Thursday, March 31, 2016

The question of gradualness

 IT happened in the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the
Family in 2014. In fact, it exploded into a media firestorm. In
tackling the question of gradualness in relation to the pastoral care
of people with some moral irregularities, like the divorced and
remarried, a lot of nuanced distinctions have to be made. The main
problem is how to translate the theory into practice, the abstract
principles to concrete actions.

            The first distinction to be made is that between the
so-called ‘law of gradualness’ and the ‘gradualness of the law.’ The
former is ok, the latter is not. The former says that “people improve
their relationship with God and grow in the virtues gradually, and do
not jump to perfection in a single step.”

            It is a principle used in Catholic moral and pastoral
theology that encourages people to grow closer to God and his plan for
their lives in a step-by-step manner rather than expecting them to
jump from an initial conversion to perfection in a single step.

            This is simply because man grows by stages in his life and
holiness. Thus, St. Paul said: “I could not address you as spiritual
men, but as men of the flesh, as babes in Christ. I fed you with milk,
not solid food, for you were not ready for it…” (1 Cor 3,1-3)

            The latter, the ‘gradualness of the law,’ presumes that
there are different degrees or forms of God’s law for different
individuals and situations. In effect, this position holds that there
cannot be absolute, objective and universal moral laws. It practically
erases all possibilities of sin, since any situation can be
rationalized by one’s subjective law.

            In the gospel, we can have an example of this ‘law of
gradualness’ in that parable of the dishonest steward (Lk 16,1-17). In
that parable, the dishonest steward was commended not for his
dishonesty, but for his shrewdness or prudence. He at least was
concerned about his future.

            But his over-all actuation was obviously wrong because of
the dishonest methods he used. This is made clear when Christ
concluded in that parable that “he who is dishonest in a very little
is dishonest also in much,” (10) and that “no servant can serve two
masters…you cannot serve God and mammon.” (13)

            It is in the same vein that we have to understand those
words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who in 2010 told a German
journalist that if a male prostitute uses a condom to try to avoid
infecting other people with HIV/AIDS, it can be “a first step in a
movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living

            Benedict XVI did not mean to change the Church’s
opposition to condom use. He simply meant that there are times when it
suggests a concern for others that in itself is already laudable.

            What is to be guarded against is to use this ‘law of
gradualness’ to justify all the other aspects of a human act that in
themselves are immoral. While we should be quick to acknowledge the
good parts of that act, we should not turn a blind eye on the other
parts that are questionable. Otherwise, the ‘law of gradualness’
becomes the ‘gradualness of the law’ which is another name of that
moral anomaly called relativism.

            In real life, though, the distinction between the two can
be very tricky. One can easily be confused with the other. Such
confusion can lead to bad consequences as when the ‘law of
gradualness’ can make a person too lenient with himself and becomes
prone to abuse such treatment.

            It is quite clear therefore that just like in prescribing
medicine for a serious health problem, certain contraindications and
other conditions may be given to assure that this moral and pastoral
approach of gradualness is received well and not abused.

            It was with this idea that in 1997 the Pontifical Council
for the Family issued a Vademecum for Confessors to give guidance to
those hearing confessions on how to deal with people who are in some
delicate, difficult if not irregular situations.

            The document warned confessors against the idea of
thinking that repentance does not require a decisive break with sin.
“The pastoral ‘law of gradualness,’” it said, “not to be confused with
‘gradualness of the law’ which would tend to diminish the demands it
places on us, consists of requiring a decisive break with sin together
with a progressive path toward total union with the will of God and
with his loving demands.” (3,9)

            With more study and prayer, consultation and discussion,
let’s hope that we can achieve the skill to apply the ‘law of
gradualness’ properly.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Dealing with our persistent defects and predicaments

THE story of the sick man lying for 38 years in the pool
of Bethesda (Jn 5) still hoping to get into the stirred water ahead of
the others to be cured somehow illustrates to us a common situation
that we can find ourselves in.

            Like him, we can have some persistent defects and
predicaments which we try to overcome or resolve, but so far, no
success is achieved yet. This condition can come about because of a
variety of causes and circumstances.

            It can be a physical deformity or sickness, about which
nothing much can be done. Or it can be an emotional, mental, or
psychological issue, or a character defect which can affect, even for
a lifetime, the way we think, react, and behave. We all know that even
if we came to this world as a bundle of joy, we also have our share of

            We have to learn to live with them, cultivating the proper
attitudes and outlook, and in fact, knowing how to make use of them
for our own good and the good of everybody else. They are not
necessarily bad news. They can and should be good news.

            This possibility can only take place if we regard them
from the point of view of our Christian faith. There we can find why
these things happen and how we can take advantage of them. If we are
humble enough to accept these truths and learn to live by them, then
our life can be filled with meaning and even joy.

            These defects and predicaments can come, first of all, due
to the limitations of our human nature and the material world in which
we live. If we would just manage to acknowledge this fact of life,
then there should not be much of a problem to solve.

            We just have to accept ourselves as we are, knowing that
if God, our Creator and Father, made us in a certain way, there must
be a sublime purpose which we may try to decipher in our whole
lifetime. That is why, it is important that we learn to live in the
dynamics of mystery which our life will always be.

            These persistent defects and predicaments can also come
because of sin, ours and those of others. Yes, there are sins that can
leave long-lasting if not lifelong effects. In this case, we just have
to remember that Christ taught us to carry the cross till death, and
everything will just have a happy ending. If we die with Christ, we
will also resurrect with him.

            That is why it is important that we always think and
reason out in terms of faith, more than just our feelings or our own
natural and human estimation of things. It is faith that gives us the
global picture of things. It manages to give real and redemptive
meaning to any situation in our life.

            It is our faith that reassures us that we are never alone,
that we are never left abandoned to fend for ourselves against
anything that can take place in life. Like that sick man at the
poolside of Bethesda, lying there for 38 years, waiting for his lucky
turn, we should remain hopeful that not everything is lost.

            God will always intervene in our life. He is a good father
to us, ever merciful and compassionate, slow to anger, quick to
forgive. We might be a misbehaving child, but he always looks first at
our being his child before he does something with our misdeeds.

            It might be good to always relish this psalm that
reassures us of the goodness of God in spite of our mistakes: “For his
anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping
may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.”

            Our problem is that we many times choose to be guided by
our own feelings and private thoughts, detached from our faith. And so
we plunge into fear and shame, sadness and depression, and we suffer

            We have to learn to be quick to go back to Christ who will
always welcome us no matter how ugly our mistakes are. We should also
learn to be quick to say sorry to God and to all the others who may be
involved in our misdeeds, defects and predicaments.

            More than that, we can always try to be helpful to others.
This way, we open ourselves to learn things that can help us resolve,
at least in part, our persistent defects and predicaments.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Holiness is for all

NOT everyone can be president of our country. But everyone
can and should be a saint. Not everyone can be president because there
are some stringent requirements for it, like being a natural-born
citizen and a resident of the country for a number of years. But
everyone can be holy because God calls all and empowers all to be so.

            As president or, for that matter, as any holder of public
position or status, certain skills are needed to carry out the
specific demands of such position and status. But as a saint, no
specific skills are needed. What is simply needed is to give our whole
being to God, irrespective of our position and status in life.

            Ever wondered why Christ chose his apostles practically
randomly? He, for example, would just pass by Matthew in his tax
collector’s table and say, “Come, follow me,” without as much checking
on Matthew’s background.

            Same with brothers Peter and Andrew, and James and John.
Christ would just call them, and without asking any question they
simply left their nets, for they were fishermen, and followed Christ.

            In the end, he would also call Judas Iscariot who would
later betray him. Christ, being God, would have known that Judas would
turn him in. But that did not deter him. He called Judas to be one of
his 12 apostles just the same.

            The only reason I can find for this behavior of Christ is
that he has the right to call anyone and everyone to follow him. And
that’s simply because, as God, he has that right since all of us come
from him and belong to him. As redeemer, he calls everyone to follow

            This, I believe, is a truth of faith that we have to
understand very well. Sanctity is not so much a matter of acquiring
specific skills, positions and status, as of giving one’s whole self
to God.

            This does not mean that we should be indifferent and
negligent about this business of acquiring skills, positions and
status. These are very important and indispensable, but as living
parts of the whole body that sanctity is.

            Remember that passage in the First Letter of St. Paul to
the Corinthians when he talked about the body and its different parts?
It’s in Chapter 12 and might be worthwhile going though it again.

            “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all
the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with
Christ,” he said. He continued: “For the body does not consist of one
member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand,
I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part
of the body.

            “If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing
be? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell

            To be holy is actually a matter of becoming a living,
functioning part of the body of Christ. That would mean that we become
identified with Christ, infused with his spirit of love and conformed
to his will and ways.

            To be holy is to be with Christ, although in different
ways, just like the different parts that form and serve one body. And
we should not worry if, continuing the same imagery of the body and
its parts, we happen to be that part that we consider of least honor.

            St. Paul has this to say about that: “The parts of the
body which seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those parts which
we think less honorable we invest with the greater honor, and our
unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more
presentable parts do not require.” (22-24)

            The important thing to remember is that each part of the
body, however it is considered in our human standards, has to serve
the whole body. In other words, whatever our condition, position or
status in life, we should always aim at sanctity, the end-all and
be-all of our life.

            We should refrain from getting entangled with petty
comparisons with others, generating unnecessary envies, jealousies,
conflicts, etc. We should learn to be contented with what we have as
long as we use them for the attainment of our ultimate goal of

            But we obviously have to attend to opportunities to a
better condition, position or status when they prove to be coming from
God’s will, and not just from our own desires that can be driven by
pride, vanity, greed, and the like.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Easter spirit

CHRIST, our savior, is risen, never to die again. This is
the greatest news of all time. Nothing can outshine it. And with it, a
dam-burst of happy consequences come our way.

            The only thing that can nullify this news is our freedom,
that is, when we would stupidly use it to deny Christ, either openly
or secretly, without repenting. Yes, Peter, the head of the apostles,
came close to it by denying him, not only once, but three times, but
he repented. That is the difference between our salvation and
condemnation, between our glorification and perdition.

            With Christ’s resurrection which by the way came as a
result of his death on the cross and never separated from it, all
possible sins and their consequences, especially the worst one which
is our eternal death, have been conquered. What great joy we are given
with this piece of news!

            With Christ’s resurrection, we are given a way out of all
our predicaments, no matter how bad, ugly and humanly insoluble they
are. If we only unite ourselves with Christ, that is, if we are
willing to go through all his suffering and death, we too, with him,
can also have our resurrection. Victory is actually guaranteed for us

            Of course, we have to understand that Christ’s passion,
death and resurrection summarizes all his teaching. And so, if we are
willing to go through Christ’s paschal mystery, we should at least
have tried to live by his teaching.

            Yes, we should try our best to be most consistent to
Christ’s teaching and example, but we also know that observance of
Christ’s teaching is not perfect, and in fact is full of deviations.
Just the same, as long as we have the intention, as long as we repent
when we fall, then the fruits of Christ’s redemptive work can still be
ours. That’s what divine mercy is all about.

            The only sin that cannot be forgiven or that resists God’s
abundant mercy, is the sin against the Holy Spirit, which is not only
a matter of refusing to believe in the Holy Spirit, but also of
mocking him. This is when we live on our own strength and our own
estimation of things. It would just be a matter of time before an
invincible despair would set in.

            This is the Easter spirit that is given to us and that we
should receive with great joy, gratitude and utmost fidelity. It is a
spirit that gives us supreme confidence and peace. It is a spirit of
continual renewal, of making ourselves a new creation in Christ again
and again.

            To have this Easter spirit we need to rise also from the
death of our sins, like what Christ did. This can happen every time we
say sorry to God and to anyone affected by our faults, mistakes, sins,
and especially when we go to confession and receive Christ in holy

            In other words, it’s when we welcome the risen and
ever-living Christ that we receive this Easter spirit. How wonderful
it would be if we just abide by this central truth of our faith! We
should not miss this great opportunity. Let’s not be doubtful as the
apostles were before the resurrection and even right before Christ’s

            Let me remit to you the beautiful words Pope Francis said
in his Easter Vigil homily.

          “We cannot discover life by being sad, bereft of hope.  Let
us not stay imprisoned within ourselves, but let us break open our
sealed tombs to the Lord so that he may enter and grant us life.

            “Let us give him the stones of our rancour and the boulders of
our past, those heavy burdens of our weaknesses and falls.  Christ wants to come
and take us by the hand to bring us out of our anguish.

            “This is the first stone to be moved aside this night: the
lack of hope which imprisons us within ourselves.  May the Lord free
us from this trap, from being Christians without hope, who live as if
the Lord were not risen, as if our problems were the centre of our

            “We see and will continue to see problems both within and
without.  They will always be there… It is important to shed the light
of the Risen Lord upon our problems,
and in a certain sense, to “evangelize” them.

            “Let us not allow darkness and fear to distract us and
control us; we must cry out to them: the Lord “is not here, but has
risen!”  He is our greatest joy; he is always at our side and will
never let us down.”


Sunday, March 27, 2016

The mystery of God’s love for us

WHY does God love us so much? It makes us to wonder why.
Just consider these points which I am sure are not complete. In fact,
they are still very far from complete, even if we think they are
already quite exhaustive and overwhelming.

            First, He created us when there was no need for him to do
so. More than that, He created us in his very own image and likeness,
taking the risk that we can replace him ourselves.

            And when finally we, in Adam and Eve, fell to that
temptation of replacing God, he continues to love by sending his own
son to redeem us. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only
begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but
have everlasting life.” (Jn 3,16)

            And the son assumed all our sins by dying on the cross and
resurrecting. There can be no greater love than this.  God has done
this because the Son, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, is the
perfect image of God himself. And since we are the image and likeness
of God, the Son has to repair that divine image of ours that has been
deformed by our sin.

            God in Christ continues to go through the process of
redeeming us by dying and resurrecting all throughout time by sending
the Holy Spirit, founding the Church and the instituting the
sacraments, especially that of the Holy Eucharist. St. Josemaria
Escriva has described the Holy Eucharist as God’s madness of love for

            And the list goes on and on. It will never end. Again, why
does God love us so much? We can only repeat some words of the Psalms:
“What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you
care for him?” (8,4)

            We can only wager some possible answers. One of them could
be that it is precisely because we have been created in his image and
likeness that God cannot leave us alone. In a way, we can say that he
sees himself in us, no matter how much we deform that divine image in

            In this regard, God is like the mother mentioned in the
Book of Isaiah. “Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no
compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will
not forget you.” (49,15)

            Besides, even in the natural plane, there is hardly any
mother who will not clean her child no matter how dirty the child is.
It’s instinctive of her to do whatever is needed to clean the child or
to get him out of any predicament.

            That, at the very least, is how God sees and treats us. He
of course does a lot more. To top it all, we should not forget that no
matter how gifted and accomplished we may be in our human affairs, all
of us are always more helpless and clueless before God than we can be
before our respective parents.

            In fact, we can outsmart our parents. But with God, never.
We will always be like little children to him, growing more dependent
on him. Even if we appear to have gained more stature in our earthly
condition, like in knowledge, power, wealth, etc., our dependence on
him would still grow since we will be entering more and more into
God’s own mystery.

            In other words, we can say that the more stature we gain
in our earthly life, the more dependent on God we become. And that’s
simply because we would be touching on more mysteries of God.

            Our attitude toward this tremendous and most mysterious
love of God for us should be that of extreme gratitude and fidelity,
and to love him as much as we could in return, since love is always
repaid with love.

            Concerning this point, it’s good to remember that we
should always feel very close to God because He is first of all very
close to us with his love. Yes, even if we are unworthy and imperfect,
God will always love us, and it’s right that we always feel confident
and sure of this love.

            At the same time, we should never stop trying to get to
know and love him more and more, because even if he is the closest
being to us, he is also the farthest, since he is pure mystery to us.
This latter reality about God should spur, not curb, our effort to
find more ways to know, love and serve him.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Trust God always regardless…

IN all our affairs and situations in life, we should
always go to God to ask for his help and guidance, and to trust his
ways and his providence, even if the outcome of our prayers and
petitions appears unanswered, if not, contradicted.

            This should be the attitude to have. It’s an attitude that
can only indicate our unconditional faith and love for God who is
always in control of things, and at the same time can also leave us in
peace and joy even at the worst of the possibilities.

            Remember the Book of Ecclesiastes where it says that for
everything there is a season, “a time to be born, and a time to die; a
time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill,
and a time to heal…” But everything is under God’s control, and even
if we are capable of eternity, we just the same “cannot find out what
God has done from the beginning to the end.” (3,1ff) We just have to
trust him.

            We have to follow the example of the many characters in
the gospel who, feeling helpless in the many predicaments they were
in, earnestly rushed to Christ for some succor. They went to him
unafraid and unashamed and they got what they wanted.

            It may happen that we may not get what we want. And in
this, we should not be too surprised or too worried. What is sure is
that God always listens and gives us what is best for us.

            If our request is granted, it’s because it is good for us.
We should however be careful that the favor should not spoil us but
should rather make us more thankful and faithful to him.

            If our request is not granted, it could be because what we
asked is actually not good for us. Examples of this kind of cases are
aplenty, and many would later on realize how lucky they were that what
they asked for was not granted.

            Or it could be because the manner of our request is
stained by some motives that are not good and that can spoil or
corrupt us, or that can lead us to worse predicaments. In other words,
our intentions may not be pure. Some ulterior motives pervert our
requests. We should therefore correct that defect.

            Another possibility is that God is actually trying to show
us another way to deal with a situation. He may be asking us to pray
more, if only to strengthen our faith that is always needed in this
kind of situations. In this, we have to learn to be open to these
possibilities and to be sharply and promptly perceptive of God’s
designs. Thus we just have to be game in the mysterious ways of God.

            But we should not forget that God will always listen to us
and will act on our requests promptly and in the best way for us,
considering both our immediate and the ultimate needs, and no matter
how imperfect the object, motives and manner of our petitions are.

            Remember the parable of the persistent widow and the
unjust judge narrated in the gospel of St. Luke, chapter 8. The
conclusion of that parable is the following lesson we should learn at

            “Will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who
cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off.?” (7)

            This lesson is reiterated in the gospel of St. Matthew
where Christ said: “What man of you, if his son asks him for bread,
will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a
serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to
your children, how much more will your Father who is heaven give good
things to those who ask him!” (7,9-11)

            These words are not meant to make us passive and simply
reactionary to the different events of our life. They simply mean that
we have to trust God’s providence completely even as we use all our
faculties to know and follow God’s will and ways.

            We cannot go far if we rely simply on our own powers and
have no trust in God’s providence. Sad to say, this is what we are
seeing aplenty these days. People who choose to be on their own cannot
avoid falling into disappointments, sadness and depression.

            We have to learn to trust God regardless of how things
are. We may commit mistakes, but then if we are with God, everything
will always work out for the good.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Christ and the cross are inseparable

TO profess a Christianity with Christ but without the
cross is unthinkable. Christ and the cross are inseparable. And that’s
simply because it is through the cross that our redemption, our second
creation was achieved and continues to be achieved.

            We have to be ready for this truth of our faith, because
our humanity that may not yet be totally inspired by faith, trembles
at the thought of the cross, which is understandable. There is always
some fear of the cross.

            But the cross is unavoidable as well as indispensable, at
least in our earthly sojourn. We can say that the only state we can be
freed of the cross would be in heaven, where everything will be bliss
and no trace of tears and suffering would be found.

            And yet, the marks of the cross may still be with us in
that beatific state, just as Christ still bore the marks of his
crucifixion after he resurrected. But, of course, we also have to
remind ourselves that Christ is also inseparable with his
resurrection, his and our ultimate victory. Christ’s cross cannot be
separated from his resurrection.

            We have to understand Christ´s cross as the symbol of all
our sinfulness, the abuse of our freedom, that Christ took as his own,
and by dying to it following the will of his Father, Christ converts
it into a vehicle of our redemption, of the completion or perfection
of our creation.

            St. Peter expressed this truth so beautifully in his first
letter. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we
might die to sin and live to righteousness, for by his wounds you were
healed.” (2,24)

            We should never be afraid of the cross, whatever form it
takes—physical pain, illness, calamities, moral anguish, etc. But we
should make sure that we bear our cross with Christ, not without him.
The cross without Christ is meaningless, just as Christ without the
cross is also meaningless.

            It is Christ’s cross that hits the very root and germ of
human evil and malice, and cures it. It is what gives proper
grounding, protection and direction to our freedom which can go in any
which way. It is what provides the remedy and cure once that freedom
is abused or misused.

            We have to remember that it is our freedom that can make
us either God-like, as we are supposed to be, or like the devil. It is
what makes us either a saint or a sinner, blessed or cursed. We should
really take good care of our freedom.

            Our freedom needs the cross of Christ, since it is the
cross of Christ that would really make us free. This is a truth of
faith worth reiterating often in our mind and heart until it becomes a
working principle in our life.

            Without Christ’s cross, there’s no other way but to be
intoxicated by the many allurements our freedom can create. This
happened with Adam and Eve, and continues to happen to us if we are
not with Christ’s cross. We should be properly guarded.

            The redemptive power of Christ’s cross is somehow
expressed in the following liturgical prayer, a Eucharistic preface,
which says: “You decreed that man should be saved through the wood of
the cross. The tree of man’s defeat became his tree of victory. Where
life was lost, there life has been restored through Christ our Lord.”

            These words, if allowed to sink deep in our consciousness,
would remove the fear of the cross of Christ.  We would welcome that
cross, since it will be our means of our own purification, maturation
in human and spiritual aspects, and our ultimate redemption.

            When we are made to suffer the cross, we would have the
golden opportunity to be very united with the redemptive suffering
Christ. St. Paul expresses this truth very well. “Now I rejoice in my
sufferings for your sake,” he said, “and in my flesh I do my share on
behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking
in Christ’s afflictions.” (Col 1,24)

            That’s why we have to broaden our understanding of the
cross to conform our mind and heart to how Christ regards the cross.
He had been looking forward to it. Yes, there was some kind of drama,
since his humanity also had to react to the undeniable bitterness of
the cross, but he went through it all with calmness.

            Let’s hope and pray that we can manage to acquire this
Christian spirit of the cross.