Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A new world order

THE world is in great flux these days. The still festering economic crisis mainly gripping the US and Europe is provoking vast and fast changes all over.

Russian leaders, for example, now talk about a new thrust in massive modernization. For this, they are willing to modify some of their socialistic ways to attract more foreign investors who have the right kind of plans for Russia’s needs.

China, on the other hand, seems poised to dominate the world economy if they know how to play with their increasingly powerful currency. This development has been worrying the US and Europe as they now clearly see the threat China poses to them.

We, in our country, may not be in the middle of these sea changes, neither in the good or the rising side nor in the bad or the sinking part. But obviously we can’t help but be affected and somehow involved. We have to know how to play our part.

So far, the world drama and suspense seems focused on the economic side, with the usual social and political aspects as unavoidable companions. This is a mindset that needs to be drastically changed, and we can play a part in this effort.

What we have to do is see to it that we are liberated from such restrictive mentality. We need to widen our perspective to include the often neglected spiritual element that actually serves as the directing principle in this cliff-hanging predicament, and we have to tell everyone about it.

We should never belittle this attitude. Very often in big conflicts and controversies, the solutions and relief are made possible by the quiet prayers and sacrifices of men and women doing their daily work conscientiously. These remedies come about when sound social doctrines are applied to their work.

It’s about time we shout to the whole world that the spiritual angle has a right to citizenship in any discussion of world issues and problems. Those big economic, social and political strategies, which many world leaders flaunt, will always start in the hearts of men, and also end there.

If those hearts are not in their proper condition, when they just get contented with purely worldly values and are averse to the more important spiritual and religious values, they will soon enter into a problem. Their vision is likely myopic, their understanding shallow, their reactions knee-jerk.

For sure, that may sound very simplistic to say, especially if we consider that following spiritual values involve a lot of sacrifice while the earthly values can give instant advantages. How many of us get blinded, confused and then misdirected by this play of things so typical of our human condition!

We have to do all we can to realize that the long-term, more lasting and definitive solutions to our problems are attained when the spiritual values are given their due attention. We have to be quick to identify what are mere false advantages, and learn to do away with them.

We have to be mature enough to distinguish between the precious and the pressing, the ultimate and the immediate, and know how to play with those parameters. We have to know that joy comes after some suffering, and to distinguish which suffering can lead to authentic development and which ones do not.

This strategic and indispensable spiritual perspective may not directly contribute technical solutions, but it is what gives guidance, direction and over-all meaning to our human affairs. This point has to be properly understood, since many times people shy away from the spiritual precisely because it does not give technical solutions.

The spiritual perspective is what keeps our humanity intact, since it connects us vitally with our true roots and ultimate goals. It’s enables us to flow and actively cooperation with God’s providence.

It prevents us from dehumanizing ourselves, a process that can subtly occur in us if we are easily deceived by worldly values that exaggerate their legitimate role in our life. We have to be ever ready to defend ourselves from their arrogant stances and powerful rationalizations.

This spiritual perspective leads us not only to pray, to offer sacrifices, but also to study the relevant Christian social doctrines and prudently apply them to specific situations. It fuels dialogue and fosters an interdisciplinary approach to problem-solving. It never means assuming a laid-back, indifferent attitude to our earthly affairs.

This assures us of the proper world order we ought to have, given our dignity as persons and children of God.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Porn exposes sex ed sham

WE are quite ‘pornified’ these days. I just learned, for example, that the porn industry amounts to about $97 billion worldwide. The US alone makes for $13 billion. Imagine that!

I wonder how much it is in the Philippines. No wonder, one can see porn almost at every corner and at just one click on the computers and other gadgets. Is there anything done about this, anything serious and sufficient?

The modern technologies have driven it to break-neck, warp speed, and have enabled it to be accessed in the most hidden ways. Thus, many people just find it irresistible and they helplessly fall into some kind of addiction.

The addiction is actually in pandemic proportions, although no official stats are made on it. This, to me, is a worse indication, because it can only mean that this irregular, anomalous condition is now generally considered as regular and normal.

The porn addiction affects all sectors of society—the rich and the poor, the urbanites and the provincianos, the intellectuals and the laborers, young and old, men, women and the in-betweens, etc. Even consecrated persons are mixed up. It’s a horrible picture!

Also, the move to give porn sites their own domain in the Internet seems to gain ground. Thus, aside from the .com, .net, .org, .edu, we may soon have .xxx.

Those pushing for it claim that in this way there can be better control of these sites, and so on and so forth. But that concern for control is actually needless and irrelevant. It’s all rationalization. In the first place, should it be there?

Obviously, no matter how in theory we can say it should not be there, in reality, it can’t help but be there, and in profusion. Why? Because many people just want it. We would have better chances taming a bull in a china shop than domesticating these people with raging hormones.

The world is sick, and the worse part of it is that it is still in the denial stage. It’s a spiritual illness whose virus is constantly recycled by a recycler embedded in our culture and mentalities.

That recycler is that part of our culture that deems access to pornography as a right, a fundamental expression of our freedom. Unless we outgrow this mentality and delete this virus of a cultural recycler, we are doomed. We cannot get out from the lamentable condition of porn addiction.

This brings us to the touted sex ed program now presented by our Education Department. What is its stand on this issue? From what I could gather, it is generally neutral about it and simply proceeds with some practical suggestions.

This is the congenital infirmity of this sex ed program. It’s conceived and born blind to the moral quality of the issues within its concern. And it dares to present itself as enlightened, for simply being practical and realistic.

But as we all know, all appeals to practicality and realism are useless if they are based on the wrong premises and assumptions. At best, and this is even very rare to happen, they can expect to gain a level of tolerance, but never a cure of the sickness.

What actually happens most of the time is that the practical-and-realistic attitude only prolongs and worsens the anomalous condition, and makes the definitive healing more difficult to occur.

Regarding this scourge of porn addiction, we need to be bold in tackling it. It may require more effort, involve more pain, but in the end we should not avoid to use the frontal approach to it. Of course, neither should we avoid using the more subtle tactics.

But we need to clarify the whole truth about our sexuality and our freedom, the need for chastity, for developing the virtues of charity and piety, etc. Converting theories into praxis about these needs and duties should be a continuing task to be done by everyone according to one’s possibilities.

I’m happy to know that in the States and in other places, there are already initiatives to seriously combat this porn addiction, making their techniques readily accessible and transmissible to whoever would like to have them.

This is a most welcome development, since they carry a holistic approach, properly grounded and oriented, unlike our sex ed program that is so questionable as it reeks with mere ideological animus.

With our world entering into more tricky times, we cannot afford to be easily taken by ideological trappings. We have to enter into the true essence and nature of things.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Sex ed a wedge issue

PARENTS should be wary of this DepEd plan to teach sex education to school children. I feel they have to register their concern more vocally, because this move is fraught with danger.

It’s funny that in spite of the enormous logistics problems besetting the department, it prefers to give more attention to this sex ed experiment. Priorities are twisted.

Classrooms are lacking, teachers are underpaid, the whole educational system is peppered with holes, and yet, here we are, talking about sex ed whose taunted benefits are seriously put in question.

I know many private individuals and groups who on their own initiatives have helped schools by supplying desks, repainting the buildings if not putting up new buildings, giving scholarships to students and incentives to teachers, etc., precisely because the DepEd cannot cope with the problems.

There is no doubt that this sex ed affair is ideologically driven. Hardly any consultation with parents was made. It’s just shamelessly pushed by groups that happen to have money and positions of influence. As such it has become a wedge issue, very intrusive and divisive.

In spite of the many good things said of it, we cannot deny the fact that this move is part of a global effort to redefine and reengineer morality, culture and society itself. The local supporters cannot claim total independence from this worldwide network, since the whole idea originated from there.

Obviously, the DepEd officials are saying that the sex ed they are offering would have nothing to do with eliciting prurience. It would not be talking about the sexual act, but about responsibility and health. Tell that to the Marines! We’ve had enough of this meme, but such reasoning is reckless.

Sex is a most delicate topic, and it cannot be dealt with only with scientific or social and health purposes in mind. This is the main infirmity of the sex ed programs so far formulated by different groups. They get stuck in that level.

Sex always has to be situated in the general milieu of chastity and of true love that can only come from God and follow a certain God-given natural law. Chastity is the effort to integrate the constitutive bodily and spiritual elements of sex. It’s not just a kind of open field where anyone can contribute anything he likes.

My experience in inculcating the virtue of chastity to the young has always required of me nothing less than heroic prayers and sacrifice and endless monitoring of developments.

A youth’s mind and heart are delicate, unstable, easily affected by all sorts of things. As much as possible someone has to be there whenever they need help, clarification, reassurance, etc.

In this task, it would be better to be pro-active, able to read minds and predicaments, and not to wait for them to come and tell. They have to be given the whole picture of sexuality and chastity, not the slanted and distorted ones often presented by some ideologies that have different agendas.

In the UN formula which is what our local sex ed program follows, this ideological approach is quite clear. There are references, for example, of different forms of families, what we may call alternative forms that are not keeping with our nature.

This approach has gathered greater notoriety since no less than the current US president is strongly supporting it, reflecting a very liberal frame of mind. During the Father’s Day celebration, while he rightly praised the role of fathers in the family, he also said that families can have two fathers, instead of a father and a mother.

This is the kind of development we in our country should try to avoid, by nipping in the bud whatever initiatives can lead to it. I have no doubt that the present sex ed program touted by the DepEd has this pedigree and possibility. We should be very discerning and prudent.

The problems that the sex ed is supposed to solve are usual problems in any given society. Yes, we need to do something about them, even something drastic. We have to empower the families to fulfill their responsibility to teach chastity and the nature, meaning and purpose of human sexuality.

We also have to clean up our society—the media, the entertainment world, etc. We have to put in place a more responsive social network aimed at helping everyone in this area.

But definitely, the sex ed proposal is out of the question. It is a wedge that can allow many more harmful elements to enter our society.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The nearness of God

THERE used to be a very romantic and sentimental song that mesmerized a generation of men and women many years ago. Its title was “The nearness of you.”

A line from it reflected the intense passion embedded in the song. “It’s not your sweet / conversation / that brings / this sensation / oh no / it’s just the nearness of you.” And the song continues to wax senti.

At that time, of course, things were simple and people in general still have the leisure to think and reflect. Life then was not in a hurry. Just listening to the song was enough to alter or deepen one’s perceptions and feelings without suffering bad effects.

The song had been revived some years ago. Yes, it caused some nostalgia, but I’m afraid things are different now. People in general, even those belonging to that generation, have become less affected by its melody and lyrics.

I’m mentioning this observation because the same phenomenon seems to be affecting a far more serious subject. There was a time when one can easily be wrapped in solemnity and devotion once he is before the Blessed Sacrament. I hope I am mistaken, but it looks to me that this is not so anymore nowadays.

In the first place, there are far fewer people now than before visiting the Blessed Sacrament and doing some acts of worship. And the few who still do appear to me as driven by some self-interest, furious with importunings, and not so much as to spend and “waste” time with our Lord, lost in intimate, heart-to-heart dialogue of faith and love.

In fact, the Holy Father has mentioned this observation recently. He said that the doctrine of the Eucharist and its relevance to believers are not sufficiently understood nowadays.

He also said that there is lack of witness consistent to the formally professed faith in the Eucharist. This, of course, is something well known. Thus, like the Pope, I would like to give my two cents worth in recommending a more systematic catechesis on the Eucharist that is attuned to today’s challenging conditions.

This, for sure, is a very delicate matter. In the first place, we should try our best that those who already have some vestiges of Eucharistic faith and piety be helped in purifying and enriching their devotion.

They really have to enter into a more profound and consistent devotion that abides in his thoughts and in his heart the whole day, and that always looks for ways to express itself in practical things.

They ought to understand that the language of faith and love poured in Eucharistic adoration is in earthly terms a language of sacrifice, an eager holocaust of oneself for God and for the others.

It cannot remain in the level of the sentimental and the nostalgic. It looks for action of self-giving. The Pope recently said, ¨A celebrated Eucharist imposes on us and at the same time renders us capable of becoming, in our turn, bread broken for brothers, coming to meet their needs and giving ourselves.¨

He continued, ¨Because of this, a Eucharistic celebration that does not lead to meet men where they live, work and suffer, to take to them the love of God, does not manifest the love it encloses."

And then there is that more demanding challenge of making the Eucharist truly an organic part of people’s lives, bringing it from the fringes of people’s concerns to the mainstream of their individual lives as well as of society. The Eucharistic piety is not a ghetto affair.

We have to understand that this effort of spreading the Eucharistic piety is not a matter of simply popularizing the Eucharist, relying on gimmicks and other publicity stunts. We have to go through the slow if difficult process of catechizing everyone and of instilling the proper attitudes and practices.

It´s about time we explode the myth that God is meant to be dealt with in a very private and personal manner. While that is also true, it does not mean that he should not be dealt with in a more public and social manner, which is actually proper to our human condition also.

We just have to free ourselves from the Cartesian frame of mind, where things are understood in a mathematical way, in either-or propositions. The Eucharistic piety and life in general demand a more integrative, synthetic understanding of things. The private is not supposed to compete with the public, the personal with the social, etc.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Clarifying the priestly authority

WE need to clarify the concept of authority, especially of priestly authority, because a lot of incomplete, shallow, distorted if not outright erroneous ideas are actually suffocating it.

There’s, for example, the notion that authority is purely man-made, a matter of people’s consensus, whose substance and purpose are entirely human and temporal, if not also material. There’s hardly any mention that authority comes from God, and its ultimate objective is to lead us to God, a transcendent, supernatural end.

This kind of understanding puts authority under the sole designs and control of man. It can’t help but be purely subjective, whether in the personal level or social level. As such, it is doomed to failure, since man without God is like a tree detached from its roots. It can look luxuriant at the moment, but in time it withers and dies.

And since we are persons, ruled by reason and will, there’s a possibility that we can abuse authority to the extent of using it not only against others, but also against ourselves. This has happened and has been validated many times in history when authority became the engine of a country’s or a civilization’s decadence.

We have to be most clear about the origin, nature and aims of authority. Our Catechism gives us a good description of it: “The authority required by the moral order derives from God: ‘Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.’” (1899)

From this truth, it should be obvious that authority requires obedience, such that one could not be without the other. Otherwise, a monstrosity would be created. Authority and obedience should be inseparable.

Therefore, a bevy of virtues is necessary for us to use and follow authority properly. We can mention a few—humility, prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance, etc. Without these virtues, how easily we can succumb to misuse and abuse authority!

And of all kinds of authority here in our life, the one wielded by the clerics, from the Pope down to the bishops, priests and deacons, is the most delicate and sublime, since it is the authority needed to govern our spiritual life and the Church.

Its aim is not only for some temporal and earthly good, but rather for our supreme good. The aim is nothing less than forming Christ in the believers, letting Christ live in every faithful, echoing St. Paul’s intense sentiment when he said: “My children, for whom I am again in labor until Christ be formed in you!” (Gal 4,19)

This is what Pope Benedict XVI recently reminded us of, in his address to priests all over the world that touched on our governing or guiding mission in the Church. The authority we, priests, wield is a tremendous one since it is a participation in that of Christ who said: ¨All power is given to me in heaven and on earth...¨ (Mt 28,18)

From here, we can deduce that if all authority on earth is a participation of the authority of God and therefore should be exercised in reference to him and his law, that of the priests requires the strictest adherence if not identification with Christ and his will.

We, priests, should be most aware that the power we have demands that we be most united with Christ. It is not something to be exercised in our own name, but in the name of Christ, and therefore should be discharged as the most exquisite form of service for Christ and for souls.

To do that, priests should be vitally connected with Christ through prayers, study, recourse to the sacraments, continuing formation in doctrine and virtues, and abiding ascetical struggle.

It cannot be any other way, since otherwise the whole process will surely be corrupted, deceiving people and creating a mess sooner or later. Priests should be wary of the dangers of complacency, hypocrisy, bureaucratic mentality, clericalism, etc.

We need to constantly rectify our intentions and to rev them up to measure up to Christ´s standards. Like Christ, we have to empty ourselves in imitation of Christ´s example, who ¨emptied himself, taking the form of a servant...humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.¨ (Phil 2,7-8)

Pope Benedict said: ¨To be a pastor according to the heart of God there must be a profound rootedness in living friendship with Christ...and the docility itself of the people to their priests depends on the docility of priests to Christ.¨

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Acquiring the mind of the Church

THERE are at least two passages in the Acts of the Apostles whose existence, not to mention, their strategic significance, I would like to invite all of us to be more aware of, let alone, to be more skilful in tackling.

They talk about us having one mind, one heart, one soul with Christ and with everybody else, which is actually a goal all of us have to pursue and for which we ought to help one another in attaining.

Here they are: “All these were persevering with one mind in prayer with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.” (1,14)

“And the multitude of the believers were of one heart and one soul, and not one of them said that anything he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.” (4,32)

We need to be more conscious of this ideal that is proper to us and that represents our perfection. Though we are individuals and unique at that, our individuality and uniqueness do not erase but rather are supposed to enhance our togetherness and our unity.

Actually, if we are to examine closely the workings of our mind, heart and soul, this is the undeniable tendency these human elements and powers possess. They naturally look for others and ultimately to God to go home to and to find their fulfillment.

St. Augustine expressed this yearning when he said: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” A psalm sings the same sentiment: “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.”

Obviously, this longing comes from God who places it in our heart. It is God’s design for us. It can only be actuated by God’s grace. Thus, we have to acknowledge the priority and inalienable role of grace in effecting our perfection.

Still, we have a big role to play to convert it to reality. We just don’t perfect ourselves automatically. Things are not imposed on us by God. We have to want it. And because of that freedom, we have to be responsible for it also.

Thus, we have to know how to do our part. And in this, many things can be said, among them, the fact that we need to acquire the mind of the Church. Why so?

Simply because the Church, in spite of what we say about her many weaknesses and failures due to her human members, is none other than Christ himself who makes us members of his mystical body, people and family members of God.

As members of the Church, living members of Christ’s mystical body and God’s people, we need to enter the mind of the Church to be vitally connected to the mind of Christ.

The mind of the Church is none other than the mind of Christ, the mind of God himself, as it is lived out in minds of each one of us. The mind of the Church therefore is dynamically lived in history, with the full complement of our human condition.

The mind of the Church has to contend with the different factors that condition our human existence and our effort to live with God. There’s our culture, our physical, emotional, geographical, social and political conditions that can be as varied as can be, etc.

To acquire the mind of the Church has endless ways and possibilities, since it never means doing it in a uniform way, identical, rigid, monolithic. It simply flows and streams, open to anything, adapting to the lay of the land, yet tending toward its proper destination.

At times, the process can be rough. At others, smooth. At times, it can be temporarily stalled, but it will always find a way to get out, either by seeping into what prevents its flow, or simply evaporating into air and then condensing into rain later on.

Still, there are some basic practices that we need to master to achieve this mind of the Church. We need to pray, to study the doctrine of Christ and now of the Church and to conform our life and behavior to them, to avail of the sacraments, especially that of the Holy Eucharist, etc.

We have to live by faith, and together with it, we ought to live in hope and charity, which is the flowering of Christian life, the ultimate proof that we indeed have acquired the mind of the Church, since we now would have the mind of Christ.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Unrepentant or opportunistic?

THIS is in reaction to Time Magazine’s cover story of June 7, 2010, with the banner title: “Why being Pope means never having to say you’re sorry: the sex abuse scandal and the limits of atonement.”

That’s, of course, a reprise of a late ‘60s movie, “Love Story,” whose famous line precisely was “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

This new version, however, has nothing of the sweet elements that characterized that romantic movie. It’s rather full of attacks, missiles, torpedoes and carpet bombing aimed at the Pope and the Church.

It spent a lot of precious ink trying to prove that Benedict XVI’s papacy is “permanently damaged,” and that the Church now needs a radical reformation, again trying to repeat an unfortunate event in the Church’s tumultuous history.

Reformation here means nothing less than changing the Church’s nature and from there whatever may come as consequences. The piece proudly concludes, from a logic mostly emotion-driven, that the Church has to be democratized.

The Church, it pleads, has to be taken away from aging ecclesiastics helplessly lost in their theologies and traditions and brought back to the people. The subtext seems to be that the present Church has become obsolete.

I’m always suspicious of this kind of contrasts. There will always be distinctions of roles in any organization. But these differentiations are not meant to divide the parties involved, but rather to distribute the work to be done and to foster greater unity. This is part of our human condition.

As soon as this idea came into view while reading the article, I immediately asked myself: whom should I believe—the authors of this article or the Pope and the whole teaching of the Church from the beginning?

It’s a crazy proposition that tempted me to drop the magazine immediately. But I had to read it in toto just to get its whole thrust. It would not be fair to comment on it without reading it entirely. I might be addressing myself to phantoms of my mind.

Certainly, the story had many good points. It was well-researched. It exposed ugly details that had accumulated through the years in both Church and world cultures. Still, there were glaring loopholes, foremost among which is the matter of perspective.

In short, we have to choose between looking at the issue within the framework of faith and reason as they impact on human realities, or the viewpoint of reason alone with its full complement of human sciences like history, sociology, etc.

In this particular case, the lens used had hardly anything to do with faith, but rather more with pure reason, a reason unguided by faith but highly affected by emotions.

The scandals are ugly enough, and the Pope has apologized already a number of times for these unfortunate incidents and has promised to do all to resolve them in their different aspects and levels.

Those accusations of systematic cover-ups by bishops and even the Pope are unfair in the sense that unless legal actions are initiated and pursued, the Church authorities obviously will try their best to keep the cases away from public attention while pursuing the appropriate actions to mete justice to all parties concerned.

This behavior is universal. It can be seen in families, governments, corporations, organizations and groups. That is why we have a legal system of justice, with its laws and rules, so as to attain greater objectivity in the pursuit of justice for all.

What we should try to avoid is to be rash in judging the actuations of these human social bodies. Of course, we can look into them, probe them, and if there are valid grounds to think some unfair practices have been committed, then let’s prosecute them according to our legal system.

But this procedure has nothing to do with the nature of the Church. That nature is God-given as revealed by Christ. It is not ours to change and to shape according to our designs. It is for us to follow it and live it as best as we can.

Of course, we are notorious for our infidelities and sins. Still all these do not add up to the need to change the nature of the Church. What we need to do instead is to try our best, up to our last breath, to be faithful. For this, we have to help one another.

Are the Pope and the bishops really unrepentant, or are there groups who are taking advantage of these unfortunate events to push their own agenda?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Politics is a noble vocation?

IN his recent visit to Cyprus, Pope Benedict told public officials that politics is a noble vocation. That piece of news, I am sure, must have elicited at least a second glance or a double take from many people.

We have become not only blasé to politics but also so skeptical and cynical about it that to associate it with vocation and anything spiritual and religious would sound like an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.

The way it is played out in many places nowadays, politics would seem to be the very antithesis of honesty and goodness. Sometimes, I hear people say that those who enter it must be ready to sell their soul and conscience to the devil.

And yet we cannot deny the fact that deep down in our heart, we know that politics is objectively important and necessary. It is also unavoidable. And it in fact plays a very crucial role in our life as a people.

It’s what is supposed to hold us together in an organic and functioning unity. It’s what keeps us going as a people, maintaining us, developing and helping us in our immediate concerns, and leading us to our ultimate destination.

Thus, we can say that politics is part of our nature and therefore part of the will of God for us. To call it a vocation is actually an understatement, since it can be and should be our way to personal sanctity and heroic apostolate.

Given its range and scope, politics is a tremendous way to God and to the people. Try to imagine the things involved there—the rectitude of intention, the hard work, the selflessness and heroism required, the patience, the clarity of vision, the constant monitoring of developments big and small, etc.

So we need not only to debug the way we do politics, but also to undertake a major overhaul of our political culture, involving everyone. This aspect of our life is crying for thorough and urgent transformation and change.

The other day, I was checking the blogs offering forums for political discussions in the local scene, and I was almost devastated by what I read there. So much muckraking and ugly catfights! And to think that the issues were relatively not that important. There was so much noise over practically nothing.

All of us, one way or another, have a part to play in politics. But the political leaders need to be clearly prepared and competent to play politics properly, without deforming its nature, thwarting its purpose, and truncating its message.

Politicians need to realize very deeply that they can function well only when they are adequately grounded on the authentic nature and requirements of politics. That’s when they can relate politics to its origin in God’s divine plan. Short of that, politics becomes easy prey to evil influences.

Politicians also need to be lean and mean in handling the endless predicaments they are likely to face in their work. They should have a firm and proper sense of priority, a good grasp of the criteria to guide them in their work.

Our main problem is that many of our politicians are still incompetent in directly relating politics to religion. Many of them think politics is just a game where faith and the morality that goes with it are not supposed to enter.

So they end up guided only by shallow values and quick fixes that often get snarled in inconsistencies. They fail to realize that the art of politics is essentially a very moral duty.

Pope Benedict precisely focused on this point. He said that politics should always promote the moral truth in public life. He proposed three ways to achieve this.

- Politicians should act responsibly on the basis of factual knowledge. In other words, to avoid biases coming from party pressures or selfish interests.

- Politicians should deconstruct political ideologies that supplant the truth. There are many such ideologies. They can also contain some good elements, but we have to be most wary of their questionable parts that can act as the animating factor.

- Politicians should continually make positive laws that are based on the ethical principles of natural law. A study of the positive laws in many countries reveals a steady departure from ethics and an adoption of pure pragmatism that can compromise genuine justice.

We need politicians who understand the value of these indications just spelled out by the Pope. Let’s pray and work hard for this goal.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Turning the scourge into a gift

I FOUND it most moving to hear the Pope asking forgiveness and vowing to do everything to resolve the scandals involving priests right in the Holy Mass in the middle of the culminating activity of the Year for Priests in Rome recently.

That was a very brave act of his, full of true humility, that deserves to be emulated by other Church leaders. After all, the Church which is holy on account of Christ, is also a sinner in need of repentance and purification on account of her members, us, who still bear the weaknesses of humanity.

This business of asking forgiveness should be an ordinary, regular event in the life of the Church not only in her individual members but also as an institution.

This will reflect a more complete picture of the Church in her pilgrim way here on earth. It identifies her more closely with Christ, her founder, who on the cross just before dying asked forgiveness from his Father on behalf of all men.

This papal gesture also shows a special kind of magnanimity, a greatness of heart that is not afraid to own up certain negative elements in the Church in her human aspects, unavoidable as it were, and to go through the painful process of purification and atonement.

This helps to correct the unintended side-effects of triumphalism and other forms of religious abuse that can subtly develop through the years in the Church, again because of our many human weaknesses that can become parts of our cultures and social structures.

We should be more aware of these tendencies, and learn how to handle them. I am sure the wealth of experience the Church has gained through the years will greatly help us to form a sharper sensitivity to the bad double-effects of otherwise good intentions and efforts pursued in the Church.

This again makes the Church resemble all the more with Christ, who was not afraid to make as his own the sins and faults of men and to die for them and to them.

This is how Christ turned evil into good, the offense into a gift. The logic of this beautiful phenomenon can be found in St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, and reiterated in several of his other epistles, where he said:

“Not like the offense is the gift. For if by the offense of the one the many died, much more has the grace of God, and the gift in the grace of the one man Jesus Christ, abounded unto the many…” (5,15)

Pope Benedict XVI applied this kind of reasoning to the issue of recent clerical scandals when he said in the homily of that Mass: “Had the Year for Priests been a glorification of our individual human performance, it would have been ruined by these events.

“But for us what happened was precisely the opposite: We grew in gratitude for God’s gift, a gift concealed in ‘earthen vessels’ which ever anew, even amid human weakness, makes his love concrete present in this world.

“The scandals should be looked upon as a summons to purification, as a task which we bring to the future and which makes us acknowledge and love all the more the great gift we have received from God.

“In this way, his gift becomes a commitment to respond to God’s courage and humility by our own courage and our own humility.”

Let’s hope that these words become a living reality in the Church in her individual members as well as in her institutional status. This will take time. But at least a good start in some attitudinal change in the Church is already made.

Sad to say, not all people appreciate this kind of reasoning. Of course, that’s also understandable, since these words have to be taken in the context of faith. Without that faith, no amount of reasoning can become convincing.

I learned, for example, that a group of victims of clerical abuse is not too happy with what the Pope has done. They want that these scandals in the Church be the reason to what they call as the need to democratize the Church.

Now this is a different issue altogether. It has strayed from its proper context of discipline to another context, more serious this time, of the very nature of the Church.

Sorry to say, but this switch of context is a foul. We can discuss this question in another occasion. As of now, I’m very happy with what the Pope has done regarding the scandals.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The art of blending

OUR life, as it is, consists of many aspects, dimensions, layers and levels. There’s the personal and the social, the internal and the external, the material and the spiritual, the temporal and the eternal, the mundane and the sacred, the natural and the supernatural, etc.

It’s obvious that we need to learn how to integrate them together to establish and keep our true identity and dignity as persons and as children of God. We have to observe the appropriate priorities. In a way, our humanity can be defined and developed in the effort we blend and order all these items.

In fact, the main drama of our life can be microcosmed in this abiding task of ours. How important it is, therefore, that we train ourselves adequately for this purpose, learning the proper criteria and skills, and adopting the right attitudes, mentality and frame of mind!

This is actually an enormous challenge for all of us, for which we need to help one another. First of all, we need to be open to this idea, which is actually a universal goal for all of us to reach. We have to overcome whatever bias and erroneous thinking—there are many—we may have regarding this point.

Toward this end, we should be stouthearted and persevering in spite of the many difficulties, mistakes and failures we surely will encounter. We just have to strengthen our resolve to simply go on no matter what, ever humble to learn from our stumbles, and, of course, never neglecting to ask for God’s grace.

Thing is we need to keep our mind and heart ever alert and nimble, so we can always be active, flexible, creative and inventive, as well as resistant to temptations and discouragement, and to other worldly allurements that can detract us from our proper focus.

The other day, while attending the thanksgiving party of a recently ordained priest, I felt a little uncomfortable at what I thought was already an exaggerated manner of thanking God and everybody else for the tremendous gift of priesthood.

For sure, our ways of expressing our gratitude can be countless, and what may be ok for one may not be quite ok with another. We have to expect this wide range of possibilities and be broadminded to accept them.

Just the same, we also have to constantly check ourselves, examining our conscience, and ever watchful of pertinent signs around us to see if we are truly doing things properly.

That is simply because it’s very easy to fall into frivolity and insobriety. The ways of vanity and pride are subtle. The road to imprudence and perdition is wide. They can stealthily spin invisible thread and embed disorderly attachments to otherwise good efforts of ours, disabling us to fly to our appropriate destiny.

And so we need to constantly rectify our intentions, seeing to it that they are completely engaged with God’s will and driven only by love and freedom. As much as possible, we should feel the passion for loving God by loving everybody else all the way.

For this purpose, we have to learn how to be immersed in things and yet also know how to transcend them. We have to learn to forget ourselves to think only of God and of the others. We should be convinced that love is lived best when it involves suffering and sacrifice and having to ask and give mercy.

So we have to learn how to be both agile and stable, active and contemplative, spontaneous and thoughtful, impatient and patient, intolerant and tolerant, and, yes, why not, manual and mental, emotionally involved and coolly detached.

We have to learn how to be in the world without being worldly. In fact, Christ prayed for this when he said: “I pray not that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from evil. They are not of the world, as I am not of the world.” (Jn 17,15-16)

We have to understand that this condition can only be possible if we have a living contact with God himself, with the Holy Spirit who always will prompt us what to think and what to do in every moment. Let’s remember that our life is supposed to be a shared life—it’s both God’s and ours.

And so in the practical level, we have to continually check that we are always with God, and through Him with everybody else, doing all these with naturalness and discretion without attracting undue attention.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Dearer than life

WHAT could be more precious than life? I had some funny inkling the other day when a friend of mine invited me to take a ride on the zip line as a way to have a break and fun in the middle of a nosebleed-causing seminar of classes, talks and lectures.

This friend is actually very different from me. Yes, we share a lot of things in common, like love for books and discussing ideas and issues, but we are almost poles apart in terms of character and temperament. We kind of follow the law of the magnet: like poles repel, unlike poles attract.

This is a law that at least for me actually works well in gaining and keeping friends. I also have friends whose character and temperament are like mine, but whose ideas and convictions are opposed, even hostile to mine. Still, I manage to make friends this way.

Itś this kind of friendship that has enriched me with insights and experiences I would have missed if I didn´t have it. In fact, the discovery of my vocation to the priesthood went through this itinerary. A friend introduced me to a priest, then to things spiritual and religious, and then to my vocation.

Though I at first did not like the idea of seeing a priest, I could not say no to my friend. What started as a noblesse oblige ended up hooking me to a commitment of a lifetime and even beyond. That´s one example of God´s inscrutable ways.

Back to the zip line, I of course would not think of it even if the now famous Dahilayan Adventure Park in Bukidnon that features Asia´s longest zip line of more than a kilometer was just at the next hill. I could even hear the screams of the girls riding it, and in fact could see from where I was, plus of course a little of imagination, a faint image of the people enjoying it.

Still, these things just made me amused and happy for those who are having fun with it. It did not occur to me to try it. So when this friend proposed it to me, I was at first surprised, and with my built-in naughty mind, suspected the idea must be one in his bucklet list. But I reconsidered. A friend´s idea just cannot be dismissed outright.

So, one morning, dressed in excursion clothes and trying our best not to behave very conspicuously as priests, my friend and I found ourselves queueing up for the ride. But we were not successful in our masquerades, because after a few minutes, we heard someone calling us, ¨Father, I´m so glad to see you here...¨

We were made to read some indications printed on the wall. The last line said, the park management tries their best to secure safety, but is not responsible for any untoward incident that may occur, including death. Of course, I didn´t like to read that, but there was no more turning back.

The attendants put us in a harness for the first leg of the ride—320 meters long. We were given helmets too for our heads, then some instructions, and there we were, poised at a certain launching pad with a deep valley below.

I tried not to get scared, and I was amazed to see how the mind automatically looked for justifications to appease the normal fears. If those little girls could do it, if those old women could do it, heck, I could do it. Of course, afterwards I was ashamed to myself that I entertained those thoughts.

We were pushed, then off we hanged in mid-air sliding toward a certain destination I didn´t have the chance to know from the attendant. Things moved so fast I was at loss what to think and see. I found myself twirling and could not control my direction. I wanted to see things around, but then the bump to stop me already hit me.

Then we went to the second leg, a shorter line of 150 meters. This time, fear simply vanished, and replaced instead by a spontaneous bravado softened by laughter and back-patting. I knew this was not my usual behavior, but, ok, at least for this time, I decided not to give it a hoot. This is just for fun with a friend.

The third leg was the real challenge, a line of 860 meters. To cut it short, we made it, and found ourselves feeling much younger. Lesson: having fun with a friend out of trust and care for him can be dearer than life.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Determining the quality of our life

IT must have been 10 years ago. A young university student approached me and confided to me that he had some intimations he was meant for the priesthood.

We talked a lot after that, spending hours just to sort things out. His parents wanted him to finish his college course first and, if possible, to work for a while. He was losing interest in his studies. And there was also that delicate affair of the heart that needed to be resolved.

Of course, these were very tricky matters. I had to act in the most prudent way I could to help him. For one, I had to make sure his wanting to enter the seminary was not a cover for his possible intellectual deficiency that could have led him to have a loss of interest in his college studies.

And many other factors had to be considered and weighed. But entering into his mind and heart, I gradually saw the elements of a priestly vocation as I managed to eliminate possible false reasons for him to want to be a priest. And so we devised a plan.

To make a long story short, he is now a priest, just newly ordained and conspicuously glowing with the joy of having his dream fulfilled, his calling answered properly. His supreme joy also became mine, and I thanked God profusely for this gift.

But I told him, his life has just begun. Or a new chapter has just been opened in which he has to write many beautiful things of love and fidelity, of heroic generosity and total self-giving even up to death, making himself a true holocaust of self-offering.

The twinkle in his eyes when he heard what I told him clearly said he was game to it, of course, with God’s grace and his efforts. Well, the fellow had already gone through some years of training and all sorts of experiences, making him confident he could hack it.

In a way, in spite of his young age, he is already a veteran in the ways of spiritual development and moral combat. He just needs to continue struggling, always to be on guard, but doing this very discreetly and naturally.

But I still felt I have to be there for him, which is actually not a special thing to do since all of us should be there for everybody else. This is the law of our life. We are meant for one another. We have to help one another in any way we can.

This time, I reminded him about the indispensable importance of prayer, of personal contact with God that has to be daily, even abiding all throughout the day, and that has to be constantly worked out, so that that prayer becomes effective, not just formalistic.

I told him that the life of priests certainly has a specific focus and purpose, but it is also open to anything. It’s in keeping one’s proper bearings in the midst of all the possibilities in life that constitutes a tough challenge to any priest. And what can guide him is when he prays.

Everyone of us should manage to pray whatever our circumstances may be. Prayer is to our soul what eating is to our body. It keeps us alive and healthy, since we would be contact with God, the food of our soul. In fact, the quality of our life boils down to the quality of our prayer.

To this new, young priest, I confided personal experiences regarding the tests and trials to be expected and the effort needed to be able to pray properly. There will be many temptations, reasons and excuses to delay and even miss prayer. These should be tackled frontally and decisively.

I even went to the extent of telling him that the first test of whether one is living sincerity and building an authentic Christian life, let alone, life as priest, is when he is sincere about his prayer. It’s the cornerstone of one’s spiritual life.

Without prayer, everything will just come out as a sham, a charade, a most pitiable one since the priesthood can be used to deceive a lot of people and can seriously corrupt the personal life a priest.

Everyone has to pray in such a way that we can echo St. Paul’s cry: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” We cannot exaggerate how important it is to really pray properly.

Everyone has to spare no effort to make his prayer real prayer.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Reengineering the priesthood?

WE are now ending the Year for Priests launched by Pope Benedict XVI
last year on the occasion of the 150th death anniversary of the patron
for priests, St. John Mary Vianney.

The year-long event was envisioned “to encourage priests in the
striving for spiritual perfection on which, above all, the
effectiveness of their ministry depends.”

And true enough, all through the year many programs of pertinent
activities were carried out in dioceses and parishes. In our country,
the highlight I think was the holding of the 5-day National Congress
for the Clergy last January.

I am sure many fruits have been reaped with this celebration, though
they may elude direct and clear accounting. It’s almost impossible to
put into words, much less into numbers, these effects that mainly are
spiritual and pastoral in character. But they certainly are there.

Even the negative events that, I must say, were made to erupt as if
to embarrass the Church and especially the Pope, were good occasions
to clarify certain issues.

Yes, issues there always will be. These are no new things that should
surprise us. They are part and parcel of our human condition that
never disappears even if one is already consecrated into a sublime
spiritual and supernatural office such as what the priesthood is.

Just look at Jesus Christ, the son of God who became man to be our
savior. He being God must be all-knowing and yet he chose among the
apostles, who were the people closest to him in his redemptive work,
Judas Iscariot who betrayed him.

God opens himself to all the possibilities contained in the freedom
of man, including its misuse and abuse. But he knows how to derive
good from evil. He is not frustrated by the sinfulness of men, even of
those supposedly very close to him.

This is how we should look at the issues regarding priests and
priesthood in general. The power, goodness and mercy of God, which we
should try to imitate, are not meant to rationalize our mistakes.
Rather, they are meant to occasion a deeper and more extensive
purification and renewal.

And so it’s not a matter of rethinking the nature of priesthood,
which is already written in stone, carved in granite. It’s more of
reengineering our attitudes and ways of living the priesthood.

This reengineering, being subjective and set for Christ’s infinite
ways, will always require continuing improvement. This duty will be
endless, coterminous with nothing less than life itself. May we never
say ‘enough’ in exerting the suitable effort.

As of the moment, I am happy that the Holy Father not only went
through a rigorous review of the nature and ministry of the
priesthood, but also pointed out concrete problematic areas that still
beset the world of priests and bishops.

This he did most especially when he had to explain and ask for mercy
and understanding, on behalf of those concerned, for the many scandals
involving some clerics. Think of the cases in Ireland and Germany and
the States.

He was forthright in admitting the mistakes of Church personalities
as well as the defects in Church life and structure, including certain
aspects of the priestly culture. This is a welcome development, since
many Church officials are rather evasive about these issues, perhaps
also because of some good reasons.

To me, another enriching data that came as a result of these scandals
springs from the area of psychology. I am quite familiar with the
spiritual and theological underpinnings of the issues, but certainly
these issues also have a strong psychological aspect that urgently
needs to be addressed.

I recently read two articles by psychologists with some exposure to
priestly problems and these introduced me to the concept of “emotion
deficit.” This may not be a major issue, but I believe it can hold a
crucial role in the way the priestly problems evolve.

If left ignored and unattended, it can be the small stone, mentioned
in the Bible, which can crash the magnificent image made of precious
metals except for the feet that were made of clay, an image of our
human condition.

I think it’s time we give due attention to this aspect, even if in
the over-all scheme of priestly life and ministry, it only plays a
minor role. The continuing formation for priests should include this
as an integral part that should not be lightly considered.

Besides, the structure and culture of the priestly environment should
reinforce the need to satisfy this requirement for normal, let alone,
priestly, life.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Education in a state of emergency

THAT’S what Pope Benedict is sounding off these days, addressing more directly to the Italian situation and that of the developed Western world in general.

In our case, when we talk about some problems in education, we refer more to lack of classrooms and the need to attune and synch our educational programs such that they solve our headaches in poverty and literacy.

Thanks to God, our difficulty is mainly in that level which, I admit, is already big, urgent and really crying for immediate solutions and relief. Still, if compared to those of the West, our worries are mere chicken feed.

Our predicament is more in the material dimension of life. That of the West is already undermining the more important spiritual dimension of life. Many times I have seen people, materially poor but full of faith in God, who cope better in life than those materially rich but with weak faith.

We are, of course, a unity of body and spiritual soul. They cannot be separated in life. Only in death, and in a temporary way since Christian faith teaches us that both body and soul reunite at the end of time.

Our education, for sure, has to take care of the needs of both our constitutive elements of body and soul, but always giving special attention to those of the soul. We may have to make the proper priorities in tackling these needs of our education, but it’s not right to put them in conflict with each other.

Just the same, we should not be complacent with our apparent luck. We need to give serious attention to the root causes of the educational crisis that the Pope talks about, because even in our country we can see traces and symptoms of these Western anomalies emerging and developing.

The Pope points a finger at two culprits responsible for the emergency situation in the educational system in the West. These are, first, the false notion of human autonomy that confines us to ourselves, and, second, the spreading mentalities of relativism and skepticism.

These things may sound abstruse to many, but I’m afraid they now need to be understood by as many people as possible, since these factors affect all of us. We may have to explain a little about these disturbing phenomena so we can get a handle on the situation

The first cause mentioned by the Pope, which is about a false idea on human autonomy, refers to the exaggerated understanding of our freedom and autonomy such that we think education is simply our development purely by and for ourselves.

We make ourselves the be-all and end-all of everything. We think we are not meant for something greater than ourselves now. We make ourselves our own God. Everything else is just used for our self-development.

This attitude is basically wrong since we by nature and as persons need to be in relation with others and ultimately with God. In short, we become more human and better persons the more we relate ourselves to God and the others.

Sad to say, the educational thrust in many places in the world today, including ours, appears to go in this direction of being selfish and of tending to self-absorption, detached from the immediate and ultimate sources of our life and our wisdom.

This first cause of the education crisis, as the Pope warns us now, leads to the second which are the dangerous attitudes of relativism and skepticism. With faith ignored, divine revelation blocked and the understanding of human nature twisted, we now create our own world devoid of absolute truths.

Everything is now held relative to whatever criteria we may want to consider as our truths and values. This will lead to skepticism and a host of kindred anomalies. In the end, what would rule will just be the law of pragmatism and eventually the law of the jungle, of brute force, etc.

These considerations of the Holy Father, I believe, should not be taken lightly, thinking that they are not quite relevant to our present condition. They are always relevant. And the sooner we include these warnings into our educational system, making the necessary adjustments, the better for us.

We should not regard these caveats as something abstract. They have direct impact on our lives and on our society. We have to overcome that tendency to get stuck with the material and temporal purpose of education and give priority attention to its spiritual and supernatural objective.