Thursday, November 27, 2014

Going home for Christmas

YES, there’s such a beautiful song entitled, “I’ll be home
for Christmas!” But I’m not going to sing that with the sentimentality
it evokes so vividly. I’d like to render it in a different way,
bringing it to another level. This time, I would like that we realize
that Christmas, properly understood and celebrated, is where our true
home is.

            Thanks be to God, it’s unmistakable that the Christmas
magic is already in the air. We may continue to have our usual
concerns, but the place in general is now so spruced up with all kinds
of Christmas signs and symbols that we cannot help but feel
Christmassy inside, a mysterious phenomenon that always escapes
precise and rigid description.

            We are now seeing a lot of Advent wreaths in churches,
offices, schools, and in many homes. Then we have Christmas lanterns
and Christmas trees almost everywhere. Of course, the crèches become
the centerpiece of all these signs and symbols, a product of the best
imagination and creativity of their makers.

            Together with these are the custom of gift-giving and the
surge of festivities and celebratory events. It seems that people like
to feel different in Christmas. They just like to be happy, and it’s
understandable that they show this emotionally and externally.

            We just have to make sure that all these activities are
founded and oriented properly. They should not just be an orgy of
self-indulgence, but rather a true encounter with the living Christ, a
genuine expression of joy both human and divine, emotional and
spiritual, natural and supernatural.

            Since there is always the danger of missing the true
spirit of Christmas, everyone should be reminded of what Christmas is
really all about, what practical consequences and implications it has
in our life.

            And in whatever way we can, let us remind the others,
especially those on whom we have some direct responsibility, about the
true spirit of Christmas and about how to live it. Let’s hope that we
all can be up to this challenge.

            For priests, for example, these days are a golden
opportunity to bring out the religious and spiritual foundation of
this season. With gift of the gab, appropriate words and arguments,
proper timing and tone, we should clearly point out why Christmas is
truly joyful.

            We priests can take advantage of the season of Advent, the
proximate preparation for Christmas, to highlight, for example, the
need for another conversion, especially through the sacrament of

            That’s because, as Christ himself said, there can be no
greater joy in heaven than when a sinner repents. Everyone is happy
when repentance is done. God is happy, the person himself is happy,
and everyone else will also be happy. It’s actually a joy that no
worldly allurement can rival, and it’s the joy proper of Christmas.

            Let’s also take advantage of the many traditional
practices of popular piety to infuse the proper spirit into them
before they get emptied of it through routine and the usual dangers of
indifference, blind conformism to social norms, commercialism and the

            The lighting of the candles of the Advent wreath can be a
good occasion to explain about the need to develop a true longing for
our Savior. Perhaps we can make a review, in the first place, of why
we need to be redeemed. I’m afraid many people, especially the young,
do not know anymore why we have to be saved.

            We can explain the significance of the Christmas lanterns,
relating them to the stars that brightened the skies during the first
Christmas, with the angels singing, attracting the attention of the
shepherds, as well as the star that guided the magi to the infant

            The Christmas trees which we like to decorate lavishly
should be related to the tree of death in Eden, and the tree of life,
the cross, that served as the very instrument of our salvation.

            The crèches should be made to evoke the organic link
between love, truth and joy, on the one hand, and simplicity and the
spirit of worldly detachment, on the other. They should be a strong
reminder of where our true joy can be found.

            Since we need little convincing for people to go to
“simbang gabi” or “Aguinaldo Masses” and to have “noche buenas,” etc.,
let’s see to it that homilies are well prepared, the different church
activities well planned, confessions and other spiritual attention

            Let’s make sure that everyone feels at home, being a
member of the family of God during Christmas, with Jesus, Mary and
Joseph at the center!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Have a good sense of the liturgical year

WE have just ended a liturgical year with the celebration
of the Solemnity of the Christ the King. We are now beginning a new
one with the season of Advent, the proximate preparation for the birth
of Christ.

            The immediate thought that comes to mind in this
transition of the old and new liturgical years is that while we should
have the mind of ending well and also beginning well, we should
neither forget that this cycle of life is meant to catapult us to the
eternal life where there will be no more changes of seasons and shifts
of days and nights.

            In eternity, there will be no more past nor future.
Everything will be in the present, with everything either resolved
properly in the bliss of heaven or unresolved in the never-ending pain
and anguish in hell.

            It would be good if we have a deep understanding of the
significance of the whole liturgical year, so that we can have a
functional sense of purpose and direction as we go through it,
avoiding getting entangled, distracted and lost along the way.

            We can say that the whole liturgical year presents to us
the whole mystery of Christ and his message, and the different aspects
of Christian life together with their requirements. How nice it would
be if at any given time, we have a global picture of it, know where
exactly we are in that picture, as well as a roadmap to lead us to our
goal in life.

            We should be quick to discern what is being asked of us,
what is expected of us as we go through the messages of the different
parts of the liturgical year. We should somehow feel that there is
progress taking place in our spiritual life as the year moves on. To
be sure, the liturgical year is not simply a passage of time. Some
growth is expected.

            In this regard, we should be ready to set specific goals
that are appropriate for that part of the year we may be in. We have
to have a clear idea of what are needed to reach those goals. We
should come up with strategies and alternative plans, just in case
unexpected or undesirable things happen.

            In these times, we cannot afford to be casual in our
attitude toward our spiritual life, which is true in all the other
aspects of our life. I remember that during my childhood, I never
heard my parents talk about budgeting. Life was so simple then that
the concern for money was not that felt. Not anymore now.  You don’t
budget! You simply will perish in no time!

            Also we have to be wary of the increasing number of things
that can grab our attention and lead us to all sorts of distractions.
Now it’s imperative to have a good system of traffic management of our
attention, otherwise we will just get lost. We need good traffic signs
around, (read, a good sense of priorities), so we would be properly
guided in our highways of life.

            With Advent, we are asked to prepare ourselves well for
the coming of our Savior. We have to elicit in ourselves a longing for
Christ who is our “way, truth and life,” the very pattern of our
humanity, the redeemer of our wounded humanity.

            With the Christmas season, we are happy at the birth of
Christ and we follow closely his hidden life that is also full of
meaning for us. This part somehow serves as a foundation for our adult
and mature life that will be filled with trials and challenges. A
happy childhood redounds to a happy adulthood.

            With Lent, we are made to face our wounded humanity and to
heal it with Christ, ultimately with the cross through his passion and
death. We have to be quick to learn the art of interior struggle,
fighting temptations and growing in the virtues. We will be taught how
to value suffering and how to suffer.

            With Easter, we will be filled with the joy of the
resurrection, the final victory of Christ, and also of ours with
Christ. We will somehow be taught how to maintain a life of sanctity
that is not only personal but also apostolic.

            The Ordinary Time of the liturgical year presents to us in
greater detail the different virtues we have to learn to live. We will
be constantly reminded of our duties as a true child of God.

            Let’s always strive to have a good sense of the liturgical year!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Acknowledge and overcome our blindness

THAT gospel story about Bartimaeus, the blind man who
unashamedly begged Christ that “I may see” (ut videam) (Lk 18,35-43)
is a story worth reiterating since it contains precious lessons for
all of us.

            First is that we, like Bartimaeus, should acknowledge our
own blindness. Though we may enjoy good vision at the moment, we have
to realize that to be able to see things properly and completely, we
simply do not rely on our eyes nor any of our senses.

            Our eyes and senses can only capture a little part of the
whole reality that governs us. They can only perceive what are called
the sensible realities, still light-years away from the intelligible,
not to mention the spiritual and supernatural aspects of reality.

            Still what they get and gather are very useful and in fact
are indispensable, since the data they give are like the raw material
that will be processed by our more powerful faculties of intelligence
and will. In this sense we can already consider ourselves as suffering
from some kind of blindness.

            We need to be more aware that nowadays there is a strong
tendency to base our knowledge of things mainly on the material and
sensible realities alone. That’s why we have these disturbing
phenomena of materialism and commercialism comprising our mainstream
world of knowledge and understanding.

            We have to correct this tendency because that simply is
not the whole of reality. Our senses can only have a limited view of
things. And what is worse, that limited condition is aggravated by the
effects and consequences of our sins that not only limit but also
distort reality.

            Thus, if our thinking, judging and reasoning are simply
based on the sensible and the material, we would miss a lot of things
and would unavoidably get into trouble. We end up making our own
world, our own reality which is actually a fantasy, an illusion, if
not a delusion.

            This is where we have to very strongly acknowledge our
blindness so that we recognize what is lacking and wrong with us, and
start to look for where the remedy and cure can be found.

            We should imitate Bartimaeus in that when he realized it
was Christ passing by, he immediately screamed, “Son of David, have
pity on me!” We have to acknowledge that we are blind and that we are
in great need of help that can only come from God who is our Creator,
Father and Provider for everything that we need.

            Being the Creator, God is the one who has designed
everything in the world. He is the one who knows its ins and outs,
what is real and not real, good and bad, etc. It is from him and with
his light that we can see things clearly and completely.

            We should not simply depend on our senses, nor on our
intelligence and will and the other faculties we have, like our
memory, imagination and other talents. At best, they are meant to be
mere instruments and means to express the will of God for us contained
in our living faith.

            They should not be made as the ultimate source of truth
and primary means to know the whole of reality. Obviously, to
acknowledge this would require a great amount of humility, since we
tend to make our own selves as the ultimate god, reflecting the very
error of the first sin that took place in Eden with our first parents.

            And nowadays, with the great progress of our sciences and
technologies, we have a formidable temptation to make ourselves our
own god, the master and not just the stewards of the universe,
deciding on what is true and false, good and bad, and on the destinies
of everyone.

            We can be so intoxicated by our own powers and
achievements that our pride and self-absorption with their consequent
blindness can appear invincible and incurable. We are actually
drifting toward this kind of situation today.

            We have to be most wary of this danger, and so we have to
realize ever more deeply that the more power we have, the more
achievements we make, the more our humility should be.

            We have to make sure that every advance we make in any
field of human knowledge should not dull but rather should sharpen our
need for God, our sense of gratitude to him, our awareness that we
need to do everything with him and for him.

            This is what a deepening sense of humility would entail.
And this is what would put us in the right path, avoiding the danger
of blindness.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The new pharisaism

IN writing this column, I wish to make the caveat that the
topic is meant to clarify matters and to warn us of certain dangers
that we may not be aware of. It’s not to condemn anyone or any group,
but simply to point out that there are occasions when we think we are
doing right when in fact we are doing wrong in the eyes of God.

It’s also meant to figure out how we can identify and
avoid these dangers, and what we can do to correct and make up if we
have fallen into them.

Pharisaism, as the dictionary puts it, refers to the
doctrines and practices of many of the Pharisees during the time of
Christ. They were almost invincibly convinced they were always right,
basing that conviction simply on their traditions and their own
interpretations of God’s laws.

When Christ finally came, they could not believe he was
the Messiah since Christ did not jibe with their expectations as based
on their own estimation of things. In fact, they were suspicious of
him, always finding fault in him and finally managed to crucify him.

To be sure, not all Pharisees were like that. We can cite
the example of Nicodemus who went to see Christ by night to ask for
some clarifications and who helped bury Christ’s body. There must have
been others like Nicodemus.

And so, we have to refrain from making blanket accusations
against all Pharisees. By pharisaism, we simply refer to certain
portions of the Pharisees who had the wrong attitude toward Christ and
the things of God.

Their error was in the too literal interpretation of the
religious and moral laws without due regard to the spirit of the laws.
Such interpretation led them unavoidably to fall into hypocrisy, since
the reality even of their own lives cannot cope with the very
restrictive view of what they considered as right and wrong, good and

In other words, they themselves could not keep up with their own
standards, and yet made a show that they were all right. They would
hardly admit their own mistakes and sinfulness. Such was the case that
at one point Christ told the people that these leading men did not
practice what they preached.

In other instances, Christ pointed out the contradictions and
inconsistencies between their words and behavior, their observances
and the all-too-obvious realities of life, like the question of the
Sabbath day observance.

The justice of pharisaism has no room for mercy. Its mind-frame and
lifestyle is prone to knee-jerk reactions, rash judgments and
reckless, lynching condemnations, that precisely runs counter to the
ways of God who is slow to anger and quick to forgive.

Its ways are often hardened along patterns of rigorism, legalism,
traditionalism, fundamentalism. They have forms and structures but
without the appropriate substance and spirit.

Pharisaism drips with sanctimoniousness and self-righteousness, a
funny caricature of authentic holiness. It is an ugly bag of all
violations of charity, often disguised as defense of justice and human

It is a collection of false reasons and rationalizations not based on
faith, hope and charity. It’s more interested in pursuing one’s
self-interest than in a genuine concern for the common good, and much
less, in giving glory to God. It thrives in an environment of gossips,
rumor-mongering and mob rule.

We have to be most wary of the dangers of pharisaism that can come to
us anytime and in very subtle ways. When in our pursuit for truth,
justice and beauty, we become judgmental and rigid, less patient,
understanding and merciful towards others, we can be sure we are
falling into the hands of a new pharisaism.

When in our legitimate pursuit for greater knowledge, power and fame,
we do not make the corresponding conversions of heart and are
unwilling to suffer for others, this new pharisaism is setting in.

This new pharisaism usually leads one along the paths of conceit and
self-satisfaction. It makes one simplistic in his views, ignoring the
many legitimate nuances of the situations of people. The worst cut is
that it deadens one’s sensitivity to have another conversion.

When progress in any aspect of our life is not accompanied by a growth
in humility, openness and tolerance towards those of different views
and opinions, when we cannot see our own faults and defects and yet
are quick to see those of others, then we have basis to think we are
in the grip of this new pharisaism.

But there’s always hope. God’s grace can strike us
strongly anytime. We just have to pray!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Politics and charity

GETTING into this topic, I know, is like pushing a lamb
into the company of wolves. Implausible as it may seem, we just have
to pray that the lamb can survive by following what Christ indicated:
be shrewd like serpents but innocent like doves.

            Truth is, politics has to be humanized and Christianized
through charity. It just cannot be left alone, fully at the mercy of
our passions, brute force and worldly elements. It too can and should
be a way to our sanctification. Yes, I mean that seriously.

            Politics ought to be pursued always in charity. It cannot
be any other way, since charity is the mother of all virtues and good
values. If we want justice, truth and fairness, charity has them all.
If we want competence, order, discipline, etc., again charity has
them. If we want objectivity, charity has it. Charity covers all our

            Politics is a human necessity. As social beings who have
to take care of one another, we need to undertake a continuing process
of organizing ourselves so that we can attain our common good. For
this, we have to activate the social principles of solidarity and
subsidiarity as best as we could, a tricky task, to say the least.

            That’s why we have a government and many other structures,
social, cultural, economic, etc., to attend to our different needs,
and we elect leaders and officers to run these organizations. This is
the nature, purpose and mechanics of politics.

            But just like anything human, we will always have some
problems. It seems that we like to create problems, which should also
not be viewed exclusively in a negative way, since these problems only
show we are humans, and they point to us where our weaknesses are and
where we should improve. They are a golden opportunity for God’s grace
to descend on us. So, let’s just be sport in all this.

            Our main problem at the moment is that the lofty nature of
politics is often corrupted and its objective frustrated by the ugly
workings of the otherwise legitimate pursuit for power, an integral
part of politics.

            Now that election time is coming, we are at present
confronted with the raw shenanigans of politicians. All of sudden, we
seem to have a storm surge of mudslinging, demolition jobs,
orchestrated p.r. campaigns to practically canonize a politician and
demonize another.

            The spectacle is actually very funny and ridiculous, but
it continues even up to now in spite of all the advances in our
sciences, arts, technologies and communication. It seems that in the
area of political culture, we continue to lag behind, to hardly emerge
from the savagery of the Stone Age.

            Instead of being discerning, prudent and nuanced in our
judgments and assessments of politicians, we readily fall into
simplistic, black-and-white ways of thinking and reasoning. We tend to
dogmatize and absolutize our preferences and opinions, hardly giving
any credit to the opposing positions of the others.

            In short, we tend to listen only to ourselves. Reckless
generalizations and labeling are made. Some, for example, blame the
‘masa’ for being unthinking in their choices. But I have also listened
to the so-called intelligentsia and in many instances have also found
their conclusions overworked and unfair.

            I suppose that to be realistic we have to consider all
politicians to have something good to offer and also some baggage that
they suffer. Let’s just sort things out slowly and calmly, weighing
them carefully, hoping to make a workable, fair balance.

            Let’s remember that as one movie blurb put it, every saint
has a past, and every sinner has a future. We are always a work in
progress. We can go either up or down, though we should always hope
and work together that we always go north rather than south.

            Let’s avoid getting wild with our judgments, practically
getting mad with praises for the favored politician or running amok
with burning hatred for the unfavored. Let’s play it cool

            We have to look first at the competence of the politicians
to deliver the goods we need, since this is the immediate expectation
we have from them. We have to see that they are capable of good
governance, even if they continue to be sinners as we all, in varying
degrees, are.

            As to their moral life, let’s just help them to be upright
and to always feel the need for conversion. As to their legal
problems, let us have our legal system take care of them. As much as
possible, we avoid media circus because of these.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Year of the Poor

THE Church, through our bishops, has declared 2015 the
Year of the Poor. It’s part of grand 9-year plan of new evangelization
in preparation of the celebration of the fifth centenary of the
Christianization of the Philippines in 2021.

            We should do all we can to promote this ecclesial thrust
for the year to come, keeping in mind the over-all idea of the plan so
that we can develop the proper spirit, attitude and skills needed to
undertake the many activities involved.

            For this Year of the Poor, we just have to make one
crucial clarification though. While it’s very understandable that the
immediate concern is what to do with those living in some form of
human misery, we should never forget that there is such thing as bad
poverty as well as good poverty.

            We should not just jump into the Year of the Poor doing
all sorts of works of charity and mercy without making this
distinction, because bad poverty can only be solved, or at least, to
be realistic, relieved to a great extent if the good poverty is
developed and lived well.

            In short, if there is no good poverty, we cannot expect to
do much about bad poverty. We would just be indulging in showy but
useless sloganeering and other mechanical and soulless programs
composed of modules, talks and p.r. campaigns, complete with photo

            At worst, we would just be going through the motions
without the substance. High-class hypocrisy, in other words, a kind of
new pharisaicalism—good and attractive more in words than in action,
more interested in looking good than in delivering. Sad to say, this
is an image that has been hounding the Church for long, and we need to
correct that drastically.

            Bad poverty is the one that dehumanizes us, that
diminishes our dignity and reduces us to mere objects or animals, that
disables us to do our functions as persons and as children of God.

            As a way of describing them journalistically, our bishops
refer to them as “the unwashed, the oppressed, the scorned, the
powerless, the miserable and the outcast.” But I’m sure there are
still other forms of bad poverty that are so subtle as to escape these

            We need to be more aware and wary of these trickier forms
of bad poverty that can manage to appear “rich” according to our
purely human standards and estimations. Sad to say, this kind of bad
poverty is spreading rapidly, and is affecting our millionaires and
billionaires and the powerful of this world.

            Such awareness would lead us to tackle the challenge of
tackling bad poverty more realistically and seriously, and would help
us to avoid falling into simplism that would divide the rich and the
poor according to mere economic or social measures.

            Good poverty, on the other hand, is the one exemplified by
Christ himself who, as St. Paul said, emptied himself all the way to
offering his very own life on the cross. He is the model to follow,
the template to reproduce in our life, the paradigm to go through.

            This is the good poverty referred to in one of the
beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom
of God.” It’s the poverty that means one has a true and abiding hunger
for God, a hunger that involves total detachment from the things of
the world insofar as these things become a hindrance to live genuine
charity or love for God and for others.

            It does not mean that we should reject the things of this
world. Good poverty is not averse to having things, since as human
beings, we are always in need of material things. We just have to see
to it that everything is used for God’s glory and for the common good,
a continuing struggle for us given our weakened human condition.

            When we have this good poverty in place in our heart, then
it would be easy to truly love others, to sympathize and empathize
with them, to the point of sharing what we have with them and even
giving all that we have, in imitation of Christ, who gave his very own
life for us.

            Obviously, in this we have to start to small things,
making use of those daily ordinary events that ask of us to be
detached from things so we could love Christ more and serve others
better. If we persist in this, we can be ready for the bigger
challenges of good poverty.

            Let’s hope the Year of the Poor brings our life of good
poverty to a higher level.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

With the end in mind

 IT’S understandable that with the approach of the
celebration of the Solemnity of Christ the King on November 23, the
readings of the Masses these days bring us to consider the end of
time, judgment, heaven and hell.

            The Solemnity of Christ the King marks the end of the
liturgical year. And we would begin another one with the onset of the
season of Advent, the proximate preparation for Christmas, the birth
of Christ, our Redeemer.

            It’s good that we have the mind to consider this reality
so that we would know how to behave in time while we are still here,
doing all sorts of things. The consideration of the so-called “last
things” would give us a global picture of our life that actually spans
even beyond time itself.

            It will help us to distinguish between what is essential
and what is not, what has absolute value and what only has a relative
one, albeit also important. The relativeness of a thing does not
exclusively mean it is unnecessary. It can also be indispensable, but
only relative and subordinated to a higher, absolute value.

            This is not to scare us, but rather to remind us that
there is such a thing as the end of things, whose consequences and
implications we often take for granted or fail to correspond properly.

            In our earthly life, there is always a cycle of beginning
and ending that only shows the transitoriness of our life here on
earth. Let’s hope that we do not get lost or entangled in our earthly
affairs that actually have important bearing on our life after death.

            At the same time, this cycle of beginning and ending
highlights the reality that we actually long for a life that has no
end. We have the desire to leap from the transience of our time here
to the permanence of eternity.

This yearning for an eternal life, which of course can be
ignored and distorted, has basis in the fact that our soul, the
principle of life of any living being, is not merely a plant or animal
soul, but a spiritual soul. It has the capacity to subsist despite the
deterioration and death of our corporeal organism.

            We have to learn how to handle the unavoidable tension
between the here and now and our final end, between time and eternity,
between the relative character of our earthly, temporal life and the
absolute value of our eternal life, between the material and spiritual
dimensions of our life.

            More than handling the tension, our duty is actually to
know how to develop the proper relation between the two dimensions of
our life, since these two are supposed to form just one unity or one
life. There is indeed distinction between the two, but they actually
form just one whole life.

            Obviously in this matter, what should guide us should be
our Christian faith, and not just any science or ideology. It’s our
faith, a very precious gift from God, that gives us a complete picture
of reality. It probes deep into a reality that no human science can
reach, since it tackles mainly the spiritual and even the supernatural
dimensions of our life.

            We should see to it that as soon as we realize this, we
start to form and strengthen our conviction to be guided by our faith,
more than anything else, in dealing with the real purpose of our life
here on earth.

            In the meantime, it would be good that as early as
possible, even at the stage of childhood, everyone should be taught to
be mindful of the end, purpose or objective of anything.

            A child, for example, should be taught that everything has
a reason and a purpose, so that he can easily be weaned from a
mentality and a behavior that is stuck only on what is here and now,
what is simply pleasing to the senses, etc. He can be trained to see
beyond the externals and the incidentals and start to be interested in
the essentials.

            Of course, this has to be done gradually, as in on an
inclined plane, but this should be pursued consistently. An
appropriate structure, like family practices and tradition, social
culture, scholastic formation, should be in place to put the child on
the right track.

            The development of the child should be closely monitored
to see if there is real progress and that whatever deviation is
promptly attended to. He should be taught to wean himself from too
much dependence on feelings, and to start using more of reason and

then the faith.