Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The need for anchoring

THIS is what we should never forget to do. If in our physical world, we need to have some foundation to keep ourselves stable and well-grounded, much more so would we need a clear foundation as anchor in our spiritual world.

            Our thoughts and desires, our pursuit for knowledge and love, which constitute our spiritual world, just cannot be done without due concern for some stabilizing anchor, since we can easily get lost there.

            That’s the reason, for example, why we build a house so we may have a home not only to come to at day’s end, and to eat and sleep, but also and, in fact, more importantly, to grow and mature in our humanity, both in our material and spiritual aspects.

            And that anchor is none other than God himself, our creator and the very foundation of reality. He is the beginning and the end of everything. He is the ultimate home for us, our ultimate anchor and foundation.

            That’s why it is always good that we develop a sense of the beginning and a sense of the end of our life and of everything else. This sense of both beginning and end will surely guide us in our day-to-day affairs.

            This truth should not be left in the realm of theories alone. It has to be brought down to concrete reality. It has to be cultivated and lived. We have to start with our own individual selves and then try to spread it around, helping one another attain this very crucial necessity in our lives.

            We, of course, have some ideas of God, however imperfect and even wrong they may be. That we do what we think is right and good is already an indication that we believe in some God. That’s because man is basically a religious being, regardless of what atheists, agnostics and skeptics say.

            History can attest to the fact that in different people, times and places, there has always been some effort to discover and deal with a God. The challenge now is to discover the one true God.

            This is where we have to distinguish between man-made natural religions and a supernatural religion that is revealed to us more than is developed by us. The Christian faith is of the latter type whose central figure, Christ, is the fullness of the revelation of God.

            It is Christ who tells us that we have to seek first the kingdom of God before we get immersed in the things of the world, no matter how valid they are. He reassures us that these things of the world would be given us besides, as long as we seek God first.

            In this season of Easter that celebrates and makes present Christ’s victory over sin and death, we are reminded in so many words of how he continues to be present in us, how he continues to guide the world with his wise and merciful providence, etc.

            This is a truth that we should never miss, but rather relish increasingly deeply, so that we can always find meaning and have a sense of direction in life, never feeling lost, especially in our moments of human darkness, when problems and all sorts of contradiction baffle us.

            That’s why we should try to refer and relate everything to God. In our work, for example, we should not just be contented with efficiency or profitability as our guiding criteria. Though in themselves they are not bad, they can easily turn against us if they are not founded and oriented toward God.

            Without God as the clear foundation and anchor, our pursuit for efficiency and profitability would be very vulnerable to the subtle workings of greed, vanity and pride. Our concern for the common good would not be consummated. It would easily be trapped by our selfish interests.

            St. Paul told us very clearly: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor 10,31) We have to discover the presence of God in everyone and in everything.

            In fact, we have to familiarize ourselves with his will and ways in our worldly affairs, since with his abiding providence, he is always intervening in them. To be able to do this, we need to be born again, to be born in the spirit, as Christ told Nicodemus one time. That’s when we get vitally connected with God.

            For as Christ said: “What is born of the flesh is flesh and what is born of the spirit is spirit.” (Jn 3)

Friday, April 25, 2014

Faith, fiction and the imagination

HUMAN as we are, we are always in some need of imagination. We cannot rely on our senses alone, or only on the things that we see, touch and smell. There’s a far richer universe than the physical and sensible world.

            Neither can we be too dependent on abstract ideas. These concepts need to be embodied somehow to be truly enjoyed. What is usually termed as intellectual joy would be greatly enhanced if what causes it is also enfleshed or put, at least, in some sensible form.

            This is where imagination comes in. The physical gets conceptualized, the material is spiritualized, on the one hand, and the ideas assume sensible shape and form, the spiritual is materialized, forming an image, on the other.

            I believe we all realize how important it is to develop our capacity to imagine. In fact, we have to make it as powerful and rich as possible. But, of course, we also need to take precautionary measures so as to avoid going into extremes, resulting in some obsessions and perversions.

            In this regard, we have to help one another—the elder, like the parents, taking care of the younger, the children; the more knowledgeable and better endowed taking care of the more simple ones among us.

            It’s important that as much as possible we get to know each other well, entering into each other’s inner world of thoughts, desires, and yes, the imagination. That’s because that’s where we can truly say we are in communion as we ought to be.

            Our unity and being together simply cannot be a result of a physical grouping or of blood and social relation. Our true unity is forged when we enter into each other’s inner world, and despite our legitimate differences, we are united in the basic, absolute truths.

            Anyway, with regard to imagination as a result of putting some sensible form and image to abstract ideas and spiritual realities, we have to learn how to distinguish between an imagination driven by faith and the one driven by fiction.

            The two, the faith-driven one as well as the fiction-driven, have their proper value. It’s good to develop them to the max. But we need to distinguish them and try to avoid mixing them indiscriminately. Yes, they can be mixed as long as we don’t forget what is of faith and what is of fiction.

            That way, we don’t get lost and detached from reality. We avoid making some fantasy world without anymore realizing it is fantasy. That’s when we fall into some mental disorder.

            But if ever we want to invent, it is enhance our appreciation of the truth and the real, still knowing that we are using some fictional devices. We should be wary of the usual pitfalls of the artists and the artistically-inclined people who so rev up their imaginary powers that they can hardly distinguish between the real and the fiction.

            To be sure, again because of our weakened human condition, there will always be some gray areas where we the distinction between faith and fiction, the real and the invented, becomes unclear. But let’s hope that they are just in the minor points.

            What we should try to avoid is to fall into things like heresies, superstitions, forms of fanaticism, bigotry, self-righteousness and the like. That’s why we need to examine ourselves both individually and collectively.

            What is important is that we be clear in the essentials, the basic doctrine of our faith, by studying the catechism very well as well as always trying to be in tune to the continuing teaching of the Church as articulated by the Pope and the bishops united to the Pope.

            Individually, we have purify our dispositions—a lot of humility and respect for the authorities and fidelity the sources of our faith. We need to be true souls of prayer, because, no matter how imperfect, that is the usual way to have an abiding contact God in our present earthly conditions.

            What for sure would also help is to have recourse to the sacraments, the usual channels of grace which is indispensable to sustain our Christian and spiritual life. Then a life-long ascetical struggle of resisting sins, temptations and occasions of sins, as well as the effort to grow in the different virtues, especially charity.

            These are good means to keep us safe in cruising this increasingly complicated world of ours. They offer us a safe path amid all sorts of things that often we do not have time to evaluate.

            These intact, we can inflame our imagination safely.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Tolerance, flexibility fruit of charity

GIVEN our current situation, we cannot expect our present life to be simple, filled with peace and harmony. We should rather expect it to be complicated, full of tension, and that is because we are complicated ourselves. We have to be prepared to handle this predicament.

            Our Christian faith tells us that such complication springs from our separation from God who, as our creator, is the very foundation of reality, the source of everything true, good and beautiful. Everything ought to be referred to him to know what is true and what is not.

            This is how we can aspire to achieve a state of unified vision and understanding of things amid characteristic variety we can find in our life, given the many legitimate differences among ourselves. But this truth requires faith, a free gift from God which we can either accept or refuse, or worse, be indifferent to.

            As we can readily see, the as-is-where-is condition of the world today is far from the ideal. Many of us, even those who profess to be pious and religious, not to mention those who openly claim to be sceptics, agnostics and atheists, are not in working unity with God.

            Thus we have to learn how to cruise in our complicated world without fleeing from it and at the same time without compromising the truth. That, indeed, is a combination very difficult to make. But with God’s grace, it is not impossible either.

            We just have to learn how to be patient and tolerant, open-minded, slow to judge, with a good grip on our emotions and passions, and ready to understand, to disregard irritating details and to forgive and ask forgiveness, as well adept in the art of congenial dialogue, avoiding being abrupt and abrasive.

            Obviously, what should drive all these qualities is our growing and deepening love for God whose love for us precisely goes all the way in spite of our lack of correspondence and even open hostility to him.

            Absent this love, we cannot really go far in our effort to understand one another and achieve a measure of unity and harmony among ourselves. Sooner or later, we will end up squabbling that can degenerate into bitter conflicts and almost irreparable divisions among ourselves.

            Very crucial in this regard is the ability to handle what is absolute and relative in our life, what is dogma and what is opinion. Many times, these distinctions get blurred, leading to confusion, and often explosive confusion and conflict.

            We need to look at Christ closely and see him as the perfect model of how to handle our complicated life, how to be faithful to God in spite of the many elements that tend to bring us wildly everywhere and nowhere.

            He was clear about what he had to do, say and accomplish in his earthly redemptive life. He was open to all the possibilities that man exercises his freedom, whether rightly or wrongly. He was forceful with the forcefulness of charity that knows how to be patient and merciful.

            We just have to learn how to incarnate this example of Christ who is our Way, Truth and Life. And so we need to learn how to be tolerant but also single-minded in our purpose in life.

            We have to be wary of our tendency to fall into bitter zeal, a kind of misplaced zeal to defend the truth but sacrificing charity. This bitter zeal can be manifested in our proclivity to simply dominate others, to score points, to be the one to say the last word, and to consider oneself the standard and measure of things.

            It’s a zeal that does not know how to wait. It does not see the value of suffering in all of its forms, including being misunderstood and misrepresented. Remember that Christ many times did not mind being misunderstood.

            While it’s true that we too have to live by the tenets of justice, we should also see to it that our sense of justice springs from a vital union with God in order to know where justice ends to let charity play out its fullest range in our life. This way, we can act more fully according to God’s plan for our redemption.

            Otherwise we will puff up justice without anymore the substance of charity. And even if God can always countenance this and do something about it, we somehow would be adding to the complications in the world.

            We really need to learn how to be tolerant and flexible which only take place if we are driven by true charity.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Touched by John Paul the Great

YEAR 2014 is fast becoming a very special year for me. There actually are many reasons for this, and all of them leave me profoundly thankful and nervous. But among the reasons is the most gratifying fact that two men, very close to my heart, will be raised to the altars in this Year of the Laity.

            One is Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, successor of Opus Dei founder, St. Josemaria Escriva, who will be beatified in Madrid on September 27. He ordained me to the diaconate in Rome on January 28, 1991. It was his first time to ordain candidates to the priesthood, since he was just consecrated bishop a few weeks earlier that year.

            The other is Blessed Pope John Paul II who will be canonized saint on April 27. By an extreme stroke of luck and, I believe, a pure bolt of grace, I was chosen as one of those to be ordained priest by him in Rome that year on May 26, Trinity Sunday.

            The moment I was told I would be ordained by Pope John Paul II, I literally froze in disbelief. Spontaneous and strong flow of prayers came a little later. I stammered in thanking God for the great gift, then I started to trace what brought me to that life-changing event.

            I don’t think I was a particularly religious person when I was a kid. All I had in mind was to play and be naughty, just like anybody else among my friends. But my mother saw to it that I prayed the Rosary with her and some of my siblings who happened to be caught by her at the moment.

            She it was who instilled in me, among many other things, love and veneration for the Pope. My lola and the teachers in grade school, mostly nuns, did the same. And I just developed that love to the point that whenever I saw a picture of Pope John XXIII, the Pope at that time, I felt good and holy and somehow urged to behave.

            The nuns in school encouraged me to enter the seminary, but when I brought the idea to my father, he said, no way. And so I forgot about priesthood and pursued what everybody else among my friends was pursuing. At that time, all I wanted was to become rich and all that thingamajig.

            But I met Opus Dei while studying in college in Manila. And my life changed, made a sharp turn. Well, that’s now history.

            My love and fascination for the Pope grew even more. When Pope Paul VI visited Manila, I happened to stay just a few houses from where the Nunciature, where he stayed, was.

            I remember standing the whole day right in front of the Nunciature together with the crowd just to have a glimpse of him. And when I had those glimpses, it was as if I was floating on air with joy. Prayer when infused with joy became effortless.

            Then entered Pope John Paul II in 1978. At that time, I was already a professional man, working in some office, but also into deep philosophical and theological studies. It was he who sort of challenged me to take more seriously my Christian formation.

            I found him irresistibly stimulating and engaging. I was sure his presence, his words, even his mannerisms were all so soaked with a certain charism that I just found myself insatiably devouring his writings and any piece of news about him. I knew I was learning a lot and growing interiorly.

            When he visited Manila in 1981, I volunteered to be part of a press team. That enabled me to see him at close range. It was in Baclaran church, his first stop after arriving at the Manila airport, when I had the first chance almost to touch him if not for the security who stopped me at the last split second.

            Then I was asked to go to Rome for ecclesiastical studies. I actually did not seek the priesthood. I simply was called to it, and I just said, yes, after a little reflection.

            I still vividly remember every moment of that day of my ordination. What struck me most was that he started it very tired. He just came in from a trip and he already had serious health conditions. But as the event went on, I noticed he became very alive. At the end, he talked to me as if he knew me all along.

            I have no doubt he is truly a saint!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Toward an Easter person

WE are now in the Easter season, extending the happy celebration of the Resurrection of Christ, that tremendous and overwhelming divine gift that re-creates us and reconciles us with God our Father from whom we come and to whom we belong.

            We gleefully sing Happy Easter, Rejoice and Alleluia. But let’s not turn a deaf ear to the call of the season. We are asked to become an Easter person. The way is laid open to us to be so. It’s for us to take it up and go the distance.

            To be an Easter person is first of all a gift from God. It’s his divine will for us, since we are his image and likeness, and adopted children of his. For sure, we achieve the fullness of our being Easter persons in heaven. But here on earth, we need to work it out. We have to move toward it.

            The grace for this is given to us abundantly. Everything that we need to attain this goal is provided by God’s providence. But we have to correspond. New wine requires new wineskins too. And as St. Augustine once said: “He who created us without us, cannot save us without us.”

            To be an Easter person is for us to realize that as persons we need to unify and integrate all the parts and aspects of our life, with God through Christ in the Spirit as the principle, means and end of such unity and integration. What we should try to avoid being fragmented in these parts and aspects.

            That’s because, first of all, to be a person is to be one subject of several aspects, foremost of which is our spiritual dimension that makes us rational, capable of knowing, willing and entering into relationships with others.

            But we have to contend also with our being material beings, with flesh and blood, and emotions and passions, etc. The most radical unity we ought to have is unity with God by being “another Christ,” as the saints have been saying.

            This is when we can aspire to achieve the fundamental unity between our body and soul. Then we have to cope with several other elements that we need to unify. We can expect ourselves to be stable and focused amid the different situations and predicaments in our life—whether we are healthy or sick, successful or frustrated, etc.

            We have learn to blend our prayer and work, contemplation and action, privacy and social life, etc. We also have to integrate our faith and reason, the theoretical and the practical things in life, etc. Then we need to harmonize the different roles we play as parents, children, professionals, friends, lovers, etc.

            To be an Easter person is when we manage somehow to harmonize all these segments and components of our life such that our body, for example, in spite of its numerous modalities and possibilities, can truly reveal the state of our soul. Many times, the soul goes one way, the body the other. It’s an anomaly we have to resolve.

            This ideal is, of course, easier said than done. There will always be need for effort and struggle. Tension among the different aspects of our life will always be present. We just have to weave a way of finding simplicity amid the complexity of our life.

            The end result should be a driving awareness that we are another Christ who know how to look for sanctity and do apostolate in any circumstance of our life. We have to learn how to relate everything to him to get the proper light and impulse on how to go about whatever situation, circumstance, condition or predicament we can be in.

            We have to remember that Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He is the one that gives meaning, direction and fulfilment in any situation we are in. This truth of our faith should not be left in the level of theory and desire. It has to be pursued and acted upon until we can confidently say, “Yes, I am now living with Christ.”

            This is not presumption, though it can also be if we do not keep our side of the bargain. Christ wants us to pray, to know and love him. “Come, follow me,” he said. “If you want to follow me, you have to deny yourself and carry the cross.”

            Let’s remember that to be an Easter person, we must by definition be willing to go through the passion and death of Christ, so we too can resurrect with him!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Divine mercy not meant to spoil us

OUR Christian faith tells us that God’s love for us is eternal. It’s a love that goes all the way to showing mercy for us in the form of his Son becoming man and taking up all the sins of men by dying on the cross. No greater love can there be other than this love of God for us.

            St. Paul drives home this point when he said in his Letter to the Romans: “He that spared not even his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how has he not also, with him, given us all things?” (8,32)

            That’s why, in spite of our proclivity to sin and make a mess of our own lives, we can always have reason to be hopeful, because God never gives up on us. The problem is that we can give up on him and go our own desperate ways which we try to sweeten with all sorts of defense mechanisms.

            We just have to make sure that we do not get spoiled by that love, because even if God’s love and mercy is eternal, his justice is never sacrificed. His mercy and justice always go together, in proportions, if we have to speak in human terms, that are just right.

            That divine justice unleashes its power precisely when with all the infinite goodness of God, we fail to return good with good, love with love. Instead, we allow ourselves to get spoiled.

            Let’s not forget that getting spoiled is a human choice. It’s not part of God’s plan and will for us. But since our freedom is a real freedom, and not just an imitation, we also have the power to return good with evil, love with hatred.

            It’s important therefore that we realize very deeply that our true freedom is when it is lived with God, not outside of him. It is lived when, instead of fleeing from him like a fugitive when we commit sin, we go to him to ask for forgiveness and change our life.

            St. Peter asked for forgiveness when he denied Christ, not only once but three times. And as a movie spiel would have it, a saint is not one without a past, and neither is a sinner without a future. Everything depends on whether we return to God or not.

            So, instead of getting spoiled by the abundant and certain mercy of God, we should rther learn to react properly. And that is none other than to repay love with love. There should be an impulse in us to grow better and mature in our spiritual life of love for God and others. Absent this impulse, the only possibility is to get spoiled.

            This love is shown when we develop a true and deep spirit of penance. We have to learn to acknowledge our sins and weaknesses. We cannot return to the right path unless we first acknowledge our mistakes. We should be man enough to do that, always at the impulse of grace which God never refuses to give.

            We should always presume that there is something wrong with us. Not that we have to cultivate a negative attitude toward ourselves, since we neither can deny that we also have, thank God, a lot of good and positive things in us. We just have to be realistic and acknowledge this wounded condition of ours as a given in our life.

            Much of our problem stems precisely from the fact that we tend to gloss over our sinfulness. This is actually a form of cowardice, or at least an inappropriate way of dealing with our objective situation, much like the ostrich hiding its head in the sand to avoid some dangers.

            Acknowledging our sins, mistakes, weaknesses, failures, etc., is never a wrong thing to do. It is the first step to healing, to being forgiven, to setting things right again. Thus, we need to make regular examination of conscience and acts of contrition. And then confession, a sacrament that has tremendous powers of forgiving our sins.

            This practice of acknowledging our sin and confessing will help us to know ourselves better, and to give ourselves an idea of where to get some help. It will make our conscience both sensitive and delicate, on the hand, and strong and more resistant to temptations, on the other.

            As human persons, we are meant to seek help. No one can live properly without the help of others. And this is especially true in our spiritual life. We need spiritual directors and confessors.