Sunday, July 31, 2011

Going home!

EVERYDAY, we need to go home, or at least, go to a place where we can rest and feel at ease physically and emotionally, surrounded by people who know and love us, who understand us no matter what we do.

Home is where we can expect security and stability amid the ups and downs of our daily life. It’s where we can be at our most transparent state, showing ourselves as we really are.

It’s like the cradle of our whole life, because even if we are quite old and mature, we continue to be like babies when we consider the full dimensions of our life.

The tragedy of our times is that many homes are not homes as we know and want them, but simply places where we can sleep, and perhaps do our unavoidable and basic personal and physical necessities.

Sad to say, many homes have long been deprived of the atmosphere proper to them—where love and understanding reign, where one recharges not only physically but also spiritually and morally.

Many homes have become dysfunctional for a variety of reasons—absentee parents, lack of family life, poor communication, etc. They have been reduced to offer nothing more than the minimal physical or material comfort. The spiritual and moral dimension is neglected.

So, it’s possible that one can actually be homeless even if he thinks he is at home. The worse scenario is when one doesn’t even have a home to go to at the end of the day, and lives a more or less nomadic life. In fact, there are people who are jokingly referred to as NPA (no permanent address).

How important it is therefore to continually build up the home, ever strengthening the elements and forces that go into its vitality—love and understanding, concern for one another, mutual affirmation, availability, etc.—translating all this into concrete actions and other details and not remaining in the level of ideas and intentions only.

Many people are unaware of that Pauline advice to “bear each other’s burdens,” (Gal 6,2) which is at the core of charity and fraternity in the family. Many couples enter marriage only with good intentions, but ill-equipped to tackle the duties and responsibilities of being spouses and parents. They try to build homes already handicapped.

There are many other issues besetting family and home life these days, and they need to be urgently attended to. In this, not only should the Church be concerned. The government too can contribute a lot—and much more than just giving material support.

Unfortunately, there are moves that show that instead of giving the proper moral and spiritual support, the government is pushing for immoral measures—promoting contraception, moving towards legalization of divorce and same-sex marriage, etc.—that would clearly undermine rather than strengthen the families and the homes.

The problem is that there is that secularistic attitude gripping many government officials who tend to completely ostracize faith, religion and the morals as defined by faith and reason. To them, considering these elements is not politically correct, is undemocratic, or is “ungovernmental.” They have a paganistic outlook.

And this brings us to the real bone of contention. We have leaders in politics and in society who do not realize that our ultimate home is God himself, from whom we come and to whom we belong, not only in a physical way but more so, in the spiritual and intimate way.

We all need to expand and deepen our understanding of home. It’s not just a physical structure, nor even a moral entity but with strictly natural dimensions. We need to go all the way to understand it as being in communion with God and with everybody else. Home is nothing less than that.

This is easier said than done, of course. Thus, we need to do a lot of training, since considering God as home requires us to go beyond strictly natural and human dimensions. It requires us, for example, to expect and find meaning in sacrifice and suffering. And this is not easy, since it goes against our natural tendencies.

Considering God as home involves us to regard prayer, mortification, the sacraments, ascetical struggle, developing virtues, etc., like the eating, drinking, comfort, fun, relaxation, affection, etc. as the essential elements in the natural sense of home life.

Saints who have achieved to be at home with God go to their prayer and sacrifice the way we normally look forward to our family meals and get-togethers.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Both nearest and farthest

THAT’S how God is to us. He is both the one nearest to us and also the one farthest. But he never leaves us, even if we leave him. He will always be with us, until we definitively would drive him away.

He is nearest to us, because as our creator, he is at the core of our existence. For as long as we exist, it is God our creator, the giver of our existence, who keeps us alive and kicking in this life and in the hereafter.

Though we may not notice it, he is actually in our every thought, desire, word and action, in every pore of our being. Let’s hope that we can be more aware of this reality, so that we can conform ourselves to it properly. We seem to ignore it most of the time.

We also know that he is our Father who loves us no end. He always intervenes in our life. Indeed, there’s no moment, no part or episode in our life where he is not there. His interventions are meant to give us guidance, wisdom, power, peace, etc. in our life. He is everything to us, since our life cannot but be a shared life with him always.

He is also the farthest, since he is the most mysterious being we can ever encounter. He just surpasses our capacity to know him fully. But this should not come as a surprise, because even in our daily relations with our loved ones, we may know a lot about them, but certainly we neither would know them fully.

What is important is that we ought to know enough of him as to keep a constant, intimate relationship with him. Somehow we should be aware of his presence all the time and, in fact, should refer to him all the things that happen in our day, asking and consulting him, and especially begging for his help, because more than us, it’s him who gives proper care and direction in our life.

It should not be hard to find him everywhere, because by putting ourselves in his presence or when we call to him, he would already be in touch with him. As our Father who loves us, he is ready to come to us. He actually does not play hard to get.

We need to constantly ask him: Lord, how should I react to this particular situation? How should I behave, how should I understand this development? What are you trying to tell me or show me with this turn of events?

Especially when we find ourselves in difficulties, or in the grip of a persistent temptation, this is what we should always do. We should be wary of our tendency to do things on our own, relying solely on our reasoning, our feelings, our estimations.

We need to live by faith moment to moment, to be more immersed in God especially when we are in some decisive moments or before a most seducing temptation occasioned by wealth, power, fame.

Yes, we always need to use our reason, our feelings, our imagination, creativity and the rest of our human faculties. But these without faith would just go in circles and can pose a great danger to us.

It is faith, that is, when we are with God, when we can truly penetrate into the essence of things, discern the direction of the confusing flow of events, find meaning in the most inscrutable phenomenon we can meet. We can move toward a fuller understanding of reality when we live by faith.

For this to happen, we need to pray always, study the doctrine of our faith, develop the different virtues that actually resemble us with our Lord more and more, have recourse to the sacraments where Christ gives us his grace, etc.

We may also need to have some human devices, some tricks and gimmicks we can use to keep us always in the presence of God, ever referring things to him and not just contented with keeping them to ourselves since we might feel we already understand them. We have to avoid this frame of mind.

Another important element is humility. We have to continually deepen and strengthen our humility, that awareness that we are nothing without God, because our default behavior seems to be pride, self-complacency, self-sufficiency. We need to be at war with these tendencies all the time.

It’s also humility that leads us to keep on looking for God, always feeling the need to begin and begin again.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Yes, we can!

WE need these days to develop and continually strengthen our sense of confidence and optimism, since we now seem to be buffeted right and left with pressures, challenges, problems, difficulties and controversies.

We have to consciously do this now, otherwise it’s very likely that we can slip into despair or bitterness, and that would not be good for us. In fact, some reports have it that the number of cases of mental illness, even of educated people cracking up and flipping, has increased lately.

We cannot allow fears, uncertainty, doubts, pressures, anguish, anxieties and worries, to bully us to depression and helplessness. We need not only to stay alive, but also to be vibrant, active, with a keen sense of direction.

We have to be wary when signs or symptoms of creeping sadness and a gripping sense of meaninglessness in life come. We have to react immediately. The ideal situation when we are faced with some trouble should be what St. Paul once described:

“We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed…” (2 Cor 4,8-9) In fact, we have to know how to convert crisis situations into moments of salvation and perfection.

For this purpose, we can use that reply made by the apostles James and John together with their mother, when our Lord asked them whether they could “drink the chalice” that he was going to drink, meaning, whether they were willing to accept the suffering our himself was going to have.

They simply and boldly said, “We can,” a reply that has reverberated through the ages and has infused unaccountable impulses of courage and hope to many people. We too can repeat these words many times during the day, doing it with the same spirit with which the apostles said it, so we can at least feel good and attract God’s power.

As much as possible, we should avoid losing our peace of mind and our sense of joy, even as we unavoidably get into situations of excitement and suspense, or worse, situations of failures and mistakes.

This is a skill we have to learn to acquire—how to remain calm and confident, sporty and flexible, knowing how to survive and make do with whatever situation, and in fact, how to derive good even from mishaps.

And we can do it when we earnestly pray, meditate on God’s word, when we make many acts of faith and hope and love. We have to remember that only in God can we find meaning for all and every situation and predicament we can meet in life.

That’s because God is our Creator, our Father, our all. He is the author of reality, and therefore the standard and measure of everything that happens in our life. With his providence, he is always with us, guiding us, showing us the way, telling us how to understand the different events in our life.

We should avoid just relying on our reasoning alone, or on our cleverness, our human resources and powers. These would not be enough. In fact, they themselves are in need of a deeper and higher principle. We actually have a yearning for God, except that that yearning oftentimes gets muffled by our earthly concerns.

We may not exactly know the scope and limits of our capabilities, but it’s good that with trust in God, we launch out into the world and into the future and the many challenges around, with extreme sense of confidence and optimism.

In a sense, we ought to have a kind of entrepreneurial spirit, willing to break new grounds in our earthly life and condition, but always aware that we are doing everything with God and for God.

This is the way to make things moving, to effect drastic changes and necessary transformation of persons and societies, and to become knowing and willing instruments of God in his providence over us and over all creation.

We need to have trust in God, because without him, then we would end up trusting in something else or merely in ourselves, and that would be wrong. We should not be afraid that such trust would take away our sense of freedom and initiative and self-reliance.

Rather, our trust in God will enhance to the maximum our sense of duty, because God himself will tell us so. Precisely the parable of a man giving his servants money and asking them to do business with the money is about this.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The ´colorum´ mentality

I WAS told that the Filipino slang, ¨colorum,¨ is a corrupted version of the Latin phrase ¨saecula saeculorum¨ that appears usually in the ending part of a liturgical prayer, ¨Per Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum, Filium tuum, qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus. Per omnia saecula saeculorum. Amen.¨ (For ever and ever. Amen.)

It seems that when Masses were still said in Latin, most people just mumbled the Latin prayers without really knowing what they meant, much less, how they were grammatically constructed.

The whole phenomenon later became known as ¨colorum,¨ that obtained other nuances of meaning like poor imitation, a fake, and so on until it acquired its more recent and popular signification of anything that is illegal or unlicensed, as in a “colorum” jeepney.

But with controversies now popping up because of some hot-button and wedge issues like the RH bill and the Pajero bishops, I feel that the word has become relevant again to refer to the tendency of many of us to talk on issues without much grounding on study and research, and recourse to professionals and authorities.

We can talk and talk, write and write, give our views and opinions here and there, guided only by our own ideas of what is true, good, fair and relevant, without any due effort to seek absolute and universal standards.

We have become very subjective, and therefore prone to be conflictive, divisive and chaotic. We simply rely on our personal estimations of things, or guided only by tentative and shifty social and cultural norms.

We can call this our 'colorum' mentality that is abetted by the current cultural ethos where everyone seems to be completely free, accountable to almost no one except oneself, to express any opinion and view, even if that position is based only on bias, hearsay, gossip or rumor, or one's preferences and personal taste made absolute, if not pure malice.

There's so much shooting-from-the-hip comments, knee-jerk reactions, shallow and gratuitous claims and bluffs, obvious fawning and even unintended foot-in-mouth statements. They appear in opinion pages, in editorials, and they fester like cancer in talks shows on TV and radio, where we have a lot of blocktimers and paid hacks with clearly slanted agenda.

This is a strange development, since with the surge in our penchant, motives and capability for communication, it should stand to reason that we become more circumspect in our views, more grounded, more sensitive to the opinions of others, etc.

Of course, it is also understandable that given the what may be referred to as an epidemic of loose minds and tongues nowadays, we can expect a chaotic arena in our world of public opinion. But I think we should exert greater effort to put things in order, to make journalists and opinion-makers more accountable for their statements.

This is the great challenge we are facing today in the area of journalism and public opinion. This is not a call for censorship. This is not a matter of coming up with penalties for proven offenses. It's first of all a question of formation, of recognizing objective values and and universal standards that should guide us, our views, our words, etc.

Many do not yet realize, or they refuse to accept, that ultimately and constantly the guide and standard for us should be God, who is supposed to be the author of all creation, and therefore, of truth, justice and what is objectively good for all of us.

If ever there's any reference to God, it's simply formalistic, with no operative and functional role in our views. This is unfortunate, since the only way we can get at the truth and to express it with charity and fairness is when we have a personal, vital relation with God. Outside of that, we would be on our own, guided only by our own lights.

There is still that deeply embedded anomaly of treating religion as a strange element in one's life, not applying it consistently in all our concerns, affairs and activities.

This is precisely what the “colorum” mentality is all about. It's when we detach ourselves from the author of truth, charity and justice, when we end up dishing out, as it were, poor imitations of the real thing, and unfair, biased views, and bastardized versions of the truth.

This is where we simply generate intrigues, and make lies appear like truth, mixing them with some pieces of truth to make them sound credible. This is where the spin doctors are good at.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Poverty revisited

CARDINAL Sin was reported to have said that if he was given money by Satan, he would accept it and use it for charity. Many people are reacting to that view, saying that this position is unconscionable, since it is like following the immoral doctrine that the end justifies the means.

With all this brouhaha of the so-called “Pajero bishops,” a pure invention of PCSO chair Margie Juico (OMG, what was she thinking?), this statement of Cardinal Sin is understandably retrieved by those who still buy the line of the PCSO official despite its almost self-evident falsehood and malice.

What’s becoming clear is that there is still a big number of people, some of them prominent, who are sick with respect to their life of faith and in the Church, and are in fact nursing a certain dislike, if not, hatred and hostility toward Church people.

They almost automatically think badly of churchmen, watching them with eagle eyes, and are happy when they notice or imagine some lapses on the part of bishops and priests. They are always ready for a strike.

Back to the statement of Cardinal Sin, may he rest in peace, I think the question to ask is, “What would we do with the money of Satan?” Would we just burn it or bury it, or allow it to stay idle and rot? Would it not be more common-sensical to use it for a good purpose?

Money is not Satan himself. It has its own existence, independently of Satan. We have to clarify this, because many people are misquoting a bible passage about money being the root of all evils.

I checked my Bible, and I found the quotation which reads: “For the desire of money is the root of all evils, which some coveting have erred from the faith, and have entangled themselves in many sorrows.” (1 Tim 6,10)

So it’s not money itself that is the root of all evils. It is the desire, the evil, coveting desire for money that is the culprit. Many people have a “colorum” grasp of the gospel and with that they start to pontificate. Hopefully in time, they will realize they have been victimized by their own ignorance or error.

So if Cardinal Sin or any bishop would receive money from Satan, they have to make sure that they use it properly. Obviously, it would be a different story if Satan would make some immoral conditions, or some unacceptable strings attached.

Or if the money involved would be in such amount and condition that using it would cause some evil effects, as in the case of money laundering. In these instances, I think, the donation should be rejected, unless the necessary changes of the evil conditions are made.

Of course, certain transactions may have to be done very discreetly, because not all people have the same perception and understanding of these transactions. There are those who are “weak” and can get easily scandalized even by a very good transaction. So, discretion is needed. This is not cheating. It is discretion.

With all this furor about the “Pajero bishops,” it might be good to revisit the spirit of poverty everyone, prince or pauper, is asked to live and develop. Poverty is a matter of the heart, when it is detached from material things to keep itself whole and entire for God and for others.

Poverty therefore is not so much a matter of how much one has. It is more how one uses his money and the material things for love of God and for love and service of others.

To exaggerate a little, one can be a billionaire and live Christian poverty well because he uses his money for God and for the others, or can be a dirt-poor beggar and yet not live poverty well because he is selfish. This is possible.

Bishops and priests should lead the way in showing the true face of Christian poverty, which does not mean they, we, should be dirty, smelly and miserable. Everyone is entitled to certain level of wellbeing to keep our Christian dignity intact and our effectiveness working.

I was amused once when I visited a young priest who was assigned to a very poor parish made up mostly of farmers. When I asked him how much was his average Sunday Mass collection, he told me he would usually receive P15 to P20. I could not help but laugh. He survives because a rich benefactor takes care of all his needs.

Still I reminded him to live poverty well.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Malice making use of power

THE fiasco of the PCSO officials accusing bishops of receiving Pajeros from them exposes the ugly reality of how law and any earthly power and authority not vitally connected to morality and sanctity can easily be manipulated to allow malice to play its dirty tricks.

These man-made institutions and systems, which by themselves are always imperfect and in need of higher and deeper principles, can leave a lot of room for evil plottings and schemings to take place.

This was quite clear when in the Senate investigation of the so-called Pajero bishops, it was found out that there was no Pajero involved, that the SUVs were mostly second-hand utility vans used for rural ministry, that there was nothing unconstitutional in bishops getting some aid from PCSO, that if there was any legal violation, the fault would lie more on the PCSO officials than on the bishops, etc.

Malice is all over the place. Mrs. Margie Juico is now the face, the poster girl of that vastly orchestrated malice that now appears to have been participated in by some parts of the media (the Inquirer in particular), some members of the Senate, and a public relations office. She thought her ‘gotcha’ plan would fly. It crashed on her!

In spite of being confronted by the tremendous amount of evidence showing lack of basis for their accusation, those involved have not emitted even a fart of an apology. Some continue to be defiant and recalcitrant, going deep in their unfair views.

“The bishops were given kid-glove treatment by the Senate,” bannered a newspaper headline. Some commentators simply went ballistic with showing what could be inside their heart and their personal status—traces of liberalism, atheism, agnosticism, utter disrespect for Church authorities, etc.

Even gay writers, livid in their uncontrollable bitchiness, pitched in, pouring scorn and insults on the bishops. The issue must have been a eureka and a screaming glee moment for them, showcasing their almost inherent creativity and artistry, honed up by their penchant to live in a fantasy world.

Of course, we have already been warned in the gospel that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. If one only has malice in her heart, it will definitely show in her words and actions.

If one has no faith or only has a badly digested faith, that condition will also show sooner or later. It will express in forms of ignorance and error, confusion, doubts and suspicions, fear, sarcasm, irony, superstition, bias and prejudice, etc.

All these can be expressed in bitterness, unrestrained hostility, rigidity and inflexibility. Narrow-mindedness assumes prominence. Words become daggers. Arguments come equipped with fangs, claws and poison.

There is indeed a great need to remind everyone that we have to examine where our mind is constantly engaged and where our heart is grounded. Are they with God or simply with ourselves? Are they filled with good things, inspired by God, or are they rather swamped and held captive by purely personal interests?

We have to look into our motives and intentions, because they give the trajectory of our thoughts, words and actions, and indicate the goal we want to reach—God or ourselves.

To a large extent and together with the moral object, they define the moral quality of our human acts. How they are determines the morality of our acts. In a sense, they determine the kind of person one is, whether he is with God or simply by himself.

When intentions are not deliberately purified and made to orient properly to their ultimate goal, God, then they become easy prey to our passions and to the many deceiving allurements of the world.

They influence the way we see and understand things. An old philosophical adage expresses this well: “Quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur.” (Whatever is received is received according to the manner of the receiver.)

If a commentator, for example, has malice or has an axe to grind against another person, or is an atheist, an agnostic, a liberal if not a libertine, then he will filter and arrange all the data and information he gets according to his mentality.

Let us remember that objectivity, the attainment of truth and justice, etc., depend on one’s adherence to God who is the ultimate and providential author of all reality. We can only become objective, truthful and fair to the extent that we identify ourselves with God.

We cannot rely on our reason and our senses alone. Not even on our popular consensus on things. These can go anywhere, and can become a tool for malice.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Love blooms in the little things

WE don’t have to wait for some special, extraordinary events for love to bloom. Love can sprout and grow strong even in the ordinary, simple things of our day, filling us with all sorts of good things, because that is how we are meant to live our life here on earth.

It can and ought to spring even right now, where we are, with what we are handling, because more than the occasion and the situation, love is a matter of the heart and the will, when they want to correspond to God's will and love at the present moment, however it may be.

We have been created out of love and for love. That’s because we have been created in the image and likeness of God who is love. Our life would be meaningless, would be empty if it does not have love. But we have to make sure that it is the real love, the love of God, and not just any version of love.

The possibility of love breaking out in the ordinary things of our day is always there, since in the first place, God is present everywhere, and he is not present only in a passive way, but rather in most active way—prompting us as to what and how to think, feel, behave or react.

Let us remember that being our Creator and our Father full of love for us, God is the ultimate and constant source of what is good and true for us. We actually cannot be, cannot live, cannot think and behave properly without him.

And God is in us and around us. He is our beginning and end. In everything, he is present and is intervening in our life in ways respectful of our nature and condition. We have to learn how to discern him, and to engage him in a relationship of love. This is the challenge and the duty we have in life.

We have to be wary of our tendency to depend solely on our own estimation of what is good and true for us. We are notorious for relying mainly on our ideas and feelings, and ignoring our faith, which is what connects us with God.

With that precarious situation, we often would find ourselves in states of doubt, fear, anger and irritability, confusion and perplexity. Mysteries, sufferings and other negative events in our life simply cannot be understood by us without faith.

From there, we would become vulnerable to laziness, sadness, or sense of rebellion, pride and vanity, lust and gluttony, and all other anomalies.

We have to live by faith which is maintained and strengthened by the practice of love—love for God and love for the others. This is the formula that is supposed to work for us.

That is why we need to see to it that we are always in love with the proper kind of love. That’s because we also tend to distort this most important principle of our life. Instead of loving God and others, we easily fall for loving our own selves—our comfort, our lust, our money, power, etc.

And we think that love is so special that it has to be reserved for a special moment and with a special person. But that is just not so. Christ himself told us to love everyone, including enemies, and those who appear unlovable to us—the poor, the helpless, the weak, etc.

This is the kind of love that is meant for us. We should fight against any tendency to distort it, and thus, we need to be vigilant always and quick to dispel the impulse to convert love to selfishness.

And the arena for this would the daily duties we have, the little things we meet everyday that comprise most of our life. In fact, this is the real test of love—when it continues to vibrate moment to moment regardless of what we are doing and what we are dealing in.

This is what we have to live and teach and transmit to others. We need to struggle valiantly against a strong, almost invincible world ethos that removes love from its usual and proper context of the little things of everyday.

To many of the young students I meet in school, I usually tell them that they don't have to wait for a pretty girl to fall in love. They have to fall in love in the continuing flow of little duties of the day. Failing in that, they will fail in the other aspects of love.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Omnia in bonum

THE Latin phrase means “all unto good.” It’s a paraphrase of what St. Paul said in his letter to the Romans, “To them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints.” (8,28)

It’s a relevant expression to describe what is happening in the issue of the so-called “Pajero bishops.” The demolition job has been exposed for what it truly is—a very malicious move of some government people to besmirch the reputation of some bishops and weaken the stature of the Church that has been vocal against the RH bill.

The plot demolished the authors much more than its intended victims, such that we need to pray that this government could survive the unavoidable backlash. And while we are now picking the pieces and doing some repair, we are thankful that precious lessons are also learned.

Indeed the whole thing reminds me of the biblical story of Joseph and his brothers who sold him to some traders out of envy. Joseph ended up becoming a big man in Egypt, and when people had to go to him for food during a long period of drought, his brothers also went to him without knowing it was Joseph they went to.

The meeting is so dramatic I always shed a tear while reading it. When finally Joseph could not contain himself, he identified himself to his brothers.

“I am your brother Joseph, whom you once sold into Egypt. But now do not be distressed, and do not reproach yourselves for having sold me here. It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here ahead of you…You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” (Gen 45ff)

So this ugly and painful Pajero episode has occasioned also many good things. For one, people are now more aware of the heavy and thankless job bishops carry out, such that many are now offering help to them, like donating cars and giving money to help them run dioceses whose only source of income are the alms given to them.

Many Catholics only see the externals and think that bishops must be having a good time always because they are given deferential treatment by the people wherever they go. They also have nice residences and cars, etc., which actually have been built up through the years of Episcopal successions.

What people don’t see is that they have to finance the running of the many churches and offices of the whole diocese, take care of the priests, do a lot of charity work, make all sorts of trips within the diocese and other places for all kinds of meetings, etc.

And these are not his main work. He has to concentrate on prayer, study and preparing his homilies and other addresses, preaching, administering the sacraments, receiving all kinds of requests and invitations, etc.

This episode can also occasion a deeper examination on how bishops are carrying out their prophetic mission especially on politics and business and the tricky world of public opinion. I am sure some corrections are in order.

People are making suggestions for bishops to be more circumspect in their pronouncements, taking special care that their language, tone and argumentation truly reflect charity that is earnestly seeking truth and justice. They speak in the name of Christ, of the Church. They just have to reflect Christ in their words.

It cannot be denied that some of their pronouncements and actuations, especially those done individually, have caused great dismay among the faithful for being inflammatory, divisive, tendentious, simplistic, imprudent, etc. They sometimes show traces of bitter zeal.

What is clear is that they have to promptly discern the finer, often shifting shades of the distinction between their duty to evangelize politics, for example, and the disorder of falling into partisan politics already.

They also need to hone their communication skills so that the perennial teaching of the Church can be transmitted with due respect to the varying sensitivities of the people. There's so much to proclaim, explain and defend in today's Areopagus that is the media.

They have to be clear about their doctrine. It's disturbing to hear a bishop vacillating in his answer to a moral question.

There has to be a way to correct if not avoid or at least minimize the faux pas. If there is such thing as fraternal corrections, it has to be given most especially to bishops and priests to help them.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The lunatic fringe

IT might be good to be familiar with this expression, because with the profusion of hot-button and wedge issues these days, we have to be more aware of groups that go ballistic and resort to all sorts of childish if not wild and violent antics, instead of engaging in serious discussion of the issues.

The dictionary defines lunatic fringe as “political extremists, around the outer edges of any mainstream movement; the fanatical, extremist or irrational members of a society or group.” In the religious context, it can refer to fundamentalists who are prone to be rigid in their views and not averse to use violence to advance their cause.

They usually engage in all types of juvenile misbehavior—taunting, name-calling, using gutter language, refusing to engage in sober debate and exchange of opinions, being driven more by personal preferences and biases, if not by unyielding ideological positions, not knowing how to disagree in an agreeable manner, etc.

They are fond of slogans and other simplistic rhetorical means instead of nuanced, well-thought-out reasoning. Usually flaming in rage, they get more incensed when their fire is responded with fire. They tend to stereotype and brand people, to be quick to judge and to express it without much consideration to the sensitivities of others.

Their understanding of rights and freedom is peculiar, one that is based more on human consensus than on metaphysical and much less on theological considerations. Their concept is more human generated than God-given rights, freedom and duties.

Same with their idea of Church-state relations, or as they would prefer, Church-state separation, which is understood as total, absolute separation, with practically no point of convergence.

For the government to give some assistance to the Church or any church and religion is automatically interpreted as a violation. The Church people now appear not anymore as citizens of the state. For the government to have anything to do with them is immediately viewed as suspect.

Their idea of ethics and morality wallows in the waters of a gripping relativism, where absolute truths are systematically rejected and demonized. What is absolute to them are the human laws as they understand them, and some more or less common or general social and cultural customs and practices, that in essence usually change with time.

They give not only immediate but also ultimate adherence to our human legal, juridical and ideological systems, or to the fuzzy workings of politics. They seem to ignore that any human and earthly power and authority comes from and is always a sharing of divine power. They seem unable to make the connection.

Obviously, dealing with these people requires more than just following certain rules set by human laws. It has to be guided by a higher law that is more abiding and more operative. I don’t think it can just be a matter of culture, though for sure culture plays a big part in it.

For certain, it would help if people are taught good manners from childhood in their respective homes and schools. But now we can have a number of evidence pointing to the dysfunctionality of this ideal. Many families may have houses but not homes. And schools give a lot of information but not formation.

This is truly unfortunate. Still, there is always hope. Let's pray that the unfolding ugly drama of the “Pajero bishops” can alert families and schools of their responsibility in this area.

What is needed here, over and above all our humane efforts, is a true conversion of heart. And this requires nothing less than a strong foundation of human virtues , and a vibrant spiritual life that feels at home both in the things of the world and the things of God. Absent this and we in for a rough ride in life.

We should remind ourselves that our political life cannot be separated from our spiritual life and our need for religion, if it has to have its proper bearings and orientation. And this is specially so when it it impacts on its relation to Church and religion which is unavoidable.

How do you expect the state and politics in general to behave toward the Church if there is already an ingrained rejection of religion in state affairs, or when political leaders believe their power ultimately comes from the people, and not from God?

The big challenge we have in this area is how to inculcate in everyone of us, and especially in our political leaders, the crucial role of religion in politics, and therefore, of the due responsibility of religious leaders over politics and political leaders and, in fact, over everyone.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The new holier-than-thou mentality

So, the bishops have decided to apologize, then return the Pajeros, submit themselves to an investigation and to accept whatever consequences our honorable congressmen and senators would like to inflict on them. I suppose some people are happy with this development.

I, for my part, am of the opinion that all this hullabaloo is nothing less than a witch hunt, a parody of an investigation more to harass bishops suspected of being anti-government.

Someone asked me if saying sorry is an admission of guilt. I told him outright that it need not be so. While I, for example, say sorry whenever I commit a mistake, I often also say sorry for things I am not guilty of.

I just say sorry for many reasons—to simplify things, to pacify a person in some state of agitation, or simply to be nice with someone, etc. I consider saying sorry a manifestation of delicadeza, and I don't have to be guilty of anything.

Saying sorry can be an act of noblesse oblige, an expression of a benevolent, honorable attitude usually associated with persons of high birth or rank, or with a keen sense of refinement.

The epitome of this attitude is Christ himself. In fact, he is the source of it. More than saying sorry, he assumed all the sins of men and paid for them with his life. What greater love and magnanimity can one have than this?

Christ himself was sinless and guiltless, but for our sake, for our salvation and perfection of our dignity as children of God, he made himself like sin, dying to it on the cross only to resurrect on the third day, giving us the possibility of a new life in him.

There is one thing that we need to learn as a precious lesson form this whole issue of the “Pajero bishops.” It is the readiness to say sorry for any offense or mistake, either real or imagined, without prejudice, of course, to the other requirements of truth and justice.

How many of us are doing this practice of apologizing? I’m afraid, saying sorry is something many people are afraid of doing. That’s understandable, of course. But we have to realize that we need to do it, not only occasionally, but many times. Neglecting this detail can show traces of pride, cowardice, and a grave ignorance of the nature of our life here on earth.

Saying sorry has to be understood first of all in the religious and moral sense, far beyond the very restrictive and often dangerous and unfair political or social sense that does not capture the whole picture of the phenomenon. The latter sense is often partisan and partial, if not maliciously distorted.

We have to realize that we need to imitate the example of Christ who was ready not only to apologize but also to own the sins of all of us, begging his Father for forgiveness. “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”

The whole issue also surfaces what I consider to be a new holier-than-thou mentality. It's the attitude of some people who, rejecting the religious faith, want to impose their own vision of right and wrong based only on their political opinions, some man-made legalistic standards, social and cultural customs, etc.

In this “Pajero bishops” issue, we are made to understand that it is automatically wrong for a bishop to ask for a Pajero and to use it, that a bishop receiving a Pajero is already selling out his soul to a politician, that a Pajero is intrinsically evil, that for a bishop to use a Pajero is like robbing the poor, etc.

Many parts of media lapped up this issue to its grossest level. Just listen to the “incisive” analysis of Bombo Radyo, and you would have an idea of what I mean. The commentators simply oozed with self-righteousness who could not accommodate any other view than their own. As if they are altogether immaculate.

There are many other lessons we can learn from this sad episode. Among them is to treat bishops a bit differently from our other leaders. Bishops, even if they commit a faux pas in public life, ought to be treated with a certain deference, since they are religious leaders, and not just political leaders.

This does not mean we should have little regard for politicians. But bishops as religious leaders involve our religious life which is far more important than our political life. They just cannot be dragged into public shame like what politicians usually do with each other.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Involvement and detachment

ONE of the harshest words delivered by our Lord to his apostles is the following: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother…” (Mt 10,34ff)

Down the line, we can hear him say: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me…whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

These words remind us, first of all, that we really have to handle the word of God properly. Otherwise we would be crippled in contradiction and even in scandal. We have to be wary of relying simply on our common and current understanding of things. The word of God requires much wider and deeper efforts for it to be understood properly.

We need to consider the overall sense or intent of faith (sensus fidei) of the Bible, giving due attention to the human elements that go into its inspired writing, like the cultural and historical context, linguistic style of the people then, etc. Through them, we can get an idea of what the sacred writers had in mind when they put divine inspiration into words.

We just cannot automatically apply our current mindset on something written centuries ago. That approach would miss a lot of things and would distort the meaning of the inspired word even drastically.

In this particular passage, we simply cannot conclude that our Lord does not want us to have peace, since he is referred to as the Prince of Peace. Even on his birth, angels in heaven sang: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will.” (Lk 2,14) How can we ever think he is does not want peace for us?

Much less can we think that he is asking us to hate our father and mother, since the 4th commandment precisely requires us to honor our parents, and he himself told us to love one another as he has loved us. Nor that we lose our life.

The “harsh” tone of our Lord’s words is meant only to highlight one thing—that our detachment from persons and things in this world should be total to give way to our full commitment to God.

It’s a total self-giving that involves a self-emptying, so we can be filled with nothing less than God himself, and with him, we would have everything else. As St. Teresa of Avila once said: “Solo Dios basta.” (Only God suffices)

And our Lord himself said: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Mt 6,33) This should be the trajectory of our attitude towards life, our work and the use of material things. Any other direction would be fatal to our spiritual and moral life.

So the detachment our Lord is asking of us actually does not mean that we hate our life, our parents and others, and the things of this world. Rather it is a detachment that asks of us to have rectitude of intention, that everything that we do be for the glory of God.

St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians said as much: “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God.” (10,31)

We should not be afraid to go through the required sacrifices and self-denial, since these can only lead us to the joy and peace meant for us. We need to do better than a shallow and narrow view of our earthly life, a knee-jerk reaction to things.

We need to give due attention to this duty of rectifying and purifying our intention, filling it with love, and expressing it with generosity and heroism even. Our problem is precisely our tendency to take this duty for granted, and so we open ourselves to the subtle forces of pride, greed, lust, envy, anger, gluttony, sloth, etc.

Detachment does not remove our involvement and engagement in our earthly and temporal affairs. It simply puts them in the right context and the right direction. It frees us from unnecessary baggage. It improves our vision and understanding of things, and predisposes our heart to the real love which can only a sharing in God’s love.

Let’s live detachment everyday!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Keeping ourselves childlike

A PASSAGE from the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians can serve as a very relevant reminder to all of us: “Do not become children in sense. But in malice be children, and in sense be perfect.” (14,20)

Yes, indeed! If we have to grow to maturity, in whatever way we understand it, we should remember that we also have to try to remain like a child, at least in the heart, for that is how we can go on and on in life in spite of the many trials, challenges, excitements, successes and failures. That is how we get to our final destination.

Our Lord himself says the same in so many words: “Suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come to me. For the kingdom of heaven is for such.” (Mt 19,14)

In spite of the many limitations of children, what makes them always desirable is their pure, innocent heart, incapable of malice and source of many other good things.

It's this kind of heart that makes them, and us if we try to be like them, to be trusting in the Lord always, like a little kid always confident with his father. Faith and hope easily grow and acquire strength when nurtured in a child's heart. It's this attitude that leads them to go on and move on no matter what, for life to them could only be an adventure of discoveries.

It's this kind of heart that makes them transparent, sincere and simple, not afraid to be known as they truly are. They may still lack the subtlety of prudence and discretion, and be prone to spontaneity, but they hardly mind these deficiencies.

They are only interested in doing what they think is good and enjoyable. Suggestions and corrections do not humiliate them. Rather, they are welcome.

It's this kind of heart that makes them humble, teachable, flexible and docile. You can tell them anything, and they always tend to believe and obey. Attainments, achievements and successes do not spoil them. Neither do difficulties, temptations and failures crush them and plunge them to sadness or bitterness.

It's this kind of heart that makes them easy to motivate, to be consoled, to be optimistic. Falls and mistakes are easily forgotten. They only leave a mark that becomes a source of precious lessons for them to learn. It's a heart that's quick to heal when wounded.

In short, it's a heart predisposed to see things as they are, whether they are self-evident natural truths or highly mysterious supernatural realities. What they don't yet understand, they simply accept and believe, relying simply on the recommendation of parents and elders.

To remain childlike is a necessity to all of us as we cruise through life gaining and acquiring more knowledge and skills. Otherwise, we would have no other alternative but to get spoiled, and to forget where we come from and where we are supposed to go to. This is when we start to complicate our lives.

That is why our Lord told us: “Be therefore wise as serpents and simple as doves.” (Mt 10,16) We should find a way to arrive at this ideal combination, and never dare to stray from it.

So everything should be done so that this need of ours to remain childlike as we pursue our life's temporal goals be always in everybody's mind. We need to help one another, always giving good example of being childlike to others.

One of the most compelling moments of my life was when I had the privilege to see much older people who were well-heeled, with a long list of achievements to their names, remaining like a child in their attitudes and their actuations. And I saw the effects this childlike quality had on them.

That convinced me that remaining childlike is a necessity, and that it is doable and not just a good idea, a gospel doctrine that will forever remain impracticable.

It pains me to think that many children nowadays are robbed of their childhood because they are prematurely initiated into the adult world of technologies and other things that often leave them confused and bewildered.

What can be worse is to see adults whose fascination for children remains in the superficial level. They just want to look young and to act young like children, but missing the true substance of spiritual childhood.

We need to do a little reminder and catechesis on the necessity of remaining childlike all throughout our life.

Developing piety

THIS is a concern for all of us. Though at bottom we are a religious being, since we have an innate yearning for God—whatever and whoever that may be for us—we oftentimes get aborted in developing this relationship with him, because we don’t go all the way in developing piety.

We easily get stranded somewhere. It could be because of laziness, or disordinate attachments to self and things, or an impoverished life of prayer and sacrifice, or a neglected effort to cultivate virtues, etc. Many are the factors and causes that prevent us from developing piety.

Yet one fundamental cause for this arrested or stunted spiritual growth is the lack of proper understanding of the pivotal roles of the practices of piety that we need to do.

Especially these days when we are constantly barraged by exhilarating commercial images and messages, we find it increasingly hard to appreciate the value of these pious practices that require grace and a certain kind of attitude and outlook.

For some, these practices of piety just get in the way in the pursuit of their plans, ambitions, projects. For others, these practices have fallen to the category of the meaningless, the time-wasters and the useless.

There certainly is a crying need for a basic catechesis on piety. If just understood well, this virtue ought to command not only respect from us, but also a sense of duty and obligation. It actually gives meaning and substance to our life.

These practices that foster our sense of piety can cover a lot of things: prayer, sacrifice or mortification, recourse to the sacraments like confession, Holy Mass and communion, visit to the Blessed Sacrament, rosary, examination of conscience, spiritual reading, etc.

They should correspond to all the different aspects and needs of our spiritual life as it impacts on our daily activities and concerns.

They can be described as guideposts in our journey of life full of challenges, problems, pressures and other confusing elements. Or they can offer us the needed respites in our activities, giving us moments to recharge ourselves spiritually so we can maintain a supernatural outlook in life.

They are like home bases in our pilgrimage of life where we can recover our spiritual and moral strength. There we can have God in a more direct and intimate condition. There God makes himself available to us, while in our work God expects us to look for him.

They are supposed to be vital organic parts of our day that comprise mostly of mundane activities that need to be sanctified and offered to God and to others. Like meals and our sleep, they are supposed to be availed of by us in a most natural and regular way.

We should just flow into them, since in the end all our activities should be oriented toward the ultimate goal of our life, and that is worship of God. These practices should not be considered alien to our daily routine.

This is the task we have to do—developing an attitude of relating everything to God by letting all our activities to lead us to these practices. We just have to find a way, with God's grace, to cultivate a spiritual hunger or urge for these practices.

If sin and moral evil just do not die by natural causes, neither do piety and a spiritual and supernatural outlook in life just flower by natural causes. We need God's grace for this, and our unrelenting and ever creative correspondence.

This is precisely the challenge we face these days. Even many of those who are supposed to be close and dedicated to God—priests, nuns and other religious and consecrated persons—find it hard to make these pious practices an integral part of their day. Many still find it awkward to do them.

What is needed is a certain plan, much like a regimen to which many of us willingly submit when we work out our physical fitness, so that a working and fruitful piety would really take root in our life.

So, in the beginning, much like little children, we need to be initiated into this kind of lifestyle, often forcing ourselves a little and submitting ourselves to some experts—our confessors and spiritual directors—so that the seeds of piety can really grow to maturity.

We have to go from the fundamental to the more complex levels of spirituality, from the amateur to the professional, from the beginner's stage to the veteran's, until we reach what St. Paul once described as the “fullness of God” to which we are destined.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Democracy in the Church

BECAUSE of some hot-button issues like the RH Bill, and now divorce, the charge is thrown into the open that the Church is dictatorial, is not democratic. I suppose, if we follow this line of thinking to the end, we will arrive at the conclusion that the Church is inhuman, is bad, and therefore should be killed, extinguished, annihilated.

Of course, this is a ridiculous. This brings us to the realization that in our discussions, our passions should be held in control. Otherwise, they would just mess up with our reasoning, exposing our biases, and leading us to all sorts of non-sequiturs, fallacies and ad hominems.

I find the charge both understandable and without basis. Both principal terms of the charge, democracy and Church, are complex phenomena that just cannot be treated lightly. They can lend themselves easily to all kinds of interpretations, including the wrong ones.

Democracy, while people-based, simply cannot work if no organization is put in place there, with leaders vested with some authority and accountable to the people—and to God—running the show.

Through some agreed processes, people in a democracy decide how things ought to be done—what kind of government they want, how are leaders to be chosen, how are officials held accountable for their acts, etc.

It just cannot be an unorganized government “of the people, by the people and for the people.” Chaos is sure to erupt if we leave it that way. It needs a deeper grounding.

Ultimately, it has to believe in God and to obey his laws. Otherwise, it would be setting out on its own, relying on its lights which cannot be guaranteed, and we would be at the mercy of who has the most money, the best armed, the most popular, etc.
Democracy would overstep itself if it detaches itself from God, and just relies completely on the so-called people’s will. Mob rule will sooner or later come. The dictum “vox populi, vox Dei” would be emptied of its original meaning.

We have to be clear about this: democracy needs God. It’s not just a people thing. It has to take care that this need for God is always felt, nourished and developed, especially as it enters into its more challenging, difficult stages.

The truth is that God is always present and is guiding us through his Providence in all aspects and situations of our life—be it in the personal, individual level or in the social and governmental level. God is there and it is for us to find him, discern his will and act upon it.

Now the Church is a different banana. It’s not a people thing. It’s the people of God—that’s us—gathered together by Christ through his words and deeds and ultimately through his passion, death and resurrection.

It has been given a structure by Christ, with Peter and the apostles vested with power to preach, rule and sanctify it. Its structure is therefore did not come from us, though since it is for us and with us, it certainly is attuned to our nature and to the way we are.

In spite of its human shortcomings and failures, Christ has guaranteed that “the gates of hell shall not prevail over it.” Its life and effectiveness lie in Christ more than in us. So, while we acknowledge these human failings, we should not exaggerate them either. We just have to move on, finding solutions to problems along the way.

But we should not deny that the Church, in fact, teaches the basis of democracy, since it teaches what Christ teaches—that we are all children of God, created in his image and likeness. As such, we enjoy equal dignity even if we have different functions and status in the Church.

We also have the same duty and responsibility: to sanctify ourselves and to do apostolate. We have to like God, holy and full of love, caring for one another. It dispenses divine mercy. It fosters reconciliation, love and unity. What could be more democratic than these?

It’s this nature and character of the Church that sometimes gives the impression that there is no democracy in it, since what it is and does is something that does not depend on us, but rather on God.

The truths of faith and morals are given to us by God. They are not subject to the approval of the majority. All we have to do is to follow, since we are not only our own being, but God’s first.

Pajero as the new wedge

IF it were not ridiculously funny, I would have been gravely mortified, even devastated. But I think that the government expose that some bishops received Pajeros from the PCSO of the previous administration had no aim other than to embarrass these bishops and drive a wedge into the Church.

It’s a demolition job of the lowest and thoughtless kind, reeking of rash judgments, detraction, malice, unfair innuendoes, self-righteousness, etc. It’s a very clumsy political operation that speaks badly more of its perpetrators than of its intended victims.

Its authors try to tell people that a government agency giving Pajeros to some bishops only has one interpretation, theirs. There can be no other possible scenario. In their political game plan, they want to inflict their own exclusive twisted view on all of us.

It’s a puny declaration of war, abetted by the media, that will only go pfffft, since it would require from us that we don’t think, that we let go of our common sense, that we have to automatically think badly of some people and of some transactions, etc.

Where is the respect for freedom and responsibility, and for the dignity of persons, when people are automatically held guilty for the mere act of receiving Pajeros from a government agency?

If it were not a demolition job, then why single out these bishops? Did that agency give Pajeros and we don’t know what else only to them? Were there no other recipients—politicians in all their shifting colors, relatives of politicians, other religious leaders, etc.?

If it were not a demolition job, then why would they give the impression to the public that the mere giving by a government agency of cars to some bishops is intrinsically wrong?

Does that mean that bishops in all instances cannot receive these benefits, while others can? Does that mean that there can be no justification for such act of generosity on the part of the government to bishops?

If it were not a demolition job, why bring this accusation to the public only now? Was this practice limited only to a certain period of time, that of the previous administration? Could it not be that it is very politically motivated, since Church people are now more vocal about certain government maneuvers that clearly are immoral?

This unfortunate affair reminds me of what St. Augustine once said: “Let us never assume that if we live good lives we will be without sin. Our lives should be praised only when we continue to beg for pardon.

“But men are hopeless creatures, and the less they concentrate on their own sins, the more interested they become in the sins of others.”

This, I think, is what is happening here. We are too quick to judge others, not realizing that we all need to ask for pardon because we are all sinners, and we just have to help one another do this. The Church, let’s remember, is not so much a museum of saints as it is a hospital of sinners.

Sad to say, the right of Church leaders to make pronouncements on the morality of certain government and public issues is not yet well understood by many public officials. And I think it is not because of lack of explanations. It is more of hardheadedness of some officials, if not worse things, like atheism, agnosticism, etc.

What worsens this affair is that some clerics are buying the demolitioners’ line, falling into their web, unwittingly playing crucial roles in the demolitioners’ storybook. Obviously, this is what the demolitioners want to happen—to insert a wedge among them, bishops and priests, if not the Church as a whole.

In their reckless, off-the-cuff comments, these bishops and priests reinforce the political angle of the car donations, making blanket judgments on the acts of their fellow bishops and priests.

Sorry, but I find that self-righteous and grossly imprudent. If ever there has to be some investigation of some actuations of bishops, would it not be better to do it in a proper venue, far from where things can easily be misinterpreted? This is usually done in all cases, unless dirty politics is involved.

Obviously, not everyone has the same right to know everything about certain cases. That scenario is reserved to the Last Judgment, not here. Otherwise, we would have a mob rule, and further grave injustices can be committed. Pieces of evidence lending credence to this claim are just aplenty.

We should stop wasting our time making these reckless public accusations.