Monday, April 29, 2013

Fidelity in an age of promiscuity

THE title may refer more immediately to married couples who are committed to their spouses for a lifetime of love. But it can actually be applied to all of us also, single or married, young or old, healthy or not, etc.

That’s because in the end we all have to be faithful to something or someone who, if I have to say things bluntly, is none other than God, our Creator and Father. Some people may choose to be faithful only to their own selves, but that’s another story that we can take up some other time.

We cannot help but live some degree of fidelity because by nature we are a relational being. We are always connected to someone and there is always some kind of hierarchy in this network of relations in which we live. And one task we have to do is to find the place that properly belongs to us. This is the context of fidelity.

We need to be more aware of our duty to be faithful, especially in our present times when forms of promiscuity are increasing and often in a most subtle way. We need to know what is involved in this duty to be faithful.

We also need to know how to distinguish promiscuity from the legitimate attitude that respects and even fosters tolerance of an increasingly diversified world, or more, even taking advantage of such diversity.

We are in tricky times. And so we have to be discerning as we pursue the real and ultimate goals of our life, and everything in it. Here lies the seed of the secret of fidelity. It’s never a passive, laid-back virtue. Rather, it is active and dynamic.

We can only be faithful if we work for it consciously, keeping the right priorities that should be set out by the objective laws that govern us as persons, members of the community in all aspects—social, economic, political, cultural, etc.—and ultimately as children of God.

Our main problem is that we often take this duty to know who we really are and the laws that properly govern us for granted. We often allow ourselves to be led mainly by the unreliable swings of our emotions and passions, the social and ideological trends, and the changing economic and political weathers, etc.

These are never absolute guides. At best, they give some light and impulse, and they can condition and exert some influence on the different aspects of our life, but they are in need to be rooted on an absolute, permanent ground—the terra firma who is God.

Fidelity requires of us nothing less than the genuine impulse of love, the love that ultimately comes from God, the author, pattern and end of love. It requires an intimate relation with God.

When a couple’s love refuses to conform itself to this love, and prefers to linger on the bodily aspects of love, or some other considerations only, fidelity may survive more of an accident than by intention.

Same with those engaged in other fields of human endeavors—business, politics, academics, culture, philosophy, theology, etc. If their main inspiration is not God, but something or someone else, they will go wayward sooner or later.

This love of God is something we can always have, if we are open to it in the first place, and then work hard to keep it. There will be difficulties, of course, but none that could not be overcome if we just keep our faith and love for God.

This love of God is expressed first when springing from our faith in God we obey his commandments, even if such commandments may give us temporary difficulties. It is developed by having recourse to God in the sacraments themselves and in abiding prayer.

This matter about prayer should be understood well, because many misconceptions distort its real character. Prayer is simply keeping our mind and heart in God’s presence, allowing them to act and interact with God according the circumstances of the moment.

This is how we can keep ourselves vitally strong and dynamic, giving us a good vision of things and the capacity to discern what God really wants of us, especially when we are faced with many so-called legitimate but competing choices, tempting us to be promiscuous.

This is how can be truly faithful, enjoying a sense of meaning and direction in our life, a sense of confidence and security amid the many vagaries of life. We need to cultivate and spread this lifestyle and culture.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Becoming contemplative

THIS is no big deal actually. We have to disabuse ourselves from the thought that to be contemplative is an impossible dream. We are meant to be contemplatives, to live our life, right where we are at the moment, with God, seeing things, thinking and doing things with him.

            Obviously, right now, many people are asking whether this is really a goal for us to reach, whether it is feasible, whether it is worth the effort. And that’s because the current world culture is still unfamiliar, if not averse, to this truth that needs to be worked out.

            We have to resolve this problem. And we have to start by knowing exactly who and what we are. Are we just rational beings guided only by our senses and at most by our intelligence, and meant only to have an earthly and temporal shelf-life? Or we are more than that?

            Do we believe that we are really the image and likeness of God, and made children of his through his grace, meant to share our life with God not only for a time but for eternity? How can we prove this?

            I believe the root of today’s crisis can be traced to these questions. The answers have been varied, and lately they tend more toward considering man as a mere natural being bound only to space and time.

            If there’s any mention of God in that frame of mind, it’s more for formalism or because such reference can give some solutions to temporal problems, like our physical and mental health.

            This was what I gathered from two news items that recently appeared in an American newspaper, known for its very liberal and secular worldview. In one item, it said that believing in God, doing some prayers, can give relief to people with depression. The other said that going to church from time to time can do us some good.

            Of course, with the way God, faith and religion are framed in those articles, some health effects of some religious practices are highlighted, while disregarding other aspects involved. And so those articles did not lack critics who reacted strongly.

            One critic said that religion is a dangerous thing. It is, in fact, according to him, a mental illness, and that whatever good effects religion can give, as mentioned in the articles, are at best only apparent and can be attained also by other more reliable means—like talking with brilliant people, having regular injections of hormones like endorphin, etc.

            What to me emerged into the open from those articles and their reactions is the fact that many people have a very poor, reduced understanding of man. Man, to them, is simply a being with earthly and temporal shelf-life. There is no after-life, nothing spiritual in us, much less, anything destined to the supernatural in us.

            That’s the reason why we have to highlight nowadays the spiritual and supernatural dimension of our life, and one consequence of which is that we are meant to have a contemplative life—a life of faith, of abiding conversation with God, of living life with him.

            Much of the problem about showing the spiritual and supernatural dimension of our life stems from the ignorance many people have about how to live a spiritual and supernatural life, how to be contemplatives in the middle of the world.

            But this should be no problem, because if we really believe there is God and that God is our Creator and Father who sent his son to reveal to us who God is and who we really are, then we can easily make the proper conclusions to guide us as to the practical implications of these truths.

            The crisis is due to the fact that many of us are not doing our part in relation to this truth. This truth calls us to believe, to pray, to acquire a certain lifestyle where God becomes the root, the center and the end of everything.

            The crisis is due to the fact that we prefer to be guided only by our senses and by material, earthly values, making them the only reality in life. Nothing beyond them.

            The increasingly volatile crisis can somehow be tackled if we really make a consistent and convincing testimony of an authentic spiritual and contemplative life right in the middle of the world.

            God is everywhere, and he waiting for us to engage with him all the time, and usually in most ordinary events of our daily life. If we correspond to this, then we start to live a contemplative life.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Another Christ, Christ himself

THAT’S what we are all meant to be. We have to be “alter Christus,” if not “ipse Christus,” another Christ, if not Christ himself. This may sound fantastic and delusional, but that is the naked truth about ourselves. We may not be aware of it, or worse, may not like it, but that’s how God, our Creator and Father, has designed us.

That’s why, at one point, Christ, the son of God who became man to offer us the way, the truth and the life, told his apostles, the epitome of how Christ’s believers and disciples should be: “He who hears you, hears me, and he who despises you, despises me, and he who despises me, despises him who sent me.” (Lk 10,16)

Christ went further. He told his apostles: “Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father. And whatever you ask in my name, I will do...If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.” (Jn 14,12-14)

We need to deeply meditate on these words, words of faith, the ultimate source of truth about God and about ourselves, so that they become the animating principle of our life, our thoughts, words, and deeds.

They certainly are mysterious words, impenetrable by our human intelligence alone. More than to be understood, they need to be believed. Thus, more than wracking our brains to figure out the whys and wherefores of these words, we need to make an act of faith.

We need to believe in God and trust in his words, articulated by Christ and re-echoed with living effectiveness all throughout time in the Church. We need to be like Peter who, when he asked that he goes to Christ walking on the water, believed and started to walk also on the water, until he wavered in his faith and then started to sink.

It’s all a matter of faith which is not a matter of going against our reason and senses, but rather of going beyond them, avoiding being trapped and entangled in them. That’s our problem. We tend to confine ourselves to what our senses can discern and our reason can understand.

This simply cannot be, since we all know that the reality that we have to contend with and in which we are living every moment is filled with mysteries. Even the most obvious things around us, if we look at them more closely, are actually shrouded in mysteries.

This, of course, is not a call to go into superstitions, going on a rampage by indiscriminately exercising acts of faith not based on an objective and living reality. Rather, this is to listen to the God incarnate who is Christ and who is extended all throughout time in the Church established and duly empowered by Christ himself, in spite of the warts and all of the human elements involved in the Church.

That’s why, the Church always pounds on the need for us to strengthen and nourish our faith in Christ, to such a point that we become “alter Christus,” if not “ipse Christus.” She offers the doctrine of our faith, the sacraments and the liturgy, and the hierarchy.

We need to have the humility to let go of the undue grip that our senses and reason can have over us. Yes, we always need them. We cannot be without them. But we simply cannot be restricted by them. By allowing ourselves to be entirely dominated by them narrows and even distorts our appreciation of things.

The problem of those who are into agnosticism and atheism is that they make their senses and reason the primary and ultimate arbiter of what is true or false, what is real or fake, what is good or evil, moral or immoral. They cannot seem to detach themselves from that stranglehold.

We need to be humble to be simple and obedient, and thus put ourselves in condition to be united with God. It’s pride that leads us to complications and disobedience, and separates us from God and isolates us from others. It’s pride that leads us to live in a fantasy.

Again, like Peter, we should just obey what Christ, and now the Church, would tell us, so that even if things appear impossible, we can expect to have a bountiful catch of fish and the multiplication of the loaves of bread and fish.

This is how we can become “alter Christus,” if not “ipse Christus.”

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Spirit-driven brand of management

I WAS happy to learn that a prestigious school is offering a course on advanced management that would effectively integrate spiritual inputs into all the techniques and methods of managing big companies.

In fact, these spiritual inputs are not only adjuncts to the course but rather are made as the principal driving and constructing force of all the elements involved in management.

The course is offered to CEOs and even owners of business entities, a bold package that hopefully will contribute to improving the business climate of the Asia-Pacific region. The region, as touted, is on its way to a kind of integration that for sure would boost economic activities.

It’s really about time that we do some “carpe diem,” seizing the moment to be consistent with the deepest reaches of our faith when we do business. From there, let’s hope that such approach can spread to other fields of human concerns, our politics, most especially.

We need to be clearly convinced that doing business, for example, even if it is immediately involved with money and profit, should be a way of sanctification for everyone involved there, and also a way to do apostolate, to help one another attain the ultimate goal in life—our reconciliation with God, our creator and father.

We need to overcome the dichotomy, the awkwardness, the lack of proper understanding that usually distorts our desire to make our human activities conform to human and Christian standards.

These human concerns, which actually reflect our needs, should not be held captive only by the criteria of profitability, efficiency and effectiveness, popularity, power and wealth.

While these values have their role to play in our life, we have to realize that they are meaningless and potentially dangerous when not properly inspired by the spirit of truth, love, justice and mercy, and oriented toward the common good. We need to get our act together.

This definitely is not an easy task. The other day, I was asked to bless a business process outsourcing (BPO) office. Rather small, occupying only a small space on the 16th floor of building in the business center of Cebu, it only had a few tables with computers manned by young people.

When I asked about the details of the business, I was amazed at what I imagined was the scope and range of the network that office was involved in. The work was going to be the whole day, 24/7, and I was already thinking about how those young people can cope with the burden of their job.

Not only was I concerned about their physical health, but more importantly, I worried about their spiritual health. Work is supposed to be a gift from God, a way to sanctify oneself and others, a means to participate intimately in the ongoing providence of God. But all these may just be negated by the mere physical demands of the job.

This is the challenge that has to be faced. The proper spirit of work, the one that comes from God and is part of our nature, should be properly taken care of so that it can be lived well and become fruitful. We need to avoid getting it thwarted by mere technical requirements of work.

This is a tremendous challenge that would require massive effort, involving people who are well-formed and consistent in their faith as it impacts on their profession and other human concerns. If the quantitative aspect of this concern is already overwhelming, the qualitative requirement is even a lot more.

Truth is, we need to cover a very big area that needs to be worked out yet. Again, just the other day, while visiting Davao, I happen to stay in a lent house just beside the highway. I could not help but notice the heavy traffic of container vans passing practically the whole day.

I then imagined the number of people involved in that traffic—the drivers, the laborers, then the managers and other people responsible for that business, then the clients or customers of whatever products those container vans were carrying.

I imagined their state of spiritual life, their understanding and attitude toward their work. I could not help but suspect that the spiritual and moral aspects of their work must be all but disregarded or at least sidelined.

That is why I was happy that an initiative like an advanced management course meant for CEOs of big companies that makes spirituality its driving principle is offered, because I believe it will make a big difference in improving our work attitudes.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Inspire, motivate, edify

THESE words should somehow be constantly playing in our mind if only to be aware that in our relation with one another, we to need inspire, motivate and edify others always.

No matter how urgent or how technical, professional or business-related our dealings are with others, or how keen we are in achieving efficiency and effectiveness, the net effect should be that they be left inspired, motivated and edified by us. This in the end is the purpose of our dealings. It’s charity more than anything else that matters.

Failing in this point, we would have failed in what is most essential in our dealings. Yes, we may achieve a certain amount or degree of success in some aspects, but we would miss the main point.

For Christ himself said: “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?” (Mt 16,26) This is the essence and final effect of charity—our soul united with its Creator and our Father in whose life of love we are supposed to share.

We can apply these words not only on one’s individual self but also on the others with whom we interact, since we by definition are also social beings, not only individual persons.

We have to realize more deeply that we have a grave duty to take care not only of our own selves but also of the others. This duty is inherent in our nature, and reinforced and articulated explicitly by a divine commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.” In short, we are also responsible for the others.

And so, the question to ask ourselves at the end of the day is whether in all our dealings and transactions, the effect of charity was made, that is, that we managed to inspire, motivate and edify others.

Inspiring, motivating and edifying others are certainly not a result of a mere gimmick or ploy, a fruit of one’s intelligence and cleverness alone. These can only happen when we are vitally united with God whose essence is love. These are primarily a spiritual affair, driven by divine love.

And so, when we say that the others should be left inspired, motivated and edified by us in all our dealings, we need to understand that we achieve those goals always in Christ, with God’s grace, and not just by our own human powers, though all these human powers should also be harnessed at the instance of grace.

It’s only in this way that even in our human limitations, and, worse, in our failures and mistakes, we can still manage to inspire, motivate and edify others. If we run short of words and arguments to do these, at least our living example of how we are seeing and taking things, vitally following the example of Christ, would do the job.

It’s this authentic union with Christ that would enable us to see and understand things, events and persons properly. It would enable us to know when to be tolerant and when to be intolerant, when to speak and when to keep quiet, how to suffer misfortunes and enjoy successes, etc.

Doing our transactions by mainly using merely human criteria and ideologies limits our understanding of success to human and material success only. It would be helpless, not knowing what to do with human failures and mistakes which inevitably happen in our life.

We need to expand our understanding of how we ought to treat one another, especially in the area of our work and other big human concerns, like in our business, politics, culture, etc., since it is in these areas where the demands of charity are usually relegated to the background to give way to the criteria of efficiency and effectiveness, etc.

Besides, there’s that widespread prejudice that giving importance to charity, to the duty to inspire, motivate and edify others, constitutes a hindrance and impediment in one’s aspirations. A spoiler, in short.

Actually, nothing can be farther than the truth. In the first place, charity never disparages whatever is truly human and material in our dealings. It will uphold, purify and elevate it to the spiritual and supernatural order. It may involve some inconveniences, but it will always protect and even demand the highest human and material standards in our dealings.

More than these, charity enables us to meaningfully suffer pain and contradictions that are unavoidable in life.

And so we just have to learn the nitty-gritty of how to inspire, motivate and edify others.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Doing the impossible

LET’S hope that we can develop this frame of mind. That we can do the impossible, that we can go beyond what we so far think we can, is not only possible for us, but also necessary.

That’s because our growth and development, especially in the spiritual and moral aspects of our life, can not take place unless we have this attitude firmly embedded in our mind and heart.

This is no gratuitous claim. It has firm basis and foundation. And we should not worry about its feasibility, because we are both wired for it and given the power to do just that.

Yes, our spiritual nature enables us to get oriented toward the infinite, even if our materiality somehow limits us in time and space. Our spiritual power—our intelligence and will—can go far beyond what our bodily powers can reach. We just have to learn how to live with the unavoidable tension this combination produces in us. But we have the capacity to break free from our material limitations.

What is always needed is faith, that belief and trust not only in our capabilities but also in God’s grace. We should not be unduly affected by our unavoidable mistakes and failures, our falls and sins. As long as we rely more on our faith, there is always hope and basis to move on.

Let’s remember what St. Paul once said: “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound, both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can all these things in him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4,12-13)

What we may lack will always be compensated for by God’s omnipotent and merciful power. That is why, St. Paul also said: “May your faith stand not on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” (1 Cor 2,5)

And, “Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Cor 12,9) And so, we just have to move on, in spite of our weakness, mistakes and falls, knowing how to make use of them to get us closer to God.

This faith should increasingly be understood by us through study and prayer, and later incarnated through good habits and virtues, so we can see ever more clearly that we all need to do the impossible.

We have to acknowledge that doing the impossible is actually the law proper of our life. We are all meant for heroism, which is an expression of a generosity of the heart, a magnanimity of love.

What we should try to avoid is to fall into complacency and self-satisfaction, if not plain laziness and idleness, narrow-mindedness and cowardice. We should try to avoid saying enough. We can always aspire for more good things. We can say that the sky is the limit for us to do the impossible.

Thus, it behooves us to cultivate the appropriate attitude, skills and virtues. After strengthen our faith in Christ, then we should develop an ever-strengthening hope and optimism. We should infuse our emotions and feelings with such faith, hope and charity, teaching them to avoid getting trapped by mere human reasons that can easily lead them to the road of discouragement, despair and inactivity.

It is not quite true that this go-go mentality can only be possessed by a few individuals who are gifted with the proper talents, luck, resources and other endowments. What is true is that this mentality may first be displayed by a few people. But these few individuals have the grave responsibility to make everybody else acquire such attitude.

This is part of our concern for one another, our love for one another that we often like to proclaim. If such concern and love is authentic, then it just cannot be limited to some material and humanitarian needs.

It just cannot be philanthropic. It has to go all the way, and that means we need to help one another reach our ultimate end which veers more toward the spiritual and supernatural without ever disparaging the material and natural in us. This is what true charity for one another is.

It’s important that to develop this mentality, we need to exert conscious effort to pray, so that in vitally engaging God in a conversation, we can see things more objectively and completely, and know also where to get the necessary energy to reach the goal.

We have to wage continuing war against the prevalent culture of mediocrity around us.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Faith and liturgy

ONE crucial point we, as Christian believers, ought to know and live is that there is an intimate, mutual relationship between our faith and the liturgy that we are asked to celebrate and participate in.

            To be sure, Christian life is not only a matter of knowing the doctrine of our faith. It’s not just an intellectual affair. It’s not even attempting to live that doctrine just by ourselves.

            Christian life is both faith and liturgy together. One cannot be without the other without emptying the substance of Christian life. Why is that?

            That’s simply because Christ has wished that the mystery of our salvation, revealed and fulfilled by him, be made present all throughout time in the liturgy, giving life to those who participate in it.

            His redemptive work just cannot be swallowed up in the past. Christ is God. He is also man. As God, he has all his activities carried out in time infused to his eternity, such that his historical acts would be made present due to the eternal dimension of his life. Eternity is continuing present. It has no past, no future. Everything is in the present.

            This is a truth of faith that we need to relish very deeply and should be made a driving principle of our life. Without the liturgy and the sacraments, we cannot fully profess our faith, since we would lack the grace, which comes from the liturgy, to sustain our Christian life.

            Without the liturgy, we could never have faith, since it is the “Mystery of Christ that the Church proclaims and celebrates so that the faithful may live in it and bear witness to it in the world.” (CCC 1068) In short, in the liturgy, we are placed directly in front of the Mystery of Christ so we may with him and show him to others.

            Faith is also necessary, since it makes the celebration of the liturgy in accord to the will and design of God. Without faith, the liturgy would be deprived of its essence. Without faith, the celebration of the sacraments would end up mere theatrics.

            An effective realization and appreciation of this truth is necessary because otherwise we would validate the accusation that we are just playing games and playing make-believe when we celebrate or participate in the Holy Mass, for example.

            This realization would produce many practical considerations. Like, those of us priests who celebrate the Mass should be keenly aware that we are assuming the mind and heart of Christ as he goes through his passion, death and resurrection which the Mass is supposed to sacramentalize.

            We should also see to it that when we give the homily, we effectively are transmitting the Word of God and not just coming up with some lecture about philosophy, sociology, politics, or worse, with petty gossips and unsolicited display of one’s talents in singing, oratory or dramatics.

            Homilies that run longer than 10 minutes and are not clearly prepared tend to be counter-productive as they tend to be rambling, with many audible pauses, grammatical errors and faulty reasoning. They also give the impression the people are taken for a ride with no specific destination in sight.

            We need to see to it that the faithful who attend Mass get the right idea that the Mass is more of a sacrifice than just a banquet, that it is the most privileged place to have an encounter with Christ rather than just a social obligation to fulfil, that it is an invitation of Christ to join him in the dynamic of love for his Father and for one another, etc.

            There certainly is a lot of catechesis needed in this regard. Let’s hope that we priests and the religious brothers and sisters and committed laity feel the growing need to explain this important truth of our faith that figures in the very core of our Christian life.

            We need to make this vital connection between faith and liturgy felt and appreciated by more and more people. Especially the lay faithful who are immersed in the middle of the world, they need to realize more deeply that their daily occupations can only have true meaning and ultimate purpose when united with the sacrifice of Christ on the cross that is renewed in the Holy Mass.

            We have to construct the appropriate culture around us that would faithfully reflect this vital link between our faith and liturgy, as shown, among other things, in the way we celebrate and participate in the Holy Mass.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Person, not rules

OBVIOUSLY, rules are also very important. In fact, they usually are indispensable. Let’s just see to it that they lead us to the person of Christ, expressed in our ever-refined love for the others, instead of getting stuck with the subtle grip of legalism that rules are vulnerable to if not clearly infused with the love of God.

            That seems to be behind that famous line Pope Emeritus Benedict repeated many times during his pontificate. Here are some samples:

-“Christianity is not a new philosophy or new morality. We are Christians only if we encounter Christ... Only in this personal relationship with Christ, only in this encounter with the Risen One do we really become Christians... “

-"Many people perceive Christianity as something institutional -- rather than as an encounter with Christ -- which explains why they don't see it as a source of joy." 

-"The essence of an ever-new encounter with... the God who speaks to us, who approaches us and who befriends us!" 

I must confess that the first time I heard about the expression, “encounter with the person of Christ,” I thought it was more of a catchy sound bite than something of real substance. On second thought, of course, I realize Christianity cannot be any other way.

            Let us therefore work on this encounter which is actually very feasible because Christ himself, in the first place, guarantees it. “Behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world,” he assured the apostles. (Mt 28,20)

            “Where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” he also said (Mt 18,20)

            It’s more on us that the possibility of this encounter depends. We tend to ignore him. Worse, many of us can question the validity of faith, and would rather rely on our senses and intelligence as if with these human powers we already can have access to the fullness of reality.

            We need to reiterate the truth that God who created us in his image and likeness, adopting us as his children through his Son in the Spirit, never ceases to love us even if we do not reciprocate to that love. His mercy is forever.

            We just need to work out our God-given capacity to meet Christ. He has given us the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. Over and above these, the Holy Spirit has given us his 7 gifts that would more intimately enable us to second the will and ways of God.

            He has given us the Church, the sacraments, the doctrine, and many other distinctive charisms adapted to the needs of people in different times and places. We just have to work out our faith.

            With respect to the rules and laws that govern us, we have to be wary of two extreme dangerous tendencies. One is to consider them as containing everything that we need to know about reality to the extent that they control consciences. The other is to consider them to be useless to the extent of provoking anarchy in society.

            The former goes against the obvious fact that rules and laws that are man-made will never be perfect and therefore are always in need of refinement. They cannot fully capture the richness of reality, especially things related to the intimate personal lives of individuals as well as the spiritual and supernatural realities.

            Therefore, there are times when we have to go beyond them, but not against them, or even, in some extreme cases, to set them aside, since they could later be found to be working against the true common good.

            We should be wary of legalism and traditionalism. Christ himself warned: “Well do you make void the commandments of God, that you keep your own tradition.” (Mk 7,9) We should remember that if not vitally connected with Christ, they easily become instruments of our games driven by pride, arrogance, greed, envy, etc.

            In the latter case, we need to realize that rules and laws are always necessary. They put order in our life. If inspired by love of God and vitally connected to Christ, then these rules and laws are actually holy. They illuminate the way for us to fulfil the great commandment of Love.

            It is important therefore that we all strive to have a personal encounter with Christ. This is possible and feasible. This is guaranteed by Christ himself. We just have to do our own part.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Is the Church in crisis?

TO give a quick, blunt reply, the Church has always been in crisis. That’s its character, it goes with the territory, since it has to deal with all kinds of people, some brilliant and faithful, others not so, etc. That it appears in crisis today is no breaking news.

            I suspect that the question is raised today because of that survey that reportedly showed dwindling numbers of churchgoers. But I consider that question moot and academic, with hardly any practical use other than to provoke or embarrass some people.

            Ok, there is some supposedly serious reason why such decline is happening. But that’s precisely the reason why the Church continues to be in some trouble. Even with Christ, there already was severe crisis. He had Judas and some Jews pestering him. He was crucified, remember, for carrying out his mission.

            After him with the Church established, the crisis has not stopped but continues to fester under different forms and ways and in different circumstances. The problem the Church has to contend up to the end of time will be lack of faith and everything that follows it.

            Try imagining persuading people about a supernaturally mysterious God, about spiritual and supernatural realities like faith, hope and charity, God becomes man who is Christ, the role of the Holy Spirit, the nature and mission of the Church, etc.

            To top it all, try imagining making people understand about our weakened human condition, the reality of the devil, sin and temptations, and the need for abiding ascetical struggle, the development of virtues, the recourse to the sacraments, etc.

            But remember Christ and his apostles. Many times, Christ had to scold his apostles for their lack of faith even in the face of the obvious. Such will be our predicament. We just have to learn to live with it, and continue to do something about it, always with the help of grace. It’s an exciting life, what we have.

            The survey, I suspect, was clearly politically motivated. It came out all of a sudden. I’ll see if I have enough motive to bother to check who were behind it. It was meant to be like the North Korean threat, to pressure the Church to bend to the preferences of some politicians.

            Remember that we are in an election campaign season, and the RH issue is kind of hot. Even some clerics put themselves at odds with the official Church stand on it and are twitting and facebooking their questionable views among which is precisely the claim that with the Church position on RH, many people are deserting the churches.

            Critics of the Church will always exhume past scandals, slamming it with the current ones and even inventing some, to support their claim. Well, we are in this imperfect world. Nothing is new. We just have to try our best to be hopeful and do whatever we can to spread the truth in charity and goodness.

            As to the survey result that many are deserting the Church, many of my friends echo the same observation that I have. The churches here in the country are filled with people. More Masses are scheduled. The churches have to be expanded. And during big feasts, one has to be blind not to see the tremendous popular piety flooding even the streets.

            That there are many imperfections in this public display of piety should not surprise us. We just have to look at our individual selves and see how even with our best efforts we are still short of what we ourselves consider to be the ideal Christian life.

            And try to extrapolate this situation to the whole of society, and, thus, we should not be surprised to see the many gaping imperfections around. But it would be wrong to stop there. What we have to do is to continue with the effort to improve in all aspects and in all levels of Christian life.

            Christian life is a matter of faith, hope and charity put into action. It’s not just something to be desired and professed. And we are given all the means so we can truly live it.

            It can be both easy and difficult, depending on how we look at it. It’s easy because God is behind it. Difficult, because there are truly tremendous challenges involved plus our weaknesses and temptations and the complications we ourselves make.

            At the moment, we have to figure out how to go about untangling those under the spell of atheism, agnosticism, relativism, etc. These are the ones deserting the Church.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Up for grabs

PRECISELY because of our freedom, everything is up for grabs. We can choose to be a hero or a heel, a saint or a demon, to go north or go south. It’s really up to us. Our freedom is such that we can be whatever we like to be.

                Of course, we also have to remember that that freedom comes from God. It’s not something that we generate or create ourselves. As such it has laws, external to us but adapted to us that as much as possible, if we are not fools, we should follow.

                This freedom can only be properly exercised therefore if used to follow the law inherent to it. It’s the freedom to go to God freely, or better said, lovingly, since loving is our ultimate expression of freedom.

                The freedom to do evil, to go against God, while an aspect of freedom, would not be true freedom. It’s what is called licentiousness, an abuse of freedom that harms us and leads us to our perdition.

                Having said that, what we can also affirm is that heroism and sanctity are really up to us to pursue. Insofar as God is concerned, we are already told, as St. Paul once expressed it, that “this is the will of God, your sanctification.” (1 Thes 4,3)

                Insofar as God is concerned, everything will be done for us to achieve that end, always respecting our freedom. This is something that we have to meditate on more deeply, so we can savor more vividly the practical consequences of such truth.

                God is everywhere. He always bestows on us his love that is ever extended to the infinity of his mercy. He is at every moment and juncture of our life, waiting for us to correspond to his love.

                We need to realize then that heroism and holiness do not depend on certain extraordinary occasions and circumstances, since God is also and always waiting for us in all and every ordinary affair of our daily life.

                To be a hero and a saint can be achieved right where we are, whether we are engaged in big things or small, whether we are in public or in the privacy of our rooms. It’s all a matter of the heart, whether it corresponds to the faith and charity that God shares with us.

                It’s this truth that forms the basis of our belief that everyone can and should be a saint. Holiness is not meant only for a few, but for all, and it can be pursued and attained in the myriad of ways that the different circumstances of our life can trace for us.

                We need to be aware of this truth more deeply and live by it. Yes, it can be true that we may not be recognized as heroic and saintly by others or in the public square. We may not end up with our images standing on some pedestals in churches. But as long as we truly sanctify ourselves before God in our ordinary duties, that would be it.

                It’s God’s judgment, not so much the people’s judgment, nor even a formal declaration of sanctity by the Church, that matters. We have to work and live with that mentality securely in place in our lifestyle. Let’s avoid falling into some kind of obsession to be publicly recognized as good, as a hero or saint.

                Sanctity can be achieved at home where one may just be tending the baby or doing the household chores, but giving his or her all to that duty out of love for God and for others. It can also be achieved in the office, in the farm, the factory, the mountain trails, as long as one’s heart is burning with love for God and for others, something that depends on us.

                Thus, we need to sort out our feelings and thinking properly in order to accommodate the demands of faith, hope and charity that we should try to correspond with all the vigor that we can muster.

                It’s this kind of sanctity that would unavoidably exude a certain aura that nobody can ignore. The fragrance of sanctity, while not showy, is always attractive. It can manage to resolve the usual differences and conflicts we may have regarding some issues, and to heal whatever defects, weakness, mistakes, failures we may commit or see around.

                It’s all for grabs. God, while he is the most mysterious and the farthest being we can imagine, is also the most real and the nearest being to be with us. Let’s go for him.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Not by bread alone...

THE complete text is “Not by bread alone does man live, but by every word of God.” (Lk 4,4) We need to remember these words to keep ourselves in stable course as we encounter situations that tend to blow us up emotionally.

            Everytime, for example, I see beggars in the streets, showing en flagrante their utter helplessness and severe penury, I automatically feel devastated. At the back of my mind would play the refrain repeatedly, “Life is so unfair! Why is life so unfair?”

            Then some guilt-driven questions invade me. “What have I done for them? Have I remembered them all the time? Can I give them something now?” And then the most painful question comes. “Have I contributed in any way to their misfortune?”

            It’s the thought that I may have been a culprit in this spreading predicament, even if only unknowingly, that causes me great grief. I somehow end up realizing that, yes, I for sure have something to do with that problem, and now I have to do something about it.

            We are told that the poor will always be around. Christ himself said so. “The poor you will have always with you,” he said, “but me you have not always.” (Mt 26,10) The context of these words was when someone criticized Jesus for allowing a woman to pour an expensive ointment which could have sold and the money given to the poor.

            These words somehow put in proper perspective our attitude to all the forms of poverty we see around—from beggars to the homeless to the sick and handicapped to the ignorant and proud, etc.

            While it is always praiseworthy to attend to the immediate and material needs of the poor, we also need to realize that we have to go beyond that dimension of concern. A Chinese proverb already can give us a clue. “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

            We need educate the poor. This has long-term effects. We have to equip them with skills, making use of whatever talent and potential they have. For sure, there must be something still useful and potentially productive in them.

            I have been privy to many heart-warming success stories of young boys from underprivileged families who, when given formation and skills, end up becoming productive workers and making a drastic improvement in the conditions of their families.

            Yes, sweat and tears, and sometimes blood, went into all the effort these poor young boys had to exert to better their lot in life. But in the end, they themselves would say, “It was all worthwhile.” And they look proud for what they had accomplished.

            Still, we have to remember that helping the poor is not just a matter of relieving their material needs. It’s the spiritual needs that are more important and should never be ignored.

            “Not by bread alone does man live, but by every word of God.” We need to nourish them with faith. We need to help them develop a healthy spiritual life. Thus, they should be given not only “the food which perishes” but also “the food which endures unto life everlasting.”

            We may have to recast our whole attitude toward the poor, because very often we frame it in a rather narrow, shallow and distorted way, often entangled in the emotional dramatics without giving due attention to the whole picture of the issue.

            It is in this context that we will realize that we are all actually poor, because whether we are economically rich or poor, socially lucky or unlucky, physically blessed or cursed, we are all in need of God.

            This is what is called poverty in spirit that is highlighted in one of the beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God.” It’s actually a poverty to look forward to, to develop and nurture, because it’s a poverty proper to us, the poverty that makes us yearn for God, that never lets us think we already have enough of what we need.

            So, let’s be wary also of the sound and fury contrived by some ideological groups that seek to restrict our understanding of poverty to the merely material and temporal aspects.

            We should not neglect these aspects, of course, but neither should we be trapped there. We need to go beyond. This is the real reaching out to the poor that we ought to be doing.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Democracy hacked

WE need to be wary of a certain observable drift in world developments, especially in the area of politics, which show signs that things are taken out of their proper foundation.

            This refers to the general understanding, with its related way of living it, of the very concept of democracy. There are indications, each time getting clearer, that democracy is practically hacked and then defaced in the sense that it is detached from its proper life source.

            Democracy, as articulated by many of our political leaders today here and abroad, is openly being removed from God as its source and is slowly but steadily being propped up by mere human maneuverings with the more powerful and gifted in terms of talents, money, popularity if not in terms of guns and goons getting undue advantage of the others.

            Democracy has become a purely human game with hardly any relation to a law that ultimately comes from God. It has exaggerated and absolutized its principle, coined by the American President Lincoln of being a “government of the people, by the people and for the people.”

            It seems the general and common understanding of democracy now has practically forgotten that all authority comes from God and should be used in accordance to God’s laws that actually allow a certain autonomy given our human condition.

            This autonomy is supposed to accommodate the many different and legitimate options we can have in pursuing our temporal affairs, like our politics, but options that do not go against God’s laws. Otherwise, that autonomy is abused and would already be a distortion if not a negation of such freedom and autonomy.

            But these days, it would seem that any appeal to God in working out our politics and all other temporal affairs like our business, culture, education, etc.,  is taboo, is a no-no, is a contradiction to our very humanity, our rights and freedom, etc.

            And so, from this weak conception of democracy, graver errors start getting committed not only individually but also collectively. Now RH is ok with its open approval of contraception. Divorce is being mulled.

            In other countries, abortion is already legal, euthanasia is approved, and same-sex unions are promoted. All these coming as a result of a so-called democratic mentality where if there is a majority or a significant number of the people asking for anything regardless of its morality, then it should be given.

            In the States today, the push to legalize same-sex marriages by presenting it as a way to have a kind of marriage equality is a clear example of how democracy is defaced and has gone amok. It is not anymore inspired by God’s law, but rather by human preferences.

            We need to overcome this prejudice that, I imagine, comes from a certain mentality that at least sidelines God if not deny his existence and his providence altogether.

            We need to realize that especially in this crucial aspect of our life—our politics that affects all of us—a clear and strong reference to God is made as one of democracy’s fundamental principles.

            Otherwise, we would be left on our own, and with that, we can never have some universal, absolute basis for what is good and bad, what is fair and not fair.

            We should not be afraid that this attitude of putting God in our politics and democratic exercises might compromise the freedom of the non-believers, since if we truly believe in God then we would know how to treat those who don’t believe in God in charity.

            Christ himself said that we should love our enemies and he even died on the cross for the love of all, including those who did not and continue not to love him.

            Thus, in electing our public officials, we need to see how each one of them is regarding his understanding of democracy. Is God in it or not? Does he know how to put God in his political agenda? Does he realize that democracy is one important venue where our duty to give glory to God is expressed?

            This, of course, is not going to be an easy task. It’s a very sensitive and volatile issue that can easily provoke unnecessary conflicts and troubles, but it has to be done. We just have to pray and hope for the best, humble enough to learn from whatever mistake we may commit along the way.

            But, yes, we need to restore the true nature and character of democracy. Let’s keep it from being hacked.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Living the spirit of Vatican II

MORE than 50 years after its occurrence, Vatican II continues to defy the understanding and appreciation of many people. In fact, it is attacked by two opposite sides, from what we may call as the Right and the Left, the Conservative and the Liberal.

            There are those who think that the ecumenical council betrays the spirit of Christianity, by debunking a big and what they consider as an essential part of tradition. These are the Traditionalists who are uncomfortable with Masses said in the vernacular or a Church very active in human and world affairs.

            At the other end, there are those who consider Vatican II as not doing enough to cope with the demands of the times and the needs of modern man. They want to delete some Church doctrines that to their mind are now obsolete if not an obstacle to their ministry.

            I suppose we can never please everyone with anything that we do in this life. My consolation is that even Christ, the very son of God who became man to redeem us, neither pleased everyone. In fact, he was crucified by a good number of the people, the leaders in fact of the people then.

            But Vatican II is a great watershed in Church life, a true gift of the Holy Spirit to make the Church not only attuned to the dynamics of modern times but also and more importantly, to make Christianity more deeply and widely lived by each one and all of us together.

            It was a comprehensive effort participated in by a good number of Cardinals, bishops, other clerics, theologians and other periti (experts), plus some lay faithful and even observers from other sects who together tried to discern what the Holy Spirit was prompting and continues to prompt the Church to do and to be.

            For centuries, the Church had slowly and steadily gotten stuck with certain stereotypes that needed to be dismantled. For sure, this process of renewing the Church will always be a work-in-progress. Social, cultural and historical conditionings that actually vary need to be reassessed from time to time.

            This need for continuing renewal will never end, since not only is the Church a living organism. It is also one with a supernatural if mysterious source and goal. There will always be tension involved in its life, and part of our task is how to keep that tension healthy and constructive rather than destructive.

            Vatican II has made some dramatic shifts of attitudes and ways of doing things. Where before the laity were considered secondary citizens and the servants and longa manus of the clerics, now the fundamental equality of all the faithful—clerics, laity and religious—while respecting and fostering the legitimate variety among them is highlighted.

            The relationship between laity and clerics is now better defined and keyed to the dynamics of mutual generous and all-out serving of one another. Before, this relationship highlighted the more prominent position of the clerics, while the attention given to the laity leaned more to the minimalist direction.

            The universal call to sanctity is stressed more in Vatican II. Before, sanctity appeared to be reserved only to a few lucky individuals. Vatican II also highlighted the lay spirituality, encouraging the lay faithful to be consistent with their faith and baptismal commitment right in the middle of the world.

            This is a challenging part, because while we can be impressed with the overflowing crowd in churches on Sundays and other important feasts and solemnities, actually the great majority of the people are still far from being truly Christian and are in great need to be evangelized.

            Thus, more lay people are being encouraged to live out their Christian commitment to carry out personal apostolate with their families, friends and colleagues at work, grounding this effort on their daily pursuit for personal sanctity through prayer, recourse to the sacraments, continuing formation and ascetical struggle, etc.

            The clerics are encouraged to be generous in giving due care and attention to the laypeople. They should be willing to be servants even to the point of washing the feet of the people as exemplified by Christ himself, and why not, of being crucified. That would indicate that they are really giving their all.

            Vatican II demands everyone to go beyond simply being nominal Christians and to be active and living members of the Church, each one doing his part to the full in solidarity with everybody else.

            Besides, Vatican II has lot to say about liturgy, ecumenism, education, family, etc. Let’s live its spirit well!