Monday, October 28, 2013

Truth objective and subjective

WE have to be clear about what is to be objective and what is also to be subjective. Very often, if not almost invariably, we contrast the two, as if to be objective is the very antithesis of being subjective. That is to say, that they cannot be together.

            This concern is important to us, since out of a good understanding between the two would we know how to be truthful and fair. Such good grasp of the two concepts would help us to engage soundly in our dialogues and conversations in the different levels of our life that are growing and multiplying by the day.

            To be sure, there is good reason to put the two notions in contrast. And that reason is when we mean by objective, being in the truth or being fair, and by subjective, being so opinionated as to miss the truth or to be unfair.

            But that situation is more the exception than the rule, since the basic reality is that we cannot be objective unless we are subjective also. The objectivity of a certain truth or fact will always require a subject, who is a person who thinks, judges, reasons out and makes conclusions.

            In other words, the objectivity of the truth cannot help but be apprehended by the subjectivity of the thinking, judging and reasoning person. There is need to establish an organic link between objectivity and subjectivity in relation to truth, whether we are looking for it, or desiring to establish it, or wishing to develop it, etc.

            This cannot be avoided, and we should be ready to tackle the challenge and to undertake the task, since this proper connection between objectivity and subjectivity does not come to us automatically. It has to be worked out.

            The Thomistic definition of truth as the correspondence of a thing to the intellect masks a lot of considerations that need to be uncovered. That definition is so generic that it fails to tell us much about what kind of thing is involved, whether it is merely a material thing or a non-tangible or spiritual or even moral thing, etc.

            When we speak of a material thing or of a fact or data, objectivity should not be difficult to establish. It’s when we speak of non-tangible or spiritual or moral things that it becomes unavoidable that the question of objectivity becomes tricky.

            To be sure, truth is not simply about material things or facts and data. Truth goes far beyond a mere statement of fact or data, or a simple pointing of a physical object. One can say, “I don’t have any whisky,” which may be true as a fact, but such statement does not capture the whole truth. There are a lot more of considerations behind that fact.

            Truth should therefore not be limited to a simple statement of facts. The objectivity of a fact as truth should go hand in hand with the subjectivity proper to it.

            While it’s right that for purposes of legality and other social considerations that govern more our external behavior than probing into our internal motives, we remain in the level of facts, it would be wrong to nail the whole concept of truth to its legal or social dimension alone. It has to look into the motives and goals involved.

            The motives and objectives that comprise the subjectivity of the truth should be those proper to the truth itself. And these motives and objectives cannot be none other than love for God and others, which is what truth is all about. Truth has to go with charity, otherwise it would not be truth in the strictest sense.

            It’s charity that establishes the proper connection between the objectivity and the subjectivity of truth. This is how we should understand truth, and its derivatives—how we should be truthful, sincere, candid, etc.

            It’s charity that makes truth really lovable, a principle that fosters unity and harmony in the different levels and aspects of our life in spite of our differences of views and position on certain issues.

            The absence of charity with respect to truth, as when we just mention facts and data, would make our assertions prone to be divisive and destructive, sowing discord and contentions everywhere.

            We have a lot of clarifying to do in this area and, hopefully, of building up the appropriate structures that would nurture this understanding of truth. Obviously, the task is first of all a personal affair before it ramifies into our social and cultural dimensions. It should be done freely, without forcing anyone.

Truth should be both objective and subjective.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

God writes straight with crooked lines

NOW that we are into some disasters and calamities, it’s good to remind ourselves that God writes straight with crooked lines. We need to strengthen our faith, making deliberate acts of faith to avoid letting the pillars of our ultimate beliefs eroded by the many trials and difficulties we are and will be experiencing because of them.

                God is all good, all wise, all merciful. He does not want to play tricks on us. He is not a hunter who likes to harass us and to strike us in our most vulnerable moments. He is a good father who understands us well, loves us no end, provides us with everything we need, and solves our problems in their final terms.

                He even assumes the mess that we make due to our sinfulness, and converts them into our way of reconciliation. His will and ways are actually simple and straightforward. What makes them to appear crooked are our own natural limitations, personal weaknesses and our own sinfulness that tend to complicate what is actually simple.

                The gospel gives us the basis for all these claims and beliefs. We are told to see and assess things more by faith rather than just our common sense and the power of our sciences and natural knowledge.

                “You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky; why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” he said (Lk 12,56), somehow telling us that we should not just look at the externals and appearance of things, but rather into the internal and spiritual aspects, where the interplay of God’s providence and our correspondence takes place.

                This is the challenge we have to tackle. We need to study the will and ways of God that actually are revealed to us with enough if not abundant clarity in spite of the mysteries that they also contain. Are we doing something about this challenge?

                The faith broadens our mind and leads us to brace ourselves to the full range of reality that we live in, a reality that includes the natural and the supernatural, the material and the spiritual. 

                It’s the faith that sheds the proper and ultimate light to everything in our life, including not only the good things that happen to us, our victories and successes, but also the bad and sad things that spring not so much from our natural limitations as from the infranatural or sub-human frailties that arise from our sinfulness.

                It’s the faith that gives meaning and salvation to the suffering that we unavoidably will have in this life. In another part of the gospel, for example, we are told that whenever some calamities occur, one thing that we should remember as we go about tackling the consequences of such calamities is that we need to repent.

                Our life here on earth can be described in many ways, most of them beautiful and of the fell-good type. But one realistic way of describing it is that it is also a life meant to elicit in us sentiments of repentance and conversion. That’s because of our sinfulness.

                The pertinent gospel passage is the following: “Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. He said to them in reply, ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?

                “By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” (Lk 13,1-3)

                May we not get lost in the drama provoked by the calamities and disasters that visit us from time to time, a drama that inevitably sparks off strong natural feelings of fear! We have to see the whole picture painted by our faith. There we can see that God actually is conveying a beautiful message for us, a message we need to know and live.

                That’s the reason why we have to pray always. Prayer, for us, should not just be an on-and-off affair. It should be like our breathing, our very heartbeat. It’s what connects us vitally with God, and enables us to see things the way God sees them.

                We ought to remember that we actually cannot live without God. Thinking otherwise would lead us to some fantasy world that for sure cannot cope with all the fullness of the reality of our human life here on earth.

                With prayer, we somehow can detect that God actually writes straight, but his writing may look crooked because of our limitations and sinfulness.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

From shock waves to love waves

WE have to learn how to convert shock waves to love waves. This is not a desperate act of sweet lemoning, but rather a real necessity and the most practical thing to do, given the circumstances.

            It’s definitely no good to be dominated all the time by shock and fear. We should not allow ourselves to rot in those predicaments. Rather, let’s use the aftershocks into rampaging waves of genuine and effective concern for others. The shock waves should elicit in us the corresponding love waves

            We can expect the shock waves to diminish both in number and intensity. That’s because, while nature can unleash tremendous powers, it also has its limits. They just cannot go on and on. They peter out sooner or later. That’s part of the good news. Thus, we need to cultivate a sporting attitude toward calamities like this.

            But we should work on our love waves to grow both in quantity and quality. The spirit that drives them knows no limits. It has the capacity to be hitched with the omnipotent and ever-wise love of God.

            The love waves can only grow and grow. They can be inventive and creative. They can effectively correspond to the needs of the people at any given moment, and in fact can go beyond the level of needs.

            This is the call of our times, the challenge we have to face with God’s grace and our trusting, all-out efforts. The love waves should be a lot stronger than the shock waves. They are what repair and reconstruct what the shock waves destroy or damage.

            Let’s not allow the shock waves to reduce us into some subhuman species, harassed by doubts and worries. Much less should we let them lead us into petty and lowly thoughts and reactions.

            It’s unfortunate that the current relief operations in Bohol are marred by ugly politicking, or is it just a case of small-mindedness or plain stupidity? I hope that we can go past this distracting stage, and really work in solidarity with everyone for the good of all, and giving preferential and prompt attention to the more disadvantaged.

            We have to unleash the best of our abilities, our inventiveness, spirit of sacrifice and generosity, and other resources to tackle the emergency situation we have at hand. The effort to get earthquake victims back on their feet, not to mention, the road to recovery, is going to be long, arduous and complicated.

            Let’s look into how we can sustain the effort to help our brothers and sisters in dire need. But we have to see to it that the love waves we should produce spring from a genuine life of prayer and faith in God and in our people.

            These love waves cannot be authentic, and can be prone to be distorted and taken advantage of if they do not come from a vital relationship with God and with the people. Forget it if they are just grounded on emotions and feelings.

            It’s in our prayer and faith that we can see things objectively and extensively. It’s through our prayer and faith that we can derive the energy we need to launch and persevere in doing good, and that enable us also to rectify our intentions, and pursue the right course, despite problems and difficulties. It’s our prayer and faith that would keep us going.

            But neither should we fall into the other extreme of making our life of prayer and faith a hindrance, a sweet trap in our effort to be effectively engaged with the needs on the ground.

            Sad to say, this is also a proximate danger, and a very common one too. We can easily fall into it, thinking that by going through the motions of prayer, we are already helping. This is when we become armchair operators only, filled with good intentions but lacking in deeds.

            We have to spring into action. Love is deeds and not just sweet words or good intentions. Remember what St. James said: “Faith, if it has not works, is dead in itself.” (2,17)

            We need to help one another to convert the shock waves into love waves. Let’s try to create the appropriate culture able to discern as quickly as possible the beautiful divine messages embedded in the disasters and calamities that visit us, and to pursue the many wonderful possibilities that they possess.

            We need to broaden our minds and hearts to detect and follow God’s ways. We should avoid being caught with our pants down when shock waves come.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Teasing out generosity

I BELIEVE that we are by nature generous. We have been wired to share things. That’s why even early on, in our childhood, we find it natural or, at least, not hard to share what we have with others. Just observe a child and his ways. The proof is all there.

            We clearly know that what we have is actually shared with us also by others, like our parents, brothers and sisters, etc., and so we find it natural also to share it with others. That’s one of the first laws in life, without calling it that, that we instinctively follow.

            But while this is true in its basic state, we also know that we need to develop it. Our human condition requires it so. As creatures who know, judge, reason and choose, we are also bound by the law that we need to know more deeply about why we have to be generous and why we have to choose to be so.

            We should not take this duty for granted, for many are the elements along the way that seek to undermine this natural tendency of ours. We have our weaknesses to contend with, weaknesses that our faith tells us are the consequences of original sin, and these distort if not abort our complete understanding of the need for generosity.

            Then obviously we have to contend too with the consequences of personal and collective sins that have diversified in various forms through the years. These threaten our capacity to be generous. There’s greed, envy, deceit, vanity, etc.—all these undermine if not destroy our natural tendency to be generous.

            We have been reminded of this need to cultivate generosity in the gospel. “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions,” Christ said. (Lk 12,15)

            We are told not to lay up treasures for oneself but rather to be rich toward God, that is, to be generous with God and with everybody else. Avarice, hoarding, simply pursuing our self-interest and personal welfare are actually inhuman, let alone, unchristian.

            It’s also good for us to remember that there is such a thing as “universal destination of earthly goods.” That’s an official part of our Christian doctrine. “In the beginning God entrusted the earth and its resources to the common stewardship of mankind to take care of them, master them by labor, and enjoy their fruits.

            “The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race.” (CCC 2402) Even if there is also such a thing as right to private ownership, that right is always subordinated and is supposed to work for this more fundamental truth about the universal destination of goods.

            We need to be reminded of these basic truths especially now when we see many of our brothers and sisters and whole families suddenly plunged into helplessness because of the killer earthquake in Bohol and Cebu last October 15.

            We are now asked to share what we have in a more dramatic and drastic way with the victims of the calamity. We have to open up everything—our hearts, minds, and yes, our purses and other resources—to lend a hand to them. Let’s be generous until it hurts. In fact, our generosity should go even beyond hurts.

            Let’s reassure ourselves of the teaching of Christ himself who encouraged us to give and give, because what we give will come back to us a hundredfold and in ways and forms much better than they are now.

            Let’s see to it that we manage to sustain our generosity, making it grow and evolve as the vital needs of the affected people also unroll. Let’s see to it that we don’t get trapped in the sentimental, knee-jerk kind of generosity, good only in the beginning, but cannot cope with the full range of the people’s needs.

            We have to expand our idea of generosity to embrace not only the immediate needs but also the long-range ones, not only the material needs but also and more importantly the spiritual ones.

            It should be a generosity that involves the total person, our mind and heart, and not just a matter of giving away our extras that we can dispose of anytime.

            Remember that episode of the poor widow who gave two mites that were all he had. Christ said of her: “This poor widow has cast in more than all they who have cast into treasury. For they cast in of their abundance, but she of her want cast all she had.” (Mk 1,43-44)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Building up hope

WE have to face reality squarely, and the reality is that we are going to have a long and hard road to recovery from the devastation we are suffering due to the October 15 earthquake. Let’s not sweeten it. In fact, let’s try to prepare ourselves for the worst scenarios. That’s how we should be realistic.

            But realism would be incomplete if it is not infused also with hope and optimism, a deep and unshakeable trust in the loving providence of God, and faith in our God-given strengths and talents. Realism should embrace both the worst and the best of people and things in general.

            And so, even now when the pain is still fresh, we have to build up a large reservoir of hope that is based on faith in God and in people and nourished by love. This is the basic formula we have to use as we try to pick up the pieces and start the task of rebuilding.

            We have to pray, we have to strengthen our will to survive and to overcome whatever difficulties we encounter, and this should be reflected in our deeds that should know no limits in their boldness of generosity, grandness and nobility of heart.

            We have to see to it that our faculties are in their proper places and are functioning well. We should be wary of our emotions and passions taking over as the lead factor in our attitude toward this challenge.

            Our boldness should also be prudent. We have to learn to listen to everyone and refrain from entering into useless and distracting arguments over issues that will surely come along the way. People have different views on priorities, etc., and so let’s be prepared for this eventuality, always trying to be calm and civil, and holding our horses.

            Let’s hope that as days pass, we become more organized in our efforts, developing the appropriate structures and networks, and animating them always with continuing words of encouragement and hope, coming from the gospel, common sense, and other sources, and nourishing them with prayers and the sacraments.

            The worst of times are the best of times also. That’s when virtues and greatness flourish amid the rubble of destruction and the ensuing and invasive tendency to fall into helplessness and despair, into self-pity and pessimism. We have to fight against these negative elements that always threaten us.

            We first have to look at the immediate basic needs of the victims, especially those who are isolated. At the moment, there are many reports of people who have no food to eat, water to drink and who have dead to bury or injured to take care of but feel unable to do so properly.

            But this concern should not blind us from giving due attention to the longer-ranged needs of the people—the reconstruction of the roads and bridges, the market places, the town halls, and most of all the churches. The economy has to be jumpstarted.

            This turn of events can help to purify our politics and rehabilitate our politicians who have been more concerned about their political life than working for the common good. This can bring back to them a heart of flesh, throwing away the heart of stone that has become conspicuous, what with all the screaming scandals lately.

            So this is also the time for our own purification, for doing some work of restitution of things that we, whoever we may be, may have unduly taken from others knowingly or unknowingly. There are many sins and misdeeds that we have committed that have passed unnoticed. We have to make up for them.

            Even more important is to look into the emotional, psychological and spiritual condition of the people. A lot of therapy and healing for sure is needed in this area. And this should not be ignored just because it is more intangible than tangible in nature.

            Everyone is begged to do whatever he can contribute. Volunteerism is the name of the game now. There is always something to give, even if it is just prayers and good wishes. Everyone has his own expertise, his own specialization. This is now the time to share gratis et amore. Never mind the pay or reward. God cannot be outdone in generosity.

            And let’s always remember that what we give always gains us a lot more in return, what we seem to lose actually comes back to us a hundredfold, and what we keep to ourselves because of lack of faith and love is actually lost and will work for our own downfall.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Getting back on our feet

WE have been floored by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake. The number of casualties is increasing, and the damage has been extensive in terms of properties and infrastructure.

            Houses and buildings have fallen. Landslides have blocked roads, bridges destroyed, isolating towns. But it’s most heartbreaking to see churches collapse or practically ruined. That sight alone touches right deep in people’s soul like no other.

            Gone, for now, are those precious treasures that represent our people’s journey of faith and piety through the centuries. Their mere presence, even as we just happen to pass them by, never fails to evoke a certain sense of our identity.

            We may not have been a very good member of the Church or one who is consistently faithful to it, but somehow we feel we belong to it, just as any child continues to belong to a family whether he behaves well or not. We are always welcome to enter it. It does not make easy, uncharitable distinctions.

            Some of us are asking why these churches have to go the way they did during the temblor. Well, God has his ways, his very mysterious ways. And if we continue to have faith, we know that everything happens for a good reason. “Omnia in bonum,” as they say.

            We have to reinforce our belief that God is conveying a beautiful message to us through their disappearance. Obviously we have to try to decipher and fathom it. We can always try.

            We should not just focus on the purifying or penalizing aspect of their disappearance, destruction or damage, though that alone holds a good basis. For one, we have often taken them for granted, allowing them to drift to deterioration.

            Very often, when I visited many of these old churches, I got the impression that they were treated like aging great-grandmothers who were more of a bother than a useful constituent. They seem to be maintained only as a religious prop or cultural ornament. Their sacramentality as our home with God is practically lost.

            This is not to mention that in our life of piety, many things have gone sour. We like to strut our religiosity, yet even in the externals alone, many holes and inconsistencies can be seen. If we are not lax, our most prevalent predicament, then we go to the other extreme of being too fastidious as to be rigid and superstitious.

            But I’m sure there is a lot more of positive reasons why these beautiful churches are gone for now. I like to believe that God is challenging us to rebuild our spiritual life so we can rebuild our churches, making them more beautiful, stronger and more adapted to current and foreseeable situations and challenges.

            God is asking us to get our act together in both our own personal and collective life. We need to develop a strong and functioning interior life of love of God, and a vibrant concern for the others in all aspects of life, both material and spiritual, both mundane and sacred.

            We have to break loose from our complacency in our relation with God and others, and really enter into a most meaningful engagement with him and everybody else.

            We need to mature in our faith, after so many centuries already of Christian life. We need to man up so as to grapple with the real issues of our life and not get entangled with the non-essentials, though they too need to be duly attended to and related to what is truly important.

            I know the transition is not easy. But it can be facilitated if we try our best to put our mind and heart, plus all our resources, into the task of rebuilding simultaneously our spiritual life and our churches. This can be done. This is not a quixotic dream.

            We need to get back on our feet and move on with a revitalized and purified sense of purpose in life. We have to rise from the ruins, counting on God’s grace and our all-out effort.

            Christ has reassured us that we can resurrect not only on the last day, but also on any day as long as make the necessary changes in our life. His promise of a new creation is effective as often as we decide to return to him and to take him and his beautiful will for us seriously.

            This, I believe, is how we should react to the loss of our beautiful churches and the devastation of the earthquake. God is planting a seed in us that has to die first in order to grow and bear more fruit.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Aftershocks’ afterthoughts

I WAS coming home from saying Mass in Lahug, Cebu, when it happened. All of a sudden the car I was driving shook abnormally. I tried to ignore it at first, but it persisted. When I saw the posts swinging and the building nearby swaying, the idea came to me in a flash. This is an earthquake! A shot of terror suddenly hit me.

            I was hoping it would just be a brief spasm. But it took long, like an eternity, and the temblor became wilder. People started to come out into the street, all looking alarmed. The women passengers in the jeepney in front of me were crying and holding tightly on whatever their hands could get hold of at that moment.

            Immediately all sorts of thoughts came to mind. Will the ground open up? Will I see things falling down? Is this it? Am I prepared? It was amazing that at that moment I was expecting and preparing myself for the worst and yet also hoping and praying for the best. The here and now got automatically related to the ultimate. All in an instant!

            When the quaking stopped, I pushed the idea on myself that the worst, for now, is over. That idea came from experience, though I must say that this earthquake was the strongest so far for me.

            I drove slowly home, looking around and especially at the people, and praying all the time. My heart both pumped heavily and bled profusely as I saw the faces of the people. When I arrived home, my neighbours, especially the children, met me with expressions tingling with fear.

            I tried to comfort them, kind of reassuring them that the worst is already past. Then I started to call my relatives in Bohol and Manila. Thank God, there was no earthquake in Manila where I have a lot of relatives.

            It was a different story when I called Bohol. It was my first time to hear my brother sounding afraid. He was always the cool guy, very good at hiding things like fear or alarm. He always projected the image all was under control. This time, no. He sounded like it was the end of the world.

            I must have prayed double or triple-time. Then I bombarded my relatives with pieces of advice and suggestions that I could think of at the moment. Stay outside the house but keep an eye on it. Secure all the children. Check as soon as possible the stores, etc. But first, pray, and then all the while, pray, I told them.

            Later on, I found out that the epicenter was in my beloved province of Bohol itself. Oh no! The stage of denial was suddenly on me. I never experienced an earthquake when I was growing up in Bohol. Then the usual questioning, why this earthquake, why Bohol?

            As I busied praying and calming myself and the others around me, I tried to get more information and to go around inspecting places of interest—the school buildings, the seminaries, etc. I texted my friends to see how they were doing. Thank God, not much of major concern was reported.

            Then the seemingly endless series of aftershocks came. These gave me occasions to think more deeply on this disaster. I know God has his mysterious ways that are always full of wisdom, goodness and mercy. Most of them are beyond our perception and understanding. But how can I transmit this message?

            Many of the good things that come our way are usually taken for granted. We seldom take the bother to thank him for the air that we breathe, the food that we eat, the water that we drink, the many dangers that were kept from us, many of them unknown to us, etc.

            It’s when disasters, like this earthquake, happen when we sometimes ask God why do they have to happen? Can’t you, God, not have prevented them?

            Though we still like to stick to our faith, we seem unable to resist from questioning, if not from complaining. I suppose that’s part of our human condition. God understands all this unavoidable predicament of ours.

            But we should learn the lessons of Job whenever disasters erupt. Heavily tested, suffering all kinds of misfortune, he persisted in his faith and love for God.  "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." (1,21)

            Let’s always react with faith in all events of our life, whether good or bad.  

Sunday, October 13, 2013

We need to be grateful

WE need to hone up our sense of gratitude. We need to be thankful because the most radical truth about us is that whatever we have is first of all something given to us by someone, something received, before we do anything about it. If only to be decent, the least thing we can do is to be grateful.

            St. Paul briefly and clearly expressed this truth this way: “What have you that you did not receive?” (1 Cor 4,7) And he continued: “And if you have received, why do you glory as if you have not received it?” pointing to us the danger if we fail to acknowledge this fundamental truth.

            To be thankful is a necessity in our life. It is what puts us on the proper foundation, on the right track, and toward our true goal. It sustains and reinforces our relationship with everyone, from God down to the last creature on earth.

            It always generates good atmosphere around, facilitates friendship and harmony. It builds up a sense of unity and belongingness among ourselves, tearing away whatever walls we may unwittingly erect due to our unavoidable differences and conflicts of views and opinions.

            To take this necessity for granted or, worse, to be neglectful of it would plunge us into the road of self-centeredness, making us vulnerable to pride, vanity, envy, conceit and the like.

            We start to build our own fantasy world or our own bubble of a reality, even to the extent of invincible confidence of our own righteousness. We start to distance ourselves from other, until we alienate them from us completely.

            We need to be more conscious of cultivating and living this sense of gratitude. Given the fast pace of our life nowadays, we need to pursue this goal with deliberate effort, because even without malice we tend to forget it and to be easily distracted.

            We can ask ourselves, when was the last time we said “thank you” to someone, or better still, to God? Very often we are notorious for asking favors from others, and from God especially, and yet we are not as quick to say thanks.

            There are those who claim that to be thankful to others would lead them to be subordinated to these people in an improper way, or to tie them up unnecessarily to these people. They suspect it would make them vulnerable to be abused or exploited.

            For sure, there will always be some mistakes and imperfections in our pursuit to cultivate this sense of gratitude. But those mistakes and imperfections do not negate our need for it.

            What they do is to indicate where we can still improve and perfect our sense of gratitude. Saying thanks obviously has to be done with prudence too, with the right words and tone, and in the right time.

            But in this, I would prefer that we err more on the side of excess than of defect. If we have been excessive in this, we can easily see the bad effects and institute the proper rectification.

            The danger of being deficient in this regard is that we would not even know we have a problem in this area. The lack of gratitude or, worse, its absence, can be so blinding that we would not know what’s missing.

            Another thing about this need for gratitude is that we should also be thankful for everything that happens in our life, not only for the good things that come but also for the not so good things that we experience.

            Our sense of gratitude should not be shaped only along the lines of what we feel or understand. Rather, it has to be configured along the dictates of our faith, hope and charity. In other words, it should not just be naturally motivated.

            It has to be supernatural, with God’s grace, that would enable us to find reason to be thankful even in our disappointments, frustrations, problems, challenges, trials, failures, temptations.

            Echoing what St. Paul said to the Romans, we should be convinced that “To them that love God, all things work together unto good.” (8,28) Even our misfortunes in life have a purpose in God’s providence for us, and therefore we also need to be thankful for them.

            The story of Job, intensely tested by God, corroborates this point. He realized in the midst of his trials that he should accept not only the good but also the evil things in life, always clinging to God in all situations, and never departing from him.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The beauty of self-emptying

SOME years ago, a young man approached me and very happily told me he just had his newborn baby baptized. I immediately asked him what the name of the neonate was. And he cheerily responded, “Kenosis, Maria Kenosis, Fr.”

            I, of course, was dumbstruck. It was not so much that the name sounded very strange and so out-of-this-world. It was more because I happened to know the word and it never occurred to me that it could be a name of a baby girl.

            The word is Greek and it appears in the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians. It means “emptying,” referring to Christ who being God emptied himself to become man, making himself like a servant, obedient to this Father unto death on the cross. (cfr 2,6-8)

            I asked the fellow who suggested the name to him and whether he knew the meaning. He said, it was a priest who suggested it and who explained the meaning. He said that since he liked how the word sounded, he accepted the suggestion.

            I was actually happy to learn about this turn of events, since it was a good departure from the usual practice of parents naming their children according to some combination of their names.

            Thus, you hear about a child named Celpon because the parents are Celine and Ponciano, or Charger because Charlene and Gerry are his parents. I wonder what other funny combinations we will have next time.

            But the word Kenosis is actually a good word and concept for all of us to be familiar with. It is actually an ideal to be made reality in us, since the attitude of self-emptying is actually a necessity for us if we want to imitate Christ and to be able to be all things to men.

            It’s the formula for adapting ourselves to everyone and every situation, especially the more difficult ones. This business of self-emptying is no impractical or profitless venture. It’s the secret for success in any effort to build up unity and harmony in a world that is often wracked in differences, conflicts, and relativistic mentalities.

            These differences, conflicts and relativistic ways are not only in the area of politics, philosophies and ideologies. They can be in the more important aspects of life like faith and religion, morality and the like.

            Looking closely at the kenosis or the self-emptying of Christ, we can learn that the God who created us truly humbled himself to become man and went all the way to assume even the sinfulness of man without committing sin himself.

            That is how he removed the sting of sin and death, as can be gleaned in this passage from St. Paul: “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’

            “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” (1 Cor 15,54-56)

            It’s important that we learn the skills of self-emptying as we go through the unavoidable differences and conflicts in our life. We have to convince ourselves that that is the proper way to behave, overcoming the all too human reactions of defending ourselves too readily, of wanting to score and win in a debate, etc., all manifestations of pride, vanity and self-righteousness.

            We have to be ready to be humiliated, to be misunderstood, etc. What should come foremost to our mind is that we are closely united with Christ all the way to his culminating act of offering his very own life. That’s because Christ himself said: “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.” (Lk 11,23)

            To be strongly convinced of the wisdom of this attitude, we need to remember always words of Christ: “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt 10,39)

            And as St. Paul also said: “The foolish things of the world has God chosen, that he may confound the wise; and the weak things of the world has God chosen, that he may confound the strong.” (1 Cor 1,27)

            We need to revise our concept of what is truly good for us, what would comprise real success and victory. It’s in the self-emptying ways of Christ. In fact, he commands it of us: “If you want to follow me, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” (Mt 16,24)

Friday, October 11, 2013

How should our tolerance be?

WE are supposed to be tolerant of everyone, whoever they are and however their views and positions may be toward ours. If we go by the teaching of Christ, we are even commanded to love our enemies. That’s how our tolerance should be. But should our tolerance be an anything-goes, free-for-all kind of affair?

            I suppose not. Common sense will readily tell us that such understanding of tolerance would be harmful and destructive to everyone. It will just lead to anarchy. It will put everything proper to us in ruins—our dignity, our respect for one another, our harmony, our communication, etc.

            We need to look at Christ, we need to be vitally united to him to arrive at the proper understanding of Christian tolerance. It’s only in him that we would know how to blend charity and truth, mercy and justice, and other values that seem compete and to be in conflict with each other.

            A cursory review of the life, words and deeds of Christ can somehow tell us that he was both the strictest and the most lenient of masters. Remember those words of his which sounded very harsh.

            “If your right eye scandalizes you, pluck it out and cast it from you…If your right hand scandalizes you, cut it off, and cast it from you…” (Mt 5,29-30) Even if to be taken figuratively, these words can strike terror to anyone.

            More, he said, “Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you.” (Lk 6,27) And still another one: “He who loves father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me…He who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Mt 10,36)

            Hard words, to say the least! But they have to be taken with other sets of words that speak of tenderness, compassion, empathy.  Like when Peter asked Christ: “Lord, how often shall my brother offend against me, and I forgive him? Seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I say not till seven times, but till seventy times seven times.’” (Mt 18,21-22)

            The mystery of God and of his love for all of us, a mystery that overwhelms our human schemas, can only be reflected in our lives, as it should since we are his image and likeness and children of his, if we are in living union with him.

            This union, this identification of ours with God is not and should not be an abstract reality. It is not just a gratuitous human invention and desire, since it is first of all God’s will for us. He has created us and designed us in such a way that we can live our life always with him.

            On God’s part, he does everything to make that identification with us on-going, even to the extent of not only dying on the Cross for us but also of making himself available to us as food in the Holy Eucharist.

            It’s on our part that we need to be very concerned about, because we tend to ignore this tremendous, radical truth about ourselves. We need to enliven our faith, hope and charity to conform ourselves to this reality.

            That’s why we need to pause regularly and meditate on the life and words of Christ to at least have some good and working idea of how we should be in our relation to him and to others, and especially in developing and living that tolerance proper to us with respect to others.

            Very often, without this union with Christ, without his light, and when we are guided only by our own estimation of things, we either fall short or go beyond what Christian tolerance is.

            We keep quiet when we are supposed to speak, or we blurt out things when it would have been much better to remain silent. Sometimes, we are in doubt as to what to do, or we get blinded by our passion and start to do things mindlessly and indiscriminately.

            We have to understand though that to achieve Christian tolerance through our vital union with Christ can only be achieved if we study the doctrine of our faith thoroughly, knowing how the morals organically flow our faith.

            Then we need to develop the appropriate virtues—prudence, patience, fortitude, humility, etc. We also need to avail ourselves of the sacraments so that the flow of grace from God to us can always take place.

            The most important is that we identify ourselves with Christ on the cross, when we are eager to suffer with Christ. It’s the cross that gets the act together!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Daily heroism for all

TO be sure, heroism can and, in fact, should be attained by everyone.
It’s not meant only for a few. The fruit of love, of self-giving, the
expression of a generous, magnanimous heart, heroism is the law and
goal of our life. It’s the other name for sanctity.

    We are actually made for it, and if we bother to examine ourselves
closely, our spiritual DNA bears it out. We are wired for it. Again,
if we strip ourselves of the many conditionings that color our life,
we can actually discern a native longing for loving and for heroism.

    We don’t have to wait for some spectacular, dramatic moments to show
and prove it. We don’t need to be shot by a firing squad to become
heroes, nor to do some whoppingly extraordinary act that can grab
public attention like some digital wildfire.

    Heroism is at the easy reach of everyone. Chances for it practically
beckon us every day and in every moment. Opportunities for it lie
waiting for us not so much in the big but occasional things in our
life as in the small, routine, hidden things of our daily life.

    It’s just a matter of choosing to follow what Christ has told us—to
love God with all our might, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
It’s a matter of loving, of giving our all, which is what love is all
about, in whatever we are doing, whether in our human estimation it is
big or small.

    Remember that we can only be ready for heroism in the big things if
we are consistently heroic in the small things. “He who is faithful in
a very little is faithful also in much. And he who is dishonest in a
very little is dishonest also in much.” (Lk 16,10)

    We have to be wary of doing things just to do away with an
unavoidable task or to meet certain expectations from others. We have
to be wary of doing things pro-forma alone, that is, just for show,
without the real substance inside.

    We need to do things really out of love that involves our mind and
heart, our whole being, to such an extent that it can be felt and
seen. Whether witnessed by others or not, we do things simply because
we want to or we love to. That is, we do things very well,
extraordinarily well, because we love God.

    Remember Christ telling us: “When you give alms, let not your left
hand know what your right hand does, so that your alms may be in
secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Mt 6,3)

    In other words, to give ourselves wholeheartedly and properly, to
love truly, to become genuine heroes, we have to purify our intention.
It should only be driven by love for God, and because of that love, it
is also driven by love for souls, since loving God and loving others
always go together.

    If we are clear about this law and formula for heroism as articulated
by Christ, we can really say that heroism is easy. Yes, there will be
difficulties, suffering and all that drama, but in the end, we cannot
deny the fact that more than us, it is God who is most interested that
each one of us becomes heroes and saints.

    For his part, God will always give us the necessary graces. He will
always be patient with us, willing to forgive and recover us as many
times as needed. He is slow to anger and rich in mercy.

    We also have to be clear that heroism is not a matter of whether we
are regarded as heroes by people or not. Heroism can only be bestowed
on us by God, though it may be acknowledged and given publicity by
people. And so, we should not worry if our heroism does not end with a
monument of ourselves.

    What we have to be most concerned is that every day we realize God is
inviting us to become heroes and saints in the little things of each
day. So, we have to look at our ordinary daily and hidden duties and
tasks from this perspective.

    Imagine how a task as simple as washing dishes, doing our school
assignments, tackling the usual pinpricks of the day, can already make
us heroes and saints if done with true love for God and for others!

    Isn’t it a very nice deal, very much doable and irresistibly
attractive? Let’s be heroes and saints then on a daily basis!

The beauty of prayer

LET’S go over again the story of the sisters Martha and Mary with Jesus as their guest (Lk 10,38-42). It’s a beautiful story from which we can derive precious lessons on the place of prayer in our life immersed in work and all kinds of earthly concerns. These lessons are most relevant today, marked as it is by rapid, often mindless activism.

            Both sisters were of very good heart. Close friends of Jesus together with their brother Lazarus, they must have been excited to have Christ in their home. Martha went about going through the details of hospitality. Mary, on the other hand, just sat down near Jesus, listening to him.

            At a certain point, Martha complained that her sister appeared to be doing nothing and was not helping her. She said it with the confidence of a close friend. And so Jesus, also as a close friend, confided to her a very important home truth which contains the famous words that have reverberated through the ages.

            “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

            These words definitely tell us that whatever our concerns are, however urgent and important they seem to be, prayer or conversation with God still holds priority over them. And that’s because without prayer, all these concerns, however they may be resolved, would have no value if not infused with prayer.

            Prayer is the very breath and heartbeat of our spiritual life, of our life with God which is how our life ought to be. It’s prayer that brings us and all our concerns to God. Without it, we would just be drifting in our own world, often going in circles and definitely going nowhere, though we may have the sensation we are going to different places.

            Our life is never just a physical, biological, personal, family, professional or social life. It is a life in constant relation with its Creator, and that relation is made alive by us if we correspond to God first of all through prayer.

            So no matter how pressured we are, no matter how tight and hectic our time is, we have to find a way to engage God in some moments of intimate conversation, talking and listening to him, so we can always be with him the rest of the time while we are working and going through whatever concern and business we have during the day.

            In this, we need to develop the proper attitude and skills. Our disposition should be driven by faith, hope and love of God who is actually everything to us. We have to strengthen this truth of faith about God being everything to us because this is the very foundation of our life of prayer, our life with God.

            We have to be wary of our all too human tendency to be easily swayed and held captive by the impulses of our instincts and feelings, and by some sense of what is practical and convenient that displaces our more basic need to pray.

            Due to this attitude, we end up falling into activism and into developing a general culture where we think our goal is just a matter of some natural and human good, measured in terms of economics, politics, social welfare, etc.

            These yardsticks only have a temporal shelf life, at best. They can never bring us to our supernatural goal of being with God for eternity as we are meant to be.

            This, sadly, is a very common phenomenon which we need to address and rectify. The impulses of our instincts and feelings, our sense of the practical and convenient are not bad in themselves. What makes them bad is when they prevent us from praying.

            What makes them bad is when they confine us to have a merely worldly vision of things, notoriously narrow and shallow-minded, marked only by knee-jerk reactions and by self-interest instead of the common good.

            Yes, to tackle these tendencies of ours, we need a lot of self-discipline and hopefully other structures conducive to developing and sustaining our life of prayer, like the family, school, our network of friends, etc.

            Prayer actually enables us to see beyond the here and now. It leads us to find meaning and even joy in every situation we find ourselves in, including the unpleasant and difficult ones.

            Prayer can show us the inherent beauty of everything, including our suffering, because we will see them the way God sees them. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Avoiding scandal

THIS should be an ongoing concern of ours, considering that scandal, as Christ himself said, is unavoidable. “It is necessary that scandals come.” (Mt 18,7) But he continued, “Nevertheless, woe to that man by whom the scandal comes.”

            Whether we like it or not, we cannot help but give scandal to others or be scandalized ourselves. Just the same, with God’s grace, with a good dose of hope and generosity, with our effort, we just have to try to avoid scandal, that is, to cause it or to be scandalized.

            Scandal is when we lead others to sin. This can start with our attitude itself and can worsen with our behavior. We have to see to it that even in our internal forum, in the way we think, judge, assess, reason, conclude, etc., the good things like charity, compassion, understanding should be deliberately pursued.

            Then we can expect good actions to follow, for our thoughts, desires and intentions are the mother of our actions. How important therefore it is to keep our thoughts clean, our desires pure, and our intentions full of love and compassion toward others! Our actions are just expressions of our thoughts, desires and intentions.

            Let’s not wait for some good inspiration to come to us. We have to be proactive in pursuing the good and the demands of love, starting with the small things, since the big things in life always start with the small ones.

            It’s very timely now to be reminded about the need to avoid scandals, since the world, even in our own relatively small corner, is filling up with scandals, and one scandal can lead to another.

            Scandals have a very notorious multiplier effect especially when played out in the media or in the social networking. It quickly generates a snowball effect that can create a monster of a lynch mob in no time at all.

            We have to be most wary of what we say, whether directly to a person or to the public, especially when it has something to do with a negative thing. Not everything negative that we see around ought to be expressed.

            Many of them do not deserve to be brought out in the open, especially when we think that by doing so, we produce more harm than good. We have to learn prudence and discretion.
            And if we have to say something negative, let’s make sure that we do it in such a way that we minimize or better eliminate scandals and that we don’t lead others even to think badly of another.

            Thus, in the current controversy of the pork barrel, let’s make sure that our comments are driven with good intentions and are expressed with the appropriate language, tone and timing. They just cannot be explosions of our anger and frustration, or idle speculations incited by blind or fanatical partisan politics.

            Let’s remember that even in the worst scenario, we are never excused from practicing charity with one another. Rather, precisely in the worst scenario are we most obliged to live charity, which never means we just gloss over the demands of justice.

            We have to make sure that our quest for justice is always inspired by charity. True justice can never be without charity. If ever penalties have to meted out, it must be because we have to redress the disorder and damage caused by a wrongdoing, and also to defend public order and people’s safety, and contribute to the correction of the guilty party. (cfr Catechism 468)

            Penalties just cannot be a function of revenge and vindictiveness. They have to be meted out in proportion to the offense committed and to the status of the person involved. The same offense committed by an adult and by a child would not have the same penalty.

            Another source of scandal that we should try to dominate are the gossip shows on TV. They are cleverly planned and scripted to arouse the idle curiosity of the people, with no intention to resolve issues properly. Private lives of celebrities are pried into, often with the cooperation of these celebrities who also have their ulterior motives in washing their dirty linen in public.

            These shows practically are feeding the public with what we may call as sweet poison. They promote nothing less than sheer nosiness into the affairs of others. Sad to say, big networks are involved here. This is not anymore at the level of fishwives. This is now big-time gossiping. And the stars and celebrities involved like it because they want to sell their shows and projects, if not feed their vanity.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Christian poverty today

WE need to revisit the true spirit of Christian poverty. With all the mess we are suffering now—the screaming pork barrel scandal, the wave of materialism and consumerism, vanity, greed and envy on the one hand, and the severe inequality and injustice we see around, on the other—it’s time, it’s urgent indeed to recover and live more faithfully this spirit of  Christian poverty.

            It’s actually a very beautiful virtue, very positive and constructive. It enhances our humanity, in both our personal and social dimensions, helping us to clean our heart and vision so that we can only get engaged with what is proper to us, and that is, God.

            It puts our attitude toward material and earthly things—from money to power and fame—in its proper bearing. With it, we are reminded that we are not absolute owners of what we have and what we use, but are stewards who have to use them fruitfully in the name of God for God’s glory and for the good of all.

          In other words, we have the responsibility to use things properly. Christian poverty is not a matter of not having things, though we also have to be ready when things that we need or we want are not available. 

            Christian poverty is more a matter of detachment, of seeing to it that our heart is not held hostage by the things of this world, that its intention is only to love God and to serve others. We need to tickle, arouse and spring to action this kind of attitude.

            Christian poverty is not averse to having things as long as we are aware of our condition as stewards towards those things. Thus, it is not averse to the idea of one becoming a millionaire or a billionaire or a trillionaire, though obviously when one has more things, he also has the greater responsibility to rectify and purify his intention.

            Out of this spirit of Christian poverty, we have to learn how to account before God and before everybody else all the earthly goods—money, power and fame, etc.—that we use or enjoy. We need to attain that Christian goal of not having more nor less than we need, and that those who have a lot would not have anything in excess, nor those who have little would have anything less than what they need.

            This practice of accounting will help us avoid getting swallowed up by the many deceiving and tricky allurements of this world. The world is full of irresistible gimmicks, attractive snares and fantasy bubbles. So we really have to live out as best as we could what Christ said about being shrewd as serpents while being simple as doves.

            Yes, we need to be really discerning without falling into skepticism and cynicism. There’s always hope in spite of the very ugly cases of abuses in the handling of money and the use of other earthly goods.

            We need to see to it that our use of money and earthly goods does not undermine our love for God and for souls. The ideal situation should be that the more money and things we have, the more love we ought to have toward God and others. The more gifts, blessings and privileges we have, the more responsibility we also have.

            Let’s always remember what St. Paul once said: “The love of money is the root of all evils.” (1 Tim 6,10) Our use of money should not be a result of mere love for it. Our use of money has to come from love of God and others in order to generate more love around. We need to have mechanisms to check if indeed we observe this law.

            We need to make this ideal into a living, breathing reality. We have to overcome a common bias that this business of Christian poverty is only a religious concern that has nothing to do with the practical realities of life.

            We need to explode that myth for it simply does not correspond to the truth about ourselves. Even without inputting yet the pertinent doctrine of our faith, our common sense alone, our sense of being decent human beings alone will tell us that we have to live poverty, understood as detachment from things to be able to serve the common good.

            Christian poverty allows us to grow in love and goodness in each one of us and in our relation with others through the use of money and earthly things. Love and goodness are our ticket to heaven. Money and the others, we will leave behind.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Our ultimate source of life

DO we know our ultimate fount of life? Are we aware of our responsibility toward this ultimate and abiding source of our life? Do we even care to ask these questions?

            We have to ask these questions, since for all their extreme importance and relevance to our life, they continue to be ignored and even ridiculed.

            It’s part of the secularized mentality that has dominated in practically all parts of the world to refrain from asking these questions. With that mind-frame, it seems it’s enough to realize that we are alive physically, economically, professionally, socially, politically, etc. Why go any further?

            It’s a mentality that gives blinding importance and restrictive attention to the here and now, to the physical and material, the mundane and natural, while bypassing the eternal, spiritual and supernatural dimension of our life.

            We seem to refuse to acknowledge that there is still a more original source of our life that actually serves as the foundation, root and heart of all the other aspects we have in our life.

            And this ultimate fount of our life can be no other than God, who is our Creator, and more than a Creator, he is our Father. As Creator, he does not only bring us to existence and leave us to be on our own. He is always with us, for he is the very core of our existence. He cannot withdraw from us, since withdrawing is like taking away our existence, is like reverting us to nothing.

            As Father, he is with us and in us through love, a love that knows no bounds, such that even if we go against him, he will do everything to bring us back to him, even to the point of becoming man and saving us by assuming all our sins and faults through death and then to resurrect later on.

            We have to arrive at the abiding awareness that more than needing food, money, social acceptance, etc., we need God first, last and always. And for this to happen, we have to sharpen our spiritual faculties such that they become the leading elements in our life, rather than the things of the flesh and the world.

            “It is the spirit that quickens (that is, that gives life). The flesh profits nothing,” Christ himself said (Jn 6,63) And he also told us to watch and pray, that is, to engage ourselves through our spiritual faculties with God, because “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mt 26,41)

            There is indeed a great need for us to be very spiritually alive and vibrant, which does not mean that we pay little attention to the needs and workings of the flesh and of the world. We have to be as spiritually healthy as possible, because it is our spirit, our soul, that gives life, meaning and direction to all the other aspects of our life.

            This is a basic truth about ourselves that we need to understand very well. It’s a truth that may not be immediately felt by us, like a baby who does not understand yet many important things precisely because he is still a baby, but we need to realize it as we grow toward maturity.

            Our problem is that, like some people who grow improperly and are entangled with their childish or adolescent and unstable ways, we also tend to get snared and trapped in the immediate, bodily, material and temporal aspects of our life. We fail to go all the way with respect to the over-all human nature and dignity.

            Many reasons can explain why that is so. We can be dominated by laziness, or by an excessive love for comfort and easy life, and by some vices that blind us from seeing beyond the here and now and desensitize us to the spiritual nature of our life and the supernatural goal that our life cannot help but be oriented.

            That is why we need to go through a process of purification and conversion, and a continuing need for renewal. That’s because there is need for us to go from the carnal and worldly man to the spiritual man, from the old man to the new man.

            The ideal is that we are conscious that we are generating and maintaining our life, nourishing it and making it grow through a vital union with God, that our life is not just dependent on the food we eat, the money we earn, the work we do, the fame we enjoy, etc. Our life has to develop with God as the animating principle and end.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Studying God’s word

THIS is actually everybody’s responsibility and task. It’s not only for priests and nuns, or some people with leanings toward a vibrant spiritual life. Those who are in the middle of the world doing all sorts of things like business, politics, etc., have great need for God’s word.

            Reading, meditating and living God’s word is for all, mainly because God’s word is what gives us real life, and not just biological life, nor social or professional life, cultural or political life, etc.

             As one liturgical prayer puts it, God’s word is “the food of our salvation and the fountain of life.” It is the bringer of grace, the ultimate source of our life, the very essence of our dignity as persons and children of God. It is what brings us to eternal life, what gives us proper direction and meaning to everything in life.

            Even more, the Letter to the Hebrews gives us a wonderful insight into God’s word, especially insofar as one’s personal spiritual life is concerned. It’s a description that is worth our time and effort in digesting it.

            God’s word, it says, “is living and effectual, and more piercing than any two-edged sword, and reaching unto the division of the soul and the spirit, of the joints also and the marrow, and a discerner of the thoughts and intent of the heart.” (4,12)

            St. Jerome also has a good insight about God’s word as found in the Scripture. He said, “ignorance of the Scripture is ignorance of Christ,” basing that claim on what Christ himself said: “Search the Scriptures…they give testimony of me.” (Jn 5,39)

            We always have recourse to some word to animate our spirit and prime us to action. Thus, we have words derived from the sciences and the arts, and from our cumulative experiences in the different fields and levels in life that spring us to activity.

            We just have to make sure that we avail ourselves of the ultimate word, and not just some intermediate one that would have no foundation unless engaged with the ultimate, which is God’s word.

            We need to outgrow a certain bias, unfortunately quite common, that considers God’s word as meant only for a few people, or that deems it as one more among many other words which we may feel free to choose or not, or that it is just as good as the others.

            It’s not we are not free to choose God’s word, or that we are forced to have recourse to it. This is a no-no in us. This is unacceptable. We have to freely choose it, convinced that it is necessary for us.

            We just have to realize though that there is a certain point in life where freedom and necessity actually meet and share the same ground, like when we are free to eat or not, and yet we choose to eat because it is necessary. That’s just how the cookie crumbles, how our nature is.

            God is absolutely necessary to us, since he is the very foundation of our existence and also the very purpose of it, though we may not realize this truth fully. We just have to freely go to him, because God actually does not force us to come to him, though he does everything to draw us to him.

            It’s important that we get to know God through his word that has been revealed to us, so we can learn to love and serve him as we ought. And God’s word is now recorded in the Scriptures that go together with Tradition and the Church’s magisterium which has the proper authority to keep and teach it.

            We have to be wary of the tendency to have a very personalized, and often individualistic and reductive attitude toward God’s word. God’s word as recorded in the Scripture has to be studied within the context of the over-all teaching of the Church.

            Yes, we need to study it thoroughly, understanding by study as not simply a matter of an intellectual operation but also as an expression of faith and trust in God. We need to believe first before we get to understand it. And the succeeding acts of understanding it increases and reinforces our belief as well.

            Studying God’s word should therefore be a form of prayer. Such attitude does not compromise the intellectual rigidity that we should apply when we study God’s word. Rather, it facilitates and enhances the intellectual dimension of such study. It makes study go beyond the intellectual level to enter into the full range of our necessities.