Thursday, September 30, 2010

We need scolding

AMONG the gospel episodes that have left a great impact on me, and I’m sure, on many others also, are those where our Lord showed flashes of anger, expressed not only in words but also in deeds.

Remember that part where our Lord drove away with a whip those who converted the temple into a house of buying and selling? It was said that the apostles who witnessed this event remembered that our Lord was consumed with zeal for the house of his father.

Our Lord can be forceful to follow the will of his Father. In fact, he recommends it. He once said: “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent bear it away.” (Mt 11,12)

And that other episode involving Peter trying to restrain Jesus from proceeding to Jerusalem where he would “suffer many things from the ancients and scribes and chief priests and be put to death.”

Our Lord gave him a sharp rebuke: “Get behind me, Satan, you are a scandal to me, because you mind not the things that are of God, but the things that are of men.”

Peter, for sure, had the best of intentions when trying to stop our Lord, but look what he got instead. We have to be prepared for this kind of situation when it falls on us, as it often does. Our best intentions can deserve a stinging rebuke from God.

Then that other occasion when our Lord threw a litany of harsh words to those who seemed to be hardened in their hypocrisy and deceptive ways. “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites…”

Our life, let alone our Christian life, is not a walk in the park. In fact, many times, it involves difficulties, problems and challenges that we have to learn to tackle and resolve. For this, we have to be strong and soldier-like, experts in hand-to-hand combat and other skills.

In ascetical literature, our life has been consistently described as a warfare, not only against enemies outside us, but also the one right inside of us. There’s unending struggle within ourselves between our spiritual man and the carnal man, the new man and the old man, the inner man and the outer man, etc.

It’s clear that in our spiritual life, we have to live self-discipline. And part of that self-discipline is the ability to scold ourselves, kick and shake ourselves up. From time to time we need to subject ourselves to some shock treatment, some drastic action.

This is because in reality many times we will find ourselves rotting in complacency, laziness, and other forms of being spoiled. We tend to be lenient with ourselves, to often just give a lick and a promise to our defects even if they are already festering.

We have to do these things ourselves, because as we gain in age and stature, others will find it more difficult to correct us or even to make suggestions and reminders to us. We have to be the ones to do these things to ourselves.

In a way, I understand those in the media sector when they assert self-regulation rather than outside control of their behavior, because our human condition makes it difficult for others to correct us. The corrections have to start from oneself—but obviously with the help of others.

And I would say, this way of acting has immediate salutary effects. It simplifies our life, our vision becomes clearer and more objective.

Even the feelings get affected, as we get the sensation that we have just gone through a rigorous exercise that has shed off extra fat and other unwelcome elements. We start feeling lighter, leaner and meaner—in the good sense.

The art of self-discipline really has to be learned, even if it has to be lived in a discreet and natural way, able to blend with the environment yet knowing how to go against the current when needed.

This has to be taught in a very personal way, usually in the context of the family, school and Church, and in that more intimate means called spiritual direction as well as friendship.

Modeling this lifestyle is a necessity these days. People need to see at least the more external forms of the virtues of temperance and fortitude, in short supply these days.

From there, it is hoped that our self-discipline goes deeper to the more complex inner issues of our life. And these are many. In fact, endless.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Building hope today

IN the rush of our technology-driven life today, we should not forget to develop a basic virtue that gives us the bigger picture of life—the ultimate dimensions and parameters of our life, our goals and the means, energy and impulses to be used.

This is none other than hope, a virtue that I’m sure we have heard many times before but tend to ignore, since it is often regarded as too abstract and academic, not immediately relevant if not completely useless and impractical.

Yet, hope in one form or another is actually what we try to cultivate in life. It’s unavoidable, given the nature of things. We dream, we set goals and standards for our different projects, we aspire and pursue our ambitions and we do a million other things, all of which require hope.

Our present condition that involves an increase of pressure, confusing knowledge overdrives, increasingly sophisticated challenges and difficulties, require that we need to seriously cultivate this virtue. There’s no other way. It’s either that or we get into a free-fall toward disorder, chaos and desperation.

Our problem is that, as usual, we have a very limited idea of hope. And from that handicapped position, it’s obvious that all sorts of dangers, confusion and errors can ensue.

Among the anomalies besetting our understanding of hope is that it is a purely man-made virtue, with only earthly and natural dimensions and relying solely on human and material resources.

We seem to get stranded in the external properties of the virtue, without entering into its real essence, significance and practicability. We need to recover the true nature and purpose of hope, and spread its knowledge and skill far and wide. That’s what we urgently need these days.

First, we need to understand that hope is a gift from God, one of what are called theological virtues. As such, it goes always in this life with the other pair of faith and charity.

The direct corollary of this reality is that the first thing we have to do about it is to ask for it, often kneeling and begging God our Father not only to grant it to us, which he actually does unstintingly, but also to increase it all the time.

We should never be casual about this fundamental and indispensable requirement of hope. Though we have to be discreet about it and natural in living it, we have to understand that without this condition met, no amount of human ingenuity can substitute it.

We really need to pray, which actually sheds a lot of light in terms of the practical and concrete details of this virtue. We have to shoot down whatever bias we have that prevents us from doing this spiritual duty.

In this regard, we may have to do a major if painful effort, given the hardened prejudice many people have against religious exercises.

Of course, hope increases also to the extent that we deepen our faith and enrich our charity. In this life, these three theological virtues go together and mutually affect one another.

The more faith, the more hope. The more charity, the more hope, too. And vice-versa. The dynamics of this spiritual and supernatural reality largely escapes our rational understanding, much like the chicken-and-egg dilemma. But that’s how the relationship among these three virtues can be described.

And so we just have to intensify our faith in terms of knowledge and of the will to believe, as well as our charity, that language of the heart that enables us to supersede the requirements of reason and other merely human estimation.

St. Paul tells us that this theological supernatural hope is very different from just human hope in the sense that the latter involves aspiring at something that is not yet realized and many times fail to be realized, while the former will never defraud us.

This is how he reasons out: “Hope does not disappoint, because the charity of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Rom 5,5,)

It is the Holy Spirit who is already given to us that assures us beyond doubt that we are going to receive, if we continue to hope, what Christ has promised us. We may not yet receive these promises now, but we are already assured of them by the Holy Spirit no less.

It’s good that we immerse ourselves in this truth so that we can be ready when all sorts of earthly trials assail us. With strong faith, we can even exploit these trials to let our hope grow even more.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Rediscovering the heart

POPE Benedict’s trip to the United Kingdom in September has led me to realize we need to rediscover our heart. First of all, he adopted the new English Blessed Henry Cardinal Newman’s motto, “Cor ad cor loquitur” (Heart speaks to heart) as the theme of his visit.

That’s already a very meaningful statement, whose significance is often taken for granted in our world today. The heart is not just a bodily organ, nor is it only a symbol of romantic love. It is the very core of our being, the seat that contains the elements that distinguish us from the other creatures.

The heart, as the Gospel says, is where our treasure is, where our true and ultimate identity is found, where our personhood is kept and nourished, where our dignity as children of God is established. Where the heart is, that’s also where we actually are.

In the last analysis, the heart is where our genuine connection with God and with everybody else is made. Short of this, our relationships actually rest on weak foundations. We would be thwarting the true yearnings of our heart, making it a heart of stone, instead of a heart of flesh meant by God, its creator.

We need to take care of our heart, understanding it beyond the mere medical sense. We need to see to it that our heart is properly used and maintained, its object and food clearly identified and engaged, all of which are more spiritual than material in character.

Its proper language is love, not greed nor pride nor self-centeredness. Its proper dynamism is to give oneself to others—first to God and then to neighbor, whoever he may be, including our enemy.

Our heart can only thrive on love that is, first of all, a participation of the original love, which is the love of God. Everything that is contained in that love constitutes the whole truth of love proper to our heart. It should not just be any human version of love, no matter how brilliant it may appear.

It’s the love Jesus meant when he said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” And what a love it was, and is—all the way to the end, till death!

Our problem is that we have not been taking care of our heart. Instead of feeding it with love, the real one and not just its caricatures, we allow it to swim in toxic waters—beholden to practicality, popularity, power, if not to lust, greed, pride, sentimentalism, etc.

We actually have been alienating ourselves from the true nature of our heart. That, to a large extent, is why we are drifting toward forms of worldliness, materialism, if not, agnosticism and atheism, where God has no place in our life.

At the very least, we easily succumb to pretension and hypocrisy when the heart does not function well.

In that UK trip of his, the Pope used the heart to speak to a people who are largely known to be lukewarm toward religion and anything spiritual, and managed to win them over to his side, to the side of faith and reason in their proper blend.

Weeks before that, there were already threats that his trip would fail, that he would be met with fierce protests, etc., etc. There were those who expressed the view that the Pope represented all the evil of religion in society. If they had their way, they would want religion, faith, Church annihilated.

The Pope arrived, and the reception was nothing short of tremendous. All the threats and the obvious efforts to put the Pope in bad light fizzled out. Even when the Pope told them some inconvenient truths, the people listened and appreciated his gesture.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron captured the significance of the event when he told the Pope:

“As you, your Holiness, have said, faith is not a problem for legislators to solve but rather a vital part of our national conversation…You have really challenged the whole country to sit up and think, and that can only be a good thing.”

The Pope’s deft use of the heart, his and that of the whole Church which he heads, somehow broadened the understanding of religious freedom that is subtly undermined in a country that is slipping into secularism, a Godless worldview.

When the heart is properly used, truth blends well with charity, orthodoxy with openness and tolerance, fidelity with compassion and patience.

It’s time to recover the true nature and purpose of our human heart.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Pride of life

WE need to be familiar with this phenomenon, which is actually a common, widespread problem, and an abiding one at that, so that at least we would know how to recognize it in its many guises and how to handle it.

The expression comes from St. John’s first letter where he says: “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.” (2,16)

It is important to note that St. John describes what we can expect from a world detached from God. That is our condition since the fall of our first parents, a condition that should warn us of what we are up against, a condition that requires redemption from God but also with our cooperation.

Our faith teaches us that we only have one Redeemer. But he is a Redeemer who requires each one of us to be his co-redeemers. That’s just how things are, given our nature as image and likeness of God, children of his, persons who have not only a natural goal, but a supernatural one in God.

The conclusion we can derive from here is that we need at least to know about the concupiscences plus this so-called “pride of life” that actually afflict us all. With the way things are in the world now, knowing them is getting hard to do.

Still, we can say that although there are now forces that tend to blunt the edge of the concupiscences, by and large they are still easily recognizable. They are still considered taboos in most places in the world today.

It’s not quite so with the pride of life. This evil is so subtle and tricky that it can appear as the most normal thing in the world. It can even dress itself up with some mantle of holiness and virtue.

The episode of Jesus curing the man born blind (Jn 9) dramatizes this point. In spite of the clearest evidence of the miracle, some people refused to believe. This led Jesus to tell them: “For judgment have I come into this world, that they who do not see may see, and they who see may become blind.” (39)

This is truly an intriguing phenomenon. Many times, Christ would lament that there are people who have eyes but they do not see, who have ears but they do not hear. “For the heart of this people,” he says, “has been hardened, and with their ears they have been hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed.” (Mt 13,15)

In other instances, there are warnings against getting “wise in your own conceits,” (Rom 12,16) a rather spreading disease as we can now readily see people displaying a good degree of eloquence and cleverness that spring precisely from their own self-importance.

The Bible contains many stories about pride of life, from that episode of the Tower of Babel to the parable of the prodigal son, all showing our tendency to consider our life as if it simply comes from us and belongs to us, with God having nothing to do with it.

The other day, for example, while waiting for my boat in the pier, my attention was struck by a large group of young college students, boys, girls and the in-betweens, who just ended their excursion.

They seemed to be those who have already mastered the art of fashion make-over, from the way they did their hair, face and get-up. But they were intolerably rowdy, shouting and even shrieking just to call one another’s attention.

I looked at their faces, and they showed no signs of being bothered by their actuation. The stare of the other passengers did not disturb them one bit—they were completely and fashionably nonchalant.

I’m sure we tried to find excuses for them and to give allowance for their youthful exuberance and other circumstances, but their behavior simply invited concern. Some even showed the so-called “public display of affection” to the extreme.

This made me thinking what kind of education are these youngsters getting at home and in school. Could this be a sign of the times, a signal for alarm? The pride of life in the previous generations was quite hidden and confined. This one appears to be quite open and now affecting the young.

We need to remind everyone about our need for humility, shown basically in an attitude of recollection, temperance and an abiding awareness of our duty toward God and others.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Eye and heart contact

IT’S a basic rule in public speaking that the speaker should keep eye contact with his audience to establish connection. Otherwise, no matter how brilliant the speech or talk may be, without this contact, the attention of the audience would likely stray.

Obviously, this concern for contact is not and should not be an exclusive responsibility of the speaker. The audience also has to do their part, because no matter how the speaker strains to keep contact with them, if they don’t do their part, the communication process would fail.

In my effort, for example, to train some students in my school to be readers at Mass, this is what I emphasize. I practice them minutes before the start, and with that I was led to discover certain practical details.

Among these discoveries is the realization that readers should try to internalize the words they are supposed to read. I tell them, it is God’s word. Then I ask them, what would you feel, and how would you think you should read it in proclamation when you deeply realize it is God’s word meant to nourish people’s soul?

Of course, I have to give them many background information about the verses, and I encourage them to meditate on them, so that they can internalize them and would have a good idea of how to say them—what pace, intonation, volume, etc. they should have.

Obviously, this requirement is an ongoing affair. It’s not a one-shot deal, nor just a modular affair. Like it or not, it invites those concerned to deepen their theology, and even more, their spiritual life.

Their heart should be attuned to what they are saying or reading. The speakers or readers should know the meaning of the words, always aware of whose words they are, and to whom they are addressed, etc.

It’s this running consciousness of these data that would help the speakers or readers to behave properly during the delivery. With these items taken care of, it would be easy for them to do those glances at the audience. Those glances become natural, meaningful and felt. They become convincing.

It’s when readers just mouth the words, with no heart and soul to them, that the eye contact that they try to do would feel fake and artificial. The delivery becomes mechanical and hollow. Worse, everyone would notice it, though out of civility, they may just keep quiet about it.

And so, everyone has to realize that it’s not just a matter of eye contact. That eye contact that is so fundamental in public speaking should spring and be accompanied always by heart contact, that is, a heart-to-heart contact with the audience.

Speakers and readers should cultivate the skill of entering the hearts of those in the audience. This is not easy, of course. But it can be done if one has the right attitude and disposition.

We need to be humble to be observant and to register things as objectively as possible. Besides, we often commit mistakes, and if we are not humble, then we cannot progress. With pride, we get stuck at a certain point.

We need to be truly interested in the people, ever widening our heart to accommodate the tremendous variety of personalities, characters, cultures, etc., we can find in the field. For this, we have to cultivate a certain kind of discernment that allows us to penetrate into the hearts of people, without getting stuck in the externals.

The mind should be broadened. Social graces should be polished. Thus, I was a bit disappointed when in a recent visit to a seminary, I found the seminarians and even some of the priests significantly lacking in these social skills. How can they become effective preachers if they are like that, I asked myself?

There is no short-cut to this goal. It has to be pursued not only when one prepares to give a speech. It is an all-time affair, an abiding love affair with the people. Otherwise, the artificiality of the delivery will just show.

A certain kind of inner hunger for God and for souls should be developed. And for this, nothing less than the grace of God is needed. On our part, what is needed is that we pray, asking for this gift, so that in the midst of our earthly affairs, we wouldn’t fail to enter the spiritual life of the people.

All this business of eye and heart contact, of effective communication, is just an aspect of a deeper reality, which is communion.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Call to Christian realism

“The master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently. For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light…Make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth…”

Truly an intriguing statement of our Lord. Does he want us to cheat, to be dishonest, to be a crook? I don’t think so. In that same gospel, he also said, “You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

If we analyze his words more closely, what we can conclude is that we ought to be realistic in dealing with the imperfections of our human condition. He is calling for prudence, a certain shrewdness, an unrelenting effort that does not surrender to defeatism, complacency, despair.

That’s why he said, “Be simple as doves but shrewd as serpents.”

Our Lord himself lived what he is teaching us now in this particular case. Being God in whom nothing is impossible, he allowed himself to have a flawed human genealogy, he submitted to the many limitations of the wounded human nature, he consorted with sinners, he let all the sins of men to fall on him.

But he followed his Father’s will to the end, to his death on the cross. “I do no other than fulfill the will of my Father.” And with that, he achieved what he came here for—the reconciliation of fallen man with his Father God.

We have to be careful not to fall into a false idealism full of self-righteousness as we pursue the goals of goodness in all its forms in our life. We have to warn ourselves of this very likely possibility, and learn to be skilful in handling it properly.

We should never forget that even as we develop not only materially and externally but also spiritually and internally, we still live in a very imperfect world, where evil predominate. Our growth in Christian perfection should not lead us to ghettoes and ivory towers, but should ground us more in both heaven and earth.

How often have I heard so-called good people complaining how much more suffer since they decided to take their spiritual life more seriously. I have to remind them of a basic point they are missing.

Our progress in goodness, if authentically based on God, should develop in us both greater sensitivity and longer patience. Our growth in holiness should not blind us nor make us intolerant to the world’s imperfections. It should rather make us see and suffer more, and do more to solve these anomalies.

A true man of God is always compassionate, not critical. He is flexible, not rigid. He is “slow to anger and quick to forgive.” He is always hopeful and cheerful, not desperate and sad. He knows how to combine tolerance with intolerance, justice and mercy, etc.

But he cannot ignore the imperfections in this world. They are rampant everywhere—in business, politics, entertainment. Have you tried dealing with some government agencies? There you will see these imperfections institutionalized.

I remember when I had to secure my driver’s license sometime ago. I felt I was thrown to the dogs, made to survive in the Amazons. The place was like a snake pit. There was disorder and chaos galore. Everyone had his fixer, who was not from outside but rather inside the office.

The office was a mess, with damaged benches, aircon units not working. I was made to go there twice because the computers went offline. The last straw that broke my patience was when in spite of all that I had to endure—the eternal waiting, the lecture, etc.—my name was not called for the exam.

Instead, other people were called whose faces I did not see in the long wait and lecture. I had to complain, and that’s when they corrected themselves. Later on, someone told me everyone else, except me, paid a “package deal,” to facilitate their application even without appearing. And so, my name was always at the bottom.

It took me sometime to be Christian again about the whole experience. Next time that I need to visit such agency, I really have to go through a kind of pre-Olympic preparation, physically and spiritually.

But there were some saving graces, thanks be to God. Everyone, except for an old cranky woman worker in that office, was smiling and tried to be nice, even while they were doing their under-the-table deals.

Well, this is one clear example of our damaged human condition which we have to learn to live with Christian realism.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Culture of maintenance

WE need to be careful not to restrict the relevance of maintenance to health reasons. The duty of maintenance has a much wider applicability in our life than is usually known or admitted. In fact, it’s a lifelong responsibility.

We have to say this, because somehow it has become a term associated only with the oldies, and even with some young ones, who have some medical conditions—hypertension, diabetes, etc. This is a very unfair, partial and dangerous understanding of maintenance.

For example, maintenance is indispensable in the proper running of an entity or institution. How many times have we heard—and have been disappointed—that a certain project that had a brilliant beginning folded up precisely because of lack of maintenance?

This example can be multiplied endless times. Roads, bridges, buildings are rotting away because of lack of maintenance. A business enterprise gets bankrupt again because of negligence. Public services are found wanting also because of lack of good governance.

Even religious institutions are not spared. Some are fading away, their original charism weakened, because of lack of fidelity of the members. They have detached themselves from the source of their life, purpose and direction.

It’s important that we cultivate a strong, clearly articulated culture of maintenance and governance, continuity and fidelity, so that we don’t waste what we already have. In fact, we have to make use of them, cultivating them in an organic way, in our pursuit for progress and development.

We have to understand that this culture of maintenance is an expression of our cooperation in God’s abiding providence over us and everything that happens in the world.

Divine providence, which is God’s governance over his creation, always requires our active cooperation. It never means we can be passive about things. God governs through us, who are his image and likeness, children of his who participate in his very own life and work.

And so, we have to realize that this culture’s real foundation can ultimately be in the area of religion, in our relation with God. It cannot simply be anchored on purely human reasons—personal, social, economic, political, etc.

While these human reasons are unavoidable, we have to understand that they cannot stand on their own without being rooted on a deeper foundation, which can only be God.

All this concern about maintenance, governance, administration, continuity and fidelity need the animating principle of God, the beginning and end of all things, the Creator, the eternal being who is also a father to us who never lets us down.

We have to be wary of a secular, worldly view about what can motivate and keep us in the duty of maintenance. It can have very many convincing arguments, but the moment it sets God aside, giving him, at best, only a decorative role, we would be in the wrong track.

When a genuine living relation with God is achieved, our awareness of our duty of maintenance, continuity and fidelity acquires its most fundamental and reliable source and lifeblood.

It makes us keenly aware of the many aspects and requirements of this duty, capable of making long-term plans and strategies as well as flexible to cope with changing and unexpected circumstances. It tries its best to avoid a short-sighted vision of things and other stop-gap measures and knee-jerk reactions.

In short, we would be doing all the tasks of maintenance out of pure love for God and for souls. The virtue of prudence will be lived to the hilt

The duty of maintenance then becomes an exciting adventure, with all the possible situations that can happen. But there’s confidence and sense of security among those involved.

With that love, we would be willing to go all the way, not afraid of sacrifices to be made, effort and expenses to be spent, etc. If corrections are needed, then they are done, irrespective of who gets hurt.

The problem is that many of us still find it corny to put God and love in this equation. We prefer to remain in the humanly advantageous level—what is profitable, practical, popular, etc. This only shows lack of faith, or a faith not well digested and assimilated.

With this attitude, we immediately narrow and impoverish our idea of maintenance and governance. And sooner or later, we get what we deserve—troubles, failures, disappointments, termination, etc.

It’s important that we cultivate and spread this culture of maintenance far and wide. Its rudiments can be done in the families, in schools, churches. Then it can influence our neighborhood, our cities and the government.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Love needs to build up

THAT’S what love does. By definition, it needs to grow, to heighten, to go to the limits of possibilities. If these things are not happening to one who says he is in love, you can be sure of it, he is actually not loving. He’s merely playing games.

This is the predicament that many of us usually find ourselves in. We in theory can realize this demand of love, but in practice we get hampered by a number of reasons.

Love is supposed to be lived without measure. It’s in its character to be generous, heroic, full of excitement and eagerness, inventive and resourceful. It’s never passive. It plans, anticipates, watches.

Problems and failures only offer opportunities to love in other ways. Successes never spoil it. They on the contrary spur it.

But difficulties abound along the way. For one, there’s tension between the bodily and spiritual dimensions of our nature. The body needs to cope, and often fails, to the impulses of our spirit. Our flesh often pours water on the ardor of our soul. As our Lord said, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

We have to contend with the realities of our natural human weaknesses—our laziness, idleness, self-centeredness, our proneness to tiredness and to discouragement, to narrow-mindedness, etc. It’s not easy at all to handle these things. These blur and degrade our understanding of love.

And so, what starts as an individual case can spread into social dimensions, creating a culture that shapes love in terms of our weaknesses rather than enhancing its potentials.

There’s also that tension that needs to be resolved between our nature and the supernatural goal to which it is oriented. This is made more dramatic because our nature has been wounded by sin. This is where love is not only degraded, but corrupted.

We can think, erroneously of course, that love can be grounded on us alone, according to our many human criteria, and not on God, who is actually the source of love. He, in fact, is love. “Deus caritas est.” This is what we are seeing these days—people loving on their own, detached from God.

Still, the objectivity of love’s nature and character is not obviated by these difficulties. It’s still possible to love the way love should be done and lived. In the first place, God never leaves us. He always intervenes in our lives and finds has his ways to help us.

What is impossible to us is always possible to him. From darkness he can always draw light. From death, life. He has shown that his mercy is forever. And his wisdom is such that he could take advantage of our stupid mistakes to derive something good.

His love goes all the way, even up to death. If our love flows from his, nothing could stop it, not our mistakes, not our sins. Like water, it will find a way to go to the sea.

But we have to do our part. We have to see to it that we conform our love to his. That’s the only way our love can also go all the way. If ours are simply grounded on human reasons—sentimental, human attraction, political, social, philanthropic, etc.—it will stop at some point.

As St. Paul said: “Charity bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” It has a way of sustaining itself even when we reach the limits of our human powers.

Just the same, we have to understand that love needs to build up. We should go to the extent of feeling such build-up, such heightening. When we notice that such fire is fading or, worse, is missing, we have to realize we have a problem insofar as love is concerned.

How else can we interpret Christ’s own words: ”You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, and with your whole soul, and with your whole mind.”

This total self-giving is a dynamic thing, whose law can only be that of a continuing intensity of love, perhaps not so much in terms of feelings as of the will. This distinction is important so that we know exactly how to measure our love’s intensity.

Ideally, of course, the will and the feelings should go together. But given our human condition, there will be times when the will has to go on even while the feelings run dry.

True love—the love of God with the corresponding love of neighbor—always abides in spite of and also because of difficulties.

Monday, September 6, 2010

My Gloria Diaz problem

I’M actually referring to my language problem. I was reminded of this recently because of the brouhaha arising from Gloria Diaz’s alleged slur against the Cebuanos.

I did not see the offending portion of the interview and neither do I intend to look into it. What have been written about it, including what Miss Diaz said to explain her side, are enough for me to say let’s move on, let’s go to the next page.

Whatever may be the shortcomings of this former beauty titleholder, we cannot deny the fact that about 40 years ago, in 1969, she turned the whole country electric when for the first time, a Filipina became Miss Universe.

I remember the journalistic hype that time. While the US conquered the moon with their Apollo landing, the Philippines conquered the universe. No one complained about that claim. Everyone was happy.

Those were more simple, more innocent times when beauty contests were good sources of national joy and dignity, something we can hardly say about our present time. Virtue still attended those contests. Now, it seems it’s greed and vanity.

Miss Diaz broke some old molds and introduced new beauty standards in the international scene with her dusky, bright complexion, swan-like neck, a pretty pout that would suddenly break into a wide grin, revealing the spunk inside her.

But, of course, you cannot expect her to be everything. We’re thankful that we got quite a lift with her victory. She was not known for depth or substance, and neither was she expected. But, hey, let’s treat a lady very kindly whatever may be her faults.

To our current titleholder’s “major, major,” Miss Diaz popularized the “you know, you know,” that even our Manny Pacquiao tries to imitate. Come on, let’s giver her a pass.

I was ashamed when we thought of branding her persona non grata. We’re making a storm in a teacup. Have we become that sensitive? Can we not make fun of ourselves from time to time? You know, it’s a Filipino trait. We are inveterate jokers, and we like to make fun of our faults.

This leads me to a more serious matter. I think my predicament reflects that of many people, especially those of my generation. I believe it’s a most complex problem and I hope something can be done about it. If it takes a thousand years to solve it, we better start now.

And it is that while my English is quite developed, my Bisaya has remained primitive, restricted only to domestic and pedestrian use. I’m truly ashamed of this situation. I feel betrayed, a traitor to my own self.

This painful realization was sharper when I was in Rome and Spain to study. There the locals were really good in their mother tongue, such that they could talk philosophy and theology with it.

Not so with me. In these higher branches of knowledge, I had to use my acquired languages—English, Latin or Spanish. Bisaya seems to have no place in them. This, for me, is really a shame.

There can be many explanations to this. What immediately comes to mind was that in my growing-up years, my parents, my father especially, were frantic to have me and my siblings learn English. It was like it was a matter of survival. I suppose they were only thinking of what was best for us in the future.

And so, instead of going to the public school where Bisaya was the medium of instruction for the first few grades, we went to the private school run by some American nuns and priests. We learned English, read and spoke in English, even thought and dreamed in English.

We were surrounded by English literature. I did not find anything in Bisaya, except when I occasionally visited a neighbor’s house where they had Bisaya magazines—Alimyon, etc.

There was a shameful side-effect to this. And that was we developed a condescending attitude toward Bisaya. There I have said it. I can now expect to be stoned. But that’s the truth, about which I now am atoning and making up.

But this language issue, I suppose, now requires a more serious, concerted effort, with a strong political will from our leaders, so it can be resolved properly.

From what I could gather so far, Bisaya has a very distinctive beauty and depth that cannot be captured by our acquired languages. Let’s do something about this problem. May our technological progress be used to help solve this problem.

That’s why, in a way, I thank Gloria Diaz for reminding me of this issue.

Friday, September 3, 2010

When practicality isn’t practical anymore

I THINK it’s good that we are trained to be practical always. I remember that as a child, we were taught that we have to move and act always, work and produce results. And so even with our little hands, we were already sweeping the floor, fixing our beds, cleaning the toilets, etc.

I was assigned to scrub the stair clean and shiny. I didn’t quite like it, but I could not complain because my elder brothers had heavier tasks. If they could do theirs, why could I not do mine, was the reasoning I pacified myself with.

What I enjoyed most was feeding the pigs, because I got the chance to shower them and play with them. Pigs are naturally friendly and affectionate, even if they never get satisfied with any amount of food. They may not be as charming and cute as dogs and cats, but they are the simplest and most transparent. What you see is what you get.

No, I didn’t develop sentimental attachments to any of them. When fiesta time came, I was happy that they were butchered and everyone was happy with the meat. Besides, I earned some money by the side, because my mother would ask me to sell some of them from time to time. I looked forward to caring for the next batch of piglets.

But I was barred from the kitchen. For some reason, my mother decided I was no good at all at cooking. I tried it once, and the result was a disaster. The pigs even would not eat it. I was not given a second chance. My mother told me to go to my books instead.

Wherever I went, I was always made to feel that idleness and laziness were a no no. And so, even if by temperament I was prone to daydream and imagine, I had to keep myself busy and wait till my rest time to indulge in my favorite fantasies.

Yes, to be practical is a great value, responsible for the flowering of many cultures and civilizations. Unless one is practical, the best ideas and the brilliant theories would just come to nothing.

Practicality teaches one how to be resourceful and it occasions the blooming of many other virtues and competencies. Work is a great school for learning many things. Opus Dei founder St. Josemaria Escriva went further by saying that work can and should be the ordinary way one achieves holiness.

I agree with that, only if one does it well, and if he does it with the right reasons. For the other side of the coin is that people can work for the wrong reasons. And that’s when work can become a curse, when practicality isn’t practical anymore.

One can work and be practical out of sinful reasons—pride, vanity, greed, lust, intemperance, and even out of sloth, as in, when one works to avoid a religious duty. Sloth is not simply laziness. It is also dislike for anything religious or virtuous. So, one can mimic working if only to escape a more important thing.

This sad reality has been the subject of one of Christ’s parable—the sower and the seed. According to him, the seed that fell among thorns “is he that hears the word, but the care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches chokes it up and he becomes fruitless.” (Mt 13,22)

When work and practicality are made to compete with prayer, charity, our family duties, honesty, disorder, temperance, etc., then they stop being good to us. They turn traitors, a most dangerous one since they deceive a lot of people.

For from the outside they will always look good and admirable. Let’s just see to it that they are done with the proper internal dispositions. This is the tricky part of our human condition. We need to work not only on our outside appearance, but more so on our internal motives. There has to be consistency to attain the proper integrity.

Alas, this is the hemorrhaging problem we are having at present. It’s a massive one and is threatening to be the dominant, mainstream way of doing things. We need to go through the slow process of educating everyone about the true nature and purpose of work and practicality, and also about their limits and dangers.

As we plunge deeper into our technology-driven world of work and practicality, let’s see to it that we are properly prepared, clear about our reasons for working and for being practical, and skilful enough to avoid the dangers.