Saturday, June 29, 2013

The universal call to sanctity

WE need to understand this truth well. For a long while in the history of the Church and of the world in general, the usual idea about holiness, and all the gamut of implications it contains, is that sanctity is reserved only for a few and that it can only be achieved through certain acts and states of life.

Yes, sanctity has often been associated with priests and nuns and others who by some peculiar circumstances prefer to lead a religious or consecrated life practically spent in churches or some isolated or special places like caves, deserts, mountains, convents, monasteries, hermitages, mission areas, foreign lands, etc.

As a consequence, the ordinary people who stay at home and work in the fields or schools and offices, or those who simply find themselves in the middle of the world, are often considered out of contention for sainthood. At best, they can aspire only to be helpers and assistants to priests and religious men and women.

We need to correct this attitude because it is not quite correct. While such conception about sanctity contains a lot of truth and many good things, it however does not capture many other elements through which holiness can be worked out and achieved.

Everyone is called to holiness, because everyone is a creature of God, and as such is therefore created in the image and likeness of God, adopted a child of his, and meant to participate in the very life of God.

There is a basic and inalienable equality among all of us insofar as we are God’s creatures and children called to holiness. Regardless of our position and state in life, whether we are priests, religious men and women, or ordinary lay faithful, we have the same calling and purpose in life.

Corollary to this truth is that there is also a basic and inalienable quality of everything in the world to be an occasion and means for our sanctification. To be holy does not mean that we only spend time praying, going to church, availing of the sacraments, etc.

To be sure, prayer, the sacraments, the doctrine of our faith, obedience to the Church hierarchy are important, even indispensable, but these would hang on thin air if they are not supported and made as the goal and expression of a sanctified life that is consistent to the teachings and the spirit of God.

To be holy also means that we have to use our ordinary work, all the things of the world, like the sciences, arts, politics, technologies, etc., properly purified, and all the other circumstances that define our daily life as an occasion and means to look for God, then find, love and serve him.

There’s a need to cultivate a unity of life that is inspired by love of God and neighbor and oriented toward the definitive eternal life with God in heaven. We cannot divide our life in two disparate parts—one meant for holiness, and another meant only for some worldly affairs.

We only have one life that is both human and meant to be supernatural with God. We just have to learn how to blend the different aspects of our life without erasing the legitimate distinctions among them.

What is material and natural should remain material and natural. But we need to know how to infuse them with the spiritual and the supernatural proper of us as God’s creatures made in his image and likeness and meant to share in his divine life.

We can do this spiritualizing and supernaturalizing of what is material and natural in us by simply sanctifying the latter, that is, offering them to God since they all come from God and also belong to him. Because of that, we do them as best as we can at any given moment, even if our best can always be made better later on.

A work sanctified in this way always sanctifies us and the world itself as well. Obviously, to sanctify our work by offering it to God and by doing it very well involves uniting our work with the supreme sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.

We just cannot sanctify our work by having the best intentions and doing it well. That work has to be made an integral part of the supreme offering of our Redeemer, Christ himself. Otherwise, that work would not be truly sanctified.

That is why, we need to unite our work with the doctrine of our faith, with the sacraments, and with our active participation in the life of the Church.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Our need to suffer

SORRY to bring out this rather inconvenient topic, but if we have to be realistic about our life, I believe we need to consider it and get to the bottom of this need. There’s actually a lot of meaning to it. It’s not just one whole negative part of our life.

In fact, the ideal attitude toward suffering is to welcome it, since in the first place, it cannot be avoided no matter how much we try. We have to cultivate a more positive outlook toward it and relish its inherent benefits for us.

We need to suffer for three main reasons. First is that our human nature itself by necessity involves it. We are made of different parts and aspects—material and spiritual, personal and social, and ultimately, the natural and supernatural destination meant for us—and this variety of parts and aspects unavoidably involves tension.

While it’s true that these parts and aspects are by nature meant for each other, and therefore, they ought to be harmonious, it’s still a harmony that we have to work out. Because of that, we cannot avoid some kind of tension, and tension is a kind of suffering already.

Secondly, aside from the tension caused by our different parts and aspects, we also have to contend with the effects of sin, both the original one and our own personal sins.

Sin makes us suffer some more. We know that due to original sin which makes us lose the state of original justice meant for us when God created us, we have lost not only grace but also what are called the preternatural gifts.

These preternatural gifts are integrity, immortality and impassibility. The loss of integrity means there is now not only the natural tension between the different parts of our nature but open conflict and hostility.

The loss of immortality means we now die. We are supposed not to die in our original state of justice. Now with sin, there comes a time when the original and harmonious union between the body and our spiritual soul will be severed.

The loss of impassibility means we now are prone to suffer pain, tiredness, sickness, etc., where originally we were supposed to some extent to be exempted from all these, except for the natural tension due to the dynamics of our different parts and aspects.
Thirdly, and this is the most important, we suffer because in order to pay for our sins, in order to work out our own healing, atonement and salvation, we need to share in the suffering of Christ who took on all the effects and consequences of sin, dying to them only to resurrect as a way of conquering sin and its effects.

We cannot effect healing, atonement and salvation for our wounded nature due to sin by suffering simply by ourselves all the effects of sin. We need to suffer together with Christ. His suffering is the redemptive suffering, the healing and atoning one.

That’s why, Christ said it very clearly. “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” And on another occasion, he told us that we enter by the narrow gate, and not the big, wide gate that leads to perdition.

That’s why, when Peter told him that he was the Christ, the son of the living God, Christ told him to keep quiet, and not to say it openly, because while what Peter said was true, there is something yet to be known and done before one can truly believe and say that Christ is the son of the living God, our Redeemer.

And that is that he had to suffer. “The Son of Man,” he said, “must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” (Lk 9,21)

Christ certainly does not want us to fall into a kind of triumphalism. It’s the anomalous attitude of thinking that by Christ’s resurrection, his conquest over death and sin, we are already saved without having to undergo the suffering of the cross.

This is a common tendency of ours. We like to call ourselves Christians, saved and redeemed, and to frequent the sacraments, but we don’t like to go through the cross. This is certainly anomalous.

The cross purifies us, it strengthens and matures us, and it truly identifies us with Christ in his redemptive work. That’s why, we need to suffer. That’s why, we ought to love the Cross.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Praying with the heart

WE are told that we should avoid praying like pagans, that is to say, just rattling and babbling words, multiplying them and making noise and a show of it, but actually not praying, that is to say, not conversing with God, not experiencing any enlightening and transformative effect, etc.

It’s an old reminder that continues to be most timely, since we always have the very likely possibility of praying simply with our lips but not with our heart. This, sadly, is part of our human condition, a consequence of a nature weakened by sin, both original and personal.

We also have to consider that our sin, if not corrected, tends to gather strength and create historical, cultural and social structures that can perpetuate sin in time, exerting bad influence on us. We need to be aware of this fact, and skillful in how to tackle this problem.

We therefore have to arm our heart properly, wary of its delicate condition especially in its beginning stage, and of the many elements, usually subtle and tricky, that it has to contend with.

Obviously, we have to understand our heart not simply in the biological or physical sense, but more importantly as the seat of our thoughts and intentions, our desires, dreams and of what make us excited or concerned.

Our heart tends to be unstable at the beginning. Unless disciplined, trained and nourished properly, it can be quite flippy and capricious, going from one thing to another without firm foundations and clear purpose.

As the gospel tells us, the heart is where our treasure is. We need to ask what our treasure really is. Is God our true and most precious treasure or is it something else, like something material and worldly—money, fame, power, or just food and drink, fun and pleasure?

We need to put more serious attention to the real needs and workings of our heart, so we can treat it properly. At the moment, we seem to take this responsibility for granted, allowing our heart to simply go anywhere, to get attached to what we consider would just come naturally.

For this we need to study the doctrine of our faith, since it is there that we get the ultimate truths about ourselves, and not just passing facts. It’s faith that refers us to God our Creator, the one who designed us, who gave us our nature and the laws proper to us, and besides, who actually keeps us in existence and leads us to our proper end.

Because of that, we need to develop a theological mind, that is to say, relying on faith first and foremost, before we make use of our common sense and the knowledge we derive from the sciences and arts.

This latter knowledge need to be rooted on faith, otherwise they can just lead us anywhere in some goose chase and can be highly dangerous. We have to disabuse ourselves from our proclivity to rely too much on common sense and our purely intellectual pursuits.

We have to learn to pray from the heart, which also means that prayer should be second nature to us. As such, prayer becomes a constant activity. We can and should turn everything into prayer.

Even our work and mundane affairs should be an occasion or even means of prayer also. We should end up praying as we breathe, and as our heart beats. Thus, St. Paul once said: “Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thes 5,17)

This is no fantasy. This is no gratuitous claim. If we look at this matter more closely, we will discover that we are actually meant to pray, we have been wired and appropriately equipped for it. But neither is it forced on us, nor does it come to us automatically. It has to be willed, and we also need to be trained for it.

With prayer, we keep our union with God, which can mean that we start to share his wisdom and his power. That’s why when we pray properly, we can somehow get to know what is right and wrong, what is fair and unfair, what is safe and dangerous.

With prayer, we can find meaning in any situation we can be in, whether we are up or down. With it, we would know how to handle our weaknesses and resist the temptations around. With it, we put into the play the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity that practically comprise the essence of our true life, spiritual and supernatural.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

We need to be Eucharistic souls

THAT’S right. For us to be truly human, to be a real person who is both grounded and oriented properly, we need to be Eucharistic in mind and heart, because the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is where we have our most precious treasure, our everything, our light, our purification, our salvation.

That’s where we have Christ not only in real presence, as in the Blessed Sacrament, nor as spiritual food, as in the Holy Communion, but primarily as our savior who continues to offer his life on the cross for us, as in the Holy Mass.

We need to be theological in our thinking to capture this reality and live in accordance to it not only from time to time, but rather all the time and everywhere, whatever our situation is.

We have to overcome the very common phenomenon of treating the Holy Eucharist as just a special part of our life that we may attend to in some special moments of the day or on Sundays and holy days of obligation only.

If we believe that God is everything to us, then we have to believe also that Christ, the son of God who became man, is also everything to us. That’s why he said he is “the way, the truth and the life, no one goes to the Father except through me.”

Now, if we believe in Christ as everything to us, then it follows that we have to believe in the Holy Eucharist also as everything to us, since it is the Holy Eucharist where the whole redemptive life of Christ is summarized and sacramentalized, that is to say, made present to us through time.

With the Holy Eucharist, we become contemporaries of Christ in his most supreme act of salvific love for us. But, alas, how many of us realize this, and among those of us who do, how many have the skill to turn this realization into reality?

We need to do a lot of catechizing and discussion if only to air out the many possibilities and practical considerations we can have to make the Holy Eucharist everything to us not only in theory and aspiration, but also in practice in our daily grind.

At the moment, many of the believers still consider the Eucharist as too special as to leave it only in some secluded if very holy, solemn places, where it is, of course, adored and exalted. But it largely remains there. Its spirit, its effects hardly are brought out to the world.

We need to correct this predicament. That’s why we have to deepen our knowledge of this sacrament, and more than that, to cultivate a greater love, a sharper hunger and thirst for it. And that is not enough. We need to bring the Eucharist everywhere, we need to bear witness to it consistently.

This is a big challenge that all of us face and, therefore, also have the responsibility to do something about it. It’s good that Cebu will be the next International Eucharistic Congress, scheduled for 2016, so that in preparation for it, we can start studying the relevant doctrine and cultivating the relevant attitudes and practices.

One main obstacle in this regard is the common thought that the Eucharist is hardly relevant to our daily practical affairs of the real world. This is like saying that Christ has a limited relevance in our life or that he has nothing or nothing much to say about most of our mundane affairs.

The main thing to correct here is the way we think. We have to be more theological in our thinking, inputting the truths of our faith and giving them a priority over all the other inputs that come from our common sense, and our knowledge derived from the sciences and arts, from economics, politics, business, etc.

We need to refer everything to God, and to do this, we need to refer everything through the Holy Eucharist which is precisely the living Christ made present in the Blessed Sacrament, made our food in the Holy Communion, and made our true and ultimate Savior in the Holy Mass.

In other words, we need to do a better, deeper and wider inculturation of the Holy Eucharist in our system, both individually and collectively, both personally and socially. Let’s hope that we can be more conscious of this need, and start to develop the necessary attitudes and the appropriate skills and virtues.

The net effect should be that we become more and more Eucharistic in all aspects of our life!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Freedom of and from religion

THAT was a piece of good news. Texas Governor Rick Perry signs into law the so-called Merry Christmas Bill allowing public schools and other public places to have Christmas greetings on display.

This is actually a no-brainer kind of law, and Perry said as much. But with some people complaining about others greeting Merry Christmas to one another in public and wanting to ban such practice, the state had to clarify the issue, and even had to make a law about it.

Freedom of religion, said the governor, is not freedom from religion. He said that freedom from religion was not included in the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

Well, I thought this kind of distinction is primitive thinking, but it seems our times call for it. There are many people branding themselves as enlightened, modern, liberal and all that, who invoke religious freedom to claim that public places should be freed from any signs of religion in order to be fair to everyone.

These are the people who, for example, would ban praying in schools and other public manifestations of people’s piety even if such come out spontaneously and are respectful of the peace and order of the locality.

We hear this kind of thing mainly in places like the States, but we should not be naïve to think that this thing does not happen here. Last year, if I remember right, there even was a young party-list congressman who moved to strike down any sign of popular piety in public places.

I suppose he was doing it in line with the policies of a worldwide network of atheists and agnostics who want to erase traces of religious piety of all kinds of faith and beliefs not only from public display but also altogether in the world.

We have to be ready for this kind of eventuality. Religion and everything related to it—personal beliefs and practices that need also to be shown in public since we are not only individual persons but also social beings—are such a precious albeit mysterious part of our life that they even surpass complete understanding.

To suppress them would be inhuman, to say the least. Even those who profess to have no religion, like the atheists, do in fact believe in some kind of God, even if that God is they themselves. We cannot help but refer ourselves to a God. Those who say there is no God are already referring themselves to a God.

We need to take care of the religious freedom of everyone who can have different creeds, including the freedom of those who believe there is no God. We just have to learn how to respect each other’s religious beliefs and practices, fostering dialogue and understanding, and resolving differences and conflicts calmly and civilly.

Let’s hope that thing about banning prayer in school, display of religious symbols in public places, etc., will be a thing of the past. We need to move on, and that’s why we have to learn how to flow with the times also.

The other day, a young friend of mine who visited France with the family recently told me that he figured in an argument with an elderly overly pious person inside the Church who told him to remove his earphone from his ears.

My friend was making a visit to the Blessed Sacrament at that time, but since there was a massive Polish crowd inside the Church in some liturgical celebration in a language he did not understand, he decided to pray using his electronic device that read for him some things from a spiritual book.

Obviously the elderly person must have thought my friend was listening to music inside the church, and so my friend explained what he was actually listening. That was when the elderly person apologized.

This kind of situation is actually getting more common. It shows how our rapid pace of developments is creating wider gaps among generations and different types and groups of people. The challenge we have now is how to close or at least narrow these gaps.

In this kind of situation, we need to be more understanding with one another and to foster dialogue and more ways of interaction. We should try to be calm and courteous always even as we explain our opinions and argue our points.

We need to have a good grip on our passions, and stick to reason and to our faith firmly and charitably, quick to understand, forgive and be at peace with one another.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Truthfulness is relational

THAT’S obvious, but since we always take it for granted and often forget our duties and responsibilities toward it, we need to be reminded, if only to achieve more appreciation, both theoretical and practical, for it.

            Truthfulness is relational since it always involves the proper engagement between us and the others, be they persons, things, events, situations, etc. And actually, in these relations, it is not just knowing involved, but also loving, so that the others are not only in us, but we also get to be with them, in the proper way.

            That’s just how the cookie crumbles in our life. We need to be in others, as well as the others need to be in us. And this can happen if we give full and proper play to our knowing and loving, using our intelligence and will to reflect the inner dynamism of the life of God whose image and likeness we are.

            God is in an eternal process of knowing and loving, giving rise to the three persons of the Blessed Trinity, with the Father as the knower, the Son as the known, and the Holy Spirit as the love between the Father and the Son.

            With this inmost dynamism of his eternal knowing and loving, God also gets to know and love everything else outside of himself. There is nothing that exists that is outside his knowledge and loving, though in varying degrees and ways.

            We need to understand therefore that truthfulness can only start with our proper relationship with God. Other than that, our truthfulness, even in what we may consider as its best form, would always be suspect and vulnerable to elements that undermine the truth.

            In short, we can only be truthful and sincere when we are with God who revealed himself in fullness insofar as we are concerned in his Son who became man, Jesus Christ.

            Thus, Christ clearly said that he is “the way, the truth, and the life. No one goes to the Father except through him.” In other words, we can only be truthful through him. We can only find the proper way for whatever is good for us through him. We can only have the real life, proper to us, in him.

            Christ said it very clearly. “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the Evil One.” (Mt 5,37)

            Truthfulness therefore starts with our relationship with God, and with how well we maintain that relationship. This is something we have to realize more deeply, since very often we get contented with mere human criteria for truthfulness, that are often subjective, incomplete, imperfect, and vulnerable to be maneuvered and manipulated.

            When we are not with God, then we can very easily play around with the facts and data, and pass them around as truth, but serving some self-interest instead of the common good, for example.

            This is a very common phenomenon. We make very tendentious, self-serving surveys. We make spins. We only show what we want to show, and hide what we don’t like to be known, not out of prudence or discretion, but more to serve selfish goals.

            We justify such behaviour as a privilege of our freedom. But would that be freedom when one is plunging himself to the bondage of untruth and deception? Would that be freedom when it is exercised to violate the will of God who is the giver, the pattern and end of freedom?

            Truth is these days we need nothing less than exorcism to rid ourselves of this predicament. But more than exorcism, what we need is to know how to be truthful and sincere every day, in both our big and small affairs.

            And this is a matter of actively looking for God, and making that contact as much as possible alive and vibrant all the time. It’s the only way to be truthful whether it is convenient or not, practical or not, advantageous or not.

            It’s the only way we could be willing to suffer for the truth, if such situation comes. We would all be willing to suffer and to find meaning and even contentment in suffering. Being with God would equip with a wider perspective and deeper sense of how things are and ought to be.

            Fear or shame would have no place in our life, except when required by prudence and discretion. We would be willing to say things as they are, that is, as God sees them, and put ourselves in the real world, not in a make-believe one.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Burning charity

THAT’S how charity is. If it’s real, it has to burn, it has to be passionate, it simply gives and gives without measure, it is self-perpetuating, etc., etc. It makes us generous, creative, heroic, articulate. It leads us to be patient, merciful, compassionate, eager to serve, willing to suffer, if need be. It’s the very dynamic core of our sense of freedom.

We need to keep the flame of charity burning always, because with our weakened human condition, we also tend to dull the edge of love through routine, complacency, lukewarmness, laziness, etc. If these go uncorrected, in the end, we would frustrate the deepest yearning of our humanity.

And so we should always think of how we can keep it going, much like what a love song, venting out the exploding sentiments inside, expresses: “How do you keep the music playing? / How do you make it last? / How do you keep the song from fading too fast?...”

At least when we ask questions like these, we lead ourselves to look for the answers. Obviously, we can look for the answers everywhere, but we need to realize also that the ultimate answer actually comes from God, whose essence is love precisely, and whose image and likeness we are.

Ergo, if we have to be truly in love, that is, away from its many caricatures, we have to be with God, reflecting his love in our life. It’s him who is the author of love, its giver and maintainer. He is the standard of love, the pattern, the beginning and end, the one that gives meaning and purpose, the beauty and energy of love.

We have to arrive at that fundamental, indispensable conviction of connecting our love with God. Otherwise, we would be cultivating a false love, a love without foundation, one that is superficial, too dependent on things that don’t last.

The love not founded on God would have a terribly limited scope of capabilities. It can hardly contend with difficulties, trials and the sometimes unavoidable mistakes and failures in life. It certainly cannot associate love with the cross of Christ.

To find meaning in suffering would not be part of its armament. It basks only in good times. It’s notoriously rigid and inflexible. And if it has some fire to it, it would usually be the fire of bitter zeal, with intentions, means and goals not entirely right.

I would like to remit here some description of true love by a Father of the Church, St. Gregory of Nyssa, who tells us what the power of love can do.

“The man ruled by this love,” he says, “shows his patience by bearing wrongs with equanimity, his kindness by generously repaying good for evil. Jealousy is foreign to him. It is impossible to envy worldly success when he has no worldly desires. He is not conceited. The prizes he covets lie within. Outward blessings do not elate him.

“His conduct is blameless, for he cannot do wrong in devoting himself entirely to love of God and his neighbor. He is not ambitious. The welfare of his own soul is what he cares about.

“Apart from that he seeks nothing. He is not selfish. Unable to keep anything he has in this world, he is as indifferent to it as if it were another’s. Indeed, in his eyes nothing is his own...

“He is not quick to take offence. Even under provocation, thought of revenge never crosses his mind. The reward he seeks hereafter will be greater in proportion to his endurance. He harbors no evil thoughts...”

We have to cultivate this culture of love around us, starting with ourselves and radiating it to ever-wider ripples in a sea without shores. The goal is to reach the universal inclusiveness of love that includes loving our enemies.

As often as everyday, and even many times during the day, we need to check if our heart is truly filled with this kind of love, and is moved only by the love that comes from God

This means that we have to develop a kind of recollected lifestyle, one that is reflective and contemplative even if we are immersed and dirtied by our daily duties and activities. This is always possible, though we need to train ourselves in it rigorously.

Especially these days when mindless spontaneity and frivolity is stressed, as well as mere dependence on our common sense or the so-called IQ, EQ, some social skills, the sciences and the arts, we need to make conscious effort to ground our love on God.

Church history

I HAD the privilege recently to teach a part of Church history to a group of professional men. It was that exciting part of modern history, from the renaissance period in the 16th century down to the 17th and 18th centuries and all the way to the present.

            We talked about the division of Christendom, the reformation of Luther and others in Europe, the spread of Christianity in Africa, America and Asia, the Catholic reformation, royal absolutism vs. the papacy, the anti-Christian Enlightenment, liberalism, modernism, Vatican II, etc.

            It’s good to have the chance to review this subject, for history indeed is a very great teacher, a verified source of recorded information, and an illuminator of that very intriguing phenomenon of the abiding interaction between divine providence and human freedom.

            Especially these days, when we tend to get too near-sighted and narrow-minded in our view of things, especially civil and ecclesiastical affairs, Church history gives us a much better perspective as well as tools as to how to understand the unfolding of events and even to a certain extent how to shape the course of history.

            For history is not simply a study of the past. It is also vitally connected to the ongoing life of man that includes the present and the future, and in fact, also beyond time and space. This is a point worth considering more deeply, since our tendency is to be shallow and narrow in our attitude toward history.

            Obviously, we have to understand that Church history is written also by men with their limitations and imperfections. And so, even if great light is shed about the past, we should not forget that it could not cover everything about it.

            Even more, it certainly does not give the last word about the past. More things can be added, to enrich it, put more texture and significance into it, even to modify and correct what has already been written and considered as historical. History is a living science, let’s not forget that.

            The study of Church history somehow reminds us that the events in our life, from the most personal to the most global, have to be seen in their religious, theological dimension.

            That’s because history is not just a product of blind forces, and neither can it simply be the result of some social, economic or political factors alone. While it is always shaped by these factors, we should not forget that there is a spirit that is behind it.

            And it just cannot be some human, natural or world spirit, although these too leave their respective imprint. The spirit of God, his abiding providence, is the ultimate shaper of our history. This awareness will help us develop a certain sense of confidence and serenity as we go through the adventure of life that is full of suspense and surprises.

            Since we also are the ones who make history, we have to remember then that the proper way to shape history is when we try our best to correspond to the will of God. More than the external factors of history in the area of politics or economics, etc., what truly makes history is when we follow God’s will.

            It’s in our hearts first, before things manifest themselves outside, where our history is made. It’s where we flow with the providence of God whose laws and designs cannot be frustrated no matter how much we mess them up with our indifference or outright rebellion against God’s will.

            That’s why, more than some political, economic, social or cultural leaders, it is the saints and the simple souls, who follow God’s will, who are the true shapers and shakers of history.

            How important therefore that we try our best to know God’s designs, to have an intimate relationship with him, to be docile to him, and to be most eager to carry out God’s will! We all need to have this sense of history, and to make it as vibrant and operative as possible.

            This sense of history will give us the proper criteria and standards when judging and assessing events, including things of the Church that can include very ugly developments involving highly placed churchmen.

            It will help us how to move on, what direction to take, how to heal when wounds are inflicted on the Church by her children, etc. It will help us to see things—past, present and future—in their proper perspective or from the point of view of God and of eternity. It infuses hope in us. How wonderful Church history is!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Turn weakness to strength

IF we could only acquire this skill of turning weakness to strength, our life would be truly wonderful, full of joy and peace, and effectiveness to carry out all the duties we have! And this is no exaggerated, gratuitous aspiration, since there’s real basis for it.

Very often, we find ourselves depressed and frozen into inactivity and idleness that sooner or later would trigger worse conditions, because of our personal weakness and miseries that seem to persist in spite of our best efforts to avert them.

We should not worry too much about this sticky predicament of ours. While it’s true that our automatic reaction to these things is that of sadness and worry, we should realize that we have a way to get around them or to be released from their stranglehold.

What we have to do is to go spiritual and supernatural, that is, to go to God. We need to say goodbye from our all-too-human way of looking at things, since that is simply inadequate to tackle the realities of our life, many of them harsh and unmerciful.

Besides, that is what is really meant for us. We have been designed and wired for the spiritual and supernatural life, a truth that we need to chew well since it is not immediately obvious or felt. That’s why we need to do some self-disciplining and all that.

When we go spiritual and supernatural, that is, when we pray, offer sacrifices, avail of the sacraments, develop virtues and wage a continuous ascetical struggle, we can be with God, and we can join St. Paul in saying, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” This is how we can be truly realistic about our weakened humanity.

The apostle of the Gentiles—that’s us in general—also said that it is precisely in his weakness that he is strong, precisely because he uses his weakness as the very reason to go to God, the source of all strength.

Let’s hope that we can develop that kind of attitude, first by widening our perspective to include the truths of faith and then meeting the demands our faith asks of us.

We should not shun from our faith. It’s what gives us the entire picture of our human condition, and with the other virtues of hope and charity, it works out our ideal life as a person and a child of God, and not just of the flesh or of the world.

Yes, our life has to be a life of faith, hope and charity. It cannot simply be a life of food and drinks, social and professional, or cultural, etc. We are bound with God. We have to correspond to that reality, because even if God meant us to be with him, he cannot force us to be with him.

Let’s hope that we can discover that deep yearning in us to be with God, a yearning that God himself, our Creator and Father has put in our heart, and fan it to a flame, burning us in such a way that we will always feel the need for him, that we become passionate about it.

I imagine that our ideal feelings for God could be described in the way a soulful song of Alicia Keys would put it:

Some people want it all / But I don't want nothing at all / If it ain't you, baby / If I
ain’t got you, baby / Some people want diamond rings / Some just want everything / But everything means nothing / If I ain’t got you, yeah... / Nothing in this whole wide world don’t mean a thing / If I ain’t got you with me...

            Human as we are, we need to express our deep yearning for God in the language, the rhythm and the music that the young these days, out of passion, express their most intense desires. We should not afraid to do this, because whatever is human can always be purified and elevated to the spiritual and supernatural.

            Our relation with God need not be confined in its expression in the classic Greek or Latin languages, or dressed up in some Gregorian chants or Church hymns. We can use the language and the music of the street if that is how our heart is more comfortable with. We just have to make the necessary adjustments.

Let’s hope that we will always look for God. Christ himself advised us so: “Seek first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.”

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Our Trinitarian life

IF we believe that we are the image and likeness of God, that in fact we are, with his grace, children of his, made to participate in his very own life, then we should realize that our life cannot but reflect the divine life which, while absolutely simple, is also triune.

      This is the deepest mystery we know about God, thanks to Christ who revealed it to us. It gives rise to the other mysteries of our faith, truths that are so supernatural we cannot fully understand them.

      More than understanding, what we need to do is to believe, because with belief, that is, with faith, the path to understanding these mysteries is opened to us, though that path will also be endless. Still, faith does not stifle understanding, but rather enhances and stimulates it.

      God is one yet three persons. Christ himself said so. He is the Son, there is the Father, and also the Holy Spirit. At the end of his redemptive work on earth, he commissioned his apostles to baptize people in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

      This divine command should lead us to wonder what baptizing us in the name of the Trinity involves, what effects, what duties it would entail.

      The Church has recommended that we just don’t deal with God in a generic way, but rather that we should try to have a personal relation with each of the persons of the Blessed Trinity. But how do we translate this ideal in practical terms?

      Saints, theologians and other great minds through the ages have tried to fathom this mystery, and to a certain extent they have managed, only to lead us to further levels of the truths.

      Grappling with the mystery of the Blessed Trinity is definitely a sublime exercise, for which we are somehow basically wired and equipped by way of our capacity to think, to know, to love, and to love not only with intentions and words, but also and mainly in deeds.

      It’s an exercise that launches us to a never-ending effort to mine the mystery, accompanied in every stage of the process by some effects and fruits in our heart and soul.

      What we now know about this mystery is that in the very core of the life of God, there is an eternal, perpetual dynamism of knowing and loving, in such a way that these actions are not only actions, but persons, given the supreme perfection of God.

      God is absolutely simple with no division or parts. Everything we know about him is identified with his substance. But though one and simple, he is not alone nor inert. He is in constant motion of knowing and loving.

      His knowing is not an act alone that begins and ends. It is fully identified with his very substance, and is therefore referred to as a person that goes on from all eternity. So is his loving.

      It is in knowing and loving that makes God present in everything as well as what makes everything in himself. St. Thomas Aquinas can shed light on this when he said that in knowing, the known object is in the knower, while in loving, the lover is in the beloved.

      Following this principle, we can conclude that within God, he knows and loves himself perfectly well. Outside of him, everything is in him, since he knows everything, and vice-versa, he is in everything, since he loves everything. Nothing escapes from his knowing and loving.

      If we are to reflect and actually live this Trinitarian life of God due to the fact that we are his image and likeness and even adopted children of his, then we have understand that our knowing and loving should approximate or even go in sync with the knowing and loving of God.

      In God, the knower is the Father, the known object, that is, what God knows of himself, is the Son, while the love between the two is the Holy Spirit.

      Therefore, for as long as we pursue in God the act of knowing, we are relating ourselves to the Father as knower. For as long as what we know conforms to God’s knowledge, we relate ourselves to the Son. And for as long as we love what we know, we are relating ourselves to the Holy Spirit.

      This should give us the idea of how we can make an intimate relationship with each of the persons of the Blessed Trinity. It’s in perfecting our knowing and loving in God as revealed by Christ.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Love the Church and the Pope

WE need to be more conscious and skillful in our Christian duty to love the Church and the Pope. This cannot be taken for granted anymore, especially these days when the world is developing in a very rapid pace that often leaves behind our spiritual and religious responsibilities.

      The Church is nothing other than the people of the God, gathered together at the cost of his own life on the cross by Christ. This is because we from the beginning are meant to be God’s people, members of his family, partakers of his divine life.

      We have to understand that this gathering of the people of God is not achieved merely by some political, social or economic maneuverings. It is a gathering that is described as “communion,” where our heart and mind work in sync with the mind and will of God.

      It is a communion where the love of God for us is corresponded to by our love for him. And this is done not only individually by each one of us, but also collectively, all of us together in an organic way. Thus, we need to need to help one another in this common, universal concern.

      At the moment, the common understanding that many people have about the Church and their duty toward the Pope is far from perfect and functional. If ever there is such concern, it is limited to the sentimental or some mystical feelings that hardly have any external and, much less, internal effects.

      We have to know the real nature of the Church, going beyond its historical and cultural character, or its visible aspect, because right now we need to do a lot of explaining, clarifying and defending the role of the Church in our life.

      Knowing it requires nothing less than faith which God himself gives us in abundance. We need to go beyond our own human estimations of it, no matter how brilliant or smart these estimations are. We need faith that is lived in charity.

      In fact, we need to have the universal inclusiveness of charity to be able to capture what the Holy Spirit wants us to know about the Church. Remember St. Paul saying:

      “Charity is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful. It is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

      We need to be wary of our tendency to know and clarify the nature and life of the Church, to create a certain so-called orthodoxy that leads us to be exclusive rather than inclusive with the inclusiveness of charity.

      The Church is the mystical body of Christ, with Christ as the head, and all of us incorporated to it in various and often mysterious ways. The usual ways of incorporating ourselves to it is through baptism, and the bond nourished through the other sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, the doctrine of our faith and obedience to our hierarchy.

      But there are other ways that only God knows and can explain very well. We can only have glimpses of them and they often escape cut and dry explanations. Just the same, we need to understand that we have the duty to understand the nature and life of the Church.

      There is, for example, the need to distinguish and then integrate its seemingly contrasting characteristics and dimensions, like the visible and invisible aspects, the hierarchical and charismatic, the human and divine, the eternal and the historical…

      This is important to ward off unnecessary misunderstandings and controversies that have hounded all of us, raising a lot of dust in the process when the truth can easily be found when this dust settles down.

      The Church on earth is the people of the God still in a journey, still in a pilgrimage. As such it is at once holy and in need of purification.

      St. Bonaventure describes it as the dawn that has passed the night of sinfulness and is entering into the day of grace, but is not yet completely there. It is still in the mixture of darkness and light, night and day.

      It would be good if all of us just try to develop in a conscious way a great and realistic love for the Church and the Pope who, with the power given to him, connects us with Peter and ultimately with Christ.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Apostolic zeal

WE need to know about what apostolic zeal is all about since it actually is a duty incumbent on all Christian believers to have and to keep burning all throughout their lives, making use of all the situations and circumstances they may find themselves in.

            It corresponds to Christ’s clear command, given first to the apostles but also meant for all of us, to go out into the whole world, preaching the gospel and baptizing them “in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

            This commissioning reflects Christ’s burning desire that his work of redemption has to go on till the end of time. His salvific work just cannot be made a part of history. It has to continue, for that in fact comprises the ultimate goal for all of us, believers. We are not meant only to have an earthly goal, but one that transcends time and space.

            Christ is asking us to do our part, always together with him, just as he asked his apostles to do so. And that’s because, first of all, even if Christ being God does not need us to do this, he wants it that way since he is treating us the way he treats himself. We are his image and likeness.

            It’s also for our own good. Our involvement in the apostolate actually matures and perfects us as persons and as children of God. It detaches us from our own self-centeredness and self-absorption, and draws us to the dynamics of love and self-giving.

            We have to remember that loving God who we do not see is accomplished by loving others who we see. And apostolate is that exquisite part of loving others since it involves not only some material good for others, but their spiritual good.

            Secondly, God has designed and wired us to help one another not only in our material and temporal needs, but especially in our spiritual needs that are aimed to our supernatural destination, nothing less than our participation in the very life of God. We need to realize more sharply that we are actually responsible for one another.

            Of course, this participation in the divine life can only happen with the grace of God and never just by our own efforts alone. That’s why the second person of the Blessed Trinity became man, Jesus Christ, who offers himself as our way, our truth and our life.

            With God becoming man in Jesus Christ, we are given not only some doctrine, but also and especially the sacraments and the Church itself that make Christ present and active in our life in any given moment. This happens par excellence in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

            We need to keep that apostolic zeal burning, fueling it with prayers, sacrifices, apostolic plans and initiatives that should bank on some traditional means as well as the new things like the new technologies that can do a lot to foster our apostolic activities.

            We need to spread the saving doctrine of Christ, explaining it in season and out of season, but always with a gift of tongue and making use of the innovative means like the media and the social networks. These latter are in fact considered the new Areopagus, where matters of faith are explained and discussed.

            There’s a crying need to show how God is relevant and necessary especially in our worldly affairs. These days, what we often see are clear signs of religious indifference, skepticism, moral relativism, if not agnosticism and outright atheism.

            We need to see to it that this apostolic zeal should be an overflow of a vibrant interior or spiritual life, immersed in the faith and love of God. The study of the doctrine of Christ, and now of the Church, is a must, since it helps us to relate the things of God with our daily affairs, and vice-versa.

            We should try to make it a thing of the past to consider our religious duties as mere religious sentiments, unable to explain things.

            Let’s hope that we can also develop a universal interest in the apostolate, in the sense that we be interested apostolically with everyone. We certainly have our own preferences, biases and pet peeves, but with God’s grace and our humble but persistent efforts, we can manage to rise above them.

            That’s why we have to always polish our social skills and our friendly attitudes so we can deepen our friendship for apostolic purposes. The aim is to win our friends’ confidence so they and we can journey together toward our final destination.