Monday, January 28, 2013

From word to action

FROM word to action, from intention to fulfillment. These pairs are
actually worlds apart, and our duty is to put them together in unity,
to provide a link. We need to work out a strategy to achieve this goal

St. Paul has something very relevant to say about this. “Not the
hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall
be justified.” (Rom 2,13)  St. James says something similar: “Be doers
of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” (1,22)

Christ himself lived by this principle, even at the expense of his own
life. “I do nothing of myself, but as the Father has taught me...” (Jn
8,28) And in the agony in the garden, he expressed that most eloquent
submission to his Father’s will, “Not my will but yours be done.” (Lk

We need to understand that our whole life is a matter of conforming
ourselves to God’s will, the very seat of our ultimate identity as
persons and children of God. This would involve the stages of knowing
that will, believing it, then professing it and putting it into
action. In short, receiving our faith, then turning it into life

All saints and the parade of holy men and women all through the ages
have done nothing other than this. They had their ups and downs, their
wins and losses, but they always stood up after each fall or loss,
they repented, and went back to action again.

Of course, the epitome among the saints is Our Lady, who was praised
by Christ himself to high heavens. When someone in the crowd told him
his mother was around, he said: “Behold my mother and my brethren. For
whosoever shall do the will of my Father, that is in heaven, he is my
brother, and sister, and mother.” (Mt 12, 29-50)

We should see to it that we are good not only in words and in
intentions, but also and most especially in deeds. Our usual problem,
given our human nature and the current condition of our woundedness,
is that we tend precisely to be very good in words and in intentions
but really poor in performance and consistency.

Our words and intentions can far outpace our actions. Worse, they can
cover up our failures in our performance. We can always find excuses,
or even worse, we can always resort to rationalizing or telling lies,
or to painting scenarios that have no basis in reality.

And nowadays, the art and skill for doing these follies have developed
so much that a leader of a nation or an institution, for example, can
really mislead a big mass of people. If you’re not aware of them yet,
then familiarize yourselves with the dark practices of wagging the dog
and spinning.

Sad to say, in many parts of the world today, and especially in the
so-called developed countries that are actually suffering now in
decadence, these practices have been developed to quite a high degree.
They can truly deceive massively and easily.

Yes, the probability for us to fall into inconsistency, hypocrisy,
deception, playing games, etc., is quite high, and this predicament is
somehow now facilitated and abetted by a pervading mentality and
culture that pressure us to do these.

We have to be realistic and then acknowledge the obvious facts of the
world today. But we, of course, should not remain there. We should
strive to pursue how we ought to be.

The first thing that we have to do is to be humble enough to realize
our need to ask for God’s grace, since no amount of effort, no matter
how brilliant or heroic, could produce the right result without the
grace of God.

If we have to rectify and undo certain things that we have said or
done before, then let’s do them. God’s grace, which is abundant and is
freely given, would be of no avail if there are things in us that
would block it.
Then with that grace, let’s do all to convert our words into deeds,
our intentions into reality. We need to make use of a working plan
that can effectively address this need and requirement of ours. We
need time to pray, to come up with a strategy, and other reminders and
means to put us always aware of this need.

That’s why we need to have certain norms and standards to guide us in
this regard. Aside from praying, we need to examine our conscience
regularly, avail of confession and spiritual direction, etc.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Political genius or political animal?

AS a priest, I of course do not do politics, that is to say, I cannot
run for public office, I cannot take partisan positions in public,
unless the issues involved are clearly inhuman and unchristian. But I
should follow it closely, because politics is part of life and needs
to be guided by the proper spirit of Christ.

    That’s the reason why there is the social doctrine of the Church that
also covers politics. While it is the lay faithful who can take active
and direct part of it, the clergy should also see to it that the whole
political life in all levels of society is done properly.

    Besides, the clergy is also part of the citizenry, subject to the
laws of the land. They are part of the political life, obviously in a
way proper to their state. Everyone takes part of politics always in
accordance to one’s state and possibilities, the clerics in their own
way, the lay also in their own way.

    This doctrine of the Church has to be understood properly. It is that
way because the priest’s mission is eminently spiritual and
supernatural in nature. It’s a mission that is above but not exempt
from the understandable differences and conflicts of temporal affairs
such as politics.

    Thus the priest has to be extremely discerning to do his part in the
political life of the country. He is not supposed to take a passive
stance in it. He should be disinterested, but not uninterested. At
least he has to pray a lot, offer a lot of sacrifices, do a lot of
catechizing, etc. He has to be keenly interested in it, but in a
specific way.

    Having said that preamble, I must admit that I enjoy reading
political developments here and abroad. There is obviously the chance
to get excited with all the twists and turns of the political
maneuverings politicians do. But at the end of the day, I bring these
political items to prayer, trying to discern how things ought to go.

    And I learn a lot from this exercise, since it allows me to read
between the lines, to somehow read the minds of people, politicians
especially, and to read the signs of the times. While there is a lot
of tentativeness in this exercise, it actually gives me a lot of ideas
and all sorts of impulses that I need to tame and clarify.

    As of now, I learn a lot from certain moves of some politicians, both
local and international. There are instances when I think the move is
stupid, but also many instances when I am convinced the move is
brilliant, is a masterstroke.

    Since politicians are at the forefront of the development of society,
they cannot help but be extremely cautious and smart in their
actuations—their planning, their speeches, their public appearances,

    But they cannot avoid controversies and conflicts. And I must say
that I admire how some of them handle these situations well—how they
explain their positions, or defend them when attacked, how they have a
good sense of timing and of what to say to what kind of audience at a
given time.

    Some of them really have excellent speaking talents, with sharp minds
and witty tongues, and very adept both in aggressive and defensive
tactics. Obviously, there are some who truly are political geniuses.
But there sadly are others who can only elicit the judgment, tentative
at best, of being political animals bereft of conscience.

    Political developments are actually good learning moments. They
should not be wasted by tackling it superficially as in simply giving
knee-jerk reactions that tend to exaggerate or oversimplify things and
are prone to make negative responses more than positive.

    In short, politic discussions and analyses should go beyond the level
of the barbers. Let’s pray that our political columnists really do
their part well, giving well-thought-out opinions and commentaries
that should always be characterized by charity and fairness.

    Sad to say, there are instances when some of these commentators are
just out and out unfair, painting their enemy-politicians as the devil
incarnate while putting their friend-politicians on a pedestal as if
these are incapable of sinning. That’s really over the top or way
under the bottom.

    We have to learn to hold our horses when reacting to political
issues. Let’s study them first, weigh things disinterestedly. Better,
bring them to our prayer and ask God for light. We need to learn to
relate political developments and issues to God and to the common

Friday, January 25, 2013

Between despair and presumption

THAT’S the virtue of hope, the virtue most needed these days as we
face more trials and challenges in our life, personal, family, social
and national. It’s a way of coping.

We have to cultivate it, understanding it first of all in its proper
nature that needs to be surfaced, since our usual idea of it, derived
mainly from social, cultural and historical factors, needs
purification, even radical purification.

To be sure, the virtue of hope is the antithesis of despair, which is
precisely the lack and even the absence of hope. It’s a terrible
feeling of helplessness, with the mind and heart only able to see a
dark world with no future, with no reason for living further. Its
precursor is the constricting attitude of pessimism.

But less acknowledged as a mortal enemy of hope is the other extreme,
what may be considered as an excess of hope, which is presumption.
This is the thinking that everything will just be all right and that
there’s no need for one to do anything.

This is naivete at its worst, since it is not the kind typical of a
child. When an adult who ought to know better, falls into it, things
get really worse. But still worse than naivete, presumption can be
regarded as an attempt to tempt God who is often invoked to save and
heal whatever needs to be saved and healed.

Presumption has to be distinguished from a healthy sense of
abandonment that we should also cultivate. Presumption leaves
everything to God or to fate without one doing anything. A healthy
sense of abandonment leaves everything to God but also doing
everything he can to resolve whatever issue is at hand.

We have to reiterate the truth—yes, it’s a truth, and not just a
theory or an opinion—that there is always hope for everyone, no matter
what happens. And that’s simply because God will always take care of
everything, in spite of our mistakes and failures.

God is the core of hope. It’s not just luck or chance or good fortune.
The living God is the firm, indestructible and ever-reliable basis for
hope. He never fails. And no matter how much we mess up with his plans
and providence, he knows how to derive good from evil, and to turn our
mistakes into ways to bring us back to him. As it has been said quite
often, God writes straight in crooked lines.

That’s why we have to learn to be tough and strong, patient and sporty
in the game of life that can see us going up or down, twisting and
turning to the music of the changing times.

The story of St. Paul gives us precious lessons on hope. From a rabid
persecutor of the early Christians, he became the most fervent
apostle, open to anything, good or bad, that he encountered in his
ministry. He was simply game to whatever.

In his own words, we get an idea of what he went through and what
attitude he had toward the events. “Thrice was I beaten with rods,
once I was stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I
was in the depth of the sea. In journeying often in perils of water,
in perils of perils of the wilderness, in perils in the
sea, in perils from false brethren...” (2 Cor 11,25-26)

Then after all these, he concluded: “If I must need glory, I will
glory of the things that concern my infirmity.” Later on, he would
say: “I please myself in my infirmities, in reproaches, in
necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ. For when I am
weak, then am I powerful.” (2 Cor 12,10)

We need to ground our hope on Christ, and not on an ideology or some
magic or material concoctions. It’s with Christ that we can manage to
face, tackle and do anything.

Describing the attitude of St. Paul, the Church Father, St. John
Chrysostom, had this to say: “Paul set no store by the things that
fill our visible world, any more than a man sets value on the withered
grass of the field.

“As for tyrannical rulers or the people enraged against him, he paid
them no more heed than gnats. Death itself and pain and whatever
torments might come were by child’s play to him, provided that thereby
he might bear some burden for the sake of Christ.”

I believe it’s worthwhile to meditate on the life of St. Paul to get a
clear idea of how to grow in hope.

Recovering the sense of order

THERE used to be great concern for order. Nowadays, such concern is
all but lost. Expressions such as “law and order,” “peace and order,”
etc., used to proliferate in ages past and commanded due attention and

And people in general tried their best to put order into their things
and their affairs. But now, all that seems to have disappeared from
the horizon of our general consciousness.

We need to recover our sense of order. I suspect that the basic cause
of this loss of the sense of order is that we have been grounding it
wrongly, or at least inadequately. Not only that. Many of us do not
know exactly why we have to live order, what its ultimate purpose is.
In short, we are not clear about its beginning and end.

We get contented with what may be called as middle-term order, a
conception of order that is detached from its proper roots and
ultimate source and inspiration on the one hand, and its ultimate
purpose and goal, on the other.

We have been satisfied with some material order only, or a civil
social order that is more external than formal, more on appearance
than on substance. It’s an order that comes more from an outside
pressure rather than from an inner conviction actuated by a spiritual
and supernatural principle who is God.

It’s an order that is motivated mainly by considerations of
convenience and practicality, and nothing much else, and much less by
motives of love of God and neighbor.

That’s why when these practical considerations are already satisfied,
then the reason for living order disappears. It cannot countenance
trials, sufferings, etc., as part of its consequences, given our
current human condition.

Thus, we have a lot of disorder, or an order that can go only so far.
It cannot go all the way. It gets disrupted sooner or later. We see
this predicament all over.

Especially these days, with the coming of the new technologies, the
plunge to disorder is made easier and graver. That’s why we have many
cases of people falling into all sorts of manias and obsessions. They
fall into certain attachments hardened by the ease with which these
attachments can be served because of the new technologies.

Disorders arising from these causes can go to both extremes of
overzealousness in some areas and apathy in others. These disorders
usually spring from self-righteousness, scrupulous and lax
consciences, and lead to things like unfair discriminations, a highly
selective and biased sense of preferences, etc.

We need to cultivate in an abiding way a certain culture of order that
is proper to us as persons and children of God. It should be an order
that is inspired mainly by love, by charity, which is very much
compatible with patience, understanding and compassion, flexibility
and not rigidity.

This would bring order beyond the criterion of mere practicality and
puts it at play in a bigger field, more complete picture and

It should be a sense and a culture of order that is human, not
mechanical. It has a feeling heart, not a mindless machine. It
discerns nuances in persons, events and situations. It is not a blind
application of rules that puts everything in one easy, sweeping

It should be a sense and a culture of order that knows how to
distinguish between what is absolute and what is relative, what is of
eternal value and what is of temporal worth. It does not absolutize
the relative, nor relativize the absolute. Neither does it eternalize
the temporal, nor temporalize the eternal. But it knows how to relate
these categories according to the mind of God.

It should be a sense and a culture of order that has a clear hierarchy
of priorities, that knows how to live and defend it in charity, and
that knows how to get up and make up once some disturbances throw it
into some disorder. In short, it is a sense of order that knows how to
recover and renew itself once it is disturbed or lost.

To achieve this goal may seem very lofty, if not impossible.. But it
is worth the effort. The journey of a thousand steps, as the saying
goes, starts with the first step. Let’s be hopeful and optimistic. We
can reach that goal if we want it, since the grace of God is never

Obviously, we have to start with what we have here and now, with the
small things of our day—organizing our day, our daily tasks, etc.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What to think of success

SOME seminarians, still fresh and green in seminary life, approached
me the other day to ask about success. When asked what in particular
about success they wanted to know, they fumbled and just said,

That’s when I realized they were just after fulfilling a class
requirement by making some paper about a topic, something that I, of
course, understood very well. I passed through that stage. I suppose
everyone does.

But the query ignited vivid memories of childhood. Back in my grade
school and high school years, I thought success was having good
grades, reaping honors right and left, having drop-dead looks that
would seduce girls immediately, being versatile in talents, competent
in work, becoming a millionaire and a powerful man in society.

There were many other fantastic ideas that passed through the mind and
engaged me in some suspenseful episodes. But it took some time before
reality would sink in properly. I suppose the youth are entitled
somehow to some extravagant ideas.

Yes, reality has a way of making itself felt. In my case, it was when
I stumbled over a biblical passage that said something like everything
in life is vanity. At that moment, I was also experiencing all sorts
of frustrations and disappointments, making me prone to give favorable
attention to that passage.

I knew some of these disappointments were caused by my exaggerated
expectations. But there were others which I thought I deserved
rightfully but were denied to me. And so I fell into thinking
seriously about what meaning life really has, what success in life
would really consist.

It was only later when I could point the exact citation that really
opened my mind and heart. A priest recited a line from the Book of
Ecclesiastes that struck my attention, first of all, because of its
poetic charm. Only later did I relish its significance.

The line was: “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain
by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes,
and a generation comes, but the earth remains for ever. The sun rises
and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises...”
(Ecc 1,2-5)

And the passage continues in its rhythmic lyricism, pumping in more
and more the realistic message that indeed everything in life is
vanity, and that actually only one thing is necessary. And that is to
be with God.

It does not really matter whether we rise or fall in life in the many
terms our life here can be measured and assessed—money, fame, looks,
health, talents, etc. But it is only when we are with God can we truly
say that we have succeeded in life.

It’s a truth reiterated and reinforced by Christ himself when he said:
“What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his
own soul?” And also when he said in the episode of Martha and Mary
that “only one thing is necessary, and Mary has chosen the best part.”

We need to be vigorously awake to this truth, because many now are the
irresistible worldly decoys that divert us from it. That being with
God is the only thing necessary never means that the things of this
world are not important, that we can take a passive attitude toward
them or that we just be mediocre about them.

Rather the contrary. Being with God would push us to the limit to make
the most out of whatever we do or whatever happens to us in this life.
And that is to trust him, to love him, and because of that love, we
have to love others the way God loves all of us.

Whatever happens here, whether we rise or fall, whether we win or
lose, only has relative value. What is of absolute value is being with
God. This is what true success is. This is how genuine success has to
be assessed and measured.

Many times, we have to make a choice between God and us. St. Augustine
precisely formulated the choice we have to make in the life in the
most radical way by saying that it’s always a choice between God and
us everytime we do something.

We have to make sure that we win the favor of God before we consider
winning the favor of men.  Let’s follow the example of St. Peter, and
many other saints who articulated their choice by saying that they
obey God first before they obey men.

True success lies there, and not in any other.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Managing popular piety

WE have to give thanks to God, of the whopping kind, for the
tremendous devotion Cebuanos and many others have toward the Sto.
Nino, the child Jesus dressed as king for indeed he is king of the

    This devotion has not waned one bit. On the contrary, it has grown
through the years in spite of the trials and difficulties not only in
terms of economics and politics but also in terms of the faith, what
with all the scandals also swamping the Church in recent years.

    It is obvious that the hand of God is behind all this overwhelming
manifestation of popular piety. How else can we explain the staggering
turn-out of people for the procession and the Masses for this feast?

    And I must say that it’s not only in numbers that are breath-taking.
It’s more the very clear external manifestations of piety that truly
show what the people have inside their hearts. This is no mass
hysteria. Just look at the dancing and all the gestures!

    We have to show our deep gratitude by feeling the grave
responsibility of taking care of this vast popular piety. We have to
understand that this is a continuing task. We can never rest in this.
We have to be wary of our tendency to be taken in by a sense of
euphoria, very understandable, that can deaden our sense of duty.

    We have to make sure that the religious dimension is always preserved
as the main animating element of the celebration. We need to
strengthen it, and equip it with the appropriate “antidote” against
foreign elements that can also be expected to come.

    Popular piety can attract all sorts of things. It’s like a pie or a
cake in the open air. Politicians will take advantage of it. For good
or evil, we cannot determine for now. So, some regulating indications
have to be made.

    Business people, the big ones and the small ones, obviously will also
do some milking and killing of the big event. This is all very
understandable. Again, some effective regulating provisions have to be

    Different people from different fields will use it from their
respective interests. There has to be a way of determining which is
compatible with the over-all celebration and which is not. People from
the fields of culture, education, sports and entertainment, etc. will
all have a field day.

    The Church leaders have to be most active and persistent in
underlining the spiritual and supernatural dimension without
detracting from the legitimate human dimension. This is not an easy

    Often, the way to go is by trial and error, and errors will surely
come. But as long as the concern remains, and the people involved have
the proper dispositions and competence, then we can only expect
success especially in the spiritual side. A lot of coordination is

    For sure, a lot of catechesis given in ways very much adapted to the
different mentalities of the people is a must. Priests, nuns and
others can expect a more receptive attitude from the people given the
general atmosphere.

    Homilies and other forms of preaching have to be very well prepared.
As much as possible, we avoid improvised preaching that either turns
off people or spoil them in their ignorance, confusion and other forms
of deficiencies.

    By now, Church leaders should have a good idea of what to tell the
people, how to motivate and inspire them. This idea should be well
articulated and developed in appropriate modules and preaching plans
that can make use of modern technologies like the social media.

    With the vast popularity of this devotion, Church leaders should
acquire the skills of using the mass media properly. They are the new
pulpit, the new Areopagus. And actually there are a lot of things to
say, to preach, to clarify and explain, to correct, etc.

    People have to be gradually introduced to the intricacies of theology
and philosophy and the other sciences that deal with our faith and
devotions. We should never be afraid to do these, since these are
necessary. Otherwise, only the secularizing forces can dominate the
public consciousness.

    Obviously, relevant educational, social and cultural activities
should also be pursued. Seminars in schools and other venues,
exhibits, etc. can be promoted.

    Underlying all these efforts should be intense prayer and sacrifice,
mostly personal and hidden, though these can also be made collective.

    We need to review how each one of us is taking care of our life of
prayer and sacrifice. With God’s grace, this is what determines the
success of popular piety.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Building up unity

EVERY year, precisely on the very meaningful feast of the conversion
of St. Paul, January 25, the Church culminates its Week of Prayer for
Christian Unity that starts on January 18.

    St. Paul, of course, is very emblematic of this concern since he is
the apostle of the Gentiles who expanded the Jewish belief that the
divine redeemer is meant only for them.

    It’s a good occasion to reflect on the unity that Christ himself
prayed for so fervently just before entering into his passion and
death. From the gospel of St. John, chapter 17, we have this beautiful
account of Christ’s prayer:

    “Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that
they may be one, even as we are one...The glory which thou hast given
me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in
them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the
world may know that thou hast sent me...”

    May it be that this desire of Christ himself becomes a reality.
Christian unity is, of course, a spiritual and supernatural goal that
is mainly invisible. But since it concerns us, who are both body and
soul, then it cannot help but also have some visible elements.

    This, I think, is where much of the problem in the pursuit of this
elusive Christian unity lies. There are those, presumably with very
good intentions, who believe that just by believing in Christ in a
personal way, then this Christian unity is already attained.

    That position obviously encounters serious problems and difficulties
right at the first base. How can we say we have Christian unity when
in spite of believing, at least in theory, in Christ, we have
different, even conflicting doctrines and beliefs, ways and practices,

    Can we say there is unity if one group says Christ is man only, not
God, and another says Christ is God only, not man? Can there be unity
if one group says salvation is through faith alone, while another says
it is only through works?

    There are many, many things that need to be ironed out, and that’s
why, especially in this Year of Faith, a continuing discussion of
doctrinal matters be pursued relentlessly in all levels, from top to

    Christian unity is, of course, not a matter of uniformity. A rich and
great variety of forms and expressions can be compatible with
Christian unity. But it has a basic core that cannot be compromised,
and that core is both spiritual and material, eternal and temporal,
charismatic and hierarchical, invisible and visible.

    Obviously, Christian unity will not only be a product of theological
discussions. It involves the whole gamut of human and divine relations
that actually cover everything. On the human side, it would be good if
fraternal relations with Churches and ecclesial communities not yet in
full communion with the Catholic Church are intensified.

    In this, let us always be friendly with everyone, even with those who
at the moment may be against us in point of doctrine and praxis.
Friendliness, as aspect of love, will always win at the end of the

    On the spiritual side, this cause would be served well if everyone
prays for it in earnest and offers generous sacrifices, big or small.
We should be ready to become martyrs for this cause, like St. Pedro

    God’s grace works in mysterious ways, and can affect us in ways far
beyond our understanding and planning. We should also realize the
great need for the recourse to the sacraments and a continuing
ascetical struggle for holiness. These are the non-negotiables.

    We also need to study our doctrine well and hone up our skills at
dialogue which is crucial in the quest for Christian unity. Though
each one has a role to play here, it cannot be denied that a few would
have to be chosen and properly trained to pursue this particular task
on behalf of the Church and all souls.

    Let’s hope that our seminaries and other centers of formation are
giving adequate attention to this concern. Guidelines, and even a
directory of relevant instructions, have already be formulated for
this purpose.

    It’s not an easy task. It demands a lot of patience and flexibility
without entering into improper compromises. But it has to be tackled
boldly, not hesitatingly. Let’s pray that everyone realizes this.

    Let’s take advantage of the Year of Faith to pursue Christian unity,
the fervent desire of Christ himself.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Living stones

 I HAPPENED to be nearby when the dedication of the newly renovated
cathedral of San Pablo City in Laguna took place recently. I
immediately went there without being formally invited due to a number
of personal reasons.

    I learned that the architect who designed the renovation was a close
friend of mine who is really a first-class architect. He has designed
many beautiful churches and chapels, and I wanted to see another
marvel of his.

    Then, both the outgoing and incoming rectors of the cathedral were
also friends of mine. They were seminarians in the seminary in Spain
which was my first pastoral assignment after my ordination. A good
number of the priests in that diocese are also alumni of the same
seminary in Spain. So, I wanted to see them again after so many years.

    As if these were not enough, I discovered to my pleasant surprise
that the main celebrant of the Mass was Cebu’s archbishop-emeritus,
Cardinal Ricardo Vidal. So I felt very much at home even if this was
only my second time to be in that city.

    Since the affair was about the dedication of a cathedral, the
cardinal preached in his homily about what a church is. As expected,
he made reference to some passages in the first letter of St. Peter
that talked about the church being made by living stones, that is, us,

    The relevant quotation is the following: “Be you also as living
stones built up, a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up
spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” (2,4)

    This letter of St. Peter also talks about Jesus as the corner stone
that has been rejected but which in fact is the one that gives unity
and cohesion to this building, the church that is made of living
stones, that is, us.

    Up to now, I feel that people have to be reminded about this
fundamental element in the definition of the church. While the church
is, of course, a special place, a special building since it is a house
of worship—we even refer to it as the house of God—it is much more
than an edifice.

    The church is a communion of people with God and among themselves. It
is much more than just a social and material community of people
gathered together. That is already a lot, but not yet enough.

    A community which is an external phenomenon has to be animated inside
by a living communion of life and love rooted on the love of God,
shown and given to us in full through Christ and transmitted to us
through the Church that was founded by Christ on Peter.

    Unless this communion takes place, the vitality and unity of any
community that we can see would be at best only apparent. It cannot
last long. It cannot pass the test of time, not to mention, the many
challenges that it is bound to encounter in life.

    There is a lot of theology involved here, something that we have to
deepen ourselves in and master, because in the first place it is
unavoidable. To relish the fullness of things, to reach the ultimate
consequences of what we see, touch and feel and of what we understand,
we need to enter into theology where we allow faith to play its
crucial role in our effort to understand things.

    Theology, with its essential element of faith, allows us to penetrate
into the spiritual and supernatural realities that are impenetrable to
our senses and even to our reason alone.

    And given the complexities of our times, we cannot afford to be
ignorant of theology anymore. We need to go serious with it, purifying
it from the usual superstitions and other errors that also distort it.
In this, we just have to help one another.

    I considered it as some stroke of providence that I finished that day
of the dedication of the San Pablo Cathedral with a viewing of the
movie, For greater glory, which is about the religious persecution in
Mexico in the 1920s.

    It’s a terrible story that simply showed malice played out in the
political life of that country, and the not-so-right effort to defend
religious freedom that resorted also to forms of violence.

    My analysis is that these things happen when faith is excluded in
public life and forced to survive in some clandestine manners that are
also prone to irregularities.

    We have to be living stones that build up a true Church which is
supposed to be the mystical body of Christ himself!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Work and prayer

THESE two ought to be together. At the moment, of course, we are far
way off the ideal. Work and prayer are supposed to be together,
because our life, though with many parts, aspects, levels, is only one
and that life is a life with God, our Creator and Father.

    Everything in it is supposed to be done or to take place with God. In
spiritual parlance, this doctrine is called the “unity of life.” We
need to be more keenly aware of this doctrine and to start to
translate it into practice.

    The objective reality of our life should be reflected as perfectly as
possible in our subjective understanding of our life. That is when we
would be living in the truth, precisely because truth is when our
subjective grasp of things agrees with the objective reality.

    Since our life is a life with God, then we can also say that our life
is a life of prayer. That is the broadest definition of prayer. Prayer
is when we are with God subjectively, when we correspond to the
objective reality of our being with God. This can be done
intentionally, mentally, orally, etc.

    But prayer can and should be done also through our work, our study,
our rest, and in fact through all the phases, aspects and activities
of our life. Thus, St. Paul says: “Therefore, whether you eat or
drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor

    We should not consider this Pauline indication as an exaggeration, or
a purely religious dictum that we are free to accept or not. Of
course, we are free to refuse it, but that would be akin to the
freedom of harming oneself.

    We need to adapt our thinking and our culture and civilization in
general to this truth that comes to us more through our faith than
through our own estimation of things. Reality in its ultimate
dimensions is given to us by faith more than by our reason and senses

    That we have to do everything for God and with God can be derived
also from the words of Christ who, when asked what the greatest
commandment was, said: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy
whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and thy whole mind.” (Mt 22,36)
Sorry, but I don’t see how else those words could be understood.

    With respect to our work which we have to learn to convert into
prayer, we can say that the basis for this is that we have been
created by God to work. We have been made to work just as the birds
are made to fly. Work is not meant to be a curse or punishment to us.
In fact, it plays a prominent role in our nature and life.

    Work is part of what makes us “the image and likeness of God.” It is
what integrates all our human faculties and turns our potencies into
actualities. It offers us the means of livelihood and the tool for
development and progress, both personal and social, local and global.

    More, our work is always a work of God also. It is not just our work.
It is part of divine providence, that abiding governance of God over
all his creation.

    It is important that we be aware of these truths so that we avoid
distorting it, or reducing or impoverishing it of its objective role
in our life, or worse, of making it work against us and God.

    Unfortunately, we are seeing many disturbing phenomena related to
work. If there are many people who have unhealthy attitudes toward
work so that they as much as possible would refrain from work, there
are also those who work hard but with evil motives and improper

    It is now a big challenge for us to recover the true nature,
character and role of work in our life. The recovery has to start with
the individual persons, then the family, the schools, before the true
face of work can be seen in our government offices, private businesses
and industries, sports and recreation, politics, culture, etc.

    One indispensable thing that we should do or realize is that our work
is actually a personal encounter with God, and because of that, it is
also a personal encounter with everybody else.

    Work, just like our life in general, is relational. That is how work
could be done properly. That is how work could become prayer and also
love and service for others. Let’s put work and prayer together!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Acceptance and abandonment

IN this life, we need to acquire a good, healthy sporting spirit,
because life is actually like a game. Yes, life is like a game. We set
out to pursue a goal, we have to follow certain rules, we are given
some means, tools and instruments, we are primed to win and we do our
best, but losses can come, and yet, we just have to move on.

    Woe to us when we get stuck with our defeats and failures, developing
a loser’s mentality. That would be the epic fail that puts a period
and a finis in a hanging narrative, when a comma, a colon or
semi-colon would have sufficed.

    We need a sporting spirit because life’s true failure can come only
when we choose not to have hope. That happens when our vision and
understanding of things is narrow and limited, confined only to the
here and now and ignorant of the transcendent reality of the spiritual
and supernatural world.

    An indispensable ingredient of this healthy sporting spirit is the
sense of acceptance and abandonment that we need to deliberately
cultivate. This does not come automatically, as if it’s part of our
genes. We have to develop them.

    We have to learn to accept things the way they are or the way they
can be. Yes, it’s true that we can shape things and events in our
life. We can even shape, to a certain extent, persons.

    There’s a certain validity to the saying that “life is what we make
it.” But this cannot be true all the time. We cannot succeed in all
our plans all the time, no matter how pure our intentions and heroic
our deeds. Life has aspects outside our control.

    It would be wrong to fall into anguish and bitterness just because of
these frustrations. In the Book of Ecclesiastes, we are already warned
to be ready to accept all kinds of possible situations and

    “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” What does it a profit if one
works or not, is wise or not, if he succeeds or loses. Everything will
just be the same in that everything ends and is thrown into Sheol,
that is, into darkness and oblivion.

    Of course, this Old Testament wisdom has a limited validity. It is
imperfect and incomplete, in that it has not yet known the liberation
and perfection brought about by Christ, the Son of God who became man
precisely to save us.

    But it is basis enough for us to develop an attitude of acceptance in
life, which also has to be accompanied by an attitude of abandonment
in the hands of God. This latter attitude is rooted on a richer truth
that comes from our faith, our belief that there is God, our Creator
and Father, who loves us and provides for us everything that we need.

    We need to enliven our faith, detaching ourselves from the
suffocating grip of our senses and reasoning alone that can only
discern things to a certain extent, but not all the way. We need faith
to put ourselves in the omniscient and omnipotent system of God.

    As Pope Benedict said in his Letter, Porta fidei (Door of faith),
that proclaimed the Year of Faith for 2012 to 2013, “there is no other
possibility for possessing certitude with regard to one’s life apart
from self-abandonment, in a continuous crescendo, into the hands of a
love that grows constantly because it has its origin in God.” (7)

    Only the doubters and skeptics, the agnostics and atheists
subjectively exclude themselves from the all-embracing providence of
God, who governs everything out of wisdom and love.

    A certain sense of abandonment is needed in life. It surely is not
the type where we just do nothing. It’s an active, intelligent
abandonment, driven by faith and love for God.

    We can know God, and know him a lot. We can cooperate with him, and
cooperate with him a lot. But we cannot know him completely, nor
cooperate with him 100%.

    Someone said that if anyone claims to know God completely, and by
corollary, to cooperate with him completely, we can be sure that that
God is not the real God, for God, while knowable and relatable, always
transcends our ways. So trust, a sense of abandonment, is unavoidable.

    Christ, the fullness of divine revelation, himself taught us to live
a certain sense of abandonment. And he lived it to perfection when he
abandoned himself to the will of his Father by accepting his death on
the cross.

    Let’s meditate on his passion and death often.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Piety for our times

PIETY is, of course, an indispensable virtue, because whether we like
it or not, or are aware of it or not, we live it in one form or
another. At least, we become aware of the seeds of piety early in

    That’s because we are always in need to relate ourselves to someone
superior to us—be it our parents, our elders, and ultimately, God,
regardless of how we think about him.

    It’s possible, though, that at a later time and usually after many
disappointing experiences, one may just have piety with his own self,
since he only believes in himself. Let’s not talk about this
possibility. Let’s just focus on what we normally—at least as of this
time—think of piety.

    With the increasing pace of modern life, with its fascination for
technology and values like pragmatism, etc., it’s crucial that we take
a close, serious look at our responsibility to develop piety toward

    This is becoming an urgent necessity, since many now are the factors
that tend to snuff out our sense of piety. The many concerns and
pressures we meet everyday have an effective desensitizing effect on

    This is not to mention that especially in our very complicated times,
we also meet a lot of puzzles and contradictions that erode our faith
and piety in a supreme being that is supposed to be supernatural, all
wise and all powerful.

    It’s a predicament that actually has been experienced since time
immemorial. The Bible, from the Old Testament to the New, is full of
such stories. We start to question, then doubt, and can even fall into
unbelief, once our expectations and understanding of things seem to be
consistently contradicted.

    Why do evil men enjoy success and the good ones suffer? Why are those
who try to pray and lead a moral, saintly life, usually end up poor,
maltreated, etc., while those who seem carefree spiritually and
morally appear to have a good time?

    It’s situations like these that actually call, yes, even demand a
genuine, deeply-embedded piety, rather than lead us to despair and
bitterness. It really depends on us on how to react to these

    We just need to realize that as much as possible we should not allow
the many disappointments and contradictions in life or our
intoxicating successes to simply play upon our senses and reasoning
that can only absorb things to a certain point.

    They should be handled by our faith, with its corresponding piety,
that allows us, with God’s grace, to accept and somehow understand
whatever can happen to us in this life.

    With faith and piety, we allow God, more than our own devices, to
guide us through any situation we may find ourselves in, good or bad,
big or small.

    This is a point that we need to understand well. Very often, our
understanding of piety veers more toward something human than divine.
It’s a joint effort, of course, but with God making the initiative and
us corresponding to it as best we can.

    We have to let go of the attitude, often unspoken, that makes us the
main actor of piety. Toward piety, our attitude should first of all be
that of obedience, docility, submission, before it can be something
active and fruitful.

    Pope Benedict, in his Porta Fidei that declares the Year of Faith we
are in now, says: “To the extent that he freely cooperates, man’s
thoughts and affections, mentality and conduct are slowly purified and
transformed, on a journey that is never completely finished in this

    We need to give teeth and body to this cooperation with God through a
clear and concrete plan of piety that should center around prayer,
sacrifice, recourse to God’s word and sacraments, etc., for these are
where we get in touch with God.

    In this regard, and in view of the current conditions of the world,
we just cannot have a life of piety that is led more by us than by
God. We need to have a plan adapted to our particular circumstances
and to the objective requirements of our spiritual and moral life.

    In short, we have to outgrow the mentality that keeps piety a low
priority in the hierarchy of goals we have to pursue. It’s something
basic on which all the other goals of our life have to be founded.

    We need to have a living, breathing piety that infuses us in all
aspects of our life with an immediately-felt sense of love for God and
others. It should be a piety that would definitively define our life.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The real lifestyle diseases

BECAUSE of the many comforts and amenities brought about by factors
like advances in the sciences and technologies, we are also developing
certain lifestyles that together with their many advantages bring with
them certain dangers.

    Medical doctors now talk, for example, of lifestyle diseases that
more than genetic or hereditary causes are consequences of a mix of
unhealthy attitudes, environmental factors, and the usual food and
drink usually taken these days.

    These lifestyle diseases can refer to heart attacks, strokes, cancer,
etc., that are becoming the prominent killers of our times. They are
brought about usually by a lifestyle, and even of a generalized
culture of indulgence that usually goes together with laziness,
aimlessness and idleness.

    So instead of healthy food like fish and veggies, many people now
just go for meat and junk food. They tend to over-eat, making gluttony
a kind of value to be learned and lived these days.

    Instead of the necessary physical exercise and activity, many of us
spend hours just sitting before the computers or TV. These are the
so-called couch potatoes. No wonder we have a lot of obese people and
people with elevated sugar, blood pressure, etc. There is also a surge
of smoking and overdrinking.

    Stress is also becoming more pronounced now. And I believe it’s more
subjective than objective, because while it’s true that the sources of
stress have increased, the capacity to handle it has also decreased,
but to a degree that outpaces the sources of stress.

    This phenomenon, I believe, is due to a large extent to the erosion
of the spiritual foundations on which our life depends. Many people
succumb handily to an easy, light and fun-filled ways of doing things.

    They do not anymore see the value of suffering and sacrifice. They
consider these elements in our life as purely negative, to be avoided
at all costs. They fail to see that the suffering and sacrifice are an
integral part of our life here on earth, given our wounded human

    The suffering and sacrifice, the difficulties, trials and challenges
can actually be an occasion to develop more virtues. And if we believe
in the Christian faith, we would know that these things are precisely
the means to our perfection and salvation.

    But many of the people today are at least ignorant of the spiritual
and religious meaning of suffering and of life in general. Many have
even gone from religious ignorance to religious indifference and even
beyond that, to religious hostility

    We now have many agnostics if not atheists, perhaps more of the
practical type than of the theoretical type. This is the real
lifestyle disease that we have now. It leads to a weakening of the
spiritual foundation that gives support and nourishment to all the
other aspects of life.

    Many people do not know how to pray. And if they ‘pray,’ it is just
muttering of words, expressing what one has inside, rather than a
filial conversation with our father, God, much less, a participation
in the prayer of Christ himself, which is the ideal form of prayer,
since our prayer should always be through Christ.

    Many people are ignorant and even averse to the doctrine of Christ,
now authoritatively taught by the Church. They always find fault or
some excuses not to follow Church teaching.

    Many people are not developing virtues. Rather they are in fact
quickly falling to more and more vices. They are becoming less and
less spiritual, and more and more sensual.

    All these are the very virus that is behind the so-called “culture of
death” that is spreading in the world today, including our own
country. The passage of the RH Bill, now a law, lends credence to this

    That this law is made to bank on prolife premises like respect for
constitution, recognition of the value of marriage and family, promise
to protect life of both mother and child, access to “safe”
contraceptive means, etc., is a clever move to hide the real intent of
the law which is to institutionalize the contraceptive mentality in
our country.

    It will take time before the real effects of this law can be seen. We
seem to prefer to close our eyes before the overwhelming pieces of
evidence provided by many countries that have legalized the RH.
Legalizing RH can only mean a contraceptive mentality that eventually
will lead to abortion and other perversions.

    At the moment, we now hear about divorce bills. Some people are now
talking about same-sex marriage and euthanasia. These are the other
parts of the lifestyle disease we have now.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The epiphany must go on

WE have just celebrated the solemnity of the epiphany of the Lord,
otherwise known as the feast of the 3 Kings or the 3 Magi. With this
celebration we are reminded that at the “fullness of time” when the
son of God was born of a woman, this God-made-man was meant not only
for the Jews but all of us.

    There must be a lot of drama behind this episode of the visit of
these 3 magi that is largely ignored by us. That’s why it’s good that
from time to time, we take the effort to study the fine print, perhaps
read a good book pertinent to the matter, or consult some experts.

    What can be said is that in the sweep of all the interesting and
intriguing stories compiled in the Old Testament of the Bible, there
must have been some people who seriously took the word of God as it
was revealed in the beginning of the creation and tried to followed
its indications as the signs became evident.

    This was the case of the 3 magi who traveled from distant lands to
find and pay homage to the King of the Jews. We don’t have the space
here to trace the twists and turns of this event, but suffice it to
say that this episode recovers the forgotten truth that the Messiah
was meant for all, and not just for a few.

    That is the meaning of epiphany. It’s Christ’s manifestation to all
people, not only to the Jews but also to the Gentiles which was the
collective name to refer to all people who were not Jews, who were the
chosen people.

    We need to bring our understanding of epiphany to another level to
refer to the fact that the Son of God who became man is not only
supposed to manifest himself to all people, but also to all things and

    In other words, we are supposed to recognize the presence of our
divine redeemer, the one who saves and perfects us in our humanity and
in our dignity as children of God, not only in other people, but also
in things and events.

    This is where we are most negligent. While we are still way far from
the ideal of recognizing Christ in every person, we can say that it is
even worse when we talk about recognizing Christ in everything.

    The epiphany of Christ has to go on. His manifestation to us through
people and things has to continue. This time, we need to step up our
attitude and skills to capture this reality.

    That’s why we need to pray, to study well the doctrine of our faith
which while formulated by us, men, and therefore can contain some
limitations and impurities, is in substance the living and eternal
word of God that never fails to bring Christ to us anytime anywhere.

    We need to develop the appropriate skills of recollection, meditation
and contemplation, and extricate ourselves from the web of a purely
sense-based approach to knowing things, let alone, to knowing and
loving God.

    God is the very foundation of our life and of the whole universe of
existing things. We need to be able to capture this reality not only
in the abstract and theoretical way, but down to the sensible and
material, such that we can truly feel the presence of God and can
actively cooperate in his providence.

    Of course, this ideal can only be reached through stages and through
an effort that is abiding. At the moment, we need to overcome certain
strong and deep-seated biases and erroneous thinking that stop us from
pursuing this goal.

    Thus, we need to be patient, humble, simple, and at the same time,
hard-working and persevering, since we need to submit ourselves to the
discipline of studying, reflecting, developing the appropriate norms
of piety that assures the vitality of our spirit more than our body.

    We need to develop a lifestyle that gives due attention to this
aspect of our life. So far, we have been negligent in this area as we
tend to indulge in the sensible and material aspects of our life as
well as the merely human, as in getting entangled in the technical,
social, economic, political dimensions, etc.

    In this present age which is marked by tremendous advances in
technologies and knowledge of the sciences, it’s kind of anomalous to
realize that insofar as our spiritual life is concerned, insofar as
our relation with God is concerned, we are still in the primitive or
at least kindergarten stage.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Public opinion

 THE world of public opinion is, of course, very dynamic, since it is
like society’s living network that analyzes and discusses issues that
unavoidably flow in a living organism such as our human society.

    Let’s remember that human society is not just a physical, inert
grouping of people. It is a living organism with its proper spirit and
ethos, expressed in its culture and arts. It therefore has to be taken
care of accordingly.

    Public opinion is like a living organ, akin to a heart or kidney or
liver, endowed with a specific function meant to sustain the life and
development of persons, taken both individually and together as a

    Just as the heart purifies the blood and pumps it back to the body,
and as the kidney collects and processes the waste, and as the liver
produces enzymes needed for digestion, public opinion clarifies issues
and helps to build solidarity and cohesion in society. It that regard,
it’s a very important part of life.

    We need to sharpen our awareness of our duty to keep it strong and
healthy, that is, that it’s working well. Working well means that
public opinion should serve the true and complete purpose of our life,
and not just working in any which way, or working only for some
limited purpose of life.

    We have to be wary of our tendency to fall into doing things in any
which way, thinking that it is how a democracy works. For democracy to
work properly, it has to be infused with the proper spirit of freedom
that in the end is about pursuing the truth in charity. In short, it
has to be driven by the spirit of God.

    Public opinion, therefore, has to be grounded on God. It should not
just be a free-for-all arena of opinion-making, inspired by just any
spirit. It should not simply remain on our various ideas of what is
fair, true and charitable. These values and criteria can only come
from God as their original source and ultimate end.

    We need to make this basic clarification because many people now are
of the thinking that the ultimate norms and standards to be used in
our public opinion are just ourselves—our own ideas and consensus,
etc.—as if all these things just come from us, or that we are the
creators of these things.

    We have to discard that mentality. It’s because of this attitude that
we often find ourselves in irreconcilable differences, leading to
conflict, violence and decadence. So, instead of building up our
society, we would tend to harm and destroy it.

    Grounding our public opinion on God gives a proper framework to our
continuing social discourse. It’s a frame that does not straitjacket a
person or idea. It is inspired by love that expresses itself in
compassion, understanding, tolerance, magnanimity, mercy.

    The absolute truths that such frame fosters do not erase the
relative. The precision it strives to achieve is not of the
mathematical, impersonal type. It is rather the precision of charity
that allows the full play of freedom, including its abuses, but still
holds on to the truth, no matter what it costs.

    It is precisely because of this ideal God-based character of public
opinion that we have to be prepared to meet suffering, since in
pursuing truth and justice, we cannot help but meet differences,
misunderstanding and all forms of pain and suffering. In short, we
have to be ready to carry the cross in the world of public opinion.

    Just the same, public opinion has such a positive and constructive
potential that everyone should try his best to participate in it. Of
primordial concern is to make our public opinion relate all our human
concerns, especially the big and crucial issues, to God.

    We should not allow it to ramble and meander in the merely technical,
social, economic or political aspects of our life. While we have to
give these aspects their due attention, we should do all to be able to
relate them to God.

    This is a tall order, and this is precisely why we should do all,
wasting no time and effort, to see how the issues relate to God. We
have to remember that the earthy and temporal matters come and go.
What remains in eternity is whether with these issues and concerns, we
end up with God.

    That is to say, if we manage to live in truth, justice and charity.
In short, public opinion should reflect and reinforce the ultimate
spiritual, moral and supernatural dimensions of our life.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Understanding obedience

 II’S a basic virtue that comes to us like an instinct. It’s part of
our natural endowments that at the beginning is ruled mainly by
hormones. That’s why babies and children follow and obey their parents
and elders without being taught.

    But as we grow older and reason takes root, as well as the fact that
we would be exposed to elements more complicated than our basic need
for physical survival, we have to realize that this virtue also has to
grow and develop beyond its hormonal stage.

    We should not take this concern for granted. Otherwise, it would just
get stuck at the level of the natural and what we consider as
commonsensical. The truth is that obedience as a virtue has a coverage
that extends way beyond these dimensions.

    In a manner of speaking, we need to apply some philosophical and
theological antioxidants to our conception of obedience to protect it
from some reductive or corruptive or distorting elements and to keep
it on track to its full development.

    Obedience is very much at the core of the spiritual, moral and
supernatural character of our life. It cannot remain in the level of
instincts, the practical and reasonable. It touches on our faith and
religion. It goes beyond the worldly considerations, no matter how
valid and legitimate they are.

    As a consequence, we cannot base our understanding of obedience on
purely natural, worldly and temporal considerations. It has to enter
into its more radical foundation and purpose. And that’s the fact that
it is a gift from God. It has to be governed by God’s will more than
just our own will and designs.

    As a gift from God, it has to be understood as part of our nature. In
other words, it is something to be lived all the time, in every
circumstance and situation we may find ourselves in. it’s not
something that we live from time to time. Its field of responsibility
is universal. And so we have to develop the appropriate attitude and

    Of course, we have to understand obedience in reference to God. Only
in that context is obedience to be lived always. Outside of that, as
in our human relations, many would be the occasions when disobedience
needs to be done.

    When referred to God, obedience has to be seen as being at the very
core of our freedom, to such an extent that freedom and obedience
cannot be separated.

Where there is freedom, the freedom of the children of God, the
freedom that makes us image and likeness of God, there should be
obedience. Where there is obedience, there should also be freedom. We
have to overcome the tendency to contrast the two.

This is something that needs to be understood very well. At the
moment, the general attitude is to put them in conflict. To be free,
one should be exempted from obeying. And to obey means at least a
weakening of freedom.

That understanding may be right in some very limited cases, but it
should be corrected to reach its full and ideal state. And that ideal
state can only be reached if obedience is referred to God

In short, the main and ultimate reason for obedience should be God. It
should be supernatural, not natural only. It has to be a consequence
of our love for God, and because of that love, then it should also be
a result of our love for others.

God, not us, is the source, the law, pattern and viability of
obedience. That’s why it’s always good to refer to how Christ obeyed.
Being the fullness of God’s revelation to us, he shows us the true
character of obedience and how to obey.

Obedience unites our will with the will of God. This is the most
difficult part to do, since we usually consider our will to be
absolutely our own. We tend to think that if we subordinate our will
to the will of another—in this case, God—then we would feel as if we
are losing our freedom or real identity.

We need to overcome that erroneous understanding of obedience. And we
just have to realize also that obedience, given our present human
condition, would always involve self-denial and sacrifice.

Christ himself shows this to us. In the Letter to the Hebrews, we
read: “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he
suffered, and being made perfect he became the source of eternal
salvation to all who obey him.” (5,8)

This is how we have to understand obedience.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The challenge of bioethics

WHILE it’s true that our current age of intense information technology
can give us information overload, leading us to get saturated and
blasé, it’s also true that the profusion of information can lead us to
a greater sensitivity to the increasing complexity of our life. That’s
the irony of our times.

That was the first impression I got as I started to attend a course on
bioethics recently. It struck me as a novel way of having an
interdisciplinary effort to blend the best findings of medicine and
the sciences with the best conclusions and indications of philosophy,
theology and pastoral care.

I consider this development as progress. Too often we can be accused
of leaning too much on one side at the expense of the other sides that
also need to be considered.

Thus, we can be too scientific or empirical that focuses more on the
material, while being deficient on the spiritual and moral that goes
beyond the material and temporal aspects of our life. This is a common
phenomenon these days.

Or, we can go the other extreme—being too spiritual and moralistic
while neglecting the material and biological foundations of our human

As a consequence, we are prone to be narrow-minded, simplistic, rigid,
and to easily fall to rash judgments. With our complicated times, we
have to try our best to avoid these predicaments.

We need to strike a healthy balance, because the resulting blend would
actually bring us to a richer appreciation of reality. It would lead
us to serve all of us better. In short, it would help us to live truth
in charity better, a goal that we should all pursue in earnest.

And so, there I was with a few others in class, having to grapple with
the mind-boggling names of hormones, their sources, mechanisms and
effects, their usual manifestations, etc. I suddenly felt like a high
schooler again having to cram for an exam the following day.

Besides, we need to assess the ethics and morality of the different
cases brought about by our biological life and medical conditions.
This aspect was kind of bloody, since we discovered we had divergent

It became clear to me that bioethics is a relatively new science that
would need more inputs, polishing and systematization. And to think
that we were talking more about the reproductive system. I wonder how
it is going to be when we start talking about the nervous system and
the psycho-emotional aspect it has. I suspect that area would be

One thing that I clearly saw during the classes was that while
learning those biological and medical terms is certainly helpful, we
should realize that  knowing the nature of things just simply cannot
be achieved simply through the naturalistic ways. That is, by simply
observing and experimenting.

We need to input the data of our faith, since the nature of things is
based on a natural law that is created by God. We just cannot study
and claim to know nature without referring ourselves to God. He is the
author of nature, after all.

I believe the study of bioethics is very important and relevant. It
gives us good ideas on how to go about giving advice and counseling to
people who come to ask for help. I would say that that the inputs
provided by bioethics can give us more charitable, prudent and
effective pieces of advice.

And so I believe that with the complicated and confusing atmosphere we
are getting into, and especially now that our government has sadly
enacted into law a Reproductive Health Act, we have to be more
conversant with the intricacies of bioethics.

Church leaders, I think, should tackle this challenge squarely,
educating the main agents of formation adequately. The clergy, the
religious persons, the catechists and other lay faithful actively
working in the Church, should have some basic grounding on bioethics.

This is not going to be an easy task. We have to go over a formidable
learning curve. But if we persist, if we continue to move on in spite
of the difficulties, mistakes and failures that can come our way, time
will come when bioethics can become a clear science that is
appreciated by everyone.

In life, we need to dream even if at the moment such dream would seem
impossible. Saints have proven that dreams, with God’s grace and our
all-out effort, can come true. In fact, they have shown that their
dreams oftentimes have fallen short of the reality that came later.

Let’s face the challenge of bioethics boldly!