Monday, November 30, 2015

Partisanship, openness, charity

IN our political discussions and exchanges, it’s just fine
to be partisan as long as we are open and respectful of all other
views, including those that are different and opposed to ours. We
should avoid any form of extremism by demonizing others who do not
agree with us.

            Partisanship is inevitable in our politics. And that’s
simply because we have different backgrounds and orientations,
different preferences and priorities. Given our human condition, let
alone, our weakness, mistakes and failures, we will always have
differences among ourselves.

            We should not be surprised by these, but rather learn to
live with them as befits our human dignity. We should not allow that
we be dragged by the dynamics of anger, animosity and hatred. Charity
should always rule, even in our political choices as it should in all
other aspects of our life.

            Yes, we can be quite strong and fixed in our views, but
this does not give us an excuse to let go of charity. In fact, these
differences should be a good ground for charity to grow. Thus, the
sharper the differences, the more intense should be our charity.

            We have to avoid painting those who disagree with us as if
they are the very personification of evil, completely incapable of
doing anything good or saying anything true and worthwhile. This would
be a simplistic and naïve way of looking at things, and as such, is
fraught with potential dangers.

            If we have to disagree, then let’s disagree amicably,
respecting each other and each other’s position. No need for harsh
words to be thrown, much less, uncharitable thoughts and bad
intentions. Charity knows how to unite us even in our most hopeless
and irreparable differences.

            Sad to say, many of us today are behaving the opposite of
what is proper to us. It starts with our political leaders and
candidates down to the electorate and even to the general population,
including children. We have to stop this.

            We cannot paint a favorite candidate to be so perfect and
saintly that we can observe no defect, mistake or fault in him.
Neither should we picture a disliked candidate to be so bad that we
can find no saving grace in him.

            Let’s always remember that all the saints and the
appointed patriarchs and prophets of old have their defects and
mistakes too, even after their conversion. They were always
struggling, because they know that their sanctity is always a work in
progress. It is never completed in this life.

            Also, even those who are generally considered as bad
people are still capable of doing something good. I remember one
gospel episode where this possibility is illustrated. It’s in the
gospel of St. John:

            “But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year,
said to them, ‘You know nothing at all; you do not understand that it
expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the
whole nation should not perish.’

            “He did not say this of his own accord, but being high
priest that year he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation,
and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the children of
God who are scattered abroad.” (11,49-52)

            It is quite clear that even if by living charity, we may
appear to be suffering a defeat according to human standards, God in
his providence would know how to derive good from it.

            We should not be afraid to suffer the consequences of
human pride and worldly arrogance just because we try to be consistent
with the requirements of charity. For those who love God and others,
as St. Paul in his letter to the Romans would say, everything will
always work out for the good.

            Now that we are going through this delicate political
process of electing our next leaders, we should try our best to avoid
the pitfalls of emotional, knee-jerk reactions to the issues at hand.

            Let us learn to be level-headed and to have a good grip of
our emotions and passions. More than that, let us see to it that we
follow the requirements of charity as strictly as possible. It is
precisely in moments like this when charity is most needed.

            Let’s be careful with our words, and especially so with
our thoughts and intentions. May they always be infused with charity,
which is always the way to find the truth, to achieve justice and
fairness proper to us. Charity is never a drag in our politics. It is
what politics needs most of all! Charity is what leads us to the
common good.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Extending the frontiers of God’s mercy

POPE Francis has declared a Jubilee of Mercy. One of its
purposes is to see how we can extend divine mercy to all. The
presumption is that Christ died for all, and thus, has given mercy and
forgiveness to all.

            This universal mercy can easily be gleaned when we
consider one of Christ’s last words before dying: “Father, forgive
them for they know not what they do.” Also, we can see the
gratuitousness of his mercy when he readily but implicitly forgave the
repentant thief and told him that he would be with Christ in paradise.

            Many other instances in the gospel indicate the readiness
and even the delight of God to extend mercy to people. The story of
the prodigal son is one. Also that of the woman caught in adultery.
Christ also told Peter to forgive not only 7 times, but 70 times 7.

            The Jubilee of Mercy is also a time to see if there are
certain ways in the current Church laws and practice that need to be
improved, refined or modified to accommodate the ever growing need for
divine mercy. So far, the Pope already simplified the annulment
process and has given priests during the Jubilee the authority to lift
excommunication cases.

            This intention has, of course, stirred a lot of people.
Even a few ecclesiastics have expressed concern. While many of those I
asked want to downplay this issue, it cannot be denied that this issue
is burning like anything. A specific case is that of the divorced and
remarried who wish to receive Communion.

            The crux of the matter is how and where to determine the
boundary between mercy and justice, charity and truth, so that these
two can be put together without compromising one or the other.

            There had been claims that the Pope is playing with fire
by appearing to entertain this issue. These fears have been reinforced
when the Pope at the end of the recent Synod on the Family said:

            “The Synod experience also made us better realize that the
true defenders of doctrine are not those who uphold its letter, but
its spirit; not ideas but people; not formulae but the gratuitousness
of God’s love and forgiveness.”

            Those words somehow give one the impression of where the
Pope’s mind drifts. I, for one, felt uncomfortable at the insinuation
that there is conflict between the letter of the Church law and the
true spirit of Christ, between ideas and persons, between formulae and
the gratuitousness of God’s love and forgiveness, but without giving
any idea of how these conflicts can be resolved.

            But before we can go further into some fearful
speculation, the Pope qualified these words by saying: “This is in no
way to detract from the importance of formulae, laws and divine
commandments, but rather to exalt the greatness of the true God, who
does not treat us according to our merits or even according to our
works but solely according to the boundless generosity of his Mercy.”

            I suppose the Pope is trying, with the help of the
bishops, to find ways of how to extend the frontiers of divine mercy
that is so much needed these days, given the many difficult

            Just the same, I was reassured when at an address recently
about priestly mission and formation, he said the following that
somehow shows there are boundaries between mercy and justice, charity
and truth. The words may not be very direct and explicit, but the
substance can easily be detected. These are the words:

            “Closeness, depths of mercy, loving look: to make one
experience the beauty of a life lived according to the Gospel and the
love of God that makes itself concrete also through His ministers…

            “Ways can always be found to give absolution. Receive
well. However, sometimes one cannot absolve. There are priests who
say, ‘No, I cannot absolve you of this, go away.’ This is not the way.

            “’If you cannot give absolution, explain and say, ‘God
loves you so much, God wishes you well. There are so many ways to come
to God. I cannot give you absolution. I’ll give you a blessing. But
come back, always come back here; every time you come back, I will
give you a blessing as a sign that God loves you.’

            “And that man or woman goes away full of joy because
he/she has found the icon of the Father, who never rejects; in one way
or another He has embraced him/her.’”

            Reassuring words, even as we continue, as we ought, to
explore the mysterious ways of God’s mercy together with Pope Francis!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Meaning of Advent

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

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

            We have to understand then that the season of Advent
implies that we have to learn how to begin again very well. What is
presumed is that we have a global picture of our life.

            We ought to know the different constitutive elements of
our life here on earth as well as their relations among each other. We
have to distinguish as well as relate the different dimensions of our
life, like the material and the spiritual, the temporal and the
eternal, the natural and the supernatural, the mundane and the sacred,
the theory and the praxis, piety and morals, work and prayer, etc.

            With Advent, we are reminded that it is Christ who enables
us to get this global picture, since he is the very pattern of God’s
creation, and especially of us, as well as our savior after we messed
up God’s original creation through our sin.

            Advent tries to arouse in us this longing for Christ who
should not be just a historical character buried in the past. He is
alive, for he is God who lives in eternity and thus is living even up
to now. He is always a contemporary of everyone of us, irrespective of
what era we pass through this world.

            In a world sunk in its own fantasy, all but locked out
from God, its creator, there is a great need for us to recover our
proper bearing and to restore the proper place of God in our life.
Advent precisely gives us another opportunity to do readjustments in
our life to conform ourselves more faithfully to our ultimate dignity
as children of God.

            This God has revealed himself to us and remains with us
through Christ in the Holy Spirit. It should not be difficult for us
to meet, know and deal with him. If we do our part, we can readily see
him, since on the part of God, everything is already given for us to
enter into an intimate relation with him.

            The questions to ask ourselves are: Are we praying and
making an effort to know him? Do we try to be familiar with God’s
word, left in Sacred Scripture and taught authoritatively by the
Church Magisterium? Do we avail of the sacraments which are the
effective signs of grace and of Christ himself, especially in the Holy

            Or are we still indifferent to this need, still dominated
by our laziness or doubts and skepticism, or worse, by some worldly
ideologies that undermine our faith and piety and lead us to
agnosticism and atheism?

            We have to understand Advent as a time for conversion, for
growing in our knowledge and love for Christ. It’s not just one more
season of the year, marked simply be decorating our places with
Christmas ornaments. Advent gives us another beginning, another chance
clean up the past and start new with a clean slate.

            What can help is to pay close attention to the prayers and
readings of the liturgy of the season of Advent. There we can taste
afresh the preparation of the coming of Christ, our Redeemer, the
drama and the mysterious ways God uses to pursue his plan for our

            We should accompany Mary and Joseph in their involvement
in the coming of Christ. They can actually show us how to prepare for
Christ’s birth, especially spiritually, so that Christ too can be born
in each one of us.

            Human as we are, we need to feel all these things. The
spirit of Advent is not simply an intellectual, spiritual affair. It
involves our whole humanity, down to our feelings, passions, instincts
and senses. The expectation and longing so characteristic of Advent
should be felt as much as possible, and made to trigger the
appropriate actions.

            Advent should be an effective occasion to bring us back to
God. When the world seems to be drifting away from him, Advent can
start a new journey back to our Creator and Father, through Christ.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

We need to purify our intentions

WE have to be most careful in handling our intentions.
They play a strategic role in our life, for how and where we direct
them would determine whether we want to be with God and simply with
our own selves.

        Our intentions express who and where in the end we want to
be. Do we choose God, or do we simply choose ourselves, or the world
in general? It’s actually a choice between good and evil.

          Even if we are not aware, or refuse to be aware, of this
choice, which is usually the case, the choice between God and us,
between good and evil is always made with every human act we do.

            We need to realize then that we have to take utmost care
of our intention, making it as explicit as possible, and honing it to
get engaged with its proper and ultimate object who is God.

            We should try our best to shun being simply casual or
cavalier about this responsibility. We can easily play around with it,
since intentions are almost invariably hidden from public knowledge.
We are urged to be most sincere in directing our intentions properly.

            We can easily fall into hypocrisy and deception, doing
what can appear good externally but is not internally, since we could
refuse giving glory to God, which is the proper intention to have, and
instead feed and stir our vanity, pride, greed, lust, etc.

            We need to actively purify our intentions, since we have
to contend with many spoilers in this regard these days. In fact, we
just have to look around and see how openly opposed many people are of
directing their intentions to God.

            To them, intentions are strictly personal and confidential
matters that others do not have any right to meddle. While there is a
certain truth to this claim, we have to remind ourselves that our
intentions too are subject to a moral law.

            This moral law is universal in character. There is
something essential in it that cannot change in spite of the
variations that this law can come to us due to the differences of
cultural, historical and social conditionings, etc.

            Our intentions can only have at their core the love of
God, the giving glory to God. As St. Paul once indicated, “Whether you
eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God.”
(1 Cor 10,31) That’s how our acts become good, or moral. Otherwise,
they are bad, or at least dangerous.

            This is so, since God, being the Creator, is the standard
for everything. And more than the standard, he is, in fact, the very
substance of what is good, true and beautiful, what is fair and just,
what is perfection itself.

            Nothing is good, true and beautiful, nothing is fair and
just, nothing is perfect if it is not done with God and for God. In
short, we need to refer all our acts to God. We have to make this
affirmation very clear in our mind and do everything to make that
ideal a reality.

            Short of making the love of God and his glorification as
our basic intention for our human acts, whatever good we can see in
our human acts would simply be apparent. They can be useful if in the
end our intentions are purified and corrected. If not, they can only
pose as a danger.

            Some people may consider this understanding of what ought
to be our proper intentions as ridiculous. That some may think so
should be no surprise. Religion, especially when talking about a
crucified Christ, has long been considered as “a stumbling block to
Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Cor 1,23)

            Neither should the claim that all this is impractical and
inhuman hinder us in purifying our intentions. The love of God does
nothing to our humanity other than purifying and elevating it to the
supernatural order. It enhances and strengthens our humanity. It has
resources that no other human motive can match. It even is stronger
than death, the worst predicament that we can get into.

            That is why we have to pay serious attention to where our
intention tilts, to who or what actually holds our heart, for it is
the heart, the home of our intention, where we determine the morality
of our acts and ultimately where we find our true identity.

            Christ himself said it quite clearly: “Where your
treasure is, there is your heart also.” (Mt 6,21) We need to ground
our heart firmly on God, filling it with love and goodness even if
heroic effort is needed.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Discerning the creator in the creature

WE should all try to learn this skill. We need to discern
the creator—God—in every creature, including the one that happens to
be a product also of our own making. And that is because there is
actually nothing man-made that is not ultimately a creation of God.

            Whatever we invent, discover, produce or make out of our
own creativity will always make use of what God as creator has already
endowed in nature. And so, even if we are already enjoying the most
sophisticated level of our man-made technology, we should never forget
that God is its very foundation, its law and author.

            In fact, we should be most wary when we make progress in
our inventions and discoveries, because we can tend to forget God the
more advances we make in this department. We tend to give more credit
to ourselves than to God. And from there, we can expropriate for
ourselves what actually belongs to God.

            This danger is dramatized in the Book of Wisdom where a
divine reproach is expressed: “All men were by nature foolish who were
in ignorance of God, and who from the good things seen did not succeed
in knowing him who is, and from studying the works did not discern the
artisan…For from the greatness and the beauty of created things, their
original author, by analogy, is seen.” (13)

            We should not allow our human affairs, no matter how
riveting, absorbing and exciting they may be, to be detached from that
basic reference to God, our Creator who continues to govern all of his
creation through his providence.

            We should feel at home with the reality that all our human
affairs, irrespective of how they fare according to our human
standards, should be a material of that continuing conversation we
ought to have with God. This is a skill we need to learn and to spread
as widely as possible.

            The very least thing we can tell God in our human affairs
is to thank him, or to ask for guidance, or simply to praise him. We
can also convert those events as a means of sacrifice or atonement for
the sins of men, ours and those of others.

            The basis for all this is that God is everywhere, is in
everything. There is nothing that exists where God is not present. We,
of course, have to clarify that while God is in everything, we cannot
say that everything is God. This latter case is an anomaly called

            Thus, in the Sacred Scripture, we can read: “If I go up
the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are
there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side
of the sea, even there your hand will guide me.” (Ps 139,8)

            And at the same time, we can read: “The Lord said, ‘Go out
and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is
about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains
apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in
the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not
in the earthquake.” (1 Kg 19,11)

            We have to clarify that God is not in the wind nor in the
earthquake when these are considered God themselves. Thus, in the Book
of Wisdom, we read: “But either fire, or wind, or the swift air, or
the circuit of the stars, or the mighty water, or the luminaries of
heaven, the governors of the world, they considered gods. Now if out
of joy in their beauty they thought them gods, let them know how far
more excellent is the Lord than these.” (13,2)

            We have to learn this skill of discerning God in all our
creatures, in all our affairs and activities, and to spread it as
widely possible, especially to the young. Nowadays, many kids are
hooked to the internet, practically addicted to it, because they do
not know how to discern God in it. Because of that, they are very much
vulnerable to the dangerous allurements of this new technology.

            We have to confront this problem frontally, taking due
consideration to the usual mentalities of the youth today. We need to
teach them that they should look for God in the internet, otherwise
there’s no way but to be mesmerized, seduced and corrupted by it.

            We have to reassure them that with God, they can be
masters, not slaves, of the internet.