Saturday, April 28, 2012

Reworking work

     WITH the celebration of Labor Day on May 1, I thought of writing about work and of appealing to the public to rework it, since a lot of misconceptions, especially about its fundamental aspects, distort it.

    I feel that whenever this public holiday comes, only issues peripheral to the nature and purpose of human labor are tackled. This is the usual day when the government announces whether the minimum wages ought to be raised or not, etc. For sure, these issues have to be given attention, but we should not stop there.

    One of the great challenges today is to upgrade the common and defective attitude we have toward work. For many, work is just a means to earn a living, and it often sits on the basis of inadequate if not wrong assumptions.

    Like, work is tacitly considered as a punishment or a disvalue that we simply have to bear since it is unavoidable. Or, that work is an unwelcome, if not inhuman, imposition brought about by our wounded human condition.

    That is, given a chance, work would and should be avoided. Many have in their mind the notion that the ideal situation here on earth is to achieve a kind of Nirvana, where we would be liberated from any kind of suffering, work and effort.

    Often ignored is the core significance of work as a way to express our true dignity as human beings, as persons who have to think and use and develop their freedom and other God-given gifts through work, or as children of God who are supposed to love God and others through work.

    Indeed, work is an essential and inalienable element in our nature. We are meant and empowered to work, we are wired for it, and thus if we for some reason cannot or do not work, we would be considered, quite rightly, as handicapped.

    The difficulty in the effort to convey the full significance of work in our life arises from a certain mentality that is simply dominated by sense of practicality that touches hardly anything else.

    That mentality tends to miss linking work to our nature and dignity. It tends to miss linking our work with our duty toward God, others and selves. It places work in the shallow waters, hesitant to go any deeper, and confines us to a narrow view of work.

    The common expression, “trabajo lamang,” (it’s just work) is indicative of how work is simply held as an external appendage to our human condition. It restricts the meaning of work to its practicality and convenience.

    We tend to work simply to meet our economic needs, or at best to develop our talents and other gifts and endowments. Along the way and more as a side-effect, our work is deemed only as contributory to our human maturity and to the economic and social development of society. And the whole understanding of work stops there.

    We fail to realize that work in fact affirms our human dignity. We fail to realize that it expresses the more fundamental truth that we are children of God who with our work actively participate in the life and providence of God over the whole creation.

    We fail to realize that work has cosmic dimensions, way beyond the earthly and temporal scope. We fail to realize that work can in fact be a form of prayer and worship, and not just a human activity.

    So we should never be afraid or ashamed to work. On the contrary, we have to look eagerly for it. That is where we will find our true joy and fulfillment. That is where we will attain our true maturity and perfection.

    Since we are made in the image and likeness of God, we are meant to live with God and share with him all the responsibilities God has over the entire creation. This is the ultimate context in which we have to situate our work here on earth, whatever it may be. We should avoid working without God and his designs in our mind.

    Failing to connect our work to its religious significance, to fathom its spiritual aspects and supernatural consequences, compromises our life gravely and even fatally. We would open ourselves to all sorts of dangers—from the extreme of pride and arrogance to the other extreme of anguish, envy and hatred.

    I think this is where much of our problem regarding work arises. We constrict it and deprive it of its ultimate dimensions. We think work can be done without God, without any spiritual and supernatural effects. “Trabajo lamang.”

Friday, April 27, 2012

Transcending the crab mentality

I HEARD there was a lot of “crab talk” in the last national press forum of the Philippine Press Institute, the national association of newspapers. PNoy, the keynote speaker, started it by offering his own laundry list of complaints.

            To be fair, the president has his points, though many of those who heard and read his speech thought he should have been more broad-minded and patient in coping with the usual limitations and gaffes of the press, and offered instead good example and positive and leading vision of how responsible journalism should be.

            It was ironic that while speaking about the evils of the crab mentality, he fell for it in the process, caught in flagrante. This is what happens when one sees things too closely and too narrowly and speaks or writes too quickly.

            That is why we have to learn to transcend the crab mentality, which by the way is not an exclusive trait of Filipinos, journalists or not, but is quite universal, a common consequence of what we know as our original sin.

            To transcend is not to ignore the here and now, but rather to go beyond it and proceed to the hereafter. It is to get involved and immersed in the present as well as in the past, and also to look forward to the future, and in fact, to eternity, because that is the ultimate dimension that governs our life.

            To transcend is not to get stuck with the demands of justice which we cannot fully serve no matter how best we try, but rather while trying what we can to live justice, we should never forget to live charity, the indispensable value and virtue that is at the core of our dignity, in spite of our mistakes and all.

            And charity means affection, understanding, compassion, patience, mercy, willingness to help and serve, to suffer for the others, etc. We have to be ready for these, instead of being dominated by anger and the other expressions of self-interest.

            We, of course, have to sort out our unavoidable differences and conflicts here in this life and try to resolve them as fairly as possible. But we should never forget that our earthly and temporal affairs just come and go. They only have a relative value, that is, relative to the absolute value of love.

            An old Nat King Cole song, “Our love is here to stay,” captures the idea when he croons: “The Rockies may crumble / Gibraltar may tumble / They are just made of clay / But our love is here is stay.” If Nat really meant it, then he was on the right track.

            Yes, let’s not make our differences and conflicts weaken our charity for one another. Not even when we think we are pursuing a higher level of justice, one that to our mind would serve the interest of the majority of the people.

            That’s because justice, no matter how well-intentioned and how highly and widely meant, when pursued without the most elementary manifestation of charity, would be emptied of its living substance.

            Yes, we have to be as strict as we can in pursuing justice, including prosecuting accused malefactors and inflicting punishments on the guilty. But everything should be done in charity, from the first to the last step of the process. Otherwise, that justice would not be real justice, and worse, would start to breed a vicious cycle of injustices.

            We have to be convinced of the absolute need for charity, and for this we have to look at God who revealed himself fully in Christ who in turn gave us the new commandment to love one another as he loves us.

            This is what we have to proclaim in season and out of season. We have to learn how to live charity not only in spite of, but rather also because of our differences and conflicts.

            Let’s hope that those in public view, our officials and media practitioners, realize the need to proclaim and live charity always as we try to sort out our affairs and predicaments. As much as possible, we should avoid a hostile character of our discussions. Let’s avoid carping, mudslinging, casting aspersions and sowing intrigues.

            Our Lord simply proclaimed the Good News and has asked his disciples, and all of us, to do the same. He did not bother so much about the worldly affairs, though he too was concerned about them.

            Charity transcends the crab mentality. It broadens our mind and heart, giving us a complete picture of things.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bread of life

“I MYSELF am the bread of life. No one who comes to me shall ever be hungry, no one who believes in me shall thirst again.” (Jn 6,35)

We need to enliven our belief that in Christ we have everything, we have what is truly and ultimately needed by us. Many of our needs are passing, are of a temporal nature. It is Christ who we truly and ultimately need.

And he gives himself so completely to us as to make himself bread to be eaten by us. Although he is like air since we can not truly live without him, he compares and makes himself bread, because unlike air, he as bread has to be deliberately sought.

This duty of seeking him is what we have to be more aware of. In the Gospel itself, we hear our Lord saying, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” (Mt 6,33)
We have to learn to subordinate our earthly and temporal concerns and plans to the task of seeking Christ. We have to be wary of being influenced mainly if not solely by the standards of practicality, convenience and other worldly values. That’s our problem. God is often left behind in the play of our competing interests.
As our Lord said: “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” (Mt 16,26) We should not lose the spiritual and supernatural character of our life, and do everything to keep ourselves from being dominated by a purely worldly and temporal outlook in life.
We need to seek Christ and be close to him always. This intimacy is what we have to build up and maintain. Thus, we have to learn to make seeking Christ a permanent attitude and disposition in our life. Whatever we may be doing, whatever situation we may find ourselves in, let us always seek Christ.
Our Lord himself tells us to seek him with insistence. “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you…” (Lk 11,9) We have to understand that to lead a truly upright and moral life, we need to be existentially close with Christ.
And Christ is actually very close to us. He is actually very accessible to us. He does not play hard to get. He is at the very core of our being, because he is the main cause of our existence. Besides, his overpowering love for us that makes him truly close to us. It’s us rather who tend to ignore him.
We have to understand that our moral life does not depend so much on our knowledge of moral principles as on our living relationship with God. It’s this intimate relationship with God that would effectively guide us as to how to think, speak and act. It’s this relationship that would enable us to live charity all the time in spite of difficulties.
This intimacy is attained when we develop this Eucharistic mind frame, that abiding belief based on Christ’s teaching, that in the Eucharist we have the real presence of Christ and, in fact, the very bread of life, the bread that gives us the true, ultimate life, and not just biological, physical and material life.
We need to bolster our Eucharistic devotion. Do we, for example, go deep into the study and knowledge of the doctrine about the Eucharist, allowing its truth to sink deep into our consciousness and to bear fruit of many practical expressions?
Do we have a longing for the Holy Mass, a yearning to receive our Lord in Communion? Do we believe in the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, and because of that, are we eager to visit him in the Blessed Sacrament, bringing all our thoughts and desires to him?
When we pass by a church where we know the Blessed Sacrament is kept, do we spontaneously feel something special, like at least greeting our Lord from a distance, and telling him things, including pouring out our concerns? Do we feel good just to be in front of the Blessed Sacrament?
We actually need to ask, even to beg, for grace for us to be able to have this attitude toward the Eucharist in its various forms of presence (Blessed Sacrament), sacrifice (Holy Mass) and food (Communion). Let’s pray for one another for this purpose. But let’s also do our part.
We should never waste what our Lord is giving us—and that is he himself.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Continuing conversion

WE have to understand that conversion is a continuing affair for all of us in this life. We can never say, if we have to follow by what our Christian faith tells us, that we are good enough as to need conversion no more.

            We are all sinners, St. John said. And even the just man, as the Bible said, falls seven times in a day.

            Besides, it is this sense of continuing conversion that would really ensure us that whatever we do, whatever would happen to us, including our failures and defeats, would redound to what is truly good for the parties concerned and for everybody else in general.

            That’s because conversion brings us and everything that we have done in life to a reconciliation with God, from whom we come and to whom we go.

            In one of the post-resurrection appearances of Christ to his apostles, that time when it was said that Christ “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,” our Lord told them clearly:

            “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Lk 24,46-47)

            Yes, repentance for the forgiveness of sins has to be preached far and wide and constantly. These words show how much Christ is bent in saving us, in bringing us to our true dignity of a functioning child of God. This is his will for us. We just have to learn to correspond to that will, which is actually for our own true good.

            And so, before we dismiss these words as one of those we would immediately react as to be heard or considered at some other time, I feel that precisely that time has come, since we see around us abundant signs of people lulled and locked in a gripping state of self-satisfaction, complacency, lukewarmness, if not self-righteousness.

            I refer more to people who have been doing good all these years, but somehow are stuck at a certain point in their spiritual life. Doing good for them has become a kind of set routine that is turning to be more mechanical than spiritual, leaving an impressive shell but slowly being deprived of substance.

            This is where conversion is most urgently needed, because the tendency is precisely to think that we don’t need conversion anymore. It would seem that the “itch” for conversion has vanished.

            The mark of true saints is precisely this hunger and thirst for repentance and conversion. Whatever good they did humbled them instead of leaving them proud. They knew who and what was behind all the accomplishments they made, and were more keenly aware of their inadequacies, their mistakes, faults, infidelities, etc.

            It’s not that they led a miserable life of having a dark outlook in life and a negative attitude toward their own selves. They were a happy lot, whose joy sprang from their living and faithful union with God, their father, but aware of their total dependence on God.

            It’s their driving love for God and souls that keep them feeling always the need for penance and conversion. It’s not just fear of sin and evil that provokes this hunger. It’s love of God and souls. It’s this love that made them see more things that they need to do.

            Due to this love, they also sharply knew that on their own, all they could do is evil, not good. St. Augustine said something to this effect. We are actually nothing without God.

            Our problem is that we often think that we can do good by our own selves, without the grace of God. We think that with our talents and good will alone, we can be and do good independently of God.

            We easily forget the fact that all our talents and our capacity to have good will all come from God. Our problem is that we usurp the goodness and power of God, and make them simply as our own. This anomaly, done at the very fundamental level of our life, would have tremendous repercussions in all the other aspects of our life.

            This is something we should try to avoid. I know it’s easy for us to fall to that predicament, and that’s precisely why we need to have continuing repentance and conversion. We should not go to bed at night without expressing some penance and reconciling ourselves with our Lord. We have to end the day always reunited with God.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Handling our curiosities

THESE days, it’s important and urgent that we learn to handle our curiosities properly. The developments around, especially in the area of technology, are producing all sorts of stimuli that arouse our interest way beyond what is legitimate to us. And we just cannot allow this phenomenon to go on without being managed well.

The usual problem we encounter is that people just let themselves be led by whatever catches their attention and fancy. Their spontaneous, quite raw reactions to these stimuli are hardly processed and purified, and so many do not realize they are being led more by their instincts and passions than by their intelligence and will, and much less, by faith, which is how we should be guided ultimately.

Things have become really so bad that many people do not see anymore the need to supervise their instant desires to know and discover. And so many times, they fail to realize that they have become overly or unduly nosy and meddlesome, or that they are falling into morbid curiosities and voyeurism.

In the Bible, we have been warned, “Be not curious in unnecessary matters: for more things are shown to you than men understand.” (Sirach 3,23) The more down-to-earth variation of that admonition is “Curiosity kills the cat.”

There’s, of course, good and bad curiosities. A curiosity is good when it leads us to discover things truly helpful to us, and is pursued in an orderly and reasonable manner, with charity for God and others observed along the way.

A curiosity is good when aside from the new knowledge acquired, it makes us a better person, more caring of the others and more attentive to the things of God. It’s when it makes us more humble, more eager to serve others.

A curiosity is bad when it’s just an idle curiosity, meant only to satisfy a passing fancy or a caprice, or to feed the urgings of passions. It is bad when pursuing it causes disorder and when the requirements of charity are not observed.

A curiosity is bad when together with some benefits, it causes some bad side-effects, like nurturing in subtle ways the anomalies of pride, arrogance, laziness, lust, envy, etc.

Nowadays, you can see many people, especially the young ones, literally wasting time just pursuing their curiosities with the help of powerful technologies that more or less given instant satisfaction.

In fact, I think this is becoming like an epidemic of a certain type of addiction rightly described by someone as an “incontinence of the spirit.” What is worse is to see otherwise decent mature people succumbing to voyeurism in the Internet because in spite of their decency they become helpless when their curiosities hit them.

With this development, I believe we are quietly developing a potential destructive moral and spiritual crisis that will explode in our midst sooner or later. Minds are corrupted, souls are perverted in industrial amounts by a sweet poison. We are abusing the goodness of God who has gifted us with many blessings.

We need to be wary of our curiosities or those spontaneous desires to know, discover or experience something. We should readily explode the myth that mindlessly pursuing these curiosities is an expression of our freedom. Sad to say, this is how many people think about their curiosities.

It cannot be true freedom when things are pursued only by emotion-driven curiosities. For freedom to be authentic freedom, the full complement of our human needs and stature, including our faith, has to be considered. Our freedom should be clearly distinguished from its caricature, which is license, or freedom unhinged from God.

While curiosities may start as an emotional movement, they need to be processed more to make them truly worthwhile pursuing. Curiosities should never just be matters of spontaneity. They need to be studied, reflected upon, and if necessary, consulted about.

Our curiosities have to be properly grounded and oriented. They just cannot be allowed to explore the possibilities on their own. They have to be guided. And for this, ultimately what is needed is to relate them to God.

They even should not be guided by our reason alone. Our reason without God, without the help of faith, is like a powerful but unguided missile or mine left to drift in the sea. It can hit anywhere, and can be indiscriminate in its targets.

We need to rein in our curiosities. And so it would be good if they are brought out in the open, avoiding pursuing them in secrecy aside from what healthy discretion would indicate.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The new Gnostics

I’M afraid we need to know more about the Gnostics, because even if they are an old, ancient phenomenon, and should be by now obsolete, the truth is that they still continue to thrive in our modern days of rapid and sophisticated developments.

The effort, I believe, will be worthwhile. For one, because aside from being aware of their presence, we would be led to find ways of how to deal with them more effectively, inviting them to a continuing dialogue to calmly clarify issues and questions that relate to a very intimate part of our life—our faith and religion.

Our public discourse should not be limited only to things of politics and economics, technology and sociology. These topics are important, of course, but I believe it is even more important that we talk and discuss about faith and religion.

For sure there will be many things to tackle, many differences and conflicts in ideas and practices to sort out and resolve. But at least if the discussion is made more public, all parties would be made to abide by certain rules of engagement, so to speak, to make the whole exercise fit for our dignity as persons, who would know how to respect one another in spite of the differences.

It’s when things are kept hidden and unresolved that unnecessary explosions of pent-up emotions and sub-human expressions can occur. If in political issues, great effort is made to resolve sharp differences among the parties involved, employing all sorts of diplomatic tack, I believe even greater effort should be made in our faith issues.

Recently, I had the amusing if disturbing experience of getting into a thread of discussion in a social networking. Someone posted during Holy Week an image of Christ with welts all over his body after his scourging. It was meant for the others to appreciate its artistic and religious value.

Many expressed their appreciation. I for my part at first did not make any comments. Then someone suddenly joined the conversation and accused everyone—Catholics, specifically—of worshipping wooden images instead of God. That’s when, in a knee-jerk reaction, I clarified the matter. Still, the fellow persisted.

He claimed he was Catholic before, but now converted into another religion which he considered to be more faithful to the Bible. I have encountered this kind of view before and as far as I am concerned, it’s already a settled matter, so I calmly commented that we just respect each other’s religious beliefs without attacking others. My idea was to avert unnecessary and acrimonious discussion.

Still, he persisted, making more outlandish claims, like, that we should only believe in the Bible (sola Scriptura), not realizing that there’s nothing in the Bible saying that only the Bible should the source of faith, and worse, not knowing that the Bible was based on oral Tradition before it was written.

That’s when I got convinced that the discussion was not anymore about faith and religion, but rather about the state of one’s mental health. And also, on the part of the Catholics who took on his ravings, about some wounded pride.

It would have been far better just to let him rave to his heart’s content and we just prayed that some sense would get into his head. But my Catholic friends, perhaps in some misplaced religious fervor, took his bait. And so the discussion, given the person’s conditions, deteriorated into some verbal street brawls.

That incident made think also about the Gnostics of old. They were a very peculiar people, who lived even during the pre-Christian era and who believed that by some strange knowledge that only they exclusively possessed, they would be the only ones to be saved, while all the others were condemned.

They believed that material things were necessarily evil. They did not submit themselves to any authority except their own selves in things related to their beliefs. And they were quite aggressive in their religious arrogance and self-righteousness.

With those conditions, of course, though they had followers, they simply became cults, or isolated religious groups that usually employed questionable psychological means to gain and control adherents.

This phenomenon, I am afraid, is happening even now. I am afraid we are having a resurgence of the Gnostics. And that’s why, while we have to accord everyone due respect, we also need to bring things to the open, so everything becomes clear.

As the Bible says, truth and goodness frolic in the light, while evil likes to stay in the dark. Evil comes to the open only under heavy guises.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

To be born again

ASIDE from being a season of joy because of our Lord’s resurrection, the culminating event of his redemptive work, Easter time is also for preparing ourselves for the coming of the Holy Spirit, since our life is supposed to be Life in the Spirit.

And so in many readings of this season’s Masses, together with the alleluias that we sing with gusto, a lot of references are made to the Holy Spirit. Typical of such readings is the gospel about the meeting of Nicodemus with our Lord, as recorded in the Gospel of John, Chapter 3.

There we have the famous lines about being born again, a phenomenon we have to be very familiar with, because we have a big part to play in our own rebirth. Sad to say, this need for being born again is not yet known to many.

Our Lord said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless one is born from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot re-enter his mother's womb and be born again, can he?"

“Jesus answered, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless one is born of water and Spirit he cannot enter the Kingdom of God. What is born of flesh is flesh
and what is born of spirit is spirit.”

To be born again is, as our Lord said, to be born of water and Spirit. Our first birth, our natural birth, is God’s first creation of us, an event where we did not have any part.

But since, we have been made in God’s image and likeness, we are supposed to be free and do things knowingly and lovingly, we need to correspond to God’s will in creating us, and so there is the second birth, our rebirth, our being born again, where we willingly should go along God’s designs for us.

To be born again is to willingly link ourselves with God who in the Spirit continues to be with us, always intervening in our life, showing us his will and ways, in manners both discernible and understandable as well as mysterious and inscrutable. This is what is meant to be born in water and Spirit.

Water refers to the sacrament of baptism that signifies that we are willing to link up with God in the Spirit, and everything that is involved in such a link-up—fidelity to Christ, following his teachings, etc.

That’s why our Lord told Nicodemus, “Do not be amazed that I told you, 'You must be born from above.' The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."

It is the Holy Spirit who will guide us, and all we have to do is to be docile to the Holy Spirit, a relationship that does not undermine our freedom, but rather enhances it.

Let’s remember that our freedom is never absolute, since we as man, as persons, are not absolute beings, but creatures, who receive our existence and everything in it, like our freedom, from God.

We need to be clear about this point, because many times we believe that we just have to live our own life, in complete and absolute autonomy from God and from others. We often consider our relationship with God and others as purely optional, developed at the instance of our own convenience, etc.

And we often depend only on what we have—our intelligence, our talents, our privileges, our looks, our wealth and fame, our earthly powers. These endowments, without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, can go anywhere and nowhere. The only way we can be on the right track is when we are living and doing things with the Holy Spirit.

This point may still sound strange, and even outrageous, to many. That’s unfortunate, because it simply shows a gaping ignorance of some fundamental truths about ourselves that can come only from our faith.

It’s faith that enlarges and completes the picture, that gives us the ultimate dimensions of our life. Our sciences and other human knowledge can only cover so much, and if not guided by the Holy Spirit, again can go anywhere and nowhere.

We need to be born again and cultivate a Life in the Spirit. Are we beginning to develop an intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit, in deeds more than in words and intentions?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Life and death

THESE past days, my attention was caught by two deaths and a birthday.

Two of my friends had a mother and a father, in their 80s and 90s,
passing away after a long period of illness. Thanks to the social
networking, I managed to have a running account of how their
conditions went, provoking in me a gush of prayers and a boost in

Then my twin uncles also celebrated their 80th birthday, an event
made more special because most of their siblings, my other uncles and
aunties including my own mother, did not survive past their 60s.

My cousins labeled the event, “Mighty at 80,” with the obvious effort
to sweeten the unwelcome thought that lurks in everyone’s mind. A
naughty cousin even went further by saying, “Mightier at 90, coming
soon.” But everyone knows what that birthday was all about, aside from
being an occasion for thanksgiving and merrymaking.

I, of course, know how it feels to lose a father and a mother. It’s
like being deprived of air, like being left with a feeling that the
world has collapsed. And I think that’s because since childhood we
have come to depend on them for a lot of things, if not, practically

In fact, I would even say that our parents always occupy a kind of
immediate presence in our mind and heart. They are indelibly etched in
our mind and heart. We never forget them no matter how far we may be
in distance and temperament. And that’s because they are our first and
immediate link to life, and, in fact, to God himself.

It was through them that we came to exist. It was through them that
God created us. That’s why our parents are called procreators, because
they participated in a very intimate way in God’s creation of us.

Our first idea of God, of a certain sense of authority that has to be
respected, our primal idea of what is good and evil, of what is order
in life, of what is peace and joy, of what is love, was formed through
them. We learned self-confidence, faith and hope through them.

When we were kids, we must have thought they would never die. And the
first time we realized that they would one day die must have caused us
a deep anguish, and we must have prayed that somehow it would never
happen. Yes, we are capable of denying and refusing reality and the
facts of life.

Not only did our parents procreate us. They brought us up to become
what we are now. They not only fed us, dressed us, comforted us. More
importantly, they educated us, they took care of us not only
physically and materially, but also spiritually and morally,
inculcating in us the proper values and virtues for our life’s

And they do all these unstintingly, without regard for any return
from us, or counting the costs. They are willing to suffer and, if
possible or permissible, even to die for us. That’s why we cannot
forget them, just as they cannot forget us also. This is pure love in
motion. This mutual loving becomes self-perpetuating. It acquires life
of its own.

Still we have to admit that they will die one day, and when that
happens, even if we unavoidably plunge into grief, we should take
comfort in our faith, deriving strength and the conviction that with
the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord, death for us never
means an end, but rather a change of residence, so to speak.

That’s why we should not restrict our understanding of life and death
to a purely human level. We have to allow our faith to expand it and
to give us the complete picture.

We should not be afraid of death, but rather should welcome it like a
friend or the gardener who, in an image popularized by St. Josemaria
Escriva, now decides to cut the blooming roses in his garden to put
them in a better place, nothing less than in his own house.

We continue to live on in spite of our death, since there is
something in us, our spiritual soul, that refuses to die even if our
mortal bodies return to dust. And if that soul is vitally linked to
the very source of Life, to God himself, then that soul will live in
bliss for all eternity.

Besides, our faith tells us there’s going to be the resurrection of
the dead at time’s end. The body reunites with the soul.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Rooting our sense of morals

SAD to say, many people today appear to be at a loss as to what
morality means. It seems that the sense of morals is getting extinct.
Many do not make the effort to study and understand it well, and much
less to incarnate it in their lives.

They can have a vague idea that it has something to do with their
actions, with their behavior, whether they are good or bad. But they
would not know what makes an action good or bad, or what ultimate,
universal law, if any, to follow to guide them in their actions.

At best, they just follow what others do, what is popular or in
fashion at the moment, what their culture or some social or political
consensus somehow would indicate. If not, they just follow their own
fleeting feelings or estimations in a given situation.

So what happens as a result is a generalized sense of morals that is
badly founded and oriented, and therefore prone to be shallow,
reductive and diminished, given to appearances only, erratic and
inconsistent, deceptive and vulnerable to be manipulated.

This, I think, is what is happening now. Many people have a shaky
sense of morals, one that is basically based and oriented towards
oneself, towards one’s or a group’s interests and their own, very
individualistic idea of what is good and bad.

It’s a sense of morals that is highly relativistic, made worse by the
creeping mentality of a dangerous sense of democracy where people just
want to be indiscriminately tolerant of anything.

There’s now a craze on terms and slogans like respect for the
plurality of cultures, one is absolutely free to form his own
opinions, preferences, options without as much considering those of
others. If one or a group wants contraception, abortion, same-sex
unions, euthanasia, etc., let them have it. It’s their right.

Democracy in this frame of mind would just be an exercise of a
freedom that is not firmly rooted on a basic, universal law that would
govern all of us in spite of our unavoidable differences in
temperaments, backgrounds, cultures, etc.

In fact, many people now claim there is no such ultimate, universal
law that can guide all men in all places, times and situations. At
best, we can just have some kind of consensus.

In short, we make ourselves our ultimate source of law, of what is
good and bad. There is nothing to look beyond ourselves. As if we made
the universe and everything in it, including what is good and bad.

This is the reason why we have to undertake a serious and sustained
effort to study the true essence of morality, and to actively teach
and propagate it. There obviously will be difficulties, conflicts,
discussions, etc. These are normal occurrences that should not deter
us from that effort.

I like to believe that these difficulties can only serve to clarify
matters and issues, and even to correct errors that can assume the
appearances of being right and good, and can count on a wide support
of public consensus.

Truth is morality cannot simply be focused on actions without
considering the kind of persons we are. And it cannot just talk about
kinds of persons without considering where we came from—that is,
without considering the unavoidable question of God and religion.

This is where the real problem lies. It’s about people not wanting to
go all the way to tackle the question of God and religion. They shy
away from these. They get contented simply with what is practical and

This is not to mention the fact that there are people who already
claim that morality has nothing to do with God, because in the first
place they do not believe in God. While no one is forced to believe or
not to believe in God, we just have to clarify and determine the truth
about God, his existence, his providence, his will and laws, etc.

This is fundamental and indispensable because with this question
hanging in the air, the inevitable consequence would be a sense of
morals that is largely vague and inconsistent.

We need to tackle the question of morality as being based on God more
seriously and persistently. This is a question that is more important
than the social and political issues that we like to flood ourselves

The question of God should not just be confined to displays of
popular piety that thanks to God we also have aplenty. It should be
made to bear on the need to develop a consistent sense of morals.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The holiest of weeks

THE Holy Week is, of course, not just like any other week. It is THE week, the mother of all weeks, the most important week in the liturgical year, when we end the long penitential preparation of Lent and celebrate nothing less than the climax of Christ’s redemptive work with his passion, death and resurrection.

When we say “celebrate,” we are referring to a liturgical celebration where the events celebrated are not simply remembered, but are actually made present. This is the essence of liturgy, as taught by the Church that in turn received this truth from Christ himself.

In the liturgy we become contemporaries of Christ and direct witnesses of the events. That’s how the reality portrayed by our faith is. It is a reality that, of course, goes far beyond what our senses can capture and what our intelligence can grasp. That is why we have to work out our faith. Otherwise, we would be hanging in the air.

It is this passion, death and resurrection of Christ, also known as the Paschal or Easter mystery, that summarizes everything that our Lord taught and did for the sole purpose of saving us, and giving us a way to reconcile ourselves with our Creator and Father, the way to say yes to God’s will for us.

It is in Christ’s passion and death that all the sins of men, past, present and future, are assumed by Christ himself, dying to them so that all these sins would be dashed to nothing, and then resurrect.

What we are invited to do is to somehow share in Christ’s passion and death, so that dying with him, we too can resurrect with him. Christ takes up what is ours so that we can take up what is his. A liturgical hymn describes this as a “happy exchange.”

There is no sin too big or grave enough that cannot be part of Christ’s passion and death. The only sin that can elude this universal mercy of God is the sin against the Holy Spirit, when we precisely reject this truth of God’s omnipotent mercy.

Now all these events of the passion, death and resurrection of Christ, is made into the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, instituted at the Last Supper of the first Holy Thursday.

It is this sacrament that makes present these saving events of the paschal mystery. These events are not simply recalled and dramatized by some ceremony. They derive their vital and perpetual character from our Lord’s words, “Do this in remembrance of me” (or “in memory of me”)

When Christ said these words, he said it not as man only, subject to time and space, and therefore unavoidably swallowed up in the past, in history. But being our redeemer, he said them also as God who is eternal.

Therefore, these words acquire an eternal value where all things are made present. Eternity is not simply a vague sense of having no beginning and no end. Eternity is also about making everything present. What happens in time with its flow of past, present and future becomes all present in eternity. Eternity transcends time.

This is the very lofty, mysterious truth that is at play when we celebrate the liturgy, especially the Mass that has its beginning in the Last Supper that in turn anticipates and perpetuates what happened in the first Good Friday and the first Easter Sunday—our Lord’s passion, death and resurrection.

That’s why the Holy Week culminates with the Easter or Paschal Triduum, starting evening of Holy Thursday with the celebration of the Mass of the Last Supper then goes to the passion and death of Christ on Good Friday, then to his resurrection Easter Sunday.

There is a certain unity in the celebration of the Easter Triduum which we all should try to capture. That’s why we need to pause, reflect and meditate. We should be wary when we convert the Holy Week into mere holidays of fun and vacation.

The way the world is evolving these days when we are pressured to be practical and to go for material and temporal goals, we need to apply the breaks to feed our soul and to strengthen our grip of the spiritual and supernatural realities in our life.

The Holy Week is the best time to form and strengthen the beliefs and convictions of our faith that our efforts, always with the help of grace and the promptings of the Holy Spirit, would give us. It is also the best time for another conversion.

Sunday, April 1, 2012


KNOWING that I like songs and music, some friends introduced me to two of our latest singing sensations, Adele and Bruno Mars. This development triggered in me the thought that we need to be most careful and very discerning in the appreciation of today’s music.

When I first heard Adele, my first reaction was negative. She sounded drunk, or a woman wronged, mournful, melancholic. My friends immediately assured me it’s worthwhile to be more patient and to try to grow a certain taste for her style.

True enough, when I heard her “Set fire to the rain,” I started to reconsider. She has a very powerful voice, but more than that, it’s a voice with a great ability to shift tones with rapidity, and to think that she’s only in her early 20s.

That flipping style and her very unusual or, I would even say, erratic way of phrasing seem to sound like the rumblings of a volcano nearing eruption. The pent-up emotions and passions are seeking a hole, or making it, to find urgent release.

Then I started to listen to her other songs. “Someone like you” can really make you cry. Those abrupt and sharp shifts from low to high tones can leave you feeling like you are twisting in the wind. “Chasing pavements,” “Rolling in the deep,” etc., reinforce the lingering impression she has a distinctive style that’s worth taking note of.

I examined the lyrics, and what can I say? They seem to be mainly plaintive, sad, and all that. There’s a king of angst, a sensation of being caught in a corner and not knowing what to do. And with her style, the emotions and sentiments become so transparent and raw they can be easily felt by the listener.

Composers nowadays seem to reflect very well the complicated and confused character of our times. There’s, of course, some merit in that. But I would not allow myself to be taken in by them completely. Caution always helps so as to avoid being swallowed by rampaging emotions. These composers can express the pathos and ethos of the times.

Sometimes, I say, poor Adele. Oh, what she has to go through, and how she is coping with it all! No wonder, Adele is raking in many awards. Must be making a lot of money too.

Then I listened to Bruno Mars and I immediately understood why many people, especially the young, like him. He has such a funny and cheerful style that you like to dance and simply to be carefree. I believe his songs are more of the R and B and reggae types, but he actually blends many genres. That’s versatility for you.

And yet he is also capable of being extremely mushy. His “Talking to the moon” is even haunting. Yes, he has a powerful voice, high-pitched yet solid, and yes, he also knows how to flip not only tones but also in phrasing. What a singer!

I again looked at the lyrics of his songs, mostly if not all composed by him. And again they reflect the temper of the times—complex, a bit confused, playful, mischievous, rebellious, etc.

But there’s no doubt that together with the tune and beat, they are very catchy, and easily accessible, as the Wiki describes them. Just check out his “Lazy song.” I find it funny, but also disturbing. I know it’s not just a song. It is an expression of today’s mind and attitude.

All these considerations bring us to what I feel we need to do—to be careful, to not easily be taken in by the external charms of the songs and music. We need to go deeper into the spirit that animates them—whether they are good, healthy and safe or not. We have to learn to sift the good from the evil, the safe from the dangerous.

Truth is the more engaging or stimulating or absorbing or, worse, addicting, some things like songs and gadgets are to our senses, emotions and mind, the more we have to refer them to God.

They should not be left to tickle us only in those levels and aspects. They need to be related to God, scrutinizing them spiritually, not carnally or emotionally, nor even intellectually alone. Those would not be enough. Those only give us a part of the picture, and can be dangerous if not related to God and not assessed spiritually also.

We have to learn to do this. But I am afraid this need is not yet widely felt. Well, we have challenge before us.