Monday, July 30, 2012

The challenge of adolescence

PARENTS of teen-aged children or those still in high school and early college are really up to some tricky and difficult challenge these days. I am sure they would prefer to tackle other kinds of problems than dealing with their adolescent boys and girls who are in the middle of a dizzying process of transformation in their lives.

All of a sudden they discover that their children are becoming independent-minded and even rebellious, who like to stay out of the house most of the time to be with their friends, and many times unmindful of schedules and other responsibilities.

Given the temper of the times and the increasingly distracting character of the environment, the challenge parents face with respect to these children has become complex and complicated indeed.

            It’s imperative that parents be adequately prepared to handle this situation. They should not take this responsibility for granted. It certainly does no harm to them if they attend regular parenting formative classes, since there’s always need for reminders of basic things, let alone, keeping abreast with pertinent current developments.

            For example, they need to study the implications of the new things that are the common elements in the adolescents’ lives today—the internet, other gadgets, malls, fashions, the use of money and free time, etc.

Dealing with the adolescents is definitely not a matter of controlling them. That is not the way to bring them up properly. It is more a matter of guiding them, of being with them to give them those timely pieces of advice, reminders, suggestions and, yes, corrections. It’s a matter of motivating them to use their freedom and their other talents and endowments correctly.

Everyone passes through this difficult stage, and so parents should readily understand what their children are going through at this stage. Yes, they can draw from their own experience, but they should also deeply realize that there are new things that they really need to know so as to learn how to handle them.

In this regard, parents should always make it a point to create an atmosphere of harmony at home. The idea is to make the home bright and cheerful, never gloomy and tense. Regular and naturally established moments of dialogue and family conversation, in meals and family get-togethers for example, are a must.

It is in these moments that the parents can closely monitor their children and listen to them so as to understand them as well as to teach them. As much as possible, these practices should become normal daily family activities, already in place while the children are still young and very moldable. This will prevent conflicts and war in the family when the children become adolescents.

Very crucial for the children to understand as early as possible is the value of faith and religion, the need for prayer, the sacraments and virtues, the development of the proper sense of rights, duties and responsibilities, etc.

Children have to know the value of time, the vital and intrinsic relation between work, study and rest. They have to learn how to deal with their emotions and passions. They have to realize the organic connection between freedom and responsibility.

These have to be taught, of course, in a gradual way, as in an inclined plane, always considering the concrete conditions of the children and the circumstances of time and place. In this regard, parents should be pro-active, taking the initiative to plan the formative program of their children and not wait for problems to arise before they move.

This is all worth the effort. There’s no bigger concern to the parents than the proper upbringing of their children.

Parents, of course, should set good example first before they talk. Adolescents are most sensitive and resentful when given lectures. But when they see their parents walking their talk, they readily obey and follow. Actions speaks louder than words.

Parents have to know how to tackle the relevant issues affecting their children—pornography, laziness and idleness, complacency, consumerism and materialism, affections and affairs of the heart, human sexuality, the ‘barkada,’ etc.

In this regard, a certain firmness and clarity has to be exercised even if affection and understanding should never be lacking.

That’s why a good degree of intimacy between parents and children should always be maintained and developed. Parents should take the lead in this, always coming up with initiatives—like planning excursions, eat-outs, fiestas, birthday celebrations, etc., plus continuing personal chats. These things should not be taken for granted.

The art of motivating children should be mastered. Children need constant affirmations of parental love.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

At once individual and universal

THIS is something we have to understand very well. Right now, very many people do not know this basic truth about themselves, or if they do, they would not know how to live it. And that is where many of our problems arise.

Each one of us is at once an individual and universal being. Each one is a single person intrinsically embedded in a social, universal and transcendent order. A person is not an individual at one time and a social, universal and transcendent being at another time. He is both, at the same time and all the time.

This is how we are designed and outfitted. We are body and soul together, not body at one time and spiritual soul at another time. As body, we become individuals, because matter is the principle of individuation.

It is our materiality that confines us to a certain space at a certain time, distinguishing us from everybody else in appearance, temperament, etc.

But as spirit, we become universal, because the spirit is the principle of sociability, universality and transcendence. It is what enables us to know and love, and to enter in the lives of others and of things, and into God ultimately, with the help of his grace. That’s why we are meant for praying, caring and loving, and for communion.

Since we indivisibly are body and soul here on earth, a condition that would be temporarily separated at death but restored at the end of time with the resurrection of the dead, then we cannot but be both individuals and social, universal and transcendent beings at the same time, not one or the other from time to time.

That may sound philosophical and abstruse, but that is just how the cookie crumbles when we analyze the dimensions of our life. And the earlier we understand these distinctions, the better for us, so that with that knowledge we can start developing the proper attitude and skills.

At the moment, many people are still separating these indivisibles. They talk about balancing the two, as if the two cannot be together. Others think even in terms of percentages, as in 80 percent individual and 20 percent social, for example.

Some have even justified this thinking by saying that we are always born alone and we also die alone, and so we are first of all individuals and then social beings later on, as if to be social is an optional thing.

Lost to them is the realization that no is actually born alone, because he needs to be born of his mother at least. And no one dies alone, because one way or another he is always accompanied by someone, or if not by a world of relatives, and ultimately by God.

Of course, with that either/or understanding of how we are, we tend to make a choice of whether we want to be an individual or a social and universal being at a given moment. Aggravating this predicament would be the confusion that unavoidably will come to us when we start deciding which one we want to be at that moment.

It’s a confusion that threatens our integrity and opens us to deception and hypocrisy.

We are both individuals and social, universal and transcendent beings. We have to remember this basic truth all the time, so that whenever we are alone, that is, physically alone, we should never be lonely, because in our mind and heart we will always be, or we should always be, with God and with others.

Our spiritual soul comes directly from God who does not leave it for as long as we exist, for God gives it existence and sustains it in existence. It’s not something we simply by ourselves can sustain. God is always there, and it is for us to acknowledge that reality. Otherwise, we would have a radically distorted view of our life.

That’s our problem. We tend to ignore God, perhaps out of ignorance and lack of education and formation. But there are those who, not believing in God, consider themselves their own being, their own God. This is the bigger problem.

These are those who tend to confine themselves, turning into isolated, eccentric individuals, whose relations with others and the world follow their own exclusive terms. They make up their own world, not conforming it to what objectively it is according to God the Creator.

Because we tend to be individualists and even eccentrics, we have to sustain the effort to train ourselves to think in terms of God’s will and the welfare of others.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The making of a rampage killer

 I FIND it intriguing that the latest rampage killer in the US was described as a loner. Someone commented that the other rampage killers before him were invariably loners too.

            We now wonder why the US and many other supposedly rich and developed countries in the West and Australia seem to be breeding loners who turn out to be rampage killers.

            It doesn’t mean that Asia, Africa and the East in the general don’t have this kind of individuals. There are many of them too in these places. But they are usually described as ignorant fanatics, or at worst, religious or political terrorists. Not so with their Western counterparts, who are known to be educated and all that.

            Is there anything wrong then with Western culture, or is it their current difficult social and economic condition, that turns loners into rampage killers? I suppose there are many reasons and factors that can enter into the explanation of this very disturbing phenomenon.

            But we cannot discount the fact that in these places, many broken and dysfunctional families, children raised by single parents, and a good number of adults who remain single and live alone, must contribute to the making of many loners. They provide the elements that lead to horrible sicknesses, mental, emotional, psychological, etc., that loners are most prone to.

            The unavoidable relations made among them are hardly of the deep and enduring type. They are most of the time just casual flings, made for merely practical purposes and not anchored on any stable basis, principle or spirit.

            It’s really a pity that the relations of people have turned out this way. But this could be because many people do not know anymore what it is to be a person who is supposed to be vitally connected with God and with others.

            That a person is a rational, intelligent individual meant to enter into relationship with God first, his creator, and then with everybody else, his equal partners in life, is lost on many people. A person is by definition meant for love—to love God and others.

            For them, to be a person is just to enjoy freedom without realizing where it comes from and how it should be used. To be a person is simply to enjoy oneself, unmindful of any external and objective law to govern him. They make themselves their own law, or their own lawgiver, their own God. Selfish in character, it’s a freedom that does feel the need for prayer, for faith, etc.

            Freedom has become a captive of a purely subjective interpretation, detached from its objective source and not oriented to its proper goal. It most likely gets entangled in the realm of the material and carnal, the pragmatic considerations, etc. It hardly goes beyond that level. The spiritual, the supernatural, the religious aspects are ignored.

            This is often the sickness of liberalism that allows freedom to run wild on its own. It’s a terrible disease because it gives the heady sensation that everything is all right as long as one doesn’t inconvenience another. Any problem can just be solved by some practical means that in themselves are also very prone to manipulations and deceptions.

            One of the architects of liberalism and its relative of utilitarianism—the attitude of valuing things according to their usefulness to an individual—was John Stuart Mill, a 19th century British philosopher who actively batted for extreme individualism and even eccentricism.

            He certainly had a confused understanding of how a person can be at the same time an individual person and a social being, meant to enter into communion with God and with others. He not only distinguished these two aspects of man’s life, but rather separated them.

            In his book, “On Liberty,” he wrote: “It is desirable that in things which do not primarily concern others, individuality should assert itself.” These words already show his tendency to contrast individuality and community.

            This attitude is reinforced when he said in the same book, “Precisely because the tyranny of opinion is such as to make eccentricity a reproach, it is desirable that people should be eccentric.

            “Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded...That so few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of the time.”

            This is a terrifying thought that seems to enter into the ethos of Western culture. There is no mention about God. It is just pure eccentricity that can be based on anything.

            This, I believe, is how loners who can turn to be rampage killers are made.

Monday, July 23, 2012

‘Olympify’ the games

WORLD attention will be riveted on the London Summer Olympics that will run from July 27 to August 12.

The London Olympics organizers have chosen as slogan, “Inspire a generation,” and I think it’s truly apt, since the world seems to be sinking in gloom, what with all the problems, political, economic and social, we are having in many countries at the moment. We need a lift, at least in spirit.

Let’s pray that the games can truly inspire a generation, and ignite an impulse that would spring all of us to a new beginning, more able to cope with the challenges, both old and new.

We are facing some uncharted oceans and unmapped territories in world developments today, and it’s good that we confront these challenges with a sporting attitude, well-grounded on what is already known and yet very open and hopeful to what is still to be known.

The Olympic Games can contribute a lot to build this kind of attitude. But for this, we have to realize that we need to spiritualize the games. The games just cannot left in the purely physical and material sphere. It has to be animated by a proper spirit.

This is the real Olympics, when the spirit behind our pursuit for the “citius, altius, fortius” (faster, higher, stronger), the general Olympic motto, is the spirit of God, and not just any spirit.

Let’s remember that games, sports, fun and competition are all human acts, and as such they just cannot be left at the mercy of market forces and merely worldly values, for example, and much less, other lower and darker motives like vanity, pride, urge to dominate others, etc.

This is what it means to ‘Olympify’ the games. It is to root the spirit of competition on the spirit of God. It is this spirit that makes everyone winners, never disfiguring our natural strengths but purifying and elevating them to the supernatural order. Victors and losers share the same spirit of love—for God and for others.

It’s the spirit that brings out the best in everyone, irrespective of the scores and our human system of ranking. There’s always something that can represent the best in us whether we win or lose in a game. We need to understand this point very well.

That’s because everyone is expected to do everything for the glory of God. This is what equalizes everyone of us, no matter how we place in a game. Sad to say, this truth of our faith is not well understood and appreciated by many of us yet.

There are those who think that winning is the end-all of the games. This kind of thinking is to fall into a very limited and distorted vision of life. What are we to do then with the losers who will be the great majority of the players? Just try to pursue that line and immediately see the absurdity.

No, it cannot be just winning. It is rather in participating in the games, doing one’s best even if his best does not make him a winner, and offering all of it for God’s glory and for the common good of all men.

We need to inculcate this understanding of sports in everyone, and especially among the young still in school. We need to understand that games and competition are a reflection of both the personal and social character of our life based on love of God and others. They are meant to reinforce that character.

Indeed we have to be most careful in handling where our thoughts, desires and feelings are when we win or lose. In any of these possibilities, we can be either at our best or at our worst depending on the motives we have in pursuing the games and in accepting the results.

Win or lose, we should love God and neighbor more every time we play. We should be wary of being held captive by impulses of our unpurified and spontaneous feelings and emotions that usually are self-centered and attracted only to material and worldly values.

This tendency of our human flesh as shown in our feelings and passions in reacting to whatever results of our games and competition is behind the highly anomalous situations of commercialism, envy, body cult, etc., that we also sadly see today.

We need to humanize and Christianize our sports by infusing it with the proper spirit. Thus, in the family, schools and other venues, ‘Olympifying’ our sports, giving it the proper spirit, should be consciously held as the goal, and never just the winning.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Teaching them to fly

AS chaplain for high school boys, I sometimes view my work as helping young birds who still prefer to stay in their nests to start flying. These adolescents already have enough feathers to move around, at least in some short distances. What’s needed is coordination and the will to fly, and the will to continue growing to maturity.

            This is not, of course, an easy thing to do. These young boys, for all their show of bravado, are actually delicate and sensitive, full of doubts, questions and uncertainties. And worse, they already have the power to answer back.
            Finding the right balance between force and tenderness can be very tricky, like walking on a tightrope. But I think the right thing to do is to simply talk with them as much and as often as possible, and try to win their confidence. It’s to be friends with them without losing the distinction between mentor and mentee, teacher and student, parent and child.

            For this, a lot of patience and understanding is needed, plus, of course, a lot of creativity and sense of mastery and direction as to the goals these young boys ought to reach.

            Patience and understanding, because we have to contend with many forces and impulses in play in their system that often throw them and us into confusion and emotional stress. It always pays to rein in our feelings and worries, because emotional outbursts can only worsen the situation.

            But we need as much as possible to be clear about what can be done for these young boys. They can fall under an infinite series of possible predicaments. They can be bright but lazy, scholarly but not sociable, articulate but very opinionated, athletic but vain, etc., etc.

            They can be imaginative and artistic, but do not have the proper work discipline, or sense of order and priority. They often wallow in complacency, contented with just a passing mark, not fully developing the talents and potentials they have, preferring to say in the nest.

            We have to help them establish firm study habits as well as skills in praying. Their spirituality is a crucial part of their upbringing, especially nowadays when the youth are buffeted with merely material and worldly values.

            It’s clear that they have to be known as intimately as possible, that is, individually and personally. We have to know their assets and liabilities, their attitudes and motivations, their way of thinking and looking at things in general, and try to plot out a strategy that would be fit and doable for them.

            And the earlier these boys realize that such is the ideal condition to have, the better. Thus, it would be good that even from their childhood days, they understand this point well, not only in the context of the family, but also in the context of the school.
            They have to learn to have trust and confidence in their teachers and mentors in school as well. I believe it is a mark of educational success when teachers and mentors manage to win the confidence of their students, such that the boys feel free to confide things to them. But, of course, this is a long and gradual process that should not be set aside.

            There really should be very close coordination between the families and the school, and thus over and above the activities of students in school, there should be a parallel set of pertinent activities between parents and the school officials.

            A lot of monitoring and discussion of issues and problems is needed, and therefore should be maintained and fostered. The appropriate structures and programs should be made, but seeing to it that they are animated by a genuine personal touch, and do not freeze into some bureaucratic routine.

            The education, upbringing and formation of children, especially when they already are at the brink of adulthood, is definitely a joint effort of many parties, involving not only parents and the school, but also the community in general.

            There also is great need to monitor the changes and developments in the environment, and to know how to blend both tradition and the new things that always come. Parents and teachers should be very open to these new developments. They should be experts in assessing both the good and dangerous aspects of these developments.

            I suppose we cannot avoid the generation gap, but we should try our best to soften its negative effects on the children. Family get-togethers should be fostered. These and many others can really help in making these growing boys fly as mature and responsible adults.       

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Unmet need for family planning?

THIS is another expression coined by population controllers busy working in influential institutions like the UN. They define it as “percentage of currently married women aged 15-49 who want to stop having children or postpone the next pregnancy for at least two years, but who are not using contraception.”

Yes, it is just as cold as that. No further distinction is made, much less, any mention of moral, ethical or cultural considerations. It makes the illegal and automatic equation that women who don’t want to get pregnant are the same women who want or should want to have contraception. That’s foul!

In short, it is all about unmet need for contraception, whether wanted or not. Thus, this concept of unmet need is a license for population controllers to indiscriminately spread the virus of the contraceptive mentality all over the world.

While many countries are suffering from all sorts of economic problems and many other more basic needs, population controllers just focus on making contraception available or actively pushing it, branding it as the panacea for poverty and other women-related problems.

And it is the so-called rich countries (we have to qualify it that way, since many of them are actually now having tremendous economic problems) that want to control the population of poor but bustling countries, that are financing for this unmet need. These rich countries seem threatened by the poor countries.

They say that “contraceptives are one of the best investments a country can make in its future.” They still talk about the so-called “demographic dividend” that illegitimately equates fewer people with higher development. Everyone knows that this is not necessarily so and that, in fact, the reverse can be true.

Some reports claim that the rich and famous of the world have donated $2.6 billion recently in a summit in London to meet the “unmet need” of 120 million women in the developing world for family planning.

This looks to me like a lot of moolah just going down the sinkhole, a pure waste of precious resources, when there are many other more important needs that require both immediate help and sustained support.

For example, Austin Ruse, the president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), a non-profit institute that closely follows the United Nations and other organizations on family and population issues, claims that the real needs of women in many places are still unmet: basic medical care, skilled birth attendants, education, clean water, and nutrition.”

He also claims that many countries are now facing a demographic winter where there is already a notable population decline, where older people are outnumbering the younger population, where deaths are getting higher than births.

He noted that even in Muslim countries that are long known to have big population, a significant fertility decline is already taking place. It seems they also are succumbing to the contraceptive mentality.

Here in our country a CNN report recently observed that while many other Asian countries are experiencing some economic slowdown, we are having an economic surge instead.

Economists attribute it to many factors, like a recovery of electronics exports after a decline in demand last year, a strong domestic consumption due to the money sent home to the Philippines by its overseas workers, and the rise of outsourced call centers that serve as the long-term stabilizers relatively unhindered by a sagging global economy.

According to Haz Narvaez, Manila-based head of research for the Philippines at the Credit-Suisse, it is estimated that 11% of the 92 million Filipinos work overseas, and their remittances account for about 10% of the country’s GDP, totaling $225 billion in 1991.

Since these Filipino overseas work often as domestic workers, nurses or skilled technicians or in jobs that are less vulnerable during global economic slumps, they can continue working and sending money to our country.

Narvaez said, “You have an aging population in the West, and you have a young population here in the Philippines waiting to do jobs that some people in the West are not willing to do.” This must explain why our overseas workers continue to find jobs abroad and support our country significantly and rather stably.

We should be wary when we hear some political leaders talk about the RH Bill because this is pure baloney. The RH Bill has no other purpose than to integrate the contraceptive mentality and the population control program into our country.

Let’s not be deceived by claims about women’s reproductive rights, demographic dividends and unmet need for contraception. To me they are decoys of the devil, not to mention, rotten fruits of bad thinking.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Prayer and life

OUR prayer should reflect the drama of our life. It should do so not only in the general features of our life, but also and most especially in the detailed, day-to-day twists and turns of our life.

If we understand what prayer really is, then we can and should also understand why it should be that way. That’s because prayer is where we unite all the events of our life, both the big ones and the small, with God.

Our life is supposed to be a life with God. It’s not just our life. It is God’s and ours. That’s how we have been created. That’s how we have been equipped and outfitted.

We are image and likeness of God, and with his grace made also children of his, meant to participate in his very own life. As image and likeness of God, we have been equipped with intelligence and will so that we can potentially enter into his life.

And with his grace, we can actually share in that divine, trinitarian life, making us children of his, and not just another creature. Our status and dignity in the whole of the material universe is actually the highest.

In short, we can say that while God is objectively with us, we have to make sure that we subjectively should be aware of God being with us. And that’s what prayer really is. It’s our basic way of corresponding to God in our objectively unbreakable and intimate relation with him.

More than just mouthing some vocal prayers, which are also moments of prayer, it’s the moment-to-moment awareness of God’s presence, made alive by referring everything to him—conferring with him, consulting, asking questions or help, etc.—that comprises our prayer.

We also have to overcome the understanding of prayer that considers it as some kind of special and sublime moments with God that rarely come, if at all, in our life. That would make prayer detached from our daily concerns.

It’s unfortunate that many of us still have this kind of understanding about prayer. Prayer has become a very special moment reserved for some extraordinary events and situations, when it should be the very heart beat of our spiritual life that underwrites and supports our natural and human life.

It’s important therefore that in our very consciousness of things, we always include God. Without God, we can say that we are detached from him, from our Creator and Father, and from the source, in fact, of our life in its proper state.

Obviously, this is something that we have to train ourselves in. While the grace of God is always available, we need to correspond to that grace to attain this state of mind and life itself, where we are abidingly aware of God’s presence in us and around us.

This is also what is meant to be a contemplative. We are designed to be that way. To be contemplative is not only for some nuns and other religious and consecrated men and women. It’s meant for all of us!

So, we need to learn to be constantly discerning of God’s presence and, in fact, also of his unfolding providence in our daily life. We have to be wary of our usual and easy tendency to see things only very humanly or naturally, just depending on what we see or feel, or even just what our intelligence can understand.

That way of seeing things restricts us to the externals, to the appearances, and at best to the natural essences of things and the confusing play they make in the different aspects of human life—social, professional, economic, political, etc.

We have to learn to think theologically, that is, to always infuse our senses and thoughts with the truths of our faith. Our thinking should not only be fed and nourished by what are merely sensible and intelligible. It has to be leavened by the truths of faith.

Toward this end, we have to realize the need to discipline our senses, feelings, passions, moods and also our thinking and desiring. We just cannot let them go on their own, unsupervised, so to speak, by the contribution of our faith.

That’s why I recommend spending time to meditate on the truths of our faith, so that these truths can really sink deep in our consciousness and become firm convictions that can give energy, meaning and direction to the different aspects of our life.

Saints have done that, the Church recommends it unceasingly. I think there is no other formula for us to make prayer our life really, and not just an application.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Younger as years go by

I JUST marked my senior citizenship and I consider it as some practical joke from above that after years of working with college students and professional men and women, and practically people from all walks of life, I am now assigned to work as chaplain for grade school and high school boys.

Unlike my previous assignments where I usually spent only part of the day for office work, this one somehow requires me to be in school the whole day. Yes, it’s different when you’re dealing with kids. And I consider it a great learning as well as humbling moment. That’s because kids can deliver surprising lessons to the elders.

Boys are boys, and so you have to expect a lot of action and energy still in its raw stage. There are good as well as inconvenient aspects of this situation. And that’s the challenge. I, for one, have to learn how to be in step with them without getting lost, but rather guiding them to a good port.

First of all, I am now more convinced that there’s true wisdom in separating boys and girls in their early schooling, because each group simply has different ways of learning.

Of course, this is not meant to cast aspersion on the advantages of mixed schooling, but rather to address specific needs of children and adolescents. There is need for instruction tailored to respect the differences between boys and girls.

Single-sex schooling helps in avoiding gender-generated distractions, like flirting, and can better promote gender identity. Boys, for example, prefer to have some action like running or jogging to prepare themselves for exams, while girls prefer to calming exercises.

Thing is boys suffer more than girls, they tend to lag behind the girls in their academics, for example, when they attend classes together. Girls also suffer in some areas when mixed with boys.

Single-sex schools respect the peculiarities of boys and girls in their psycho-emotional make-up, attitudes and motivations, etc., and thus strengthen their being boys and being girls, so crucial in making the two genders complement each other properly later on.

I don’t think these schools foster what some groups call as “gender stereotypes.” It can happen that way, of course, if they are not careful. But if they are, then they just acknowledge and respect the differences, and help the boys and girls to learn things and grow properly as boys and girls, respectively.

Well, anyway, it amuses me immensely when during the morning assembly for the flag ceremony, I can see the different stages of kidhood to adolescence. The little ones sing with gusto in their high pitch. They like to rush to the end. The older ones—the high schoolers—tend to act cool and seem disinterested. They are hardly heard.

The little ones are very transparent, the bigger ones already know how to calculate. It’s common knowledge that lying is the first defense mechanism children learn to protect themselves from what they perceive as immediate danger. So this, and other boy issues, have to be handled with delicacy and understanding but also with firmness.

I find it challenging to know how to talk with them the way they are. It certainly is different talking to a grade one kid and chatting with a high school senior gentleman. But it’s important that each student is talked to by the teacher, mentor or the chaplain. No one should be left behind unattended.

As much and as early as possible, the school should know the specific condition of each student—what his strengths and weaknesses are, etc.—and start plotting a plan to help the student develop to maturity that should include social and interpersonal skills.

Each one has to be handled personally and never just in a generic way. The school has to know each student’s physical and mental condition, his emotional and psychological profile, his character and temperament, his talents and deficiencies, etc.

The school also has to know the family background and social and economic condition. Thus, a continuing interaction with parents and guardians, and consultations among the school teachers and staff are a must. Let’s remember that the school is only subsidiary to the family in the education of children.

As much as possible, the school should create an atmosphere of a home, where everyone is known and is a friend, and where trust, confidence and loyalty are lived by everyone as naturally as possible.

I believe these challenges will make a senior citizen young again, a good pre-departure bucket list for his ultimate rebirth.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Let’s get personal

WHAT I mean here is that we should rid ourselves of formalistic ways, long in theories and big ideas but short in personal and direct dealings with people, or long in words and good intentions but short in deeds, or long in justice but short in charity, patience, understanding and affection.

Lately, I’ve been reading several in-depth situationers of different aspects of Church life—search for priestly vocations, seminary formation, lay apostolate, liturgical concerns, etc. 

They have been written by eminent Cardinals and Bishops, and other Church officials and experts with vast pastoral experience, extensive training and formation, and with palpable level of spirituality.

They are truly a source of good information that can drastically raise the level of knowledge of the general public who otherwise would hardly know the subtle and intricate forces at play in the world and in the Church today.

Still I have a two cents worth to say about the whole thing. And that is, that while we are highly appreciative of all these brilliant analyses, we should never forget that what matters in the end is to get personal in our dealings with everyone.

We have to be wary when we fall to formalistic ways. That’s when we prefer to stick only to the externals and appearances in our dealings with others, to what is officially defined and bureaucratic, without any effort to enter into their mind and heart, considering their personal feelings and their other peculiar ways.

Obviously, these formalistic ways have their part to play. Specially in offices, schools and in other formal and public situations, we cannot help but get into formal mode.

But we have to understand that these formalistic ways should never replace, much less suppress the direct, personal dealings with others, marked by a certain intimacy and delicacy, which is but proper to us since we are persons, not things, and subjects, not mere objects.

However we may be placed in our human way of ranking ourselves, whether we are on top or at the bottom, in front or at the back, everyone of us as a person needs to be motivated by what is objectively true, good and beautiful. We just cannot be pushed around, lectured about abstract theories. We need to be dealt with very personally.

Besides, we have different characters, temperaments, sensitivities that need to be respected and, in fact, also to be appreciated, regardless of their defects, precisely because we have to love each person the way he o she is, and each one has a unique way of contributing to the common good.

Even if a person is wrong in some issue or has committed an offense deserving some punishment out of justice, our charity should never falter. And for that charity to be genuine charity, it has to be the charity of Christ, who commanded us to love one another as he loved us.

This charity of Christ means that we have to learn and to be ready to love even our enemies or at least those who consider themselves our enemies, since we should not have enemies as far as we as Christians are concerned.

 Christian charity can also mean that like Christ, we are willing to assume and bear the sinfulness of others. This is the true test of a Christian.

In short, we have to be real friends and brothers and sisters with everyone, and not stop in the level of considering others only as workers, bosses, political party mates or opponents, or social networking friends and acquaintances, etc. Trust, confidence, loyalty should reign.

I believe that if we truly strive to achieve this kind of dealings with others, there would be no problem or obstacle that would be too big not to be resolved one way or another. This is the charity that conquers all, as St. Paul once said.

I remember a story of a priest who, as part of his personal apostolate with fellow priests, would visit sick priests in hospitals even if he did not know them personally yet.

One time he visited a sick priest. In the course of the visit, another visitor, an old and rather gossipy old man, came and accidentally revealed to him that the sick priest actually did not look with favor at the group to which the visiting priest belonged.

The visiting priest said that was no problem and gave the sick priest a brotherly hug and some nice words. That changed the whole situation. From the time on, the two priests became very close friends.

Charity, not big ideas, really does wonders.

Saturday, July 7, 2012


A GROUP asked me recently to give them a talk about feminism. I frankly did not know why they asked me, since I’m no expert in that issue, not having made any serious study of it. They said it was part of their continuing formation, and I felt I was their most convenient, definitely not the best, resource. Anyway, I just said, yes.

            I first summarized for them everything written about it in the Wikipedia. That already took care of half of the hour allotted for the talk. The literature there was already quite extensive and complex, allowing me to savor the crux and intricacy of the issue.

            Feminism is a collection of movements that broke out, like a burst of pent-up sentiments, first in Europe and in the US before it spread like wild fire to the rest of the world. It’s like one of those springs of protests that seem to be the vogue in many places today.

            It, of course, deals with women issues—equal political, economic and social rights for women. There’s a lot of valid and legitimate reasons for their actions, thus feminism as a movement quickly gained support not only from women but also from men.

            It started with women’s right to vote, a very valid issue, and then it continued to define, establish and defend many other rights considered not yet given and enjoyed by women.

            The one thing that I thought posed as a fundamental problem is that the feminist theory seems to tackle the nature of gender inequality (referring more to women) from the point of view of women’s social roles and lived experiences. To me, that’s framing it inadequately.

            The role of women in the world in general, just like the role of everybody else, just cannot be defined from purely social and experiential bases. These are no terra firma foundations. They are highly subjective and dependent on people’s changing moods and situations.

            It’s precisely with this kind of approach that to me gave rise to a very disturbing claim from some feminists who say that the biological sex of a person, for example, is not part of that person’s essence, and that the body’s physiology is “caught up” in processes of social construction. Wow!

            It’s clear that when an issue is tackled away from its fundamental base of our core beliefs and our religion, and we allow only our reasoning and subjective observations to make their own conclusions, we can end up with funny views that can be immediately repudiated by direct evidence.

            So now to be a boy or a girl does not depend anymore on what genitals one has. It now depends on how one considers oneself to be, what they call “sexual orientation” which to my mind is actually just one’s subjective preferences.

            “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman,” says one well-known feminist. I wonder how you call a person before that person declares oneself a man or a woman.

            In short, a person can be a he, a she or a bi or even anything else that can come to the mind of a person. He can be a complete neuter. This is not only going too far. This is simply wrong.

            I’m afraid that while the feminist movements started with something good, they now appear to enter into dangerous territories—reproductive rights, this funny distinction between sex and gender, prostitution rights, gay rights. This could be the reason the feminist movement is losing steam lately. It’s facing a deadend.

            There’s always a need to frame the discussion of any issue within the scope of our core beliefs and religion. We just cannot frame it on the basis of economics, politics and social observations and experiences. These are shifty, unreliable bases. They can shed some light, but definitely they cannot give the over-all and ultimate picture.

            However you look at a person, he or she is much more than his/her economic, political and social conditions. As a person, he/she is spiritual, not only material. As spiritual, he/she is generated and has to live with the original spirit, which definitely is not ourselves.

            Our Christian faith offers the fundamental truths about man and woman. If only we bother to review the pertinent doctrine of our faith, which is not man-made but is revealed, then we can see and distinguish things more clearly.

            By the way, the second half of my talk centered more on my observations, based on my priestly experience, about the general differences between how men and women think and behave. This actually drew more interest from the group.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Daily examination

LET’S hope that the daily practice of examination of conscience becomes normal and widespread in us. It’s a real necessity, just like the daily accounting that business firms do if they are serious with their businesses. And frankly, can there be any more decisive human endeavor than caring for our soul, our principle of life?

The daily practice of examination of conscience means a lot of things. For one, it means that we understand that our life is not just a natural, material, individual or social affair. Or simply our life.

 It would show that we know our life is a life with God and with others, pursued and developed in the spiritual and moral spheres more than anything else. We need to do some accounting of it not only for our own interest, but also and more importantly for the sake of God and of the others.

It would show that we understand that our human acts—those that we do knowingly and freely and thus we are responsible for them—either lead us to our proper end or not. Thus, we understand that our human acts have a moral dimension and therefore need to be assessed by us.

Sad to say, many of us still are ignorant of this very basic truth, or if not, are hardly doing anything to be consistent to it. We largely take our spiritual and moral life for granted, an anomaly that has to be tackled more seriously.

We prefer in the stay in the level of the material and social, in the realm of the externals and appearances. In the end, it’s like we are contented with simply leading a clever but animal life only, where we ignore the considerations of our spirituality and morality.

The daily practice of examination of conscience also means that our spiritual and moral life is in a state of constant struggle, in a continuing warfare, since we meet the forces of good and evil in every step of our daily affairs.

The situations and predicaments can be big or small, extraordinary or common, but we always find ourselves in situations of making choices and decisions. We have to continually deal with our weaknesses and temptations, not to mention sins, on the one hand, and the need to reach our proper and ultimate end, God, on the other.

In the Bible, we are told that even the just man falls seven times in a day. And I suppose we can hardly consider ourselves as just men! We still have a long way to go to get near that ideal.

The daily practice of examination of conscience can mean that we have a keen and effective desire to take care of our conscience. Conscience is the inner, most intimate link we personally have with God. It’s there where we meet God, hear his voice and decide to follow or disobey him.

If we know that, would we not do everything to keep our conscience in the best condition, making it ever sensitive to God’s promptings and docile to carry out his will?

We just have to make sure that our practice of examination of conscience is done always in the presence of God, and should not merely be our own effort at introspection. The distinction is crucial, because doing it right gives us tremendous benefits, while doing it wrong can generate more harm in us.

Many of us may still be afraid to face God in our conscience. Some say, such meeting would just complicate our life. Others claim that such encounter is actually hard if not impossible.

There can be many reasons, but they really have no basis. Why should we be afraid when God is our Creator, our Father whose only desire is to love us? He is slow to anger and rich in mercy.

He for sure does not want to make our life complicated, but rather to simplify it. We are the ones who complicate our life. God is the original and ultimate simplicity, and we are supposed to reflect that simplicity in our life.

If there are difficulties involved in obeying God, that’s because we need to be purified, and God would always be around to help us. That is, if we care to go to him, and not just keep to ourselves doing things simply on our own.

In the gospel, the sick, paralytic, blind, and of course the unclean and sinners went to Jesus and all of them were cured and forgiven. The examination of conscience is like to going to Jesus for a cure and forgiveness.