as human affairs, they have deep relation to faith and to God himself. They do possess eternal effects and cosmic dimensions.

This is what we need to highlight these days. The prospect, of course, is truly daunting, but that is just how the ball bounces. We need to acknowledge this reality and start to act accordingly.

We can ask St. Catherine of Siena to intercede for us. She was literally a nobody who made a big impact in history.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The listener’s duty

THERE’S a passage in St. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians that reminds us of the listener’s duty in any process of communication. This, to me, is crucial at the moment, since we seem to lose the proper sense of listening. We prefer to be on our own, with our own ideas, our own world. We are self-absorbed.

“When you heard and received from us the word of God, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but, as it truly is, the word of God.” (2,13)

The whole burden of responsibility in any communication does not lie solely on the speaker. A lot also depends on the listener. No amount of good quality of a speaker can guarantee success in any communication if the listener does not do his part.

In fact, if the listener is good, the speaker can be bad and still the communication can attain its goal. We need to pay greater attention to training ourselves to be good listeners. It seems this is largely neglected.

In some clergy gathering I attended, for example, I get the impression that listening is not done properly. In spite of the regularity of the activity—a monthly affair—I notice that there’s always a new speaker, with new ideas, with new gimmicks, etc.

I understand that we need to know new things, and to be entertained also as we listen. The problem is that we seem to get stuck in that level. We hardly move forward to really fathom the spiritual and supernatural content of the message made.

In the gospel about the Good Shepherd (Jn 10), Christ defines the sheep that belongs to him as the one who listens to him. “My sheep listen to my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”

All of us actually belong to him, because all of us come from him. We are his creatures, the masterpiece of his creation. But our belongingness to him also depends on us, on whether we choose to belong to him, to listen to him and follow him.

Otherwise, we will nullify the original design God has for us. We are capable of doing that, because of our intelligence and will, because of our freedom. Paraphrasing St. Augustine, we can say that God may have created us without us, but he cannot save us without us. We need to do our part to go to him, to belong to him and follow him.

Listening to God’s word is not a completely passive affair. It also requires a very active effort. That’s why St. James, for example, told us not only to be hearers of the word of God, but also doers.

We have to look for it, love it, and act on it. We have to understand that in the end it’s God’s word that contains all the wisdom of the world. Our sciences, our arts, our philosophies and ideologies should spring from it and lead toward it. We have to convince ourselves that they can only have true life if they are inspired by God’s word.

Obviously, the great challenge is how to discover and articulate the connection between God’s word and our human sciences. This area of concern is barely worked out, even if a good amount of effort has already been made in this direction.

Alas, nowadays, many people have arrived at the point of questioning and rejecting the role of the word of God in our pursuit for knowledge and wisdom. It seems the world is fiercely defiant of God. They are rationalizing abominable immoralities like abortion and so-called reproductive health that are fully against God’s commandments.

We have to recover our proper bearing and start to make appropriate effort to listen more intently, more actively to the word of God. Reading the Gospel and meditating on it should be a habit that should lead us to enter into intimate relationship with Christ.

We need to internalize God’s word, to the point that they become our own, and the abiding light in everything that we do. We have to outgrow the wrong notion that only a few people are meant to take God’s word seriously. God’s word is meant for everyone of us.

That’s why, we should also realize that we have to help one another to develop a burning love for the word of God. In this regard, we should not remain in the amateur level. We have to go professional and real experts in handling and transmitting the word of God to others.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

True color of candor

WE have to revisit our understanding of truth and our attitude towards it. I’m sure we are going to discover new aspects, even crucial ones, that we have been ignoring for a number of reasons, usually the limitations, not to mention, the deformities of our culture.

We have to look at the bigger picture. So far, what seems common is the reductive idea of truth whose bad effects, accumulated through the ages, are now starting to blow up.

Like, truth is often held as any cold piece of fact, data and information that we can use in any way we want. We even consider that kind of truth as the objective truth, incontrovertible, infallible and immutable. As long as we are in possession of this kind of truth, we feel we are already in the right.

Just look at some of our politicians now, throwing mud at each other, each one saying he has the truth about the other. The same predicament takes place when one uses the legal system, for example, purely to seek revenge and satisfy spite, instead of attaining justice.

That would be like using a knife, meant to cut meat, to stab and kill a fellow.

But this cannot be truth. Truth, to be entirely objective, complete and fair, should be a product of a living relationship of love between God and us, between others and us, between all things and us.

It cannot but be an organic part of our life, which in the end is a life shared with God, others and all things. It cannot just be an expendable part, to be used only for purely pragmatic if not selfish purposes.

Understood in this way, we can readily realize that truth is something that has to flow from God who, in the end, is the creator of the world, the author of what is real, what is true and false, what is good and evil in this world.

It cannot and should not be sequestered by us, as if we now make ourselves the ultimate arbiter and even author of reality itself, the original maker of what is true and false, what is good and evil.

Rather, it has to be sought by making an effort to know and love God, and with that knowledge and love, to also know and love others and all things.

Relevant to this point, the Catechism teaches: “It is in accordance with their dignity that all men, because they are persons…are both impelled by their nature and bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth.

“They are also bound to adhere to the truth once they come to know it and direct their whole lives in accordance with the demands of truth.” (CCC 2467)

Truth has an objective and a subjective part. Its subjectivity demands that it ultimately has to be lived and loved, and not simply known. And it has to be lived not only by oneself, but also by us and always with God and with others.

In other words, truth has to involve our whole person in our over-all and unavoidable connection with God and with everybody and everything else. That’s why truth cannot be truth alone, but always truth in charity.

Without charity, we cannot help but deform truth, since any piece of objective fact, data and information will tend to be cut off from its vital relationship with God and with others.

It will be a truth held captive by our own limited understanding of things, a tool to our biases and personal designs. It will fail to comply with the requirements of the common good.

Without charity, truth gets unhinged from its proper moorings and purpose. And when it gets on the loose, it can cause a lot of trouble. It can turn out to be a loose cannon, a floating mine at sea, posing great danger to anyone.

Sad to say, this is what we are seeing often these days. Reading the blogs in the Internet regarding some issues, I get the impression that though there are some objective data brought out, there is lack of charity. Bad manners, insulting words so dominate that someone said Internet civility seems to be an oxymoron.

We need to reinforce this crucial aspect of truth as an organic fruit of our relationship with God and others in the minds of everyone. Let’s pray that this true color of candor can “go out and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.”

Friday, April 23, 2010

We urgently need God’s word today

STILL hurting from recent impertinent attacks from secularist sectors but continuing to do his duty as Pope, Benedict XVI started a catechesis on the three offices or functions the clergy has to carry out “in persona Christi, capitis,” in the person of Christ, head of the Church.

These are the functions of teaching, sanctifying and governing that actually everyone else also participates in, though not in the way bishops and priests exercise them.

That’s because every Christian faithful, whether lay or cleric, by the mere fact that he is baptized and therefore conformed to Christ, cannot help but be involved also in carrying out Christ’s threefold mission of teaching, sanctifying and governing.

Of course, all these functions are carried out within the Church as one body, the mystical body of Christ, the people of God. The members share in the same mission in different ways, according to the order and hierarchy established by Christ for his Church.

Some are clerics, who with their Holy Orders are other Christs (alter Christus) but Christ as head of the Church, play a more active part, since they enjoy a certain authority other members do not have.

They understand their authority as irrenunciable service to the other faithful, to whom they are always bound. It’s not a title of privilege, but rather a call to service.

The lay faithful also play an active part, but always in union with the clergy. They have their own autonomy, but never separation from the clergy. They are conformed to Christ, they are also “alter Christus” but as members or faithful of the Church, always in need of the clergy.

They also do a lot of teaching, of sanctifying, especially themselves and the earthly realities they are involved in, and of governing, especially their own spiritual lives and in the other aspects of Church life.

In the catechesis of the Pope, he focused first on the mission of teaching. He underlined how important this mission is, since the world now is sunk in confusion and error.

There are many people who agree that the world indeed is drifting in the sea of life, since it uses only man’s own light, reflective at best like the moon’s and never original like the sun’s, as the sole navigational guide.

God’s word is the alpha and omega of everything that is true, wise and practical in this world. The huge challenge is how to make everyone realize this, in such a way that everyone not only appreciates and understands it but also lives it.

Certainly, this involves the effort to discover both the immediate and remote link God’s word has with our concerns and affairs, both big and small. It’s the apparent absence of such connection that make many of us think God’s word has nothing or hardly anything to do with our activities.

The Pope encouraged us, priests, to take the duty of teaching seriously and competently. A lot depends on the clerics, precisely because we are supposed to transmit the always-needed word of God to the world in its integrity. “Preach to all nations…,” Christ told his apostles.

For sure, the task of teaching and transmitting God’s word is not only a matter of ideas and words. It requires consistency to it in one’s personal life, incarnating it, no less, so that the teaching is not just by sermonizing but by giving a living and constant witness to it.

Two things can be noted here. One is that priests should realize we cannot invent things, but rather should always be faithful to God’s word always.

This requirement has its tricky part, since the distinction between God’s words and our own ideas can be blurred sometimes. Our philosophizing, theologizing or simply articulating God’s word may already deviate from it.

Two is that though we preach not our own words, but God’s, neither are we just a spokesman of God. We, priests, need to identify ourselves truly with God’s word. In the words of a saint, we need to be not only “alter Christus” (another Christ), but “ipse Christus” (Christ himself).

I’d like to remit the Pope’s words on this point. “The teaching that the priest is called to give, the truth of faith, must be internalized and lived in an intense personal spiritual journey, so that the priest really enters into a profound, interior communion with Christ himself.

“The priest believes, accepts and tries to live, first of all as his own, all that the Lord has taught and the Church has transmitted.”

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Integrity of creation

¨Global warming is unequivocal and primarily human-induced...Global temperature has increased over the past 50 years. This observed increase is due primarily to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases.¨

That sums up the Fifth US Climate Action Report in a draft to be sent to the United Nations shortly. Provocative, indeed! In spite of contrary evidence and the fact that the issue is still hotly contested by scientists...

Looks like some people are freaking out and are ready to square off no matter what it takes. For sure, the whole affair has stepped out of bounds, from the proper context of science to the explosive world of politics, ideology and finance.

I won´t go further into the controversy. What I can say is that while it´s good there is widespread interest in climate matters and other environmental issues, I also feel that the whole question is not given its proper frame, its proper moorings.

We all need to realize that all this matter of climate change and ecological issues springs from the basic truth of the integrity of creation. This reality is first of all a truth of faith before it is a truth of the sciences and the arts, and more so before an object of politics and ideology.

Without this fundamental premise that gives us the guiding principles, the debate, discussion and dialogue will just go nowhere. They will be gravely distorted. They will just occasion a reprise of the law of force, instead of the force of law.

The main block is that many of us still find it hard, awkward if not impossible to unite faith and reason, doctrine and science, religion and politics. While each has its distinctive place, all of them actually are meant to be integrated to enable us to deal with issues adequately.

We need to outgrow that horrible bias that says if we want to be scientific, not only should we set aside faith, we also have to go against it. Both are incompatible with, as they say, irreconcilable differences. This is the unspoken epidemic afflicting many of our educated people.

But it´s faith that gives us the over-all picture of the world. It´s a divine gift that lets us share in the knowledge the Creator has of his creation. Many environmentalists today talk a lot about integrity of creation, about recovering and maintaining its balance, etc. But what is their understanding of integrity of creation?

Only through faith will we have an idea of the totality and integrity, unity and diversity, order and hierarchy in the whole of creation. Without that faith, we will just be left with our brilliant theories and hypotheses, obviously possessing correct things but also containing uncertainties if not errors.

For example, I hear a lot about ecological concerns that seem to be twisted and distorted, inconsistent and pretentious. There´s a lot of noise generated about caring for the environment, the mountains and the seas, the plants and animals, and yet they promote abortion, contraception, same-sex unions, etc.

It would seem that ecology now can be everything except human and moral ecology that is the promotion and defense of those conditions proper of authentic human development. It´s the ecology that does not limit itself to the physical, biological, social aspects, but also factors in the spiritual and moral requirements for us to develop properly.

These latter elements are sadly missing. Worse, there are attempts to replace them with another kind of morality, completely man-made that has nothing to do with God´s will, law and commandments.

We need to go back to the basics of our faith. The very first words of the Bible, for example, already give us a clear picture about the whole of creation. ¨In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.¨ (Gen 1,1)

From these words, endless corollaries can be derived. Like, God, whose essence is to exist, who has no beginning and no end, is the sole creator of everything. Everything therefore has a beginning, and its existence completely depends on God.

God, by giving existence to creatures, is always with us. Creation is not a one-act affair, involving the very beginning of a creature´s existence. It covers the whole existence of the creatures. Creation includes the on-going providence of God over his creation.

Our faith also tells us that we, created in God´s image and likeness and made children of his through grace, is the link between God and the world in the sense that we are supposed to be the stewards of the world, acting in God´s name.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Educating in freedom

THIS, I think, is the very heart of education. It is how to inculcate the whole intricate business of freedom into the lives of people, especially those of children, so that everyone would not only know it, but also live the genuine brand of freedom, not its many imitations.

Freedom is what distinguishes us from other creatures. It’s what makes us the image and likeness of God, and infused with grace, what makes us children of his, sharers of the very life of God.

It’s what enables us, to use an expression from the Acts of the Apostles, to have “one heart and one mind,” (cor unum et anima una) (4,32) with God and everybody else.

We are made for freedom, whose best expression is love, and whose object as well as source and medium is God, and with God, everybody else. God is love, love in the truth, and it is the truth that will make us free. Perhaps, that can be the formula we can use to remember this principle is education.

That is why when our Lord was asked what the greatest commandment was, he replied: “You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with your whole mind…The second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt 22,37-40)

Freedom expressed in love for God and others is where we can find the fullness of our humanity. It’s where all efforts in education will find their true home.

We have to be clear about this. Education is not simply a matter of acquiring bits and pieces of knowledge and information. It’s not just all about having degrees and titles and diplomas.

These are also indispensable, but education is aimed at nothing less than the full development of man. And the epicenter of that development process is the cultivation of genuine freedom.

We can say that a person is truly educated when he in all freedom gets to love God and others, a loving not only in intention but in deeds, not only from time to time but all the time.

For this purpose, Christian believers know that educating in freedom can only have its basis on the Christian faith that teaches us about who and what we really are.

We have to be wary of the many ideas, doctrines and ideologies floating around that can confuse and even lead us to error. We have to be wary of the so-called neutral and relativistic approaches that would put all educational doctrines, including those of the Christian faith, in the same level, with the same weight.

So it’s important that all those involved in the task of education, namely, parents, teachers and other officials, have a good grasp of the Christian faith. In this, we need to go beyond the amateurish, sophomoric level. We need to be a real pro, the doctrine truly assimilated in actual life, the theory turned to practice, the idea into flesh.

That’s, of course, another goal to reach, for which a lot of effort also needs to be exerted. But it’s all worth it. We just have to be persistent in helping one another, not daunted by any problem or difficulty along the way.

It’s also crucial to realize that education starts and is nurtured first at home, and always at home, before it becomes a responsibility of the school and other educational centers. Parents are the first and main educators. Teachers and others play only a subsidiary role.

To parents, the education of their children should be their first and best business. No other business can top that. And it has to be done more by giving example than by giving lectures, more by the testimony of the consistency in their lives than by simply talking.

Parents therefore need to learn and master the art of educating children in freedom. They cannot limit themselves to taking care only of the external needs of the children. They need to enter into their mind and heart and instill the necessary values and virtues.

This may be difficult, but not impossible. What we have to remember is that in theory we as men are naturally equipped for this task, and with the sacrament of matrimony and other sacraments, we receive the grace to carry out this delicate duty.

Problems are due to our human weaknesses, errors, failures, not to mention the external difficulties. But there are always solutions to these, as long as we put all our mind and heart into this challenge.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Media bloodbath vs. Church

THERE seems to me a media bloodbath against the Church these days. The indiscriminate digging up of cases of clergy sex abuses and piling them up as evidence of a Church-wide conspiracy to avoid justice are simply unbelievable.

What’s coming out is not so much an honest effort to ferret out the truth and to seek appropriate justice as to vomit venom and bad blood even on the Pope. There’s wanton massacre of persons.

It’s becoming clear that the current crisis is the handiwork of the rabid enemies of the Church, making use of clergy victims to launch their attacks against the Church. All have an ax to grind against the Church, afflicted with the quixotic animus of destroying and quashing her to death.

Imagine unearthing cases dating years and ages ago. And without knowing exactly not only the finer details but also the salient developments of each case, they blast off into wild accusations based mainly on their speculations and, of course, their bleeding hatred.

They cast off restraint and moderation. They give full bent to their intemperance. They look invincibly convinced they are in entirely right. What they suspect is really what happened, no ifs and buts about it.

They seem not to have any room for the possibility of personal conversions and atonement of the people involved. They seem not have space for things like mercy and magnanimity. Their suffocating sense of justice blinds them to these human needs.

They drag suspects to the open, and subject them to all sorts of public humiliations. I suppose they’d be happy if some lynching would take place. Even those who are already dead are taken out of their graves in a pure display of spite.

The media people, some of them anyway, enjoy these things. It’s a feast for them, a field day. Glued only to the external facts, they play blind to the inner workings of these news items.

They know that limiting themselves to that level already sells enormously. So, why dig deeper? Why bother about the before and after of the cases, the social, cultural and spiritual context of these cases? Oversimplifying things is to go sensational, is to get at the jugular, is to make money.

Well, good luck to you, guys, atheists, agnostics, secularists, dissenters. I don’t wish to sound hubristic, but there’s something you will never understand if you just stop at your brilliant reasoning and mock the faith.

For sure, you have managed to cause some kind of crucifixion to the Church in general. But this, according to Christian faith, has always been not only to be expected but also to be welcomed and embraced. It serves to purify and strengthen the Church.

In short, what’s happening now is nothing new. It’s part of the regular cycle in the life of both the Church and the world. It’s part of the continuing process of identifying the Church and the world more and more with the crucified Christ. These conflicts are an unavoidable ingredient in life.

It’s actually like a favor done to the Church. I don’t know whether many people understand that. In the Gospel, when Christ had to impart a mysterious lesson to the people, he would say, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Only those who try to live by faith would understand this divine logic.

Non-believers can soar sky-high in their reasoning, and hiss and mock at believers as much as they want, but they will fail to get the point unless they change.

Obviously, given our human condition, there is also need to clarify the issues and avoid playing the ostrich, with head in the sand. Christian believers are not averse to engaging anyone in a healthy, constructive dialogue, and to face the full weight of human justice, no matter how imperfect it is.

It’s true there had been unspeakable offenses committed by some clergy. It’s true there had been errors of judgment, even serious ones, committed by some Church authorities who handled these cases.

The Pope, in his recent letter to the Irish bishops regarding these Church scandals, already listed some of the root causes of the scandals. Appropriate measures are already afoot. These will take time, of course. Patience, hope and good will are needed.

Also recently, he called for penitence from everyone, but especially from those involved in the abuses. I was just dismayed to learn that even this papal call was distorted by some people who seem bent at nothing less than kicking the Pope out.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Beyond miracles

WE need to get past the excitement stage regarding miracles. Though that is understandable and unavoidable, we should avoid getting stuck in that level, because much more important lessons are actually embedded in them, all of them crying for us to learn.

Foremost among these lessons is that these miracles that abound in the Gospels are meant to nourish oneś faith more than anything else. They are not just there to give relief to some sickness and suffering. They are meant to strengthen oneś faith, or even to establish it.

Thatś why in all these miracles, Christ always asked for the faith from the one begging for the miracle, or checked if there is faith in that person. ¨Go, and as you have believed, so be it done to you,¨ (Mt 8,13) Christ told the centurion who asked for healing for his servant, and the servant was cured.

Also, he told the beneficiaries not to publicize the miracle. To a leper who was cleansed, he said: ¨See you tell no man, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift which Moses commanded for a testimony of them.¨ (Mt 8,4)

Miracles are not publicity stunts. They are meant only for the purpose of fortifying people´s faith. Besides, miracles require faith to happen. Remember how he behaved toward his unbelieving townmates. ¨He could not work any miracle there, beyond curing a few sick people...He marvelled at their unbelief.¨ (Mk 6,5-6)

Some of the leading Jews who did not believe in Jesus only saw some worrying uncommon feats of Jesus, but could not connect these miracles to the divinity of Christ. Thatś plainly because they did not have faith.

What is important is to have faith, or to live that faith which first of all is a divine gift to us. When we have faith, we´ll see miracles in us and around us. Miracles cease being associated mainly with extraordinary things. They come continually in the daily flow of events in our life.

That we pray, that we believe in God, in the spiritual and supernatural realities that are way beyond what our senses could cope and our mind could understand, that we decide to do good when we have all the reasons and benefits to do bad, all these are samples of miracles that happen everyday and that we often miss.

Only a person with vibrant faith can discern the miracle-quality of common, ordinary events, because he will always see the hand of God in them. He does not get stuck in the natural dimensions. He sees the cosmic and eternal effects of these happenings.

For him, it would just be as miraculous to see the sun rise and set everyday as to watch a lame walk, a blind person see, a deaf man hear... It would just be as miraculous to hear the words of the consecration at Mass, that turn bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, as when he gets cured of a serious illness.

We often have to ask ourselves about the state of our faith. Is it a living faith or a dead one? Does it bring us in constant contact with God, or it is just some kind of apparatus we use from time to time? Does it make us think with the mind of God, or it is just a human science to us, to be used purely according to our own designs?

Does our faith lead us to conclude our search for justice with charity, or is it a selective kind of faith, again according to human criteria? Does it lead us to show mercy, or does it trap us in a deadend of bitterness and anguish?

The state of our faith is crucial when we are faced with difficult and tricky issues. Only those who lead saintly lives can effectively sort out the tangled threads of competing interests and values involved in these issues.

St. Paul said: ¨The spiritual man judges all things, and he himself is judged by no man. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he might instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.¨ (1 Cor 2,15-16)

In the end, it is faith that makes miracles happen. ¨If you have faith like a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ´Remove from here,´ and it will remove. And nothing will be impossible to you.¨ (Mt 17,19)

The appalling predicament the Church is facing now is actually an invitation to intensify our faith.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Beware of solitary journalism

THE American Pulitzer Prize for this year has just been awarded to deserving journalists. That is the gold standard of journalism. But like any awarding body, it also has its share of controversies.

Think, for example, of President Obama’s Nobel Prize, or that of Al Gore for his film, “The Inconvenient Truth,” on global warming. These provoked a howl of protests in many places, leaving the name of the award badly battered.

I won’t go into these disputes. Instead, I prefer to discuss some aspects of journalism that I feel need to be addressed as the world enters into more exciting, complicated, if not confusing times.

The crucial issue confronting journalism now, as in all other fields, is the challenge of direction it should be taking given present developments. Will it just be contented with covering news events, dishing out some interesting facts and data, and offering opinions, comments and views on our multiplying affairs?

For sure, these efforts are already a great service to society. They are already quite defined as proper to journalism, and should not be abandoned. But there’s also a crying need for it to grow more somehow, to be more mature, more engaging in the increasing nuances of people’s interests.

Journalism has to flow with the times. While it has to continue to cater to the traditional needs of the people for basic information, it should also quickly capture and identify the daily changes taking place in people’s minds and taste, and seize the chance to satisfy their need for more processed information.

This challenge is made more rousing because of the progressive surge of high-technology-driven information now available. The media market is soaked with data and opinions and it’s now asking what next can be done out of them.

I think that just as in other fields, journalism should not get stuck in the raw and tender stage of its work. It needs to bud and flower. Of course, given the infinite possibilities of the materials it handles, journalism has to continually metamorphose. It has to keep on reengineering itself.

Given this situation, journalism has no other alternative but to go into greater interdisciplinary approaches. It has to put more range and depth into its work. At the same time, it has to know how to calibrate its reporting according to the different levels of needs and interests of its audience.

As we can see, the challenge indeed is awful. This is not to mention that, in the end, what journalism has to work on is to ground itself on the ultimate basis and purpose of truth. God has to come in. One’s bedrock of faith and morals has to be clearly defined and solidly established.

Otherwise, it can’t help but become a free-floating, open-ended enterprise where we can feel lost at sea. Its claims for veracity, justice and freedom would just be inflated words and empty slogans.

Without the guidance of core beliefs, and ultimately of God, any effort to transmit news and information, and any aspect of truth, will tend to spiral out of its proper orbit. Exaggerations, abuses and distortions can abound.

When belief in the absolute truth or in a living God is missing, and instead there’s just a fascination for relativism, or for an anything-goes, free-for-all outlook, then we can only expect endless quarrelling and bickering.

Yes, in journalism there will always be grey areas where tentative ideas can be made and dialogue should be fostered. This is typical of our human and earthly condition. Everyone just has to learn how to dance with this beat, and try to be as respectful as possible of everybody else.

Journalism now needs to go deeper in its grounding, to aim at higher, more nuanced aims and objectives, and to be more consistent in its behavior in spite of the ups and downs of news developments.

It has to avoid being solitary in any step of its work. It has to keep a vital link with God and with everybody else. Otherwise, one is bound to create a pseudo-reality, prone to miss the increasingly finer points involved in handling data and information.

We should never forget that whatever we do with any aspect of truth necessarily brings us in direct contact with God. We need to find a way to feel at home with this basic truth.

I think this is the direction journalism should take today. I know many still consider this attitude abstract, impracticable, if not preposterous. But we cannot remain there. We have to move forward.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Born again

WE have to know not only the expression but also and most importantly the reality of being born again. We all need it. We all are actually meant for it. We have to build up, first, a strong, abiding awareness of it and then our skill for achieving it together with God’s grace and mercy.

Yes, this time, unlike in our first birth, we have a part to play. Remember St. Augustine’s : “God created us without us. But he cannot save us without us.” That’s because our life is a life with God. It’s not only ours entirely. It’s ours and God’s.

And like God in his own life, we need to have full responsibility for our life. So we have a big part to play in it. We cannot play the spoiled brat who simply receives things from the parents and thinks he can do with them however he pleases. We always have to refer things to God, no matter how exciting and absorbing these things can be.

In the Gospel of St. John, Christ talked about being born again with Nicodemus, one of the leading Jews at Christ’s time. (3,1-12) “Unless a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”

The words are crystal clear. Being born again is what enables us to enter the kingdom of God. We cannot remain here on earth, stuck in our natural and material dimensions. We are meant for the God, to partake in his very life, and not just a political understanding of God’s kingdom.

Expanding on this point, Christ clarifies: “Flesh begets flesh. Spirit begets spirit.” What is presumed here is that we are meant for a spiritual, supernatural life, not just a purely earthly life.

The Church brings it to our attention right after the Easter octave as if to tell us that the new life we are supposed to have with Christ after his resurrection, the new man we are supposed to be, starts with our being born again.

The meeting and conversation between Christ and Nicodemus are worth noting because they reflects the very way we discover about this need, and the reaction we are likely to have.

Like Nicodemus, we can be very knowledgeable not only in worldly things but also in religion, and yet we can still miss a very crucial point.

This has led our Lord to tell Nicodemus: “If I have spoken of earthly things to you, and you do not believe, how will you believe if I speak to you of heavenly things.” Let’s hope we can avoid hearing these words from our Lord. But that means we really have to be consistent with our faith, possible only if we are born again.

Also, like Nicodemus we should do our part by going to our Lord and somehow confessing our conversion and faith in Christ. We need to echo the words: “We know that you have come a teacher from God, for no one can work these signs that you work unless God be with him.”

For sure, given the temper of the times, we need to some extra effort to discern the hands of God not only in the natural wonders we see around, but also and especially in the man-made marvels that are producing.

Our problem is that we often fail to realize that our human genius, however it is shown, actually comes from God. It’s not just of our own making, filling us with a blinding sense of self-importance and losing our sense of God.

Again, we have to make adjustments, sometimes big and major adjustments, in the way we think, judge, reason, desire, feel. In all of these operations of our mind and heart, God should be at the middle. In fact, God should be the beginning, end and center, as well. This is a clear sign we are truly born again.

That’s always possible. God is never a hindrance to our human activities. On the contrary, God enhances these activities and makes sure that even our littlest, most insignificant activity, humanly speaking, acquires an eternal value with cosmic effects.

In the beginning, just like in any human endeavor, we can be clumsy in doing things with God. But with perseverance, driven by humility and trust in God’s power, living, thinking, judging, working and speaking with God can become second nature to us.

Let’s be born again, through the water and the Spirit, which I’ll explain in another occasion.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Condoms a dead man walking

Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral continues to distribute condoms and to amend her justifications for doing so, depending on her audience. I have already lost track of how many layers of rationalizations she had cleverly done.

She’s a smart lady. I wish to congratulate her, not for what she is doing in this particular case, but for being shrewd. Remember that our Lord also praised the unjust steward not for his misdeed but for his imaginative effort to secure his future once he is dismissed for wasting his master’s goods. (Lk 16,1-8)

This is, of course, a most tricky situation, since we can easily go overboard. But we just have to learn to handle this circumstance, since it’s part of what our Lord said about being “wise as serpents and simple as doves.” (Mt 10,16)

Still, we have to be clear and prompt in distinguishing between right and wrong, good and evil. Everything, for sure, will have to be done with utmost charity, delicacy and refinement, especially in the grey areas. But the distinction has to be made.

In the episode of the woman caught in adultery, our Lord showed mercy, but told her to “sin no more.” There is mercy, but that mercy is not supposed to overturn the moral law.

This is the law that governs us all, since it is universal and immutable. I hate to say this, since I feel it’s so basic it should be presumed at all times. But as we all know, the world is now so flung in confusion that even the moral and ethical one-plus-one needs to be explained.

In this issue of the condoms, a ridiculously simple question that does not deserve a front-page treatment, the crux is first of all, as it should be in everything else, whether it is morally right to use it, let alone, to distribute it indiscriminately.

The moral test is basic and indispensable. When something fails that test, it cannot go first base, much less, expect a home run. It is disqualified right at the start. It’s dead in the water. No practical advantage can displace this requirement.

That it is still being foisted as a means to combat the dreaded HIV-AIDS, hyped now to become an epidemic, giving the impression the condom is the last resort, the ultimate redeemer, etc., is converting that piece of latex into a dead man walking, taking a longer route, past its due execution and interment.

This is stretching things beyond the limits. The condom is an ant made to posture as an elephant. It’s a blind, long shot and dangerous measure. Even its practical effectivity is seriously, that is, scientifically, put to doubt.

You don’t solve a serious moral problem with a mere prophylactic. And we cannot appeal to the argument that Cabral, being a public official, need not bother too much about morals, since she is limited to the practical aspects of the problem. She is just doing her job. Leave her alone. That’s a flat no.

That’s why I feel uneasy when some Church officials gave the impression they were playing footsie with Cabral in this issue. I was disturbed to read in the papers recently that some personnel of the social action group of the Bishops’ Conference were doing just that.

Cabral went to town telling everyone she was happy the Church finally gave some approval to the condom project. Or that in this issue, there is an area of shared interest between her and the Church.

Of course, we may have to take that news with a grain of salt. The media cannot be fully trusted to reflect the objective reality on the ground. Still, it can cause a degree of apprehension.

It’s not a question of whether the Church should cooperate with the government in a particular project. That cooperation should always be presumed, but always in the way that’s in keeping with our faith and morals.

In the agora of public opinion, the Church’s distinctive contribution is precisely the moral and ethical aspect of a given issue. Once that test is passed, the Church not only respects but also fosters the variety of views and options everyone is free to take.

We may have to look more closely into the qualifications of these Church officials. Clearly, good intentions and past heroic acts are not enough. Competence, doctrinal fidelity and tested prudence should be upheld.

With all the sex scandals hounding the Church now, we have more than enough problems without getting enmeshed in this condom ruse.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Pushing out the pushover

THE lines are drawn. The flashpoints are building up. We need to shed off our pushover type of Christianity to effectively grapple with the intensifying challenges we have at hand.

The world is drifting to uncharted waters of secularism, each time deepening and worsening. Faith and religion are put on the back burner. Ideologies, full of so-called practical and get-real guts, take over.

Local and world leaders are increasingly showing atheistic or agnostic visions of life. Systems and structures are patterned after these worldviews. The effects are now conspicuous in people’s mentalities, cultures and lifestyles.

We are actually being pushed to make a radical choice. Are we still with God or against God? Do we believe in the spiritual and supernatural world, or there are just material and temporal realities around? We cannot remain undecided, unsure which way to go or jump.

Christian believers are now asked to be consistent all the way in their spiritual and moral life. All aspects, all levels, fronts and fields in life have to be covered. A certain kind of Christian militancy, different from the political and social one, whether leftist or rightist, is desired.

We need to put more range and depth in our Christian life, overcoming a two-dimensional mindset that has been dragging us down to complacency, inaction, flippancy, superficiality, isolationism and the like.

Now is the time to clearly see the indivisible link of faith and religion with all our other concerns. In fact, now is the time to deepen our conviction about the leading and inspiring role of our religious beliefs in all our earthly affairs.

We just cannot remain in the practical or commonsensible level. While always good, that level cannot cope with the over-all reality upon us. It tends to follow a sense of prudence that is more of the flesh than of the spirit, more of the world than of God.

We have been stagnating in that attitude, and it has led us nowhere but growing worldliness and vanishing spirituality. The mistakes and excesses of the past religious extremism are no excuse to ignore the objective need for faith in our life. We just have to find the proper balance.

We should not be afraid that a faith-based orientation in life can lead us to become rigid and out of step with other people having different or opposite viewpoints. A genuinely understood faith would know how to blend with everyone and with everything while keeping its consistency intact.

Obviously, there will be mistakes along the way. But corrections will always be available. With God, even the humanly impossible will become possible.

By the way, the current Church predicament involving sex scandals of some members of the clergy needs to be put in its proper perspective. It has been twisted along the lines of a secularist, antagonistic mentality.

A study made by a certain American professor Philip Jenkins yields the following findings that can be helpful in this regard:

- Priestly celibacy is not the issue. Married men are more likely to abuse children than unmarried.

- All religious groups have pedophile scandals, and the Catholics are at the bottom of the list.

- Child abuse in prevalent in all areas of society—schools, youth organizations.

- Doctors, farmers and teachers are professions most likely to abuse children—not clergy.

- Catholic cases of pedophilia make more headlines because of anti-Catholic prejudice and because the Catholic Church is bigger and more lucrative to sue.

- Most cases of child abuse are homosexual in nature. But this aspect is downplayed in the press to be politically correct, to avoid associating it with the ongoing gay agenda in the world today.

- What we now call ‘cover up’ was often done in a different cultural context, when the problem was not fully understood and when all organizations hushed scandals. It is unfair to judge events thirty years ago by today’s standards.

- We must be wary of false accusations. The accused must be given fair hearing.

- When guilt is established the offender must be punished, not sheltered.

- Distinctions must be made between different types of abuse. Some offenses are more serious than others.

- Number of offenses must be considered. One lapse is not as serious as repeated, persistent and premeditated offenses.

Church history tells us the Church emerged from worse past problems chastened, purified and made stronger. Let’s face this present crisis courageously. In the meantime let’s work on that Christian militancy expected of us. We have to push out the pushover Christianity.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


WE have to be wary of some dangerous ideas spilling out from decadent Western countries these days. The latest casualty, to my mind, is Kenya whose Parliament just legalized abortion on demand, a clear caving-in to US pressures under the Obama-Clinton administration.

We have been practically bullied by the same group and we just have to find a way to resist the tremendous pressures. The ideas and practices they espouse are clearly predatory.

Not only are they harmful. They also are aggressive in promoting their rotten causes. They’re good at preying on the weak and helpless, using every trick in the book to market their ideologically-driven projects.

What are some of these dangerous ideas? Aside from abortion, we have condoms and contraception, same-sex union, divorce, mercy-killing, sex education, reproductive health, family planning, population control, etc. Someone banded them together under the umbrella of ¨culture of death.¨

They come to us beautifully packaged, complete with icing and colorful designs, with a lot of moolah besides and all sorts of benefits. Their promises of good life soar stratospheric. Gratification is guaranteed and instant. No need to think much, no need to worry much.

I have seen a long list of powerful and moneyed foreign foundations and NGOs giving enormous amounts of grants even to local Catholic universities in order to promote some of these dangerous ideas.

Appealing, for example, to tolerance since we are now living in a culturally diverse world, suggestions are made to put a shelf-life on marriage, renewable every 10 years, or make any kind of union and coupling, be it temporary or gay, equivalent to marriage, to be given the same legal recognition and treatment.

To pursue these goals, they resort to making tendentious surveys, courting political and social leaders, even teachers, dangling externally benevolent projects but with noxious strings attached. They politicize the issues and start defining their new concept of morality and the like.

Truly tempting. But they are clearly against God’s will and law, screamingly immoral and definitely toxic. The devastation they have caused is truly disgusting. In Spain right now, for example, the government is promoting masturbation for children. That´s part of their sex education.

But then again, talking about God and morality is now tagged as politically incorrect these days. The intriguing part of all this is that when you get one of these dangerous ideas, you’re likely to get the others as well. That´s because they all spring from the same source, from the same spirit. Let´s not play dumb.

We can term such devious spirit as liberalism or relativism or secularism or materialism, etc. What’s common is their disbelief in God, formally professed or not. It has many variants—agnosticism, deism, even pantheism, etc.

These days, we need to be adept in discerning spirits, reading signs of the times, identifying ideological machinations, since there are many forces, both good and evil, at play not only in the world stage, but also in every corner, thanks to our advanced technologies. In short, we have to learn to smell a rat from a mile.

We cannot afford to be naïve, and to react to threats and possible problems with baby steps. A lot of things are needed—massive education and formation, a certain inoculation given our increasingly polluted world, intensification of spiritual and moral life.

Sorry to bring these terms in public. I know they´re supposed to be spoken in restricted circles. But given present circumstances, these abstruse terms need to be made popular, if not, household words. And besides, with the growing technical lingo we are exposed everyday, why should we not develop a taste for finer moral concepts also?

Thing is we need to be ready to grapple with these challenges today. Everyone has to be involved. Let´s stop wasting our time trying to figure out whom to assign these duties: the Church or the State, parents or teachers, etc.?

These responsibilities are for all, whatever sector of society one may belong. It´s not an either/or proposition. It´s both/and, all, everyone! It´s not exclusive to a certain group. It´s inclusive of everyone.

We have to get our act together. For this, one basic requirement is to overcome our deep-seated biases that relegate our faith to the background, giving rise to a schizophrenic type of Christianity.

We have to be more Christian. And not to be afraid that such trend would make us rigid, fanatical or fundamentalist. If we are truly Christian, we will have an openness and firmness to truth and charity like the one of Christ even to death.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Confession and inner healing

WE need to recover the true face of confession. Very often this sacrament is wrapped in negative images. This is unfortunate because confession actually plays an indispensable role in a believer’s life. It’s where Christian life is restored, or at least strengthened.

Of course, confession has to be understood as a doctrine of faith. One misses the truth right at the source if he considers it as just one more practice, religious but mainly social, its nature determined more by its practical aspects than by that it was instituted by Christ and taught and promoted by the Church.

This is actually our main problem these days. Many believers have a watered down attitude toward faith and religion, and of course toward the Church. They allow their reason instead of faith to lead them in their Christian life. They believe and they follow only when they understand things and see them useful in some way.

For example, in this now fading episode of the Church, especially the Pope, being unfairly accused of misdemeanor regarding some sex scandals involving members of the clergy in the past, this dubious attitude is exposed.

Some media people who are known to be Christians and even Catholics took a secularist attitude towards the matter. Of course, as journalists they have to do their job in the strictest norms of their profession.

But then again they should not take their professional standards as the absolute law. There is a law higher than theirs, to which they should also follow. And that is the law of God where charity and mercy blend well with the requirements of truth and justice.

Now that this crisis is unraveling in a way favoring the Church, these media people are found to have been rash in their views. They failed to take the bigger picture. Their biases and inconsistencies in their Christian life were simply bared.

Again, we have to take our faith seriously and live it as consistently as possible. We don’t flaunt it when it is politically correct, and junk it when it is inconvenient. And this seriousness in our faith should also be shown in our attitude toward confession.

As sacrament, it is not just a human institution. Though it uses human instruments, it is Christ to whom one approaches and from whom one asks forgiveness in confession.

Though it takes only a few minutes, the truth is that the whole drama of Christ assuming our sins, dying to them and rising from them, victorious over sin and death, and expressing the most exquisite version of love in his mercy for us, takes place there.

This is what happens in confession if understood and done well. We need to expand our mind and heart to accommodate this tremendous reality of confession as taught to us by our Christian faith.

If we today pride ourselves of having gone nuclear, of having covered a vast area of worldly knowledge, then we should do something similar with respect to truths of faith. We cannot remain in the kindergarten level in our appreciation and practice of confession, for example.

Of course, all parties should do their best here. The priests and the penitents should play their respective parts well. Pope Benedict recently said that confession is where that intimate and life-changing “dialogue of salvation” transpires.

Priests should realize that as confessors they lend their faculties to Christ who is the one who forgives sins. They should be truly identified with him, effectively and affectively. Thus, they—we—should be competent and truly holy, because only in this way can we dispense God’s mercy and effect inner healing in the penitents.

This is, of course, a very dynamic, never-ending effort, with its ups and downs, twists and turns. But as long as there is determined effort to be faithful to Christ, the sacrament can be done as it should be in spite of our defects and miseries.

Hearing confessions is a very privileged moment for any priest. That’s where he enters into the inmost part of a person, that part where one is supposed to face Christ to ask for the most important thing in life—God’s mercy. We can need many and endless things, but in the end what we most need is none other than God’s mercy.

Priests should do their part really well. They have to know how to be at one time a father, a friend, a judge and doctor. They must know how to advise as well as the intricacies of the internal forum.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Shifting the center of gravity

WE need to bring this issue out. It’s so important it can require some drastic action, a sea change in our mentality that can involve a shifting of the center of gravity of our attitudes toward something basic in our life.

For this, let’s use some words of St. Paul in his first letter to Timothy as the cue. We need to be familiar with these words, and in fact to act on them. Here they go:

"If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to that doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but sick about questions and strifes of words, from which arise envies, contentions, blasphemies, evil suspicions, conflicts…” (3-5)

Though these words were spoken in the context of particular issue and directly to Christian disciples, I believe they do possess a universal applicability. They simply point to the fact that the ultimate and constant source of knowledge should be our faith, and not just our own ideas, no matter how well derived they are.

Take note that St. Paul went to the extent of equating not following “the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and to that doctrine which is according to godliness” with knowing nothing. In short, we can only say we truly know when we in effect follow the faith.

This is because all truths come from God and belong to God. The only things that do not come and belong to him are the lies and the sins, though God also knows them.

It would not be proper for us to think and, worse, to have the attitude that there are certain facts and truths that are purely our own, or are so of this world that God would have nothing to do with them.

Even our sciences—the math, physics, chemistry, biology, etc.—come from God, and therefore have to be used always in accordance to the mind and will of God, and not just at our own exclusive designs and purposes. The least thing we can do is to offer them to God and to thank him every time we use them. We just cannot forget God at all.

This abiding effort to relate things to God is crucial because as St. Paul said, if we fail to do that, then the bad consequences come—envies, quarrels, blasphemies, conflicts, etc. That we are seeing these things today all over the place can only mean that we are not grounding our knowledge and its use on God.

Thus, we are prone to simply use them for our own selfish ends. And we cannot avoid losing the sense of the common good and the need to give glory to God. Instead we tend to give glory to ourselves. We do the opposite of what St. John the Baptist said of himself: “That he must increase, and that I must decrease.” (Jn 3,30)

Besides, that kind of mentality will always lead us to misuse and abuse things. It’s precisely the germ of the Tower-of-Babel syndrome, where man’s pride can only cause division and conflicts.

We need to change our frame of mind, to have a paradigm shift. From being reason-and-emotion-centered, we have to be faith-centered. From being man or self-centered, we need to be God-centered in our thoughts and our behavior.

We have to constantly remind ourselves—and quite strongly especially at the beginning stage—that everything that we know and discover and use actually comes from God and has to be used for God’s glory. This is the proper way to behave and to live.

For this, we have to learn to pray and to immerse our thoughts and even our feelings in God, until we develop a sense of the spiritual and the supernatural, even while fully engaged in our earthly affairs.

As St. Paul recommended: “If you be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above…Mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth.” (Col 3,1-2)

In short, we have to relate all our earthly affairs to God’s will. We should try to avoid being short-sighted and narrow-minded, our thoughts and desires mainly earth-and-time-bound.

In this, there are no excuses and dispensations. We just have to learn how to pray, spending time trying to develop an intimate relationship with God. We need to find the link between God and our things. That link is there always.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Where faith and piety start to trickle

IN a way, the world is getting more polarized these days. That’s actually an understatement. Let’s never forget that the world will always be an arena for the continuing battle of good and evil. Polarization is a dynamic thing. It has its ebb and flow.

But this conflict can have its sharpest moment during Holy Week. That’s the high point of the Christian world. And thus the enemies of Christ and of the Church can view it also as their lowest moment, a time to fight for survival.

That’s one angle. On the other hand, we cannot discount the possibility that all this fuss has been whipped more to generate readership and lucre in a media dead season than to give objective news. Sorry for this cynical impression, but I think it has good basis. We were not born yesterday.

The past weeks leading to Holy Week have seen some parts of the mainstream Western media hitting rock bottom in vile and malice. Stretching their arguments and evidence out of proportion, they attacked the Pope and the Church in general for past misconduct of some clerics.

For sure, there were serious errors, grave sins and screaming scandals involving some members of the clergy. Church authorities have admitted these anomalies, have profusely apologized, and where required, have paid the price, both in money and in other more serious intangible penalties.

But while we all try to avoid these, neither should we be surprised by them. This is part of our human condition. And the Church, in its human aspect, is not exempt from it.

As the Catechism says: “The Church, clasping sinners to her bosom, at once holy and in need of purification, follows constantly the path of penance and renewal.” (CCC 827) Only fools don’t realize this.

The recent spate of media accusations against the Church have been reviewed and probed, and they were found to be simply exaggerated given the hue and cry Western media gave them.

It seems to me that they were made just to bash Christ, slam the Church, embarrass the clergy, put the whole world of faith and religion in ridicule.

Anyway, during this Holy Week, amid all the retreats, recollections, confessions and liturgical activities, I tried to take a break from these media-generated controversies mainly in the virtual world of the internet by going to small town churches and to observe the real pulse of the people.

It was a very rewarding plan, as I derived ample impulses of faith and hope by just looking at the simple people doing their prayers and other forms of atonement. There I saw what I consider to be the wellspring of faith and piety.

Simple people always attract the grace and mercy of God, and it’s gratifying, not to mention, purifying, to see this phenomenon in action, in real life. The city, of course, can have its share of God’s grace and mercy, but I believe it’s in the small towns where you these more clearly.

In these simple people, you see embedded in their raw and rough ways, a certain purity of heart and pristinity of character very rare to find in big, bustling places. I saw how they prayed and expressed their faith in God, and could not help but feel some holy envy for them.

I imagined that their faith was largely unsupported by academic philosophy and theology, and thus, purer, more spiritual and supernatural.

Not that philosophy, theology and other human sciences undermine faith. No. They are not supposed to have that effect. They are supposed to strengthen one’s faith. But in the real world, many times, for one reason or another, they do in fact weaken one’s faith and dampen one’s piety.

That’s because we tend, often without realizing it, to ground this knowledge improperly, mixing it with pride, vanity and self-interest, such that instead of enhancing our love for God and others, it intensifies our self-love and self-absorption.

And from there, all sorts of graver anomalies can grow, until faith and piety are practically muted and killed. This is what we are seeing in this world today. Parts of it are now openly against God, faith and religion, and are building up their own new morality.

We need to recover our proper bearings. Aside from prayer, recourse to the sacraments and a continuing formation and ascetical struggle, let’s look at where popular piety starts to trickle in the small places and among simple folks, to get our spiritual moorings right and to sustain our efforts.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Politicians and the cursed fig tree

IN just a few lines, Christ delivers a very strong message. He expects from everyone an all-time consistency in Christian faith and life, regardless of the pressures, for nothing is impossible with him. This is the story of the cursed fig tree, found in Matthew 21,19-22 and Mark 11,13-26.

It’s a simple story of how Christ saw a fig tree full of leaves, and yet not finding fruit. It was not the season for bearing fruit, and yet our Lord cursed it: “May no fruit grow on you henceforward forever.” (Mt 21,19) The tree dried up.

We may think our Lord was unreasonable. But then again, it is our Lord, who is God, speaking. He must know whereof he spoke. It is us who need to defer to him, rather than the reverse.

In fact, the lesson Christ drew from this story is that we should trust him, no matter how difficult the circumstances may be. “Have the faith of God.” (Mk 11,22)

Expanding on that, our Lord said: “Amen I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Arise, and hurl yourself into the sea,’ and does not waver in his heart, but believes that whatever he says will be done, it shall be done for him.” (Mk 11,23)

The point is clear. There will be extraordinary moments in our life when everything, if viewed purely humanly, may look unreasonable, impossible, inhuman, etc. But if it is the will of God, then we just have to do it, trusting always in him more than in ourselves. We need to trust God and not ourselves.

This has happened in the case of the apostles. Our Lord just told them, “Come, follow me,” and they followed. They were very ordinary, simple people entrusted with the impossible job of working with Christ for the redemption of men.

Their weaknesses were undisguised. Peter was impulsive. Matthew, being a tax collector, you can just imagine what shenanigans he was doing. Think of Judas. All apostles were easily affected by merely human and natural difficulties.

Except for Judas, they did the impossible, simply because they trusted Christ in spite of their defects. And what was impossible to them was always possible to God. Going through the lives of saints will yield the same lesson.

In the Letter to the Hebrews, we have this beautiful hymn of what faith can do for us: “By faith, they conquered kingdoms, wrought justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, recovered from weakness…” (11,33-34)

We need to make adjustments in the way we think, feel and react to all kinds of events, especially the difficult ones. Faith and trust in God should always dominate.

We need to detach ourselves from our own selves. Otherwise, how easy for us to fall into doubts, fears, cowardice, self-pity, sadness and then hypocrisy, deception, infidelity, despair, etc.!

This point is, of course, meant for everyone. But we can apply it today most especially to our beloved politicians who in their line of work might be tempted to lose trust in God because of certain difficult issues.

We pray that they use the faith given to them as a gift, and that they don’t throw in the towel just because of the pressures. They have to be consistent to it but respectful always of the requirements of truth, justice and charity, especially in the public arena

One of our modern scourges is to find Christian politicians who suspend, ignore and even go against the faith for political expediency. Some have invoked the widespread foolishness of the doctrine of Church-state separation.

That doctrine is terribly twisted by all kinds of people. In its original version, no word, no line in it ever teaches a Christian believer in public life to set aside his faith just because he is a politician, or a businessman, etc.

Others say they have to be politically correct. They need to flow with the times. Still others are simply confused or are in error and may not even know it. This is the case of the invincibly ignorant. But that’s unlikely, what with all the information we have.

I appeal to those Christian politicians who are for the RH Bill and the condoms, etc., to be consistent to their faith. Otherwise, Christ, not I, will curse them: “May no fruit grow on you henceforward forever.”

Now is the time for them to stand up for the faith. Be brave, be consistent!