Sunday, February 28, 2016

The tyranny of perfectionism

WE need to distinguish between Christian perfection and
the tyrannical perfectionism that unfortunately is emerging in some
sectors of our society. The former will always include mercy and
compassion, and would know how to handle wrong ideas and erring people
in charity. The latter is full of self-righteousness, and could not
bear people and things that are in the other side of the fence.

            Christian perfection, as exemplified by Christ, can prefer
to suffer and even to die a martyr rather than go against the
requirements of love. Its caricature, the tyrannical perfectionism,
prefers to survive in this life as long as he is always right. He
prefers correctness over mercy and compassion.

            The disorder of perfectionism usually afflicts some
so-called “good” and “pious” people, those who are regarded as
rightists and conservatives. They are usually seen as being very
strict and fastidious, but the truth is they often have a scrupulous
conscience that leads them to be narrow-minded and rigid in their

            They are prone to make rash judgments and end up bitter
and irritable. It would be no wonder that they feel isolated like an
island detached from the continent, and any show of sociability is
simply just that, a show, an act, a performance, devoid of the proper
substance and spirit.

            This tyrannical perfectionism comes about as a consequence
of a badly understood Christian perfection. That there already may be
some predisposing elements toward it should not be a surprise, because
we can presume everyone has them one way or another. It can even be a
character trait. The problem is when these elements go uncorrected,
and worse, are treated as normal or as the ideal.

            Perfectionism can profess ardent if not fanatical belief
in Christ, but a Christ without the cross. It simply focuses on what
it considers as the exclusivity of truth without the inclusivity of
charity. It prefers ideas and values over persons in their concrete
conditions with all their charms as well as their warts.

            It has a controlling instinct. Everything has to follow a
certain game plan, otherwise things are not considered right. It has
low level of tolerance when plans are changed or unforeseen events

            It can present itself as an obsessive-compulsive disorder.
People who have it usually experience a craving and an anxiety for
what they have to do. They can be very orderly and squeaky clean, with
a great desire to fulfill duties. They can be seen as extremely

            They are always worried about the future, and have little
tolerance for pending matters. They rely heavily on the opinion of
others. They can show various forms of assertiveness, including the
subtle ones, and can easily fall into insecurities and activism. They
have a morbid fear for failures and mistakes.

            As in all character traits, perfectionism can show
positive aspects which can be taken advantage of but which have to be
purified. People with it have a strong will to do things with a high
sense of responsibility and order.

            We just have to correct the negative aspects: an abnormal
sense of duty, reduced capability of reflecting, giving only an
external obedience, indecision and rigidity. These have to be

            We have to be patient and competent in dealing with people
with this disorder. They have to be taught to look more closely at
Christ, who came to serve and not to be served and was willing to
offer his life on the cross, and to avoid making worldly values like
order or punctuality or success as an end in themselves.

            They have to be reminded that these values only have a
relative standing, and that the one absolute value is God alone who
adapted himself to our wounded condition to save us.

            They have to realize that everyone and everything here on
earth has imperfections, and that we just have to learn how to be
sport in life, taking both the good things and bad, the successes and
defeats in stride.

            They have to learn how to see things from the perspective
of eternity where God’s providence knows how to take advantage of our
sins and mistakes. They simply have to learn how to begin and begin
again in life without getting stuck at any point, whether good or bad.

            The important thing is not in the success of things, but
rather in the love for God and for others which by definition will
include mercy and compassion. They have to learn to listen deeply and
to find an excuse for the shortcomings of others.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Pray without ceasing

YES, that is actually what is proper to us. We need to
pray without ceasing, as St. Paul told us in his First Letter to the
Thessalonians. (5,16) To keep our spiritual life alive, to make it
survive all trials in life, let alone, to make it work effectively and
grow healthily, we need to pray without letup.

            What food is to our biological life, prayer is to our
spiritual life. Prayer is like the breathing and the very beating of
the heart of our life with God and with others. It is the primary and
abiding link we have with God and with everybody else. Without it, we
would simply isolate ourselves.

            In short, we can say that while God is objectively with
us, since he is present everywhere, we have to make sure that on our
part, we should also be subjectively with him. Precisely, St.
Augustine once complained about this problem of God being with us
while we are not with him. We need to correspond to this objective
reality of our unbreakable and intimate relation with God.

            And more than just mouthing some vocal prayers, which are
also good moments of prayer, it’s the moment-to-moment awareness of
God’s presence, made alive by referring everything to him—conferring
with him, consulting, asking questions or help, etc.—that comprises
our prayer. The stream of our consciousness itself should be prayer!

            We have to be wary of what Christ himself warned us: “In
praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be
heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father
knows what you need before you ask him.” (Mt 6,7)

            Our prayer should come from our heart. It should reflect
the unvarnished reality of our heart. Never mind if it does not look
very beautiful yet. We just have to pray with faith, like a person who
feels a great need for God precisely because of his frailties, if not,
his sins, defects and failures.

            With that attitude toward prayer, we can easily enter into
an intimate conversation with God, like a little child confiding to
his father who will always understand and help him regardless of the
child’s conditions.

            To be sure, our filial prayer would not undermine our
common sense, our contact with the daily realities, our interest in
the arts, sciences and technologies, our involvement in all the
mundane and temporal human affairs—our business, politics, sports,
entertainment, etc.

            Rather, our prayer sharpens and fosters all of these human
operations. If done properly, it would purify and deepen our
understanding of things, and strengthen our involvement in our earthly
daily affairs.

            Praying all the time is always possible and doable,
because it does not need a bodily organ for it to be done. It is a
spiritual operation that can transcend the use of our bodily
faculties. It is more a matter of attitude, of belief, which we can
always have even if it is not expressly articulated or bodily

            As such, it can be done in any situation—while we are
working, playing, resting, having fun, etc. But it would be good that
we spend some moments of vocal or mental prayer, engaging God in a
loving conversation, for these would help us to be prayerful in all
our other activities and situations in life.

            Thus, we have to be ready to do some vocal prayers and
mental prayer. These are exercises that can build and fuel our life of
prayer. With them, we engage God in a more direct way, and in a more
loving way, giving him due worship and adoration.

            Besides, those moments of vocal prayer and mental prayer
would be good moments to thank God for everything we have received,
and also to ask for pardon for the mistakes and sins we have
committed, as well as to ask for favors that we need.

            With prayer, we can get to be receptive to God’s will and
ways. We become familiar with his words and his teachings that are a
sure guide in our life. With it, we are not simply living our life on
our own. We would be living it with God, which is how our life should
be, since we are his creatures, and creatures made in his image and
likeness, meant to enter and take part in the very life of God

            We have to continually work on the proper dispositions for
prayer. We have to learn to pray with faith and love, confidence and
trust in God, with humility and simplicity, with spirit of sacrifice.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Giving a good homily

WORRIED about the complaints many people make about
priests’ homilies, the Vatican has issued a Homiletic Directory that
gives tips on how to give good homilies.

            It cannot be denied that people nowadays, rightly or
wrongly, judge the quality and the attractiveness of the Mass by the
homilies priests give.

            Of course, their judgment is not the ultimate criterion to
use to evaluate the effectiveness of the homilies and much less, of
the Mass itself. But their observations count a lot because the
homilies are meant to make a certain impact on their lives.

            If their reception of the homilies is not good, if they
find them boring or too pedantic and abstract, or heavily peppered
with rhetorical gimmicks and pompous words, etc., then most likely the
desired effect of the homilies of fostering greater holiness and
closer intimacy with God and more love for others, would already be

            Homilies are meant to be an organic extension of God’s
continuing dialogue with men. The priests who give them should be most
aware that the words are not his, but Christ’s, and that they have to
be most faithful, if not, vitally identified with Christ.

            You can just imagine with what preparation and
dispositions the priests should have to properly deliver them.
They—we, me included—should prepare the homilies with prayer and
appropriate study. We have to acquire and assume nothing less than the
very mind and sentiments of Christ.

            That’s why only priests or, at least, deacons can give the
homilies, because they have been ordained to personify Christ as head
of the Church who preside over the Mass, even if it is the whole
assembly who offers the Mass. Only the clerics have the power to
preach the homilies, even if there are laypeople who are more gifted
in theological knowledge and rhetorical skills.

            Like Christ, we, clerics, have to be mediators who link
both God and men, and therefore, should be intimately identified with
God and with men to be effective mediators.

            The homilies then cannot be other than a message of
salvation, of mercy, which in the end is the very mission of Christ.
They somehow have to proclaim the whole nature and mission of Christ
all the way to the cross and his resurrection. They just cannot be too
focused on the cross without the resurrection, nor on the resurrection
without the cross.

            In fact, the homilies should be an expression and
manifestation of Christ himself. When the assembly listens to the
homilies, they should have the sensation and conviction that they are
listening to Christ.

            The homilies should somehow show God’s eager desire to
save man, and man’s necessity to be saved. The homilies should somehow
manage to portray the concrete human conditions of a given people at a
given time which are in need of divine redemption. Thus, homilies are
not meant to be generic messages of salvation. They ought to have a
specific focus even if the message of redemption remains the same.

            To be sure, the effectiveness of the homilies is not only
a matter of techniques, though these are always necessary. It is more
a matter of the genuine sanctity of the homilists. Homilies should not
be reduced into some kind of theatric performance, or a class lecture.

            Thus, more than just honing up our studies and rhetorical
skills, we, clerics, should really work on our spiritual life, on our
real identification with Christ. We should be filled with nothing less
than the spirit of Christ. We should be most generous and heroic in
our prayers and sacrifices.

            Obviously, this process will always be a work in progress.
It will be a lifetime concern. We should not think that it is
undoable, because while it’s true that it’s really a daunting duty, it
is also true that God has already given us everything for us to be
what we ought to be and do while giving the homilies.

            What is needed is trust, faith and hope in God’s word, his
grace, his mercy. And like a baby goaded by his mother to start to
learn to walk, we just have to make the first step, then the next, and
the next, till we can walk steadily and with elegance, never mind the
occasional missteps and setbacks.

            If properly done, the homilies will always have the
qualities of Christ’s words—with wisdom and charity, with power and
humility. They will have a transforming effect on those who, with
faith in God also, would hear them.

            They will be words that would bring us eternal salvation!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Human affection and family life

IT’S good that we give due attention to plan and develop
our affectivity especially in the context of our family life. We are
all humans, and we can face big issues and challenges in life, but we
should never forget that we need to show affection to everyone,
regardless of the situation, because that is an immediate and
universal human need.

            Without affection, all signs and expressions of civility,
mercy and compassion would be hollow. They would all be a sham, for
affection is the beginning and end of charity, the integral packaging
of love that can have its highest point in mercy and compassion.
Charity without affection would be a strange charity.

            And the model for this is none other than Christ himself
who in spite of the seriousness of his mission—nothing less than human
redemption that would have its culmination in his crucifixion—never
neglected to show affection for everyone.

            First, he lived 30 of his 33 years of earthly life in a
family, and we can just imagine how the family atmosphere was when
both Mary and Joseph knew who their son was. We can be sure that the
home life the Holy Family must have been invariably characterized by
affection, to say the least.

            Even in his public life when Christ was busy going around
preaching, he always showed affection and compassion with everyone,
especially those who were sick and possessed. With his apostles who
went around with him, he always managed to spend time with them in
some lonely place where they could rest and talk with greater

            It’s important that we make deliberate effort to develop
our affective life. There now are many threats and dangers that can
undermine it. We can take others, especially those who are close to
us, like the family members, for granted.

            We can easily fall into familiarity that may not breed
contempt as much as it breeds indifference and unconcern. Then, there
now are many distractions, especially coming from our new
technologies, that can hook people into endless games and other
self-absorbing and self-seeking activities. In this regard, there is a
great need for self-discipline and a strong sense of order and

            If not the above, then we can have the dangers of
perfectionism, self-righteousness, obsessive-compulsive rigidities and
oversensitivity. These can imprison us in our own world that can use
as defense mechanisms such practices as rash judgments, the keeping of
grudges and resentments, the unwillingness to forgive, etc.

            There also are the dangers of sentimentalism, particular
friendships, loquacity, gossiping, backbiting.

            We have to learn how to deal with our unavoidable
differences and even conflicts in some matters. We somehow should
welcome these differences and conflicts because they serve to expand
and enrich our understanding of things.

            Let’s remember that the itinerary and shape of our human
and Christian growth is indicated by what the others need or expect
from us, no matter how unlikeable these expectations are.

            The will of God for us at any given moment is many times
known through what the others need. Attending to these needs with
affection builds up our human maturity and the fullness of Christian

            When we manage to practice affection in our family life,
we actually would be putting ourselves in a good position to handle
the demands of all the other aspects of our life—spiritual,
professional, social, etc.

            We can pray better, work better and relate ourselves
better to the others when we know how to be affectionate in our family
life. We can be very simple, and our ability to understand people and
things better, as well as to discover more things of interest in
others would be enhanced if we are affectionate with others.

            We need to spread and propagate this culture of being
affectionate in our family life more widely. This is what the world
needs now very badly. We should find ways of making plans to develop
this basic aspect of our life.

            Family meals and other forms of family togetherness should
be fostered. We should have the habit of listening to others intently,
getting to know them more thoroughly, including their tastes and
styles, their biases and preferences.

            We should always be ready with smiles, stories, jokes,
positive and encouraging words, etc. These have a certain charm and
magic that can always outdo the criteria of cold reason alone.

            We need to bring this matter of how to be affectionate in
our prayer and study. We cannot anymore afford to take it for granted.
We have to be dead serious about this duty.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Toward our integral development

WE need to expand our understanding of our human
development. Our problem now is that that term is often restricted to
mean economic development only, or at best, some social, political or
cultural development. Sorry, but it does not go far and deep enough.

            Obviously, the elements and factors that go into these
aspects of development are already bewildering and exacting. But
common sense alone would tell us we should not get stuck there. These
aspects, while indispensable, do not capture our over-all dignity and
stature. They do not give the whole picture.

            Such understanding of development would lack its radical
foundation and ultimate purpose. It can have colorful and stimulating
moments, but in the end it would just be going in circles, with all
the probability of going bad and dangerous.

            Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI told us how development should
be understood in his encyclical “Caritas in veritate” (Charity in the
truth). In the first place, he reminded us that development is not
just a purely human affair.

            Development is a God-given vocation, both a divine gift
and our responsibility, the arena where the interacting love between
God and man and the love among us in God are played out.

            It’s not just a product of the brilliance of some people,
no matter how extraordinary that brilliance may be. It cannot be
pursued by simply using human means, no matter how practical and
convenient they are.

            The fullness of both faith and our sciences has to go into
it. The requirements of both piety and pragmatism, sanctity and
competence have to be met. Not one or the other, but both. It should
be a holistic development, not a reductive one.

            We have to avoid the extremes of the pietistic and
spiritualist approach on the one hand, and the purely secularized and
pragmatic approach on the other hand.

            The former led us to the anomalies of unhealthy
clericalism in the past, with some vestiges of it still remaining in
the present. The latter has grounded us on a certain
law-of-the-jungle, dog-eat-dog world of Godless pragmatism now raging
in today’s society.

            Ok, this is easier said than done. Still, with our wealth
of experience and knowledge gathered through the years, I’m sure we
have better insights and tools to effect the ideal way to achieve
genuine and integral development.

            We just have to be hopeful and optimistic, slowly but
steadily putting into action those things we think can help achieve
this kind of development. We may have to go through the mess of the
trial-and-error approach, we may be heckled and taunted, but we just
have to move in the most prudent way we can.

            Yes, it’s true that when I’m with priestly company,
there’s still a tendency to get simplistic, idealistic and moralistic
with respect to world problems, often not giving due consideration to
the realities of things.

            But I also note a growing improvement in this area. More
clerics are now more sensitive to the distinctions between the ideal
and the actual, and more respectful of the legitimate autonomy and
differences in temporal matters while pursuing the ultimate eternal
goal of man.

            The same when I’m with laypeople immersed in business and
politics. There’s still a lot of secularized attitude, where God and
religion hardly enter into their calculations.

            Still, I can see a growing number of them learning how to
integrate faith into their earthly affairs. There may be awkwardness
and incompetence, but I think a trend in this direction can be seen in
many places. We just have to sustain it and make it gain momentum.

            There’s a need to clarify the true nature and scope of
human development. And the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI gave us abundant

            When he, for example, talked about what constitutes
“decent work”, he said:

            “It means work that expresses the essential dignity of
every man and woman in the context of their particular society,

            -“work that is freely chosen, effectively associating
workers, both men and women, with the development of their community,

            -“work that enables the worker to be respected and free
from any form of discrimination,

            -“work that makes it possible for families to meet their
needs and provide schooling for their children, without the children
themselves being forced into labor,

            -“work that permits the workers to organize themselves
freely, and to make their voices heard,

            -“work that leaves enough room for rediscovering one’s
roots at a personal, familial and spiritual level,

            -“work that guarantees those who have retired a decent
standard of living.”

            Let’s try to listen to the Pope in our journey toward
integral development!