Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The missionary today

SOME drastic updating of our understanding of what a
missionary is, is now in order. We should not get stuck with the
common, textbook idea that a missionary is usually a priest or nun who
goes to a far-away place, and literally starts a settlement there.

            While this concept of a missionary is still valid—it will
always be—it now cries to be expanded to reflect its true character,
especially given today’s dynamic and more complicated world.

            We have to understand that everyone, by virtue of his
sheer humanity and much more, his Christianity, is called to be a
missionary, and that he does not need to go to distant lands because
his immediate environment already needs a more effective,
down-to-earth evangelization.

            Yes, even the ordinary guy in an office, the farmer, the
businessman, the politician, the entertainers, artists and athletes,
are called to be missionaries. That’s simply because as persons with a
prominently social dimension in our life, we have to be responsible
for one another.

            And the biggest responsibility we can have for the others
would be their moral and spiritual welfare, much more than just their
economic or social wellbeing. It is this responsibility that we have
to learn how to be more serious about and more competent in
fulfilling. This is the current situation and challenge to all of us.

            And so we have to reconcile ourselves with the reality
that we actually have to be missionaries right where we are. In fact,
I would say that to go to the deserts of Africa or the forests and
rivers of Brazil could be far easier to do, since in these places we
only have to contend more with physical and material difficulties.

            The people in these isolated areas may exhibit primitive
violent attitudes, but their minds and hearts can easily be converted
by simple and elemental gestures of goodness. This has always been the
experience of missionaries who went to these places.

            It’s rather in the paved jungles of the big cities
inhabited by very sophisticated people immersed in very worldly things
where the more demanding kind of missionary work is needed.

            In these places, the people tend to be so confined to
their own world, already made beautiful and comfortable by the new
technologies, such that any talk about spiritual and supernatural
realities, especially about prayer, sacrifice and the need for the
sacraments, could easily fall on deaf ears.

            These urban dwellers may not openly profess atheism or
agnosticism. They can even show many acts of piety, and can even show
off some good work. And this is the more difficult part, precisely
because with that condition they can think they are already ok insofar
as religion is concerned.

            But it is quite clear that their minds and hearts are not
with God, nor with the others. When scrutinized, their behavior can
indicate clear traces of pragmatism motivated not so much by love for
God or for others as by self-love.

            Thus, they find it hard to resist temptations and can
easily fall into sin, though most of the time the sins are internal
and hidden. But precisely that hidden condition can lend itself to
more complications, developed in a gradual and steady way, since the
need for correction would hardly be felt.

            This can lead to a slow and imperceptible desensitizing of
consciences. The signs of complacency, lukewarmness and mediocrity
readily appear. The taste for prayer and sacrifice starts to
disappear. And worse stages can come later, as in total loss of faith
and open opposition to God.

            We have to be wary of the gathering forces of earthly
things, as typified by the accelerating inflow of new technologies,
that can harden people’s vulnerabilities, and lead them to find
rationalizations for this predicament.

            As today’s missionaries, we have to do battle in this kind
of arena. In the words of Pope Paul VI, we have to “reach and as it
were overturn with the force of the Gospel the standards of judgments,
the interests, the thought-patterns, the sources of inspiration and
lifestyles in contrast with the word of God and his plan for
salvation.”

            As today’s missionaries, we cannot remain with a shallow
and partial understanding of our faith. Much less can we be left with
an anemic spiritual life. We need to be vibrant and strong,
knowledgeable not only with the faith, but with the practical ways of
the men and the world today.

            As so many saints have testified, as today’s missionaries,
we cannot be any other than another Christ, if not Christ himself!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Loving with Christ’s love

THIS, for sure, is no fantasy, or some exaggerated desire,
completely gratuitous or with no basis. This, in fact, is what Christ
has commanded us: “Love one another as I have loved you.” (Jn 13,34)
And I don’t think he would give us that commandment without enabling
us to follow it.

            For his part, everything is given for us to be able to
love as we are commanded. In the first place, Christ is the God made
man who shows us the fullness of love which is the very essence of
God, just as St. John said, “God is love.” (1 Jn 4,8)

            Christ shows us the kind of love that has to contend with
our human condition that is wounded and weakened by sin. It is the
kind of love that knows how to deal with sin in its many forms and in
its consequences.

            It’s a love that knows how to forgive, even to the point
of assuming our sinfulness, willing to die for us even when we are
still in the state of sin and have not yet asked for forgiveness. St.
Paul attests to this when he said: “God demonstrates his own love
toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us...”
(Rom 5,8)

            It’s a love that covers even one’s own enemies. “Love your
enemies,” Christ said, “and pray for those who persecute you, so that
you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven who causes his sun to
rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the
unrighteous.” (Mt 5,44).

            In short, it’s a universal love, for he came to save all,
as St. Paul again testified: “He desires all men to be saved and to
come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one
mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself
as a ransom for all...” (1 Tim 2,4-5)

            This is the kind of love that we ought to have for one
another, as Christ has shown it to us. It’s both easy and hard to do.
Easy, because God’s grace will always be available to us, and as we
have been saying, we are actually equipped with our spiritual
faculties of intelligence and will more than our physical powers to do
this.

            It’s, of course, also hard, because we really have to
contend with our human frailties that will always be with us, not to
mention, the effects of sin that make us proud, arrogant and resistant
to the impulses of grace.

            We need to broaden our understanding of love, and to
vitally link it with the love of God that is always made available
through the Holy Spirit and the many instrumentalities in the Church.

            We have to be wary of limiting our love to sentimentalism,
or to make it address only the material and natural needs of others.
We have to go beyond that level, and enter into the level of the
spiritual and the supernatural, for that is where the true and
ultimate good is for us.

            In short, we have to bring Christ to others. But to do
that, we need to have Christ ourselves. In fact, we need to be another
Christ, “alter Christus,” because only then can we bring and give
Christ to others, and fulfil the Christ’s new commandment to love as
he himself has loved us.

            This would definitely require all-out and constant effort.
Our weaknesses are many, and sometimes latent, hidden and unknown.
Temptations abound. Spiritual and moral traps and snares practically
make a minefield of our life.

            But as long as we pray, are humble enough to acknowledge
our weakness and act on the temptations and the sins that we may
commit, are sincere in our contrition and generous in our atonement
and reparation, we should not fear about being unable to love as
Christ loves us.

            We need to continually rectify our intentions, and little
by little overcome the fear of sacrifice and the cross that love
always entails. In fact, when we encounter them, let’s be happy since
we would be given the occasion to develop and grow in the love that
Christ is showing us.

            We don’t have to wait for big and extraordinary events to
develop this love. Our small daily duties are good enough to cultivate
this love of Christ. That ultimate expression of love that Christ
showed us through his passion and death, may just be dramatized in our
bedroom, when we choose God instead of ourselves—our lust, our greed,
etc.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Living the written word

THIS is the challenge all of us have to face and tackle.
How do we turn the written word of God into the living word that it is
and should be?

            For sure, the word of God is not just a set of letters,
nor an idea, nor a stream of thought, no matter how brilliant they
are. It is nothing less than the Son of God, the second person of the
Blessed Trinity who is the self-knowledge of God himself, perfect,
alive and consubstantial with the Father and the Holy Spirit, all of
whom form one God.

            This truth of our Christian faith may still be confined
and languishing in some ivory tower, but we have to understand that it
is meant for all of us, and not just to priests, nuns, monks and other
consecrated persons. God’s Word (this time with a capital W) is, in
fact, the very pattern of our creation, through whom everything is
made.

            In our case, that is, the case of man, since we have been
made in God’s image and likeness and therefore somehow aware and
responsible for our own continuing creation, he is sent by the Father
to perfect and complete our creation with us cooperating in it.

            This perfecting and completing of our creation in Christ
involves the re-doing or retreading of our nature wounded by the mess
we have made with the abuse of our freedom. Christ is the Word who
became man to save us, to bring us back to where we really belong, to
offer us the way to recover our lost dignity and reunite us with God.

            Christ did this ultimately through his passion, death and
resurrection that summarized all that he said and did to save us, and
now made alive and always available to us through the Spirit.

            This Spirit is now what animates the Church that Christ
established. The Spirit makes Christ alive and transmits him vitally
to the people of God that is the Church mainly through the sacraments,
especially the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

            But the Spirit also transmits the living Christ through
the one faith that is authoritatively taught by the hierarchy headed
by the Pope and the bishops, successors of Peter and the apostles who
were made by Christ as the rock and the pillars of the Church.

            This is where the written word of God, or the Sacred
Scripture or the Bible, comes to the picture. Together with the living
tradition and the power of the Magisterium or teaching office of the
Church occupied by the Pope and the bishops, the Sacred Scripture is
where we have this faith articulated.

            But we have to understand that the Bible, especially the
gospel part, is not just a written record of the past. Since it
involves Jesus, who is God and man, who is forever alive and
redemptive and perfective of us, the Bible just cannot be considered
like another book that has a shelf life or expiration date.

            The Bible will always be relevant to us as can be gleaned
in these words of the Letter to the Hebrews: “The word of God is
living and effectual, and more piercing than any two-edge sword, and
reaching unto the division of the soul and the spirit, of the joints
also and the marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of
the heart.” (4,12)

            Our attitude toward the Bible, especially the gospel part,
should be that it is not just a written word, but a living word.
Reading it is listening to Christ in real time. That happens when we
read it properly.

            Through the ages, saints and holy men and women have
developed the techniques of converting the written word into the
living word of God. One such method is called the “lectio divina,”
that involves several stages.

            There’s the “lectio,” which means reading, so we know what
the biblical text say in itself. Then “mediatio,” which asks: what
does the text say to me? Then comes “oratio,” or prayer, which is what
we say to God in response to his word.

            As consequences, we have “contemplatio,” which involves a
conversion to conform our outlook to God’s vision of reality. Then
lastly, “actio,” which should move us to make our life a gift for
others in charity.

            The “lectio divina” is just one method among many other
possibilities for making the written word the living word of God. It
also has to be done within the context of the Church’s faith,  liturgy
and life itself.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Our ultimate freedom

WE have to understand this very well. We have been regaled
through the years with all sorts of ideas and definitions of freedom.
Nowadays, there even are complex ideologies with their corresponding
cultures, structures and lifestyles to support these varied concepts.

            We have ideas of freedom from liberalism, capitalism,
socialism, communism, hedonism, feminism, environmentalism, stoicism,
deism, etc. They always contain some grain of truth and render some
amount of good that is more or less practical, whether personal,
social, political, economic, etc.

            But we have to remind ourselves first that freedom is not
self-generated. We did not invent it ourselves. We did not give it to
ourselves nor is it something that totally depends on us as to how to
understand and live it.

            Understanding and living freedom that way is bound to lead
us to trouble, because it would be a freedom that would not capture
all the requirements of the dignity of man. Such condition would only
frustrate us in our deeper yearnings, if not put us on the road of
conflict with others.

            It would be a freedom that would not understand the
reality of sin, pain, forgiveness, charity, etc. It would be a freedom
that would not understand the necessity for the cross. It would be
short-sighted freedom, given to knee-jerk reactions to things—a
freedom that does not go beyond time and space, unable to reach or
supernatural goal.

            Freedom is a gift from God, our Creator and Father. It is
a sharing with us of his own goodness that is all summarized in love.
Since we have been made in his image and likeness and elevated to be
children of his through grace, God wants us to have what is at the
core of his being, and that is love.

            That´s why we can say that we are truly free when what we
do or choose is really what we love. It´s when we love when we can
truly say we are free. That gospel passage which says it´s truth that
makes free holds water only when what we consider truth is the object
of our love.

            Our freedom therefore has a specific substance and a law
to govern it. And that substance and law can only be the love of God
for us. It should be the love of God that should drive our freedom.
Anything else would not suffice.

            Our freedom is never an anything-goes affair. It´s not
that just because something can be done or that we can do something,
that we should feel free to do it. It would be a fatal
misunderstanding of freedom if we take freedom that way.

            Alas, this is what we are seeing these days. Many people
have appropriated to themselves as the author and giver of freedom.
They make themselves, with some help of certain philosophies and other
practical instruments, the very substance and law of freedom.

            There are now people who claim, for example, that it is
part of women´s rights  to have contraception, abortion,
sterilization, or that no one should tell them anything about whatever
they would like to do with their own bodies. They invent terms like
reproductive health and responsible parenthood that have nothing to do
with the commandments of God.

            There are now people who claim it is just right to have
same-sex union, to cheat and be unfaithful as long as one is not
caught, to be dishonest and corrupt, to engage in some dangerous
experimentations involving delicate aspects of life and parts of the
human body, etc.

            They scream that they are doing all these because they are
supposed to be free. But are they really free? Are they not being
unfairly influenced by the state of their biological, physical,
mental, psychological, emotional, social, cultural conditionings,
etc.?

            We have to understand that while these conditionings have
their due place in the exercise of our freedom, they are not supposed
to be the ultimate principle to shape and determine it. They need to
be grounded and integrated to the real source of our freedom.

            And that can only be the love of God that is revealed to
us in full by Christ and is made available to us in the Spirit through
the doctrine of our faith, the celebration of the sacraments in the
liturgy, our union with the hierarchy. This is how God wants it to
perpetuate his presence and action of love in us, which is the
substance and law of our freedom.

            We need to outgrow our misunderstanding of freedom.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The other son

THE parable of the prodigal son has a side story worth
meditating on. I believe it contains rich and very relevant lessons
for all of us to learn, especially during these that tend to lead us
to rash judgments and self-righteousness.

            It’s the story of the other son, the brother of the
prodigal son, who remained with his father and who appeared to be
faithful to him, until the wayward brother came back and somehow
caused trouble to him.

            Like this other son, we can appear good and faithful, but
sad to say, in appearance or in name only. The real goodness and
fidelity are actually absent. When a returning sinner or person in
error appears at home and is welcomed by God, our Father, that sad
reality appears too.

            More concretely, this can happen when all our interest and
eagerness for what is true and good would make us hateful of those who
are in error or in some bad state. It’s a sense of righteousness that
fails to include mercy and the cost that such mercy requires.

            This is not so with God as epitomized by Christ himself.
He is all true and good. He is the very canon of holiness. And yet
what does he do with those who go against him? There is justice and
punishment, of course. But in the end, there is mercy.

            He sent his very own Son to us. Becoming man, the Son
ultimately offered his life on the cross as a ransom for all of us.
Mercy is the prevailing divine sentiment, going beyond the demands of
justice.

            In the parable of the prodigal son, we have the consoling
thought that the errant character regretted what he did, and decided
to go back to his father, asking for forgiveness.

            But in some other parts of the gospel, we also learn that
Christ forgave those who did not even ask for forgiveness. For
example, he asked for forgiveness for those who crucified him.
“Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they are doing.” (Lk
23,34).

            St. Paul expressed this sentiment of Christ by saying,
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we
might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5,21)

            In his Letter to the Romans, he said: “God shows his love
for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” (5,7)

            It’s very important that we understand these words very
well, so that even as we ought to know and follow what is right and
avoid what is wrong, and even as we, of course, also have to comply
with the demands of justice, we still should have to go beyond these
levels, and reach the point of mercy and reconciliation.

            This is what true righteousness is. We should avoid
getting stuck at the level of justice alone, which in our human ways
can never reach the justice of God that includes his mercy.

            This was the problem with the other son, the brother of
the prodigal son. He got stuck with his human concept of justice. And
so the father, who in this parable is the image of God, had to tell
him:

            “Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine
is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of
yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been
found.” (Lk 15,31-32)

            This is not going to be easy, of course. Christ himself
said that if any person wants to follow him, “he must deny himself,
and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Lk 9,23)

            Our human justice is usually stuck with the merely
punitive. That it redresses the wrong done is more incidental than
anything. That it is restorative and medicinal to both the victim and
the guilty party can only be at best accidental.

            We need to have the justice of God, which can only happen
when we would completely identify ourselves with Christ and do the
revolutionary thing of denying ourselves and carrying the cross. Short
of this, we can only be like the other son of the parable of the
prodigal son.

            We have to be careful that in our pursuit for what is
true, good, fair in our dealings with others, we don’t fall into our
own self-righteousness, missing the righteousness that is of God. The
former avoids the cross. The latter requires it.

            We have to understand then that the cross is necessary in
our life, both in good times and in bad.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Discretion

THAT’S truth set in charity, something that we always need
to aim at and live as much as possible, especially now when
communication has practically gone ballistic. Without discretion we
can be talking and writing volumes, even get into information overload
with impressive style and eloquence, but still fail to hit the truth.
And instead of generating constructive charity, we breed division,
alienation, destruction.

            St. Paul already told us about this. “Speaking in truth in
love,” he said, “we are to grow up in every way into him who is the
head, into Christ…” (Eph 4,15) We have to be quick to see and
appreciate the vital connection between speaking the truth in love and
growing into Christ.

            These pairs cannot be separated—the couple of truth and
charity, as well as that of truth and charity on the one hand and
Christ on the other. Focusing on one without the other would prove
both parties false and dangerous.

            We have to understand what discretion truly entails. It’s
not just about being quiet, and staying away from some controversies
and issues. It’s not meant to be a passive or merely reactive virtue.
It can be very pro-active. It can take a lot of initiatives.

            It can happen that both truth and charity may demand that
we talk and defend a certain point even at the cost of being unpopular
and hated. And when certain truths that are absolutely necessary to be
known by all are hidden or distorted, discretion precisely would
dictate that we bring them out into the open vigorously. As St. Paul
would say, “to preach the word in season and out of season.” (2 Tim
4,2)

            Discretion is a matter of knowing what to say and what
not, and when to say something and when not. It is a capacity that
does not depend alone on what we see and hear, nor how we feel. It
does not even depend solely on what we understand, no matter how
brilliant our understanding of things may be.

            Discretion needs a deeper and firmer foundation. And this
is nothing other than a vital and intimate relationship with Christ
who clearly told us that he is “the way, the truth and the life.”

            Without this footing, we would be at the mercy of our
senses and feelings alone, that can only capture so much of reality,
usually the externals only, and are easily prone to fall into
distortions and the blinding colors of our personal and social biases,
preferences and malice. Without this footing, we would be in a
roller-coaster ride of our reasoning, not knowing exactly where or how
to end.

            That’s why we can have a proliferation of gossips, often
totally baseless and ridiculous as well as harmful and destructive.
Opinions become dogmas, and usually editorialized or presented as news
report. Positions that only have relative value or affect only some
individuals are absolutized and presented as good and necessary for
everyone.

            There are views that even the faintest of common sense can
already detect as shameless spins. Commentators, who paint themselves
as fair and objective, use facts and data to serve particular
interests rather than the common good. That’s called cherry picking.

            All kinds of fallacies, non-sequiturs and outright bashing
and fault-finding are not spared. Flatteries, tendentious surveys,
sensationalism are often employed.

            And many other diversionary and deceptive tactics are used
by the so-called spin doctors. If you want to get into a minefield of
all these shenanigans, you read political commentaries.

            We need to remind ourselves about the necessity of
discretion in our life and to learn the pertinent art. We have to
distinguish, for example, between what is a matter of faith and morals
that should be held absolute, and a matter of opinion that at best can
only have relative value.

            No matter how strongly we feel about them, there is no
excuse in being disagreeable when upholding and defending our
position. We can be forceful and yet continue to be charitable,
delicate and refined. For this, we also need to know about human
psychology.

            Even in our sharpest disputes, we can and should remain
courteous. And when one party is clearly defeated in an argument, he
should not feel bad, while the other should be magnanimous.

            Discretion is a manifestation of maturity, of our vital
union with God, a proof that we have mastered our thoughts, emotions
and our tongue, and have put them at the instance of our faith, hope
and charity.


            A lot of practice is needed to gain this virtue, very
crucial in our times.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Stir up hunger and thirst for Christ

THIS we have to deliberately do. We cannot and should not
expect that this hunger and thirst would just come about
automatically, as if it is going to be physically felt and
biologically dictated. This is a spiritual hunger and thirst that
needs the impulses of our faith, the dynamics of grace and the
cooperation of our spiritual faculties.

            On the part of God, he is already giving us all that we
need to have this hunger and thirst be felt by us. His grace is made
available in abundance. Even when we are in the state of sin, that
grace is there. “Where sin has abounded,” St. Paul said, “grace has
abounded even more.” (Rom 5,20) And so, instead of running away from
Christ because of our sin, we should be more drawn to him.

            Besides, the whole mystery of God, if properly
appreciated, can never quench our hunger and thirst for him. We can
never know him and love him enough. And that state, instead of making
us indifferent to him, should continually spur our desire for him.

            It’s just how we react to all this goodness of God that we
need to train ourselves properly. And this can mean cultivating that
spiritual hunger and thirst for him that should be with us all the
time.

            We need to pause and reflect on this truth of our faith,
so that we can be more aware of it, and more importantly, would know
how to act accordingly. We really would need to spend time knowing him
more by praying, studying and meditating on God’s word, cultivating a
certain fondness for him, having regular recourse to the sacraments,
etc.

            We have to be wary of the many factors that tend to deaden
our appetite for God by replacing it with merely earthly appetites. We
all know that the inordinate fascination for worldly pleasures, be it
in food and drinks, sex, sports, entertainment, etc., can easily
dominate us. Thus, we need to be properly guarded.

            That’s why Christ told us that if we want to follow him,
we need to deny ourselves and carry the cross. It’s not that we have
no right to have these earthly pleasures. We can have them as long as
they are legitimately and morally resorted to, that is, they begin and
end with God, giving glory to him, our Father and Creator, which is
what we are all supposed to be doing all the time.

            We have to be wary of how we are exercising our freedom,
because we have the tendency to abuse it, using it at the impulses of
our selfishness rather than giving glory to God and loving others.

            St. Paul already warned about this. “You, my brothers and
sister, were called to be free,” he said. “But do not use your freedom
to indulge the flesh. Rather, serve one another humbly in love.” (Gal
5,13)

            St. Peter made a similar warning. “Live as free people,”
he said, “but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil.” (1 Pt
2,16)

            We need to frequently ask ourselves about how we are using
our freedom to see if it is serving the law proper to it, that is, to
give glory to God and to serve others. In these times, many things
work to compromise the proper exercise of our freedom. We should be
more adept in handling this particular aspect of our life.

            What should ideally happen with the use of our freedom is
that our desire and appetite for God and for others is always whetted,
not diminished, when we are handling our legitimate temporal affairs,
whether it be about money, politics and the other things that give us
some degree of pleasure.

            We are actually facing a tremendous challenge, since the
current dominant world culture is precisely held captive by merely
earthly things and values. The more important spiritual and
supernatural things and values are, at best, held as optional, not a
necessity.

            The task at hand is to instill little by little the sense
of the spiritual and supernatural in everyone, starting with those
close to us—the family, friends, relatives, colleagues, etc.—so that
the appetite for God is not compromised, but rather fostered and
enhanced, protected and defended.

            We have to wean everyone from being overly dependent on
earthly and temporal things that at best only have a relative and
passing value. But first, let us make Christ really known and erase
the false images of him, so everyone would find it natural to have
hunger and thirst for him.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Conflicts should occasion greater charity

CHARITY, of course, has to be lived always, but especially
when we find ourselves in conflicts.

We have to learn to see Christ in everyone, including those with whom
we may have serious differences or are in conflict. We have to go
beyond seeing others in a purely human way without, of course,
neglecting the human and natural in us.

            In short, we have to see others in a spiritual way, within
the framework of faith, hope and charity. Otherwise we cannot avoid
getting entangled in our limited and conflict-prone earthly condition.
And no amount of human justice and humanitarianism can fully resolve
this predicament.

            Thus, we need to develop and hone our skills of looking at
others beyond the merely physical, social, economic, cultural or
political way. While these aspects are always to be considered, we
should not be trapped by them.

            There are many reasons for this. First would be that we
are all brothers and sisters, created by God in his image and
likeness, and made children of his through his grace.

            In spite of our differences—race, culture, beliefs,
etc.—we are meant to care and love one another. Thus, our Lord told us
to “love your neighbour as I have loved you.” (Jn 13,34)

            And how did Christ love us? By becoming man and assuming
all our sinfulness, dying to it to give us a new life in him. His love
was for everyone, and especially for those who were weak and
handicapped not so much in the physical sense as in the moral sense.

            That’s why he was close to the sinners, fraternizing with
them. He would only show his dislike to those who were self-righteous.
Just the same, he loved all as proven by the fact that before dying on
the cross, he asked forgiveness from his Father for those who
crucified him.

            We have to expand and deepen our attitudes towards others.
Are we willing to think always of them, keenly observant of how they
are? Are we moved to pray for them and to leap to their assistance
when the opportunity comes?

            Our problem is that we tend to think always of ourselves,
and our view of the others is mainly shaped by purely human motives
that cannot reach the level of charity.

            Let’s remember that as St. Paul said, we have to “bear
each other’s burdens.” (Gal 6,2) Do we have that kind of outlook? Are
we quick to help others even to the point of inconveniencing
ourselves?

            We have to start dismantling attitudes, habits and
practices that keep us imprisoned in our own world, mistakenly
thinking that these actually would make us happy or are good for us.

            These past days I had had the luck of meeting simple
people who are thinking only of others. I did not hear any negative
remark from them about anyone, and frankly, I felt so good talking to
them. It was a joy to be with them.

            Our problem is that we tend to just gossip and gossip, our
mouth and tongue quite on their own with hardly any supervision from a
higher agency in our system. We are also affected by our prejudices
and biases. Of course, we tend to forget charity when we encounter
sharp differences with others.

            We have to follow the example of Christ who tried to find
something good even in those who were doing wrong. For example, one
time he told his disciples to continue observing what their religious
leaders taught them, but not to follow their example, because they do
not practice what they preach. (cfr Mt 23,2)

            He made that distinction between what was taught and what
was practiced, and did not lump up the right teaching with the wrong
practice. We should be quick to find the right and the good things
that can go together with the bad and wrong things.

            Even with handling of dishonest money, he showed goodness
of heart. Christ recommended that we “make friends with dishonest
money,” so that when it fails we can still be welcomed to heaven. (cfr
Lk 16,9)

            It’s not that we ought to foster dishonesty, but rather to
learn how to make do and make use of evil things in this world to do
good. This conclusion can be gleaned from the fact that our Lord
summarized the whole episode by saying, “No servant can serve two
masters...You cannot serve God and mammon.”

            We need to be pro-active in seeing Christ in everyone and
in eliciting true charity when we relate to them, regardless of the
circumstances.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Balancing tolerance and intolerance

THAT may sound impossible, but in the world of man I
believe we just have to try our best to achieve it. I believe there is
actually a chance for this, a basis for its feasibility. Our spiritual
nature, if grounded and nourished properly, is capable to fuse
together what at first sight may look like a contradiction.

            But there’s the rub. Many of us think little of our
spiritual life. Thus, many of us do not know what it’s all about, how
it is developed, where it is to be rooted and oriented, etc. We seem
to be contented only with what we see, feel and think, or human acts
that flow mainly from our material dimension rather than the
spiritual.

            In fact, any talk about spirituality is practically
considered as taboo especially in public. If ever it has to be taken
up, then it can only be done in private, and better in whispers. This
is the underlying tragedy of our times. We seem averse to acknowledge
the reality of our spiritual nature, its corresponding needs and our
duties toward them.

            This is unfortunate because with all the confusing things
bombarding us today, we need to know how to cruise our life properly
and safely, with the destination clearly identified and not
compromised.

            For example, there are now many billboards sprouting along
our highways and main streets promoting all sorts of products but
unavoidably also promoting values that are confusing if not outright
wrong. While we have to be tolerant to our increasingly multi-layered
culture, we should also be increasingly discerning of their harmful
effects.

            We can easily see the double effects—both good and
bad—when it comes to some products like junk food, cigarettes, coal
and others that have immediate harmful effects on health and ecology.
But it’s the other products—beauty, recreation, toiletries, fashion,
etc.—that pose a much trickier challenge.

            In the ads of these products, one can readily discern
vanity, arrogance, an invitation to be self-centered and frivolous, to
exaggerated pleasure and comfort seeking, to greed, lust and
unrestrained satisfaction of instincts, to pretension and hypocrisy,
etc.

            Worse, these erroneous values are now made the mainstream
elements of society. They are considered the new normal. Their
reciprocal virtues, like humility, meekness, discretion, modesty,
moderation, etc., are now the new evil.

            Consider a sampling of the slogans and taglines used:
“Gotta have that body,” “Ask for more,” “Obey your thirst,” “What you
want is what you get,” “For the pleasure of sensual living,” “When
you’ve got it, flaunt it,” “Live richly,” etc.

            Always set with titillating pictures, the slogans at least
have a double meaning that teases the viewers and makes them prone to
some invasive impertinent and incontinent thoughts and feelings.

            We’ll never know what goes inside the minds and hearts of
people, but neither can we deny that many bad things pass by there. No
state law can reach that part of our life to regulate things. We need
to be ruled by a higher and spiritual law. And that’s why we need to
strengthen our spiritual life.

            When we are remiss of our duty to take care of our
spiritual life, there’s no way to go but to further degeneration and
decadence, even if such process can be made glossy and glamorous with
a well-entrenched wrong ideology.

            A liturgical prayer captures this need of ours and
suggests a solution. It says: “Father, help us to seek the values that
will bring us eternal joy in this changing world. In our desire for
what you promise, make us one in mind and heart.”

            We have to realize more deeply that for us to cruise
properly and safely in these confusing times, we should not be afraid
or ashamed to go to Christ, who is the perfecter of our humanity, the
source of all goodness. We should disabuse ourselves from the idea
that our perfection and goodness can come from somewhere else.

            For this we need to pray and be familiar with God’s word
that in the Letter to the Hebrews is described as “living and
effectual, and more piercing than any two-edged sword, and reaching
unto the division of the soul and the spirit, of the joints also and
the marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the
heart.” (4,12)

            It is precisely when our spiritual life is nourished by
the word of God, made alive in the Church through the liturgy and the
direction of the hierarchy, that we can balance tolerance and
intolerance in our environment today. It is in this happy balance that
virtue is achieved.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The world as our path to God

GOD and the world are usually put in contrast. We are
supposed to choose one and reject the other. No in-between, much less,
both together. This can be gleaned in many parts of Scripture and
other spiritual literature.

            St. Augustine, for example, put it sharply when he said:
“Two loves built two cities - the earthly which is built by the love
of self, even to the contempt of God, and the heavenly which is built
by the love of God, even to the contempt of self."

            And that’s understandable, given the fact that the world
has absorbed the sinfulness of man, and in a way has detached itself
from God, its creator. Because of that, the world has become the seat
of all that is opposed to God.

            It follows a law that cannot connect with God. It’s a
purely material and natural law, lacking the proper spirit that it
needs to link itself with its Creator. That’s our task. We are the
ones who can give it the spirit that reconnects it with God, or,
sadly, another spirit that separates it further from him.

            This state of affairs has given rise to a certain way of
life, commonly known as the religious spirituality that considers the
world, a priori, as an enemy of God or as something to be treated with
much caution.

            The corresponding attitude that sprang from this mentality
is that of what is known as “contemptus mundi,” a certain contempt for
the world, or at least a distancing from the world.

            That’s why hermits and monks who started this lifestyle
lived in caves, deserts, mountains, etc. This was aggravated because
there was aggressive persecution against Christians in many parts of
the civilized world and in many periods of time.

            This frame of mind eventually graduated into some people
living in enclosed and isolated communities, in convents and
monasteries. It became their way of protection from the world, and of
intensifying their spiritual life and other things, like the spirit of
fraternity and the business of formation.

            When the missionary activity started, this spirituality
also heightened since the hard environment that met the missionaries
in the beginning simply forced them to live this religious lifestyle,
protected, isolated and conducive to spiritual exercises..

            But things have changed lately. With religion given
freedom to develop and grow in the world, with persecution and hostile
environment significantly diminished, this religious spirituality
somehow also waned. What is gaining strength is what is known as lay
spirituality.

            This is the spirituality of people living in the middle of
the world, who have no reason to be afraid of the world and, in fact,
are eager to stay in it, convinced that’s where they belong, where God
has put them. There they try to infuse the Christian spirit.

            It’s not exactly opposed to the religious lifestyle. It´s
just different. It simply recovers the original state of things when
the world was created good by God. It can and should lead us to God.
And even in its alienated status because of our sin, the world is
still where our Lord has placed us. It’s not something to run away
from.

            This truth about the world can somehow be discerned in
that prayer of Christ right before his passion and death. To his
Father, he said: “I pray not that you should take them out of the
world, but that you should keep them from evil. They are not of the
world, as I also am not of the world.¨ (Jn 17,15-16)

            And right at the beginning of human history, we are told:
¨God created man to his own image...And God blessed them, saying,
Increasing and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule
over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and all living
creatures...¨ (Gen 1,27-28)

            We have to learn how to find God in the world, and to
subject everything in it to God. Obviously, with the evil that has
crept into it, we need to be careful and prudent. We are told to be
¨guileless as doves and shrewd as serpents.¨

            But we have to learn to make the world our true home with
God, renewing it always to connect it with our heavenly home. This, I
think, is what is meant by the expression, ¨new heavens and a new
earth.¨

            This is in St. Peter´s second letter: ¨We look for new
heavens and a new earth according to his promises, in which justice
dwells.¨ (3,13) The world ought to be our path to God!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Be inspired and inspire

LET’S never think that to be inspired and to inspire are
reserved only to a blessed few who are endowed with special charisms
or plain luck. They are a duty we all have, since they are an integral
part of our nature. More than that, it’s a duty that Christ himself
commanded us to do: “Love one another as I have loved you.” (Jn 13,34)

            And loving, let us always remember, is first and last a
matter of inspiring, that is, of keeping, enriching, protecting,
defending and spreading the spirit of God who is love himself, before
that spirit is expressed in deeds and revealed by some external
fruits.

            We have to be more aware of the spiritual dimension of our
life and diligent in performing our duties toward it. We should
develop the proper skills to identify and act on our spiritual duties
without getting lost in our other duties and responsibilities that
pertain more to the material and earthly dimension of our life.

            To inspire is to infuse the spirit proper to us, the
spirit that gives us life and that animates our thoughts, desires,
words and actions. And that spirit is ultimately nothing other than
the spirit of God who is our Creator and Father. We need to correspond
to the spirit of God. As St. Paul said: “Do not quench the Spirit.” (1
Thes 5,19)

            Let’s always remember that it is God who keeps us in
existence according to his loving providence. It’s He, more than us,
who is responsible for our whole life. Ours is simply to cooperate as
freely and as lovingly as possible with his divine will and ways. And
this is what inspiring ourselves and others involves.

            And let’s also remember that we have to be inspired first
before we can dare to inspire others. We cannot give what we do not
have.

            We should be most aware of this wonderful truth and
correspond to it as best as we can. We should avoid trivializing the
substance of inspiring ourselves and others by reducing it to a
feel-good state only, though this may often come as a result. We have
to be wary of the many false forms of inspiring ourselves and others.

            That’s simply because inspiring others may involve
suffering, hard work, making demands on oneself, etc. In fact, these
things are unavoidable given our wounded human condition. And when
needed, we should not be afraid to go through them.

            We should not lose sight of the basic truth that God is
always in control of things no matter what happens in our life. We
always have reason to hope. An inspiration that does not include the
cross would not be authentic inspiration.

            We have to learn to inspire ourselves and others properly.
For this, we always have to start with our prayers. That’s because
inspiring ourselves and others is first of all a spiritual function
before it manifests itself in some concrete and material forms.

            It starts with keeping persons always in mind, thinking
well of everyone, including our own selves, in spite of whatever,
accepting them as they are and commending them to God our Father. We
have to be wary of our tendency to be immediately hijacked by some
purely human motives in our concern for the others. We should never
consider everyone purely on our own, without God.

            We have to go beyond the level of sentimentalism and the
like. We always have to refer them to God who is actually everything
to us. And so, we just have to overcome whatever awkwardness if not
open resistance we may have in our duty to develop an intimate
relation with God.

            This is such a crucial point that when resolved properly
can make a big difference in the lives of everyone and in the world in
general. We should frequently ask ourselves: Am I looking at everyone
and everything from the point of view of faith and in the intimate
presence of God, or am I just viewing them from a purely human point
of view—like from the angle of convenience, practicality, or politics,
economics, etc.?

            Questions like this should not be taken for granted, since
they help us regain our proper bearing in life. They frame things most
fairly, putting them in their proper perspective. Otherwise, we will
be blinded by our own reasoning and justifications that no matter how
brilliant would lack the most basic and integrating element.

            Starting and ending with God, to be sure, does not
undermine our humanity. On the contrary, it would perfect our
humanity.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

At home with God

THIS is how we should feel with God. We have to feel at
home with him because in the first place we come from him and we
belong to him. Our true, definitive home is God himself. He is where
we find our true rest, where we really would know who we are, what our
dignity is, what rights, duties and responsibilities we have.

            Bluntly said, unless we feel at home with God, we actually
would not be at home no matter how much we feel we are with our own
ideas of home.

            We therefore have to make certain adjustments in the way
we think, feel and view things in general, such that we always are
keenly aware that we come from God and go back to him as our home
destination every day.

            In fact, in several liturgical prayers, we express this
truth quite clearly, as when we pray the following: “Go before us, O
Lord, we beseech Thee, in all our doings with Thy gracious
inspiration, and further us with Thy continual help, that every prayer
and work of ours may begin from Thee, and by Thee be duly ended.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

            Failing to feel at home with God can only mean one thing.
It would be as if we are vagrants in this world, homeless and quite at
sea as to what purpose and direction our life here on earth should
have.

            It would be a situation replete with dangers, even mortal
dangers. We would be inviting a lot of temptations and easily fall
into sin or at least error and confusion, as we foray into our daily
life simply on our own. We would be prone to reprise what is mentioned
in the gospel about people not entering by the narrow gate but rather
by the wide gate that leads to destruction. (cfr Mt 7,13)

            Yes, it’s true that while here on earth, we are like
travelers or pilgrims. We are not yet in our definitive home. The
Letter to the Hebrews tells us that clearly: “Here we have no lasting
city, but we seek the city which is to come.” (13,14)

            But this does not mean that we cannot feel at home with
God right here and now. And that’s because even if God is in heaven,
he is also here on earth. And even if he is always a mystery to us,
that mystery has incarnated in Christ and continues to be with us,
ever adapting himself to our human condition, through the Holy Spirit,
making use of a variety of instruments.

            There is the Church, the sacraments, God’s word in the
gospel and the doctrine of our faith, the hierarchy, etc. God comes to
us through them, as well as the things of nature that somehow can
already evoke the presence of God.

            We have to learn to live with the mystery of God, knowing
that such mystery is true and real—in fact, the most true and real
thing in the world—even if we cannot fully comprehend it. What is
needed is to exercise our faith and to develop the appropriate and
working piety.

            This is the challenge we actually have today. And we have
to contend with a variety of conditions that we need to clarify, if
not purify and correct. There’s atheism and agnosticism, for example,
not so much of the theoretical kind as of the practical one.  There’s
a dominant layer of secularism in the world today that practically
puts God away from our daily and temporal affairs.

            There’s also what is known as moral relativism where the
concepts of good and evil sit on shaky and shifty grounds, highly
subjective and prone to be reduced to what is merely practical,
profitable, popular, etc., or criteria that still need more solid
foundations.

            Feeling at home with God all the time should be second
nature to us. It’s not a fantasy we are creating. It’s what is proper
to us. It’s what we need and what God himself wants.

            Christ reassures us of this when he said: “Come to Me, all
who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke
upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and
you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt 11,28-29)

            We have to learn to take these words more seriously. They
are not just nice words to hear. They are divine words that contain
nothing other than what is true, good and redemptive for us. They are
no bluff.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Feed the spirit

JUST as we have to feed our body, take utmost care of it,
develop it to its optimum maturity, we also need, and even more so, to
feed our spirit, our soul, giving it our best shot in developing it to
the fullest.

            After all, if we have to go by what Christ himself said,
it is the spirit that gives us life—in fact, what leads us to eternal
life, to the “forever.” “The Spirit gives life,” he said. “The flesh
counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of
the Spirit and life.” (Jn 6,63)

            These words should give us a clear idea of where true life
for us is to be found. It’s in the Spirit with whom our spiritual
soul, in the state of grace that is freely corresponded to by our
efforts, can get engaged.

            It’s not just some genetic and biological laws that give
us life. Neither is our life sustained mainly through our legal
systems nor some laws of the natural and social sciences, nor through
our increasingly powerful technologies. These are important, of
course, but only in a subsidiary manner. They need to be vitally
linked to the real source of life.

            St. Paul seems to allude to this in a loose sense when he
said: “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Cor 3,6) We
need to link up with the Spirit, the Spirit of God who is actually
with us, who is given to us abundantly, for us to have the life proper
to us.

            This is a truth of our faith that we need to be more aware
of and more attentive to its requirements. We have to act on this
fundamental truth about ourselves if only to conform ourselves to
God’s will for us.

            But given the way the mainstream world culture is, and
even just our very own national culture that can already be considered
as Christian, this effort to conform to this truth is going to be
gargantuan, since we are still wide of the mark.

            We have to acquire the skills to feed our spirit by
learning how to pray, how to exercise the theological virtues of
faith, hope and charity, appreciate the need for sacrifice, have
recourse to the sacraments, continually cultivate the virtues, and
wage constant ascetical struggle, etc.

            We have to learn to view things and to react to them
mainly in terms of our faith, rather than just assessing them mainly
from the point of view of our human sciences, laws, arts and
technologies. No matter how legitimate and necessary the latter
viewpoints are, they can never be enough. They don’t have the last
word. They cannot bring us to our ultimate end.

            We have to understand that faith, hope and charity are
always necessary for us. They are not optional, to be used and applied
only to certain things. They have to be applied all the time, in
things both sacred and mundane.

            In this regard, it would be helpful if we do everything
needed to make St. Paul’s words our own: “We have received not the
spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might
understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we impart this in
words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, combining
spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.” (1 Cor 2,12-13)

            In short, we have to feed our spiritual soul with the
Spirit of God who, as St. Paul said, “searches everything, even the
depths of God.” He further said, “no one comprehends the thoughts of
God except the Spirit of God.” (1 Cor 2,10-11) The idea is to echo St.
Paul’s words: “We have the mind of Christ.” (1 Cor 2,16)

            We should not consider this possibility as fantastic or
unreachable. After what Christ has done for us, offering his life on
the cross, we can safely presume that he has given himself to us
completely, without sparing anything. We just have to leave behind our
own estimation of things, and embrace the full inputs of our faith.

            We have to understand that unless our human knowledge is
linked to the Spirit of God, it cannot give us the truth that really
matters. Yes, it can give us some aspects of truth, but not the one
that would bring us to our eternal life.

            Yes, we need to study and thoroughly meditate on God’s
word, making full use of the allied sciences until we make God’s word
our own, and God’s mind our mind!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Empowering the family

YES, we need to empower the family, especially the
parents, so it can fulfill all its duties and responsibilities,
especially the most basic ones that are related, more than anything
else, to the spiritual life of all members in the family.

            The family is not just some collection of parents and
children whose main concern is meeting the material or emotional needs
of all its members, or some generic human needs.

            The family is a human family, not just an animal family,
and as such it has a nature that corresponds to the dignity of our
human nature, that gives primary importance to the spiritual dimension
which essentially distinguishes us from the other animals. Thus, our
Catechism defines it as:

            “A man and a woman united in marriage form a family
together with their children. God instituted the family and endowed it
with its fundamental constitution. Marriage and the family are ordered
to the good of the spouses and to the procreation and education of
children.

            “Members of the same family establish among themselves
personal relationships and primary responsibilities. In Christ the
family becomes the domestic church because it is a community of faith,
of hope, and of charity.” (Compendium 456)

            We have to make everyone more aware of this distinguishing
character of the family. It’s its spiritual dimension that defines and
separates the human family from other forms of family in the natural
world.

            Because of that, the family cannot but be “a community of
faith, hope, and charity” which is what it ultimately is and what
would properly nourish and develop it. It’s not just some objects of
the natural world, no matter how brilliant or practical these objects
are, since these do not give us the original basis of what is to be
human.

            At best, these natural objects of our spiritual faculties
of intelligence and will are mere manifestations of our humanity, and
also the means and occasions to affirm the real source and basis of
our humanity, which is God, our Creator, in whose image and likeness
we have been created.

            We need to make this fundamental truth about ourselves
more known and appreciated, so we can correspond and act on it with
greater consistency. We have to get to a level higher than the status
quo insofar as our understanding of the family is concerned.

            Especially these days when we all are practically faced
with delicate and complicated issues, when a lot of ideologies are
sowing error and confusion, mixing true and valid points with false
and distorted values, we need to equip the family properly because it
serves as the primary defense of any individual, even before schools,
churches and other institutions can help.

            This, of course, is not going to be an easy job. We are
aware of the many inadequacies that families now have as well as the
increasing dangerous influences and conditionings that they are
exposed to. But that’s the challenge we just have to face and learn to
resolve.

            Obviously parents, especially the young ones and those
whose formation may not have been good, need a lot of help. Catechesis
for them is necessary, but a lot more are needed. It’s good that there
are groups organized by the churches and some private institutions
that try to meet this need, but more groups are needed.

            Parents should be encouraged to teach catechism to their
children in ways that would come out natural. They have to learn how
to discern the spiritual development of their children, like how their
children are thinking, desiring, working, or how they are acquiring
virtues, developing concern for others, handling difficulties,  or
appreciating the need for prayers, sacrifice, sacraments, etc.

            Yes, it’s true that parents should respect the freedom of
their children, but this should not be taken to mean indifference to
the requirements of the proper development of their children. If
there’s true love for the children, parents should get actively
involved in the most intricate but also crucial aspect of their
children’s lives.

            There actually are endless things to look into, and
everyone simply has to understand that these come with the territory
insofar is parenthood is concerned. They are not optional. They are
necessary duties for which the parents have to be properly trained and
equipped.

            To repeat, marriage, family and parenthood are not simply
oriented to our material and temporal concerns. They are intrinsically
linked to our spiritual nature and dignity. We have to correspond as
fully and as faithfully to this fundamental truth about ourselves.
This is very serious business!

Friday, September 11, 2015

The proper attitude to sports

BOYS will always be boys. Given any chance to play sports,
their reaction is always lightning quick and wholehearted. In fact, I
sometimes get the impression that’s where their heart really is.
Classes are a poor second, or a third or fourth…

            I just remembered the opening of an annual intramural
Olympiad in a boys’ school, and the environment suddenly changed mood.
More movement, more laughter, more color. The boys seem to be on
auto-pilot, guided by instincts otherwise hidden during normal
schooldays.

            Through it all, I somehow detected unmistakable traces and
signs of growth and development. There was more self-confidence,
better teamwork, an increased daring to show their talents and gifts,
or as they say, to strut their stuff.

            It’s true that while their education requires some
controlled environment, they need to be unleashed from time to time,
asking them to do things on their own.

            That’s where we can see whether degrees of maturity and
sense of responsibility have been gained or not. That’s where we can
see who are the leaders and who the followers. That’s where we can see
their strengths and weaknesses.

            I saw their cheer dance competition and their artwork
exhibit—I could not be in all events—but I was already floored to see
their creativity and artistry that truly widened my perspectives. It’s
indeed a blessing that can come only from God.

            It’s always moving to see them try their best to be more
human and Christian, to become more mature and responsible in spite of
the many demons they have to face. Human weakness and miseries,
temptations from within and without hound them as they do everybody
else. But their struggles have a peculiar quality.

            They’re still awkward and prone to try flying without
knowing exactly where they would land. They’re still into a grueling
process of self-discovery, a very crucial stage where they need the
most help that should not be too intrusive, which they resent.

            It’s in sports where a common language is instantly spoken
and understood even between staff and students, and practically by
all. Barriers seen in classrooms and workshops seem to get dismantled
in the gym. And everyone enjoys and looks forward to it.

            That’s why sports has to be given its proper place in
school life. It may not be the most important element, but I would say
it’s an indispensable auxiliary component. For it can also be a
terrific school of many virtues.

            But it has to be infused also with the proper spirit.
Otherwise, it can degenerate into a network of vices and inhuman
attitudes—greed, lust, vanity, frivolity, etc.—that can become
formidable since with sports this network gets extremely enjoyable and
addictive.

            Everyone needs to be reminded that sports has to serve our
true dignity as persons and children of God. It cannot be an excuse
for us to indulge in animality and savagery. Competition need not be
an exercise of pride, envy and hatred.

            It can be a healthy occasion to build a realistic attitude
to life, for which one realizes the need for discipline and
preparation, hardwork and focus. It can be a good learning moment for
the interplay of the basic social principles of the common good,
solidarity and subsidiarity.

            Competition tells us we are not alone. We need to be with
others. It tells us we have to work for a goal, each one contributing
whatever he can and always doing it in an effective tandem with
others.

            Competition is a driver of development at least in the
personal and social aspects of one’s life. It pushes one to go to the
limits of his capabilities not only in the technical aspects but
especially in the more human ones—magnanimity, gracefulness, patience,
optimism, etc.

            That’s why it is important to make everyone understand the
true nature and purpose of competition. If one knows what competition
really is and is for, he will always come out a victor whether he wins
or loses in a game or business.

            Defeat, according to General George Patton, is not due to
losses but to the destruction of the soul. It’s when one surrenders to
discouragement, pessimism, despair.

            That’s why it is important that everyone learns to compete
properly, correcting him whenever the spoilers of the true status of
competition come. How essential is it, therefore, that the young ones
be immediately reminded and encouraged whenever they show signs of
misunderstanding it!

            Of course, the very fundamental principle of sports and
competition is one’s love for God. Outside of that, forget it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Virtue may hide a vice

THAT was quite a reminder I got while I was reading
recently on the life and work of St. Gregory the Great (540-604), Pope
and Doctor of the Church. A native of Rome who became its mayor, he
later became a monk, an ambassador, a deacon and then a Pope during a
very turbulent period of Rome and Europe in general.

            He was both a fervent contemplative and a highly educated
person active in secular affairs, immersed both in the sacred and
mundane things. It must have been precisely due to this background
that he also became a very good reader and guide of souls.

            Virtue, he said, can mask a hidden vice that one may be
suffering. It’s a most relevant insight that, I think, explains very
well that increasingly common phenomenon of people who appear very
good and holy, seemingly advancing north, when all of a sudden we hear
that they have gone south instead.

            Sad to say, cases of sudden and surprising defections and
infidelities are heaping up. Seminarians, for example, who have
already spent many years in seminary formation and who appear
brilliant and promising, decide not to pursue priesthood. The high
expectations of many people are abruptly thwarted.

            Or priests and married people who appear to be good, holy
and faithful, already with significant accomplishments, suddenly fall
into some compromising predicament, often causing scandal and painful
break-ups.

            We all know that we actually need to be in constant
vigilance and interior struggle against our own weaknesses and
temptations. We have to get real and acknowledge that we have feet of
clay, our own version of the Achilles’ heel.

            Temptations also abound and have in fact become systemic.
We have to contend with the classical “lust of the eyes, lust of the
flesh and the pride of life” that have worsened with the coming of the
new things. While they give us a lot of good, they can also occasion a
lot of evil. Besides, we are ranged against powerful spiritual
enemies.

            We cannot be na├»ve and just attend to these challenges
with half measures. We need to be thorough, seeing to it that our
efforts are earnest and authentic. We have to be wary of the
temptation of coming up simply with decoys, making use of our other
talents and good qualities to cover a weakness or a vice that is
actually festering.

            This is when we can appear to have virtues that actually
are not virtues. We can mislead not only others but also our own
selves. We can get the sensation that we are just ok, when in fact we
are not.

            Yes, we can make use, for example, of our good looks, our
speaking talents, our affable personality, etc., to cover our being a
calculating person, or our bad trait of disorder, superficial
treatment of our duties and responsibilities.

            Nowadays, this deceptive kind of mind-frame seems to be
fostered, since there is a trend toward mere image-making that may not
correspond to reality. We have to be most careful with this
development.

            It’s important that we really would make it a habit to
have regular examination of conscience so we can take stock of the
current status of our spiritual life, aware of the deficiencies and
mistakes that we have committed, and prompt in providing the
appropriate remedies, solutions and resolutions.

            Yes, we also need to have regular confession and spiritual
direction, being brutally sincere in these occasions, without shame or
fear, calling a spade a spade, so that the fitting advice and help can
be given to us. With trust in the providence of God and in the
competence of the human instruments, we can only gain from these
recourses.

            We have to aim at making our virtues truly second nature
to us, and not just reactive responses to our defects and mistakes.
This can happen when we notice a stable consistency between what is
theoretical and practical about these virtues, between what is ideal
and actual.

            In other words, we should notice that in a particular
virtue, while we start with having to struggle all the time, there
should come a time that the struggling gets less and less, because it
has become an integral part of our life. It comes out automatic,
spontaneous and with great ease and joy. The anguish part of the
struggling should diminish.

            We have to help one another in this struggle of making our
virtues real virtues, and not a mask for vices that are not properly
addressed. We have to get real! Away with simply projecting false
images of ourselves.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

A worshipping life

WE have to be rescued from the hostaged idea, now made a
dominant world culture, that worship is strictly an intimate, private
matter between a person and his God, or that it is an optional thing.

            And if it happens to have some external manifestations,
then the mainstream view is that it should largely be confined and
restricted to Church or temple services, expressed in formulaic
prayers, chants, rituals, incense, kneeling and bowing, etc.

            That is wrong. While it is true that worship involves
these things due to its liturgical nature, we should also realize that
it actually is first of all an attitude arising from an indisputable
universal need of man

            As creature of God, man needs to give worship to God his
Creator and Father. That is to say, since he has been made in God’s
image and likeness, and elevated to be a child of his, he cannot but
unite his life with the life of God. This happens through grace that
needs the cooperation of man.

            Worship expresses our irrenunciable need for God and
defines how our relationship with him should be. We are nothing
without him. God is everything to us. We just cannot marginalize him
in our life, let alone ignore and deny him. As such, worship has to
characterize all our life, all of life’s aspects, in fact, all its
moments.

            Therefore, our life, even if spent most of the time in the
unavoidable mundane affairs of man, has to be a life of worship. We
need to learn how to link everything in our life—our work, concerns,
ambitions, joys and sorrows, our projects and all circumstances of our
life—to the dynamism of our need to worship God.

            Our problem is that we have divided our life at least into
two--one part for God and the other part for us, and for us alone.
This flies in the face of the fundamental truth that our life, though
having many aspects and developing in several stages, is only one.
That unity should always be protected, reinforced and defended.

            Because of this unfortunate division, we can not avoid
fragmenting our life further, such that we not only end up alienating
ourselves from God, which is quite obvious, but also alienating
ourselves from our own selves, a more subtle consequence.

            We lose the taste for God. We tend to think only of
ourselves and to distance ourselves from the others. In the end, we
worship ourselves instead of God, which is an absurd situation.

            We have to develop a lifestyle of worship, such that
whatever we are doing, whether we are working or playing, etc., we do
everything with God as the beginning, the end and the means. We should
sharpen our awareness that everything is done because of God.

            We have to find fresh reasons for this, so that we can
always feel the urge to worship God through the very things we do, no
matter how mundane or secular they are. God is always there. He waits
for us there. He wants us to deal with these things with him and for
him.

            Scripture is full of references to this truth. “Whether
you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of
God.” (1 Cor 10,31) And again, “Let no man glory in men…for all things
are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” (1 Cor 3,20)

            The task at hand is how to acquire and develop this
awareness of our duty to give everything, or at least to relate
everything to God. This effort will not be a drag to our human
activities.

            It will rather orient and track all our activities
properly, so that they really reach their proper goal and possess the
proper character, instead of just drifting anywhere.

            We have to realize that God is everywhere, and as a Father
and our Creator, he always intervenes in our life, full of love and
concern. There’s actually no moment when he is not with us, because
even in our state of sin, he will always look at us with great concern
and unleash his plan of recovering us.

            God is never indifferent to us, whatever state and
circumstance we may find ourselves in. Thus, we should learn to enter
into an abiding relationship with him. What we can always do is to
praise him, to thank him for everything, to ask for forgiveness for
our faults and sins that we cannot seem to avoid, and to ask for help
always.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Obedience is a necessity

WE need to understand better the true nature of obedience,
appreciate its inner nuances, grow in our conviction of its necessity,
fruitfulness and its intimate relation to our freedom.

            Nowadays, this virtue is grossly misunderstood, its
caricatures better known than its objective reality. It’s generally
known to be a burden rather than a liberating constituent element in
our life. We need to reclaim its proper place in our personal and
collective lives, because without it we would actually undermine our
very own humanity.

            Yes, this virtue is indispensable in our life.  We are
actually created to obey, because first and last we need to obey God,
and then also, we need to obey those who have some authority over us
in our earthly life.

            That’s because we can’t help but live with others, and
there will always be others with some authority over us—parents,
teachers, public officials, even policemen, etc.—whom we have to obey.

            In short, we cannot outgrow the need for obedience. The
moment we feel we can do without it, we start heading the wrong way in
our life. A lot of evils come as a consequence. All kinds of disorder
follow, from the material to the moral and spiritual aspects. But if
we obey, we would also generate a lot of good.

            We have to do everything to polish and sharpen our sense
of obedience, especially as we head toward maturity since the years
tend to deaden our need for it. We have to be more aware of those
factors that tend to dull our duty to obey.

            In fact, the older we get, and the more accomplished and
experienced we feel we are, the sharper should be our sense of
obedience and more attentive to its finer demands.

            Otherwise, we would simply spoil whatever achievements we
have gained. It’s like we are gaining ground on the outside but losing
ground on the inside, an echo of “what does it profit a man if he
gains the whole world but loses his soul.” A terrible collapse would
just be a matter of time.

            We need to be strongly reminded about this, since we have
to contend with formidable undermining forces—culture, lifestyle,
media, the scandalous examples of many in politics, business, and even
in the church. We have to be ready to do continuing constructive
battle of peace and love in this area.

            The model for all this is Christ who frequently said, “My
food is to do the will of my Father.” And he did so all the way to the
cross. Thus, St. Paul said that Christ was obedient until death.

            Our obedience should be anchored first of all on the will
of God as exemplified by Christ himself. We don’t obey simply because
we like the person who gives us orders, or because the order seems
reasonable, practical, profitable, etc. We should obey because it is
the will of God. Besides, we have to obey because that is really a
constituent part of our nature.

            This should not be merely blind obedience. It should be
knowingly and freely—in fact, lovingly—done. Even if we don’t
understand the wisdom of what is being asked of us, which is what
often happens, as long as it is the will of God, or as long as nothing
else can be done, we just have to obey.

            This was what happened to Christ. When it was not yet his
time to die, he managed to escape from those who intended to attack
him. But when it was already his time, as determined by his Father, he
willingly faced his arrest and all the other indignities all the way
to the cross.

            There are times when we have to obey in circumstances that
are truly unfair. In this situation, we just have to call to mind
Christ’s crucifixion. There could have been no greater injustice than
that, but Christ obeyed.

            As long as we obey mainly out of love of God, then
everything will just work out for the good, no matter how unfair,
unreasonable, impractical the circumstances may be. With Christ’s
crucifixion, what was attained was nothing less than our own
salvation.

            Obedience is always fruitful, though it may come in forms
contrary to our own expectations. St. Peter’s obedience to Christ in
going out to the deep and lowering his net for a catch yielded a
tremendous amount of fish when the night before he caught nothing.

            Let’s polish our sense of obedience. Aside from being
intelligent and voluntary, it should be prompt and cheerful, for God
rewards a cheerful giver.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

God’s word and us

WHAT should our attitude be toward the word of God? I
would say that basically it should be the same attitude that we have
toward God himself. And the reason is this—since God is absolute
simplicity with no division, parts or distinction in his being, his
word must be his being, his whole divine substance himself.

            We, on our part, make some distinction between God in his
being and in his word because that is how we understand things in
general. We need to distinguish and analyze things, breaking them into
parts, before we can arrive at the whole, integral picture.

            In fact, in the Trinitarian nature of God, the Second
Person whom we refer as the Son, is described also as the very Word of
God, the Divine Word, who is God himself insofar as he perfectly and
fully knows himself and all his creation. So, God’s word is God
himself!

            The word of God which now comes to us with some human and
natural instrumentalities through the Gospel or the Sacred Scripture
together with Tradition and the Church Magisterium, should be regarded
in that light.

            Its primary purpose is to bring us back to God. And so
more than just giving us some helpful earthly knowledge, it gives us
the ultimate spiritual knowledge we need to return to God. This
character of God’s word is described in the following words in the
Letter to the Hebrews:

            “For the word of God is living and effectual, and more
piercing than any two edged sword, and reaching unto the division of
the soul and the spirit, of the joints also and the marrow, and is a
discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (4,12)

            Its purely eternal, spiritual, sacred and transcendent
nature is now subjected to the conditions of time, culture, history,
etc., in view of how we are. But we should not forget that it is
primarily purely eternal, spiritual, sacred and transcendent, which
with our spiritual powers plus God’s grace we can manage to abstract
from its temporal, material, mundane and prosaic condition.

            Let’s remember that God became man. With his incarnation,
the divine word assumes the nature of a human word. And just as God
became man to bring man back to God, his divine word becomes human
word to bring and reconcile the latter with the former where it comes
from and where it belongs to.

            Since God’s word is God himself and God is everything to
us, we have to understand that it contains everything for our needs,
especially our ultimate need to be with God. All things true, good and
beautiful are contained in the word of God.

            Thus, insofar as our sciences, arts and technologies
contain truths, goodness and beauty, no matter how technical they are,
we have to conclude that they also come from God’s word and belong
there also.

            Anyone who does not acknowledge this truth about our
sciences, arts and technologies can be considered ungrateful and
presumptuous. We need to overcome the dichotomy that detaches our
sciences, arts and technologies from God’s word.

            Our sciences, arts and technologies can only articulate
the more mundane aspects of the Word of God. They should lead us to
God. They should make us achieve a more intimate relationship with
God, with everybody else and everything else in the whole universe.

            These days, for example, Pope Francis is reminding of how
our attitude should be also toward our natural and physical
environment. It should be based on God’s word, full of wisdom, love
and justice, and not just our own idea of what is useful, efficient,
profitable, convenient, etc.

            In other words, God’s word is the first and last word. Any
word we coin and use in the fields of our sciences, arts,
technologies, politics, business, culture, etc., should begin and end
with God’s word. Otherwise it will have no proper foundation and
orientation.

            St. Paul has amply warned us about arrogating our words to
be simply our own. “Let no man deceive himself,” he said. “If any man
among you seems to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that
he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with
God…Let no man therefore glory in men.” (1 Cor 3,19-21)

            We certainly have to sit down and see how we can be more
aware of grounding and orienting our words with God’s word. There
definitely have to be some big changes in our understanding of things,
our attitudes, practices, lifestyle and culture. Yes, some conversion
is needed!