Friday, February 28, 2014

Resting while working

LET’S go back again to those beautiful words of Christ about rest, relishing them and deepening our understanding of them if only to develop the proper and relevant attitudes, skills and practices, so helpful to us who are often harassed by a lot of work, pressures and concerns.

            Gone now are the days of relative peace and tranquility, of innocence and ease, what with all the galloping pace of development in practically all aspects of our life—personal, familial, social, economic, political, technological, etc.

            These developments can either simplify or complicate our life, depending on which turn we take. They too can have both effects, but, of course, taken in different senses.

            Thus, it is most important, especially these days, that we know where the source of true rest is and how we can refresh and renew ourselves even in the middle of our work.

            “Come to me, all you that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke and learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart. And you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light.” (Mt 11,28-30)

            These words were already presaged in the Book of Isaiah: “They that hope in the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall take wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (40,31)

            These are words that have to be taken with faith. As such, they require us to trust God and to believe in him. They ask us to make some kind of a leap in the dark despite what we can immediately see, feel and understand around us. That’s because these words can sound too sweet or too good to be true.

            The fact is that we have enough miracles in the gospel, especially that tremendous resurrection of Christ from the dead, that should lend credibility to his words in the absence of immediate and concrete proofs of their veracity. We need to hold on to this knowledge to keep our faith alive particularly when we are heavily tested in life.

            Christ clearly invites us to go to him when we are working and are burdened. Our main problem is that we tend to ignore him when we work. We only go to him when we meet some difficulty in our work. We tend to believe that we can just rely on our own resources.

            We have to correct this dangerous attitude. Though we may be endowed with great physical and intellectual powers and many other talents and privileges, we should always realize that we need God always when we use them.

            Our powers are finite and often choosy. When we reach their limits, then we have no means to keep on going, especially in the face of darkness, tiredness, trials, failures. Even the usual daily work routine can lead us only to boredom.

            We have to realize that God, being the creator and author of everything, including our very own life, is the unfailing source of joy and peace, of perfect communion with him and among ourselves, which are the very substance of rest.

            To be sure, rest is not only a physical affair. The whole man, body and soul, needs to rest and to continually revitalize himself as he goes on working and expending his energy. What sustains him is much more than just physical or biological elements. It is God, his grace, his light and strength.

            Remember what St. Paul once said, “I know both how to be brought low and I know how to abound…both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all these things in him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4,12)

            The spiritual impulses when one is vitally united to Christ are even palpable. One sees greater light, feels a sense of meaning and purpose, experiences an indescribable sense of peace and joy.

            Though the body gets tired, the spirit continues to be vibrant, reflecting what Christ himself said: “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” (Mt 26,41) That’s why asked his apostles, and us, to “watch and pray.”

            This is the secret of finding rest while working, of continually refreshing and renewing ourselves even as we expend our energies. It is to “watch and pray.” We should never be entirely dependent on our human powers, for if they are not empowered by grace, they can only go so far.

            This good news should reach all, especially those who are working.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

A matter of desire

BEAUTIFUL thought crossed my mind the other day as I was reading some writings of St. Augustine, that revered Church Father whose works have left a great, if not indelible impact on Christian believers through the centuries and up to now.

            I thought of sharing it, with the warning that, yes, it is indeed theological and therefore requires a theological mind. After all, especially nowadays, we need to understand that we all need to do theology.

            Theology not only has a rightful place in the sun. It actually has to occupy the pride of place in our vast and ever-growing field of knowledge and the sciences. Not that it is going to do away with common sense and the regular operation of our reason.

            The contrary is true. Theology will always be in need of common sense and reason. It always has to relate with our existing sciences and arts, and pace with them. Its distinctive contribution is to put in more substance, give meaning and direction to all of them according to the light of faith that brings things to a supernatural order.

            We need to overcome our fear or bias against theology. Such fear has no basis since, whether we like or not, or whether we affirm or deny it, we actually cannot avoid doing theology.

            We are creatures of belief, even if the object of such belief is just our own selves, or nothing transcendent. But the moment we try to understand, explore and explain our beliefs and apply them to our life, we would already be doing at least some theology. We might as well develop our theology as fully as we can!

            Now back to St. Augustine. He was talking about heaven, the be-all and end-all of Christian life, when he made a very succinct conclusion that: “The entire life of a good Christian is in fact an exercise of holy desire.”

            He said that since we don’t see heaven now and yet we long for it, we need to keep on desiring it to prepare ourselves for it.  That desire not only has to be maintained. It also has to increase as time passes. The time of our life, the time of waiting to see our ultimate end, God, is a time to cultivate our holy desire to the max.

            His argument for this is beautiful. “Suppose you are going to fill some container and you know you will be given a large amount. Then you set about stretching your container.” It is to make room for the tremendous amount we will receive—God himself.

            The idea of stretching or enlarging the container to receive a tremendous amount that we expect can be translated into not only keeping but also increasing our desire of God whom we expect to come to us in overwhelming abundance. In short, we have to make that desire fervent! We need to constantly feed it to keep it burning

            We can increase our desire of God by growing in the virtues—more humility, more faith and charity, more patience and understanding—in the tenor of what Christ himself said once: “For them do I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in the truth.” (Jn 17,19)

            Imagine…Christ himself, who is already God, feels the need to sanctify himself that we also may be sanctified in the truth!

            Obviously, given our shortcomings and our tendency to be big in desire and intention but small and unstable in performance, we also need to increase our trust in God’s providence, since he knows how to make use even of our defects and failures to fulfill the ultimate design and purpose for us.

            We have to be wary of abandoning this trust especially when we suffer some persistent human misery. Let’s always remember St. Paul’s words: “It’s when I am weak that I am strong,” (2 Cor 12,10) that tell us that  we can use our shortcomings and failures to get even closer to God.

            It should be part of our holy desire for holiness to grow always in our trust in God’s ever-merciful providence. Perhaps a prayer we can use to trigger this holy desire as we start the day every morning could be the following:

            “As this day begins, fill our hearts with a desire to serve you. May our thoughts and our actions give you glory. Purify our hearts from all desire for evil. Let us seek to do your will. Open wide our hearts to the needs of all our brethren. May they not be deprived of our love. Amen.”

Friday, February 21, 2014

Sense of the end

WE need to develop a sense of the end. This is unavoidable and indispensable. Even in our ordinary affairs, we take it for granted that we ought to have some idea of the end or purpose in mind before we move.

            When we travel, for example, we first identify the destination, and then from there prepare ourselves accordingly—what to bring, how to dress, etc. A student, reviewing for an exam, would try to figure out the likely points that would come out, and from there start to organize his study.

            I remember that in the world of business, a popular theory was that of Management By Objective (MBO) that precisely highlights the importance of the sense of the end.

            The end gives us a global picture and sheds light on the present. It guides us. It gives us a sense of confidence and security. It reassures us that we are on the right track, that we are doing well.

            The sense of the end motivates us to make plans always, to be thoughtful and anticipative of things. It teaches us also a sense of order and priority. It motivates us to set goals, make schedules and the prudent use of time. Ultimately, it helps us to distinguish between the essential and the non-essential in our life.

            A person who does not have a sense of the end is obviously an anomaly. He tends to be lazy and prone to his personal weaknesses, to drift off aimlessly and lose control of his life. Such person is usually called a bum, a tramp or a vagrant.

            Since we all somehow pass through this stage, let’s hope that the phase be as short as possible, and that our reaction to it should produce the opposite effect of precisely taking the duty to develop this sense of the end more seriously.

            There, of course, are some complicated people who philosophize too much by saying that we can never know the end, and so, they ask how can we develop a sense of the end? This kind of thinking is pure sophistry that can easily be dumped by the mere use of common sense.

            It’s true that we may never know everything about the end, but it’s not true that we cannot know enough about the end of anything. That’s why we can only talk about a sense of the end, since it is a dynamic affair that has known and unknown, absolute and relative, constant and changing elements involved.

            We are not dealing with mere mathematics and mechanical things alone in this life. There are spiritual and other intangible things involved that necessarily would require us to be continuously open to anything and discerning, flexible and focused.

            And so, what we instinctively do in our daily ordinary affairs, we should also do, and, in fact, do it as best as we can, in the ultimate dimensions of our life. Here we have to be guided by our core beliefs that should penetrate beyond the material, temporal and worldly aspects into the realm of the spiritual, eternal and supernatural.

            In this regard, for those of us who are Christian believers, the model to follow is Christ. From childhood, he already knew what his whole earthly life was all about. He never deviated from that path. “I do nothing of myself, but as the Father has taught me.” (Jn 8,28)

            It would be good that as early as possible, we can also have the same mind of knowing what our whole life here on earth is all about, guided by our faith and the example of Christ.

            It is this faith, and not just some earthly science or art that assures of eternal life and joy. We have to be wary when our sense of the end is ruled only by temporal goals.

            To be sure, to have that Christian mindset does not lead us to develop rigid thinking and ways, to bigotry, intolerance and triumphalism, as some quarters have accused Christian believers even up to now.

            On the contrary, if we truly follow Christ, we would have a very open mind. We would be flexible and adaptable. We can accept anything and would know how to handle them. Nothing can scandalize us—that is, if we are truly living the life of Christ.

            The death of Christ on the cross precisely signifies his openness to everything in our earthly life. And his resurrection means his victory over any form of sin and evil, including death.

            Let’s forge a sense of the end that truly corresponds to our nature and dignity.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Doing our best

EVER since the story of Abel and Cain, the idea of having to do our best has been consistently inculcated in us, since that is actually the law that rules us. We therefore have to avoid—and if we cannot avoid them, then to remove or at least to minimize—traces and tendencies to be lazy, complacent, and, worst, self-satisfied.

            In the Book of Genesis, the first murder took place soon after our first parents were driven out Paradise. Cain, the first child of Adam and Eve, became jealous of his brother, Abel, because his offering was not accepted by God while that of Abel was.

            The reason for the rejection? The Bible narrative speaks of God’s words to Cain:  "Why are you furious? And why are you downcast? If you do right, won't you be accepted? But if thou do not do right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must master it." (Gen 4,6-7)

            In short, Cain’s heart was not with God when he made his offering, a fact that already gives us the idea of what primarily would comprise doing and giving our best. It’s the intention, the motive, and not so much what and how we are doing and giving. These latter would come only as a consequence of the former.

            And the motive of our offering that actually covers everything that we are, that we have and that we do, should be love for God who is our Creator and Father. It should be to give glory to him.

            It’s a matter of giving our whole heart, the very core of our being, to God, from whom it comes and to whom it belongs. Let’s be convinced that our true home is when we are with God, and not when we are simply by ourselves, making our own world.

            St. Paul reiterates this truth when he said: “Whether you eat and drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor 10,31) We need to convince ourselves that this attitude is what would make us truly happy and free.

            We need to savor Christ’s words when he said: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” (Mt 6,33) Following these words obviously requires some self-denial and sacrifice, and Christ already warned us about this. With God’s grace, we just have to live those words.

            We have to see the great wisdom of what Christ also said about losing and gaining one’s life, and make it the basis of our over-all attitude of hope as we go through the adventure of life. “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt 10,39)

            Many other similar expressions of divine logic can be found in the gospels. “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. But many that are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mt 19,29-30)

            All these truths, in their proper order, need to be broadcast again, since they are practically forgotten by many of us. We seem to be pursuing only our own will over that of God, thinking that we would be truly happy and free that way.

            The main idea is to see to it that our intention is good, that it is for the glory of God, and that if we start straying from a God-oriented intention, we should rectify it as soon as possible.

            Doing our best and giving it our best shot begins here. We have to be wary of the now many ways to delude ourselves that we are doing our best because we seem to be driven by passion, or what we are doing is technically perfect and advanced, etc.

            Let’s remember Christ’s words: “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Lk 9,25) Let’s be guided by these words and learn how to resist the many and very subtle worldly allurements that can nullify this divine lesson.

            It’s actually a most urgent and challenging task we have to do now—how to learn to resist the many addicting ways that subvert the true order of things when doing things and doing them as best as we can.

            This basic and indispensable truth of our faith should penetrate our minds and hearts so immersed now in worldliness and technology!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Beware of self-righteousness

“DO not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill...” (Mt 5,17)

            With these words, Christ is telling us clearly that while “the law or the prophets” are not abolished, neither are they perfect. They need to be perfected or fulfilled. And their perfection and fulfilment is precisely in being vitally identified with Christ, the embodiment and spirit of the new law that is meant for us.

            That’s the reason why Christ says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father, but by me.” (Jn 14,6) And many times, he reiterated how the old law needs to be perfected.

            “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,” he would say to refer to what was the norm of belief and conduct then, and then he would continue to say, “But I say to you...” This comparison is not meant to do away with the old law, which is always indispensable, but rather to go beyond it.

            The old law tells us that there is a living God, that we are his creatures and more than that—that we are children of his. It tells us what is right and wrong. But it cannot bring us to God. It cannot effect our being children of his. It cannot make us do what is right and avoid what is wrong.

            We need to be identified with Christ for us to be able not only to believe in God but also and more importantly to live what we believe. Our best intentions and efforts alone, without Christ, would not be enough for us to enter into the life of God. Our natural powers without the supernatural grace of God are simply incapable of reaching God.

            That’s why Christ gave us the new law that we have to love one another as he himself has loved us. He makes himself not only the standard or the guide, but the very substance of goodness, holiness and righteousness. His love should the very substance of our love.

            And his love for his Father and for us goes all the way to offering his own life for our sins. This is the love we have to aim at and live. It is the culmination of his love for us. But before that he tells us not only to love those who love us, but also to love our enemies.

            He says that while we ought not to kill, we should also avoid even getting angry with others. We should not only avoid adultery, but also we have to avoid looking at a woman with lust.

            His new law of love encourages us to be unafraid of suffering if they come along our quest of that love. “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away,” he says. “It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your body go into Gehenna.”

            This new law of love considers as blessed the poor in spirit, the meek and humble, those who hunger and thirst for justice, the persecuted, the peacemakers and clean of heart—statuses that we usually try to avoid.

            This new law of love commissions us to “go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Mt 28,19-20)

            In short, he wants us to do a continuing work of apostolate, reaching out to others and never contented with simply taking care of our own affairs and interests alone.

            He assures us that he will always be with us till the end of time, and that what may appear to be pain is actually our glorification, what may be considered as loss is actually a gain.

            We have to be most wary of the most deceptive kind of self-righteousness. That’s when we get contented with simply following the old law, the ten commandments, and not going beyond them.

            That self-righteousness may lead us to know a lot about what is right and wrong, but it does not prevent us from being judgmental, self-centered, vain and proud, very much attached to the things of this world—money, fame, power, etc. It’s incapable of understanding others and of being merciful.

            In time the falsehood of our self-righteousness will just burst into the open. It cannot pass the test of time. 

Personalizing the truth

WE need to understand very well this matter which is crucial in life. Truth is never just a cold and impersonal piece of information or datum which we describe as the objective fact and reality.

            This, sadly, is a common phenomenon. Many of us think that just because we have some facts at hand, we can just blurt them out at our convenience and believe we already are being truthful. The drunkards can easily do that, and yet they may not be truthful.

            Neither is truth just a subjective appreciation of things, dependent solely on one’s opinions, preferences if not biases and other conditionings. And so we hear many of us making statements that are prefaced with, “To me, I think or I believe that...”

            Let’s remember that we have the tendency to make ourselves as the creator of truth, or at least the standard of what is supposed to be right and fair. We have to be guarded against this tendency, because this distorts reality at its roots.

            Though we may manage to say some elements of truth with this tendency, a lot more are still needed to qualify ourselves as genuinely truthful. This tendency is not what personalizing the truth means.

            To personalize the truth means that our understanding of truth should correspond to the basic reality that we are persons. And as persons, we are rational, we have intelligence and will which, we must admit, we have not because we created them ourselves, but rather because they are given to us by a creator who ultimately is God.

            To personalize the truth therefore means that for us to be in the truth, we need to relate ourselves and whatever pieces of data, information and facts, to God in the first place, and then to others. To personalize the truth involves the dynamics of a living relation with God and with others.

            Our intelligence and will are given to us to enable us to enter into such relationships. We are meant for loving. Our pursuit of the truth cannot but be done in the context of love, of self-giving, to God and to everybody else.

            We have to relate ourselves and whatever pieces of data, info, etc., to God first, because as Creator of everything, he is the foundation of reality. Nothing would be real if it is unrelated to God. Thus, we would be taking an unsure and dangerous path if we fail to go to God first.

            As a saying goes, if we put God in the first place, then everything else would be in the right place. This only echoes what Christ himself said. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Mt 6,33)

            And Christ himself, the Son of God who became man, has revealed to us how to be truthful. He explicitly said: “I am the way, the truth and the life...” And the truth he tells us is that we have to love God above all and everybody else as well. In fact, the new commandment he gave us is to love one another as he himself has loved us.

            And so, to be in the truth and to personalize the truth, we also have to understand that to relate ourselves and whatever we have to God also means to relate ourselves and everything else to others. We have to learn to share ourselves and all we have with others.

            We cannot and should not keep ourselves and what we have to ourselves alone. Keeping to ourselves would be a dangerous situation, made even more so by the fact that such situation actually poses as an attractive sweet poison, a treacherous silent killer of truth, love and everything else that flows from them.

            The ideal situation would be that our abiding consciousness is filled with thoughts and desires for God and for others. We have to develop this kind of consciousness in a very deliberate and even aggressive way.

            That’s because, with our weakened and wounded condition due to sin and its effects, we tend to think only of ourselves, of what is immediately convenient and advantageous to us in the material, worldly and temporal sense. The spiritual and supernatural aspects of life are hardly given any consideration.

            Or, many times our consciousness is simply empty or, at best, largely passive and reactive, waiting for some outside stimulus. We should always make the effort to consciously relate ourselves to God and to others. This is when we can say we are personalizing the truth.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Learning patience

THIS is an indispensable virtue. Since we will always have to contend with all sorts of contradictions—from physical pain and sickness to the most subtle moral and spiritual suffering and to death itself—we have to learn how to bear all of them, convinced that there is some hidden meaning, some beautiful message and lesson embedded in them.

            This is what patience is all about. It teaches us not only how to bear pain but also to reassure us that every suffering brings a very uplifting, if purifying and saving, value in life. It is a very positive virtue, very forward-looking. That is why it is always accompanied by serenity and even joy.

            In fact, a test we can give ourselves in this regard is to see if we our attitude toward any form of suffering is joy and optimism, and not fear, not sadness. This will show that we are not reacting to our difficulties in a merely emotional and limited way, but rather in the global context of the spiritual and supernatural aspects of our life.

            Thus, we have to be very clear that our reaction to the many challenges, trials, difficulties, and even mistakes and failures that unavoidably give us pain is not driven by the very limited play of our emotions and the human understanding of things, but rather by the interplay of faith, hope and charity.

            It’s faith, hope and charity that gives us the true and complete picture of things. It’s being with God that frees us from the constricting ways of our bodily and worldly reactions to the contradictions that we encounter in life. It’s what brings us beyond the material and temporal horizon of our life so we can enter into a richer and bigger world.

            We really need to train ourselves to go beyond the emotional, bodily and worldly level of our reactions to things in general. That is why, we need to pray, to develop the virtues, to avail of the sacraments, and to wage a continuing life-long ascetical struggle.

            Meditating on the passion, death and resurrection of Christ would precisely help us in this concern. There we will learn why we cannot avoid suffering, how we have to suffer, why there is meaning and purpose, why there are great benefits in our suffering.

            Meditating on the passion, death and resurrection of Christ widens our vision of things, and would help us understand what St. James once said: “You will always have your trials, but when they come, try to treat them as a happy privilege.

            “You understand that your faith is only put to the test to make you patient, but patience too is to have its practical results so that you will become fully-developed, complete, with nothing missing.” (1,2-4)  

            With these words of our faith to guide us, we can start to develop the appropriate attitude, mindset, skills and other human devices so we can truly be patient. We should not allow ourselves to be dominated by sadness and fear when faced with difficulties.

            We know there is always hope. If very ugly and painful things happen to us, it is because God at least allows them to happen. And if he allows them to happen, it is because, God, and we with him, can derive a greater good from them. For, as St. Paul said, “where sin has abounded, grace has abounded even more.” (Rom 5,20)

            So let’s learn to go beyond the play of our emotions, the conditioning of our temperament that can be easily affected by difficulties. Yes, while we need to be attentive and sensitive to things, we also need to learn how to be insensitive and to disregard certain things in life. We have to learn how to be sport and game in life.

            We have to be quick to supply our feelings and reasoning with the sure arguments of our faith, hope and charity. We should not allow ourselves to be trapped in the confines of worldly wisdom and prudence alone, or with our mere common sense.

            It’s not that we have no use of these natural sources of knowledge. They are always useful and, in fact, are indispensable too. But they always need to be infused, grounded and oriented toward faith, hope and charity.

            Let’s learn the many other little details that show patience—being always positive and encouraging in our words, always looking at the positive side rather than getting entangled with the negative, etc.

            Wherever we are, let’s see to it that we exude an atmosphere of a cheerful patience, very human and supernatural at the same time.

Monday, February 10, 2014

When poverty is most advisable

THERE’S, of course, a good and a bad poverty. The bad one is common and obvious enough to see, and we have every right and duty to eliminate it. It comes in many forms, like widespread hunger, systemic illiteracy and ignorance, massive confusion and unemployment, slow-growing and failing economy, etc.

            But there’s also a good poverty, the kind that is supposed to be lived by everyone, and especially by the rich, famous and powerful who are actually most vulnerable to the worst kind of poverty. Unfortunately, this good one is practically the exception rather than the rule nowadays.

            This good poverty is the poverty of spirit, as enshrined in one of the beatitudes—“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” (Mt 5,3) and reiterated many times by Christ in his teachings, like when he said:

            “Everyone who has left house or brethren or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands for my name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall possess life everlasting.” (Mt 19,29)

            This good poverty, this poverty of spirit means a great hunger for God, since the worst poverty is to be without God, the source of all good things in life here and hereafter. Our need for God far outweighs our need for any material and earthly thing—money, fame, power.

            This poverty of spirit, this great hunger for God is therefore most advisable especially for those in positions where temptations to forget God and to simply be at the mercy of the allurements of worldly things abound. In fact, it is not only advisable. It is necessary.

            This is the case of the rich, popular and powerful people—politicians, tycoons, celebrities, artists, etc., who, as we have been seeing and hearing lately, are involved in the most heinous kind of corruption and self-enrichment.

            While you would think that since they already have much money, fame and power, they would already be contented, the evidence at hand, however, presents the opposite. They crave for more. Their lust for more becomes so sordid they look addicted or possessed by some demons.

            They start to see things very differently. What was black and white before now becomes a crazy mix of borderless colors. There are those who are so smart and clever that they can cover their greed for some time. But they themselves know it is only a matter of time before things explode.

            We need to develop in a more determined way this good kind of poverty. We cannot take this need for granted anymore. We have to act on it with urgency to make it second nature to us and a functioning culture to all.

            And it’s first of all a matter of reconciling ourselves with God. Without that, without our conversion, there’s no way we can truly live this good kind of poverty that actually enriches us in the proper way.

            One main problem here is that widespread bias that puts God out of the picture, or at least, he is put in the margins, in our affairs with money, fame and power. This attitudinal barrier has to be smashed.

            Sad to say, this dangerous mindset can even afflict Church people who, like Judas, can appear to be with God when in fact they are not. Judas helped himself to the common fund, and that must have contributed to his betraying Christ.

            Everyone has to examine his conscience to see if his mind and heart are so in love with God that they are willing to be detached from earthly things so as to be with God alone. For with God, we would already have everything in their right proportion.

            Let’s live temperance, restraint and moderation in the use of earthly goods, so that we don’t spoil ourselves and make ourselves blind and deaf to the things of God and the things of everyone else.

            Let’s also cultivate the keen sense of justice and solidarity, since we have to understand that all earthly goods have a universal destination, even if we also have the right to private ownership. Good poverty is not only a matter of loving God. It is very much loving others.

            This is also another thing that is hardly known, let alone, understood by many people—how to blend the human principle of the universal destination and distribution of goods with the right to private ownership.

            Let’s pray that one way or another this good poverty becomes a living reality in our midst, with those in high position leading the way.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Ever-flowing compassion

“WHEN Jesus disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things.” (Mk 6,34)

            This is typical of Christ. Wherever he went, though he had to convey difficult and hard-to-understand messages to the people, since these messages were mainly spiritual and supernatural in character, he never neglected their more immediate human needs.

            Thus, he cured the sick, restored sight to the blind, made the lame walk, cleansed the leper, fed thousands of people, and even brought the dead back to life again.

            His heart flowed always with compassion, quick to notice the needs of others and to respond to them. And all this in all simplicity, telling the beneficiaries who were so bursting with gratitude that they wanted to broadcast what they received to the whole world, to keep quiet instead.

            It’s an example that we should all try to imitate. One deep desire we should have is that of making as some kind of default mode that attitude of thinking always of the others, wishing them well all the time and doing whatever we can to help.

            It’s obviously not easy to do, but we can always try. With God’s grace and with our persistent effort, we can little by little and day by day hack it, such that it becomes second nature to us to think and feel for the others. That’s what compassion is all about.

            Compassion starts in the heart, in our thoughts and desires. In this level, there is no limit in what we can do. Obviously, when we try to translate these prayers, thoughts and desires into action and material things, we can be greatly limited. But insofar as prayers and sacrifices are involved, the possibilities are unlimited.

            We need to examine ourselves more deeply to see if indeed we are always thinking, praying and wishing others well. We have to be wary of our tendency to let our thoughts and desired be dictated only by self-interest, usually done in a most subtle but effective way. For this, we have to do regular examination of conscience.

            We need to be on guard because the environment around, the culture and general lifestyle are such that gives only token and never authentic expressions of compassion, or a compassion that is highly conditioned, adapted more to the appeasement of one’s ruffled feelings than to truly helping others.

            And this attitude, like a default mode, should be with us even when we have to deal with the defects, mistakes and offenses of the others. In fact, I would say, our compassion should grow more intense in these situations.

            In a sense, while we should show compassion to beggars and those living in some miserable human conditions, we have to show greater compassion to those who may be rich but are openly separated from God. These latter suffer a graver poverty than that of the former.

            This can only mean that our compassion is genuine, that it really is a function and expression of charity, and not just a passing and shallow sense of pity, based mainly on external factors rather than on the true dignity of each person as a child of God.

            Our compassion should not be skin-deep only. It has to go all the way, the way Christ himself had compassion with us and continues to do so up to now. His compassion did not stop merely on curing and healing. He went all the way to preaching, forgiving sins—things that put him in trouble—and ultimately giving his life up for us.

            Our compassion should not only cover the material aspects of our life. More important are the spiritual and those involved in our supernatural destiny. So, aside from the corporal works of mercy that we ought to do, we should be more concerned about the spiritual works of mercy.

            That is to say, we have to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead. And beyond these, we have to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish the sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offenses, bear wrongs patiently and pray for the living and the dead.

            All of these involve and, in fact, require a big amount of sacrifice. We should not be afraid to make these sacrifices. To those who truly follow Christ, sacrifices are a sure sign of love. True charity can never do away with sacrifice.      

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Counting your blessings, be led to God

OH, the famous line of Christ: “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.” He said this in one of those occasions that he was disappointed with the reaction of the people—this time his own townmates—to what he said and did.

            In spite of being initially astonished by what he said and the manner with which he spoke, his own people took offense at him instead. They found him too much for them, he who was supposed to be just like them.

            “Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joseph and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” they asked in disturbing disbelief.

            It’s a sad phenomenon that continues to happen up to now. We can take God for granted—God who comes to us, who makes himself like us, who even assumes our own faults, but who also comes to help us, purify and redeem us.

            He actually intervenes in our life all the time. He is inside us and around us. He is in everyone and in everything, both big and small. He is in the ordinary and extraordinary things, the regular and special events in our life.

            We have to be more aware of this predicament and start to do something about it. In fact, given the way we are at the moment, we need to do something about it in a more serious and systematic way. Away with a casual attitude toward this issue!

            We should not be surprised that we have the great tendency to take God for granted. That’s because we have our own limitations and imperfections that are aggravated by our sins that, in turn, if not corrected can harden into vices—blinding, desensitizing vices.

            With that predicament, it is not surprising that we can be so full of ourselves, so smug that we cannot anymore relate ourselves to others whom we can see, and much less to God whom we do not see.

            Yes, we can still relate ourselves to others, but this time treating them not anymore as persons but more as objects and instruments to be used according to our own self-serving game plans.

            Yes, we can also still relate ourselves to God, but this time treating him more as some ornament or prop to support a certain image that we can still find useful in some self-serving way at the moment.

            We need to nourish our faith such that we can recognize God in everything, even in the most ordinary and insignificant events of the day. We should see to it that it is God with whom we should be most excited to be with, and not any other motive.

            For this, we have to remind ourselves of the many reasons why we ought to be always in awe at God. We should not take them for granted, which is what we usually do.

            We have to learn to count our many blessings and make them our immediate paths to bring us to God. They are effective and tremendous means to keep us in touch with God and lead us to think of God and to participate actively in his providence over us.

            That we are still alive, that we are relatively healthy, that there is still air to breathe, food to eat, water to drink, that our planet still works in spite of some calamities—these are some blessings that we often take for granted but which are actually strong reasons why we have to be excited and most thankful to God.

            If we just give a pause to consider them slowly once again, savoring their deeper significance, they can open our eyes and heart to the wonderful world of our faith, of encountering the living Christ in the midst of the ordinary events and circumstances of our life.

            We obviously need to be humble to be able to do this. Our tendency is to allow ourselves to be ruled only by our feelings, worldly estimation of things, the prudence of the world that often cannot penetrate the spiritual and supernatural realities breathing in our midst. Our tendency is to deaden our spirit or to let it be dominated by the flesh.

            With humility, we activate our faith, releasing our mind and heart from the grip of passing mundane realities, and leading us to count our blessings, since these bring us to the essential, the ultimate, the eternal—that is, to God.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Our need for purification

FEBRUARY 2 was the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, also known as the Purification of Mary. Saints and spiritual writers have commonly commented on how this event showed the profound humility of the Holy Family.

            There was actually no need for the Child Jesus to be presented, since he did not need to be consecrated. Nor was there any need for our Lady to be purified, since there can be no one purer than her.

            But just the same they followed the law at that time, rejecting any claim of entitlement or special treatment. And in the process, they have given us a poignant reminder of how great a need it is for us to be presented to God and to be purified, duties that we tend to take for granted.

            We have to highlight not only the objective need of our purification, but also its urgency and the massiveness, if not universality, with which it has to be undertaken. That’s because though previous eras also had their peculiar sticky problem in this area, ours now assume a very special character.

            We are practically wallowing nowadays in a mud hole of impurities. You have all kinds of scandals, the screaming ones and the hushed-up type, those that involve not only celebrities and politicians but also among men of the cloth who are supposed to be the preachers, guardians and models of chastity.

            These scandals are not anymore confined in some restricted places and environments. They are published in vivid details on broadsheets, broadcast over radio, shown and talked about on TV, and going viral in the Internet.

            I really pity those who are still young and innocent, who still don’t have the proper criteria for judging, much less the proper attitude and relevant skills to handle the situation. Obviously, there are also those who may not be young and innocent anymore but are helplessly trapped in this web of moral dirt just the same.

            We cannot imagine how much damage is inflicted on souls everyday by this continuing onslaught of filth that is stronger and more vicious than Yolanda and the Bohol earthquake.

            That’s why we all need to remind ourselves of this abiding need for purification. If in our physical life, we take a shower everyday or at least some regular washing, if in our professional life, we do some regular auditing of our performance, etc., we have to realize more deeply that we also need some regular deep and thorough cleansing in our spiritual and moral life.

            The way things are now, no one can claim that he is exempted from the wave of grime that we have around. The attack is indiscriminate, much like those natural calamities we have had. Pornography is just a click away. If not looked for, it just pops up, and if the viewer has no means to resist, then he gets it.

            We actually should not be surprised by this phenomenon anymore. We just have to acknowledge the reality the way it is now. But we also need to realize that no matter how grave the situation, there is always hope. Not only that, we can also derive a greater good from a graver evil that we now have to confront.

            We should always be optimistic and positive about the whole development, without denying that what we have before us is a tremendous challenge. There is now a greater need for us to talk about this topic more openly and with firmer desire to change.

            That’s right. We have to break loose from the grip of shame and embarrassment that this topic usually causes us and that leads to keep quiet, not to seek help and simply to cavalier about the whole affair. That kind of mentality should already belong to the past. We are not being updated if we still hold on to that attitude.

            We have to remember that in this effort, we need both spiritual and material techniques, human and supernatural means. We have to learn how to use our time well, how to fill up our mind and heart with good things, how to pray, how to appreciate the value of self-denial, the sacraments, etc.

            We have to realize that we also need to form some kind of network, with everyone working together in solidarity, to clean up our environment. A massive campaign of education and formation about chastity has to be done systematically.

            We should not be naive anymore to think that things will just fall into their places one way or another. We have to move!