Saturday, May 29, 2010

Abusing religion

WE are already familiar with the problem of secularization. That’s
when God is set aside not only in society—as in business and
politics—but also in one’s personal life. This is the anomaly
besetting many developed Western countries that are entering what
is known as post-Christian or post-religion era.

That means religion is already considered as passé and obsolete. Any
mention of God is likely met with a laugh, a derision if not an open
hostility. In these places, men are convinced there’s no other source
of light, wisdom and guidance than their own selves, their own ideas
and devices.

Under this category, we can cite isms like atheism, agnosticism,
relativism, skepticism, deism, etc.

But another anomaly can also be found in the other end, precisely
happening in places known for religious zeal. Our country falls
largely under this classification. Here, religion tends to be abused
and exploited. In the end, religion is used to deform, emasculate and
even kill religion itself.

This happens when religion is detached from a living relationship
with God, with his Church, his doctrine and sacraments, and personal
struggle. It is driven more by one’s ideas and efforts. Faith becomes
mere philosophizing and theologizing, full of form without substance.

Spiritual life freezes into mere external appearances, reduced to a
lifeless set of pietistic practices. Sanctity deteriorates into
sanctimony. Hypocrisy, calculation, pretension, treachery abound.
There’s bigotry instead of broad-mindedness, rigidity and intolerance
instead of respect for freedom and variety.

This irregularity has many faces. To mention a few, we can cite
religious fanaticism and bitter zeal, fundamentalism, clericalism,
superstitious beliefs and practices, simony or commercialization of
sacred things, pietism and quietism, fideism and a string of other

I suppose we can cite our Lord’s own experience at the hands of those
who crucified him as the extreme form of religious abuse. Imagine,
they were convinced they were doing it out of a keen sense of
religious duty itself.

Our Lord himself said: “The hour comes when whoever kills you will
think that he does a service to God.” (Jn 16,2) This is the ultimate
in religious abuse.

One can readily suspect religion is abused when all those calls for
goodness and holiness are full of sound and fury and bombast, but
lacking in charity, patience, mercy, humility, meekness, etc. It drips
with self-righteousness, ever eager to flaunt itself and have its
authority felt.

There is clear bias and prejudice in the understanding and
application of the doctrine. Unfair and discriminatory selectiveness
marks the study and practice of the faith.

A holistic approach to religion and freedom of consciences are often
compromised in the pursuit of holiness. There’s an absence of balance
and openness. Even the elementary norms of naturalness are violated.

Of course, religion will always involve a specific way of life,
marked even by a special charism. But it’s a uniqueness that does not
annul religion’s universal and common end, but rather enriches it in
an original way.

In abuse of religion, coercion is subtly made and can lead to
brainwashing and to manipulative isolation of people from others.
People are made to do religious practices without fully understanding

They do these practices more out of fear than of love, more for some
ulterior motives than out of a sincere desire to know, love and serve
God and others.

The virtues are pursued mechanically, not organically in the sense
that they are vitally motivated by charity as they ought to be.
Sincerity, for example, can be understood as simply telling the truth,
the whole truth, but without any mention about charity, prudence and
discretion. Truth is divorced from charity.

When religion is abused, prayer turns into a soliloquy rather than a
loving dialogue with God. Love for sacrifice does not spring from the
spirit, but is merely a put-on.

When religion is abused, priesthood is less an office for a total
holocaust of self-giving, and more an occasion for privileges. The
scandals that black-eyed the Church these past years involving some
clerics arise from this disorder.

We need to be wary of these tendencies and possibilities that are
open to all of us. We can even fall into them without noticing it,
since the decline to religious abuse can mimic the process of osmosis.

We have to ask our Lady to teach us how to truly deal with God
without being deluded by the wily ways of religious abuse. Like her,
we need to be always simple and humble to be able to stick to what is
authentic religion.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Getting our act together politically

WE have just finished our elections. Most of our elected officials
have been proclaimed. They now wait for their inauguration. Only a few
things need to be cleaned up. What we have before us now is the
continuing duty to get our act together politically as one people with
one common goal under one God.

This is not, of course, an easy and simple task. It is complex,
dynamic, endless. This is where politics enters, the art of organizing
ourselves as one nation, the different views and positions made to
blend into an operative unity so we attain true progress and
development, and avoid unproductive quarreling.

This duty involves everyone of us, each one playing his own part
well, the one proper to each one but open to everyone and everything
else in a healthy spirit of solidarity that is working for the common

For this to take off well, we first have to learn to accept the
officials voted by the majority of the people in spite of some serious
differences we may have with them.

They may be the very personification of the devil, or just a bunch of
incompetent movie stars and mere dynastic heirs, but we have to recognize them as our duly elected leaders and follow and help them as best as we can.

Then as much as possible also, we should study the issues thoroughly,
giving priority consideration to their basic and essential aspects
before we choose the different alternatives offered from the angles of ideology, political parties and agenda, and many other socio-economic and cultural options.

We will always have differences, and we just have to learn how to
grapple with them without unduly compromising the peace and public
order since these are basic in social life.

This is, of course, easier said than done. When to assert and when to
acquiesce, when to push and when to lay back, etc., are acts that need
a deeper principle than what common sense or mere human prudence can offer.

This is where everyone of us would realize that we need to have
recourse to a higher source of wisdom and prudence, and this can be no
other than our sense of faith and religion, our relation with God.

That’s why, I was happy to read recently a speech of the Holy Father
reminding us of this crucial point. These were his words:

“Religion is decisive in this, especially when it teaches fraternity
and peace, and when, in a society marked by secularization, it
instructs the faithful to give space to God and to be open to the

“With the exclusion of religion from the public realm, as well as
religious fundamentalism, the encounter and collaboration for the
progress of humanity between peoples is impeded, the life of a society
is void of motivation, and politics assumes an oppressive and
aggressive face.”

I hope everyone of us, especially our political leaders, profoundly
feel the real import of these words. Politics simply cannot be a
function of practical reasoning, no matter how indispensable it also

Politics has to touch base and remain in living contact with God and
his providence. As Popes have been teaching for generations, politics
is a very important realm for the exercise of charity, true charity in
its ever-widening social implications, from the parochial to the
international to the cosmic.

For this purpose, a lot of education is needed. Genuinely Christian
politicians have to be formed who are not only popular, but are also
competent, grounded on the Church’s social doctrine and convinced that
politics can and should be a path for no less than sanctity to them.

They have to learn to read minds and signs of the times so as to know
the real needs of the people at a given time. They need the virtue of
prudence in a rather advanced development state, so they would know
how to act, given the changing circumstances.

The skills of communication, dialogue and other practical qualities
should always be honed. They have to understand that their mission is
to serve, their authority is for service. All the perks and privileges
of their position are subordinate to this principle.

We need to be broken in into this kind of thinking. What is more
common nowadays is a political culture that is deprived of its
ultimately religious dimension. It is trapped in the peripherals,
making a lot of noise but hardly performing as it should be, pursuing
its real goal. We need to change.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Virgin and mother

THIS is the appellation proper to Mary, our Lady, the virgin mother
of Christ, and because of that, she too is the Mother of God and our
mother, “Mater Dei, mater nostra.”

She is not the mother of God in the sense that she begot God
directly. No, that cannot be. No one is prior to God who is eternal,
no beginning, no end.

She is mother of God in the sense that her son, Jesus Christ, though
with two natures, human and divine, is a divine person, the Son of
God, the second person of the Blessed Trinity.

It is from this angle that she can rightly be called, Mother of God.
Though she only “contributed” to the humanity of Christ, the fact is
that the child born of her is a divine person, is God. It is God, not
she nor we, who made her the Mother of God.

This is, of course, a theological reasoning that surpasses human
reason itself, but does not contradict it. It involves a reality so
rich that our reason goes haywire, and simply has to admit its
inadequacy so as to open itself to a higher, richer reality. We need
to do this kind of adjustments in our thinking.

What challenges us more is that aside from being Mother of God, the
maternity of Mary is achieved in the virginal way, with no
intervention of any man. The Holy Spirit overshadowed her, and the Son
of the Most High was conceived in her womb.

This was a privilege given to her which she accepted when she said
“Fiat” (Be it done to me) after the archangel Gabriel told her she was
going to be the Mother of the Son of God, and explained how it was
going to be.

This is strictly a truth of faith, since if we approach this with our
human reasoning and natural sciences, our only conclusion is that a
man must have been involved.

St. Joseph, who acted as the husband, initially wanted to separate
from her once he knew she was with child. But it was explained to him
in a dream that the child was of the Spirit. He knew the conception
was virginal. So, Mary was both a virgin and a mother.

Our difficulty does not end here. In a document written by Pope John
Paul II entitled, Redemptoris mater (Mother of the Redeemer), we are
practically told that all of us should also be both a virgin and a

The reasoning goes like this: after saying that Mary is both virgin
and mother, the Church also has to be like Mary, and therefore should
also be a virgin and a mother. Since we comprise the Church with Jesus
as head, then we should also be a virgin and a mother.

These are the words of the document: “As Virgin and Mother, Mary
remains for the Church a ‘permanent model.’ It can therefore be said
that especially under this aspect, namely as a model…Mary, present in
the mystery of Christ, remains constantly present also in the mystery
of the Church.

“For the Church too is ‘called mother and virgin,’ and these names
have a profound biblical and theological justification.” (42)

The document then proceeds to describe how the Church, and as a
consequence, each one of us, can be both a virgin and a mother like
Mary—by accepting the word of God in fidelity, by having a spousal
mentality that leads us always think of the spouse, by being
apostolically fruitful, etc.

What is clear here is that we need to expand our understanding of
virginity and motherhood. We cannot get stuck in the level of the
sexual, biological and hormonal, social and cultural.

We have to put in the very crucial element of the Christian faith. In
short, to have a theological understanding of these aspects of our
life, without rejecting the other human and natural considerations,
which are actually basic.

This is capital since with the faith-deprived understanding of
virginity and motherhood, keying them more on the sexual, biological
and cultural aspects, the current debate and discussion about
sexuality, gender, parenthood, etc. has gone twisted and has led to
some absurd conclusions.

Like, people nowadays have a common belief that with present
conditions, it is now impossible to be a virgin, and motherhood now
suffers great depreciation with many women avoiding it by means of
contraception and abortion.

These and other incomplete understanding of virginity and motherhood
are due to an improper frame in which they are learned.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Personal reboot

I GIVE thanks to God that I get to have a yearly break from my usual
activities to be able to have a good amount of rest that entails a
change of place, pace, environment and concerns.

It’s a 3-week affair, and this year I had it in Mountain Pines Place,
deep in an elevated fastness of Bukidnon, where city life is turned
off for a while as one embraces the revitalizing air of the rural

The commanding height of the place gives one a commanding view of
elements that include mountain ranges, rolling valleys, the distant
sea in the horizon. Thoughts and realizations seem to match the
panoramic view as they tend to go to distances seldom traveled before.

Giant trees, wild flowers, murmuring brooks, dainty butterflies,
birds big and small and in different colors, cattle and sheep,
whirring insects comprise the immediate flora and fauna. They tend to
detach you from your usual world and reshape your mindset.

At least for me, the effect is instant transformation, a loosening of
tension, a mysterious sensation of relief. The mind and the senses
seem to perceive a different level of reality often lost in the urban

They seem to soar high and plumb deep into the recesses of the
heart’s universe unvisited in ordinary times. It’s amazing to discover
the many hidden things buried in the heart that just spring up to the
surface on occasions like this.

Gestating and evolving quietly and unnoticeably through the months,
these previously invisible items now make a kind of public appearance,
giving signs and even instructions of what one ought to do or reform
or suppress.

The whole place is cool, literally and figuratively speaking. One
wakes up not to the sound of the alarm clock but to the chirping of
birds. Sunsets are breathtaking, with varying patterns of clouds in
varying hues of red, blue and gray dancing in the skyline, extracting
memories and creating fantasies.

The wind alternates between a whisper and a roar and seems to carry
different messages. Even in one day, parts can be sunny, clear and
crisp, egging the heart to wander far and wide, and other parts can be
gloomy and foggy, leading the heart to look deeper inside.

If only for these effects, the rest that also exacted a high price in
terms of funds and other opportunity costs was all worthwhile. At the
very least, poetic and literary magic dressed up what otherwise were
mere naked facts and realizations.

I am convinced that keeping distance for a while from my usual daily
round actually brings me closer to everything involved there. The
opposite is also true. Even while immersed in my usual activities, I
always notice a certain distance. It looks like a mysterious law that
all of us just have to follow.

But a lot more good things came with my rest. I had a chance to do
sports, to sing and walk and get lost in the woods, and do horseback
riding, and to simply waste time thinking and brooding, activities
that are very elusive in the city. Playing soduku, otherwise sinful in
a busy day, came like a blessing.

I had time to study and review important materials. This year, I had
to teach Latin 2 to young professionals where we explored the
nosebleed-causing forms of the subjunctive mood of verbs in their
different voices and tenses including the slippery pluperfect tense.

It was a good mental exercise that also helped me to reconnect with
the time of the classics where our civilization seems to have its
roots. I also spent time reading on metaphysics, principles of
liturgy, Greek, etc., that surely would give depth and substance to my

Most of all, I had time to pray and meditate with less distractions.
I could feel the soul behaving more at ease and more confident that it
is engaged with its proper object and source of rest. Of course, this
is something very personal and private. But I cannot deny that the
time of rest afforded me that smile of fortune.

Resting, I am convinced, has effects that go beyond the material and
corporeal dimension of our life. Prudently resorted to, it can have
tremendous effects on the spirit. For this reason, we should encourage
everyone to have the proper kind of rest.

We need to give more attention to this need for some personal
rebooting, defining its proper motives and goals and providing the
necessary means for everyone to avail himself of it.

Giving the internet its soul

SORRY to sound like a spoiler, but I strongly feel we need to be
leery of the flashflood of novelties and possibilities that the
internet and other modern communication technologies now offer us.

We should see to it that we maintain a firm footing before this
tsunami-like development that has tremendous potentials both for good
and for evil. We should avoid being swept away by their notoriously
delirious and self-absorbing tendencies.

The internet, just like anything else in life, will always be a tool
for us. We have to be its master, not its slave. We have to be the
ones to direct it, not the ones directed by it. We have to humanize
and Christianize it, not to be instrumentalized by it.

Wherever I go, I see many people, especially the kids and the youth,
helplessly swallowed up by their highly addictive properties. The
internet and its relatives are no ordinary sweet poisons. Their
effects are immediately deep, vast and massive. They can change
persons and cultures almost overnight.

This is a very disturbing development. Even in my restricted
environment of working as chaplain of a technical school catering
mainly to underprivileged youth, I have seen how these gadgets can
adversely affect the students.

Many of them, especially those coming from the provinces, who enter
the school still largely innocent and even naïve, quickly acquire the
ways of the wily and the sly when exposed to these gadgets.

I have been trying my best, and I ask all the other teachers, mentors
and staff to do the same, to closely check on the students so they
don’t fall into addiction and, worse, moral corruption.

In these electronic devices, pornography is just a click away. The
virus that reinforces bad values and habits like vanity, frivolity,
caprice, laziness, disorder, intemperance, disorder, waste of time and
money, etc., is in pandemic proportions.

Truly, I see more clearly how education is not so much a matter of
inculcating more info and skills as in cultivating the proper
hierarchy of values and virtues. It’s not so much having and doing
many things as being a better person. “Non multa sed multum.” Not
many, but much. Not quantity, but quality.

Of course, we should not shy away from these modern facilities that
through the digital system expand our world of knowledge and other
possibilities. But we should be the ones to call the shots, not the
other way around.

We need to be sharp in discerning when they are serving us properly
and when they are exploiting us. Many of us get lost and confused in
this duty. Thus, we need to help one another, and constantly clarify
the true purposes of these devices.

Obviously, we need to pass through a learning curve whose initial
stages are always difficult, challenging and usually accompanied by
mistakes. But we have to perfect the process, going through the steps,
in a musician’s lingo, of doing the scales, then the etudes, then the

With these gadgets, we need to go beyond the stages of just being
amazed at the new big world they can present us, and at being just a
techie. We have to see to it that these gadgets make us a better
person and a better child of God, because everything in life has that
as its purpose.

So, we need to ask ourselves often: Do these electronic tools bring
me closer to God and to others, do they make me pray more and give
myself more generously to the others, do they build up my love for God
and others?

Do they develop my virtues, deepening and enlarging them to cover
more areas of responsibility and concern? Do they make me more of a
contemplative soul, enabling me to see God in others and in things?

If the answers are not a clear ‘yes,’ then we still have a lot of
things to work out. This is how we can give the internet and the like
their soul, an indispensably constitutive element that should go with
them, otherwise, they end up using us, instead of us using them.

This duty of giving them their soul is a very dynamic process that
involves discovering new frontiers, since the task of knowing and
loving God and others through them will never end.

It can be a very fascinating, fulfilling and rewarding adventure,
whose end is actually already marked out, but whose way has to be
worked out still by us. We need to see this grave responsibility in
this way.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Test of manliness

I WAS happy a friend gave me a listing of blogs that offered ideas
about manliness. Our society today seems in urgent need of these
ideas. There’s now a growing confusion in this area, made worse by the
fact that ideologues are promoting all kinds of doctrines, not all of
them certified correct.

Not only are there strong gender-bending influences around now, the
line between male and female blurred. In many places, the transition
from boyhood to manhood seems to be trapped in a warped understanding
of what to be manly is.

The youth are mostly affected by this situation. With today’s
communication technologies, they can get exposed to a lot of concepts
about manliness and yet can still miss the right one.

Or worse, they can become so skeptical and cynical about the whole
issue that they would not mind anymore if what they have is right or

Many would rationalize that the world is big enough to fit all sorts
of cultures of manliness. Besides, there’s a trend toward tolerance,
precisely because of the increasing variety of mentalities and
lifestyles we have today.

So, not to make a big fuss out of this question seems to be the
politically correct attitude to take. To a certain extent, I can
understand and accept that attitude. But I think it would be wrong if
we leave things simply at that level. There has to be an earnest
effort to rediscover what true manliness is.

In fact, across history, cultures and peoples, the search for
manliness has always been a prominent feature in social life.
Different rites of passage have emerged depending on the community’s
consensus on the matter.

That’s a very understandable natural process. The problem with that
is that since it is time, place and culture-bound, the idea of
manliness is not planted on firm ground. It’s not stable and
universal. It can become obsolete after some time or when
circumstances change.

In a primitive society always engaged in tribal wars, for example, to
be manly means to fight, to be a soldier. But when civilization
improved and conflicts were resolved less through battles, its idea of
manliness entered into a crisis.

There were other notions and practices that while containing some
good elements just could not be given a universal applicability. I
learned that among the Spaniards, they were told when still young that
it was not manly for boys to cry. That’s cruel. Boys and men sometimes
need to cry.

I remember when I was still in kindergarten learning English with
American nuns in the city. Whenever I would go to the barrio where my
father came from, the people there, rough and tough, would laugh at me
because I spoke English and would distinguish the long a from the
short a.

I was made to understand that speaking English that way was not
manly. It was good that my parents assured me I was on the right
track, and told me just to understand the barrio people. Otherwise, I
would have been confused.

Several incomplete and even wrong definitions and descriptions of
manliness have appeared in history. To be manly was viewed before as
being like the Spartans of old, or like the privileged class of
society, or an independent artisan or successful businessman.

Sometimes, manliness was attached to having a Hercules-like physique,
or being a Casanova or a playboy. Caricatures of manliness

We need to cultivate a culture of manliness grounded on the terra
firma of the true nature of man. At our present age, we cannot simply
remain in having a shallow understanding of manliness, vulnerable to
pressure groups with questionable ideologies.

The old Greek and Roman civilizations have already given us a cue, by
associating manliness with developing virtues, with the idea that
everyone, man or woman, tries to excel and be the best one can be.

Precisely, the word virtue comes from the Latin stem “vir” which
means man. To be manly, therefore, is to be virtuous.

What Christianity has done is to even ground this initially correct
understanding of manliness by the Greeks and the Romans to its
ultimate source. And that is to be like Christ—to be “alter Christus,
ipse Christus” (another Christ, if not Christ himself).

Remember what St. John said of Christ: “He had no need that anyone
should bear witness concerning man, for he himself knew what was in
man.” (Jn 2,25)

In short, the test of manliness contains a crucial faith element to
it. Absent that, everything becomes a mess.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

When life is reduced to money and finance

ONE of the interesting observations mentioned in the recently concluded plenary session of the Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences (April 30-May 4) is the disturbing trend, more notable in developed countries, to reduce life and our economic activities in almost exclusive terms of money and finance.

Let’s quote some words of the Academy’s rapporteur to give us a good idea of the crisis we are facing these days:

“The current economic crisis has its roots in the financial sector. Indeed, one invited speaker…spoke of a shift from an economy based on the real production of goods to an economy dominated by speculative activities driven by greed.

“The fragility of the economic system was partly a consequence of an overreliance on speculative financial activities separated from productive activity in the real economy.

“Two members of our economy…spoke more broadly of the danger of the ‘financialization’ of human relations, in which human activities, even in the family, are reduced to a merely commercial dimension.

“One of our guests…pointed out the danger of thinking even of business firms in this way, where the corporation ceases to be an association of persons and become a commodity instead. Such a ‘financialized’ approach to the social order not only narrows the vision of the human person but creates instability in the economy.”

I feel that these words should be given more attention and traction first by our leaders, economic, social and political, and later by everyone in general, so we all be aware of what is wrong with the way we do business, and from there we can have ideas of how to correct our predicament.

It’s not that we don’t need money and finance in our life. Everyone knows they are indispensable, especially as we grow both in number and quality and aspects of our life. We just have to avoid limiting our life purely in those terms. There’s a lot more to life than money and finance.

But how can we avoid this serious pitfall when we can always presume everyone is working for the good of all? Pope Benedict XVI, when opening the sessions, practically gave a clue when he diagnosed the present ills as a result of a badly understood nature of our economic activities.

“The economic crisis,” he said, “has shown the error of the assumption that the market is capable of regulating itself, apart from public intervention and the support of internalized moral standards.

“This assumption is based on an impoverished notion of economic life as a sort of self-calibrating mechanism driven by self-interest and profit-seeking. As such, it overlooks the essentially ethical nature of economics as an activity of and for human beings.”

We need to follow this cue of the Pope. We have to develop a greater sensitivity toward the true nature of our economic activity as it is played out in real life. We cannot afford to remain shallow in this basic point, especially now when even a little mistake in this area can have tremendous adverse effects.

If there is such a thing as “jurisprudence” which collects all the good insights, philosophy, science and experiences related to the legal aspect of our life, there should be some kind of “economic prudence” that continually gathers the same pertinent materials for our unavoidable economic life.

This “economic prudence,” just like the prudence we ought to cultivate in the other aspects of our life, should be based on the true nature of man. I think much of the problem we have now lies on the ignorance and confusion surrounding this question.

We need to overcome our awkwardness and incompetence to relate our economic activities to the true nature of man which, in its turn, derives from our core beliefs, our faith and religion.

These aspects are inseparably linked, though they have their proper distinctions, which should also be respected. No illicit shortcuts here, please, otherwise we would just be led to blind alleys.

The challenge we are facing now is how to bring our economic activity to both a higher and deeper level. We have to be entirely convinced that our economic activity has to be grounded on God himself before it can be truly human, effectively serving the various dimensions of the authentic common good.

In short, when our economic activity is pursued independently or even against our relation of God, we would have every reason to be suspicious of it. We can even be certain, that in spite of its temporary perks and advantages, it can have no other end but disaster.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Family’s crucial role in child’s education

WE need to alert families, especially those with young children, of their crucial role in the delicate task of educating their children. Nowadays, with all the confusion in society and in the world, this responsibility acquires greater significance.

We have to constantly remind parents that they are the primary educators of their children. Schools are meant to assist them only. Parents are not simply begetters or procreators of children. They need to bring them up to be good children, responsible citizens of the country and faithful children of the Church.

Parents today should be up to the complex challenges children are facing in their education. Not only are there more factors to reckon with. These factors often compete with each other and can have multiple effects, some good, some bad. Parents have to be keenly discerning to handle these factors expertly.

In the first place, parents have to create a conducive family atmosphere, where the children can grow up with as much ease and comfort as possible. Problems and difficulties, both minor and major, will always be around, but parents precisely have to find a way of making a homey environment for the kids.

Priorities have to be clear in their minds. While work and income are important, spending time with the children is even more required of them if they want to be good parents. Children need the physical presence or bonding with parents to get that direction-setting toehold in their lifelong formation.

What children see and hear at home becomes their basic resource engine to drive them through life, their primal pool of values that would guide them in the world. It’s in the home where their fundamental character and attitudes to different things are formed.

Whether children become men and women of character, with the proper hierarchy of values and virtues, knowing what is truly right and wrong, what freedom is, how to use time and money properly, etc., depends on how they are brought up in the family more than anywhere else.

Parents, therefore, should make their family their priority in life. It’s there, before anything else, where they can prove their true faith and love for God and others. Failing in this, all their successes in other fields would fall hollow.

Crucial in this task is for parents to strike the proper blend between parental authority and tenderness, discipline and understanding, effective family management and boundless flexibility and patience.

Parents have to be both parents and friends to their children. This difficult combination can be made easy if the love the reigns in the family is the true love that comes from God. Otherwise, many possible distortions can spoil the parents-children relationship.

Parents have to understand that they are the first representative of God to their children. They have to understand that their authority over their offspring is a participation of the fatherhood of God over all of us. It would be good for parents to chew over this truth often to come out with practical resolutions daily.

That parental authority has to exercised according to the mind and will of God. For certain, it will be played out on the bumpy road of freedom all of us have to pass. It will require both strong and gentle means to attain its proper goal.

More than anything else, what parents can do first as educators to their children is to give good example. This duty cannot be waived. Parents have to be the first to show example of personal hygiene, order, courtesy, and all the other virtues.

They have to continually support their example with the appropriate and prompt explanations, the whys and the wherefores of the things they are imparting to their children.

These days, what children need most is to appreciate the objective value of study, prayer, constant concern for one another. The environment today is filled with comfort and pleasure-seeking ways, indifference to God and spiritual realities, self-absorption.

Also, parents should be competent in showing and explaining the importance of purity and sobriety, since these are the virtues continually threatened by the errant culture in the world these days.

The families today are especially challenged to do something to correct this trend that is undermining the true health of humanity.

Lastly, parents should not shirk from the responsibility of teaching their children about the ultimate truths—God, morality, vocation, continuing formation, etc. This is an integral part of their duties towards their children.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Rediscovering the art of friendship

THANKS to God, we always want to make friends wherever we are. It’s written in our nature, in our heart, in our DNA. Just look at kids and see how spontaneously they make friends. Even in casual encounters, even without knowing the names, they just play and make friends.

I always get this heartwarming verification whenever I travel. In airports, piers, planes and boats, when the little boys and girls are around, it would not be long before they would be running around in carefree abandon, pure joy glowing on their faces and friendship clearly established.

I’m sure traces of this desire to make friends still linger in our hearts, perhaps dormant but ever ready to wake up once the opportunity comes. And this is because in the end we are relational by nature. We can’t help it but make friends.

We need to take care of this human need, developing it to maturity, for what is automatic and simple to children is deliberated and complex to us, the adults. We need to give special attention to it these days, because I feel that there are conditions these days that undermine our tendency to make friends.

I get the impression that in spite of the spreading social network services offered in the Internet, like the Facebook and Twitter, we can have thousands of contacts, but ironically hardly any one whom we can call a real friend. They have all been reduced to virtual friends, courtesy of the e-friendship system.

In fairness, the Internet offers indescribable marvels and amenities. But if friendship gets restricted in that level, the way to true friendship is aborted. We can get contented with that kind of relationship, and that’s a problem.

This, of course, should not come to us as a surprise. We have weaknesses, there are difficulties and temptations around us, all of which contribute to distort the real nature, meaning and purpose of friendship. We need to be wary of these realities, and try to do something about them.

We can pervert friendship for some ulterior motives and hidden agendas. We can use it to extract advantages from others. Or we can simply resort to it for purely personal, shallow and even selfish reasons. We can reverse the natural trajectory of friendship, from oneself to another, to from another to oneself.

We have to rediscover the authentic face of friendship. As social beings, we can never be alone, we need others. In fact, we have to be open to the ideal of being friends with everyone. Friendship, by nature, is universal in scope.

Even our enemies, in a certain sense, should be our friends, because Christ himself told us to love our enemies. “If you love them that love you, what reward shall you have?” he said. “Do not publicans do that…Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5,46-48)

We need to polish always our skills of making friends, starting with those details that foster closeness—greeting, smiling, spending time together, saying some nice, positive words—to the more demanding ones—flexibility to different types of characters and situations, dominating our bad humor, etc.

The warmth and glow proper of friendship should be readily seen and felt. It need not be showy, of course. But by and large, there is kind of heightening of feelings and desire involved in it.

We have to know how to enter into meaningful dialogue especially when certain issues divide us. Each one should try to understand the other, listening to their reasons of the other, trying to see things the way the other sees them.

As persons and children of God, our friendship should go all the way to the spiritual and supernatural level. It has to go beyond, but never discard, the natural or human level. Friendship has to develop into apostolate, far beyond the dynamics of blood or social relations.

Therefore, we should train ourselves to fill our minds and hearts with the concerns of others. We should not remain only in the level of intentions, ideas, plans, projects, etc. Everything has to be oriented to our friends. In a way, we live for them. The basic attitude is to want to serve them.

We develop this friendship using both human and supernatural means. Friendship has to be based on faith and love for God. It should begin and end in God. Of course, given our human condition, this ideal will be reached in stages, with a lot of drama. But in the end, God is the seed and fruit of friendship.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Ethics indispensable in journalism

I’M happy to note that a certain rise of interest in ethics in journalism is taking place in many parts of the world today. I just hope and pray that the same thing would also happen here in our own country.

This surge of interest can be evidenced by the growth of schools adopting and developing this subject in their curricula. Also conferences about this topic are spreading.

It seems more people are realizing how united ethics is in the search and presentation of truth as is the case of the dynamic, complex world of journalism. They now understand more keenly that truth is not simply a matter of showing facts. Other important considerations have to be made

There’s the angle of context and perspective that has to be factored in. The motivation and intention also has to be clarified. All these already require ever deeper moorings and broader vision of things.

Many people now are aware that journalism cannot be stuck with the knee-jerk reactions, shoehorned into catchy sound bytes, slogans and other forms of gimmickry and sensationalism.

More and more people are now convinced that while journalism is always on the heels of events and has to report things quickly, neither should it lose sight of the bigger picture and of the bigger if not the whole truth.

Some observers have termed this concern as complementing the fast news with slow news. That is to say, the initial, breaking news should be followed by more in-depth analyses and commentaries of the issues involved.

The current dynamic developments of information technology have not only increased the hunger for instant news. They also have stirred the desire for more opinion and thought pieces if only to give some element of balance, fairness, resolution and answer to the open questions.

Journalism has to deliver facts and data with greater sensitivity to human needs and dignity. It just cannot play around with them, easily falling into the manipulative hands of some users and readers’ biases.

More than merely informing, journalism has to deliver the truth in charity. It has to realize that objective truth is not a frozen truth. It is a living truth to be dealt with accordingly.

In that recent media coverage about scandals in the Church involving a few clerics in sexual abuse cases, the perception now is that the accusations were made more to bash the Pope in particular than to exact justice.

How else can one explain the one-sided attacks on the Church on this issue when the same thing happens even in far worse proportions in other sectors of society, and the Church complainants are quiet about them?

This is where ethics in journalism comes in. It precisely takes care of this delicate and complex aspect of journalism where the facts and data are presented always in the context of justice and charity.

Ethics does this, a Church official once said, “by encouraging everyone to be conscious of their dignity, to enter into the thoughts and feelings of others, to cultivate a sense of mutual responsibility and to grow in personal freedom, in respect of others’ freedom, and in the capacity for dialogue.”

This is a most tricky challenge. Ethics in journalism cannot just rely purely on ethical theories derived from philosophy, jurisprudence and theology. These obviously are indispensable, but it has to be crafted also from the very experiences of the practitioners themselves.

These experiences ground the abstract ethical theories. They make ethics more realistic, more practical, more immediately felt, and not just a set of rules and regulations or platitudes.

Nowadays, any effort to develop this ethics in journalism has to contend with formidable challenges. It has to examine the many ideological ethical doctrines to see where they are right, where they are wrong, where they can be helpful or dangerous.

Among these ethical doctrines affecting the world of journalism today are: utilitarianism (the end justifies the means), positivism (what is legal is ethical), emotivism (our feelings can tell us what is right and wrong), or relativism (there are no absolutes in the area of ethics).

Lastly, any effort to develop ethics in journalism should realize that more than coming up with relevant principles and doctrine, what it involves is the proper formation of the character of the persons involved.

Ethics cannot just be a classroom activity or an intellectual affair. It has to enter into the spiritual life of the persons, since that is how genuine integrity, not its caricatures, is formed and reinforced.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Licking wounds after the elections

SOME kind of recuperation has to be done after the elections. Not everyone can be winners. In fact, only a few would win. The majority would lose. We have to learn how to find joy in losing and to gather strength from defeats. I believe these are more meritorious feats than simply winning and succeeding.

We have to quickly learn precious lessons. Among them is that in politics, we should be careful not to absolutize our positions, stretching them into the extremes, such that the world becomes completely black and white, kicking out all shades and nuances that give room to changes, chances and possibilities.

I would say this mindset would lead us to disastrous consequences, among them, bitterness, depression, a welling sense of revenge, self-righteousness, and the like, all manifestations of pride whose ways escape accountability.

It’s actually an unreasonable attitude given the nature and character of politics. In a democratic system, our views, regardless of how correct, how most fair and balanced they are, etc., would just be one among many. They have to contend with all sorts of factors that mostly are beyond our control. It’s always possible that they won’t be carried out.

But the story doesn’t end there. Much less, our life. There are still other infinite ways where what is truly good for all can come to us. It may take a lot of time and effort, we may have to go through many bumpy roads, but God never abandons us, his divine providence is always at work.

In short, we should never allow exclusively political means to confine our way of contributing to the common good. While they are indispensable, they are not the only means. There are many other more basic ways that, in fact, politics cannot enter. We have to learn to work under adverse or hostile conditions.

We need to be reminded often and strongly of this undeniable truth, so that we avoid getting stuck at a certain point. Those with Christian faith will find joy in St. Paul’s doctrine that for those who love God, everything will always work out for the good.

The spiritual, ascetical and supernatural means can not and should never be relinquished for whatever reason. Prayer, sacrifices, sacraments, interior struggles should not be put aside.

God allows losses and defeats to happen to draw very important lessons for us—to purify us, to strengthen us, to correct us, to point us to what is truly good for us, etc. With Christ’s death, we are taught that these losses and defeats can be most precious to us. They heal our blindness and deafness.

Yes, we can argue endlessly about our views, but at the end of the day we should see to it that we respect one another and the positions we make. As our local jargon would have it, “walang personalan” should be the attitude to assume.

Therefore, a certain kind of detachment from our views should always be maintained, no matter how strongly we feel about them. Let’s always be sport, never allowing charity to flee from us.

Let’s try to avoid heated arguments, fueled by pointed words and inflammatory logic. Whenever traces of rancor or even hatred come in, we should promptly reject them.

No matter how opposed we are in our views, let’s never demonize persons and parties, painting them as wholly incapable of doing anything good and us as wholly incapable of doing anything evil.

That would be a grave distortion of reality, a simplistic way of looking at things and an open invitation for graver consequences. Our debates and discussions should always be marked by courtesy and charity and earnest search for truth and justice.

Of course, all this is easier said than done. I am of the belief that to attain the proper attitude, no less than the grace of God is needed. That’s why we always need to pray, to humbly beg for the necessary virtues of humility and simplicity, because left to ourselves, we can never be charitable.

We should try to be agents of peace and joy always, quick to recognize possibilities for positive actions despite inhospitable environment rather than getting stumped by negative factors.

Of course, we can also pray that the victors will always be magnanimous in their treatment of their opponents. There should be an outpouring of mercy so reconciliation, peace, unity and cooperation can be achieved for the good of all.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The error of training professionals not persons

THE prestigious Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences has just concluded its latest plenary session with some very interesting findings and observations. As you may already know, it’s the Vatican body that gathers experts in the different fields of social science to monitor social developments worldwide as they impact on religion.

This is an angle that should never be neglected, because in their ultimate dimensions all our human affairs, our business and politics, etc., have their beginning and end in God. We should not get stuck with the purely technical and professional aspects, though they, of course, are also indispensable.

We need to remind ourselves often of this point and to develop a growing literacy and competence in living this crucial aspect of our life. We need to help one another here, not getting stumped and in fact going beyond the unavoidable differences and conflicts we will have in our temporal affairs.

These differences and conflicts can actually be a source of good for all of us, since they can give us a more complete picture of our human affairs, given our different situations and positions in life. They force us to expand our vision in life.

They should not be considered in their purely negative or destructive character, since they can occasion greater dialogue, deeper concern and understanding among ourselves. They certainly can enrich our appreciation of persons and things in general.

To a certain extent, we have to welcome and even foster this variety of views and opinions to be able to capture a more complete understanding of things. We in fact should be wary when these differences are missing, because it can mean we are falling into a cliquish or elitist mentality, narrow-minded and often divisive.

We have to understand that the ideal of human unity, peace and harmony among ourselves should never be taken to mean uniformity. As the motto of the American seal would have it, “E pluribus unum,” we need to dynamically craft a unity out of many and even conflicting elements. It’s actually a very exciting affair.

Back to the findings of the Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences, I was struck by one of the observations mentioned by its official rapporteur. After a sweeping analysis of world social situation, he thought that maybe the incumbent educational system we have is missing out on one crucial aspect of learning. He said we seem to be training professionals but fail to train persons.

I think the distinction, more of a nuance than of substance, is worth looking into.

There certainly is no problem with training people to be professionals, endowed with as much information and techniques as possible. That’s always welcome. The problem arises when such training undermines our personhood.

Simply said, we may be good in knowledge and in technologies, but we flunk as persons since we fail to love one another properly, let alone, to love God. We can possess a lot of money, power and fame, but justice, solidarity and charity seem to be slipping away. This is when we can be good professionally, but bad as persons.

The crises we are seeing now in sharp relief, as played out in the world stage like in the US and Europe, particularly Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Spain, expose this serious if not potentially fatal flaw of a people who are professionally rich but personally poor.

This, of course, is not a very pleasant thing to say, but problems are usually not pleasant, and we always have the penchant to deny their existence, at least in the beginning. We sometimes need painful and explosive disasters to wake us up to reality.

I believe that the problems besetting these countries and the world in general today are in such dimensions and proportions that can’t be helped by the usual palliatives that may have worked before and for a span of time. They are pointing to a more serious cause that requires a more radical and comprehensive solution.

In the end it is always us who cause the problems and can also come up with the solution. We need to look more into what is wrong with us than with the world around us. What is wrong with the economy, the political systems, etc., is a mere reflection of what is wrong with us.

The solution is to understand that we are not mere political or economic animals, but persons, created in the image and likeness of God, the inalienable truth we should not play around with.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Let's reconnect with our humanity

WE may not notice it. But with all the non-stop stimulation of our senses and instincts, we are slowly depleting our humanity and are turning into slaves and automatons of practically exclusive external stimuli.

Many people are now finding it hard if not impossible to say no to TV, the Internet and other gadgets, to unrestrained sports, and even to alcohol, drugs and sex.

A news report, for example, claimed that for the next World Cup for soccer in South Africa, already 1 billion condoms and 40000 prostitutes are in place in anticipation of a surge of sex during that season.

In a previous generation, these people may be called "animals," but that would not be kind nor appropriate now, given the present state of affairs. They are victims more than anything else.

Fact is many of us are losing our capacity to self-propel, let alone, to focus on what is our objective end and goal. We move only when we are moved from outside, usually from some material, sensible if not sensual stimuli.

And we don't care anymore where they lead us other than their immediate sensorial effects.

These are clear symptoms of addiction. In other words, without perhaps realizing it, we are entrapped in a predicament, confined and restricted to a much lower quality of life, to a degraded and wounded dignity, and we seem to be most happy with it.

It's time to recover our humanity by developing the basic virtues of temperance, moderation, modesty and chastity. These virtues put the fundamental order and harmony in our life, since they attend to the proper relation between our body and our soul, and between them and God.

Temperance means we have to be careful with our eating and drinking habits. We have to avoid gluttony at all costs. Gluttony happens when we eat up to dullness and drink up to intoxication.

A blog writer gives this piece of advice: "Don't eat in front of the TV or on the go. Sit down for a proper meal. Savor each mouthful, and think about the flavors you are experiencing. Put your fork down in-between bites. When the flavors become less vibrant, and your stomach starts to feel full, stop eating."

In other words, not to eat like a pig. As to drinking, the famous American general of the civil war Robert Lee had this to say: "I like whiskey, I always did, and that's why I never drink it."

He disciplined himself in that way so as to have a clear mind. He also said that abstaining from stimulants while young would prepare one to take the proper dose of these boosters when he would need them at an older age. Otherwise, there's no other way but to fall into excess.

Moderation is meant to restrain our insatiable appetite for stimulation. It can be developed by rediscovering the hidden layers of ordinary experiences and avoiding getting hooked to what is novel and extraordinary.

For this, we may need to minimize our multi-tasking practices, to prolong our attention span instead of constantly flitting from one thing to another, to take a fast from stimulation and to delay our gratification.

In short, to practice little mortifications everyday and to savor what we have at hand at the moment or at least to be present in what we are doing, instead of dividing and multiplying our attention unreasonably.

Modesty means not so much as reserve or simplicity as to display one's true worth in speech, attire and behavior. In its positive sense, it can mean appropriate attire or personal style or dignified clothing. It is not so much a matter of rules and regulations as enhancing one's endowment.

We have to rescue this virtue from its current negative frame-up.

Chastity is putting reason and faith and charity into our sexuality. This is what needed urgently nowadays when the environment is getting so highly sexualized that people today use the word "sexy" for anything that is nice and good.

Fact is there is now so much casual sex around, encouraged by the current craze on reproductive health and sex education. The notorious hook-up practices rampant in Western countries are invading ours.

Chastity is actually a very positive and constructive virtue, and not just a set of restrictions, since it can not be other than an affirmation of love, as one saint had described it.

These, to me, are some basic virtues we need to reconnect us to our humanity. We have been slipping away from it for quite sometime now.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Challenges in today’s rest and entertainment

WITH the present temper in the world of rest, recreation and entertainment, we need to develop a very discerning sense of what is truly helpful and healthy, since a lot of ingredients, heady but harmful, actually glut such world.

How many times have I talked with people, both young and old, who, for example, got so addicted to the Internet, or who can’t say no to watching basketball or boxing on TV, that they end up gravely disoriented and even alienated!

They can go to the extent of neglecting their meals and sleep. Worse, they can develop asocial or even anti-social tendencies. Other graver disorders can emerge.

Many are seriously confused as to what means to rest properly, or what would constitute as good entertainment. They naively pursue their R and R guided at best only by instincts and common sense, when the present environment is filled with complicated predatory elements.

We need to be aware of this predicament and start to do something to correct it. In this we need to be active and aggressive and very discerning, not passive and complacent.

We actually are ranged against formidable challenges, and we just have to know how to grapple with them. We may need to check out the materials involved, do some consulting and research, and make a plan with clear ideas about the expected benefits and possible dangers.

We have to examine our understanding of this human need, verifying if we have the proper attitudes and practices. We also have to regularly assess the moral quality of this world of R and R and see if it conforms to the proper standards.

Truth is that our rest and entertainment should not only have its salutary effects on our physical or emotional well-being. It should also build up and reinforce our spiritual and moral outlook in life. They should not be kept from this very crucial requirement.

Sad to say, this is what we are seeing these days. It looks like things spiritual and moral, the things of our faith and those directly related to God are banned from this territory, in the mistaken notion that they just spoil the fun.

Thus, we should not limit our rest and entertainment to the purely physical, visual and instinctive variety. They should also include the more refined kinds like reading, listening, imagining, etc.

We need to ask ourselves questions like whether our rest and entertainment help us to pray, or to live in the presence of God, or to develop a healthy social and apostolic concern.

Do they make us closer to God and to others? Anything in them that weakens these human needs should be acted upon accordingly, or even rejected altogether.

Do the relief and pleasure they give make us more eager to go back to work, or do they, on the contrary, dampen our desire to serve others? Is there joy and peace as a result, or does the fun and excitement they produce agitate us improperly?

Is our unity of life made stronger with them, or do they tend to fragment our life into more uncoordinated or disconnected parts? Do we find it easy or hard, for example, to shift from work to rest and then back to work?

We have to be keenly careful when our rest and entertainment stir the wrong parts in our system, leading us to develop the escapist syndrome, creating fantasies and parallel realities, and leaving us completely self-absorbed.

We have to be forewarned that many of the shows and movies today are notorious for being erotic and titillating. They massage the flesh but leaves the spirit to deteriorate.

Our rest and entertainment should not take us away from our immediate surrounding. While they have the license to fly to the moon of make-believe, they should not be allowed to uproot us from reality.

Rather they should make us gain a deeper appreciation of the real and immediate world. We should see that they make us more of a normal person, not one with strange traits, habits and idiosyncrasies.

They should help us establish more intimate relations with God and with others, sharpening our knowledge and love for them. When we notice that we are just filled with self-contentment, we have to realize we have made a wrong turn.

These, to me, are some challenges we have with respect to attending to our need for rest, recreation and entertainment. We have to analyze them more finely so as to have a good grip of the situation.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The pill is still 15 at 50

TIME Magazine recently featured as its cover story the 50th anniversary of the pill, that diminutive tablet that usually comes in a set and has generated such a controversy that it has monopolized the use of the otherwise generic term, pill.

The article traces the long, tortuous history of the contraceptive, giving out plenty of details from different angles—biological, social, political, legal, economic, personal, marital and familial, etc. As expected, the moral angle had to struggle for due consideration.

In the end, the author acknowledged that the issue is so complicated that as its parting shot she said: “As the conversation of the past half-century makes plain, science alone will not resolve questions that reach this deep into our relations with one another.”

I’m ok for now with that non-committal position. The issue is still hanging in the air, unresolved and in earnest search for the truth. But the conversation, also known as debate, discussion, dialogue, etc., has to continue, even as the drama itself as played out in life, in real time will continue.

So, the immediate impression I got after reading through the article is that the smoldering issue is still a restless adolescent at age 50, still possessed with rebelliousness, caprice and instability, in danger of falling into total alienation from reality which, by the way, is far beyond the physical and temporal.

For sure, it has produced volumes of arguments, pro and con, that were nothing short of amazing. The tricky part is that each side has points that are true and false, logical and fallacious. Sorting out which is which is now going to require a colossal effort. We need to pray hard for enlightenment.

To me, the different stages and developments that marked its historical path so far are a reflection of the battle between faith and reason, belief in God and belief in men alone. I suspect it will take more time, more twists and turns, more blood, sweat and tears before we can see the final denouement.

The powerful reasonings built up by each side can be so convincing that one needs to be truly radicalized in his beliefs to decide which is one is correct and get out of confusion.

We cannot remain in the externals and the peripherals. Especially in this issue of the pill, we really need to go to the roots of things, before we get lost in our man-made webs of rationalizations and justifications.

I’m of the belief that only faith can truly go radical, since it has the original roots in God. Reason, on the other hand, can not be radical if not infused with faith. Alone it is simply a rootless, floating human faculty looking for its ultimate proper soil and port.

Reason alone without faith can easily be misused by us to follow our, not God’s, designs. With this anomaly right at the start of our capacity to know, we tend to make our own reality, our own world. We end up creating cultures contrary to God’s will, with laws and institutions to support them.

To be sure, there are those who are skeptical of faith. They think that any concession given to it necessarily undermines their reason, and they do not like that at all.

This is actually wrong, since what faith does is to enhance reason and to put it in its best conditions. For this, we have to acknowledge the limitations of our reason. And that is where much of the problem lies. Many of us do not like to accept the limitations of our reason.

In this issue of the pill, for example, the rationalization started by claiming that women need to have greater control or defense for their body in the face of the danger of the so-called unwanted pregnancy.

From there, all sorts of justifications developed. The legal angle exaggerated the right to privacy of individuals to the extent of undermining the objective moral law. The liberal feminists insisted that women have absolute right over their body, and can do anything with it as they choose.

Of course, all sorts of supporting data presented in vivid drama were made. But then again, nature cannot be cheated indefinitely. It always has a way to work out corrections in life and in people, often in very extraordinary, explosive manner.

We may still fail to promptly see the connection between our mistakes and the corrections. We may even harden our erroneous positions. But God and nature will eventually clarify things in stronger terms.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Putting ethics and morality in economics

IN his address to the plenary session of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, Pope Benedict called for a re-planning of economics worldwide. He said it is clear that the market cannot regulate itself apart from public intervention and the support of internalized moral standards.

We cannot deny the fact that we are still reeling from the disastrous effects of the global financial breakdown. The latest victim is Greece, which has just been given a life-saving bailout, the biggest to be given to a country, in the amount of 110 billion Euros from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Now the festering disease that has brought the once-proud Greece to its knees is exposed for the world to see and to learn from. It’s a terrible case of a country long spoiled by the lavish but parasitic lifestyle and culture of its people, sorry to say that.

To get an idea of what was wrong with the Greek economy, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius has this to say:

“Greece’s problem, (Greek Prime Minister) Papandreou says, was that it developed a financial culture in which pervasive corruption and tax evasion were tolerated, its leaders made promises they couldn’t keep; they expanded public-sector employment so much that nobody even knew, for sure, the number of government employees.”

It seems that Greece has been cultivating a kind of welfare state that killed the productive potentials of its people and other resources. It’s, of course, important that the government helps and intervenes in the lives of people, but it should not take away the people’s initiatives and productivity.

The government plays only a subsidiary role in the over-all development of nations. It’s actually a very crucial role that should not be misunderstood as being only secondary. Its role can be and should be both primary and subsidiary. These two qualifications need not be in conflict with each other.

And to get an idea of the bitter pill that the Greeks have to swallow for this mess, here are some words from a press report:

“Papandreou unveiled austerity measures and tax rises worth 30 billion Euros, including: an increase in the retirement age from an average age of 53 to 67; government workers to lose annual bonuses worth an extra two months’ pay; ten per cent tax rise on alcohol, cigarettes and petrol; three-year freeze in the public sector; early retirement will be limited or abolished altogether; and VAT increase from 21 to 23 per cent.”

News reports also have it that these austerity measures were met with severe opposition from the Greek people many of whom went on a rampage to express their disapproval.

And that’s not all. Other developments in the world today indicate trends of financial and economic activities that are ultimately driven by greed, and not by ethics and morality, not by the social principles of the common good, subsidiarity and solidarity.

Some learned sectors claim that the recent oil leak off the coast of Louisiana in the US that many fear is a mega-catastrophe in the making is caused by greed. Greed blinded the ones involved to the requirements of prudence and safety. They just went about pumping more and more oil from the ocean floor.

We have to return to common sense, to the basic sense of restraint in any endeavor we make. We need to recover the necessary awareness of the need for ethics and morality in our economics and other temporal affairs. We need to develop a finer sensitivity to the demands of the common good and justice and fairness.

Our problem often is that when these human affairs start to assume big proportions, the requirements of ethics and morality tend to be ignored, then forgotten if not openly attacked as irrelevant.

We have to be quick to react to the desensitizing effects of our worldly concerns. The ideal is that the spiritual and supernatural tone of our thoughts and desires, even when they involve our earthly activities, should be kept vibrant and so deeply felt as to effectively guide us in our daily routine.

It would seem that the world of finance and economics find it hard to accommodate the directives of ethics and morality. Greed, pride, arrogance and vanity, which actually are human weaknesses, are converted into the very fuel and resource engine to further our economic activities.

The Pope’s call to re-plan our economic activities according to more internalized moral standards is most relevant these days. We need to correspond to that call.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Value of music

ONCE again Pope Benedict has given us some very beautiful considerations about music on the occasion of the anniversary of the start of his pontificate last April 19.

Especially in the context of the increasingly harsh realities of the world today, the papal words offer us a most reassuring balm of comfort. We cannot deny we are drifting in a turbulent sea of anxieties.

We, of course, can always have recourse to prayer. But music adds indescribable beauty to it. When set in music, prayer seems to assume wings and to take off to distant, exhilarating destinations.

In this particular occasion when a concert was held and performed by young students of a music school, the Pope focused on the highly educative dimension of music, especially for the youth of today.

Here are some of the papal words, which I prefer to remit verbatim and unvarnished since they hardly need any improvement. I strongly believe they are worth pausing for and reflecting on.

- “The study of music has high value in the educational process of the person, inasmuch as it produces effects in the individual’s development, fostering his harmonious human and spiritual growth.”

- “We know that the formative value of music, in its implications of expressive, creative, relational, social and cultural nature, is commonly recognized.”

- “Music is capable of opening minds and hearts to the dimension of the spirit and of leading persons to raise their gaze on High, to open to absolute Goodness and Beauty, which have their ultimate source in God.”

- “The joy of song and music is also a constant invitation to believers and to all of goodwill to commit themselves to give humanity a rich future of hope.”

I must say that those words contain a great wealth of truth often lost in the banality and worldliness of our daily activities. They are worth all the effort to mine them, so as to bring out and savor the hidden precious gems of happy verity embedded in them.

To me, music touches a mysterious part of our being, a certain place of contact and linkage between the spirit and the body, the abstract and the concrete. It is capable of bringing the mundane to the sublime, the sensual to the sacred.

It makes the presence of God more felt, more arresting and engaging. It has a language that goes beyond the technicalities of meter and measure. It acquires its own life and awakens our soul, bringing with it our body with all bodily complement of emotions and passions.

It allows us to fathom deep, soar high and traverse the whole length and breadth of human experience and possibilities. It certainly exceeds what our senses and our intelligence can perceive. It gives a new dimension to our life and outlook.

It seems to be the language of the heart that manages to articulate those parts of the heart still covered in mystery. It has a universal appeal as it goes beyond the conditioning of a person’s culture, educational background, social status, etc.

There’s just one crucial point to consider to make music achieve its most sublime potential. A psalm captures this point very well. “Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous deeds. He has revealed to the nations his saving power.” (98,1-2)

In fact, the sacred book is full of exhortations to sing a new song, a new canticle, indicating that Christian life is a happy life, with a certain musicality to it, in spite of its requirements for sacrifice and penance.

Yes, music can release its best potentials when inspired by God, his love, his wisdom, his power that can manifest itself in simplicity and humility, and in mercy and patience. Its beauty exceeds the best that can be found in the natural and material world.

We have to be wary of getting hooked to music that is inspired somewhere else other than in God and in what is objectively good in man. Sad to say, this kind of music is also proliferating, a sign of the thread of decadence also present in the fabric of our present life.

I believe there’s a great need to evangelize that part of our culture today. Many of the songs and music nowadays are tone-deaf to spiritual values. They seem to be born for purely worldly purposes, highly titillating and seductive, but cruelly trapping the human spirit in time and space and the ways of the flesh.

We need to recover the genuine value of music.

Monday, May 3, 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.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The way to God

WE often wonder how it is to be with God all day. We’ve been told we should try our best to be with God. But how can that be, when we do not see him, much less, touch him?

One answer that can be offered are some words of Christ right before he entered into his passion and death. To his apostles he said: “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another, that as I have loved you, you also love one another.” (Jn 13,34)

This is the way to God—to love our neighbor as Christ has loved us. To be with God is not so much to be physically with him as to love one another. Being with God is a spiritual and supernatural reality. It’s not simply a sensible reality.

It’s in how we think, how we feel, what we believe in, what we discern in the material reality that envelops us. It’s not so much in what we see and touch outside us. It’s how these external things affect us internally, how they move and stir our mind and heart, our will and desires.

Remember what our Lord said: “The kingdom of God comes unawares. Neither will they say, ‘Behold, here it is,’ or ‘Behold, there it is.’ For behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Lk 17,21)

To be with God is an internal affair. For this, we need to be born again. “Unless a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (Jn 3,3) And again, “No one has seen God at any time. The only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has revealed him.” (Jn 1,18)

In short, to be with God is to be born again. To be born again is to be with Jesus, to follow him who is the fullness of the revelation of God to man. To be with Jesus is to love one another, for as St. John said: “No one has ever seen God. If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” (1 Jn 4,12)

That’s also why St. John said: “How can he who does not love his brother whom he sees, love God whom he does not see?” (1 Jn 4,20) Let’s again examine St. John’s logic:

“Let us love one another, for love is from God. Everyone who loves is born of God, and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 Jn 4,7-8)

We have to love one another, but doing it the way Jesus has loved us. This is the key, the secret to be with God. This is the way to God. We need to find out if we are truly loving one another the way Christ has loved us.

This is the challenge, for often we ignore others, and just remain in the sensible level in our attitude toward them. In fact, because of this disposition, we tend to be judgmental, critical and even hateful of the others. We hardly go beyond the externals in our dealings with others.

We have to make the necessary changes, training ourselves, especially our mind, will and heart, to be constantly interested in others, the way Christ is interested in each one of us.

It’s an interest, a love that goes all the way and that knows how to do it with prudence and naturalness. It is not the showy, sentimental type. It rejoices in suffering, precisely considering the cross as the culmination of that kind of love.

Remember St. Paul’s hymn to charity: “Charity is patient, is kind, does not envy, is not pretentious, is not puffed up, is not ambitious, is not self-seeking, is not provoked. It thinks no evil, does not rejoice over wickedness, but rejoices in the truth. It bears with all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor 13,4-7)

We need to put these words into action. Charity is an always active and operative love that makes use of the immediate and little things of the day to express it. It does not wait for more dramatic occasions to show itself.

We need to constantly ask ourselves, “Is this how we love others? Do I do my best to love others with a love that transcends my preferences, my likes and dislikes, my character and temperament, etc.? Do I love until it hurts?”

It’s actually both easy and difficult, feasible and impossible. But it’s up to us to choose which attitude to take.