Saturday, July 31, 2010

We need to build up empathy

I JUST learned from a recent study that there´s something like a drop of 40% in empathy among American college students in the past 30 years, with the sharpest plunge observed since year 2000 when the Internet came to dominate people´s lives.

That´s, of course, a cause for grave concern. Empathy glues us together as a people, enabling us to enter into one another´s lives as we are supposed to do, edifying our sense of unity and solidarity despite the variety of our conditions and situations. And so anything that undermines it undermines us as a people, as a society, as a family.

Lack of it leads to conflicts and acrimony, poisoning and weakening our social fabric. We need to be more aware of building up this important aspect of our lives, knowing its true nature and character, its authentic source of energy and its real goal. At this time, we cannot afford to be naïve about our need for empathy, properly understood.

Our initial problem is that many of us understand empathy more as an instinctive and emotional reaction, and nothing much else. When you see someone stumble and in pain, you immediately mirror his condition by vicariously feeling the fellow´s predicament yourself.

When you see a beggar in tattered clothes or an abandoned child, or when you read in the papers about the earthquake victims of Haiti, you automatically feel something like empathy or sympathy, depending on whether you felt with them or for them.

We are in need of mirroring one another´s conditions, since this is how we learn, grow and develop. Thus, the importance of physical, face-to-face encounters, and of being wary of our tendency to just keep to ourselves, limiting our relations with others in the level of intentions.

Of course, we should be careful to avoid extremes—empathy either as only a physical and emotional thing or only as an intentional and disembodied affair.

Empathy is certainly part of our nature that indicates that not only are we individual persons, we are also social beings; not only are we spiritual and intellectual persons, we are also beings of flesh with feelings and emotions.

We need to respect, uphold and defend the requirements of each element that constitutes our being or nature. We have to understand that empathy has to draw its consistency from these constitutive elements properly ordered and pursued.

In other words, empathy should not just be an instinctive and automatic reaction; it has to be a deliberately cultivated trait. It should not just remain in the emotional level; it also has to be properly directed and driven by our conscious reason, then by our faith and charity.

It´s this wholistic grasp of empathy that would truly help us build the society that we deserve as persons and as children of God. We need to do everything to attain that understanding and the skill to live it.

Thus, we have to study it not only in the physical, biological and social sciences. It has to be studied also under the light of our faith and religion. Actually, the latter source of knowledge gives empathy its deepest moorings. It defines empathy´s ultimate dimensions. The natural sciences only give us the tools and techniques to develop empathy.

The Christian faith, for example, links empathy to the whole range of Christian charity that includes not only loving those who love but also those who don´t. It´s this faith where empathy breaks free from its usual confinement in the emotion level to enter into the world of the supernatural to which we are called due to our spiritual nature also.

As to the practical implications of this concern about empathy-building, I can mention a few ideas—to be thoroughly familiar with our Christian faith, to be vitally identified with Christ by always praying and developing the virtues.

We need to cultivate the desire to flood our surroundings with an atmosphere of goodness, kindness, understanding and compassion, complete with smiles, gestures of courtesy and gratitude.

We have to be judicious in our use of the Internet and other modern technologies such that they don´t take us away from direct contact with others, basic in developing empathy. Family and other social get-togethers should be fostered and made an integral part of our daily activities.

Every little act of reaching out to the others, even if only internally, will go a long way in building up empathy. We need to reverse the current disturbing trend where we seem to alienate one another.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Gospel should cruise social media

“WOE to me if I do not preach the Gospel.” (1 Cor 9,16) This was the cry of St. Paul conveying his burning desire to transmit the Good News to the early Christians.

It’s a cry that also has to spring in each one of us, Christian believers, who now participate in the abiding function of preaching and teaching the word of God according to our personal circumstances.

God’s word, let’s remind ourselves, is the original and ultimate word that should inspire every word we use in our communications. It’s what gives our word its soul, enabling it to acquire its supernatural quality, regardless of whether it is literary, technical, legalistic, conversational, etc. in its human usage.

God’s word is a way to connect us and everything that we think, say and do to God. It’s always relevant. In fact, it is indispensable, otherwise our life will stray from its proper path.

It should always be in our mind and heart, acting as a kind of leaven to our word so that our word’s practical human use can acquire a certain spiritual and supernatural value, enlightening and redemptive in character.

We need to be clear about the relationship between God’s word and our word, between God’s word and our life. Perhaps this is the crucial point we need to work on first, before we proceed with our communications.

With the advent of the computer and the whole range of digital and electronic technology, this cry of St. Paul, and hopefully ours too, finds a most auspicious vehicle to expand its reach and scope.

Besides, with the way these technologies are affecting people’s lives, it’s clear that an abiding and adequate evangelization in that field is an urgent must. Otherwise, they will just decline to all sorts of bad effects and influences.

It’s good that in this regard the American bishops are pioneering the way and are opening frontiers. Recently, they came out with a document on social media guidelines that for sure will be helpful to all Christian believers trying to get involved in the evangelization of this vast, exciting world of social media.

It bats for greater visibility of the gospel message in the social media, as well as favorable manners to build stronger sense of community among ourselves. It also recommends efforts at accountability, so our postings can really be responsible and therefore defensible.

The gospel has to be presented in such a way that it retains its original forcefulness and meaning while adapting to the evolving issues at hand. It should be in a language not only understandable but also attractive and engaging to the intended audience.

Highly interactive, the social media has to be handled with extreme prudence and powerful magnanimity and nobleness of heart. Otherwise, one can easily founder in its many delicate, tricky spots.

It’s important that one assumes a very positive outlook toward the social media, not easily bogged down by the many dangers it poses and the other negative traits it possesses.

He has to be very broad-minded, with a universal grasp of things, knowing how to stick to what is essential and how to deal with the merely incidental. In the social media, one is bound to see a spill of tactlessness, inanities, narcissism, etc. One simply has to be above this level, while respecting each one’s idiosyncracies.

He has to be sharply and quickly discerning in his judgments, knowing what to pick up and what to disregard with respect to the different views expressed. Thus, having clear criteria is required. He should be good in cruising the complicated field.

No doubt, a high level of spirituality is needed here, otherwise one ends up getting entangled in petty quarrels and animosities and other worse predicaments.

As St. Paul said, “The spiritual man judges all things, and he himself is judged by no man…” (1 Cor 2,15) These words may not sit well with those with no faith or with weak faith. But this is just how the cookie crumbles.

In terms of expression, one has to be both natural and supernatural, mastering the art of political correctness as well as that of holy shamelessness when it is precisely needed. He has to know how to enter into the mind and heart of the people.

That’s why, one really has to be properly formed before he enters into the social media and hope to contribute to the effort to evangelize it. The most effective evangelizer is one who manages to transmit the gospel message without being noticed.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Compromised public discourse?

PUBLIC discussion of issues and other topics of interest is a vital activity in any society. That’s how society becomes a living society, building up its unity and sense of purpose. That’s how society makes itself truly human, reflecting the character of the persons comprising it.

It’s in this ongoing public discourse that society gets to know itself better and sets its path of development.

Everything has to be done to make our public discourse vibrant, properly engaged and focused on real and not false or artificial issues. Everything has to be done to keep it going, constantly purifying it, ridding it of distorting elements.

But what do we have? A book recently reviewed by a friend claims that much of our public discourse in the world today is stripped-down, if not compromised and even trivialized. I could not agree more.

Just the other day, while stuck in traffic at a busy crossroad, a digital big screen at the corner flashed what were supposed to be breaking news. There were 4 or 5 items that were announced. I remembered or rather was stunned by 2.

One was on a certain Mother Lily keeping distance from the Kris-James marital trouble. The other was on a Kim denying she is dating with Enchong. I suppose there were people interested in those items but I asked myself whether they should really be beamed at all.

Those were pure gossips. We just had a long brown-out in the city then, and there was no explanation as to why it happened. And, of course, there were and continue to be endless screaming issues—our world economic crisis, our political stability, etc. And yet we prefer to talk about gossips!

There’s obviously a money angle to this phenomenon. Gossips hijack attention and sell like hotcakes. They can give diversion from our daily burdens. No wonder they are a regular fare even in mainstream media. But then again, should we just be riveted there?

Public debates over controversial issues are almost exclusively keyed on the practical aspects. Any reference to faith, religion and morality is taboo, considered to be not politically correct.

Worse, the discussion is reduced to clever sound bites. It’s de rigueur that they have to be entertaining to be followed and appreciated by the people. For sure, with such approach, a lot of valuable things get lost.

The process of dialogue and healthy exchanges of ideas and opinions gets truncated. Public opinion remains shallow and fails to capture the essential points needed for society to grow properly.

There’s a tendency to resort to sensationalism, to gimmicks like shock and awe, using sound and fury that signify nothing. There’s a lot of junk and bunk used in today’s journalism. Just look at the entertainment pages.

And even in the opinion pages, fallacies abound as logic seems to be abandoned in many instances of media discussions. Traditional values are left to decay as modern, sophisticated arguments are presented to replace core beliefs derived from faith. Reasonings swing from simplisms to sophistries.

Big-time media outfits can launch into massive research and reporting, but precisely because of a fundamental anomaly in their approach, they end up creating myths, fish stories and cock-and-bull tales, oozing with malice and ideological biases.

They never know how to inject the indispensable inputs of faith and religion without sounding religious or superstitious. They feel they need to avoid these sources of inspiration and even of data. They still have this aspect of their work and of the lives of those involved pretty much unresolved.

In fact, in one of the expressions of this mentality articulated by the American John Rawls in his book, A Theory of Justice, it was argued that “public reason requires citizens to refrain from invoking or acting on their deepest convictions about what is really true.

“They have to consent to work only with a scaled-down set of beliefs or methods that claim the support of an ostensible ‘overlapping consensus.’”

This is the predicament we have in our hands insofar as public discussion of issues is concerned. Talking from convictions is considered incompatible with social peace and harmony. They say it discourages conversation.

And so, there’s a drift toward relativism, as no absolute values are upheld. Or better said, what is relative is made absolute. Human consensus is the ultimate arbiter of what is good and evil, what is right and wrong. Pope Benedict calls this the “tyranny of relativism.”

We need to properly react and resolve this problem.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Freedom of religion under threat

POPE Benedict has decided to make religious freedom as the theme of next year’s World Day of Peace. I find this development very interesting and most relevant. The Pope is quite direct on this. Religious freedom fosters peace, he says. It does not undermine peace, much less, destroy it.

In the communiqué that announced this papal decision. It is mentioned that "in many parts of the world there exist various forms of restrictions or denials of religious freedom, from discrimination and marginalization based on religion, to acts of violence against religious minorities.”

What I know is that lately, there had been threats and open attacks on this most fundamental aspect of our freedom. Religious persecutions have surged in India, Indonesia, China and in many other countries. Priests and other Church workers have been killed, churches burned, etc.

In France, students at public schools cannot wear head scarves and large crucifixes. The European Court of Human Rights has prohibited crucifixes from walls of Italian schools.

In the US, there seems to be drift to reduce freedom of religion to mere freedom of worship. That means religion is relegated to the private life of individuals, denying it public expression. This can be observed in the recent speeches of President Barack Obama and Secretary Hillary Clinton.

Religious freedom is the freedom of all freedoms. It’s freedom at its core. It’s the freedom that touches on the most basic and deepest need of man—to believe or not to believe in God or simply in ourselves in whatever frame of mind we can have.

From here spring all the other aspects of freedom—our understanding of human rights, freedom of expression, etc. This freedom of religion simply has to be respected, fostered and defended.

Obviously, the other part of this matter is that religious freedom is also the most delicate aspect of freedom. It can be the most mysterious, the most elusive in terms of understanding it and living it.

But in spite of this character, or rather because of it, we should be unrelenting in our pursuit to really know it and live it. We can never say enough of this effort, choosing to ignore the question for the false reason of avoiding so-called unnecessary trouble.

This excuse is the one offered by President Obama and most likely by Mrs. Clinton herself in talking about freedom of worship more than freedom of religion. Obviously it has its valid point. That’s always the nature of an excuse. It offers a valid point, but it can miss the more crucial part of an issue.

In this case of the freedom of religion, while everything has to be done to avoid public disorder and conflict in order to uphold religious freedom, it should never be reduced simply as a strictly private, personal affair of freedom of worship.

We have to find a way where the true nature of religious freedom can really be seen and appreciated, one that obviously will avoid public disorder and conflict. Thus, the Pope’s message for next year’s World Day of Peace can be most helpful.

In that message, the Pope highlights the basis for freedom of religion. And this is nothing other than the equal and inherent dignity of man. Here are some relevant words of that communique which I think are worth reflecting on.

¨This notion of religious freedom offers us a fundamental criterion for discerning the phenomenon of religion and its manifestations. It necessarily rejects the ´religiosity´ of fundamentalism, and the manipulation and the instrumentalization of the truth and of the truth of man.

¨Since such distortions are opposed to the dignity of man and to the search for truth, they cannot be considered as religious freedom.

¨Rather, an authentic notion of religious freedom offers a profound vision of this fundamental human right, one which broadens the horizons of ´humanity,´ and ´freedom´ of man, allowing for the establishment of deep relationship with oneself, with the other and with the world.¨
We may have to go through these words slowly. It will be an effort that will be truly worthwhile, since it would bring us to the true nature of religious freedom that is now badly understood, let alone, lived.

We have to be wary of the caricatures presented often in the media. They come as a result of some dangerous twists to accommodate perhaps some practical reasons. But such distortions will ultimately destroy the substance of religious freedom.

We may have to go slow but in the right track, rather than go fast but out of track.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Post-disaster scenario

THE Church is slowly emerging from the grave of the screamingly scandalous cases of clerical sexual abuse of minors that exploded practically all over the world these past years and even up to now.

This seems to be the thesis of a recently published book, “Pope Benedict XVI and the Sexual Abuse Crisis: Working for Reform and Renewal” (Our Sunday Visitor, 2010).

Authors Matthew Bunson and Gregory Erlandson claim that the crisis has led the Church to make institutional reforms and initiate the process of spiritual renewal for priests and everyone.

As to the practical aspect of the problem, the authors said the crisis made the Church more knowledgeable about the illness of pedophilia. They said that the 10-year experience of the American Church in dealing with this problem can now serve as a good model for other dioceses to follow.

This is the good part of any problem we encounter in life. No matter how destructive, if handled well, such problem can occasion tremendous benefits for everyone.

We seem to need darkness to get to the light. We seem to need to be dirty to value the beauty of cleanliness. We cannot escape the ways of sinfulness, but the paths of redemption are neither lacking.

St. Paul said it much better: “Where the offense has abounded, grace has abounded yet more.” (Rom 5,20) Still, we cannot belittle the damage caused by this predicament. The authors described the injury in this way:

“The Church has suffered a grievous wound in this sexual abuse crisis. Not only is it a humiliation and a blow to its reputation, but it has had to recognize that those who bore the greatest responsibility for the souls of others—priests, deacons, bishops, Church employees—had failed terribly.”

Aggravating the situation is when the enemies of the Church take advantage of this crisis to harm the Church further, or even to destroy it. Cases like this have also come in abundance.

The Pope is now leading the way to confront this problem, admittedly a long and painful process. He has instituted reforms that will more effectively tackle these cases as they come. He acknowledges that the problems of the Church do not come so much from outside as from inside.

Again, we are made to realize that we can be our own worst enemy. We don’t have to look outside of the Church to find her most insidious enemies. The ones inside are more than enough.

It’s in our blindness, our tendency to fall into spiritual lukewarmness, into hypocrisy and other spiritual anomalies that can evolve slowly but surely if not detected and treated promptly.

The situation is akin to anybody’s health problem especially when he approaches old age. In spite of one’s care for his health, problems just come. These are problems that now require some paradigm shift in one’s life, or a lifestyle change.

They can show that through the years one has been steadily hamstrung into complacency, leading a sedentary life, wallowing in privileges and comfort. They now demand that we go back to the basics—a regimen of exercises and simpler diet.

The body needs to sweat it out and to detoxify itself from the excesses of food and beverages that we tend splurge in. We actually eat much more than what is necessary for us.

Just like in our physical health, the recovery of our spiritual health does not really need extraordinary measures. Some form of spiritual brisk walking may be all that is needed. As to diets, one may just need to eat more spiritual “moringa,” the lowly but nutritionally rich “malungay.”

We are always in need of some spiritual antioxidants and vitamins that can be found in relearning the art of prayer, of making daily sacrifices, of resorting to the sacraments, and of engaging our mind and heart with the things of God and of other souls even as we continue doing our daily tasks.

We need to be more wary of the requirements for a vibrant spiritual life. This is the main problem we have, since we tend to ignore this. For this purpose, we have to help one another, reminding ourselves and giving good example to the others.

We have to remember that our spiritual life, unlike our physical life, has the capacity to elude aging and defy death. It has the capacity to be eternally healthy and alive if cared properly. It has an endless power to renew itself.

There is no substitute for authentic holiness to solve the Church’s problems, both internal and external.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The perspective of faith

WE are always in search for a proper perspective. We need it, if only to have a sense of where we are at the moment in our path of development, where we came from, where we are going, etc. A sense of perspective gives meaning and direction to our life. It offers the ultimate dimensions of our life, framing it into a vital whole.

We can have many kinds of perspectives. There’s the economic or political or ideological perspective. There’s the material and spiritual perspective, and the historical one, etc. Whatever we think, judge and decide, whatever we do is usually pursued with a perspective in mind.

The perspective sheds light to things, tracing their relationship to one another and determining the places and values proper to them. It puts order to them according to its criteria.

We need to realize that there is actually a perspective of all perspectives. The ones we are more acquainted with are usually the secondary ones, subordinate to this mother perspective.

This is the perspective of faith that springs from man’s deepest longings and covers the whole range of human concerns. It is the perspective that comes not simply from us, but rather from our Creator who wants to share his life, and therefore, his perspective with us.

In this regard, it might be helpful to quote some relevant lines from the Church document, “Gaudium et spes,” that speaks precisely about what faith does to our vision of things.

“The People of God believe that it is led by the Lord’s Spirit, who fills the earth,” the document says. “Motivated by this faith, it labors to decipher authentic signs of God’s presence and purpose in the happenings, needs and desires in which this People has a part along with other men of our age.

“For faith throws a new light on everything, and makes known the full ideal which God has set for man, thus guiding the mind towards solutions that are fully human.” (11)

We as Christian believers, if we have to be consistent all the way in our life, in our thoughts, words and actions, should ever strengthen and deepen our sense of perspective that comes from our faith.

We need to study our faith thoroughly, bringing it to our prayer, incarnating it in our life through our attitudes and virtues. This will always be a life-long task that should never be taken for granted even if the fruits of such effort take time to come.

It’s worthwhile to immerse ourselves in our faith, in spite of its mysterious and sometimes distant character. Our attitude toward this duty should not be dominated by practical reasons alone it should be motivated precisely by faith and love of God and others, such that even if results are not immediate, we go on with that duty.

This is our main problem that we need to overcome. We tend to exploit faith for our personal purposes rather than allowing faith to enlighten and lead us on its own terms. We make the objective faith held captive by our purely subjective and immediate needs.

Some words of St. Bonaventure can shed light on how we ought to meditate on our Christian faith, so that it can truly give us the proper perspective, rather than reducing it to our own terms. The words hit the bull’s eye of our present predicament.

“We must suspend all operations of the mind and we must transform the peak of our affections, directing them to God alone. This is a sacred mystical experience. It cannot be comprehended by anyone unless he surrenders himself to it. Nor can he surrender himself to it unless he longs for it.

“Nor can he long for it unless the Holy Spirit should come and inflame his innermost soul. If you ask how such things can occur, seek the answer in God’s grace, not in doctrine; in the longing of the will, not in the understanding; in the sighs of prayer, not in research.

“Seek the bridegroom not the teacher; God and not man; darkness not daylight; and look not to the light but rather to the raging fire that carries the soul to God with intense fervor and glowing love.”

For certain, our faith requires us to study it and to be practical about it. Let us just make sure that we don’t detach that effort from a living contact with God. Such neglect would deform our faith and give us an improper perspective that can undermine our faith itself.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Faith in action

AS persons and children of God, we ought to know that we have to live not only by our senses alone, nor by our reason only. We need to live by faith, not only from time to time, not only in some special moments, but all the time, both in special and ordinary circumstances in our life.

We have to help one another here, because this ideal is admittedly very difficult to attain. For sure, we need nothing less than God’s grace to make this thing happen. But that grace is actually given in abundance. What is lacking is our correspondence, the part we have to play in this shared life of ours with God.

We may need to sit long and reflect thoroughly on this basic truth about ourselves, so that it sinks deep in our consciousness and becomes an operative principle, shaping the way we think, will and love, feel and react to things.

We need to live by faith because it is what properly nourishes our spiritual faculties, and links us to the supernatural world, the world of God to where we ultimately belong. Actually, not only ultimately, but constantly, since our life, even while on earth, is not meant only to be purely natural. It is meant to be supernatural as well.

That’s simply because we are meant to be with God. We come from him and we belong to him, just like everything else. Except that in our case, we belong to him in a very intimate way by participating in his very own life. That’s God’s will for us before it is ours. And we have been given the faculties to enable us to reach this goal.

With our intelligence and will, actuated by God’s grace and not just working on their own natural powers, we are capable of being lifted up to the supernatural order of God. This, in philosophy, is called “obediential potency,” the power to be raised up to the supernatural order because of their spiritual character.

Those creatures that are purely material do not have this capacity to be raised up to the supernatural order. Our spiritual powers enable us to enter God’s life because we can want it and can be conscious of it. With God’s grace, that possibility is actualized.

So we need to live by faith, the beginning of a life with God that is consciously wanted by us. For this purpose, we need to learn how to think and want always in faith. Even when we are dealing with very mundane and earthly concerns, we have to know how to relate them with God and vice-versa.

This is actually not difficult to do, even if it requires some abiding training. We can always start by realizing that everything that we handle, everything that we see and touch, observe and experience, comes from God and ought to belong to God.

We may have to exert a little effort to keep that awareness going, but it’s an effort that is truly worthwhile. Because if that is always the frame of mind that we have, then all the developing, the spinning and the weaving that we do in our activities will likely be guided by God and done for God.

Our usual problem is that we dare to launch things on our own. God may only appear in the beginning, or in some special moments of the process, but there comes a point when we detach ourselves from him. If ever, we make God more as an ornament, a prop, a security blanket, but not as he truly is for us, that is, our everything.

What can be implied here is that we can consider God as a competitor of our own freedom, and even of our own life. We can arrive at the point where we make the crazy choice of either doing things with God as they should be, or doing things just by ourselves.

We may not be aware of this predicament mainly because of our weaknesses. What we need to do is to immerse ourselves in the things of God, by praying or talking to him, studying his doctrine and be increasingly familiar with his word and mind, loving and doing good to everyone, availing of the sacraments, waging interior struggle, etc.

This is how faith grows and matures in us until that point where with St. Paul we can say we “attain the unity of the faith and of the deep knowledge of the Son of God, to perfect manhood.”

Monday, July 12, 2010

The gospel in sachets

I WAS happy to learn that in a worldwide survey of priests using the Internet, 94% were found to be accessing it for their priestly work.

I wonder though if that percentage is also applicable here in our country. I suspect that it is not. Those in the provinces have little access, without mentioning the likely cultural blocks many priests, especially the older ones, are still suffering. Just the same I feel that more and more young and new priests are going to the Internet.

This is good news, even if the usual precautions and other norms of prudence have to be taken. The digital world can offer tremendous possibilities in terms of spreading God’s word.

This is actually the challenge the Church faces today. The ever-expanding electronic world just cannot be left alone to develop in a technological way, and made use of purely by political, commercial, social interests, etc.

This mega information highway needs to be humanized and Christianized. It too has to be infused with religion, otherwise it becomes a monster. At the rate it is developing, it should be mature enough to acknowledge this requirement. Away with the antiquated attitude that considers religion as irrelevant in some human endeavors.

And so, priests and others working closely in the ecclesiastical world should be in the forefront of evangelizing it with the view of turning it also into an evangelizing tool.

For sure, this is not a matter of setting some kind of trend where specific ideas, fashion or products are hyped and marketed. This is not what priests are for when they preach the gospel.

It’s more of setting the proper tone where in the middle of our human dealings and exchanges, with all the possible variety of views and items, the Christian atmosphere of respect for freedom, earnest search for truth and justice and common good is kept.

This is something that we priests especially have to learn really well. The capacity to distinguish between what is spiritual and what is plainly material, what is moral and what already is being politically partisan, what is inspirational and guiding and what is already ideological, should be sharpened and mastered.

Certainly, this is not an easy goal to achieve. A lot of trial-and-error has to be crossed. To be effective in the digital world, we need to be creative and enterprising, able to focus on a timely aspect of our Christian faith and morals, and attractive enough to grab attention and sustain it.

Still, I must say, that things are not as formidable as can be feared. All that a priest can do in this regard is simply lead a prayerful life that would enable him to assume a constant spiritual and supernatural outlook in life.

Everything that he observes and experiences, alone or with others, will always be viewed and assessed in the spiritual and supernatural sense. And this is what he shares with the others, including those in the digital universe.

He does not have to come up with extraordinary treatises, heavy in academic jargon, to spread God’s word and share his insights. He just has to be direct and simple, brief and as much as possible engaging, to be effective in preaching.

Remember St. Paul’s words: “My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” (1 Cor 2,4-5)

With the current character of today’s world, what is needed is an abiding presence of God that is developed in an unobtrusive way, much like a leaven, salt or seasoning or light that God’s word is supposed to be.

We priests should be able to package and retail the gospel in sachets. That’s today’s most effective way of selling products like shampoo and other creams in our country. In sachets, the richness of the gospel can go far and wide.

The important thing is that our preaching should be done always and everywhere, but in a way that is acceptable and loved by the people.

This task is obviously delicate, involving God’s grace and our all-out effort, so that our earthly observations and experiences can be distilled to come out with spiritual and supernatural messages.

Again, we should not allow the electronic world to be leavened and enlightened only by its own technical substance to be exploited by purely human ambitions. It has to serve the deepest longings of men, which is our faith.

Friday, July 9, 2010

We are our own worst enemy

WE need to be more aware of this hideous possibility, one that is very likely and, in fact, is now widespread. Obviously, we have to understand it properly.

The proper context of this ugly, often ignored assertion, one that is often swept under the carpet, is what Christ said: “If any man come to me and does not hate…his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Lk 14,26)

It’s clear from here that things can develop in such a way that our very own life, our very own self can compete with God himself, thus constituting the most radical anomaly that can befall on us.

The original state of justice and harmony when God created the world and us was damaged when our first parents committed sin, which we now all inherit. And from there, the river of sin continues with each one of us committing it.

It is through our sin that evil entered into the world and into our life. Sin’s worst consequence is death, not only in the physical sense but mainly in the spiritual and moral sense.

As to a more detailed description of the sin’s damage on us and the world, St. John has this to say: “For all that is in the world is the concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but is of the world.” (1 Jn 2,16)

These words echo what is said in the Book of Ecclesiastes: “Vanity of vanities, and all is vanity,” (1,2) that lament the sad condition the world and humanity have fallen into after sin. They describe the helpless, hopeless condition of the world if unredeemed by God and unreciprocated by us.

This is how the world is now defaced by our sin.

As the Catechism teaches, there are three main sources of temptation—the world, the devil and our own flesh. Of these three, it is the third, our own flesh, that is the most insidious. It is the trickiest and the slipperiest.

This truth can easily be understood if we realize that in the end it is us who makes the choice between good and evil. The world around us can be filled with all sorts of elements, both good and bad, but at the end of the day, it is us who will choose either to be good or bad.

The devil has no power over us unless we allow him to dominate us. Neither the world that originally was good since it is God’s creation, but now has absorbed the effects of our sin through time.

The Catechism says it directly: “The root of all sins lies in the human heart.” (1873) Of course, the opposite is also true—our goodness will also spring from our heart as it tries to correspond to God’s grace. In short, we are our own worst enemy as well as our own best friend depending on how our heart turns.

This elemental flaw in our wounded nature is responsible for all sorts of sins that we can commit. These sins can be grouped under 7 capital sins: pride, avarice, envy, anger, lust, gluttony and sloth.

We have to be wary of this fact of life and develop the proper attitude, skills and virtues to handle it properly. Especially these days, with the onslaught of the electronic social networkings, we have to make sure that we are not deceived and beguiled by the tremendous ease and practicality they offer us.

In this new medium, it is very easy for people to fall into wasting time and to succumb to the alluring web of narcissism. It poses a big challenge for us to distinguish the good and bad usages of these electronic networking services.

There is a lot of vanity involved in the Facebook exchanges, for example. There are subtle and even open fishing for praises, and a whole pile of tactlessness that has become as common as the air we breathe.

Obviously, this networking business has many good and practical uses, especially in the area of nourishing friendship and contact among friends and relatives. But the need for a discriminating sense of communication has to be developed.

Perhaps, what we are undergoing now is a new phenomenon that we still have to learn to dominate properly. In this regard, what is crucial is to know the condition of our heart. Is it healthy or not spiritually and morally? Otherwise, we turn ourselves to be our worst enemy.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Last will be first

WE have heard this warning from Christ himself. It´s kind of strange, something that does not sit well with common sense. But life itself proves it over and over again, up to now.

¨Many that are first shall be last, and the last shall be first.¨ (Mt 19,30) This admonition is somehow embedded in the beatitudes where Christ blessed the poor in spirit, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for justice, for theirs will be the kingdom of heaven, for they shall possess the earth, they shall have their fill, etc.

It is the divine logic that leads us to our true happiness given our weakened, wounded human condition here on earth. St. Paul reiterated the same mentality when he said, ¨The foolish things of the world has God chosen, that he may confound the wise. And the weak things of the world has God chosen, that he may confound the strong.¨ (1 Cor 1,27)

The passage of time has given me more than enough pieces of evidence to prove the veracity of such words. I´ve seen people hard up and struggling when young, but are now successful in life. And, sadly, also the reverse—people floating in privileges and good life when young, but are now having a hard time.

I´ve seen ´provincianos´ who in their formative years were clearly handicapped and disadvantaged economically, culturally, socially, etc., but hardworking, with a lot of faith, enjoying much better life now than their urban counterparts who had all the perks in life in their moldable years.

We for sure do not know the whole story of each case, and so we cannot and should not make definitive judgments. God´s providence, always driven by wisdom, justice as well as mercy that are stretched to infinity, can work in mysterious ways that can surprise us and even contradict our reasonings. But we cannot deny that Christ´s words are true.

These words of Christ are a call for us to guard our heart from the dangers of complancency, pride, vanity. We need to keep it fully given to God, an attitude that does not impoverish our heart but would rather enrich it, enhancing its capabilities.

We have to be wary of the intricate tendencies and behavior of our human heart. It always needs to be filled up with something. It cannot remain empty and idle, because it will always look for something. And in this, we have a duty to fulfill.

Thus, we have to realize that the true home of our heart is God himself, from whom we came and to whom we belong. As God´s image and likeness, and more as children of his, we cannot develop our life simply on our own. Our life has to be a life with God. Our thoughts, our desires, even our feelings, have to be also the thoughts, desires and feelings of God.

We need tremendous humility to realize this. Thus, those with humbling circumstances find it easier to realize this very fundamental truth about ourselves than those whose conditions lead them to have a good life.

Of course, it is always possible that those who are already hard up even worsen their situation by hardening in their peculiar pride or by losing faith and hope. Of this type, we also can see a lot of examples.

And the reciprocal condition is also true. Many of those who enjoy good life, precisely because they remain humble and focused on God, continue to improve personally, and enjoy better quality of life.

It´s really a matter of where we put our heart. Is it on God or on us? Do we grow more in humility and faith, or do we allow ourselves to get complacent and self-satisfied, the wide road toward pride and vanity, and to perdition?

We have to be wary of the many good talents and other endowments we have. If we ae not careful, these can be instruments of our own destruction, rather than the means to attain our perfection.

We should always be thankful for them, an attitude that will always bring us back to God and relate these gifts to God´s will, and not just to ours. It may be an attitude that is likely to be misunderstood by worldly standards, but it is one that truly proper to us, leading us to our authentic joy.

Remember our Lady´s Magnificat. It´s the same logic. ¨He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He has put down the mightly from their seat, and has exalted the humble.¨

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Warning from Spain

RECENT news dispatches from Spain tell us that they are now putting into effect a most liberal abortion law consistently condemned by the Church hierarchy for completely going against even the most elementary principles of moral law.

Here are some of the statements made by the Spanish bishops on this dark moment for Spain, our colonizer through whom we received our Christian faith and many other things, both good and bad, though I must say, more good than bad—

- The measure is “incompatible with upright moral conscience.”

- The law “worsens the existing legislation for a number of reasons.”

- First, “because it considers the elimination of life of those who are going to be born as a right of the expectant mother during the first 14 weeks of the pregnancy, leaving practically without any protection whatsoever these human lives, precisely at the state when the great majority of abortions are carried out.”

- Second, “because it establishes such an ambiguous concept of health that is equivalent to the introduction of the so-called social and eugenic indications as the legal justification of abortion.”

- Third, “because it imposes on the compulsory system the ideology of abortion and ‘gender.’”

I must say that this Spanish development should serve as a warning to us who as a nation are toying with the possibility of coming up with a law on the so-called Reproductive Health, and ordinances about sex education in public schools.

We cannot be naïve and be taken for a ride by the beautiful slogans of a rotten ideology that is now plaguing a good part of the developed world. Spain and others started out the way we are having now—regaled about the wonders of birth control and family planning, only to end up in shameless abortion and others.

We also cannot forget that we are now in the middle of a tremendous amount of pressure exerted by powerful countries and groups. Our leaders should not give an inch to these blocs for they will surely take a mile.

There is need to examine closely every word, idea and proposal these groups are making. There definitely are good parts in them, but we have to be quick to spot the vague and misleading ones. Our filtering system should be in tip-top condition.

In this regard, it would be good if the people themselves take a more active part in monitoring the developments in this regard, both in the local and global levels. They, we, have to be prompt to voice out our concern once these misleading moves of the pressure groups show in public.

I encourage everyone to feel free to text, write or call media outlets to express their views in this regard, so that media themselves can really get the authentic pulse of the public sentiments.

A friend, for example, has just given me some tips on writing letters to editors as a way of prodding people to be more interactive in the debate and discussion of public issues like the reproductive health and sex ed.

Among the tips given are:

- When watching TV, listening to the radio or reading newspapers, try to note ideas that positively or negatively affect the family.

- For newspapers, focus especially on the news section, opinion page, and the entertainment section.

- Use simple language. Be candid. Do not condemn persons, but wrongdoings. At times, it might be good to use strong language, but not offensive or insulting, to drive home a point.

- The tone need not be always religious. Human and common-sense arguments without reference to the Church are very effective.

- If your letter is not printed, don’t get discouraged. The Opinion Editor would have read it and somehow your ideas would have influenced him. Keep writing.

- Above all, pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance, and remember that your letter will be truly worth it, for the good of the family.

We have to understand that we cannot be passive anymore in the face of a systematic if subtle campaign to change the Christian tone of our culture and environment.

Let’s be quick to expose, as charitably as possible, the many sophisticated arguments that actually are like wolves in sheep’s clothing, using all sorts of ploys to mislead us.

Let’s overcome the bias that blocks this kind of concern in the mainstream of public discussion. We just cannot talk only about politics, business, sports and entertainment, without touching on the more important topic of spiritual and moral issues.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Order in this fast-changing world

OUR concern for order should be an abiding one. The reason is that order is inherent in our world and in our life. We need to conform to that order in a vital way.

We can glean the truth of this assertion from the narration of the world’s creation. There we can see the ranking of creatures made by God—from the simple to the complex, from the inert to the living, from the material to the spiritual-material, ending with the creation of man, God’s image and likeness.

We can also look around and see how, in spite of some inexplicable things and occasions where disorder is apparent, there is some kind of order in our environment. There is day and night. Weeks, months and years roll by in a fixed, predictable fashion. Plants and animals remain so unless they die or are killed.

Nature is governed by laws, physical, chemical, biological, etc., that while stable are also dynamic. These laws put order into our world.

Since we are part of this world, we too are subject to some laws and need to live order in accordance to those laws. Except that in our case, our order is not just physical and material, but spiritual and moral. It’s not merely passive but also active.

While we receive and obey these laws, we also need to make those laws our own, loving them as we live them. The order we have to live is one which we have to build up, deliberately keep and develop. It requires us to be creative and inventive.

It also demands us to defend it since many are the elements that can destroy or weaken it.

In short, we have to understand that the order proper to us can only take place if we have an actual link with God who is the source of order and the power to live it in the world.

No God, no order. No order, no unity of life. No unity of life, no life at all sooner or later. Death came to us precisely because of sin, which is the greatest disorder in our life. Of course, before death can come to us in this world, all sorts of disorder can occur, if we are not vitally connected with God.

We need to root our understanding and motivation to live order in every aspect of our life here on these considerations we have just made. These reminders should be made to cross our mind regularly, since we tend to forget them and to behave according to the law of what comes naturally and spontaneously.

We have to help one another in this task so everyone is facilitated to think more deeply, more comprehensively, more properly. This way, we can always be discerning of the continuing implications of order.

Like, we should always realize that order can only be lived if we have an actual contact with God and are eagerly corresponding to his will. This is not an exaggeration. This can be done and has to be done.

Also, that loving relationship with God gives us a keen sense of priority—God over all, others before us, the spiritual over the material, the family obligations over professional duties, labor over capital, etc.

Order requires us to develop a good sense of prudence, flexibility and naturalness. It leads us to make good use of time and of all the other talents and God-given endowments we have.

Order can teach us how to work at God’s pace and also to wait and make up whenever we commit mistakes. It can show us the way to reengineer ourselves whenever needed, and to adapt to different situations and different people with different characters.

In this present fast-changing world where the possibilities are high of getting confused and lost in the sea of many concerns and data, this virtue of order is most necessary.

We really have to help one another to go through the learning curve as we get increasingly bombarded with new gadgets and new technologies that introduce us to new situations and challenges. We need to map out the unfamiliar terrain and see how we can dominate it, and not be crushed by it.

It’s when we live order that we can manage to turn the prose of each day into beautiful verses of love, and civilize and cultivate the forest of the unexplored new possibilities open to us.

Order truly humanizes us. It builds and keeps our dignity as persons and as children of God.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Beware of newspeak

ACCORDING to my dictionary, newspeak is a language invented by George Orwell in his book, 1984, that portrays a horrible world scenario of people brainwashed and controlled. Newspeak is “a deliberately ambiguous and contradictory language used to mislead and manipulate the people.”

We have to be wary of its existence, because it is actually present in today’s world. It in fact is proliferating, thanks to an ongoing ideological warfare that is employing subtle tricks and traps, victimizing simple people.

It’s a language that deftly mixes truths and untruths, and cleverly exploits a window of acceptable concepts and beliefs to introduce false and harmful ideas. It’s like a Trojan horse, a most cunning exercise in hypocrisy and treachery.

It must come from the devil, because our Christian faith considers him as the “father of lies” (Jn 8,44), and newspeak in its core is actually a lie, irrespective of the many beautiful and true things it also emits.

Its pedigree betrays a complicated mix of isms—atheism, agnosticism, deism, relativism, socialism, etc. Common among them is the element of making man, us, not God, as the ultimate source of truth, the final arbiter of good and evil.

In the first place, the agents of newspeak laugh at any mention of a possibility of God’s existence or of his providence in our affairs. They just can’t believe that. They are either awkward or hostile toward that truth. They only believe in themselves and their brilliant ideas.

It can originate and thrive in an environment described in St. Paul’s second letter to Timothy:

“There will come a time when they will not endure the sound doctrine, but having itching ears, will heap up to themselves teachers according to their own lusts, and they will turn away their hearing from the truth and turn aside rather to fables.” (4,3-4)

In this current debate about reproductive health and sex ed in public schools, for example, I cannot help but think of this tricky phenomenon of newspeak.

We are regaled with many good and true things about them, but we have to look closely at the fine print, because it’s there where the lies and dangers are hidden. Its practitioners have mastered the darker side of the art of propaganda.

Whenever I read their statements, I find myself also agreeing with many of what they say, and even praise them for some of their views. It’s just that they do not say everything, and where they think they would go against truth and faith, they become evasive and sly.

I have no quarrel with the need for everyone to attain reproductive health and have sex ed. It’s in what is meant by these ideals, and how they are to be implemented where I seriously beg to disagree.

In this often unnoticed level, one can readily see the remaking of the concepts of morality, of faith and religion, of human progress and development, etc. It’s a hideous activity.

Sad to say, newspeak is now widely used by politicians and pundits, social pacesetters and cultural gurus, and even religious leaders who are actually referred to as false teachers in the gospel. We need to be most discerning, helping one another develop a keen sense of judgment.

Recently, I received an email of a commentary regarding a speech of US State Secretary Hillary Clinton. It talked about how Mrs. Clinton cleverly downgraded religious freedom into freedom of worship in her effort to further the cause of same-sex unions.

In short, Mrs. Clinton waxed lyrical about religious freedom understood as freedom as worship where one’s faith is kept private and personal only, with practically no public and social dimension.

This is a clear distortion of freedom, castrating the very core of freedom which is religious freedom. It’s an understanding of freedom that is purely political and ideological, man-made and artificial, lacking its original foundation who is God.

It’s an understanding of freedom that simply floats according to the fashion of the times. It speaks the language of what is politically correct at the moment with no reference to a universal, absolute truth. It simply is tied to changing and relativistic criteria.

This understanding of freedom confuses objectivity with subjectivity, and divorces right to privacy from the common good and universal truth.

With that character, freedom is prone to be exploited by the strong and the clever, the lucky and the privileged, the healthy and the rich. Lady Justice here does not wear a blindfold. She openly plays favorites.

We need to be wary of the evils of newspeak.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Caring for our spiritual powers

IF we can only give to our spiritual powers just a fraction of the attention we usually give to our physical faculties, I think we would be much better off. Our problem is that most of the time we ignore the needs of our soul while we pamper and spoil our body.

Just look at the time, effort and money spent on things material and bodily—wellness craze, looks, sports and fashion, body cult, etc.—and compare these with the ones spent for our spiritual needs—prayer, sacraments, interior struggle, etc. You´ll notice there can hardly be any worse inequality.

That´s why, in the long history of ascetical literature written and given living witness by saints through the centuries, there has been that consistent insistence to curb the tendencies of the flesh to give way to the more important aspirations of the spirit.

These two constituent elements of our human nature have become fierce competitors, not so much on the part of the spirit as it is on the part of the body. The trouble is that our body wants to dominate the spirit, reversing the order proper to our nature.

This tension was vividly expressed by Christ himself in his agony in the garden just before his death. There he warned his sleepy disciples—Peter, James and John—to watch and pray, because ¨the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.¨

To remedy this predicament, Christ taught that we enter by the narrow gate—putting ourselves to some inconveniences and discomfort, etc.—because ¨wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leads to perdition.¨

In fact, in the end, he indicated that to follow him, we have to deny ourselves and carry the cross. And so the cross or the sense of penance, sacrifice and mortification has been made an integral part of Christian life and even of human life in general. We would go crazy without it.

Why is this so? Simply because the body needs to be properly animated by the spirit for it to be truly human and fit according to its dignity as part of the human person and God´s child that we all are.

The body on its own is nothing or is dead without the soul. But the quality of its life does not depend solely on its material requirements, but relies more on the nourishment it receives from the spirit.

On its own, the body has appetites that are purely material. Its world is the sensible universe. Alone, it cannot enter the intellectual and spiritual world, not to mention the supernatural goal that our faith tells us is our original and ultimate end.

Our body has to submit to the order proper to us, that is, it has to be directed by our spiritual faculties. Thus, St. Augustine said in this regard: ¨Where the flesh commands and the spirit serves, the house is turned the wrong way...Man is rightly ordered where the spirit commands and the flesh serves.¨

We need to be more wary of our duty to take care of our spiritual powers. Sad to say, many people do not even know what these spiritual powers of ours are. In my chats with them, many admit they don´t know what these are.

This to me is a real disaster, since many people are well-versed with the material and technical world—think of the skills people have in gadgets and the World Cup—while confessing to be ignoramuses and pygmies with respect to spiritual and supernatural realities.

Our spiritual powers are mainly our intelligence and will, our thinking, judging, reasoning and loving. These need to be managed and supervised well, seeing to it that they are engaged with their proper objects and not simply allowed to drift and flow wherever they are blown.

St. Paul talks about the distinction between the carnal man and the spiritual man, and we should make the right choice and develop it to its maturity. St. Augustine warns us not to allow our soul, our spiritual powers, to become carnal by consenting to the affections of the flesh.

Unfortunately, this is what we are seeing aplenty these days—people are not only consenting but also are glorying in the affections of the flesh. We need to reverse this trend. It may be a painful process requiring nothing less than heroic effort and martyric dedication, but it would all be worth it.

Caring for our spiritual powers means exerting realistic effort to always find reasons, motivations and ways to relate all our thinking and loving to God and all souls.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Priestly concerns

IT was nice of Pope Benedict XVI to have a get-together with priests who went to Rome for the conclusion of the Year for Priests last June. There he took on questions from some priests that vividly reflected their experiences, situations, predicaments, etc.

It sounded like a no-holds-barred session, almost like a bull session, where some priests expressed their most personal thoughts about their priesthood and ministry. Many times, the Pope had to preface his replies with “We are touching here on a very difficult and painful question,” that indicated the delicateness of the queries.

Here were some of the questions, obviously edited and abridged to get to the crux of the matter and to fit in this column.

- “Many of us priests are simply overwhelmed by the enormity and complexity of our work today. How should we proceed?…”

- “With the trend of divorcing theology from spirituality, how can we avoid being disoriented in our life and ministry?”

- “The world today is critical of ecclesiastical celibacy. What is the authentic meaning of celibacy?

- “How can we live poverty without falling into clericalism or into becoming extraneous to reality?”

- “How can we attract priestly vocations from today’s youth?”

Going through the transcript of the event, I could not help but notice the heroic effort the Pope had to make to give adequate answers. Each question, introduced with many vivid details, carried a lot of pathos that just can’t be pacified by smart and glib theological considerations.

The questions needed answers that spring from the heart that is vitally linked with God, and that was what the Pope tried to do. He managed to generate convincing answers drawn more from his pastoral experiences and, for sure, from his prayer, than from his vast theological knowledge.

In a nutshell, the Pope told the priests to observe the proper priorities, and to know also when to rest which is a necessity. He told them to be wary of the so-called ¨arrogance of reason¨ that kills genuine theology.

This is the big challenge of Church leaders these days. They have to lead by example. They have to walk their talk. They need to truly identify themselves with Christ and with the people, both at the same time.

This condition should be the source of their eloquence, and not some gimmicks and mere play of talents. Everyone has to know how to go beyond appearances that our present culture tends to reinforce while neglecting the real McCoy.

The saints behaved in this way. It was love that drove them to the extremes of self-giving, and not just some cleverness and luck on their part. The problems became the very food that nourished their dedication. The problems were never a hindrance to them.

This is actually not a difficult thing to do, much less, an impossible act. In the first place, this is the will of God who certainly provides all the graces we would need to lead.

And even if people can sometimes be critical of Church leadership, we can still count on a big amount of faith and goodwill that would help them overcome whatever limitations and deficiencies, let alone, mistakes there may be in Church life.

There’s always hope, though we should not abuse it. We have to try our best to truly conform ourselves to the mind, will, and ways of God, all of which can be known by us in many different manners. It’s a matter of giving our heart to God, and everything will just be fine.

The lives of saints—think of the Cure of Ars, St. Philip Neri, St. John Bosco, St. Josemaria Escriva, etc.—provide us with living proofs of how one can be effective in carrying out the fullness of our Christian life and duties if we only just give our heart to God.

The testimony of their lives and work validate what the Bible says: ¨Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough ways plain.¨ (Is 10,4)

In other words, if one fully identifies himself with God, something that can be done and should be done, nothing is impossible, even if one is faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles and challenges.

It´s this burning love and devotion to God and to souls that would lend one objectivity and comprehensiveness in reading the signs of the times as well as effectiveness in whatever needs to be done.