Thursday, July 31, 2014

Regular examination

IT’S usually associated with school life, often striking
fear and terror on the poor students. But it actually should be
associated with all of us, and in fact, in all the levels and aspects
of our life. It’s a necessity for our effectiveness, if not, for our
very survival.

            Thus, in our more collective life of business and
politics, there are regular auditing and reporting to be made. We have
just heard, for example, the President’s report on the state of the
nation (SONA) which, in a way, is precisely an exercise of

            To do regular examination is a must for all of us to see
if our life, our behavior, our conscience are still on the right
track. Otherwise, we open ourselves to all kinds of deviations.

            It’s part of our human condition that we go through our
life having to make decisions, or at least to react to all kinds of
stimuli, internal or external, personal or social, material or
spiritual, etc.. All these we need to judge whether they are right or
wrong according to some relevant moral criteria.

            Let’s hope that this need for regular examination be felt
by all of us, especially in the personal level, since the vitality and
effectiveness of our life, from its personal level to its most global
and even cosmic dimensions, greatly depends on that exercise.

            It’s there in the examination of conscience where we
review our performance of the day in the moral sense. After all, the
moral quality of our life, the result of our moral human acts, holds
ultimate value over the other aspects of our life.

            It’s in the examination of conscience where we sort out
things, trying to identify the motives of our thoughts, desires, words
and actions, and seeing if these motives are good or bad. This is not
an easy task at all. But with regular examination, somehow we can get
a good picture and devise the appropriate strategies.

            It’s in the examination of conscience where we would have
a running account of the state of our soul. If we truly recognize the
objective value of our soul, then it would be most logical for us to
do everything to keep it healthy, strong and fruitful. The condition
of our soul ultimately determines the quality of our life.

            And so, we would give priority to this act of piety that
actually would require just a little time, about 3 minutes, and
usually done at the end of the day, just before going to bed.

            Obviously, some effort has to be exerted, and sometimes,
heroic effort, since we have to contend with our usual weaknesses of
laziness, mental and physical, and complacency, lukewarmness, shallow
thinking, and all kinds of distractions.

            Our tendency is to get easily dominated by our
here-and-now conditions and often failing to see the bigger picture
that usually requires more investment on our part in terms of time,
interest and effort. We have to be ready to do battle against this

            Besides, to make the examination of conscience, we need to
put ourselves first in the presence of God, since that exercise is not
simply a matter of psychologizing ourselves, or tweaking our emotional
state, or doing some introspection.

            We have to be wary not to fall into downgrading this
crucial act of piety into a mere psychological or emotional exercise.
We would not see things properly that way. Worse, we most likely would
get unnecessarily entangled with complicated situations.

            To be able to see the objective state of our soul, we need
to see it together with God who gives us the true light, more
penetrating than our X-rays and more extensive than what the sun can

            With God, that is, with faith and trust in him, no matter
how ugly the state of our soul may be, we can always be reassured of
his mercy and help. When the examination of conscience is done this
way, there will always be peace and joy in the end.

            Sure, there will be elements of fear, embarrassment, etc.,
involved, but love and mercy will win at the end of the day. We just
have to make sure that our examination of conscience is an intimate,
filial encounter with God our Father who is all too eager to
understand us, to pardon us and to help us in our needs.

            If done properly, the examination of conscience is
actually a very happy moment for all of us, and a very good way to end
the day. When we say, “Sorry, Lord,” somehow things are patched up.

The power of prayer

IF only we know the great and true power of prayer! Our
problem is that we often relegate this duty of ours practically to
oblivion, banishing it to exile and branding it entirely as useless,
as just fantasy, too abstract to have any impact on what we consider
as the real world.

            And by real world, we usually mean the world where we
simply have to be practical, more concerned about immediate results
than about morality, mindful only of worldly values and criteria
rather than spiritual and supernatural considerations.

            But we cannot deny that deep in our heart there is a
yearning for some stable contact with the very source of life, of
goodness, of a joy without end, of peace that would go on and on, etc.

            It’s this yearning that, from the subjective point of
view, lays the foundation for our need of prayer. We want to know the
ultimate causes of things, but many times we abort this desire just to
give way to reasons of practicality. We have to be aware of this bad
tendency and do something to correct it.

            There’s, of course, an objective basis for our need of
prayer, but this would require faith which actually is given to us in
abundance but which we also have to correspond. The problem lies
precisely in our non-correspondence or at least in our inadequate
correspondence to this God-given faith and many other graces.

            The objective truth is that we are creatures of a Creator,
of whom we have an inkling that he must be all-powerful, all-knowing,
all-wise, etc. That inkling is validated and reinforced with the motu
proprio revelation the Creator makes of himself and of us and of
everything else in life and in the world.

            According to that revelation, made in full in Christ and
perpetually kept and taught by the Church, we have been made in the
image and likeness of God our Creator, endowed with a spiritual soul
that enables us through our intellect and will to know and to love, to
enter into relationships with everybody else, starting ideally with
God himself.

            We need to learn to pray, because it is in so doing that
we get in touch with the very foundation of reality himself, God our
Creator and heaven. It is in praying that we keep ourselves
spiritually alive and put ourselves in position to know the human and
divine meaning of everything that happens in our life.

            We cannot deny that in all aspects of our life, we have to
contend with difficult and complicated issues, problems, and
challenges. Whether it is about our very intimate private, personal
and spiritual life, or in our collective life of business, politics
and work, we unavoidably have to face complicated situations.

            With prayer, our understanding and reactions to things and
events would be deep and extensive, going beyond what is merely
practical and convenient, what is socially or politically correct,
etc. Our understanding and reactions to things and events would be
marked by true wisdom and prudence.

            When we pray, we somehow would know how to distinguish
between what is essential and what is not in any given issue, be it in
politics or ethics or whatever. We would know how to work for what is
constructive in a given a situation rather than contribute to what is
destructive and disunitive.

            Especially in the most dizzying world of our politics and
social life, we really need to pray well. Otherwise, we simply would
plunge into the freefall of acrimony, grumbling and murmuring, anguish
and hatred, occasioned by the increasing differences and conflicts of
our opinions and preferences.

            We need to realize that prayer is the language of the
heart, the very breathing our soul needs in order to survive and
function well. It is actually indispensable in our life. But we have
to be aware of this need by activating our faith, since it is not a
need that springs automatically from our feelings and bodily

            When we pray, we have to constantly remind ourselves of to
whom we are praying. Such awareness would help us to be in the proper
attitude and disposition. It practically would show us how to prepare
ourselves for prayer and how to proceed whenever we start to pray.

            When we are aware of with whom we are conversing when we
pray, we actually would feel at ease and at peace, with joy and sense
of goodness to boot, because we would know we are with our Father who
is full of mercy and compassion.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

From small to big

USING parables, Christ clearly shows us how the big things
in life, which can go all the way to include the Kingdom of heaven,
are achieved through the small things. His parables of the mustard
seed and the yeast (Mt 13,31-35), for example, dramatize that point

            It’s a point that actually has been described,
articulated, praised a million times over the ages and still does not
sink deep enough in our consciousness as to become a guiding principle
for at least a majority of us.

            Using purely human reason, a Chinese wisdom, for example,
puts it this way, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single
step.” A similar idea is expressed in a more Christian tone—“Ad astra
per aspera” (To the stars through the rough road).

            It’s important that we give due attention to the small
things that comprise practically everything in our day. May we always
realize that these small things, like our daily duties in the family
and at work, play a crucial and strategic role in our life. We have to
overcome our tendency to take them for granted.

            As one saint put it, we should learn to convert the prose
of everyday life, the drudgery of daily concerns into beautiful,
poetic verses. This can happen if we look at the little things and
carry out our ordinary duties with love.

            Obviously, doing these ordinary things with love needs
some training. And that simply means that, first of all, God is
present everywhere. That’s because we cannot truly fall in love in
something or with someone unless we see God, the source of all
goodness, in them. We need to discern his presence and his designs in

            God is everywhere precisely because he is God. Nothing,
absolutely nothing, limits his presence in everything, whether big or
small, good or bad, rich or poor, in moments of success or of defeat,

            Our problem sometimes lies in the fact that we only find
reason to love when things are good, but good in a merely human or
natural way. It’s not the good that comes from the goodness of God who
defined it when Christ told us, for example, to love our enemies.

            Let’s remember what Christ precisely said in this regard.
“You have heard that it has been said, you shall love your neighbor
and hate your enemy. But I say to you love your enemies, do good to
them that hate you, and pray for them that persecute and calumniate

            “That you may be the children of your Father who is in
heaven, who makes his sun to rise upon the good and the bad, and rain
upon the just and unjust. For if you love them that love you, what
reward shall you have? Do not even the publicans do this?” (Mt

            We have to base our love on the love of God that covers
everything, even to the extent of sending his own son who became man,
and letting him bear all our sins by dying on the cross. His love is
completely inclusive, though, given our freedom, we can also choose to
exclude ourselves from that love.

            Seeing God in the small, ordinary things of our life is a
grave necessity for us. That’s because unless we see and find him
there, and unless we love him there, we cannot truly say that we can
see, find and love him in the big things that come only occasionally
in our life.

            Being able to see him and love him in these things and in
our adverse situations is truly a state of life proper to us here, and
a preparation for our definitive life in heaven where we are going to
see him face to face and in total bliss.

            We need to key our loving with the love of God for all of
us. We have to put our loving in synch with his love. That’s why we
need to thoroughly know his doctrine, follow closely the example of
Christ, the fullness of God’s revelation, and be faithful to the
Church which is the mystical body of Christ here on earth.

            We have to acquire the attitudes and the sentiments of
Christ. For this, we have to purify our mind and heart, going through
the process of conversion, constantly fighting off the enemies of our
soul and of God.

            We have to learn to pray always, to avail of the
sacraments, and appreciate the value of sacrifice. Only in this way
can we see God in everything and in everyone.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Are you spiritual or carnal?

I WAS happy to learn that a grandnephew of mine is part of
a boy band in Manila that won a competition recently. His mother, my
niece, diligently sends me videos of his performances. I can’t help
but make time to see them, in spite of my tight schedule.

            At least, seeing them makes me reminisce my younger days
when I too was part of a band. The difference was that mine was a
seminary band and my performances were limited to certain audiences
and occasions. His would bring him to public concerts and dimly
lighted clubs.

            Still, the viewings would provoke me to make certain
observations and considerations. Like, how different the singing style
is now. That’s to be expected, of course, But there seems to be a
deliberate attempt to appeal to the sensual.

            Somehow we can make that conclusion, tentative at least,
because of the reaction of the audience. I can’t help but notice the
shrieking of girls and some boys, and the look of awe on their faces,
that clearly show a mere knee-jerk behavior.

            This is where the difference is greatest. But let me
hasten to say that such difference may just be a matter of taste and
preferences due to differences in age, culture, temper of the times,
etc. to which tolerance and mutual respect should be exercised. But we
need to clarify a few things.

            Certainly, looks play a big part of their formula for
popularity. With hair colored, brushed up or spiked, faces slightly
made-up, skin-tight pants and shirts that literally follow the
contours of their physique, some metallic accessories pierced or
dangling somewhere, the boys simply inflict swooning on their audience
their age.

            Their movements and choreography include swaying,
grinding, shrugging and twisting that definitely are flammable and
electric to youthful sensitivities. Many in the audience are left
completely defenseless and floored.

            It seems to me that things are arranged in such a way as
to give free rein to the primitive urges and hormones, detached or
still unconnected to the directing influence of right reason, let
alone, of faith, hope and charity.

            As we can see, our urges and hormones, and the world of
the senses in general, or the aspect of sensual pleasure in our life
are not bad in themselves. They just need to be directed by right
reason, and especially by faith, hope and charity.

            These latter, to be cure, do nothing to suppress or
annihilate our urges and hormones which are an integral part of our
humanity. What they do is simply put them in their right places or on
the right track so that these senses, urges and hormones truly express
and affirm our real dignity as persons, and not just objects or

            In other words, when left on their own, these senses,
urges and hormones can be dangerous, since they would be deprived of
direction. They would simply remain on the level of the material and
the worldly that is proper only to inanimate objects or to animals,
but not to us as persons, and especially as children of God.

            They would simply be subjected to laws of physics,
chemistry, sociology, economics, politics, etc., but not to the moral
law that would consider us in our totality as persons with
intelligence and will, freedom and responsibility.

            Let’s hope that we can be more aware of this concern and
comply with its requirements. At the moment, there seems to be a
worldwide trend toward pure sensualization or carnalization, leading
us, especially the young, to be merely carnal, instead of being
spiritual, to use terms defined by St. Paul.

            It’s important that we develop a certain sensitivity to
this concern because otherwise we would all be deluded by a very
treacherous virus, a sweet poison that can truly harm us individually
and collectively.

            To repeat, this is not at all about suppressing or
disparaging in any way the value of the senses, the urges and the
hormones, and the sentiments, feelings, passions that they produce.
Neither the value of the physical attributes we have.

            We just have to realize more deeply that they need to be
ruled and directed by reason and ultimately by faith, hope and
charity. Otherwise, we can be accused by Christ himself who once said
of some people -

            ‘They look but do not see and hear but do not listen or
understand.’  And citing a prophecy of Isaiah, he said, ‘Gross is the
heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have
closed their eyes…’

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Prepare to be a sacrificial lamb

TO be very realistic in life, we have to be ready and
eager to become a sacrificial lamb. This is not bad news. This is Good
News. Let me explain.

            Our problem is that, unfortunately, the expression,
sacrificial lamb, has suffered a great diminution of appreciation in
the world today. It is simply considered in the context of practical
advantages and disadvantages of a given situation.

            Obviously, with that frame of mind and only and
exclusively with that attitude without any other higher consideration,
no one would like to be a sacrificial lamb. Even the commonest of
common sense would be averse to that idea. Everyone would like to flee
from that predicament as much as possible.

            But the phenomenon of sacrificial lamb actually has a very
wonderful significance. Our Christian faith tells us that given who
and what we are, we have been taught right from the beginning of
humanity, that we need to offer a sacrifice as a way of expressing and
affirming the truth that we come from God and we also belong to him.

            God, our Father and Creator, has been the one who teaches
us about this duty. He has also equipped us in our nature so that we
can comply with this duty that only shows the intimate relation we
have with God. In short, God, who is love, has been teaching us, who
are his image and likeness, how to love.

            This whole business of offering sacrifices is actually the
language of love. It acts out the dynamics of love which is that of
mutual self-giving between the lover and the beloved. Each party
becomes both lover and beloved in the ideal state of love.

            In the beginning, the sacrifice was made by offering
things. This started, when man was still in the state of original
justice, as something easy and spontaneous to do. But with the entry
of sin, this offering of sacrifice became more and more difficult and
complicated to do.

            In spite of sin, God continued in the flow of time to
tutor humanity about this duty of making sacrifices. This process of
divine tutelage passed through tumultuous route given man’s wounded
condition. All sorts of resistance and rejection, distortion and
confusion, tended to empty the meaning of sacrifice.

            But God persisted by sending us his only Son who became
the perfect and ultimate sacrifice, the true sacrificial lamb, who out
of completely gratuitous love, and without deserving to suffer in any
way, assumed all our sin, died to them and offered us a way to
reconcile ourselves with God in a perfect way.

            It was John the Baptist who pointed out Jesus to us,
calling him the Lamb of God. “Behold, the lamb of God, behold him who
takes away the sins of the world.” (Jn 1,29) Christ is the one who
bore all the sins of man, showing us the way of perfect love.

            We have to understand from all this that the life and
death of Christ, especially the supreme sacrifice of his life on the
cross, should be the model and motive of our life and death as well.

            This is when the worst thing that can happen to us, that
is, to be in sin, alienated from God, can turn into the best thing for
us as well, as long as we know how to unite ourselves with Christ.

            That is why we have to learn to make sacrifice, first of
all, because, it is the most natural thing for us to do considering
who and what we are in relation to God. Then, we have to make a
sacrifice because we have to make up for our sins and mistakes. And
ultimately we have to make sacrifice because we have to follow the
example of Christ all the way.

            That is why, if for some reason or another we find
ourselves in situations and predicaments that make us feel like
sacrificial lambs, that is, made to suffer though we feel we don’t
seem to deserve it, we should actually feel happy and privileged,
because in that way, we are being conformed to Christ in his best act
of love in a most intimate manner.

            It is good, therefore, that we condition ourselves to aim
at being sacrificial lambs. We ought to welcome every opportunity to
be so and somehow be happy with it. The saints and holy men and women
through the ages have always felt that way.

            Thus if we suffer some extraordinary difficult problems
and conditions, we should never fail to see the great blessing we are
actually receiving.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The joy and dangers of singing

IF only for being an instant reliever of stress, singing
already does a big service to mankind. I know of many people who
consider singing as a kind of maintenance medicine that keeps them
going even while the going gets rough.

            But singing actually does a lot more than just to relieve
stress. It can be a wonderful form of prayer, of praising God and the
beauty of creation. It’s understandable why St. Augustine once said
that “he who sings prays twice.”

            And in the Bible and now adapted in our liturgy, we repeat
often the words, “Sing a new song to the Lord,” and their many
variations. That’s simply because joy can hardly be better expressed
other than through singing.

            I was happy to bump into a liturgical hymn recently that
said, “In heaven our joy will be to sing eternally.” I could not agree
to it more.

            Of course, as stress reliever, singing has a way of
purifying the mind, heart and even the body of toxic elements, and of
stirring them to action in spite of tiredness. We may not have the
scientific explanation for that, but today people practically need no
convincing that singing has that power.

            Nowadays, singing is becoming a popular way of resting and
relaxing. With the advent of the karaoke and many singing shows here
and abroad, this practice has become a staple in the department of
rest and recreation.

            I suppose this is because singing provides a kind of
outlet for what is welling up in one’s mind and heart. The songs,
primarily chosen for their tune before their lyrics and other
considerations, usually reflect how the person is feeling or
considering in a given moment.

            But the lyrics also play a good part in motivating people
to sing. They are ready-made poetic expressions of banal, common-place
experiences or impressions or state of mind and heart. They supply an
easy and beautiful language for the mind and heart to express

            But we have to be aware also of what I may consider as
emerging dangers involving singing and songs in general. Since they
are a good mirror of how people are in their mind and heart, they
somehow also expose the quality of culture a society or even the world
in general has. And the prospect is not all too good.

            Just like the saying, “Tell me who your friends are and I
will tell you who you are,” we can also say, “Tell me how you sing and
what songs you sing, and I will tell you who you are.”

            Indeed the style of singing can reveal to a certain extent
how a person is—his age, his temperament and character, his feelings
at the moment, the culture he is living, etc. And what we can observe
in this area is a big shift from the style of, say, 50 years ago.

            Today’s style is definitely more sophisticated, with a lot
more of vocal gyrations and gymnastics, often interpreted as being
more nuanced and textured in expressing one’s feelings through the

            That may be good and welcome to a certain extent, but it
somehow shows that today’s people, especially the young, are more
complex, if not more complicated. This can be very understandable
given the increasing amount of things people today are exposed to.

            Also the style today seems to give more emphasis on
showmanship than on the substance of the song. It’s becoming more
concerned with external appearance, singing techniques, and ratings
from the audience.

            Gone is the style of simplicity and direct, plain
expression of what and how one feels inside his heart. I would say the
style of former years was more sincere. It was more geared to make
listeners to meditate and to touch base with more fundamental

            In fact, the songs today largely validate this
observation. If we closely examine the lyrics of many of the songs
today, they reveal a trend toward more worldliness and less soul and
spirit, more action and less meditation.

            In fact, there’s a lot of noise and clutter. And even the
love songs and ballads, which are supposed to be the more serious
songs, appear contaminated with certain ideologies that speak more of
relativism, subjectivism, rationalism. God, religion, piety , etc.
seem like personas-non-grata.

            The Bible actually warns us of this trend that show a
drifting away from God and a sinking in our own man-made world that
cannot help but be swallowed up by our miseries sooner or later. We
need to wake up and do something about this.