Thursday, August 30, 2012

Academic freedom

IT’S a hot, controversial issue, this thing about academic freedom. And it’s understandable because what is involved is something very intimate to a person working in an academic community.

Ideas, theories, views, opinions are so personal that anything that would tend to obstruct them can be very painful. Everything has to be done to avoid such predicament, therefore.

And so, I somehow understand why this academic freedom can be defined in its extreme form, as Wikipedia would have it, as:

 “The belief that the freedom of inquiry by students and faculty members is essential to the mission of the academy, and that scholars should have freedom to teach or communicate ideas or facts (including those that are inconvenient to external political groups or to authorities) without being targeted for repression, job loss, or imprisonment.”

Some parties involved in this issue have even gone to the extent of describing academic freedom, again taking from Wikipedia, as having the following properties:
a) “Academics, both inside and outside the classroom, have unrestricted liberty to question and test received wisdom and to put forward controversial and unpopular opinions, whether or not these are deemed offensive, and,
b) “Academic institutions have no right to curb the exercise of this freedom by members of their staff, or to use it as grounds for disciplinary action or dismissal.”
Still, while I and any decent man would respect such freedom, I also could not help to point out that such take on academic freedom is one-sided and is oblivious and quite naïve of other factors and conditions that need to be taken into consideration also.

This extreme form of academic freedom has to contend also with the rights of the other parties involved. And more basic to the issue would be that some structure be made in the academic community where a healthy exchange of views could be done, and clear guidelines have to be made.

The dynamics of this exchange of ideas should be closely monitored and managed, otherwise there would be chaos and confusion. And rules of the game should be clearly spelled out for this.

Thing is we cannot deny the fact that academic communities have their basic constitution that, no matter how imperfect it is, should be respected and upheld, unless legitimately revised.

So if an academic institution defines itself as religious or Christian or Catholic, etc., then certainly any position that smacks of atheism or agnosticism or that contradicts an official teaching of said faith, would be out of place.

We cannot invoke here the excuse of freedom of conscience, because personal conscience cannot fly without reference to an objective moral law that is authoritatively taught by a legitimate institution.

Freedom of conscience, which is often used as the rationale for academic freedom, does not work in a vacuum. To function well, it needs a proper environment that can consist of a moral law based on human nature as defined by a lawful authority.

Otherwise, anybody can just go against these official doctrines invoking all sorts of self-created justifications, or justifications derived from inadequate foundations.

Such is the case when in talking about what is moral, only considerations derived from practicality, popularity, convenience, etc. are made. The spiritual and the supernatural aspects of man are completely ignored.

The conflict in this issue of academic freedom actually boils down to what conception of man one has. Is man simply a biological, social, economic and political being, or is he a creature of a God who made him in his image and likeness, and therefore has spiritual and supernatural dimensions?

One thing good about this debate or dialogue on academic freedom is that it surfaces very basic issues that should be tackled by all of us, especially now when we are marching on to a fast-paced development and progress.

We seem to take these fundamental things in our life for granted and to focus only on what is here and now, what is immediately felt, what is just earthly and temporal such that we forget the other transcendent dimensions of our life.

I really hope and pray that this discourse can go on, involving as many parties as possible and covering as many aspects as possible as well. Let’s hope that the media can help in facilitating this public discourse.

Let’s also hope that all parties who participate in it do so with honest intentions and good dispositions, keeping a good grip on our emotions and passions that can easily spoil the whole thing.

There’s always hope. Controversies can be opportunities for greatness and enlightenment rather than just problems.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Loving in its purest state

WE have to make sure that our pursuit for love goes all the way to its purest state. We have to be wary when we get entangled along the way, getting contented only with some relatively good thing, since our goal is to reach the absolute good who is God.

“Deus caritas est,” St. John describes the essence of God. “God is love.” We cannot and should not settle for anything less. To aim at this love, we are given some guidelines—the Ten Commandments which spell out God’s designs for us. They dispose us to love.

But our Lord, Jesus Christ, spells out these Ten Commandments further by telling us that the greatest commandment is to love God with all our might, etc., and the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor. He therefore tells us that loving God goes always with loving our neighbor. Both loves cannot be separated.

He reinforced this teaching by giving us what he termed as the “new commandment,” and that is, that we should love one another as he himself has loved us. Christ, therefore, makes himself the standard of our loving.

More than that, Christ actually makes himself the very power that would enable us to love God and others properly. That’s why he once said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” In short, we cannot love properly unless we are with Christ.

An immediate practical corollary would be that we should at least be in constant touch with Christ. At least we have to look for him, see his example, be familiar with his teaching, enter into a living relationship with him, for we are told by our faith that Christ is alive. He is no mere historical figure.

In fact, he tells us through his apostles, “Behold, I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.” (Mt 28,20) These words should be deeply ingrained in our consciousness, so we can act and live according to this truth.

And what can we learn from him? How has he loved us? Of course, many, even infinite lessons. But we can cite a few.

He adapted himself to our lowly, base and wounded nature. He forgives us all the way, from the bottom of his heart and always. He took to himself the burden of the consequences of our own sins, again all the way to death, and death on the cross.

From these considerations alone, we can learn that we need to think always of the others, because thinking of them is also thinking and loving God himself. Let’s remember that Christ only had one purpose for coming to us—and that is to save us according to the will of his Father. His mission with us is in obedience to his Father.

We need to strengthen this attitude of thinking always of the others in ourselves. This attitude will bring us to God, as well as make us forget our own personal miseries which many times really have no objective basis. They are often invented by us, or are self-inflicted, precisely because we tend to think a lot about ourselves instead of the others.

We have to clearly see the connection of how loving the others is also loving God, with the implication that we forget ourselves more. We have to understand that whatever personal needs we have to consider—including our need for comfort, some pleasure, etc.—should be considered always in relation to God and to the others. Otherwise, we poison ourselves, if we just think in terms of our own selves.

And how should we love the others? Well, how does Christ love us? We are told to love without measure. That is the essence of love which Christ exemplified by loving us all the way to the cross. “No one has greater love than he who offers his life for his friend,” he himself says. And that’s quite obvious.

Even if we are still sinful, Christ continues to love us, ever willing to forgive us as often as necessary. We have to be wary of our tendency to base our loving on some reason. We need to love even if we run out of reasons for loving. This is the love in its purest state, the love lived by Christ.

In our daily affairs, let’s see to it that this love is present, and is the motive and driving force of our actions. Again, this is possible only when we are with Christ.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Religious indifference

WE cannot deny that there’s vast religious indifference and even hostility against religion today. That may be intriguing to say, since on the other hand, thanks be to God, we can also notice a surge of religious fervor in some sectors.

This contrast actually has been around since time immemorial, an indication that human history is always an interplay between good and evil, between God’s providence and man’s freedom. But what is interesting to note is the degree of seriousness into which both indifference and fervor have developed.

A complex structure of rationalizations now supports religious indifference and hostility to religion. It seems that the threads of naturalism, skepticism, agnosticism, atheism, relativism, etc., have become more sophisticated, snuffing whatever religious ember that may still remain in a person or in society.

Some intellectuals and occasional theologians join free thinkers in lending their dissenting voices and expertise to this trend, adding to the string of scandals the Church has been suffering these past few years.

Try to look at some of our so-called leading Catholic universities, and you will likely find nests of dissenters who invoke an unhinged type of academic freedom (aka, academic license) to retail their heresies and questionable if not patently erroneous ideas. They are quite well-funded and supported by powerful international ideological groups.

Even centers of religious formation and seminaries are infected with this kind of virus. Imagine seminarians and priests now taught about the beauty and practicality of contraception, etc. It’s really about time that a thorough clean-up be made in these places, but, of course, with due process.

In these places, reason and empirical findings are considered the ultimate measure of things, and are made to dispute the claims of faith, steadily removing its attractiveness to the people. With this approach, piety is slowly eroded until it becomes practically dead.

In these places, if things could not be fully understood and explained, if they could not be directly verified, if they are not socially, economically or politically practical, then they should be rejected. They are deemed senseless.

It’s as simple, or rather, as simplistic, as that. Such attitude sorely misses the point that truths of faith, being spiritual and supernatural, require more than human reason to be believed. It’s a tyranny to force everyone to work only within the framework of reason and understanding alone beyond which things simply cannot be true.

It sorely misses the point that we precisely need the gift of faith, because we are men of belief, more than of reason. Faith always respects reason, and always works through it, but is beyond it. It cannot be fully grasped by reason, much less by our senses. It has a longer spread, a wider scope, a deeper reach, a firmer grip on reality.

This is something to be understood well, because many are now so self-absorbed and self-righteous that anything that does not pass their empirically-based intellectual criteria just cannot be true.

With their vaunted irreverence, they mock and ridicule any reference to faith, to the spiritual and supernatural, often not realizing that they are actually acting out the roles of drunks and the drugged, or kids in tantrums, who can be eloquent in their locked-in state of self-righteousness.

How do we deal with this kind of situation? It’s good, of course, to enter into dialogue and personal dealings. But I don’t think that would be enough. Yes, there is need for friendly contacts and giving good example. But still those would not be enough.

Our Lord, when asked by his disciples why they could not cure a certain very difficult case, simply said that it can be handled only through prayers and fasting. I feel these are also what are needed to take care of this difficult challenge.

Religious indifference and hostility to religion have to be tackled by persistent effort to identify oneself with Christ through prayer and sacrifice. In other words, we have to be ready to be crucified, which is the best form of prayer and sacrifice.

There’s no other way. Unless we are willing to imitate Christ all the way to his crucifixion, we cannot expect to melt away the thick and sticky layer of religious indifference and hostility to religion among the people.

This crucifixion need not be in a public place. It can rather be in that personal effort to give everything to Christ—our mind, our heart, our feelings, our plans, our time, our honor, etc. Everything!

As Christ assured us, it’s when we lose that we gain, it’s when we die that we live, the last will be first…

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Challenges of the new evangelization

EVANGELIZATION, of course, is a continuing concern of the Church. It’s her mission inherent in her very nature, since the Church is a pilgrim Church.

The Church is in some kind of a travel, a dynamic process that involves forming people in all their variety of conditions to be the People of God, the family of God, in perfect communion of life and love with God and among ourselves. That’s the goal.

It involves the living transmission of the entire faith, and not just parts of it, and everything else that goes into the making of a breathing and working Christian life.

Yes, it entails inculcating the doctrine and truths of faith in an organic way. But to be sure, evangelization is not just an intellectual affair carried out simply by giving classes, receiving talks, listening to sermons, etc.

Still the intellectual aspect of evangelization is, of course, very significant. Those involved in it—first the clergy and then the consecrated, religious as well as other committed lay people—really have to master the doctrine of the faith in such a way that they have it at their fingertips and able to explain it well anytime to anyone.

This, to me, is still a big challenge. For it is getting obvious that many of the clergy are not yet well-formed in terms of doctrinal grounding. Not only are there many still in their amateur stage and very sophomoric in their preaching. There are quite a number who are confused if not mistaken in some areas.

This is not to mention the many inconsistencies in their or our life and ministry, me included, that often give rise to scandals that turn off people en masse. It might be good to look into the formation given in seminaries and to also see if the continuing formation for priests and others is truly working.

The usual problem here is that the formation is in many instances shallow, irregular, and incomplete. It’s not integral. If it’s fiery in one part, it’s cold as dead in the others. Thus, we can see a priest who is very active in social concerns but is rather asinine in spirituality. Or vice-versa.

The formation of priests and other evangelizers is one challenge in the new evangelization. The other and bigger challenge is how to deal with a people who have become increasingly secularized and Godless.

There are already many analyses made on this phenomenon. Big things, like the scourge of relativism, are posed as one major cause. But to me, the basic problem is that people don’t pray and do not believe in the power of prayer anymore. They cannot relate to it. They cannot find God in it. They rather stick to their own ideas, opinions, views, ideologies.

It seems many people are now stuck with a very harmful attitude of believing in themselves more than in a superior being. This is now the new ethos, the new spirit of the world that challenges the evangelizers.

And this has led to a fragmented view of things that has become the new normal nowadays. Each one can be on his own, or some consensus can be made, but going to God is now largely considered passé. It’s now man, not God, who holds the key to reality, to what is true and false, good and evil.

With this kind of mentality, the consideration of morality can go in any direction. And so, some extreme aberrations are now in the offing. Thus, we have this sad phenomenon of terrorism and a wave of rampage killers who must have been inspired either by a fanatical spirit or a nihilist one.

Perhaps, if we are to probe into their mind and soul, we can find that they most probably think that what they are doing is right. They become invincibly convinced they are right. It’s a horrible prospect that we need to consider very seriously.

With this kind of world, how should the new evangelization be? How should the evangelizer be to be effective? These are questions that should challenge the Church now, understanding the Church to be not only the Pope and bishops and clergy, but all the people of God, including the laypeople

The challenges of the new evangelization have to be tackled by all of us. We need to pray hard, study, develop the virtues, wage continuing conversions, because there can be no other way to face them.

The very daunting challenges are asking us to be more consistent with our Christian life. We need to be more committed.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Victory in defeat

THAT may sound funny, or a literary oxymoron, but in the lives of saints, in the life of Christ himself, yes, there can be victory in what may largely be considered as defeat.

            Just look at Christ’s own crucifixion and death. That event, from all human angles, could only mean defeat, a crushing defeat. But it was what led to his resurrection. It was what paid the price for all our sins to attain our redemption. From the spiritual angle, it can only mean victory.

            We need to look more closely at this very mysterious phenomenon, so that we can be more in line with God’s logic and ways, rather than remain in our very limited, time-and-earth-bound understanding of things.

            We need to expand and deepen our perspectives to accommodate this wonderful spiritual and supernatural reality offered to us. Of course, for this to happen, we have to pray, meditate, be humble enough to ask for God’s grace, for this is a truth of faith that can only enter our mind and heart when faith that requires humility is alive in us.

            Truth is, in this life of ours here on earth, often described as a “vale of tears,” we cannot help but experience contradictions, difficulties, mistakes, insults, ridicule, and all the other forms of failures. This is part of our human condition.

            It would, however, be naive on our part if we choose to get stuck with the merely earthly and temporal aspects of our life, when the reality that governs us includes the spiritual and supernatural that requires us to use our faith, more than just our senses and intelligence.

            With faith operative in us, we may experience all sorts of weaknesses, but we still can manage to have hope and to wage an appropriate battle to tackle them. With faith, we can avoid falling into the paralyzing state of cowardice. We can spring into action.

            Faith lets us share in the power of God who knows how to draw life from death, rest from hard labor, light from darkness, good from evil. We have to learn how to access this reality that is abundantly offered to us by God himself.

            With faith, we can echo St. Paul’s: “In all things, let us exhibit ourselves as ministers of God, in much patience, in tribulation, in necessities, in dying, and behold we live; as chastised, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as needy, yet enriching many; as having nothing, and possessing all things.” (2 Cor 6,9-10)

            With faith, we would know the value and meaning of pain, suffering and trials. These are sources of purification, occasions to grow in maturity and other virtues, moments to refine our awareness we are children of God who “chastises whom he loves, and scourges every son he receives.” (Heb 12,6)

            Thus, we need to exercise our faith more forcefully and consistently, something that we can do if we pray, meditate on God’s word, study the doctrine of our faith, develop the virtues, have recourse to the sacraments, wage a lifelong interior struggle, etc.

            Unfortunately, these are activities that are hardly appreciated by the people of today. They are even considered as a waste of time, a repression of the human spirit and freedom, useless relics of antiquity and of the dark ages, etc., the exact opposite of what these activities actually achieve if done properly.

            We need to rescue ourselves from such ignorance or misinformation. That’s why we have to talk a lot about the role of faith in life of all of us. Faith, like our reason, is not supposed to be practised by a few.

            Though we can refuse the use of faith, just like what we can do with reason, we have to understand that faith is meant to be used by all. We are actually beings not only of senses and reason, but also of faith. We use faith, knowingly or unknowingly.

            So, we have to realize that faith also has a valid and legitimate place in our public discourses—be it in the media or in the halls of congress and government. We cannot say that just because it is a Catholic faith or a Protestant or Muslim one, it is optional and therefore does not have a necessary role to play in our discourses.

            Truth is, faith is always in the middle of our discussions—if not a faith in God, then a faith in something else, including a faith only in oneself. Whether we are aware of that or not, the fact is some kind of faith is always involved.