Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Pursuing that elusive unity

WE are referring to Christian unity, an ardent desire dramatically expressed in one of the last prayers of our Lord before his death. It is distilled in these Latin words: “Ut unum sint,” that they may be one, which was our Lord’s appeal to his Father.

The complete text is found in John 17, 11-22: “Holy Father, keep them in your name whom you have given me, that they may be one as we also are one.” Our Lord must have known how difficult this business of attaining unity among God’s children could be, and thus that most heartfelt plea to his Father.

We have to pray for this unity always. It can only take place through God’s grace, and so we have to continually ask for it. We should never take this petition for granted. As of now, several efforts have already been done on the part of the Church to pursue this goal, but obstacles big and small manage to find their way to mar the process.

In the meantime, it is good that all of us try to sharpen and polish our skills at dialogue and others that can help build up unity. As long as we are driven by love with its properties of understanding, patience, respect for one another, etc., we can do a lot in this department.

We have to try to eliminate those attitudes and practices that create and nurture division and conflict. Some words of St. Paul can give us concrete ideas of how to go about this point.

In his Letter to the Philippians, he says the following relevant words: “Fill up my joy by thinking alike, having the same charity, with one soul and one mind. Do nothing out of contentiousness or out of vainglory, but in humility let each one regard the others as his superiors, each one looking not to his own interests, but to those of others.” (2,2-4)

This, to me, is a great secret that can foster unity—regarding others as superior to us, making ourselves servants of the others, always humble and simple, not allowing pride, conceit and vanity to lodge in our mind and heart.

This attitude of humility and simplicity somehow cleans up our vision of things, making us truly objective of who we really are, who the others are, and what God is to all of us. It makes us follow closely the example of Christ who with his cross ¨draws all things to myself.¨ (Jn 12,32)

Our main problem is that we dare to free ourselves from God, to hew our own path independently and even going against the teachings and example of Christ, God-made-man.

With this mindset, we cannot avoid getting into the loop of self-centeredness that creates division among ourselves. Instead of bridges, we build walls. Instead of understanding and compassion, we generate self-righteousness.

Instead of loving, we get stuck at simply knowing. Thus, instead of giving ourselves to others, we expect to receive something from others. St. Paul has something relevant to say about this point: ¨Knowledge puffs up, but charity edifies.¨ (1 Cor 8,1)

We have to make sure that our pursuit for knowledge should always increase our love for God and for others, expressed in greater worship, thanksgiving, and eagerness to serve, to be patient and forgiving.

When knowledge grows sans charity, there´s no way to avoid pride and conceit, vanity and that tendency to control and dominate others. These have no other effect than resentment, division and conflict.

We have to develop the appropriate attitudes, skills and virtues in our daily affairs and dealings with everybody. We have to deepen and strengthen our attitude to eagerly understand others, even and especially when they offend us or commit some mistakes.

Our Lord told us to love our enemies. We have to stretch our love to such an extent of loving those who don´t love us, or who hate us. Like Christ, we have to be willing to bear the burden of the others, especially that burden that is called sins, offenses and mistakes.

This is actually not going against justice, because justice in the end is about sanctity, that is, identification with Christ who was willing to make himself like sin to snatch us from the grip of sin.

This is how we can aspire to attain that elusive unity among us in the normal course of our daily life. Before we think of some big enterprises to build Christian unity, let´s see to it that we have the basic attitudes and practices in place.

Monday, January 24, 2011

We need to go spiritual

WE have to be clear about this. Going spiritual is a human need, not to mention, a Christian need. It constitutes our perfection which everyone, and not just a few, should aim at. Obviously we have to help one another in this task, because it´s not easy.

We have to blare out this piece of vital truth as widely as possible these days. People seem to be unaware of it. They feel contented with simply living a sensible or rational life, acting out the full range of their emotions, instincts and passions, and guided only by the principles of practicality, convenience, popularity, etc.

We have to understand that short of the spiritual, we are left handicapped, unable to attain our ultimate goal.

Many young people, for example, untrained still in the ways of spirituality, are very vulnerable to the tricks of the flesh, the world and the devil. They are helpless before the unregulated workings of their hormones, the wild aspects of the environment, and other bad influences.

The other day, someone told me about an increasing number of young students so addicted to this so-called DOTA that they sacrifice their sleep, and from there all sorts of problems arise—lack of attention in classes if ever they manage to go to school, wasting money, etc.

From that book, Light of the World, where the Pope was interviewed, the journalist told him that a Brazilian supermodel declared that no one now enters marriage as a virgin, indicating the state of sexual immorality worldwide.

A news item highlighted an American movie dealing on the theme of promiscuity of boys and girls as young as 13. When some parents complained, the reply of the producers was that the movie simply reflected what is actually taking place among these boys and girls today.

We don’t have to look far to see the dearth of spirituality around. There’s a lot of frivolity, deception, vanity, sensuality, etc., etc., around us. Everyone is constantly teased and titillated with sensual images and worldly, materialistic values. The spiritual life is left to starve and die a slow death.

Just recently, while waiting for my boat ride in the terminal, I was surrounded by a group of young boys and girls. And from their words and behaviour, one can readily notice that spiritual life is all but absent.

Of course, they were still young boys and girls. It’s very easy to understand them. We all passed through the same stage. But this can also happen to the not-so-young and, in fact, to everyone else. Thing is we should not just allow this state of affairs to go on. We have to do something about it.

We have to learn the way of spirituality—how to pray, to offer sacrifices, to know the value of the sacraments and the virtues, the art of ascetical struggle, how to behave with propriety in public, etc. These are things that should not just be confined to spiritual books and practiced by a few people. Everyone in his own way has to learn these things.

We have to know how to infuse our thoughts, words and actions with faith, hope and charity. A trace of refinement and an abiding concern for one another always mark our behaviour when spirituality is lived. An eagerness to understand one another, to forgive and help others bear their burdens characterize a spiritualized lifestyle.

We have to bust the many myths about the impracticality or irrelevance of the spiritual life. One is that spiritual life is an optional, not necessary, thing. It truth, our spirituality is the most necessary element of our life, one that gives over-all meaning and direction to our life. It’s where our freedom is exercised to the full.

Going spiritual is the goal everyone of us should target. For this, everyone has to be involved. Obviously the clergy takes the lead part, but all the others also should do their part—parents, teachers, public officials, employers, etc.

Not only is spiritual life to be cultivated by individuals in the personal order. It also has to be developed in all the other aspects of our life—social, professional, political, cultural, economic, etc. Even our various institutions have to be spiritualized. They cannot and should not just remain in the bureaucratic level.

We have to upgrade our understanding of our life. It’s true that we have to be concerned about justice, peace, economic effectiveness and political harmony, but if these are not based on a spiritual life, these things will just remain phantoms, ghosts.

Go spiritual to go essential!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Technology revolutionizes piety

LAST Christmas, someone gave me an MP4 player. It’s a small electronic gadget that stores a tremendous load of material for listening. To the young, it has become an irresistible apparatus, a must-have. It’s where they can have their fill of music in the most convenient way.

I know there are many other more powerful and sophisticated gadgets like the Ipod, Aiphone, etc., but they are still beyond my reach.

When you see a teener wired with earphones, looking hypnotized but with sudden twitches on his face or jerks in his shoulders or legs, you can be sure he is in his own world, enjoying music. He is either singing or dancing in his mind or simply dreaming.

But I have discovered that it is a good instrument to help me in my prayer. There I download the gospel, the Holy Rosary, homilies of famous saints, the psalms, etc. I’m still in the process of gathering more materials.

Instead of reading them, I just listen to them. It’s a more relaxing way of learning, thinking and praying, since it frees me from some eye and intellectual strain, and allows my mind to capture ideas more quickly and to explore them more deeply and widely.

All of a sudden, my time for driving, commuting, waiting in terminals for my boat or plane rides has acquired a more substantial and meaningful dimension. Instead of just trying to pass the time, snoozing or struggling to read and stay away from distractions, I now have a good way of keeping my mind, heart and soul in focus. I can now say goodbye to these idle time-fillers.

In fact, even in my time meant for serious study and prayer, I sometimes use it, since it facilitates things. Yes, it´s truly a blessing as long as one has mastered the appropriate discipline and has a clear sense of purpose. Otherwise, I know it will dominate me and can lead me to unknown and dangerous destinations.

This discovery has also made me realize that though we can be swimming in an ocean of images, data and information, thanks again to the high tech we have now, the media and publicity work that has gone ballistic, we can manage to get nothing, or worse, something that can actually be a sweet poison to us.

This is because things depend on how our mind works, what motivations move us, what objectives we want to pursue. If we are not properly grounded, we can appear to do a lot of things and yet end up with nothing. We can think we are gaining, when in fact we are losing.

We have to understand that the reality that governs us is not simply a physical, material reality. Neither is it only intellectual which already gives us infinite possibilities of scenarios, always malleable and ever morphing.

Our ultimate reality lies on how we develop our relation with God our Creator and Father. That´s because our spiritual faculties of intelligence and will that put us into a subjective world in the end have a beginning and an end, and these can only be God.

I just hope that we can be more aware of this truth about us. Very often, we get stuck in the physical and material dimension of our life, and then in the purely biological, emotional and psychological level.

Or we just play the game of the social, political and economic factors that also mark our life. We might simply follow the requirements of practicality, profitability and popularity, and forget about morality that tries to conform our life to God´s will.

For example, politicians may just think about what will get them more votes, at the expense of what is objectively good for the people. We have to be warned about this predicament that can likely fall on us if we are not careful.

That´s why, the tremendous practical advantages offered to us now by our growing technology, like the MP4 player, should always be related to God. We just cannot get stuck at the level of fascination because of the novelty it offers, the convenience and practicality it gives. We should relate them to God.

At the very least, we can thank God for them. After all, the human ingenuity that produced them comes from God. These new things should bring us closer to God and to one another, instead of distancing us from Him and putting us in self-absorption.

From here, let´s try to discern what God´s purpose is for these new powerful things.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Putting value added on popular piety

IN business and economics, there’s such a term as “value added” which refers to the enhancement added to a product or service by a company before the product is offered to customers.

Another term could be “innovation,” a necessary ingredient of anything that needs to grow and flow with the times. It involves creativity and inventiveness, and the knack to anticipate and discern changes in the environment. It can also involve the ability to reinvent oneself to adapt to new situations.

This is what leaders in society, entrepreneurs and other movers and shakers always think about, be they politicians, social workers, artists and entertainers, etc. It’s the game to play if one wants to stay long and continue to serve the people despite changing circumstances.

I’m impressed, for example, at some business theories and strategies developed by some insightful persons to capture opportunities that otherwise would just pass by unnoticed and unexploited.

Some of these are the “Red Ocean Strategy” and the “Blue Ocean Strategy.” In the Red Ocean market, companies compete with their rivals to grab a greater share of product or service demand. In this environment, the market rules are already set, and one just has to find a profitable niche for his product.

In a Blue Ocean market, demand is created rather than fought over. The market rules are still to be defined. A company using this strategy makes an “innovation that raises and creates value for the market, while simultaneously reducing or eliminating features or services less valued by the current market.”

The faithful of the Church, both the clergy and the laity, should somehow be familiar with these terms and the realities to which they correspond, since the Church needs to be in sync with the varying aspects, levels and circumstances of development in the world. While certain elements are permanent, many others are always in flux.

The Church is always alive and dynamic, since she is animated by the Holy Spirit. But she needs the full cooperation of her members for her to grow and nourish her own self. And so, we have to understand that we have to move on, and not get stuck at a certain level of development.

With the recent celebration of the feast of Sto Niño with its open display of the rich deposit of faith and piety among the people, we should see to it that we avoid falling into complacency, or self-satisfaction. We have to step up to the next level.

In Church history, we can remember that centuries ago, most of Europe was suffused with popular piety and religion. It was the source of many missionaries that spread the seeds of the gospel to many parts of the world.

Now, that continent is all but dried up in terms of spirituality. In its place is a deep-seated paganism and secularism where God has no more place. Religiosity is practically retreating again to the caves and deserts, the catacombs and the ghettos. How this happened should be a great lesson for us to learn.

We in our country should try to avoid this dark possibility. And we can manage to do just that if we continually rouse ourselves from spiritual lukewarmness, and keep ourselves increasingly hot in our spiritual lives. We need to be more consistent in our pursuit for personal sanctity.

We have to constantly ask ourselves, what can we do to go to the next level of our own personal spiritual life, and to improve the quality of religion in our society? We should not be blind to the challenges that are right before us. We have to remember that in our spiritual life, there is no limit to growth and development.

The young need to be truly grounded on the faith. Progress and development, now accelerating because of technological advances and the spreading global networking, need to be related and oriented toward our ultimate supernatural goal. They just cannot remain in the worldly and temporal level.

How can we effectively engage our friends and people in general so that they learn to turn their minds and hearts, their work and other earthly affairs to God?

Pope Benedict is nowadays talking a lot about a new evangelization that should be carried out by all the members of the Church. What are we doing to attain this objective?

Obviously, a lot of things need to be done. We just have to help one another in discovering the value added, the innovations and creativity, we need to go on.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Carried away by people´s piety

IT´S good that the devotion to the Sto. Niňo is strong and deep in the Philippines, especially in Cebu. With the celebration of his solemnity recently, we are once again blown away with joy and gratitude at how this expression of popular piety is nourishing and strengthening our soul as a people.

There is something mysterious in this devotion, simply because it defies all human logic. Instead of waning, it is waxing. Time has not weakened it. Rather, time seems to give it more space and material to build up.

Instead of deteriorating into superstition, it is gaining doctrinal purity. It´s, of course, a give-and-take and tentative affair yet, just like anything in this life, but on the whole it´s quite set on a stable path of development as far as popular piety goes.

Not only the poor, the young, the curious, and the simple are captivated by the Sto. Niňo, but also the rich, the not so young, the experienced and the sophisticated are kind of hooked to it. You don´t see his images only in the jeepneys, taxis, carinderias. They can be seen given a prominent place in palatial residences.

In Cebu, the religious fervor given to him reaches its most intense degree. It´s all engraved or indelibly tattooed on the people´s hearts. It looks like it has affected their genetic make-up. That´s because no matter what condition and circumstance in life they may find themselves in, they are unquestionably one in their attachment to the Sto. Niňo.

The novena Masses prior to the feast—and there a good number of them in each of those 9 days—are always SROs. Imagine the solemnity itself! The atmosphere is just electric, almost surreal, as thousands of people seem transfixed in deep prayer and worship.

They gather all kinds of people. And it´s indeed moving to see the simple folks, obviously coming from far towns and provinces even, conspicuously happy to take part in the celebration. They generate such a tsunami of piety that can melt hearts made of stone and iron.

It goes without saying that hordes of people from abroad also come, be they ¨balikbayans¨ or foreigners. In this year´s celebration, the Koreans have become very visible, a very gratifying sight.

The procession switches the people´s mode from awe to an explosion of pious expressions that include the chanting of ¨Pit Senyor,¨ the waving of hands, and even singing and dancing.

Even the city´s celebration of the feast, highlighted by what´s known as Sinulog (carried away by the current), irrespective of the worldly motives that may go into it as in commercialism, tourism, business, politics, entertainment, etc., cannot erase the religious character of the whole event.

People dance to the beat of the Sinulog music, carrying little images of the Sto. Niňo, which they wave into the air and sometimes putting it close to their heart. Street dancing has never been so meaningful. I consider this as pure prayer and piety in action. It´s not anymore prayer in the lips nor in the heart and mind. It´s prayer in the flesh!

In all this, I get the sensation that the definition of the Church as a people of God in communion with Him and among ourselves is brought live right there in front of our own eyes! The doctrine is lived, not simply known. Reality acquires a deeper quality as it approaches the ideal, as it approximates what ought to be as revealed to us by our faith.

This is truly a grace from God. We just cannot attribute all this to a favorable character and temperament that we seem to have as a people. That´s what some people say. I believe there is much more. God is blessing us with a special grace for which we have to be thankful and which we have to make use of.

Perhaps, Cebu has to play a special role in keeping the Christian life of our country healthy, vibrant and fruitful. After all, Christianity entered our archipelago and put down its roots first in this island. That historical fact cannot simply be a matter of chance. Nothing happens by chance in the providence of God.

It should make us ponder about what God wants from us after giving us such a wonderul gift. We have to think along the lines of the parable of the talents to make us more aware of the responsibilities we need to carry out in God´s name. For to those given much, much also is expected.

May we learn to correspond fully to this grace!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Synching with God daily

THIS is our daily challenge and task. How to get in synch with God in our daily affairs should first of all be in our mind, since we tend to take this responsibility for granted. From there, let’s develop the relevant attitudes and skills, first individually and then later on, socially, culturally, politically, etc.

We have to graduate from a fetal or primitive level of Christian life. While it’s true that our development in the spiritual life takes a lot of stages, not to mention, tortuous turns, it should also be true that after some time of Christian living, we as a whole should have acquired a certain level of Christian maturity.

This has to be expected in any living organism. In this regard, we have to help one another. Those who are more gifted spiritually should realize that they are expected to give more.

We should try to be more apostolic, making all kinds of initiatives, like teaching catechism, etc. For this, we need to develop the virtues—prudence, fortitude, order, etc.—so that we can carry out our Christian duties properly and promptly.

We should see to it that our life of prayer is continuous all throughout the day. Let’s remember that God actually engages us in a direct, live conversation through the ordinary duties, affairs and concerns of everyday.

We should quit thinking that God intervenes in our life only on special occasions, as when we are in church, doing some spiritual exercises or attending some church activities. He is right there where are daily duties and concerns are.

God intervenes in our life all the time. We should learn to correspond to this reality, coming up with the appropriate plan to sustain us in this abiding conversation. We have to learn to feel at home with this reality.

For example, we can develop the habit of offering whatever we do to God and to the others, never letting ourselves to be held captive by our own designs and purposes only. This is actually how we ought to behave.

We can also find time for deliberate mental prayers, for reading the gospel and some spiritual books, going to Mass and confession regularly, for these practices of piety serve to build up a deep spiritual reservoir to help us through all the challenges of the day.

We can learn the art of living in the presence of God all the time, making use of some human devices to keep it alive and to prevent us from falling into routine and complacency. We have to learn how to rectify our intentions, so that all that we think, say and do are always meant for the glory of God and for serving the others.

There are many things we can do to keep ourselves spiritually alive and awake to the flowing divine interventions in our life. Again here, we have to help one another. Thus, we have to learn to give spiritual guidance, counseling and direction to the others, especially those who are close to us. We cannot neglect this duty anymore.

We too can take advantage of the different schools of spirituality developed through the centuries that have been found to be helpful to people in different situations. The lives and examples of saints, the many charisms that have enriched the Church through the ages, are a great source of help for all of us.

Let´s take some serious effort to familiarize ourselves with these varieties of spirituality and charisms, so we would have a better idea of what can fit each one of us.

We have to aim at nothing less than spiritualizing and supernaturalizing our daily work in all its stages and levels—from the personal to the social, from the local to the global, from the sacred to the mundane.

In fact, we need to spiritualize and supernaturalize our whole life, for that is how our life is meant to be. We should not get contented with purely human and natural goals—like more wealth, power, fame or merely socio-political and economic progress and development, etc.

We are meant for a lot more. Let’s not cheapen our true dignity. Let´s remember what our Lord told us, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?” Yes, we are meant for something greater than mere worldly perfection.

Synching ourselves with God daily should be pursued with no let up. This is what God wants for us to which we have to correspond as best we can.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Church leadership

THE question of Church leadership has come again to our attention with no less than Pope Benedict describing his work in the new book, “Light of the World.”

Leadership, of course, is a very dynamic phenomenon that needs to be studied and learned thoroughly. And of all kinds of leadership, it’s leadership in the Church that takes the lion’s share in any effort to master it.

But ironically enough, the secret of Church leadership does not lie mainly on one’s own strength and vision, but on his capability to follow and to serve, on his ability to be vitally united to Christ and to everyone else. For this, it might be good to recall some words of Christ.

It’s found in the gospel of St. Matthew, Chapter 23, where our Lord talks quite a bit about how one ought to lead, what attitude to cultivate, and what dangers to avoid. It’s worthwhile to go through his words again, which run in this way:

“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do, for they preach, but do not practice.

“They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves will not move them with their finger.

“They do all their deeds to be seen by men, for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and the salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men.

¨But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren...He who is greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.¨ (2-12)

It´s quite clear how Church leadership, if it has to follow the leadership of Christ, has to be. A Church leader is a servant, whose master is Christ, and because of Christ, he has to serve the people.

The privileges he enjoys because of his office and because of our human condition should never detract from this core, irreducible truth that he is meant to serve, echoing Christ´s ¨I came not to be served but to serve.¨

Thus, the more privileges attached to one´s office, the more demanding he has to be in giving himself to God and to the others. If because of our human limitations, this self-demand cannot be done externally, then one has to make sure that he does it internally, in an increasingly intense way.

This is always a tricky position that needs to be constantly examined, since our tendency is always to get spoiled by the perks of power, wealth and fame. The wiles of this world can be so subtle that we can play the devil´s game even in the name and appearance of goodness and holiness.

Pride can mimic humility. Conceit can wear the mask of piety. We need to be brutally frank about ourselves, baring ourselves completely to God and to the extent that prudence dictates, also to the others, so that we drive away any trace of vanity and earthly attachments that can compromise Church leadership.

Since the Church is by nature a communion with God and a communion among ourselves, leadership in it will always have elements of collegiality and participativeness.

Yes, there may be one person who occupies a Church position, but for that position to function well, due attention should be given to the demands of collegiality and participativeness.

A Church leader should be the first to live what he preaches. He always needs to be vigilant so that that consistency of life, a consistency grounded on his union with God, is not weakened.

One common complaint of people against some Church leaders is precisely the inconsistency between their words and their deeds, what they profess and how they live.

For sure, this task of keeping that unity of life is no easy task. It requires first of all God´s grace, which we always have to beg, and then a merciless, continuing effort to be always true and faithful to God´s will.

That´s why a Church leader always prays and begs assistance from God, and asks the others to pray for him and to help him even to the extent of making suggestions and corrections, all done in prudence.

May we develop a culture that is purified from the contaminating influence of a worldly understanding of Church leadership!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Charity perfects connectivity

IT´S good that there is a growing sense of connectivity that is now palpable these days. One just has to look around and realize how the steady crawl of linkages among persons and entities in different levels of society is developing.

Technology, for sure, has a lot to do with it. The mobile phone, the Internet, the social network systems, etc., are quickening the pace of communication. With them, we can get in touch with practically anyone in any part of the world.

In a way, these modern means of communication have an equalizing effect on the people. That´s because even if there are several grades and levels involved, the fact remains that they have a much larger coverage than previously known. A lot more people are drawn into the communication loop now than before.

Together with this technological angle is, of course, a growth in the sensitivity of people, especially the young ones and even the old, retired ones, toward the need to communicate.

I´m amused to see both my very young nephews and nieces and my rather elderly aunties, already pushing 80, quite adept especially in the social network. I suspect they are the ones that keep the lines abuzz, or the cyberwaves clogged. All of sudden, the world has become much smaller, and more people, despite distance and age, get close to each other.

In schools, young students are continually taught the many possibilities of the new technologies. Innovations keep on popping up, providing people with still more ways to communicate.

Obviously, the big guys are also happy with these developments. Those in business and politics, those trying to monitor social and cultural changes, etc., derive great benefit from these novel things.

And it´s truly heartwarming to note that not only the pace but also the quality of business and politics is improving. That´s because with these gadgets the potentials of participative government are unleashed. Both politicians and citizens, businessmen and consumers, are now more sensitive to the requirements of the common good.

Let´s hope this trend goes on, without forgetting that there is also a need to be vigilant over abuses and other bad effects, usually unintended, that can spoil this development. We have to remember to practice some kind of restraint and moderation in the use of these new gadgets. They can lead us to some info overload that would not be healthy to us.

In this regard, it might be helpful to remind ourselves that the real and proper motor to drive and guide us in this new waters of communication is charity. Let´s not disparage that truth, again considering it as something irrelevant to our current state of development.

Charity can never become obsolete nor useless. It cannot and should not be held as something so other-worldly that it can have nothing to do with our earthly, mundane affairs. In fact, the opposite is true.

Charity is the very soul of our life and everything in it—our thoughts, words and deeds, our business, politics and all kinds of human dealings. It is what brings all these things to their proper foundation, their proper end, and to their proper ways.

We need to disabuse ourselves from the erroneous mentality, sadly quite common these days, of considering charity as impractical. This is actually the main problem we have now. We tend to view things almost exclusively from the practical point of view, as if everything depends on practicality.

Charity demands more things from us precisely because we are not mere animals who happen to be rational and who are just ruled by the law of practicality. We are persons and children of God, meant to enter to a real communion of life and love with God and with everybody else.

Charity tells us more things about what we need to communicate and how to do it. It equips us with a greater sensitivity that lets us fathom deeper things in persons and events. It enables us to understand and to take advantage of sufferings in this life, and of the many negative things that can come to us—our mistakes and failures, our sins, etc.

Charity links us ultimately to God, our last and final end.

Practicality is incapable of doing these things. It tends to treat us not as persons but as objects to be used. We have to be wary of this tendency that seems to afflict us these days like a sweet poison that we gladly take everyday.

It´s time that we sit down and make a serious inventory of the requirements of charity.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Turning work into contemplation

WE need to learn this skill of turning our work, both big and small, into prayer and an abiding conversation with God. If we are to be consistent to our faith that our life is supposed to be a life with God, then we have to know how to make our daily affairs an occasion for keeping a living relationship with God.

There should be a streaming awareness that we are with God even when we are doing the most mundane activities. This is the goal that we should try to reach, overcoming what separates our life from the life of God. While it’s true that there is distinction between the two, there’s supposed to be unity between them.

This affirmation has basis. It’s not gratuitous. It is founded on the truth that God made us his image and likeness, and children of his, meant to participate in his very own life. That’s his will. That’s the reality.

In the first place, God is everywhere. We don’t have to look far to find him, since he is at the very core of our being. If we keep ourselves humble and simple, allowing the faith to work in us, we will realize that even in our inmost thoughts and feelings, we will always find him. We may not totally understand him, but we know he is with us.

The big task we need to do is how to keep ourselves humble and simple, so that faith can work effectively in us. Our problem is that we tend to be proud, to be self-sufficient, to think that we ultimately are our own being. We tend to think that our relationships with others and with God, while convenient, are not necessary.

The task involves the constant effort to be humble and simple, allowing our faith to have full play in us, converting us into contemplatives, seeing God and being with him even while working, and even when we are immersed in the middle of our worldly affairs.

We would understand that God is also in our earthly and temporal concerns, since after all everything comes and belongs to him. Even if we mess up his work, and go against his providence, God always manages to be in everything, and does everything to bring us back to him.

But we need to cooperate, because as St. Augustine once said, while God created us without us, he cannot save us without us. We need to correspond to this will of God in freedom and love for us to return to him.

We just have to do everything to put ourselves into this dynamic orbit of God’s life and love. We need to be convinced of this truth of faith, and from there develop the necessary attitudes, skills and virtues to achieve the goal meant for us.

Since work is a daily activity for us, one major part of becoming contemplatives is to turn our work into prayer. This can happen if we develop the habit of doing mental prayer everyday, studying the doctrine of Christ and of the Church, especially about how work is vital link we have with God.

Mental prayer allows us to create the proper mind frame we need to sustain our effort to become contemplatives all throughout the day. In a manner of speaking, that’s where we see the relevant principles and helpful theories we need to put our desire into practice.

Relevant testimonies of saints are aplenty, giving us concrete examples of how to proceed in that plan to become contemplatives. In this regard, we can cite some words of saints that are derived from their own experiences.

St. Josemaria Escriva said: “We start with vocal prayers… First one brief aspiration, then another, and another…till our fervor seems insufficient, because words are too poor…then this gives way to intimacy with God, looking at God without needing rest or feeling tired.”

We also need to practice interior mortification, disciplining our mind, heart and senses, so they learn to be recollected and to focus their attention on God and the things of God.

Even in our intense work, we can still contemplate God, because if we offer that work to God, then it does not separate us from God. St. Thomas Aquinas said:

“When of two things the first is the reason for the second, the attention of the soul to the second does not hinder or lessen its attention to the first.” This is how we can turn our work, no matter how intense, into contemplation.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Verbum Domini

THAT’S the title of a recent Vatican document, officially described as a post-synodal apostolic exhortation of Pope Benedict, a fruit of the 2008 Synod of Bishops that took up the theme of the Word of the Lord, which is what Verbum Domini means.

It’s a long document, obviously not easy to read especially for the ordinary Juan in the street. But I must say that it’s a relevant work that all of us should try to study and understand.

That’s because the Word of God, if we follow by our faith, is the very foundation of all reality. St. John said it in the prologue of his gospel, “All things were made by him (God’s Word), and without him was made nothing that was made.”

If we believe that, we can never exaggerate the importance of God’s Word in our life. Nothing less than compromising our ability to know and get in touch with reality happens if we dare to separate ourselves from the orbit of the divine word.

And so, hard as it may be, we just have to try to plow this up-to-now wild ground of understanding God’s Word, hoping it becomes soft enough for us to plant the seed of our Christian life, cultivate it to maturity, and avoid getting lost in the seas and mountains of the world.

We cannot deny the fact that for many people, the Word of God as the foundation of reality is hardly known, let alone, lived. Many think it’s simply reason, science, ideologies that constitute the ultimate basis of reality.

There is a lot of clarification and correction to be done in this fundamental aspect of our life. The task will not be easy. It will be accompanied by a lot of debate and dispute, expectedly acrimonious. But it will just have to be done.

The document provides a good material for this purpose. That’s why it really has to be studied, understood and disseminated. Hopefully, biblical scholars and the clergy would take the lead. Schools and centers of higher learning should be tapped.

Toward that end, I plan to make a series of commentaries, perhaps dedicating one column a month. At least, they can serve to acquaint readers of the salient features of the document.

A portion in that document tells us, for example, what the Word of the Lord can refer to. It strikes me as very interesting and enlightening, since most of the time we simply mean the Bible when we think of the Word of God.

That part tells us that the Word of God has an analogical sense, as contrasted to a univocal meaning. That is to say, it can admit of a number of meanings, and can refer to a number of things other than just the written book.

We have to remember that our knowledge of God is also analogical, since we cannot fully put the essence of God into just one word or concept. We can define God, alright, but it’s a definition that is very dynamic and open-ended, and we use human concepts that need to be stretched to infinity.

When Moses, for example, asked the voice in the burning bush who he was, the reply was simply, “I am who am.” God, that voice, cannot be confined and frozen into a single word.

So we use many concepts to describe and define God, purifying them of their limitations and stretching the relevant parts to the infinite to apply them to God. We just try to blend them together to approximate the essence of God.

God is love, St. John defines divinity. But then again to define love is to engage in an endless spiral, since love has endless aspects even if its core essence can be identified.

The same with what we mean by the Word of the Lord. The document says that the term can have a number of meanings that are interrelated. It can refer to the Second Person (¨Logos¨) of the Blessed Trinity; to Jesus Christ, the Son of God who became man, and started to preach.

It can also refer to the “book of nature,” since every creature exists through God’s Word and somehow proclaims it. It also refers to the preaching of the apostles now handed down to us through Tradition.

It also refers to the written Sacred Scripture, or the Bible, that has to be read not merely as a book but precisely as the Word of the living God.

To integrate them properly, the living faith of the Church is made as the primary setting.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Ad astra per aspera

THAT means “to the stars through difficulties or hardwork,” more or less. It simply reminds us that if we want nice things in life like progress, development, wealth, health, etc., we have to work hard for it. In short, avoid good, easy life.

I’m happy that many schools have adopted this as a motto. I just hope that they manage to inculcate this very important value to the students. Through the years, I’ve verified how students who study and work hard really succeed, while those floating in “good life” sink sooner or later.

This seems validated when we consider the current world situation. Many so-called developed countries that have been having a good time for decades are now in deep crisis, while many poor countries accustomed to hard life are emerging to be potential saviors of the floundering rich economies.

We are witnessing these days dramatic shifts of power and reversals of fortunes in many parts of the world. And I can’t help but note that behind these painful changes is the wanton violation of the principle “ad astra per aspera.”

I have read that in France, for example, the government decision to extend the retirement age from 60 to 62 as a fiscal measure to mitigate their economic crisis, was met with stiff, violent protests from the people

In England, where a veritable welfare state is ruling their educational system, similar protests also erupted against the proposal to cut down on educational subsidies. There are worse examples in many European countries.

That´s because when people get used to easy life, it is very hard to break away from it when finally needed. It´s like an addiction. To treat it, one has to proceed with extreme caution but with unwavering determination.

In the US, efforts to solve their grave economic problems through bailouts and stimulus spending have so far failed to achieve the desired results. The reasons are many, but all that reflect a spoiled mentality of entitlements and privileges.

It’s feared that the US will not only suffer a single dip in recession, but a double dip, a double whammy. Remember that they have been playing around the financial markets for so long, creating a bubble and a fantasy world for a while until things cannot be put up anymore.

Meanwhile, some serious studies, reported in very respectable media outlets like Bloomberg and The Economist, claim that big and relatively young and productive population in China and India are driving their economies forward, while the dwindling population in Europe are giving them nightmares.

They also mentioned that what can save the US now is their relatively young and productive population profile as compared that in many parts of Europe.

This should alert us of the danger in our mindless effort to approve the RH Bill. To all intents and purposes, that bill will reconstitute our healthy attitude toward population. It will put the contraceptive mentality in place, and will make us fear babies and people. It will set us up for a big fall in the future.

We should learn precious lessons from what is unfolding in many places these days. The most basic lesson is that we should always take care of our fundamental values and virtues. We have to remain humble, simple, pious and hardwired to work and to serve, with no fear of effort and sacrifice.

Let´s bury our tendency for self-pity and our fascination for comfort, convenience, wealth, fame, power, etc. Just pray and work, and if we get tired of it, then let´s work and pray.

This does not mean we will have a poor and sad life here. On the contrary!Life will be rosier that way, mind you. This is the sure formula for true human success and development.

Remember what Christ said. We need to enter by the narrow gate, because the big and wide one leads to perdition. We have to continually deny ourselves and carry the cross, because our damaged DNA tends to get spoiled with every blessing and favor we receive.

This lifestyle is also compatible with dignity and elegance, the real ones, not the ridiculous imitations. We have to be wary of the hyped images and messages transmitted in the media and public opinion, since they tend to be confusing if not downright false.

When appeals for goodness and development are not based on God, when there seems to be an allergy to include religion in our earthly affairs, we have to be very suspicious. For centuries, we´ve been had. Let´s wake up!