Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Morality and the economy

THE Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church dedicates a big section to this topic of morality and the economy precisely because it in itself is important and essential in our life, and also because it is often forgotten or taken for granted, if not wantonly violated.

In one point of the Compendium, it is said that “the relation between morality and economics is necessary, indeed intrinsic: economic activity and moral behavior are intimately joined one to the other.” (331)

We have to remember that economics is not only a science but also a human activity, involving not only individuals but also whole societies. It cannot help but assume moral requirements that we have to pursue and fulfill, develop, protect and defend.

Economics should not be done in a purely materialistic way, expressed in terms of money alone, or profit. That would be an inhuman economics that would sooner or later convert us into objects or targets, and not anymore as persons, and much less as children of God.

We have to be wary of the subtle pressures—social and political—that lead us to forget about morality in economics. Some political leaders, for example, in their effort to gain political advantage, can just pursue economic plans that produce quick political favors but sacrifice some moral and spiritual requirements.

We can refer to the phenomena of workaholism and professionalitis that afflict many people and that erode family life as well as spiritual life of personal prayer and the fulfillment of religious obligations.

We also have the culture of indiscriminate dole-outs and bail-outs, and other forms of questionable entitlements and privileges that spoil people, making them overly dependent on others and the government.

There are other forms of inequalities and injustice: hiring of minors, pressuring women to work at the expense of caring for the family, unhealthy working conditions like young people asked to work overtime and at grave-yard shifts for long periods of time, children used in cybersex, etc.

The bad effects are unmistakable and are growing—physical, mental and spiritual deterioration, alcoholism, marital infidelities, family break-ups, cultural impoverishment, growing materialism, greed and envy.

We cannot anymore treat these problems independently of the organic relationship between morality and economics. We have to realize that they stem from a bigger problem that needs to be resolved adequately and quickly.

The Compendium further clarifies that “the necessary distinction between morality and the economy does not entail the separation of these two spheres but, on the contrary, an important reciprocity.”

This doctrine is very relevant these days since there is a big tendency for us not only to separate the two but also to put them in conflict. Very often we are forced to make a choice between the two. We are made to believe they cannot be together.

Everyone of us, in the different levels and aspects of life, from the individual to all degrees of collectivity that we get involved in, should realize that we need to be well grounded in the correct delineation of the link between morality and spirituality, on the one hand, and the economy, on the other hand.

We cannot remain naïve in this regard. We cannot anymore afford to stay primitive in this concern. Those involved more in the promotion of morality—priests and teachers—should be mindful of the objective needs of economics and should foster rather than obstruct their fulfillment.

So they should try their best also to know more and more about economics—its laws and different doctrines—so they could attune their teaching and counsels to concrete conditions of the people, and not remain only in theories that hardly have any impact on real situations.

We are now into an interdisciplinary way of life. We should continue our education and formation, updating ourselves with the endless flow of developments that are now also monitored more closely by our new technologies.

Those working more directly in the economy—employees and employers, businessmen, investors, etc.—should also be mindful of the requirements of morality. They just cannot remain in the level of practicality and profitability. They have to know the deeper needs of men and learn to adapt their economic plans to such needs.

The crises we are witnessing in the world at present are caused to a great extent by our not integrating morality and spirituality with our economics, business and politics. This is the challenge we are facing these days.

Let’s hope the bigger entities—churches, government, schools, families--can help in tackling this challenge, developing programs for this particular concern.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Sports and spirituality

BOYS will always be boys. Given any chance to play sports, their reaction is always lightning quick and wholehearted. In fact, I sometimes get the impression that’s where their heart really is. Classes are a poor second, or a third or fourth…

We just opened our yearly intramural Olympiad in school, and the school environment suddenly changed mood. More movement, more laughter, more color. The boys seem to be on auto-pilot, guided by instincts otherwise hidden during normal schooldays.

Through it all, I somehow detected unmistakable traces and signs of growth and development. There was more self-confidence, better teamwork, an increased daring to show their talents and gifts, or as they say, to strut their stuff.

It’s true that while their education requires some controlled environment, they need to be unleashed from time to time, asking them to do things on their own.

That’s where we can see whether degrees of maturity and sense of responsibility have been gained or not. That’s where we can see who are the leaders and who the followers. That’s where we can see their strengths and weakness.

I saw their cheer dance competition and their artwork exhibit—I could not be in all events—but I was already floored to see their creativity and artistry that truly widened my perspectives. It’s indeed a blessing that can come only from God.

It’s always moving to see them try their best to be more human and Christian, to become more mature and responsible in spite of the many demons they have to face. Human weakness and miseries, temptations from within and without hound them as they do everybody else. But their struggles have a peculiar quality.

They’re still awkward and prone to try flying without knowing exactly where they would land. They’re still into a grueling process of self-discovery, a very crucial stage where they need the most help that should not be too intrusive, which they resent.

It’s in sports where a common language is instantly spoken and understood even between staff and students, and practically by all. Barriers seen in classrooms and workshops seem to get dismantled in the gym. And everyone enjoys and looks forward to it.

That’s why sports has to be given its proper place in school life. It may not be the most important element, but I would say it’s an indispensable auxiliary component. For it can also be a terrific school of many virtues.

But it has to be infused also with the proper spirit. Otherwise, it can degenerate into a network of vices and inhuman attitudes—greed, lust, vanity, frivolity, etc.—that can become formidable since with sports this network gets extremely enjoyable and addictive.

Everyone needs to be reminded that sports has to serve our true dignity as persons and children of God. It cannot be an excuse for us to indulge in animality and savagery. Competition need not be an exercise of pride, envy and hatred.

It can be a healthy occasion to build a realistic attitude to life, for which one realizes the need for discipline and preparation, hardwork and focus. It can be a good learning moment for the interplay of the basic social principles of the common good, solidarity and subsidiarity.

Competition tells us we are not alone, we need to be with others. It tells us we have to work for a goal, each one contributing whatever he can and always doing it in an effective tandem with others.

Competition is a driver of development at least in the personal and social aspects of one’s life. It pushes one to go to the limits of his capabilities not only in the technical aspects but especially in the more human ones—magnanimity, gracefulness, patience, optimism, etc.

That’s why it is important to make everyone understand the true nature and purpose of competition. If one knows what competition really is and is for, he will always come out a victor whether he wins or loses in a game or business.

Defeat, according to General George Patton, is not due to losses but to the destruction of the soul. It’s when one surrenders to discouragement, pessimism, despair.

That’s why it is important that everyone learns to compete properly, correcting him whenever the spoilers of the true status of competition come. How essential is it, therefore, that the young ones be immediately reminded and encouraged whenever they show signs of misunderstanding it.

Of course, the very fundamental principle of sports and competition is one’s love for God. Outside of that, forget it.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Where fairness springs

TWO pieces of news caught my attention recently. Both came from the US. One says that the New York mayor decided to “ban religion” at the forthcoming 9/11 ceremony. The other, that the American communication regulating body finally scrapped the so-called “Fairness doctrine.”

Both are good materials to reflect once again on where we can find fairness in the media as in anywhere else. We should approach the issue with calmness, making deliberate effort to stay clear from the journalistic hypes and stretches that often twist and disfigure things and lead us to make unfair judgments and opinions.

In fairness to the New York mayor, I don’t think he is against religion per se. He just wanted, according to him, to give focus on the families of the victims of this tremendous tragedy. That’s why he would not invite not only religious leaders but also politicians.

He has a point, of course, although I would not agree with it completely. Religion and politics, whether we like it or not, simply have a role to play in such momentous event of remembering a heart-rending national disaster that has affected America and the world not only politically but also spiritually.

But I would not insist so much on my view. If the mayor thinks otherwise, so be it. I would not like to go deeper, at least for now, to see if there’s some hidden agenda, ulterior motive or bigger picture attached to this decision. But I would like that he reconsiders the religious part of the ceremony.

The other news about the discarding of the Fairness Doctrine amused me somehow. The people involved finally surrendered to the challenge of putting that doctrine into practice.

An official aptly said the doctrine was already a dead letter that should remain dead. Resurrecting it would just be an unnecessary distraction. In his rhetorical flourish, he offered to give it its last rites.

This is an interesting development, since fairness in media or in politics as in anywhere else is always a concern to be taken care of. While the decisions of the American officials regarding the specific cases mentioned above could be warranted, I believe everyone agrees that fairness never becomes obsolete.

Fairness should continue to be pursued and observed. But how can this be done? Especially in our Philippine setting, this concern is hardly given any serious thought.

I have read and studied a number of codes of ethics meant for journalists, for example, but I get the impression that they remain good intentions and beautiful words but not in action. They seem restricted to the confines of journalists’ organizations but have failed so far to go out to the real world.

There is a lot of bias and prejudice, bad manners and grammar, knee-jerk reactions displayed in the media everyday. The lines separating news-reporting and advocacy work and partisan politics are intentionally blurred. We have mongrels like “infomercials” and PR offices trained in psywar tactics and demolition jobs.

I believe that for fairness to emerge, everyone has to have a living, intimate relationship with God. Without this, one cannot live full integrity and honesty, his resistance to the demons and temptations around can not go very far. He will relent sooner or later.

The codes of ethics, beautifully crafted, should, of course, be internalized. But they should be rooted on God himself and on no other principle. Otherwise, they will just remain a façade.

Everyone has to rectify his intentions. Any form of communication, any use of the word, oral or written, should be understood as a participation of the living word of God that always conveys the truth in charity. Outside of that orbit, we would be prone to misuse and abuse words.

Everyone also has to make continuing examinations of conscience to see if things were done right, or if there were some mistakes, omissions, etc. that need to be corrected or repaired. This should be an integral part of our lifestyle.

Sometimes I get intrigued to note that if in our ordinary daily life, we often realize at the end of the day that we have committed some mistakes and therefore we need to say sorry, why is it that in our big affairs as in politics and in media, one seldom hears of apologies made? As if there were no mistakes committed.

Again, what can account for this is the secularized culture we have at present. People get awkward relating their lives and their affairs to God. But God is where fairness springs.

Everyone has vocation

WE all need to remind ourselves of this basic truth. All of us have a vocation. We have to sharpen that sense and make it the directing and shaping principle of our life.

Vocation is not only for a few, and for some special part of our life. It is for all of us, since as creatures and children of God, our relation with him is never broken. Our life will always be a life with him.

God continues to be with us, and while respecting our freedom always, he calls us to him, for it is him, more than us, who directs and shapes our life. This is the essence of vocation—God calling us to share his life and activity with us.

Let’s always remember that God created us for a purpose. He did not create us just to leave us on our own. He created us to participate in his life and in his love which is the essence of God.

This is what a vocation is. It is God inviting us to be with him, to correspond to the reality that God is already with us and wants us to actively participate in his plan for each one of us, which can assume an infinite variety of forms and ways.

Since God lives in eternity, his call to us, though discovered and carried out in time, springs also in eternity. In short, if we cooperate with him, we can say that what he starts with us will also be completed by him.

St. Paul says something relevant: “He who has begun a good work in you will perfect it unto the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 1,6)

It’s important that we realize ever more deeply that we are never alone, nor are we thinking and acting alone. We are always with our Lord. This awareness and our effort to correspond to that reality is what makes up our sense of vocation.

And so we have to realize that our vocation is meant to cover all our life, in all its aspects, and not just some parts of our life. Our vocation gives meaning to our whole life, projects us to our proper destiny.

Nothing is excluded from it, since God’s presence and interventions in our life are constant and abiding, and not just from time to time, nor from case to case. It covers our whole life, from beginning to end.

Thus, we need to develop the habit of going to our Lord for anything and everything that happens in our life. We can ask him questions, consult him, ask him for help, light and strength.

When we are in the dark, in doubt, gripped with fear, falling to cowardice, etc., we can ask, “Lord, where are you? Help me, Lord. What are you trying to tell me with this event or situation, Lord? How am I supposed to understand these things, how am I supposed to react and to behave at this time…?”

We can ask him to make his presence more felt, his will more clear, his way more accessible. We should not be afraid nor ashamed to make these demands, since God is our father, we are his children. We can tell him anything.

We should have the faith of the child who can ask anything and even complain to his father, but never doubts the love of his father. We need to be reminded of this ideal, since we cannot deny that in life we will pass through various and even severe trials that can test our faith.

That is why we have to base our sense of vocation on the firm ground of faith in God, of faith in its fullness, which means that it has to go all the way to the Cross which Christ, the fullness of revelation, embraced as the culmination of his redemptive work for us.

This will assure us that we will be faithful to our vocation. On God’s side, he is always faithful. His will for us is irrevocable. It’s on our side that we need to work out. Our fidelity and perseverance to our vocation would depend on how willing we are to embrace the Cross the way Christ embraced it.

Let’s go through the supreme drama Christ himself lived in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he begged his Father to let the cup pass him by, but rectifying himself in the end: “Not my will but yours be done.”

We should repeat those words often.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Existential formation

THIS is what we all need—a lifelong formation. Our learning never ends, even if we already have accumulated tons of knowledge and skills through the years. In fact, the more we know, the more we should get convinced there's still a lot more to know.

In his second letter, St. Peter has this relevant words to say: “Do you on your part strive diligently to supply your faith with virtue, your virtue with knowledge, your knowledge with self-control, your self-control with patience, your patience with piety, your piety with fraternal love, your fraternal love with charity.” (1,5-7)

And this is because we are poised for infinity and eternity. The discrepancy between what we can and what we are poised to is not meant for us to stop learning, but rather to continue learning endlessly, by always asking for God's grace, since this enterprise is simply beyond human capacity.

Our formation has to embrace the whole of our existence. The things to know and master are not only infinite but are supposed to lead us to God, to know, love and serve Him more and more each day, and because of him, to love others as well. This should be the driving principle of our pursuit for formation. Short of this, we would be in trouble.

Apropos, St. Paul says these words:

"If anyone...does not agree with the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about controversies and disputes of words. From these arise envies, quarrels, blasphemies, base suspicions, the wranglings of men corrupt in mind and bereft of truth." (1 Tim 6,3-6)

How true! Just a quick glance around, and we can find hundreds of cases on a daily basis that give credence to these Pauline words. Outside of God, we would just be left on our own, either in the cold or in the heat of bitter conflicts among ourselves.

In short, we need to understand that the source and object of our formation is God himself, and not just any country's constitution, some ideological understanding of human rights, social or political consensus, current fads and fashions, etc.

These are man-made devices that need to be constantly animated and renewed by God's eternal wisdom. These are inadequate to face all the objective challenges of man in this world. They are lifeless unless vivified by God's spirit.

What can even worsen that condition is that they can act like plastic material that can be used and abused by us according to our motives and states in life, which can include ignorance, confusion, error, thoughless and passion-packed interventions, etc.

I am just amazed that many people, including many leaders, do not realize this. They seem contented to base everything simply on our own ideas, without making that vital linkage with the source and author of all Truth, Goodness and Beauty.

This connecting with God may be a very difficult task both on the personal and social levels, but it is not impossible. We just have to learn to handle it and persevere in it. We can commit mistakes, but as long as there is good faith, we can still manage to be truly connected with God.

We need to start as soon as possible a kind of paradigm shift in our thinking and attitudes, a revolution that should begin in our hearts before it spreads into our families, schools, offices, societies and the world in general. Doing things on our own, without God, just cannot take off, no matter how many the illusions of taking off are given to us.

Our leaders should lead in this. First, the Church officials—bishops, priests, etc. Then our teachers and political leaders. And given their privileged but delicate positions, the media people, celebrities and other prominent personages should feel the great need for a continuing formation.

Sometimes I get more amused than bothered when I hear slogans used by media people that they are supposed to be objective and fearless, defenders and lovers of the truth, etc., when all they do is spout their own ideas and opinions only. As the Cebuano slang used by the youth today would have it, “Estoryahee” (Tell it to the Marines!).

We have to be wary of false doctrine and ideology circulating around. “See to it that no one deceives you by philosophy and vain deceit, according to human traditions, to the elements of the world and not according to Christ,” St. Paul says (Col 2,8)

We need formation!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Constitution not above God’s law

THIS has to be made clear. Nowadays, with almost everyone seeking refuge in our constitution and our legal and judicial systems when doing things that are clearly immoral or at least controversial according to one's beliefs and opinions, we need to know the right place these human institutions occupy in our life and affairs.

While the constitution obviously plays a capital and indispensable role in our country’s life, it is not the absolute, ultimate and universal law that governs all our life. It needs to be grounded on a more radical foundation and oriented toward an ever higher goal that should reflect the people’s growing understanding of life.

It cannot be static. It needs to be continually polished, refined and renewed. Its function of giving stability and order in our national life should not be made to detract from its inherent requirement for growth and development in time.

We should disabuse ourselves from the tendency to treat the constitution as the last bastion of what is right and wrong in life. At best, it can tell us what is legal and illegal, but it cannot fully capture the nuances that morality requires. It can establish and keep the rule of law in our country, but not the moral law.

For the latter, we need to go to God's law, to one's religion and church, or whatever instrumentalities one's religion uses for this purpose. Thus, in our constitution's preamble, we appeal to God for guidance.

“We, the sovereign Filipino people, imploring the aid of Almighty God, in order to build a just and humane society and establish a Government...”

The challenge now is how to define and delineate the role of God in government, and in the many institutions we have—executive, legislative, judicial. Much of the problem we face today is that God's role is left in the dark, and made to lend itself to many, even conflicting, interpretations.

There are those who would like to establish a theocracy which, I believe, is wrong. Others go to the other extreme, communism, that rejects any reference to God in our national life. This cannot hold for long, as seen in the fall of the communist countries after some decades of artificial development and staged vitality.

In our case, we need to outgrow a funny notion of separation of Church and state that has been gripping us for years.

Our lawmakers should give more attention to this need. While it's correct that the state should not establish an official religion but should respect and even promote the religious practices of the different religions and churches in the country, it should be aware of the subsidiary role it plays in the religious affairs of its citizens.

This means at least two things. One is that it should not interfere in the practice of the different religions the people may have or when people don't have any religion at all. Especially in an increasingly pluralistic society, it should practice maximum tolerance and try to give everyone his due, regardless if he is morally right or wrong as judged by a particular religion or ideology, etc.

But, two, it should intervene when the free actions of persons and institutions in the area of religion result in competing interests, especially when these actions would cause grave injustice to some parties, and a significant danger in the area of peace and order.

It just cannot say that one's freedom of expression or artistic creativity, for example (as in the case of the controversial CCP exhibit), is constitutionally protected without considering the complaints of many other citizens.

To resolve tricky matters like this, I suppose the government has to determine which party has the more compelling reason. I am sure there will be some give-and-takes involved, but what it cannot do is to just give blanket permission to one party without giving due consideration to the other parties.

The primary role of the state is to take care of the temporal common good—peace and order, socio-economic and political development, etc. It should not usurp the religious, spiritual and moral affairs of the people.

Thus, in the RH Bill debate, the government should realize that it cannot impose this bill when a significant number are against it for religious, spiritual and moral reasons. What it can do is to leave the bill alone, and allow the people to pursue their beliefs and position in this issue according to their consciences. There the government cannot enter.

So, let's write RIP to the RH Bill.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Law has to be moral

THE way issues are popping up these days, I believe we need an urgent reminder. We have limits. We are not our own creator. We need to be properly grounded and oriented. We have to obey a law that we ourselves do not make or invent, but is given to us to discover, articulate, ratify and follow.

We just disposed—hopefully—that ugly episode of that blasphemous CCP art exhibit, and got reminded that artists in their creativity just cannot wantonly use or abuse the freedom of expression without considering, at least, the sensitivities of the others.

This is not even to consider yet the religious criteria that also have their place in the sun. So let's leave them aside, for the meantime. Displaying in the state-run CCP supposed artworks that contain phalluses and condoms and clear gestures of mockery are offensive enough even with unknown subjects. How much more when religious images revered by millions are used? Thus, the fury.

I don't know why so much investigation has to be done over this incident when common sense would be enough to brand it as unworthy for display. But it seems times are a-changing. In fact, we have a new issue—rather an old, aging one that continues to be resuscitated by its proponents—coming up.

I'm referring to Senator Miriam Santiago's view that the RH Bill would have to pass since it is not against our constitution, it is part of our right to privacy. Are the RH people now desperate that they have to resort to this no-brainer?

There are million other things that are not in our constitution that our common sense itself would tell us outright they should be rejected, avoided, prohibited. Thinking and speaking badly of others is just one of them.

There are a million other things done in privacy that are simply wrong, illegal, immoral, sinful, and no one, let alone, public authorities, can prevent. Bad thoughts, bad desires, etc., are some of them.

This is again a clear case of legalism gone nuts. When our legal and judicial system makes itself its own source of authority, when it just depends on the ideas of some legislators, or the consensus of people, without making a clear reference to God's law, then it becomes rife for abuses.

The main problem, of course, is that many of our politicians and public officials seem averse to the idea that they have to be consistent to their faith to do their work of governance or legislation or dispensing justice.

They want to stay in an undefined, vague area which they call freedom, a secularized freedom detached from its source which is God. There they can do anything, including going directly against what is clearly defined as God's commandments and natural law, and still call it freedom.

An even worse scenario is when these politicians and public officials now arrogate to themselves or to the people the power to define what is moral and immoral, and then proceed to legalize them.

Our legal and judicial system, our human laws can never fully capture God's eternal law that governs us. That's why it should always be in a state of improvement and refinement, without compromising its stabilizing, constant and permanent character. It can be a tricky affair that we just have to learn to handle and hopefully master.

What is clear is that our laws should be moral. They should be based on the natural moral law written in our hearts by our Creator, which we have to articulate and develop. But at best, our laws can only regulate human acts that are more or less external, observable, measurable. They cannot go far into thoughts, motives, desires and other finer points of human life and actvitiy.

How do you legislate about delicadeza, for example? At best you can give some social norms about it, but they remain largely in the externals.

Our human laws, therefore, cannot be the ultimate source of what is right and wrong, what ought to be done or prohibited, etc. What is legal cannot capture the fullness of the morality of the human act. I may follow the law of getting a driver's license, but if that is badly motivated or done as a complement to a sinful act, then it is immoral.

Our politicians, public officials, legislators, judges, etc., should take the step to link themselves and their work to the moral law that comes from God, taught by the Church whose power to do so comes from God, not from men.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Is chastity possible?

THE answer, of course, is a resounding Yes! It’s God’s will in the first place. And He will always give us the means necessary. He does not design us for it and just leave us alone to do whatever we can. He gives us the means in abundance.

And if we correspond, if we put our mind and heart into it, if we are determined to fight—for tremendous, formidable enemies we have in this area—then chastity need not be an elusive dream or a false hope or a wishful thinking, but rather a joyful affirmation of love, a way to assert our identity with God and with others.

God created us in his image and likeness, and with his grace, elevated us to be children of his, meant to participate in his own life, not only in our spirit, but also in our body. We are image and likeness of God, children of his, both in body and soul, and not only in one without the other.

That means that though there is a distinction between our bodily and spiritual dimensions, we should not forget that there is a fundamental unity between them, meant to be unbreakable. Absent that unity, we would fatally compromise our humanity.

The body then has to be fully infused with the spirit. And the spirit, which is our soul, should fully animate the body. The body has to materialize our spiritual life. The soul has to spiritualize our material world.

All this dynamism of the mutual relationship between the body and the soul that is initiated and governed by the love of God should be sustained by us with God’s grace and our effort.

This is where the virtue of chastity comes in, a virtue that becomes more challenging given the wounded and weakened condition of our body-and-soul relationship.

Without chastity, we would be doing violence to our nature. We would open the floodgates to all sorts of immoralities and perversions. We would be spiritually blind and morally handicapped, since only the pure of heart can see God, as our Lord said. In this regard, we don’t have to look far to verify this truth.

Yet the enormity and complexity of the problem provoked by the non-living of chastity is also a great opportunity for us to have a deep conversion and return to God and to a straight and clean moral life. There is always hope, as long as we react.

Chastity starts when we fill our mind and heart with good things—love for God and for others, expressed always in deeds and not just in intention and words. We need to be driven by love. When we find ourselves idle, empty, or just languishing and drifting without clear directions, we have a problem that should be solved immediately.

Chastity gathers strength when we always pray, when we have the basic attitude of looking for God in everything and in everyone, able to refer everything to God. It grows to the extent that we give ourselves to the others, helping them in whatever way we can, avoiding self-centeredness and self-absorption.

Chastity is protected when we keep ourselves busy, when we make ourselves truly contrite in our confession and transparent in our spiritual direction, not afraid to be known as we really are and docile to follow the indications.

Chastity is defended when we wage a continuing battle against our weaknesses and the temptations around. We should never forget that our life is a warfare. We cannot afford to sit pretty and be complacent.

We should not allow our weaknesses and the temptations to chill us into discouragement. Rather they have to spur us to get closer to our Lord, and to use all the supernatural and human means available.

Sometimes the battles are no mere skirmishes but fierce hand-to-hand combats that can leave us deeply wounded. But it would be all worthwhile. With God’s grace and our effort, we are assured of victory always. Even our falls and mistakes can be victories if we know how to handle them and make use of them to get closer to God.

From the personal plane, we should try to bring the fight for chastity to the higher level of cleaning our environment morally. There’s a lot of pollution and corruption around—pornography easily accessible, public displays of indecencies, bad example from prominent persons, accepted social practices that are immoral, etc.

We should try to get our act together to wage this struggle with families, church, schools, government, etc., cooperating synergistically.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Mending a broken world

NOW they are starting to admit it. The world is broken and it needs mending badly. At least, that's how political leaders and commentators are saying about the riots and looting that erupted in London recently.

British Prime Minister David Cameron blamed the ugly incident to a “slow-motion moral collapse” of a good number of his constituents, especially the young. American columnist Peggy Noonan had a similar take. She said:

“The British press, left, right and center, was largely united in a refusal to make political excuses for the violence. Almost all agreed on the cause and nature of what happened. The cause was not injustice; this was not a revolt of the downtrodden masses, breaking into stores looking for food.

“The causes were greed, selfishness, a respect and even lust for violence, and a lack of moral grounding. Conscienceless predators preyed upon the weak. The weak were anyone who happened to be passing by, and those, many of them immigrants, who tried to defend their shops and neighborhoods...”

This is a developed country that is suffering from this calamity. If it were a lesser nation, like ours, it would have been more understandable. But this is one of the leading countries of the world, not only in terms of economics and but also in culture and civilization.

What has happened?

I'm sure there will be many views and opinions about this, all with their valid points. It's worthwhile to look into them because they certainly will shed light on the incident.

But I'm also sure that the analyses will stop short of considering the role of God, of faith and religion in maintaining true peace and order, genuine harmony in any given society. And that would guarantee that the disaster will continue.

If the root cause is not touched, if the remedies stay only on the level of relieving the symptoms, dispensing palliatives only instead of the real curing medicine, then we would just be delaying and, worse, most likely building up a bigger catastrophe.

The British Prime Minister promised to undertake a “root and branch review” of all government policies to tackle the problem. But would that comprehensive effort include God, religion, faith that are supposed to give spirit and life to morality?

If morality is understood only as a matter of what is politically or socially correct, of what is culturally acceptable and the like, of how big a police force should be to deter such unrests, then forget it. The moral collapse in Britain as in any other country will continue to fester.

We all need to realize that the morality of our human acts is based on God, on religion, on faith. It just cannot be grounded on a political or social ideology, or guided only by the criteria of practicality, popular consensus, etc., much less by instigating fear or getting into coercion. We would miss the mark by a mile.

The problem that besets the world today is the bias that in politics and government affairs, God and religion should as much as possible be set aside. While it's true that the distinction between faith and politics should be made and their autonomy respected, it's also true that we should also respect their innate organic link.

We need to overcome this problem first. I know it has many aspects that need to be tackled properly, and they can be tricky. Just the same, this problem has to be licked. It can be done. It should be done, despite its difficulties.

How do you resuscitate a society suffering from moral collapse? By strengthening its spiritual life first, its relation with God. This means a massive program of formation that would enhance the development of virtues, a deepening knowledge of the authentic good of man—and this is God—and an abiding ascetical struggle.

If we take a cursory look around, I'm afraid that these concerns are hardly or badly attended to. Sadly, they now look like fossils hidden away in a corner of a school laboratory. In fact, many people, educated ones at that, scoff at these concepts.

They believe that morality should be about freedom to do anything as long as he does not cause any physical or external harm on others. For them, morality is just a matter of what is legally permitted and prohibited.

With such mentality, we are actually light years away from the ideal situation. It's a big problem, but also a big challenge and chance to do something truly great in the world. Would we accept the challenge?

Monday, August 15, 2011


THAT firestorm caused by the blasphemous “Kulo” exhibit at the CCP showed among other things that even artists in the exercise of their freedom of expression and creativity can commit a foul that can merit a red card. They can overstep their limits.

They should be most careful in their work. Since their work is often pioneering, since it is often breaking new frontiers, artists have to expect to raise eyebrows, to be open to misunderstanding among ordinary mortals, and be ready for it.

Obviously, they can do a lot of good since with their artistry which is a great gift, dubbed in the Catechism as “a freely given superabundance of the human being’s inner riches,” they can offer glimpses of sublime truth, goodness and beauty to the rest of humanity who are otherwise stuck in the banalities of daily life.

Artists often provide alternative beautiful ways of conveying truth and beauty that otherwise cannot be captured in words. They have the gift to enter into people’s mind and heart in ways that go beyond logic and rhetoric.

They therefore have to be aware of their privileged position in society and of the delicate responsibility attached to it. The first thing they have to realize is that their artistry and creativity are a gift of God. These have to be acknowledged as such, and not just a human or natural phenomenon with no deeper foundation.

Failing in that fundamental duty would lead artists to drift to nowhere. They would open themselves to the slavery of their passions and prejudices, and to mere external factors—fads and popular practices and customs, etc. These can pull subtle strings that can deceive us with their supposed advantages while hiding their dangers.

That’s why we can have such exhibit as “Kulo” that was packaged as a way to question and to enter into dialogue and debate about faith and religion. I was just wondering that if that was the purpose, then why would those behind it start that dialogue by offending the sensibilities of their supposed target audience? And why bring it to the general public and not to some controlled environment yet?

It’s amazing that many artists think that they can only be most expressive and creative when they do not have to think about God. This is a very dangerous situation, since they deny the truth that God is the source of creativity. Their creativity is, in fact, always a sharing of the creativity of God.

They fail to realize that their talent is always a gift, something given and received, and that therefore it is not completely theirs. It is not self-generated, nor something that once given entitles them to forget the giver.

Obviously this incident is a manifestation of a world gone secularized, where God is banished away. Many people are just depending on their own ideas to know what is good or bad, right or wrong.

I was mortified the other day, for example, while in taxi and the driver was listening to a radio commentary on some political issue. The commentator, who was supposed to be a prominent media man, was dripping with self-righteousness, speaking as if all his pronouncements are dogmas that cannot be questioned by anyone.

He sounded as if he had the monopoly of truth and justice, the exclusive owner if not the very creator of what true and good in this world. With very weak basis for his statements, he flew into a rage, making below-the-belt blows to his target politician at that time. It was a clear case of character assassination.

It made me think that with the way some journalists are, killing them would come as no surprise. Of course, it is not good. It should never be done. But with the way they comment, done with the air of impunity, I believe that they can invite their own assassination.

This is what happens when God is not at the center of our lives and of our affairs. This is what happens when we would just depend on ourselves. We would just be left to our own devices. We could not see the big picture nor listen and consider the positions of others. And we easily could degenerate to chaos.

This was what some observers said about the violent riots that erupted in London recently. They said it is not so much about politics and economics as it is about Godless people who have abandoned God and taken the law into their hands.

We have to shout, “Foul!”

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The power of faith

FAITH is a gift from God given to us so we can initiate our life with him, which is how our life ought to be. Let’s remember that our life is always a shared life with God. It cannot be any other way. We did not come to exist just spontaneously, out of the blue. We have been created, and we have been created for a purpose.

As creatures, we already have God our Creator at the core of our being, since our very existence depends on him. We don’t live by bread alone. We live, we exist because God keeps us in existence.

As persons, we are endowed with the spiritual faculties of intelligence and will whose principle and end can be no other than God. Our thinking and reasoning, our willing and loving, even our feeling and passions would just be floating and drifting here and there if they do not begin and end with God.

As children of God, we are the object of God’s unwavering love. Not even our sins can alter that love. It's only when we drive him away for good that we lose our contact with him.

In short, God is always with us. And he intervenes in our life all the time. We need to acknowledge this aspect of the reality that governs us and act accordingly. That's why, we should live a life faith, not just remaining in the level of reasoning and feeling.

We need to make some drastic changes in the way we understand ourselves, the way we see our life and the corresponding behavior we should be having. Fact is we still are light years away from that ideal.

Many of us, even those who proclaim themselves Christians, do not know exactly what the role of faith in our life is. For a good number of us, faith is just some pious ornament that can be put on and off at one's convenience.

Even those who say they are leading a life of faith belie their fervent affirmations because of the many areas of inconsistencies in their Christian life. And that's also because many may say they have faith, but are ignorant of its content, its practical implications and consequences.

Which is lamentable, because with faith not pursued and lived, or not lived properly, we would just be left to our own devices which, perhaps, can lead us somewhere but not where we ought to be.

We would be living not only away from God, but most likely against God. We would be deprived of God's wisdom and power. Let's remember that only when one has faith do miracles happen. It when we have faith that the impossible becomes possible.

The Letter to the Hebrews says something of the marvels that faith has done to some people:

“By faith Abel offered to God a sacrifice exceeding that of Cain, by which he obtained a testimony that he was just...

“By faith Henoch was translated, that he should not see death; and he was not found, because God had translated him...

“Without faith it is impossible to please God. For he that comes to God must believe that he is, and is a rewarder to them that seek him...

“By faith Noe, having received an answer concerning those things which as yet were not seen, moved with fear, framed the ark for the saving of his house, by which he condemned the world...” (Heb 11)

We need to study the content of our faith and try our best to live it as consistently as possible, always asking for the grace of God. Living by faith, in effect, means developing a contemplative lifestyle that would enable us to see God in everything and in everyone.

It means that our assessment of things (the many events, challenges, projects, problems, successes, failures, etc. that make up our life) is not done only in the level of reason in its many aspects (philosophy, common sense, politics, economics, etc.), but is guided and enlightened by faith, by what God tries to tell us in the many ways he communicates with us.

We have to make this business of thinking and living in faith a part not only of our personal lives, but also of our culture where everyone is sustained in his faith. We have to say enough with a lifestyle that treats faith as an alien, or a burden, or something that is inhuman.

And in this task, everyone is involved and contributes to the extent that he can.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Temperance, mortification, penance

THESE are important and indispensable needs in our life. Without them, we would live handicapped and disoriented. While we have to consider many requirements and face challenges in life, we should never forget to make an abiding self-examination with respect to these virtues.

Let’s not be naïve. From our own personal weaknesses and errant, wild urges to the intoxicating temptations around, we have to contend with tremendous pressures to forget and neglect these virtues.

Truth is we are pushed to get disengaged from God and from others, and to plunge headlong into self-love, which is actually our doom. In fact, we need special efforts to keep ourselves on course, on the right track in our relationship with God and with others.

The media abet this situation. More mindful with profitability and popularity, they practically leave behind the finer demands of morality and spirituality. In fact, they deftly make use of legitimate values, like rights and freedom, rationality and practicality, and the ignorance and vulnerability of the people, to inject effects toxic to us.

We now have, for example, the celebrity syndrome where physical beauty, talents, and accomplishments in the fields of sports, arts and theater, etc., are exploited to market frivolity, vanity, greed, sensuality, envy, etc. These may not be explicitly intended, but they come just the same, and those concerned just try to play blind.

Today’s movies and TV shows now seem to aim at riveting and nailing our senses to the here and now, to the shallow and the pleasurable, to our untamed subliminal instincts, while starving our intelligence and our faith.

They seem to declare war against sobriety, serious thinking and pious believing. In short, they tend to bring out the animal or the savage and the pagan in each one of us. That seems to be their hidden agenda.

Instead of making us more human, more of a person, more rational and spiritual, we are made to be more sensual and irrational, more of an object and target of immoral or at least amoral campaigns than a subject who is supposed to be free, intelligent, responsible and deserving respect always.

It’s a wild, wild world out there in the media. I am afraid it will take time before things settle down. I am of the belief that what is wrong, unfair or immoral will sooner or later be corrected, perhaps only after so much blood, sweat and tears. I believe that immoral laws and practices will backfire and correct themselves in time.

Meanwhile, it’s good that we cultivate the virtues of temperance and penance with their corresponding practice of mortification. They serve to put us on the ground, giving us sure footing and a good hold on reality, when we tend to fly into our fantasy world.

Temperance, mortification and penance can do us a lot of good by purifying us and strengthening us spiritually and morally. They dispose us to enter into the deeper and wider reality of our faith. They give us a fuller picture of our life even as providing us also with life's finer details.

The spirit of penance, for example, shows us the true state of our human condition. And that is that we have been born in original sin which, though erased through baptism, leaves us with a scar of concupiscence, a certain attraction to evil that leads us to commit sin.

Penance makes us feel the need to be contrite for our sins, to ask for forgiveness, especially through the sacrament of confession, and to make up for our sins, doing many acts of atonement and reparation.

We should never leave this aspect of our life, together with its allied need for temperance and mortification, unattended. Everyday, along with our many legitimate human desires, plans and ambitions, we should plot out the concrete program of how to live and develop these virtues and practices.

Let's remember that our Lord clearly told us to enter by the narrow gate, and to avoid the big, wide one that leads to our perdition. He also told us that if we have to follow him, we need to deny ourselves and take up our cross.

These indications should not remain in words or desires alone. They have to be lived if we truly want to lead an authentic Christian life, full of goodness, meaning and love for one another, whatever the circumstances may be.

Let's see to it that no day should pass by without the cross. We need it like we need air.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Molding the future

We have to keep in mind the World Youth Day to be held in Madrid, August 16-21, with Pope Benedict giving it its climactic point. Seeing a big gathering of youth simply astounds us. It’s like seeing the future.

The youth indeed hold the key to what is to come. How they are now determines to a certain extent the character of the world in the next generation. And so we need to see to it that our young ones receive the proper formation now.

This is the challenge we, the elders, have. Preparing the youth for the future is a task that is becoming more exciting, more daunting, precisely because of the complicated issues that practically wrap the world today.

As the Pope has been saying for some time now, the world ethos seems to be suffused with what is more technically known as moral relativism. It’s an attitude, a mentality, and even a lifestyle and culture that banishes any moral absolutes, while making tolerance an absolute law to follow.

It ultimately boils down to denying the existence of God, and to the belief that things just depend completely on us. So, morality or what is to be considered good or bad would just be a matter of opinions, consensus, and would just be based on such criteria as practicality, popularity, convenience, and the like.

In the end, we are making ourselves our own God. We deny that we are creatures, that our existence is something given and received, not self-generated. We deny that we need to be with God always, to put our mind and heart on him.

With this mindset, a good part of the world, especially the more developed Western part, has gone to the extent of legalizing abortion, mercy-killing, same-sex marriage, etc.

If we are not careful, this scourge is going to enter our own country also. There are already clear signs. The RH Bill, touted Divorce bill that some groups are pushing, the same-sex marriage buzz that we hear around—these are symptoms of an emerging moral confusion that threatens to be made part of our law and culture.

We have to give due attention to our youth today, equipping them with the means that would help them tackle the great responsibility before them. I was happy to learn that a big group of young people went to a UN conference and made their voices heard. They were complaining about a document, still in the making, that contained precisely questionable moral positions. That's a good sign.

Caring for the youth is no easy task at all. My own experience with dealing with young college students for many years indicates that they need abiding attention, a lot of patience and understanding, a good amount of flexibility and creativity, and at the same time, an unwavering hold on the faith and the doctrines that go with it.

Each one has to be handled in a very personal way. Away with putting them in boxes and branding and stereotyping them. Once this personal relationship is established, then things can be expected to go far.

The young people need constant encouragement. They sometimes strike me as toddlers who are still learning to walk properly—in the moral and spiritual life. They can be up one moment, and down the next moment. But they have a lot of energy to go on.

We just have to make sure that they are given the solid dose of formation in all its aspects—human, spiritual, doctrinal, apostolic and professional. We have to make sure that these aspects are properly integrated through the impulse of a genuine love for God and for others, because only then can they acquire a life and creativity of their own.

Caring for the youth actually never stops. It's just one stage in a life-long process. We just have to make it clear to them that our life requires continuing formation, continuing conversions and renewals, an endless process of having to begin and begin again.

In their weak moments or when they are down, we have to be quick to remotivate them, showing them new horizons and strong reasons to hope and to be optimistic. We have to show them the way, getting practical ourselves and not just remaining in the theories.

We should try to adapt ourselves to them, and if possible to speak their language, without abdicating our role as elders and teachers. In the end, we can only help them properly if we ourselves take care of own spiritual and moral lives. We can't give what we don't have.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Priestly celibacy

I KNOW I am treading on dangerous water here. But I feel the issue has to be aired somehow. Priestly celibacy just cannot be marginalized, especially now when it is vastly misunderstood and a persistent wave of misconceptions continues to assail it.

There are those who think that priestly celibacy is just an ecclesiastical law meant perhaps to serve some practical purposes in the life of the priest and of the Church.

For sure, there is a good amount of practicality in a priest leading a celibate life. For one, it would make his life simpler, largely undisturbed by domestic concerns. The priest’s heart, time and attention could get more focused, more undivided for God and others if he is celibate.

The Church leaders, bishops in particular, who are supposed to take care of their priests even financially, need not worry about having to support the families of these priests. The Church can run more smoothly with celibate priests.

But there are those who also think that a priest can manage to work properly and even to be holy without being celibate. Proof of this, they say, is the growing number of married people who are also very active in Church affairs and thus are practically working like priests themselves.

Some even say that these lay people can be more dynamic and effective than some priests. So, why can’t priests be considered like them? Or at least, why not make priestly celibacy optional? For those who want it, fine. But please don’t impose it on everyone!

They claim that priests are also men and that they have certain needs that cannot be met in a celibate life. To rub it in, they say that many priests are actually not leading continent or chaste life. Ok, the point is made. Pertinent pieces of evidence are aplenty. So let’s stop there.

We can actually go on and on with the pros and cons of priestly celibacy. I imagine that arguments, examples and statistics to support both sides will never be lacking. But I think we would be missing the point if we frame this issue within the parameters of practicality, human needs and ecclesiastical law alone.

The law on priestly celibacy is not just about practicality. It has a deeper reason. And ultimately it rests on the truth that priests are conformed to Christ as head of the Church. They act “in persona Christi,” and as such, they are expected to live like Christ in his full status as the Son of God who became man to redeem mankind.

Priests are the sacramental image of Christ wherever they are, 24/7. While their priesthood is most lived when they renew the sacrifice of Christ’s on the cross in the Holy Mass, they continue to be “in persona Christi” even in their sports, shopping and sleep.

Priestly celibacy is actually an intrinsic requirement of priesthood, because Christ himself, on whom priests are conformed sacramentally and ontologically, that is, affecting one’s being, was/is celibate, his will fully engaged with the will of his Father.

Recent studies show that while the law on priestly celibacy was first recorded in the 4th century, it must already have been required and lived during the time of the apostles. In short, the apostles must have understood their priesthood to involve celibacy.

Proof of this can be gleaned from that gospel passage where Peter who, like many of the apostles, was married, told our Lord that he has left everything behind to follow Christ. (cfr Mk 10,28ff.)

“Behold, we have left all things, and have followed you,” Peter said. And Jesus answered: “Amen, I say to you, there is no man who has left house or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or children, or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who shall not receive a hundred times as much, now in this time, houses and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands with persecutions, and in the world to come life everlasting.”

And so, it is quite clear that during the time of the apostles, those apostles who were married understood that once they were ordained, they had to let go of their conjugal relations, of course in a voluntary way between the spouses.

This mindset is reflected in all the historically recorded laws about priestly life and celibacy in the Western Church. The Eastern Church followed a more tortuous path but somehow also upheld priestly celibacy. Those laws were precisely made to protect, not impose, this intrinsic requirement of celibacy in priesthood.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The bully pulpit

THIS expression became famous when first used by US President Theodore Roosevelt. Initially, it had a positive meaning, as it simply meant a terrific platform from which to advocate an agenda. But now, it refers more to the undue advantage one can have because of his position, office or work to rally support for a particular view.

I suppose it has reference to the church’s elevated stand, now hardly used, where priests preach at Mass. Obviously when priests abuse that function of preaching the word of God, and prefer to be demagogues or political partisans instead of being prophetic priests faithful to their mission, turning their homilies into harangues, complete with scolding and lecturing tones, they convert the pulpit into a bully.

But the expression is now more associated with public officials, politicians, media people, public relations practitioners, big businessmen, celebrities, ideologues of the left and of the right, advocacy and cause-oriented groups. Not that these people are no good. They are necessary and relevant—in varying degrees, of course—in any society.

But because of their money, power, privileges, connections, clout, etc., plus the pressures and challenges of their position, they can easily get intoxicated and trigger a mechanism that arouses their hatred, greed, lust, envy, or pure malice and lack of faith in God and a generalized skepticism toward everything and everyone, drowning in their own cynicism.

They can finance demolition jobs, organize rallies and stage demonstrations, pay columnists and radio block timers, hire public relations outfits to build or destroy reputations. They can sow intrigues, plant moles in different places, do espionage and intelligence work.

They can actually do anything just to achieve their evil ends. With the thinnest of basis like mere gossips and rumors, they can launch into an open, frontal attack on persons and institutions, generating a feeding frenzy and lynching mentality on their victims, not giving them the benefit of the doubt nor allowance to explain themselves.

They make gratuitous comments, hardly supported by any trace of R & D (research and development), often transmitting them recklessly and with impunity. They like absolutizing their opinions. Their targets are automatically branded as guilty and the vilest of men, attaching to them the worst of motives.

It’s good that we are aware of this phenomenon, so that we can be duly protected from the subtle twists and spins, the growing misinformation and disinformation that some people throw around to defend their self-interests at the expense of truth, justice and the common good.

We cannot be naïve and passive every time we consider the views and opinions of people. At this time, we need to be extra discerning and even critical in the analytic sense, because it is beyond doubt that many forces are at play and a good number of them are on the sly.

Take, for example, the case of the global warming alarmists and the demolition job of the so-called “Pajero bishops.” In spite of the clarifications and corrections of some of their claims, they continue to rationalize their own positions and attribute bad intentions on those who disagree with them, even if these are already authorities and experts.

Lately, the global warming alarmists have been corrected on their data about heat unable to escape the earth atmosphere and polar bears drowning in the North Pole supposedly because of massive melting of ice. In spite of contradicting data, they persist in their alarmism without offering counter-proofs.

Regarding the “Pajero bishops,” some opinion-makers are impugning certain people who are trying to help bishops by initiating a fund campaign for the bishops. These commentators suspect the move is purely political. I suppose they only see what they want to see or the tricks that they themselves play.

We have to examine ourselves and see to it that our integrity is intact and ever strengthened, grounded always on God and not just on us. Always a dynamic affair, it involves daily struggles against temptations and pressures. This is the indispensable element to assure objectivity and fairness in our judgments and pronouncements.

We also need to cultivate the appropriate attitudes and skills to undertake a healthy dialogue and fruitful debate on issues—open-mindedness, courtesy, ability to listen and understand the positions of others, even if they are contradictory to ours, etc.

These days, we have to be most aware of the need to have an interdisciplinary approach to the issues, giving special attention to the moral and spiritual aspects, and not just to the economic, political or social side.