Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Goes with the territory

 IF we are dead serious in following Christ, we have to expect
misunderstanding and persecution. This goes with the territory. Christ
himself said so. If he himself had to suffer such, then his followers,
that’s us, cannot expect anything different.

    We have to be ready for these unavoidable situations. The world
cannot understand the things of God. That’s one thing for sure. It
needs man’s intervention for it to reconcile itself with its Creator.

    Aside from its natural limitations with respect to the supernatural
reality of God, its Creator, the world has been damaged by our sins,
whose effects the world has absorbed. Thus, its inability to
appreciate God’s wisdom is further aggravated.

    But it is our responsibility, always with God’s grace, to infuse the
world with the spirit of God. We need to be more aware of this
responsibility, because we often take it for granted. Besides, we
really need to know how to go about it. We’re still as clumsy as a
babe in the woods in this regard.

    We need to infuse the world with the spirit of love, of truth and
justice that can come only from God, not from us, not from any
man-made ideology, no matter how brilliant it may sound or successful
it so far has been.

    For this to take place, we have to understand that an indispensable
requirement is that we be vitally united with God. It’s not enough
that we be smart, or popular, or powerful, or rich. Unless these
qualities spring from a living union with God, they can only give a
very limited success, at best.

    What’s more likely is that they can pose a great danger to us, since
objectively excellent qualities not grounded on God have graver
effects than mediocre qualities, also not grounded on God.

    Thus, we have to see to it that our God-given talents and other
endowments are engaged with God. This is a real challenge, since we
kind of automatically consider our talents and endowments simply as
our own, to be used completely at our own dispositions, with hardly
any reference to God and his laws.

    We need to correct that attitude, so embedded in the mind and culture
of the men and women today. Then we should try to master the doctrine
of our faith, the teaching left by Christ and deposited in the Church
for perpetual transmission to all.

    We should master it in such a way that we feel at home with it, have
a global grasp of it  and would know what part of it is relevant to
the issue or question raised at the moment.

    We should also learn the skill of spreading this doctrine, actively
proclaiming it more than just using it to react to a controversy. With
all the information technologies we now have at hand, this task should
be made easier.

    But we cannot deny the fact that we will always find problems, people
who resist to believe or who, while considering themselves as
believers, are consistent with their faith. In the gospel, we are made
familiar with the possibility that those who appear close to God or to
the Church can be the ones who can give the biggest problems.

    We should be ready for these eventualities. Christ assured us that we
should not worry when things can get so bad that we as believers can
be persecuted. “Beware of men, for they will hand you over to courts
and scourge you in their synagogues, and you will be led before
governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them and the
pagans,” he said.

    “When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or
what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to
say." (Mt 10,19-20)

    Still we have to understand that despite God’s assurance that we will
be taken care of by him, we need to prepare ourselves. God’s grace
never takes away our human responsibilities, our duty to study and do
whatever is humanly possible to spread and defend our faith.

    As to the difficulties that can include the misunderstandings and
persecution, let’s just be game about them. We should not allow them
to hinder us in our duties. Besides they are a clear sign we would be
doing God’s work, since if Christ suffered these things, we, his
followers, should not expect anything different.

    We just have to be patient and optimistic. What also helps is to have
a good sense of humor.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Rhetoric and polemic

THESE arts and skills are increasingly relevant these days. As we go
deeper into the challenge of sorting out and resolving issues,
differences and conflicts, we need to learn well the proper ways of
discussing, arguing, debating, convincing and persuading.

As I look at the kids in the school, I often wonder how they would
fare as they grow up and face many controversies not only in matters
of opinion but also in matters involving one’s core beliefs.

These days, issues involving faith and morals are proliferating. At
the moment, we have the RH issue. But on its heels are the issues of
divorce, same sex marriage, abortion, etc. Everyone has to be prepared
for these. And the kids, especially so!

Sad to say, these arts and skills nowadays are corrupted. They are
developed and used not so much as to seek truth and justice as to
serve the self-interest of an individual or a party.

They are now increasingly alienated from the requirements of charity.
They frolic and  luxuriate in irony and sarcasm, rash judgments,
sensationalism, empty zingers and bombast. They are driven mainly by
the desire to score points, to win and dominate.

It would seem that the more self-righteousness and bitterness are
injected into one’s arguments, the better for them. The world today
applauds at all sorts of fallacies, the non-sequiturs, ad hominems,
argumentum ad verecundiam, etc. Detached from God, it now goes more
for “what comes naturally.”

These are the realities, the facts of our times. Before them, we
should not run away but rather face them, arming ourselves well so as
not to be affected, much less, infected by their antics and dirty
tricks, even as we use the legitimate tools of persuasion to
participate actively in the public discussion and dialogue.

In short, we need to use rhetoric and polemic to proclaim, explain and
defend our beliefs, but purifying them of their dirt that
unfortunately has now become normal in our current confused culture.

Yes, rhetoric and polemic certainly require constant study and
practice, research and continuing polishing and refinement. Let’s just
hope that we can develop a truly Christian brand of rhetoric and
polemic where we can discuss things even with conflicting positions
but inspired always by an honest search for truth, by charity,
magnanimity, respect for others, etc.

They should be of the kind that knows how to distinguish between the
person and the points raised and that lives out the principle,
“Fortiter in re, suaviter in modo,” which roughly can be translated as
being resolute and rigorous in the argumentation while always gentle
and courteous in the manner and in dealing with the other parties.

For this to take place, I feel that aside from trying to master the
technicalities of rhetoric and polemic that in themselves are truly
exciting, one needs to be deeply grounded in his spiritual life to be
able to live charity every step of the way and to infuse his arguments
with a palpable quality of authority and competence.

The perfect model for this is Christ himself who proclaimed,
explained, corrected misconceptions about what truly matters in life.
He knew when to speak and when to keep quiet, when to be tolerant and
when to be intolerant. His arguments blended truths and mysteries of
faith with reason and passion.

He had the gift of tongue, skilful in using figures of speech and
other literary devices to drive home a point. He knew how to adapt
himself to his listeners. Thus, he was extremely attractive to those
who were simple and without malice. He only provoked strong resistance
from those with complicated minds.

Aside from taking care of our spiritual life, we should also try to be
masters of the doctrine of our faith, always studying and deepening
our understanding of it, while being observant of the developments

This is to see to it that the eternal word of God directly impacts
with the issues and concerns people may have at a given point. We
should not just come up with talking points.

In the end, the success and failure of rhetoric and polemic would
depend on where one’s heart tilts, on whether one has faith or not.
They simply cannot be measured by human standards alone, and that’s
why we should not give undue importance to human judgments of the

Still, we should try our best that we satisfy all the requirements and
expectations of the human standards, without making them the ultimate
measure. The standard of faith and grace never rejects the human

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Hope amid gloom

IT’S Christmas. Christ is with us. The Son of God has become man. He
wants it that way so that our life can truly be a life with God. He
wants it that way so that he can show us the path to our salvation, to
our perfection as persons created in the image and likeness of God and
as children of God.

This is the joy of Christmas that is meant not only for a season, but
for whole time. We have to learn to stick to this reality but we have
to exert some effort. And that effort is the virtue of hope which in
the first place is a gift also from God.  We need to take care of it
and cultivate it to its fullness.

Amid the darkness that is descending in the world today, a darkness
that is characterized by false and seductive lights, we need to
approach the baby in the manger surrounded by his adoring mother and
foster father, and by the pure hearts of simple but privileged

He is the true light who can generate hope in us and in the world
today that seems bent in plunging deeper into the morass of
immorality, now multiplying in cancer-like rate and supported
systematically by all sorts of rationalizations.

We have to go beyond sentimentalism and the frills with which
commercialism has shrouded this event, and discover the true spirit of
Christmas, imbibing it as fully as possible.

It shows us the ways of divine love, the love meant for us, the
ultimate foundation of our hope that dispels the darkness of the
modern lights. It is the Son of God, this helpless infant in the
manger, who can truly test and determine the authenticity or falsity
of the many ideologies presented to us today.

He is not afraid to live with us in any condition we might find
ourselves in. In fact, we are told that he has assumed our humanity in
its fullness, including in its wounded state now without committing
any sin, to show us the way of how to live in the world of today.

We need to get to know him more and more, and follow his path as
closely as possible. He already told us that if we want to follow him,
we should be willing to deny ourselves and to carry the cross. With
his grace and our efforts, let’s be prepared for this.

But let’s be familiar with his teaching and his ways. In him, truth
and charity become one, all virtues, all that are good are happily
blended in him. He is precisely the truth, the way and the life for

It should be with him when we strive to preserve the truth about
ourselves in this world. It should be with him when we try to
transform the world, purifying it of its worldly ethos, defending and
protecting it from the subtle ways of God’s enemies, and instilling it
with God’s spirit of harmony and peace, joy, justice, beauty, etc.

As we go through the unavoidable discussion of issues, let’s always be
with him so we may know exactly what to say, how to say and when to
say. With him, the doctrines of our faith, the ultimate truths that
save us, cease to be mere abstract ideas. They acquire life and exert
tremendous power and wisdom.

But for this, we should be ready to go all the way, the way Christ
himself took. It is the way that leads to the Cross. That’s when we
with Christ can draw all men to God, in the manner expressed by Christ
himself: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all
things to myself.” (Jn 12,32)

Our crucifixion can take many forms, but common among them would be
the barrage of insults, mockery, ridicule that we can receive as a
consequence of our fidelity to Christ. In our case, we can deserve
some if not much of the dirt thrown at us. But Christ will take it all
for us and with us.

What we have to do is to conduct our discussions, our efforts to
proclaim, explain, and clarify the truths behind the issues of our
times with consistency, competence and always in close fidelity to

This may look like an ugly hand-to-hand combat, but as long as we are
with Christ we can manage to proclaim and defend the truth always in
charity. This is how we can have hope amid the glittery gloom of the
world today.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Lord of history

WE need to realize that there is such a person as the Lord of history.
He is the one who orchestrates all the events of the world in the
whole length of time since he is the world’s Creator who cannot
abandon his creation. Rather he continues to govern it, since he
created it for a purpose.

This Lord of history is God who revealed himself to us completely in
his Son who became man, Jesus Christ, and who continues to be with us
in the Holy Spirit through the Church and through the many
instrumentalities—doctrine, sacraments, hierarchy—that Christ himself
put up to keep his presence and action abiding in us throughout time.

We need to understand that history is not just a product of blind
forces nor of chance. It is a manifestation of divine providence that
has to contend with our human freedom that can turn things in any
which way.

We need to understand that history is not just a series of events that
we record, with more or less some logic thrown in to make the it
acquire some meaning. It is a history of salvation planned by God from
all eternity, given birth in time, and developed toward its proper end
through the twists and turns of human freedom.

It is a history whose vital action takes place first of all and always
in the hearts of men as they relate themselves to God or not, before
it produces repercussions in the other aspects of human life:
professional, social, economic, political, cultural, etc.

So our history is a joint venture between God and us, with us always
asked to participate as actively and as freely as possible in the plan
of God. God is responsible for our history. He is always in control,
knowing what to do in any situation. But we too are responsible.

That’s the reason why we need to try our best to get in touch with God
always. Every move that we make should be planned and executed always
with God. And every incident that comes our way, good or bad, should
be viewed always with God also.

That is why it is the saints, from the time of the apostles up to now,
more than the political or social leaders and heroes, who have
effectively illuminated history. That is why the Church survives in
spite of the many grave and serious crises it faced through time.

The saints, ever faithful to God’s will and docile to his abiding
promptings, and even if their efforts were mostly hidden and hardly
recognized, have been the ones who have outlived big empires and
powerful ideologies. Their contribution went beyond what simply are
temporal and worldly. They linked world events to their supernatural

Like Christ, they did their part always passing through the way of the
Cross. That’s how their resurrection, their victory was also assured.
That is why, for the world today to successfully face the most subtle
and deadly challenges it faces, it needs real saints who are faithful
to God and not afraid to carry the Cross.

In today’s world situation, what is needed are saints who know how to
grapple with the sophistries of the times not so much by the eloquence
of the words as by the abiding testimony of their saintly lives that
highlight the spiritual and supernatural realities.

As St. Paul put it: “My speech and my message were not in plausible
words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that
your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of
God.” (1 Cor 2,4)

This does not mean that we don’t study the doctrine of our faith, but
we need to see to it that such study truly redounds to a palpable
sanctity that is always accompanied by the zeal to do apostolate, the
best sign of Christian love one can have toward others.

It is in this way that we can expose the lie behind the deceptive
sophistries of our times like relativism, rationalism, atheism,
agnosticism, materialism, exaggerated forms of spiritualism that
downgrade the objective value of the material world, etc.

These are what ail the modern world, an ailment that is not anymore
considered as such, but rather the opposite, as a kind of liberation,
enlightenment and the like. One is truly sick when he insanely
considers his illness as his health and power.

The Lord of history is doing his part, and provides us with everything
we need. It’s us who need to correspond.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Living with God

BEFORE we dismiss the idea as being outlandish, outrageous or
whatever, we just have to remind ourselves that we are meant to live
our life with God. And this is not only in heaven, our definitive
state in eternity, but right here and now.

No matter from what angle we look at the issue, even if we take the
atheist view, we cannot escape from the reality that our life, in its
utter objectivity, not minding first our subjectivity, is a life with

And that’s simply because God is the one giving us our very existence.
And precisely because it is existence that he gives us, he cannot but
be the one also to keep and maintain it, otherwise, if he withdraws
from us, then we would cease to exist.

For sure, our existence does not depend solely on the food we eat, the
water we drink, the good health and other things that we may enjoy.
They contribute, of course, but it is God who is first of all
responsible for our existence.

With this clarification, we overcome what may be referred to as the
deistic bias which considers God only as Creator, giving us our
existence at the start of our life, but leaving us alone after that.

And so he is always in us as he is also in all other creatures and
things. That is why we say God is everywhere. He is omnipresent. And
if that is so, then he is also in each one of us.

Except that in our case, his presence in us is not meant to be simply
passive or inert. It is an active presence that corresponds to our
nature as a person endowed with the power to know, to be free and
responsible, to choose, to love, etc.

In short, we are supposed to correspond to that presence by at least
being aware of him and then start developing a relationship that
reflects all the aspects of our life—personal, spiritual, social,
material, professional, economic, political, etc.

This is where we have to cultivate the skill of recognizing his
presence wherever we are. We need to cultivate this skill, exerting
the appropriate effort for it, because being aware of his presence
does not come to us automatically.

God is spiritual, and more than that is supernatural, infinitely above
our nature. Nothing in our human natural powers would enable us to
detect his presence without his grace, his sharing of what he has with

God takes the initiative first. St. Augustine expressed this truth
well when he said, “God created us without us.” And he continued by
saying, “But God cannot save us (or cannot perfect us) without us.”

In other words, while God gives us always this grace, a truth that is
abundantly proven in God sending his Son to us, and this Son, Jesus
Christ, both God and man, accomplished his redemptive mission by
offering his life on the cross, we on our part need to marshall
everything that we have to engage ourselves with him.

That is why we need to exert effort to at least be aware of his
presence. We have to find ways for this purpose in all situations and
circumstances of our life—when we are alone or with others, when we
are working or resting, when we are with the family at home or with
friends outside, when we are in a trip, in a hotel room alone, etc.

Each of these situations calls for an appropriate plan and strategy,
since many are the factors to be considered. We need to develop a
certain discipline, since we tend to be held captive only by our human
and worldly appetites, and we find it hard to be spiritual.

We have to make many acts of faith to crank up our spiritual energies
and enter into the spiritual and supernatural world. For this, we need
to find time to consider and savor the doctrine of our faith that
would feed our prayer and spiritual activities.

Besides, we have to do this not only in some special moments of the
day, but rather all the time, in all the circumstances of our life.
Thus, we need to find ways of being in God’s presence in every moment
of the day in a natural way.

Like when things are going well or when we have problems, when we are
studying or doing some manual, even menial work, when we are using the
internet, when we do business or politics, etc.

We have to learn to live with God always!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Truths behind the RH bill

THERE’S a little, handy booklet entitled, Handbook of truths behind
the RH Bill, which I think is good to have for the campaign to clarify
this delicate issue that is now swamped with all sorts of confusing

    It focuses more on the medical, economic, demographic and legal
aspects of the issue rather than on its morality. And so, it is good
for those who want to reach out to those who are a bit allergic to
religious arguments but are more open to its more secular, scientific
or empirical perspectives.

    I, of course, believe that the issue is first of all moral—the reason
why the Church is very much involved in it—before it is a medical,
economic or legal issue. But since people have different sensitivities
and attitudes, it would be good if they too can get hold of some
clarificatory materials that satisfies their preferences. This
handbook does that.

    First of all, I wish to say that our first freedom, the most intimate
freedom we have is religious freedom, on which is based our sense of
morality, among other things.
It is not freedom of speech and assembly, nor even freedom to live,
since all these rights and freedom are based on our religious freedom.

    I feel urged to make that clarification because when I read the
arguments used by some of our congressmen who voted on the issue in
the second reading, I now understand why many of them took what I
consider as wrong positions regarding the issue.

    Their idea of our first and ultimate freedom can be reduced to
freedom to be oneself, as expressed in some allegedly absolute freedom
to life, expression and assembly, right to liberty, etc.

    To me, it sounds like a freedom that does not talk about where it
came from and how it used to be exercised. It is presumed to be
self-generated or spontaneously created that in the end is like saying
that we too in our life, in our very being are self-generated and
spontaneously created. That’s, of course, a ridiculous presupposition.

    In short, they are saying that there is no creator for us. There is
no God. This is a form of atheism that may be considered as practical
atheism, not so much the theoretical one, since it may not be formally
professed but is simply practically and consistently lived.

    This, I think, is a point that needs to be ventilated more widely,
since this is not yet fully appreciated by many. That’s why we have an
understanding of democracy, supposedly based on freedom, that is
actually weak and vulnerable to be exploited by those who have power
in one form or another.

    Going back to the handbook, it is a well-written piece by a team of
experts in the area of economics, demography, education and law. It
takes the issue to its deeper and wider implications, exposing the
hidden but clear maneuvers of powerful groups and ideologies averse to
supernatural faith and religion in general.

    It is written by competent authors who are very much into the
intricacies of this issue. They are Dr. Bernardo Villegas, economist;
Miss Rosa Linda Valenzona, demographer; Jo Imbong, lawyer; Roberto de
Vera, economist; Raul Nidoy, educator; and Robert Cortes, educator.

    Among the points taken up and developed, supported by relevant
studies and researches, are the following:

    -The RH bill is harmful to the Filipinos because it endorses drugs
and other family planning supplies and techniques that have serious
deleterious effects to their physical health and to the environment.

    -Pills and the IUD kill the human embryo.

    -Pills cause serious environmental problems.

    -The RH bill is harmful to Filipino society because its intent to
control population is based on wrong facts and wrong economics, and
naive to the negative social effects that will come in its train.

    -It implies that a rapidly growing population causes hunger and
shortage of resources. It does NOT.

    -It neglects the fact that societies that have aggressively pushed
for contraception are now suffering from a “demographic winter.”

    -The RH bill is harmful to Filipino society because it violates the
Philippine Constitution and seeks to enshrine into law forced and
artificial ‘rights’ that may even threaten more basic and genuine
human rights.

    Let’s hope that this handbook can contribute to a more meaningful
discussion and dialogue with everyone regarding the issue. We need to
be open-minded but clear about our views and positions that are
supposed to be grounded on well-established principles and

    Let’s hope that this dialogue continues and leads us to its proper end.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Bumps, setbacks, defeats

WE have to learn how to cope with these situations. They are
unavoidable in life. As the Book of Ecclesiastes says: “There is a
time to weep, and a time to laugh. A time to mourn, and a time to
dance...a time to get, and a time to lose...All things have their
season, and in their times all things pass under heaven.”

So, let’s just take it easy, and avoid getting upset or afraid or
desperate unnecessarily. God is in control. What we have to do is to
carry out what clearly is incumbent on us—our ordinary work, our daily
duties that should be done with love for God and others.

We should avoid extrapolating things out of a misplaced zeal, or
self-righteousness, or simply out of fear to lose and desire to win
and dominate. God’s all-abiding providence is driven solely out of
love and mercy. His justice is included there.

And while we can not fully decipher the mystery of God’s ways and
providence, we have to see to it that we too are driven by love and
mercy in our attitude and reactions to anything that happens in our

Our sense of justice should be subordinated to love and mercy. Our
plans and strategies, the moves that we have to make, should be
animated solely by love and mercy. This is God’s way as shown clearly
by Christ and the saints who followed him.

Remember that time when the disciples told Christ to rain fire on
those who did not receive them? (Lk 9,51ff) Christ rebuked his
disciples, saying: “You know not of what spirit you are. The Son of
man came not to destroy souls, but to save.”

It’s good to meditate on the passion and death of Christ, for from
there we can get the clear idea of how to face trials, insults and
mockeries, setbacks and apparent defeats and losses in our life.

Why did Christ for the most part simply keep quiet during his trial?
What is the significance of his reply to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of
this world...?” Why did he allow himself to be buffeted, crowned with
thorns, crucified, pierced by a spear, and finally to die?

Let’s consider the lives of some saints. St. John of the Cross, for
example. He was really badly treated even by his own confreres who
imprisoned him in a dark dungeon for 6 months.

If he was not a man of God, he would have gone crazy and died. But
instead, he found light in darkness, and a certain freedom of soul in
his forced physical confinement. And from that experience, he produced
a very lyrical set of poems that savored exquisitely of the spiritual,
mystical and supernatural.

Now that we are into the RH Bill debate, and it seems that the pro-RH
side is gaining headway, we should learn how to keep our cool not just
out of tactic but rather out of love and complete trust in the
providence of God.

But it should not be the cool of not doing anything. We need to
intensify our prayers and sacrifices, and launch into a more ardent
campaign of evangelization about human life and sexuality, marriage
and family, etc. The idea is not to defeat opponents to the faith. It
is to convert them.

For this, we need to study the doctrine of our faith very well,
assimilating them to the extent of making it the flesh of our flesh,
and then quietly and continuously going into a personal apostolate of
friendship and confidence where from heart to heart, and not through
the noise of the world, we transmit the saving truths of our faith
relevant to the RH Bill.

Let’s not waste time judging the motives of those who are pro-RH.
That’s not our task. And in the gospel, we already know the possible
motives of those who killed Christ. There was pride, hatred, envy,
articulated in a variety of ways that ultimately led to Christ’s

But in the end, Christ asked his Father to forgive them—for they know
not what they were doing. This is the extreme of charity to which we
are also called. But for all that, we have to realize also that we
need to defend our faith, the truth in charity.

And so, we can also go through the human means available for this
purpose without losing the spirit proper of a child of God. Yes, we
can enter into debates, join rallies, do all sorts of political
maneuvers, but in charity.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

New evangelization should be inclusive

ALL this most welcome buzz about new evangelization could be construed
as the Holy Spirit prompting the Church to flow with the times and
cope with their complexities brought about by many factors without
compromising the Church’s real identity.

This is not an easy task at all, and we need all the minds who can
possibly contribute to make this ideal float and sail even to the high
seas. Church leaders have to be most attentive to these promptings
that can show themselves in the many emerging charisms, movements and
institutions today.

The call of the times is, first of all, for Church leaders—Pope,
bishops, priests, etc.—to be truly and deeply spiritual, in vital
contact with the Holy Spirit so they, we (me included), can promptly
discern what the Holy Spirit is hinting. After all, it’s the Holy
Spirit who animates the Church, not us. We are mere instruments.

Of course, for that spirituality to fly, the able support of the
doctrine already articulated through the centuries, the frequent
recourse to the sacraments and liturgy in general, and the proper
administration of the Church structure as it is today, can help a lot.

The new evangelization cannot mean debunking what we already have. It
may mean purifying and improving some aspects, but it can never be new
in the sense of making a complete break from the past and the present.
It has to be born from the old. It cannot help but play with the
conditions of history, culture, etc.

This is the only way to be able to read the signs of the times
properly and to judge the authenticity or bogosity of a particular
charism, or to distinguish what part of it is good from what is not.
Many times, it is not a matter of making black and white judgments,
but rather to be quite nuanced but most prudent.

In short, the new evangelization should be inclusive in character.
That should go well with the much touted idea that the Church should
be participative, that is to say, as much as possible involving
everyone actively in its life, activity and concerns.

The Church, as taught, is supposed to be a living communion with God
and among ourselves. While there are invisible, spiritual elements at
play, there also visible, material factors that should never be
ignored. We are not angels, or pure spirits. We are men with flesh and
bones and subject to time and space. We have to work according to
these terms.

As an immediate corollary, we can say that what is needed especially
among the Church servant-leaders, and in particular, the parish
priests who are in direct contact with the faithful, is for them to be
very open-minded while at the same time clear about the criteria to be
used for judging and assessing things.

That’s what prudence is all about. It’s not a wet blanket to new,
innovative initiatives. In fact, it is always positive and encouraging
of creativity and inventiveness. But it knows how to set the proper
limits and dimensions—the guidelines, in short—of dynamism.

Prudent open-mindedness, I imagine, would also involve acquiring the
skills in interpersonal relationship—being always friendly,
approachable, dialogical, etc. It should incarnate what St. Paul said
about being all things to all men, or having a universal heart that
can accommodate everyone in all their variety of differences.

There has to be continuing effort to study doctrine more thoroughly
and to be most observant of developments.

This is a real challenge in the formation of the clergy. My general
impression is that there are still a lot of priests who are not that
open-minded, or if they are open-minded, they seem to lack prudence.
That’s just an off-the-cuff opinion that should not be taken too
personally. Some dated biases, prejudices and attitudes still cripple

What is worse is to hear some clerics in open opposition to Church
teaching and discipline. This is part of the challenge of the new
evangelization. The confusing culture and the unpurified ethos of the
modern world have also affected some clerics and religious. That
should not be a surprise. We already had Judas among the apostles.

Another aspect to look into is the structure, machinery and the
network that need to be updated or reengineered to better tackle the
challenges of the new evangelization. There are now many more
possibilities in this regard that can be used to favor the new

The bottom line is to encourage everyone to be very apostolic as the
Spirit prompts him.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Fight to pray

THAT may sound like a contradiction. But in our present human
condition, there’s no other way for us to be able to pray. We need to
fight. We need to struggle. We have to exert great and abiding effort
to convert everything we do into prayer.

We have already been warned in the Bible that our life here on earth
is a warfare. We are ranged against powerful enemies not so much in
terms of physical strength as in terms of subtlety, trickery and

The forces of good and evil are always in conflict not so much in some
places outside or war arenas somewhere, as in our very own heart. The
combat is more internal than external, more spiritual and moral than
material and physical.

Besides, the battle of contention starts in some little matters, not
in big issues, that are not promptly attended and are made to fester
for a while until they become a crisis or a conflagration.

Just take a peep at your heart. Even in your most stable periods of
goodness and well-being, you know well how the demons and temptations
are just around the corner, ever ready to pounce at the slightest

We need to understand that our moments of peace are always a result of
some battle we have waged against our enemies—the wayward world, the
devil and our very own flesh. That’s what St. Josemaria Escriva, Opus
Dei founder, once said. And that battle is a battle of love, and not
mere conflicts driven by hate and fear, etc.

We need to be always on guard, and the best way to do that is to pray,
to be in constant conversation with God, our Father, whose wisdom and
omnipotence he is willing to share with us. his children, created in
his image and likeness.

It is through prayer that we can see and receive the power of God. It
is where we can train ourselves in the skills of spiritual combat—how
to deal with our weaknesses, temptations and our sins and defeats.
It’s where we can nurse our wounds.

We have to learn to pray and to convert everything into prayer. “Pray
without ceasing,” St. Paul says (1 Th 5,17). “Watch and pray,” Christ
told the sleepy Peter, “that you may not enter into temptation. The
spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt 26, 41).

We have to fight against our tendency to be swallowed up by our work
and the dynamics of our earthly concerns. In fact, we should turn them
into prayer. That’s how we would refer them to God and not treat them
merely as human or worldly affairs.

Christ already warned us, “What does it profit a man if he gains the
whole world, and suffers the loss of his own soul?” We need to be
strongly convinced and frequently reminded that it is no fair deal at
all to gain the world only to lose the soul.

So, we have to learn to discipline our human impulses that in their
raw state need to be educated, purified and formed according to the
Christian ideals where charity and love for God and others would be
the primary directing principles.

We are easily carried away by the forcefulness and the captivating
charms of our worldly concerns. We have to learn how to disengage
ourselves from their grip. And this is not so much a matter of turning
away from them as in bringing them to our prayer to consider them
before God. That’s where they would be properly tackled.

For this, we need to learn how to pause from time to time to be able
to regain our bearings, so to speak, since most likely we would lose
our proper footing in the heat of passion and in the whirl of our work
and business.

We need time to make piety, that filial relationship with God marked
by affection and attachment, take firm root in our life and in our
system. As persons, with intelligence, will and heart, we need to see
to it that the first and abiding object of these faculties of ours
should be God, and not anything else.

Rather, everything else should be related to God. Even our faults, our
temptations and sins should be related to God, since that’s the proper
way to handle them. Without God, when we don’t bring them to our
prayer, they would just fester and get worse.

Let’s fight to pray. Let’s schedule it clearly, and learn how to be
flexible and persevering in prayer.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The worst evil

THE consoling thought is that we already know what the worst evil is
that can happen to us. There can be nothing worse to expect them.
More, this worst evil is already not only resolved but also made to
occasion the greatest good that we can have.

    So let’s not worry more than what is necessary. We are not into a
completely unknown territory. Everything is somehow defined, though
the details—the part we play—is still subject to how we use our
freedom which can go any which way.

    The worst evil is, of course, the murder of God in Jesus on the
cross. As the Catechism says it, “From the greatest moral evil ever
committed—the rejection and murder of God’s only Son, caused by the
sins of all men—God, by his grace that abounded all the more, brought
the greatest of goods: the glorification of Christ and our
redemption.” (312)

    We need to relish this truth of our faith if only to guide us on how
to view the evil that can come to us in many forms. First, we have to
distinguish between moral evil and physical evil. Moral evil is sin,
that wilful offense against God, that is much worse than physical
evil, like storms, earthquakes, etc., that simply are expressions of
the limitations of nature but are not an offense against God.

    Besides, we have to understand also why evil is allowed to happen to
us. If there is God, and if he is supposed to be all good, then why is
there evil in the world? Why does he allow evil to come to us? Could
he not have created a world where there is no evil?

    The Catechism, the systematic summary of our faith through which we
have to view these issues, offers us the answers. Let’s go through
them slowly, because it’s important that we have a clear idea of why
evil exists in the world.

    Point 309: “If God the Father almighty, the Creator of the ordered
and good world, cares for all his creatures, why does evil exists? To
this question, as pressing as it is unavoidable and as painful as it
is mysterious, no quick answer will suffice. Only Christian faith as a
whole constitutes the answer to this question:

    “The goodness of creation, the drama of sin and the patient love of
God who comes to meet man by his covenants, the redemptive Incarnation
of his Son, his gift of the Spirit, his gathering of the Church, the
power of the sacraments and his call to a blessed life to which free
creatures are invited to consent in advance, but from which, by a
terrible mystery, they can also turn away in advance.”

    Point 310:  “But why did God not create a world so perfect that no
evil could exist in it? With infinite power God could always create
something better. But with infinite wisdom and goodness God freely
willed to create a world ‘in a state of journeying’ towards its
ultimate perfection.

    “In God’s plan this process of becoming involves the appearance of
certain beings and the disappearance of others, the existence of the
more perfect alongside the less perfect, both constructive and
destructive forces of nature. With physical good there exists also
physical evil as long as creation has not reached perfection”

    Point 311: “Angels and men, as intelligent and free creatures, have
to journey toward their ultimate destinies by their free choice and
preferential love. They can therefore go astray. Indeed, they have

    “Thus has moral evil, incommensurably more harmful than physical
evil, entered the world. God is in no way, directly or indirectly, the
cause of moral evil. He permits it, however, because he respects the
freedom of his creatures and mysteriously, knows how to derive good
from it.”

    It’s important that we know at least the fundamentals about the
question of evil so we would know how to behave toward it. With
physical evil, we just have to bear with it. But even if it can be
destructive and devastating to us, its effect can only be physical for
as long as we keep our spiritual life intact.

    It’s with moral evil that we have to be more wary about. That’s where
we are its creator. Its effects are far graver than those of physical
evil. It destroys us spiritually.

    Yet, as we are taught by our faith, Christ has shown us how to handle
evil. It is to die with him to be able to rise with him too. More on
this in later columns.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Sin and sinless

WE, of course, have to be realistic, but that should not prevent us
from being idealistic also. To be realistic means, among many other
things, that we are all sinners. We don’t seem able to avoid it. But
to be idealistic means that we are meant to be sinless. We have to
find a way to put the two situations together. And there’s always a

    The celebration of the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the
Blessed Virgin Mary reminds us that, like Mary, we were and we are
meant originally and ultimately to be immaculate, sinless. That was
how our first parents were created, and how Mary, by a very special
privilege, was conceived and born.

    Thus, in the Eucharistic preface of the Marian solemnity, we pray:
“Full of grace, she was to be a worthy mother of your Son, your sign
of favour to the Church at its beginning, and the promise of its
perfection as the bride of Christ, radiant in beauty.”

    What Mary is as our Mother, and what Jesus is as our Savior and
Perfecter of our humanity is also what we ought to be. That is God’s
will for us which has to be corresponded to in this lifelong drama we
have in this world where we cannot avoid sin.

    Yet, in spite of that, we are told that where sin has abounded, God’s
grace, his mercy has abounded even more. We have to drink heavily of
this wonderful and fundamental truth. Our problem is that we see
things in quite a reduced and partial way. We often forget this happy
and saving truth.

    And so the way to bridge the gap between our sinfulness and our call
to be sinless is the spirit of penance, of continuing renewal and
conversion. St. John the Baptist called for it. And Jesus led the way,
living it himself by taking up the cross and offering his life for our

    In the gospel of the second Sunday of Advent, we are told of how St.
John the Baptist proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the
forgiveness of sins, so that “every valley shall be filled and every
mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made
straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the
salvation of God.” (Lk 3,1-6)

    These are very beautiful and heart-warming words that are not meant
only to be so. They are true and they can apply to us if we do our
part. This is the challenge that we have.

    It’s good that we look closely at Christ since he is the one who
shows us how to make up for our sins, and how to convert death due to
sin into life everlasting due to God’s grace and mercy.

    This spirit of penance shown to us by Christ starts with an all-out
effort to avoid sin. We should try our best not to get used to sin, to
our weaknesses and to the temptation.

    That, of course, is easier said than done, because in our present
condition, with all the sin and temptations around, we sometimes fail
to distinguish what is sinful and what is not, what is temptation and
what is not.

    Our conscience, though not totally destroyed, is many times damaged
and can miss to make the right judgments. So we cannot help but
suffer, which is the natural consequence of our sins and our

    We need to look at Christ who shows us how to suffer—quietly, and
confident that what he was and continues to go through is part of his
Father’s will that only reflects our wounded condition. Only victory
can be expected from this suffering, the sting of death removed with
Christ’s death in obedience to his Father’s will and his glorious

    An integral part of this spirit of penance is the practice of daily
examination of conscience so that we at least would have a running
account of how our spiritual life goes. In spite of our failures, with
the examination of conscience we have the chance to end our day
reconciled with God just by making an act of contrition.

    Obviously, the most important part of this spirit of penance is the
frequent recourse of the sacrament of God’s eternal mercy, which is
confession. We need to develop our love for it, always finding strong
reasons for why we need it.

    This is how we can reconcile the realistic state of our sinfulness to
the ideal calling we have to be sinless.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Faith and miracles

MANY people are saying that miracles do not happen anymore these days.
They say miracles only took place in the distant past, the time of the
gospel when Christ went around in the land of Judea and Galilee. But
now, miracles are considered obsolete, if not an anomaly.

This is like saying that Christ, the son of God who became man, has
ceased intervening in our lives, that he was purely a historical man,
subject to time and space, and that after death, he is simply no more,
completely wrapped in the spiritual world, if ever that exists, and
that he has no immediate and tangible impact in our lives.

This cannot be so. Christ is both God and man. He both lives in time
and eternity. And being our mediator, our Redeemer, he cannot be
indifferent to our lives. He acts, and he always acts in very
strategic ways.

The problem we have is that we lack faith. It is this deficiency that
disables us to see a deeper and richer reality that is beyond what we
simply see, touch and understand. It is this deficiency that prevents
us from asking for some miracles in some difficult situations we can
find ourselves in, and from experiencing them.

Remember that time when Christ was pursued by two blind men (cfr Mt
9,27-31). They shouted, “Lord, have pity on us.” But Christ asked them
if they have faith. “Do you believe that I can do this?” “Yes, Lord,”
they immediately replied. Then Christ told them, “Let it be done to
you according to your faith.” And they were cured.

In all the other miraculous cures narrated in the gospel, faith plays
a very crucial role. The woman who was cured of her hemorrhage was
also commended by Christ because of her faith. “Be of good heart,
daughter, your faith has made you whole…” (Mt 9,22)

The same with the blind man, Bartimaeus, and the father of the
possessed boy who in his great distress told our Lord earnestly, “I
believe, but help my unbelief.”

Besides the lack of faith, many of us have come to associate miracles
with big, extraordinary things. Unless a blind man sees again, or a
lame starts to walk, or a dead rises to life again, people nowadays
say there can be no miracles taking place.

It’s a question of faith.  When one has faith, even if it is just
little, we can see the marvels of God taking place all around
everyday. That one perseveres in prayer, or decides to confess his
sins after a long period of sinfulness, or a husband being faithful to
his wife in spite of the strong temptations, etc., these are miracles

They are miracles because these situations often defy human logic and
worldly wisdom. But then again, they can only be acknowledged if one
has faith. Faith enables us to see beyond appearances and the reality
painted only by human and worldly values.

It is faith that lets us enter into the spiritual and supernatural
world. It brings us to share in God’s wisdom and power. Remember those
stirring words of Christ: “If you have faith as a grain of mustard
seed, you shall say to this mountain, Remove from there, and it shall
remove, and nothing shall be impossible to you.” ((Mt 17,20)

Without faith, in spite of our keenest intelligence, we will miss much
of the more important aspects of our life as we would only be
restricted to the here and now, the material and the temporal.

To those leading Jews who refused to believe in spite of the clearest
evidence at least of his special powers, Christ has these strong,
intriguing words to say: “They who see not, may see, and they who see,
may become blind.” (Jn 9,39)

Especially in our special needs and persistent human miseries, we need
to follow the example of the men and women, the blind, the lame, the
deaf, the sick, etc., who did all to get close to Christ and to beg.
Some even had to climb to the roof and cut a portion there to be able
to be near Christ.

This is the pattern we have to follow. We have to eagerly seek Christ
and importune him with all our might, accompanying our pleas with
external signs of our fervent faith and love for him.

This is the way to make the impossible possible, and to be able to
see, and even experience, the many marvels God always likes to do for
us. Miracles happen even up to now!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Mending a broken society

THAT’S the title of a nice little book written by a priest-friend of
mine, Fr. Henry Bocala. Yes, it’s little, as in less than 150 pages
long, pocketbook size, but very substantive and well-packed with
extensively researched materials and strongly reliable sources, spiced
up by timely observations and witty commentaries by the author.

I would say it’s the relevant wisdom we need to have these days, and
made available to us in bite-sized dosages. For the man on the go, it
can mean a very handy guide for cruising in our confusing times,
enabling us to be more discerning and to read the signs of the times
and effectively refute the clever logic of the world and of the flesh.

It’s said that we are now in a borderless society. That can mean a lot
of things, both good and bad. It can be good in the sense that we are
enriching ourselves with a great and increasing variety of elements.

What’s more, this variety is made easily accessible with our new
technologies and a surge of technical interest and know-how among the
people, especially the youth. We have to thank God for these wonderful
developments in the world.

But our problem now is that many people consider everything that takes
place as good, except when they are told by some authority, like the
Church, what true good and bad really is. That one, they are certain,
is what would constitute evil.

The power to discern good and evil now depends on one’s subjective
perception of things. People are now averse to the idea of an
objective and universal source of good and evil, and of an authority
who is empowered not politically but spiritually and morally to teach
and spread the relevant doctrine.

That’s one of the main reasons the book has that title. Our society is
broken, though not everyone would admit it. And it’s broken, not only
in terms of social relations, or in politics or economics, but more
radically, in our spirit.

In fact, any talk of things spiritual would largely fall on deaf ears
today. Many people cannot make out what that means. The sense of the
spiritual is all but lost. And if it’s not lost, it’s twisted, as in
many people succumbing to superstitions and other questionable forms
of spiritualism including magic.

Most of the time, people are just held captive by a carnal and worldly
sense of things, insensitive to the spiritual and supernatural
realities. Talk to them about faith, prayer, need for sacrifice, and
they would most likely go blank. Talk to them about money, politics,
fame, gossip, and they light up like sparklers.

With this frame of mind, they can only have a fragmented view of
things, and nothing global, not to mention, cosmic. They rely more on
feelings, on appearances, on social fads. Thinking metaphysical and
theological is definitely out of place. They prefer to follow more
their instincts than their reason, and much less, their faith.

The subtitle of the book indicates where the all the problems today
can come from. “What happens when we forget who we are,” captures the
very eye of the storm we are having. It’s when we forget we are
children of God… People are losing the sense of divine filiation. In
fact, sad to say, that expression sounds Greek to many of us.

The book has chapters on sex, the media, the hot-button issues of
life, marriage and family, the world of work, the continuing
socio-cultural wars waged in different parts of the world today, and
the role of the youth.

It’s worth noting that the book approaches these questions in a
wholistic way, putting faith and theology to whatever socio-economic
and political analyses are made in them.

The author of course is highly qualified and competent to handle these
matters. A writer and artist, he was first of all during his
pre-priesthood days a political science graduate of UP Diliman, and
had a stint in the staff of a senator for some years. I know him to be
of an analytical mind, thoughtful and measured in his comments.

And as priest, he has a doctorate in canon law and has an extensive
pastoral work with all sorts of people not only here in the
Philippines but also in many places  like Australia, Spain, Italy,
South Africa and Israel.

This is his third book, the first being his doctoral thesis on canon
law entitled, Diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel,
and the second, a spiritual book entitled, Arise and walk. I highly
recommend the book.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Advent and Mary

WE are now into the season of Advent. And among the first big events
of this season is the celebration of the Solemnity of the Immaculate
Conception of Mary. There is actually a beautiful link between Advent
and Mary.

    And that is the art of expecting. It’s an art that we should try to
acquire too. For sure, it is not just a matter of talent, though it
helps a lot. Yes, it is a matter of grace, but that grace is always
presumed to be given, and quite abundantly, if we don’t put any
obstacle. That’s simply because it’s God’s will.

    It’s an art that we have to learn and cultivate, quite actively and
deliberately. We should not just depend on chance or luck for it to
come to us. We have to outgrow that mentality. We have to work on it,
imbuing the art with the appropriate skill.

    We need to aggressively develop it because many are now the elements
that deaden whatever tendency or sense we have toward this need. As
the gospel of the First Sunday of Advent warns us, "Beware that your
hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the
anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a
trap.” (Lk 21,25)

    Mary can help us greatly here. She, who by a most special grace given
to her in anticipation of the merits to be gained by his Son for all
of us with his passion, death and resurrection, was conceived free
from original sin and was full of grace throughout her earthly life.

    This privilege, of course, did not deprive her of her freedom. She
could have said no to God, but instead she said yes—“Fiat mihi
secundum verbum tuum” (Be it done to me according to your)—not only
once but always. Her difficulty in fathoming God’s plan all the time
only made her closer to God through her earnest prayer and obedience.

    If only for that alone, she already deserves to be emulated. But
there’s more that we can learn from her. Since she was the mother of
the Son of God, she was the closest person to deal with the
God-made-man, our Redeemer and human perfecter.

    She was always observing our Lord and pondered things in her heart.
Then she would act in accordance to what she saw, heard and learned
through her pondering and reflections.

    In other words, her attitude toward Christ was always marked by faith
and charity. It was not just a human and natural thing of observing
and thinking and not relating things to God’s plan and to her
vocation. She was a contemplative in the midst of the most ordinary
events of life.

    We should look at her more closely and consistently amid the ebb and
flow of our life, because of all people she is the one who knew
exactly how to deal with Christ in a day-to-day basis, something that
we also need to learn.

    Our problem is that we are not consistent in our faith and love for
God and, as a consequence, our love for the others. We are good at the
beginning, but we often don’t last. We can be good in big events, but
we easily dry up when faced with our daily routine of small things.

    More significantly, we can be good in the material and social aspects
in our relationship with Christ, but we can be quite ignorant or
bumbling in the spiritual and moral aspects. We can be quite showy in
our piety, but we may not know how to nourish it internally to make it
burning and fruitful all the time.

    Mary had a keen sense of her tremendous vocation. She never wavered
in that, even when extraordinary sacrifices were to be made. She
learned how to relate time to eternity, and the very small things of
daily life to the biggest goal we all have to pursue—our

    This is something we have to learn. Thus, it’s good that we always
look at Mary. Her humble and hidden example will always move us to
really grasp what is essential in our relation with Christ.  It’s in
always pumping our faith, hope and charity into intense action, never
allowing them to slow down.

    For us, this means we need to continually renew ourselves, go through
continuing conversions, because we all know that in spite of our best
intentions and efforts, we always fail.

    Mary, our Mother, can show us the way to sustain our relation with
Christ all day everyday.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Effectiveness of divine healing

THERE’S no doubt that a lot of people urgently need some healing, if
not in the area of physical health, then in their emotional, mental
and spiritual health. Many have gone through traumatic experiences and
are left scarred, if not irreversibly damaged.

    We need to see this situation that is getting widespread, getting
more open than hidden, from the point of view of our faith. We cannot
and should not just see it by our lonesome, relying only on our
feelings and estimations. We need to see it from the point of view of

    That is where we can always find some healing that can come to us in
many and mysterious forms. But it always comes, because God is a
father, an omnipotent father full of love and compassion, who can
never be indifferent to our predicaments.

    In fact, he reads our mind and heart better than we do, knows exactly
what we need before we can even articulate it, and takes the
initiative to come to our help and rescue even before we can ask.

    Thus, in the gospel we always see how Christ, just by seeing the
needs, big or small, and the problems and miseries of the people,
always came to the rescue. His heart cannot remain unmoved by this

    This is the case for example of the widow whose only son died, the
crowd who was with Christ for three days to listen to him. Even the
Samaritan woman who happened to coincide with him in the well received
a gentle treatment that converted her.

    But all this also depends on whether we have faith, a living and
functional faith. Thus, in the gospel we see how our Lord commended
those who were asking for cures and miracles for their faith in him.

    A very moving story was that of the father of a possessed boy who in
his great distress approached our Lord for a cure. When asked if he
believed our Lord could cure his son, he immediately said, yes, “I
believe,” and added, “but help my unbelief.”

    Even when our faith is still weak, our Lord comes to supplement. Just
show it, no matter how weak, and God will do the rest.

    This is a point worth noting, because many of our problems today, and
the continuing and harrowing drama they create, are due to our lack of
faith. Typical of this mentality is the common thought, often unspoken
but from time to time verbalized, that miracles don’t happen anymore
these days.

    So instead of faith, there is scepticism, as if God’s power is
limited to the days of the gospel. It’s the same scepticism that was
expressed by the townspeople of Christ himself who could not believe
that their fellow townmate could speak so well and could do miracles.
As a result, Christ left the place and refused to perform miracles

    We have to be more keenly aware of this predicament because this is
where we get blind and insensitive to the ever-ready and abundant
compassion of Christ for us. It is this predicament that takes us down
into a spiral of anguish and, sooner or later, despair, since we would
not play God’s game but prefer to play our own.

    We need humility and simplicity for this faith to grow in us and
remove us from our self-inflicted predicament. It’s this humility and
simplicity that will also make us persevere in our faith in God’s most
compassionate omnipotence even when we don’t seem to get what we are
asking for.

    Let’s remember that God always sees the whole picture and that we
often miss out many things in our perception of things, even with our
best efforts. We have to always remain believing in God’s compassion.

    In this regard, together with humility and simplicity, for our faith
to prosper we also would need fortitude or toughness, as expressed in
patience or in disregarding certain things that definitely are not
working for our own good.

    This can mean our feelings and passions and memory and the other
expressions of our flesh that are still untouched by faith. Most of
our problems stem from this—many people are unable to handle these
wayward powers of ours and are in fact enslaved by them.

    We have to learn how to toughen it up, not minding the negative
impulses of these powers of ours. In fact, we should rather purify
them, filling them with the assurance of our faith. We have to repeat
many times, “Lord I believe, but help my unbeli

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Hope in God’s mercy

    ONE of the great challenges in dispensing divine mercy through the
sacrament of penance or confession is how to reassure penitents in the
throes of despair that there is always hope, God always forgives, it’s
not yet the end of the world.

    That they manage to come to confession in spite of some crippling
doubts and fears and that gloomy, sinking feeling of depression, is
indeed a good sign. They need all the help and understanding, all the
reassurance even as you deliver also the medicine that may not be
pleasant to the taste.

    It’s indeed tricky to strike the good, healthy balance for this
purpose, and I often think that the only way to do this is really to
make oneself as closely identified with the merciful God through
prayer and sacrifice, infinite patience and good grasp of the moral
doctrine. One needs nothing less than to capture God’s merciful heart.

    There’s also a need for a lot of prudence. Asking the penitent about
the number and the gravity of his falls, necessary for the integrity
of the sacrament, is not easy. But how to reassure the penitents that
everything will be ok is even a lot less easy.

    A confessor, I believe, has to combine the qualities of a father,
friend, judge and doctor to his penitents. And I understand why a
priest, before he hears confession, really has to prepare himself.
That’s because in the confessional, he gets to plumb deep into the
hearts and consciences of the people. Things can be known there, but a
lot of mystery is involved also, for which a lot of prudence is

    Obviously he is not there out of curiosity. He has to administer
nothing less than divine mercy, the one that can bring back a moribund
soul to life again. He definitely needs the grace of God, a good
training and tested discipline to go through the process.

    He has to be all things to all men, as St. Paul once said, because in
the confessional he is going to meet all sorts of personalities, from
the most delicate soul to the most hardened and treacherous criminal.
He should be able to handle everyone well, with God’s mercy, as each
penitent deserves to be taken care of.

    Let’s remember that Christ was open to everyone, even to the most
vile men who repented. He only had hard words on those who refused to
acknowledge his divinity in spite of all the evidence shown. In short,
on those who refused to live by faith which is a gift given to all of
us. Or on those who are self-righteous.

    In one episode, he clearly spelled out his attitude of mercy by
saying that it is the sick, meaning the sinner, who needs the doctor.
That’s why he went with those who were generally considered then as
public sinners, a fact that elicited criticism from the leading men of
that time.

    Let’s follow the observation of St. Paul who once said that where sin
has abounded, the grace of God has abounded even more. Paraphrasing
that statement, we can say that no matter how miserable we may be in
our weaknesses and sinfulness, the mercy of God will always be
available and in abundance.

    There is no sin that cannot be forgiven by God. That sin against the
Holy Spirit which our Lord said is the one sin that cannot be forgiven
is the sin we commit when we refuse to believe in mercy of God. God
wants to forgive always, but we don’t want to believe in that, then
that’s when our sin remains.

    In one juncture, Christ was asked how many times should a person be
forgiven, seven times? Seven times in the culture of that time meant
many times. Christ replied, not only seven times, but seventy times
seven. Meaning, again in the culture of that time, always or as often
as needed. There’s no limit to divine mercy.

    It might be good to call to mind the example of the repentant thief
who managed to be forgiven just before passing away. And the other
sinners—Mary Magdalene, and all the other characters, including Peter
and the rest of the apostles, and the parables of the lost coin, the
lost sheep and the prodigal son.

    There’s hope in God’s mercy always. What we have to avoid nursing our
sinfulness by our own selves, relying only on our feelings and
estimations, where we will surely get discouraged. We need to go to
God. It’s his delight to forgive!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Faith and the family

NOW that we are in the Year of Faith, plus the fact that we just had a
synod of bishops focusing on the new evangelization, we need to
realize more deeply the indispensable role the family plays in giving
teeth to these Church aspirations.

We cannot deny that the world is drifting toward godlessness. Right
now, we are witnessing a more aggressive type of secular humanism,
that is, a humanism that excludes God and that only depends on some
human consensus, however it is derived.

Many of our public officials are now espousing their own theories and
ideas, based more on what is practical and popular, rather than on
what our faith teaches us. They believe more in these theories than in
the doctrine of our faith, and sometimes put them—their theories and
the faith—in direct contrast.

Pope Benedict talked recently about practical atheism, the kind that
does not profess it formally or publicly, but is lived just the same,
because people behave as if God does not exist. It’s actually a more
dangerous kind, since it hides its true character and can even go
through the motions of normal spiritual and moral life.

This is what we have to tangle and do battle with. We have to learn
how to grapple with its many manifestations, like relativism,
materialism, commercialism, hedonism, agnosticism, etc.

We have to be familiar with their causes and symptoms, their reasons
and other factors that give some life to them. More importantly, we
have to know the appropriate weapons to use for the combat.

These are mainly the spiritual and supernatural means: prayer,
sacrifice, sacraments, doctrine. But we should never neglect all the
human means we can muster for this purpose, especially the power to
enter into dialogue with everyone in a friendly and cordial way.

Yes, we can expect some meaty discussions and exchanges, but we need
to understand that these should be pursued in the spirit of truth and
charity. We have to be careful with what is called as bitter zeal
which usually springs more from pride and self-righteousness than from
true love for God and care for others.

All of these should be animated by a working piety that definitely
starts and is sustained in the context of the family, before it is
supported by the schools, the parishes and other similar entities.

We need to strengthen the family, and within the family, the
institution of marriage, because it is what keeps the family alive and
healthy. Parents and the other elders in the family should realize
that more than attending to the material needs of the family members,
it is the spiritual and moral needs that should be given priority.

This is the primary duty of the parents, before it becomes a duty of
the teachers, priests, nuns, and other officials and personages
involved in the continuing education of children and people in

Parents therefore have to be properly trained for this grave
responsibility. They have to feel more urgently the need for the
appropriate formation. They need to know the intricacies of
spirituality and morality involved in the different stages of the
growth of the family members.

Parents cannot and should not renege from this. They may delegate some
aspects and functions of this duty, but they over-all are the first
ones responsible. And so, they must try to be experts first of all in
the doctrines of the faith, and know how to apply them to the
different situations, both within and outside the family.

The Year of Faith is precisely a good occasion to deepen the parents’
grounding on the doctrines of our faith and to put them to practice.
We just hope that all the higher entities—parishes, schools, even
government units, etc.—can do all to ensure this continuing formation
of parents and to strengthen family ties and marriage.

For this purpose, there are now many relevant books and other
materials that can help parents in their formation. With the new
technologies, these materials can be more easily accessed.

Besides, there are now a good number of groups that aim to assist
parents to fulfill their duties well. Parents and elders should try to
take advantage of them, organizing their time well so that they can
attend to the appropriate activities. Let’s hope that these groups
sustain their efforts.

Parents and elders should give time and attention to these
possibilities. It’s a worthwhile investment that will certainly bring
good dividends in the future in terms of true spiritual development
for the individual, family and society in general.