Tuesday, February 28, 2012


THAT’S how the secretary of the late Pope, now Blessed, John Paul II described the very rich spiritual and pastoral messages of the first Polish Pope in Church history.

John Paul’s messages had a life of their own, he said, because they were gospel-fresh, inspired by the gospel. As an Adele song would have it, they “set fire to the rain,” as they forcefully grappled with real issues, purifying and clarifying them, and putting things in their right places according to gospel truths and values.

In the papal biography that he wrote, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz (pronounced ZHEE'-vish) said the Pope read the gospel daily and drew his inspiration for his work from there. He corroborated the truth of faith that the gospel can never be passé, because it is the word of life itself.

“A life with Karol” offers an intimate view of the life of the Pope who managed to assume—excuse the vulgarity—a rock star status among the young because of his powerful messages and deep insights. He made the whole world thinking seriously. He left them deeply impressed, challenged and motivated.

We need to understand and appreciate the true value and character of the gospel. If we have faith, then we know that the gospel is the living word of God. It has an eternal value, always fresh, new and relevant to the present, whatever the situation. In spite of its historical age, it accompanies us in real time. It’s time’s soul.

The gospel is the very foundation of reality. The world would not be understood properly if not viewed from the fundamental angle of the gospel. The gospel offers the ultimate dimensions, the most essential aspects of any given issue.

As St. Cyprian would put it: “the commands of the Gospel are nothing else than God’s lessons, the foundations on which to build up hope, the supports for strengthening the faith, the food that nourishes the heart.”

Because of the gospel, Blessed John Paul II helped in dismantling the Communist Bloc because of the inherent inhumanity of communism as viewed from the gospel. He exposed the true character of Liberation Theology that tried to hybrid Christianity with communism.

He also warned about the excesses of unrestrained capitalism, so prone to greed and individualism. He fired up the youth all over the world, even provoking a kind of spiritual and moral revolutionary transformation in very paganized Western sectors of the world.

He restored the true and original role of women and the laity in general in the world and in the Church. He gave a big boost to the proper role of the family in society, the dignity of labor, the authentic relationship between faith and reason, religion and the sciences. He clarified the true nature and purpose of philosophy and theology.

Because of the gospel, he learned how to forgive his would-be assassin and to deal with all sorts of leaders of different suasions, including those who professed to be atheists and anti-Catholic. He also learned how to bear suffering, physical and moral, all the way to this death.

He also knew how to be strong before big challenges and threats. When he had to correct an erring churchman, he did not hesitate to do so after giving enough time and space for warning and conversion.

The gospel was his primary material in delivering his messages to different people in different situations and in different countries—in all his trips to the different countries, in his addresses to bishops and priests, politicians, students, children, poor, etc.

Our usual problem is that we tend to consider the gospel as just another book, just another source of some information, or just one more literary material, etc. We fail to consider it as it truly is, the living word of God that has to be read and handled with faith.

Especially these days when there is literally a glut of information and a surfeit of data of all colors, the gospel tends to be treated just like one more of them, just like one more among many.

We fail to realize that the gospel has an inherent spiritual force. It can only be read, understood and used in the spirit. The devil, in tempting Christ, also used scriptural passages, but obviously not in the proper spirit. We can also cite the gospel in the same way if we are not careful.

It’s when our thoughts, words and actions are inspired by the gospel that we can expect a certain divine freshness, newness and forcefulness in them.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Chill it, please!

NOW with all the heat of passion and temper building up in the impeachment proceedings, we need to remind ourselves to be moderate, sober, restrained. In fact, we need to remind ourselves that more than talking and blabbering our views, we need to pray.

Appeals to fairness, rule of law, human rights, equal protection and many other legal, political and social concepts that are now bandied about by our so-called leading lights would amount to nothing, would even become fuel for more conflagration, if we just allow our emotions and passions, and our partisan politicking to dominate.

Common sense would dictate this, even without having to plead for the generic cause of humanity and Christianity. Those directly involved in the case—the prosecution, the respondent and the defense, the senator judges, the president, etc.—should heed this call seriously.

Obviously, the people in general, too. We don’t want mob rule to take over. We have learned enough bitter lessons of our People Power that has degenerated from its original albeit imperfect version. Precisely its imperfections seem to be more fertile than its perfections, since the former have multiplied more than the latter.

There are now moves even by so-called respectable men to flout the basic standards of decency and fairness by recommending illegal and immoral means to ferret out the truth. “The issue of authenticity was no longer relevant to the trial,” one honorable congressman said. Are we going back to life in the jungles? Does any end now justify any means? Unbelievable!

We need to think and weigh things slowly and thoroughly, listening to both sides, always rectifying our intentions, and employing legitimate and ethical means in pursuing our positions.

Courtesy should always be observed, passing over minor, irritating details, while earnestly working toward what would really serve the common good, something that we have to re-assess many times along the way given our human condition.

And our words, our tongue! How important that we have a good, firm grip on them, for as St. James said, “the tongue is a little member and boasts of great things.” (3,5) We have to be most wary of a loose tongue. It only means trouble, unnecessary trouble.

Most importantly, we should be ready to forgive and forget, and just move on, repairing what needs to be repaired, but never wavering from our focus on the goals we need to reach.

Just look at the example of Christ with regard to the woman caught in flagrante in adultery, the repentant thief crucified with our Lord, our Lord fraternizing with sinners, etc. Our problem is that we often consider these examples irrelevant in our political life. We prefer to burn in our own anger and vengeance-prone sense of justice.

We should not dwell too long in the past. We have to look forward to the future. And it’s childish to hostage the whole nation by considering the impeachment of an official indispensable for national progress. Tell it to the Marines! There are many ways to skin a cat. We don’t have to resort to crazy ploys.

It’s really a question of the heart, of where our heart is engaged, and what condition it is in. Is it with God, trying to conform itself to God’s laws, or is it only functioning by our human ways, easily held captive by our emotions and passions, our biases and prejudices?

We have to be most careful with our emotions and passions, because aside from being blind to reason, incapable of discerning the truth and the values of justice and fairness, they have the nasty habit of building up on their own until they become an overblown blob ready to explode on everyone.

We need to pray. Prayer has the instant effect of cooling us down, allowing us to think calmly and extensively, letting our spirit to plumb deep into the issues and concerns, referring them always to the source and end of everything and that’s God.

Prayer broadens our mind, expands our heart, setting it always on the right albeit at times difficult and tortuous path. It allows us to see things more objectively, and more importantly, letting us see them with God.

Prayer keeps us away from the blind impulses of our human condition, and purifies our intentions. It helps us to give and discern the true spirit, the scope and range as well as the limitations of our human laws. It makes us more broad-minded. It knows how to handle human mistakes and offenses, how to be magnanimous.

So can we chill it, please, and pray more instead?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Missionary migrants

A HAPPY confluence of events is taking place these days. Our bishops have just declared this year as Year of Mission. They have also declared a National Migrants’ Sunday. The Pope declared a Year of Faith starting this October. In the same month, Blessed Pedro Calungsod, the Cebuano young catechist, will become the second Filipino saint.

A common thread puts them together. Filipino migrants, who continue to be abundant through the years, need to be missionary, and live their faith, giving witness to it wherever they are. Somehow, Saint-to-be Pedro Calungsod embodied these ideals well, even heroically, since he suffered martyrdom for it.

There are many nice anecdotes of how Filipino workers abroad have enlivened church life in their new communities, bringing with them popular devotions to the Sto. Nino, our Lady, etc. But there are also many sad and disturbing stories.

To be sure, every Christian faithful is a missionary. That’s the inherent character of a Christian. Whether one goes abroad or remains in the country, he is always a missionary. Unfortunately, this truth is still unknown to many, and so a lot of catechesis is needed in this regard.

But obviously, we now need to look with special interest into the lot of our many Filipino overseas workers and migrants. Aside from being many, they are now posing a different kind of challenges. We have to brace ourselves for these new developments. Whether we like it or not, this phenomenon will go on, since this is the inevitable trend.

The Philippine Church is now looking at how to minister to these faithful and the other people involved—their families left behind, their host countries, etc. Some structures and offices have been put up with their corresponding personnel, and some programs and campaigns now start to be carried out. Still, a lot more need to be done.

At the moment, what I can think of first of all is how to know this sector more intimately, more personally. These faithful should not just be statistics. Great effort has to be made to know them really well.

The Church effort cannot just be bureaucratic in nature, though for sure an amount of bureaucracy is needed. Just imagine the kind of coordination work to be done. But the church ministry has to know the person, helping him in his spiritual needs.

How and where can we find them? Perhaps, churchmen should closely monitor the pertinent government offices that process their papers, getting data like names, address, etc., and start figuring out how to get in touch with them. We should not wait for them to come to church, but rather, with delicacy and naturalness, we go to them.

Another basic source of information are the local parishes, chapels and chaplaincies that have direct contact with the faithful. Once someone is known to go abroad to work or to migrate, the churchmen should already start to act.

Do we already have agencies to take care of this? Direct, personal contact is of course indispensable, but the supporting structures should also be available. Without duplicating what government agencies and other groups can do, the Church should focus on what her distinctive contribution is—spiritual assistance.

Ministering to these migrants and overseas workers requires different strategies. A more pro-active approach is needed. As much as possible, we have to know the concrete details of their personal and family circumstances as well as their spiritual conditions. We have to go down from the generics, and from theories and principles.

The idea is to spiritually prepare the person planning to migrate or work abroad. He should be reminded of his Christian duties and as much as possible help him to live them. He should be told of what to expect in his new country of destination.

Then we have to see what to do with the families left behind. They also need to be taken care of. Obviously they can be made part of the general attention given to everyone, but some distinctive assistance should be lent to them, given their special situation.

There are many things that can and should be brought up for consideration by everyone and especially by the Church leaders. Hopefully special events like Year of Missions, Year of Faith, Day of Migrants, etc., can occasions these considerations.

We also have to think of what to do with foreigners who are coming to our country in droves, like the Koreans.

We should never forget that all our efforts here should be based on prayer, sacrifice and genuine personal sanctity.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lenten mode

HUMAN as we are, we need to go through different modes to be able to capture the different aspects and expectations of our life. As Scripture says, “there is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…” (Ecc 3,4)

Even in our daily routine, we go through different phases and moods--serious, relaxed, intense, etc.—to correspond to what we think is proper in any given situation.

Well, the season of Lent reminds us that we need to weep and mourn somehow. We tend to get so absorbed with our earthly affairs and concerns, dancing to their twists and turns, that we forget we need to be with God. We have to acknowledge our need for purification and conversion.

That is why in the first reading of the Mass for Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, we are told, “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning…” (Joel 2,12)

Yes, we have to remember this invitation of God to us. We have to go back to him with our whole heart that would first need to be purified through fasting, weeping and mourning. And the second reading, from the Second Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, tells us “now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation.” (6,2)

The heart is crucial, because that is where our true identity is, where our real condition lies. “Where your treasure is, there is your heart also.” (Mt 6,21) We need to make sure that our heart stays where it comes from and where it belongs to, and that is God.

We often take this fundamental truth for granted and allow our heart to go just anywhere and to get attached with just anything and anyone. Its proper place is God, just as St. Augustine once said: “My heart is restless until it rests in you, Lord.”

But given our human condition, with all the concerns that we have, with all the weaknesses and temptations, and even our assets and strengths that many times lead us away from God instead of bringing us to him, we need that special time to remind ourselves that we belong to God, and we need to correspond to that reality.

Our usual problem is that we take this basic truth for granted or, if we know that truth, we do not know what it demands from us, what practical consequences we have to do.

Underlying this problem, of course, is the widespread phenomenon of people, even those who consider themselves very Christian and pious, who fail or who do not know how to input faith into their thinking and behavior.

This is a challenge that we can choose to tackle precisely in the season of Lent. We need to develop the discipline to think, behave and, in fact, to live by faith that always goes together with hope and charity.

We have to step up our literacy in this area, because in spite of some rousing displays of public piety in many places, there is a lot of ignorance, confusion and error regarding the doctrine of our faith, and of course, inconsistency in our Christian and spiritual life.

There is still the naivete in thinking that our faith can only be studied enough, that it can be studied at a certain point, beyond which the duty to study it ceases. Many of us fail to realize that its study is a lifelong process, since it is not only an intellectual exercise and duty. Our faith has to go in real time with our whole life.

For this, what the Lenten season reminds us of is for us to exert the effort to learn the intricacies of the spiritual combat or ascetical struggle, both defending us from the enemies of our soul—sins, temptations, etc..—and proposing us endless goals toward sanctity that only ends in heaven.

We need to fight in many fronts—against our laziness, our pride, sensuality, greed, etc. The model for this is Christ, who is also the source of all the energy and power we need to keep this struggle going.

It would be good to spend some time meditating on the passion, death and resurrection of Christ, in short, the Paschal Mystery, that culminates and summarizes everything that Christ did to save us and to perfect us in our ongoing creation with him.

Lent should be a time to be more theological, spiritual and ascetical!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Tunnel vision

TO give us more ideas and better nuanced understanding of what tunnel vision means and implies, we can list down some of its synonyms: blind spot, blind side, blinders, constricted vision, fixation, monomania, myopia, narrow outlook, narrow-mindedness, obsession, one-track mind, shortsightedness.

It’s important that to be truly effective without unduly dominating others, our leaders and those who occupy positions of authority, power and influence, be it in politics or the academe or the media or the church, etc. do their best to avoid having a tunnel vision. Indeed, everyone, leader or not, should avoid tunnel vision.

While it’s true that we can have our own preferences and even strong convictions, we should always be open to others and their views, even if they are diametrically opposed to ours. Yes, we should learn how to properly deal even with what we may consider to be a clear, obvious mistake or wrong position.

Truth and justice are not really served by force, or violence, or intolerance. It’s is charity that does it. It’s charity and its integral parts of compassion, mercy, forgiveness, understanding, patience, etc. that do it.

Truth and justice without charity would not be genuine truth and justice, since charity is the mother and determining virtue. For all other virtues and ideals to acquire their true status, they need to be inspired by charity. They have to begin and end there. Charity is their gold standard.

Without charity, truth hardens and becomes rigid, heartless, indiscriminate, blind. Without charity, justice deteriorates into a game of recrimination, vengeance, making even, bickering and mutual accusations ad nauseam.

Wisdom and broadmindedness are not so much a matter of ideas as of charity. Justice would be incomplete if it does not seek the path toward charity, but sticks to the satisfactions of one’s anger or grief. It has to go beyond who is right and who is wrong. And justice should try its best not to be blind so as to see people and things properly and act accordingly.

And where does this charity come from? Obviously from God who, as St. John says in one of his letters, is love. “Deus caritas est.” This love is revealed to us and given to us by Christ who perfected all the commandments by saying, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

He proceeded to prove this by offering his life on the cross, making as his own all the sins of men, past, present and future. By dying on the cross and resurrecting, he took away the sting of sin and death to open the way for us to be reconciled with God and perfect our own dignity as children of God.

We should try to open our minds and hearts to this truth of our faith, and not insist on restricting them with a tunnel vision of life. Christ’s passion, death and resurrection should open our minds and hearts to all the possibilities, good and bad, in our earthly life.

One time, a seminarian asked me if it was because he made a wrong choice of wanting to become priest that he was then suffering a lot of financial difficulties. I told him, not necessarily. His wanting to become a priest need not be the cause of his money problems. I told him he may be barking at the wrong tree. The difficulties can be due to other reasons, not his choice to become a priest.

Media people, especially those involved in public opinion, should be very careful in articulating their views. While they may express conviction of their views, they should be very open and respectful of the views of others, no matter how different from theirs. Especially in matters of opinion, there can be many conflicting views that are also valid.

In the latest sports craze in the US about Tebow and lately the phenomenon of Linsanity, some columnists have practically showed their bias against religion by saying that the moral ethos of sports is always in tension with the moral ethos of religion. In short, sports and religion can hardly be together. The corollary is a sportsman who professes his faith publicly must be an anomaly.

Ok, that’s one view, and I respect that. Let me just also say that sports and religion can and should be together since religion embraces all aspects of our life, including sports.

And sports itself is one more arena where the game of life is played. Since life will always have a religious dimension, whether we like or not, then sports can only reflect it and prepare us to its ultimate end.

The need to ponder

TO think about seriously, to mull over, study, evaluate, meditate… These are some synonyms of “ponder” which we need to do if we are to sustain our sanity and keep pace with the changing situations of our life.

Our problem is that we tend to avoid this basic function, perhaps not intentionally, and just fall on what some people say as “what comes naturally,” that is, to rely simply on instincts, common sense, and knee-jerk reactions.

We seem to be so pushed only by the rush of events, by excitements, by fads that without noticing it we are slowly losing dominion over our own life and affairs. We tend to renounce our duty to determine our own life and, instead, begin to depend on external factors. It looks like we are losing our freedom.

This state of affairs actually puts us in some vulnerable situations, especially these days when with all the rapid developments around, we need to be more discerning so as not to get confused and lost.

For example, in the field of technology, a big wave of new gadgets are now marketed, all giving out their great benefits. But we need to find out which one truly would fit us given our specific circumstances and conditions. This requires mulling things over.

In the world of media, there are now such a variety of shows that if we are not careful and if we only follow our first impulses, we would surely be swallowed up by their unstoppable effusion that can lead us nowhere. Or they can hold us captive under the criteria only of popularity, practicality, convenience, pleasure and nothing beyond.

Even our views and opinions are often shaped indiscriminately by what we see on TV and the Internet and read in papers. Not only are they plentiful, but can also be so conflicting that we are often left baffled and perplexed. Worse, due to this profusion, we can fall into total indifference and a self-perpetuating cynicism.

The world of public opinion has become so shifty, with no clear foundations and orientations, with hazy worldviews, detached from absolute values and wallowing in purely relativistic outlook, that we now seem to have no distinct ideas anymore of what is good or bad, proper or improper, moral or immoral. All become “weather-weather lang.”

We need to have a good grip of the situation, and the first thing to realize is our need to ponder. It makes us use our best human faculties of intelligence and will that, more than what our instincts and passions can cover, can enter and penetrate into the essence and spirit of things.

In the gospel, Christ gives priority to pondering over working. The story of Martha and Mary dramatizes this point well (cfr Lk 10,40-42). Martha was busy doing many things in the house, but it was Mary who simply sat at Christ’s feet listening to him that according to him, did the “only one thing necessary.”

Of course, we have the example of Our Lady whose usual mode of behavior with respect to Christ’s words and deeds was to “ponder them in her heart” (Lk2,19) or to “keep them in her heart.”(Lk 2,51)

Yes, we need to ponder things in our heart! But more than just studying things on our own, subjecting all sorts of topics, issues and concerns to our rational thinking alone, we need to refer them always to God, since God is first, last and always the ultimate source of truth, goodness, justice, etc.

In short, to ponder has to be a form of praying, and not just reasoning. It has to be done in dialogue with God, and not only talking with our own selves or among ourselves. God always has to enter into our thinking, judging and reasoning. Otherwise, we would get caught in a web of pure subjectivism.

So when we pray, we have to see to it that we bring specific issues, questions, concerns, etc. We just cannot go to our prayer without a spelled-out plan of discussion with God. That would just be a waste of time, and before long, we will find prayer unbearable.

We have to develop the skill of pondering, meditating, dialoguing and arriving at conclusions in our prayer. Imagine if this practice becomes a habit! Our prayer would assume a very interesting and enlightening character.

And before long, as we become more familiar with God’s mind and ways, our prayer becomes increasingly contemplative, where more than discussing, we simply see God’s designs in things.

The 7th C challenge

I’M referring to the 7th commandment of the Decalogue and the huge challenge it poses.

In the Catechism, we are told that this commandment of “You shall not steal,” “requires respect for the universal destination and distribution of goods and the private ownership of them, as well as respect for persons, their property and the integrity of creation.” (Compendium 503)

It also adds: “The Church also finds in this commandment the basis for her social doctrine which involves the correct way of acting in economic, social and political life, the right and the duty of human labor, justice and solidarity among nations, and love for the poor.”

In whatever way we read this point, we cannot help but realize that the commandment covers a large area of our life, nothing less than all the aspects involved in our relation with the material world in which we live. Stealing can indeed take many forms and we need to be more familiar with the more subtle and insidious ones.

We have to work hard on this commandment. The world’s development is going in an accelerated pace, population is growing and more and more people need to be educated and evangelized.

I must say that the idea of the universal destination and distribution of goods, for example, is not well known, not to mention the other equally important parts of the commandment.

Can we honestly say that we are working toward this universal destination and distribution of goods? How come there are many people in the brink of such inhuman poverty and misery, while a few are wallowing in luxury?

Are we aware of the specific relevant areas in this matter that have to be attended to with a certain sense of urgency, since the situation literally cries up to heaven for help?

How do we make this requirement of universal destination and distribution of goods compatible with the equally important right to private property? How do we keep ourselves from the evils of atheistic socialism, on the one hand, and selfish, individualistic capitalism, on the other?

What laws are we making in this regard, what social and cultural norms and practices are we instituting to guarantee this ideal? In the face of this need, is the ongoing impeachment process in the Senate worth its time and money?

At the moment, I think that the trial is way deep into its absurdest stage, with shameless politicians taking advantage of the people’s resources and patience just to do their grandstanding and pursue their personal political goals, instead of facing the real problems of the country.

The 7th commandment also talks about the social doctrine of the Church and touches on the burning issues of the day, like what to think and do about global warming, or is it now climate change?, mining and other environmental issues, and the many other issues like intellectual property rights, social justice, etc.

We need to be pro-active in this regard, and not simply reactive, just waiting for things to happen or issues or controversies to explode, which ideologues of various colors and leanings exploit. There has to be continuing evangelization and formation, done in season and out of season, as St. Paul said, using now all the modern means we have at hand.

The social doctrine of the Church, while it has its stable core and spirit, is actually a dynamic doctrine, always open and sensitive to new developments and insights that we can gather along the way. It blends the old and the new, the traditional and the modern.

In this regard, I just hope that our Church leaders are agile and flexible enough to flow with the times without compromising the essence of humanity and Christianity. I believe there had been instances where some pronouncements of some of them worried me a bit because of what I thought were rigid, narrow-minded statements. Anyway, sometimes mistakes have to happen before the truth comes out.

Churchmen should be most careful when making public interventions regarding temporal issues and affairs. This caution should not hinder them in making those interventions which nowadays are becoming more and more important. But they have to make sure that all sides are heard and properly evaluated.

The affirmations of our faith should always be respectful of the legitimate inputs coming from the sciences and the opinions of people, whoever they may be. Thus, Church leaders should always keep their ears on the ground even if they keep their heart up in heaven.

Let’s tackle this 7th C challenge!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Talking to God

FATHER, are you serious when you say we can talk to God?

Questions like that are often asked of me by people who find it incredible that we can talk to God. They have come so often that my answer has become quite standard and routine.

Of course, we can talk to God! It’s no big deal to talk to God. It should be the most normal thing to do, since in the first place God is always with us. While we cannot always have anybody to talk to, and sometimes we can even forget to talk with our own selves, God on the other hand is always with us and is always willing to listen and talk to us too.

That’s his nature. That’s his desire. God is the very support of our own existence, and that of everybody and everything else. And he, mind you, does not support our life only in a passive way. He’s full of love, of solicitude, of attention and concern. He’s actually hot with us.

St. Augustine said, “to know where God is may be difficult, but to know where God is not, that is even more difficult!” Christ himself reassured his apostles, “Behold, I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.” (Mt 28,20)

We just have to learn how to acknowledge this reality. Our problem is that we restrict our grasp of reality to what is observable only to the senses, and captured by our feelings. Our thinking is often so dominated by these human faculties alone that it fails to enter into the spiritual and supernatural realities.

Worse, some people believe with the conviction of a man-made faith that reality cannot be anything beyond the biological, physical, or social at most. They laugh at any talk about anything spiritual or supernatural. Faith and religion have no place in their system.

In short, in the development of our humanity, many of us get stuck—or prefer to get stuck and even to rationalize it—in the anal stage. We hardly grow and approach the fullness of manhood. We seem to prefer to remain puerile or juvenile.

Talking to God is always possible if we exercise our faith, and not just be influenced by the senses, emotions and an intelligence detached from faith. While faith is a gift, something given and received, it also corresponds to a need in our human nature. We always need faith, if not the one given from above, supernatural, then our own man-made faith.

Learning to talk to God, of course, goes through stages and requires a kind of training program. That’s what we all go through when we learn something—like to eat, walk, talk, study, etc. We need to practice and practice, then doing it until it becomes second nature to us.

In the beginning, just like anything else, learning to pray and talk to God is quite awkward. We have to go through the baby steps, the basic drills, etc. Of course, in learning to pray at the start, the awkwardness is not only physical. It’s emotional, mental, spiritual and moral.

Just the same, the obstacles can be hurdled one way or another. We just have to help one another and endlessly find ways to solve the problems that can come along the way.

For sure, the problems are myriad. In the first place, we have to contend with the stiff requirements of faith. Then we have to grapple with our laziness, not only the physical but also the mental. We can also suffer a lot of distractions and a languishing spell of spiritual dryness. But these are not insoluble. With God’s grace and our effort, we can overcome them.

Obviously, a lot of catechesis and apologetics is needed. We cannot deny the fact that there is an ocean of ignorance, error and confusion in this regard. Then a program of learning has to be devised and adapted to the personal conditions of each one of us. The objective has to be made subjective.

Very important are the living witnesses of people who truly pray and know how to relate everything to God. Their example can speak volumes and can drastically shorten the learning process of praying for all of us. Let’s hope that we can cultivate a culture of prayer in our midst!

Let’s make our raw prejudice against prayer a thing of the past. Let’s talk to God, bringing everything to him, including our problems and failures. Let’s grow to the fullness of our human and Christian maturity.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Be concerned!

THAT, in gist, is the message of Pope Benedict for this year’s Lenten season that will start on Ash Wednesday, February 22.

It’s taken from a passage in the Letter to the Hebrews 10,24: “Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works.”

From this, the Pope wants us to see the connection between our concern for the others, on the one hand, and its consequence and requirement of reciprocity (mutual cooperation) and personal holiness, on the other. These three elements should go together as an organic whole.

It’s a message directed to the growing apathy that traces its roots in a creeping Godlessness we can observe in the world today. These are some of the Pope’s words describing this unfortunate situation:

“Contemporary culture seems to have lost the sense of good and evil...What hinders this humane and loving gaze towards our brothers and sisters? Often it is the possession of material riches and a sense of sufficiency, but it can also be the tendency to put our own interests and problems above all else...”

He also laments about individualism that seems to pervade the world now and that makes it “blind to the physical sufferings and to the spiritual and moral demands of life.”

He warns us of what he terms as “spiritual anaesthesia which numbs us to the sufferings of others,” as well as the usual temptation “to become lukewarm, to quench the Spirit, to refuse to invest the talents we have received...”

To all these negative situations, the Holy Father proposes a genuine and thorough concern for others that should have the following characteristics:

--Desiring what is good for others from every point of view: physical, moral and spiritual. He defines good as “whatever gives, protects and promotes life, brotherhood and communion.”

--Being aware of the needs of others, and especially being concerned for their spiritual well-being. At this point, the Pope talks about the long forgotten gospel practice of “fraternal correction in view of eternal salvation.”

It’s a message that certainly needs to be digested slowly and persistently. Its rich theological underpinnings actually offer a splendid view of today’s situation and challenge.

Very often, we get contented only with some socio-economic and political analysis of the situation that can only cover and fathom so much. We should correct or at least enrich this attitude with a deeper dimension offered by theology.

The message calls us to get out of our shell and to actively enter into the dynamics of a life of communion, marked precisely by love and concern for one another, to which we are called.

The Pope offers an elaborate description of this life of communion that we should try to be familiar about, since very often we take it for granted or reduce it to merely social categories.

In his words, our life of communion is based on the fact that “our existence is related to that of others, for better or for worse. Both our sins and our acts of love have a social dimension.

“This reciprocity is seen in the Church, the mystical body of Christ. The community constantly does penance and asks for the forgiveness of the sins of its members, and also unfailingly rejoices in the example of virtue and charity present in her midst.

“As St. Paul says: ‘Each part should be equally concerned for all the others’ (1 Cor 12,25), for we all form one body. Acts of charity towards our brothers and sisters—as expressed by almsgiving, a practice which, together with prayer and fasting, is typical of Lent—is rooted in this common belonging.

“Christians can also express their membership in the one body which is the Church through concrete concern for the poorest of the poor. Concern for one another likewise means acknowledging the good the Lord is doing in others and giving thanks for the wonders of grace that God in his goodness continuously accomplishes in his children.”

We certainly need to deepen and strengthen our sense of communion. It’s definitely not an easy thing to do, but neither is it impossible. We just have to realize that we need to constantly ask for grace for it and be as unsparing as we can in exerting the necessary effort.

Truth is there is a lot of needs to be attended to, not only human, but also and most specially the moral and spiritual needs. There’s a lot of poverty and injustice to be resolved as well as ignorance and confusion that need to be dispelled.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Our sexual identity

WE need to be more aware of this concern. This has been taken for granted for so long that now we have quite a mess of an issue.

Many people now feel quite free as to what sexual orientation they want, as if their sexual identity is a matter of their orientation of preference, totally at their mercy or absolutely of their own choosing. As if no objective law governs it.

While we always have to be tolerant to all sorts of ideas, theories, mentalities, cultures and lifestyles, we also need to be reminded that not everything has the same weight and value, and that not everything is correct and proper. Otherwise, we would have pure chaos.

Lately, we hear a US federal court has overturned the California same-sex marriage ban, considering such ban as unconstitutional. This is one consequence, affecting a country’s legal system, of the confusion and chaos that would ensue if we are not clear about things.

In the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we read the following relevant point:

“God has created human beings as male and female, equal in personal dignity, and has called them to a vocation of love and of communion. Everyone should accept his or her identity as male or female, recognizing its importance for the whole of the person, its specificity and complementarity.” (487)

When we are born, we are either male or female. That’s why the first thing we look at even while the baby is still in the womb, as in the ultrasound probe, is the organ. The hermaphrodite is an anomaly that needs to be corrected one way or another.

We have to accept this biological distinction and start to build up on it, because our sexual identity is not only biological, but is also connected to our whole human nature as a person, both individual and social, and the whole gamut of considerations that we are subject to.

In other words, we have a responsibility of affirming, developing and defending our sexual identity. We need to cultivate our sexual identity especially, giving utmost care and attention in areas that are subject to changing understanding. We carry that out with God’s grace and with all the effort we can give. And it’s an ongoing affair.

We just cannot sit pretty and think we will be male or female by mere biological inertia. We need to act on it, especially these days when confusing ideologies and fashions tend to blur the distinction and to hold our sexual identity captive to very subjective criteria, instead of linking it to God’s law and our duty toward others.

That confusing phenomenon is pretty much a by-product of our crisis of faith, of where to find our ultimate guide, since there are now a growing number of people who think things just depend completely on us and on our consensus. No such thing as God.
And much less would they give a hoot to Church teaching.

Thus, we should realize that a kind of campaign, a kind of catechesis is needed. In fact, the whole concern of evangelization should include this issue if it has to be an integral evangelization.

We need to remember that just like everything else in our life, like our body, our talents, our freedom, etc., our sexual identity did not originate with us, but with God, our creator, with the procreative mediation of our parents. We always need to refer our sexual identity to God and his laws.

Such effort to affirm, develop and defend our sexual identity is what comprises the virtue of chastity. It’s the virtue that integrates our sexuality within the person, making it truly human, and not just a toy to play with, or a human aspect merely ruled by hormones.

Admittedly, it’s a complex virtue to develop. At the moment, it seems tangled in a mess of negative impressions composed of myths and other historical misunderstandings that need to be sorted out and explained. This will take time and we can expect a lot of controversies.

But with patience, I think we can succeed in clarifying things. Chastity is such a beautiful virtue that would enable us to love God and others properly—all the way to the use of our sexuality. It takes us away from the clutches of a self-centered vision of life, blind to the spiritual and supernatural dimension of our life.

We have to make sure that the new generations will understand the true meaning of our sexuality, and work hard to cultivate their proper sexual identity.

Monday, February 6, 2012

We need silence

IT was intriguing, alright, to learn that Pope Benedict chose the topic of silence for his annual address for the 46th World Communications Day scheduled on May 20 this year. My friends from the media immediately reacted, more in jest, of course, “Does he want to silence us?”

Quite the contrary. When one gets to read the message, the Pope actually wants to make our communications more meaningful, substantial and human. We cannot deny the fact that the world of communications lately has been drowning in a flood of negative, destructive, useless and idle chatter amplified by the digital technologies.

The freedom of expression has really gone out of bounds, stoked by your economic problems and political differences. But I think the real culprit is the absence of God in the communication process. That may not be intended, but that’s what is reality is taking place.

Truth is abuses are rampant as vulgarities and profanities proliferate. Basic norms of courtesy and standard shows of refinement are flouted. There’s so much bashing and bickering around, and if not that, then a lot of pride, vanity and self-glorification to the point of self-righteousness.

We have already crafted a number of codes of ethics for journalists, opinion-makers, publicity men, etc., for example, but to a large extent these codes remain cold codes with hardly any effect and following. They remain elusive as ever.

It would be good to go through some of the points of the message, entitled “Silence and Word: Path of Evangelization,” because they are basic and at the same time prone to be taken for granted.

The Pope starts by saying that “when word and silence become mutually exclusive, communication breaks down, either because it gives rise to confusion or because, on the contrary, it creates an atmosphere of coldness. When they complement one another, however, communication acquires value and meaning.”

I can personally verify the truth of these words. These words deserve to be taken seriously especially by our media practitioners who are often swallowed by the whoosh and rush of deadlines, pressures and the objective demands of their profession that truly are quite heavy.

The Pope gives a listing of some advantages of silence that’s worthwhile repeating here if only to have just a reminder. I quote below a part of his message:

“In silence, we are better able to listen to and understand ourselves; ideas come to birth and acquire depth; we understand with greater clarity what it is we want to say and what we expect from others; and we choose how to express ourselves.

“By remaining silent we allow the other person to speak, to express him or herself; and we avoid being tied simply to our own words and ideas without them being adequately tested. In this way, space is created for mutual listening, and deeper human relationships become possible.

“It is often in silence, for example, that we observe the most authentic communication taking place between people who are in love: gestures, facial expressions and body language are signs by which they reveal themselves to each other.

“Joy, anxiety, and suffering can all be communicated in silence – indeed it provides them with a particularly powerful mode of expression. Silence, then, gives rise to even more active communication, requiring sensitivity and a capacity to listen that often makes manifest the true measure and nature of the relationships involved.

“When messages and information are plentiful, silence becomes essential if we are to distinguish what is important from what is insignificant or secondary.

“Deeper reflection helps us to discover the links between events that at first sight seem unconnected, to make evaluations, to analyze messages; this makes it possible to share thoughtful and relevant opinions, giving rise to an authentic body of shared knowledge.

“For this to happen, it is necessary to develop an appropriate environment, a kind of ‘eco-system’ that maintains a just equilibrium between silence, words, images and sounds.”

Of course, the Pope focuses his message more to those of us—actually all of us—who have the mission of evangelization. For them, for us, silence is indispensable. “In silent contemplation,” he said, “the eternal Word, through whom the world was created, becomes ever more powerfully present and we become aware of the plan of salvation that God is accomplishing throughout our history by word and deed.”

We should learn how to live silence in our communications. We should be wary when we are pressured to lose it. It’s like a bird that in wanting to fly higher, cuts its wings to be lighter.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Thanks for the music

THIS piece may sound like it’s about me. It’s not. It’s about something that I hold dearly, that has helped me a lot, and for which, together with all the talents involved in its making, I am now most thankful. It’s a tribute thing.

Aside and together with prayer and other spiritual exercises, what keeps me going, alive and kicking, in spite of all the in-spites-of in this world, is music. Something in it makes my life a kind of heaven here in this vale of tears.

They say that music has charm. That, to me, is a huge, very poor understatement. It’s almost an ugly lie. Music must be divine, for how else can you describe something that has given me the following effects?

It has great soothing and relieving effects. Whatever harshness that tiredness, boredom, tension, emptiness, etc., can bring is somehow softened and even sweetened by music. Music turns the drudgery of prosaic daily life into lyrical poetry. It brings out the beauty of the most ordinary and insignificant events of our life.

It helps the spirit to escape from the body and from the world, allowing it to go to different places and ages, and even to knock at the door of the infinite and eternal, thereby preventing our material dimension to be completely swallowed by purely earthly and temporal laws.

It’s a wonderful abiding companion. It provides a good setting even to your private thoughts. With it, you seem to be guided in an invisible track, you get a sense of rhythm and measure, helping you to avoid the extreme and bizarre reactions of a purely intellectual or emotional understanding of things. In short, you don’t get off-road.

Music seems to connect abstract ideas of the mind with the feelings and passions of the heart. It dresses them and humanizes them, without diminishing their spiritual and even supernatural character. It makes them more understandable, accessible and transmissible. Music is like sugar that makes the medicine go down minus the cholesterol.

With music, you seem to be always accompanied, never feeling alone. In fact, it facilitates further explorations of insights and thoughts, making the whole process pleasant in spite of the rigor of the process. It intensifies and makes more vivid whatever good thought or discovery you may make.

I believe that music aids prayer a lot. In any event, I can’t pray without music playing at least in my head. And I thank St. Augustine for I think he was the one who said that when you pray singing, you pray twice. To me, music never detracts from the solemnity of a public liturgical act nor from the intimacy of a personal meditation.

It’s a great tool to ward off temptations and bad thoughts!

I thank God for giving me a big appetite for music. Since kiddie days, I have been exposed and assimilating all sorts of music, from nursery songs to classical music to liturgical hymns—Gregorian chants, polyphony and the modern English and local versions—and all kinds of pop—jazz, rhythm and blues, etc.

My parents wanted me to learn piano, but I discovered after a few days, I was not cut out for it. But I love to listen to piano. I also love to sing, though I’m not sure if singing loves me. Some say I can, others give me a polite smile. So I restrict my singing to the bathroom and when alone driving.

I hate karaoke because it forces you to sing according to a particular form and standard and I often deviate from those criteria. Music is a very personal thing to me. It springs fresh from the heart. In fact, every rendition I make of a song is always different from the previous one.

So if forced to sing in karaoke in a get-together, I often stop at the beginning of the song when my score is still in the 90s, because towards the end, it usually goes down to the 50s.

Yes, music also makes you a contemporary with any generation. Lately, I surprised many of my friends because I sang an Adele song, masculinizing the very feminine character of her songs. They thought I am only good with Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole.

I wish to thank the many artists who have made my life and work very exciting. To mention a few, Burt Bacharach, Michael Buble, Michael Franks, Jobim, and now Adele.

I also would like to mention Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Saint Saens, Tchaikovsky, Debussy, etc. Oh, there many of them!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Year of Faith

POPE Benedict XVI has declared a Year of Faith that will start on October 12 this year, the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, and will end on November 24 next year, the Solemnity of Christ the King.

This, to me, is a good initiative, quite needed at this time when the world seems to be dominated by purely temporal concerns in economics and politics. There is also that technological surge that like wine first excites people’s minds and then blunts and desensitizes them, especially to the spiritual and supernatural realities.

It’s worth noting that in a document issued to explain the plan, the Vatican said that “this year will be a propitious occasion for the faithful to understand more profoundly that the foundation of Christian faith is ‘the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.’”

This is a timely clarificatory note. Many times, faith is understood as a purely intellectual affair, pursued simply through the study of doctrine and an effort to translate that knowledge more or less into some effect in life. Lost is the main element of faith as a living experience with Christ who is God made man.

If not that, then faith is understood as one’s recourse to God at the instance of his particular need at the moment—to give thanks for some successful venture, or to beg for help, to express sorrow over something, etc.

And so one’s relation with God would not be abiding. He goes to God only when he feels the need. Faith would then be pretty much reduced to a matter of rationality or feeling, and made to conform to our terms of practicality or human need.

In short, with respect to faith, we can end up being actors only, who restrict our relation with God in some performances, and not God’s children who see God in everyone and in everything. And worse, we may just be users of God and not lovers.

Some words of the Holy Father recently addressed to seminarians are relevant to this need to study our faith. He said that “the study of theology must always have an intense connection with the life of prayer.

“It is important that the seminarian well understands that the object that he applies himself to is in fact a "Subject" who calls to him, that Lord who spoke to him, inviting him to spend his life in service to God and to his brothers.”

We, of course, need to study philosophy and theology to know God and love him better. In this regard, it is important that we continue to undertake catechesis and pursue a deeper knowledge of the doctrine of our faith, which is a living thing, not a dead word. This duty, for sure, never becomes obsolete.

We should be careful, however, not to be trapped in their intellectual aspect such that we fail to connect with God in spite of a seemingly growing knowledge of our faith. This ironic twist has happened many times before, and can continue to happen if we don’t take the necessary precautions.

Faith, of course, involves all our sciences but it is also a lot more. There is mystery involved in it always, and it is also something to be lived all the time. That is to say, that our very own consciousness should be infused with faith, and not just driven by some intellectual, psychological or emotional movement. Faith should be life itself.

A life of faith is a life of truths and mysteries. It is a life that always engenders hope, since faith does not stop in the doctrine that is taught, studied and known, but wants us to live it. The definitiveness of faith does not take away its openness to the continuing promptings of the Holy Spirit.

A life of faith is also a life of love and charity. It cannot prosper in any other environment. That is why, any growth in the knowledge of our faith should also yield greater love for God and for others that is expressed in deeds and not only in words and intentions. If this does not happen, then that faith is not authentic. It may have the shell, but it does not have the living substance.

This Year of Faith will hopefully bring in another spring time in the Church and in the world. For this to happen, let’s hope and pray that everyone contributes to make this Year of Faith fruitful.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Chastity an endangered species

I’M AFRAID we need to launch a rescue operation for the virtue of chastity that now seems to be in the brink of extinction. Just look around and signs are aplenty pointing to this disturbing phenomenon.

Many people nowadays do not know anymore the true nature and meaning of our sexuality. That it is meant to be integrated to our person, subject to reason, faith and charity, and placed into the dynamics of our calling to love and to enter into communion with God and with others is hardly known, much less pursued and lived.

Instead, there’s rampant abuse of sexuality, treating it merely as a toy to play with, a purely personal property completely detached from the law of God who is its creator and our duties to others to whom it is oriented.

Cases of adultery, masturbation, fornication, pornography, prostitution, rape and homosexual acts are piling up. The environment is now so charged with eroticism that even talk shows on radio, TV, not to mention the Internet, copiously drip with sexual innuendoes. From time to time, of course, sexual crimes explode into public notice.

Even songs playing on radio have lyrics with naughty, risqué double meanings. Condoms are now such a common commodity that they are sometimes used as balloons. People’s language, of course, is deteriorating to vulgarities and profanities.

No one seems to talk about chastity nowadays, neither in public nor in private. It’s hardly taught in schools and many families find it awkward to talk about it. People, especially the young, are pretty much left on their own to grapple with their issues with sexuality.

For a variety of reasons, public authorities many times fail to create or even defend an atmosphere conducive to chastity in society. There’s incompetence, indifference and neglect, if not outright error that usually tends to actively spread out, not contented with keeping it private.

They often get confused with how to resolve the apparent conflict between freedom of expression and artistic freedom, on the one hand, and the requirements of chastity, modesty and public morals, on the other.

Complicating the whole issue is the presence of many public figures—stars, celebrities, media luminaries—who openly promote what may be termed as “alternative lifestyles.” They now happen to count on immense support from powerful institutions that promote safe sex, sex ed, so-called gay rights, same-sex marriage, etc.

Yes, while we need to have a high level of tolerance and avoid unnecessary discrimination in society, we should also realize more deeply that we have to be clear about what is right and wrong, moral and immoral. These distinctions are getting blurred.

Truth is we need to actively promote this virtue of chastity. This cannot be considered as a purely private and personal affair. This has to be openly talked about, and tackled also in intimate, personal consultations, because it involves something very basic in our personal lives and in society. It’s a human necessity.

Chastity is actually a very beautiful, positive and relevant virtue, contrary to what some people say that it is inhuman, restrictive and unnecessary. It affirms the true dignity of our sexuality. Chastity places our sexuality at the service of true love and freedom, extricating it from the deceptive clutches of selfishness.

Our problem is that often our sexuality is held captive in the biological and hormonal urges that start in our adolescent years. Many people fail to outgrow this stage, unable to see the whole picture into which our sexuality has to be viewed and lived.

We have to find ways to tackle this concrete issue that everyone of us faces. Our problem is that we are often held back to talk about this because of some natural sense of shame and modesty. This is where some pro-active approach should be made. We cannot wait until the young ones especially bring the topic up. They most likely will not bring it up.

We have to be clear and ready to give the means to develop chastity. First the supernatural means of asking for God’s grace in humility, praying, recourse to the sacraments, devotions to our Lady, etc., and then the human means of work, avoiding idleness, training in the self-mastery of one’s urges.

We have to see to it that the pursuit of chastity is done in the clear context of loving God and others. It cannot prosper outside of that context. And therefore, we need to look into people’s spiritual lives. Chastity is never solely a matter of techniques. It has to be a lifestyle, a stable culture.