Saturday, October 30, 2010

Communion in the digital age

NOVEMBER, with its liturgical celebration of the Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, reminds all of us that we are meant to live in communion with one another and with God.

This is an essential and defining element of our human nature and condition. We are not meant solely to be individual persons, but also to be social beings whose lives are by nature linked with one another not only physically, socially or politically, but also spiritually. We are meant to enter into each other´s lives.

That´s how it is, and we need to be more aware of this truth and work it out, because, frankly, this aspect is often ignored, not understood, and obviously not pursued. We would be irreversibly handicapped if the working principle of our life does not include this truth, or treats it only marginally.

As persons, our individuality is not supposed to contradict our sociability and our life of communion. While distinct from each other, they are meant to go together. They can only prosper that way, since one without the other necessarily compromises our life.

In short, we would compromise our personhood, and become something else. We would debase our human dignity, which by our nature cannot be lived passively and automatically, but rather actively and deliberatedly.

That´s why our Catechism teaches that--

¨The human person needs to live in society. Society is not for him an extraneous addition but a requirement of his nature...A society is a group of persons bound together organically by a principle of unity that goes beyond each one of them...¨ (1879-1880)

May this doctrine stir us deeply and cause us to undertake a lifelong process of completing and perfecting our personhood by assimilating and living well the social and communion aspect of our life!

In fact, we are not meant to be social only in this life, but also in our definitive, eternal life. This is where the social nature of our life goes even deeper to reach the level of communion of saints, where we enter into the lives of each one of us by overcoming the barriers of time, space and even death itself.

This is made possible only in God. Through his Spirit, we receive all the good meant for us individually and collectively. That´s why our Catechism again teaches that--

¨Since all the faithful form one body, the good of each is communicated to the others... We must therefore believe that there exists a communion of goods in the Church. But the most important member is Christ, since he is the head...

¨Therefore, the riches of Christ are communicated to all members through the sacraments. As this Church is governed by one and the same Spirit, all the goods she has received necessarily become a common fund.¨ (947)

There are many aspects of this communion of saints which we cannot tackle in this present column. But I invite everyone to study them on his own. There´s ¨communion in holy things,¨ ¨communion among holy persons,¨ ¨communion in the faith,¨ ¨communion of the sacraments,¨ etc.

These are no theories, but spiritual and supernatural truths that need to be approached by faith, and not only by reason or the senses. Let´s try use all our human resources to go deep into these realities.

Lately, for example, I was amazed to learn new things regarding the digital culture that can be useful to our social and communion life. It´s well-known that many of us get easily hooked into the computer, internet, Facebook, etc.

Someone explained to me that this is because people now fall into a new technology-generated phenomenon, the NIS or the neural inter-active simulation. In layman´s language, people now live in a virtual reality that often absorbs us that getting out from there would require tremendous will-power and effort.

Obviously, there is something dangerous in this new development, but we cannot deny that it also offers us new benefits. The challenge now is how to humanize and Christianize it, so that it can really contribute to our betterment, especially in the area of our social and communion life.

My opinion as of now is that we really need to help one another so that we can develop the appropriate guidelines and norms of prudence. This is still much of a virgin forest to be explored and made use of. The learning curve will have to be experienced. But we should go on with it because it is a good tool, if used properly, to live communion.

Let´s go radical

NOW that we are often bombarded with things that offer us a lot of conveniences but also blunt our sensitivity toward God, we really need to go radical so as not to get lost in the non-essentials in life and get a firm grip on what is absolutely necessary for us.

I remember the late Pope Paul VI saying: ¨Technological society has succeeded in multiplying the occasions of pleasure, but finds great difficulty in giving birth to happiness. For happiness has its origin elsewhere. It is a spiritual thing.

¨Money, comfort, hygiene, material security, etc. may often not be lacking but, nevertheless, despite these advantages, boredom, suffering and sadness are frequently to be found supervening in the lives of many people.¨

We should not be na├»ve regarding the subtle spiritual manipulations taking place in our march to development these days. It´s not that we should throw a blanket condemnation on the material advantages we are reaping now. It´s just that we have to be wary of their spiritual cost and know how to handle it.

That´s because our constituent elements of body and soul, after losing their original integrity with our sin, react not only differently but also conflictingly toward any good presented to us. Our task is to integrate them together toward the attainment of what is objectively good for us. And that is ultimately God.

We need to sit down long to assimilate this truth about ourselves. We are usually at the mercy of our bodily faculties that, while giving us tremendous powers, often distort the workings of our spiritual faculties. In the end, we find ourselves enriched in material values, but impoverished in the spiritual ones. That deal is unfair and, in fact, inhuman.

For this purpose, we need to develop our skill for praying, for reflecting and meditating, in the hope that even while immersed in earthly affairs, we still manage to be properly recollected, our heart still with God and not dislodged from him. For that is how we ought to live.

Besides, we need to go through a lifelong program of ascetical struggle, developing virtues and realizing the necessity for sacrifice and mortification, since our spiritual life cannot prosper without the appropriate check we need to give to our bodily organism.

This is the great challenge we are facing these days. And many of us do not realize it. Around us—whether in the media, malls and other places—there´s hardly any serious and sustained effort to remind us of this challenge, let alone, the appropriate means to meet it.

There´s still that prevailing sense of fear and shame to tackle this issue head-on. This is actually the core problem we have at hand. Many of us still feel that being spiritual and getting deep into the supernatural realities of our life is unnatural, is not politically or socially correct.

Or that such concern belongs only to some people, but not to all. It affects only those with so-called special vocations or who just happen to want that kind of lifestyle. This is obviously a misconception of long standing that now needs drastic correction.

Especially now that we seem to be charmed and mesmerized by modern technologies, let´s remember what the Book of Ecclesiastes says about them. Let´s take time to savor what divine wisdom is telling us:

¨Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. / What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? / A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains for ever. /

¨The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. / The wind blows to the south, and goes round to the north, round and round goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. /

¨All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. / All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; / the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing./

¨What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun...¨

Let´s also remember Job´s ¨Naked came I out of my mother´s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away...¨

Let´s go radical and ask ourselves: Do we spend time to pray, to develop a feel for divine mysteries that should shape our thoughts, words and deeds?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Deriving life from death

I JUST said a Holy Mass at the funeral of high school classmate. Events like this are usually overloaded with emotions. That´s understandable. But we also need to put things in the proper perspective, so that we avoid getting completely held captive by blind and unreasonably persistent grief.

Again, death can come to anyone of us anytime. This classmate of mine was the big guy in the batch, he was the corps commander of our military training. He was not only physically well endowed, but intellectually as well. The last time I saw him, two years back, he was oozing with true manly vigor. Who would have suspected his time was ending?

Our Lord can call us to his presence at the time willed by his ever mysterious wisdom, love and mercy. St. Josemaria Escriva used to say that God is no hunter of souls who hunts us down. He rather is more of a gardener who takes care of roses in the garden. When they are already abloom, he cuts them to put them inside the house, making it more beautiful.

We have to look at death from the point of view of faith. This gives us the ultimate measure of reality. Objectivity is not only matter of the senses or the intellect. We cannot simply rely on our feelings, our hunches, our reasoning. We have to use our faith, which our Lord in the first place gives us abundantly.

That faith tells us that we actually do not die, because even if our bodily organism dies and disintegrates, there is something in us, our spiritual soul, that simply cannot die. That´s the very nature of things spiritual. They are beyond the wear and tear of this life.

But it can suffer the so-called spiritual death, or the second death, when it fails to get sustained by its ultimate proper source of life who is God. The life of our soul is not just made up of our ideas, plans and desires. These hardly survive the physical death. Its real life-source is God.

This is a point we need to be clear about. Our soul is not the vegetative or the animal type that animates the living plants and animals. Such life-giving soul dies and disappears together with the death and decay of the plants and animals.

Not so with our human soul. Ours is a spiritual soul that, while distinct from the Spirit of God, nonetheless participates in that Spirit. It is meant to be with the Spirit. And it´s the separation from the Spirit, which we can freely do, that spells its death or at least puts it in jeopardy.

That is why our soul somehow feels a longing for God, as expressed beautifully by St. Augustine once when he said: ¨My Lord, my soul is restless until it rests in you.¨ There is a nostalgia for God and things spiritual and supernatural, which we can also misinterpret and misdirect, ending in some superstition. That´s because our soul has God as its true home.

We need to know the true nature and purpose of our soul. While a lot of theories, ideologies and creeds can offer a variety of ideas about this topic, we need to attend to this issue, because it´s basic, it is what gives over-all meaning and direction to our life.

We just have to wade through the many aspects involved in this process. But it´s all worthwhile. And while we are at this stage, we should not forget that a great source of enlightenment in this regard is our Christian faith.

There we are told that the very substance of our soul´s life is love, the one that defines God himself (Deus caritas est, St. John says in his letter) and fully manifested, made available and freely given to us by Christ. For us who claim to be Christians, we should not ignore the relevant doctrine and praxis taught by Christ and now handed down by the Church.

We have to bridge the gap between the faith we officially profess and the life we actually live. It´s amazing that at this age of supposedly dramatic progress in technology and knowledge, this anomaly between faith and life not only continues but is actually worsening.

We have to take our faith more seriously, and discover the many happy, liberating truths about ourselves that can help us derive good from the evil in this world, and eternal life with God from our death. We have to free ourselves from the confinement of a sense-and-reason-based worldview.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Christ’s passion today

IN ascetical life, the meditation on the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is always recommended. In fact, it is given pride of place among the spiritual exercises, since the events comprise the culminating and summarizing act of the whole redemptive work of Christ.

That’s why everyone has to be reminded of how important it is to nourish the mind and heart with the details of our Lord’s passion, death and resurrection. That he was scourged and buffeted, crowned with thorns, insulted, spat upon, nailed to the cross, etc., are details that would bring us to the vivid reality of our sinfulness.

This activity is no extra option that can easily be set aside for just any reason. It is quite needed. It gives us the true and complete picture of what our life here on earth is all about.

There one sees the sharpest contrast between God’s love and man’s hatred, innocence and malice, life and death. It’s a gripping reminder of what we can expect in life, for which we should be ready, relying on God’s grace and our all-out effort.

The passion, death and resurrection of our Lord continue to play out in the hearts of all even up to now. That’s because the human heart is the constant arena of the lifelong struggle between good and evil. We have to remember that whatever we are doing—at home, at work, etc.—the forces of good and evil are always in play.

The problem is that we often ignore the relevance of this activity. We think it’s too religious, meaning, it hardly has any relation to our daily concerns. This thinking is wrong and dangerous. Religion can never be put in brackets in some parts of our day. It ought to be an ongoing thing.

With that mentality we can easily fall into religious indifference, that is, God is banished from the world, since he is already absent in our minds and hearts. We find it hard to believe God is and should be involved in our daily affairs.

From there, all sorts of anomalies arise. We can start doubting the faith until such point when we think that faith is not real, that it is meant to be no more than an opiate.

From there, we can make our own ideologies to guide our life, all of which shaped after what we like rather than what life ought to be as God designed it to be. Thus, we hear St. Paul saying:

“There will come a time when they will not endure 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.” (2 Tim 4,3)

This is what is happening these days. The voice of faith is ridiculed. People make all sorts of rationalizations to silence that voice. Some may say they still believe in Christ, but they don’t have to follow the Church. Others, that faith is a personal, private affair, and therefore has no place in business, politics and in public life in general.

The rage of all kinds of irregularities involving faith is even fanned into a flame. Atheism, agnosticism, relativism, deism, scientism, pragmatism are now all over the place, perhaps with most of the people concerned not even aware of them. Many people even do not know what these isms are.

The ignorance and confusion are thickening, and anyone who attempts to dissipate that dark cloud is instantly shot down with a variety of impertinence and insolence. Worse, those who are supposed to be guides and teachers are giving erroneous or at least dangerously unclear indications.

This is how the passion of Christ is played out at the moment. Our country is now going through a drastic and major shift in its character. The spiritual and supernatural tone is slowly taken away. Piety, both personal and social, seems to be dying down. In its place is the rise of a more aggressive, more articulate secularism.

No doubt, we are in the middle of a global crisis involving faith and morals. Powerful and leading countries are exporting their secularized way of life to the weaker ones like ours. And we seem to keep ourselves vulnerable with the kind of leaders we have at present, who do not know the role of faith in our life.

It’s clear there is a need for another, more comprehensive evangelization, a deeper one capable of tackling today’s challenges.

Monday, October 18, 2010

We are in a crisis of faith

WHEN I started column-writing in newspapers, trying to explain certain truths of faith as they impact on certain issues, I also started receiving both thank-you letters and hate mails. Both of them, of course, gave me some food for thought and material for further writing.

After a while, the hate mails stopped coming, sort of validating my belief that the good things in life have a longer life span than the bad ones. I suppose their senders must have grown tired at this hopeless case that I am.

I largely would ignore them, since how else can you handle impertinence and insolence, and would just pray for their writers. But frankly I managed to profit something from them—insights, words and expressions, flourish and style, etc.

Lately though, with this RH Bill controversy, some of these letters resurrect. They now come much more politely, at least in the beginning, because after two or three lines, the venom starts to spurt.

It’s amazing that they come not sporadically, but in big numbers, as if they are orchestrated. And they bear more or less the same attitude and style, more or less the same arguments and drift of reasoning.

They normally begin by saying that they are “proud Catholics” or “devout Catholics,” schooled in the best Catholic schools from kinder to college. But whenever I read these words, I would immediately feel uneasy and suspicious.

I always think a good Catholic is not a proud Catholic. He knows his Catholicism is something on loan which he should take care of. Anything can happen to lose it. He has neither time nor reason to flaunt his Catholicism or his devoutness.

Then comes the opening salvo. They almost uniformly say that they have also been taught how to think critically, and from there they start sounding like people more with an axe to grind than with a point to clarify. This, to me, is where the real problem unravels, where the seeds of the crisis we’re in take root.

One’s thinking, one’s reasoning is considered the last arbiter of what is true and false, what is good and bad. It’s a thinking that largely ignores the faith, and is mainly engaged in purely earthly realities—physical, economic, social, political, etc. The faith is acknowledged only when it is convenient to these earthly and temporal considerations.

In this RH Bill controversy, for example, the definition of what is moral is not anymore derived from God’s will and commandments, as also written and manifested in our nature, but in a subjective understanding, personal or consensual, of what is practical, popular, economical, etc.

That’s why it is a thinking that cannot understand the wisdom of the cross, of self-denial and sacrifice, of the value of humility and simplicity, obedience and loyalty, and the many other spiritual and supernatural realities that have clear moral consequences.

It judges things using earthly criteria alone, and increasingly imprisons itself in its own world, a world of its own making, and not anymore the one given to us by God to take care of. It becomes so self-possessed that it can conclude that nothing can exist outside of what he can think and understand.

It can end up suspecting and then hating faith. It can lose faith, and can make itself its own guide, its own God, misusing freedom which is a gift from God to choose whatever he wants to think about.

It can accuse faith of being anti-reason, when in fact faith always uses reason up to the point when reason itself recognizes its limitations and allows itself to be taken up by faith. Faith never stops using reason, though reason at a certain point finds it already reasonable to be assumed by faith, since it cannot go any further on its own.

This kind of predicament underlies the biblical story of the Tower of Babel, the parable of the prodigal son, and in many others where man tries to cut his relation from God to be on his own. Trouble and disaster can only be expected from this situation.

We need to find a systematic way to extricate ourselves from this crisis where we give our own reason excess power at the expense of faith. Faith and reason should be together always. Our critical thinking should not be at odds with our faith, as revealed by God in Christ and now taught by the Church.

But for reason to accept faith, great humility is needed. A proud Catholic is a contradiction.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

RH issue shows confusion among Catholics

LIKE a chemical compound called reagent, the RH question exposes the range and scope of the confusion and disaffection among many Catholic faithful toward their Church, her doctrine and discipline. Let´s hope it will also give us an idea of the solution to be applied.

There was an explosion of views, many of them shooting from the hip, but a few also came up, from so-called theologians, with serious arguments that actually contained nothing more than sophistries.

The reckless comments are usually found in the media, with everyone, from editors and reporters to readers, giving their 2 cents worth. The more serious and dangerous ones are found in journals, in seminars and centers of higher learning.

Among the amusing arguments are the accusations that the Church wants to run the whole country, wants to interfere in government affairs, wants to destroy society by encouraging civil disobedience, etc.

We don´t have to spend much time refuting these arguments. They have a short shelf life, since they have no roots, or are like little rocks thrown at the Church, causing some disturbance, but largely left where they fall with hardly anyone taking notice. Wild and gratuitous, they pop in and out anytime and just die under the sun or simply rot.

The more serious threats have to be taken with more caution. They usually come from the ranks of the clergy, a truly disturbing phenomenon. With PhD´s and STD´s, they like to present themselves as the true light in a world plunged in darkness or in a Church stuck in the past. But, ok, let´s always give them the benefit of the doubt.

They usually begin their arguments by introducing themselves as moderates, not hardliners, who try to hew a saner, more rational and compassionate position. With very subtle maneuverings, they try to make themselves the exclusive owners of St. Augustine´s maxim: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.”

They point out to the public that their presentation is not merely anecdotal in shrill tones, but scientific in calm, sober tones, an obvious dig at those who convey the official teaching of the Church by ornamenting it with stories. The implication is that they are not fanatics, like those those who oppose RH.

But they miss out many things as they focus only on their bias of making the RH acceptable. They paint the RH Bill, for example, as a mixed bag, an assortment of good and bad elements that should not just be dismissed. In fact, it should be approved, glossing over the essential issues while sweetening its perceived bad elements.

Not only that, they now appear to be its most serious attorneys, defending it from any question or protest raised against it, openly putting themselves at the other side of the Bishops´ position. That´s loyalty for them.

They seem to be unaware of the global context in which this RH issue was born and developed—the ugly backroom geopolitics and commercial horsetrading done in its name. While they are clearly against abortion, at least, as of now, they are much at sea about contraception.

To them, contraception is not intrinsically evil, an echo of the liberals´ dissent on Humanae Vitae. Pope John Paul II reiterated the intrinsic evil of contraception in his Evangelium Vitae. How clever they are in glib talk, both cutting corners and straying into irrelevant nooks to make their point!

They make a strong appeal for the voice of personal conscience as the final arbiter, without much concern for its formation. Their favorite line is that in the end it´s just a question between the individual and God that matters. All the intervening authorities, the Church Magisterium in particular, are easily set aside.

They usually conclude their arguments by saying that we should not make laws that discriminate against the others who may take the opposite view of what the Church leaders teach. Yes, even in matters of life and morality, they preach that we ought to be open, in a blatant display of what is now known as the tyranny of relativism.

There´s no doubt that the Church authorities have to wage at least a comprehensive information campaign about the RH issue, and to sustain an ongoing formation first among the clergy and then the rest of the faithful.

Church leaders need to summon the help of all Church organs and facilities to pursue this plan. They have to weed out some bad elements in strategic locations in the Church structures, like the seminaries, parishes and some so-called Catholic schools.

Friday, October 15, 2010

True flexibility possible only in God

SINCE I joined Facebook, I felt the need to stretch to the max my flexibility skills. I have to deal with persons from all walks of life—old and young, relatives, friends, students, professionals, those in the A and B as well as in the C and D classes, the refined and the rough, etc. They have their own characters, styles, views, quirks.

Imagine communicating with a wide range of individuals: CEOs, politicians, journalists, priests, seminarians, students from universities and technical schools, close and distant relatives and friends, acquaintances from the province and from abroad!

It actually complicates my life. But I think it’s a complication that’s worth it. The reason I’m there is definitely not just social. It goes way beyond that. But that’s another story. Right now, I just have to sharpen and polish my ability to adapt and to be agile, not allowing myself to be caught in an emotional corner or a spiritual dead-end.

I think my predicament reflects that of many FB users. We have to learn how to be politically correct while at the same time managing to put our messages across as integrally as possible. It’s not easy. Many uncharted waters have to be crossed. I think we just have to take our chances as prudently as possible, knowing gaffes can happen.

I take my inspiration from St. Paul who once said, “I became all things to all men, that I might save all. And I do all things for the gospel’s sake, that I may be made partaker thereof.” (1 Cor 9,21)

Actually the chapter from which that passage was taken gives a vivid description of the nature, purpose and means to achieve this holy flexibility much needed today given the multiplying things, not to mention, kinds of persons, we now have to deal with.

We have to understand that this ability to adapt and to be flexible is more a spiritual power ruled by our reason and will than a bodily capacity ruled mainly by emotions and passions. As spiritual power, flexibility can be properly only nourished by love of God, and because of that love, also by love of neighbor.

But alas, how many people see this connection? Many of us just get contented with political, practical and economic expediency to fuel our ability to be flexible. Without being sourced in God and oriented towards him, this flexibility—while allowing a wide range of possibilities—can only be dangerous.

This worldly-based type of flexibility does not cover the fullness of man’s dignity into consideration. It’s more of the stop-gap kind, whose effect of immediate relief may not exclude the possibility of imprudence.

We need to be most wary of this possibility, since it’s a possibility that is most likely to happen, and in fact is going viral at the moment.

Many people are multi-tasking and are doing all sorts of things, with eyes, ears and mouths engaged in different objects at the same time, with gadgets to facilitate this multiplicity. They end up burned out, sick, destroyed, leaving a trail of damage to family, society and relation with God.

Being with God and living in him is never synonymous with restricting our flexibility. If anything at all, it fosters that ability to adapt in the proper way. We have to realize that there are good and bad kinds of flexibility. And we just have to choose the right one.

Again St. Paul said: “I know both how to be brought low and how to abound, both to be full, and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can all these things in him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4,12-13)

Only in God is the flexibility proper to us possible. It’s the kind that, while engaging in all things and is open to all possibilities, also gives us the impulses for rest, relief and renewal.

Those with faith have tasted the amazing truth of these words of our Lord: “Come to me, all you that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you.” (Mt 11,28) Saints have given abundant testimonies of the veracity of this promise.

We need to learn the true nature, source, purpose and means of our flexibility. Let’s not dance just to the tune of worldly activism, but rather to that of God’s multi-faceted will, one meant for us, one that is properly ordered and oriented.

We need to anchor our flexibility on God, with a concrete plan of life to make that ideal real.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Democracy and religion

THAT funny albeit unfortunate incident of a tour guide making a scene in the Manila Cathedral recently and the flurry of opinions that it provoked have brought to the front and center the question of the relationship between democracy and religion.

How should the so-called best form of government treat the matter of religion? If we have to follow the views of the US president Obama, religion should not be taken seriously in public life. It would just create unnecessary tension in society, he would say.

That kind of view happens to be widespread these days. And it’s very understandable, given its practical and other immediately useful implications. But it does not resolve the issue. It would just prolong the agony, and generate more pent-up sentiments.

The issue, let’s be clear about this, would not just go away simply by ignoring it, or by giving it a merely pragmatic treatment. It would be oppressive to restrict religion as a purely personal and private affair. And inhuman to ban it altogether.

Democracy, if it wants to be true to its vaunted love and defense for freedom and human rights, should not only tolerate but also foster religious freedom in all its aspects.

Leaders of democracy should know, with wisdom and prudence, how to be open to all kinds of religious creeds and views, including those that do not have any or are against religion itself, and contribute in guaranteeing a healthy atmosphere for a peaceful and fruitful discussion among the different groups.

What they cannot do is just to be indifferent to this human need. They would be betraying their office if they neglect this duty, since in fact religious freedom is the most important if also the most difficult aspect of human freedom.

They therefore have to learn the necessary skills to handle this very delicate and demanding task. They cannot be contented with simply taking care of the socio-economic and political aspects of social life.

The religious aspect also has to be attended to, since religion truly has a social dimension and tremendous social implications, which our public officials should know how to handle and manage.

It has to be made clear to everyone that while religion mainly talks about spiritual and supernatural things, it does not mean that it is not based on truths and facts, that it’s just all a matter of opinion. As a matter of fact, the truths religion proclaims are the ultimate truths with social dimensions.

Given the many and often conflicting religious views, it is understood that an abiding public discussion will always take place one way or another. The religious leaders play prominent roles here, but the political and other civil leaders should see to it that the exchanges continue peacefully and fruitfully.

Some kind of ground rules have to be specified. And that’s why it is important that every religious group has to be known in so far as its activities have social consequences. As much as possible, its nature, mission, laws and social scope, etc. should be studied by our public officials.

We then have to realize that our public officials should have a good understanding of this human and social need involving religion. One criterion for choosing or electing them is whether they are skilful enough to handle this task.

We need to outgrow and debunk the mentality, derived from an erroneous notion of the doctrine of the separation of Church and state, which says that the state has nothing to do with religion and the Church or group it involves. That simply does not reflect the reality of things.

As of now, some state recognition of the Church is already held, but it certainly needs more clarification and improvement. That “Damaso” incident in the Manila Cathedral, the question of the Church law on excommunication, etc., are occasions to clarify this delicate relation between democracy and religion.

So I was stunned to hear from some of our prominent opinion-makers that what Celdran did at the Cathedral was just ok, because it was simply an exercise of freedom of expression, and worse, because the Church deserves it. There were a lot of reckless, shooting-from-the-hip commentaries. Amazing!

As to the matter of excommunication, it was clarified that the Church has such penal law to be given under specific conditions. If a bishop brings it up to remind people of its existence, what’s wrong with that?

Let’s hope that this incident occasioned by this notorious RH Bill could give more clarification to the ticklish questions like Church-state relations, faith and reason, etc.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Yellowing journalism

EVERYONE is familiar with what is called “yellow journalism,” that kind that is screaming and sensationalistic, not averse to exaggerating things and even inventing and staging events to grab people’s attention.

Yellowing journalism is the process involved in making it. It’s a dynamic mix of many elements and factors, conditions and circumstances, multi-layered and multi-threaded, whose course is uncharted, like an adventure that gives suspense and excitement, except that it can end in a big destructive mess.

The media coverage of the current RH bill controversy reminds me of this yellowing journalism. All the ingredients seem to be present and made to stew. There’s passion and emotion, slogans and buzz words, myths and speculations. Biases and questionable ideologies are the driving forces.

If reason is ever used, it is made to serve the passions. Faith, that is supposed to guide reason, is considered Public Enemy Number One in what is supposed to be an objective pursuit for what is good for us. In fact, there’s a shrill cry for liberation from Church, faith, religion and the like.

This yellowing journalism is not associated with the tabloids. It affects more the broadsheets, the more standard and mainstream brand of journalism. They have become vulnerable because of certain journalistic requirements that have been neglected.

Most of the media practitioners, from publishers down to the reporters, do not know the relation between faith and reason, between religion and their work, the spiritual and material aspects of man, Church and state, etc.

These things are considered abstract and academic and are kept that way, with no effort to convert them into something concrete and practical. If ever they have to acknowledge these values, it’s mainly just lip service, for photo-ops, and not much more.

Those who still care about their faith are ashamed to show it, let alone, to shape and define the character of their work and their life. So they become easy target to atheistic and agnostic sophistries that are often stuffed with immediate practical benefits.

In fact, they usually frame issues like the RH Bill within a strictly economic or social point of view, as if problems are solved only in these levels. Purely human means are flaunted as our authentic savior. This is the tyranny of this kind of attitude. It shuts out the inputs of faith.

Besides, they cite the scandals in the Church as reason to discredit the faith, a clear example of throwing the baby out with the bath water. As if there are no scandals in other places, forgetting we are all humans, with our own share of shortcomings irrespective of where we are placed.

Remember that there was a Judas among the apostles. And Judases can spring up anywhere anytime. That’s always a possibility, given our weakened human condition.

Our attitude should rather be to help one another, and be objective in distinguishing between the truths involved in an issue, derived from faith and our human sciences, and the personalities involved, between the office and the occupant, between the doctrine and the way it is lived.

Faith-based morality is placed at the margins, since nowadays it seems to be the fad to deem morality to be nothing other than a result of economic, social, political and other human and earthly considerations. Sorry, but with this attitude, we are in deepening trouble. We won’t be getting nowhere.

Since faith requires grace, then effort, often torturous, and even sacrifice, it’s no surprise it many times loses to the practicality of reason unburdened by faith.

What aggravates this situation is the phenomenon of strange creatures who call themselves Catholics only to go against the Catholic faith. Their Catholicism is self-produced, self-arrogated and self-inflicted. They go around proudly proclaiming they are Catholics for Choice.

These, I think, are the deadly elements present in yellowing journalism. They thrive in an environment stirred by emotions and passions, with reason playing second fiddle. Faith is ridiculed and ostracized. The crisis is at bottom a question of faith in relation to our earthly affairs.

Worsening things is the emerging reality that much of what we see in the press today regarding the RH Bill seems to be orchestrated by a tremendous machinery of public relation outfits, clearly funded by moneyed international groups and helped by their local lackeys, the NGOs, etc. The fingerprints are all over.

Unless faith is given a fair hearing in this debate, I don’t think we can really resolve this issue properly. Faith, the very soul of our reason, has to be given its proper place.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Faith and politics

DOES faith play a role in politics? The answer is a big yes. Faith should always be at work in us whatever activity we may be doing. It’s not like an attire that we can wear on certain occasions and take off at other moments.

And so in business, politics, entertainment, sports, education, while we are at work or resting, in public or in private, faith has to be with us because that is what it is meant to be. We actually cannot be without faith.

Our reasoning, our judgments, our understanding of things would be severely handicapped if faith is missing. In fact, if we take a close look at how these human operations work, we can get convinced that faith is needed.

Without faith, these activities will miss not only a crucial thing, but also an essential one. Without faith, our activities, no matter how brilliant, will fail to reach their ultimate end, which is not merely human and natural, but supernatural. That is, to bring us and our activities to God.

Without faith, we will be at the mercy of a purely human world, which is a nonsense, since man without God has no meaning. We are always in need of God. We just cannot be left on our own. It’s in our nature to refer ourselves to something else or to someone else, and ultimately to God, the Ultimate Other.

Without faith, our reasoning and thinking would just go in circles, if not stray into dangerous territories. It’s like we would be drifting aimlessly in an empty space, hoping to discover something along the way. We would have no sure guidance, no clear port to go to.

Faith is the final arbiter for defining what is natural to us, what is good and bad, what is true or false in nature. It just cannot be our reasoning alone, our cleverness and whatever that is purely human and natural.

Unless we don’t believe that we are creatures and that therefore there is a Creator, or unless we just believe that we are our own creatures and our own Creator, we need to refer to someone outside ourselves to determine who and what we really are, what is good for us, etc.

It’s actually an anomaly to disrupt our natural tendency to look for God, and just be contented at a certain point with what we already gain or possess. Our life is a journey into infinity, since there is something in us that will never get satisfied with an earthly or temporal good, as long as it is not deliberately thwarted.

When someone says he does not have faith, he actually means he refuses to have it. Or he rejects it at a certain point. Because faith is a free gift from God, readily and abundantly available if sought.

When someone says he does not have faith, he actually means he puts his faith more in himself, in what he already has, rather than in God who always beckons on us, though wrapped in mystery.

This is a truth about faith that we need to clarify these days. What is prevalent is the thinking that faith is not necessary. We need faith, like we need air to breathe, a home to stay and live.

It’s not a biological need, though, or a purely human and natural need, that can automatically be felt. It’s a spiritual and supernatural need that we in our human condition have to cultivate and nurture.

In this current RH bill controversy, it’s painful to hear Catholic leaders not only suspending their faith but also going against it with the excuse that with purely practical reasons they have to set aside their faith because they are leaders not only of Catholics but of everyone, including those without faith.

Worse is to hear Catholic citizens who make their own personal brand of Catholicism, alleging that they have their rights and freedom, and yet going against the doctrine of their faith. They make themselves their own Catholics, not realizing that to be Catholic means to adhere to its faith, and not to make one’s own.

They empty their Catholicism and Christianity. They are the cafeteria Catholics who choose only those parts of the faith convenient to them. They can be called Catholics In Name Only (CINO).

Living one’s faith, being consistent to it, does not mean one is rigid or is a bigot. If lived properly, faith makes one always charitable, open to a variety of options, patient with defects and mistakes, but always upholding the truth, never denying it.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Serve and not be served

OUR Lord was quite clear about this. “The Son of man has not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt 20,28)

The context of these words is that part where the mother of the brother-apostles, James and John, requested him that her sons sit at our Lord’s side in his kingdom.

The other apostles were indignant when they heard about this request. And so our Lord had to clarify:

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. Not so is it among you. On the contrary, whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.”

I believe that these words are most relevant to us today, since we need to be reminded of a basic attitude we ought to have if we want to be truly human and Christian, with love supposedly the driving principle of our life.

To serve is the language and the action of love. It authenticates any affirmation of love we do, converting it from intention to tangible reality.

This is the attitude meant for us, with God himself as the exemplar. Imagine, Christ served us by dying on the cross. Before that, he shocked his apostles when he insisted that he be allowed to wash their feet. That was to give example to them, and us, so that what he did we would also do.

The angels too, superior to us in nature, are made to serve us, following a divine law articulated by Christ himself when he said: “Let him who is greatest among you become as the youngest, and him who is the chief as the servant.” (Lk 22,26)

We need to be more keenly aware of this law. This is truly what is good for us, providing us with the basic source of strength and consistency we need as we grapple with life’s endless challenges.

Before we worry about the big and destructive enemies of our soul, we have to realize that our most insidious foe is right within us, when this attitude of serving others is not firmly established in our mind and heart.

That it was the mother of James and John who made that questionable request only shows how easy it is for us who try to be close to God to fall for the tricks of our soul’s enemies.

The mother most likely was motivated by the best intentions. Still, those intentions were wrong. Like her, we could be subjectively loving, but objectively not so. Thus, the need to constantly rectify our intentions.

It is this missing attitude of wanting to serve in each one of us that sooner or later grows into social and cultural proportions, then into something global with ideological supporting structures, that offers the seed, sun and water for the big enemies we have against our spiritual life

The absence of this attitude nullifies whatever big and ardent professions of love we may have toward God and others. Our desire to love could not soar into the flight of authentic love when this eagerness to serve is absent.

Any attempt to love with this attitude not in place would be plain mimickry. It would attract many problems and anomalies. It will drown in the quicksands of pride, vanity, envy, jealousy, and the other subtle forms of egoism. It cannot survive the mere tests of differences of characters and opinions, for example.

This eagerness to serve really has to be worked out, because with our fallen and wounded nature, every pore of our being tends to go against the law of love expressed in service that God meant for us.

We need to pause and reflect to get a clear view of our predicament, then beg and pray for God’s grace for we can do nothing without it, and then little by little, day by day, start to develop the mind and the skills to bring us always ready and happy to serve.

Let us remember that the fall of the angels started when one of them said, “I will not serve.” Our first parents fell because they too chose to serve themselves instead of God.

Every sin and moral evil has in its core the virus of not wanting to serve. And so, perhaps as a motto that we can repeat often, we should say to ourselves, and to God and all: “Serviam” I will serve!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The e-word today

IT’S not anymore electronic. The new e-word is excommunication. Frankly, I’m happy that it has re-emerged into public attention, after years of hibernation, because I believe people need to know about it.

You mention the word especially to the young today, and even to the older ones, and you most likely get a blank stare. Does it have to do with modern communication, they would often ask.

It was dropped a few days ago in a radio interview with a bishop, and even if the transcript of that interview revealed no sensational undertones, the word hit ground, at least in some quarters, as if it was a nuclear bomb.

Obviously, the mischievous media played it up, another indication we are into some dead season in news items. No amount of effort to size up the whole affair could convince me it had real basis for the noise created in the press.

Of course, there were many people who bit the bait, thousands of them giving feedback to newspapers and jamming Facebook and other social networking facilities.

They spewed off their opinions that obviously have shreds of truths and good things, but otherwise simply showed their biases that can cover a wide range of possibilities—from fair commentaries to severe cases of ignorance, confusion, error and outright malice.

What we know is that PNoy went to the States, he got some American aid that most likely is now underwritten by Chinese money, and when he returned, he out of the blue talked about contraceptives, freedom of choice and a strange kind of responsible parenthood, and the notorious RH bill.

I don’t know whether there is connection in that flow of events, but obviously, the bishops can not take this development sitting down. What is involved here is morality that covers the whole spectrum of human behavior, from the personal and individual to the social and global.

It’s a morality that is not just man-made, but God-given, meant not only for Catholics but for all, but obviously to be taught, spread and lived as charitably as possible.

This has always been the way of Christ, now adopted by the Church, and always tried out by Church leaders, irrespective of their own peccadillos. That “Damaso” incident did not prove anything of substance. It simply showed a quirk, worse than the “major, major” blunder of a beauty queen.

It’s amazing that a guy like Manny Pacquiao can understand this, while our highly educated technocrats and powerful political leaders can’t. I suppose this is more a matter of faith than of intelligence and human power. The gospel is full of examples of this kind of riddle.

Morality cannot be reduced to a matter of opinion, of personal preferences, of purely cultural and social consensus. It comes from God, written in our nature, and simply to be respected by all—though admittedly, the realization of all these will take a tortuous path given our human condition.

As Pope Benedict said in his visit to England, morality is not for the State to legislate. It simply has to be acknowledged. And neither can it be reduced as a private matter, which the Church should not talk about in public, but strangely enough, the government can.

It’s a crazy world. There’s a funny version of the doctrine of separation of Church and state that veritably allows the one with authority and competence to keep quiet and the other that does not have it to talk a lot.

In this recent controversy, pictures of poor and large families in inhuman condition were splashed in the papers to generate support for the government and hatred for the Church. It’s a pitiable gimmick that can hardly be given a decent name.

Everyday, I also meet such brothers and sisters of ours. I ask myself, what can I do? And since obviously, I alone cannot solve this problem alone, I ask what can the others do to help, the government, the society, the Church?

It has not occurred to me to just give them condoms so they don’t reproduce much. That would treat them like animals. Morality is an irreplaceable requirement for human dignity. I know it’s going to be a very complicated problem.

If living one’s sexuality properly is already a big problem, you can just imagine how it’s going to be when a couple is involved, and then later on when societies are involved! It’s not going to be easy.

But easy or hard, we just have to find solutions fit for us. No immoral short-cuts, please, no matter how practical.