Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Humility liberates

OFTEN understood as a lowly and useless virtue, humility actually
enhances our humanity. It is what keeps our dignity as persons and as
children of God in a realistic way. Many times, we fall victim to our
own illusions and delusions about ourselves, and the many other ways
and forms, very subtle at that, that pride can blind and mislead us.

    For example, we always like to get our own way, or to make ourselves
the hero in a particular situation while diminishing the role of the
others, or we can even speak badly about ourselves, so that the others
may form a good opinion of us, etc. Conceit grips us. We have to be
keenly aware of the deceptive ways and tricks of pride.

    Humility clears our vision, showing both our wretchedness and our
greatness. Thus it is indispensable in our life. Without humility,
nothing of real value would develop in our life.

    Without humility, we cannot obey properly, we cannot understand
things and love others, we cannot find meaning in our adversities nor
the real blessing in our successes and victories.

    Without humility, we cannot be fair, we tend to be self-righteous, we
cannot appreciate well the views of the others, we tend to complicate
matters as we sort out and resolve our differences and conflicts.

    Without humility, we cannot truly know ourselves. We become blind as
we lock ourselves up in our self-centeredness, self-sufficiency,
self-absorption, self-justification, self-assertion and
self-satisfaction. We cannot escape from our own world. We will always
think we are better than others.

    Without humility, there is no way we can persevere in our efforts to
do good, and much less, to grow in our spiritual life. We become easy
prey to our weaknesses and the temptations around. To persist in
developing other virtues and to wage continuing ascetical struggle
would hold no charm to us.

    We have to understand though that humility is a function of our
self-knowledge that in turn is a function of our knowledge and love
for God. It’s he who knows us objectively. After all, he is our
Creator and Father. And he intervenes in our life all the time. He is
never far nor indifferent to us.

    We should disabuse ourselves to gain self-knowledge by simply relying
on some self-analysis using human sciences, like philosophy,
psychology or sociology, etc., that are not inspired by our effort to
know God better. That approach can only produce fantasies and bloated,
distorted ideas about ourselves.

    St. Augustine expressed this truth well. “Let me know you, O you who
know me. Then shall I know even as I am known.” How important
therefore to have a running conversation with God! Otherwise, we would
be out on a limb.

    Let’s understand that humility can only develop in us if we pray, if
we wage an abiding interior struggle—developing virtues and battling
temptations and sins—if we do sincere examination of conscience
regularly and conscientiously, if we always rectify our intention.

    Without these means, we can never have dominion over the notorious
enemies of our soul and of God. These are our concupiscence of the
eyes, concupiscence of the flesh, and the pride of life.

    Especially when we notice our talents and other blessings and
privileges we enjoy in life, we should see to it that we burn in
humility. St. Peter has something to say about this.

    He said: “Each one of you has received a special grace, so, like good
stewards responsible for all these different graces of God, put
yourselves at the service of others. If you are a speaker, speak in
words which seem to come from God. If you are a helper, help as though
every action was done in God’s orders.

    “So that in everything God may receive the glory, through Jesus
Christ, since to him alone belong all the glory and power forever and
ever.” (1 Pt 4,10-11)

    Our problem is that we always tend to grab the credit for ourselves
even if we know that everything comes from God. We like to flaunt the
good things we have, and we become extremely embarrassed when our
weaknesses and mistakes get known.

    We should realize that humility involves some kind of abandonment of
our own selves, unafraid of being known as we are. When we commit
mistakes, we, like the prodigal son, should go back to God whose
delight it is to forgive and to strengthen us. Yes, humility is what
leads us to ask for forgiveness when we fall.

    Humility liberates us from own foolishness.

Let’s cultivate a penitential life

WE need to be more aware of this particular aspect of our life. We
need to live a life of penance for the simple reason that in spite of
our best intentions and efforts, we will always be harassed by our own
weaknesses, mistakes and sins, both big and small.

We need to say sorry to God and to everybody else, and to make some
atonement and reparation for the unavoidable harm and damage our
wounded nature can cause. We have to learn to do this with utmost
naturalness, without making a big fuss about of it.

There is actually no vacation in this predicament of ours. And while
the Church highlights this aspect of our spiritual and Church life
during Lent, we should understand that penance is not to be done only
in Lent or Advent or on some special occasions.

Penance should be an integral part of our life. It has to be with us
all the time, like the beating of heart or our very breathing. It’s a
clear manifestation that our love for God, and actually also for the
others, is true and abiding, not just a put-on and sporadic.

Cultivating a penitential life can only spring from a realistic view
of things. It’s not a product of some extraordinary gift or privilege
such that only a few are supposed to be concerned about it. We all
have to cultivate a penitential life.

At the moment, this topic remains largely taboo. It’s not talked
about, and thus our understanding of it, not to mention, the skills we
need to acquire to live it, remains in the primitive, anal stage. We
have to overcome this problem.

Also, this penitential life should be understood as needed not only by
us individually and personally, as if it is just a private affair, but
by us all together as well, in the many expressions of our collective
life, be it in the family, in the community, in our professional and
even our political, social, economic and cultural life.

We have to understand that our life would not be complete, humanly and
especially spiritually speaking, if this spirit of penance is not
developed and nourished, if it is ignored and taken for granted, both
in our individual, personal life as well as in our collective life.

And so, we need to realize that while we of course should create a
wholesome, positive atmosphere wherever we are, we ought to be
concerned about how to live this indispensable aspect of penance. Even
in our parties and fun, this penitential aspect should somehow be

Truth is that cultivating a penitential life, far from darkening our
lives or dampening our spirit or spoiling our enthusiasm, purifies us
and puts us in a much better condition, removing the illusions and
delusions that we many times succumb due to our weaknesses and sins.

The spirit of penance strengthens us. It makes us more mature. It
unites us more closely to Christ whose passion and death constitutes
the extreme of divine love for us, since it represents God in Christ
assuming our sinfulness, and dying to it only to rise from death,
liberating us in the process from our bondage to sin.

But we need to understand also that this redemptive work of Christ,
while fully is own, is also ours. We are expected, we are called to
join him. Christ himself said that if we want to follow him, we have
to deny ourselves and to carry the cross.

The good thing about cultivating this penitential life is that it can
be done anytime, anywhere. We have to disabuse ourselves from the idea
that penance always involves painful, extraordinary efforts, like
flagellating and crucifying ourselves as done in some places during
Holy Week.

The penitential life can be developed in the normal daily routine of
ours. It starts with our awareness of our sinfulness and the need to
purify ourselves of it. Then we can take advantage of the usual flow
of events that would ask us some sacrifice, some self-giving, some

We can eat and drink a little less than usual, for example. Or we can
resolve to follow a schedule for the day when we tend to be carefree
and simply to drift wherever the current takes us. Or we can just
maintain a better posture, control our wild imagination, etc.

Of course, the best way we can live and cultivate this penitential
life is to go to confession regularly. There, contrition which is the
core of penance, is best lived.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Holy Spirit

WE need to be more aware of the Holy Spirit, and also of why we need him, and how we can get in touch with him. 

                Right now, we still seem to repeat that scene of St. Paul with the Ephesians when at one point the Apostle asked some disciples: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” And they answered, “We have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” (Acts 19,2)

                Sad to say, this is a common phenomenon. Even among those so-called fervent Catholics who are active in the parishes and involved in many religious activities, this ignorance of the Holy Spirit is palpable.

                The Holy Spirit appears to be too abstract a reality that the common tao cannot figure him out. But it’s clear that Christ gave us the Holy Spirit. The solemnity of Pentecost precisely celebrates that event when the Holy Spirit came down and transformed the apostles from fearful men to bold ministers of Christ.

                The effect of that coming was immediate and tremendous. The apostles all of a sudden spoke in tongues and could speak to the different people in the city in these people’s own languages, and a lot of people were converted and baptized.

                The Holy Spirit perpetuates the presence and redemptive action of Christ all throughout time, with all the drama, vagaries, ups and downs that we men make in our history.

                This is because the life and redemptive work of Christ, who is both God and man, just cannot be swallowed up in the past and confined to a certain space and a particular culture or set of circumstances.

                Christ’s work has a universal and perpetual scope. It affects all of us, and it affects us not only in some physical or material way, but in a very intimate, personal way, with him, through the Holy Spirit, entering into our lives.

                It has been prophesied that God will pour out his Spirit upon all men. The Holy Spirit is intended for all of us. We are all meant to be filled with the Holy Spirit. But this divine will obviously has to contend with the way we receive and do things, and that is, that we take to this reality in stages involving a whole range of human means of teaching, evangelizing, etc.

                We need the Holy Spirit because only in him can we truly recognize Christ. Only in him will we be able to have Christ in our life, to remember all his words and even to develop them to attune them to current needs and situations.

                Only in him can we see things properly. Especially these days when truth, justice and charity have become very slippery, and people are left confounded and vulnerable to fall into skepticism and cynicism, we need to be in the Holy Spirit to be able to sort things out and stay away from the mess.

                I was amused to note that in today’s political debates in the US as in everywhere else, a growing awareness is felt by more and more people that myths and lies, with shreds of truths and facts cleverly inserted, are exchanged. They talk about a collision of myths. It’s not anymore about what the truth is. It’s more about who is followed more.

                This is what happens when we are not in the Holy Spirit and we rely only on our human resources that sooner or later will be twisted and exploited to suit personal or partisan interests, and not anymore the common good.

                We need the Holy Spirit to be able to read the signs of the times properly. The world is getting very complicated, and we definitely need to the Holy Spirit to guide us. We cannot rely anymore on our politicians and other leaders. We, including politicians and especially them, actually always need the Holy Spirit.

                The Holy Spirit acts on each one of us in different ways but always for the common good. St. Cyril has this to say about how the Holy Spirit comes to us:

                “The Spirit comes gently and makes himself known by his fragrance. He is not felt as a burden, for he is light, very light. Rays of light and knowledge stream before him as he approaches.

                “The Spirit comes with the tenderness of a true friend and protector to save, to heal, to teach, to counsel, to strengthen, to console. The Spirit comes to enlighten the mind first of the one who receives him, and then, through him, the minds of others as well.”

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Outgrowing the “American Idol” syndrome

IT seems the very popular—let me rephrase that—the once very popular “American Idol” is hitting the rocks. Recent news reports say the current judges will all be booted out and replaced by much younger, more popular singers and celebrities.

            The show has been steadily losing its audience. Its ratings have plummeted. It now wants to recover, in a desperate effort to go against the law of nature that we all die or fade away sooner or later. It wants to be immortal, but for the wrong reason.

            It looks to me that the whole development is all about money, or at least that money is the main concern, the end-all of the whole affair. I know there is always a business part to any project, but it should not get stuck. Immortality has terms that go far beyond money.

            I find this very funny, of course, because no matter how good a show is, it can only have so much shelf-life. Yes, we can want our product to be popular and in demand for as long as possible. But all this ought to be done without compromising basic, indispensable laws.

            The laws that should guide us in matters like this should not just be purely economic, social or the ratings laws. Otherwise, there’s no way but to undermine the requirements of truth, justice and charity. Lies and deception will come, and all forms of unfairness, often in very subtle ways, will just swamp the whole affair.

            Without truth, justice and charity, we demean ourselves. We undermine our dignity. We demote ourselves to mere objects or products. Singers, artists, technicians, and the audience involved in the show lose their true identity as persons and children of God, and the worst cut, is that all this is done in the sweetest of ways.

            And here we are only talking so far about “American Idol,” or the entertainment world. If we go to the other fields, politics, for example, we find much worse situations. The greed for power has practically overturned things, even to the extent of redefining our human nature and the morality that flows from it.

            The way it is played now in many places, politics seems to be the last place to look for truth, justice and charity. If ever there are shreds of truth, justice and charity in this field, it’s more by accident than by intention.

            Is it any wonder then if we also suffer the consequences of these anomalies that seem to be made the new normal these days? These are consequences that also generate in their turn other variations, echoing the lesson of Christ’s words that the devil who leaves a soul, who continues to be complacent, can return, bringing 7 more powerful devils.

            There’s a lot of confusion, scepticism, cynicism, agnosticism, atheism, relativism, nihilism. We now see terrorism exploding in many places, not anymore imported but home-grown. And other bizarre happenings...

            Obviously, in the face of all these, our reaction has to be positive and hopeful always. There’s always hope. The good always triumphs, because that good comes from God. What we are being asked is to plumb deeper into the world of this goodness through the ways of evil that seeks to undermine it.

            In a way, these new forms of evil force us to discover the still hidden aspects of goodness and love. Let’s always remember that due to our freedom, our capacity to do good and to do evil is infinite. But we are told, however, by our faith, that it’s God’s mercy that limits evil and shows the boundless extent of goodness and love.

            Yes, we are entering a most tricky stage of human history, where the forces of good and evil get mixed up in such a way as to defy easy categorization. Evil can take advantages, and many times take cover under the guise of good. And vice-versa. Goodness is often shrouded now with the clouds of evil.

            But in the end, evil can only lead us to tap the still latent resources of goodness, while goodness can always dominate and cure evil. Our problem is that we often allow goodness to spoil us, to make us complacent and lazy.

            That’s why Christ showed us the way to resolve this predicament. It is through the cross, his cross, where the forces of evil and the goodness that comes from God meet and the drama resolved.

            Let’s shun purely worldly values and return to the spiritual and supernatural ones, as expressed by the cross, that truly serve us.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The restless and critical youth

ONE of the biggest challenges of schools, and even before the schools, the family, the parents especially, is how to deal with young people who because of current world conditions are increasingly restless and critical of just about anything.

A lot of complaints and laments come my way from both parents and teachers who are finding it harder to deal with their children and students these days. They say the young ones seem to be living in a completely different world that’s almost impossible for them to enter.

I’m sure that the unavoidable generation gap is getting more complicated precisely because of the many developments sprouting up in the world today, and many of them are competing and conflicting with each other.

This situation obviously leaves many young people confounded, not knowing how to prioritize things, since they clearly do not know many things yet, like the proper values and principles to follow in life, and their very own selves—their strengths and weaknesses.

They often are simply guided by what they call as “what comes naturally,” which at a closer look is none other than simply following the impulses of the flesh and the logic of the world. They are at the mercy of their emotions and the fads and trends around without knowing their proper foundation and objective.

They don’t realize that the emotions and the worldly fads and trends need to be purified precisely because they are often products of our weakened and wounded nature that gives greater stress to the external over the internal, the material over the spiritual, appearance over substance, the passing over the permanent.

The complicating thing about all this is that today’s youth are exposed to a lot of fascinating novelties, info and data from different sources—media, cyberspace, cults and sects, etc.—that reinforce their views and opinions about practically anything. They learn how to defend themselves relatively well. They can answer back.

In short, there’s a tendency for them to bypass the natural authority of parents and teachers. They can be guided only by their own selves, to the point that they think this attitude is precisely the very expression of freedom. In short, they become easy prey to the sweet poison of presumption.

In the face of all this, we should not lose hope. There’s always hope. Truth, goodness and beauty in the end can never lose. It’s true that the way to them may be strewn with difficulties, but a way to them there always is.

And that is to keep our faith and hope in God burning, and made to impact precisely on the concrete situations and challenges of our life, and not kept to freeze in some holy place or moment of our life detached from our flowing real time.

Truth is all these difficulties and challenges are calls for us to grow more mature as persons and children of God, furthering our virtues and our faith and love for God and everybody else. We should respond to these calls as valiantly as possible, never allowing ourselves to be dominated by fears and doubts.

We cannot deny the fact that there’s actually nothing new under the sun. In spite of whatever, we are still creatures of God, children of his, created in his image and likeness and made to participate in his very own life not only in eternity, but also even here and now.

We cannot deny the fact that deep within one’s heart and soul still flickers the natural longing for God. Even if the flame is reduced to embers, the fire for God and for everything that leads to him can still be recovered and made to roar.

This is the challenge of the parents and teachers. It is how to reach that part of the heart and soul of the youth and stir it into vibrant life with God and with everybody else.

For this, I suppose, we have use all the means available, the spiritual and supernatural, the old and the new, the natural and human. We need to do a lot of prayers, of making sacrifices, of going to the sacraments.

We need to spend time with the youth, knowing them thoroughly to the point of being familiar with the way they think and react to things, and motivating them, giving them consistently good example, always showing affection and understanding even if we have to give indications, suggestions or even corrections.

If they really like and love their parents and teachers because of the way we treat them, then victory is just assured. 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Educating in communion

WE need to prepare the students and the youth in general for the challenges now and the future. We cannot deny that the world is becoming complicated, with more attitudes, mentalities, lifestyles, sub-cultures coming up.

            What we can see is that there is a clear drift toward individualism, indifferentism and activism, utilitarianism and moral relativism. Utilitarianism is when one just considers the practical aspects of things to the point of using persons merely as tools and instruments or stepping stones to one’s ambitions.

            These isms should not come as a surprise, but rather as an understandable consequence of the confusion that can easily appear when more and more elements appear in society, and we do not know how to exercise our freedom. That’s when we judge things poorly, even erroneously.

            Concern for personal development can deteriorate into individualism or egoism and self-absorption. Concern for one’s welfare can lead to indifferentism on the one hand or activism on the other. Tolerance to the many things one has to contend with nowadays can bring him to utilitarianism or moral relativism.

            It’s important that right from the setting of the family and schools, young people are already made aware of the nature and need for communion, and the ways and requirements for it.

            We cannot anymore take this human need and Christian ideal for granted. We need to work it out. But first things first. We have to understand that unity and communion, in spite of the growing plurality of elements in our society, can only take root on the ground of a living and loving relationship with God.

            God is our Creator and Father. He is the one who gives us individual existence and holds the whole world and creation in existence, giving it foundation, meaning and purpose. To be sure, we are not here by chance or by accident. Neither are we meant to make our life whatever we want it to be.

            There is an eternal law and natural law that governs the whole world in a universal way. We need to adhere to it. In our case as persons with intelligence and freedom, there is a natural moral law that reflects God’s will for us. We need to adhere to it knowingly and lovingly, and never by force or blind obedience.

            Everyone should be made aware of this core, this indispensable, basic requirement of any effort to achieve union and communion among ourselves. That communion among ourselves in spite of our unavoidable differences can only spring from our communion with God.

            Of course, given our human condition where we develop ourselves in stages, this fundamental truth about God as the foundation of communion should be presented as early as possible and in ways understandable to us in whatever status we may find ourselves due to our gender, age, and other human and natural conditions like our social and economic standing, etc.

            With little children, we may just have to tell them what to do first, before explaining the things behind. But obviously, as they grow older, things need to be explained more and more, until these things get clearly related to God.

            For example, little children have to be taught how to follow a certain schedule, how to behave in different situations of the day—basic norms of courtesy should be imparted as early as possible—how to pray and be aware of God as our Creator and Father, etc.

            Later on, they may have to be taught some practical things that help them to relate themselves to others and to God. Teaching them to be thoughtful and helpful to others, to plan and organize their time, etc., should be done in the manner of an inclined plane.

            The important thing to remember is that there is some kind of plan of how to help children become more aware of the need for communion with God and among ourselves. This is a plan that never ends. We just hope that the children can reach the point where they themselves make and carry out their own plans.

            They have to be taught interpersonal skills, teamwork abilities, the concepts of common good, solidarity, subsidiarity, etc. They have to be taught the spiritual means of prayer, sacrifice, sacraments, etc., to bring this communion about.

            The role of parents and teachers are very crucial in this task. They have to know how to relate whatever technical, practical and mundane things they have do with the children to the sacred and divine, to the spiritual and supernatural. In other words, to God.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Adaptive, flexible but firm, consistent

A COMBINATION to die for! We just have to work it out. There’s always hope, and chances to attain this goal as long as we are also willing to take what it requires.

             And for this, there can be nothing more needed than to be vitally united with Christ. For Christ is the epitome of how it is to be adaptive and flexible, while at the same time, firm and consistent.

            His adaptability and flexibility is shown in infinite ways. He, being God, emptied himself to become man. And that self-emptying went all the way as to die on the cross for all the sins of men.

            Before his death, he allowed himself to be buffeted, spat upon, crowned with thorns, mocked, scourged, pierced. Before his passion, he, being pure love and goodness, allowed himself to be misunderstood and hated.

            He put himself completely at the hands of men, God submitting to man, the Creator left at the mercy of his creature. I call this the extreme of adaptability and flexibility.

            When he went around preaching, he used parables and other literary devices, cultural and social norms of the time, to make himself understood. Sure, he performed miracles, and but these were made to support all the human means he used to reach out to everyone. Miracles came as subsidiary means.

            He was open to all, mixed with everyone, rich or poor, healthy or sick, saintly or sinful. Even those he castigated for their hard-headedness and self-righteousness, he treated with due respect.

            But in all these forms of adaptability, flexibility and versatility, he was never lost or confused. He did not stray from his aim and focus. To top it all, he managed to use all situations and circumstances to do what he was supposed to do.
            Even that casual meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well, he took advantage to make a conversion. The two distraught disciples on the way to Emmaus after Christ’s resurrection became objects of a very exquisite revelation.

            All these are indeed impressive, and can, as their downside on us, cast doubt as to whether we can also maintain such qualities, such combination. But, of course, if we have faith, we can always say we can, “possumus,” even if we don’t know yet how it is going to happen.

            The crucial thing is faith, faith that is strong and expressed in deeds and not simply confined in verbal professions, sentimental feelings, intellectual exercises. It has to be a faith expressed in deeds, and taken to the streets and to the concrete, flesh-and-blood situations of all men and women in all variety of their conditions.

            We have to be wary of our tendency to become armchair experts. We have to go out and be willing to get dirty with the things of the world without compromising the spirit of God inside our soul. This is the challenge.

            Yes, while it’s true that each one of us will always have an area of specialization, we should neither forget that we need to learn how to work in tandem to be able to reach everyone.

            These thoughts came to mind as I participated recently in a discussion about how to bring in this soon-to-be concluded Year of Faith the wealth of the Catechism of the Church to all, especially the young and those who are still far from Church life.

            It’s a pity indeed if all that richness of the Catechism would just go to waste, like pearls cast before swine. But how do we make that wealth reach all men? I suppose the question is like the economic or political question of how can we have equal distribution of wealth in our society?

            We just have to continue hoping and praying and working, wracking our brains real hard, doing some studies and consultations, not afraid to go into trial-and-error mode. The important thing is to do something, and not just to remain idle, baffled, confused and lost.

            It’s said that many Filipinos who are pious and with a lot of devotions often are low and shallow in doctrine. There are also a few who seem to have a lot of doctrine but are rather lacking in piety and devotion. The ideal, of course, as one saint said, is to have the piety of little children while having the doctrine of the theologian.

            Nowadays, there are those, especially among the youth, who have neither piety nor theology, neither devotion nor doctrine. We need to reach out to them. This is where adaptability and versatility, firmness and consistency are most needed.