Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Spirit of Advent

THE season of Advent is once again with us. The preparation for Christmas is now entering its final stretch. But Advent means much more than just decorating our houses and offices with the frills of December.

Advent, more than anything else, is a reminder for us all that we need to prepare for the second and final coming of Christ. It reminds us that we have to look forward to that coming, with efforts to make Christ “all in all” in us, or “everything to everyone.”

This is the more important meaning of Advent. We have to rescue this liturgical season from the dustbin of obscurity and oblivion into which many of us have thrown it. We need to remember that our life here on earth is a pilgrimage, a work in progress, whose destination and completion is Christ, the Alpha and Omega.

We have been created in his image and likeness, and with his grace made children of his, meant to participate in God’s very own life. While God created us without us—to paraphrase St. Augustine—he cannot complete that creation without us. God does not impose his love and goodness on us. We need to correspond to it too.

This religious dimension and purpose of our life needs to be re-emphasized again and again, since we tend to forget it or take it for granted. As a result, many have already developed an anti-God or anti-religion mentality, perhaps not so much out of malice as of ignorance, confusion and error.

Let’s hope the media can help in this effort to remind and clarify things in this regard. It’s understandable that they go full blast into mundane issues like politics, business, culture, etc., but they should not leave religion and faith behind.

Ignoring faith and religion invariably leads us to paths of trouble, conflicts, misunderstanding and hatred, and all forms of abuses of our freedom and rights. That’s simply because ignoring faith and religion in our earthly affairs takes away the source and purpose of freedom.

Let’s remember that freedom comes from God. We did not generate it on our own. It’s a gift, the highest gift God gives us, since it is what resembles us with him, and enables us to love and be responsible for all our actions and, in fact, for our whole life.

This freedom is shown in its best form in the life of Christ who did nothing other than to do the will of his Father, no matter what the cost. Let’s hope that this truth of our faith gets a fair hearing in us individually and collectively, especially in the media, since they are a powerful force of influence in society.

Let’s bring this truth of faith about our freedom to its practical manifestations, freeing it from a mainly theoretical understanding. In our daily concerns as well as in the big political and socio-economic issues that confront us, we need to highlight how we ought to live our freedom well, always referring it to God.

At the moment, we find ourselves in such confusion that many of us don’t know anymore where to go. The local political squabbles, the world economic crisis, the social unrest in many parts of the world just don’t have purely political or socio-economic causes.

These causes would not be radical enough if they are not referred to how they violate the use of our freedom as given to us by God. The real germ of the problem would elude detection when the spiritual and moral roots of these causes are ignored.

The real culprit is when we misuse or abuse our freedom to do not God’s will but simply ours, in whatever level or way that will of ours can manifest itself. The real culprit is when we do our own will in opposition to God’s, cleverly using our talents, resources, and the imperfections of our political and legal systems.

In the media right now, for example, there is so much expression of nothing short than the sheer law of Talion, the eye-for-an eye type of justice, a primitive kind long considered to be inhuman. It’s amazing that this kind of mentality still prevails.

There’s quickness to get angry, to get even, to gloat at one’s misfortunes, to judge and condemn. Criminals are not anymore considered human and are therefore placed in a kind of hell here on earth.

This was never the example of Christ. He was quick to forgive and to understand. He was quick to heal. Let’s hope we truly understand the spirit of Advent!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Running amok

WHEN things are not inspired by charity, when we fail to keep a supernatural outlook in life, when we just depend on our reasoning and feelings, then most likely we end up running amok, killing everyone we meet.

This cruelty can easily be seen when political issues and controversies erupt. They erupt in the first place because many people think politics is outside the domain of charity, faith and religion.

The underlying mentality is that prayer and sacrifice have nothing to do with politics. One would be accused of living in a different planet if they behave along lines of charity and religion. He would not be “getting real.”

This attitude has been demonizing us for quite some time now that I’m afraid it has become part of our culture. Proof to that is the openness with which this inhumanity is expressed in public, and hardly anyone complains. On the contrary, a great majority applauds it.

I thought, for example, that gossiping and backbiting are done in whispers, quite hidden in some corner and in small groups. No, it’s not like that anymore. Gossips, backbiting, all sorts of impertinent ad hominems can now be broadcast on radio, TV and the Internet, with many people stoking them to their maximum viciousness.

What is worse—and I hope I’m wrong—is that they think they are doing the right thing, that their reaction is what is just and fair. They have lost the sense of balance, and charity is, of course, regarded as an outcast in the discussion.

In this kind of discussion, the targets are painted all in black. They do not seem to have any saving grace. They seem to be beyond redemption.

This does not bode well of us as a people. We will be hooked to divisiveness and to a spiral of vindictiveness if we exclude charity and the finer requirements of religion in our political discussions.

Let’s remember that our Lord himself told us to love even our enemies. He himself forgave those who crucified him. To the repentant thief, he also promised the Paradise. He told us to forgive not only seven times, but seventy times seven. He asked us to be merciful, because our heavenly Father is merciful.

We need to consider these words as the perfection of our humanity, a way to purify and heal us of our spiritual and moral wounds. They serve none other than to reconcile us with God and with one another. These commands and counsels are not optional. They are necessary.

The truth is that we are all sinners. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 Jn 1,8) We need to understand each other, and forgive each other. No use getting entangled with our sins, mistakes and failures. We just have to move on, doing all to make that possible as soon as we can.

I was both amused and bothered when I heard a radio commentator say that since justice is supposed to be equal, then everyone has to be treated in the same way whether the one involved is a high official or just an ordinary Juan.

In the first place, equality in justice is never to be interpreted as uniformity in treatment. This is commonsensical. Even in our family life, parents love their children equally but treat them differently, simply because the children are different from one another.

Wherever we go we try to be fair with everyone, but we always treat everyone differently, because people are just different. We don’t make a big fuss about this, unless there is clear injustice.

I froze in disbelief when the commentator said that if a public official who happens to be sick already has been arrested, he should go to prison with all the other criminals who had to bear with all the inconveniences of prison life, like hard labor and exposure to sickness because that is simply a prisoner’s plight.

That, he said, is equal justice. There should be no privileges like a hospital arrest. Then he launched into personal attacks on the public official involved, taking jibes at the physical defects of the person. All this at prime time and in a major media outfit. Unbelievable!

He forgot that everyone has a right to protect oneself, his name, his dignity. If many prisoners are treated inhumanly, it’s not because of some discrimination. It’s because of the imperfections of our human justice and legal system.

Again, if there is no charity, our justice can run amok.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Youth and social change

O, YOUTH! The dawning of the future, the shaper of tomorrow! If the child is the father of the man, then youth must be that crucial stage in-between that would determine whether the child is going to be a good father or a bad father of the man. Youth is the junction where one takes a life-defining choice. It is that transitory part of life that is still seeking stability and maturity.

That’s reason enough to put utmost attention and care on them. All sectors—Church, schools, civil society, government, media, etc.—ought to have a permanent concern for their well-being not only in the physical sense, but more so in the spiritual and moral sense.

By sheer number alone, barring the so-called demographic winter some countries are now suffering, the youth make for a tremendous force in the Church and in the world. They simply need to be well formed so that they too, can help in shaping the kind of world and future they want and ought to live, the world God wants for us.

They have to be gradually drawn to assume increasing responsibilities, instead of leaving them to fall into self-absorption and isolationism that are always a danger.

That’s because in spite of the new technologies that in theory should promote sociability, with the wrong attitudes and habits, the youth can instead harden in their egotism, vanity and individualism. Instead of getting more deeply in touch with reality, they can get lost in a world of virtuality, creating a bubble for themselves.

Toward this end, the youth need to be given clear doctrine and criteria, based on our natural law and our Christian faith, so that their innate dynamism would be well-guided and oriented.

With these, they can avoid the pitfalls of exaggerated idealism and activism, to mention a few of the anomalies that usually threaten them. Some other menaces can be extreme, radical independence on the one hand, and the tendency to fall into a herd mentality, on the other, which show a certain degree of instability in their condition.

Times are now complicated and confusing. The youth today are exposed to more things, both good and bad, constructive and destructive, than their counterpart of yesterday. They can flip quickly from local issues to the global ones, thanks to our new technologies. They now have in their hands powerful tools and instruments that can be used either for good or for evil.

Besides, the world environment has changed tremendously in so short a time. Materialism and commercialism are far fiercer in the present than in the past. And we are actually wallowing in a cesspool of secularism and relativism, made worse by the fact that these anomalies can now be better disguised and rationalized.

More than just being given doctrine and criteria, the youth must make these doctrine and criteria their own, to the point that these become their convictions, enabling them to think, judge, speak and act properly, and later to love and enter into a life of commitment. They have to go beyond the stage of theories, clich├ęs and slogans.

This is the ideal situation. We need youth who are active agents of change for the better in society. But how can this happen?

I imagine that first of all, we have to take care of each one of them. Before they are treated as a group, a class or sector, they have to be considered individually and personally. Each one has to be known as he really is—his character and temperament, his strengths and weaknesses, his likes and dislikes, his dreams and fears, etc.

It’s important that each of them is able to share his thoughts and desires with someone he can trust completely. What is important is that each one feels loved and cared for so he too can learn to love and care for the others.

The earlier one realizes deeply that life is relational that involves not only physical and material things, but also and especially spiritual and moral things, the better for him and for everyone else.

Everyone has to learn how to love properly, based on the love of God and not just any form of human attraction. This is more properly known as communion. This realization will serve as the seed for the youth to become active agents in social change.

Social action should always be a function of charity, truth and justice, and should foster communion. While it involves issues, it should not just stop there, but rather proceed to build up communion.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Call for sobriety and magnanimity

I WAS just amused to notice certain differences in the behavior of our leaders and public officials when faced with issues and charges.

I remember that when a few months ago some bishops were falsely accused of misusing government money to buy Pajeros, the bishops immediately came forward to both apologize, which was not necessary, and explain the matter to the public.

They even went to the extent of returning the so-called Pajeros that turned out to be simple vans used for charity—again something that was not necessary. In fact, the embarrassed investigators asked them to keep the vehicles, but the bishops would not.

They were willing to face the taunters and the senators and earnestly showed the real score of the issue. The public were mainly supportive of the bishops, though there of course were some people who “spat and buffeted” them.

But when politicians are concerned, the reaction of everyone, both those involved and the public in general, takes a different, very ugly turn. It would seem that in this field, everyone has the right to do anything, including the unethical and the immoral, to save one’s face or to show one’s outrage.

There’s an open season for venting one’s anger, hatred, deceit, revenge, envy, and many other forms of vile, venom and malice. Restraint and moderation are discarded as passions and emotions are given free rein.

Gloating over one’s misfortunes, otherwise a taboo during normal times, becomes a standard practice in times of tension and crisis, and this can be done not only by ordinary people, but also by politicians with high and very honorable positions and substantial credentials.

This is really a shame on all of us. Are we still human? Are we still Christian? Does a mistake one can commit—no matter how serious and many times still to be investigated—warrant public lynching in the media and elsewhere? Does it authorize us to let go of our rule of law, no matter how imperfect it is?

I was reading the opinions of many people in the social networks, and though there were many valid points raised, it could not be denied that there was a prevalence of poor thinking and reasoning, rash judgments and knee-jerk reactions, poisoned partisan views that have already abandoned objectivity and fairness, pure bashings.

We all need to discipline ourselves when we are faced with exciting issues. We have to make sure that we have good control of our agitated feelings and emotions, and not only should we try to think rationally, but also to see to it that our thoughts and feelings are infused with charity.

Yes, charity should never be cast aside even as we try to pass through the trickiest stage of exacting justice on some persons. Charity is not an optional item. It is a basic, indispensable requirement in our human and Christian behavior.

We cannot say that just because we are dealing with politics, or we are dealing with a crook, etc., that we can be excused from charity, or that we can feel free to tear that person’s name if the not person himself to shreds.

Sad to say, this seems to be the prevalent mindset of many people. We really need to dismantle this mentality, because it is not human, much less Christian. It makes us insensitive to the real essence of righteousness and plunges us to a blinding self-righteousness.

We have to learn to be sober, allowing our thinking to be inspired by true love and compassion even as we also have to uphold justice. We need to broaden our perspectives so we can consider many other factors, taking us away from our biases and prejudices, and giving us a fuller picture of the situation.

We should feel uncomfortable when we find ourselves in some rage, and should do all to get out of that state as soon as we can. Our problem is sometimes we like to prolong that mood for as long as we can.

We have to be magnanimous, quick to forgive and to ask for forgiveness, focused more on what is constructive rather than dwelling on the distracting and destructive.

We should instead look for ways on how to heal wounds, to bring back those who strayed, to look for the lost, to strengthen the weak, to remedy what is defective in our systems. We have to look forward more than backward, the future more than the past.

Sobriety and magnanimity should not just be nice words. They have to be lived.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Sustaining our conversation with God

WE have to learn to converse with our Lord all the time. Let’s try to avoid any gap in this lifelong conversation with our Lord. This is the ideal thing we can and ought to do, primarily because our life is not simply our own. Our life is always a life with God. That’s how we are created and designed.

It’s a shared life, and the least thing we can do to maintain that sharing is to keep a conversation with him. To paraphrase a romantic song, we should keep our music with God playing, finding new things always to say to him, and certainly we can never run out of things to tell or ask him. With all the challenges, problems and pressures we have today, we will always have something to say.

Obviously we have to overcome certain biases and the natural awkwardness that come with this necessity. We can compare this situation of unease to a child who has to learn to speak, walk, write, eat and behave properly, etc.

In the beginning, like the child we have to pass through some clumsy drills of the learning process. We need to develop a sense of focus and substance in our conversation with God. But if we just persist and persevere, we can hack it sooner or later.

The first thing that we have to be clear about is that we actually need to talk with God. We should dump the common idea that talking with God is nonsense. This is actually a groundless myth.

We need to talk to him because as our Creator and Father who loves us all the way, he is everything to us—the source of truth, goodness, wisdom, power, etc. Even if we cannot penetrate the mystery that shrouds him, talking to him provides us with the best and ultimate perspective we can have in understanding reality.

He is the one that gives meaning to all the events in our life. He gives us the proper direction. In fact, Christ described himself as “the way, the truth and the life” for us. “No one goes to the Father except through him.”

We should not just talk with ourselves, nor just with the others. Our consciousness, which is a result of some conversation, should not just be limited to our own thoughts and feelings. God has to enter into it.

Our sense of consciousness would be gravely handicapped if we just use our common sense, or our own estimations of things. We even should not just rely on our arts and sciences nor our increasingly sophisticated technologies to cope with all the demands of life. We need God always. He is the light and the strength we need.

God is the foundation of reality. What is true, good and beautiful can only come and end with him. Outside of him, we will only get at virtuality, not at reality. A basic attitude to develop therefore is to actively look for Christ in the things that we are handling or doing.

We should not be passive and wait for some kind of inspiration before we start talking with God. We ought to have a pro-active approach. We need to look for him, and engage him in a conversation.

With God’s grace, which is never lacking, and with our proper dispositions, and some skills and habits that we need to develop, we can always enter into some dialogue with God. We can always refer things to him.

That’s why St. Paul tells us that “whether you eat or drink, or whatever else you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor 10,31) And again, St. Paul encourages us to work such that “God may be all in all.” (1 Cor 15,28) This is the goal we have to aim at.

When we are in the dark, we need to talk with God. When we are tempted or experiencing the sting of our weakness, then talking to God becomes urgent. Remember St. Paul’s “it’s when I’m weak that I’m strong,” that shows us that we can use our weakness to occasion our getting close to God, our source of strength.

When we are baffled by the twists and turns of things inside us and outside us, our Lord for sure will be there to give us a sense of direction and confidence. When we are tired, harassed, bored, whatever, he gives us rest, peace and joy.

We need to sharpen our skills to sustain our conversation with God always!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Life of fascination

A CERTAIN sense of fascination should characterize our life. As a jazzy song would put it, fascination should take control. Let’s hope that as another old song would put it, fascination turns to love, just as love often relishes in fascination.

Saints are invariably known for their life of fascination in spite of the trials, difficulties and even martyrdom that they had to suffer. Some of them have reached the level of mysticism and ecstasy, which we can consider as the extraordinary forms of fascination.

All this is understandable, since as humans with body and not only with a soul, an ideal situation for us would be to be awe-struck or be excited even in the humdrum of our daily routine. Ideally, the body should share in the true delights of the soul.

We just have to make sure then that our sense of fascination is not exclusively developed and lived in the realm of the flesh, of the material, and of the earthly and temporal. That would detach the body from our soul, our material condition from our spiritual character and supernatural goal.

We have to make sure that our fascination is inspired by faith and sparked to action by our will. We can describe it as a theological fascination that has to be deliberately developed.

It should not just be a spontaneous movement of the flesh, stuck at the level of spur-of-the-moment reactions entirely dependent on feelings and ruled by an obsession for novelties and curiosities. That would make fascination less human.

To be sure, fascination is not just a physical act. It is a human act that should correspond to all the requirements of our human nature and condition.

Our fascination should not just delight the flesh. It should delight us in our totality as a human person and as a child of God. In short, it should delight our mind and will properly, stimulating them properly to get interested in their proper objects.

And these objects could only be love for God and others. Short of these, our fascination would be incomplete and imperfect. It certainly would be vulnerable to abuses and excesses.

Thus, we see many people getting addicted to sex, drugs, gambling, worldly power, etc., since their sense of fascination has not entered the realm of the spiritual and the supernatural.

This is a challenge we should acknowledge and face. We have to save our sense of fascination from the grip of the material and emotional to make it spiritual and theological.

Obviously, in developing this sense of fascination, we need to go through stages. While the initial stage is understandably the physical and emotional, we have to understand that it should go all the way to the spiritual. For this, a certain training is required. The proper understanding, attitudes and habits have to be developed.

In this regard, it might be interesting to pay attention to a passage in the gospel which can refer to this need of ours to develop a life of fascination. It’s in the gospel of St. John where we hear our Lord say: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw al things to myself.” (12,32)

The passage that follows it immediately gives a parenthetical explanation of these words. “Now this he said, signifying what death he should die.”

I think that in these passages we are made to know how our Lord attracts us to himself and therefore what should fascinate us. It’s when our Lord is lifted on the cross that we would be drawn to him. It’s when we train our attention to Christ on the cross that we would be fascinated by him.

And that is because it is on the cross that our Lord shows the supreme and most pure love that can ever be shown to us, and that therefore should attract us. Our problem is that we tend to confine love to what is physically and sensibly pleasant only, to what makes us feel good.

It is a shallow kind of love that cannot understand the value of suffering in this life, the cross, as a necessary ingredient in our human condition that is now marked by sin and all sorts of weakness.

We need to train ourselves to focus and meditate on the passion and death of Christ and to develop this theological fascination of the crucified Christ. Only then can we perfect our sense of fascination that should mark our life here on earth. Only then can we protect ourselves from unwanted, immoral fascinations.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Transmitting faith

FAITH is, of course, a supernatural gift to us, given by God in ways that defy understanding. But since it concerns us, we have to realize there are things we need to do to make that faith take root in our lives, grow to maturity, and spread out to other people.

We have to realize then that we have a duty to transmit faith to the others, and to help them keep that faith vibrant and fruitful. Faith can never just be an individual, isolated affair. It too has a social aspect. In fact, it needs to be shared and to animate our culture, since it is supposed to cover all aspects of our life.

Obviously, to be effective in this business, we should not only talk about faith. We have to walk the talk. We really have to live it and incarnate it consistently. One way or another, it has to show externally, and the others should be able to see it, and admire and love it eventually, making it their own as well.

Only then can faith be understood, loved and lived by the others. Faith is not just a collection of doctrine nor a smart intellectual exercise. Much less is it only about classes, lectures and modules. It’s about life of love with God and with everybody else.

For this to happen, we can cite at least three things that are needed. One is to develop a true life of piety. Faith cannot prosper unless its seed falls on the fertile ground of piety.

Piety is the attitude that corresponds to the deepest longing we have in our heart. We realize that we need to be attached to someone higher than us. Thus, we can have first of all a filial piety toward our parents, then to other people whom we truly love. Ultimately, we should realize we need to have a piety toward God.

This piety is expressed in deeds—praying, doing acts of worship, and other related acts or gestures like making sacrifices, pilgrimages, fasting and abstinence, going to the sacraments—all of which happening in the heart and tilting us toward God. These should be like our breathing, or the beating of the heart, a second nature to us.

A second point would be the need for doctrine. Piety without doctrine is a dangerous situation, prone to superstitions and other abuses. We have to understand that doctrine is for us the path to know and love God more and more.

Doctrine is not just a body of ideas and theories. The doctrine of our faith is life itself in the context of love. It is God himself, who is at once the source, the substance and standard of life and love. We should never reduce doctrine to mere ideas, words and theories.

We should spread this doctrine as widely as possible, seeing to it that the study of doctrine should be within the context of love of God and others. It should never be converted into a mere intellectual affair that would surely empty it of its living substance, leaving only a shell.

We need to be active in studying and teaching catechism, and in following closely the Church magisterium as expressed in the words of the Holy Father and the bishops in union with the Pope. When we study doctrine, we should get to know Christ better. When we teach or preach it, we should be able to show Christ to others.

A third point would be the lifelong development of virtues. When piety and doctrine do not produce virtues, there would be something terribly wrong in our understanding and life of faith.

Faith by definition is always transformative. It will always have an effect in a manner much more effective than what a most potent medicine can do to heal us of a certain sickness.

So, a man of faith will always be a man of virtues, especially charity that includes everything else that is good and perfecting in us. Faith can be shown when we have patience, temperance, fortitude, prudence, justice, humility, etc.

In the work of apostolate and evangelization that we should be doing and where faith is transmitted, it’s important that we manage to really befriend everyone, listening to them, adapting ourselves to them, and gently leading them with gift of tongues to Christ.

We have to remember that this business of transmitting faith is a most intimate affair, where freedom has to be respected all the time, and a lot of patience and sacrifice are required.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dignity of labor

I FEEL that we have to resurrect from the grave the dignity of labor. For long, it has fallen into such disrepute that our young generation today often thinks of it as a curse, a compulsory evil, or a plague to be avoided at all costs.

Even those who may be considered as intelligent and well-motivated, going to schools, training programs and all that, often succumb to the wrong notion that their high education can take them away from some work they consider lowly.

That is not just right. Work and labor, whether manual or intellectual, in the fields and farms or in offices, is always part of our human nature, part of God’s design for us to make us image and likeness of his, and even children of his.

Any kind of work, as long as it is honest work, affirms our humanity. It actualizes whatever potentials we have. It is the way we contribute to the common good, the main means to earn our living. Work and labor just make us legitimately proud and happy.

More than these, it enables us to share in God’s providence over us, a way to reach our spiritual and supernatural goal. We need to highlight this truth, because the prevalent understanding of work detaches it from its objective divine context. Indeed, it can be our path to be with God right in the middle of the world.

While it’s true that we can have different aptitudes toward different kinds of work—some are meant more for white-collar jobs than the blue ones, others better as managers than clerks, some prefer to till the land than handle computers, etc.—truth is all of us need to work, and any kind of work would just be fine.

I would even venture to say that he who discriminates against the simple, ordinary work like the household chores would already be handicapped to tackle the bigger, extraordinary tasks we can encounter in life.

Remember our Lord saying: “He who is faithful in little is also faithful in much.” We need to digest the wisdom of these words well.

I think this point is crucial especially these days when we are experiencing rapid developments that often cause changes and disruptions. We have to learn to be flexible—to retrain ourselves when it is requisite given a situation, and to be ready to take on whatever job is necessary or convenient at the moment.

We need to be upbeat about these challenges, and avoid falling into passivity, waiting for the so-called ‘right job’ to come to us. The ideal attitude should enable us to be a CEO of a conglomerate one day, and a gardener the next day without suffering any crisis.

We have to reinforce the attitude that was expressed one time by our Lord when he said: “I came to serve and not to be served.” At another instance, he recommended that we should always remind ourselves that we are simply “unprofitable servants,” doing only what we are supposed to do.

We should not mind whether, in our unavoidable human rankings, we are on top or at the bottom, in front or at the back, the main actor or just an extra. We should be happy where we are placed at the moment, as long as we are working.

We have to avoid a culture of privileges and entitlements, though some fair remuneration for our work is always necessary. But we need to take extra care to avoid taking our work out of its primordial nature and reason.

Our problem is that we tend to take our duty to work out of its original context in the plan of God, and spin a merely human culture around it that distorts its nature, character and purpose.

And so our labor easily becomes an instrument of pride, vanity, greed, deceit, envy, hatred, etc. And from these, what can we expect but injustice and inequality in society, and later on, spreading social disturbances until things reach a flashpoint for collapse?

Early on in life, when people are still children in their respective homes, we should be taught clearly about this objective dignity of work and labor. Everyone needs to be shown how to love work, acquire the proper attitudes and habits.

I once met a young man who was a successful yuppie with a top position in the corporate world, but who remained simple and humble, willing and eager to do household chores like cooking and washing dishes. I pray there be more of him.

Concatenation

THE word comes from “catena,” Latin for chain, a string of links, usually metallic, which with the prefix “con-” (or “cum” in Latin), meaning “with,” and the suffix, “-ation,” means the act or the state of being bound or connected.

The word is usually made to refer to the material item of a chain. Otherwise it is often used in a literary sense, as in a metaphor or a simile. But hardly is it used in the spiritual and moral sense, as in our duty to build up linkages among ourselves.

This is unfortunate, since our human dignity and our vocation urge us precisely to construct and strengthen in a constant and increasing way our interrelationships. We are meant to be connected with the others. No one lives alone.

This can be gleaned from our Christian faith when our Lord himself commanded us, first, to love our neighbor as ourselves, then later on in a more perfect way, to love one another as he loves us.

In fact, the Compendium of the Catechism of the Church teaches us that “the human person has a communal dimension as an essential component of his nature and vocation.” (401)

But even in our natural self, without considering the inputs of our faith yet, we can already discern a strong tendency to be with others, though this predisposition can easily be thwarted for a number of reasons.

Thus, we are born into a family, and we need our parents and siblings, and later on our friends, classmates, colleagues, etc., for us to grow, develop and find happiness here on earth.

We neither can avoid organizing ourselves into ascending levels of society—from family to local, national and international communities—simply because we need them. Problems we encounter along the way cannot stop this trend.

We have to be more aware that this human process just cannot be inspired by our natural needs alone nor ruled merely by the natural laws of economics, sociology, politics, and much less by the advantages of popularity and practicality.

We have to understand that our need and the corresponding duty to “concatenate” among ourselves go beyond these natural and temporal reasons. That need and duty arise from the spiritual character of our nature and the supernatural goal to which it is called.

Yes, to put it bluntly, the spirituality of our nature, expressed in our capacity to think, know, judge, reason, choose, love, etc., would not be complete unless it is poised if not engaged with the supernatural reality of a Supreme Being, who is God, our Creator and everything, eternal, omnipotent, provident, etc.

St. Augustine vividly gave an expression of this condition of ours when he said: “Our heart is restless until it rests in you.” It is inherent in us to be connected with God, the ultimate Other, and with and through him, with all the others.

Thus, we are told that love for God is always inseparable from love for the others. We are “designed” to enter into communion, which is not mere physical union, but a union of life and love, with God and others.

In others words, we have to understand that we are meant to be responsible for one another. We cannot say, “That’s his problem, that’s his own affair.” While it’s true that we enjoy a right to privacy and that we also have the social principle of subsidiarity, all these do not mean we can ever be indifferent to the others.

Their concerns and affairs are somehow ours too. The faster we get convinced of this truth, the more quickly we understand it and prepare ourselves adequately to meet its practical consequences, readying ourselves to help others in the worst scenarios, the better for us.

Our Lord did this not only by becoming man, but also by assuming all the sinfulness of men. This he did by embracing the cross and freely allowing himself to die on it, in spite of his obvious sinlessness.

It’s a great lesson for us to learn. We will fail to establish and reinforce our true unity in its different levels and aspects—personal, social, cultural, etc.—if we refuse to follow the example of Christ, who is “the life, the truth and the way” for us.

We have to heed St. Paul’s advice that’s clearly inspired by Christ’s example: “Bear each other’s burden, and you shall fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal 6,2) We have to start training ourselves to acquire this attitude and lifestyle.

This is the way to fulfill the duty of concatenation.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Charity amid differences and conflicts

WE have to learn to see Christ in everyone, including those with whom we may have serious differences or are in conflict. We have to go beyond seeing others in a purely human way without, of course, neglecting the human and natural in us.

In short, we have to see others in a spiritual way, within the framework of faith, hope and charity. Otherwise we cannot avoid getting entangled in our limited and conflict-prone earthly condition. And no amount of human justice and humanitarianism can fully resolve this predicament.

Thus, we need to develop and hone our skills of looking at others beyond the merely physical, social, economic, cultural or political way. While these aspects are always to be considered, we should not be trapped by them.

There are many reasons for this. First would be that we are all brothers and sisters, created by God in his image and likeness, and made children of his through his grace.

In spite of our differences—race, culture, beliefs, etc.—we are meant to care and love one another. Thus, our Lord told us to “love your neighbour as I have loved you.” (Jn 13,34)

And how did Christ love us? By becoming man and assuming all our sinfulness, dying to it to give us a new life in him. His love was for everyone, and especially for those who were weak and handicapped not so much in the physical sense as in the moral sense.

That’s why he was close to the sinners, fraternizing with them. He would only show his dislike to those who were self-righteous. Just the same, he loved all as proven by the fact that before dying on the cross, he asked forgiveness from his Father for those who crucified him.

We have to expand and deepen our attitudes towards others. Are we willing to think always of them, keenly observant of how they are? Are we moved to pray for them and to leap to their assistance when the chance comes?

Our problem is that we tend to think always of ourselves, and our view of the others is mainly shaped by purely human motives that cannot reach the level of charity that can love everyone regardless of conditions and circumstances.

Let’s remember that as St. Paul said, we have to “bear each other’s burdens.” (Gal 6,2) Do we have that kind of outlook? Are we quick to help others even to the point of inconveniencing ourselves?

We have to start dismantling attitudes, habits and practices that keep us imprisoned in our own world, mistakenly thinking that these actually would make us happy or are good for us.

These past days I had had the luck of meeting simple people who are thinking only of others. I did not hear any negative remark from them about anyone, and frankly, I felt so good talking to them. It was a joy to be with them.

Our problem is that we tend to just gossip and gossip, our mouth and tongue quite on their own with hardly any supervision from a higher agency in our system. We are also affected by our prejudices and biases. Of course, we tend to forget charity when we encounter sharp differences with others.

We have to follow the example of Christ who tried to find something good even in those who were doing wrong. For example, one time he told his disciples to continue observing what their religious leaders taught them, but not to follow their example, because they do not practice what they preach. (cfr Mt 23,2)

He made that distinction between what was taught and what was practiced, and did not lump up the right teaching with the wrong practice. We should be quick to find the right and the good things that can go together with the bad and wrong things.

Even with handling of dishonest money, he showed goodness of heart. Christ recommended that we “make friends with dishonest money,” so that when it fails we can still be welcomed to heaven. (cfr Lk 16,9)

It’s not that we ought to foster dishonesty, but rather to learn how to make do and make use of evil things in this world to do good. This conclusion can be gleaned from the fact that our Lord summarized the whole episode by saying, “No servant can serve two masters...You cannot serve God and mammon.”

We need to be pro-active in seeing Christ in everyone and in eliciting true charity when we relate to them, regardless of the circumstances.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Triviality

WE have to be careful not to fall to triviality. The profusion of data, images and messages that are now technologically generated and circulated can easily confuse, intoxicate and desensitize us to the point of developing a mentality of triviality—everything would be considered of the same value or nothing is considered serious.

With this attitude, we can lose our sense of balance and direction, priorities are thrown haywire, and we mostly likely would be led only by our senses, feelings, instincts and passions, that at best can only cover so much of the reality we are in.

Even if we still have a good use of our reason and intelligence, we would find it hard to discern the impulses of faith and grace, the promptings of the Holy Spirit that for sure continue to come to us, since our life is always a shared life with God, in spite of our freedom and independence.

In fact, the sense of the sacred vanishes. Faith and religion are not only ignored. They are increasingly attacked, accused of being anti-human. Talking about developing a supernatural outlook is now considered trash talk.

We need to be properly grounded and sober, and at the same time flexible, able to flow with the times that are getting more and more complex. This is now an urgent requirement that should be met fast and adequately. Let’s hope families, schools and other institutions realize this and start to act about it.

Fact is there are now many young people falling to triviality, and a host of other anomalies that usually go with it. To mention a few, we can cite vulgarity, laziness, disorder, addictions that now go beyond substance or drug addiction.

We can now talk about psychological addiction that may be fed mainly by smut and porn. From there, all sorts of perversions can come. And when not promptly corrected, they can spread quickly, causing a kind of epidemic.

And since these irregularities are more moral than organic, more psychological than physical, the urge to justify them can easily take place. This is what we are seeing in some developed countries that are actually getting into decadence. And we are starting to see signs and symptoms of these problems in our country.

In fact, we now have moves to legalize these irregularities in an effort to make these practices the new normal in a new world order where God is stricken out. The world culture is becoming a Godless culture.

St. Paul already warned us of this eventuality. “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.” (2 Tim 3-4)

We have to see to it that we are properly guided and directed even as we sail through life’s seas. For this, everyone should try to come up with an effective plan, consisting of certain practices of piety organically linked to his daily activities so that the love of God and others would always throb in his heart.

The proper structures and atmosphere in homes, schools, offices, etc. should be created and maintained, so that this plan of piety can really be lived. Very crucial to this would be a continuing program of formation and education that should be pursued in an air of freedom and never of coercion.

Obviously, for this purpose, the Church leaders should be in the forefront. But they should also train others—especially parents and teachers—to be experts in this plan of piety so they, the parents and teachers, can transmit this plan to children and students through their words, actions and the very testimony of their own lives.

In this task of formation, we need to highlight the core truth that all of us who are creatures and children of God actually have a natural longing for God, though that longing is often thwarted by a number of factors. We just have to find ways of recovering it when it is lost, and to reinforce it especially when we face trials.

That formation has to be wholistic, covering the human aspect that is always basic, as well as the doctrinal and spiritual aspects that would include teaching others how to pray, to value sacrifice, to wage a lifelong ascetical struggle, to have recourse to the sacraments, and precisely to take care of their on-going formation.

This formation would prevent us from falling into triviality, with mind focused and heart burning with love.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Laity’s challenge to the clergy

A NUMBER of times, I have been invited to give talks or preside over some liturgical activities by groups of laymen who have formed themselves together for a spiritual or religious purpose. These invitations are, of course, outside of my regular pastoral assignments.

On these occasions, they can ask me to give some spiritual inputs, if not conduct for them a morning or afternoon of recollection and things like that. When I have the time, I usually accept the requests, and I always end up being moved to see how these lay people are actually hungering for spiritual nourishment.

I notice lately that the invitations have been increasing while my availability has been decreasing, and so I have been refusing these invitations more than accepting them.

This, of course, pains me. It’s undeniable that contrary to some negative and dark reports about people getting secularized, we can also say that there are many people who are trying their best to find God in their daily life. I consider this a marvellous work of the Holy Spirit. There’s a lot of sheep out there looking for their shepherd!

Even youngsters are into this phenomenon. The other day, for example, a group of Filipino-Chinese youth asked me if I could give them some talk. They have been looking for priests, but they could not get one. I was their last resort.

I am sure this wonderful development is caught in the radar of our Church authorities. I remember some years ago that the late Pope John Paul II organized in Rome a gathering of lay groups to highlight this heavenly gift of the laity taking the initiative to strengthen and deepen their spiritual lives.

But I think a lot more has to be done. While it’s true that Church life has to revolve around the parish, especially around the sacraments, most especially around the Holy Eucharist, it’s also true that the Church cannot be confined in these environments.

While it’s true that in the Church, the laity cannot be without the clergy, it is also true that the clergy ought to truly look after the laity in all their spiritual needs. The priests should not just wait for the laity to go to them nor to limit themselves doing strictly liturgical functions.

Spiritual and Church life actually covers the whole range of human life in its different aspects and levels. It cannot be confined simply within church premises and parochial concerns. There is a lot more to it than just restricting it to the sacraments.

The clerics, always indispensable in all these, should know how to be present everywhere, effectively engaging everyone in his spiritual and moral needs. People need to be formed humanly, spiritually, doctrinally, apostolically, professionally, etc., and priests do have a hand in all these.

For example, do priests spend time hearing individual confessions of penitents and giving spiritual direction in a very personal way, as is expected of this delicate practice? These are very important duties that cannot be renounced.

Or are they succumbing to a mere bureaucrat’s mentality, contented only with managing the parish, doing the accounting and the purchasing of materials, etc.?

It’s not so much a matter of physical presence of the priests in the different parts of the world as his adequate spiritual and competent pastoral presence in the world. They have to learn to work in tandem with the lay, knowing the art of functional delegation and supervision.

They have to learn how to accompany everyone in the entirety of his earthly journey, without getting lost or unduly entangled with things. This is a big challenge.

For this, of course, a certain training is needed, starting in the seminary days and going all the way to the never-ending formation of priests even up to their old age. There’s a need to be clear about priorities, since definitely many and all things can demand the attention of priests. And they (we) just have to know how to put order in all of them.

For sure, this will require a continuing study of everyone concerned, with the Church authorities always taking the lead and inspiring everyone to contribute his observations and suggestions. They have to know how to get the act together.

With world developments getting faster-paced and more complex, bishops and priests have to do some retooling to cope with the emerging challenges. And yes, also greater sacrifices, more heroic generosity of one’s time, talents and resources.

We all have to discern more keenly what the Holy Spirit is telling us.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Games and gadgets generation

WE need to be aware of this disturbing characteristic of our young generation, and even the not so young. There is strong evidence that many of the youth today are hooked on games and gadgets. They are swallowed up by a fever called distraction and are falling into varying forms of addiction.

There is no focus. There is no long-range, let alone, over-all view of things. Concern for others is evaporating. In their stead, we find a trend of aimless drifting, of immediate and instant satisfaction of wants, of inventing more whims and caprices, of a hardening of an anomaly called self-centeredness.

Temperance, self-discipline, spirit of sacrifice and a healthy form of detachment from things are cast out. Fortitude and determination seem to be regarded as disvalues since the young ones prefer to go soft and easy always, guided only by instincts, feelings and passions.

And so duties like praying, studying, helping around in the house, serving others, etc. are often forgotten. The art of serious thinking and reflection is hardly learned, and can now be covered more easily through the cut-and-paste technology and other forms of cheating that many of the young people are also skilled at.

To help in solving this predicament, we need to look at our own personal lives first, to see if things are working as they should—like whether our spiritual life is in shape, our values in proper order, our virtues alive and developing, our control of our weakness and temptations effective, etc.

We can only aspire to help the young ones if we ourselves, the elders, are in the condition to help. We can only help if our attitudes, thoughts, words, action and example are vitally connected to the ultimate source of life, goodness and love—God. Otherwise, we would just contribute to the worsening of the situation.

Are we praying? Are we able to integrate all aspects of our lives under the impulse of grace and the love of God and neighbor? Does truth, as ultimately coming from our faith, reign in our lives, or are we just contented with practical and temporal principles and guidelines? Do we always come up with effective resolutions daily?

How is our behavior in all the different situations of our life—in good times and bad times, in successes and failures? Can we say that our example could truly edify the young? And can they also say we are authentic men and women of God?

We have to understand that helping the young and provoking a transformation in society and the world would always start and end with each of our personal selves. Things don’t work any other way. But obviously we also need the support of higher entities.

Thus, from our own personal selves, we have to look into the health and vitality of the families, so crucial in developing the young ones. Are they functional? Do parents and children spend time together? Are parents, the first teachers to their children, able to fulfill their duties toward them properly?

Everything has to be done to strengthen family life that starts with the love of the spouses and parents, protecting and reinforcing marriage and fidelity, respecting life in all its stages and conditions, from womb to tomb. Let’s be wary of immoral legislations like the proposed RH Bill.

How about the schools? Do they include in their curricula not only academic subjects but also elements that would contribute to the genuine development of the students’ character? Are they also teaching faith and morals aside from the practical sciences?

Do schools produce not only knowledgeable and skillful graduates but better and mature persons, because they are all at once loving children to their parents, competent workers, patient and compassionate friends to their friends and colleagues, dutiful and loyal citizens to their country and, above all, faithful children of God?

We need to see to it also that the environment around would always be conducive to a healthy lifestyle for the young and for everybody else? Is the media helping in creating a clean, positive and encouraging surrounding? Are we rid of billboards and other ads that give confusing if not outright wrong messages?

And the government? It has a big role to play in all this. Does it go beyond bureaucratic effectiveness and legalistic norms to really engage itself with the true core of the issues that would always be respectful of their moral implications?

We need to get our act together, putting all these elements in synergy, so we can truly help the young.