Monday, October 31, 2011

Battle for formation

WE will always have issues to resolve, problems to solve, endless challenges to face and tackle, and that’s why we need to realize that we have to be adequately prepared for them by undertaking a lifelong battle for formation.

Social, political and economic issues will always be around. At the moment, the world is going through a phase of intense change and tension. The current standards and systems seem to be cracking up in the face of new, emerging problems. Things look like we are rife for a drastic paradigm shift in our earthly affairs.

Yes, we need to be keyed up for all this. At the very least, we need to be instructed, informed, educated, and more than these, we need to toughen our spirit not only to absorb the tremendous pressures but also to eke out a new way, a higher level of human and global development.

This is where our need for formation enters. We have to go beyond simply accumulating data and discovering and exploring human sciences and technologies. No matter how indispensable they are, they are not enough.

Without proper formation, we most likely will abuse or misuse our sophisticated scientific and technological products. It’s like giving a little child some matches to play with, or an adolescent too much money to go around.

We need to pay attention to the proper maturity of our spirit, the only thing capable of seeing through and fathoming all these challenges. And of survival, since no matter what happens to the world it’s the spirit that will transcend our death and bring everything else in us to our ultimate end, God, if we still abide by our faith.

We have to be positive about all these fast events. We have to get out of the dark fear-and-anxiety syndrome, and instead get into a sense of adventure, brightened by hope and confidence.

And trust in God, because after everything is said and done, the only thing left for us if everything else has to fail, is God, our faith and trust in him. This is what formation means. All our effort and pursuit for human knowledge and conquest should immerse us more in God, rather than in ourselves, in our power and ways.

We should never forget this. We have to outgrow that bias of pitting the human against the divine, the natural against the supernatural, the material against the spiritual. In short, man against God.

This bias, known also as secularism, relativism, materialism, etc., has been afflicting the world for quite some time now. It’s already begging to be dismantled. We need to acknowledge both the unity and distinction between these dualities—their inner, inherent relations among themselves and their respective autonomy.

We have to double-time in this need for formation, because it has been neglected for long and is awfully lagging behind. It’s unfortunate that many big schools and universities are giving more attention to secular sciences while practically ignoring religion.

Our formation should help us discover God in everything we do or get involved in. Since we come from God and belong to God, we have to understand that all our thoughts, words and deeds should also begin and end with God, as expressed in many of our liturgical prayers.

All our similarities and differences, our agreements and disagreements, our successes and failures, the correct and the wrong things we do in our earthly affairs should not compromise our love for God. On the contrary, they should make us love God more.

We should not be contented with our own ideas alone, no matter how brilliant and practical they may be. Without God, these ideas and initiatives would lack their proper foundation and purpose.

They would just be at the mercy of men’s machinations, and that can only mean immorality, not just because of our limitations, but mainly because of the temptations and pressures around.

In the study and research, the experimentation and instruction involved in our formation, we have to see to it that the abiding attitude should be to know and love God better, and to get a deeper understanding of God’s plan for the world.

They should not just be pursued purely on so-called scientific or rational motives, because without being grounded and oriented toward God, they can only give us dangerous and confusing signals.

This formation will also lead us to truly live charity, with its companions of justice and mercy, since doing things with God and for God will bring us to love everybody else as God wants them to be loved.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Governing and obeying

WE need to take a closer look at our understanding and attitude towards these unavoidable human affairs of governing and obeying, leading and following. While in general there is still an observable stability in this area of our social life, we cannot deny that a lot of problems also hound it.

We should not wait for things to degenerate into a big crisis before we start correcting basic misconceptions and wrong attitudes and ways in it. Disturbing symptoms are gathering in families, offices, schools, dioceses and parishes, and of course, the country in general. We can commence clarifying issues now.

Truth is, this business of governing and obeying has been detached from its proper foundation, context and purpose. Instead of basing it on our human nature and God’s design for us, it simply operates under the impulses of sheer practicality and convenience that cannot avoid the play of dirty tricks and deception.

Instead of doing it in its ethical and moral context and purpose, it cannot help getting trapped by human machinations and schemes. It seems it’s not anymore a matter of whether something is right or wrong, fair or unfair. It’s more whether it is smart and clever, period.

Because of these, both those who govern and those who obey get suspicious and uneasy with each other in varying degrees until they reach a flash point. Those who govern tend to abuse their power. Those who obey feel taken advantage of. Those who govern think they are better than those who have to obey.

Lost is the original reality that both governing and obeying are actually two sides of the same coin, different in function but equal in dignity, since they correspond to our human need to organize ourselves in any level of society.

They are supposed to be done out of love so that the common good can be attained. Outside of this context and purpose, we would be distorting things and generate wrong attitudes and working and living habits.

Sad to say, these are what we are seeing aplenty these days. Governing cannot seem to avoid the trappings of pride, arrogance and vanity. Its idea of leading and managing is easily contaminated with a control mentality, instead of doing it as sincere service and enhancing the free cooperation of the others.

Obeying is seen as an assault to freedom, and is given mainly because of a monetary price or other material and worldly considerations. It’s hardly viewed as fostering one’s personal dignity. It’s over-all effect on one’s soul is more negative than positive.

No one, strictly speaking, whether he governs or he obeys, is superior or inferior to the other. The unavoidable ranking in our society is just a functional necessity, given our human condition. It does not erase the basic equality among all of us.

There is still a lot of clarification, purification and enrichment to be done in our culture so that it can reach the fullness of its understanding regarding governing and obeying. We need to liberate this part of our culture from its parochial framework. It has to be updated, since it seems trapped in the ancient past of pagan culture.

This Christian concept of governing and obeying can flow from St. Paul’s description of the different parts of the body working together in different ways for the good of the body.

That’s in Chapter 12 of his First Letter to the Corinthians (12,12ff) where he also said that those parts that seem to be feeble, less honorable and uncomely are actually more necessary and ought to be given more honor and comeliness.

But, alas, these Christian refinements are hardly reflected in our culture where there is a strong fascination and lusting for dominating others, for public and earthly honors, for positioning, and where manual work is automatically considered as lowly if not demeaning and inhuman.

Thus, it made a big, indelible impression on me when as a young college student back in the 70s, I witnessed for the first time in a very clear, patent way, how this Christian and human way of governing and obeying in a spiritually inspired organization I got involved in was lived.

I saw how the head of the organization became one day the gardener of the house, and vice-versa. The switch was just in a matter of a day, and I didn’t see any trace of crisis on the faces of those involved. On the contrary, they were both happy and eager to take on the responsibilities.

That observation changed me deeply.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Our need for death

NOVEMBER again is here, and like an automatic reaction, thanks to our long Christian tradition, our thoughts go to those who have gone ahead of us, whose remains we visit in the cemeteries or columbaries.

It’s a moving sight that bespeaks of our faith in the life after death. Thanks to God, the mystery that shrouds death and even our own shortcomings, mistakes and sins, cannot dispel such faith.

We just have to go deeper in our knowledge about death. For this, we need the our Christian faith to guide us, so we can have the proper attitude and understanding of what some saints have regarded as Sister Death who is joyfully welcomed.

We should not be afraid of death. In fact, we have to expect it and prepare ourselves for it. It cannot be avoided anyway. But even more significant is that we have to realize that we need it. Therefore, our attitude should be that of longing for it, and not just waiting for it and even wanting to escape from it.

This was the attitude of Christ. “Jesus, knowing that his hour was come, that he should pass out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them unto the end.” (Jn13,1)

It should be ours too. Of course, with Christ, who has complete and perfect knowledge and control of his life and death, we can say it is understandable. But we also need to understand that we actually have to conform our attitude toward death to that of Christ’s.

We would be out on a limb in our attitude toward death if we fail to refer it to Christ’s death. We’d be left only with our shallow and narrow human understanding of it, crawling with fears, sadness and a host of intense emotions that would still miss the origin and purpose of our death.

There might be a tinge of faith infused into it, but a faith that is more of a wish out of desperation than one with any objective basis. It’s time we outgrow this kind of attitude and understanding.

If we have already conquered many frontiers of human sciences and technology, we should start conquering our last frontier of death—not by any human science and technology though, but by faith, and by God’s grace.

That is not a presumptuous, gratuitous claim. In the beginning, as our faith teaches us, we were not meant to die. Nor in the end of time are we supposed to die. There is going to be the resurrection of the dead, a truth of faith that is now a mystery incapable of being proven and verified in a human way.

Death came because of the sin of men, first, that of our aboriginal parents which we inherited, and of course our own personal sins. But this death has been conquered by Christ through the cross. “As in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive.” (1 Cor 15,22)

We have to understand that our death should not be understood simply as the end of our earthly life, the failure of our physical health. Our death is much more than that. It has a deep theological meaning that we should try to be more familiar with, since we have a big part to play in that death.

Yes, we have to work for our death. We just cannot wait for it to come, and even try to dodge it if we can.

In this, we can try to develop the attitude Christ had toward death, expressed in his words: “No one takes my life away from me. I lay it down of myself, and I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.” (Jn 10,18)

How did Christ die? By dying on the cross, which means he assumed all the sins of men, from beginning to end, big and small, and died to them only to resurrect and win over sin and death on the third day.

Our faith teaches that if we die with Christ, we will also resurrect with him. Dying with Christ means dying to our sin. In other words, we need to be dead to sin, so we can resurrect with Christ.

Thus, in his first letter, St. Peter said: “Christ bore our sins in his body upon the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live to justice.” (2,24)

This is the death we need to accomplish—our death to sin!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Silence and noisy mass actions

WE are now witnessing the spread of protest actions all over the world. The latest is the Occupy Wall Street that from New York has gone to many cities and communities in the US and has leapt beyond the boundary to go as far as Rome.

Social observers say it has been inspired by the Arab Spring phenomenon and other rallies and demonstrations in Europe like in Greece and Spain. Previous to these was the Tea Party movement in the States that also left a deep dent in the national political terrain.

We are not strangers to these mass actions. We had our share that culminated in the now world-famous People Power. But to be sure, their differences far outnumber their similarities, and so we have to be careful in assessing them. They are not all the same. They have different ethos that inspire them.

It’s clear that the world is entering a new phase in history as it grapples with new challenges that go beyond the simply ideological differences of yesteryears. The issues focus more on micro domestic concerns that were widely taken for granted before and now have grown to cancerous proportions.

Again, let’s hope that these developments will trigger the earnest search for the appropriate solutions. For this to happen of course, we need a new breed of leaders, if not a new culture that incorporates better the spiritual and supernatural dimensions of our life.

At the moment, what is more important to consider is that while these mass actions have their importance and relevance, we need to realize also that personal silence is necessary for any true development and improvement to take place not only in one’s personal life, but also in that of society.

Without this aspect in our lifestyle, we are prone to thoughtless and rash actions that can end up in riots and violence. We can cause more harm than good even if we have the best intentions.

Pope Benedict has something very interesting and intriguing to say about this. In a recent visit with Carthusian monks, he proposed that everyone needs to have silence and solitude in order to get in touch with reality.

He said that without silence and solitude, we risk in failing to experience God who is the author of reality. That is when we start to distort the meaning and purpose of our life here on earth. That is when, in his terms, virtuality can overtake reality.

To him, silence and solitude are not a way of isolating ourselves. Rather, it is the opposite. They are meant to foster our union with God, and through God, our link with all the others and with everything else in the world.

That is why he told the Carthusians that their way of life has something to share with the rest of humanity who now are in danger of what he termed as “anthropological mutation,” a drastic, erroneous change in the understanding of what man is.

This is a challenge that we have to face now—how to purify and enrich our culture so that this human need for silence and solitude become functional in our active life of work and other earthly concerns we have.

We have to be clear about one thing—that no amount of mass actions, even if they are successful in social, economic or political terms, can substitute our need for a living contact with God that we can have through silence and solitude.

Even the expressions of popular piety that, thanks to God, we still have in abundance in our country—for example, the vast devotion to the Sto. Nino, the Black Nazarene, and many other Marian devotions—cannot replace this need for silence and solitude.

Given our human condition that includes a realistic consideration of our weaknesses and sinfulness, we need silence and solitude to be able to discern the spiritual and supernatural realities that govern us and that are a key to knowing the objective reality.

We are prone to be overrun by our emotions and passions, and so our thinking and reasoning are often compromised. Our judgments and decisions are also affected by the effects of our sins, ours and those of the others that sometimes become so widespread that we can now talk about “structures of sin.”

Silence and solitude enable us to attain what St. Paul once proposed to us: “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever of good fame,… think on these things…and the God of peace shall be with you.” (Phil 4,8-9)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Message and messenger

ROGER Ailes, president of Fox News and today’s superstar in American media precisely because of the many smart moves he made that transformed America’s media and political culture drastically, wrote a book some years ago entitled, “You are the message.”

I must say that, given our human condition, it’s an exaggerated interpretation of how the relationship should be between the message and the messenger. But it’s actually the ideal to pursue, the ideal that was lived perfectly in Christ, the Word made man. But this will require a long explanation that can be done some other time.

The book’s thesis is a good antidote to a pronounced bias of many of our media practitioners who easily claim that the message should be completely separated from the messenger. While there is a grain of truth to this, it’s also wrong to say that both message and messenger have to be entirely divorced. The messenger is at least part of the message.

Truth to tell, it is only in Christ where the message and the messenger are completely identified with each other. In spite of that, many, many people question that claim for one reason or another, giving us the strong idea that it is not popularity that would determine if indeed a messenger has become the message. It’s something else.

Anyway, to Ailes’ credit, he managed to weave a strong argument to prove that indeed the messenger is practically the message. We have to take this reasoning for what it’s worth. It has its brilliant points, though again, I believe it should not be taken as the ultimate criterion or reason.

Here is how a review describes the book:

"You are the message." What does that mean, exactly? It means that when you communicate with someone, it's not just the words you choose to send to the other person that make up the message. You're also sending signals about what kind of person you are—by your eyes, your facial expression, your body movement, your vocal pitch, tone, volume, and intensity, your commitment to your message, your sense of humor, and many other factors.

“The receiving person is bombarded with symbols and signals from you. Everything you do in relation to other people causes them to make judgments about what you stand for and what your message is. "You are the message" comes down to the fact that unless you identify yourself as a walking, talking message, you miss that critical point.

“The words themselves are meaningless unless the rest of you is in synchronization. The total you affects how others think of and respond to you.”

It’s for these reasons that Ailes formulated some criteria that would make a messenger effective in delivering his message. He mentioned likability, authenticity and honesty. In our communications, whether in public or private, we should try our best to be likable—in the sense of being warm, etc.—and authentic and honest. And we have to worry about how to sustain these qualities, so we can retain the interest of our audience.

The others should see that we are identifying ourselves with our message, that we are not just acting as indifferent messengers. And that’s why, whatever the message is, whether we are for it or against it or neutral to it, that position has to be shown somehow, and the audience should be able to decipher why we have such position.

If we are to follow that paradigm and still want to be consistent to our genuine Christian identity, I believe that the ultimate and constant criteria to guide us should be, as always, charity.

It should be charity banked on truth and fairness and prudence, which is actually an ongoing affair that does not exclude trial and error, successes and failures. So we need to be sport and magnanimous here.

In this regard, I think it would do all of us well if in the usual run of our public discussions and debates of issues, where differences and conflicts are unavoidable, we can manage to show this charity all the time.

We have to try our best not to insist so much on our opinions, no matter how right and better we think our views may be over those of the others. We always need to give allowance to those who differ from us.

At the worst scenario, we have to learn to agree to disagree, converting the differences as occasions of mutual enrichment rather than of division, and to allow time and other elements to resolve things later.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Personal but not individualistic

WE need to distinguish between what a person is and what an individual is. This distinction is crucial, since it will guide us to live our life properly. What attitudes to develop, how to behave, how to react as we should, would depend on our understanding of this distinction.

For sure, a person is an individual in the sense that he is one and quite unique. But he is much more than just an individual. He is not just a quantity.

A point in the Catechism of the Catholic Church says something relevant. “Being in the image of God, the human individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone.” (357)

The Catechism explains further, shedding light on the difference between a something and a someone.

The human person who is a someone and not just a something is “capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons.

“And he is called by grace to a covenant with his Creator, to offer him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in his stead.”

This doctrine is important because it tells us about a fundamental and inalienable truth about ourselves. And we have to do everything to uphold it, develop it to the max, drawing all the practical consequences and implications from it, and protect and defend it.

These days, with all the confusion around, not to mention the clear trend to downgrade our dignity as persons, the duty to understand and uphold this doctrine, protect and defend it, has become urgent. It is in great need to be taught to the four winds.

One essential element of a person is that he is always in relation with God, his Creator, and with others. He is never alone. He should not be, though he can choose to be. And that is the problem we all have.

We have to understand that we become more and more of a person the more we develop these relationships, according to the law given to us by our Creator. And this law is articulated first in the natural moral law enshrined in the Ten Commandments, and later in the teachings of Christ who is the fullness of the revelation of God, our Creator, to us.

In other words, we should all strive to be always personal, and never be individualistic. Even when we are alone physically, our mind and heart, our intelligence and will, which are the spiritual faculties given to us and which make us God’s image and likeness, should always be engaged with God and with others.

That is why, these days there’s a lot of call for transparency which I view as a reaction to our strong tendency to be by ourselves, prone to playing all sorts of games and tricks. It has led many of us to such anomalies as corruption, deception, laziness, complacency, etc.

In fact, it’s when we cut ourselves off from God and from others that we become easy prey to the varying forms of the capital sins: pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony and sloth.

Pride alone has countless manifestations, often subtle and very insidious. There is intellectual pride, for example, that afflicts many of our bright minds who confine their intelligence to their own will, if not to their own passions and emotions, alienating themselves from the ultimate and permanent source of truth who is God.

It’s this intellectual pride that sets the world in an orbit entirely on its own, leading us to increasingly precarious situations. What’s happening nowadays in the more developed Western countries where a crisis of seismic proportion is gathering, is testament to this pride-induced fragility.

Much of their culture considers leadership as domination instead of as service. Authority becomes a tool of control instead of a sharing in God’s power and love and everything related to it—justice, mercy, peace and order, solidarity, etc.

Obedience is seen as absence of freedom, while civil disobedience, just a step short of anarchy, now appears as the sole expression of freedom. Discipline and sacrifice are completely deprived of any positive value, while spontaneity and self-assertion seem to have no danger at all.

We need to revitalize our sense of person, and overcome the tendency to plunge to individualism, so we can get properly grounded, engaged and oriented. We need to look closely at how we are thinking and willing all throughout the day. Are we with God and others, or just by ourselves?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Vigilance requires temperance

AN old love song can express what ought to be a longing deep inside our spiritual life.

“How can you keep the music playing,” it starts. “How can you make it last / How can you keep the song from fading too fast…”

Set in a haunting melody, the song reflects a deep sentiment of the heart that wants love to stay permanent in the dynamic flow of life, to remain clear and definite instead of tentative and provisional.

But the tenor of the song can also be applied to our spiritual yearning. Since our life is a shared life with God, we need to find ways to put ourselves always in the presence of God, filled with love and a burning desire to do good.

These days, this ideal is getting more elusive because not only bad things separate us from God, but also good things, if we are not vigilant, can take us away from him, instead of leading us to him.

Take the case of the new wonders of the digital world. In themselves they are not bad. They are good. They offer many practical uses. And they generate a seemingly self-propelled force to discover more potentials and possibilities that look endless.

But precisely because of this character, the digital charm can intoxicate us. We can get so entrapped in its technological and pragmatic loop that instead of living with God, we would simply be living by ourselves, exclusively seeking our own interests instead of seeking God.

That is why it is good to be reminded of the virtue of temperance. To be vigilant, to keep our music with God playing, we need to be practice restraint and moderation in the use of material and earthly things, no matter how good in themselves they may be.

Temperance makes sure that we are not overrun by the workings of our human flesh and of our material world. It makes sure that our material and earthly condition is properly fused to our spiritual and supernatural goal.

Temperance helps us to submit our temporal and human affairs not only to right reason, but also and most especially to our Christian faith, hope and charity. It poises our heart to soar to its spiritual and divine goal. It helps our active life to be contemplative as well, unifying the mundane with the sacred.

Temperance frees our heart from being shackled to merely mundane concerns, and leaves it open to receive spiritual promptings continuously. This is how to “lose yourself to someone / and never losing your way,” as the song goes. This is how “not to run out of new things to say.”

Even in marital and family life, vigilance and temperance are always needed. If a husband and father, for example, succumbs to workaholism and neglects his wife and children, disaster in marriage and family would just be a matter of time, if things are not corrected.

If the husband spends more and more time in the office and fails to give reassuring words of love and affection to his wife, the once fervent love would just grow cold, wane and eventually die. There can be other aggravating side-dramas besides.

If the father sees his children less and less, there can come a time when he can be a stranger to his own offsprings. He will get stuck in the level of generics in family life, failing to descend to the specifics, slowly emptying the family of its true substance, love.

We need to see to it that our heart escapes from being dominated and enslaved by the charms and magic of the world. It has to deny itself frequently, as our Lord said, and take up the cross. It has to learn to enter by the narrow gate, instead of just drifting easily to the wide gate.

We should see to it that our mind and heart never lose their attachment to God. In fact, the reverse should be encouraged. That attachment should grow stronger each day, looking for creative ways to make it vibrant.

Our concerns, affairs, the things that we handle should bring us closer to God and to others, instead of taking us farther from them. For this reason, there can be occasions—and they can be many—when we have to say no to certain activities, or to certain thoughts and words, because we need to pray, to go to Mass, confession, etc.

This is part of temperance that helps keep our vigilance alive, so that we keep on playing music with God.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Reason for our hope

THAT'S what St. Peter strongly recommended. “Be ready always to satisfy everyone that asks you a reason of that hope which is in you.” (1 Pt 3,15) Especially these days when the Christian way of life is constantly questioned, we need to give uncommon attention to this Petrine indication.

Of course, we have to understand that since our hope is based on our faith and is also expressed in charity—these three, faith, hope and charity, always go together—we are actually being asked to give reason for our faith and our charity also.

We also have to understand that our human reason, while a most powerful tool we have, has its limits. Therefore we cannot expect it to prove everything about our faith, hope and charity. What it can do is to give some convincing arguments that would lend credibility to our faith, hope and charity.

While we are rational beings, we have to realize that we are actually much more than being rational. We are made for believing, hoping and loving. What we know, what we accept as truths just cannot be confined to reasoning and arguments alone.

It would be wrong to confine ourselves to reason alone, although reason we have to use always. But we have to acknowledge its limitations, otherwise, we would fall into what is tantamount to making ourselves the ultimate source of truth, which is a self-evident falsehood.

Anyway, it's actually loving—charity—that would make us know and accept truths that surpass our capacity to reason. Charity has ways that go beyond what our reason can reach. It's what can tackle mysteries which we cannot avoid and which we cannot fully understand.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this relevant point to serve as context of what we are saying here so far. I beg the indulgence of our readers to go through this long point which I believe would richly reward our effort.

“In the historical conditions in which he finds himself,” the Catechism teaches, “man experiences many difficulties in coming to know God by the light of reason alone.

“Though human reason is, strictly speaking, truly capable by its own natural power and ligh of attaining to a true and certain knowledge of the one personal God...there are many obstacles which prevent reason from the effective and fruitful use of this inborn faculty.

“For the truths that concern the relations between God and man wholly transcend the visible order of things, and, if they are translated into human action and influence it, they call for self-surrender and abnegation.

“The human mind, in its turn, is hampered in the attaining of such truths, not only by the impact of the senses and the imagination, but also by disordered appetites which are the consequences of original sin.

“So it happens that men in such matters easily persuade themselves that what they would not like to be true is false or at least doubtful.” (CCC 37)

Given this situation, what we can do is to have recourse to spiritual and supernatural means—prayers, sacrifice, acts of charity, recourse to the sacraments, doctrinal formation, etc.—without neglecting the use of reason to explain why we behave according to Christian faith, hope and charity.

This is actually a very demanding task that requires nothing less than an authentic spiritual life nourished by grace and an endless interior struggle to fight against temptations and sin, develop virtues, deepen our knowledge of the doctrine of our faith, etc.

For sure, giving reason to our faith, hope and charity cannot just be a purely intellectual affair. I have witnessed great minds failing to convince people of their faith precisely because they only offer arguments without a living testimony of a consistent, genuine Christian life.

I have also witnessed simple minds who, radiating with true sanctity, offered arguments that, while simple, immediately go to the hearts of those around them. They manage to convince and convert difficult individuals, inspiring souls to go to higher levels of holiness.

The theology they used might not have the aura and rigor of systematic theology, but it's solid theology they used, expressed in forms that promptly read and capture the needs of specific persons at a given moment.

We therefore have to understand that this Petrine dictum to be prepared to give reason to our Christian faith, hope and charity is more a call to authentic sanctity than just an invitation to be intellectually formed.

Saints, like St. John Mary Vianney, are examples of this phenomenon.

Monday, October 10, 2011

How to handle our own will

NO doubt, our own will is the most important faculty we have. Who we are, what and how we are, are largely determined by our will. It’s our will that gives meaning and direction to our life.

While God gives us our objective identity and governs us with his divine providence, we cannot deny the fact that we are also who we want to be, what and how we choose ourselves to be.
Our human will is the seat of our freedom that enables us to go wherever we want to go, and even to be what we want to be. Where our will turns is where we are going to be. It’s the rudder of our boat of life.

We may be pressured and influenced by external factors—culture, environment, weather, fashion, etc.—but with our will, we have a capacity to be beyond all these pressures, and above all these conditionings.

It is in our will that we declare ourselves to be our own man. No one and nothing can enter it, if we don’t allow it to enter. It’s in our will that we can be in our most private moment, and isolated from everything and everybody else.

But, alas, this is where the crucial question that involves all of us emerges. This is where the most fundamental reality of our life comes to light.

No one can deny that even if we have the capacity to be on our own, quite private, independent and isolated, we also know that our will did not self-generate, nor could it function in a vacuum, in an absolute independence of others.

Our will is something given and received, and it is always in need of some elements of reference for it to function. It is the acknowledgement of this truth that we start to touch base with reality. Otherwise, we would start to invent a fantasy, confining ourselves in some prison of subjectivism.

We need to find the ultimate source and end of our will, and from there learn how to use it within its proper framework and law. That’s why, our will by nature is always looking for a God—the objective God or our own version of God.

How important therefore it is to take extreme care of how we handle our will. We just cannot use it at random, as in exercising at a wisp of a whim or a passing fancy. Our will needs to be properly grounded and oriented.

We just cannot allow it to be dominated or even largely influenced by physical or biological factors, or by feelings and passions and things of the flesh, or by merely social, economic, cultural or political elements.

It has to enter into some dialogue with God, no matter how mysterious that dialogue is going to be. The very least thing that we can do is to acknowledge that there is God and that we need to be with him.

We may not know much about him yet, nor feel anything special about him yet, but we can always put ourselves in his presence. From there, we can progress in our effort to know and love him more intimately.

Thus, we can start by simply following the commandments that are the first and general articulation of God’s will to us. We can start offering things to him, things that are done according to these defined commandments.

From there, we can start to figure out the finer points of his will by constantly asking him what he really wants us to know and do at any given moment. This means we have to be in a constant mode of prayer, which we can do in different ways depending on the circumstances we are in.

The problem we have today is that many of us do things with hardly any reference to God’s will. That’s why we cannot persevere in doing good, in going all the way in the pursuit of justice, charity, etc. We can start well, but we get stuck somewhere.

We need to listen to what our Lord told those who prided themselves in doing good but could not believe in him: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” (Lk 11,23)

Regardless of the many “good” things we appear to be doing in our work or study, if we are not with God, we simply “scatter.”

Let’s always imitate our Lady who said: “Be it done to me according to your word!”

Thursday, October 6, 2011

RH is unreasonably expensive!

NOW it can be told. And it needed Senator Lito Lapid who is supposed to be not known for his speaking prowess to get this data. The budget for the implementation of RH for the year 2012 alone is—hold your breath—P13.7B!

According to experts, that figure is even higher than the individual budgets of the departments of energy, finance, foreign affairs, justice, labor, science, tourism and trade. It’s even bigger than those proposed for the Office of the President and Congress, and the entire Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

OMG! What a waste of tax money that would be! What distorted sense of priority! And to think that the RH Bill does not even pass the preliminary smell test of morality, and the fact that many of its provisions are redundant since they are already covered in many other laws of the land!

We cannot help but suspect there’s something serious that is hidden under the beautiful features with which the RH is marketed to the public. We have to look more closely at this initiative now forcefully pushed by women senators with radical feminist agendas.

We already know that US Secretary Hillary Clinton admitted that RH by definition includes abortion. So even if our version does not include abortion yet, we can suspect that it would just be a matter of time before this evil gets legalized under RH. In fact, there are now many people in the country openly voicing their support for abortion.

We also know from some declassified document that the US has been eyeing the Philippines for quite sometime now for birth control. It’s part of the geo-political game that the US is playing.

That’s why our Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile is suspicious about the RH Bill as being not so much for reproductive health as a tool to effect birth and population control.

And under the current American leadership, there is also a strong lobby for RH not only in the US but also all over the world. In the US alone, part of the Obamacare program forces everyone to get medical insurance that includes paying for sterilization, contraception and even abortion—all against Catholic moral teaching.

This has led American bishops to call this Obamacare provision as an “unprecedented attack on religious liberty.” It is forcing Catholics to support something that is against their religion. It is not anymore tolerating people to do what they like, even if it is against religion. It is forcing them to support what is against their religion.

The current American scene seems to be drifting toward creating a welfare state, with the government taking a bigger role in people’s lives, clearly going against the social principles of common good, solidarity and subsidiarity. It is not only spoiling people. It is forcing people to get spoiled.

And to think that the American political leaders pride themselves of being the first promoters of democracy and religious freedom and teach other countries to follow them! They have to be clear about these in their own country first.

The Philippines would be in a funny situation if it would just blindly follow the American model of RH. That is why, we need to closely monitor the proceedings of the proposed legalization of the RH Bill. This issue has gone beyond the field of group advocacy. It has become a concern for all of us.

I would suggest that the true picture of the RH Bill be shown, discussed and, if need be, debated upon in schools, parishes, offices and even in families. We have to be warned about a subtle but persistent campaign to change the concept of morality itself and to recast the social principles that should govern our national life.

We are now entering a stage of world history where the issues that we need to resolve are not anymore strictly social, economic or political in nature. They now have a fundamentally moral character and they call for a fundamentally moral resolution.

We need to stop and reverse this slippery slope to a deeper secularized world culture that tackles human affairs from a restrictive frame of economics and politics alone, and ignoring the most basic aspect of religion and our inner beliefs.

I must say that we have been had for a long time by this questionable kind of culture that tends to separate reason from faith, science from religion, our human affairs from God. The state is made to conflict with the Church.

While there is distinction, there is also inherent connection between them!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

‘There be dragons’

NOW in the rounds of premiere showings—in Cebu, it will be on October 16 at the Ayala Theatre—the movie depicts the story of St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, with some fiction to highlight and encapsulate the Christian message that while nothing much can be done toward the past, a lot can still be done in the future.

It’s a drama of hope and redemption extracted from a deep morass of skepticism, hatred, envy and many other forms of human weakness. Director Roland Joffe, who also wrote the script, managed to weave an absorbing story with a happy ending that’s won at a great and painful price.

‘There be dragons’ ably reflects the drama of our life, of our history. The film starts with images of a primitive mapamundi where only the then-discovered lands could be sketched, and the outlying areas--the unknown world--are designated as the dark place of the dragons.

The image can refer to the unknown and mysterious parts of our life which events and circumstances can unravel to us, and can provoke different reactions depending on where we anchor our heart and mind on.

If one is led by faith, then the darkness of life cannot fully erase its guiding light. But if one is simply led by his own reasoning, and worse, by his own emotions and passions, then life can only take us to unavoidable perdition.

No matter how bright and clever one might be, without God, he can never grasp the true meaning and essence of life.

In fact, what is likely to happen is to use one’s powers to destroy himself. And this can be done through a complicated process that is guided by brilliant but deceiving and false lights produced by those powers.

The movie plays out this phenomenon very well. Two friends who were very close to each other in childhood started to take different paths as they grew and encountered more or less similar events and circumstances.

The differences later became big and seemingly irreconcilable. But St. Josemaria persisted in his faith that flowered in charity in its most mature of stage of compassion and forgiveness. That faith and charity would eventually win back his friend who took a different route.

The story of St. Josemaria reminds us that it is only with God that we can somehow assume a comprehensive view and understanding of life, in spite of the riddles and mysteries, the strange twists and turns embedded in it.

God shares this knowledge by giving us faith that has to be lived in hope and in charity. The mysteries of faith can somehow be fathomed, even if they cannot be expressed in words, when they are pursued with hope and charity, with goodness of heart no matter how awkward and imperfect that charity and goodness may be.

Charity, the ultimate law and guiding light of our life, the full blossoming of our faith, is what can conquer all--our doubts, fear, cynicism, hatred, resentment, etc. St. Paul precisely affirmed it when he said: “Charity bears with all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Charity never fails…” (1 Cor 13,7-8)

But, alas, this is a truth that I’m afraid is still unknown by many of us. It’s still in the outlying areas designated for ‘dragons’ in our life. That is why, the movie somehow also reminds us that we need to wage serious and constant battle against our weakness and the temptations around.

Again this is something to be encouraged in all of us. Interior struggle is an integral part of our life here in this world, which is a life of discovery, of trial, of making the ultimate choice of whether we are for God or for ourselves alone.

In this lifetime struggle, which we try to do with naturalness, we should do all we can to win. All is fair in love and in war, though we have to understand that we can wage effective war only in a moral way. Let’s remember that we are ranged against powerful ‘dragons.’

We need to identify our spiritual enemies at the moment—our laziness, lust, greed, lack of faith, etc.--then craft an adequate strategy, then off we go, doing those spiritual combats that are necessary in this life.

For as long as we are willing to stretch our faith into charity, and our charity into its real source and power which is God’s love as revealed, lived and taught to us by Christ, then all will be ok. Victory is assured!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Silence in communication

I WAS at first amused, then turned serious, when I learned that the theme of next year’s World Communications Day is Silence and Word, Path of Evangelization. Pope Benedict suggests that those in the communications business observe silence also.

I immediately thought of the tongue-loose radio commentators whose daily views on issues and events must have come under such pressure that we would be lucky if we could get an inch of substance from a mile of words they say on the airwaves.

There is so much shallowness, inanities, bias and outright commercialism that it’s a surprise the environment is not yet that polluted. When they run out of ideas, which is often, they take refuge in poking fun at personalities, if not resort to risqué jokes and double entendre statements.

Their behaviour many times reminds me of what St. Paul once said: “Guard against foul talk. Let your words be for the improvement of others, as occasion offers, and do good to your listeners...” (Eph 4, 29)

Then in the newspapers, mostly in the provinces where they don’t have much resources, you can see public opinion contributors straining to the extreme to make something of real value to the people.

What we often see are flimsy arguments, ungrounded speculations and theories, and cheap rhetorical tricks. And yes, a lot of indiscriminate ads that often contradict the values they flaunt they are upholding and defending.

But even in very rich and sophisticated media outfits in the local and international scenes, you can also easily detect a lot of hype and hard-sell, their passion and ideological leanings often overwhelming the facts and the requirements of fairness.

In this field, they confuse complicated thinking with mature or sober reasoning. They can cite a lot of statistics and references, they can build up formidable syllogisms, but they often fall into bitter zeal, and the debate becomes more confrontational and conflictive than constructive.

Here I just wish to remit an excerpt of the official Vatican statement about this matter that gives us an idea of the rationale behind the theme. I find it worth reflecting on.

“Silence,” it says, “is not presented simply as an antidote to the constant and unstoppable flow of information that characterizes society today, but rather as a factor that is necessary for its integration.

“Silence, precisely because it favors habits of discernment and reflection, can in fact be seen primarily as a means of welcoming the word. We ought not to think in terms of a dualism, but of the complementary nature of two elements which when they are held in balance serve to enrich the value of communication and which it a key factor that can serve the new evangelization.”

That latter reference to the “new evangelization” simply refers to the fact that in the Christian paradigm, all words, all our communications, our reasoning, discussions, debates, exchanges of opinions, etc., no matter how immersed in mundane issues, should in the end serve the purpose of evangelization which is a constant concern of the Church and, in fact, of everyone in the world.

Obviously, our problem is that practically everyone in the mainstream media, let alone, our local and world leaders, is still ignorant of the vital connection between our use of words in their different forms and ways and their ultimate relation to religion.

We are still wallowing in a secularized mentality where our attitude toward the use of words is almost completely devoid of its innate religious dimension and purpose. While indeed there is autonomy of the use of words in our mundane business, such autonomy does not cut them from their religious and sacred character and purpose.

What we need is some radical change of mind and attitude. And from there, let’s hope we can develop appropriate ways of using words that respect both their autonomous mundane character and their ultimate religious and sacred purpose.

We are still far from this ideal if we have to consider how our usual leaders and those in the media use words. It’s not going to be an easy process, especially if those expected to lead the re-education of the people lack both credibility and expertise.

But I’m afraid we just have to take up this task as soon as possible, no matter how awkward it is going to be especially at the beginning. The Pope’s idea that we give silence its due attention in our communications simply has its undeniable and indispensable value.

Let’s hope that some leaders, in the Church, civil society and government, take up the challenge!