Monday, January 30, 2012

Malice and mercy

BECAUSE of our spiritual nature, because we are free and can choose and determine the course of our life, and a host of other becauses, we are able to turn our life north or south, to rise to the heights of glory or to plunge into the depths of ignominy.

Our dignity is of utmost caliber, nothing less than persons created in the image and likeness of God and made, in fact, as God’s children through the gift of grace. But it’s also by the same token that we can fall far deeper than any creature can into utter meanness. “Corruptio optimi pessima,” the corruption of the best is the worst.

That’s why there’s heaven and hell, eternal bliss and endless damnation. Both truths of faith reflect the best and the worst in us.

Such is our condition. We should be constantly aware of this double-edged possibility that can befall us, so we can be properly prepared and skilled to handle it. Truth is there are moments in our life when we seem to walk on a tightrope between good and evil. We should not be surprised by this situation.

Those who are more gifted in life—in intelligence, talents, looks, fame, wealth, health, power, etc.—usually find themselves with more temptations and trials both in terms of quantity and complexity. Yet, everyone is offered a choice where to turn to.

We have to reassure ourselves that there’s always hope, and that the means for us to make the right choice are always there. As St. Paul once said, “where sin has abounded, the grace of God has abounded even more.” (Rom 5,20)

Yes, our capacity to sin can be endless. If our first parents, Adam and Eve, still in their original condition of sinlessness and excellence, managed to sin, you can imagine how easy it would be for us to fall, since our present condition is much more vulnerable to sin.

Besides, our armory to further this capability to sin to its extreme of malice can be richer. If our fallen first parents only resorted to hiding behind a fig leaf and making petty excuses, we now have far plentier ways of hiding and offering alibis. We can even dare to rebel openly against God, doing so with conviction and indifference.

We should therefore acknowledge our sinfulness and our huge potential to sin. St. John once said, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 Jn 1,8) This is the first step—to acknowledge it—so we can take the necessary succeeding steps.

We need to be constantly on guard against our weaknesses and the temptations both inside and outside us. We have to remember that our worst enemies can be our own selves, and the trickiest temptations can spring from our best endowments. So, let’s not be naïve.

We have to learn how to do battle with them, always coming up with strategies that would clearly identify our specific enemies at the moment (laziness, lust, pride, envy, etc.) and the spiritual and moral weapons we need.

We need to develop virtues and good practices, filling our mind and heart with good thoughts and desires, engaging our faculties with their proper objects. We have to avoid idleness and a selfish loneliness that cuts us from God and from others. Even in our solitary moments, we have to think always of God and others.

Thus, it would be good if we can formulate an effective plan that includes the appropriate acts of piety—prayers, continuing formation, sacrifice, sacraments, etc.—so that we don’t face the day unprepared and ridiculously exposed to our spiritual enemies.

We need also to bolster our faith in God’s everlasting mercy. Our Lord always forgives. He gives special and immediate attention to sinners. Remember the story of the woman caught in adultery and the repentant thief. He didn’t go through complicated investigations. He just forgave them!

He himself taught us to forgive others not only seven times but seventy times seven, meaning always. In fact, God wants us to forgive others so we can be forgiven.

Let us also remember the steps to attain forgiveness and to be able to forgive others—regularly doing examination of conscience, making many acts of contrition reparation, going to frequent confession.

Blessed John Paul II once said it is God’s mercy that limits our capacity to sin. So, it’s very important not only to be familiar with, but also to savor this divine mercy given to us so abundantly.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Basis for our unity and equality

I SUPPOSE everyone is interested in unity and equality, perhaps more of the latter than the former, though one cannot be without the other.

My feminist friends, for example, would want women to have equality with men. The poor want to be treated with a certain sense of equality with the rich. Same with the young with respect to the oldies, the weak and handicapped with the strong and powerful, etc. It’s a matter of basic justice.

We cannot deny the fact that aside from the uniqueness of each one of us, we form different groups and fall into different classes, kinds, types and categories, based on different criteria—beliefs, culture, profession, to mention a few.

Yet there is also the undeniable fact that despite our many differences, we want to be together in a functioning unity and equality. That’s why we have doctrines, rules and laws, courts, governments and other structures to attain this goal.

We just have to make sure all these human instruments are properly grounded. Which also means they have to be properly driven and oriented, since these requirements actually go together, though they don’t come automatically. We have to work on them.

This can happen only when our pursuit for unity and equality is based on our living union with God shown in obeying the truths he revealed to us about ourselves and living them, of course, in charity. Again, truth and charity always go together if either one has to be authentic, not fake or plastic. Otherwise, we would have a flying elephant.

Our problem is that we often get contented only with our own ideas, ideologies, laws and some consensus to achieve this ideal. Do you think these would be enough? Unity and equality among men and women, for example, just cannot be achieved simply with our human means. We can say, “tell it to the Marines,” when one would dare to affirm so. Imagine when we have to consider the complexities of pursuing social justice.

Though our human doctrine, ideologies and laws have a role to play, they are nothing if they are not inspired or infused with the living spirit of God, who is the source of all unity and equality. This should be made clear to everyone.

We would just be giving appearances, many times deceptive appearances, of unity and equality, when things are not done in the context of a living relation with God. The Trinitarian nature of God—three persons in one God, equal in dignity and in eternal relation with one another—is the pattern of the unity and equality proper to us.

This is just but to be expected, since we are made in the image and likeness of God, and with grace, made children of his, meant to participate in the very life of God. We should never forget this piece of fundamental truth so indispensable in our life here on earth!

Christ, the son of God who became man to give us the fullness of divine revelation, has affirmed this truth when he said in his prayer to his Father: “Holy Father,” he said, “keep them in your name whom you have given me, that they may be one as we also are.” (Jn 17,11) This is the famous “ut unum sint” line of our Lord.

We can only become one and equal with one another in Christ, in spite of or because of our differences. This is what St. Paul said in this regard: “For as in one body we have many members, but all the members have not the same office; so we being many, are one body in Christ, and everyone members one of another.” (Rom 1,4-5)

We need to meditate deeply on these words for in them is contained the very germ of our unity and equality among ourselves. These are no mere words, if approached with faith and piety. They are the living truth that comes from God, effective words depending on how consistent we are with our faith.

Our problem usually is that we tend to refrain from making a theological understanding of our life. We prefer to stay in the “safe and comfortable” vision of life, guided only by common sense, or our reasoning based on our sciences, technology and our so-called democratic way of life.

We need to expand our grasp to reality by being guided mainly by faith and an authentic relationship with God, because only then can we truly satisfy our longing for unity and equality.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Good News about our body

THEOLOGY is, of course, still a toxin, a foreign body in the minds of most people, including our leaders in the different fields like business, media and politics, even if they profess to be quite religious and have no qualms showing it off.

This is sad, simply because if we realize that we are not just purely material beings, nor simply rational, but that we are also actually spiritual beings with a supernatural goal, then there is no doubt that we need to be guided by faith, that we actually have to do theology in our daily affairs.

It can be granted that many people know this truth in theory. It’s however a very different story in practice. Many are not guided by faith. They simply rely on reason at best, if not, by other lower human faculties and powers, like feelings, emotions, passions, gut feel, etc.

The common phenomenon is that many still cannot make their faith abidingly functional, even if in theory they profess it. There is still no unity of life, no consistency between faith, reason and the other human powers. Many still do not know how to get their act together.

This is one of the big challenges of our time. We have to find ways to overcome the awkwardness, the inability to exercise our faith or to do theology in our human affairs. We have to find ways to neutralize and dominate the antibodies that seem to render us immune and insensitive to the practical consequences of faith.

Pursuing this goal obviously involves a process, a going through of several stages. This is part of our human condition, even if faith, being a supernatural gift, can transcend the usual human requirements. We need to study, but first, we need to have that faith put in human terms also for us to be able to study and hopefully assimilate it.

That is why it is good news that the late Pope, now Blessed, John Paul II developed the theology of the body to give us a clear idea and guideline about a subject that is often taken for granted or considered not as important as studying the dynamics of our spiritual life. This is a new frontier that many of us still have to cross.

Here lies not only the astounding novelty but also the true significance of this part of theology. The theology of the body recovers the original value and role played by our body, and everything else material and earthly, in our life. A quick look at our human history clearly shows how the truth about our body has been awfully distorted.

This theology of the body makes us see that our flesh is organically linked to our spiritual and supernatural character of our life. While distinct, it cannot be separated from our integral human nature and condition, from our beginning and end, and from the plan and purpose God our Father and Creator has for us.

It is mainly based on the undeniable truth that our body also has been created by God, and when it turned sinful, it has been redeemed by no less than God’s Son and Word becoming flesh.

This theology would certainly deepen and broaden our understanding of our life, and would make us more sensitive to the duties and responsibilities we have toward our body. We have so far been neglectful or ignorant of this part of our responsibilities, and of course, we suffer the consequences.

We cannot deny that even among many good people—those who exert great effort to follow Christ—severe problems and difficulties have been gripping them in their concern to rein in the often erring workings of their own flesh.

This sad phenomenon is often made worse because it is a subject that many people find hard to talk about. And so it tends to fester. Many people nowadays, once they know about this theology of the body, welcome it as a true gift from God that was articulated well by Blessed John Paul II.

We should try our best to spread this Good News about our body as widely as possible. We can take advantage of our new technologies to do this. This task, to me, is quite urgent, if only to redress a persevering, if quiet, crisis we are suffering in the whole world.

It’s good to know that powerful institutes have been put up mainly in the States and are precisely preaching this Gospel. We need to have some of these institutes in our country too!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Open politics to Christ

I REMEMBER Blessed Pope John Paul II beginning his pontificate way back in October 1978 with words that have become emblematic of his papacy: “Do not be afraid. Open, I say open wide the doors to Christ.”

Those were bold words thrown as a challenge to a world that has gone far from God, from religion, from morality. Thanks to God, we can say that since then, big strides have been made in different areas of human life.

Still, we have to understand that allowing Christ to enter more and more into our lives is an ongoing affair. It never stops. We can never say we have enough of Christ. We need to continue opening doors, big and small, external and internal, to Christ.

Of particular interest to us now is the area of politics. The way it’s done and practiced here and abroad, we can definitely say that Christ is still ostracized, considered as a bother, irrelevant, useless, a persona-non-grata.

This is unfortunate, since in the range of our human affairs, politics occupies a very important and crucial position. It’s about how we organize and govern ourselves as a people, a state, a nation. It’s about how we are pursuing our common good that definitely is not only material, but also spiritual, given our nature and condition.

But so far, politics seems to be understood only as the art of acquiring power and keeping it as long as possible, of dominating and controlling others, of amassing more wealth and influence over others.

That it’s a most noble way of serving others is often forgotten. That it necessarily involves sacrifice and heroism and utter self-giving is hardly known. If there’s an appearance of service, it for sure is merely a mask and a convenient excuse for the pursuit of self-interest.

In pursuing these twisted ends, it seems that politics is played as if God, religion and morality have no place. It becomes an arena of sheer brute human cunning that knows no limits as to what can be done. It becomes a magnet of deceit, envy, hatred, revenge, violence, pride, arrogance, greed, etc.

The exercise of freedom in politics seems to be of the anything-goes type. The only constraints would be the obvious one of not getting caught and of complying at least to the formal and external parts of law—legalism—but not its spirit. Even the big demands of morality, let alone the finer points, are thrown away.

Charity? I get the impression many politicians think it’s not possible to live charity in politics. I get the impression that many politicians think that to be effective in politics, one has to bury charity six feet under the ground. Rather, they feel they need to deepen their skills in being nasty, mean and wily.

In the madness of it all, some politicians fall to such an extreme form of self-righteousness that they would have no qualms using the name of God, quoting Bible passages, to advance their own selfish designs. They tend to paint their opponents as all evil and themselves as no evil at all.

We need to correct this anomaly urgently, since given its effects on us, it can indeed be a flowing wellspring either of good or evil things.

We need to allow Christ to enter politics. Those directly involved in it should realize that given the nature and character of politics, they have to be strong and firm in their spiritual and moral life. Otherwise, they just bet swallowed up the monster.

Christ humanizes politics and politicians. Christ sets their proper standards. The fine points of Christianity are not meant to hinder politics, but precisely to purify it and to protect it from falling into the grip of the devil’s game, to which it is very vulnerable.

Christ certainly demands from politicians that they undertake constant personal conversions, assiduous study and development of their political skills in monitoring developments, in dialoguing, consulting and consensus-making, in making prudent decisions and implementing them.

Christ would certainly enlighten us as to what would constitute our proper and integral development. This has been the subject of many opinions, theories, ideologies and systems. But without Christ, these ideas just won’t have the proper spirit to bring us to our authentic end.

Christ would make us see the big picture without neglecting the small details and the constitutive parts. He will teach us the ways of prudence, and ultimately of love, that would include precisely its difficult part—what to do with mistakes, opponents, failures, etc.

Let’s open politics to Christ!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Simplicity and humility

THIS is our continuing need. Let’s never be derailed from that focus. All throughout our life, we need to build up and protect our simplicity and humility, since these virtues engage our mind and heart always on God and on others, and not simply on our own selves.

This is the danger we have ever since we started to be aware of who we are, what we have and what we can do. In short, our dignity and our powers. We can easily be overtaken by pride and arrogance, that trend to self-centeredness and self-absorption, whose practicality is nothing compared to the venom they leave behind.

Simplicity and humility are not really so much about who we are, what we have and what we can do. They are not so much about how to behave or what to wear. Though they surely have consequences and implications in these matters, they refer more to where we give our mind and heart to.

Are they with God and others, or are they simply revolving around ourselves? It’s a choice we have to make in every step of our life. It’s a choice that practically defines our life—how we think, how we view and judge persons, things and events.

These virtues always make us realize who and how we are—that we are nothing without God and others, that we are meant from beginning to end to enter and to develop a life of relationship. This is how we have been made and wired, so to speak. We just have to follow that law, that design, otherwise, we harm ourselves and get lost.

Yet these basic, undeniable truths are often taken for granted. The wine of our freedom, God’s gift that makes us image and likeness of him and prepares to be children of his, is so intoxicating we think we can be most ok when we are by ourselves.

We have to be wary of this tendency, exerting all the effort to avoid that mistaken notion, even if it will always look attractive. That’s the reason our Lord always taught us to deny ourselves and carry the cross if we have to follow him, as we should, and not just our own ideas, no matter how brilliant they may be, at least for the moment.

Simplicity and humility make us see things clearly and objectively. They take away the sweet poison that foolishly puts ourselves above and before God and others. They make our reasoning and our loving on the right track, avoiding the sophisms of the complicated persons.

Besides, simplicity and humility give us a natural shield against temptations, our own weaknesses and the wiles of the devil and the world. They give us always a reason to hope and to be optimistic in life.

Being complicated precisely means a person who has been detached from God, the source of all truth and goodness, and who simply relies on his own faculties. In a while, he creates a complex web of false reasoning, biases, rash judgments, etc. He ends up self-righteous.

Simplicity and humility put us in condition to acknowledge the existence of God and his abiding providence. Without them, one simply thinks his life is all what he and he alone makes out of it. In short, it’s all his. He follows his own laws.

And his relation with others would simply be marked by motives of practicality and the like. He seems unable to go beyond that, and to discover the wonderful plan made by God with respect to our relationship with him and with others.

Our true joy and everything that it presumes and implies can only be attained when we follow God’s law regarding relationships. This law cannot be other than to love God with everything we have got, and to love our neighbour as ourselves. Later, he perfected this dual law by telling to love one another as he (Christ) loves us.

We have to convince ourselves, using our faith first and then our reason and all that are expected of our human condition (we need to study, to develop virtues, to engage in ascetical struggle, to have recourse to the sacraments, to have ongoing formation), that this divine commandment is really where our true joy is.

It’s where we can expect our authentic development as a person and member of society, and then as a child of God and member of the People of God. We can say goodbye to a myopic view of life, full of anomalies.

It’s all worthwhile to be always simple and humble!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Popular piety revisited

THANKS to God, we can still count on a rich mine of popular piety in our society. The fiestas in the different cities, towns, barangays and even sitios have their origin and inspiration in religion and people’s faith and devotion to God, Christ, Mary and the saints. These fiestas really transform the atmosphere of the place drastically.

It would seem that this tradition is already so embedded in our culture that no matter what happens in the world and in our country, whether in the tumultuous fields of politics or the economy, a good number of the people still take time to celebrate these fiestas. They are quite serious about them.

There’s a joke, for example, (obviously with a grain of truth) that for Boholanos, the month of May is sacred. Wherever they may be in the world or in the country, they would go home in May because that is the fiesta month of the province. Even those already in heaven would ask permission from St. Peter to come home to Bohol in May!

Some of these fiestas take on a very special character in terms of people’s participation, peculiar expressions of piety and impact on society. I’d like to mention a few—Manila’s Black Nazarene fiesta, Cebu City’s Sto. Nino feast with the accompanying Sinulog, the feast of Our Lady of Penafrancia in Bicol.

All these displays of public piety should be understood as a living thing involving an interplay of divine intervention and human correspondence. They are not purely social phenomena. As such, they have to be properly guided and developed by Church authorities, and not simply left for all sorts of factors and elements to define them along the way.

That’s the reason why the Vatican issued in 2001 a Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy. One of its sections talks about “Evaluation and Renewal” (no. 12), precisely because these manifestations of public piety need to be purified and set on the right track for their proper development and path to Christian maturity and perfection.

It cannot be denied that there are serious threats that can compromise the authenticity of people’s piety. Accusations of superstition and fanaticism, of commercialization and politicalization of religious events, etc., just would not emerge without some shred of basis.

That’s why Church leaders should be actively and closely monitoring the developments in this area. It’s not just a matter of vetoing certain practices immediately and automatically applying penalties without considering the real situation on the ground.

For example, not celebrating the fiesta Mass in places where some disco parties, Miss Gay and Bikini Open shows are held is, I think, a bit senseless, because that penalty most likely would be punishing the wrong people, since the people who want to have Mass are those who usually do not go to these said events.

Such penalty is like a sword of Damocles that is never a good motive for people to behave according to Christian moral standards. It’s like blackmailing them without giving due effort to understand or to do apostolate with those who may have ideas and practices different from those of the Church.

There are many cases that need to be re-examined. That’s why it’s good to take a look at the guidelines given by the Vatican directory on popular piety and apply them persistently even if slowly and, especially at the beginning, awkwardly. Of course, we need the competent Church personnel, properly trained and motivated, to do this.

Among the criteria mentioned in the Directory for evaluation and renewal of popular piety is the “anthropological spirit” which is something to be really mastered by those who have the responsibility in upholding the true essence of popular piety.

This has something to do with having a good understanding of what would comprise as essential in humanity and Christianity as it impacts with the varying and changing factors of time, place, culture, sensibilities, etc.

This is a very tricky, dynamic task that certainly needs an interdisciplinary approach and skills in continuing dialogue, consultation and implementation. But it’s worth all the effort and the sacrifice involved.

We need to think of the future, of how the current state of popular piety that we enjoy can cope with the changing times and attitudes of people. For sure, the Holy Spirit will always do his part, but he will always need our cooperation. Remember that everything in our life, including our public piety, is a joint venture between God and us.

Let’s be forward-looking in our devotions and public piety!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Handling self-righteousness

WE have to be wary of this very tricky, subtle spiritual disease. It can come to anyone of us. It usually takes advantage of our natural inclination to seek the truth, the good and the beautiful in life—in short, to be right in life—and corrupts that inclination. It’s so blinding it can even take on the appearance of sanctity.

Most prone to this illness are those with some special endowments in life, be it intelligence, talents, wealth, fame, power, health, beauty, etc. When all these gifts are not clearly grounded and oriented toward God, the source of all righteousness, the problem starts.

The problem festers when one continues to simply be guided by his own ideas of what is right and wrong, then falls to begin rationalizing and justifying wrong things until he comes out with complicated ideologies and systems that are openly opposed to God’s laws.

Self-righteousness is precisely when one derives his goodness from his own self, and not from God. It shows itself in many ways: quick to judge, brand people and condemn, slow to understand others and to forgive, not wanting to be corrected, being highly opinionated and wanting to have the last word always, to dominate others, etc.

That’s why, philosophers and theologians, clerics, teachers and leaders in the different fields of human affairs, be it in the Church or in business or politics or media or sports or the academe, etc., should never let go of their duty to be humble and to find ways to make humility always grow and deepen, because that’s the antidote to pride and conceit, the very virus of self-righteousness.

St. Paul, for example, keenly aware of his high dignity and responsibility as an apostle, highlighted the indispensability of humility. “My speech and my preaching was not in the persuasive words of human wisdom, but in the showing of the Spirit and power.” (1 Cor 2,3)

He echoed this sentiment a number of times in his epistles. And at one point he expressed the reason for this sentiment. “The foolish things of the world has God chosen, that he may confound the wise. And the weak things of the world has God chosen, that he may confound the strong…” (11 Cor 1,27)

That’s why he gloried in his weakness. “It’s when I’m weak that I am strong.” And, “If I must glory, I will glory of the things that concern my infirmity.” (2 Cor 11,30) We should never think we are something, since everything good that we have comes from God. The only thing we can contribute on our own—without God—is evil, is sin.

We have to be most careful when we start to use our reasoning. Reason without faith and charity—in short, reason without God—is very dangerous. We can deftly use reason by citing all sorts of proofs, arguments, evidence, examples, doctrine and principles, stats, but if it is not inspired by faith and charity and delivered in humility, then it easily becomes a tool of pride, envy, hatred, revenge, deceit, etc.

Reason and truth should always be given in charity—“veritas in caritate,” as we have been reminded in an encyclical of Pope Benedict quoting St. Paul. It’s actually charity, the very essence of God (Deus caritas est), that gives reason and truth their true life and purpose, their living substance.

Without charity, they freeze, they become rigid, unable to adapt to the vital flow of the different situations of persons and events. Without charity, their beauty and power remain in the externals, their effects not thoroughly and consistently good.

Thus, even the doctrine of our faith has to be made alive through charity. Remember that the devil also quoted the Scripture to tempt Christ. We can fall in that predicament of self-righteousness if we use doctrine without charity. This has happened many times, especially among theologians and supposedly good and holy people.

Without charity, reason and truth would fail to distinguish between the person and the acts. They would not know how to deal with sin and the sinner, their sense of justice goes without mercy, more penal in character than medicinal, more divisive than constructive. Just look at the political squabblings in the media. Many bright guys without charity!

We need to be vitally united with God through prayer, sacrifice, the sacraments, deepening in the doctrine of our faith, development of virtues, etc.—all of these together—to make our reason and truth share in the very wisdom and life of God and avoid that vicious self-righteousness.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Looking for God in the big things

IF we have to look for God in our personal and individual capacity, then we have to look for him in our social and public life and activity as well. If we have to look for him and do our best to do his will in our small everyday affairs, then we have to do even more in our big, extraordinary issues.

We need to be reminded of this basic truth as we now live in a world that is increasingly globalized economically, politically and technologically. We cannot allow this fundamental need of our lives to be taken for granted.

Many false reasons are often presented to explain why God, faith and religion should be kept private and personal. Among them we can cite the thinking that since we are living in an increasingly multi-cultural world, we have to be tolerant and should just keep quiet about things spiritual and supernatural.

There’s also the belief that moral and spiritual considerations would just hamper our freedom and autonomy, our creativity and practicality. Many people, even the leading men and women in the fields of politics, business, technology, etc., consider any reference to God in their work as a hindrance, a danger or an embarrassment.

We need to explode these myths since, aside from having no basis, they actually pose a great danger to our culture and civilization. Nothing could make us more tolerant and open-minded of the world’s multi-culture, and respectful and enhancing of freedom, autonomy, creativity and practicality than a functional and living relationship with God.

We need to remember that our capacity to be tolerant and our endowments of freedom, autonomy, creativity and practicality are all gifts from God. They are not just products purely of our own making. They need to be lived and practiced in and with God always, and not just depending on our own ideas and theories, no matter how brilliant.

For sure, there are problems and difficulties in putting God always into the picture, but these do not detract from the fact that we have the duty to actively look for God in all our human affairs, big and small.

Problems and difficulties there will always be. We just have to find ways to solve or resolve them. They are not meant to stop us from doing what we ought, but rather to spur us more to action. But what is needed is first of all to dismantle that unspoken practical atheism or agnosticism that’s afflicting many of us.

This is the real problem besetting us, made worse by the fact that we often do not talk about it, and so it grows and worsens, it festers in a quiet but most effective way.

We need to tighten our life of faith and religion, our relation with God, for that is the basis of the way we live and go about our earthly affairs, the way we treat others and react to problems, the way we pursue our dreams and face the consequences of our actions, both good and bad, both the successful ones and the mistakes and failures.

We should never dare to live by ourselves alone, relying only on our own devices, our own powers, no matter how they may seem to be impressive. This way of life is like putting ourselves in an ocean in a storm, riding a puny and badly-equipped boat.

So in this regard, it would be good that in every step of our pursuit for progress and development in all fields of human endeavour, be it in business, politics or technology, we should deliberately see how our actions, inventions, discoveries, etc., bring us closer to God and to one another, how they foster more charity and solidarity, etc.

We should never take this crucial part of our human activities for granted, presuming that everyone would just be guided properly on his own. There has to be an explicit vision of how these developments serve God and others spiritually and morally.

Especially in the field of technology right now, where I am quite amazed at how the new gadgets can do a lot of wonders, benefits and advantages, we need to be clearly guided about them, because the possibilities for abuse and for doing graver evils with them are also aplenty.

There should be some instructions and reminders of how to use them for the greater glory of God and for real service to mankind, instead of making them tools for self-centeredness. The young ones, prone to confusion, especially need this guidance.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Singing and dancing piety

GIVEN our nature and our condition, we have to understand that our piety should not just be a purely spiritual affair. It should also be expressed in the flesh, with our senses—eyes, ears, touch—helping in developing and sustaining it.

We can readily see this in our natural filial piety toward our parents, for example. We have all sorts of practices and customs to express that piety. We kiss our parents or make “mano po” every time we arrive or leave home. We keep their pictures in our wallets or in our rooms. We just don’t keep our love and respect for them in the mind.

Our piety has to correspond as much as possible to the fullness of our nature and condition. That correspondence will make our piety more genuine, abiding and effective. That will also help protect us from the danger of temptations, distractions, sins and scandals.

Especially these days, when our senses are constantly bombarded with sensual images and messages, with all kinds of vulgarities and profanities, it is urgent that we deliberately train our senses to be actively engaged with the proper object of our life.

And that can only be God and that we learn how to love properly through them, not allowing our love to deteriorate to merely animal urges. We have to understand that things enter us ordinarily through the senses first, and that therefore the proper education of our senses comprises one of the more immediate needs of our times.

Of course, we have to learn how to develop this particular aspect of our piety. For sure, it should not just be a purely external affair, done more for show or appearance. It has to be vitally united to the convictions of our faith. Our senses should be connected to our reason and to our faith.

That’s why we have to pray hard and to importune our Lord to give us more grace, more strength and light, so our senses can function properly. For those who find it hard to pray, then let’s pray for them, and wage a continuing apostolate of doctrine and catechesis.

If we ourselves find it hard to pray, then let’s ask others to pray for us. In the meantime, let’s try to study the doctrine of our faith assiduously and start to go through the process of learning certain practices of piety.

These practices of piety can be spending time in prayer and meditation, going to the sacraments, especially Mass, communion and confession, participating in some collective means of formation and piety, etc.

No matter how awkward we may feel at the beginning, let’s just try to persevere. Virtues are usually attained by way of discipline and self-denial. In time, we will understand more and appreciate better the wisdom and beauty of these practices.

Also, we should never think lightly of the little things that effectively begin and develop our piety, like looking and admiring pictures and images of our Lord and the saints, saying or singing spontaneous ejaculatory prayers that spring directly from our heart, offering flowers and other signs of devotion, including dancing, to our Lord and the saints, etc.

Not unusually do little things help in fanning the flame of love alive and bursting. This is something we should always keep in mind, because our tendency is to be fascinated only when big and extraordinary occasions and events come our way.

While there is need to be discreet and natural about these practices given our human condition, we should see to it that we are actually oozing with love and affection for God and the saints.

This is, of course, a personal affair, and so let’s allow our conscience to tell us about the extent and intensity of these practices. It’s in our conscience that we can hear the voice of God, who always intervenes in our life and tells us what and how to do things. It’s there also where we bring our personal considerations to him.

Let’s take advantage of our usual actions to keep our piety alive, like attaching some ejaculatory prayer or pious thought to things like whenever we open or close a door, climb up or down the stair, or when we take a shower or fix ourselves in front of the mirror, etc.

These practices should be second nature to us. With our current general mentality, they may be considered as a little bit exaggerated, but they actually are not. These practices would only show that our soul and our faith are alive and kicking.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The horizon and beyond

IT’S good that while we’re still at the beginning of the new year, we can take a long, hard look at the horizon, and even beyond, to discern how the future will be, what kind of world we would like to have.

This is a common practice which we should try to sustain and improve, since there are signs people are getting myopic and insular in their view of things. Very few people can talk about having a worldview, in fact. The common reality is that they just live by the day, in a figurative hand-to-mouth existence, their world ending with every sunset.

Looking at the horizon and beyond is a must for us, since we don’t live only in the present, much less, in the past. We are meant for the future, and even beyond time. The reality that we are in is not only temporal nor spatial, but also eternal and spiritual. But that’s saying too much too soon.

The more immediate scenario is that with our present level of technological progress, a level is that ever dynamic and quick changing, our capabilities for innovation, collaboration and creativity have gone ballistic.

This has changed our world drastically, and of course, we have changed our outlooks and lifestyles. I, for one, even if terribly technologically challenged, feel more empowered and enabled because a new gadget, an android, was given to me last Christmas.

Of course, my case is very simple and even “primitive” if compared to others who are riding the crest of this technological tsunami. But with what I have received, I discover that I can have a veritable large library at the tip of my finger, I can go places, call and see friends abroad, have the oeuvre of many authors, etc.

Suddenly my world has gone bigger multiple times and in multiple ways. Even in my relatively small world, I can see the tremendous effects of the information technology. In the school where I work, I see simple boys who used to tend cows and goats in the mountains turn into digital wizards with income their parents and grandparents have never seen before.

It’s gratifying to see them attain a certain level of achievement. But I always remind them of the spiritual, moral and apostolic side these dizzying technological developments are supposed to have. We should never allow ourselves to be held captive only by the practical or economic benefits of these things.

Going back to the reality that governs us and that I mentioned earlier, we need to remind ourselves that these earthly achievements, while good and have their proper and important place in our life, are not everything to us. If at all, they are simply means to a much higher end.

They are supposed to bring us closer to God and to one another. If this criterion is not achieved, then we have failed, no matter how brilliant our performance may have been in the technical side and in the other mundane aspects.

Can we say that these amazing new gadget and technologies have made us a better person, a better Christian, more able to establish a more intimate contact with God and with others?

Has our love for God and others, expressed in practical ways, improved? Are we now more aware and more able to meet the requirements of the common good, solidarity and subsidiarity? If not, then we still have to drastically reform our attitudes and vision of things.

In fact, we should be deeply worried when these technologically generated benefits and advantages have not improved our spiritual and moral life, our intimacy with God and our effective and practical communion with others. That situation can be rife for the terrible danger of making us very materialistic and worldly.

We should actively find ways of getting to the spiritual and moral angle of these developments, because our tendency is to be trapped in the worldly and temporal criteria only.

We have to continually examine our conscience and rectify our intentions along the way. We should not take this task for granted, otherwise our spiritual selves would weaken and our carnal egos aroused.

We should be most careful with our spontaneous reactions and impulses, because they tend to be animalistic first, before they become human and Christian. They are like little children, cute but needing a lot supervision.

When we have our spiritual and moral selves in order, then we would be confident we are on the right track toward the horizon and beyond. Otherwise, we’d just be playing games, going nowhere.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Handling temptations

THOUGH we have to face big issues and bigger challenges this year, especially in the areas of economy and politics, we should never forget to develop and strengthen our personal skills in handling temptations. This concern never goes passé, and it touches a basic, indispensable aspect of our life in all levels.

These days, temptations come to us in the subtlest and trickiest of ways. This can be due, at least in part, to the increased level of sophistication both in people’s thinking and in world development, especially in the area of technology and ideology.

With these developments, temptations can easily come undetected, and sin can be committed in most a hidden way and even easily rationalized. How important therefore it is for us to always grow in humility and simplicity, finding aggressively practical ways to achieve them! If not, we would just be lost.

The healthy fear of God is disappearing. In its place, a most heinous sense of self-importance is dominating. The criteria to determine what is good and bad have become blurred. They have gone almost completely relativistic and subjective, declaring total independence from any absolute and objective rule or law.

Some psalms can give us helpful ideas on how to handle temptations.

- “Surrender to God, and he will do everything for you.” (Ps 36)

- “Turn away from evil and learn to do God’s will. The Lord will strengthen you if you obey him.”

- “Wait for the Lord to lead, then follow in his way.”

Truth is, we always need God in our battle against temptations. We should disabuse ourselves from the thought that with our good intentions and our best efforts, we can manage to tame the urges of temptations.

We cannot! That’s the naked truth about it. We only can if we are with God. And we have to be with him in a strong, determined way, not in a passive or lukewarm way. Do flies flock on a hot soup? No. But they do on a cold or lukewarm soup.

We need to do everything to be with God. Our mind and heart should be fully and constantly engaged with him. We always have reason to do so—at least, we can thank him for what we are having at the moment: health, food, air, work, etc.

We should never take things for granted. Remember that our Lord asked the only leper who returned to him to thank him out of the ten who were cured, where the other nine were. Our Lord expects us to thank him for everything that he has given us.

From there, let us try our best to figure out what his will for us is at any given moment. We have to have the sensitivity to ask him, even if we are already doing our duties and responsibilities which are part of his will for us, how what we are doing at the moment is part of his will, of his abiding providence over us.

That kind of mentality helps us greatly in avoiding sin and in keeping our love for him. Just the same, we should not be surprised that in spite of this attitude, temptations still come. Jesus himself was not exempted from temptations.

That’s because temptations also play an important role in our spiritual life. They point to us where we are weak. They encourage us to develop the virtues that correspond to them. They remind us to be humble always and to depend always on God rather than on our powers.

Temptations can come because of one’s temperament, as in if one is passionate yet weak of will. He is not well-balanced and energetic. They also come because one has been reared in love of pleasure or in an atmosphere of pride and envy. They also come because of God’s providential designs.

We have to be ready for them. Always with God’s grace which we have to continually ask, we have to develop the skills and other tricks of our warfare with them. We should learn to ignore them, reject them outright, never entertaining them, and even ridiculing them.

We should learn to pray more intensely, immerse ourselves more in our work and duties and with greater love. We have to grapple with temptations in the little things, never allowing them get into our big things or close to the heart of our spiritual fortress. It might be a good idea too to go to confession once temptations come.

Lastly, never to lose hope even when we fall.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Theological life

WE have just begun a new year with the liturgical celebration of the solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. In the gospel of the Mass, we are told about the shepherds who went to see the child Jesus simply because they were told by an angel.

They believed and obeyed in all their simplicity, and they were rewarded immensely. As the gospel narrates, they went back, “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, in accord with what had been told them.” (Lk 2,20)

More significantly, we are told that Mary also “treasured all these things (what the shepherds told her) and reflected on them in her heart.” (Lk 2,19)

The elements of being told, then believing and obeying, then treasuring and reflecting on what was told, are prominently bannered in this gospel. They are elements that comprise the nature and character of faith, of what it involves and demands. We need to be familiar with them because they comprise the basic elements in our life.

Our life is actually never just our own project, our own design. It is fundamentally given and directed. It involves a law that has to be followed, a force and impulse that comes from outside before it is made our own. And for sure, it is a force that never ceases to be external to us even if we have already made it our own.

This is a fundamental truth about us that needs to be ventilated more widely, more persistently and creatively, because we tend to forget it or at least to distort it. If only this idea, this piece of basic truth could just be a blurb repeated often on radio and TV or a slogan or motto in schools and offices, I think we would be doing great.

We need to live a theological life, a life continuously fueled and driven by faith, and not just by reason, feelings and instincts. Not even by our sophisticated sciences, technologies and arts.

Our problem is that we are at present succumbing to a rationalist and technological mentality which puts our reason and other human capabilities as the prime defining force of our life.

If not that, then we are stuck with the other extreme, the low end of a lifestyle of bondage, slavery and addiction in drugs, sex, food and drinks. People become so self-absorbed, so dominated by their passions and instincts that not even reason, much less, faith would have any effect.

More than anything else, this challenge is the most important. It may not be the one immediately felt, but it surely is the one that goes together with our ultimate goal in life.

Remember what our Lord said: “What does it a profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?” (Mt 16,26) And that episode of Martha and Mary when our Lord told the busy Martha, “you are troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Lk 10,41-42)

Both instances clearly show us the priority of prayer over action, faith over reason, the spiritual over the material, the sacred over the mundane. It’s not the latter elements are bad. They just have to be kept in their proper places and fed by their proper nourishment.

Yet, this distinction and relation between these two sets of elements is hardly known nowadays, not to mention, lived. Many of us do not know how to integrate them properly in their ordinary daily lives.

This is where the need to talk, explain and effectively portray the theological life comes to the fore. In fact, it would seem that any talk about theology or anything theological is immediately blocked off or considered as restricted only to some people who may have the heart for it. They don’t realize it has a universal applicability.

There’s certainly an urgent need for the appropriate evangelization and catechesis on this basic point. This should be primarily done in families and schools, with the Church always promoting it.

Of course, more than just talking, what is needed is widespread giving of example, of showing living testimony of the wisdom and practicability of this truth. We need to see many people effectively living this truth, such that a certain appropriate culture and lifestyle would develop in society.

Theological life involves prayer, sacrifice, sacraments, developing virtues, sanctification of one’s ordinary work and duties, apostolate as a necessary consequence of all this, done in all levels of life.