Thursday, May 28, 2015

Restore the sense of penance

LET’S do something about this grave concern. We cannot deny that we
are losing the genuine sense of penance. It’s a word that nowadays
hardly figures in the vocabulary of the people, especially the young.

But we, of course, have to be optimistic about this. No matter how
ugly things look at the moment, there is always hope. I personally
believe that the uglier the things are, the bigger also, the brighter
and the more beautiful the potentials for redemption are, if we know
how to react to this predicament.

Yes, our general sense of penance is in crisis, mainly because people
are turning away from God who in the end is the one who sets what is
right and wrong, what is good and evil, what is virtue and sin and

Our sense of penance is in crisis because our idea of what is good and
evil is now reduced to our personal preferences, or at best to what
can be termed as our social, political, cultural or even ideological
consensus. Our legal system is often regarded as explicitly atheistic
or agnostic, to free it from the so-called religious bias.

In short, we are not anymore referring things to God but to ourselves.
This is what is called the post-modern thinking which, as the
Wikipedia defines or describes, views “realities as plural and
subjective and dependent on the individual’s worldview.”

It proclaims that there can be diverse interpretations of truth, being
and ways of seeing. It rejects sharp distinctions and global and
dominant truths. It sees truth as highly individualistic and

And so now, we have public figures like US President Obama and singer
Bono saying that the Christian definition of marriage should not be
imposed on all, which is a distortion of the reality of things.

First of all, the Catholic definition of marriage is not so much a
matter of religion as it is a matter of the very nature of marriage.
And it is not imposed. It is simply taught with the authority of the
Church magisterium. Everyone is always free to go against it, though
obviously he has to face the consequences.

This post-modern thinking is very much in the words of Bono who
recently said: “Marriage is now an idea that transcends religion…It is
owned by the people. They can decide. It’s not a religious

Many people today do not anymore have the healthy fear of God, nor of
sin and temptation. What would terrify them more is when they see the
low-batt sign in their cellphone, or the low internet signal and the
circling buffering sign in their computers.

But we should not be daunted by all these developments. What is needed
is a continuing or ongoing catechesis rendered in an atmosphere of
friendship and personal apostolate. If this can only be done, as in
fact it should, since it is a basic duty of a every child of God, then
we do not have much to worry.

Our country is still a strong bastion of Christian faith, supported by
a still large amount of humility, simplicity, docility to Church
authority or any rightful authority, and a breathing piety. Let’s take
advantage of these blessings to counter the onslaught of post-modern
thinking that is afflicting some of our public figures and political

With gift of tongues, let’s remind everyone that we are all sinners
because we have offended God and not just anyone, and that we need
redemption, which God so willingly gives us. We have to learn how to
avoid sin, fight temptations, stay away from occasions of sin, and to
make up for the consequences of our unavoidable sins.

Let’s remind everyone that there is a wonderful sacrament called
Confession that more than a tribunal of strict justice is a seat of
abundant fatherly mercy from God. Let’s reassure everyone that God
wants to heal us, to sanctify us, to make us like him since we are his
image and likeness, and children of his.

Let’s tell everyone that God has given us everything we need to be a
true child of God, full of love and goodness, of truth and wisdom,
etc. But let’s not be afraid to go through some suffering which is a
way of our purification and atonement for sin in general, ours and
those of everybody else.

Let’s do all these with joy and optimism, without bitter zeal. God
makes wonders far beyond our wildest and fondest expectations. If we
persist in this hope, then we can truly recover a healthy sense of

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Life always has more to offer

YES, indeed! And they come in all shapes and sizes, good
and bad, pleasant and unpleasant, likeable and hateful. There are
surprises and moments when we seem to rot in expectation and still
things we long for don’t come.

            Life can’t be restricted simply by our senses and
preferences, nor by our knowledge and wisdom. It gives us a lot more.
There are things that simply are beyond our control. We have to learn
to face life as it unravels by itself.

            When we seem to be overwhelmed by trials, challenges,
tasks, pressures that can come anytime anywhere, I believe the
attitude to have and the reaction to make is to be calm, pray hard,
and while we do all we can, we have to learn to live a certain sense
of abandonment in the hands of God.

            In those situations, I believe we just have to allow
ourselves to play in God’s game plan, in his abiding providence whose
designs are beyond reckoning, are way beyond comprehension and

            We just have to allow the workings of grace to play out in
our life, loosening our tendency to be always in control of things.
These situations are privileged moments when we are made to expand and
deepen our understanding of things and our capabilities to deal with

            God’s ways are mysterious and inscrutable. He can write
straight with crooked lines. He never abandons us. He is always
intervening in our lives. And he knows how to draw good from evil,
such that even in our own blunders and stupidities, we would still
have reason to hope, and thus to say sorry, make amends and reconcile
with God and with others.

            We have to be wary when we are tempted to lose hope
because of our mistakes and sins. You can be sure that that temptation
can only come from the devil who would be happy when we fall into
discouragement, or when we let our initial reaction of disappointment
and frustration to deteriorate into depression or to explode into

            We just have to strengthen our faith that with God,
everything will always work out for the good. That’s what St. Paul
once reassured us: “To them that love God, all things work together
unto good…” (Rom 8,28)

            It would not be wise to let ourselves sink in fear and
anxiety, or sadness, depression and bitterness. Like Christ, like all
the other saints, we just allow those uncontrollable things to happen,
no matter how bad they may be, because they will always have a good
purpose, even if at a given moment, we do not know it.

            The template for this is the passion and death of Christ
on the cross. There we see how he allowed himself to suffer the most
painful and ignominious death there is. Being God, he could have
avoided it, but he just went through it.

            He did it to obey the will of his Father and to go through
the unavoidable consequences of our sins. Of course, being God he
could have avoided it and could have carried out his mission of our
salvation in a painless way, but that would be like not addressing the

            Besides, with his passion and death he is showing us how
we too can tackle the unavoidable consequences of sin, and that is
precisely to just abandon ourselves in the hands of God, without
losing faith, hope and love even if we continue to sin.

            This contradicting predicament of ours to still believe,
hope and love God and others in spite of our sinfulness has been
vividly described by St. Paul who said: “I am delighted with the law
of God, according to the inward man. But I see another law in my
members, fighting against the law of my mind, and captivating me in
the law of sin, that is in my members.

            “Unhappy man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body
of this death? The grace of God, by Jesus Christ, our Lord. Therefore,
I myself, with the mind serve the law of God, but with the flesh, the
law of sin.” (Rom 7,22-25)

            It’s worthwhile to meditate on these words if only to make
us understand our most intriguing predicament when we find ourselves
divided by two conflicting laws affecting us. We just have to learn to
suffer, like Christ, abandoning ourselves in the hands of God our
Father and allowing the working of grace to impact on us.

            Let’s not allow our suffering to depress us. On the
contrary, it should strengthen our faith, hope and charity.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Educating children within the family

LET’S always remember that the education of children always starts at
home within the family atmosphere. The parents are the primary
teachers and the home is the first school. Schools play only a
subsidiary role.

Let’s hope that more and more parents realize this. We cannot deny
that many parents think that the education of their children is mainly
the responsibility of schools, teachers, tutors, and other
specialists. We have to explode that myth.

Parents not only bring children to existence. Precisely as parents
they have the primary duty to bring up their children properly. And
this responsibility is not only in the material aspects, like feeding
and clothing, but more in the spiritual and moral aspects that in the
end are a matter of education and formation.

That’s why parents should first of all realize very deeply that they
need a good and ongoing human and spiritual formation. Let’s remember
that this aspect of formation serves as the foundation for any
education and training parents give to their children.

The practical aspects of learning can only be truly effective if they
rest on a good, solid and consistent human and spiritual formation.
Obviously, the basic human and spiritual values and virtues are
learned by giving the children the appropriate basic responsibilities,
like greeting or kissing parents to instill the virtue of respect,
doing some household chores to inculcate the idea of responsibility
and concern for others, etc.

But the bigger responsibilities can only be pursued and developed if
the children already would have some mastery of virtues like humility,
hard work, sincerity, simplicity, thoughtfulness, economy or the
healthy sense of poverty, etc.

Parents should also realize that to create a proper and conducive
atmosphere of learning, they should try to create and keep an
atmosphere of peace and cordiality at home. Since there will always be
differences and conflicts, not to mention, mistakes and failures,
parents should know how to handle these events without compromising
that air of peace and cordiality at home.

Also very important for parents to carry out is to introduce their
children as early as practicable to a life of piety. The rudiments of
prayer and faith should be planted in the children as early as
possible. This is a very important aspect that should not be regarded
as only secondary in the priorities of what to teach the children.

Unless this aspect of the children’s education is firmly put in place,
there will always be the danger that whatever accomplishments the
children may have in other areas would only occasion pride, vanity,
greed, self-centeredness, etc.

Parents should tutor their children in the proper exercise of freedom,
making them understand that freedom ultimately is a matter of
following the truth that in turn comes from God. That is, that freedom
and obedience to God’s will and to the proper instrumentalities of God
(those with certain authority) always go together. In other words,
children should realize as early as possible that freedom and
obedience are not in conflict.

In dealing with their children, parents should try their best to put
themselves in the level of their children. Friendship, affection and
intimacy should be fostered, such that there is trusting openness
between parents and children, even if the right to privacy is also
respected and, in fact, promoted.

Parents should know how to open new horizons to their children in a
gradual and pleasant way. Parents should always think and plan of how
to demand a little bit more from their children, since this is the way
children truly grow toward maturity.

Parents need to know their children’s assets and liabilities, their
strengths and weaknesses, their talents and defects, and on that
knowledge map out the way for the children to develop, blossom and

Also crucial is for parents to help their children have a good and
correct knowledge of the origin of life, and the role of human
sexuality in our life, and the importance of chastity. This is not to
be prude, but rather to be realistic.

Let’s remember that in this area especially, many children, starting
in their adolescent stage, meet great difficulties that oftentimes are
shameful for them to open up. The parents should take the initiative
to take up this topic with the children.

Parents should also guide their children with respect to choice of
schools, friends, how to study and accomplish their school

It should be presumed that parents really spend quality time with
their children, having individual confidential chats with them and
developing the practice of family get-togethers and outings.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

When old age and illness come

WE have to be ready for these eventualities. We grow old, have
limitations and weaknesses. We commit mistakes. All these have effects
on our body, and since our body is always linked to our soul, they too
affect our soul, the way we think, judge, reason, understand, love,
etc. They can affect our spiritual life, our faith, etc.

We all suffer these things one way or another, sooner or later. But in
the meantime, let’s learn how to take care of ourselves and of one
another as we unavoidably approach these situations or go through them

The need to learn the art of caring, at once physical, emotional,
mental and spiritual, cannot be overemphasized. May we progress in
this department, at least to pace with the rapid development we see
around in the other dimensions and aspects of our life—technological,
social, professional, political, etc.

It should not be said that while we are making great strides in the
area of work and professional prestige, financial and social status,
etc., we still could be considered as primitive in this most basic
aspect of human life—the care we need when we suffer the unavoidable
limitations of our nature.

This should be the concern of everyone, but especially those who are
more educated, more endowed and more blessed with certain charisms.
Let’s see to it that we have the appropriate attitude and skills in

Some studies say that up to 15% of people over 65 and up to 40% of
those over 80 suffer from some form of dementia (Alzheimer, multiple
cerebral infarctions, Parkinson’s, etc.)

The symptoms are usually some degree of memory loss, impoverishment of
language, difficulty in remembering the name of objects or in
recalling words, inability to concentrate, temporal or spatial
disorientation, agitation, or loss of capacity for judgment.

There’s also some character, mood or behavioral changes and loss of
interest in things that previously mattered a lot to a person,
reduction in physical strength and general activity, increased
fatigue, slowness and unsteadiness in walking, fear and risk of
falling, lack of appetite, weight loss, depression, etc.

It’s important that we instill hope and empathize with these people
who are undergoing these conditions and help them to understand that
suffering has a meaning even if it is not fully understood. For this,
the example of Christ, and before him, Job, should be highlighted.

We need to listen to them even when they seem to be talking nonsense.
We have to encourage them to look at God and other people, since this
is the path to discovering the meaning of suffering.

Only in that way can suffering be understood as a sacrifice, a
tremendous gift, a redeeming trial or a clear proof of love. Let’s
remind ourselves that suffering can only be understood and appreciated
when seen more under the light of faith than of reason and the
sciences. And we should know how to convey this truth to those who

In the end, it’s Christian love, the love that comes from God, which
cures, or more properly said, ultimately resolves even our most
difficult, if not humanly insoluble, predicaments. What St. Paul said
about it is no exaggeration. “Charity bears all things, believes all
things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor 13,7)

I was happy to learn recently that Einstein, one of our greatest
scientists, wrote a letter to his daughter many years ago, which said
that the greatest force on earth certainly does not come from matter
nor from some natural source, but from love that comes from God.

This is a challenge to all of us when we have to deal with people,
usually those close to us like our relatives and friends, who suffer
some extreme forms of problems. It’s said that we can only give what
we have. So, if our faith in the love of God is not that strong or is
practically non-existent, then we cannot expect to convey the truth of
God’s love for us to others, nor to our own selves.

In short, we will surely fail in dealing with problems related to old
age or to difficult, if not incurable, illnesses. But since there is
always hope even in our most trying situations, we know that we can do
something about this.

Let’s hope that we can find time to build up our love of God and of
others by making an effort to pray, offer sacrifices, deepen our
faith, develop virtues, and acquire those skills of compassion and
empathy even as we avail of all medical help appropriate to the

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The need for spiritual direction

WE all need to have spiritual direction. We have to allow the
intricate workings of our spiritual life, which has to contend with
all sorts of things in life, to be guided by somebody else, because
though we are the ones who make the final decisions and choices, we
all need to be enlightened, guided, suggested, even corrected.

Yes, we need spiritual direction because we have to explore our
spiritual and apostolic possibilities, map out our plans for spiritual
growth, expose and cultivate our hidden potentials, develop virtues
and enliven our piety, not to mention, make strategies for our
ascetical struggles.

This is part of the social character of our life. We do not live by
our lonesome. Neither do we grow and develop toward maturity and
fulfillment just by ourselves. We always need others—parents,
teachers, friends, and those whom we allow to enter into the intimate
world of our spiritual life.

We should never think that we can by ourselves direct our lives
properly, that is, to direct ourselves to our ultimate supernatural
goal. We are not engaged in some earthly destination only.

We need to open up to those who can guide us spiritually, letting
ourselves be known as much as possible, just like a person consulting
his doctor even though he has no particular complaint to make. We just
want to make sure that we are in the right direction.

Besides, spiritual direction will help us to live humility, simplicity
and sincerity, which are basic and indispensable virtues we need if we
want to live our life properly. Much of the problems we have at
present are due precisely to the absence of these virtues.

We need to have an open attitude, because even if there’s such a thing
as a proper sense of privacy, it does not mean that we can just go on
with our life solely depending on our estimation of things. We should
explode the myth that our sense of privacy and openness in spiritual
direction are two incompatible things.

Of course, our spiritual director should be someone we can trust,
someone we can confide in, first of all because of his or her
competence and authority, plus the other human elements that would
facilitate our opening up with him. In short, there is friendship.

Let’s remember that our life is always a complicated life that has to
grapple not only with the normal stages of development but also the
many issues brought about by the different aspects of our life—our
emotional and psychological self, our family and professional life,
and the social, cultural, political, historical environment we live
in, etc.

Especially these days when the temper of the times and the pace of
world development speak of an ever-increasing number of issues to
tackle, we should feel the more urgently the need for spiritual

We should try our best to be transparent and, in fact, to be brutally
sincere especially when we find ourselves in some vicious predicament.
This we can do if we consider spiritual direction not merely as some
psychological exercise, but precisely as a spiritual exercise, based
on our faith and love for God.

We have to remind ourselves that in spiritual direction, the main
protagonist is, more than us and our spiritual director, the Holy
Spirit. This is crucial, because without this awareness, our spiritual
direction can degenerate into something merely human, with hardly any
spiritual, let alone, supernatural value.

Without that awareness, our spiritual direction cannot be properly
called spiritual direction, and it can be dangerous. We would be at
the mercy of merely human and worldly conditionings.

Let’s always remember that the Holy Spirit is always intervening in
our lives. Though his promptings can be conveyed in many ways, one
very important way is precisely through spiritual direction, where we
make a conscious effort to prepare ourselves for it.

That’s why both the spiritual director and the directee should bring
things to their prayer, considering them in the presence of God and
trying to discern what the Holy Spirit is trying to show them.

Our trust in our spiritual director should be such that we can say
things as they are, calling a spade a spade, without embroidering
them. We should allow the spiritual director to probe our spiritual
life as much as he wants, even trying to see the deeper motives behind
our thoughts, words and deeds, so that the appropriate piece of advice
can be given.

If both director and directee do things well, we can expect to reap a
lot of spiritual benefits.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Truly loving the Pope

WE have to be wary of our tendency to be easily taken in by some kind
of media-orchestrated swooning over the Pope without the accompanying
substance of truly loving him not only affectively but also

The Pope himself has warned us of what is called the ‘Pope Francis
effect’ that tries to portray him as some kind of rock star or
superhero to whom are attributed qualities and accomplishments that he
himself said are not quite true.

One of them claims that he secretly slips out of his Vatican quarters
at night to be with the vagrants and homeless of Rome. He said that
while such act is very commendable, it actually has not crossed his
mind to do so. Other similar claims are being made, but he disowns

He considers them as some kind of theatrical ‘special effects’ that
some people, supposedly with good intentions, shower on him or on his
name. They can be sparkling at the present moment, but they actually
leave no lasting effect, much less some deep impression if not
transformation in people. They are precisely just for effects, but
without the real substance.

In fact, they detract from the true character and purpose of the papal
office. They are there mainly to pander to people’s curiosity and lust
for the extraordinary, and leave behind the elements of purity of
intention and gratuitous magnanimity that would seek to do good things
without expecting any earthly reward.

They tend to undermine and distort the spiritual and supernatural
dimensions of whatever good deed is made, since they gloss over the
requirements of humility and the spirit of sacrifice with which the
good deed ought to be done. In the end, they tend to spoil people.

If we truly love the Pope, we have to see him as the ‘sweet Christ on
earth,’ as St. Catherine of Siena once described any Pope.
Irrespective of the Pope’s personal qualities, we have to see him as
the successor of Peter to govern the Church, and to serve as the
principle of unity of all Christian believers.

As the catechism would put it, the Pope is the “perpetual, visible
source and foundation of the unity of the Church. He is the Vicar of
Christ, the head of the College of bishops and pastor of the universal
Church over which he has by divine institution full, supreme,
immediate and universal power.”

If we truly love the Pope, we would pray for him, whoever he may be,
and help him in any way we can to carry out his most delicate and
demanding ministry. We would go beyond sentimentalism in our attitude
toward him, though we should always be affectionate to him.

We should listen to him carefully, and make his concerns ours too,
pursuing them according to our possibilities. In short, we should
remember that our way to Christ always passes through the Pope. We
have need to refer everything in our spiritual and ecclesial life to

St. Josemaria Escriva, who had a great love for the Pope, irrespective
of who he was, popularized a slogan that deserves to be a guiding
principle to all of us. “Omnes cum Petro ad Iesum per Mariam!” (All
with Peter to Jesus through Mary!) This is the proper attitude to

Do we regularly follow the pronouncements and statements of the Holy
Father? Do we spread them around? Do we consider the Pope when we make
plans and projects, no matter how technical or temporal and mundane
they may simply be? These are questions we have to ask ourselves

Our usual problem is that we often ignore the Pope and the ecclesial
dimension of our earthly businesses and activities. We often think
that the Pope has nothing to do with them, or that our mundane affairs
have nothing to do with our ecclesial life.

Worse, we can go to the extent of thinking that by referring things to
the Pope and the ecclesial dimension, we would be undermining our
freedom, our autonomy and our creativity.

This is a misconception, since referring things to the Pope and to the
ecclesial dimension of our life can only bring these things to their
ultimate spiritual and supernatural goals which they should all
pursue. Otherwise, they would just be useless, dangerous and even
harmful insofar as our ultimate goal in life is concerned.

There’s definitely a need to widen our perspective to include the Pope
and our ecclesial life in all our affairs and concerns. This would
truly be loving the Pope that goes beyond some sentimental “special

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The quest for cultural formation

WE can approach this quest from two points of view. One is that we
need to enrich our culture by deepening the knowledge of our own
culture and that of the others. We need to monitor developments of the
different cultures around.

The other is to enrich culture itself, whatever and wherever it is,
and regardless of whomever it belongs, by conforming it to an
objective and universal law that governs the whole of mankind.

The first one involves the abiding effort to know more and more about
our culture and that of the others. We cannot deny that in this
regard, we tend to take things for granted.

We tend to be contented with what we have, what we know, what we are
more familiar with at the moment. We hardly make any move to go beyond
that level or exert any systematic effort to know more about our
culture and that of the others—their history, their mentality,
lifestyle, etc.

Thus, we tend to have a shallow and narrow-minded culture that becomes
a hindrance in our effort to know more about ourselves and others.
Such level of culture does not facilitate communication, let alone,
communion which is what is meant for us.

We see this problem spreading around. In spite of the new and powerful
technologies of communication, we still are not communicating as we
should. Any communication that is done is restricted to the immediate
and subjective, if not, selfish needs and interests.

Beyond these, communication practically stops. It’s no wonder then
that we continue to have serious misunderstanding among ourselves, and
even conflicts and wars. Yes, we will always have some legitimate
differences, but if handled well by knowing the cultures of different
peoples, these differences need not undermine our common sense of
unity and harmony.

As to the other point of view, that of conforming whatever culture
there is to some objective and universal law, we can also say that
there is hardly any development either. The main problem here is that
people have their own idea of what is objective and universal.

In fact, some people think there is no such thing as an objective and
universal law or standard that can be applied to all. They even say
that what is objective and universal is that there is nothing
objective and universal in our life. Everyone can have his own idea.

What may come out as the dominant culture is often simply a result of
some majority consensus based on very transitory values like
practicality and profitability. It’s more a matter of opinion and
preferences and some conditionings, physical, social, ideological,

We have to be more concerned about building up a good and healthy
culture that at once may be peculiar to a certain group of people in
the different levels and aspects of life, and yet open to the cultures
of others. It has a certain specificity that would distinguish it from
other cultures, but at the same time, it has a universal openness.

This will involve, I imagine, a continuing review and study of core
beliefs among the different peoples, and ongoing dialogue among them.
The new technologies should be a big help for this purpose. In this
regard, we should encourage the practice of reading and study that has
to be done properly.

It should be a reading that would know how to read ‘between the lines’
in order to discern the assumptions and immediate implications of what
are written. It should also be a reading that knows how to read
‘behind the lines’ so as to get to the philosophical and ideological
foundations as well as the destination to which what are shown,
described, promoted, etc., are heading.

Culture is a living thing that always needs to be worked on, purified
and enriched. Its goal is to attain a certain level of wisdom that is
shared by everyone in society. It’s a common effort of all people who
have to contribute to its development in their own ways and

Obviously, some people have to lead that process. These can be the
intellectuals and educators, and specially spiritual leaders who ought
to articulate well the core beliefs of the people and to translate
these beliefs into some shared practices and customs.

The homes, churches and schools are the basic centers of cultural
formation and development. That is why they ought to be properly
guided and motivated to their responsibilities in this regard well. Of
course, the government also plays a very important role in this.

Let’s hope that we can get serious with our cultural formation and development!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

A good father and shepherd

WE have just celebrated for the first time last May 12 the feast of
Blessed Alvaro del Portillo, the first successor of St. Josemaria
Escriva, founder of Opus Dei. He was beatified on September 27 last
year in Madrid.

He was a very holy man. I can personally attest to that as I lived
with him for at least two years in Rome. He was a very quiet, humble
man who, in spite of his position and the great human endowments he
had, always exuded both calmness and quickness of mind.

There was no doubt that his intelligence was very high though he never
flaunted it. His memory was tremendous. He could repeat verbatim the
words of the founder and, of course, texts and citations from the
gospel and many other documents. He had a very sharp sense of

The first time I met him was in Manila way back in January 1987 when
he visited our region. From the airport, he came directly to what can
be considered as our main house where I was one of those waiting for

To my surprise, he went directly to the oratory and prayed aloud a
prayer of thanksgiving, and I could see how heartfelt he made that
prayer. I was moved to see him do that, since I imagined that after a
long trip the first thing one would do was to rest and fix himself.

No. He looked normal and fresh, again with that signature calm
composure he had and with a face that was always at the point of
smiling. He impressed me as very fatherly and as one whose character
and behavior was consistent either in public or in private. He did not
have one persona in public and another in private.

It was only much later on that I learned that he really exerted great
effort to be always with God and to be mindful and thoughtful of the
others. Even when he was in great physical pain or in some
disappointment, which I was aware of when I was with him in Rome, he
always managed to smile and to be of good disposition. He did not
allow irony or sarcasm to tinge his words.

On the few occasions I was privileged to be alone with him, I always
came out very impressed by the aura of simplicity and goodness that he
exuded. He frequently interspersed his responses to what I told him
with, “Gracias a Dios!” (Thanks be to God.) And I just told him things
that I considered of little importance only.

Of course, with him, I was very transparent. I felt so confident with
him. That I was impressed with him or, in fact, in awe, did not so
overwhelm me that I could not say things clearly and objectively. On
the contrary, I was always drawn to say things as sincerely as

He was very fatherly in a very direct way. One time, I was asked to
accompany him when he had his haircut. That time, I just celebrated my
birthday more than a week before, and yet when he saw me, the first
thing he asked was how my birthday celebration was.

I did not expect him to know about my birthday, since there were many
of us, about 200, and I did not think he would make it a point to know
the birthdays of the people staying with him but in a separate house.
Besides, he was out of town when I celebrated my birthday.

And when he had the chance, he would always say something nice to me.
One time I was asked to sing in a musical family get-together. When it
ended and we were going out of the place, he approached me just to say
that I sang well. Obviously, I was floored by that compliment even
though I knew very well that my singing skills were very limited.

When he was made bishop in January 1991, I had the fortune to be one
of those on whom he exercised his first act of diaconal ordination. It
was a very memorable moment because my family could not make it to
that event. But he made sure that I would feel the atmosphere of a
family by providing me with many others who attended to me during
those days.

He was the epitome of extreme fidelity to the saintly founder and knew
how to adapt the spirit of Opus Dei to the changing circumstances of
life. He was truly a good father and shepherd.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Body care and discipline

WHILE it’s true that Christian life puts a lot of emphasis on
disciplining the body, we should all be reminded that the body
actually has to be taken care of very well and the potentials of its
masculinity or femininity have to be developed as fully as possible,
but always at the instance of the spirit of faith, hope and charity.

Let’s always remember that our body is an essential part of our
humanity. It’s meant to be animated by a spiritual soul whose life is
always a participation of the life of God. As our catechism would put
it, our body “participates in the dignity of the image of God.” If we
know how, we can and ought to see God in our body!

The danger our body poses to our spiritual life happens only when it
is left on its own, ruled simply by instincts and emotions, and by the
purely worldly values and conditionings. Otherwise, it should be
all-systems-go for taking care of it and developing it to the max, not
only in terms of health but also in terms of physical beauty.

We, of course, should be wary of that danger, since because of the
effects and consequences of our sins, we are always vulnerable to it.
So we cannot over-emphasize the need for bodily mortification and

In fact, to be realistic, we always need to subject our body to some
discipline, sometimes of the severe kind because our body is always
weak no matter how strong it looks physically. It will always tend to
indulge itself to madness, often falling into some forms of addiction
and bondage. It’s our built-in potential traitor.

But when properly guided by faith, hope and charity, our body care and
discipline would stay away from any occasion and temptation to fall
into things like vanity, pride, sensuality and the like. It would
become an instrument of giving glory to God and of loving and serving
everybody else.

A pertinent prayer I like so much is the following: ‘Let flesh and
heart and lips and mind sound forth our witness to mankind, and love
light up our mortal frame till others catch the living flame. Amen.”

Yes, indeed, our body materializes the spiritual love proper to us.
The impulses of faith, hope and charity should somehow be expressed in
it, in spite of its limitations. It can be a most effective instrument
to attract others to God, and to transmit to others all that is true,
good and beautiful that in the end come from God. In fact, the body is
often referred to as the temple of the Holy Spirit, the house where
God dwells in us.

It’s not true that our body, per se, is bad, as some people in the
past and even in the present think. A group in the past, called the
Manicheans, considered the body as intrinsically bad. Nowadays, we
have some sectors of the puritan mould that think along the same
lines. No, the body is not intrinsically bad, though it can be bad if
we are not careful.

We should then have constant concern for the care and discipline that
is appropriate for our body. We cannot underestimate the danger our
body is always exposed to. We should be well guarded against such
danger, training our body instead to be filled with love for God and
for others that is proper to it.

It would indeed be good that everytime we see or consider our body, we
should be reminded of these basic truths about it and come up with an
appropriate plan to bring these truths into reality.

We have to develop a certain sense of dominion over it, not only in
the sense of controlling and purifying it only by way of discipline,
but also of enhancing its potentials, especially guiding it to learn
how to love God and others. It has to radiate a certain joy proper to

We actually cannot afford to be casual about this concern. If we are
still in the dark about strategies and programs to put our body in its
proper state, then it’s about time we start learning by studying,
consulting and seeking advice from those who can help us.

We should try our best to avoid being at the mercy of purely bodily
impulses and worldly conditionings insofar as our body is concerned.
This is also another topic that has to be ventilated more openly so
that we can develop a global culture of body care and discipline
proper to us.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The duty and art of asking

IN our spiritual and Christian life, we are expected to always ask God
for all our needs, from the smallest to the biggest, from the most
material to the most spiritual. We can never say that there are
moments and situations when we don’t have to bother God about

We need to realize more sharply and abidingly our total dependence on
Him even as we should also be completely responsible for everything in
our life. That’s just how the cookie crumbles.

We should not be deceived by the thought that just because we have
some talents, wealth, power, and other resources, we can be on our
own, feeling totally independent from God. We have to explode the myth
that we can be self-sufficient.

As creatures, we can never be completely on our own. Our lives will
always be associated with our Creator who has given us not only
certain things, but our very own existence which he will always
maintain. Otherwise, we would cease to exist.

And since, as creatures, we have been made in God’s image and
likeness, endowed with a spiritual soul, we are expected to live our
life for all eternity also, and not just for a time. We have the
power, with God’s grace, to transcend our material and temporal

We have to realize in fact that all these resources that we may happen
to possess come from God and can only be used properly with him and
never without him. Thus, St. Paul tells us clearly: “Whether you eat
or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1
Cor 10,31) This is the attitude proper to us.

This kind of attitude would certainly require a radical spirit of
humility, of self-denial, which actually is what would bring out our
true dignity. Let’s remember what Christ has been telling us
repeatedly. “Whoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled, and he that
shall humble himself shall be exalted.” (Mt 23,12) Let’s realize that
this is precisely the divinely mandated way to gain our greatness.

This was the way Christ himself lived his life here on earth. His
total self-abasement by dying on the cross, obeying the will of the
Father and out of love for us, resulted in his resurrection, our
redemption, the coming of the Holy Spirit and many other things.

And Christ wants us to follow him, because he is “the way, the truth
and the life” for us. He is supposed to be the vine to whom we, as
branches, should be attached if we want to be what we ought to be.

We need to meditate on these words and start to make the necessary
adjustments in our attitudes and, in fact, in our whole lifestyle. I
am sure we have a lot to dismantle, purify and cultivate. Let’s not be
blinded by the many passing earthly forms of joys and pleasures that
would diverge us from the true path of our true joy.

We need to look more closely into our personal temperaments and
character, the different conditionings that somehow influence the way
we are—cultural, social, historical, etc.—and see what need to be
adjusted so as to effect in us the attitude of always relying on God
even as we try to be responsible personally in all our actions.

Not even our so-called brilliant accomplishments, no matter how
personally we feel we have attained them, should make us think we can
just be on our own. Our persistent problem is actually our tendency to
feel self-sufficient, a tendency that often is reinforced by our
cultural and social conditionings.

We have to learn how to do battle against these conditionings. This,
of course, is not going to be easy. That’s why, Christ told us to be
insistent. “Ask, and it shall be given you. Seek, and you shall find.
Knock, and it shall be opened to you.” (Mt 7,7)

We have to acquire the attitude of a persistent beggar. Such attitude
is never demeaning to our dignity. It is actually what is expected of
us. Relevant to this is that episode of that Gentile woman who
approached Christ begging for a cure for her daughter who was
possessed by the devil. (cfr Mk 7,25-30)

Despite being rebuffed at first if only to test her, she continued
begging Christ, even making smart justifications for her persistence.
Christ was impressed with her determination and so, he told her: “For
this saying, go your way, the devil is gone out of your daughter.”

We have to learn to beg God for all our needs!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The pastoral spirit

WE all need to develop this pastoral spirit or some sense of the
pastoral. I am afraid a great majority of the people, even among
so-called devout Catholics, are still not quite clear about what this
sense of the pastoral means.

To many, pastoral can mean that quaint atmosphere of rural places
marked by stillness and serenity, simple living and the like. Others
may understand it as something that has to do with shepherds, and
that’s getting close to what is being meant here, since the pastoral
spirit has to do with caring and guiding.

But since we hardly have sheep and shepherds here in our country, the
word, ‘pastoral,’ barely registers in our culture. And so we need to
know more about it, since to be pastoral means a certain awareness
that we form one sheepfold with Christ as the good shepherd.

In a sense, each Christian believer is both shepherd and sheep. It’s a
truth of faith that a Christian faithful has to conform himself as
much as possible to Christ, and therefore has to care for others. He
has to have the mind and heart of Christ. But that role also requires
him to be a sheep to be guided by the Good Shepherd. Otherwise, he
would not be a good shepherd to others.

The sense of the pastoral actually refers to all the activities of the
Church that are meant for the salvation of mankind. When one is said
to be pastoral in his ways and lifestyle, it means he is very much
engaged in the salvific activities of the Church. And these activities
can be many, even endless.

Truth is we are all meant to be pastoral if we have to be consistent
to our identity as Christian believers. We cannot help but be involved
in the continuing work of salvation now carried out by the Church as
mandated by Christ.

One of the things that we have to dismantle from our mind is the
belief that the pastoral activity in the Church is exclusive only to
the clergy. No. Everyone has a share of this pastoral duty, though it
is exercised in different ways.

Obviously the formation and training related to this duty is to be
carried out first of all by the clergy who are precisely conformed to
Christ as head of the Church, but the goal is for everyone, especially
the laity, to be involved.

The differences among the various faithful in the Church, whether
clerics, lay or consecrated religious persons, are meant to form an
organic body where the principles of solidarity, complementarity and
subsidiarity and the common good would be at play.

And the reason for this is that everyone has the same vocation to
sanctity and to the apostolate, and as such share a common
responsibility before God and one another.

This is really a big challenge in the Church. Even among clerics,
developing this pastoral spirit can be demanding, since many factors
can work against it. There will always be, for example, the danger of
falling into being merely administrative and bureaucratic in the
clerics’ ministry.

Then other factors like laziness, narrow-mindedness and bigotry, undue
attachments to worldly things, etc., can hinder clerics to give their
all in their pastoral work. There’s also the great need for continuing
formation so that we priests can really have the mind and heart of
Christ, knowing what to say, what to do in any situation.

In short, we should have a global picture of the duty and mission to
continue with the redemptive work of Christ, from beginning to end,
and not get stuck in one level or aspect of the pastoral work.

There’s, of course, some specialization and distribution of
assignments, given the enormity of the responsibility and the
practical conditions of each priest, but this specialization should
not undermine the pursuit of the entire and universal pastoral

The challenge is even bigger on the part of the laity. Even in our
country that is known, thanks be to God, for its vibrant popular
piety, how many among the laymen, including the supposedly cream of
the crop, are aware, let alone, are putting into practice in an
abiding way this sense of the pastoral?

I would say, not many. Of course, it’s heartwarming to know that more
and more laymen are getting into the act, but a lot still needs to be
done for the active lay faithful to be competent, consistent and
persevering in their pastoral duties.

We should make an active campaign to promote this pastoral spirit
among everyone, priests, laity and the consecrated religious men and

Reviving the catechism

MANY of us may still remember the catechisms that we studied and tried
to memorize in our grade school and high school. The usual memory we
have of those days is that of simply rattling off what was memorized
if only to pass the quizzes and long tests. But understanding what was
said or written, and much less, living them, was another story.

Obviously, when we were freed of the requirement or when no exams
threatened our comfortable life, we did not bother anymore to open it.
And yet I must say that some remnants of those memorized points
lingered and would come to life from time to time.

We may explain the phenomenon as simply a matter of our psychological
or emotional conditionings, or some social or purely random factors.
But neither should we discount the possibility that through those
returning catechism points the Holy Spirit is trying his best to enter
into our consciousness, practically begging us to listen to him.

This is actually what is proper of the Holy Spirit in relation to us.
He always intervenes in our life, often in ways we are not aware of.
Obviously, we need to be more aware of this reality and start to
correspond to it more adequately.

And that can mean that we need to give more due attention to the
importance of the catechism, among other things. It is the compendium
of all the doctrine of our faith that articulates in some systematic
way the entire mind and will of God for us. So, if we are interested
to know the global mind of God, the catechism is a good instrument.

We have to remember that as image and likeness of God, and as children
of his, we are expected to have the mind of God also. His knowledge
and wisdom about everything, his desires and designs for us and for
the world should somehow be also ours. He shares all these with us,
and we should try our best to receive them and live by them.

That, I believe, is what the catechism is and what it is meant for.
It’s not just some little book, or sometimes a thick book as in the
case now of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that bombards us
with points to memorize or, at least, to be familiar with. It has a
very strategic role to play in our Christian life.

The catechism puts together in some organic way the salient points of
the sources of our faith—sacred scripture, tradition, citations from
fathers, doctors and other saints of the Church and Church
magisterium. And it has been made by people with both authority and
competence. It is not just a personal project of some individuals or
private institutions.

Thus, reading and studying it, meditating on it and putting it into
practice is like having a living encounter with Christ who is the
fullness of divine revelation. It certainly would help us to live our
life with Christ in the Holy Spirit. In that light, it is to be
considered as necessary and always relevant to us. It can never be

The catechism may not give us the technical answers to our questions,
the practical solutions to our problems, but it certainly will give us
the proper way or spirit with which we have to tackle these questions,
issues, problems, etc., that we will have in life.

It helps us to refer everything to God, making them acquire a
spiritual and supernatural value which in the end is what matters in
our life, because even in our worst scenarios when we commit mistakes
and suffer failures, all that would still be good for us as long as
they are referred to God in the spiritual and supernatural way.

We need to promote the abiding study of the catechism in homes,
schools, parishes, even in offices and other public places. Whatever
event or situation we may be in, some points of the catechism should
somehow be put to the fore, no matter show briefly or casually they
are made.

We also have to understand that the study of the catechism actually
invites us to a lifelong effort to know and incarnate it more and more
in our lives. We can never say enough to that effort, thinking that we
have already mastered it.

The study of the catechism encourages us to probe more deeply and
extensively the breadth and length of our faith which can lend itself
to limitless considerations without losing consistency. This is going
to be an on-going, lifelong affair.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Marriage redefined?

US President Barack Obama came out of the closet sometime ago and
announced that he is for same-sex marriage. He said that was the
conclusion of his long period of “evolving.”

Many political observers, however, say that he originally was for it,
then against it, then was reconsidering, and then finally is for it
again. They say this flip-flopping is a reaction of a political animal
to changing political conditions.

Well, we know how this stance is called in our country.
“Weather-weather lang ni, bai.” To a certain extent, this attitude is
valid given the temporal nature and autonomous character of politics.

But when used indiscriminately, it can enter into forbidden territory
as when it is applied on matters of faith and morals, and on the fixed
nature of things. And I am afraid this is what is happening in this
present issue.

Marriage is not a political issue that has to be defined, and its
problems resolved, solely or mainly in a political way. Marriage has a
universal, immutable nature, applicable to all of us regardless of
race, gender and whatever condition we may be in. When nature of
things is involved, we just accept it, we don’t redefine it.

Marriage simply has to be a stable relationship between a man and a
woman, because it involves a love that entails the use of sex whose
primary purpose is procreation before it provides pleasure and other
benefits to the couples concerned.

That’s simply the nature of sex and marriage. It is not a religious
imposition, but rather a result of careful, comprehensive metaphysical
study of the matter. If we pursue this study thoroughly, then we will
arrive at the conclusion that marriage in itself has properties of
exclusivity, unity and indissolubility.

Of course, people can have varying understanding of the nature of sex
and marriage, and so we just have to undertake a continuing
discussion, clarification and formation. The government should also
feel the duty to do this. This is everyone’s responsibility.

But we just cannot stop at the level of
“that-is-your-stand-and-this-is-mine,” since the issue at hand is not
a matter of opinion or personal preferences. It binds everyone to
conform to this nature of sex and marriage, in a way that should be
more forceful than the binding quality of our tax and traffic laws.

Ironically, the latter laws on taxes and traffic are more strictly
pursued than our marriage laws. It seems we are now having the wrong
priorities, the wrong emphasis on our varied concerns.

I was shocked when I heard President Obama’s reasons for supporting
same-sex marriage. They had the usual rationalizing taste of the
tolerance bit. It’s a reasoning that has overreached its purpose,
trying to go to a bridge too far.

This alibi about tolerance, while it has its merits, should not be the
only, much less, the primary consideration to make especially in
issues like marriage. There are many other more fundamental and
indispensable considerations that precede it.

Obama was quoted as saying: “No matter who you love or what God you
worship, you can still pursue happiness—I will support you every step
of the way."

So, if one happens to love an animal in a sexual way, he is free to
marry it, and bestiality can now be elevated to the level of marriage?
Or if one happens to fall in love with his own sister, or his own
brother, he can also marry her or him, and incest can be marriage?

Anything is always possible with man. That’s why we need laws based on
some absolute truths to guide and educate us.

Or if one happens to believe in violence and terrorism as his own God,
it would just be ok? The words of Obama did not include any qualifier
as to who can be the object and God of one’s love and devotion.

I may be exaggerating and blowing out of proportion Obama’s words, but
these words certainly give us a direction that, in their most lenient
interpretation, can be considered as potentially dangerous.

There are things that we can not and should not tamper. Marriage is
one of them. Everything has to be done to strengthen it. Those who
violate them, while we always have to be charitable and fair, should
be dealt with clearly, and even strongly.

I have no problem with gays. I know many of them and they are
excellent persons, workers and friends. But let’s not call what is
wrong, right, and bad, good, just because we are friends.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

To be legal is not enough

WHILE in some reunion recently with former college
classmates and colleagues at work during my pre-priesthood years when
I myself was active in the professional field, I was struck by one of
the comments I heard in our conversations.

            A friend who is also an economist mentioned that the
different ways many Western governments took to tackle the global
economic crisis that started sometime in 2008, taken from both the
capitalistic and socialist models, could not adequately resolve the
problem because they just relied on certain laws and policies
prevailing in their respective countries at that time.

            Many of these political and economic leaders are
discovering that it takes more than just following purely economic and
civil laws to resolve the problem in a way that could be considered
most fair.

            I have always believed that merely following articulated
laws or man-made laws, whether in business or in our life in society
in general, would not be enough, since these laws would always be in
need with the proper spirit for them to be as they should be.

            These laws, at best, can only give some kind of guideline.
They dispose us to the ways of truth, charity, justice. But they
cannot by themselves achieve those goals unless they are animated by
the real source of truth, charity and justice which can only be God,
our creator and Father.

            At best, they can somehow regulate the external aspects of
a given problem or situation but are quite silent on the internal
aspects. They can be good in sanctioning the macro dimensions of our
economy or political life, but are again very tentative in the micro

            These laws and policies cannot function on their own. They
need a deeper foundation, a terra firma that in the end could only be
God and his laws and standards. It’s the hesitation or even aversion
to put God in the core of our legal systems that would somehow pervert
our laws and policies even if they are formulated with the best of

            When crafted, developed and lived independently of God or
when pursued outside a loving and faithful relationship with God,
these laws can easily be manipulated to suit one’s self-interest at
the expense of the common good. They would miss the finer points of
ethics and morals so crucial in our life, personal and social, here on

            And in that set-up, it would always be the more powerful,
in terms of wealth, fame, talents, etc., who would dominate and tend
to exploit the others. Their authority, which is supposed to be a
sharing of the authority of God, would be used not to give glory to
God and to serve others, but more to give glory to themselves and to
be served by others. In short, there is always the tendency for people
to abuse their authority.

            In that set-up, what are often excluded, deliberately or
unintentionally, would be the elements of mercy and compassion, the
need for sacrifice, detachments from things and others that are
necessary and at the same time unavoidable in our life here on earth.

            It is a set-up that is blind to these things and is prone
to follow the law of the jungle or the law of Talion that usually
caters to the baser instincts of men and hardly goes beyond them. The
higher values of faith and morals are disregarded, if not frowned

            The requirements of our moral and spiritual life, so
inalienable in us that even in our mundane activities like business
and politics they are always relevant, are often unmet if not totally

            It is a set-up that tends to give a knee-jerk reaction to
things at the expense of a more comprehensive attitude. It is often
taken up by the passion and the excitement of the here-and-now and is
quite subjective at the expense of a longer and more objective view of

            We need to overcome the fear or whatever bias we have
regarding the need to involve God in our human affairs. We cannot say
that just because what we are doing are purely business or politics,
God should not be involved.

            While it’s true that there is a certain legitimate
autonomy in our temporal affairs, it does not mean that God has
nothing to do with them. Yes, we need to uphold that autonomy and
should not unduly mix God and religion in living out those affairs,
but it does not mean that God is not the beginning and end of these