Thursday, December 31, 2015

Forever

BEFORE this eminent word, Forever, is trivialized and
corrupted by our ‘telenovela’ culture, we need to remind ourselves
that the word is not simply a word but rather a sublime reality meant
for us who are of a spiritual nature also, and therefore, equipped for
a life that is forever. Besides, our dignity as image and likeness of
God and children of his makes our life in the forever an essential
part of our being.

            Our soul, being spiritual, can defy the wear and tear of
our material world and can transcend its limitations. And as image and
likeness of God and children of his, we can expect his grace that
would make the possibility of forever for us to be actualized. That’s
why we can claim that we are meant for forever, for eternity.

            All these assertions somehow have their basis on the words
of St. John in his first letter: “The world and its enticement are
passing away. But whoever does the will of God remains forever.”
(2,17) Here we are told the secret of how to “remain forever.”

            We need to be wary of loving the world in the wrong way.
We are supposed to love the world, because it is where God has placed
us and it is also a creation of God and therefore is good.

            But we would love it in the wrong way when we make it our
own god, the be-all and end-all of our life. Yes, we are in the world,
so we are supposed to love it in a certain way, but we are not
supposed to be worldly.

            Again in that first letter of St. John, we are told of
what the world contains that can lead us away from God, the source of
all good things. “Do not love the world or the things of the world. If
anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all
that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes
and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world.”
(2,15-16)

            Thus, a certain detachment from the things of the world
has always been advised and encouraged in us. This is the very essence
of what is known as Christian poverty. It’s an emptying of the heart
of earthly things to fill it only with God and the things of God.

            Yes, we have to love the world, but in the way God loves
it and not just any kind of love. In the gospel of St. John, we have
these words that corroborate this point: “For God so loved the world,
as to give his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him, may
not perish, but may have life everlasting.” (3,16)

            We have to learn how to refer to God the world, where we
have been placed, and the things of the world, which we have to
handle. We have to understand that the world has an inherent objective
relation to God and to us that we need to discover, appreciate and
make use of.

            If we understand this point right, then the world would
not be obstacle to us in our duty to find and love God and others. The
world and everything in it, whether good or bad, would be a good
instrument or occasion to develop our love for God and others. The
world and everything in it would be the means to bring us to our
forever, to our eternal life.

            We just have to learn how to purify the things that ought
to be purifed, to suffer all the pains and sorrows that are
unavoidable in it, and to offer everything for the glory of God and
the good of all. As to the good things that we enjoy in the world,
let’s always be thankful and ever thoughtful of how to use them
properly.

            The crucial point is that we do the will of God with whom
we are supposed to live our life here on earth. “Whoever does the will
of God remains forever,” remember? And God’s will is not difficult to
find out. We have his commandments and his teachings.

            And the ordinary duties and responsibilities of our state
in life already comprise the main bulk of what God’s will is for us.
If we fulfill them faithfully everyday, then we will get to know more
of that will in its finer points as well as in its big dimensions. In
this way can forever be already savored here and now.


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Holy Family and our families

WITH the recent celebration of the Solemnity of the Holy
Family, we are reminded that our families should be patterned after
the one of Jesus, Mary and Joseph where not only the natural and
material aspects of the family are attended to, but also and more
importantly, the supernatural and spiritual aspects.

            It’s time that we seriously consider this important angle
whenever we talk about the family, never regarding it as something
optional, but rather necessary although always to be understood as
something to be freely accepted, not imposed.

            Yes, the family has to be seen more in its spiritual and
supernatural character, from its foundation to its goal, than merely
in its material and natural facets. Since persons are concerned, the
human family cannot help but be endowed also with spiritual and
supernatural dimensions.

            Let’s remember that we can never outgrow the need for the
family, no matter how old, mature and independent we can be. Even
those who lead a prominently spiritual and celibate life need it.

            It’s a requirement of our nature, given by God and not by
some human consensus. The family is a divine creation, before it is a
human institution.

            That is why we don’t talk only of making the family
materially well-conditioned. It has to be spiritually healthy and
vibrant where faith, piety, virtues, charity, compassion, mercy, etc.
take precedence over our material needs for food, shelter, clothing,
etc.

            Thus, in one of the readings of the Solemnity, we are told
to “put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt
compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with
one another and forgiving one another…” (Col 3,12-13)

            This fundamental understanding and attitude toward the
family is now increasingly crucial as we are facing more tricky and
complicated challenges and trials that affect the family.

            We see rising cases of dysfunctional families, with
marriages defaced by infidelities and unrenewed love and a sense of
commitment unable to “Reset” or “Reboot” when needed, neglect of
children, family life reduced to a minimum, etc.

            Recognizing the crisis, the Vatican last year convoked a
synod of bishops to discuss certain issues regarding the family.

            In its working paper, called Lineamenta, the bishops were
asked to highlight “the need for mercy in responding to difficult
situations—even asking the bishops to avoid basing their pastoral care
solely on current Catholic doctrine.”

            In other words, the bishops were prodded to find other and
newer ways of dealing with the often ugly situations of the family in
the world today, even as fidelity to Christ’s moral teachings has to
be protected.

            I remember that the synod stirred up a hornet’s nest that
indicated that the issues were indeed complicated. They required a lot
of prayers, sacrifice, study, consultation, etc., since the demands of
fidelity to the moral doctrine of Christ has to contend with the need
for growth and adaptation of the same faith to the stark realities on
the ground.

            Of course, this effort to find newer but faithful ways of
dealing with difficult family issues has to start with empowering the
family, especially the parents, so that 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. This effort cannot do away with this basic necessity of the
family.

            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.

            What can help is for parents to consecrate their families
to the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, for it’s there where
they aspire to get the necessary guidance for the development of their
own families.


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The dangers of being correct

THE dangers of being wrong about something are quite
obvious. We don’t have to waste time about that, though we have to
remember that even in our mistakes and failures, something good can
always come out if we just open ourselves to the ever wise and
omnipotent providence of God.

            The perfect example of this case would be St. Paul who in
the middle of his persecution campaign against the early Christians
had his most extraordinary conversion, and later became one of the
most zealous apostles of Christ. From an intense hater of Christians,
he became their most fiery lover and defender.

            It’s rather the dangers of being right and correct that we
need to expose, because they are more subtle and beguiling, and
therefore harder to recognize and to avoid.

            What brought this thought to mind was when other day a
bunch of small Grade 1 girls in the school where I work approached me.
They were quarreling over something which I don’t remember now. But
what struck my attention was that each one was citing what her mother
or father or lola or teacher said to justify what they said or did.

            I was actually amused more than anything else to see their
little drama. Each one wanted to prove that she was right, and that,
to me, was the real problem. No one wanted to be wrong, or to admit
that the others also have a point even if their views were different
and even contrary to that of each one of them.

            And the thought came to me that what these little girls
were doing is actually what is also taking place among much older
people who ought to know much better. The latter can go through a lot
of bashings and mudslingings, invoking all sorts of principles that
they consider infallible, universal and absolute in scope.

            Among the dangers of thinking that one is right in
something is that he tends to become closed-minded and rigid. He finds
it hard to consider the views of others, especially if they are
different from his. He can get obsessive with an idea, a perfectionist
sans charity.

            With these dangers, it would be highly probable that one
can become impatient, uncharitable, intolerant. He can end up always
irritable and uptight. It would not be long before he isolates himself
from others, and develops all kinds of eccentricities—what we usually
describe as weird or strange.

            Since he is prone to be judgmental, he is quick to brand
and stereotype people and events, lazy to go any deeper in his
knowledge of people and things, and so he can end up being simplistic.

            What would worsen this is when he thinks he is always
right and there’s nothing that can prove him wrong. The
self-righteousness then becomes firm and even invincible. But there’s
a certain bitterness that eats him. What drives him is not love but
more of hatred, envy, insecurity.

            The funny thing about all this is that this kind of
attitude, mindset and lifestyle can be shared by a good number of
people. It can become first as a subculture, and later on if not
corrected, it can become a dominant and prevailing culture of the
people.

            There can be an apparent unity, more of a fa├žade really,
with hardly any genuine substance inside, But what they can have in
common are mere show-offs of arrogance, pride, vanity and mutual
envies.

            We have to be ready to do battle against these dangers.
While it’s always good to be right, we have to make sure where that
righteousness would come from. If it’s not based on God who is love
with a love that was shown to us concretely in Christ, whatever
goodness or righteousness we claim would always be suspicious, at
best.

            The righteousness that comes from God will always be
open-minded, eager to listen and dialogue with everyone and to adapt
to any situation. It is willing to be patient and to suffer when
contradicted even as it proclaims and defends itself in season and out
of season. It would know when to speak and when to keep quiet.

            In our current political exchanges, it would be nice to
remember these dangers of being right and to be guarded against them.
It would be nice if we learn how to be charitable in our arguments,
avoiding insults. ad hominems, non-sequiturs and all kinds of
fallacies, sarcasm and ironies. This can only be the right way to
arrive at a most fair appreciation of issues and personalities.

            Let’s hope we can be mature and not childish in our discussions.


Monday, December 28, 2015

Welcome, sinners!

WITH the papal declaration of the Jubilee Year of Mercy,
and especially if set in the context of this wonderful Christmas
season, what seems to readily come to mind is Christ telling us,
Welcome, sinners! Be not afraid.

            He seems to say, I have come to save you, not to condemn
and punish you. I have come to give you comfort and joy, not to simply
give you a hard time. I want you happy, not sad. I have come to love
you and to show how to love, not to hate and be afraid.

            He seems to say, I am your God, your Creator and Father. I
am your friend, your buddy. Come! Don’t feel shy toward me. Do not
worry so much about your sins and all the negativities of your life. I
understand you completely.

            He seems to say, Your sins certainly offend me. They break
my heart. But as your father, I know how to take your offenses. I am
not scandalized by them. They, in fact, make me love you more. And I
will give you a way of how to make up for your offenses. Do not be
afraid. Just do your best with me.

            He seems to say, I want you to be my children as I have
intended you to be. I want you to be like me, full of love, goodness
and mercy, since you are my image and likeness. It may take time and a
lot of effort for you to learn all this, but I am patient. I will
never grow tired if you take a long time.

            He seems to say, I want you to spread that love, goodness
and mercy around. Give special attention to those most in need,
whether materially, spiritually or morally. Don’t be afraid to go into
the deep. I assure you that you will catch a lot more of fish there,
even in the worst of times.

            He seems to say, Now that it’s Christmas, and I appear to
you as a child, hug me, kiss me, carry me in your arms, and grow with
me, live with me in both your good times and bad. I am your way, your
truth, your life. I am your guide, your comfort and rest when you are
tired, your healer when you are sick, your forgiver when you fall into
sin.

            He seems to say, Learn to be humble, because that is how
you can find me. Never be proud, much less, self-righteous, because
that can only cut you from me. You’ll end up seeing only bad things in
others and good things only in yourself—a funny anomaly.

            He seems to say, Don’t be afraid of the pains, sorrows and
suffering that may come your way in your earthly sojourn. I am always
around and in control of things. I know how to derive good from evil.
Just stick by me and trust me.

            He seems to say, Those sufferings will always be for your
own good, for your purification, for the atonement of sins, yours and
those of others. Nothing happens without my permission. And if I
permit them, it’s for some good purpose. Remember the story of Job,
the story of Joseph sold by his own brothers, and my own crucifixion.

            He seems to say, Try to follow me as closely as possible.
I am making myself completely available and accessible to you. I am
near you. In fact, I am at the very core of your being, at the very
center of your heart. I am the voice in your conscience.

            He seems to say, I am also around you. Wherever you look,
however you find yourself in, I am there. Everything around you, big
or small, special or ordinary, joyful or sorrowful, can lead you to
me, if you care.

            He seems to say, I am especially present and most
accessible to you in the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist. I
have made you part of my body which is the Church. You and I are
actually together all the time. I am with you always. But try to be
with me also. That’s because I don’t impose myself on you.

            He seems to say, in the Holy Eucharist, I make myself a
bread for you to eat, so I can enter into your life even physically.
In confession, I am most happy to always bestow forgiveness on you. In
the gospels, catechism, etc. you will find my living word. The Holy
Spirit will take care of all this. Just try not to abuse my goodness.


            So, welcome, my dear sinners!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Dying and rising

THE week between Christmas and New Year is good time to
make a deep and general examination of conscience, so we can see and
assess the state of our spiritual life, and figure out what to do to
move on.

            It’s also a good time to make a most heartfelt
thanksgiving because, in spite of whatever, we are still around.
Nothing less than a Te Deum is in order. Let’s hope that the practice
is taken more seriously and becomes widespread.

            It’s a week where we do, in a more dramatic way, some
dying and rising in the tenor of St. Paul’s words: “You fool! That
which you sow does not come to life unless it dies…” (1 Cor 15,36)

            The same truth was expressed more impressively by Christ
himself who said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat
falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it
bears much fruit.” (Jn 12,24)

            We need to accompany the transition of the old year to the
new with some dying and rising in our spiritual life, which is
actually the law that applies to us in our earthly condition.

            We have to learn how to leave behind the old and rotten
things of our life, and embrace the new and fresh things. Or better
said, let’s make the old things give rise to the new, like the
Phoenix. St. Paul puts it very bluntly: “Purge out the old leaven,
that you may be a new paste.” (1 Cor 5,7)

            We need to keep on renewing ourselves because no matter
how we keep ourselves young, fresh and new again, there are conditions
in our life that are beyond our control and they make us old.

            And I am not referring only to our physical condition that
by definition will degenerate simply with the flow of time. I am
referring more to our spiritual life which needs to be renewed
constantly because even in its good and ideal condition, it can still
degenerate because of our poisonous tendency to be complacent or to be
self-satisfied.

            That’s when we allow whatever good we have achieved to
spoil us. That’s when whatever good we have achieved and have
refreshed us for a while, becomes a source of pride and vanity and,
worse, a breeding ground for more insidious forms of malice.

            An old philosophical principle can describe that
frightening phenomenon. “Corruptio optimi pessima,” the corruption of
the best is the worst. That’s why the downfalls of erstwhile heroes
and extraordinary people cause greater scandals than those of ordinary
people.

            The good news is that this principle can have, I believe,
its reciprocal: “Conversio pessimi optima est,” the conversion of the
worst is the best. The story of St. Paul can lend credence to this.
Let’s hope that this is the principle that we follow more in life.

            With God’s grace, let’s be brutally frank to plumb deep
into the motivations of our thoughts, desires, plans, words and deeds,
and strike out whatever is not in keeping with charity, goodness,
mercy as defined and shown to us by Christ himself.

            Maybe what is simply needed is some tweaking, some
tightening of screws in our spiritual life, some toughening of what
has gone unduly soft. Or it could be that we need a major overhaul, a
refocusing of our whole life, a reengineering or reinventing of
ourselves to conform more to our proper dignity as image and likeness
of God, children of his.

            In this regard, it’s good to pay close attention to the
voice of our conscience. There we can hear God begging us, “My son,
give me your heart.” (Prov 23,26. It’s moving to hear God begging of
us to give what is most precious to us, our heart. He does this
because he does not impose himself on us. He respects our freedom,
which is actually his gift to us, making us precisely his image and
likeness.

            And on our part, we should not be afraid to give it,
knowing that what seems a loss to us by giving our heart to God would
actually be a tremendous gain. Christ spoke much about this
self-giving that actually enriches us rather than impoverishing us.

            So, our attitude should sound like what is expressed in
Psalm 50. “Create in me a new heart, O Lord.” If we really know who we
are or how we stand before God who is everything to us, I suppose we
cannot ask him in a tone other than this.


            Let’s not be afraid to die and rise again.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Proclamation and dialogue

THIS is both the task and the challenge of a good teacher.
He has to know how to proclaim the truth about the subject he teaches.
He has to dish out the pertinent data, information, and other trivia.
But he also has to wage a continuing dialogue with all the relevant
references of his job, so that his stock of knowledge would not grow
idle, stagnant, if not dead.

            A teacher who has been teaching the same subject in school
for years has to make continuing research and study, and be sensitive
to the developments of his field that these days are in a galloping
state. He has to pay attention to the authorities and experts of his
field, as well as to his students in their concrete situations and
conditions. In a sense, he is like a mediator, a bridge.

            In fact, if he has to stay afloat in his work or business,
he has to continually find new frontiers. He should not be contented
with what he already knows and has achieved. Though there are things
that by their nature will stay permanent and unchangeable, he should
not forget that there are also things that can and should change
depending on the circumstances and developments.

            In this regard, it might be relevant to cite some words of
that Chinese business wonder by the name of Jack Ma, founder of
Alibaba:

            “What I said on the occasion of our IPO last year when we
raised US$25 billion bears repeating. What we earned was not money,
but trust. Maintaining that trust means we must listen carefully to
the views of others. It also means we must reflect on the challenges
we have been communicating with our shareholders and the public.”

            And this task of engaging in continuing dialogue with
others is especially true when we have to preach the living word of
God. We should not only proclaim it. Sooner or later, if we just
contend ourselves with proclaiming it, we will realize that in spite
of our best efforts at rhetoric and oratory, it will sound stale and
meaningless, and our proclamation will just fall on deaf ears.

            One has to make his preaching an occasion to dialogue
vitally with God and with others. Otherwise, what is living and
life-giving in it can freeze and become ineffective. When we notice
that our preaching does not have some sensible impact on us and on
others, we have good reason to suspect that our preaching has not been
a dialogue with God and with others.

            When our proclamation of God’s living word is also a
dialogue with God and with others, there will always be some palpable
effects, some transformation, some conversion. That’s because God’s
word is always effective, as the Letter to the Hebrews says: “For the
word of God is living and active…” (4,12)

            We have to understand that this living word of God is both
old and new, divine and human, supernatural and natural. It embraces
both time and eternity. There are things in it that will never change,
but also things that have to change and adapt to circumstances.

            In the end, the word of God is his Son, the second person
of the Blessed Trinity, who became man to save us. Christ is the Word,
who is both God and man, the lone and perfect mediator between God and
man.

            That God became man and continues to be man in Christ can
only speak of how God himself undertakes a continuing dialogue with
man. His interventions and involvement in the life of man are constant
and ongoing.

            This is also the attitude we have to have when we preach
God’s living word, or put in another way of saying it, when we preach
Christ. We just have to keep on dialoguing with God and with others,
to the point that we become like them somehow.

            With God’s grace and with our utmost faith and generous
efforts, we can achieve this ideal. The crucial point here is our
effort to identify ourselves more and more with Christ. That’s because
it’s only with him that we would be able not to get lost in our task
of dialoguing and adapting ourselves to others, even as we proclaim
God’s word.

            And so, we need to find time always to have a very
intimate prayer and conversation with God, meditating on his word,
making it our own and applying to our condition at the moment and to
that of the others.

            This is always possible, since God’s word will always
adapt to us in all our circumstances and situations.