Wednesday, November 10, 2010

‘Visible sign of the invisible God’

     “The joy which I feel at presiding this ceremony became all the greater when I learned that this shrine, since its beginnings, has had a special relationship with Saint Joseph. I have been moved above all by Gaudí's confidence when, in the face of many difficulties, filled with trust in divine Providence, he would exclaim, ‘Saint Joseph will finish this church’. So it is significant that it is also being dedicated by a Pope whose baptismal name is Joseph”.

     These words of Pope Benedict XVI, pronounced at the beginning of his homily last Sunday, November 7, 2010, before some 250,000 people, more than 7,000 of which filled every corner of the newly-consecrated Basilica of the Holy Family – a splendid work by Architect Antonio Gaudí (whose process of beatification is going on) – had moved hearts. And for many – me, among them – it was another happy “coincidence” in such a historical event of the local church of Barcelona, Spain. “Coincidence,” someone said, “is the name God uses when He wants to remain anonymous.”

     Coming from Tarragona with some 112 overseas Filipino workers in two buses, and with two brother-priests, Fr. Allan Rodriguez and Fr. Elizar Cielo, I had the grace to concelebrate with the Pope, together with hundreds of concelebrating priests. I had witnessed the warm welcome accorded to the Supreme Pontiff by the catalan people and those coming from other Spanish cities. The day before, the Holy Father went to a pilgrimage at Santiago de Compostela and presided there the Holy Eucharist in the afternoon on the occasion of its Jubilee Year.

     The Pope’s message in his homily, as usual, has stirred not only the hearts of the Catholic faithful, jubilant with the presence of their spiritual father, but also the consciences of Church critics, rabid even at the thought of getting near the defender of the family, of women’s rights, and of human life from womb to tomb. Though a great part of his homily is dedicated to a reflection on “beauty (which) calls us to freedom and draws us away from selfishness,” what called the attention especially of the media are the Pope’s words on these questions:

     “Life has changed greatly and with it enormous progress has been made in the technical, social and cultural spheres. We cannot simply remain content with these advances. Alongside them, there also need to be moral advances, such as in care, protection and assistance to families, inasmuch as the generous and indissoluble love of a man and a woman is the effective context and foundation of human life in its gestation, birth, growth and natural end. Only where love and faithfulness are present can true freedom come to birth and endure.

     For this reason the Church advocates adequate economic and social means so that women may find in the home and at work their full development, that men and women who contract marriage and form a family receive decisive support from the state, that life of children may be defended as sacred and inviolable from the moment of their conception, that the reality of birth be given due respect and receive juridical, social and legislative support. For this reason the Church resists every form of denial of human life and gives its support to everything that would promote the natural order in the sphere of the institution of the family.”

     The Pope has spoken right through the heart of Spain – a modern Spain whose heart has somehow forgotten that true human family must be anchored on the “indissoluble love of a man and a woman”, that the authentic promotion of women is their holistic and integral development, and that the genuine protect of life is from birth to death. In this sense, the Pope’s message also strikes through the heart of every human being of good will and of every person who values family and life more than any political ideology.

     Reflecting on the significance of consecrating the church, which was later declared a Minor Basilica, the Pope said: “What do we do when we dedicate this church? In the heart of the world, placed before God and mankind, with a humble and joyful act of faith, we raise up this massive material structure, fruit of nature and an immense achievement of human intelligence which gave birth to this work of art. It stands as a visible sign of the invisible God, to whose glory these spires rise like arrows pointing towards absolute light and to the One who is Light, Height and Beauty itself.”

     At the heart of a metropolis, a great city like Barcelona, stands majestic “the visible sign of the invisible God”. Every Catholic is also called to stand in the midst of the world to be a living sign of the God of life. “As I contemplate with admiration this sacred space of marvelous beauty, of so much faith-filled history, I ask God that in the land of Catalonia new witnesses of holiness may rise up and flourish, and present to the world the great service that the Church can and must offer to humanity: to be an icon of divine beauty, a burning flame of charity, a path so that the world may believe in the One whom God has sent (cf. Jn 6:29),” the Pope ended.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Priests still have a future

Pope Benedict XVI, in his Letter to the Seminarians, recounts his experience in December 1941 when he was “drafted for military service, the company commander asked each of us what we planned to do in the future. I answered that I wanted to become a Catholic priest. The lieutenant replied: ‘Then you ought to look for something else. In the new Germany priests are no longer needed’. I knew that this ‘new Germany’ was already coming to an end, and that, after the enormous devastation which that madness had brought upon the country, priests would be needed more than ever.”

The Pope notes that today, the situation is different. “Many people nowadays also think that the Catholic priesthood is not a ‘job’ for the future, but one that belongs more to the past.” One could often hear even parents – after being confided by their son that he wanted to become a priest – would say: “What can you get from that?”

But I think the Pope’s diagnosis fits more appropriately in the first world countries like USA, Spain, Germany, etc. Though there are particular similar cases in the Philippines, they are not yet so common. Stories like parents putting obstacle on their son’s vocation often end up in the Primetime Drama special of a national TV.

Here in Spain, for instance, a young lad’s decision to enter the seminary would raise more than one eyebrow. “What has happened to that boy?” “Isn’t he doing well with his career?” Encouraging the seminarians, the Pope says: “You, dear friends, have decided to enter the seminary and to prepare for priestly ministry in the Catholic Church in spite of such opinions and objections. You have done a good thing because people will always have need of God.”

Priests still have a future. In a sense, this is what the Pope wants to convey especially to the young people in a highly industrialized world. Oftentimes the vision of a dark future for priests is what prevents young candidates from discovering their priestly vocation. One’s personal concept of success as defined in terms of good and stable job, big salaries and a comfortable life makes the possibility of serving God through His Church something like a nightmare for some.

But the future of priests is not determined by these parameters. Authentically successful life is more than just having big salaries, a stable job and material comfort. Real success is when you find authentic meaning to your existence: why are you here and where are you going. There is real joy in giving one’s life for the good of others. I think, in this sense, the priests still and will always have a future.

The Pope’s reason for affirming that priests still have a future is decisive. He says, “People will always have need of God, even in an age marked by technical mastery of the world and globalization: they will always need the God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, the God who gathers us together in the Universal Church in order to learn with him and through him life’s true meaning and in order to uphold and apply the standards of true humanity.”

A priest’s life still has a future because people will always need God to give meaning to their existence. People will still priests because they will always need God. “Where people no longer perceive God, life grows empty; nothing is ever enough. People then seek escape in euphoria and violence; these are the very things that increasingly threaten young people.”

Lastly, priests still have a future because, as the Pope rightly observes, “God is alive, and he needs people to serve him and bring him to others.” Perhaps, this is something that seminarians must reflect every day. God needs you to bring Him to others. Psychologists say that one of man’s deepest needs is the need to be needed. Well, here it is: “It does make sense to become a priest: the world needs priests, pastors, today, tomorrow and always, until the end of time.”

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Quid divinum

“Hay un algo santo, divino, escondido en las situaciones más comunes, que toca a cada uno de vosotros descubrir” (There is something holy, something divine hidden in the most ordinary situations, and it is up to each one of you to discover it).

In these few words, Saint Josemaría Escrivá described the message he was preaching all the years of his existence, since the founding of Opus Dei, a Catholic institution whose mission is “to help people turn their work and daily activities into occasions for growing closer to God, for serving others, and for improving society” (For more information, see The quotation is from his well-known homily entitled “Passionately loving the world”, which he pronounced on October 8, 1967 at a Mass on the campus of the University of Navarre, Spain. The homily has helped thousands of people find their vocation in life and continues to move hearts and mind.

On October 23 this year, the Prelate of Opus Dei, Bishop Javier Echevarria, second successor of Saint Josemaría, presided over the Holy Eucharist on the same spot where some 43 years ago, the Founder of Opus Dei celebrated it. This time, the occasion was the 50th founding anniversary of the Asociación de Amigos (Association of Friends) of the University of Navarre – an organization that supports the university from the beginning.

In his homily, Msgr. Echevarria evoked the content of Saint Josemaría’s preaching, putting emphasis on how our daily Christian life must be lived in all of its ordinary circumstances with reference to the Holy Eucharist. He said:

“El primer Gran Canciller de la Universidad nos animó –lo hace ahora desde el Cielo- a que, como consecuencia de una profunda vida eucarística, esencialmente eucarística, y conociendo que el mismo Dios hecho hombre ha decidido recorrer nuestros caminos, sepamos descubrir el quid divinum que se encierra en todas las circunstancias y ocupaciones, hasta las que parecen más materiales” (The first Great Chancellor of the University encouraged us – he’s doing it now in heaven – so that, as a consequence of a profound Eucharistic life, essentially Eucharistic, and knowing that the same God made man has decided to walk with us on our way, we may discover that “something divine” that is hidden in all circumstances and occupations, including the most ordinary ones).

And the prelate added: “Seremos más plenamente hombres, más plenamente mujeres en la medida que queramos y permitamos que el Cuerpo y la Sangre de Cristo nos alimenten y nos embriaguen de modo que la nuestra (vida) sea una continuación de su Vida: ¡podemos conseguirlo siempre, si le miramos más, si le tratamos más, si le amamos más!” (We shall become more fully men, more fully women in the measure that we want and allow that the Body and Blood of Christ to nurture and to inebriate us so that our own life may be a continuation of His: we can always make it if we look at Him more, if we treat Him more, if we love Him more!)

I think the search for the “quid divinum” in our ordinary life is what’s attractive of the Opus Dei message. Saint Josemaría has made it easier for us to understand that sanctity is accessible and that holiness of life consists in finding Jesus in the most ordinary circumstances of our everyday existence.

“You must realise now,” – the Saint said – “more clearly than ever, that God is calling you to serve him in and from the ordinary, secular and civil activities of human life. He waits for us every day, in the laboratory, in the operating room, in the army barracks, in the university chair, in the factory, in the workshop, in the fields, in the home and in all the immense panorama of work”. He was even quite sure in saying that “There is no other way, my daughters and sons: either we learn to find our Lord in ordinary, everyday life, or we shall never find him”.

With the Opus Dei’s message of holiness, preached in the words and in the life of its founder, ordinary people like us – secular priests and lay faithful – could find our own little way to God in the faithful observance of our duties and responsibilities, finding in them the “quid divinum” (something divine). These beautiful words of the Opus Dei founder are engraved in the hearts of those who listen to him and put them into practice: “Heaven and earth seem to merge, my children, on the horizon. But where they really meet is in your hearts, when you sanctify your everyday lives.”

(For the complete text of the homily, click this link:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Homily of Saint Josemaría at the University Campus, October 1967

Life is not a tragedy

     Life is never a tragedy, although we see tragedies happening in life. Behind the dark clouds of life’s tragedies is always the sun of hope shining so brightly. This conviction is no mere romanticism for this is the truth that lies behind the meditation of the Glorious Mysteries of the Holy Rosary.

     These mysteries remind us that the darkness and evil do not have the last word and that if only we fight, we will truly triumph for God is with us and God never loses battles. Jesus’ triumph over death is our life; His ascension into heaven is our hope; and Mary’s assumption and coronation as Queen of Heaven is our joy. The glorious mysteries, then, are telling us that “Only when life is full of hope can we find immense joy in living”.

* * *

FIRST GLORIOUS MYSTERY: The Resurrection of Jesus. Presiding over the Holy Eucharist in one of the chapels of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem last March this year, I cannot resist the temptation of asking how was it that the women and other disciples of Jesus were able to give testimony to the truth of His rising from the dead and how has this truth survived for more than two thousand years now. For even now, still thousands of believers visit the empty tomb and return home with renewed faith. Jesus’ resurrection still has the power to transform lives in the same way it transformed the lives of His first disciples who came to His tomb and found it empty that dawn of Sunday.

     It is not that easy to be transformed only by glorious news of Christ’s resurrection – an account that happened 2,000 years ago. But what really transforms our lives is not the resurrection account: it is the encounter of the Risen Lord Himself.

     Two events, the exegetes say, proved Jesus’ resurrection: the empty tomb and the appearance of Jesus to His disciples during forty days. How do we encounter the Risen Lord? In faith, we meet Him in the Holy Eucharist, in the Confession, in our daily prayer, in our every day ordinary work. Only when we find Jesus in the most ordinary event of our lives can we really experience an authentic transformation of our existence.

* * *

SECOND GLORIOUS MYSTERY: Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven. On the Mount of the Ascension, a dome was constructed to mark the spot where our Lord stood – according to tradition – giving His last instructions to His disciples before He ascended into heaven. Our guide showed a pair of footprints preserved on the ground that some people believed to be those of Jesus. Personally I find it hard to believe as I admit I don’t need physical proof to accept the claim that the spot was where Jesus really ascended into heaven.

     Yet, there is one lesson this hard-to-believe story of Jesus’ footprints on the Mount of the Ascension could give us: though Jesus has gone back into heaven, He left us with an indelible mark of His presence in our soul – the indelible character that we received in our baptism. How we wish Christ’s presence in our soul would always manifest itself in our daily lives!

* * *

THIRD GLORIOUS MYSTERY: The Descent of the Holy Spirit upon Mary and the Apostles. The Upper Room where the Last Supper took place is believed to be the same place where the Apostles had their reunion with the Mother of Jesus fifty days after His resurrection. “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them parted tongues, as it were of fire, and it sat upon every one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they began to speak with diverse tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak” (Acts 2: 2-4).

     Today, the Upper Room belongs to the Jewish religion and authorities do not allow Catholic rites there, though tourist visits are admitted. It is bare and has no artistic attraction. The only appeal it has is the fact that it was the Upper Room. Our life too could become a barren room without the grace of the Holy Spirit who inhabits our soul as in a temple. Our body is a temple of the Holy Ghost. Whenever we dishonor our body with sinful acts, we dishonor our Holy Guest and our temple becomes desolate.

* * *

FOURTH GLORIOUS MYSTERY: The Assumption of Mary into Heaven. In Jerusalem, a Catholic Basilica dedicated to Mary’s “dormición” (literally means, sleep) complements another Orthodox church in which Mary’s tomb is venerated, just like that of Jesus in the Holy Sepulcher. These correspond to two different traditions regarding Mary’s assumption into heaven. One tradition says that Mary did not die – nor She needed to – because She is the Immaculate Conception (conceived without original sin) and the wage of sin is death. Another says Mary died to share in the death of Her Son. Both traditions accept the dogma of Mary’s Assumption into heaven.

     Perhaps, it is not for us to know with certitude which of these two traditions is true. But the truth of Mary’s assumption into heaven is for us to hope for our own entrance into heaven. It reminds us that our only aim in this life is heaven. And if in the end, we don’t enter heaven as Mary did, then we are just wasting our time here. It also teaches us that heaven is already open for us. And Mary has preceded us there.

* * *

FIFTH GLORIOUS MYSTERY: The Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth. The Queen of England is often called “The Queen Mother”. But the ultimate Queen Mother is Mary: She is Queen and Mother by God’s decree. We can imagine the Holy Trinity – the Three Divine Persons – coming their way to greet the Blessed Virgin as She was assumed into Heaven. And the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit crowned Her Queen of Heaven and Earth.

     Truly, Jesus’ words were fulfilled: “More blessed are they who listen to God’s will and fulfill it”. Mary’s coronation is a living proof that God really rewards His faithful servants. But it also shows that God crowns with glory – brings into full completion – the work that He has commenced with His chosen children. What God has started doing in your life He will really bring that into completion only if you’ll cooperate with His will.

Looking at reality under God’s light

     We always see reality under a certain perspective. Our way of thinking, talking and doing things are – consciously or unconsciously – influenced by the perspective under which we see the world – our world. That is why, we say that a pessimistic person tends to see only the negative aspects of his or her experience while the optimistic one tries to find and to emphasize the positive side.

     We prefer being optimistic to being pessimistic in life. I suggest that one way to learn optimism is to look at reality with the eyes of God: to see things under God’s light. This is what we may learn if we meditate on the Luminous Mysteries of the Holy Rosary.

* * *

FIRST MYSTERY OF LIGHT: The Baptism of the Lord. John, the Baptist’s baptism was a purification rite for repentant sinners. Jesus did not hesitate to stay in the long queue of sinners to receive John’s baptism. John, at first, hesitated but the Lord asked him to proceed in order to fulfill God’s will.

     Whenever we look at ourselves with our own eyes, what we see are miseries, limitations, errors and sins. Then our immediate reaction is despair. We see no light and we tend to give up hope. We give up the fight thinking that it’s useless for we fall on the same error or sin again and again.

     Why not try to look at ourselves with the eyes of God? God looks at us with mercy. He knows our struggles and failures. But He is as much delighted to see our will to fight again, to stand again after a fall, as to contemplate our victories. In our sinfulness, He comes to us: to accompany us, to be on our side, to stay on the long queue of sinners like us.

* * *

SECOND MYSTERY OF LIGHT: The Manifestation of the Lord in the Wedding at Cana. In Cana, we see Mary as one of those invited, like Jesus and the disciples themselves. But Mary was more than just a guest. She acted as if she belonged to the family of the groom or of the bride. She was very attentive to every detail of the celebration. Among the guests, she was the first to find out that the wine has run out.

     “No one is too rich that he does not need anything”, affirms the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines. All of us have our own needs. And sometimes we get the sensation that we are the only ones who have needs, and that our needs are the greatest and the most urgent.

     But God perceives what we really need better than we do. Mary, who is now in heaven, also does perceive our needs and knows how much we necessitate essential things. If we look at our needs with God’s eyes, or even with the eyes of Mary, we will understand why at times God does not give us (or grant us immediately) what we ask Him for.

* * *

THIRD MYSTERY OF LIGHT: The Proclamation of God’s Kingdom and the Call for Conversion. “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel”. We imagine Jesus calling on everyone with this theme. Every time He had an opportunity, He would immediately inject this teaching on His disciples and the people around Him.

     We have the tendency to call for the conversion of other people more than of our own. We often use expressions like “Dapat” (“Dapat ‘di niya sinabi ‘yun”, “Dapat ganito ang gawin n’ya”, “Hindi dapat ganyan”) to tell other people what they should do or not do. But how often do we tell ourselves what we often tell other people? Looking at ourselves with God’s eyes reveals to us how much we need conversion.

* * *

FOURTH MYSTERY OF LIGHT: The Transfiguration of the Lord. We contemplate the three apostles, Peter, James and John, witnessing how the Lord was transfigured in their sight. His clothes were as bright as the sun. Then, they saw Moses and Elijah conversing with Jesus. The Fathers of the Church teach us that the Lord’s transfiguration serves as an assurance for the apostles of His divinity, for them to remain strong when Jesus faces His passion and death.

     In our baptism we are transfigured into Christ: we become alter Christus (the other Christ), or, as St. Josemaría Escrivá used to say, ipse Christus, Christ Himself. This transfiguration makes us capable of conversing with God in prayer, like children conversing with their father. Such intimate conversation with God keeps us strong in times of adversities and difficulties.

* * *

FIFTH MYSTERY OF LIGHT: The Institution of the Holy Eucharist. During the Last Supper, Jesus manifested the intensity and the greatness of His love for us. He gave to His disciples no less than His own Body and Blood present under the species of bread and wine. “Do this in memory of me” is the command that He gave them – a command that perpetuates His presence among us today.

     But we can only be aware of Christ’s sacramental presence among us today under the light of faith. Only he who accepts by faith that inside the Tabernacle is Jesus Christ Himself in His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity can experience such presence and enjoy the abundant spiritual gifts that it brings. Let us ask the Lord to grant us more of His light so that we may see and believe, and in believing, our joy may be complete.

Strength in sorrow

     In a world where suffering is a taboo, many would find it totally absurd to meditate the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary and pick up from such meditation some spiritual benefits. I find it really mind-boggling that while many find violent movies entertaining, only a few comprehend that human suffering can be salvific because Christ has already transformed it through His own passion and death.

     It is the experience of this few and their comprehension of the meaning of suffering that we would like to look into as we contemplate the sorrowful experiences of Jesus – His experience of betrayal, rejection, mockery, physical abuse and death. Contemplating Jesus in His most vulnerable moments can be a source of strength for us in moments when we are most powerless.

* * *

FIRST SORROWFUL MYSTERY: The Agony of Jesus in Gethsemane. We find Jesus kneeling on the ground, with eyes fixed on the dark skies. Deep within Him are two forces fighting against each other: the obedience to His Father’s will and the horror of man’s sins and of His bloody death on the cross. And He looked at these two from the perspective of His infinite love: for His Father and for the human race – a love which received its first deadly blow from the betrayal of His friend, Judas: a betrayal sealed with a kiss!

     Jesus embodies our own experiences of betrayal, of loving and being betrayed. His inner conflict is just as real as the conflicts that inflict us every now and then. His agony is a model of every man’s anguish caused by the horrors of evil – evil that is even brought about by man’s undoing. But look at where Jesus’ agony has brought Him: to the garden of Gethsemane, on His knees. May our affliction bring us also to our own “Gethsemane” and on our knees!

* * *

SECOND SORROWFUL MYSTERY: The Scourging at the Pillar. Jesus could have eluded this unnecessary torment had Pilate immediately decreed His verdict – either conviction or acquittal. But in his desire to save Jesus from the wrath of the Jewish authorities (he knew that the motive was purely envy), he wanted Jesus scourged thinking of two things: to appease the mob’s anger and, subsequently, to release Him. But the result was a complete disaster: Jesus’ scourging became a prelude to His bloody death on the cross!

     Sometimes we have good intentions but we lack the will power to put them into practice. St. Josemaría said it is not enough to desire only to do what is good. We need to know how to do it, and effectively do it! Oftentimes great things are at stake: it could be our happiness. We could have eluded utter failures in life had we decided to execute our good intentions in the best manner we possibly knew.

* * *
THIRD SORROWFUL MYSTERY: The Coronation with Thorns. The pain that Jesus experienced was of double dimension: physical and moral or spiritual. Moral suffering – for instance, that which is caused by your loved ones rejection or betrayal – is greater than the physical one. Perhaps the mockery of the soldiers was less morally painful compared to the desertion of His beloved disciples. It was less painful than the thorns with which His persecutors crowned Him. Although we can also say that the disrespect of these soldiers was more heartbreaking than the excruciating thorn in His head.

     This only shows that what is more spiritual – the moral dimension – is superior to what is merely physical (though I am not suggesting a separation between the two). Not once I’ve heard people safeguarding their integrity saying: “I’d rather die of hunger first than to indulge myself into robbery”. St. Josemaría has a more radical way of putting it: “Antes morir que pecar” (I’d rather die first than to sin!).

     But today, lots of people give more importance to the appetites of the flesh than to the need of their spirit? For many would rather use condoms and other contraceptive device and indulge themselves into the desires of the flesh than observe continence and grow in maturity and self-control.

* * *

FOURTH SORROWFUL MYSTERY: Carrying of the Cross to the Mt. Calvary. When Jesus said: “Those who want to be my disciples should carry their cross, and follow me”, He was thinking already of doing it first, that is, of carrying His own cross so that others may follow. Of course, it is hard to imagine a scene wherein Jesus is carrying His cross going to the Mt. Calvary while at His back, His disciples carrying their own crosses.

     But what is literally difficult to imagine is metaphorically easy to prove by experience, for crosses of every kind we can easily encounter today even without trying to look for them: that mother-in-law who is difficult to get along with, our employment and economic problems, difficulties in your studies, relational problems, etc., -- these are inevitable crosses that we need to confront every day. And if we don’t carry them, who shall do it for us? And if we don’t carry them conscious that Jesus has carried His own first, for our sake, our crosses would seem very heavy and insufferable. But once we carry them with Jesus and for Jesus, they become light and meaningful.

* * *

FIFTH SORROWFUL MYSTERY: The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus. It is the culmination of Jesus’ suffering, but not of His life and presence in the world. It is the peak of His temporal existence, but with His death, it is not only, “It is over” but it is also, “It is fulfilled”. Jesus is not contented that His suffering is over: He is happy that His mission is now fulfilled.

     In life, we naturally would look for “It is over” and forget that what we must go after is “It is fulfilled”. How we wish our problems and difficulties would be over; how we wish, school is over; how we wish, this article will be over, etc. But beyond wishing what we wish would be over, we should wish and pray that “It is fulfilled”. For what is more important in life is not that we have finished something but that we are fulfilled or that something is fulfilled as we finish it. At the end of our lives, we shall be examined not by the life that is over and lived, but by the life that is accomplished and fulfilled.


Meditating on Jesus’ joyful moments

     As the month of September commences, what comes immediately to my mind is Christmas: the “ber-months” have come. The other day, we explained it to our residence director: in the Philippines, we celebrate the longest Christmas in the world. Part of being a Filipino is that joyful character. We cling more to what gives us joy than to what makes us sulky. And in case we lose our joys for some disgrace, we immediately try to recuperate them. Christmas is our most loved season of the year because it helps us recuperate that which we price most – our joyful moments.

     But Christmas is fundamentally Jesus’ joyful moments on earth. Jesus finds joy in becoming a man like us in everything except sin, in obeying completely His earthly parents – Mary and Joseph, and in working silently in Nazareth. These are some of Jesus’ happy moments that we meditate in praying the Joyful mysteries of the Holy Rosary.

* * *

FIRST JOYFUL MYSTERY: The Annunciation and the Incarnation of Jesus. I personally prefer to call this the Mystery of Incarnation rather than of the Annunciation, although the latter is prior to the former. When the Archangel Gabriel declared to Mary that she shall conceive a child whom she shall name “Jesus”, it was in a sense, not just an act of informing Mary, but of asking her consent. Mary’s “Yes” was a requisite for the Incarnation to take place. It is as if God was waiting for Mary to give her consent before the Second Divine Person could become man.

     Meditating on this mystery, we see a God Who takes pleasure in dealing with humankind, a God Who is very close to man, a God Who is concerned with everything that concerns man. We see a God Who considers first – Who patiently waits first for – a woman’s consent before embarking on the implementation of His greatest plan for mankind: the salvation of man. He is a God Who consults us first before implementing His great plans for us. Before saving us, He wants our opinion or our consent first. St. Augustine is right: “God, who created you without your consent, cannot save you without your consent”.

     In our life’s great plans, do we also consult God and ask His opinion or consent? In God’s eternal plan, you have a big role to play, a wide space reserved for you. But does God also have a place in your life’s projects?

* * *

SECOND JOYFUL MYSTERY: Mary’s Visitation to Her cousin Elizabeth. We see in this mystery two persons whose life projects are centered on God. In their life, God does not only occupy a considerable space or a bigger role: God is the center of everything. Elizabeth told Mary: “Blessed are you because you believed that what God has told you will come true”. Here is a little secret of happiness: believing that God will take care of us!

     But how many unnecessary worries in life lead us to depression? And why do we worry so much? We worry because things don’t turn the way we want them to. We are so filled with worries because we wanted absolute control of our lives. And we realize that it is simply impossible. Of course, the existentialists have a point in saying that man should decide for himself to be what he wants to be. This is also God’s will for man. But man can only achieve this with God’s help, for as the Vatican II teaches: “Without the Creator, the creature would vanish”.

     Do you really believe that without God you can achieve the objectives you have set with your life’s projects, with your business, with your lovelife, with your studies, etc.? If you want success in life, do your best and let God take care of the rest!

* * *

THIRD JOYFUL MYSTERY: The Birth of Jesus. It is already marvelous to contemplate an eternal God Who has entered into time – a divine who become human. But it is more marvelous to meditate what is temporal and what is human rise to eternity and the divine. In Christ’s birth, we marvel not only on God’s entering into our world but also on us entering into God’s life.

     Hence, though it is right to say “Accept Jesus in your life as your personal Lord and Savior” (as some protestants usually preach), I’d say, “Let yourself be embraced by Jesus and be received into His life”. Do not put obstacles for God’s grace to work in your life. Do not make it difficult for God to befriend you.

* * *

FOURTH JOYFUL MYSTERY: The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple and the Purification of Mary. Mary’s purification is usually left unrecognized in the praying of this mystery especially when the leader (or oneself) mentions only the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. But it calls our attention why Mary must undergo purification being immaculate herself, that is, conceived without sin. It is because according to Jewish law, the blood that flows from the woman in giving birth makes her impure.

     But we, Catholics, hold that Mary is Virgin before, during and after giving birth to Jesus. Hence, the purification rite is unnecessary. Yet, Mary decided to fulfill what the law commands in order to teach us a very important lesson today: the purity of life must be lived inside and outside, interiorly and exteriorly. How sure are you that you really and interiorly are struggling to live a chaste life if in your conversations green jokes are as natural and as spontaneous as breathing?

* * *

FIFTH JOYFUL MYSTERY: The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple. Lost and found seems to be no mystery at all, especially in a society where sections on “Lost and Found things” abound in department stores. But what is mysterious in this episode of Jesus’ life is the pain and worry that Mary and Joseph experienced for three days of looking for their beloved son. It’s natural, you may say. After all, Jesus is their son. True. But they also know, not only believe, that Jesus is their God. And yet, their faith could not keep away their pain and worry.

     Spiritual pain and worry should also engulf us whenever we find out that we have lost our God by committing a mortal sin. But it seems that this does not spiritually affect too much a lot of people today: that whenever we commit a mortal sin, we lose God’s grace – we lose Jesus, we lose our joy. And like any good Filipino, the only way to recuperate our joy is to go to the “Lost and Found” section: the Sacrament of Confession.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Vocation, a loving dialogue

Reflecting on the Holy Father’s message for the 46th World Day of Prayer for vocations to the priesthood and to the consecrated life held last May 3, 2010, with the theme: “Faith in the divine initiative - the human response”, I found a crystal-clear affirmation of my longtime-held conviction: that the response to God’s call to priesthood or religious life is born out of one’s firm faith. Whenever people ask me why I decided to become a priest, my usual reply is that I believe God has called me first: I did not decide it first – He did. I am simply trying to respond in faith.

This Vocation Month’s theme: “Vocation: a gift and a commitment” emphasizes, first of all, the truth that “vocation to the priesthood and to the consecrated life constitutes a special gift of God which becomes part of the great plan of love and salvation that God has for every man and woman and for the whole of humanity” (POPE BENEDICT XVI, Message for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations). The call is God’s initiative, not man’s. To become a priest is not a life’s project that we can simply put below our picture in a high school yearbook, or a reply to an inquiry in a slum book: “Ambition? To become a nun”.

It is God’s initiative. Therefore, whenever we hear a young lad saying, “I want to become a priest”, or a young lady saying, “I want to enter the convent”, our first thought would be that God must have stirred something in these persons. In a sense, the desire to become a priest or a nun is already the first sign – but not the only or even the most decisive one – of vocation. The candidate should go deeper in the discernment and purification of such desire through prayer and reflection. “What is asked of those who are called, for their part, is careful listening and prudent discernment, a generous and willing adherence to the divine plan, and a serious study of the reality that is proper to the priestly and religious vocations, so as to be able to respond responsibly and with conviction” (Ibid.).

It belongs to the Church the responsibility to discern whether or not such sign is authentic. Yet such responsibility is just one side of the coin. The other side is what the Pope highlights: “Our first duty, therefore, is to keep alive in families and in parishes, in movements and in apostolic associations, in religious communities and in all the sectors of diocesan life this appeal to the divine initiative with unceasing prayer. We must pray that the whole Christian people grows in its trust in God, convinced that the "Lord of the harvest" does not cease to ask some to place their entire existence freely at his service so as to work with him more closely in the mission of salvation” (Ibid.).

God may sow in the hearts of young people the seed of vocation if the “ground” is fertile. A Christian family that tries to live coherently its faith, with parents and children praying together, going to Mass on Sundays together, and inculcating the values of generosity and loving sacrifice, would likely favor the flourishing of a priestly or religious vocation. On the contrary, a family that hardly has time to be together at home, even in praying before meals, with parents and children, brothers or sisters always thinking of one’s own comfort and benefit, unwilling even to lend one’s new T-shirt or any belonging to another family member, could hardly encourage self-sacrifice which is essential in any response to God’s call.

Citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Cfr. n. 2062), the Pope says “God’s free initiative requires a free response on the part of men and women; a positive response which always presupposes acceptance of and identification with the plan that God has for everyone; a response which welcomes the Lord’s loving initiative and becomes, for the one who is called, a binding moral imperative, an offering of thanksgiving to God and a total cooperation with the plan which God carries out in history” (Ibid.). In a word, vocation is simply a loving dialogue between God Who calls and the one being called.

God always calls men and women to priesthood and religious life. No doubt about that for Jesus even promised to perpetuate His Church until the end of time. And for the Church to continue, priests are necessary. For without the priests, there would be no Eucharist. And without the Eucharist, there would be no Church. But what is not so certain is man’s response. That is why, it is on this aspect that our celebration of vocation month should particularly focus (though the term “vocation” here may also refer to marriage). What could we do as a Church, in this case, the local Church of Davao, to foment free human response to a divine initiative? Putting it simply, what can we – the people of God in Davao – do in order to promote, stir up and sustain priestly and religious vocations?

The Pope’s message calls for more prayer and deeper trust: “The exhortation of Jesus to his disciples: ‘Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest’ (Mt 9:38) has a constant resonance in the Church. Pray! The urgent call of the Lord stresses that prayer for vocations should be continuous and trusting. The Christian community can only really ‘have ever greater faith and hope in God's providence’ (Sacramentum Caritatis, 26) if it is enlivened by prayer”.

But our prayer should be coupled with sacrifices and should be put into action if we want it to be efficient. As St. Josemaría says: “Action is worth nothing without prayer: prayer grows in value with sacrifice”. Let us pray for more priestly and religious vocations in Davao. But then, let us learn to take care and sustain these vocations in our archdiocese. For in every vocation, we find man’s loving dialogue with God.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

ANC’s half-Truths

ANC’s edition of Truths last Monday left me preoccupied. Aside from the fact that clearly the mentality behind is a latent support for the legalization of abortion in the Philippines (as can be deduced from its arguments), I am deeply troubled by the misunderstanding it feeds on our people regarding the Church-backed Natural Family Planning. As the Church ordained minister and the people’s conscience formator, I feel the obligation to clarify some points here.

In the program, the narrator presents an interview of a Catholic priest who explained how the two dimensions of sexual activity – the unitive and the procreative – should not be separated. Immediately, the reporter notes that the Church’s teaching here involves a contradiction since the Church also promotes Natural Family Planning which entails doing sexual activity during infertile periods; hence, separating the procreative from the unitive dimension. The reporter could have asked the interviewed priest how to explain this. But she did not. She simply jumped into her conclusion. This gave me reason to assume that the Truths’ edition last Monday is grossly biased in favor of the anti-life mentality.

* * *

In the Natural Family Planning, the couple is engaged in sexual activity during infertile periods. Naturally, no life could come out; hence, the sexual activity does not yield the creation of new life. But this does not mean that the unitive and procreative dimensions of the sexual activity are separated. Why? Simply because it does not involve an anti-life mentality. Let me explain.

The procreative dimension refers to openness in the transmission of life or fecundity. In God’s design of creation, fecundity is a cycle. And there are periods wherein transmission of life is not possible. Sexual activities done within these periods are still open to life; it’s just that no life yet is possible. Hence, it cannot involve an anti-life mentality. And the couple’s desire not to have a baby is only secondary to God’s will. They simply cooperate in God’s procreative design, so to speak.

On the contrary, in the use of artificial methods or contraceptives, the anti-life mentality is clearly manifest. Regardless of whether the woman is fertile or not, the couple’s intention in sexual activities is to block the transmission of life. Hence, it intentionally separates the procreative from the unitive dimension. In the natural way, the couple’s desire not to have a baby seconds God’s will as manifested in nature. In the artificial way, the couple simply rejects God’s will to transmit life. That is why, it is rightly called contraception (“contra” = against; “conception” = life).

The Church’s teaching on this aspect is quite clear. It is a total irresponsibility on the part of the reporter not to have researched on this and to simply brush aside the Church’s teaching as contradictory. To fill-in that gap left by ANC’s Truths’ half-truths, here is the full truth.

* * *

“Never is it permitted to separate these different aspects [unitive and procreative] to the point of excluding positively either the intention of procreation or the conjugal relation”. (Pius XII, Allocution to the Members of the II World Congress of Fertility and Sterility, May 19, 1956)

“The husband and wife do no wrong in seeking out and enjoying this pleasure [cooperating with God in propagating the human race]. They are accepting what the Creator intended for them. Still, here too, the husband and wife ought to know how to keep within the bounds of moderation. As in eating and drinking, they ought not to give themselves over completely to the promptings of their senses, so neither ought they to subject themselves unrestrainedly to their sensual appetite. This, therefore, is the rule to be followed: the use of the natural, generative instinct and function is lawful in the married state only, and in the service of the purposes for which marriage exists”. (Pius XII, Allocution to Midwives, October 29, 1951)

“The moral lawfulness of such conduct [limiting the use of the marital act to times of natural sterility] would be affirmed or denied according as to whether or not the intention to keep constantly to these periods is based on sufficient and reliable moral grounds. The sole fact that the couple do not offend against the nature of the act and that they are willing to accept and bring up the child that is born notwithstanding the precautions they have taken, would not of itself alone be sufficient guarantee of a right intention and of the unquestionable morality of the motives themselves”. (Pius XII, Allocution to Midwives, October 29, 1951)

* * *

Watching ANC’s Truths left me preoccupied but with another important lesson learned: not everything that the media feed us is the truth, even though they would call it Truths. Hence, we need to be very careful and critical. Knowing better our faith and the Church’s teachings is our effective shield against the obvious ideological indoctrination that is going on around us. There’s no deadliest danger than being misinformed.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Fallacies of legalizing abortion

(A response to an article entitled “Filipino women need safe and legal abortion in RP” by EnGendeRights, August 2, 2010, posted in See

One needs not study Logic or Philosophy to see how this article is replete with lots of fallacious arguments. I am not exaggerating when I say that the bottom line of what it tries to convey is this: that we should save our women from numerous maternal deaths brought about by unsafe abortion methods by legally killing our children! In what follows, I shall unmask each of these fallacies and argue that abortion is immoral because it an act of murder. Legalizing abortion does not change its immorality, for what is legal may not necessarily be morally right.

The article opens with this affirmation: “‘Filipinos should address the issue of access to safe and legal abortion in the country. The impact of lack of access to safe and legal abortion is a grave public health issue as shown in the report of New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights entitled, “Forsaken Lives: The Harmful Impact of the Philippine Criminal Abortion Ban”, which was released today at Annabel’s restaurant. In the Philippines, over half of all pregnancies are unintended and one-third of these unintended pregnancies end in abortion. Due to the illegality of abortion, Filipino women induce abortion clandestinely through unsafe methods. The report cites recent statistics showing about half a million Filipino women yearly who, because of various reasons including rape and dire socio-economic reasons, induce abortion with about 1000 women dying and 90,000 being hospitalized due to complications from unsafe abortion. This means that the illegality of abortion does not stop abortion but only makes it dangerous for the health and lives of Filipino women,’ said Attorney Clara Rita A. Padilla, Executive Director of EnGendeRights, and former Visiting International Legal Fellow at Center for Reproductive Rights”.

The basic structure of the argument is this: because abortion is illegal in the Philippines, women clandestinely abort their babies through unsafe methods and many die due to complications. Therefore, to avoid numerous maternal deaths, abortion should be legalized to provide safer abortion methods.

The first fallacy committed in this argument is confusing cause and effect. The banning of abortion is not the direct cause of the numerous deaths of women who abort their children. Hence, the conclusion on the legalization of abortion to curb these deaths is fallacious. The illegality of abortion is simply a contributing or circumstantial factor that drives women to clandestine abortion employing unsafe methods, but never its cause. Abortion is harmful (may cause numerous maternal deaths) not because it is illegal. It is illegal – not legally allowed – because it is harmful: it causes the death of children and – as Padilla has cited – possibly that of the mother.

But what directly causes these numerous deaths of women is the women’s decision to abort. Had they not decided to abort their child, they would never have died of unsafe abortion methods. Now, legalizing abortion does not guarantee that these deaths would not occur. Instead, if abortion is legalized, more women would be encouraged to abort. The legalization of abortion would only raise to the highest level the risk of numerous maternal deaths.

A corollary fallacy in Padilla’s argument is this: legalizing abortion brings about safer abortion methods. This is absolutely false! Abortion, whether legal or illegal, is never safe because it always puts the mother’s life in great danger, while it kills mercilessly the child. That which kills is never safe!

So that women should not die due to complications from unsafe abortion, the best solution is not the legalization of abortion. The first most efficient solution is for the mother to decide NOT TO ABORT. This is the safest means to avoid numerous maternal deaths. Second, we need to persecute legally those who are doing abortion illegally in this country. If women would not abort and the law is implemented well, I am sure the problem will be solved.

The second fallacy is the appeal to authority. The report of New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) claims to be an authority on this subject because it has conducted a statistical study on abortion in the Philippines. Padilla’s argument appeals to this authority and argues that we should consider its findings in addressing “the issue of access to safe and legal abortion in the country”. The basic structure of Padilla’s argument is this: CRR is an authority on this subject. CRR conducted this study and says that the impact of the illegality of abortion in the Philippines is harmful. Hence, CRR’s finding and conclusion is true.

Any law student who studies Logic could demonstrate well how illogical this argument is. CRR’s finding cannot be true simply because it claims authority on this subject. It can be true only if it follows logical reasoning, which I doubt it does. Hence, to argue that CRR’s conclusion is true because it is an authority on this subject is a fallacy.

I don’t doubt the professional authority of CRR in conducting statistical studies. But given the fallacious reasoning of its conclusion (namely, that illegal abortion causes numerous maternal deaths), what I doubt is its moral authority. When an argument does not follow reason, it cannot have moral authority because as St. Thomas Aquinas said, “The moral law is that part of the eternal law that applies to human choices and can be known by our natural reason”. Hence, what does not follow logical reasoning cannot claim moral authority. The CRR cannot have the moral authority on this subject simply because it lacks logical reasoning. Then, why should we appeal to it?

The most notorious of Padilla’s fallacies is a double fallacy of the appeal to common practice and the appeal to popularity. Here’s how she formulates it: “Spain has liberalized its laws to allow abortion on broad grounds and yet we are left to contend with our old colonial laws. Other predominantly Catholic countries that allow abortion are Belgium, France, Italy, Poland, and Hungary (whose constitution protects life from conception but permits abortion up to 12 weeks of gestation). Recent abortion liberalizations occurred in Colombia, Mexico City (legalized abortion in the first trimester without restriction in April 2007) and Portugal (allows abortion up to 10 weeks of pregnancy).”

While it may true that the Philippine legal restriction on abortion is “one of the vestiges of Spanish colonization”, it does not logically follow that once Spain has lifted up its restriction, the Philippines should also follow. That abortion is a common practice in other countries is not a logical argument in favor of its legalization in the Philippines. The mere fact that most people do something does not make it correct, moral, justified, or reasonable.

Besides, Padilla mentioned that these countries are Catholic countries, insinuating that even Catholics accept abortion, which is another gross fallacy. In Spain, where I am based at the writing of this article, the law on abortion has been passed despite the strong opposition by thousands of Catholics. With similar fallacious arguments and Machiavellian political tactics now being employed in the Philippines, pro-abortion advocates here had succeeded in pushing anti-life measures like the Spanish abortion law. (Another is the law on same-sex marriage which is also anti-family. I cannot understand why Padilla mentioned this in her article.)

Padilla is right: the abortion law is part of President Zapatero’s “bold social reforms” – bold, because it violates the human person’s basic right to live and the parents’ basic right to take care of their underage pregnant daughters who, thanks to this law, may now abort freely even without parental knowledge and consent. Is this the way we should protect our women from numerous maternal deaths? By eliminating the right of parents to form the conscience and to take care of their pregnant daughters, are we really protecting these women from maternal deaths?

One last fallacious argument. Padilla noted that “The Philippine law on abortion does not even allow express exceptions based on rape, risks to the life and health of the woman and fetal impairment… Our constitution provides equal protection of life from conception and the life of the woman. This constitutional provision does not prohibit abortion as exemplified in the case of Hungary which has the same constitutional provision at the same (time) permits abortion up to 12 weeks of gestation. In the case of Colombia, the Constitutional Court declared the Colombian abortion law unconstitutional and permitted abortion on the following circumstances: when the woman’s life or health is in danger; when the pregnancy is the result of rape; and when the fetus has malformation incompatible with life outside the uterus”.

Very intriguingly, Padilla considered logical the fact that Hungary and Colombia permit abortion up to 12 weeks of gestation while providing in their respective constitution equal protection of life from conception and the life of the woman. But she seemed to find it illogical that the Philippines prohibit abortion, adhering completely to its constitutional vow of protecting life from conception. Obviously, the Philippines is more consistent with its constitutional commitment than the other two abovementioned countries. I cannot understand why those who are inconsistent in their words and actions are admired and commended, while those who are consistent and faithful are disapproved and criticized.

An immoral act can hardly be defended by any rational argument. No sufficient appeal to authority or to statistics can change the immorality of abortion, whether legal or illegal. Its basic logical structure is simple: Murder is a heinous immoral crime. Any action that kills a living human being is murder. Abortion takes the life of a living human fetus inside the womb of the mother. Abortion is a heinous immoral crime.

Abortion advocates would usually argue that the fetus is not yet a human being, or if it already is, it is not yet considered a human person. But if it is not a human being, what is it? If it is not yet a human person, when will it become? What these abortion advocates could not deny is that abortion, besides possibly killing the mother, surely kills a living being, the child. And killing is murder. The most logical question they cannot answer logically is this: Why not let our children live?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Friday, August 13, 2010

God never wastes time!

God does not waste time. This was the conclusion I arrived at upon reflecting on this experience.

One Sunday afternoon, while waiting for Luis, a friend of mine in his 50’s and a native of Zaragoza, who volunteered to take me in his car to Salou (a 20-minute drive from Tarragona) where I had a Mass at 8:00 P.M., I started the first glorious mystery of the Holy Rosary in front of the house where I was staying.

“¿Tú eres un cura?” (Are you a priest?), out of the blue, a middle-aged half-Romanian, half-Italian (I learned it later from him) man addressed me. As soon as I said yes, thinking that again my black clergyman has effectively revealed my identity, he immediately enumerated his grave sins.

“Yo he sido un drogadicto, alcohólico y he frecuentado los lugares malos como los de prostitución, etc.” (I have been a drug-addict, an alcoholic and I have frequently been in prostitution houses, etc.), he started to say. I wonder why the sight of a priest would always evoke in us the sensation of repentance and self-accusation. It happens to me oftentimes. Upon knowing that I am a priest, a newly-met person would say, “So, you’re a priest. It has been a long time since I had my last confession”.

Even in cases of jeers from people who are anti-Church and anti-clerics, this is the main topic for ridicule: that priests are ministers of confession, and therefore, seeing a priest is like reminding one’s self of his sinfulness. But even if reminding others (and especially myself) of our sinfulness were the only significance of my being a priest, it would be very worthwhile to be a priest.

* * *

“Tienes todavía esperanza”, (You still have hope), I sounded firm as I responded. And I saw a look of bewilderment on his face. May bukas pa is not just an understatement, although here in Spain it appears to be so, considering the economic and moral crisis that the society is suffering.

But a priest should be a living sign of that hope. And he can only be that sign if he lives with it concretely everyday of his life. Every after confession, after receiving the absolution, we can feel that sense of hope slowly transforming our lives for the better. It is a “performative”, not just an “informative” hope, as Pope Benedict XVI distinguishes (Cfr. Encyclical Letter Spe salvi, 4).

Despite our sinfulness, I think we have to cling to this hope. Of the three theological virtues, charity may be the greatest. But it is hope which is (and should be) the last to lose. By sinning, we may lack faith, we may go against charity; but we should never lose hope.

* * *

“Tienes todavía esperanza porque el Hijo del Dios vino para buscar a los…” (You still have hope because the Son of God came to rescue the …), I held my tongue, reluctant to mention “pecadores” (sinners) for it may hurt his sensibilities. But quickly he completed my sentence with “…enfermos” (the sick). I conceded.

To consider ourselves sick in front of God is the beginning of wisdom, of healing and of salvation. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” the Psalmist says. But why we fear the Lord? Because we know we have offended Him. And we know the consequences of offending Him, that’s why we fear offending Him again. But this refers to a filial fear, the fear of a son of God.

We can only be healed of our spiritual malady if we learn to recognize it in the first place. To refuse to see ourselves sick in front of God is pure pride. Besides, such refusal carries with it the logical consequence of not needing Christ and His salvation anymore. If I don’t need healing, I don’t need Christ. But if I am sick, “Lord, heal me!”

* * *

“Ya te encomendaré en mi misa” (I will pray for you in my Mass), I bade him farewell as he started to walk away. “Ya me voy, tengo que rezar mucho todavía”(I have to go; I need to pray more), was his reply. Both of us were refreshed by such a short but very substantial conversation. With the hope of being healed, both of us came out revitalized.

Indeed, God never wastes time! I was just waiting for a ride but He came to remind me of His love and to refresh me with His hope.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Should a seminarian have a girlfriend?

At the outset, the question is mistakenly formulated. And the mistake is in the “should”, for if we insist on this formula, my immediate answer is a big NO! Clarifying some ideas on this topic would explain my point. Our aim? Clear ideas.

The choice of this topic is occasioned by an email sent to me by a certain confused young girl (she calls herself the “Confused One”) two months ago. Her commentaries and questions were provoked by an article (which she attributed to me) supposedly published in DCHerald, about this question: “Should a seminarian have a girlfriend?”

* * *

Ideas to be clarified: The seminary is a place where vocations to the priesthood are discerned, discovered, nurtured and fortified (in this order). This is the aim of both the college (philosophical studies) as well as the theological seminaries (theological studies), although we may think that in the former, more emphasis is placed on the first two, while in the latter, on the last two, but without separating all of them.

Effectively, young men (most of whom have just finished high school) feel an inclination or a certain attraction to the priesthood or religious life, which usually is a first sign of priestly vocation, though not an exclusive one. (I know of some vocation history of priests who, at first, felt repulsion at the idea of entering the seminary, but ended up being ordained). Moved by such attraction, they decide to enter the seminary with the aim of discerning more clearly what the Lord wants of them. In the seminary, they receive a formation apt to this objective: to discern and nurture their vocations to the priesthood.

I always understand this experience as something comparable to that phase in romantic relationships that we call physical attraction and courtship. Young men who are inclined more to married life (in contrast to the example above) find gorgeous girls and propose plans to court them, with an analogous objective: to discern (if this is real love) and to nurture it (if it is true love) in order to bring it to completion in marriage.

* * *

In a word, seminary formation and romantic relationships are both preparations to two different but correlated life vocations: priesthood and married life. Correlated, I said, because thanks to the parents, we have priests. And thanks to priests, we have sacramentally married couple. If seminarians inclined to priesthood prepare themselves in the seminary for their future priestly ministry, young men inclined to married life prepare themselves through courtship and romantic relationships, for their future married life.

In both preparations, two requirements are essential in order to achieve the goal of each: commitment and sincerity. Those who decide to enter the seminary to discern and nurture their priestly vocations commit themselves to such a goal and responsibility by being sincere to themselves (to their decision), to God (Who they believe calls them) and to others (their bishops, formators, parents, benefactors and friends). The same commitment and sincerity are required in a romantic relationship. Once the girl perceives that the guy is insincere and is not committed to the relationship, a break-up would surely ensue (unless both are only up to a mere fling).

Now the questions: What if the young lad who is inclined to the priestly vocation is the same young man who is courting a girl? In other words, is it admissible for a seminarian to court a girl and, consequently, maintain a romantic relationship with her? Is it possible to be committed genuinely to the attainment of the goals of priestly formation and, at the same time, be committed honestly to the goals of courtship and romantic relationships?

* * *

If you are keen enough, you’d notice that in the first question, I employ the term admissible while in the second, possible. The answers to both are obvious. It is NOT ADMISSIBLE that a seminarian should court and maintain a romantic relationship with a girl simply because it is NOT POSSIBLE to be committed and sincere to both goals – those of the priesthood and those of the romantic relationships. In other words, a seminarian could not be committed and sincere to both his priestly formation and his girlfriend. As simple as that!

Partly, this explains my answer to the question at the outset. Not without reason the seminary prohibits that seminarians should have a girlfriend. It is not merely an arbitrary prohibition. It is something that is based on the order of things, on clear ideas and principles.

My letter sender mentioned some objections like: “Bawal bang magmahal ang isang seminarista?”, “Having a girlfriend is also formative for a seminarian” or “When a seminarian says ‘I love you’ to a girl, is he courting her?” I’m afraid we need to wait for other occasions to reflect on these questions.

"Sacerdotes, 'consagrados en la Verdad'"

Estar inmersos en la Verdad, en Cristo, de este proceso forma parte
la oración, en la que nos ejercitamos en la amistad con Él y aprendemos a
conocerle: su forma de ser, de pensar, de actuar. Rezar es un caminar en
comunión personal con Cristo, exponiendo ante Él nuestra vida cotidiana,
nuestros logros y nuestros fracasos, nuestras fatigas y nuestras alegrías -es un
simple presentarnos a nosotros mismos ante Él. Pero para que esto no se
convierta en un autocontemplarse, es importante que aprendamos continuamente a
rezar rezando con la Iglesia.