Monday, March 26, 2012

Adaptable, flexible, versatile

THESE are qualities to have these days. With our increasingly complex times, we need to learn how to flow with the tide without losing our identity and real purpose in life. For this, we need to look closely at our Lord.

We just celebrated the Solemnity of the Annunciation of our Lord, when the Son of God becomes man in the virginal womb of Mary. Out of sheer love, God reaches out to man by becoming like him, and thus shows us how to be adaptable, flexible and versatile in any situation.

Not only has the Son of God become man. He also assumes the sinfulness of man without committing any sin, and as consequence, takes on the human condition of being weakened and wounded by sin, including being subjected to temptation and finally death.

In his preaching, he used parables to make his lessons more accessible to the people. He was always compassionate, quick to forgive, slow to anger. He was always thinking of his Father and of the people. Remember him saying, “The one who sent me is true and what I heard from him I tell the world.” (Jn 8,26)

He gave preferential treatment to the children, the weak, the handicapped, the sick, the sinners. He was only allergic to the proud and self-righteous whose sense of right and wrong did not come from God, but rather from their own selves in their great variety of human consensus and other subtle forms of self-assertion. But on the cross, he asked forgiveness for everyone.

He was always adapting himself to the people, being flexible to everyone, and yet managed to accomplish his mission, whatever the situation was. He was not only passively adapting himself to the environment. He was also actively pursuing his goal in different ways. That’s versatility for you.

Eventually, he rounded off all these expressions of adaptability, flexibility and versatility by offering his life on the cross. There he made as his own all the sins of men, died to them and rose from the dead. He turned the cross from being a tree of sin and death into a tree of life. His death conquered sin and death, and opened the door to eternal life.

There can be no greater expression of adaptability, flexibility and versatility than what our Lord Jesus Christ has shown us. These qualities are a direct consequence of his love that is the very essence of God, and the essence also meant for us.

We can interpret the passage, “Greater love than this no man has, that a man lays down his life for his friends,” (Jn 15,13) as “Greater expression of adaptability, flexibility and versatility than this no man has, that a man lays down his life for his friends.”

We have to understand that the true standard and measure, the source and purpose of our adaptability, flexibility and versatility can only in Christ. We have to be wary when we reduce our sense of these qualities to some human criteria, like sheer practicality, publicity, or worse when we make them a tool for hypocrisy and deception.

Thus, we have to be careful with a current and popular trend that equates adaptability, flexibility and versatility with a relativistic, anything-goes type of mentality. We now often hear about being democratic, being tolerant and all that, but if all these claims of democracy and tolerance are not hinged on God, then we are in for disaster.

That’s what happening behind the worldwide move to legalize abortion, same-sex unions, euthanasia, etc. There’s always an appeal for so-called democratic rights and being tolerant with those who have different ideas.

While we have to uphold and defend the ideals of democracy and social tolerance, what we cannot do is to make these ideals absolute, basing them only on one’s personal opinions and preferences or on some human consensus alone. That would be an abuse of freedom. That would unhinge our democracy and sense of tolerance from their proper source.

We need to consistently refer ourselves to God and others always in our life—in our thoughts and desires, words and deeds. That is the reason why our Lord, when asked what the greatest commandment was, replied that the greatest is to love God with all our might, and the second is to love our neighbour as ourselves.

Love of God and love of others always go together. It is this love, always supported by the proper doctrine and virtues and empowered by God’s grace through the sacraments that make us effectively adaptable, flexible and versatile.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Technology and theology

THE way the world is evolving today, it is getting increasingly imperative that all of us equip ourselves adequately by taking care of our continuing education and formation, and that our formation should be as integral and complete as possible. We should be wary when our education gets stuck at a certain level or aspect only.

Our education and formation actually never ends. There’s always something to learn and re-learn. And because of our wobbly human condition, because of the endless challenges before us and the persistent weaknesses and temptations we are exposed to, there’s also something to unlearn.

We have to understand that our education never stops with our graduation from school. Rather, that graduation always marks the beginning of a new chapter in life. And after that chapter, there’ll be another, then another, till we die.

We need to give serious thought on how we can go on with our life-long education and formation. Especially with the complicated and confusing times we are entering right now, we cannot take this duty for granted.

We need to reexamine our dispositions toward this need, and the skills, plans, programs and structures required for this purpose. We have to be serious and professional in this grave concern, which is not only personal, but also social, since this concern affects not only the individual person but also the whole of society.

We have to rouse ourselves from a certain state of lethargy in this regard, because this state of complacency is, I’m afraid, quite widespread and embedded in the world today. We need a paradigm shift here.

We might be living in some sleepy, rural areas, but this should not mean that we be indifferent to the developments around. Everyone of us has to learn to flow with the tide of the world, without losing our identity, sense of purpose in life and our sense of what is right and wrong, absolute and relative.

We seem to be reactive, not proactive in our attitude in this regard. We just wait for things to happen, banking only on our current stock of knowledge, instead of making plans and setting goals for the future, acquiring the pertinent go-go attitude, skills and competence that the changing times of our life demand.

Of course, we should not compromise the basic, non-negotiable things of our life, derived from our nature and dignity as persons and children of God, even as we cruise and adapt ourselves to the different waters of life.

Education and formation that flow with our evolving life should enhance, not undermine, the core of our humanity. That’s why there’s need for continuing catechesis of basic doctrine not only for the young ones, but also for the old ones who can be affected through osmosis by the confusion around.

At the same time, we should feel the need to expand and grow our knowledge of things. While we have our own field of specialization, we should be concerned to reinforce an integral, over-all knowledge of things, observing a certain sense of priorities.

We have to aim at wisdom that unites all branches of knowledge, so we can know the truth properly and as completely as possible. We have to be wary with partial, fragmented if not fractured knowledge.

Very important in this regard is the effort to reinforce our faith, the primal source of our beliefs and truths that guide us in the entire course of our life and that ultimately give us the whole picture of our life.

Thus, we should not only get stuck with technology, but try our best to blend it with theology, our economy with philosophy, our sense of practicality with morality. In the end, we should be concerned not only with the short-term, but also the long term, not only the material and temporal, but also the spiritual and eternal.

This ideal corresponds more fully to our human and Christian dignity. We have to find ways, always reinforcing them, to link the above pairs together. This is the challenge we have today, because we often fall for one and neglect the other.

In the end, we should not only be users, but also and mainly lovers—of God, others and the world in general.

The technological revolution we are having today should be used properly in this regard. That’s why it has to be given direction. Remember our People Power? It was also a kind of revolution, but without direction and proper education, it has fizzled out and is abused by those with certain privileges. What a pity!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Outgrowing the carnal man

THIS is everyone’s war, a universal struggle. We all need to overcome our carnality and sensuality to allow reason and eventually our faith to take root and dominate in us. This is because we are meant to be spiritual men, not carnal men. Reason, will, faith, hope, charity—all these make up the spiritual character of our life.

We have to acknowledge the true dimensions of our life, the range and scope of our humanity. We are not meant to be animals only, ruled by instincts and the senses, nor even rational animals, which is how our classical philosophers define man to be. That’s already a lot, but not quite enough.

We have to be careful with the many ideological definitions and descriptions of man that can contain certain elements of truth but still miss the core point. Man is not just a social, economic or political being. He is a lot more than these.

Much less is he a purely material being, completely imprisoned in time, space and worldliness, and detached from God, the eternal, supernatural, perfect being, who created him to be God’s image and likeness, as what some Marxist doctrine teaches.

There is something spiritual in man, because he can think, judge, reason, love, etc., operations that transcend the material dimension of our life. Since operations are determined by nature (operare sequitur esse), then he must be spiritual because he is capable of spiritual operations.

Since our spirituality is not self-generated or self-created, then we must understand that it comes from an eternal spirit whom our reason alone can start to identify as God.

We actually have some inkling of God which we should try, with God’s grace, to develop and cultivate as fully as possible. That’s why we are said to be a naturally religious being that we should bring to maturity. That’s the natural consequence of being spiritual.

From God our spirituality can never be detached, although it can choose to cut away from its creator and preserver. In its objective reality, our spirituality is always bound up with God. It now depends on us to conform our spirituality in its subjectivity to this objective reality.

That’s the reason why St. Paul talks about the spiritual man which we should try to develop out of our being simply carnal man. This is the challenge and task for all of us. And we just have to help one another in this.

This will involve some war because our carnality and sensuality will resist the spirituality proper to us. Remember St. Paul saying, “I am delighted with the law of God according to the inward man, but I see another law in my members, fighting against the law of my mind, and captivating me in the law of sin, that is in my members.” (Rom 7,22-23)

In the school where I work, I try my best to help the young boys overcome their sensuality. With prayers and sacrifice, with the insights and lessons I get from my personal prayers and study as well as the experience of my own personal struggles, I give them tips, suggestions, pieces of advice, admonitions, etc. on how to wage this war.

I often tell them to pray and be generous with sacrifices, to link their mind with God and with others, not allowing them to go empty and idle but rather fired up in love and desire for the good. Chastity is more a matter of affirmative action of love than that of denying oneself.

I tell them to be wary of pride that can come from one’s privileges in looks, health, talents, intelligence, etc., things the young are most vulnerable to, as well as gluttony and laziness. These are where the devil can gain a foothold on us. Temptations should as much as possible be ignored, and if not, then tackled while still far from one’s heart.

I also tell them to be highly disciplined in their thinking and imagination, to keep close if discreet guard on their senses, especially the eyes and the touch, to minimize unnecessary “pa-cute and pa-charming” with the girls.

And when the sting of the flesh manages to come, then one has to do what comes naturally and supernaturally, including intense prayers and sacrifices. Saints have done extraordinary things like wrapping themselves with thorns, rolling on snow, whipping with spikes, etc. One can do what the Spirit inspires him.

Recourse to the sacraments and devotion to our Lady, Mother most chaste and Mother of Fair Love, helps a lot. Take it from the saints.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Surveys and mob rule

“How can you believe, when you accept praise from one another and do not seek the praise that comes from the only God?” The word of the Lord. (Jn 5,44)

These words remind us that what really matters is what God says, and not so much what we say, no matter how wide the consensus we may have about a certain issue.

We have to be wary of our tendency to supplant God’s word with our word, to replace God’s will with our will. These days, this tendency is reinforced by the almost mindless recourse to surveys and popularity ratings that at best are done tendentiously since they are resorted to with some selfish, manipulative motives in mind.

Neutrality and objectivity barely figure in these exercises. Much less, charity. They are often arrested and conscripted by elements with hidden agenda. Despite the heavy guises of civility, the fangs and the claws of malice can hardly be hidden. It’s hardly about the search for truth and justice. It’s more for furthering one’s interests.

God is thrown out of the picture, and only human forces and reason are made to play. The intentions are highly suspicious. Survey-making is more for market-testing than anything else. It’s used when it is thought to be beneficial to the user.

Those behind them—financiers, backers, sponsors, propagandists, etc.—already have some designs to suit their purposes. Their biases and prejudices are very much inputted into their survey-making. Especially when the issues are political or ideological, the people involved are likely to be very partisan and conspirational.

That’s why they look for the favorable timing, the concurring state of public opinion, and other sympathetic circumstances before they run the surveys. And it is not unthinkable that the ulterior motive for the surveys is to rabble-rouse, to appeal to the sentiments and passions of the people instead of looking for the truth in charity.

Have you seen comments of people in blogs and the feedback sections of media outfits about certain issues? Many of them are unspeakably low and vulgar. More than truth and fairness, what immediately come out are sheer bias and lack of basic manners. Can we expect much if we make a survey of this kind of reactions?

If the issue is political, surveys can be resorted to as part of a demolition job. They can be effective in demonizing opponents. They are often used to inflame people’s passions. They are hardly used to help people make dispassionate judgments.

If the issue is moral or ideological, they are made to soften the impact of their different if not aberrant positions, as if truth is only a matter of numbers. This is called the tyranny of the majority, of the strong, of the privileged.

Thus, in issues like abortion, contraception, the RH bill, same-sex unions, etc., surveys are made to somehow prove that these things are already okey, since a lot of people are practicing them. The moral considerations are glossed over. Worse, morality is now determined by popularity.

The next time we are presented with survey results and popularity ratings, we should take them with a grain of salt. We should not be taken by them at prima facie. We need to make a closer look, and most likely we can detect the flaws, some of them so significant as to invalidate the results.

But beyond this wobbly character of surveys and popularity ratings, we have to learn to bring whatever issue, concern, problem or challenge we have to our prayer always, and there ask for our Lord’s light and wisdom even as we study it with utmost serenity.

We have to be careful of making instant and rash judgments without the proper study, reflection and consultations needed. Let’s remember what St. Paul once said about how the spiritual man can make the right judgments, how only when one is with Christ can he make the right judgments.

“The spiritual man judges all things, and he himself is judged of no man. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that we may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Cor 2,15-16)

We should be wary when we use our reason alone or, worse, our gut feel in assessing issues. Without Christ, without faith, without prayer and sacrifice, we are bound to be indiscriminate and even cruel in our personal judgments, let alone judgments given by our institutions such as our legal system.

We would not know how to blend truth with charity, justice with mercy.

Look for Christ in your study

(Excerpt of speech at the Commencement Exercises Of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary Tagbilaran City, Bohol, March 18, 2012)

THE Church and the world are in great need of priests. More than politicians, economists, accountants, call center agents, nurses, lawyers, etc., what the Church and the world need today are priests.

We have to say this because more than political, economic, social or technical solutions to our problems, what we actually most need is spiritual conversion and transformation. What we most need is to have Christ living and acting in each one of us. And priests have the distinctive duty to bring Christ to the people in their spiritual needs.

As more and more issues and controversies erupt in the Church and the world today, often leading us to complicated and confusing situations, we need priests who will give us Christ, first through the witness of their own personal lives and through their faithful preaching of the Word of God, the constant administration of the sacraments, especially the Holy Mass and confession, and through their wise personal spiritual guidance and timely and prudent interventions in public fora that are now becoming more and more urgently needed these days.

We need priests who talk only of God even as he talks also about all the worldly things that need to be evangelized—business, politics, culture, sports and entertainment, media and public opinion, environment, technology, etc.

We need priests who will give us only Christ without getting unduly entangled and mixed up with worldly and temporal things. We need priests who are genuine men of God, humble but effective ministers of Christ, who give their all to their ministry, who are full-time priests, not part-time priests who have other sideline occupations, obedient and willing to go wherever their bishops assign them.

We need priests who would always feel the need to sanctify and improve themselves more each day, who never say enough to their duty to study and to wage the ascetical struggle to develop virtues, fight temptations and deal with their own weaknesses.

We need priests who, with the grace of God, know how to link heaven and earth, blend the spiritual and material, the sacred and the mundane, the eternal and the temporal, the global and the local, the doctrine and the praxis.

We need priests who know how to pray even as they actively immerse themselves in their pastoral work. We need priests who know how to be all things to all men, as St. Paul once said, knowing how to deal with all kinds of people big and small, sophisticated and simple, and who know how to handle all kinds of issues, problems and challenges.

We need priests who know how to carry out the duties and responsibilities that directly belong to them, but who also know how to work with others, never acting like an isolationist, but knowing how to work in a team in the true spirit of solidarity and always keeping in mind the common good.

The state of the Church and the world today require that the priests be nothing less that another Christ, if not Christ himself, since Christ is the “Way, the Truth and the Life,” for all of us. It is only in Christ that priests can be all that we have just described priests should be, especially at these times.

My dear seminarians, as you finish your college philosophical studies and proceed to theology in the faithful pursuit of your vocation, I encourage you to look for Christ always. Whatever you may be doing always look for Christ.

Don’t make Christ an intellectual object of study only, or simply a historical figure, a kind of sentimental and pious curiosity, much less a prop you use to make a living.

All of us, have to be witnesses and disciples of Christ. This is a basic truth that we need to reaffirm many times, because very often we forget it, and we would just fall into a purely human approach to Christ, full of pretensions and deceptions.

Thus, we often have to ask ourselves: When I study, am I actually praying, am I actually dealing with our Lord, asking him questions, begging him to clarify certain points, asking him to give us the grace to convert the ideas and the doctrine into action and into life itself?

For example, we have to ask what relevance our study of a particular subject has with our duty towards the people. When we study, do we get the sensation that we are getting closer to God, that we are feeling an increase in our love for him, and because of that love, we also increase our love for our neighbor?

When we study, do we become more humble, more eager to serve, more eager to pray? I believe that if we ask these questions, we would be led to study properly. Not asking these questions or not getting the right answers to these questions mean we are not studying well, and/or we are studying only for wrong and often dangerous reasons.

We have to be wary of our tendency to study only as an intellectual affair. This is the way to spoil our talents and intelligence, because we would be making them occasions to be proud and vain, to be self-righteous, quick to judge others, etc.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Settling accounts

AMONG the many important duties of any serious business enterprise is to settle or at least balance the accounts in a regular fashion. Retail stores, for example, have to monitor their stocks at the end of the day. Failure in that can mean disaster for them in a day or two.

In our spiritual lives, it is also important that we settle accounts with God regularly. In fact, saints and the Church herself have recommended that we make a daily examination of conscience just before going to bed.

This is to see if the day went as it should, that is, if love for God and neighbor is really the motive of all our actions, and so that we at least can be reconciled with God no matter how the day went. We should at least say sorry to God, even if we still have to do things to make up for our mistakes and sins.

This is an important task, because more than just resting physically, mentally or emotionally, we need to be at peace with God at the end of the day. God is everything to us. Regardless of our status at the moment, whether good or bad, moral or immoral, God not only will tell us what to do but also will give us what we need at that time.

God is always available, and what he gives us is also what we actually and ultimately need. What he gives us is at least the actual grace that we need to be able to act good. If corresponded to properly, the actual grace can bring back the state of grace to us.

While present in every good act that we make, this actual grace is far beyond what any human solution to our human problems—health, financial, etc.—can give. This grace infuses the spiritual and supernatural character of our actions.

Again this is something that we have to be more aware of. We often understand our actions as purely human, if not purely material or of economic, political, social coverage only. Our human acts have a spiritual and supernatural character because first of all we are persons, and then we too are made children of God created in his image and likeness.

In other words, our actions are not meant only to solve human problems. Rather they are meant to please God or to comply with his will, which is what loving God is all about.

To be able to do this, we need to live always in the presence of God, talking to him, asking him questions, begging him for help, especially these days when we often find ourselves in confusing situations or grappling with daunting problems and difficulties.

Our Lord is the “way, the truth and the life.” He may not give us the technical solutions to our problems, but he definitely will give us the ultimate solution, which is how to bear everything, no matter how difficult or erroneous, for love of God. In short, he gives not only solutions, but his own self to bring us back to him where we truly belong.

Our Lord teaches us how to be patient and optimistic, how to derive good from evil, how to find meaning in every situation we may find ourselves in, whether we are in the peak of success or in the depth of failure. He shows us the true value of sacrifice as well as our human joys here on earth.

God gives us more than what we want or expect. And what he gives us complies more with what in his wisdom is truly proper for us than we think is good for us. God knows better even if what he does with us would involve some suffering.

For our part, we just have to try our best to discern what God really wants to give or do with us. That’s why we always need to ask from him in our prayer for more light and strength, more joy and peace. We should refrain from reacting to events and developments from a purely human point of view.

We need to find a thread to keep up our conversation with God, linking everything to him, including our failures, mistakes and sins. We need time to reflect on our need to be with him always, seeing the intimate relation everything, including our sins, has with him.

We need time to make these truths sink in and become operative convictions that guide us in our life. This will help to settle accounts with God always.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Reminder on fidelity

“AMEN, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.” (Mt 5,17)

We have just been reminded of these words from our Lord recently. They tell us there are things that do not change and we need to conform to them no matter what. They form the basis for the need for fidelity that we should cultivate and aim at all the time.

We cannot allow ourselves to drift in any way the wind blows, because that surely will not take us to our proper end, nor bring us in ways fit for our dignity as persons. In this rapidly changing world, it is imperative that we be clear about what these things that do not and should not change are.

This knowledge, which should be abiding and operative, is urgently needed these days when we are pressured to dance to the tune of change as dictated by the tenets of practicality, popularity, relativistic morals and other purely worldly values.

The intensity of such pressure is undermining our sense of commitment, perseverance and fidelity to the constants of our life. We are compelled to give knee-jerk reactions to events, and so to be shallow in our grasp of things, myopic and narrow-minded.

We are pushed to be flippant and frivolous in our talk and behavior, not serious and sober. We seem to be egged to have no long-term plans, just short-term, induced not to think in metaphysical terms but rather to think with feelings alone.

Nowadays, deception, betrayals and treachery are getting common. People easily make promises and just as easily also break them. Words people give are just words with hardly any spirit to animate them to reality and to bring to their ultimate consequences. The now Bisayan slang “estoryahee” (tell it to the Marines) captures the general skepticism and cynicism people have toward one another.

People enter into relationships, vows, contracts and marriages driven not so much out of true love and care for the others as simply out of selfish and opportunistic motives. People seem to become more of users than lovers. They treat others more as objects than persons.

Their sense of justice is more anchored on their own interest rather than that of the others, and much less, that of God. In fact, their sense of sin is disappearing, since what is right and wrong is now purely a matter of personal, subjective or at best some consensual judgment. There’s nothing absolute, because God is often excluded in the equation.

Just look around. While within the Church these sad phenomena can also take place—Christ was not even spared of Judas and the Church from time to time can be rocked in scandals—the world now seems to be making as norms and standards the irregular status of infidelity and promiscuity.

A congressman dies and two or three women fight over the custody of the body and the legacy. A movie star divorces her husband and after a day she is seen cavorting with another man in public.

Even among ordinary folks, when asked whether they are single or married, a good number now respond with the now notorious word, “complicated.” It’s clear that the sense of fidelity is waning fast, is ebbing away in the minds of many of us.

What should we do? Obviously, the first thing to do is to pray, to ask everyone to beg our Lord to give us more grace, more light, more strength to effect another conversion in the hearts of all. And out of this prayer should come practical initiatives.

We have to rein in our emotions, passions and urges, and submit them to the workings of reason and grace. This requires a continuing formation that should be given in all places—not only in schools, churches, offices, but also in the media, in the streets, billboards, farms, etc.

This formation should include not only the doctrinal aspects which cater more to the intellects of the people, but also the human and spiritual that would truly enter into the hearts of the people, creating deep, firm convictions and permanent but ever-improving virtues.

We have to realize that fidelity, commitment and perseverance is a matter of one’s true relationship with God. It’s not just our own making, our own choice.

Let’s hope that we can also count of credible witnesses and models of fidelity, commitment and perseverance, especially among our leaders and other people of influence.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Taking God for granted

ONE of the famous laments of Christ was when he went back to his hometown and was treated by his own people with disbelief and suspicion. “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary…?” They felt uneasy with him. Why is he behaving differently from us, they must have asked themselves.

That’s when Jesus said the famous line: “A prophet is not without honor, but in his own country, and in his own house, and among his own kindred.” (Mk 6,3-4) Indeed, he was like them, except that he also was, and is, not only a prophet, but also in fact, the very son of God.

We have to be wary of our tendency to take things for granted. To our estimation these things may seem to be common, ordinary, of little value. We fail to realize that it is precisely in the little things that we can sow the seeds of the true character of our person.

Failing to take care of the little things means we will most likely fail also in taking care of the big things. Taking care of the little things prepares us for the big things. The little things are like prophets. They can portend how we will behave when faced with big things. “He who is faithful in little is faithful also in much.” (Lk 16,10)

Much more should we be wary of our tendency to take our Lord for granted. We can take him for granted because to our estimation he can only be in the big things, in some special occasions, and the like. We fail to realize that he is precisely in the little things of our life, since in fact, he is in everything.

That is why, when talking about the Last Judgment when all of us will be either sheep or goat, he said to the sheep whom he blessed because they gave him food when he was hungry, drink when he was thirsty, etc., that “as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.” (Mt 25,40)

Our Lord identifies himself especially with the little ones and with the ordinary things and events in our life. He has a special preference for the little things and the little ones as can be gleaned from what St. Paul also once said:

“But 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. And the base things of the world and the things that are contemptible has God chosen, and things that are not, that he might bring to naught things that are.” (1 Cor 1,27-28)

His preaching has consistently highlighted the importance of humility, of becoming little children, of being the last, of wanting to serve and not to be served. It’s clear that it is in the small things in life that we can find our Lord first and start our relation of love with him.

Failing in that, we most likely will also fail to love him at all, because any love that we may show him in the big things would hang in the air. It would be a bogus kind of love, perhaps showy but actually empty.

We have to make adjustments in the way we view things. Our ordinary duties and chores of everyday should be exciting to us since that’s where we can meet Christ and really develop our love for him. We should rectify our tendency to be excited only in the big things.

And that’s why we should not be picky as to what job or task falls on us in a given moment, because it is not so much the kind of work that we do that matters, as the love with which we do that work, be it a big one or a small one. A gardener who does his work with greater love than that of a CEO in his work would be more pleasing to God.

So whether we are on top or below, in front or at the back, it’s more or less the same, since what really matters is whether do our work with love. And with love, we will always find God, because “God is love.” We don’t have to look for him in some special places, because we can find him anywhere whenever we practice love.

We have to be wary of our tendency to neglect our ordinary duties of the day.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Removing Lady Justice’s blindfold

I CAN understand why Lady Justice is depicted as blindfolded, holding a balance scale and a sword. The idea is to portray justice as objective and impartial (blindfold), able to weigh the arguments and pieces of evidence from both parties (scale), always using reason and sense of justice to carry out her duty (double-edged sword).

For all those reasons, I am for Lady Justice blindfolded and all. They all have a place in the sun. We always have to respect, protect and defend these reasons.

But we also have to understand that those reasons are in constant need of rectification and improvement, of refinement and growing conformity to the ultimate basis of justice who is God. Though embodied in some system, they cannot be considered as frozen and rigid. They have to be in vital sync with God’s providence.

The balance scale can only weigh things mechanically. It can miss many subtle things, let alone the spiritual requirements of justice and charity. Our reason and a certain sense of justice are always in need of its ultimate grounding and orientation. They cannot really take off unless inspired by God. Without God they will just go in circles and are prone to be taken advantage of.

Justice cannot be real justice if it just gets stuck with our own idea alone of what is right and wrong, good and bad, true and false. No matter how wide a consensus we may have about what is just and unjust, if our idea and sense of justice is not vitally linked to God, we would just be making our own brand of justice, open to all kinds of manipulations and the subtle workings of self-righteousness.

Apart from God, the Creator and Author of all reality, we would be at sea as to what is right and fair. We would put ourselves prone to distortions and abuses that can come from our passions and many other factors, like some privileged position we may have over others. Our sense of justice has to flow with God’s mind, will and ways.

Obviously, we need structures and systems to carry out justice. But those structures and systems should be such that they remain open to God’s promptings and to the flowing developments of the case that can change the picture drastically. They have to be animated by a proper spirit of truth, justice and charity, not inert or dead.

This means that those in charge of dispensing justice should be spiritually alive and connected with God. Otherwise, they would be unhinged and can become like a floating mine, dangerous to any passing ship.

It’s for this reason that Lady Justice also has to learn to remove the blindfold, so she can see, hear and talk to God and the parties involved. It’s important that she has a running conversation with the all the parties involved. She should not get stuck with a fact in the past. She has to flow with life in its variety of possibilities.

What we have to avoid is to dispense justice indiscriminately, relying only on a blind conformity to the letter of the law without discerning its true spirit. We have to be wary of this tendency because there seems to be a strong drift toward it, a growing bias for it.

With the eyes of Lady Justice wide open, those in charge of dispensing justice can serve as instruments of God’s justice, and not just human justice, that aside from being imperfect, is vulnerable to be easily manipulated by those with more power, more money, more talents.

We cannot really guarantee the objectivity and impartiality of justice by having Lady Justice blindfolded and using only a balance scale and a double-edge sword. A lot more are needed.

There is need for Lady Justice to know how to dispense justice with charity and mercy and with healing qualities, and to protect justice from becoming merely an instrument for anger and revenge. Lady Justice has to expand the understanding of justice by going beyond her distributive, commutative, legal and social aspects.

Justice has to be the justice of God, because that in the end is what is proper to us who are God’s image and likeness, and made children of his. That may not be easy to achieve, but we can always try. We should use everything we have to reach it.

We should avoid confining our understanding of justice to a secularized, positivist kind, where God is taken out of the picture and only human consensus is considered.

Monday, March 5, 2012

What are you thinking?

WE have just heard a senator-judge lambasting a party of an impeachment proceeding with the shrill question full of daggers, “What were you thinking?” We may have different reactions to that incident, but one good thing it did was to remind me we have to be very careful with what and how we are thinking.

We have been taking this duty for granted, and so we are also reaping the just deserts—shallow, one-sided thoughts, biases, disorder, chaos, crisis, animosity, etc. We need to be more aware of this duty of taking care of our thinking.

When I interview young students, I can easily see the awkwardness of their thinking, full of self-consciousness, fallacies and all forms of illogic. Even their insincerity can be obvious. But all this is very understandable and is just a challenge to be faced.

But considering the older, supposedly mature people can be more distressing. I also often see twisted reasoning, sharply distorted by prejudices and all sorts of rash judgments, if not outright hatred, anger, envy, pride and arrogance.

Our thoughts and ideas are a powerful tool we have at hand. Being spiritual, they are poised to the infinite, its scope and range almost boundless. With them, we can carry the whole world within us. They can bring us to the essence of things, not just the externals and appearances, and even to the spirit and ethos that animate persons and events.

They are our way of reacting to whatever, and of building things. They are what make us human, distinct from the other creatures. They are a product of our intelligence and will, of our understanding of things and our freedom.

As such, they reflect reality and they also help construct reality. The drama in life takes place first in our mind before it is acted out. The kind of life and world depends to a large extent to the kind of thoughts we have.

Our thoughts carry a bagful of elements—impressions and perceptions, intentions and desires, concepts, judgments and reasoning, etc. I wonder if we are aware of these things and the grave responsibility we have to doing them properly.

Truth is we have the duty to make our thoughts conform to what is true, good and beautiful, what is fair, what love demands. We just cannot allow our thoughts to go anywhere and to depend on just anything. We just cannot allow them to tackle material realities only. We have to use them as much as possible to the fullest of their potentials.

Thus, they have to be properly guided and exercised, correctly sourced and inspired, suitably directed, purified and, in fact, pumped in with as much goodness as we can.

They have to be engaged with their proper objects, and ultimately and somehow constantly, they have to spring and end in God who is the author, pattern and end of what is true, good and beautiful, of what us just and fair.

We have to be wary of stray and capricious thoughts, or thoughts that are just at the mercy of our feelings or physical and biological conditions, or simply first and raw impressions.

Sad to say, this phenomenon is rampant, and hardly anything is done to correct it. People just feel free to think in any way, considering such practice as an expression of their personal freedom. So they just follow their instincts, and the trends and fads around, until they fall into addictions and even to insanity.

Insanity is not when one stops thinking. An insane person can think a lot, but so wrongly he can be detached from the most elementary level of reality.

We should not rely simply on common sense, because while it is always with us and is also useful, it cannot go deep enough to capture the real state of whatever issue or concern we may have at hand. We need to think more deeply and thoroughly.

Ideally, our thinking should always be accompanied by an abiding presence of God. We need to feel that presence, and our attitude should always be an eagerness to do what God may prompt us to think, judge, reason or act. In short, our thinking should be at the same time a kind of prayer, even if we are tackling mundane things.

When we think with God, we can have what St. James said about wisdom. We would have thoughts that are “chaste, then peaceable, modest, easy to be persuaded, consenting to the good, full of mercy and good fruits, without judging, without dissimulation.” (3,17)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Vocation can come in stealth

MAKING waves now in Hollywood is a documentary that features a former starlet who paired before and even kissed Elvis Presley (remember him?) and who is now a nun. I must say I’m not old enough to know this lady. Dolores Hart is the name and her before-and-after pictures indeed show similarities and the welcome differences.

When I mentioned this to some friends, they kidded me by saying that it would have been more fantastic if the lady involved was a James Bond girl. To which I replied, not to discount that possibility, since God can make a saint in anyone of us no matter how sinful we may be. He can write straight with crooked lines.

To be sure, everyone of us has a vocation. God calls all of us to be with him. He invites us to share his life and his work. We are all co-operators of his abiding providence. That’s why we are told that we have to “listen to him.” He always intervenes in our life. We just have to learn how to hear him and work with him.

This is what vocation is all about—living and working with God. Everyone’s vocation has been forged from all eternity, and we too have been wired for that. That’s why we have been created with intelligence and will. We can and should enter into a living relation with God.

Thus, it behooves all of us to develop a sense of vocation in our life. We need to exert the effort to know God and his will more and more by praying, meditating on the gospel and his doctrine, now taught by the Church, fulfilling the usual duties we have which are part of God’s will, etc.

But he can give some special vocation to some people precisely for some special purpose that would be good not only for the persons concerned but also and mainly for the whole Church.

Some are called to be apostles, teachers, priests, religious persons, or just committed laymen who seriously look for personal sanctity and work actively in the apostolate right in the middle of the world. We just have to accept what is given to us, and start appreciating the eternal and supernatural significance of the vocation.

God can manifest this vocation to us in some dramatic way, often involving drastic changes in the recipients. God can enter into our lives and make his will more felt by us in some special way. Though we cannot help it, we should try our best not to be surprised by these possibilities.

Consider St. Paul, St. Augustine, the apostles themselves, and the patriarchs and prophets like Abraham, Moses, Jonas, Jeremiah, etc. Consider St. Edith Stein, and our very own St. Lorenzo Ruiz and the soon-to-be-canonized Blessed Pedro Calungsod.

Their stories are full of drama and suspense. St. Paul received his vocation while on a mad campaign to arrest the early Christians. St. Augustine, though gifted intellectually, had a colourful past. The apostles were mainly simple people, mostly fishermen.

St. Edith was an intelligent Jewish agnostic before her conversion. And our own Filipino saints, present and future, were catechists doing some domestic work for some priests. All had their defects, and sins, and yet they became and are great saints.

Nothing is impossible with God, and with our trust and faith in him, we can also do what is impossible with God.

We have to feel at home with the idea, nay, the truth that all of us have a vocation. Let’s not play blind and deaf. God’s call is actually quite loud enough. And when we are given a special vocation, let’s not be afraid, but rather go for it at full throttle.

Ok, we may hesitate at first, we can have doubts, but if we are honest, we will soon see there’s nothing to be afraid about. God takes care of everything. All he needs is that we trust him, that we have faith in him, and that we try our best to cooperate.

Like death, this special vocation can come like a thief in the night. Whatever may our past, everything will be put right if there’s something in our past that is not quite right. The truth also is that even our mistakes and sins in the past and even in the present and future, if handled well, can turn out to be good sources and occasions of goodness.

So, there’s really no big problem. If there’s any, it’s usually just in our mind, when we don’t trust God enough.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The play of life

GAMES, sports, playtime, fun, jokes always play an important part of our life. We need to give them some serious scrutiny to see that everything is done properly.

We often take them for granted, and thus we often fail to imbue them with the proper spirit and purpose, and so we get their bad, even disastrous effects, instead of their great potentials for our own good.

Playing is a human necessity. It comes spontaneously to children. Their sense of wonder and discovery, plus their bursting reserve of fresh energy, just make them do it. They enjoy it tremendously, and their learning and growing processes get tied up with fun. They don’t even realize they have learned and grown so much just by playing.

Every time I see children play, I can’t help but get amused and deeply moved as I see the joy visibly printed on their faces and the many invisible but somehow discernible good things taking place in their inchoate, rudimentary life.

When playing, children are sowing the seeds of many virtues and good values that will serve them well all throughout life—friendship, teamwork, sociability, respect for others, flexibility, etc. Let’s hope that they continue to nourish these virtues and values all throughout their life.

That’s why we, adults, need to play too. For one, play makes us rest and relax from our usual work. It refreshes us and makes us recover our good spirit. It helps us fill up our free time. It can even have a cathartic effect, since it frees the mind and heart from whatever tension and worry we may have.

It has tremendous powers to dissolve or sublimate our anxieties and preoccupations. It helps us to move on, extricating us from any dead-end we can get into. It’s always good that we incorporate play in our daily schedule. Yes, we have to pray, but we also need to play, otherwise we can get rigid.

Playing helps us avoid getting confined to our own world. It always connects us with others, and therefore checks our tendency to be overly introverted and self-absorbed. It helps us fight against idleness and the many temptations that usually come with a stagnant mind.

That’s why we need to see to it that our play should always involve others. We have to be wary of playing by ourselves, a phenomenon that’s getting more common because of our new technologies that favor and encourage it. We have to fight against this trend that’s afflicting a great number of the population, especially the young.

Playing is a great teacher in the proper and healthy sense of competition. It enhances one’s performance in work and any endeavor. We need this to get ahead, to progress and develop personally and socially. A man with no sense of competition often lags behind in life.

Playing also teaches us to cope with any fate that can come to us—whether we go up and get rich or we go down and become poor. This is important, because life is full of things beyond our control. And yet in spite of that reality, we still can manage to keep our dignity and afford to be cheerful and optimistic, whether we win or lose.

It’s good not only to our physical health but also to our mental health. In fact, it is also good to our spiritual and moral health. A playful and sporty person tends to get into easy and abiding relation with God and with others. It makes him open, transparent, likeable.

Whatever defects we have are easily softened when we are sport. Being playful and gamey gives charm to a person. That’s why I have seen many men who otherwise are not attractive physically managing to have great appeal to women simply because of being sporty.

We just have to make sure that we imbue our sports, games and play with the proper spirit. The danger often comes in the area of professional sports where things can tend to be done to extreme. It’s as if winning is the be-all and end-all of life.

Sports and games are meant mainly for fun. Winning is just secondary. We can always learn good things from them if we do and pursue them with the proper dispositions.

We should do them always in the context of charity, and never simply self-affirmation and assertion. We have to learn to convert them into prayer, playing them in God’s presence, and ever mindful of the conditions of the others. They should never occasion hatred, anger and envy.