Saturday, April 30, 2016

Let’s be a gift to all

YES, we have to be a gift to everybody, starting with God
and with everyone else, including those who may not like us. We have
been wired and equipped for it. We are meant for it.

            Some words from the Church’s pastoral constitution
“Gaudium et spes” can give us basis for this assertion that otherwise
would be purely gratuitous if we fail to consider some truths of faith
about ourselves.

            “The Lord Jesus,” the magisterial document says, “when He
prayed to the Father, ‘that all may be one…as we are one’ (Jn
17,21-22) opened up vistas closed to human reason, for He implied a
certain likeness between the union of the divine Persons, and the
unity of God’s sons in truth and charity. This likeness reveals that
man is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot
fully find himself except through a sincere GIFT of himself.” (24,
emphasis mine)

            It would be good to go through this doctrine of our faith
slowly so we can have a better understanding of our own selves and
develop the proper frame of mind and attitude toward ourselves and the
world in general.

            We are creatures, and not beings who happen to burst into
existence spontaneously. We come not only from our parents, but
ultimately from God. We are not only material beings, of purely
biological nature and completely of the world, We are spiritual
beings, children of God, created to be the image and likeness of God.

            We are meant to love one another, to offer ourselves to
others as gift. This should be the mentality we have to develop and
attain. This is where we find our true joy, our true fulfillment.
Everything that we do or is done to us should be a function of this
basic, indispensable purpose of our life.

            We have to realize more clearly that as a gift, we have to
be as precious as we can be. This is what we normally do among
ourselves, like during birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, etc., when
out of true love we give something as a gift to someone. It would be
something precious, meaningful, and as lasting as possible.

            We have to understand then that all the lavish love,
affection and care showered on us right when we were still babies is
done to make us a precious gift to others in the future. They are
meant to empower us later on to love, to give ourselves as gift to

            That’s how things ought to work. We should be wary when we
think that all those good things given to us are just for us to enjoy.
That would be dangerous.

            In children, to think that way is understandable, and
that’s why they have to be educated, reminded and corrected from time
to time. If these good things are not understood as ways for us to be
a precious gift to others in the future and to empower us to love
others, then there’s no other way but for us to get spoiled.

            We have to train ourselves to be always mindful and
thoughtful of the others. We have to understand that everything that
we do for our proper personal growth and development, and for our
progress toward human and Christian maturity would depend on how all
these efforts get inspired by love, by that basic principle that we
are supposed to be a gift to all. Otherwise, everything will just come
to nothing, and will do us more harm than good.

            Of course, to acquire that mentality of being a gift to
everyone has to contend with a great variety of difficulties. We have
our weaknesses, there are many temptations around, we actually have
powerful enemies that would want us to think and care simply for
ourselves. We have to do constant battle with them.

            The gospel tells us already of a three-fold weakness we
have: the concupiscence of the eyes, the concupiscence of the flesh
and the pride of life. (cfr 1 Jn 2,16)

             And in another part, we are told about the powerful
enemies that would want us to get spoiled in ourselves. “For we
wrestle,” St. Paul tells us, “not against flesh and blood, but against
principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of
this world, against spiritual wickedess in high places.” (Eph 6,12)

            We have no alternative but to wage a constant ascetical
struggle for us to fall and to be in love all the time, making
ourselves a gift to God and to everyone else. Every victory in this
struggle, no matter how little, counts!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Spiritual sportsmanship

WE need to develop a sportsman’s attitude toward life,
since life is like a game. Yes, life is like a game, because we set
out to pursue a goal, we have to follow certain rules, we are given
some means, tools and instruments, we train and are primed to win and
do our best, but defeats can always come, and yet, we just have to
move on.

            It would be unsportsmanlike if we allow ourselves to get
stuck with our defeats and failures, developing a loser’s mentality.
That would be the epic fail that puts a period and a finis in an
ongoing narrative, when a comma, a colon or a semi-colon would have

            We need a sporting spirit because life’s true failure can
come only when we choose not to have hope. That happens when our
vision and understanding of things is narrow and limited, confined
only to the here and now and ignorant of the transcendent reality of
the spiritual and supernatural world.

            Besides, life involves a till-death struggle against all
sorts of enemies, starting with our own treacherous self, the ever
seductive world, and most of all, the spiritual enemies who certainly
are more powerful than us.

            Finally, life involves pursuing a goal that is much
greater, yes, infinitely greater than ourselves. We should not be a
bad sport who gives up easily without even trying, or who surrenders
in the middle of an exciting and suspenseful game.

            We therefore have to develop a strong spiritual
sportsmanship in the tenor expressed in some words of St. Paul: “Do
you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives
the prize? So run that you may obtain it.” (1 Cor 9,24)

            Aside from a strong sense of self-discipline and
submitting ourselves in a continuing training program, an
indispensable ingredient of this healthy sporting spirit is the sense
of acceptance and abandonment that we need to deliberately cultivate.
This does not come automatically, as if it’s part of our genes. We
have to develop them.

            We have to learn to accept things the way they are or the
way they can be. Yes, it’s true that we can shape things and events in
our life. We can even shape persons to a certain extent.

            There’s a certain validity to the saying that “life is
what we make it.” But this cannot be true all the time. We cannot
succeed in all our plans all the time, no matter how pure our
intentions and heroic our deeds. That’s simply because life has
aspects outside our control. There certainly are predicaments that are
humanly insoluble.

            And yet in all these, we are given a game plan that
assures us of victory. It’s the game plan of hope in the ever wise,
omnipotent and merciful providence of God. What is needed here is
precisely a healthy sense of acceptance and abandonment in the hands
of God.

            A certain sense of abandonment is needed in life. It
surely is not the type where we just do nothing. It’s an active,
intelligent abandonment, driven by faith and love for God. It involves
a lot of patience and optimism, the capacity to absorb setbacks and
all forms of suffering without compromising our hope in God’s

            We can know God, and know him a lot. We can cooperate with
him, and cooperate with him a lot. But we cannot know him completely,
nor cooperate with him 100%. But this should not bother us too much.
We just have to exercise our faith, hope and charity to keep ourselves

            Someone said that if anyone claims to know God completely,
and by corollary, to cooperate with him completely, we can be sure
that that God is not the real God, for God, while knowable and
relatable, always transcends our ways. So trust, a sense of
abandonment, is unavoidable.

            Christ, the fullness of divine revelation, himself taught
us to live a certain sense of abandonment. And he lived it to
perfection when he abandoned himself to the will of his Father by
accepting his death on the cross.

            Let’s meditate often on his passion and death, since in
this we have the standard and norm for our ability to accept things as
they are and abandon ourselves in the hands of God.

            This exercise will train us to be tough, and to find
meaning even in our darkest and most painful moments. This will even
keep us cheerful, which is never an expression of hypocrisy but rather
of a strong faith and hope in God.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Revisiting “Vox populi, vox Dei”

IN a previous column some years ago, I said that the “vox
populi,” the voice of the people, need not be “vox Dei,” the voice of
God. I cited as an example the crowd who welcomed Christ with hosannas
when he entered Jerusalem for the last time. (cfr Mt 21,9) It was the
same crowd, more or less, who later would shout, “Crucify him, crucify
him,” during his trial with Pilate. (cfr Mt 27,16-26)

            Precisely because of that episode, I said that the “vox
populi” can, in fact, be the “vox diaboli,” the voice of the devil,
instead of the voice of God. I still maintain that view, except that
it has to be taken now from a broader perspective, that of faith, that
gives us another level of understanding.

            Yes, it can happen that the “vox populi” can be the “vox
diaboli” in the short run and yet it can still be part of the “vox
Dei” in the long run. That’s simply because God allows us to think,
say and do whatever we want, including going against Him. That
permission, which is given to trigger the dynamics of a greater good
that would show God’s omnipotent mercy, can be considered also as “vox

            In allowing the worst evil to take place, that of killing
the very Son of God, the greatest good insofar as we are concerned has
taken place—our very own salvation. This is so because as the Book of
Ecclesiastes has already articulated for us, God is always in control
of everything, no matter how we mess up his plans and work.

            “The thing that has been it is that which shall be, and
that which is done is that which shall be done. And there is no new
thing under the sun.” (1,9) Thus the same book says that there is time
for everything. “...a time to be born and a time to die, a time to
plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time
to tear down and a time to build...” (3,2-3)

            In view of this truth of our faith, a practical conclusion
to learn is that while we do our best to shape our life and destiny
insofar as we are able, always in truth and charity, we should not
take things too seriously as to be a bad sport when what we want, in
pursuit of what we consider as doing God’s will, is thwarted.

            Let’s just allow ourselves to be thwarted just as Christ
was thwarted when he had to accept the cross, convinced that a greater
good will surely come out of it. Yes, let’s just accept the greatest
evil that can come to us, i.e., death and martyrdom, if it comes to
us, convinced that if we die with Christ, we will also resurrect with

            Let us avoid falling into the traps of bitter zeal and
bigotry that can seduce us with an appearance of an irresistible
goodness when in fact the very soul of goodness, charity, is absent.

            Remember that episode when Christ upbraided two of his
disciples for being over-zealous at the expense of charity. “When his
disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to
bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?’ But he turned and
rebuked them.” (Lk 9,54-55)

            God always has the last word. Goodness and mercy always
have the last say. Love always wins, if not now then later. We just
have to be patient, learning how to suffer the temporary setbacks,
disappointments and frustrations we can encounter in life.

            Obviously, this Christian way of reacting to adverse
events is not a call to be complacent and passive. We have to exhaust
all possible means to conform our affairs according to the will of
God, but always within the framework of charity.

            In those occasions, when we become helpless before an evil
thing, let us intensify our prayers, our spirit of sacrifice, our
virtues of patience and optimism. In those occasions, let us continue
to do a lot of good, drowning evil with an abundance of good. These
painful moments are privileged occasions to be intimate with Christ on
the cross.

            Let us clarify issues calmly and charitably, proclaiming
the truth in season and out of season, as St. Paul once said. Let us
see to it that we do not lose our peace and joy, and our capacity to
love and to be merciful. We should have no enemies, since we have to
love everybody, including our enemies, as Christ himself commanded us.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Understanding peace

YES, we need to understand peace first before we can live
it and, more importantly, spread it around. We need to know what it
truly is, what it requires, where it comes from, how to sustain it,

            Nowadays, many people mouth the mantra of peace. That, in
itself, is a good development, except that such passionate desire for
peace should be accompanied by an earnest effort to know what it
really is. There, unfortunately, are many misconceptions about it or
at least shallow understanding that cannot cope with the challenges
and trials of our day-to-day life.

            Peace, like anything else that is of true value to
mankind, can only come from God who gives it to us through Christ, the
Son of God who became man to save us from our sin and our doom. Peace,
which characterized the life of our first parents before the fall and
thus they enjoyed it effortlessly, can only be attained by us now
after some struggle, following Christ’s example.

            That is why it can only be had if we get it from Christ
our Redeemer, who won it for us through the cross. He himself said so.
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you. Not as the world
gives, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it
be afraid.” (Jn 14,27)

            There, we have in a nutshell where to look for if we want
true peace. It’s not a peace that comes as a result of human effort
alone. It has to come from Christ who actually gives it to us
abundantly, but which we have to receive and keep faithfully. The
problem is that we often mess it up, and follow our own version of

            In that famous Latin line about peace, “Opus iustitiae
pax” (Peace is the work of justice), a major distortion is made
because justice is understood mainly as human justice, relying simply
on our legal and judicial systems, our culture and other social norms.

            It’s an understanding that does not go far and deep enough
to reach its true source who is God as revealed to us in full by
Christ. It simply depends on our human consensus which can go in any
which way, depending on the changing circumstances.

            And so with the foundation of peace and justice unclear or
mainly rooted on shaky grounds, peace and justice remain elusive, and
can even produce the opposite effects while pursued under their name.
It’s truly ironic!

            Thus, in the psalms, we can read the following: “Shall the
throne of iniquity have fellowship with you, which frames mischief by
a law?” (94,20) Christ himself also warned us about this: “A time is
coming when the one who kills you will think he is serving God.” (Jn

            We need to be truly identified with Christ to have peace
in ourselves and in everybody else all over the world. It is a peace
that comes as a result of reconciliation. It therefore involves
repentance, conversion, struggle, that Christ has shown to us by
embracing the cross and dying on it.

            The cross of Christ is all at once the summary of all our
sins as well as the supreme act of love of Christ for us. It is both
the tree of death and the tree of life. It’s where all the malice of
man meets the tremendous mercy of God. Christ is asking us to carry
the cross also with him. Only then can we have true peace that comes
from Christ.

            This is the peace that cannot waver even under the severe
assaults of trials, difficulties and failures. It is the peace that
involves a certain abandonment of everything in our life in the hands
of God, even as we do our part of dealing with them.

            We have to learn to receive and keep this peace that
Christ gives us. We might have to pause from time to time to make this
truth of our faith sink deeply in our consciousness and be the guiding
principle of our life.

            This is the peace that leads us to joy. They actually go
together—“gaudium cum pace,” joy with peace, as one prayer in
preparation for celebrating the Mass would put it.

            But let’s remember that the peace that we enjoy here on
earth can only come as a result of some interior or spiritual warfare,
the warfare of love, the real love versus the many forms of false

            It is this peace that we have to spread around, convincing
everyone of its true nature, source, resources, purpose, etc.

Monday, April 25, 2016

On expressing opinions

I SUPPOSE it’s basic and commonsensical that when we
express our opinions and engage among ourselves in some exchanges of
our personal views, ideas and preferences, we always need to be
courteous first of all and then always to be constructive and positive
in our tack.

            Upholding unity and living the requirements of charity
rank far higher than simply wanting to be right or to score a point in
any given contention. We should never forget this principle.

            Especially in the area of politics, where opinions vary
due to the immense variety of people’s preferences, we should see to
it that the tone of our discourse is kept calm and respectful. Given
the volatile character of politics, we should learn how to hold our
horses, so as not to be carried away by our unbridled and intemperate
passions and biases.

            In the first place, we cannot be too strong or too sure
about our political opinions because no matter how right we feel we
are, we certainly do not have the exclusive right to possess all the
truth. Everyone always has something valid to say, no matter how

            And in the second place, there simply are just too many
unknown factors that are at play. We cannot account for everything no
matter how smart and diligent we are in building up our position.

            And in the third place, we simply have to learn to live
with imperfect persons and candidates, as well as imperfect systems
and structures. We cannot be too simplistic as to paint our favoured
candidate is entirely saintly, completely incapable of committing a
mistake and our undesired candidate is entirely devious, completely
incapable to doing anything good.

            The least thing that we can do is not to be too attached
to our ideas and our preferences. While it’s true that we somehow
shape our destiny, that task is always a joint effort among ourselves
and ultimately between God and us. Never ignore the indications of
divine providence, the promptings of the Holy Spirit who is the Lord
of history.

            That is why, we can never have a political discourse that
is fit for human beings, let alone, children of God, if it is not
preceded, accompanied and followed up by prayer and sacrifice,
together with due study and consultations.

            Without these fundamental requirements we end up attacking
each other like cats and dogs. And that’s what’s happening these days.
In the heat of the political polemics, we are witnessing a lot of
shooting from the hip, bullying, gloating, obsession to dominate,
dogmatizing opinions, fault-finding, casuistry, mocking, mudslinging,
etc. There’s a lot of tit-for-tat, the law of Talion reigning supreme.

            As a consequence, the air gets polluted, proper thinking
and judging is hampered. Passions, tension and divisiveness escalate.
A perfect storm gathers.

            Some people say that in politics, charity should not be
the main consideration, but rather the truth, arrived at through
gathering of facts and the strict use of reason and logic. But if we
examine closely the allegations, we hardly find any truth that is not
tarred by a litany of fallacies.

            This is the real problem. When charity is set aside and is
considered irrelevant in our political discussions, we are actually
setting ourselves for a bigger trouble. It is precisely because of the
peculiar character of politics, so vulnerable to deteriorate and to
hit the skids, that charity should be the primary consideration as it
should be in everything else in life.

            We have to learn to be open-minded and tactful in our
dialogues, motivated only by love for God and for everyone else, which
is what the common good is all about in the end. We have to learn to
be delicate in expressing our views as well as not to be too
onion-skinned to receive the positions of others, especially the
adverse ones.

            We should try our best to listen most attentively to the
others, get to know them very well and discern where they are coming
from when they express their opinions. If they sound unreasonable or
ridiculous and would even attack us, we should not feel provoked and
tempted to mount some personal attacks. That would not help. Rather it
will worsen things.

            What we have to do is to help them see our point as calmly
and as charitably as possible. If they do not accept it, then let it
be. We have to learn to disagree without being disagreeable, always
maintaining a healthy attitude towards everyone.

            In the end, we should not forget that there is divine
providence that will guide things to the proper end in spite of our
blunders and stupidities.

Work and religion

I THINK it’s good that we are trained to work and be
practical always. I remember that as a child, we were taught that we
have to move and act always, work and produce results. And so even
with our little hands, we, the 11 of us children, were already
sweeping the floor, fixing our beds, cleaning the toilets, etc.

            I was assigned to scrub the stair clean and shiny. I
didn’t quite like it, but I could not complain because my elder
brothers had heavier tasks. If they could do theirs, why could I not
do mine, was the reasoning I pacified myself with.

            What I enjoyed most was feeding the pigs, because I got
the chance to shower them and play with them. Pigs are naturally
friendly and affectionate, even if they never get satisfied with any
amount of food. They may not be as charming and cute as dogs and cats,
but they are the simplest and most transparent. What you see is what
you get.

            No, I didn’t develop sentimental attachments to any of
them. When fiesta time came, I was happy that they were butchered and
everyone was happy with the meat. Besides, I earned some money by the
side, because my mother would ask me to sell some of them from time to
time. I always looked forward to caring for the next batch of piglets.

            But I was barred from the kitchen. For some reason, my
mother decided I was no good at all at cooking. I tried it once, and
the result was a disaster. The pigs even would not eat what I cooked.
I was not given a second chance. My mother told me to go to my books

            Wherever I went, I was always made to feel that idleness
and laziness were a no no. And so, even if by temperament I was prone
to daydream and imagine, I had to keep myself busy and wait till my
rest time to indulge in my favorite fantasies.

            Yes, to be practical is a great value, responsible for the
flowering of many cultures and civilizations. Unless one is practical,
the best ideas and the brilliant theories would just come to nothing.

            Practicality teaches one how to be resourceful and it
occasions the blossoming of many other virtues and competencies. Work
is a great school for learning many things. Opus Dei founder St.
Josemaria Escriva went further by saying that work can and should be
the ordinary way one achieves holiness.

            I agree with that, only if one does it well, and if he
does it with the right reasons. For the other side of the coin is that
people can work for the wrong reasons. And that’s when work can become
a curse, when practicality isn’t practical anymore.

            One can work and be practical out of sinful reasons—pride,
vanity, greed, lust, intemperance, and even out of sloth, as in, when
one works to avoid a religious duty. Sloth is not simply laziness. It
is also dislike for anything religious or virtuous. So, one can mimic
working if only to escape a more important thing.

            This sad reality has been the subject of one of Christ’s
parable—the sower and the seed. According to him, the seed that fell
among thorns “is he that hears the word, but the cares of this world
and the deceitfulness of riches chokes it up and he becomes
fruitless.” (Mt 13,22)

            When work and practicality are made to compete with
prayer, charity, our family duties, honesty, disorder, temperance,
etc., then they stop being good to us. They turn traitors, a most
dangerous one since they deceive a lot of people.

            For from the outside they will always look good and
admirable. Let’s just see to it that they are done with the proper
internal dispositions. This is the tricky part of our human condition.
We need to work not only on our outside appearance, but more so, on
our internal motives. There has to be consistency to attain the proper

            Alas, this is the hemorrhaging problem we are having at
present. It’s a massive one and is threatening to be the dominant,
mainstream way of doing things. We need to go through the slow process
of educating everyone about the true nature and purpose of work and
practicality, and also about their limits and dangers.

            As we plunge deeper into our technology-driven world of
work and practicality, let’s see to it that we are properly prepared,
clear about our reasons for working and for being practical, and
skilful enough to avoid the dangers.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The new and different

WE are always fascinated by what is new and different.
That must be part of our human condition that even if we know that we
continue to be what we are, we always long for something different,
something new.

            In the Book of Ecclesiastes, we are told that there
actually is nothing new under the sun. Just the same, it also
acknowledges that in our earthly existence, we have to contend with
all sorts of changing conditions that will always give us a sensation
of things new and different.

            “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is
what will be done. And there is nothing new under the sun,” says
Ecclesiastes (1,9). But there will always be some kind of cycle, a
time for every possibility in life to take place—a time to be born and
a time to die, a time to be merry and a time to be sad, etc.—giving us
something new and different as we go through life.

            This somehow can be verified, and written large at that,
in our current local and American politics where some kind of new and
different kind of presidentiables in the persons of Duterte and Trump
are gaining popularity.

            This phenomenon should not surprise us anymore. We have to
expect it to happen anytime. It can only mean that we are still alive
and quite free to do anything. But we should not get lost in its
twists and turns and its transitory and instrumental character in the
context of our life’s over-all purpose and goal.

            We need to learn to handle the new and the old, the
innovative and the traditional elements in our life. For this, we need
to be theological in our thinking so we can have a good sense of what
is essential and what is incidental from our faith that is our
ultimate source of knowledge.

          We need to realize that our thinking cannot work in its most
proper way if it is not enlightened and guided by faith. It would be
like saying we ourselves can simply be on our own. We don’t need God.
Or we may need him from time to time, but not always, and that he is
not truly indispensable in our life.

         We have to cultivate this theological mind, which is actually
necessary for us but which we have to do freely. Theological thinking
is actually not an optional thing. We always need to refer everything
to God, because everything comes from him and belongs to him.

         The only thing outside of that system is sin. And even in that
situation God is still the reference point, for without him there will
be no sin either. This is actually what some people, the professed
atheists and practical non-believers, view the world and all. What
they consider sin would be what goes against their will, not God’s

          Faith is what God, our Creator and Father, gives us to start and
sustain our life with him, which is how our life ought to be since we
have been made in his image and likeness.

         Our life is not merely a human, natural life. It is a life called to
the supernatural order, to participate in the divine life, because
that is how God made us. We have been empowered for it, endowed with
the spiritual faculties of intelligence and will so that we can
receive his grace and thus enabled to enter into God’s life.

         We actually have a natural tendency for this, a tendency that sadly
these days is often frustrated by a willful rejection of God in spite
of the abundant elements that lead us to him. Children in their
innocence are naturally oriented to God. And even adults have that
longing as evidenced by those famous words of St. Augustine:

        “Despite everything, man, though but a small part of your creation,
wants to praise you. You yourself encourage him to delight in your
praise, for you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless
until it rests in you.”

         It’s for this reason that we have to see the original connection
between everything human and natural and God. We just cannot go on
discovering things and constructing all sorts of knowledge through our
sciences and arts without acknowledging that they all come from God
and continue to be governed by him.

        We need to correct this deeply embedded error in our thinking. We can
never have basis to presume that things are just the way they are
without any reference to God as their Creator and therefore their
designer and original and constant “administrator.”

Friday, April 22, 2016

Have you been in love before?

THAT’S the question, or the many variations of it, that I
pose to anyone who comes to me complaining that he is burned out, with
no appetite to do anything, feeling completely dry and uninspired,

            The idea is simply to remind him that no matter what
degree his predicament of being burned out is, it is love that is the
crux of the matter—its absence that causes it and its presence that
will heal it.

            Of course, this reminder is given without prejudice to
whatever medical attention or therapeutic treatment may be needed. In
this, I leave the respective professionals and experts to do their
job. Mine is to focus on the root cause that revolves around the
question of love.

            Very often, when one gets burned out, it is because he has
fallen into some activism, plunging into a frenzy of work, job
assignments, tasks, etc., but without the spirit of love. The whole
affair becomes mechanical and soulless, one’s work giving no
sufficient reward or satisfaction, and in time one will just go pfft.

            Or one is forced or pressured to do something that he does
not like. Or that there is some persistent problem or bothersome
circumstance in what he is doing. In other words, he is not at peace
with his work, he is not happy. He is actually in a state of misery
which he can cover up only for a period of time. If the predicament
remains unresolved, there’s no other way but for his organism to
declare a collapse.

            In any event, what is common in all these scenarios is
that the motive for doing things is not that pure. It does not go all
the way to the real love that can only come from God. The motive is
often stranded in some purely temporal, highly transitory reasons—the
need for money, the need simply to obey the superiors, the need to
develop one’s talents and to occupy one’s time, etc.

            I believe that at bottom, the problem is more spiritual
and moral than anything else. And this has to be addressed squarely.
The other aspects of the problem—physical, emotional, psychological,
etc.—are only outgrowth of the spiritual and moral.

            Back to the question I pose, the person’s response is
usually a wavering yes—he admits that has been in love before, and
more of an afterthought, he may manage to say that he continues to be
in love. It is at this point that a closer scrutiny of what is meant
by love is made and discussed thoroughly.

            This is the most crucial and tedious part. We all need to
know the true face of love, its essence, its source and resources, its
purpose, its scope. These are not easy topics to talk about. One needs
to have the proper dispositions. And quite often these dispositions
can only be had when some traumatic experiences trigger them. That’s
when one sort of changes gear and gets more receptive to go spiritual.

            There is no doubt that some kind of a drastic paradigm
shift of one’s understanding of love would be involved here. Love just
cannot be lived solely in the province of our feelings, emotions and
passions, nor only in our interests, or in the many other external
conditionings—the fads and trends, etc.

            Love is mainly a spiritual and supernatural affair,
because true love can only come from God, not from us alone. For it to
be true, our love can only be a participation, a reflection of God’s
love as taught, shown and commanded to us by Christ: “Love one another
as I have loved you.”

            This is the love that can endure and conquer all things,
as St. Paul once said. It has dimensions, resources and power that go
beyond but do not replace nor suppress our human faculties.

            This love is given to us in abundance. We are also
equipped to receive it and to live it to the full, with God’s grace.
Obviously, given our human condition that has been weakened by sin and
now has a variety of frailties and vulnerabilities, we have to
understand that this God-given love has to be received in stages and
with the cooperation of everyone.

            That is why, whenever we find ourselves in some
predicament, we have to mine more deeply the resources of this divine
love, which can resolve all things. It is even stronger than death,
about which nothing can be done humanly speaking. It is divine love
that can lead us to our abiding renewal and ultimate resurrection.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The toughness required by our times

IT goes without saying that we are in truly tough times.
And it’s not simply because terrorism is spreading all over the world.
That is already horrific enough. But the worst terrorism is of the
spiritual kind.

            That’s when we lose faith, hope and charity that actually
devastates us more than whatever havoc terrorists can wreak on us.
That’s when we lose God that we can be maimed and pulverized beyond

            This can be gleaned from what Christ himself said; “Do not
fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul. Rather
fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Mt

            We need to meditate on these words more slowly so we can
rectify our tendency to peg our idea of terrorism on the natural,
human if not physical dimension only. We need to go beyond that level.

            We may be able to reduce if not eliminate terrorism and
criminality in our society. But the toughness that is involved in that
aspect would still be less if we are not tough to resist even a small
temptation or venial sin. We would still be rightly described as

            If we cannot control or regulate our blabbering and
gossiping tongue, or our wayward and wild imagination, emotions and
passions, then we are not really tough.

            And to think that we are not simply ranged against small
or ordinary enemies. As St. Paul would put it: “Our struggle is not
against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers,
against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual
forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph 6,12)

            Tough times call for tough actions and for toughness
itself. They test our mettle. They bring out the kind of spirit we
have, for in the end it’s the spirit, more than anything else, that
holds the key.

            Like a reagent, tough times detect and show the range and
scope, the breadth and depth of our ultimate anchor beliefs. That’s
the saving grace of these unwelcome times.

            We have to understand that toughness is not just a matter
of physical strength or intellectual superiority. Much less is it a
question of wealth, power and fame. These only have very limited

            Toughness has its roots, branches and fruits mainly in the
spirit. And it’s where our spirit takes root, where it’s established
and fixed that determines the quality and authenticity of our
toughness, to see if our toughness can really run the gauntlet.

            If it’s just based on things human and natural, like our
best physical strength or our most ideal political will, then we are
in for great trouble. But if it’s founded on faith in God, on our hope
and charity, then even the troubles become a source of strength.

            St. Paul says so: “Strength is made perfect in weakness.
Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the strength of
Christ may dwell in me. Wherefore I am satisfied with persecutions,
with distresses. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor

            More, St. Paul says in his Letter to the Philippians: “I
can do all things in him who strengthens me.” (4,13) This after saying
that he knows how to be abased and how to abound, how to face both
plenty and hunger, abundance and want.

            We have to understand this reasoning of faith well. This
is what truly corresponds to who and how we are. We are not just any
creature, biological, social and intellectual. We are persons and
children of God. We are mainly a spiritual being with a supernatural

            What is proper of us is to live in the life of God. That’s
what our spiritual faculties—our intellect and will—are for. We just
don’t depend on material nourishment. It’s in our living union with
God, through grace and our will, where we develop our true life and
derive our toughness.

            Such toughness combines both hard and soft qualities,
enabling us to be strong without being rigid, energetic without being
violent. It lets us to be patient and hopeful without being inactive.
On the contrary, it allows us to be creative and flexible, resourceful
and enterprising.

            Such toughness distances us from the clutches of excessive
worries and self-pity. It empowers us to find joy and peace even in
the midst of suffering. It teaches us how to suffer with a smile, and
how to wait productively. It breeds and keeps our determination.

            Our emerging tough times demand such toughness.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Are we now in some altered state?

I WAS struck the other day by an article that claimed we are heading 
toward an altered state of attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder (ADHD). 
It seems this is not anymore an illness associated with children.

With our new technologies, this disorder has become pandemic, viral, affecting
everyone all over the world, thanks also to today’s phenomenon called

            My dictionary defines ADHD as “a childhood syndrome
characterized by impulsiveness, hyperactivity, and short attention
span, which often leads to learning disabilities and various
behavioral problems.”

            This was first identified in 1987, although we can be sure
this anomaly must have existed long time ago, perhaps not as bad and
as prevalent as it is now.

            With children, it comes as an illness whose cause is
largely freed of malice and guilt. It’s more due to some hormonal
imbalances. I don’t think we can say the same of the adults afflicted
with it.

            With children, the effects and manifestations are more on
the irritating aspect and are largely harmless. With adults, they are
much worse since they tend not only to kill the body, but also the

            With children, we can readily see it and most likely act
on it. With adults, we need a lot of convincing that we have it. Its
cure, of course, goes beyond the medical and psychological. To be
effective, it has to heal the soul. Alas, this requires tremendous
effort and resources!

            What is obviously wrong is that people nowadays have
forgotten almost completely that we are meant to be contemplatives or
to have a running awareness of God’s presence. That is to say, men and
women who manage to see God in everything and in everyone as well as
to see everything and everyone with the eyes of God.

            For many Christian believers, it would seem that to be
contemplatives is an exclusive prerogative of people like the
Carmelite nuns and monks. At this point in our development, it’s
amazing that we still retain this old myth.

            All of us are meant to be contemplatives with a strong
spirit of recollection. And we don’t have to stay in convents and
monasteries to be so. The streets, the offices and farms can readily
be our cells. This ideal is contained in St. Paul’s Letter to the

            “…be strengthened by his Spirit with might unto the inner
man, that Christ may dwell by faith in your hearts, that being rooted
and founded in charity, you may be able to comprehend, with all the
saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth.

            “To know also the charity of Christ which surpasses all
knowledge, that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God.” (3,16

            But again, who practically remember these words, let alone
make an effort to turn them into a living reality in themselves? It
would seem that these words have remained plainly biblical, and
confined and stuck there. They have not or are not allowed to leap out
of the book.

            This is the challenge we have. It is how to overcome the
massive and thick barrier of human resistance to anything that has to
do with faith and religion. And then to show the many ways that can
make this ideal a reality in everybody’s life.

            That wall has a human component consisting of our natural
limitations. It has a worse component—our sins and their consequences
in our lives. But the ways to be contemplative are actually endless.
Let’s fatten our war chest for this purpose.

            There is always hope. We just have to be patient and
continue to evangelize, trying to drown evil, confusion and ignorance
with an abundance of good and certified, authoritative teaching and

            We need to continue reminding everyone that we always need
to exercise our faith, hope and charity. We cannot remain reacting to
things by using merely our senses and even our intelligence, no matter
how high it may be.

            We need to use faith and to activate our spiritual life.
Of course, right now these things would look strange to many, but
that’s just at the beginning. With patience, hard work, sacrifice,
etc., the right things can be done!

            Christian teaching tells us about being docile to the Holy
Spirit. This doctrine has to be better known by people, and its ways
of effecting it should be taught and shown tirelessly.

            I think that any effort to stop the slide to
attention-deficit disorder threatening us today has to start and end
with the effort to make ourselves truly contemplative souls in the
middle of the world.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Political realism and priests’ prophetic role

BACK in 2009, the African bishops held a synod that had as
its theme, “The Church of Africa at the service of reconciliation,
justice and peace.” At its conclusion, the then reigning Pope Benedict
XVI told the bishops to be realistic but not to be too political in
doing their prophetic role in that aspect of African life.

            It’s obvious that the assembly was meant to tackle a
tricky and delicate situation where the Church, especially the bishops
and priests, have to know how to strike the balance between the
spiritual and political dimensions of Christian life. I can just
imagine how things were and continue to be in that volatile continent
of Africa.

            It’s a situation similar to ours, and I suppose to many
other places. That’s why that piece of news immediately grabbed my
attention then and continues to do so, since I would like to know
exactly how the balance is made, what requirements and considerations
are kept.

            Especially now when we are celebrating the Jubilee Year of
Mercy, and the clergy is agitated to sharpen the exercise of their
prophetic role in social and political matters, clear guidelines from
the Vatican would be most welcome and helpful.

            We cannot deny the blatant fact that controversial
interventions, confusing at the very least, by some of our
ecclesiastical big shots in social and political issues have left many
of us bewildered and even scandalized.

            Many of the faithful have complained that some Church
leaders are too condemnatory in their statements, with words and tone
that are laced with a condescending know-it-all attitude and sarcasm.

            They also observe that the leaders seem to speak more
vociferously in areas where they do not have or have less competence,
while almost being silent or weak in the media in questions they
should be clear and loud about.

            For example, a bishop told some priests in their retreat
that contraceptives like condoms are ok as long as it is not
abortifacient. Many were wondering what happened to Pope Paul’s
“Humanae Vitae” after listening to that “enlightenment.”

            Also, the irregularities within the Church structure give
the impression Church officials are remiss in their duties as they
stray into matters they should not be.

            In short, people think these leaders only manage to
embarrass the Church and religion in general in the eyes of the world.
That’s why there is also a growing fallout of the faithful.

            In that address to the African bishops, the Pope Emeritus
only hinted that the synod was successful in identifying the way to
reach that balance, but no details were mentioned. I suppose we have
to wait a little for the relevant document to come out. That should be
very exciting!

            Also the Pope pointed out the significance of a synod,
saying that it is ¨a common journey,¨ referring to the truth that in
serving God and men the Church has to go together, talk and discuss
things together, especially to determine solutions and remedies to
problems along the way. Beautiful idea!

            Let’s quote some lines of that address:

            ¨The theme "Reconciliation, Justice and Peace" certainly
implies a strong political dimension, even if it is obvious that
reconciliation, justice and peace are not possible without a profound
purification of the heart, without a renewal of thought, a "metanoia"
("conversion"), without a newness that must come precisely from the
encounter with God.

            ¨But even if this spiritual dimension is profound and
fundamental, the political dimension is also very real, because
without political realizations, these new things of the Spirit are not
commonly realized.

            ¨Thus, the temptation could have been to politicize the
theme, to speak less of pastoral work and more about politics, with a
competence that is not ours.

            ¨The other danger was -- precisely to flee from the first
temptation -- that of retreating into a purely spiritual world, into
an abstract and beautiful but unrealistic world.

            ¨But the discourse of a pastor must be realistic; it must
deal with reality, but from the perspective of God and his Word.¨

            How I wish the spirit and flavor of these words become
palpable every time we read and hear Church leaders' interventions in
social and political issues!

            Obviously we cannot discount the likely possibility of how
media play up these interventions that distort and even annul their
original intent. This has been happening almost always. It is also an
area clamoring to be studied well and remedied.

            In the end, I think it is a matter of continuing formation
for all parties involved—clergy, the lay faithful, media, etc.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Loving the Pope

I KNOW that a Pope commands great love from many people
all over the world. Here in the Philippines, this cannot be doubted.
The mere mention of a Pope’s name can already stir deep emotions, and
can even trigger some transformative process in a person.

            Yet, we cannot deny that Pope Francis appears to have a
different impact. For most of us who have known Pope, now Saint, John
Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, the present Pope seems to be different.

            Yes, Pope Francis is vastly popular and loved, but there
is also a sector that seems to feel uncomfortable with him. Some
people consider him a bit too liberal, a bit too loose with his
comments, and they find this thing different from the over-all
correctness the two previous Pope were known for.

            I must confess that I am not too bothered by this
development. Somehow I know where people are coming from. I once met
an Arab married to a Filipina and he told me how much he admired the
Pope for his earnest comments that echo the feelings and views of many
people like him. I agreed with him but refrained from getting into
comparing Popes.

            I also have many friends, many of them priests also, who
express some dismay at how the Pope would view certain issues. I also
understand them very well, since I somehow know where they are coming
from. But I refuse to compare Popes.

            For me, the Pope, whoever he may be, whether Germanic or
Latino, is always the Vicar of Christ, or as St. Catherine of Siena
would put it, the sweet Christ on earth. He deserves to be loved and
followed, his teaching listened to and obeyed.

            And that’s mainly because he is vested with the same power
that was first given to St. Peter to be the main Shepherd of the
Church of God here on earth. Christ has entrusted St. Peter and his
successors with the government of his Church to continue Christ’s
mission on earth.

            Through him we can hear the voice of Christ. In him, in
some mysterious way, we have Christ himself, the head of the Church.
He is given divine protection.

            He obviously, like any human being, also has his own share
of weaknesses and everything else that can arise from these
weaknesses. We should not be surprised by this, much less, make a big
issue out of it.

            We just have to look at St. Peter who was quite impulsive
and who denied Christ three times. But then he repented, and by divine
order was made the rock on which the Church of Christ is built, with
the assurance that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
(Mt 16,18)

            And the history of the papacy has not been spared from the
personal weaknesses of some Popes that created problems big and small
in the world and in the Church. But the Church continues to stand.

            Of course, the Pope always deserves a lot of our prayers
and support. That’s what we should always do unstintingly. The burden
he carries is the heaviest that one can have in this world. We should
try our best to pray for him and help him in any way we can.

            And one of the best ways we can help him is to make his
teaching known by as many people as possible. With Pope Francis, what
we are seeing is some expansion of that pastoral charity that should
burn in the heart of everyone, priest or layperson.

            His thrust on mercy, on reaching out to those who are far
from the Church, on opening wide the doors of understanding and
compassion with everyone, are now the challenge we all have to face.

            In doing this, he is not at all changing some Church
doctrine of Church. He is simply breathing new life into them,
obviously inspired by the Holy Spirit. He is asking us to be faithful
to Church teaching but open to the new things that the Spirit may
prompt us.

            We should not forget that we are living in a world full of
mysteries. While we have to hold on firmly to what we already know, we
should not be afraid to break new grounds in terms of understanding
the truths of our faith and in the ways of charity and mercy.

            Definitely, a lot of prayer, study and sacrifice is needed
here. And the Pope has to expound things more clearly. With the new
technologies that we have, this task should be not as difficult as it
was ages ago.