Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Misinformation and disinformation

IT’S good to know the distinction between the two. Misinformation is any false or incorrect information. It may just be an honest mistake or at worst a simple lie. There’s already an intention to deceive, an attempt to make someone believe something that is not true, but in a very limited way.

Its more popular equivalents are false or misleading information, bum steer, gossip and false rumor. It has a restrictive context, and unless it finds a good opportunity, it is often transmitted under cover and not in the open.

Disinformation is another animal. It takes misinformation to another level, often to the extreme. Disinformation, of course, is based on a misinformation or a lie that is pursued and elaborated with the intention to deceive not only an individual or a few people, but masses of people.

Disinformation is meant to confuse rivals or perceived enemies, or to influence public opinion. Played big and in the open, it can distort the truth further than what misinformation does. It is driven with an agenda to inflict deep and widespread deception on the people. Its other name is black propaganda.

Unlike the usual propaganda and the big lie techniques designed to draw emotional support, disinformation is meant to manipulate the people at the intellectual level by discrediting a piece of information or by supporting wrong conclusions. Its appeal is more irresistible, its lie almost invincible.

It uses a massive machinery, well-funded and well-oiled, and with an army of moles, sleepers and crawlers in different strategic places doing the spade work daily, all orchestrated by a mastermind who is often hidden.

Just consider the ugly revelations the current Wikileaks that are dragging big names to shame! There one gets an idea of the range and scope of the intelligence and spying systems secretly put to work to do other aspects of disinformation—political, military, commercial, etc.

In this recent controversy about Pope Benedict’s comments on condom use, these concepts come to mind. What is involved is not only misinformation, but a shameless, blatant disinformation carried out by big international institutions with the help of large parts of the media world like the AP.

How else can you conclude when at the start of the rage, the Vatican already made explanations about what the Holy Father meant? Yet, despite these clarifications, agencies like the UN, officials like PNoy and his DOH men, and a good number of mediamen continued crowing their wrong conclusions.

This is not anymore about finding the truth and trying to be objective. This is already marketing an ideology and falling into the subjective trap. Not news reporting, but editorializing. It’s not even fair advertisement. It is pure and simple black propaganda.

Wrong views were echoed and re-echoed “ad nauseam,” reminiscent of the evil ways of Nazi Germany’s Goebbels during World War II, except that in this case we are not in an open, declared state of war.

There is a clear attack on the Catholic Church, on her faith and doctrine, and the corresponding culture these build. There’s a systematic effort to discredit all these especially by sensationalizing the usual human anomalies that can actually occur anywhere else also.

They make a big fuss about clerical sexual misconduct, as if this kind of misconduct does not happen everywhere else, and even condoned. They seem to understand their own kind, but not when these things happen in some parts of the Church.

Worse, I don’t think we can expect any gesture of apology from them. Even when they are caught “in delicto flagrante” lying and doing this disinformation campaign, they don’t seem to acknowledge their mistake.

To put it bluntly, what we have here is a devil’s game. The devil is the father of lies. He can’t help but lie. It’s in his DNA. And the lying has developed into sophisticated levels.

Obviously to counteract this disinformation, the truth has to be brought to the open, no matter how complicated such process involves. Truth in its fullness should be understood as truth that goes together with charity. And charity always involves sacrifice, the cross, understanding, forgiveness, etc.

We need to go through all these requirements to resolve not only the issue of the papal comments on condom, but also all other widely coordinated efforts at disinformation aimed at undermining the Church.

I hope the popular piety surrounding Advent’s “simbang gabi” and Christmas itself will offer the golden opportunity to bring the Christian truth with charity to confront any effort at discrediting the Church and our Christian culture.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Brave witnesses to faith needed

JUST had another round of confirmation in school. This is becoming a yearly affair. Every time a new batch of students comes to our technical school, I soon discover that a great majority of them have not yet received the sacrament.

Catechesis and the other aspects of the preparation are soon given. The day is set, and when it finally comes, there’s always that palpable air of joy and thanksgiving. And the yearning that what was received, like a seed, would fall on good ground, start to germinate, grow and bear fruit.

I guess there are a host of reasons why this phenomenon seems not only true in our school but also in many others. Many Catholics, individuals and families, are still unclear about the importance of the sacrament of confirmation. Ignorance and confusion prevail.

These, plus a string of other social and cultural factors like poverty and the distorted notion of humility that leads people to think confirmation is not anymore that necessary, can explain this sad reality to a certain extent.

There’s a crying need to make this sacrament more known, appreciated and received by the people. And, of course, a greater need for it to be lived as it should. This is the challenge we, both priests and laity, are facing today.

Our Catechism tells us that confirmation “brings an increase and deepening of the baptismal grace, it roots us more deeply in the divine filiation…, it unites us more firmly to Christ, it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us, it renders our bond with the Church more perfect, it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action…” (1303)

In short, confirmation makes us more like Christ, the very model and pattern of humanity. We need to be “alter Christus, ipse Christus” (another Christ, Christ himself), with the desire of acquiring nothing less than the very mind, will and heart of Christ himself.

This is no exaggeration, a gratuitous, baseless claim. This is God’s will, and for this purpose he has given us everything so we can attain it. But obviously, we need to do our part.

By the very nature of things, God cannot impose his goodness on us. Like him, we are free and are governed by love. If we have to be another Christ, it’s because we want to, and not just because he wants us to.

Confirmation should make us brave and abiding witnesses to our faith. We have to understand that our faith in Christ should always be with us, in our thoughts, judgments and reasoning, in our words and actions, in the different fields of human endeavor, etc.

We have to correct the error of thinking there are instances in our life where only reason and our other human faculties should be used. Faith would have no place in them. This is wrong.

This attitude is usually present in the fields of business, politics, entertainment, etc. It becomes the underlying mind frame when discussing socio-cultural issues until it becomes the governing principle in our whole moral life.

In fact, there are now well-defined and systematic ideologies that not only confine the faith as a purely private matter, but also deny it altogether. And we are not referring anymore to the socialist and communist ideologies. Rabid forms of liberalism are now preaching this kind of doctrine.

The recent controversy, for example, about the Pope’s recent comments on the condoms has shown that these ideologies are not anymore affecting many Western decadent countries, but also our own land as well.

It’s amazing that in spite of the abundant clarifications, many officials, agencies, institutions, and a good part of the media still persist in pursuing and elaborating the lie that the Church has changed her stand on the condoms. There practically was a binge in spreading the misinformation.

It’s in this kind of world now that we urgently need witnesses to our Christian faith who are not only competent and brave but also charitable. We have to be witnesses who in the end judge, speak and do things at the very instance of the Holy Spirit.

This is what the sacrament of confirmation enables us to do, a divine power that we need to be conscious of, develop and use all the time. It makes us nothing less than true witnesses of Christ, and not just good in explaining doctrine that obviously are also necessary.

Let’s pray that the implications of the sacrament of confirmation are not lost on us.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dense and/or malicious?

WHAT a spin it was!

For a while I was frozen in disbelief as I read newspaper headlines and commentaries of what the Pope said recently about condoms. Who would not be dismayed when you read titles like, “Church has changed her position on condoms”?

There were more disconcerting takes. UN officials welcomed the Church’s change of heart. Palace told bishops should now soften their stand on the RH bill given the Pope’s statement on condoms.

Lagman, the main RH bill proponent, and the Damasonians were practically dancing in the streets. Some clerics now lawyering for the bill must be excited.

I could not believe that some officials who are supposed to have some IQ and the media would bother to publish this clear case of misinformation, since the clarification on the part of the Vatican was readily available.

It was again another field day for sensationalism. Virtually a bar room type of atmosphere, complete with the carousing and the drunkenness, with practically the whole international community as the stage.

The Pope’s words were twisted. Commentators just selected a part and blew it up according to their own agenda. They were actually expressing their own mind, not the Pope’s.

Where have we fallen into? I can’t help but think that those responsible for transmitting this piece of misinformation must be dense and/or plainly malicious. Sorry, I don’t have many other possibilities.

To make things worse, I wonder if we can expect any note of apology from any of the protagonists. What is most likely is to play the blaming game. And most likely the blame would mainly fall on the Pope for making such statement.

But the Pope did right in clarifying that matter about the condoms. What he was actually saying was that condoms as contraceptives are always wrong, are always sinful.

Yet in spite of that sinfulness, one can still distinguish shades of mitigating circumstances. The “justification” of the use of the condom arises from this—that it can prevent graver harm, that it can be a sign of a beginning conversion, etc.

Just the same, its use as a contraceptive in spite of those mitigating circumstances is already wrong. Obviously, when the condom is used as a balloon for decoration or toy, its use is not anymore sinful. It’s now moral.

So the Pope is trying to be nuanced in his approach to a moral situation. Who says the Pope and the Church in general are just dogmatic, so black and white as not to admit shades? I would say, the Pope was trying to take us a step further than our current state of understanding about condom use.

The reasoning behind the Pope’s argument echoes the one used by our Lord himself when he talked about the unjust steward, found in Luke 16. Our Lord praised the dishonest steward for his cleverness in arranging things when he, the steward, would eventually be kicked out of his employment.

So, our Lord, even in the midst of an over-all sin, managed to see bright spots in that cleverness. The parable concluded by saying, “The master commended the dishonest steward for his prudence. For the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light.” (Lk 16,8)

As our Lord said, we need to be innocent as doves but also shrewd as serpents. We have to be very prudent and discerning, without allowing that prudence to spoil the goodness of our heart. It’s not easy, but it can be done, with God’s grace and our efforts.

This quality is necessary these days, when we know that some people and even some leaders in politics, business, etc., can be playing the devil’s games. Recently, for example, we were pleasantly surprised to hear former US President Clinton sort of giving a positive comment on our big population.

Without saying that he is playing the devil’s game, we are of course happy to hear what he said, though we should not forget what he is known for. He is good in playing games, and so we just have to decipher what game he is playing this time.

If in the end, it’s found that he is being honest, then well and good. If not, then we have to act accordingly. We should try to avoid being taken for a ride, being sweet talked to. We are living in dangerous times. We need to be familiar, for example, with the reality behind the expression, “wag the dog.”

But prudence should allow us to see the silver lining in the world’s dark clouds.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Discriminating but not discriminatory

THAT’S how we can describe the character of Christian faith as it impacts on our business and politics.

It is strictly discriminating in the sense that it wants us to get into the very substance of Christianity in our daily activities and earthly affairs.

It’s not interested only in the externals, the gravy, the patina. It wants the real thing, where our business and politics can truly become an encounter with Christ, an occasion to grow in holiness.

But it is never discriminatory, since it is open to all possibilities our human freedom can bring about. It has the capacity to bear whatever burden these possibilities can impose on us.

It can sustain positions contrary to it. Persecutions against it do not kill it. It will just resurrect in another way. Christ showed this by preferring to die rather than forcing people to follow him.

As St. Paul says it, for those who love God and therefore have faith in him, all things, even the seemingly bad things, will always work out for the good. This is how Christian faith works. It has focus, but it is open to anything. It upholds the truth in freedom, even if that freedom is badly used by the people.

We have to say this because lately in many places the idea seems to be rampant that in our business and politics we should just set aside our Christian faith, since that would only lead us to a limited view of things. It’s would not be open to positions contrary to it.

This was clearly said with regard to the RH issue. Many people, even the educated class and our leading politicians and other people of influence, expressed this view. They accuse the Church and, in effect, the Christian faith of being intolerant to those who don’t agree with her.

Better use reason alone, they said, and forget faith. Reason makes things more practical, convenient and open to all possibilities. Reason is more tolerant. Faith is intolerant.

Not at all! The Christian faith is open to anything, even to things that are in direct contradiction to it. It always respects the freedom of man. While the truth about the RH issue as coming from the Church and therefore of Christ is upheld, care is always taken that such position always respects freedom and is pursued in charity.

There might be some forcefulness involved, but it is the forcefulness of the truth itself, especially as that truth has to contend with contrary views. I suppose, everyone understands that. Any exchange of views always entails persuasive forces.

The Christian faith as spelled out by the Church magisterium is not afraid of being scrutinized by reason. In fact, faith welcomes it, since in our human condition, that faith always makes use of reason.

Faith has nothing to hide. It needs reason for it to be more understood and translated into more human and accessible terms. That’s why faith needs reason.

It is just hoped that reason also recognizes its need for faith. In fact, again in our human condition, faith and reason ought to go together, helping each other in deepening one’s knowledge.

Reason without faith is vulnerable to just spin in circles, until it loses steam and can slide to skepticism, cynicism, or worse, to chaos and anarchy. Even if one’s reason can have rich immanent activity, in the end it will need a point of reference that simply cannot just be the material world. It needs to transcend to the world of faith.

This is a reality that needs to be highlighted, since many of us, especially our leaders, do not realize it. We tend to pursue our knowing and doing guided by reason alone, with faith regarded at best as a decoration alone, not essential, just optional.

And thus, we need to develop the appropriate attitudes and skills to make this reality our own, not just a theory. We should aim at making this faith-and-reason approach the most ordinary thing we do.

At the moment, we can see a split where there should be unity—either relying solely on reason (rationalism), or the other way around, relying mainly on faith (fideism).

This, of course, will require a lot of effort. Nothing less than a paradigm shift, a drastic change of mind and heart is demanded. But it is worth all the effort, time and money.

The change can start anywhere: in churches, seminaries, schools and universities, families, and in the different fields of human affairs—business, politics, culture, etc.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The proper context of tolerance

NOW that we are more or less forced to live tolerance, given the multiplying kinds, classes, types of people, cultures, lifestyles, mentalities, etc., etc., we should be clear about the real character of this trait that seems to be urgently needed.

For sure, tolerance just cannot be taken to mean anything goes, and to simply be passive to things in general. That would be a perfect formula for chaos, a free fall to decadence and perdition, both personal and social.

We should avoid falling into the trap of regarding tolerance as indifference and passivity, permissiveness, promiscuity and a long list of isms—relativism, isolationism, quietism, etc.

Tolerance cannot but be an integral and living part of charity. As such, it has a very active character. If it involves patience, waiting and suffering, it is because it is in its nature to understand, to be compassionate and forgiving.

It just cannot be a function of practicality and convenience, or of worldly calculation and the so-called prudence of the flesh. It just cannot be a matter of being politically correct.

That would be inhuman, not to mention, unchristian, since it would lack the proper foundation and source of its life, meaning and direction. It could not rise above being a plain trick, gimmick, and pretension. Sooner or later, we would realize we are just fooling ourselves.

Its passive side is always infused by the active spirit of self-giving that goes all the way, which is what charity is all about. It’s love in action, a love that knows no measure. Its passive side is never a sign of helplessness and fatalism. It is always taken up by the forcefulness and designs of love.

It’s love that enables us to waive certain rights, to suspend judgment, to bear the faults and burden of others. As an old song says it, it enables us to smile even if our heart is aching. But it has a clear idea of how things should end. Yes, it can be open to things, but it has focus.

That’s because, love makes us strong, and the strong can bear the weak. Not the other way around. The weak, the one without love, cannot bear the strong. Tolerance, properly understood, is always a sign of strength, not of weakness.

In the Christian culture, tolerance as an expression of charity is brought to its maximum level when one is willing, like Christ, to die rather than violate love. And that death is not a defeat, but rather a triumph. In that context, death has not conquered the person. It is the person that has conquered death.

Having said all that, we also have to remember that charity always goes with the truth. Tolerance, being a part of charity, should not compromise this aspect of charity.

For Christian believers, the union of charity and truth can only be seen and achieved in Christ. We just have to try our best to have a living relationship with a living Christ, not a theoretical or hypothetical Christ. Our tolerance has to be lived in this context, and in no other.

This living union with Christ involves many things. In fact, everything. We have to learn to pray, know his life and words, his doctrine. We have to develop virtues. We have to see the organic connection between God, Christ, Church, bishops, etc., and live according to that economy.

And so, we have to be ready also to uphold and defend, to fight and die for the truth in Christ. Charity has that intriguing character of being at once both strict and lenient, intolerant and tolerant, just and merciful.

So, in this regard, we have to be wary of the continuing and subtle attacks on truth and charity and even on tolerance waged by some elements. Recently, I learned of some Hollywood movies that tend to deconstruct the nature of family, of marriage. We have to be ready to do a battle of love and truth with this trend.

Locally, we have the RH issue that is trying to masquerade as a human right, or women’s right to their body, or as an expression of freedom of choice. Then, there’s that campaign to deodorize the gay culture.

While we have to be understanding with everyone, we always have to uphold the truth about our sexuality and gender. I don’t mind having gays around. There’s always space for them. But if they do nothing other than purr like pussy cats in heat, and convert the world into a theater of their antics, (fill in the blank).

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Quantitative easing has dubious effects

WE obviously have to try our best to broaden and deepen our culture all our life. While we may have a concrete field of specialization, we should not forget that we need to connect with everyone else. Thus, we need to know them as best we could, including their interests, concerns, challenges, everything…

As priest, I normally stick to things spiritual and moral, but that does not prevent me from learning things about economics, business, politics, arts, etc. I know that things spiritual and moral are played out in these fields of human affairs. So, I need to have at least some working knowledge of this earthly culture.

Like everybody else, I certainly have to know how to blend them well. There are rules to follow, deriving mainly from the position one occupies in society. But everyone needs to contribute to the common good, giving what is peculiar to him so that the common culture be enriched.

Besides, with the way the world is developing these days, it’s getting clear that the way to go is to cultivate an interdisciplinary approach to knowing and learning. And so, we just have to plunge into this path of interactive methods, now facilitated by our developing networking services. This is our world now!

Having said all that, I just would like to voice out my concern at what is happening in the big and high places in developed countries where officials are talking about the so-called “quantitative easing,” (QE) now being touted to solve the deepening and widening economic crisis worldwide.

From what I could understand about it, it involves pumping money into the economy in the hope of jump-starting it into a productive frenzy of activity. It seems money would be created “ex nihilo,” from nothing, just to trigger productivity.

While there is some wisdom to that idea, I feel that its effectiveness would depend on a number of factors. Obviously, simply giving out money does not automatically produce good economic results. Otherwise, we would have done this thing long time ago.

Economists and other social leaders point to the following requirements for QE to work: sound governance, sound economic policies, sound monetary policies, sound commercial policies, etc. The list is endless.

As we can see, there are many conditions before QE can achieve its goal. What does all this tell us? That our world economic crisis just cannot be solved solely by economic remedies. There is a lot more that is needed than just talking about QE, which happens to be Obama’s main problem solver.

You can print all the money you want and throw them away to the people from a helicopter. But if the people would not know how to use them, how to make them productive, you would just be multiplying problems.

That seems to be the sentiment of the American people who booted out many of Obama’s people in Congress in the midterm elections. They seem to say that the US is heading in the wrong direction. Time to change course.

This sentiment seems to be shared also by a good number of leaders from other countries. In Obama’s recent trip to India and other Asian countries, the message given to him was unmistakable.

It must be understood that whatever benefit and advantage QE gives, it is meant only to solve a small part of the crisis, one meant only for an emergency situation that has to be resolved as quickly as possible. If that fails, then death naturally comes, and we just have to accept the unavoidable fact.

But beyond QE’s economic wisdom, what we should realize more deeply is that our economic predicament has deeper spiritual and moral causes. When people are spoiled with entitlements and have developed a complacent mind-frame, QE would not be effective. There has to be a spiritual and moral overhaul.

We have to tackle the bull by the horn. Our leaders should not just be competent politically, economically, etc., but should also be adept in the spiritual and moral considerations. They would be fatally handicapped if this fundamental requirement is not meant.

Enough with the myth that the world’s problems can be just be handled by merely playing politics and business. The crisis we are having now is a painful rousing from our blindness. It is actually showing us the way we ought to take.

Instead of casting aspersions on each other because of our respective roles as clergy and lay, let’s work together to attain not only our temporal common good but the eternal one as well.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

New evangelization

POPE Benedict XVI has just established a new office tasked to undertake what is called as a new evangelization especially in some parts of the world that had deep Christian roots before, but are now terribly suffering under the plague of secularization.

This is the Pontifical Council for New Evangelization. In the Pope’s words, it is meant to tackle “a grave crisis in the sense of the Christian faith and the role of the Church,” and “to find the right means to repropose the perennial truth of the Gospel.”

He said that previously staunch Catholic countries in Europe and North America were facing “the eclipse of a sense of God.” In another occasion, he noted that many people now regard God at best as a mere theory or a hypothesis, not a living being.

I agree with this observation completely. All around us is the unmistakable sign that people consider God more as an alien than a Creator, Father and Lover, who shares his life, and everything in it like his knowledge and love, with us.

This, to me, is an interesting development to us, since this new evangelization, I believe, should not only be done in these Western developed countries that are now also facing a severe economic crisis, but also in our country.

Though vaunted, to a certain degree true, for its Catholicism, our country is actually suffering also from a certain crisis of faith, since much of the outward expressions of piety and religiosity do not really have a firm foundation on a living faith.

In short, much of it is mere noise and show without real religious substance. We may have a vibrant popular piety in many places, but it is something that needs to be purified, enriched and made to be grounded on the real McCoy, and not just forms.

Of course, we should be thankful that we still have these forms of religiosity. Our long history of Catholic life, in spite of some dark spots, has yielded lasting fruits of spiritual life.

But we should never be complacent and think that everything is all right. There’s a lot of superstition still attending many of our religious practices, and even outright doctrinal errors proliferating around.

Given the global interconnectivity we have at present, we should not fail to realize that some of the disturbing developments in the rich but decadent Western countries can now easily enter our shores. Just think of the current RH issue and the whole range of the contraceptive mentality.

We need to look closely into the training programs given in seminaries and other centers of learning. There are things that need to be changed drastically. Let’s see to it that a wholistic formation is truly given, covering the human, religious-doctrinal, spiritual and pastoral aspects.

A more fine-tuned evangelization should be given to the young and the different sectors of society. The youth are bombarded today with messages and images that undermine their spiritual life.

Thus, we can see a runaway trend toward delinquency and other youthful anomalies. The Facebook entries can give us a jolting reality check on this phenomenon. We have to find ways to cope with this worrying development.

Evangelization should aim at imparting nothing less than the real and living Christ to everyone. In one Church document, it is described as “not limited to instruction about God who lives in inaccessible light…

“In hearing the Word, the actual encounter with God himself calls to the heart of man and demands a decision which is not arrived at solely through intellectual knowledge but which requires conversion of heart…”

We have to understand that only when there is real conversion of heart can our recognition of Christ and our identification with him take place. Otherwise, we will just be playing games.

“The Gospel preached by the Church is not just a message but a divine and life-giving experience for those who believe, hear, receive and obey the message,” that same document affirms.

The clergy and the others directly involved in this task should understand that this it requires from them nothing less than true integrity where the message and the messenger, while distinct, become one in an existential, dynamic way.

It is not an exaggeration nor an act of presumption to say that they should have the mind of God, since in the first place that is actually meant for us.

It’s only then that the evangelization becomes credible and acceptable to the people. The preaching should be lived, the words always need to be given witness first by the preacher.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Participative

THIS is the now buzzword, at least, in the US, and I hope it also becomes so in our country. In our social and political life, the system of people’s active participation in the direction of things should be put in place, regularly updated and adapted to changing circumstances.

This is what the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church says about this need: “Every democracy must be participative. This means that the different subjects of civil community at every level must be informed, listened to, and involved in the exercise of the carried-out functions.” (190)

Therefore, everything has to be done to correct attitudes and practices that hinder this property of a democratic state such as ours. They are many and, worse, very tricky and difficult. In the first place, we tend to deny we have these inadequate attitudes and wrong practices.

These deficiencies can be so embedded in our culture and social life that they have become normal to us. Even in the last barangay elections, I was appalled to see the same massive vote-buying and corrupting of the youth through the SK. But I think some stirring, shaking up and purifying need to be done.

We have to understand that even if our culture can be considered already rich and very uniquely Filipino, it has to grow with the times and face the new challenges. Otherwise it will die and rot, or at least produce toxin that’s bad to all of us.

In the US now, there is the upsurge of the so-called Tea Party, a kind of spontaneous reaction of a big part of the populace who think the Obama government is putting the dangerous liberalism-and-socialism ideology to the extreme.

Their efforts have yielded big gains in the last elections, kicking out a number of Democrats and putting into their Congress a big majority of Republicans who are at least more attentive to their sentiments.

Poor Obama is now a lame duck only after two years of office. A listing ship, he will face a grueling and bruising remainder of his presidency. The other object of their wrath, the brash Pelosi, is now dethroned from her speakership.

Both seem sad, but not sorry at all for their agenda that was roundly rejected by the people. But at least for now, they have to bow to the will of the people.

We have to hone our own participative skills in our social and political life. We already have had a number of tools and instruments for this purpose. To mention a few, we had the People Power, rallies and demonstrations, various initiatives in good governance and monitoring of officials’ performance.

We also have the Namfrel, the C-Cimpel, the Dilaab, etc. The list is long, thanks be to God, but it needs to grow more not only in number but also in depth and effectiveness. The more initiatives, the better.

First of all, there is the basic need for grounding every effort in this regard on the proper spirituality, one that regards our social and political action as an integral part also of the over-all effort to sanctify oneself and others.

It should be a spirituality that respects the autonomy of politics and fosters freedom and variety of views and positions. But it should be dead serious in developing our politics with charity, orienting it always for the common good and for God’s glory. Yes, God and politics have to be put together.

It cannot be any other way. If the animating spirit of these initiatives is reduced to some partisan views or to an ideology, I don’t think we can go very far. We have to be very wary of the many conditionings that clip the wings of our participative duties, like indifference, discouragement, self-pity, passivity, fatalism, etc.

At the same time, any effort to spiritualize and Christianize our politics should not diminish the need for rigor in attending to the many objective requirements of politics.

We have to check the competence of our officials, and find ways to monitor their performance. We have to devise a system of reading as accurately and promptly as possible the problems of the people, and of starting the process of attending to them. Criteria for judgment should be refined.

For all this, everyone is encouraged to do his part. We cannot rely only on the media. The quality of our politics can only reflect the quality of the people involved in it—that’s us. A good and indispensable tool is the social doctrine of the Church that offers us tremendous light.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Be consistent to your faith

WE have to appeal to everyone, especially to our politicians and everybody else who occupy positions of leadership and influence in society, to please be consistent to your faith.

Faith is not something to show off only when one is in church and in religious activities. It has to be lived all the time regardless of whether one is engaged in business or in politics or in sports or in the arts, etc.

It can not be treated like a hat or a coat that we wear outside but take off when we are inside the house, or in Congress, or in work or party. When our Catholic congressmen tackle, for example, the RH Bill, they just cannot say they have to set their faith aside because they are doing only secular things. That’s foul!

True, they have to consider with as much scientific rigor as possible the different human angles and natural aspects of the issue—social, political, economic, cultural, practical, etc. But all these should be infused by faith.

Without faith, these considerations would lose their proper bearing and stability. They would be vulnerable to changing conditionings and will ultimately do harm to us.

We obviously have to live our faith with naturalness, without attracting undue attention and without allowing it, as much as possible, to hamper our normal daily activities. But we have to understand that faith has to be lived always. We should try to avoid having gaps of faith in our day.

Faith is actually the soul of our knowledge, what gives life, guidance and direction to our reasoning. We have to be wary when we tend to detach our intelligence from our faith. That would leave our intelligence out in the cold, neglected and abandoned to survive on its own.

Faith is actually a necessity for our reason. The latter cannot go far without the former. Reason would be violating its own nature if it dares to go on its own, since it knows that it always needs an outside object to start it to act. The autonomy of reason never means it is separated from faith, or worse, incompatible and hostile to faith.

Though reason has an immanent activity, it always needs to be fed by things outside it. Otherwise, it will grind to a halt or worse, drown in its own unpurified, unrenewed waste.

And reason just cannot stop at depending on sensible and intelligible objects for it to work. It has to go all the way. Sooner or later reason will reach the limits of the material world, then enters into the world of ideas, and if it’s true to itself, it will realize it is in the threshold of the spiritual and supernatural universe. It cannot escape but reach the point of transcendence.

So our reason just can stop at the human and natural sciences, nor in our philosophies and ideologies. Without suspending its operation, it has to allow itself to be taken up by the wings of faith.

That’s because to cruise in the transcendent levels, reason needs faith. That is to say, we need to make an act of faith, which is an act of the will that kind of forces our reason to go on in spite of its inadequacy to tackle the truths and mysteries involved in the spiritual and supernatural world.

We actually make acts of faith one way or another, even in our most ordinary activities and situations. This is because our reason cannot cope with all the things presented to it for consideration. Nor can it go deep enough in the knowledge of even the most ordinary things in our life.

Thus, faith is to be lived not just when we tackle purely spiritual topics and issues, abstract and abstruse, but also in our day-to-day mundane concerns. For even the most ordinary things possess mysterious realities. In them can always be found God himself. And for that, reason is not enough. Faith is needed.

Faith never diminishes what is truly human in us. Rather, it enhances our humanity, it purifies it, elevates it to its spiritual and supernatural goal, and brings it to its most profound and sublime level.

We, and especially our leaders, have to learn how to be at home with faith, skilful enough to animate every human activity we do in the different fields of our life, be it business or politics or the arts, etc.

We have to break the barrier that prevents us from allowing our faith to animate all our affairs.

Monday, November 8, 2010

We are in a state of war

I WAS happy to be invited to say Mass for a group of couples attending a week-end seminar entitled, Beyond I do. I found the initiative laudable, and encouraged the group to spread their message farther and farther. This is what we need today, I told them.

Today´s couples have to learn to strengthen their love amid the confusing flow of developments. They need to be flexible, creative, persevering, resourceful and skillful to read the signs of the times, and to anticipate both the good and bad developments and to act accordingly.

We cannot deny the fact that many basic human values, not to mention, the Christian ones, are under heavy and severe attack. Human love and sexuality, life itself, marriage and family are now absorbing all sorts of systematic barrage from powerful quarters with tons of money and an armory of influence and ideology.

There are just too many boys and girls, for example, who usually in their teens are already victims of a cursed or sick love (¨ulipon sa gugmang gi-atay,¨ in our dialect), because of infatuation and of a clear lack of understanding of the true nature and meaning of love. They are actually crying for help, even if they resent it. And they have to be helped, first by the parents.

Locally also, we are forced to worry about the RH bill, a totally useless proposal that if made into law would not change much what is actually taking place now insofar as family planning and population control practices of the people are concerned.

It brags that it gives couples a right of choice to do whatever they want to do with their family, as if they don’t have that choice even now. What it adds is for the government to spend precious resources over something better left to the disposition of the couples involved.

It also pressures employers to favor contraceptives, and worse, in its original and raw version, it prohibits people from even talking against RH. When I saw that, I could not help but gulp in disbelief. Where did the proponents of this bill leave their common sense, I automatically said to myself.

In other places, worse things are happening. I just learned, for example, that at the UNESCO, efforts are now made to teach sex education even to children as young as five. In its draft guidelines, it tells instructors not to teach morality as there is no right nor wrong when discussing values.

It claims that that from birth to age two, children may ¨experience genital pleasure¨ and by age three may engage in ´sex play.´ Parents are to provide anatomically correct dolls for young children to play with and to be supportive of masturbation. It now seems the m-word is part of everyday language and daily routine.

In the US at present, moves are now taken by the Obama government that tend to undermine the proper independence and autonomy of Catholic schools. It´s also doing what are tantamount to threats to religious freedom. These issues may seem remote and too big for us, ordinary mortals, in the Philippines, but mind you, they can have grave effects worldwide.

We need to be ready for these disturbing developments. We should not forget that in our spiritual world, we are always in a state of war. Our heart is always a battleground between the forces of good and evil. We cannot afford to be naive.

Parents, for example, have to be better prepared to face the challenge occasioned by our every-growing technologies. The world of their little children, through Facebook, for example, has suddenly become bigger and more complicated. Children now need a different way of guidance appropriate to the new circumstances. And parents have to provide this.

What is basic and indispensable is that whatever advances, changes and transformations there may be in the outside world, parents should see to it that they maintain close personal relationship with their children, one where they can still manage to enter into their children´s minds and hearts.

This will always require time and talent on the part of parents to nurture a continuing love and affection for their children, since this is the only way to get into their children´s lives. Parents need to be properly grounded on the right doctrine, quick to distinguish the genuine one from the false if popular one. They need to develop virtues and skills like how to enter into a meaningful talk with their children.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Peace through war

WE need to understand this very well. To have peace in each one of us and later in the world, the kind that abides and lasts, and that leads to the everlasting peace in heaven, we need to wage war here on earth, a constant war that goes on until death.

This is part of our human condition. Our weakened, wounded nature requires it, not to mention, the objective reality that we have enemies all around us. Our Catechism tells us of the seven capital sins with which we have to contend all throughout our life. They are: pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony and sloth.

These capital sins are embedded in us. No use denying them. We have to acknowledge their existence and learn how to deal with them.

Besides, St. Paul also tells us about the formidable spiritual enemies around us. ¨For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places.¨ (Eph 6,12) How true!

What makes things worse is that these enemies are invisible, and more than grappling with them in an arena or a battlefield, we do our combat inside us, in our mind and heart, in our senses and emotions and imagination, etc. It´s a spiritual warfare that requires the appropriate strategies and armory.

It would be extremely na├»ve of us if we don´t realize this, and therefore not prepared and equipped for this dark reality of our earthly life. First, we need to realize this fact, and help others to be properly warned and armed. We have to know these enemies of ours very well, for how else can we handle them effectively if we don´t know them?

While it´s true that we have to do all this with a lot of naturalness, it also would be funny if we understand by naturalness the excuse for letting our guards down. Vigilance and even spiritual espionage and intelligence work have to be done always.

In fact, all the art and skills of warfare have to be applied, knowing that it is a living and growing science as well. While old things and experiences are always valuable, there will always be new things to be learned. The war fronts always change, shift and vary, and we just have to know how to be flexible with them.

That´s why it is important that we don´t get deceived by the apparent peace that exists around us. We have to be wary with our tendency to be complacent, to be up in the air, clueless about the real score of our life. We have to learn how to be discerning, how to read the signs of the times, since many things are taking place both inside and outside us. We should always be on the alert mode.

St. Augustine once described the complexity of our human condition. ¨Man is a great deep, Lord¨ he said. ¨You number his very hairs and they are not lost in your sight. But the hairs of his head are easier to number than his affections and the movements of his heart.¨ Our heart can go right and left anytime.

And outside us, powerful spiritual enemies are always at work. We need to be familiar with both the visible waves and the invisible air of erroneous and dangerous ideas and programs that are put to play in the fields of business, politics, sports and entertainment, education and culture, etc.

We should quit thinking of these things as too abstract or academic that hardly have any impact on our lives. They are as real as germs and viruses, those microbes that cause great havoc in our lives. This is not being paranoid. This is being realistic.

Thus, while we always have to blend with the times, we should not forget to develop always, in the spiritual and moral sense, the survival skills of a savage in the forest and of the slum dweller, as well as the discerning powers of one immersed in the hypnotizing environment of culture, power, wealth, fame, that we also can find ourselves in.

We have to learn how to be tough while being gentle always, strict and demanding while being compassionate, driven but charitable. Are we skillful in prayer, in offering sacrifices, in plotting our spiritual strategies for our sanctification and that of the others and of the world--all done with naturalness and discretion?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The earthly and religious aspects of politics

THIS is an attempt to make some crucial distinctions in this heady field of politics. Hopefully the effort will pay off, especially where the need to clearly delineate the different but complementary roles of the clergy and the laity in politics is involved.

This issue has been wallowing in the mire for quite some time, with even our educated class clearly confused about it. Everytime they talk about separation of Church and state, for example, most likely they are off course, as they repeat old errors that seem hard to correct.

So this piece is not political in the sense that it is partisan in political matters that, given their autonomous character, are open to opinion. In that regard, priests would do well to keep quiet and allow the play of opinions to be directly handled by the laity.

If ever there is a need for priests to comment in this aspect of politics, it has to be made clear that their views are mere opinions. As such, they are not binding in conscience, but obviously they may be given due consideration by the people.

But this piece is political in the sense that it considers politics an indispensable part of our life, where the fullness of Christian life, the full play of faith, hope and charity plus all the other virtues, are supposed to be pursued.

Politics does not put the Christian spiritual and moral standards in brackets. It´s where these ideals are put into action, in fact. But given it´s nature and character, its purpose and the varying ways it is lived in different places and cultures, the clergy and the laity, while all involved in it, play distinctive roles.

First of all, we have to understand that politics is not exclusively an earthly affair, with no spiritual, moral and therefore religious foundations. Since it is an exercise of our freedom, it has spiritual and also supernatural repercussions that need to be given due attention.

It is for the priests to give primary concern for its spiritual and moral dimensions. These dimensions basically refer to whether the political exercise, the options involved, etc., conform to fundamental moral requirements of good moral object, right intention and appropriate, moral circumstances.

For as long as all the political elements fulfill these requirements, there can be as many choices, options, programs and projects as possible, with their own advantages and disadvantages, strengths and weaknesses, and all of them must be respected. It now belongs to each one to choose freely what he thinks will work out best for all.

The moral object is in the end about whether the option presented and to be chosen can be said to be part of God´s will, since it at least does not go against his commandments. If not, then it has to be rejected right from the start.

Thus, any political option clearly violative of God´s commandments, like an open endorsement for contraception, sterilization, divorce, euthanasia, institutionalized cheating and all forms of injustice, should be rejected, obviously in a way that is charitable and fair.

Obviously, any political platform that sets aside God and puts man, an ideology or, worst of all, oneself as the ultimate source of wisdom, of good and evil, of truth and falsehood—and we already have some traces of this at present—should not be voted.

Aside from the moral object of the political elements, we also have to consider the intention and the circumstances which should be found to be all good and appropriate.

Since we do not live in a perfect society, and since everyone has the right to express his ideas, there should always be a climate of freedom, respect, dialogue, sportsmanship, etc.

Having said that, I must admit I felt happy at the outcome of the midterm elections in the US, because it´s clear the majority of the American people are rejecting a politics that tends to put God, his commandments and Christian morality aside.

The issues involved there, for sure, are not purely economic or social in nature, which is what some American politicians are trying to project. But that is not true. There are some serious spiritual and moral issues involved, and it seems the American majority rejected the wrong positions.

We in the Philippines need to be wary of these developments, since we tend to imitate or, at least, now that we are highly globalized, it´s likely we can be influenced wrongly.

All of us, depending on our possibilities, should take active but proper participation in our country´s political life.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The virtual ego

WE need to learn to properly deal with the digital world. It offers us new situations and new challenges that we have to cope with. Among them is how to maintain and even enhance our identity, and not to lose or distort it.

Many people are telling me of the new predicaments they find themselves in with the Facebook, for example. They echo more or less my own experiences. There´s always the tendency to spend a lot of time there such that you forget other tasks and duties. There are several other side-effects, many of them not good.

That´s because these new technologies extend our reach and coverage in heretofore untold levels. They offer a lot of conveniences, but they also come with a high cost, especially on our spiritual life, and even our psychological life.

For example, I can see that, especially among the young, their insecurities and other youthful anomalies get to be displayed there to a much higher degree than before. They may appear formal and proper to you in person, but they become a different persona on Facebook. You´d be confused as to which one is the real person.

That is why, I deeply believe that the new digital universe is challenging us to tackle the question of our personal identity. Who are we really? How can we maintain and strengthen our identity as we cruise the exhilarating world of cyberspace?

This challenge is actually not new, but it is made more urgent with the new situations these new technologies create. It now has more serious implications. Would we just be contented with having multiple identities, hiding ourselves behind different masks, assuming different egos by creating different avatars for ourselves?

While it´s true that that the Gospel encourages us to be all things to all men, that is, to have some multiple personas for different situations, we need to remind ourselves that we should have an integrating and stabilizing principle to do this. Could we just assume different identities for any reason at all—convenience, practicality, popularity, etc.?

We cannot deny that this phenomenon is setting us up for an avalanche of future confusion and its ilk—deception, hypocrisy—that can contribute to the weakening of social stability and unity, and of our relation with God. With it, we reinforce our tendency to create our own world, detached from God and from others.

We need to strengthen our sense of identity, rooting it on the objective and ultimate truth about ourselves, as we enter into the digital world of infinite possibilities. Otherwise, we would get lost.

In that passage of St. Paul about our being all things to all men, that is to say, that we need to adapt ourselves to different situations even to the point of varying our character and temperament if possible, the reason and the efficient cause for achieving it is given.

“I became all things to all men that I might save all,” St. Paul says (1 Cor 9.22) “I do all things for the gospel’s sake, that I may share in its blessings.”

The reason is religious, the ultimate domain of our being where the origin and purpose of our nature are found. Perhaps, this is the truth that needs to be spread around more widely. Many of us are still at sea or non-committal about this aspect of our life.

We tend to get contented only with the here and now, the purely tangible, sensible and intelligible dimensions of our existence. Though we are capable of going beyond these levels, we get satisfied with the material or natural world. We tend to avoid the spiritual and the supernatural world.

But the pull of God cannot be denied. Even if people subjectively deny it, the reality of things always points out to the fact that we are drawn toward him. God is “the alpha and the omega,” the beginning and end of things. We need to flow with this objective reality.

Unless we have this truth clear in our mind and start to conform ourselves to that reality, unless we go beyond playing the human and natural games of politics, economics, entertainment, etc., there’s no alternative but to get lost in the much trickier world of the Internet.

And so, to keep our proper identity intact, and even to enhance it as we take advantage of the many possibilities of cyberspace, we have to see to it that our virtual ego is properly grounded and skilled to cruise the treacherous waters of the Facebook, for example.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Let´s care for our seminarians

POPE Benedict XVI wrote a beautiful letter to seminarians last October 18, and poured out his sentiments and desires for the young men who are preparing themselves for the priesthood.

I feel the content of the letter should be shared with the general public, so that this intricate care for the seminarians becomes a concern not only for a few officials, but also for all of us in the Church, priests and lay people alike. Though in different ways, we are all involved in this issue.

The priesthood will always be necessary since man will always need God. The Pope reassures us in that letter that precisely because of the growing secularization of the world today, priests, good, holy priests are needed. Instead of becoming irrelevant, they have become more urgently needed.

Thus, those preparing for the priesthood should be given the appropriate attention, considering that the Church after the scandals of clerical sex abuses has to recover from the severe damage she suffered. Hopefully, the future batches of new priests from the present seminarians would be an improvement.

There´s indeed a lot of bright spots in the Church today. But ugly stains and blots, the unwelcome weeds are also present, and they involve the clergy themselves. The letter of the Pope, though couched in tactful language, should be considered under the light of our Lord´s severe reproaches on the leading men in his time whom he accused as hypocrites.

It cannot be denied that even up to now very disturbing cases of priestly anomalies still proliferate. There´s alcoholism, gambling, lack of prayer life, discipline and basic virtues of obedience, poverty and chastity. Some priests even have children, and many people know it except that no action is being done out of a misplaced sense of compassion, etc.

At the height of the priestly scandals, many bishops even went to the extent of making an appeal to actively gay priests to please get out. There definitely is a need for some weeding out of bad elements, obviously with due process. Justice cannot swerve from charity. But the ongoing formation of seminarians and priests should be strengthened, the loopholes plugged. There´s a crying need for a drastic shake-up.

There are reports that in many seminaries, the seminarians are left pretty much to fend for themselves as they are expected to live full freedom in responsibility, but without due guidance from the authorities. It´s a policy that has been twisted beyond recognition.

And so even homosexual practices are tolerated, unorthodox doctrines are taught, a culture of pretension and hypocrisy is promoted, etc. It´s a very painful picture. It´s like the seminary is left to bleed to death. When classes or spiritual exercises are given, there´s a general feeling they are just playing games. Traces of agnosticism and skepticism can even be detected in these activities.

If we have to view these developments from another angle, we can readily say that the devil must be behind all this. We should not be surprised by this, but it would be funny if we don´t do our part to tackle this threat adequately. We have all the means. We just have to put our mind and heart to it.

And that attitude, more or less official, of hiding these things because of discretion, tact, etc., should be buried. True, we need to be discreet and charitable all the time, but we also need to do some strong action in imitation of Christ. Our time calls for it. The complicating developments we have now literally require it.

In that letter, the Pope mentioned some important points to be given utmost attention. The seminarians should be a true man of God. They should live a deep eucharistic life, and have a great love for the sacrament of penance. They should love popular piety well. They have to study the ecclesiastical sciences thoroughly, and work hard to attain genuine human maturity.

Obviously, these goals need daily administration. They just cannot be left simply as goals. They have to be planned out and worked out, their details adapted to the very concrete personal circumstances of each seminarian. Their spiritual life should be in good order. Once the first signs of slackening up appear, appropriate measures should be rushed.

For sure, personal spiritual direction is a must here. But how many priests and seminarians go to it? How many really pray and go to confession with true penance?