Thursday, September 29, 2011

Norms of piety

SINCE Christian life is a shared life with God, everything has to be done, always with the impulse of grace, to keep that nature and character of such life intact all the time. We have to be aware of this ideal and try our best to make it real daily.

We therefore need to see to it that our thinking, judging, reasoning, deciding, feeling, speaking, acting, etc., acquire a supernatural tone expected of Christian life. To a Christian faithful, life can only be either with God or without Him. There’s no such thing as an in-between, though that lifestyle is common.

Without God, our life can only be that of an animal, guided at best by varying degrees of rationality. But sooner or later, it would degenerate into one dominated merely by passions and emotions, and by purely material and temporal dimensions of our earthly life. That’s what I call the low life.

We need to develop and keep a vibrant supernatural life. That’s why we have to adapt an appropriate lifetime program that would help us to maintain a living contact with God even while immersed in our temporal affairs and mundane activities.

If we are serious about pursuing an authentic Christian life, then we can readily see the importance of coming up with an effective plan that functions 24/7.

We have to go beyond treating our Christian life as if it’s just a matter of a set of pious practices that we do from time to time, or a question of coming up with a good behavior report. In this regard, we have to pass from amateur to professional.

The basic attitude that we should keep in our mind and heart is the eagerness to look for God always and in every place, situation or circumstance. We need to look for him, so we can find him, then love and serve him. That, in effect, is what Christian life is all about.

This involves trying to live in the presence of God always, discerning what his will really is for us at any given moment, learning how to relate and offer our work and all our concerns to God, figuring out how our activity at the moment fits in God’s overall providence, etc.

We have to make this eagerness alive always, fanning it into flame, even to the point of making some extraordinary sacrifices, as when we have to do battle with our tendency to laziness, attachment to comfort, and when gripping temptations assail us.

To keep this lifestyle going, we need to make use of effective means that can give us the timely motives, the determined will to move on in spite of all obstacles. Our survival in this area is far more important than our survival in our earthly affairs.

And so we have to realize that we need certain spiritual exercises to nourish this vital contact with God. These could be some minutes of mental prayer, spiritual reading, Holy Mass and communion, Holy Rosary, confession, abiding study, acts of faith, love, contrition, examination of conscience, mortification, etc.

They can be called norms of piety, since when we commit ourselves to them, we can have some objective standards to measure our performance of our spiritual life.

Each one has to devise a plan that would fit him given his circumstances. These norms should help him rather than impede him in his spiritual life, as when one is not comfortable with them.

Obviously, there will always be sacrifice needed. Piety would not be genuine if the cross is not present there. True piety expects all forms of crosses—physical, mental, emotional, moral and spiritual.

The plan should be so designed as to effectively tackle the challenges we can face in life. The pressures and problems can arise from our own weakened self (greed, pride, lust, etc.), the harmful allurements and worries of the world, as well as the wiles of the devil.

It should incorporate some features for a continuing formation to flow with the dynamics of our Christian engagement with the world. At the moment, the world is sinking fast into secularism and relativism, as the Pope has often warned us, and we should be active in dissipating these anomalies.

So what is clear is that we just cannot be in improvising all the time in our spiritual life and in our commitment to Christianize the world. We need to be committed, properly armed and in the best fighting condition possible.

Thus, we need a serious lifetime plan with the appropriate attitude and norms of piety.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

No experience of God?

THAT’S what Pope Benedict, in effect, told his compatriots in a recent visit to Germany. “We see that in our affluent western world, much is lacking,” he told the Central Committee for German Catholics. “Many people lack experience of God’s goodness.”

That’s indeed a very intriguing statement from no less than the Holy Father himself, whose words just cannot be taken lightly. In his analysis of Western society, he again points as culprit the danger of relativism that cuts people from God and makes them rely only on human consensus.

It’s a mindset that’s becoming a dominant world culture and that practically rejects faith or any reference to God’s revelation to man, the role of the Church, the sacraments and spiritual life, etc. It simply depends on people’s ideas, estimations and consensus.

Relativism pits faith with reason and science. At best, it confines faith to a purely private affair. Thus, our own self-government by way of politics, culture, economics, sociology now edge out divine providence. Civility can cover for any lack of integrity and piety.

Relativism’s worst quality is that it has many good and valid points that can coincide, at least externally, with our faith, but are not inspired nor oriented toward God. That’s why it can spread rapidly in the way sweet poison works.

In short, it’s an imitation—cheap, convenient, practical, popular—that has eclipsed the original. As such, it cannot be condemned outright since it can work and produce good results, at least for a while, and even for a long while.

It cannot stand on its own feet. It’s a parasite that would always need a host to live on. Of the most vicious type, it can easily morph to suit prevailing conditions, making people almost impenetrable to the impulses of faith and grace.

But somehow its falsity cannot be hidden for long. Its inconsistency will show sooner or later, and can inflict a grave backfiring damage on the people.

In that visit to Germany, the Pope said that due to relativism many German families suffer “poverty in human relations and in the religious sphere,” in spite of the prosperity, order and efficiency seen around. There is coldness in people’s dealings, and piety is reduced to pietism.

He is calling for a return to God, extricating ourselves from the grip of relativism that can only give false hopes at best. He is asking us to return to prayer, to sacrifice, to the sacraments, to genuine ascetical struggle, to authentic Christian engagement with the world…

This is an interesting turn of events, since it shows a clash between two attitudes in life that can look similar from the outside but are actually opposed radically to one another in the inside.

It’s about time that we be clearly told about this choice. Are we for the original and real approach, or would we just be contented with the imitation? And if we opt for the original, are we willing to go through the steps needed to put it into practice?

That was practically what the Pope presented to the Germans in that visit. It’s a bold, risky move that can trigger hostile reactions, but the Pope went ahead with it. I reckon that sooner or later, that kind of choice has to be presented to the people in general. Let’s pray that things go well.

This development also highlights the fact that to experience God is not only a possibility, but rather a certainty and a necessity for us. For it happen, we of course need grace, but we also have to do our part.

Experiencing God in our life is not just a purely passive affair, totally dependent on God’s grace. It has to be actively pursued by us, and in fact it would need all that we have got.

We have to learn how to relate ourselves and all our affairs to God, seeing to it that we always set our mind and heart to God even in the midst of our mundane activities. We should avoid excluding God from our affairs and activities.

Many people are still ignorant of this need. They think that some religious practices are enough even if they do not sustain God’s presence in us all day long. This has to be corrected.

For this, we need to develop a working plan of life, consisting of some acts of piety, adapted to our different conditions, to assure us that we are having a living contact with God even as we go through all the items of our day.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The poverty challenge

WE have to be ready for the poverty challenge. The world is entering a new, dangerous phase, if news items are to be to be considered. Scary possible scenarios are painted, pointing to a global economic meltdown, since the leading world economies are facing a tough future.

Again, I would not like to tackle the technical aspects of the economic crisis, since though an economist by profession, I feel that, now as priest, that's not anymore my area of competence. Besides, I have not been monitoring the economic world events that closely.

What I prefer to do is to highlight the spiritual and moral implications of this crisis that we all need to be more familiar about. After all, at the end of the day, it's in this level where things get their final verdict.

We have to be clear about poverty being not all that bad. There is something good in it, otherwise our Lord would not make it one of the beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Still, we can not and should not brush aside the ugly face of inhuman poverty that prevails in many parts of the world today.

Let's hope and pray that our bright minds and political leaders are able to find the practical solutions, at least in the short term if not in the long term, to this deadly threat of a world economic collapse.

I am optimistic that while this delicate stage in our world history can be a tipping point, solutions one way or another will always emerge. Perhaps, a new leading economy in the world will appear. For sure, realignments will take place, and yes, these will involve some painful adjustments.

Thing is we should not approach this world predicament solely from the purely human point of view—economic, social or political. That's needed, and in fact, to the hilt. But remaining in that level does not capture the entire weight of the situation. We need to go beyond.

We have to input the moral and spiritual aspects, the contribution of our faith that would bring this issue to a more comprehensive context. We have to overcome the bias against the moral and spiritual considerations that seem to grip many of our leaders in this area.

Economic thinking simply based on math, social assessments that only capture the externals of human behaviour just are not enough.

We cannot the deny that at the root of this global crisis is a virus that has gone viral for quite a time already, left to fester since it offers many sweet palliatives and other intoxicating decoys. It’s a sickness of the soul that has sold itself to the things of the world.

As consequences, we have become complacent with our duties and responsibilities that always go with our dignity as persons, children of God, citizens of a nation, etc. Work ethic has deteriorated, since work is largely seen as just a means to earn money, develop one’s potentials, acquire power and fame, etc.

Forgotten are work’s inherent quality to develop us as thinking and loving persons, united to God and to others, and meticulously mindful of the demands of the common good, the requirements of solidarity and subsidiarity that are always needed in any life shared with others.

Work has become a tool of self-assertion that creates its own divisive attitudes, language, and ultimately its own culture and lifestyle. In this system, work is detached from the designs of God and made to play the games of men, where things like greed, envy, deception, self-interest can easily dominate.

Thus, we see people spending more than they are earning, people working only for their own vested interests with hardly any consideration for the others, people expecting more privileges, and if still working, they are working for themselves, not for God, not for the others. Forms of excesses are increasing.
Our current world economic crisis is basically caused by a wrong work ethic, one that has not understood the true value of poverty that would always make us feel in need of God and others, in need of virtues, like moderation, sobriety, justice.

In fact, in this system, poverty is exclusively understood as having no money or no job, or living in bad conditions, etc. It’s a poverty blind to its original substance. It’s a poverty that is always pictured as an enemy and never as a friend.

Let’s recall what St. Paul said: “I know...both to abound, and to suffer need. I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” (Phil,4,12-13)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Ailing economies need conversion?

THE question entered my mind as I read news items and several commentaries about the ailing economies of the US and Europe recently. I’m afraid these are not concerns of the Americans and the Europeans only. They have deep repercussions on the whole of humanity. They concern all of us.

This is because, in the first place, our business and economic activities are not merely mechanical functions that involve the distribution and regulation of money and other resources. They are human acts, subjects of moral requirements also. They are not purely technical operations.

As such, our business and economic activities affect our soul and not just our bodily and material needs. They involve intentions and the inner workings of a person’s soul. They entail a responsibility to infuse them with love that brings with it justice. They need to be oriented to God.

Besides, our business and economic activities are prominently social activities. What one does in this field involves others—either as suppliers, customers, clients, etc. We all get involved there, one way or another. Even the most reclusive person cannot escape from the effects of business and economics.

Our business and economic activities can go beyond provincial and country limits. The way they are conducted now, they have strong global dimensions. And when leading economies are involved, then practically the whole world economy can be affected, including ours.

In short, our business and economic activities reflect what’s inside our soul, our mind and heart, and also the character of a people’s culture and ethos. They tell a lot about ourselves and the world—whether we are with God or simply with our own selves.

That’s why when an economy gets into trouble, it can be that it is sick not only externally but also internally, not only in the technical level but also in the spiritual level that actually gives shape, direction and meaning to the technical aspect.

In the current discourse among economists trying to come up with solutions to the economic crisis in the US and Europe, I feel that the root cause is not simply a matter of the technical, but rather of the spiritual.

This can be seen in the fact that in spite of the massive stimulus and bail-out programs implemented earlier, the crisis still remains, and in fact, is spreading. A lot of money has been pumped in, but the results are still dismal.

Some economists still think that the Keynesian solution is what would do the miracle. It happened during the Great Depression. It must happen also now. Ergo, more stimulus, more quantitative easing.

It amazes me that even a Nobel Prize economist would bat for indiscriminate putting in of money, without giving due regard to where this money would come from and where and how it would be used. He still blindly believes that some invisible hand would jump-start the economy to recovery and vitality.

I don’t wish to go into the technical aspects, but my two cents already tell me that the circumstances of the Great Depression are very different from those of today’s crisis.

In the former, a lot of latent productive capabilities and opportunities needed to be tapped. Population was at its productive level. With just a little planning and reorganizing of the economic elements and players, a dam-burst of productivity took place.

In the latter, we seem to have exhausted the productive potentials. Population profile indicates a growing number of aging people expecting entitlements and support. The younger generation, while productive, is often immersed in the idle business of pure commercialism, if not of hedonism. It’s a deceptive productivity that is produced.

In general, people are spending more than what they are earning, and are pursuing business ventures that are not really needed and are sometimes even detrimental to human dignity. Just think of the entertainment business, for example.

I feel that what is happening in the economic front these days in the so-called developed countries is a corrective moment in this long process of doing business and economics mired with defective inputs.

It’s like saying, we have been wrong in the way we do business. Some things might be right, and for a long time we managed to hide the wrong things. But the time has arrived for the accumulated effects of the wrong things to take center stage.

The main message seems to be, we need to rectify, to be converted from our evil ways. We need drastic lifestyle change. We need to do business and economics for God’s glory and not just for human convenience.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Church-world engagement

I WAS happy to learn that in a recent gathering of some bishops, priests and lay leaders in Cebu, the concern was raised to look into issues involving workers. There was talk about raising the minimum wage and also about the duty for the Church to get involved in these matters. She cannot remain indifferent to these, a news item said.

These, I think, are good developments. They highlight the often ignored responsibility that the Church should be very much concerned about socio-economic and even political issues that have impact on the dignity of persons.

This is simply because whatever concerns man is a concern of Christ, and therefore of the Church. And so we have to make some revision of attitudes and thinking that before appear to be restrictive, isolationist, veering more to the spiritual at the expense of the material, to the clerical at the expense of the laical.

That is to say, things have to be done properly. These developments should avoid a free-for-all scramble, confusing the roles of clergy and laity. We should try to avoid what is called as clericalism and spiritualism, on the one hand, and laicism and secularism, on the other.

We need to deepen our knowledge of the nature and purpose of the Church, as well as the roles of the different members—the clergy, the laity and the religious—that comprise it.

For any collective action to be dynamic, living and meaningful, we should not forget the principles of common good, solidarity and subsidiarity. The many practical implications of these principles ought to be known and lived by all, and most especially, by the Church leaders who need to be trained for this purpose.

We need to look at Christ for the proper way to do this Church-world engagement. Of course, we should neither ignore the Church tradition that has been developed through history that, in spite of some limitations, offers a good light to guide us in this regard.

While it is a divine institution, the Church is also human, subject to space and time, and to all other human factors—social, historical, cultural, political, etc. While it is in possession of the supernatural, it is subject to the natural process of development.

The Church leaders who are supposed to orchestrate Church-world engagement should have a good understanding of how to do things in this regard. For example, the concern for macro issues in the world, like the working conditions of laborers, environment, mining, corruption, gambling, etc., should never set aside what may be called as the micro requirements of prayer, sacrifice, sacraments, etc.

The organic link between these two aspects of Christian life should be lived and clearly expressed in all the pertinent public pronouncements and actuations. We should avoid giving the impression, no matter how slight, of interventions by Church leaders in temporal affairs as being purely social or economic or political in nature.

That would violate the nature and mission of the Church. The Church is only interested in the eternal salvation of man, and any temporal affair or worldly issue to which the Church is drawn to intervene, should be clearly related to this ultimate eternal-salvation-of-man mission.

Otherwise, the Church leaders should just allow its lay faithful to sort out what is best for everyone, or at least for the majority, in matters that are open to many legitimate opinions and to human consensus.

Church leaders should refrain from downgrading their roles into political leaders , economic pundits or social workers. Christ rejected all temptations to make him an earthly king with an earthly kingdom.

Still, we have to understand that the Church is involved even in matters of opinion, because the laity are very much into them. Their autonomy, arising from the autonomy of worldly affairs with respect to man’s eternal salvation, should be respected.

We have to avoid clericalism in the Church as much as we reject secularism in the world. Yes, it’s true that there should be Church-world engagement, but we need to follow the rules of engagement, set by Christ and now taught by the Church.

The Church too can benefit from the continuing consensus of human opinions by fine-tuning her social doctrine to capture and express the finer nuances of the human condition in relation to our eternal salvation. This will be an ongoing, endless task that should be pursued with openness and prudence.

The world should also recognize that the Church has a place in the public discourse of world issues, and acknowledge the benefit it can derive from such Church participation.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Apologetics for intellectuals

THE first time I heard the word, apologetics, I thought it had to do with saying sorry over something. Thus, I was surprised when I learned ages ago that it actually means “the branch of theology that is concerned with defending or proving the truth of Christian doctrines.”

I imagine it's a theology that needs to be given all the time. Nowadays, it is even urgent. Christian faith, in a way, is under heavy and constant attack by intellectuals whose attitude toward the faith seems to be restricted in the confines of reason, intuition and gut feel alone. The impulses of the spiritual and supernatural are systematically rejected.

Of course, I am happy that basic catechesis continues to be given in many places. In Bohol right now, for example, a new catechism that attempts to bring the loftiness of Christian doctrine to the local culture has just been produced. This, to me, is a moving development.

But with the Internet, I get to have a good idea of the range of views and opinions in this regard, and, oh, how vast, complicated, exciting and challenging they can be! They are in the blogs where the comments can be lurid. Or in newspapers, like the New York Times, where the language can be educated, the arguments well-studied and persuasive.

Thus, if one is not strong in the faith, or would not know how to defend what he believes, then he can easily get lost and can fall into many possible scenarios—like losing his faith or falling into skepticism, relativism, agnosticism, atheism, cynicism, etc.

At best, he can just get satisfied with the sensation of cruising through life, opening himself to anything, and simply depending on human consensus arrived at from purely human and natural sources—biological, emotional, economic, social, political, etc.

This seems to be the current mindset, with many people saying it's the best since it is the most “democratic.” It does not brand people according to some creed or ideology that, they say, often lead people to extreme, ridiculous positions. It fosters “openness” and a “sportive” outlook in life.

Sorry that I have to put those terms in quotes, since I have serious misgivings about describing that mindset that way. In fact, I believe, it is a mentality that is undemocratic, closed and unsportive. But this will take a long explanation that cannot fit in this article. We can tackle it some other time.

We have to unleash the full force of apologetics that would basically use reason to prove the reasonability of faith in our life. That's how I understand apologetics. Our intellectuals are so attached to reason that any reference to faith is met with immediate scorn. We have to disabuse them from that trap, doing it with utmost delicacy, respect and gentleness.

The reasonability of faith can be proven in many, in fact, endless, ways. In the first place, because reason in itself is always in search for a firm foundation and a sure goal. By itself, it is incomplete, always under tension, restless, reminding us of what St. Augustine once said: “Our heart is restless until it rests in you, Lord.”

By itself, reason can just spin and spin, and without any clear foundation and purpose, it can spin out of control, then fall into an anomalous, irregular condition similar to a sickness. It can even enter into a state of invincible error where its pitiable state is considered correct, healthy, most human, etc.

Of course, we have to understand that apologetics should not just be an intellectual exercise. It has to be done and developed in the context always of prayer, sacrifice, interior struggle, recourse to the sacraments, etc.

The success of apologetics, for sure, will not just be a matter of intellectual enlightenment. It will require a conversion of heart for both the giver and receiver. And so, we just have to be generous in developing our spiritual life.

How could we ever convince a deep skeptic if we just use reason alone? Here, I'd like to remit a comment of a usual reactor to my views, to give us an idea of how complicated a skeptic's mind works.

“One million planets the size of earth could fit inside the sun. The sun itself is no big giant. There are existing stars bigger than our sun.

“To think that on this speck of dust called earth, God created man in his own image and likeness...Could anything be more terrestrially ludicrous, if not celestially ridiculous?”

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

From misery to mystery

IF we only have a linear way of thinking, these conditions of misery and mystery can be the two opposite extremes of the range of possibilities we can have in our life here on earth. Misery can be the lowest status we can have, and mystery, while unsettling, can be the acme of human experience.

Of course, we try to live a more normal life, endeavoring to stay away from these two extremes. We can think the ideal is that.

But we know that our life is not simply linear and flat, or just two or three-dimensional. It is complex and multi-dimensional, giving these two conditions the chance of coinciding, insteading of conflicting. This happens especially when we bring in matters of faith, of the spiritual and supernatural into the equation.

In the Christian faith, these two extremes can converge in the phenomenon of the Holy Cross that signifies both the worst of human misery and the best of mystical life. It is both defeat and victory, darkness and light, death and life everlasting.

We need to highlight this truth of faith these days, since it is often forgotten and ignored, if not ridiculed and rejected. And if it happens that some acceptance is made, it usually comes with a lot of distortion and misunderstanding.

The modern mind, often priding itself as well-informed, interdisciplinary, sophisticated, etc., actually fails many times to appreciate this truth. And that´s because in spite of the information overdrive and data glut, faith is not well understood, much less, lived.

We need to bring this good news to the mainstream of society, because the truth of the Holy Cross is not meant only for a few, for those who happen to be religious in temperament. This truth is for all. It´s supposed to have a universal audience.

Obviously, it is a truth that needs not only to be taught and preached. It has to be prayed for, with sacrifices put in, since it can only enter people´s minds and hearts when grace touches them and leads them to be humble enough to believe.

Pride kills faith and blinds us to the richness of deep supernatural truths and mysteries. It tends to intoxicate us with reason alone, if not with feelings only, often keeping us only the realm of what is pragmatic, popular, convenient.

We need to actively look for the Cross, find it everyday, love and embrace it, because first of all that is what Christ told us: ¨If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow me.¨ (Mt 16,24)

Besides, the cross is something we cannot avoid. It is the consequence of our sins and mistakes. But Christ converted it into an instrument of our salvation. With him on the cross, the sting of sin and death is removed.

A beautiful prayer expresses this truth well: ¨You decreed that man should be saved through the wood of the cross. The tree of man´s defeat became his tree of victory; where life was lost, there life has been restored through Christ our Lord...¨ (Preface, Triumph of the Cross)

We have to understand that we can only progress in our spiritual life, individually and collectively, through the Cross. We can only do effective battle to the enemies of our soul—our laziness, pride, vanity, greed, lust, etc.--through the cross.

It´s this Cross of Christ that has brought about the Church, the doctrine of our faith, the sacraments, the holy lives of saints whose testimonies can move and melt the hardest of hearts.

This Cross transcends the best of human reasoning and experiences. This was the testimony, for example, of that great intellectual saint, Edith Stein, who facing a great trial once said:

¨This was my first encounter with the Cross, and with the divine virtue which it infuses in those who carry it. Thus I saw for the first time and palpably before me, in its victory over the sting of death, the Church born out of the passion of the Redeemer. It was the moment when my disbelief collapsed and Christ radiated, Christ in the mystery of the Cross.¨

May we learn to look for the Cross always, embracing it tightly, convinced that´s where our true joy and liberation are found. May we learn to find the Cross in our daily affairs, big and small. May we deeply realize that our life is always a blend of joy and sacrifice, smile and suffering, optimism and difficulty, filial abandon in the hands of God and determined struggle.

Monday, September 12, 2011


EVERYONE has an opinion about almost anything, and it’s good that we foster this attitude and habit, for it can mean one is trying to contribute something to society. Obviously, everyone has to realize that opinion-making has its standards and requirements that should be met as strictly as possible.

At the very least, opinions give everybody else an idea of how one thinks and feels with respect to an issue. They give us a picture of the situations and predicaments of people, since these get reflected in their views. In the end, they can give us a good reading of a society’s pulse and culture.

For this reason, we should encourage everyone to express their opinions and teaching them how to do it. With our new technologies, this concern should not be hard to attend to.

We should make the mentality of not making any opinion or keeping our views to ourselves a thing of the past. We need to be more participative of our society’s developments. Government and other institutions, like the media, should build up the appropriate structures and mechanisms to foster opinion-making.

For sure, there are instances when we need to be silent for a while. Prudence and discretion require that. But in normal circumstances, we should be quite free to say what we think and feel toward a particular issue. Our life, both personal and social, is so dynamic we just cannot keep its developments in total silence.

We just have to make sure that the views and opinions are expressed with due sense of responsibility. They should be meant to uphold the common good and not just to reinforce one’s individuality or showcase one’s talents and other advantages through wealth and power, an exercise of lording it over others.

Precisely because of that, these views and opinions should be preceded with due study and reflection, considering the different aspects involved and anticipating also the positions and points of view of others. Our views can never be one-way streets, unilateral in character or isolated in a vacuum.

In fact, we should welcome reactions and responses from others, no matter how different and even in conflict they may be with ours, as long as these too are done with due study and reflection, and with sincere intention to contribute to the common good.

Thus, we need to understand that opinion-making has to be firmly anchored on God, the source of all good things. We need to know and follow his commandments, his will, designs and ways, since it’s in these where we can ultimately find the elements of the genuine common good for us.

We just cannot follow our own ideas, without relating these ideas to God. No matter how brilliant they may look and sound to us, if they are not based on God’s will, they are bound to give trouble to us sooner or later.

Views and opinions not inspired by God’s love would most likely be contaminated with envy, hatred, greed, pride, vanity, and these have no other effect than discord and division. As St. James said, “For where envying and contention is, there is inconstancy and every evil work.” (3,16)

It's when opinion-making is infused with a religious sense, with a clear reference to God's designs, no matter how mysterious these may be, that we can have a better chance of serving the cause of objectivity and fairness better.

Our views would be respectful of the those of others. We can practice restraint , moderation and courtesy, and avoid falling into the pit of bitter zeal. We can develop broadmindedness and shun rash judgments and undue biases. And when we commit mistakes, it would be much easier to rectify.

The autonomy we enjoy in exercising our freedom of expression should never be understood as putting God aside in forming our views and opinions. If anything at all, that autonomy should make us feel more urged to go to God, to pray and ask for enlightenment, so that even in the midst of many legitimate and even conflicting opinions, we can still manage to serve the common good while respecting everybody.

That is why, professional opinion-makers, who express their views in public, should consider the importance of prayer and contemplation when they do their job. They have to realize that they are accountable before God and men for every word they make.

Theirs is a very delicate job. They should avoid knee-jerk reactions and reckless shooting from the hip. They also have to clear up the air when it gets dirtied due to unavoidable conflicts.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Mental illness and spirituality

I WAS happy to learn that a lady celebrity openly threw her support for those suffering mental illness in varying degrees by putting up a foundation. She lost a daughter who, in spite of her high academic and social status and accomplishments, committed a depression-induced suicide.

I hope her example could trigger more support from many other able families with similar experiences, so that this menace can be tackled more effectively.

Cases of mental illness are increasing everywhere. I now know of many of them, and they need not be people far from us. They can be within the family, the clan, neighborhood, the school…

When I was a kid, there was a joke that went around and that made me laugh out loud. The church, it said, would not be complete without a stray dog and a fool present in its activities. And I saw it verified many times in my own experiences.

But now, I don’t laugh at it anymore. It is not a joke. It has become a real, big problem.

The other day, I read in the Internet that nearly 40% of Europeans—about 165 million people—are reported sick of some mental disorder these past years. “Mental disorders have become Europe’s largest health challenge of the 21st century,” said the authors of the study.

Some disorders mentioned in the study are depression, anxiety, insomnia, dementia that lead to a heavy economic and social burden, since the sufferers would be unable to work and relationships are often harmed and broken.

We all need to get our act together to face this very challenging problem. And while the medical field has a lot to do with this, we have to understand that this problem requires a lot of family and community support, and above all, it needs tremendous spiritual help.

Mental illness may have an organic dimension, but it too has a spiritual component. I was happy to learn lately that many doctors are developing what they call as integrative medicine that incorporates some human and spiritual inputs into their work of healing. This should be developed more.

Insofar as the spiritual dimension is concerned, I would say that as a preventive means, we need to clean up our environment of immoral pollution and foster a healthy spiritual and moral life in everyone.

We are having lifestyles that may look happy and prosperous, but are actually empty inside, and therefore vulnerable to psychological diseases. It’s undeniable that we have a big scourge of pretension and hypocrisy afflicting large sectors of society.

I believe that as long as people know how to pray, to value sacrifice, to develop virtues like humility, simplicity, and to work hard, they would be more able to tackle whatever problems and pressures may come that could lead to mental illness.

And when the illness comes, I believe that it is best handled when people go to Christ, just like what those who were sick with all kinds of diseases and even those possessed by evil spirits did.

These disorders require medicine, but they also need going back to God who is the ultimate healer. This is something we should never forget. Otherwise, we can easily fall into the spiral of despair. God offers us hope always, hope that does not defraud us.

And then people should be taught how to suffer, making everyone realize that any pain and suffering we have need not be a completely negative experience. Our suffering in any form can acquire great redeeming value, if lived with Christ, uniting ours with his.

The families and community in general should know how to make adjustments—even to make big sacrifices and drastic changes of lifestyle—to accommodate the needs of those who are sick with mental illness.

Truth is the patients simply need our time, our comforting and reassuring words. They need to be taught how to pray. Just like in the gospel where people brought their relatives and friends who were sick to Jesus, we need to bring our patients to Christ also.

And this can require tremendous effort as shown in the case of the paralytic who was brought to Jesus by his friends. Since the place was already crowded, they had to climb to the roof, bore a hole and lowered the paralytic right in front of Jesus. With such faith, our Lord could not but cure the paralytic.

We can say that this mental illness crisis in the world is an invitation for us to seek Christ. It wants us to develop the appropriate spirituality.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Quest for ethics

IT is said that today’s young generation is grammatically challenged. I suppose that has something to do with our texting culture that hardly gives attention to spelling, subject-verb agreement, etc.

This lax attitude is even affecting the schools where teachers also teach in a telegraphic way instead of in complete and correct sentences. This is also shown in our newspapers where the English language is murdered ad nauseam.

The phenomenon actually baffles me, because given our new technologies, it should not be difficult to learn the language well.

I remember when I was in grade school and high school, textbooks were hard to find. To know the meaning of a word, for example, I had to make a long trip to the public library just to get hold of a dictionary which had many torn and missing pages. Now, you just have to click a button, and libraries of the world come in display.

I think it is not so much a problem of grammar as it is a deeper problem of a dysfunctional study and work ethic. Many young people are not studying as they should. They are lost in a confused sense of priorities.

I think people nowadays are more ethically challenged than grammatically challenged. And I’m afraid that condition is reinforced systematically in our society today.

Here we have to be most careful in pointing out the problem areas, since all of us are involved, one way or another. Whether one works in sacred or mundane environments, this ethics problem would be always around in varying forms and degrees.

But we need to point some problem areas, especially those with public character, since they leave behind a big bad effect on many people.

At the moment, we cannot deny the fact that with our current state and pace of development, we are confronted with many new situations whose moral and ethical standing we are not clear about.

The world of politics is, of course, a given. It is like a free-for-all arena where the players can always come up with innovative ideas and moves that often strain the moral requirements. We just have to be patient with it, handling it with as calmly as we can.

The world of economics and the markets is now getting more dynamic and more confusing. Competition is getting stiffer and is producing new, puzzling and complicated issues. Here also, the concern for their ethical assessment should try to cope with the rapid pace.

But the sector with more immediate impact on the people would be the media. This, I think, is where the quest for ethics should be most intense and most prompt. But I wonder if this concern is given due attention.

What I can see is the attitude that since they are just bearers of news, they are excused from worrying too much about the ethical aspect of their work. But I don’t think that line still holds.

Everyone knows that the media exert tremendous influence, both open and hidden, on how people think and react to issues and problems. What they choose to report, how they report it, what slant or spin they take, obviously affect the way people think.

What I often see in the local papers, especially in the sections of the editorial and opinion page, feedback, cartoons, entertainment, to cite a few, are samples of very biased, ill-thought-out views, and all sorts of ad hominems done with impunity.

We will always have differences and even conflicts of opinions, but it’s another story when things are done with blatant lack of charity, tact and delicacy in the presentation and exchanges of ideas.

We just cannot say, for example, that just because a public official is accused of a crime as claimed by an opponent or based on a leaked document, we now have the right to put that news in the paper, making it even as the headline.

A lot of examining ought to be done, a lot of restraint has to be made. These ought to be done first, rather than putting people in a bad light, no matter how guilty these people may be.

And when those accused would be found later to be innocent or that the charges did not have basis, apologies and clarifications are seldom made.

Thus, the environment gets increasingly fouled up. We should pursue the quest for ethics more seriously. And we have to understand that this is a matter of questing for holiness, for God. Without this, we would be on a freefall to unethical practices.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Primacy of conscience?

CONSCIENCE continues to be a hot issue among theologians and those who try to describe how our moral life should be. In the blogosphere, there is now a lot of discussion, often raising dust and emitting sparks that tend to darken and confuse people rather than enlighten and clarify.

There is even now a group of theologians who, reacting to recent scandals and other problems of the Church today, boldly propose ecclesiastical structural reforms that more or less are inspired by this so-called primacy of conscience.

Fine, but let's look at things more closely. Offhand, at first reading, I already get the impression that what they are proposing does not amount to a further homogeneous development of our understanding of Church, faithful to the original, but rather a mutation, a heterogeous departure from the original, a different banana, so to speak.

Appeals to understanding, compassion and charity are made to sweeten the acceptability of these proposals. For sure, we all have to be understanding, compassionate and charitable, but all these should not depart from the truth, from faith, from Church teaching, and from Christ himself.

Our quest for Church development and Christian maturity should not abandon our duty to fidelity. To flow with the times, to adapt to the current situations should never be understood as having the right to transfer our anchor to another set of beliefs.

We have to be wary when we react to problems and issues simply relying on gut feel or instincts or the Pavlovian way that take in only the here and now and ignoring the eternal, the short-run and forgetting the long-run, the literal while setting aside the other deeper aspects and higher angles from which they should be viewed.

Sad to say, some of our local thinkers invoke this so-called primacy of conscience to support the view that people should be left on their own to decide what is good for them in terms of reproductive rights and health. They should not be told they are wrong when they opt to go into a contraceptive lifestyle. To them, that would not be respecting their conscience.

It's obvious that our conscience plays an indispensable part in our lives. We always have to follow it, because right or wrong, it is the judgment we make whether the action we are going to do, are doing or have already done, is good or bad.

From there, we can readily see that our conscience does not operate in a vacuum. It is neither absolutely self-generated nor self-contained. It has to be conformed to a law which it does not invent, but rather only discovers. And it has the duty to uphold that law, know and live it better each day, protect and defend it, etc.

The primacy of conscience or the freedom of conscience should not be understood as the right for one to be absolutely left on his own when he decides, without giving him support, advice, clarification, and even correction from God through human instruments.

No one is free from God who is our Creator, and who establishes the original divine law that governs all of us. From this law springs the moral law that governs our human acts. No one is free from the human instruments and institutions God has made available to guide us.

Even in our political and social life, we immediately acknowledge the need for offices and officials with power and authority to help us live out our life as a nation. In our spiritual and moral life, the same thing happens. We need offices, officials, institutions, etc. with power and authority to guide us. We just cannot fence our conscience from them.

In one blog, I read a twisted interpretation of how the Catechism itself describes conscience. That it is “man's most secret core and his sanctuary (where) he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths (1776),” is now taken to mean that no one can tell anything to anyone about what his conscience tells him, because conscience is supposedly an affair strictly between God and man.

Even the Catechism point on the need for the formation of conscience is understood as one undertaken strictly by oneself and his view of God. No one can teach him anything. So now, all consciences are correct. There can be no erroneous consciences!

This phenomenon reminds me of the scribes and Pharisees of Christ's time. They were also intelligent and religious, but preferred to have their own views instead of acknowledging Christ as Redeemer.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Linking time and eternity

WE have to be aware of this dual dimension of our life. In fact, I believe this aspect refers to the ultimate status of our life. We should not be too immersed in the here and now to forget that time is meant for eternity, and we have a role to play in their connection.

We live both in time and eternity for now, and later, in a definitive state, in eternity with God or separated from him forever, since time would be completely taken up by eternity the moment time runs its course through our death or through the world’s end.

But at any instant, our earthly life also is in eternity. The flow of time is always within the sea of eternity, since eternity is both outside and inside time. Whatever we do now, no matter how transient, always leaves an effect in eternity.

This is because being both material and spiritual, with body and soul as constituent elements of our nature, we can’t help but live in both time and eternity. Time is when we are tested as to our correspondence, or lack of it, to God's love. As St. Augustine said, “God created you without you, but he cannot save you without you.”

We need to understand that what we do in time, how we live our life here on earth determines the state of life we are going to have in our eternal life. Our earthly and temporal affairs, no matter how immersed in the material and the mundane, have an impact on our spiritual and eternal dimension. Time is the gateway to eternity.

We have to sharpen our senses and faculties so that this reality of how our time is related to eternity is not lost in us. The linking takes place mainly in our mind and heart where we can converge our material and spiritual dimensions, where the interaction between God and us, eternity and time takes place.

This means that we have to sharpen our spiritual faculties, nourishing them with eternal truths and not only with earthly facts and temporal data. This means that we have to spiritualize and raise to the supernatural level with the reception of grace our bodily faculties, such as our senses, emotions, passions, imagination, etc.

We have to avoid allowing our spiritual faculties to be completely at the mercy of our senses and the goings-on of the material world. We have to break loose from the mentality, quite strong and prevalent, of considering our life as mainly if not totally just time-and-earth-bound.

With God's grace and our efforts, we have to direct our earthly and temporal life here to eternity, to God. We should not allow our life to drift just anywhere, or to be totally dominated by earthly and temporal aims.

We don’t deal only with food and drinks, with material and purely human needs and natural goals. We have to deal with spiritual and eternal requirements and objectives as well. As our Lord said, “Not by bread alone does man live but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Mt 4,4)

We need to see to it that our thoughts and desires are immersed in the supernatural gifts of faith, hope and charity, those theological virtues that enable our earthly and temporal affairs to acquire spiritual, supernatural and eternal value.

That is why, we need to study and assimilate the doctrine of our faith, make it generate hope in our earthly pilgrimage, and fuel the love that catapults us to eternity, uniting us to God and others.

All the other human virtues and qualities should be imbued with these supernatural gifts. We have to be wary of our tendency to develop many good qualities inspired only by human and natural ideals.

As Opus Dei founder St. Josemaria Escriva once said: “If you lose the supernatural meaning of your life, your charity will be philanthropy, your purity decency, your mortification stupidity...” (The Way, 280)

A basic attitude to develop is the determination to look for God everyday and in everything. We just cannot be passive in this, waiting for things to tickle our interests and curiosities.

We have to look for him, find him, love him and serve him, using both material and spiritual means, natural and supernatural virtues. And knowing that loving God is in loving others, then we should be actively immersed in all the affairs of men in this world, but out of love of God, and not just out of some natural motive.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Handling the word

WE have to learn how to handle words. It's a most delicate task. We are given an idea of its brittleness in these words of St. James about our tongue: “The tongue is indeed a little member, and boasts great things. Behold how small a fire kindles a great wood. And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity...” (3,5-6) So, we need to be most careful when using them.

For sure, words are not just a group of letters. They have a meaning, they transmit concepts, judgments and reasoning. They are dead unless picked up by us and enlivened by our will, desires and purposes. That's when they can be good or bad, useful or useless, constructive or destructive, meaningful or empty, moral or immoral, etc.

They depend on how we use them, on what intention we have. They can have either the divisive Tower-of-Babel consequence or the unitive Pentecost effect. Words are a vital part of our dynamic life. They both reflect and build up the kind of life we have. Thus, they are a powerful part of our life.

We just have to realize more deeply and more abidingly that our words need to be properly grounded and oriented, since in the end, words have their proper origin and purpose. They just did not spring spontaneously and on their own. Neither are they purely of our own making.

And this origin and purpose can only be God, whose Word is responsible for the creation and governance of the whole universe. “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, says the Lord God.” (Rev 1,8)

This is something that might still jolt us, since the common understanding is that words are just our pure invention. Not so! We have to correct that erroneous mindset, which might take quite an effort not only in the personal level, but more so in social and cultural level.

Realizing this fundamental character of words, we then should realize that we need to relate our words with God. We just cannot be plain users of theirs without connecting them to God.

This is when we can truly internalize and assimilate them to our soul, making them an organic part of our identity. This is when we would really know who we are, that we are first of all creatures of God, who have been made children of his, and expected to participate in the very life and action of God.

God's Word is therefore the origin and end of our words. It's a powerful word that can give tremendous and radical changes. In the gospel there's a reference to this fact when the people got amazed with Christ's words. “What is there about his word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out.” (Lk 4,36)

Of course, in the Letter to the Hebrews, we are given a more intimate view of the character of God's word: “The word of God is living and effectual, and more piercing than any two-edged sword, and reaching unto the division of the soul and the spirit, of the joints also and the marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (4,12)

These words should make us realize that God's word is what really would guide us in the way of we use words. Meditating on God's word is therefore a must. Relating it to our communications and our affairs, and vice-versa, is also a must. We have to quit the practice of using words without relating them to God's word.

That attitude and habit may lead us to some dark areas, since God's word is full of mysteries. But at least such attitude and habit would make us humble, cautious, prudent, tactful, courteous and always charitable. We would avoid being reckless.

When we use words with charity, then our communications would have those qualities described by St. Paul: patient, kind, envy not, deal not perversely, not puffed up, not ambitious, seek not their own, not provoked to anger, think no evil, rejoice not in iniquity but in the truth, bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things. (cfr 1 Cor 13,4-7)

Let's remember always that our words should not just be a tool of our reason and feelings alone. That would lead us to situations prone to a lot of dangers—conflicts, anger, hatred, etc. They have to spring from our faith and charity, where our words would have their most proper context.