Thursday, March 31, 2011

God amid the clutter

FINDING God amid the clutter and tangles characteristic of our modern life is one of the skills we have to learn these days, and fast. The accelerating flow of data, info, interests, concerns, etc., make it imperative that we find ways to be connected with God and not to lose our proper bearing.

The other day I saw someone literally entangled with the products of today´s digital culture. He was driving, he was untangling the wires of his earphone, he tried to open his Ipad, his cellphone rang, he responded by a remote gadget, he dictated his insurance policy number...whew. What a life!

Images like this are now common. The new technologies that are supposed to make life easier have managed to make life busier and tenser. People from all walks of life have come to me confiding more or less the same predicament in their work places and even in their homes.

Pressures have mounted, challenges and problems have multiplied. From some medical journals I learned that the number of cases of nervous illness, largely due to our frenetic lifestyle now, has also increased.

There must be a way to keep things and our life in general calmer, more orderly and more focused.

For this, our Christian faith gives a basic answer. It´s found in the Gospel of St. Luke, where our Lord clearly says: ¨He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.¨ (11,23)

We need to understand that putting order into our life, acquiring the proper sense of priority and dominion over things, are a matter of being vitally united with God through Jesus in the Holy Spirit. In this, there are no ifs and buts, no middle ground, no compromise.

It is not just some smart management techniques that can do this. At best they help, but precisely as aids amd as supports, but not as the main source of the virtues we are trying to have. For these virtues, we need God.

Without God, it is also quite clear what can happen. Our view of things would be shallow and narrow, often reduced to what is immediately beneficial and relieving at least for a while. We would be prone to pressures and to give knee-jerk reactions to things.

Without God, we would not understand the value of suffering and of the cross, which in our Christian faith, are vital in our life. We, in fact, would run away from them, missing precisely the very element that is supposed to complete and perfect our humanity.

We have to learn to find God in today´s world of clutter, tangles, embroilments, etc. What can help is when one tries to develop and keep a sober and serene character, given more to thinking and reasoning rather than to get easily excited and swept up by events.

A temperament that lends itself easily to analyzing and planning while at the same time not averse to make prompt decisions and to take action would be a great gift. But whatever character and temperament one may have, it is the life of prayer, of constant dealings with God that matters ultimately.

When this life of prayer is realistically supported by a well-defined plan of pious exercises spread throughout the day, week, month and year, and nourished by proper doctrine and recourse of the sacraments, plus an ongoing effort to develop and polish virtues, then finding God in today´s mess would be a breeze.

When these things are done, one would find it easy to see the vital link of whatever he is doing, no matter how mundane, with God. He will always have a constant source of impulse for renewal and conversion that are always needed to cope with the demands of the times.

In effect, he will see God in everything, in everyone and in every situation, whether humanly good or bad, whether big or small. He would be a contemplative even in the midst of the hustle and bustle of modern life. This lifestyle would be second nature to him.

It´s truly important that everyone be properly equipped spiritually, first of all, to be able to face the challenges of life today in a realistic and effective manner. We cannot leave this aspect of our life behind while we give our all to our economic or technological progress. That would be a monstrosity, an absurd, lopsided way to pursue our development.

We need to improve our spirituality and life of piety without compromising our responsibilities in the world!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Humility and power

THEY have to go together. Power, with its corrupting potentials, is in great need of humility. And humility, properly lived, always has a certain power that can go beyond human recognition and even shorn of power’s earthly trappings.

This pair should not be decoupled in our mind nor in our deeds, because in the will of God, in the ultimate reality of things, humility and power are meant for each other. Disaster can surely come when the two are separated.

We need to bring this piece of truth to public notice, since it seems it is not only ignored but is also increasingly denied and ridiculed, especially by our leaders, whether in politics, business, etc.

The world culture seems to make the two not only strangers to each other, but opponents as well. This is a dangerous drift that can only end up in a calamity, not so much in the physical and material sense as in the spiritual.

Human civilization would enter the dreaded stage of decadence and eventual death when no regular correctives are made in this delicate relationship between humility and power. Its needed renewal would be denied and its growth arrested when we persist in living our humility and power in the wrong way.

The example of God, as shown by our faith, is quite clear in this regard. His tremendous power of creation which could be carried out in an instant, in just an utterance of a word, has to contend with a long and serpentine process of gestation, birth, development, decay, death then gestation again…

Especially in the case of man, on whom God took the risk of giving powers similar to his, God has to contend with the humbling possibility of us abusing these powers.

And even when that possibility became a reality, God’s power did not lessen since he had the will to recover us by sending us his Son to make things right again. This took place by way of the most humbling and painful death of Christ on the cross.

St. Paul expressed this truth very beautifully when he said that Christ “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men…He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.” (Phil 2,7-8)

In Christ’s death on the cross, we see the perfect blending of humility and power. This is the model followed by all the saints and the men and women of good will who actually wielded power in humility and left tremendous effects on the world that can’t be measured simply in economic or political terms.

Mary’s example validates this truth best. When she said in the Magnificat, “He has regarded the humility of his handmaid, and behold all generations shall call me blessed,” she simply described how she lived her power as the Mother of Christ in humility, and what effects it made.

Even in our human affairs, we can readily detect the close, mutual relationship between humility and power. Unless affected by malice and other undue schemes, we can readily detect that the pursuit and possession of power, whether in terms of knowledge, health, wealth, fame, political status, etc., can only be made possible and be enhanced when done in humility.

To be a doctor or lawyer or digerati, there’s no way but to study hard, do a lot of practice, and attend to a hundred and one of activities. This is humility in action. It’s what attracts power in its various forms to us, and maintains and exercises it properly.

We cannot learn anything unless we are humble. Our prayer cannot prosper, cannot touch base with God, with the Spirit, when it is not done in humility. We cannot exercise political power properly, nor enjoy the true benefits of whatever fame and wealth we may have, if these are not lived in humility.

Again, even in some vain pursuits like beauty and physical strength and wellness, we would be willing to undergo humbling processes and difficult regimen of diets and exercises and some medical procedures.

We need to understand that humility and power should never be separated if we want to keep our human and Christian dignity intact, and if we want to contribute to the common good.

Nowadays, there’s a great need to remind everyone about this truth. More, there is a great need to establish the appropriate culture with the relevant structures and ways that highlight and bring to reality the truth about the necessary marriage between humility and power.

Let’s take the necessary steps.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Law, yes; legalism, no

A SIDELIGHT in the RH Bill issue that is gaining public interest is that ordinance of the Ayala Alabang Village that seeks to regulate the availability of contraceptive materials. It so happens that the same ordinance is now being copied by other barangays in Luzon, and so, the controversy thickens.

The brouhaha actually surfaces a more important aspect of life, and that is none other than the interplay between legality and morality, man’s laws and God’s laws. This is an area prone to a lot of problems.

For one, there is an emerging attitude of considering any reference to God in the making of our laws as completely out of place. How this mindset came to be is quite a mystery to me, since as far as I can see, the ultimate basis of our laws should be God’s laws.

Of course, we are now in some secularized and Godless world, and thus, we should not be all too surprised when we meet anomalies like this not only in the streets, but also in our lawmaking congresses worldwide. Some would ask, how would we ever know that such and such is the law of God?

So, some of our legal minds are held captive by what is known as legal positivism. That’s purely human law with God having no place in it. Unfortunately, in some so-called developed countries and among some of our bright minds, this narcissistic anomaly reigns supreme.

There are also people who may not openly profess atheism and agnosticism, but put God in brackets when they pursue their temporal affairs, like making laws and ordinances. They consider God a drag, a bother or an embarrassment in law-making. At best, they give him only some formalistic references, but no more.

This is actually a common problem. While we need to have law and a whole legal and judicial system to regulate our life in society, what we don’t need is legalism, or the distortion and abuse of our man-made legal system.

We are, of course, vulnerable to this predicament, since man’s intelligence and free will can take tortuous turns that in the end are determined by how our heart tilts—either toward God or is it just stuck with our own selves?

Apropos of this point is what St. Paul once said about freedom: “You have been called unto freedom. Only do not make freedom an occasion to the flesh, but by charity of the spirit, serve one another.” (Gal 5,13) St. Peter said something similar when he said we should not make freedom a cloak for malice. (cfr 1 Pt 2,16)

That´s why Christ told us to be most faithful to his word. ¨"Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." (Mt 5,19)

When our freedom is not acknowledged as coming from God and therefore, for God, when it is not lived in charity for the others as God wants it, then we can make laws and ordinances that cater to our own ideas, and not anymore God’s, of who we are and of how we are supposed to behave, etc.

We can abuse our freedom and use it to pursue what we want, even to the point of disobeying God. This abuse of freedom and of the other gifts of God to us is rampant these days. That’s why we have many brilliant people entangled in their own web of conceit and pride.

In this RH Bill-related Ayala Alabang ordinance, for example, it is claimed that some sector of the Catholic Church is imposing their option on others, and therefore, unconstitutional.

How that conclusion was arrived at is again a mystery to me. I suppose we can look at things in different ways and through different lenses. If one is not clear about the intrinsic evil of contraception, not to mention abortion to which the RH Bill is bound to approve one day, if experience of other countries is to be considered, then anything that regulates or restrains the use of contraceptives would be viewed negatively.

Some so-called legal luminaries are questioning this ordinance when in fact other RH-related ordinances that favor contraceptives not only regulate and promote but rather impose the use of contraceptives.

In this RH Bill issue, we are not mainly concerned about the legalistic intricacies involved. We are more concerned about the morality of such bill.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Today’s missionary

WE have to make some drastic updating of our understanding of what a missionary is. We should not get stuck with the common, textbook idea that a missionary is usually a priest or nun who goes to a far-away place, and literally starts a settlement there.

While this concept of a missionary is still valid—it will always be—it now cries to be expanded to reflect its true character, especially given today’s fast-moving and more complicated world.

We have to understand that everyone, by virtue of his sheer humanity and much more, his Christianity, is called to be a missionary, and that he does not need to go to distant lands because his immediate environment already needs a more effective, down-to-earth evangelization.

Yes, even the ordinary guy in an office, the farmer, the businessman, the politician, the entertainers, artists and athletes, are called to be missionaries. That’s simply because as persons with a prominently social dimension in our life, we have to be responsible for one another.

And the biggest responsibility we can have for the others would be their moral and spiritual welfare, much more than just their economic or social wellbeing. It is this responsibility that we have to learn how to be more serious about and more competent in fulfilling. This is the current situation and challenge to all of us.

And so we have to reconcile ourselves with the reality that we actually have to be missionaries right where we are. In fact, I would say that to go to the deserts of Africa or the forests and rivers of Brazil could be far easier to do, since in these places we only have to contend more with physical and material difficulties.

The people in these isolated areas may exhibit primitive violent attitudes, but their minds and hearts can easily be converted by simple and elemental gestures of goodness. This has always been the experience of missionaries who went to these places.

It’s rather in the paved jungles of the big cities inhabited by very sophisticated people immersed in very worldly things where the more demanding kind of missionary work is needed.

In these places, the people tend to be so confined to their own world, already made beautiful and comfortable by the new technologies, such that any talk about spiritual and supernatural realities, especially about prayer, sacrifice and the need for the sacraments, could easily fall on deaf ears.

These urban dwellers may not openly profess atheism or agnosticism. They can even show many acts of piety, and can even show off some good work. And this is the more difficult part, precisely because with that condition they can think they are already ok insofar as religion is concerned.

But it is quite clear that their minds and hearts are not with God, nor with the others. When scrutinized, their behavior can indicate clear traces of pragmatism motivated not so much by love for God or for others as by self-love.

Thus, they find it hard to resist temptations and can easily fall into sin, though most of the time the sins are internal and hidden. But precisely that hidden condition can lend itself to more complications, developed in a gradual and steady way, since the need for correction would hardly be felt.

This can lead to a slow and imperceptible desensitizing of consciences. The signs of complacency, lukewarmness and mediocrity readily appear. The taste for prayer and sacrifice starts to disappear. And worse stages can come later, as in total loss of faith and open opposition to God.

We have to be wary of the gathering forces of earthly things, as typified by the accelerating inflow of new technologies, that can harden people’s vulnerabilities, and lead them to find rationalizations for this predicament.

As today’s missionaries, we have to do battle in this kind of arena. In the words of Pope Paul VI, we have to “reach and as it were overturn with the force of the Gospel the standards of judgments, the interests, the thought-patterns, the sources of inspiration and lifestyles in contrast with the word of God and his plan for salvation.”

As today’s missionaries, we cannot remain with a shallow and partial understanding of our faith. Much less can we be left with an anemic spiritual life. We need to be vibrant and strong, knowledgeable not only with the faith, but with the practical ways of the men and the world today.

As so many saints have testified, as today’s missionaries, we cannot be any other than another Christ, if not Christ himself!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Charity should fuel social action

A FRIEND told me recently that in one assessment session about how social action is done by Catholics in many parts of the country, a disturbing observation was made by one of the leading organizers of the meeting.

His impression is that there seems to be a lot more of social action but less of charity in many of the activities organized in the name of social action. And if ever charity is invoked, it is easily equated to distribution of relief goods.

As proof, he said that many social action groups in dioceses and parishes have become virtual bureaucratic offices that just do routine administrative work without as much infusing their work with the evangelizing spirit of the gospel and orienting it toward authentic charity based on truth, justice and the common good.

They merely transact business and are quite active in looking for funding that often leads them to be beholden to groups with hidden ideological agenda inimical to authentic Church interest and gospel values.

Because of this weakness, they end up doing partisan politics and engaging in reckless campaigns on issues that are not well digested and articulated. This usually happens in rallies about mining, environment, global warming and, of course, politics.

As a result, they fall into absurd simplisms or oversimplifications of complex matters that need to be sorted out more delicately. They become opinionated and self-righteous, showing their biases and prejudices, and held captive by social and cultural conditionings.

Perhaps unwittingly, they unnecessarily alienate some people and become a divisive element in the Church. Their outlook is so black and white that they fail to give due attention to the legitimate variety and nuances of views and opinions of others.

What is worse is when they claim that their position is an act of their prophetic role in the Church as if we don´t already have enough false prophets in our midst, not to mention the overflowing scandals inflicted on the Church by some of her reckless members and leaders.

It’s important that the social action outfits in the Church structure be handled by competent people with enough broadness of mind and prudential judgments so that their work would truly serve the goals of the Church which in the end is charity—charity in action, in its most social, cultural, political and economic dimensions.

Competence here has to be understood as being nourished by theological faith, hope and charity, and done in true sanctity and piety. Otherwise, that competence will just be technical without the proper spirit, and therefore very dangerous.

When some church people act like firebrands and demagogues, mouthing slogans and showing all signs that they have a shallow, partial if not completely wrong understanding of the issues, I tremble. I also get amused, but I worry more.

At this time and age, we have to graduate from the amateurish ways of handling public issues. These should already be history, of the 70s. These should be buried with a memorial of being a wrong approach to things.

There are now more human and charitable ways that can effectively resolve these public issues. These ways respect the legitimate plurality of opinions. They listen to an interdisciplinary voice of human knowledge, sciences, culture and religion. They foster continuing dialogue and evangelization.

We have to encourage this approach that should be led by the bishops and other big people in the Church. Of course, everyone has to cooperate to keep the social action going. The Church at this age cannot be confined to strictly church quarters. It has to step into the world boldly but properly.

There’s also another thing that needs to be overcome. This is the other extreme of some churchmen who in their expertise in certain fields like law, theology, philosophy, pastoral work, etc. end up getting too specialized that they fail to see the over-all picture of things.

In the RH Bill debate, for example, there are some priests with certain specializations who get trapped in those fields and fail to see the many and obvious dangers this notorious bill contains, roundly condemned by the Pope. They end up favoring the bill.

It seems their intelligence has replaced their faith, and has distorted their prudence. They get entangled in their field of specialization that precisely needs to be purified and expanded by Christian faith. In the process they end up lending facilities to forces hostile to the Church and the gospel.

Church social action should be pro-active and systematic, not reactive and improvised, with charity as its driving principle.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

From written to living word

THIS is the challenge all of us have to face and tackle. How do we turn the written word of God into the living word that it is and should be?

For sure, the word of God is not just a set of letters, nor an idea, nor a stream of thought, no matter how brilliant they are. It is nothing less than the Son of God, the second person of the Blessed Trinity who is the self-knowledge of God himself, perfect, alive and consubstantial with the Father and the Holy Spirit, all of whom form one God.

This truth of our Christian faith may still be confined and languishing in some ivory tower, but we have to understand that it is meant for all of us, and not just to priests, nuns, monks and other consecrated persons. God’s Word (this time with a capital W) is, in fact, the very pattern of our creation, through whom everything is made.

In our case, that is, the case of man, since we have been made in God’s image and likeness and therefore somehow aware and responsible for our own continuing creation, he is sent by the Father to perfect and complete our creation with us cooperating in it.

This perfecting and completing of our creation in Christ involves the re-doing or retreading of our nature wounded by the mess we have made with the abuse of our freedom. Christ is the Word who became man to save us, to bring us back to where we really belong, to offer us the way to recover our lost dignity and reunite us with God.

Christ did this ultimately through his passion, death and resurrection that summarized all that he said and did to save us, and now made alive and always available to us through the Spirit.

This Spirit is now what animates the Church that Christ established. The Spirit makes Christ alive and transmits him vitally to the people of God that is the Church mainly through the sacraments, especially the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

But the Spirit also transmits the living Christ through the one faith that is authoritatively taught by the hierarchy headed by the Pope and the bishops, successors of Peter and the apostles who were made by Christ as the rock and the pillars of the Church.

This is where the written word of God, or the Sacred Scripture or the Bible, comes to the picture. Together with the living tradition and the power of the Magisterium or teaching office of the Church occupied by the Pope and the bishops, the Sacred Scripture is where we have this faith articulated.

But we have to understand that the Bible, especially the gospel part, is not just a written record of the past. Since it involves Jesus, who is God and man, who is forever alive and redemptive and perfective of us, the Bible just cannot be considered like another book that has a shelf life or expiration date.

The Bible will always be relevant to us as can be gleaned in these words of the Letter to the Hebrews: “The word of God is living and effectual, and more piercing than any two-edge sword, and reaching unto the division of the soul and the spirit, of the joints also and the marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (4,12)

Our attitude toward the Bible, especially the gospel part, should be that it is not just a written word, but a living word. Reading it is listening to Christ in real time. That happens when we read it properly.

Through the ages, saints and holy men and women have developed the techniques of converting the written word into the living word of God. One such method is called the “lectio divina,” that involves several stages.

There’s the “lectio,” which means reading, so we know what the biblical text say in itself. Then “mediatio,” which asks: what does the text say to me? Then comes “oratio,” or prayer, which is what we say to God in response to his word.

As consequences, we have “contemplatio,” which involves a conversion to conform our outlook to God’s vision of reality. Then lastly, “actio,” which should move us to make our life a gift for others in charity.

The “lectio divina” is just one method among many other possibilities for making the written word the living word of God. It also has to be done within the context of the Church’s faith, liturgy and life itself.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Shoot-to-kill order

SORRY for the belligerent tone of the title. But if we understand our spiritual life to be in continuing warfare, then we would know why we have to employ some military terms and tactics in our daily affairs.

There simply is an endless flow of elements, harmful to our human dignity actually, that needs to be promptly tackled, neutralized if not converted to something useful in our spiritual life. Thus, we know there are things that deserve to be given the shoot-to-kill orders. In fact, they have to be shot on sight.

I’m referring to pride mainly that can so hold us in captivity that we would not even realize it. In fact, we can enjoy it. It is such a sticky affair that it can cling to us even days after our death.

Indeed, there are now human ways meant to perpetuate a legacy of pride. Sophisticated memorials are made to sustain this heritage long past one’s death. Endowments for this purpose can be deep and extensive. Really saddening!

Obviously, we should not be rash in pointing to suspected culprits. But neither were we born yesterday. We know that pride and its cohorts are driving many memorial initiatives. It’s sad that even in the business of memory-making, pride still takes control.

In the gospel, Christ heavily laments this predicament. He once told his disciples: “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.” (Mt 23,1-2) Then he enumerated some details.

We have to be most wary even of the slightest manifestation of pride. We need to shoot it down immediately, because once it grabs on something in us, its only aim is to spread and grow like a cancer.

We have to be most wary of things like conceit, condescension, vanity, arrogance, the tendency to lord it over, etc. Nowadays, we almost do not see any instance where authority, power and their legitimate privileges are not spoiled and contaminated by pride.

There’s that disturbing impression that many politicians and other leaders believe their power and authority cannot be exercised properly unless these are infused with pride, conceit, condescension, arrogance, desire for control and perpetuity, etc.

These evils literally reign supreme in the entertainment and celebrity world and in the social networks where even the most pitiable of characters manage to show off their vanity.

We have to shoot these spiritual and moral enemies down on sight. What can help is to develop the attitude and lifestyle of thinking always of God and of the others, and forgetting oneself.

We need to pray always, to give glory and thanks to God always, and to serve others always. We have to be strict in our self-discipline, knowing how easy it is for us to get spoiled. Of course, we have to do all these with naturalness, without as much as possible attracting unnecessary attention.

Our Lord was very clear on the need for humility. He once said: “The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Mt 23,12)

And to dramatize it, he washed the feet of his apostles. The apostles were shocked. Peter at first refused to be washed, but Christ insisted. He wanted to give them a clear lesson. He said:

“If then I being your Lord and Master have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you do also.” (Jn 13,14-15)

St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians echoes the same idea which he links with the goal of building better unity and fraternity among ourselves He said:

“Let nothing be done through contention, neither by vainglory. But in humility, let each one esteem others better than themselves, each one not considering the things that are his own, but those that are other men’s.” (2,3-4)

This should be the attitude we have to cultivate in ourselves!

St. Paul concluded this piece of advice by pointing to the example of Christ who, he said, “though God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men…He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.” (6-8)

Let’s have this mind of Christ to build a wonderful world!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Giving and receiving

“FOR the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” (Lk 6,38)

For those with Christian faith, these words, which are considered divine and redemptive or perfective of our human nature, describe to us how we ought to behave with one another and ultimately with God.

A similar passage is given in the gospel of St. Mark. “In what measure you shall mete, it shall be measured to you again, and more shall be given to you.” (4,24) In another part of the gospel, our Lord promised to give a hundredfold.

Even pure human wisdom, uninfluenced by Christian faith, cannot help but echo the same idea as can be gleaned in the famous Golden Rule or the Ethic of Reciprocity: “One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.”

We have to overflow with love, with goodness, with compassion and understanding, if we too want to receive a constructive tsunami of love, goodness, compassion and understanding from God and from others. The gospel, in fact, is very graphic about this. It says:

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you.” (Lk 6,36-37)

Then it ends with a wallop by saying: “A good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap.” In other words, we have to outdo ourselves in love and goodness. For this is what loving is all about. It goes all the way, without measure nor calculation. It has to go to the brim and flow over.

Same ideas are mentioned in many parts of the gospel. In the Lord’s prayer, for example, we are told to say: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sinned against us.”

The reason for this divine indication is, first of all, because we are made out of love and for love. And love is manifested in mercy, patience and all the signs of goodness.

In short, we affirm our dignity as image and likeness of God, as persons and as children of God, when we overflow with goodness, just as God is pure goodness and love himself.

That is the reason why we have to go to God to know how to love. We did not invent love or create goodness. God has loved us first before we learn to love. And this divine love is given to us and perfected in us when God sent his Son and later the Holy Spirit.

The Son, Jesus Christ, showed us the scope and range of the love proper to us. That’s why he summarized all the commandments by giving us a new commandment, which is “to love one another as I have loved you.”

And how did Christ love us? All the way, by giving his life to us. Remember his saying: “Greater love than this no man has, that a man lays down his life for his friends.” (Jn 15,13)

God will always love us. Other men may fail to return our love with love. But even in that situation, God in Christ and in the Holy Spirit shows us how to keep on loving. St. John of the Cross expresses it very well when he said: “Where there is no love, put love and you will harvest love.”

That love of Christ by offering his life on the cross captures all the sinfulness of man and pays for it all, and then gives us the way to rise with a new life from our state of alienation from God our Father.

This is something we have to understand very well, because our current environment, where faith is ignored and reason and the senses are all we have to rely on, simply laughs and mocks at this truth about us and our life here on earth.

As Pope Benedict said recently, many people are losing faith in God and therefore are also losing their sense of sin. They simply rely on a psychological or social understanding of right and wrong. It seems the sense of good and evil now is not anymore referred to God.

This same love is offered to us by the Holy Spirit, who makes Christ alive in us, enabling us not only to remember God’s words but also to replicate Christ’s very own life in us.

Let´s be generous!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Our freedom needs Christ´s cross

THIS is, of course, a Christian view about freedom. We can have other takes on the same subject, but if we have to closely follow our Christian faith, this is what we would get. Our freedom needs the cross of Christ. Not just any other cross, which we can also invent, but the very cross of Christ.

Better said, any cross will actually do, since the cross can come to us in many forms. The only condition is that it be identified with the cross of Christ, or borne together with Christ. That would make our cross Christ´s cross also.

Christ embracing his cross is actually Christ embracing all crosses that can come our way, because that is precisely why he came. St. Paul expresses this truth in this way: ¨For our sake, he (the Father) made him (Christ) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.¨ (2 Cor 5,21)

The necessity of the cross in our life can readily be gleaned by that famous line of our Lord: ¨If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.¨ (Mt 16,24) We need to digest these divine and saving words very well, assimilate them and make them the operative principle of our daily life.

Christ´s death on the cross, which our Lord has been predicting, and therefore, must have been in the mind of God from all eternity, is a necessary ingredient in the over-all divine plan for our creation, which includes our redemption.

Let´s never forget that our creation is a matter of our whole existence, which in our case starts in time and continues indefinitely or eternally because of the spiritual dimension of our nature that is also given, by God´s will, a supernatural end. It´s not just putting us into existence. It includes keeping us in existence.

While this work of creation is in the mind of God from all eternity, insofar as we are concerned, that work of creation has to develop in time and space and in stages. Besides, that work of creation, while initiated by God without us, cannot be completed without us. It requires our cooperation in time.

To top it all, the work of our creation will have its fullness in the coming of Christ who came to redeem us through the cross. But insofar as we are concerned, we have to cooperate in the completion of our creation by following Christ through the cross, which now involves the work of the Holy Spirit. He is the one who brings Christ alive in us through time.

It´s good to have a full picture of our creation so we can have a good understanding of our life´s meaning and purpose. I know that many of us are still kind of groping in the dark in this regard, and because of that condition we become vulnerable to fascinating ideas and doctrines that actually reduces if not violates the true character of our life.

Insofar as our freedom is concerned, since it is the very gift that makes us image and likeness of God and can able us with his grace to become children of his, participating in his very own life, we have to realize that it is what precisely needs the cross of Christ.

This gift of freedom that can raise us to be Godlike or plunge us into evil needs the proper grounding and mooring that can only be supplied by the cross of Christ. Otherwise, it can readily intoxicate us and lead us to our own perdition. This happened with Adam and Eve, and continues to happen to us if we are not with Christ´s cross.

We have to understand Christ´s cross as the symbol of all our sinfulness, the abuse of our freedom, that Christ took as his own, and by dying to it following the will of his Father, Christ converts it into a vehicle of our redemption, of the completion or perfection of our creation.

This beautiful truth of our Christian faith is expressed in the following liturgical prayer, a eucharistic preface, which says: ¨You decreed that man should be saved through the wood of the cross. The tree of man´s defeat became his tree of victory. Where life was lost, there life has been restored through Christ our Lord.¨

We need to revisit these words often to recover our proper Christian bearing as we go through the exhilarating and suspenseful drama of our earthly life.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Playing the devil’s game

TWO items hijacked my attention these days. One is a women’s group’s initiative to organize Catholics for RH Bill. The other is the emerging voice that Japan’s catastrophe proves there is no God.

What a time to spring these tricks to the public! Here we are trying our best to sort out a sensitive issue and to cope with a disaster that has a potential to affect nothing less than the world order, and then come these pains in the neck!

The devil really takes no vacation, and takes advantage at every opening that comes along the way. Very typical of one who acts when the other parties are vulnerable.

Those behind Catholics for RH Bill remind me of the temptation of Eve in Paradise. When told God forbade her and Adam to eat from the fruit of a certain tree, the serpent explained:

“No, you shall not die, for God knows that when you shall eat it, your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as Gods, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3,4-5)

See how the devil cleverly twists being “as Gods” by violating the will of God himself! Those of the Catholics for RH Bill do the same. They cleverly redefine Catholics by going against the Catholic Church’s teaching.

Of course, they offer attractive arguments. But that is precisely the dynamics of demonic tricks and temptations. In the case of Eve, she looked at the forbidden tree, led by the devil. And she fell for it, because she “saw that the tree was good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold.” (Gen 3,6)

The group behind Catholics for RH Bill is the same group that has been redefining things like morality, freedom that simply caters to freedom of any choice, rights that respect only some women’s caprices, reproductive health that has nothing to do with health, and responsible parenthood and sex education that are poisonous.

We have to call a spade a spade, and nip in the bud attempts to distort things. The latest diabolical trick in this regard is the claim that those against the RH Bill are imposing a Catholic option on the others.

What nerve! Who were the ones who introduced this RH Bill in the first place? Was there a problem when it was not proposed? Were people prohibited to contracept and even to abort if they really wanted to?

People could do whatever they want. We are free. But it’s another thing when something that is wrong and immoral by nature and not just by one’s beliefs is elevated into a law of the land. That would be institutionalizing evil!

As to the atheistic rant occasioned by the very unfortunate Japan disaster, for which we really have to pray a lot for God’s help, for his mercy and strength, I think that to lose faith in God is even a greater disaster than the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear radiation themselves.

Things happen according to the nature of things themselves. In our material universe, we can expect deterioration and death in many forms because that is how material things are. They are subject to decay and eventual collapse. We somehow have to expect these eventualities and be ready for them.

We as persons who think and choose, etc., also behave in accordance to our nature. We can also choose to do good or to sin and to kill one another or our own selves, and God allows it, precisely because we are free as our nature has it.

But all these things do not prove there is no God. Granted, some events in our life are painfully mysterious. But then again, mysteries are truths that simply exceed our understanding. The reality of God is not deleted just because we fail to understand him or some tremendous things in life.

While we need to be careful and prudent in bringing God to our discussions about our crises, to bar him would be most uncalled for.

When these terrible things happen, we have to realize that we need to return to God, not to flee from him. We have to have another conversion, because all the evils of this world are due to our sins.

That’s the long and short of it. In the beginning, when sin was not yet, everything was in order, in harmony, in what is termed insofar as man was concerned as the state of original justice.

But we should not worry, because Christ came to show us how to handle our predicaments now.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Relictis omnibus

THAT’S Latin for “leaving everything behind.” I first met that expression while reading in the gospel about the call of Levi or Matthew. The relevant passage goes:

“He (Jesus) went forth, and saw a publican named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom, and he said to him: Follow me. And leaving all things, he rose up and followed him.” (Lk 5,27-28)

The first time I read it, many, many years ago, I was deeply intrigued. How could a man just leave everything behind to follow someone whom he hardly knew?

Perhaps Levi or Matthew already heard something about our Lord and must have been impressed. But to leave behind everything just to follow Christ after what seemed to be only a casual encounter is simply too much to believe!

Still that’s what the gospel narrates. And if we have faith in the gospel, then what it says there about Matthew must be true. So we just have to find other explanations.

I know that God’s grace can explain everything. We are told that with God, nothing is impossible. Still, we, being free, have the capacity to reject that grace. Cases of this possibility are also aplenty.

And so, I just settled at the thought that a special kind of grace must have been involved in this episode, together with a special, radical kind of act of faith on the part of Matthew.

Cases like this are abundant too. We can speak of God’s call to Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Moses, Jeremiah, Jonah, our Lady, St. Paul, St. Augustine, etc., etc. The list is endless, thank God, of people who responded to God’s call drastically.

It’s a thought worth pursuing further and validating in other similar cases, because I feel it will enlighten us and help us greatly in our human predicaments. I believe that in our life, many are the occasions when this kind of radical faith is asked of us, and we should be ready to give it.

Lately, I was reminded of this Latin expression because someone gave me, together with a number of priests, a gift certificate that is actually a memorial plan. It was my first time to receive such gift, and I did not know what to think about it.

It took me a while to accept it, knowing that one day, it will be my turn to go, and that it would be nice if the departure would not create very heavy burden to others. I realize that we have to leave someday, that we actually would leave everything behind.

It was a sobering thought that reminded me of what the Book of Job once said: “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return…” (1,21) Many other similar passages came pouring. From the Letter to the Hebrews, for example, we have: “Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come.” (13,14)

I suppose we have to learn to live each day as if it were the last. That’s the ideal thing to do. We have to learn to live in such a way that we can go anytime, that we can leave behind everything without regret or remorse as much as possible.

With all the earthquakes, the tsunamis, the radioactive explosions and other earth-shaking calamities taking place these days, we better learn how to reconcile ourselves to the possibility that we have to leave everything behind sooner than we think.

This means that we have to develop a vision of life that spans beyond time and space, and goes all the way to eternity from where we came from and to where we ultimately belong.

This means that we ought to know what truly is necessary and essential in life so as not to be uselessly distracted or, worse, dangerously entangled with earthly things that will be left behind. It’s faith, hope and charity, and not money, nor political power or fame.

This task, I know, is not going to be easy, because at the moment, the mainstream mentality is almost invincibly earth-bound and time-bound. And there’s a drift toward indifference to the truth of faith about our life after death. Many people nowadays think that our life is just here on earth and that it ends in death.

Even many of those who profess the Christian faith prefer that things be other than what the faith tells us. They just resign to that faith, abdicating their duty to live and defend it.

There is a need to learn to live the “relictis omnibus” everyday.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Praying with Mary

YES, we need to pray with Mary. Contrary to what may be largely implied by our seemingly mainstream attitudes and actuations in these dizzying times, Mary has not fallen obsolete in our life. If anything, she has acquired greater relevance.

We have to find a way to be near her and intimately close to her. We need to learn how to read her mind and catch the slightest insinuations she makes, because all these are tremendous help in our spiritual life.

That’s precisely because with all the bombardment of things we are subjected to these days, Mary, the Mother of Christ who gave her to us to be our mother too, shows us how to be spiritual and supernatural in the midst of our glutting human affairs.

Let’s remember that the present mad race to technological progress can stimulate us wrongly, pressuring us to succumb to mindless activism and to drift to uncharted territory guided only by ignorance, confusion if not outright error.

In this way, she shows us how to live our life to the full, not reduced to the purely earthly and material levels. She shows us how to fall in love properly, since love is why we have been created, the principle that gives meaning and direction to our life. And to think that there are endless bogus versions of love!

This she does through the ordinary things of our daily life. She tells us that we don’t need big things and extraordinary circumstances to acquire the love proper to us. It’s in the little things of our day where the seeds and the opportunities of true love are found.

She is indeed a great beacon of light for us to see the whole picture of the meaning and purpose of our life. She leads the way that brings us both to God and to all other men. She teaches us how to properly cruise in this world of ours, now whirring in accelerated action.

Her way of simplicity and humility, of abiding focus on our Lord, of constant and prompt obedience and docility to God’s will, ever repeating her initial response of “Fiat” (Be it done to me according to your word), etc. is the clear highway for us to be with God and with everybody else, and how to use earthly things.

The way she was and continues to be has always proven that she attracts God to her, and that whatever she asks for from God, God cannot deny. Remember the miracle of the wedding at Cana. Christ could not refuse her request.

Mary’s unique role in our faith, in our economy and history of salvation, makes her both the Mother of God and our Mother. Many people do not understand that, and right now, I’m in no mood to go scholarly theological to explain that.

Suffice it to say that since she is the Mother of the Son of God who became man in her virginal womb—in short, the Mother of the one who is both perfect God and perfect man—her relation with both God and man acquires tremendous significance and implications.

If we have a little bit of sense in our coconut, we would readily realize how sensible it is to deal closely with our Lady. Praying to God could have no better way than doing it with Mary.

With the Holy Rosary, we have a good opportunity to get close with God, to be familiar with his mind and to follow his will. This prayer allows us to go through the whole life of Christ, who is the perfection of our humanity, and to draw precious insights and lessons.

The Rosary helps us to recover and keep our human and Christian bearing, now subtly undermined by overwhelming pressures of our times. Mary, our Mother, would show us how love is to be found and developed as we get immersed in our earthly concerns.

Our Lady will show us in her motherly ways what are the good prospects as well as the dangers that face us as we handle new things and go through new situations.

It’s good that we take time to be with our Lady. We tend to take her for granted, to treat her like an aging mother whom we love but who has lost immediate usefulness or who is simply giving us some problems.

Our Lady will always be helpful especially in our daily and moment-to-moment struggles. She is an omnipotent intercessor who will surely lead us to God. We need her!

Monday, March 14, 2011

State of preparedness

IT’S good that with the recent spate of calamities around the world, we are now talking seriously about how to achieve a state of preparedness. Many ideas have come out, obviously propelled by the best of intentions and supported by the best of technical details.

There’s just one thing that needs to be highlighted. In fact, it is the most important thing, since this aspect of preparedness is what integrates everything else and brings us over the inevitable things in this life and world to reach our final destination.

This is none other than our spiritual preparedness. Hardly anyone talks about this, I know, and it’s sad. And if ever it’s taken up, it most likely will be handled by a priest in a strictly religious environment or some weirdo who makes it a hobby to talk about the end of times.

This should not be so. I feel that everyone should be not only aware of this necessity, but should also do whatever he can to help the others attain this state of spiritual preparedness. In short, everyone should take care of his spiritual preparedness and should do all to make this concern widely discussed.

So far, the media have been quiet about this aspect of preparedness. They almost exclusively talk about technical and logistical items. That’s understandable. But in the end, we can only talk so much about these aspects. The state of spiritual preparedness should be the more mainstream concern among us.

No matter how exhaustive and scientific we are in the technical and logistical preparedness, we cannot avoid the disasters, the devastation and death itself that will surely come to us one way or another. We need something else that somehow will enable us to find meaning in these dark events and draw infinite good from them.

This is what spiritual preparedness does to us. It frees us from purely human fears and natural concerns, and gives us the confidence, based on truths of faith, that everything will be alright in spite of all the in spites of.

Our spiritual preparedness is what gives us the full picture of our life and destiny. We are no mere creatures of nature. We have been made in the image and likeness of God, elevated to be children of his in Christ.

Our spiritual preparedness takes us to a higher ground, giving us a glimpse of what is beyond our human horizons and natural limits. This is not to mention the corrections it will make to our inadequate if not erroneous understanding of our life here on earth.

It affords us an apocalyptic worldview, because it unveils and reveals, which is what apocalypse means, the true meaning and purpose of our life. In other words, with this kind of preparedness, anything can happen in the world, and we can still manage to come out safe and sound, in the ultimate sense of the words.

We have to make a race to reach this kind of preparedness, since, truth to tell, we are far behind the relevant passing grade. We seem not only to be in the primitive, stone age still in this regard, but also to dig in further in our ignorance, confusion and error.

In fact, there are instances when we seem to be taking the wrong path insofar as the spiritual preparedness is concerned. The other day, for example, I learned that US President Obama dared to brand the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.

He is extending his defiance to basic natural moral law, that is, to God’s law about us. He is pitting our man-made legal system with the God-given moral law. This is courting God´s wrath.

This kind of event, for sure, has an effect on the over-all status of mankind. God is all merciful, but his goodness does not preclude the demands of justice and the possibility of divine retribution to correct, if not also penalize, our wrongdoings, especially the ones committed in massive scale.

We need to go back to God! We have to stop taking on a purely human itinerary in our life, since that will get us nowhere but much graver disasters and devastations than what apocalyptic movements in the earth, seas and skies can inflict.

When these natural disasters come, let’s not only try to know their natural causes. We need to go all the way to asking what message God tries to convey through them. These calamities and disasters have in the end a religious meaning. They are not purely natural occurrences. They are meant to occasion conversion.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Deorbited from humanity

I NORMALLY respect and appreciate any effort to promote the dignity of anyone, be he or she a man, a woman, a father or mother, a child or student, etc. I just don´t like that this effort be made a cover to push dangerous and wrong ideological causes.

Last March 8 was the celebration of the International Women´s Day. This celebration had an originally socialist tone, but has tempered through the years to simply showing love and respect for women, acknowledging their achievements and surfacing their valid concerns.

It´s a most welcome development that has drawn a growing following from people of goodwill. I´m happy to note that the government has taken active part in celebrating this day of the women.

I know that socialism, just like most ideologies, has a congenital defect that shortens its lifespan drastically. That´s because it cannot cope with the whole gamut of humanity´s needs, since it tends to lump human beings into one social mass without giving due respect to personal dignity.

Many of its versions have failed to make the right blend between the personal and social dimensions of men.

Besides, they also tend to linger in materialism. They´re painfully blind and insensitive to things spiritual, let alone, supernatural. Faith and religion are personas non grata to them. And so, they will always have problems, bogged down by grave issues, no matter how noisy their advocates are.

Well, last March 8, it seems this dangerous ideology reared its ugly head in Congress when some of our legislators wanted to ram the notorious RH Bill for approval. When it could not be done simply because of lack of quorum, appeals were made to approve it just because it was International Women´s Day.

Is this how our laws are passed in Congress now? Are they simply approved through shameless political horse-trading?

It´s really funny when some women with clearly ideological hang-ups try to make whatever they like as the right of all women. In some places, they have even organized the so-called oxymoron, Catholics for RH Bill.

It´s a cheap shot that should be insulting to the whole of womanhood. It´s like they are deorbiting themselves from humanity, because they are styling themselves to be independent-minded Catholics, openly going against Church teaching. In short, they have deorbited themselves from God and from his commandments.

These gimmicks have already been known even in the times of Christ. There were some people who made it their business to question, doubt and suspect everything that our Lord said and did. They were so full of their own ideas and self-righteousness that they even failed to notice their own inconsistencies in their reasoning.

They could not believe that a carpenter who preached in undeniably lofty terms, who performed miracles, who did not resist his arrest, condemnation and death on the cross, and then resurrected, was the son of God, the expected Messiah who was supposed to complete and perfect our creation.

Instead, they stuck to their own theories and opinions, even when they themselves knew very well they failed to live up to them. Remember our Lord calling them hypocrites, whited-sepulchers, blind guides, hirelings, etc.

The issue of the RH Bill has degenerated into an ugly ideological war. Of course, there are some of the advocates who are there more for the fund of it. But it´s basically an ideological dogfight now.

Some of their proponents have gone to the extent of claiming that the Church has no business meddling in this state affair, again because of their own gratuitous and wrong understanding of Church-state separation. They in effect want to bar God and the Church to get involved in some human affairs.

And to give more spike to their position, they would be quick to expose the scandals of the Church—meaning, the scandals involving some churchmen. They have conveniently forgotten that even if Judas was one of the original apostles, the apostles were made, warts and all, the pillars of the Church.

They seem not to have any room for anything of faith and the spiritual and supernatural realities. Their idea of morality seems to be simply dictated by what is practical, immediately useful and beneficial.

They prefer to follow what their polls and surveys would tell them, rather than the God-given doctrines that are authoritatively taught and developed by the Church.

We need to be more aware of this dangerous drift in our government and social affairs, and more adept to handle it. We just cannot allow some clever ideologues to pull a fast one.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Cross makes our love real

WE are commanded to love. That’s the long and short of it. That’s because we have been created, first and last, out of love and for love. Thus, we can’t help but love, even if our loving is of the wrong kind.

As image and likeness of God, and elevated to be children of his, meant to participate in his very own life and to reflect it in ours, we can’t help but live our whole life in love, since God himself, as St. John said, is love. “Deus caritas est.”

That’s the ideal. The realistic view, however, is one where the pursuit of love is accompanied every step of the way by pain, sacrifice, self-denial and self-giving, etc. Let me explain.

First, we have to get a really good view of this whole business of our creation. I used to wonder, and I know a millions of others still do, why God created us if we only end up having to suffer.

That question stewed in my mind for a good number of years, preventing me from getting hot about faith and religion. Heck, did God commit a mistake in the beginning and then correct that mistake by making us suffer?

That thought, of course, spontaneously came out because of an error in the understanding of creation. The error is simply this—that creation is just a one-act deal that started and ended with Adam and Eve, and that from then on, we are simply on our own.

But that’s not the case. Creation is not only putting something into existence, but rather also keeping that creature in existence, because in creation the whole existence of the creature, not just its beginning, is involved. As long as something exists, its creation continues to take place.

Creation is not like our act of manufacturing things. The former involves making something out of nothing, putting it into existence and keeping it in existence. The latter is making something new from something else. Here the product has an independent existence from the producer.

Therefore, all the stages of our existence is part of our creation, and as such has been in the mind of God from all eternity. We just have to try to understand this mystery as best as we can. Thus, faith is always needed here, not just our reason.

In God, we are told, one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like one day. That’s an allusion of how eternity impacts with time. Yes, a mystery. Only the workings of faith can make us understand it somehow.

So, to put it simplistically, in our creation, there is the first stage in Adam and Eve, where everything was good. But it must already have been foreseen by God from eternity that that original goodness and justice would be lost.

And so there has to be another stage, that of the Son of God becoming man and saving us the way Christ did, to be direct about it. From there, everyone of us has to correspond to Christ in the Holy Spirit. Our creation is completed with the coming of Christ and the Holy Spirit.

In short, we have a role to play in our own creation, because in the first place we have been made in the image and likeness of God. God treats us the way he treats his own self—with freedom and love.

Paraphrasing St. Augustine, we can say that God created us without us, but he cannot save us, or re-create us, without us.

He wants that we pass from the old man stage to that of the new man in Christ. Remember St. Paul to the Ephesians: “Put off…the old man…and be renewed in the spirit of your mind. And put on the new man, who according to God is created in justice and holiness of truth.” (4,22-24)

He does not impose himself on us. But he’ll do everything so that we learn to want to have God through Christ in the Holy Spirit in our life. Christ is not an optional item in our life.

And so we just have to realize that our loving which is the essence and reason of our creation and life has to be a vital part of the love shown to us by Christ who said, “love one another as I have loved you.” This love culminates and is summarized in the cross.

Therefore, Christ´s cross makes our love real. It purifies us, strengthens us and identifies us with Christ.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Examining our conscience

THIS practice should be done by everyone everyday. It´s a necessity. If any business enterprise has to do some daily accounting for obvious reasons, then making an accounting of our personal and spiritual life through an examination of conscience should also be a must.

To a certain extent, the grave problems if not moral crises we are having in the whole world these days can be attributed to this neglect of examining our conscience. It seems our consciences are made to rot, to detach from its true foundation.

Things can be even that bad that many young people nowadays ask what conscience is all about. This, at least to me, is an alarming sign.

Conscience, as our Catechism teaches, “is a messenger of him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches and rules by his representatives. Conscience is the aboriginal Vicar of Christ.” (1778)

In another point, the Catechism says: “Conscience is man’s most secret core, and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.” (1795) That´s right. Given the way we are, whether we like it or not, are aware of it or not, God is always with us and in us, and he makes himself heard in our conscience.

And so we can readily see how important it is to take extreme care of our conscience. Muffling it, or worse, deforming it, would be truly a disaster to us. It´s like distancing ourselves from God who is our all and who intervenes and guides us in every moment of our life. We are nothing without him.

Caring for our conscience means always forming it properly, educating it so that its native connection with God would always be strengthened rather than weakened and deformed because of the many elements that can deaden and dull it.

There´s a lot of ignorance, confusion and error in moral truths around. Vices, perversions and other anomalies are not only emerging but are also becoming parts of cultures with their corresponding structures and lifeblood to sustain them.

We have to recover our sensitivity toward our conscience. St. Paul warned us in one of his letters that we should try to keep simple, humble and sincere so that our consciences would thrive. Otherwise, we would have what he termed a ¨shipwreck of our consciences.¨

A daily examination of conscience is vital to us. It keeps us in touch and in close watch of the developments of our spiritual and moral life. We would be aware of the many factors—the pressures, the various conditionings that are usually subtle and tricky, the temptations and sins—that greatly affect our lives. We can easily identify the problems.

With this regular examination of conscience, we get to promptly put things to order, and hopefully each time we end the day, no matter how it went, we can manage to reconcile ourselves with our Lord, to be at peace with him, even if we still have to do lot to make things right.

Yes, the examination of conscience brings peace to our life, something that is becoming scarcer and scarcer everyday. I know that in spite of appearances, many people are actually in some stranglehold of worries, problems, concerns, anxieties...

Our Catechism advises that we should try to maintain a certain sense of ¨interiority,¨ which I understand as a kind of spirit of recollection, so that we would be able to see the more subtle reality, the spiritual and moral events of our life, that are often compromised because of the deafening spin of activism of the world today.

Besides that, our Catechism also encourages us to do the examination of conscience before the Cross of Christ. I suppose it is to move us to repentance upon seeing the sharpest contrast between Christ´s overwhelming love for us and our continuing depravity.

We can make use of Lent to take this business of making an examination of conscience seriously. It´s a practice that really needs to be more appreciated. It has been neglect for quite sometime now, and even those who do some traces of it, do it badly.

When it´s done properly, we can truly say that we would be experiencing a growing identification of ourselves with Christ, which is actually our life´s goal. Christ is the complete fulfillment of our creation. We would not be complete as persons and as children of God without him. He is the fullness of our humanity. He just cannot be an optional item in our life.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A life of worship

WE have to be rescued from the hostaged idea, now made a dominant world culture, that worship is strictly an intimate, private matter between a person and his God, or that it is an optional thing.

And if it happens to have some external manifestations, then the mainstream view is that it should largely be confined and restricted to Church or temple services, expressed in formulaic prayers, chants, rituals, incense, kneeling and bowing, etc.

That is wrong. While it is true that worship involves these things due to its liturgical nature, we should also realize that it actually is first of all an attitude arising from an indisputable universal need of man

As creature of God, man needs to give worship to God his Creator and Father. That is to say, since he has been made in God’s image and likeness, and elevated to be a child of his, he cannot but unite his life with the life of God. This happens through grace that needs the cooperation of man.

Worship expresses our irrenunciable need for God and defines how our relationship with him should be. We are nothing without him. God is everything to us. We just cannot marginalize him in our life, let alone ignore and deny him. As such, worship has to characterize all our life, all of life’s aspects, in fact, all its moments.

Therefore, our life, even if spent most of the time in the unavoidable mundane affairs of man, has to be a life of worship. We need to learn how to link everything in our life—our work, concerns, ambitions, joys and sorrows, our projects and all circumstances of our life—to the dynamism of our need to worship God.

Our problem is that we have at least divided our life at least into two--one part for God and the other part for us, and for us alone. This flies in the face of the fundamental truth that our life, though having many aspects and developing in several stages, is only one. That unity should always be protected, reinforced and defended.

Because of this unfortunate division, we can not avoid fragmenting our life further, such that we not only end up alienating ourselves from God, which is quite obvious, but also alienating ourselves from our own selves, a more subtle consequence.

We lose the taste for God. We tend to think only of ourselves and to distance ourselves from the others. In the end, we worship ourselves instead of God, which is an absurd situation.

We have to develop a lifestyle of worship, such that whatever we are doing, whether we are working or playing, etc., we do everything with God as the beginning, the end and the means. We should sharpen our awareness that everything is done because of God.

We have to find fresh reasons for this, so that we can always feel the urge to worship God through the very things we do, no matter how mundane or secular they are. God is always there. He waits for us there. He wants us to deal with these things with him and for him.

Scripture is full of references to this truth. “Whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor 10,31) And again, “Let no man glory in men…for all things are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” (1 Cor 3,20)

The task at hand is how to acquire and develop this awareness of our duty to give everything, or at least to relate everything to God. This effort will not be a drag to our human activities.

It will rather orient and track all our activities properly, so that they really reach their proper goal and possess the proper character, instead of just drifting anywhere.

We have to realize that God is everywhere, and as a Father and our Creator, he always intervenes in our life, full of love and concern. There’s actually no moment when he is not with us, because even in our state of sin, he will always look at us with great concern and unleash his plan of recovering us.

God is never indifferent to us, whatever state and circumstance we may find ourselves in. Thus, we should learn to enter into an abiding relationship with him. What we can always do is to praise him, to thank him for everything, to ask for forgiveness for our faults and sins that we cannot seem to avoid, and to ask for help always.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Joy in Lent

THIS, I think, should be highlighted in the liturgical season of Lent. No doubt, Lent brings us to the whole reality of the passion and death of Christ, and everything else that went into this epic tragedy, the darkest moment in human history.

It reminds us of what we need to do to reflect in our life and, in fact, to be part of the supreme act of Christ’s love for our redemption through the cross. Yes, we have to do a lot of fasting and abstinence, and the whole range of things needed to wage our life-long ascetical struggle in order to progressively identify ourselves with Christ.

But let’s not forget that Christ’s redemptive sacrifice would not be complete without his resurrection. The whole Lenten season, with its epicenter on Good Friday, would be meaningless without Easter Sunday. Lent can not be but end in the joy of Easter. It has to show the passage of defeat to triumph, of death to life everlasting.

We need to more effectively present the vital, organic connection between the pain of sacrifice and the joy of the resurrection, between the Cross and the new life we get through Christ in the Holy Spirit. This is a challenge for which we need to prepare and train ourselves more competently.

It’s wrong, of course, to highlight one aspect at the expense of the other. Pain and sorrow without joy and newness would not be healthy, just as much as the latter without the former would be. Both have to be presented, seen and appreciated together.

That’s the whole picture. We have to be wary to show a partial view only. Besides, we need to know how to present the whole picture that is respectful to the sensitivities of the people in their different stages of life.

In our natural life, we normally use different ways. What and how we tell things to adults would be different to what and how we tell the children. The same thing should happen when we talk about truths of our faith and our spiritual life. We have to devise the appropriate pedagogy (child education) and andragogy (adult education) for this.

Given the temper of the times and the general character and mood of the people today, especially the young, there is need to highlight the consequence of joy in Lent. This is not to remove the usual, traditional Lenten practices that we, thank God, have developed so richly through the years.

It is to purify and complete them, to update them, to make them more sensitive to the way people are these days. While tradition is good, it is supposed to be a living one, not dead that is stuck in the ways of yesteryears.

In short, we have to distinguish between living tradition and dead traditionalism. We have to withdraw from the lightning-and-thunder rhetoric that may have been useful in times past and acquire a language that without compromising the essentials of Lent is delicate and attractive to the people of today.

Let’s avoid excessive gloom. We have to let in some bright light and fresh air in Lent, the one promised by Christ with his resurrection.

I am sure people will readily understand the need for sacrifice as long as it has meaning, and therefore worthwhile. Even the most vain among us understand that very well. They are willing to go through the pains of liposuction and nip-and-tuck procedures because they price vanity so much.

What we are “marketing” in Lent is far more important, even infinitely more important than vanity. And so we just have to find a way to present things such that people in different ages would be most willing to embrace sacrifice and love the cross, and loving it with a passion.

Of course, things have to be done with naturalness, without grabbing attention and generating publicity. The pain and joy of Lent should be considered normal to all, a kind of daily routine that we do with great love and sense of purpose.

In fact, the spirit and character of Lent should somehow accompany us all throughout the year. We cannot confine it to a season only. It has to be part of our life, a vital one that conforms us always to the life of Christ, for that is how we ought to live in this life.

In short, we have to encourage everyone to stretch their understanding of Lent to link it always to the joy of eternal life. This can be done. It should be done!

Fidelity, commitment, freedom, love

I KNOW these are four big and stretchable words that can accept an endless series of related concepts and interpretations, including the right and wrong ones. Nowadays, this phenomenon is gaining strength and popularity. Many are the words people speak that are increasingly high-sounding but empty and hollow as well.

There’s a crying need now to clarify things, to pause and go slow if only to savor the many elements that go into these fat words and to get their proper contribution and blend. Hopefully, with this process our words can approach a more faithful description of reality, catching it and not chasing the wind.

As we are becoming more aware of today’s developments, our words seem to miss many things. Yes, we multiply them everyday, coin and mint new ones, infuse them with all sorts of nuances of meaning, and yet we are left with the sensation that we don’t understand each other that well or that we are really going nowhere.

Jargons, from the strictly technical to the jejemon, now dominate communication lines. We blurt out a lot of words, we conjure a lot of ideas and images. We seem to be creating languages of the flesh, of the world, of varied ideologies and fashions like newspeak, commercialism, sensationalism, etc.

Sure, we get something. But do we truly understand one another? Are we really connected with one another? Are we building up a better civilization of love and compassion, a culture of life and not of death?

I have the creeping suspicion that we are playing out the Tower-of-Babel syndrome. We seem to be bloated with our own powers, having produced already a tremendous amount of things, and we now dare to be on our own. The result is that we become more and more subjective, and less and less objective.

We are slowly removing ourselves from the foundation of reality, because we are distancing ourselves from God and relying more on ourselves. This is a tragic disconnect. That’s why we seem to be making own world, our own criteria, our own goals. Instead of a common reality, we are fragmenting it according to our own designs.

We are actually sowing the seeds of discord and conflict. We seem to be communicating with our new technologies, but the content remains impregnated with egoism, selfishness, utter worldliness.

We communicate but we seem to raise more walls among ourselves. The system of linkages has grown, bur ironically we cannot deny the surge of indifference, confusion and studied ignorance of the basic truths about ourselves.

Some people, like Pope Benedict, call this phenomenon, relativism. Everything is relative. Nothing is held absolute. We are entering into an absurd world, and we seem to be happy with it. What seems to be the driving force of our life today is self-interest, in its bold and naked state.

Give it a few more years and it would not be difficult to predict that that relativism will turn to anarchism. It will not just be the economy that will have a meltdown, nor the political world that will have its turmoils.

The civilization of the whole world now faces the threat of decadence and downfall. We are now witnessing sparks of this process in many places. Respect for life, for marriage and family life, for fidelity and commitment, is ebbing away.

Even on the Facebook pages of people, many are those who say under Relationship, It´s complicated. And I imagine that in that social network, people tend to put a nice image of themselves.

A return to God is now most urgently needed. Such return can only happen if it is driven by real love, the love of God himself for us and not just any version of love, like mere philanthropy and humanitarianism. It’s love based on truth as revealed to us in its fullness in Christ and effected in the Holy Spirit.

Alas, these things sound Greek to many, even to so-called Christians. There´s a need for radical, thorough catechesis of basic doctrine of our Christian faith, because even in that level, let alone putting things into life, many are failing.

That´s why they don´t see the connection between love, freedom, commitment and fidelity. If ever they are cited, they are most likely used to impress others, but I´m afraid in most cases they are emptied of their real substance.

The requirements of commitment and fidelity are precisely the strong manifestations of love and freedom. Many miss this equation. And so they easily fall victim to the blind forces of the flesh and the world.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Loving God and the world

GOD and the world are usually put in contrast. We are supposed to choose one and reject the other. No in-between, much less, both together. This can be gleaned in many parts of Scripture and other spiritual literature.

St. Augustine, for example, put it sharply when he said: “Two loves built two cities - the earthly which is built by the love of self, even to the contempt of God, and the heavenly which is built by the love of God, even to the contempt of self."

And that’s understandable, given the fact that the world has absorbed the sinfulness of man, and in a way has detached itself from God, its creator. Because of that, the world has become the seat of all that is opposed to God.

It follows a law that cannot connect with God. It’s a purely material and natural law, lacking the proper spirit that it needs to link itself with its Creator. That’s our task. We are the ones who can give it the spirit that reconnects it with God, or, sadly, another spirit that separates it further from him.

This state of affairs has given rise to a certain way of life, commonly known as the religious spirituality that considers the world, a priori, as an enemy of God or as something to be treated with much caution.

The corresponding attitude that sprang from this mentality is that of what is known as “contemptus mundi,” a certain contempt for the world, or at least a distancing from the world.

That’s why hermits and monks who started this lifestyle lived in caves, deserts, mountains, etc. This was aggravated because there was aggressive persecution against Christians in many parts of the civilized world and in many periods of time.

This frame of mind eventually graduated into some people living in enclosed and isolated communities, in convents and monasteries. It became their way of protection from the world, and of intensifying their spiritual life and other things, like the spirit of fraternity and the business of formation.

When the missionary activity started, this spirituality also heightened since the hard environment that met the missionaries in the beginning simply forced them to live this religious lifestyle, protected, isolated and conducive to spiritual exercises..

But things have changed lately. With religion given freedom to develop and grow in the world, with persecution and hostile environment significantly diminished, this religious spirituality somehow also waned. What is gaining strength is what is known as lay spirituality.

This is the spirituality of people living in the middle of the world, who have no reason to be afraid of the world and, in fact, are eager to stay in it, convinced that’s where they belong, where God has put them. There they try to infuse the Christian spirit.

It’s not exactly opposed to the religious lifestyle. It´s just different. It simply recovers the original state of things when the world was created good by God. It can and should lead us to God. And even in its alienated status because of our sin, the world is still where our Lord has placed us. It’s not something to run away from.

This truth about the world can somehow be discerned in that prayer of Christ right before his passion and death. To his Father, he said: “I pray not that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from evil. They are not of the world, as I also am not of the world.¨ (Jn 17,15-16)

And right at the beginning of human history, we are told: ¨God created man to his own image...And God blessed them, saying, Increasing and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and all living creatures...¨ (Gen 1,27-28)

We have to learn how to find God in the world, and to subject everything in it to God. Obviously, with the evil that has crept into it, we need to be careful and prudent. We are told to be ¨guileless as doves and shrewd as serpents.¨

But we have to learn to make the world our true home with God, renewing it always to connect it with our heavenly home. This, I think, is what is meant by the expression, ¨new heavens and a new earth.¨

This is in St. Peter´s second letter: ¨We look for new heavens and a new earth according to his promises, in which justice dwells.¨ (3,13)

Loving God and the world

GOD and the world are usually put in contrast. We are supposed to choose one and reject the other. No in-between, much less, both together. This can be gleaned in many parts of Scripture and other spiritual literature.

St. Augustine, for example, put it sharply when he said: “Two loves built two cities - the earthly which is built by the love of self, even to the contempt of God, and the heavenly which is built by the love of God, even to the contempt of self."

And that’s understandable, given the fact that the world has absorbed the sinfulness of man, and in a way has detached itself from God, its creator. Because of that, the world has become the seat of all that is opposed to God.

It follows a law that cannot connect with God. It’s a purely material and natural law, lacking the proper spirit that it needs to link itself with its Creator. That’s our task. We are the ones who can give it the spirit that reconnects it with God, or, sadly, another spirit that separates it further from him.

This state of affairs has given rise to a certain way of life, commonly known as the religious spirituality that considers the world, a priori, as an enemy of God or as something to be treated with much caution.

The corresponding attitude that sprang from this mentality is that of what is known as “contemptus mundi,” a certain contempt for the world, or at least a distancing from the world.

That’s why hermits and monks who started this lifestyle lived in caves, deserts, mountains, etc. This was aggravated because there was aggressive persecution against Christians in many parts of the civilized world and in many periods of time.

This frame of mind eventually graduated into some people living in enclosed and isolated communities, in convents and monasteries. It became their way of protection from the world, and of intensifying their spiritual life and other things, like the spirit of fraternity and the business of formation.

When the missionary activity started, this spirituality also heightened since the hard environment that met the missionaries in the beginning simply forced them to live this religious lifestyle, protected, isolated and conducive to spiritual exercises..

But things have changed lately. With religion given freedom to develop and grow in the world, with persecution and hostile environment significantly diminished, this religious spirituality somehow also waned. What is gaining strength is what is known as lay spirituality.

This is the spirituality of people living in the middle of the world, who have no reason to be afraid of the world and, in fact, are eager to stay in it, convinced that’s where they belong, where God has put them. There they try to infuse the Christian spirit.

It’s not exactly opposed to the religious lifestyle. It´s just different. It simply recovers the original state of things when the world was created good by God. It can and should lead us to God. And even in its alienated status because of our sin, the world is still where our Lord has placed us. It’s not something to run away from.

This truth about the world can somehow be discerned in that prayer of Christ right before his passion and death. To his Father, he said: “I pray not that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from evil. They are not of the world, as I also am not of the world.¨ (Jn 17,15-16)

And right at the beginning of human history, we are told: ¨God created man to his own image...And God blessed them, saying, Increasing and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and all living creatures...¨ (Gen 1,27-28)

We have to learn how to find God in the world, and to subject everything in it to God. Obviously, with the evil that has crept into it, we need to be careful and prudent. We are told to be ¨guileless as doves and shrewd as serpents.¨

But we have to learn to make the world our true home with God, renewing it always to connect it with our heavenly home. This, I think, is what is meant by the expression, ¨new heavens and a new earth.¨

This is in St. Peter´s second letter: ¨We look for new heavens and a new earth according to his promises, in which justice dwells.¨ (3,13)