Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Priests at the crossroads

JUST attended a graduation rite of seminarians. It moved me to see a good number of young boys dreaming of becoming priests one day. I consider it a miraculous phenom, since who in the world today, in his right mind, so to speak, would like to become a priest?

Priesthood is nothing less than hard, thankless labor from Day 1 up the end. There´s celibacy, there´s endless requests for this and that, duties and responsibilities far outrun rights and comforts.

Priests are supposed to be everything for everyone, for they are meant to embody no less than Christ himself, and not just any Christ, but Christ as head of the Church. The distinction is fine but crucial, involving a whole world of practical consequences.

As such, we, priests, should understand that we are the first to be addressed by Christ when he said: ¨If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.¨ (Lk 9,23) Any understanding of the priesthood that does not have this indication as an essential element is simply wrong.

So we, priests, should understand that we are always at the crossroads. Depending on what we choose—since things also depend on us—we can either be on the side of the perks and privileges that go with priesthood (and they can be a lot), or on the side of suffering and even of a daily crucifixion as Christ clearly spelled it out.

All of us, Christ´s faithful in the Church, really need to pray a lot and exercise faith and hope all the time, because for priests to be truly priests, and not just looking and acting like priests, but priests who fully correspond to the demands of their vocation and of their sacred order, nothing less than a first-class miracle is needed.

Like any human being, priests also have to contend with the usual enemies of God and of our souls—our own flesh, the world and the devil. In fact, given our delicate position, our struggles can be more daunting and tricky. The demons are real, mind you, and not theoretical or a mere ascetical device.

Besides, concupiscence, laziness, complacency are very much embedded in our system. Then, there´s vanity and all forms of pride and conceit. Then, there´s hypocrisy and pretension. We can always do a Judas anytime. Or a Dorian Gray or a Jekyll-and-Hyde. In fact, recent history is mired by all sorts of clerical scandals that lend credence to this point.

And the world! One would be stupidly blind not to see the many temptations and occasions and structures of sin around, all oozing with almost irresistible allurements.

The formation of priests should be thorough and never-ending. Of course, it has to start in the family, the primal seedbed of vocations, but it really has to go systematic, serious and on-going in the seminaries and other Church structures meant to help priests in this regard.

Indeed, the whole people of God in the Church should somehow feel the responsibility of helping priests, especially in their spiritual and moral needs, much than their material needs. A culture that hesitates to correct priests when we clearly are taking the wrong path is not a good culture.

Priests should never be left alone, especially in their spiritual and moral life, which is the very foundation of their priesthood. Those who don´t realize this can practically show they may not meant for the priesthood.

No one becomes a priest on his own, but rather because he is called. The nature and character of the priesthood is God-given, through Christ in the Holy Spirit, and in the Church. To live it, no one can just invent his own way. He has to realize he always needs God, the Church, and others to help him.

The distinctive, even unique way one lives it should not nullify the fact that it has to be lived as Christ wants it, and as the Church now regulates it. This is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition.

We should always pray for our priests, and take care of them. We should also give due ongoing attention to how seminarians are prepared for the priesthood and how priests are sustained in their priestly life and ministry. There will always be new ideas and timely initiatives in this regard.

It may sound like an exaggeration, but it´s undeniable that we priests ought to be no less than Christ himself, head of the Church. Anyone who sees and listens to a priest should see and hear Christ.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Fugitives and exiles

IN a certain sense, that´s what we all are. We are fugitives and exiles from God, from our true and ultimate dignity as children of God, because of our sins, infidelities and other forms of human miseries.

Like our first parents, Adam and Eve, banished from Paradise after committing the original sin that we now all inherit, and Cain who after slaying his own brother Abel was condemned to a life of a runaway, we too have been alienated from God with all the consequences that such alienation entails.

As such, we lost the state of original justice and the many preternatural gifts that went with it. We are now subject to death, pain and suffering. Our faculties have been damaged such that instead of pursuing what is true and good, we now go after something else.

As such, we tend to have some guilt feelings, and with that condition, we can weave a variety of possible reactions. We can feel bad, insecure, afraid, ashamed. Pristine joy and peace flee from us too. We can be on the run, homeless, hiding, or when that is not possible, we can wear guises, and play all sorts of tricks and games to cover ourselves.

Yes, we can also go to great lengths to sweeten, rationalize and forget our state of separation from God. We can even choose to go against God and decide instead to create our own reality—a fantasy or illusion actually—according to our own designs and specs.

This was done in the episodes of the Tower of Babel and Sodom and Gomorrah. And the crazy drama continues up to now, reprising the same theme of rationalization and self-justification under different forms and ways. Sad to say, we can use our God-given endowments of creativity and invention for this purpose rather than for going back to God.

In all these wretched situations, let´s never forget that God continues to love us and will do everything, including sending his Son to us and that Son offering his very life for us, to bring us back to him. In fact, that´s the only way we can go back, because on our own, we simply could not. On our own the only thing possible is sustained separation.

This abiding love of God that intensifies further the greater our sin is, is a truth of faith dramatized in the life and death of Christ. It´s a truth that should become, with God´s grace and our effort, an invincible conviction in us, regardless of the buffeting trials, doubts, fears that can come to our mind and heart.

We need to strengthen this conviction daily and try to live out its consequences as faithfully and promptly as possible, because first of all it is a genuine truth, not a sweet-lemoning, and second, because it truly helps us in our daily struggles.

We need to be extra confident of the effectiveness of this truth. God never abandons us. It´s rather us who can abandon him. We need to avoid falling into that latter state in spite of what we may consider strong reasons to think so.

Yes, in spite of our continuing miseries and infidelities, God is most willing to bring us back to him. Never forget the parable of the prodigal son. On our part, let´s try to be simple and humble, to act like a child who in spite of breaking a house treasure always knows his parents will understand him.

God, in fact, gives special attention to those who love him less. Because as Christ said: ¨Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you, that you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, who makes his sun to rise upon the good and bad, and rain upon the just and the unjust.¨ (Mt 5,45-45)

Never entertain the idea that God will not forgive us nor love us, or worse, that he does not exist. We have to insist on our faith that strengthens our hope and shapes the way we think and react to events in our life.

In this, we have to remember that our spiritual life is a matter of having to begin and begin again, because to fall, to commit a mistake, to fail to fully correspond to God´s goodness, to doubt and fear, are a predicament we are most prone to have.

Though we may feel like fugitives and exiles in the world, be convinced that God continues to be close to us.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Our fragility and fickleness

LET´S look into this unpleasant side of our life. I can assure you that it is not going to be a completely depressing experience. The sadness or disappointment such effort can bring cannot erase the fact that it will also occasion in us, if we put ourselves in the proper disposition, a gush of divine grace, a way of our own redemption.

Remember St. Paul´s ¨It´s when I am weak, that I am strong.¨ That´s the attitude to take here. May we know the practical consequences of such Pauline wisdom, and the requirements it asks of us!

We need to extricate ourselves from the stranglehold of our poorly-lit human reactions to our mistakes, failures and omissions, to our miseries, our fragility and fickleness, that tend to plunge us into desperation and helplessness.

Let´s allow our faith to flower into hope and then into charity where we can share the triumph of Christ, and where there can only be true and lasting joy and peace. Yes, God, and we with him, can spring victory from defeat, light from darkness, life from death.

First, we need to acknowledge our weaknesses and problems. These days, many of us often fail in this basic requirement. Like ostriches, we hide from them, deny their existence, and even act out an elaborate act of pretension and hypocrisy to cover them.

Worse scenarios follow, as we undertake a shameless effort of rationalizing our negative side, and with a mere act of our personal will, and sometimes with the collaboration of some consensus of like-minded people, we now say what is actually wrong as right, what is sinful as virtue.

St. Paul´s lament, expressed in the Letter to the Romans, gives us a glimpse of the reasons behind: ¨Though they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened.

¨Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie...”(1,21-25)

This latter ugly turn of things is now even supported by a vast complex of ideologies with a worldwide network of financial and propaganda machinery. Now we see vanity, pride, arrogance, greed, deception in person, in the flesh, not anymore as ideas or possibilities.

The idols of the ancient times that had eyes but could not see, had ears but could not hear, now seem transformed into articulate and glib salesmen of their treacherous doctrine and products. They now seem to be active and effective agents most able to contrive a lifestyle of their own making. They are now the gorgeous models for everyone else to follow.

Standards and criteria have been altered not only in things peripheral but right down there in the roots. There´s no more God. We are just on our own. We don´t depend on absolute truths, but merely on personal ideas and consensual positions. Morality in all its levels, from the personal to the social and global, is now unhinged and is drifting aimlessly...

We need to be converted from this horrible state that can appear to us as sweet and nice, most reasonable and practical. For this to happen, we need to be humble, since humility is the way to the truth, to objectivity. It´s what enables us to go beyond the confines of the many conditionings working on us. It´s what prepares the ground for grace to take root in us.

Humility is a necessity for us. We are supposed to live it to the full since it has been meant for us since our creation, and more so, in our re-creation or our self-redemption with Christ.

We should not be deceived by its apparent debasement and its requirement of self-emptying, since these can only mean we are preparing ourselves to be filled up by nothing other than God himself, his wisdom and power, his everything.

That´s the most wonderful deal we can ever have, as expressed in that beautiful hymn of the Easter Exsultet: ¨Father, how wonderful your care for us! / How boundless your merciful love! / To ransom a slave, you gave away your Son. / O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, / which gained for us so great a Redeemer!¨

Yes, our weakness indeed can attract God´s love and power!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Our formation never ends

THAT´S right. Our formation never ends. It´s a till-death affair. No matter how accomplished we are, how acknowledged we are by the public of our attainment, we need to realize deeply that we have to continue forming ourselves like we need oxygen.

This is the law of our life. For as long as we still breathe, challenges to face, goals to reach will never be lacking. And that´s mainly because more than our physical, human and natural needs, we have spiritual needs, let alone, our supernatural goal, that will never be fully satisfied and adequately reached here in life. And they continue to demand things from us.

Life is a constant journeying or pilgrimage. And in every aspect of our life, especially in our spiritual and moral side, the effort and even the battle for improvement never stops. In his second letter, St. Peter gives us an idea of the reason behind.

¨Do you accordingly on your part strive diligently,¨ he says, ¨to supply your faith with virtue, your virtue with knowledge, your knowledge with self-control, your self-control with patience, your patience with piety, your piety with fraternal love, your fraternal love with charity.¨ (1,5-7)

As we can see, any virtue or good thing that we may have reached always asks to be raised to a higher level, let alone, leads us to other virtues that we still lack until we reach the highest of the virtues, charity itself, whose requirements never get exhausted here in this life.

We need to vigorously fight against our tendency to be complacent and self-satisfied with what we already have learned. That tendency would gravely compromise our life and our ultimate goal itself. We have to feel the hunger for more formation. If we don´t feel that, we would have a clear problem. We should therefore react accordingly.

That´s why we need to deepen our humility, because that virtue always brings us face to face with this objective need of ours for continuing formation. It´s what will make us feel the urge to ask for more formation.

To grow in humility, we need to pray, beg our Lord for more light so we can see more things. And then we just look around us to realize how infinite indeed are the things that we still need to learn and master.

We should never say, Enough! Saying so would not only mean we have stopped forming. Rather, as St. Augustine once said, we would start to retrogress, since in our life, it´s either we move forward or we move backward. The state of immobility is actually an illusion.

This humility has to be oiled by the real charity that can only come from God as exemplified by Christ himself. He once said, ¨For them do I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.¨ (Jn 17,19)

Imagine Christ, God and man, having to continue sanctifying himself in order to sanctify us! In another part of the gospel, we are told that Christ—as a child but always God the Son—went through the process of growing not only in age, but also ¨in wisdom...and grace before God and men.¨ (Lk 2,52) This fact can only speak of humility imbued with love.

But then again, human as we are, we tend to ignore this fact. And that´s why we really need to sit down, if not kneel, then think, reflect and pray, then beg like a beggar, because our tendency to be complacent, lazy and self-satisfied is not only overwhelming but it also works in very subtle and treacherous ways. Before we know it, we are already gripped by it.

I would say that this effort to provoke the urge for continuing formation cannot be other than an integral part of our own sanctification. It just cannot be a matter of human wilfullness, driven bypurely human motives. It has to be another aspect of our sanctification that makes us do things generously, out of sheer love in spite of difficulties, and to a heroic degree.

Otherwise, we would put to reality this warning of St. Paul: ¨If anyone...does not agree with the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about controversies and disputes of words.

¨From these arise envies, quarrels, blasphemies, base suspicions, the wranglings of men corrupt in mind and bereft of truth.¨ (1 Tim 6,3-6)

How ugly that would be! What foul air we would be producing! It´s important that we pursue our endless formation properly.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Hidden and quiet work

WE have to understand and appreciate as deeply as possible the importance of hidden and quiet work. This type of work is so basic in life that without it, any kind of work, no matter how impressive, would hang on air, without any strong, solid foundation to support it.

We need to be reminded of this truth, because with the pace and temper of the times, we tend to be pressured to engage simply in external and often noisy kind of work and activity that often would turn us like a tree rich in foliage but without fruit, a showy and garish person with no depth nor substance.

Learning how to do hidden and quiet work assures us that we really know how to work properly—not only in terms of techniques, but more importantly, in terms of motivation and sense of purpose.

Work, let´s remind ouselves, is a vital expression of the person. It is what builds us up even as it leaves effects outside of ourselves. It is what distinguishes us and perfects us as a person, before it perfects the world around us.

For work to be properly done, it has to engage us as persons who think and love, and as children of God who have to do everything with God and for God. Work just cannot be done in a purely mechanical way, with hardly any regard to our human and Christian dignity. We just cannot work for the money alone, nor for some merely earthly objectives.

There are many implications arising from this basic nature and purpose of our work. No matter what kind of work we have—whether manual or intellectual, blue-collar or white-collar, private or public—it should make us better persons and better children of God.

And the basic atmosphere for our work to start and develop properly is a hidden and quiet work style. That´s where we would be taught how to work for love of God, unaffected by any worldly motives. That´s where we can see clearly the fundamentals before we get exposed and tempted by the intoxicating elements in the world.

We have to master this fundamental requirement of our work, so that it would become the indispensable motive for our work as we tackle all sorts of human and worldly tasks. Doing hidden and quiet work would teach us to be properly recollected, so that even as we get immersed in the things of the world, our mind and heart would still be with God.

Our problem nowadays is that the world of work is following a road that neither starts nor ends with God. It may give us tremendous excitement and self-satisfaction, but it actually empties us of our soul, and alienates us from God and others also. We need to be more aware of the radically unfair deal we are making with our work today.

We need to learn to work in a hidden and quiet way. Even in things of nature, this hidden and quiet way is the elemental thing that happens. The big plants, the strong animals, and we ourselves start our life and growth in the hidden and quiet atmosphere of the seed and the womb.

Any successful project or enterprise we make always originates in a hidden and quiet idea that´s slowly spelled out into a plan before it is made public. The big buildings cannot stand without a strong foundation that is not seen. The beautiful and colorful tapestry depends on the hidden tangle of threads behind it.

In our Christian faith, we know that the elaborate and dramatic work of redemption that culminated on the cross was prepared for at great length as can be gleaned in the Old Testament. Christ´s public life of 3 years was preceded by his 30 years of hidden life.

We just have to realize very deeply that we cannot go far in our work as in our prayer and in any other endeavor if we do not prepare it with a long, hidden, quiet and even thankless effort.

It´s important for us to take care of our thoughts, feelings, desires, etc.--knowing how to motivate and focus them, and then to take care of the small, ordinary and often dirty or messy things before we dare to handle the big things in life.

The hidden and quiet work should inculcate in us a strong sense of recollection so that even if we are handling big and important things, we still would know how to work primarily for love of God.

Glory only to God, please

WE need to be reminded of this point—and urgently. I’m afraid we are on a runaway train in this regard. We need to control it, fix the tracks, change the personnel if necessary. Oh, if things were only as simple as that!

All around us are not only signs and traces but clear, explicit expressions of self-glorification. In whatever human aspect is involved—in the area of thought, creativity or the body—vanity, conceit, arrogance, greed, self-indulgence and their ilk take charge.

They are not anymore leashed, fenced, much less, hidden. They are put on display, allowed to move freely in open range. They have managed to build such a worldwide web of infra- and superstructures—language, fashion, attitudes—that they now seem invincibly entrenched in our system.

Indeed, to rid ourselves of them, or at least to put them under some control, would require nothing less than a revolution, first of the heart, then the mind, the attitudes, the lifestyle.

Yes, we have to be rebels. We need to fiercely fight against our own selves first, then everything else around us that keeps us complacent and self-satisfied, hamstrung by privilege and other invented perks in our life.

Glory should only be given to God. ¨Deo omnis gloria,¨ as the saying goes. It belongs to him properly. If ever there is something of it in us, let´s be sure it can only be a sharing with God´s glory. It would be a glory that would bring us closer to him, not farther.

Thus, we need to immediately cut anything that would lead us to some human glorification. Even in terms of attitudes, let´s already make sure that they clearly help us to give glory only to God.

How good it is then to cultivate that attitude of Christ to serve and not to be served, even to the point of washing the feet of his apostles. How good it is to empty ourselves the way Christ emptied himself. How good it is to just work as quietly as possible, to pass unnoticed even while we give our all in our work for love of God.

And so it would not be an exercise of masochism and of some perverted sense of self-deprecation to remind ourselves constantly that we are nothing, and even less than nothing, since everything good that is in us can only come from God.

Even our accomplishments and other successes have God as the ultimate subject, since we can only do good in him. Outside of him, the only thing we can do is evil. That´s the only time we can truly be original in the absolute sense.

Such reminder does not suppress our innate human dignity. It rather would elevate our dignity, since what is human can now be made divine. It opens us to the possibility of being raised to the level of God.

It´s a reminder that fosters our humility, not pride. Every accolade we receive would nourish our humility. And every failure deepens our humility. With pride, our successes and failures can only spoil and corrupt us or plunge us to desperation.

Thus, it´s a reminder that puts us firmly on the ground of truth and objectivity, since humility makes us see things while pride blinds us. Pride would only bring us to fantasy and absurdity.

Remember what St. Paul said: ´Whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all the to the glory of God.¨ (1 Cor 10,31)

How important it is then to develop the attitude and practice of always offering everything we do to God, and to ask of him anything we need, without solely relying on our own strengths!

How important it is to make it second nature of ours to rectify our intentions in everything we do! It should always be for the glory of God. If ever we can suspect that some human glory can come to us, we need to prepare ourselves not to be affected, like hiding and disappearing after a work well done, etc.

Let´s be wary of the subtle tricks of pride that can lead us to play coy and even as a victim, if only to attract sympathy. Pride has the nasty habit of leading us to a terrible case of self-pity.

These ways obviously are not popular these days. They can be considered impractical, if not inhuman. But that´s because we are sinking in a world culture now steeped in self-centeredness and self-absorption.

We should deliberately give glory to God in all our deeds to counter this culture.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

We need a working spirituality

YES, indeed! We need to have a functioning spirituality, not just a theoretical one, an armchair type of religiosity that´s rich only with words and ideas, but very poor in action. Regardless of our condition in the world, we should have a genuine spirituality that consistently nourishes our spiritual life whatever the circumstances in our life may be.

Our problem is that even among those who are supposed to be ¨spiritual¨ already because of their status in life—like priests and others supposedly active in Church affairs—there is so much ignorance, confusion, error, incompetence, inconsistency, pretension, hypocrisy, laziness, complacency in this regard.

Part of a working spirituality should be a kind of mechanism, embedded into our personal system, that continually addresses these dangers all of us are exposed to and even prone to.

To achieve this spirituality, we have to devise a realistic plan of spiritual life, consisting of practices of piety, well-defined yet flexible to varying circumstances, that would help us at least to stay in touch with God even as we get immersed in the things of the world.

We should already outgrow any doubt, fear or allergy to this possibility of us living with God. It´s amazing that even among those expected to lead the way in spiritual life, these doubts and fears still hold sway, thereby spreading an atmosphere of uncertainty and a sense of impracticability insofar as spiritual life is concerned.

First, we have to be clarified about why there´s a need for spirituality. There are many people who are not clear about this reality of our life. They think we are just entirely or mainly material beings, or simply cultural ones subject to certain conditionings, and nothing more.

We can get some ideas from St. Paul who once said, ¨May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly, and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.¨ (1 Thes 5,23)

In this Pauline description, man is pictured as composed of ¨body¨ which is our corporeal and earthly condition, ¨soul¨ which is our capacity to feel and know, and ¨spirit¨ which is what makes us attracted and united to God and vivified by him.

There may be a variety of other descriptions about the structure and constituent composition of our being, but what should not be ignored is that we have a spiritual ¨component,¨ so to speak, that is integral and essential to our being. Yes, there can be diversity in our ideas of spirituality, but in the end we have to acknowledge its basic unity.

And just as we have to take care of our body, of our emotional, psychological and mental well-being, we also need to take care—in fact, even greater care—of our spiritual life, since that is what brings us to our human and Christian perfection. We have to put a stop to the ignorance and indifference that commonly besets our attitude toward our spiritual life.

Using our Christian faith, we need to know the nature of this spiritual life, what its important elements are, its characteristics, its foundations and purpose, its functionings, etc. Then we need to know how to develop it toward its full perfection.

Again, for this, we already have in the course of Christian history a vast array of spiritualities that can be useful to us. We just have to mine this thick vein and rich ore of information. With our new technologies, we have less reason not to know. What simply is needed is the so-called ¨political¨ will, putting all our faculties into the act.

Imagine the wealth contained in the age of the Church Fathers, to the monastic period, to the period of the mendicant orders of St. Francis and St. Dominic, the post-Tridentine period dominated by the Jesuits, and the post-Vatican II period up to the present!

It´s a shame that in spite of this great wealth, the general literacy of people on spirituality is way below the passing grade. If ever there is some stirring of spirituality, it´s usually found in confined and highly-localized places. It´s not yet globalized. No wonder we are vulnerable to the many temptations of the world that now are becoming systemic.

We should realize the importance of some practices of piety essential in any plan of spiritual life: mental prayer, Holy Mass, communion, visit to the Blessed Sacrament, spiritual reading, examination of conscience, holy rosary, confession, etc.

Perhaps with the help of a spiritual director, we should devise one fit for us, given our personal circumstances.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Another turn of the screw

WE need to bring to a higher level our understanding, and later our practice, of how Catholics ought to behave in political life. Nowadays, this issue is so swamped with complicated and confusing elements that to improve our praxis of it is like making another turn of the screw that is already quite tightly put.

The difficult predicament is again played out in this RH Bill debate and its side issues where some cities and even barangays are making ordinances that either favor or reject the bill.

Then we have some attention-grabbing developments like a women´s group that brands itself as ¨Catholics for RH Bill,” and various accusations hurled back and forth, including those that claim that Catholics are imposing their views on the rest of society. It´s time to really sort out things.

Back in 2002, the Vatican issued a document meant to clarify the role of Catholics in political life. It was entitled, ¨Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in political life.¨

It was prepared by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then headed by Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, and approved by Pope John Paul II. A convergence of conditions, political, social and cultural, provoked its making, conditions that prevailed in many Western countries and are now emerging in ours.

It centered on a phenomenon, now more technically termed as moral relativism, that raged in these developed, albeit spiritually decadent countries, afflicting a vast part of the population, especially among the more educated classes.

It has affected both Catholics and non-Catholics, and its basic problem is the belief that there are no moral absolutes in our life, and thus nobody, much less the Church, can say anything about what is right and wrong other than what a popular consensus would say.

It´s a product of a secularized society, where God is general taken for granted, if not denied. People just make their own ideas, theories and ideologies about what is good and evil for us as the basis for our morality, our personal and social life, and our legal system. Any claim of an objective, universal natural moral law is practically denied.

The document tries to remind everyone there is God who is the author, guide and purpose of our natural moral life in all its aspects and levels—personal, familial, professional, social, cultural, political, etc. And that we just have to try our best to conform ourselves to his will, his law and commandments.

Citing the example of the English St. Thomas More, who precisely essayed the right attitude of Catholics embroiled in a political issue with a prominently moral character, it reminds us that ¨man cannot be separated from God, nor politics from morality.¨

It warns us that the world today in immersed in a ¨kind of cultural relativism...evident in the conceptualization and defense of ethical pluralism, which sanctions the decadence and disintegration of reason and the principles of natural moral law....

¨As a result, citizens claim complete autonomy with regard to their moral choices, and lawmakers maintain that they are respecting this freedom of choice by enacting laws which ignore the principles of natural ethics and yield to ephemeral cultural and moral trends.¨

Let´s be clear about this point about the ¨decadence of reason and the principles of natural moral law.¨ The clarification on relativism, cultural, moral or ethical, should not be viewed as a confessional claim, but rather a consequence of reason not properly used and of an ignorance of what is called natural moral law that ultimately has God, not us, as its maker.

The very germ of the problem seems to be the mistaken belief that any reference to God is necessarily outside of the natural order, and therefore outside also of the democratic processes and exercises.

There are, of course, still references made to God in our political life, but they are mainly formalistic in character, that is to say, not be to taken seriously. Such references would hardly have any practical consequences.

It´s time that Catholics be thoroughly consistent with their faith in their political activities, a consistency that recognizes the legitimate autonomy of our temporal affairs such as politics, knows the reasons for such autonomy and also knows how to defend our Catholic position as citizens like anybody else.

The crucial challenge is how to be consistent with our Catholic identity while respecting the distinction between religion and politics, our being faithful of the Church and citizens of our country at the same time.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

New sensitivity for new evangelization

THIS is the challenge we have today. How do we craft a new approach, style or strategy to the continuing need for evangelization these days? How do we keep them adapted to the new sensibilities of the men and women of today?

It’s quite clear that people nowadays are a different breed from, say, those of two decades ago. In fact, given the fast pace of technological development, the fragmentation of society into different levels, sectors and niches has also accelerated. We now have to contend with a greater variety of people, not only in number but also in complicatedness.

Even within families and clans, these differences have multiplied and can be sharp and radical. Those staying or who have grown up in the States or in Europe, for example, definitely have different ways from those who remain in the province.

We can even see these sharp differences, much more than the usual, among cousins and brothers and sisters. Differences in attitudes, language, fashion, manners, reactions and opinions within relatively small circles of people have ballooned.

We need to be sensitive to these differences if we are to be effective in evangelizing. This, obviously, is an old challenge, felt right during the apostolic times and even way before that. It’s going to be an abiding one. We just have to be ready for it.

For sure, the Holy Spirit continues to animate the Church and inspire certain people, giving them the relevant charism, so that the Church’s vital activity of evangelization continues. But all of us have to do our part.

First, we need to sharpen and intensify our awareness of our duty to evangelize. This task involves all of us. We cannot keep on living only for our own interests. We have to be men for others. And that can happen when we go all the way to doing the task of evangelization, among many others.

Then, I suppose, we really have to master the doctrine of our faith, not only intellectually, which is already a lot, but also vitally, as in assimilating this doctrine and making it our own life, such that more than words, it is our action that speaks and that testifies to our consistent Christian life.

We need to continue making initiatives to spread the Word of God, teaching and explaining it, relating it actual situations of different people, etc. Organizing catechism classes not only in schools and parishes, but also with the family, in the neighborhood, clubs, etc.

For this, we need to be good catechists ourselves, training others as well, and empowering them. I was saddened when in a visit to rural barangay, I learned that some women who were volunteering to be catechists could not do the job simply for lack of transportation money.

Yes, the necessary logistics and all sorts of support have to be looked into. These have to be taken care of by the relevant agencies in the parish or diocese, or simply by private organizations. If there are NGOs for the notorious population control, why not NGOs also for supporting catechists?

Still, a lot more is needed. There is now a crying need to develop in each one a certain new sensitivity to effectively engage with those who for one reason or another are difficult to relate.

There´s a lot of religious indifference around, if not ignorance, confusion and outright error that obviously can easily deteriorate to malice and hatred against religion. Still, these are souls that need to be helped.

Remember our Lord saying, ¨They that are well have no need of a physician, but they that are sick. For I came not call the just, but sinners.¨ (Mk 2,17) He was always with the sick and the sinners.

And while he was strict with justice, he was generous also with mercy. The woman caught in adultery confirms that. He also practiced extreme delicacy in his dealings with people in the wrong side of the fence. The story of the Samaritan woman in the well shows that.

He fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah regarding his deep compassion with sinners: ¨He shall not contend, nor cry out, neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets. The bruised reed he shall not break, and the smoking flax he shall not extinguish.¨ (Mt 12, 19-20)

We have to continue finding ways of how to effectively deal with our brothers and sisters in varying degrees of separation from God without unnecessarily making them feel bad. That´s the challenge! We need to pray hard, study and move.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Ultra vires?

THE Latin expression simply means “beyond the scope or in excess of legal power or authority.” DILG Secretary Robredo cited it when commenting on the now controversial Ayala Alabang ordinance regulating the availability and use of contraceptives and the like.

I was deeply disappointed with this statement of Robredo who otherwise enjoys the prestige of being an exceptional politician, one who is competent and honest. That combination is not easy to find. But in this case, I feel Robredo needs to know certain things and cover his likely Achilles’ heel.

As a result of my article on law and legalism, I received a number of reactions that ranged from the serious and the valid to the ridiculous and the impertinent. In the middle were some reactions that contained both legitimate and wild points.

It’s quite obvious that our human laws obviously cannot capture everything that needs to be regulated in life, no matter how well crafted they are. There are certain things of conscience that our human laws cannot enter.

In fact, they mainly regulate the external and social dimensions of our life, even if we try our best to attune them to the finer matters of conscience. That’s just how things are. Though we have to be serious with our laws, we should never forget that they are not perfect. They will always be in the state of perfectibility, a dynamic affair, not static.

In short, our human laws cannot be the last word on how we ought to live and behave individually and collectively. They have to be crafted, implemented, then polished, revised, refined, etc. in a lifelong process of trying to conform them to the ultimate basis of our laws, which should be God’s laws, our knowledge of which also takes on a dynamic process.

Of course, given our human condition, we also just have to find a practical way of attaining an acceptable state of stability in the midst of all the dynamism involved in our life. Otherwise, there would be chaos. But our need for stability should not hinder but rather should foster our greater need for dynamism in an acceptable way.

Thus, to make our human laws the ultimate basis of what is right and wrong, what is fair and unfair, just and unjust, is to give our human laws “ultra vires,” opening them to all forms of legalism. We would be expropriating what is proper of God and making it our exclusive own. That would be funny.

Of course, the question of the involvement of God in our law-making is a very tricky one. Among the reactions I received to my previous article was one that sarcastically asked me, which God should we follow—the one of the Catholics, the Protestants, the Muslims, etc.”

Yes, we need to acknowledge the complexity of the question, but it does not mean we should avoid it. That would be doing an ostrich that buries its head in the sand when faced with a challenge. We just have to tackle that difficulty, no matter what it takes—of course, doing it as cordially as possible, avoiding violence and bitter zeal.

Since we can have different conceptions of God, we obviously have to go slow in our exchanges, but never to stop. Religious freedom should not be taken to mean that we just keep a kind of permanent détente among the different religions, or worse, that we shun the question of God.

While religious détente has some value and advantages, it should be understood as a practical, temporary means to keep peace and harmony in society. But it should not hinder the attainment of the fullness of religious freedom which always involves the lifelong search for the true God.

That is why, the role of religion and everything related to it should not be avoided in pursuing and developing our temporal affairs, like making the laws of our land. We have to debunk and outgrow that erroneous understanding of the doctrine on separation of Church and state that puts God out of the picture in our state affairs.

Putting God out would leave us in the cold, groping in the dark and relying simply on our own lights that at best can only be limited. Putting God out would lead us to the tyranny of the majority, the powerful, the rich. It cannot be fair for all. Affirmations of pursuing the common good would just be hot air.

We need to make a paradigm shift in our thinking and attitude towards our human laws and avoid “ultra vires.”

Friday, April 1, 2011

God´s love is our true freedom

WE have to understand this very well. We have been regaled through the years with all sorts of ideas and definitions of freedom. Nowadays, there even are complex ideologies with their corresponding cultures, structures and lifestyles to support these varied concepts.

We have ideas of freedom from liberalism, capitalism, socialism, communism, hedonism, feminism, environmentalism, stoicism, deism, etc. They always contain some grain of truth and render some amount of good that is more or less practical, whether personal, social, political, economic, etc.

But we have to remind ourselves first that freedom is not self-generated. We did not invent it ourselves. We did not give it to ourselves nor is it something that totally depends on us as to how to understand and live it.

Understanding and living freedom that way is bound to lead us to trouble, because it would be a freedom that would not capture all the requirements of the dignity of man. Such condition would only frustrate us in our deeper yearnings, if not put us on the road of conflict with others.

It would be a freedom that would not understand the reality of sin, pain, forgiveness, charity, etc. It would be a freedom that would not understand the necessity for the cross. It would be short-sighted freedom, given to knee-jerk reactions to things—a freedom that does not go beyond time and space, unable to reach or supernatural goal.

Freedom is a gift from God, our Creator and Father. It is a sharing with us of his own goodness that is all summarized in love. Since we have been made in his image and likeness and elevated to be children of his through grace, God wants us to have what is at the core of his being, and that is love.

That´s why we can say that we are truly free when what we do or choose is really what we love. It´s when we love when we can truly say we are free. That gospel passage which says it´s truth that makes free holds water only when what we consider truth is the object of our love.

Our freedom therefore has a specific substance and a law to govern it. And that substance and law can only be the love of God for us. It should be the love of God that should drive our freedom. Anything else would not suffice.

Our freedom is never an anything-goes affair. It´s not that just because something can be done or that we can do something, that we should feel free to do it. It would be a fatal misunderstanding of freedom if we take freedom that way.

Alas, this is what we are seeing these days. Many people have appropriated to themselves as the author and giver of freedom. They make themselves, with some help of certain philosophies and other practical instruments, the very substance and law of freedom.

There are now people who claim, for example, that it is part of women´s rights to have contraception, abortion, sterilization, or that no one should tell them anything about whatever they would like to do with their own bodies. They invent terms like reproductive health and responsible parenthood that have nothing to do with the commandments of God.

There are now people who claim it is just right to have same-sex union, to cheat and be unfaithful as long as one is not caught, to be dishonest and corrupt, to engage in some dangerous experimentations involving delicate aspects of life and parts of the human body, etc.

They scream that they are doing all these because they are supposed to be free. But are they really free? Are they not being unfairly influenced by the state of their biological, physical, mental, psychological, emotional, social, cultural conditionings, etc.?

We have to understand that while these conditionings have their due place in the exercise of our freedom, they are not supposed to be the ultimate principle to shape and determine it. They need to be grounded and integrated to the real source of our freedom.

And that can only be the love of God that is revealed to us in full by Christ and is made available to us in the Spirit through the doctrine of our faith, the celebration of the sacraments in the liturgy, our union with the hierarchy. This is how God wants it to perpetuate his presence and action of love in us, which is the substance and law of our freedom.

We need to outgrow our misunderstanding of freedom.