Friday, December 30, 2011

Sizing up the challenges

EVERY new year poses new challenges. We’ve been through this routine for quite some time now. But I must say that this new year presents to us challenges that are more complex and complicated, more tricky and deadly.

This must be due, at least in part, to the accelerated pace of technological development, as well as a population that is growing not only in number but also in both sophistication, on the one hand, and ignorance, confusion and error, on the other.

Both contrasts and conflicts that are getting sharper, on the one hand, and the subtle process of homogeneizing and uniforming people mindlessly, on the other, are taking place.

I find this combination of factors very intriguing, indeed. Some people can know a lot yet miss the point. Others can know little yet continue to be wise. And now, at the back of our minds, we ask, and who is going to judge who is right and is who is wrong?

There now on seems to be a crisis on what norms and standards to follow these days, what values and in what order they have to be upheld and defended. Many people seem to be guided solely by purely subjective criteria.

Which reminds me of what St. Paul once said: “The spiritual man judges all things, and he himself is judged by no man.” (1 Cor 2,13) It’s an intriguing affirmation that for sure will be questioned, if not rejected, by sceptics, agnostics and atheists.

But I believe in it—it’s the spiritual man, the one vitally connected with God, who knows things objectively. In the end, it’s the kind of spirit one submits himself to that would guide him in his decisions. So I always bat for spiritual formation and development more than anything else, without disparaging the other requirements.

The virtues of prudence and discretion have never been so needed as during these times. The demands of charity have become more nuanced. We have to careful with our rash judgments and our reckless speech.

So many things are just happening in the micro and macro levels of our life, in the personal and social aspects, in the spiritual and moral and the material worlds. Today’s ballistic development in technology actually requires a corresponding radical maturation of our spiritual life. But we can observe hardly any correspondence between the two.

We have to learn how to distinguish and integrate things properly, putting them in their right places, order and hierarchy. This is not going to be an easy task, but neither is it impossible.

We need to learn how to hold our horses and restrain our emotions, moderate our urges, and how to think, judge and reason properly, as well as how to speak and express ourselves with tact and courtesy in spite of our differences.

We have to learn how to dialogue with the different parties on different issues. The more interaction, the better. The more linkages we have among ourselves, the better for us. We have to foster the culture of dialogue.

We need to know more the range and intricacies of the now in-thing of tolerance—in the fields of culture, law, religion, politics, etc., without falling into chaos and disorder, and without forgetting that there are certain things that remain absolute and unchangeable in spite of the constant flux in life.

We need to know more about the scope and limits of our rights—to expression, to privacy, personal and social development, etc. We have to be more sensitive to the fine lines involved in the discretionary part of our laws. This appears to be abused quite openly lately.

As we can see, challenges that pose problems to us are actually opportunities, chances and windows for us to develop the appropriate virtues, attitudes and skills. They provide us with the occasion and the spur to bring our knowledge, wisdom and maturity to the next level. We should never say enough.

Our life here is always on the go. We should never think we know enough, or that our formation has already reached its maximum level. We have to remember that with our spiritual nature, we are oriented toward the infinite. Our capacity to know and to learn, to exercise our freedom, knows no limits, though a certain law governs it.

Let’s always remember that our freedom can go in two ways—either for good or evil, for greater freedom or deeper slavery as when we sink in the world of different addictions which are also noticing these days.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

If only

ENDING a year and beginning a new one usually elicits fond wishes among us. For me, I think I have many, but for now, I simply wish our media people become more human and Christian in our work. At least, that they—we, I include myself—have a deeper sense of ethics, and that we realize we need continuing formation, just like everybody else.

That might be too blunt to say, but that can actually be applied to everybody else, be he in media or not, and of course, myself included. Our humanity and Christianity are always a work in progress.

I just hope that we can be more serious and specific as to how that transformation, that humanization and Christianization can take place. In this task, I think everyone can and should help, can and should contribute whatever he can.

I was thinking that a more feasible and sustainable program of formation for media people that includes not only the technical aspects but also and more so on the ethical aspect, should be put in place. It’s a pity that with all the advances in technology and the profession, we remain largely puerile in our spiritual and ethical life.

You see, casual and random occasions lately provoked in me some intriguing if disturbing thoughts. While having a haircut the other day, for example, I overheard on TV (the set was at my back and above; I could hear it but not see it) things that made me immediately ask myself: Have we gone this far and this low already?

It was what I later learned to be one of our local reality shows. It was kind of investigative and confrontational in format. And I was shocked by what were exposed by a string of gays who openly said they were into regular sex with a young man who was living-in with a girl.

Lurid, almost pornographic details in foul language were mentioned, all impertinent to any ethical goal the show might be presumed to pursue. The interrogations were gossipy in character, creating a voyeuristic atmosphere, personal privacy violated with impunity. Many in the barber shop dropped our jaws in disbelief.

I could not help but suspect that money must be the reason those characters dared to present themselves and tell their stories there. Most likely, the poverty of people is again exploited to satisfy a big untapped market of misplaced curiosity that many people have, all for the sake of ratings.

Mischievous social observers might dismiss the parties involved as our low-lifers who should just be given their fifteen minutes of fame, since, anyway, that would be unavoidable.

But to me that would be inhuman and unchristian. Everyone is a child of God regardless of his defects and sins, and should be loved and helped. We should try our best not to expose to the public things that are not supposed to be known by others, especially if they are scandalous.

The hostess of the show pressured the poor fellow to admit what were claimed by both the gays and the girl, and even by some neighbours. I found it very disgusting, and wondered if anything can be done to police this kind of shows.

Also, while riding in a taxi recently, I heard over the radio the driver was listening to, some running commentaries of the recent floods in Cebu and the unavoidable references to Typhoon Sendong in Mindanao.

When there was a lull because no new data came in or the information were not clear, the commentators tried to fill up their time by dishing out some trivia, like cows can swim for an hour in the sea, being dragged by a pump boat.

No problem, there. But I was just thinking that with the gravity of the situation, could these media men not come out with more meaningful commentaries? I then realized that, of course, these men are lacking in formation. They could not talk about the spiritual and religious significance of the event.

This is a big challenge, since a lot of bias and prejudice prevent many people, including those in media, to see the importance and relevance of spiritual and religious formation in their work. They get contented with the technical and the professional aspects, not knowing that these need to be animated more deeply in one’s spiritual life.

Of course, things cannot be worse than in the political commentaries where a lot of bullying, insulting, all sorts of non-sequiturs are standard fare.

If only we, media people, get serious with our continuing formation...

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Keeping the Christmas spirit alive always

“SHE will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” The Christmas message.

With these few words, the gospel tells us the core reason for our joy in spite of whatever may be our condition and situation in life. Christian life is always a happy life. We should be wary when we find ourselves in the clutches of sadness for a variety of reasons.

We are meant to be happy, because no matter how we may be at any given moment, our Lord is always there to save us. He is bent to bring to completion the wonderful thing God has started in us.

We can, of course, abuse his goodness, his eternal mercy, as many times we have done in the past and for sure will do in the future, but Christ never changes his mind about us. His love is eternal. It’s unshakeable.

We have to learn to love him in return. Love is always repaid with love. This is what Christmas is trying elicit in us. Every time we see the Son of God turn into a baby, defenceless and in total need of our care, let’s bring it to our mind that he’s inviting us to the marvellous, if tortuous, road to love.

It’s love that is meant for us. Everything else is subordinated to it—our pursuit for justice and peace and truth, our concern for development and progress, our interest in the enrichment of our culture, etc.

May we know how to relate everything to love, or to charity, which is another name for love, the very essence of God, whose image and likeness we are. May we know how to inspire and lead everything to love, to God.

This would mean that we have to make an effort. In fact, an effort that should be with us till the end of our life, and till the end of time. Love without effort, without sacrifice, is fake. It would just be for show. A bubble that cannot last.

We have to learn how to engage our mind and heart with Christ. He is never just an idea, nor a historical figure who lived in the past but is only made present in our memory. He is truly alive, here and now. Through faith, hope and charity, we can see and hear him at every moment. This is no fiction. This is real, not virtual.

This is the challenge we have to face—how to keep ourselves alive to Christ, since as far as he is concerned, he is already alive in us. In this, we have to help one another.

We are actually given all the means for this purpose. We have the Church, established by Christ so that his presence and work of redemption and perfection of our creation can continue throughout time.

In the Church, we have the salvific doctrine of our faith, the truths that include mysteries that bring us to him. We have the sacraments that, regardless of their human and natural elements, convey grace if not the very Christ, in body and blood, to us.

We have the living witnesses of holiness through the myriads of saints and holy men and women who have identified themselves unsparingly with Christ. Through them, we get a good idea of how it is to be a true child of God. We will never lack inspiration to give us the needed impulses to go on in spite of whatever.

Yes, we just have to train our mind and heart to focus on our Lord and to beat in synch with the heart of Christ. That is always possible. If it can be done in our human love affairs where we depend more on human means, this definitely can be done in our love affair with Christ who gives us much more powerful means.

How important it is that we know how to develop a lifestyle and culture that spring vitally from this Christmas message and spirit! In our journey of life, we face tremendous trials and challenges. Temptations from within and without abound, and they can truly darken and spoil our outlook.

We cannot underestimate the dangers that lurk at every moment and in every corner of our earthly pilgrimage. We truly need Christ. He is our strength, our light, our cure, our salvation and perfection. Let’s never think we are ok without him.

Again, let’s help one another. We have to keep the Christmas spirit alive always.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

When disasters strike

WE have to be ready spiritually and morally, and not just materially,
socially, politically, etc., when disasters and calamities strike. In
the end, this is really what matters.

This state of preparedness should not be reduced to lower levels,
overtaken by other considerations that, while they may be more
immediate, are not the ultimate and decisive factors.

At the moment, I can discern an unspoken lament over God’s role in
these sad events. Why did God allow Typhoon Sendong to happen? Why did
he let so many people, even innocent children, to die in such a
manner? Why does he want us to suffer?

We have to be ready for the right answers to these questions that
understandably would spring in anyone’s mind and heart. And for this,
let’s not rely on our reasoning alone, but rather on our faith always.
Faith gives us a glimpse of the mind of God with respect to our human
affairs and world events.

And what can we gather from our faith? What we can safely say is that
God allows these disasters to happen, first, because our natural
world has its inherent finite and limited character. And God deals
with the world as with us always respecting the nature the world and
we have.

Sooner or later, our world and everything in it will meet their end.
They will pass away. As an old Nat King Cole song would have it, “The
Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble, they are only made of clay,
but our love is here to stay.”

That romantic line echoes what our Lord said: “Heaven and earth shall
pass, but my words shall not pass.” (Mt 24,35) It’s a clear indication
that in our earthly affairs, we have to be guided by God’s word, by
the faith God revealed and gave to us, more than just our gut feel, or
our sciences, arts and technologies.

We can then say that disasters and calamities are occasions, reasons
and invitations for us to grow in our faith, to go beyond what our
senses can perceive and intelligence can understand. We need faith!

Thus, in the episode of our Lord with the apostles on a boat tossed
by big waves of a storm, he reprimanded the apostles for their lack of
faith when they in fear roused him from sleep to do something about
the water threatening to sink them. “Why are you fearful: Have you no
faith yet?” he told them. (Mk 4,40)

It’s not that we should not bother our Lord because of our faith. We
can and in fact should bother him when we are threatened by disasters
or are already suffering in them. It’s just that we have to bother him
out of faith, and not out of mere fear. With faith, our Lord can
always calm down the raging seas of our life.

We have to strengthen our faith always. We have to see to it that our
thinking, judging and reasoning are always infused by faith. We should
never allow them to be inspired only by what we see, hear and feel, or
even by what we understand. We have to go by our faith always.

Our earthly condition is made worse by the mistakes and sins we
commit. So, not only do we have to contend with the natural
limitations and weaknesses, but also with the infranatural factors of
these sins and mistakes.

That is why, our Lord taught us how not only to have faith, but also
to be ready to carry the cross with him. The cross is a necessary
element of our faith. It signifies, among other things, the inevitable
suffering we have to undergo in this life because of these natural and
infranatural factors of our wounded human nature.

Knowing how to carry the cross with Christ enables us to face
whatever disaster we can meet in life. Our cross then becomes the
cross of Christ, a suffering that will lead us to our own
resurrection, to our victory over sin, to our own perfection as
children of God.

The cross of Christ, converts our suffering into something redemptive
and perfective of us, and not just painful events of our lives. We
have to assimilate this truth of our faith well.

For this, our Lord wants us to be ready always. “Know this, that if
the good man of the house knew at what hour the thief would come, he
would certainly watch... be you also ready, because at what hour you
know not the Son of man will come.” (Mt 24,43-44)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Selling charity today

SELLING charity today is like selling rotten fish. You would have more success selling it to a wall. Charity has become a total outcast, hardly known, ignored if not ridiculed by many who are driven only by their so-called sense of justice.

This actually has always been our universal human problem. The root cause is that we pursue justice outside of charity. We make it subject only to our feelings and passions. Or to purely human criteria and laws that cannot go far from the eye-for-an-eye law of Talion, and the tit-for-tat logic of our wiles.

It’s a justice that is mired in legalism, very prone to manipulations, to knee-jerk reactions, to the mob rule dynamics, that cannot free itself from the motive of vindictiveness, and the temptation to gloat over the misfortunes of others, to insult and do all sorts of below-the-belt actuations.

Without charity, it’s a justice that is not an organic extension of divine justice, but its caricature. It covers only a biased part of the over-all picture of true justice, and its main if not sole purpose is to punish and demand restitution, rather than to heal the offender, the sinner.

It considers only the externals, and hardly the inner drama in men’s hearts. Its judgments are therefore based mainly on appearances and impressions. Those who dispense it tend to get hasty and rash in their decisions, often abusing the discretionary part of law.

If possible, what injustice damaged, wounded and killed, justice should repair, heal and resurrect to life. If possible, justice should go against the law of nature, of biology and physics, etc., if only to recover what was lost. It finds it hard to move on without satisfying its lust for revenge.

We have to understand that without charity, justice can go unhinged, and can simply follow the madness of a heart deprived of God who is precisely love, charity. We have to understand that justice is never enough when we deal with people, especially those who may have offended us.

Without charity, our justice can only spring and strengthen our self-righteousness, or that of the world, in its different forms. It’s a justice that cannot understand the workings of grace, the value of the cross, the need for forgiveness and the transcendent providence of God.

Still, no matter how hard it is to sell charity today, we just have to make an act of faith and hope that one day, people will realize we need charity, the charity of God and not just our own version, when we pursue the cause of justice. We just have to run the gauntlet.

Nowadays, the Church, that is, the bishops and priests, gets accused for not doing enough of justice. Some contributors of public opinion claim that the Church gets quiet when one of its own gets involved in some crime, or when it does not make any clear pronouncements on the volatile political issues wracking the nation today.

Aside from mistaking the Church to be composed only of bishops and priests (the Church is hierarchy-clergy-and the laity and consecrated religious men and women all together), they want the Church to follow their kind of earthly justice. They want the Church to shame the suspect or the culprit, for example. They cry for blood.

Perhaps, it’s partly the fault of our Church leaders for not providing concrete Christian guidelines on how to resolve problems and issues when they erupt. They should do this as promptly and as clearly and strongly as prudently possible.

But the truth is all of us, clergy or lay, if we are to be genuine Christians and living members of the Church, should practice justice always within the sphere of the charity of God, revealed and lived by Christ.

Certainly, there are loopholes in how cases of criminal offenses within the Church human structure may be handled, or there can be cases of clerics overstepping their competence and are falling already into partisan politics, etc.

These should be repaired and corrected. But these are not excuses for the Church to pursue justice without charity, just like what these Church accusers want it to do. These accusers are making themselves the final authority of what justice is and how it should be lived.

Granted, to preach about justice within charity may be hard, but definitely it’s not impossible. If we just learn how to be humble, if all of us just try to assume the mind and heart of Christ, as we Christians ought to do, then the ideal can be made real!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas is Christ with us

JUST in case we forget, Christmas is about Christ born to us. The reminder has become necessary because proofs of the disfiguring of Christmas are increasing.

No less than the Pope reminded us not to be dazzled by the shopping lights of the season but to keep focused on the coming of Jesus Christ, the “true light of the world.”

In a town in the US, a controversy erupted because a group put street signs saying, “Keep Christ in Christmas.” Obviously when messages like that have to be put up in public, there must be something quite wrong in that place.

This was verified when another group precisely kicked up a fuss about it citing legal provisions. Instead, the group wanted their own banner to be hung in the streets, saying:

“At this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

Ah, ok. No problem. We have freedom of expression and of consciences. If atheists want their messages publicized, that’s just fine. But let’s not deny believers their right also to show their faith in public, as long as public order is observed.

The legal basis of the group’s complaint is that the “Keep Christ in Christmas” signs were put on public property, which turned out to be false, since they were on private property. But that legal basis raises the questions like, should public property then be devoid of religious signs? Would religious signs already create public disorder?

I’ll leave the people concerned and their public authorities to resolve that issue, but I, frankly, just find the reasons behind the ban of religious signs on public property funny. To me, it’s taking the principle of Church-state separation to its ridiculous conclusions.

Truth is, for Christian believers, we need God, we need Christ, who is the second person of the Blessed Trinity, the Son of God who became man, to save us, to complete our creation, to give us a way to attain the fullness and perfection of our human dignity.

God is our creator. We, and the universe around us, just did not come to exist on our own, quite spontaneously out of nothing, since from nothing, nothing comes. We are not our own creator.

In our case, since we are creatures of reason and will, our creation by God has to be corresponded to with our reason and will also. Paraphrasing St. Augustine, we can say that if God created us without us, he cannot complete that creation without us. We need to correspond to God’s creation of us. We need to cooperate and bring it to its completion.

In other words, our creation by God is still a work in progress. And our life here on earth is precisely where that “progress” has to take place, where the lifelong drama of our correspondence or non-correspondence to God’s work becomes the ultimate purpose of our life.

This is a truth of faith that is actually meant for everyone, but especially more for believers than for non-believers. For the latter, we need a different tack that uses reason and philosophy more than faith and theology. This piece is addressed more to believers.

We need to be reminded that as Christian believers, we need to be ‘alter Christus,’ if not ‘ipse Christus,’ another Christ if not Christ himself. That’s because Christ is the very pattern of our humanity. We cannot live properly without him. Remember Christ saying, “I am the truth, the way, and the life…”

We become another Christ through God’s grace, but also through our cooperation, when we let our mind and heart, our intelligence and will to get engaged with Christ in the spirit.

In short, we need to assume the mind of Christ, following what St. Paul said that “we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Cor 2,16) We need to train ourselves for this ideal, realizing that our thoughts should not just be our thoughts, but also those of Christ. The same with our will, our desires, our plans, etc.

Our life is always a shared life with Christ. It’s a reflective life driven by reason and faith, and not just a life animated by the senses and reason alone.

For this, we need humility, otherwise we won’t allow faith to guide our reason. We need to study, develop virtues, so that Christ becomes alive in us, and true Christmas becomes a reality!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Conversing with the world

“They are in the world…(but) they are not of the world, as I am not of the world.” (Jn 17)

Words of our Lord, with a slight rephrasing, to highlight our relation with the world. We are in it, but we are not of it. We are in the world but we are not supposed to be worldly, since we are not of the world.

This may sound like petty quibbling but it’s actually a crucial fine distinction we have to make. On it depend not only our temporal and earthly destiny but also our eternal one.

We have to remember that the way to our supernatural end passes through our natural world. How we conduct ourselves in our earthly affairs becomes the ticket either for eternal glory or eternal damnation.

Our human perfection, our redemption and salvation, while having its definitive state in heaven, is forged through the things of this world. The supernatural grace, which perfects us and brings us to God, never annuls our human and natural condition. Rather, it always works on it, purifying it and elevating it to the order of God.

In this regard, we have to know how to deal with the things of the world. This is done through a continuing conversation with the world in all its aspects. But in this, we have to strictly follow the example of Christ.

As the Son of God who became man, Christ is the image of God who assumed everything human, except sin. We can derive from that truth that Christ engaged the world in its totality while never forgetting the supernatural mission that he had.

His whole earthly life, his words and deeds, and especially that culminating act of his passion, death and resurrection, indicate his complete immersion of our human and earthly condition and yet transcending it to show us the way to our supernatural end.

This kind of situation involves a combination of active and passive involvement, patience and intolerance, leniency and strictness, openness and firmness, and other sets of apparent contrasting qualities that are unified if one closely follows Christ.

We have to know when to speak and when to keep quiet, when to act and when to wait, when to move and when to stay put.

Since Christ is “the way, the truth and the life” to us, we have to realize that we need to follow or imitate him in his attitude and understanding of the meaning and purpose of our life here on earth.

In our relation with the world, we need to learn how to infuse the Christian spirit in it, never allowing ourselves as much as possible to be dominated by the worldly spirit of materialism, secularism, relativism, and many other isms.

For this the Church has articulated the social doctrine to guide us—clergy, religious and laity—on how to deal with the world in ways proper to each one. Everyone of us, according to his own state and possibilities, should do all he can to engage the world in all its affairs in a Christian way.

Here are some relevant words about the Church’s social doctrine taken from the presentation page of the Church’s Compendium of Social Doctrine:

“To the people of our time, the Church offers her social doctrine. In fact, when the Church fulfills her mission of proclaiming the Gospel, she bears witness to man, in the name of Christ, to his dignity and his vocation to the communion of person. She teaches him the demands of justice and peace in conformity with divine wisdom.”

This prophetic mission of the Church has to be done in a more consistent way especially these when we are faced with all sorts of issues, controversies and challenges in the areas of business, politics, environment, culture, etc.

The disturbing impression is that in our temporal affairs, it seems the Church is silent or is mainly upstaged, sidelined and displaced by purely worldly ideologies and merely human reactions.

There seems a disconnect between the proclaimed Gospel and our concerns, both the small, daily and immediate kind as well as the big and long-running ones.

When Church leaders try to make some interventions, they are often seen as outsiders or clueless due to a host of factors like incompetence, lecturing style, etc.

Of course, it has to be understood that much of the Church’s continuing conversation with the world is done by the laity who have to be aware of their responsibility to the world and have to be properly trained and motivated for this mission.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Let’s not get used to sin!

WITH the celebration of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary on December 8, we are given another reminder of a basic truth about ourselves that has been all but forgotten.

Our Lady, given to us by Christ himself to be our own Mother and our most powerful intercessor, reminds us of who we really are and how we are supposed to be. Like her, we are supposed to be sinless, though for us that can only happen when we finally arrive at our ultimate destination of heaven.

Just the same, we have to understand that at the beginning, we were supposed to be sinless. The same also at the end of time. Thus, in the Eucharistic preface of the feast’s Mass, we read the following about our Lady who is the perfect model for us:

“Full of grace, she was to be a worthy mother of your Son, your sign of favor to the Church at its beginning, and the promise of its perfection as the bride of Christ, radiant in beauty.

“Purest of virgins, she was to bring forth your Son, the innocent lamb who takes away our sins. You chose her from all women to be our advocate with you and our pattern of holiness.”

These beautiful words, so meaningful to us, should have no other effect than to make us develop a great love and devotion to our Lady, our Mother. They should strongly prompt us that she does nothing other than to give Jesus to us, Jesus who is everything to us.

They should also prod us to do everything to fight against sin. Nowadays, there are many pieces of evidence pointing to people getting used to sin, such that sin has become normal or that the sense of sin is waning.

Many people are falling into vices and other bad habits, worsened by the fact that these can now be easily hidden and rationalized. The tricky part is that many of these temptations and occasions of sin can also be moments of good possibilities. It now really depends on the integrity of the person to choose which path to take.

But what I see is that in many people there is practically no more fear of God nor of sin. They, even the young ones, seem to have become emptied of conscience. Their sense of right and wrong, good and evil, just follows any way the wind blows—it’s so arbitrary!

Many seem to be losing the sense of meaning and purpose in life. They swing from boredom to reckless adventures and idle gimmicks just to fill up their time.

The Internet is infested with porn. I just learned that many people carry with them downloaded porn in their cell phones. The new technologies have become the new scourge of our time, because many people are ill-prepared to use them. They are like little children playing with matches.

There is now an epidemic of self-abuse, substance abuse, all kinds of delinquency, negligences and irresponsibilities. The picture is really bad and rotten!

We should not allow this situation to go on without doing anything to correct it. I know it’s not going to be easy. But there’s always hope. St. Paul has reassured us that “where sin has abounded, the grace of God has abounded even more.”

We need to return to God through Mary. She is the one who will make things easy for us. She will put our mind and heart in their proper places, that is, focused on God and filled with love for him and for others.

She will help us with her example of humility, simplicity and obedience how to handle our weaknesses, how to fight in our ascetical struggles, how to be in God’s presence all the time, how to develop virtues.

She will teach us how to deal with temptations, how to be totally sincere as to acknowledge always our weakness and to never stay away from God. She will teach us how to deal with the wiles of the devil, the world and our own flesh and deceitful mind and heart.

This clear and strong relationship with God and with others, sustained by this Marian devotion, is basic and indispensable, because without it there’s no chance our spiritual and moral life can ever take wing. We would always be handicapped when that relation with God is weak.

We should never take for granted this crucial Marian dimension of our Christian life! Mary is the surest, safest, shortest path to Jesus.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Church perspectives

IN the world of public opinion, there’s no doubt that a battle of perspectives is taking place. Each party has their own platforms or set of principles from which they see events and make their judgments, and many times they clash.

Just take a look at the newspapers, the hard copy or online, and the ever growing number of blogs in the digital continent, and you would have no doubt that indeed there’s some kind of war raging out there.

Social and political observers have attempted to classify them as conservatives or liberals, leftists or rightists, partisan or independent, secular or religious, etc. We can’t help but use these categories to more or less simplify our life, though we have to admit that these have their limits that we should always be aware of.

This is but normal, as long as we don’t forget that amid the flux of views and positions reflecting one’s attitudes and outlook in life, there is an unchanging core that should unite all of us together.

This is normal, because we always see things differently, even if we come from the same family, same school, same city and province, etc. Even in our own individual selves, if the different parts of the body could just speak, they too would have different takes on any concern.

Our human condition makes each one of an individual person, with a unique character and unrepeatable life and everything that goes with it. We should not be surprised that we have different backgrounds, experiences, attitudes, and therefore different views.

But we should never forget that no matter how different we and our views are, we are all human beings, persons, children of God, inhabiting the same earth, making use of the same resources.

Over and above these, we are one and united because we are supposed to love one another. Even our enemies deserve to be loved. We are urged to do so, because despite our differences we are all children of God.

We have to learn how to navigate within these terms. The problem arises when we get mixed up—when in failing to distinguish between what is absolute and relative, we absolutize what is relative, and relativize what is absolute.

The Church, the “expert in humanity,” offers a perspective that sets the line between what is absolute and relative. That´s because the Church assumes the perspective of God who through Christ in the Holy Spirit has endowed her with powers to do so. ¨Whatever you bind here on earth is bound in heaven...¨

We have to listen to what the Church says, but, of course, we also have to make sure that the Church says something about issues, questions, challenges, etc. She always has or should always have something to say, because whatever affects man, even in his temporal affairs, affects God and therefore the Church.

This is her prophetic mission which is carried out in different ways by the different elements that comprise her. The clergy, starting with the Pope, the bishops down to the priests, have an official or authoritative character when carrying out this function. Thus they have to be suitably competent for the office they occupy.

The lay faithful also have their prophetic mission as they try to infuse the Christian spirit in the earthly affairs they are involved in. This does not mean that the Church can dogmatize on matters of opinion, but she will always have something to say about how these matters ought to be handled.

First of all, we have to acknowledge that the Church is not just a human invention. She’s a divine, supernatural reality despite her human dimension. She’s a reality of faith, rather than just a reality of nature. We have to keep this very much in mind so that we don´t stray from how we ought to behave.

But because of her human dimension, she cannot but act also in a human way, that is, there is need for study, for consultation, for testing, for correcting, etc., especially when she has to comment on temporal and earthly issues like business, politics, culture, sports, entertainment, etc.

That´s why the social doctrine of the Church has been articulated so that there can be some ground rules to follow in pursuing our earthly business and politics. This is what the Church perspectives provide.

This is a crucial element in any given society, otherwise we will tend to chaos as differences and conflicts can lose their unitive basis and purpose, and their capacity to resolve themselves.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Local, global, metaphysical

NOWADAYS, we cannot afford to remain local without going global. With the frenzied pace of world developments, it would be fatal if we ignore the widening scope of our concerns. We need to be ready for the delicate task of integrating the parochial to the universal, and even beyond.

We need to break loose from a provincial outlook to assume a more regional, national and even international perspective. This would require adjustments in our attitudes and ways of thinking and judging, based on a healthy balance among the different cultures, ethos, mentalities we will be dealing with.

We need to widen, and also deepen, our knowledge of things. We just have to realize more keenly that we have to develop an interdisciplinary approach. While we may be comfortable and competent with a particular viewpoint—economic, social, political, etc.—we need to connect with the other angles from which things are also considered.

In this regard, we should not disregard the spiritual and moral aspects of the issues and other developments. These, in fact, are a constant that should never be waived. They are the final guiding light in assessing things.

Truth is we need to connect all our temporal affairs in their varying manifestations, levels and aspects, to God, to his plan for us, and to the requirements of truth, justice and charity.

While enjoying a certain autonomy, our worldly businesses just cannot be absolutely detached from our duty towards God and others. They need to be inspired and oriented towards God and by our love and concern for the others. Sad to say, the relevant attitude and ability to do this are largely absent in most people yet.

For this, we have to develop the skill to go metaphysical, that is, to think beyond the physical and the material dimensions of our life. This would enable us to go to the essential without getting lost in the incidentals and accidentals. This would enable us to uphold and defend the absolute truths while being tolerant with matters of opinion.

Thinking metaphysical allows us to enter the spiritual and supernatural realities of our faith, hope and charity, the ultimate considerations we have to make when doing our temporal affairs.

We should never remain in the purely human, natural, social and material dimensions of our life. God has to come in. He’s actually already there. We just have to acknowledge him and include him in our thoughts, words and deeds.

This, of course, is not going to be easy. Just imagine the vast mass of the population that need to be educated and given proper and continuing formation! Even among the so-called educated class, how many can really distinguish and handle the intricacies of such big realities as culture, faith, charity, common good, justice, etc.?

And yet I’ve also been meeting a growing number of young people who are conversant with both local and international issues. They’re, of course, techies who with today’s powerful gadgets can link up with people from distant places and with ideas from all over the place.

I envy them, in a way, because when I was at their age, I did not have that kind of grasp of world events. We contented ourselves with what we can get from the radio and newspapers, and later the TV.

With the new technologies, all of us should feel the need, as far as we are able, to be technologically abreast, so we can navigate today’s complex world more easily. We have to help another here.

But the young techies today need to be closely guided. The great advantages they enjoy now can also turn to be proximate occasions of sins and temptations. Let’s always be wary of the duty to correctly use these powerful gadgets, otherwise they can do us great harm.

Ethics and morals are never useless items in this regards. In fact, they hold pride of place in our considerations of things. They have the first and the last word.

What is crucial is that all of us be properly grounded in our relationship with God and with others. With that in order, we can manage to have a good sense of value and priority to lead us. We would have the suitable criteria to enlighten us in our thinking and assessments.

This would also guide us in sorting out the practical aspects of today’s intricate challenges, like how much time to spend in the Internet, how much money to allocate to different needs, how to be immersed in the things of the world without getting lost in it.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Addiction and the spiritual life

FRANKLY, I was surprised when I was invited recently to give a talk in a rehab center about addiction from the spiritual point of view. As far I know, I have not made any serious paper on the topic, and my knowledge about it, I confess, is at best sophomoric.

Just the same, I accepted the request simply because I found it hard to say no to the one who invited me. Besides, the spiritual angle of the issue made me think it could and should be a concern of mine too. Anyway, whether I made a right or wrong decision, I just said yes to a friend.

I tried to make a little excursion into the materials I thought were relevant, and finding little, I just proceeded to the date begging the Holy Spirit for light. I went to the Internet and, yes, while there were some materials, I found them a bit inadequate, if not biased toward certain cultic practices. So I just followed my common sense.

Everyone is, of course, familiar with addiction. It’s a repetitive act, a kind of obsessive act that one finds hard to break even if wants to. It seems to be beyond the control of the party involved. He needs outside help.

The distinguishing mark of addiction is that it’s a vice, not a virtue, since the uncontrollable repeated acts are harmful to the person concerned. He may or may not know it, or he may deny it, but the fact remains that addiction is a vice, not a virtue. It is harmful, not helpful, even if the party says otherwise.

Sad to say, addiction is a plague we are facing in an increasingly menacing way today. Offhand, I suspect that our new “freedoms” generated by the advancement of technology, the greater availability of resources at least to some people, etc., somehow create a certain environment that may be good to some but are highly toxic to others.

Those who are more vulnerable to this affliction are those who enjoy a certain amount of advantages in life—intelligence, talents, power, wealth, fame—but who unfortunately have not been able to put them on the right foundation, order and purpose.

When the things that we have are not referred to God and to others, they easily become an instrument for our own selfish purposes. We then become weak to the seductions, allurements and concerns of this world.

That’s when we can develop addicting attitudes and practices that are objectively harmful to us. They are meant as some kind of defense mechanism, a way to escape certain realities or to find relief and rationalization over some developments.

It involves a certain kind of deceit which, when not corrected early enough, can grow so strong as to be invincible by the person himself. When he refuses to acknowledge his predicament and seek help, then the problem becomes worse.

I believe that while there may be certain organic and environmental factors that predispose one to fall into addiction, the main and ultimate factor would be how one thinks, judges and reasons about this situation.

We need to be most careful about how we exercise these spiritual operations and functions of ours that show that there is something spiritual in us, and that therefore, we should take care of our spiritual life.

Sad to say, many people are not aware of the existence, the nature and the responsibilities we owe to our spiritual life. They may have heard about the spiritual life, but they cannot relate themselves to it, not knowing exactly it is.

When I ask people randomly how would we know there is something spiritual in us, 99% would give me a blank stare. They don’t realize that the act of thinking, judging, reasoning, loving, etc., are spiritual operations that indicate we have something spiritual in us.

Much less would they know that these spiritual operations with their respective faculties (the intelligence and the will) need to be rightly engaged to their proper foundation and end, just like our bodily organism needs to be related to food and other healthy practices.

They cannot figure out why it is necessary for us to take care of our relationship with God, since he is the origin and the purpose, the life and the power of our spiritual faculties.

When one does not pray nor make any effort to deal with God, but instead enjoys just pursuing his own ideas and interests, he is actually harming himself. He is prone to fall to addiction.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Experience God

IS it possible to experience God, to feel his presence, to know his will and to participate in his own life? To all these questions, the answer is a loud yes.

Not only is it possible, but also, first of all, it is God’s will. Besides, he has endowed us with the power that would enable us to achieve these feats.

God as our Creator and Father always intervenes in our life. He is never away from us even if we fall into the state of sin. We only lose him in hell. But in our whole earthly sojourn, he is in us, right deep in the core of our existence.

That’s because he is the giver and maintainer of our existence. For as long as we exist, God is in us. Our existence does not depend on our biological constitution alone, nor on food and air and health only. Even before these things become indispensable to us, it is God who gives and keeps our existence.

And since we have been made in his image and likeness, he links with us through our intelligence and will, through our thinking and loving, and thus he comes to us as objects of our innate desire for truth, goodness and beauty.

That’s why we have to be most careful in the exercise of our spiritual faculties—how we are thinking, judging, reasoning, loving, etc. These human operations have to be firmly grounded on God, and not just made to be mainly dominated by the twists and turns of our bodily and natural conditions.

Our thinking and willing, our knowing and loving should be properly engaged and not allowed to just drift anywhere, and especially when they are given only to the instance of our instincts, emotions and passions. They have to be properly inspired and directed.

The need to experience God has become an urgent necessity these days because the spiritual and moral health of our life, taken individually and collectively, depends on this fact and on no other.

Pope Benedict emphasized this point recently. In an address to some lay faithful, he said the following:

“How do we reawaken the question of God so that it becomes the fundamental question?...The question of God is reawakened in meeting those who have a living relationship with the Lord. God is known through men and women who know him. The way to him passes, in a concrete way, through those who have met him.”

This is just but natural. God is not just an idea, a theory, a philosophical or theological term. Christ is not just a historical figure nor an object of curiosity. God is alive. In fact, he is the very foundation of reality and of life itself. It’s not in his character to stay away from us or to hide from us or to play hard to get.

Thus, the Pope said that God should be the central point of reference in our thinking and acting. He warned that ignoring God will harm our humanity. “A mentality that rejects every reference to the transcendent has shown itself to be incapable of preserving the human,” he said.

“The spread of this mentality has generated the crisis that we are experiencing today, which is a crisis of meaning and of values before it is an economic and social crisis,” he added. How true!

God actually engages us every moment of our life. This is what providence is all about. We have to learn how to correspond to that continual divine governance, by learning how to pray, how to know and follow his will, how to offer whatever we are doing to him, how to live in his presence all the time, how what we are doing at the moment fits in his plan, etc.

For this we need to study well the doctrine of our faith, to have recourse to the sacraments, to develop the virtues, and to commit ourselves to a certain plan of continuing piety so that whatever may be the circumstances of our life, we can manage to be with him always.

To experience God is not an impossibility. Nor is it meant only to some gifted if not strange people. It is for all, though we need to help another, since to achieve that condition involves a lifelong process with endless stages, aspects and possibilities.

To experience God should be second nature to us. With the proper attitude and skills, with the relevant plans and virtues, this is always possible. Nowadays, the world needs people who have direct experience of God!