Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Reality and reality shows

TV, at the moment, is teeming with what are known as reality shows. We have to know more about this phenomenon, the better for us to appreciate them and to be forewarned about their possible adverse side-effects.

I suppose that by now we all know that products come to us with both good and bad effects. The reality shows are no exception. In fact, they are the typical modern products that carry this trait of the double-effect.

So we have to learn to be very discerning. And that means we have to upgrade our discerning capabilities, such that while we widen our perspectives and try to be open and tolerant to different things, we should also be clear about what is right and wrong, what is good and bad.

Otherwise, we would slide into what is known as relativism, a worldview that removes the absolute and universal guiding elements in life, and then to confusion and anarchy.

This is how the Wikipedia describes reality shows: they ‘present purportedly unscripted dramatic or humorous situations, document actual events, and usually feature ordinary people instead of professional actors, sometimes in a contest or other situation where a prize is awarded.

“They cover a wide range of programming formats, from game or quiz shows which resemble the frantic, often demeaning shows, to projects focusing on surveillance or voyeurism.

"They portray a modified form of reality, utilizing sensationalism to attract viewers and so generate advertising profits. Participants are often placed in exotic locations or abnormal situations, and are sometimes coached to act in some way by off-screen directors to create an illusion of reality.”

Obviously, these shows are a phase in the ongoing search on the part of the media for novelty and creativity as well as profitability and survival. In themselves, they are not bad. In fact, they are good. Except that certain elements can spoil them.

This is where we have to be most careful about. We have to find ways of how to effectively regulate the terrain of novelty and creativity without compromising their objective values. It’s a very tricky terrain that reflects the complexity of how our sense of freedom, rights and arts is understood, developed and lived.

Hopefully the enormous challenge would awaken in those involved the idea that they need a deeper motive and a clearer sense of purpose in undertaking these projects. They simply have to go beyond the profit motive and to be unduly dominated by the ratings mentality.

This means that they just cannot remain in the level of gimmickry and of adolescent antics. Their shows should contribute to a better understanding of reality, of humanity, of religion and of God, since in the end reality can not be reality unless God is acknowledged to be always in the middle of it.

This is certainly a tall order. But unless we realize this, I believe that these reality shows won’t go far, won’t fly high. They can likely attract some attention and patronage, but these will not last.

Worse, they for sure will inflict some hidden damage on people and spread sweet poison around, for without God, all we are capable of doing is only evil. “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain that build it. Unless the Lord keeps the city, he watches in vain that keeps it.” (Ps 127,1)

Of course, this doctrine of our Christian faith now needs to be spread and accepted more widely. At the moment, we are faced with a world culture that is increasingly secularized, where God is ignored, avoided and even ridiculed. Let’s hope this truth is given more airing not only in the churches but also in the media.

This whole issue of reality and reality shows should surface the need for everyone to be concerned about how to keep ourselves in reality. We need to realize that reality is not just a passive phenomenon, totally given to us.

It is something that, given our nature, needs to be received, understood and lived properly. In our case as men and as persons, reality has both objective and subjective dimensions that need to be integrated properly by us in accordance to an objective law that comes from God, the creator.

Our problem nowadays is when we start thinking that reality is simply what we make out of it, completely subjective and dependent on changing and relative factors like culture and socio-economic and political conditions.

The problem we have is when we start thinking reality has no absolute, universal and permanent foundation.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Maria Kenosis

SOME years ago, I met a young fellow, newly married and, in fact, a brand new father with a newly born daughter. He was what was at that time called a yuppie, but still with a strong connection with his parish. I asked him what the name of his little girl was, and he surprised me when he said he named her Maria Kenosis.

So I asked him whether he knew the meaning of Kenosis and where in the world did he get that name. He smiled and simply said that, yes, he knew the meaning and that his parish priest suggested it to him.

He proceeded to say that Kenosis is Greek for ¨emptying,¨ and that the word appears in one of the letters of St. Paul. He liked it because it reminded him of his need for constant self-emptying as he moved on with his life.

I was dumbfounded to realize that I could meet a young and promising man still with that kind of culture. I thought that persons like this one were long extinct. I was happily mistaken, and I immediately prayed that more men be like him, and that the Christian culture can really have another springtime in today´s world. Hard, yes, but not an impossible dream.

That yuppie was referring to a passage from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians which says: ¨Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

¨And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.¨ (2,5-8)

This advice of St. Paul continues to be relevant today, and in fact, even more so today, what with all the things that strongly and ceaselessly take us away from having the ¨mind of Christ Jesus.¨

We can be so full of ourselves, helplessly cocooned in our own world, completely at the mercy of our social, economic, political and other human conditionings, that we practically cut ourselves off from God, and then from others.

That would be an anomalous situation since our life cannot be but a life with God, a shared life, since we have been made in the image and likeness of God, and with his grace, made children of his. We are also meant to live our life with the others, loving and serving them.

This is a fundamental truth about ourselves that we should never forget nor set aside from time to time. We have to live this truth always, even and especially so when we are deeply immersed in our human and earthly affairs. Otherwise, we would be fatally handicapped from the start. We would set out on our earthly journey without the guiding star.

We can never exaggerate this need for our self-emptying, our humbling ourselves constantly. That is the only way to proceed properly, to keep us vitally connected with God, to dispose ourselves to see and judge things objectively, and to progress in our spiritual as well as in the all the other aspects of our life, including our physical and social life.

This is the only way to clearly see and discern the will of God in every moment and to act on it promptly, at God´s pace, keeping us in step with his Providence. Otherwise, we would be cruising on our own, relying only on our own lights, which at the beginning may give us some help, but definitely not enough for us to reach our final destination.

We have to welcome every opportunity to be humble, and in fact, to look for ways to grow in humility. Let´s remember that cancer is not the number one killer. It is pride that kills us not only physically, but also spiritually. And it stalks on us endlessly, and attacks us the most subtle and treacherous of ways.

Humility melts away any emerging tendency to be rigid in our ways and to get so attached to persons and things, if not to our own selves, that we practically cut ourselves off from others. It helps us to be flexible, ever adapting ourselves to different persons, events and situations.

When we get stuck in some dead-end in our life of prayer, faith and ascetical struggle, the sure formula to keep on moving is to empty ourselves.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Life as an offering

Yes, our life ought to be spent as an offering. It has to be lived as a gift, because it is first of all a gift also from God to us. This is a fundamental attitude to develop toward our life, because absent that, we would have a gravely handicapped understanding of life, prone to all sorts of anomalies.

Our life, of course, can be described in many, endless ways. It's a shared life with God. It's a life in the Spirit, a life of grace. It's a participation in the intimate trinitarian life of God. But we have to remember that we have been created in love and for love, and that love should be the basic governing principle of our life.

In other words, our life has to mirror the life of God himself, whose image and likeness we are. Since God is love, is self-giving, then we too have to live in love and in self-giving.

That means giving ourselves to God and to others. That's what an offering is, what a gift is. It has to be given away freely, because as our Christian faith tells us, it's when we give that we receive, when we lose that we win, when we suffer that we gain in glory.

It's a mysterious law, spiritual and supernatural, that goes way beyond our natural understanding of things, or our common sense. But that's how it is. We need to live by that law, because outside of it, we expose ourselves to danger, to harm and to our own destruction.

In fact, given the temper of the times when we are almost systematically subjected to pressures and challenges, to moments of thrill and sadness, we need to have a very clear grasp of this basic law, otherwise we would just be lost.

We need to do everything to realize this truth, and to keep it vibrating in us individually, personally, and then socially and culturally. It's undeniable that many of us are still ignorant of this law. Many of us are chasing the wrong things in life, thinking that these are what would give us true joy, peace and fulfillment.

Crucial in attaining this ideal is the education of our emotions and passions or our whole world of affectivity, which is a very complex one, because if not properly trained, it usually gets us disorbited from this law of loving, of offering, of self-giving. It has the uncanny tendency to get lost in its highs and lows.

Being an integral part of our nature, our emotions and passions are important to us. We have to disabuse ourselves from the idea, common especially in the past among the Stoics and even now among the Buddhists, that our proper development would consist in the suppression of our feelings and desires.

But they have to be properly formed. And the ultimately criterion to assess their usefulness is when they conform and reinforce our dignity as persons made in the image and likeness of God, and as children of God.

This means that we have to train our feelings and emotions to behave according to the dynamics of love, of an offering, of a gift, of self-giving. We need to ground them to a deeper foundation and orient them to a higher goal, since they they tend to remain in the here and now and in the superficial and narrow view of things.

This means that, first of all, we have to understand that they need to be educated. They just cannot be left on their own, to act spontaneously according to the law of the flesh and ignoring the law of the spirit and the supernatural dimension of our life.

This means that we have to be on guard against the many elements and factors, social and cultural, that tend to desensitize us from this need. More than that, we need to be pro-active in deliberately cultivating our affective powers according to this law of real love.

So, everyday, and many times during the day, we need to renew our acts of offering, our acts of love, since many are the things that can deviate us from the road proper to us. Let's see to it that before we start our work, our plans, our projects, etc., we offer it to God and to others.

Then while doing it and even after doing it, we should renew these acts of offering and love many times. This way we effectively avoid being held captive by the selfish and narrow-minded tendencies of our feelings.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mass of the Holy Spirit

IT’S traditional in Catholic schools and other schools inspired by Christian faith to start the school year with a Mass of the Holy Spirit. I suppose the idea is to entrust the whole educational effort to the Holy Spirit who will guide us to the whole truth.

The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Blessed Trinity, the subsistent bond of love between the Father and Son, and whose mission it is to be with us always, since man, according to Christian faith, lives a shared life with God always.

The Holy Spirit therefore is the ultimate principle of life and love and everything else—knowledge, wisdom, understanding, counsel, piety, fortitude, fear of the Lord—proper to human and Christian life.

We just cannot live by bread alone, nor by some brilliant ideas alone, things that derive from us or from something else, but not from God. We have to live in the Holy Spirit.

This is a truth that needs to be spread around quite vigorously. There is a steady trend to remove religion from life, from one’s work, business and politics, and even from education.

In its place, some ideology is used to inspire these human activities. If not that, then some crude but generalized attitude of practical atheism, agnosticism, relativism, naturalism, rationalism, etc. This phenomenon, I’m afraid, is heading to disaster.

So, I had my share of saying these Masses in some schools. In each of them, I tried to encourage everyone to be aware of the Holy Spirit not only in their studies, but in fact in their whole life, in every aspect, situation, circumstance, state of life, etc.

The Holy Spirit is actually everywhere. In the Gospel, we are told that the “Spirit breaths where he will, and you hear his voice but you know not where he comes, and where he goes.” (Jn 3,8) He is everywhere—in one’s conscience, in the Church, sacraments, doctrine of Christian faith, signs of the times, etc.

Of course, in the school setting, this awareness and ability to deal with the Holy Spirit would have its basic foundation in the study and mastery of the doctrine of the Christian faith. And so, everyone in the school, staff, teachers and students, should try his best to take his doctrinal studies seriously.

We need to understand that the Christian faith is always relevant in all aspects of life. If we still do not see the connection and the relation between our faith and our concerns, for example, then we have a problem to solve. The Christian faith is not just a written word. It is the living word of God as well as a life-giving word.

The task, of course, is not easy. It will involve a continuing effort, ever deepening and extending in depth and scope. It will ask for an increasingly concerted effort as well, since this thing just cannot be done alone or by a few. Indeed, the faith is not just a personal, private affair. It needs to be made a culture.

We should try to avoid getting stuck at the kindergarten level, just memorizing and mouthing things we hardly understand, much less, use in real-life situations. We need to know how the faith figures prominently in our daily affairs.

Every situation in life carries with it a divine message which we should try to discern and act upon. We just cannot approach these situations purely from the point of view of economics, sociology or politics alone. God is always in the middle of things.

One of the tragedies of our times is to witness alumni of Catholic schools involved in campaigns that go against Christian faith and morals. Nowadays, for example, we have groups like Catholics for RH, Catholics for Free Choice.

It would not be farfetched to expect groups like Catholics for divorce, or for abortion, gay marriage, euthanasia, etc. These are clear indications that the Christian faith was not properly taught, studied and assimilated in the schools.

It’s not that the schools should manufacture Christian robots. Nothing can be further than what Christian faith demands. But things should be done in such a way that Christian faith is learned and lived freely and lovingly.

The challenge, problems and difficulties will be enormous. But if we humble ourselves and beg our Lord for help, we know nothing is impossible. We need to work on our humility to keep our learning and living of our faith going. The Holy Spirit comes to us to the extent we humble ourselves.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Restraint and moderation

IN short, let´s practice temperance all the time. It´s one of the cardinal virtues on which many other virtues depend. Given the temper of our times, with all the pressures, problems, excitements, stimuli, etc., plus our inherent vulnerabilities, we need to be more aware of developing restraint and moderation in our daily affairs.

Our capacity to study and work, to be objective and not too subjective, to deal with others with greater meaning and substance, to undertake serious projects, etc., would be severely compromised if we have no effective dominion over our feelings, passions and our other bodily powers.

Temperance puts our human attractions and appetites in their proper places, not by suppressing them, but rather by using and directing them to their proper ends. It checks them from their tendency to dominate us and to lead the way for us, when in fact they need to be dominated and led first by our higher faculties.

We know that our bodily powers are in great need of direction by our intelligence and will, let alone, God’s grace. On their own, they can just go anywhere and drift according to moods, fashion, popularity, but hardly by the criteria of what is good and bad, what is true and false.

We need to do more weighing and calculation in this effort to develop temperance, because nowadays we are subjected to a continuing barrage of images and messages that tickle and titillate our senses and imagination, feeding our sensuality while starving our spirituality.

Consider the ads and commercials of drinks, foods, fashion, real estate, etc. They are all geared to play on our pride and vanity, and to appeal to our baser instincts. Even the vocabulary has created a new normal. To refer to things beautiful and exciting, people now say “it’s sexy” or “it’s sinful.”

Things are pretty reversed these days. What were taboo before are now the “in” things. What were normal before are now the new taboos. So, sex can now openly be talked about, while faith and religion have to be shunned.

Truth is we are always spurred to inflame our curiosity and to indulge on our emotions and passions. Even our legitimate desires and ambitions are made use of, leading us to the stages of obsession, oppression, addiction and eventual possession, if not by one’s own flesh, then by some worldly lure, and if not that, then, worse, by some evil spirits.

Just see how people are glued to their computers and FB! That’s why many people are now so very self-possessed, so self-centered that they are practically unable to think of the others, to spend time with them, much less to enter into the mind and heart of others, to feel compassion for them.

They are so dominated by the wiles of their own flesh that they cannot say no to its every demand and caprice. At the very first signs of hunger, thirst, tiredness, or the sensual urges, they immediately give in. No wonder, pornography has proliferated. Even the young now keep a large collection of porn. The virtue of chastity is practically extinct.

The obsession for looking good, feeling good seems to be systematically sustained by an ever growing industry of the wellness craze. Look at the many emerging business empires that cater to the body cult and beauty worship.

If not the flesh, then the disordered allurements of the world hold them captive. Many people want to conquer the world not in the altruistic sense, but in a purely selfish sense. They frolic in the world almost purely in pursuit of power, fame, wealth.

These worldly allurements have led us to all sorts of injustice and anomalies in society. There´s envy and hatred, discord and division that sometimes explode in violence. Social inequalities fester like cancer.

The worst cause and effect of intemperance is demonic possession, and not just some forms of mental disorder. Cases of this phenomenon are increasing.

We need to practice restraint and moderation always in our thoughts, desires, words and action. We must remember that we tend always to exaggerate. Besides, malice can affect us anytime, given our precarious human condition.

We have to remember though that the pursuit of temperance can only be effective if done as a reciprocal to our ongoing pursuit in developing love for God and others.

Temperance is never a negative virtue. It has to be the result of our effort to love. Otherwise, it will never prosper. It will encounter many difficulties. It will run out of motives.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Faith and reason need each other

WITH hot-button issues popping up these days, we need to understand that the proper way to handle them is to use both our faith and reason. Not just faith alone without reason, nor reason alone without faith.

We have to avoid both fideism and rationalism. The former can be typified by what we call as the ¨Catolicos cerrados¨ in the sense of people who just have faith alone without articulating, explaining or defending it through reason.

The latter, rationalism, can refer to those who are closed to any appeal to faith, and depends solely on reason. Those with secularized attitudes, or with exclusively scientific frame of mind can fall under this category.

Both faith and reason have to be together, because actually one cannot be without the other. Our nature, our human condition demand it that way. We are beings meant for believing and for reasoning.

Our thoughts and desires, even our feelings, should learn to blend faith and reason together, without confusing them. We have to respect both the legitimate distinction between the two, and the mutual need for each other.

Faith needs reason because, first of all, it is a supernatural gift. It´s God sharing his knowledge about himself and ourselves with us. It is the beginning of our life in God, since we have been made in his image and likeness and as adopted children of his in Christ.

Faith needs reason because it needs to be lived and expressed in accord to our nature, and that is, to be rational. We cannot articulate that faith, express it, develop and spread it, nor can we defend it, if it is not put in terms of reason, and of course, in the other aspects that define our humanity, like our psychology, emotions, sociability, etc.

Our reason also needs faith, because it would just be floating around on a vast and seemingly endless ocean if it is not grounded on faith. It is in the core of our heart that though we do not and cannot know everything, we somehow presume a stable reference point for our reason to work. And that is supplied by faith.

Of course, our reason can choose to ground itself on many other possibilities—simply on what are perceptible by the senses, or what are understood by our intelligence, or by itself. I must say though that in these options, reason could not rest contented but would still look for a more stable reference point. This is what faith does.

Christian faith is a gift, a result of God revealing himself to us not only in some images or ideas or signs, but in God himself coming to us by becoming man, Jesus Christ, who took up all the condition of humanity without committing sin, just to be with us, to fully reveal God to us and make God available to us all the time.

This is the distinction of the Christian faith. It is initiated by God himself. It is not a human construct. It is God who from eternity entered into our time and history to give us the fullness not only of revelation, but of his very own self, as St. Paul says when he used the terms ¨fullness of God¨ and ¨fullness of Christ¨ to refer to the goal meant for us.

And so, when we talk about the RH, or divorce, or other issues likely to come, like abortion, gay marriage, euthanasia, and others that have an eminently moral, ethical and spiritual character, we should see to it that we use both faith and reason.

Especially in these issues, we cannot use reason that is based and developed along social, economic or political lines alone. That would not be enough. That would frame the whole discussion improperly, restricting it from its most important foundations.

We should be wary of the dangerous inputs from ideologies that disregard if not ridicule the religious angle of these issues. We are not lacking in proofs to say that contraception leads to abortion, that divorce generates more divorce leaving behind most pitiable victims of helpless children and women, etc.

Our leaders—whether in civil society or government or schools, etc.--should start realizing more deeply that they just cannot anymore remain in the purely temporal, material and natural aspects of the issues, because the issues emerging these days now heavily involve eternal, spiritual and supernatural considerations.

They have to realize that no one can completely ignore religion in many of our public issues. They need to raise their leadership to the next level.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Crackpots on the warpath

“PEACE be with you, bro or sis.” I feel like saying these words to those who in discussing sensitive issues like the RH Bill and lately, divorce, spew venom to those who differ with them, and that’s likely, those who still defend their Christian faith in these issues.

The underlying tragedy that explains this unfortunate phenomenon is that many people have lost the sense of unity of knowledge. In pursuing knowledge, they cannot relate to the spiritual and supernatural realities. They stay simply on the material and purely natural levels.

This, plus a host of other reasons and factors, like some sad experiences with the Church, with priests, etc., that make them lose their sense of balance and proportion and become more emotional than rational, and that veritably turn them into crackpots on the warpath.

Everything now is a matter of opinion, of one’s personal experience, of one’s preferences and estimations. Things have become so subjective that the objective truth, let alone, God-given faith, are all but forgotten, and even ridiculed.

Notice the arguments and tools used. Calling for women’s rights even at the cost of the rights of the children, the family and even the unborn. Polls and surveys are now the sources of truth and of what is good and evil in life. And impertinent slogans and rallies now replace civilized discourse.

One lady columnist argued that the unborn are not yet children and therefore are not yet subject to rights. She said that those bills proposed in Congress recently are unfair to the mothers, since they seek to give protection only to the unborn.

She conveniently forgot what the Philippine constitution said under Article 2, Section 12: “The State recognizes the sanctity of family life and shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution. It shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception…”

Earlier, she made herself like a one-woman demolition crew against the Catholic Church by exposing the supposed wealth of the Church. Frankly, she drew pity more than anything else. She can be the face of many of those who are pro-RH and pro-divorce, driven more by hate, discontent, ignorance and error than anything else.

There’s no metaphysics, no serious philosophy, much less, theology. Everything seems to derive from pure reason alone, based on personal, social, economic or political considerations. And the discussion is supposed to stick in those levels. Straying from them would be deemed foul.

So we now have a cacophony of views and opinions that echo the discordant voices in the Bible episode of the Tower of Babel. And I’m afraid we have to brace for more action and confusion, since after the RH and divorce, for sure there will come other hot-button issues like gay marriage, abortion, euthanasia, etc.

In fact, a well-known lady columnist in a mainstream paper now openly bats for abortion. While she was coy about it years back when she was just talking about contraception, now she has no qualms about supporting abortion.

That’s another proof that the RH bill which only allows contraception, as of now, will end up legalizing abortion in our country. I know that the slippery slope is one informal fallacy in logic. But this time, with what we see in other countries and what are emerging now in our country, this slippery slope is anything but a fallacy.

To weaken the position of the Church, some opinion-makers try to frame the Church position as a Catholic option that should not be imposed on others who are not Catholics, or who are Catholics but do not want to follow the Church teaching.

Forgotten is the fact that the Church also gives teachings that are ethical in nature, and that ought to bind everyone since they are universal in scope.

In fact, a well-known priest-lawyer has said as much. With his solomonic posturing, he makes all sorts of legalistic distinctions without arriving at a clear conclusion. If anything, his concludes that the RH bill is ok because the Church cannot impose its views on the others.

There are, of course, others who think faith, religion and the Church have no place in the public discussion of issues. That would be fine if the issues are purely social, economic or political in nature. But if they prominently touch on spiritual and moral questions, why would faith, religion and Church be excluded?

Truth, of course, should be pursued in charity. But also, charity should be pursued in the truth.

Monday, June 6, 2011


WE need to be familiar with this virtue. This has been so relegated in the background for quite sometime now that hardly anyone knows about it even if we actually live aspects of it, at least, since we cannot avoid them.

And yet this is what we urgently need now. Many people, the young ones being the most pitiable among them, are drifting with no clear sense of direction in life, and are tossed to and from by all sorts of currents merely hormonal, social, environmental. There’s hardly any sense of compass.

Tenacity has to do with persistence, perseverance, resolve, determination. If we need to reach our end, our homeland, this is what we need. It teaches us how to move on in our earthly journey where we can meet all sorts of situations and predicaments.

But before we drag tenacity to its caricatures of rigidity, inflexibility, hardheadedness or stubbornness, we need to remind ourselves that this virtue rather connotes flexibility, capacity to flow with the tides, to regroup, retool, reinvent, etc.

The secret of tenacity lies precisely in its power to renew itself constantly, going through the endless process of beginning and beginning again. It’s in its power to be born again as often as needed that keeps it going.

For this purpose, it is a result and is vitally connected with all the other virtues, foremost among which would be charity, then humility, then fortitude, patience, optimism.

It can only grow and develop on the ground of truth and charity. In short, it can only prosper when it is vitally linked to God, who gives it its life-giving impulses, its directions, its end and means. When exercised with God, one would know what to expect and how to handle obstacles and mishaps he can meet along the way of life.

These days, with all the pressures and problems besetting us more and more heavily, this virtue needs to be understood well, and be pursued without let up. And to think that these challenges are not anymore merely economic or social, but are of the more intricate and delicate type—the spiritual and moral!

To develop tenacity in this kind of milieu requires more than just developing the proper frame of mind, or the strengthening of one’s will and character. It demands nothing less than a deeper and more authentic grounding of our life—especially our mind and heart—on God.

This means we really have to rev up our spiritual life, going deeper into all aspects of our Christian formation—human, spiritual, doctrinal-religious, apostolic and professional.

This means we have to raise to the next level our life of prayer and sacrifice, faith, recourse to the sacraments, our life in the Church and with others, especially the poor and those who are alienated from the Church for one reason or another.

When we live them truly, we effectively enter into God’s life and power, and no wiles of our flesh, no allurements of the world, no temptations and tricks of the devil can put us off-track, leading us to bitter zeal or discouragement and despair.

We have to live these aspects of Christian life more consistently. Even when we are reading the newspapers, we should do it somehow in a spirit of prayer and faith, otherwise, we will miss many finer spiritual and moral points involved in the items and easily fall victim to hasty if not erroneous judgments.

We have to brace ourselves for far more complicated and daunting challenges, because our times demand a more discerning spirit. We face issues with complex and competing values involved. The people involved are most likely close to us—relatives, friends, colleagues—who fall in different if not opposing sides.

This situation can provoke many negative consequences—anger, hatred, envy, rash judgments, all forms of lack of charity—that we should try our best to avoid. This is where the virtue of tenacity has to be developed along the lines that are truly connected to God.

Otherwise, there’s no way this virtue can take off. And instead of resolving issues charitably, we easily get stung by the rhetorical fireworks and flourishes and therefore launch an emotional counter move that worsens things.

Or worse, we can get so discouraged and stuck that we can just play the ostrich defense, burying our head in the sand, remaining completely indifferent to developments and challenges around.

This is actually the meltdown of tenacity, and the failure of man. We have to help one another in building up this virtue so urgently needed these days!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

It always pays to be humble

WITH our country´s social and political environment increasingly affected by developments in the West where the contraceptive mentality, abortion, divorce, etc., are enshrined in their laws, we too are now experiencing a growing tension as these issues are invading our shores and are certainly sparking controversy.

We are still in the middle of a heated RH debate, and now the issue of divorce is rearing its ugly head. Proponents of it proudly banner themselves as the harbinger of enlightenment to people long subjected to the bondage of Church teaching. Hmmmm. What a provocation!

Of course, when an average priest hears claims like that, the reflex action is likely to defend the Church if not gird for an attack. I must say, this happened with me many times. I grew up in a family environment where we were encouraged always to defend and argue our positions, even up to its bloody end. I admit I enjoyed it too.

Only after sometime did I realize that the appropriate paradigm to follow is the behavior of Christ himself. While he also was strong in disciplining his disciples and even scolding the unbelievers, in the end he just went about proclaiming the gospel truth about God and us, allowed himself to be insulted, inflicted pain, and then crucified for this doctrine.

There´s wisdom in that kind of behavior. I´m only realizing it lately that due to our human condition so vulnerable to a lot of weaknesses which we consider to be our strength, the most appropriate way to win others is to be humble and meek. The attitude to take is not to score points, but to save souls. It´s not to win an argument, it´s to spread charity.

As the Acts of the Apostles describes it, ¨He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and like a lamb without voice before his shearer, he opened not his mouth.¨ (8,32) And that attitude and behavior resulted in our redemption and Christian perfection!

This realization came to me clearly only after some verbal—mostly written, not oral—tussles I had with those who differ from my views, especially on the RH issue. I noticed that when I answered a tit to their every tat, we generated more heat.

But when I changed tactic and responded even to the sharpest, most impertinent comment with at least some nice words, the tenor of the discourse changed. It became less confrontational, and more conciliatory. And exchanges assumed more substance and direction.

We cannot deny the fact that all of us have our baggage of biases and prejudices, and can be afflicted with the usual weaknesses—pride, vanity, envy, cynicism, the tendency to dominate others, to be regarded well always of others, etc.

I think we need to be aware of these elements that often spoil our conversations and dialogues, and strive to be humble, to empty oneself just like what our Lord did to become like us—he emptied himself of his God-ness. We have to empty ourselves to receive more the grace of God.

That is why St. Paul said: ¨Let nothing be done through contention, neither by vainglory. But in humility, let each esteem others better than themselves.¨ (Phil 2,3) We need to spread these words more widely. Many are still ignorant of the wisdom embedded in them.

Humility always favors dialogue. It allows the discourse to develop properly and to go to areas and branches that are pertinent to the issue at hand. It fosters objectivity and purifies the motives of people. It knows how to keep on track, avoiding getting off-course. It also has a good sense of timing, knowing when to talk and when to keep quiet and wait.

It leads us to pursue our dialogue in accordance to the prudence of the spirit and not to the prudence of the flesh or of the world. It fosters greater sensitivity to the positions and situations of others.

It makes us a ¨spiritual man¨ as opposed to a ¨carnal man¨ that St. Paul talked about. The ¨spiritual man¨ can understand and bear the ¨carnal man,¨ but not vice versa. So, humility teaches us to be patient, willing to suffer certain inconveniences if only to reach the desired end. It reinforces our sense of security and confidence.

The spiritual qualities of the wisdom that flows from a humility-inspired discourse have the following qualities as St. James mentioned in his letter: ¨it is chaste, then peaceable, modest, easy to be persuaded, consenting to the good, full of mercy and good fruits, without judging, without dissimulation.¨ (3,17)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Man-made Christianity

THIS is not going to be easy to explain. First of all, because religion, while it concerns God, also has us, the ever fickle-minded man, as its integral element, since religion is about us and our relation with God.

So, while man is basically a religious being, always looking and yearning for God, there´s always that possibility, for a number of reasons and factors, of us making our own God, and failing to hit it off with the real One.

This has happened in abundance in the history of man. There were people who worshipped the sun as their God. Others the moon, or the wind. Still others carved some idols as their deity.

We are a religious being. Our Catechism says so. ¨The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself.¨ (27)

Even those who profess themselves to be atheists (non-believers) and agnostics (doubters) cannot avoid having some aspects of religion, because if it is not a spiritual, supernatural God they believe in, they must believe in something else—their own reason and ideas, for example, or simply their own selves.

This challenge of how to put our religion on its proper course has been hounding us since time immemorial. And though the problem is huge, and the efforts to resolve it through the centuries have been hard and tumultuous, we just have to have faith and hope that we can resolve it.

The basis for that faith and hope is actually with us and all around us. No matter how imperfect our efforts may be, we cannot deny the fact that there must be a God—if not something or someone outside us, then one inside us.

I don´t know much about other religions, but Christianity is about a God who reveals himself to us, who comes to us, who makes himself like us, and leaves us with instrumentalities that continue his presence and redemptive or perfective work on us up to now till the end of time. The initiative comes from him, before we are asked to correspond.

Obviously, all religions must contain elements of truth and goodness, since any effort to deal with a God, even in the atheistic or agnostic context, cannot help but possess some of these elements of truth and goodness. Nothing can stand or even exist if no element of truth and goodness is present.

We just have to embark on a lifetime task of determining the true religion, the one initiated by God, and not any that we start or invent. For this, we need to be humble and empty ourselves, like what Christ did to become like us, so that we can be filled with God´s grace, with God himself, and from there start our relation with him.

Our big problem now is that we seem to be making our own religion. We may start with corresponding to God´s initiative, but somewhere along the way, we break off from him and go on our own.

Even among Christians and Catholics, this problem is very real. Just lately, with all this RH debate, I realize more sharply that there are Catholics who think religion is simply a matter of one´s conscience, with hardly any relation to duties to Church, to abide to a certain doctrine of faith, to resort to the sacraments, etc.

In fact, there were a lot of anti-Church and anti-religion sentiments. It seems these have been festering in the minds and hearts of many people for ages. These biases proliferated in the RH debates in different forums, often with venom vomitted out quite freely, and claws, fangs and hackles menacingly shown.

Many, even among the educated and professional classes, could not understand why the Church has to be heard about the morality of the RH issue. What role does it play in this issue, they ask. Why not simply what comes to one´s conscience or at least what is agreed upon by the consensus of the majority?

Some traces of Christianity can still be detected in many of the views expressed, but a Christianity very badly understood and digested, much less, lived. Many still claim they are Christians or at least adhere to some religion, but it is quite clear that it is more a man-made religion, a man-made Christianity that is referred to.

This is, of course, a big challenge for the Church which will not run away from it. But it will have to retool itself significantly.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The world of public opinion

IF the Church really has to tackle the challenges of today more effectively, I think it has to be more active in the world of public opinion. That´s where a lot of action is taking place these days, action that both reflects the flowing signs of the times and helps to shape them.

Without leaving behind or neglecting, but rather enhancing and purifying the traditional means, the Church has to go beyond preaching to the choir. She has to step into the more tricky and challenging waters of the secular world. I think this is what Pope Benedict has been saying when talking about communications.

True, we should not leave the pulpits, but neither should we get stuck there. We have to go to the modern Areopagi that are now the media, the Internet, the blogosphere, social networks, etc.

It´s important that as we tighten always to our faith, we also know how to loosen ourselves and flow with the times. We need to proclaim, explain and defend the faith there.

My opinion is that we, priests, for example, should try to meet all kinds of people where they are—in the immense variety of human conditions—and try to bring them where they should be. But they have to be met first where they are. And that can mean to get ¨dirty¨ with them.

Of course, we have to clarify that when we say Church involvement in public opinion, it does not only mean the priests and bishops. In fact, they should play a more subsidiary role. The more prominent role should fall on the laity who should be more active here. They have to act not as longa manus of the clergy, but as citizens consistent to their faith.

My experiences in school where I work and my exposure to the businesses of friends and relatives tell me how important it is to monitor developments continually and act promptly when prudence dictates some intervention is needed. Our fervent prayers and good intentions would not be enough if action is not taken.

For example, though I have not been involved in business since I became a priest 20 years ago, I somehow get to know the pulse of the market because my sister, who owns a chain of department and grocery stores, frequently informs me about her business developments.

I suspect she does it to fish out some ideas from me, since I had business experience before priesthood. Her info enriches me, since it expands my world, forcing me to go beyond my preferences, learn new things and enter somehow into the minds and hearts of people. Market trends reflect people´s state of mind, among other things.

The world of public opinion nowadays precisely needs the presence of the Church, the indispensable contribution of faith and religion, since at the moment it is becoming a metastasizing blob of views and positions that confuse people more than enlighten them.

The topics and issues discussed there are not anymore merely economic, social or political, but do have eminently spiritual and moral implications. There´s a lot of ignorance, confusion, outright error and, yes, malice, insofar as the spiritual and moral dimensions are concerned.

In the current RH debate, for example, I realize how deep and extensive are the anti-Church and anti-religion sentiments of many people, including those who were educated by our so-called Catholic schools. It makes me wonder what these schools have been doing for years.

And we can expect more biases of this type, since we now hear not only RH, but also divorce being floated as another issue. We have reason to suspect then that more issues of this kind will come—same-sex marriage, abortion, euthanasia, etc. That seems to be trend in the world today. So we have to brace ourselves for them.

Of course, we have to reinforce the traditional means—basic catechism in parishes, schools and families. Catholic schools should see to it that they teach integral Christianity, one that is whole and organic, alive, and not a dysfunctional Christianity, more dead than alive.

At the moment, we see a Christianity that does not know how to connect conscience with Church magisterium, spiritual life with prayer and sacrifice and recourse to sacraments and ongoing formations, etc.

We have to see to it that appropriate structures, both hardware and software, are put up. We have to review the programs used in the radio stations, TV channels, newspapers. We have to train the right personnel, and inspire many to enter into the new technologies.