Tuesday, July 27, 2010

If I love my GF, why can’t I make love with her? (Part II)

In the first part, we have said that only in marriage can sexual activity be truly an expression of true love between man and woman because the institution of marriage assures two characteristics of true love: exclusivity and being forever. Hence, our thesis is that if one truly loves his/her GF/BF, he/she should wait until marriage before indulging in sexual activities.

-- But scarcely anyone is convinced about this truth today, you may object. Almost everybody believes that there’s nothing wrong with indulging in premarital sex for as long as it is safe (By safe sex, many understand it to mean safe from sexually transmitted diseases and safe from unwanted pregnancies). It is the “in-thing” today among adolescents. Besides, as you, Father, have said (in the first part), “adolescents and young adults really fall in love and that true love really occurs among young people”. You seem to contradict yourself. If true love can really occur in young people, why can’t they indulge into pre-marital sex? Again the question: “If I truly love my girlfriend, why can’t I make love with her?”

This objection seems to fall into a fallacy called “appeal to common practice”. The mere fact that most young people believe that premarital sex is morally acceptable (and are into it) does not make it morally justified. And there’s no necessity that you, young adult, should indulge into premarital sex to be accepted in your circle of friends. Neither is it necessary for you to do it to prove that your love to your GF or BF is true.

I said that true love can really occur to young people. But I did not say that true love should always be expressed in sexual activity. Instead, my position is that only within marriage can sexual activity be a true expression of love – authentic love. But what is true love? Again, we need to appeal to Pope Benedict XVI’s concept of true love as eros and agape.

We have noted previously that love, in the first place, is eros, that dimension which involves “intoxication” or “overpowering of reason by divine madness” through which man rises to the experience of the divine (the Greeks call it “ecstasy”). We commonly understand it as “falling in love”. This dimension requires ascent and purification so as not to reduce it to “pure sex”. The Pope says: “True, eros tends to rise ‘in ecstasy’ towards the Divine, to lead us beyond ourselves; yet for this very reason it calls for a path of ascent, renunciation, purification and healing” (DCE, 5).

What does this purification of the eros consist of? “How might love be experienced so that it can fully realize its human and divine promise?” the Pope asks.

The Pope appeals to the biblical expression of love as ahabà, (Cfr. Song of Songs), the Hebrew word for the Greek term agape, which connotes “the experience of a love which involves a real discovery of the other, moving beyond the selfish character that prevailed earlier (in the eros). Love now becomes concern and care for the other. No longer is it self-seeking, a sinking in the intoxication of happiness; instead it seeks the good of the beloved: it becomes renunciation and it is ready, and even willing, for sacrifice” (DCE, 6).

To purify and to discipline the eros, one needs renunciation and sacrifice. For the good of the beloved, one must renounce his/her self-seeking desire for sexual satisfaction. True love seeks the good of the beloved, says St. Thomas Aquinas. It consists not only in the self-seeking eros, but also in the self-giving agape. True love is eros turned agape.

“It is part of love's growth towards higher levels and inward purification that it now seeks to become definitive, and it does so in a twofold sense: both in the sense of exclusivity (this particular person alone) and in the sense of being ‘forever’,” the Pope noted. What he is saying is that love becomes true when it is definite (meaning, exclusive and forever). As we have noted earlier, these characteristics are guaranteed only in marriage. Hence, when one abstains from premarital sex and waits until marriage, one is truly in love.

One last point, the transformation of eros to agape involves not only a continuous seeking for the good of the beloved but also a “real discovery of the other”. When young lovers indulge themselves into premarital sex, the effort to really discover the person of the other becomes obscured because the attention now is focused on the seeking of pleasure. The other person becomes interesting for the other not anymore as the person that she or he is, but as a sexual partner. One would seek the company of the other not so much to discover the other’s personality – character, ideals, thoughts, etc. – as to experience once again the erotic pleasure that was experienced the other day.

If you really love your GF (or BF), you would really want to know her/him more. And knowing him/her more, you will love him/her more. That’s a continuous cycle until you decide to spend your lifetime with him/her in marriage. Premarital sex could endanger this “knowing-loving” dynamism.

Do you realize now why you mustn’t “make love” (I hate to use this term) to your GF even if you claim you are truly in love with her?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Miracles in Torreciudad

Conversion and interior peace for many souls: these are mainly the spiritual graces that St. Josemaría Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, wished every pilgrim would receive upon venerating Our Lady of Torreciudad in Aragon, Spain. “Graces that the Lord will give to whoever venerates His Blessed Mother in Her sanctuary. These are the miracles I desire: conversion and peace for many souls”, he once said.

For the 235 OFW’s from Tarragona and Barcelona, who made a romería (pilgrimage) to this Marian sanctuary last Sunday, July 18, 2010, St. Josemaría’s wish came true. Everybody was captivated by the serenity and the prayerful atmosphere of this secular Marian dedication in Altoaragón, where an 11th—century Romanesque image of Mary with the Child Jesus on Her lap (an image also known as Mary, Seat of Wisdom), is venerated. This Marian temple, promoted by the Founder of Opus Dei, was opened for the cult since 1975 and has drawn thousands of pilgrims each year.

As the five buses that transported some 85 OFW’s from Tarragona and 150 from Barcelona started to escalate the winding road that leads to the sanctuary, almost everyone sighed at the sight of the bright blue-colored water of a deep pantano (a reservoir or lake for the purpose of irrigation) that serves as the perfect background of the temple that appears light-reddish under the rays of a noontime summer sun.

From the road, ruins of a medieval tower which stands over the Cinca river could be appreciated near an ermita or an old chapel where for more than nine centuries, pilgrims venerate the Marian icon. According to a medieval document, “Civitas” is the name Muslim invaders gave to the bulwark (a solid wall-like structure raised for defense) that they had which they used to defend themselves from Christians who wanted to recover their territories. In 1084, the Christians, once recuperated the Aragón area, enthroned the image of the Virgin Mary in the Ermita, beside what was then called “Turris Civitas” (tower city); hence, the name Torreciudad (in Spanish).

“Vale la pena venir aquí, eh” (It’s worth coming here!), said one mother, who came with her husband and two children. Getting down the bus, everyone could contemplate the picturesque view of a reddish temple against a bluish background, with a complement of some cumulus clouds above it. A refreshing breeze of a 20º Celsius temperature reminds everyone that they are 3-4 hours away from home. What was irresistible was the strong temptation of settling down in one place for sometime and contemplate the precious scenery. But the insistent voice of the pilgrimage guide prompted everyone to take their seats in the audiovisual room as a 20-minute video orients them about the place.

Somehow, the video orientation contributed a lot to the prayerful mood that the pilgrims maintained as they solemnly entered in procession to the sanctuary’s temple. Four men carried on their shoulders the statue of Our Lady of Antipolo, also known as Our Lady of Good Voyage. In front goes the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Tarragona Filipino Catholic Community, organized barely more than a year ago. Fr. Javier de Mora-Figueroa, the sanctuary’s rector, led the procession, accompanied by four Filipino priests, namely, Fr. Russell Bantiles (Davao), Fr. Allan Rodriguez (Davao), Fr. Elizar Cielo (Ipil) and Fr. Emil Larano (San Pablo).

Entering the temple, the pilgrims were mesmerized by a magnificent alabaster Retablo (reredos or altarpiece), designed by a famous Catalan sculptor, Juan Mayné, in the Plateresque-Renaissance style of Damián Forment. The 9.5 meters wide and 14.5 meters tall Retablo took three years to finish (1972-1975). It has eight groups of sculptures, following the classical iconographical criteria and some explicit indications of St. Josemaría and representing episodes from the life of the Virgin Mary, namely: the Betrothal of Mary with Joseph, the Annunciation of Gabriel, the Visitation of Mary to Her cousin Elizabeth, the Adoration of the Shepherds, the Flight to Egypt, the Workshop in Nazareth, the Crucifixion of the Lord and the Coronation of Mary.

At the center just above the Crucifixion scene is the Blessed Sacrament adored by four angels. Below it is the Camarín of Our Lady, a little cubicle where the statue of the Virgin with the Child is venerated. The spiritual awe that the Retablo inspires was accompanied by the warm welcome of the rector.

At twelve noon, all the pilgrims went down to the Confession chapels located just below the temple for the administration of the sacrament. A total of 40 confesonarios (or confessional cubicles) are distributed in three chapels dedicated to various Marian advocacies like Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Loreto and Our Lady of Pillar. For an hour, various pilgrims received the Sacrament of Reconciliation administered by the five priests, in English, Tagalog and Spanish.

With Fr. Allan and Fr. Elizar – who just arrived from the Philippines a week ago to start their intensive Spanish language course – concelebrating, Fr. Russell presided the Holy Eucharist in Tagalog, which ended with the symbolic offering of children by their parents. This custom dates back to the famous episode in the life of St. Josemaría Escrivá.

In 1904, Josemaría was two years old when a deadly sickness struck him to the point that the doctors diagnosed he would not survive the next morning. His mother, Dolores, pleaded the Blessed Virgin and promise to offer the child in a pilgrimage to Our Lady if She would cure him.

The next day, when the doctors asked: “At what time the child died?”, they were very surprised upon discovering that he recuperated. Josemaría’s parents, then, brought him to the Ermita and offered him to Our Lady. In 1956, the founder of Opus Dei wanted to express his gratitude to this great favor and wished to spread the devotion to Our Lady of Torreciudad by constructing a sanctuary.

After the sumptuous lunch, the Tarragona pilgrims presented various folk dances and Filipino songs. After which, a video on the visit of Monsignor Javier Echevarría, the actual Prelate of Opus Dei, to the Philippines in 1998, gave the pilgrims some ideas on the apostolate that the personal prelature is doing in the archipelago.
The romería or pilgrimage ended at 6:00 PM with the meditation of one of the three parts of the Holy Rosary (two parts were prayed during the round trip) and the benediction with the Blessed Sacrament. A quick visit to the Ermita while enjoying the beautiful scenery along the way was worth the sweat. Everybody ended up dog-tired but with a smile on the face.

“We must do it again next year”, said one couple who live in Tarragona. “Ay, sayang, hindi ako nakasama”, (What a regret having missed the occasion!) said one lady, to which a cheerful señora retorted: “You don’t know what you’ve missed!”

FR. RUSSELL BANTILES is helping the OFW’s of Tarragona organize and form a Catholic community where all members could lead good Christian lives. Twice in a month, the community celebrates the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Confession in Tagalog, and receives catechism in the parish church of St. John, the Baptist. For a virtual tour to the Sanctuary, click this link: http://www.torreciudad.org .

It’s worth being a priest!

The sight of long, disorderly queues and of the slow flow of people passing through four metal detectors with its corresponding X-ray machines was frustrating. It was almost 8:00 AM and the possibility of entering quickly and finding a seat near the altar was practically null. We thought that arriving two hours before the Mass would begin was more than enough to get our objective. Obviously, hundreds thought that arriving three hours earlier was better.

Being smaller in stature (of course, with respect to towering Europeans) provided us a considerable edge. Quickly we were able to get near one of those detectors without being reprimanded for overtaking. The queues could not be defined and, in the midst of disarray, everybody would get nearer the entrance as one could muster. And successfully, we did it in just 30 minutes.

After passing through the metal detectors, there was another long line approaching a couple of security personnel. This time the flow was faster. Making good use of the time, we hurriedly put on our albs and stoles as we got nearer two guards inspecting our ID’s.

The security was quite tight. But they had more than enough reason to be so. They’re simply protecting their country, its head and its less than a thousand population from possible aggressors. Besides, that day was quite significant. An estimated 15,000 visitors were set to fill the 0.17 square mile area of the world’s smallest city-state. The host country wanted to treat its visitors with utmost hospitality.

At last, we were able to enter the main plaza. The sight of thousands of men gleaming in their white albs and stoles under the scorching early summer morning sun reminds one of John’s spectacular vision in the Book of Revelation. But there was little time to contemplate the scene as we headed immediately to find available seats near the altar. With gratitude we grabbed the first bottles of mineral water offered by some personnel along the way.

“Russell!” echoed a distinctly recognizable voice in the midst of a “babelic” noise. As I turned around, I caught sight of familiar faces: a total of 13 priests from the Diocese of Digos and one from my own Archdiocese of Davao, Fr. Bong Dublan. With Fr. John Paul Pedrera, my companion from Spain, I joined the group as they had the ideal location in the first block right in front the grand altar of St. Peter’s Square.

“How did you get to this place?” I asked. “We arrived here at seven o’clock!”.

When the choir intoned the Litany of Saints, their voice was drowned by a thunderous applause as the Head of the State approached the altar, preceded by a group of altar servers, deacons and cardinals. Since 1929, through a Lateran Treaty, Vatican is recognized as an Independent City State and the Pope as its Head.

Clad in his white cassock and magnificently embroidered chasuble and miter, and mounted on his usual papal jeep, Pope Benedict XVI waved and blessed the thousands of priests gathered around the Successor of St. Peter for the Eucharistic celebration that culminates the Year for Priests. Although the estimated number of 15,000 is just a fraction of the 409,000 priests who serve around the world, it sets a historical record. By all accounts, the event was heartwarming as many priests would testify.

As a 43-year-old priest from Lenzburg, Switzerland said: “We wanted to feel part of the community of all the priests. In Switzerland there are not many of us, so it is good to know we are not alone”. Definitely, the experience left an indelible mark in my priesthood.

* * *

“God makes use of us poor men in order to be, through us, present to all men and women, and to act on their behalf. This audacity of God who entrusts himself to human beings – who, conscious of our weaknesses, nonetheless considers men capable of acting and being present in his stead – this audacity of God is the true grandeur concealed in the word ‘priesthood’”.

These words with which the Pope Benedict XVI begun his homily set the hearts the priests on fire. Reflecting on what he calls the “audacity of God”, any priest would shiver at the thought that God has called him despite who and what he is. The Pope adds:

“That God thinks that we are capable of this; that in this way he calls men to his service and thus from within binds himself to them: this is what we wanted to reflect upon and appreciate anew over the course of the past year”.

True enough, the Year for Priests had also been an occasion maliciously exploited by those who wanted to destroy the Church and the gift of priesthood. While the Church, by declaring the Year for Priests, pays tribute to the grandeur of priesthood, there are those who wanted to dishonor the priests.

“It was to be expected” – the Pope continued – “that this new radiance of the priesthood would not be pleasing to the ‘enemy’; he would have rather preferred to see it disappear, so that God would ultimately be driven out of the world. And so it happened that, in this very year of joy for the sacrament of the priesthood, the sins of priests came to light – particularly the abuse of the little ones, in which the priesthood, whose task is to manifest God’s concern for our good, turns into its very opposite”.

But as one can notice rightly, the central element during the Year for Priests was not the individual priests themselves. Those who magnified the weaknesses and sins of a very small number of particular priests wanted to distort the significance of this event. The Year for Priests was not to give tribute to the majority of well-performing priests and to discredit the problematic few. The central element was priesthood itself, the epitome of which is Jesus Christ, the High Priest, the Only Priest.

The Pope emphasized it clearly: “Had the Year for Priests been a glorification of our individual human performance, it would have been ruined by these events. But for us what happened was precisely the opposite: we grew in gratitude for God’s gift, a gift concealed in ‘earthen vessels’ which ever anew, even amid human weakness, makes his love concretely present in this world”.

If the Year for Priests had left an indelible mark in my priesthood, it is because it taught me how to appreciate more my being a priest, an appreciation that grew intensely thanks to that experience in St. Peter’s Square together with my more or less 15,000 brother-priests. Such intense appreciation and profound gratitude to God for this gift of priesthood grow distinctly every day in God’s grace and especially amid the awareness of my human weaknesses.

At the outset, I said that the sight of long, disorderly queues is frustrating. But upon thinking that within these long rowdy lines are men dressed in black clergyman, the impression takes a 360-degree turn: it is worth being counted among these “earthen vessels” that contain God’s precious gift to man – PRIESTHOOD, the love of the heart of Jesus!

If I love my GF, why can’t I make love with her? (Part I)

Here’s an article that most “Romeos” would not want to read and most “Juliets” would ignore because it tackles some basic questions that today, most young people in love would not want to confront. “If sex is making love and if I love my girlfriend, why can’t I make love with her?” asks a seemingly fallen in love, 21-year-old guy.
Here’s the answer.

First, let me make it clear that I don’t doubt that adolescents and young adults really fall in love and that true love really occurs among young people. That is not the question here! But the first idea to clarify is: Is sex simply making love?

That is purely simplistic and superficial. Taking sex to mean love-making either misunderstands the true meaning of love or debases the dignity of sexual activity. Or both! Human sexuality is God’s gift. Hence, sex is sacred. God has only one purpose for giving it to man: one purpose with a double dimension – unitive and procreative. It means an expression of unity and love, and is intended for procreation. To separate these two dimensions is to go against the divine will. Understanding sex merely as making love separates the unitive from the procreative dimension. Besides, in the expression making love or love-making, it is not quite clear what does love means.

What is love? How should we understand the term? Pope Benedict XVI aptly observes that “Today, the term ‘love’ has become one of the most frequently used and misused of words, a word to which we attach quite different meanings” (Deus caritas est, 2). Those who understand love simply as that strong affection or emotion that draws us to the beloved have still a lot of reflection to do in order to understand better the term (or the experience of true love).

I think, the Pope’s description is easy to follow and understand. He distinguishes two dimensions of love: eros and as agape. The former, as understood by the Greeks, is described as “That love between man and woman, which is neither planned nor willed, but somehow imposes itself upon human beings... The Greeks—not unlike other cultures—considered eros principally as a kind of intoxication, the overpowering of reason by a ‘divine madness’ which tears man away from his finite existence and enables him, in the very process of being overwhelmed by divine power, to experience supreme happiness” (Ibid.).

In our contemporary language, we call this experience “falling in love”, in which the person in love feels being engulfed by a pleasant sensation whenever he/she is with the beloved, experiences sleepless nights thinking of the beloved and reminiscing the last time they were together, desires to be always with the beloved and could not endure the thought of not seeing the beloved. To most naïve young lovers, the maximum expression and manifestation of this affection is sexual intercourse. That is why, they call it “love-making”. But in reality, it is just the first phase or dimension of true love – it is simply eros, from which comes the term erotic love.

The danger that lies in this phase is believing that all love is simply this: having a pleasant feeling, wanting the presence of the beloved, love-making to satisfy that longing for sexual union. It is dangerous because not only it degrades the true meaning of love, but also because it debases the person and prevents one from ascending to the experience of true love and human relationship. When eros is abused, the person is degraded and true human relationship is broken.

The Pope says: “An intoxicated and undisciplined eros, then, is not an ascent in ‘ecstasy’ towards the Divine, but a fall, a degradation of man. Evidently, eros needs to be disciplined and purified if it is to provide not just fleeting pleasure, but a certain foretaste of the pinnacle of our existence, of that beatitude for which our whole being yearns”.

If we want really to express true love towards our beloved, what is required is to discipline the eros, the erotic desires and affections. Thus, we come to the first answer to the question: “If I love my GF, why can’t I make love with her?” Because making love with her is not an expression of your true love. Simply, it is a manifestation of your eros, which you need to discipline and purify. To make love with her (outside marriage) is not to respect her. The absence of respect to the person of the beloved is exactly the opposite of true love. If you “make love” with your GF, then you don’t really love her. If you insist that you do, you are simply insisting on a lie. And that makes you more than a liar, someone not worthy to be trusted.

Everything said here goes true also to the woman who consents in the act. It takes two to tango, they say. Both man and woman are mistaken – deceived – in thinking that, indulging in premarital sex, they express true love to each other. What they simply do is indulge themselves into finding satisfaction for their selfish erotic desires, using each other as instruments. What each is seeking for in premarital sex is self-satisfaction under the guise of expressing love.

Why? Because true love between man and woman is forever and exclusive. These notes – “only with this person” (exclusivity) and “being forever” – are not guaranteed in premarital sex. Only the Sacrament of Matrimony can guarantee them. Thus, only within marriage can sexual activity be truly an expression of true love between man and woman. Only in marriage God allows the use of this sacred gift, that is, sex. (to be continued)

"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.