Tuesday, May 7, 2013

True religion is life with God

I could not hide my excitement and joy upon viewing this ad on the TV screens of the Davao airport’s waiting lounge last Sunday afternoon. Not often do I see religious advertisements in public places especially international airports. This one clearly shows how religious still Filipino people are!
But my heart almost sank as the last sentences flashed on the screen: It says: “Life with God is not about a religion. It is about a relationship”. What a clear indication also that, though we remain a religious people, our understanding of religiosity is plunging into the depths with the speed of light!

Definitely, whoever contributed such a preposterous idea has never bothered checking the etymology of the term “religion”. Had he or she done so, he/she could have discovered that “religion” comes from the Latin religio (“respect for what is sacred”) and religare (“to bind fast”, hence, a “bond between gods and humans”). St. Thomas Aquinas employed this original meaning when he affirmed that human beings are religious by nature, that is, man always seeks for the expression of his innate bond or relationship with a divine being. Hence, religion is about relationship with God: life with God is all about religion.

But what is behind this erroneous concept on religion that the TV ad reveals is the mentality so widespread among the Filipino society today that says: Every religion is equal (Pare-pareho lang lahat ‘yan). Related to this is the thought that “No religion can save us”. However, a little analysis of our definition of religion will prove that these mentalities are wrong.

Any relationship can be right or wrong. (I have to disagree with the statement that says, “Love knows no right or wrong”. Love can be right or wrong depending on its object. Love for the wrong object is a wrong love. And we can love wrongly the right object of love). Even how much you love that person, the fact that you are (or that person is) already married to somebody else makes your relationship wrong. Now, since religion is a kind of relationship, it can also be right or wrong, less right or more wrong. Hence, there can be wrong religion too!

Which do you think is the right and true religion (or relationship with God): the one which God establishes with man or the one man sets up with his god? It has been said that the beauty of Judeo-Christian religion lies in the fact that it is God who seeks out for man while in other religions, it is man who searches for a god.
Man, by nature, is a being created by God and for God. When he tried to escape from this relationship, God searches for man and brought him back to a life with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. But God did this by gathering a people – the Church (Greek ekklesia meaning “congregation”) – to be His instrument in bringing human beings to live in an intimate relationship with Him; in other words, to live the right religion.  

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Catholic Church, our mother

Homily: 6th Sunday of Easter

Central in our readings today, the 6th Sunday of Easter, is the image of the Catholic Church. From the First Council of Jerusalem described in the Acts of the Apostles to John’s majestic vision of the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God in the Book of Revelation, passing through Jesus’ characterization of the members of the Church as those who love Him by keeping His words, we may contemplate the reality of the Church as the People of God, being led and guided by the Holy Spirit to the fullness of truth, listening to God’s word and is enjoying the presence of the Holy Trinity in their midst. These are three fundamental truths about the Church:

First, the Holy Spirit guides Her to the fullness of truth. In the midst of today’s subtle but very real persecution against the Catholic Church, the message of today’s readings is very timely. Like in the first century, the Catholic Church today is also beset with various opposing doctrines. While Paul and Barnabas in the Council of Jerusalem were arguing fiercely against those who claim that new converts should follow the Law of Moses on circumcision, the Catholic Church today through the teachings of our Popes in the last decades has to contend against opposing doctrines on life, sexuality, marriage and family.

Real persecution, I mentioned, is very subtle in the sense that false doctrines are being pushed today in the public square, obviously to discredit the Catholic teachings on these matters. There is revolution today against the Judeo-Christian understanding of sexuality and marriage. In Great Britain, a science professor was expelled from his job simply because he explained to his 11 year-old student that homosexual acts are sinful. Columbus Bishop Frederick Campbell faces the risk of going to jail because he defended a Catholic school that fired a lesbian teacher who was living in with her woman lover. Today, if you want to express the truth about God’s teachings on morality, you will be called intolerant and imposing.

But the Catholic Church is simply doing Her job of teaching and forming the moral conscience of the society. “Woe to me if I don’t preach the Gospel”, says St. Paul. In Her mission to teach the people, the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit. It is very remarkable how the Acts of the Apostles expressed the presence and actuation of the Paraclete in the early Church: “We, with the Holy Spirit, have decided not to put any other burden on you except what is necessary”. The Holy Spirit is present in the Church as if He were just one of the Council Fathers! How we wish that in our decision-making, especially this coming elections, we will all be guided by the same Spirit in choosing our candidates!

Secondly, the Church continues to listen attentively to God’s Word. The importance of listening to God’s word is emphasized in the Second Reading. In the New Jerusalem, that is, the Church in heaven, there will be “no need of the light of the sun or the moon, since God’s glory is its light and the Lamb is its lamp”. We are reminded of the words of Psalm 119: “Your word, O Lord, is a lamp to my feet, a light to my path”.

Do you still find enlightenment in God’s word? Do you still find it relevant to your life, to your projects and plans, in your decision-making? Do you still bother to read the Gospel every day to find out what God wants from you? When you are in doubt about your faith, do you still consult the Catechism of the Catholic Church to find some answers? I am sure the reason why there are lots of confusions today about morality and Church doctrines is the lack of seriousness in listening to God’s word and the lack of deeper understanding of our faith.

Who really is the mother of the twin, Margaux and Celine in Ina, Kapatid, Anak? The reason why this question is difficult to answer is that nobody bothered to check the Catechism, nos. 2376-2377, which says that techniques on surrogate motherhood are “gravely immoral. They dissociate the sexual act from the procreative act. The act which brings the child into existence is no longer an act by which two persons give themselves to one another, but one that ‘entrusts the life and identity of the embryo into the power of doctors and biologists and establishes the domination of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person. Such a relationship of domination is in itself contrary to the dignity and equality that must be common to parents and children’ (Donum vitae II, 5)” (CCC, 2377). Once you violate the natural law on life, sexuality and family, confusions will definitely arise! To avoid confusion, let God’s word be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.

Thirdly, the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – dwells in the Catholic Church. Jesus made this promise in the Gospel: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word and my Father will love him; and we will come to him and make a room in his home”. St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas and all the Fathers of the Church are unanimous in teaching that “the Triune God comes to dwell in our souls and there produces a supernatural organism which “deifies” our souls (making them divine) and enables them to perform divinely acts”. When we are in the state of grace, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit dwell in our hearts. But when we sin gravely we lose this special presence.

The fact that the Blessed Trinity dwells in the heart of the just is beyond question. St. Paul wrote: “Know you not that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3: 16). And this indwelling is attributed in a special way by appropriation to the Holy Spirit. Pope Leo XIII said: “This wonderful union, which is properly called ‘in-dwelling,’ differing only in degree or state from that which binds the blessed to God in eternal happiness, although it is without doubt produced by the presence of the whole Trinity … is attributed in a peculiar manner to the Holy Spirit”. Pope Pius XII also explained that the indwelling involves two elements: (a) the unique presence of the Holy Trinity to intelligent beings, and (b) the unique knowledge and love of the Trinity by these intelligent beings. In his encyclical on the Mystical Body, the Pope said: “The Divine Persons are said to indwell inasmuch as they are present to beings endowed with intelligence in a way that lies beyond human comprehension, and in a unique and very intimate manner, which transcends all created nature, these creatures enter into relationship with Them through knowledge and love” (n. 79: or: 94).

My dear brothers and sisters, if the Catholic Church is guided by the Holy Spirit towards the fullness of truth, if  She listens attentively to God’s word and enjoys the presence of the Holy Trinity, what reason have we to criticize Her, to despise Her and to discredit Her? May we learn to love the Church as our true Mother. As St. Cyprian once said: “He cannot have God for his father, who has not the Church for his mother” (Treatise on Unity 6).

Friday, May 3, 2013

What the soul is in the body, that Christians are in the world.

The Epistle to Diognetus (parts 5, 6)

For Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of the human race by country or language or customs. They do not live in cities of their own; they do not use a peculiar form of speech; they do not follow an eccentric manner of life. This doctrine of theirs has not been discovered by the ingenuity or deep thought of inquisitive men, nor do they put forward a merely human teaching, as some people do.
Yet, although they live in Greek and barbarian cities alike, as each man’s lot has been cast, and follow the customs of the country in clothing and food and other matters of daily living, at the same time they give proof of the remarkable and admittedly extraordinary constitution of their own commonwealth. They live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners.
Every foreign land is their fatherland, and yet for them every fatherland is a foreign land. They marry, like everyone else, and they beget children, but they do not cast out their offspring [i.e. commit infanticide, abortion]. They share their board with each other, but not their marriage bed.
It is true that they are “in the flesh,” but they do not live “according to the flesh.” They obey the established laws, but in their own lives they go far beyond what the laws require. They love all men, and by all men are persecuted. They are unknown, and still they are condemned; they are put to death, and yet they are brought to life. They are poor, and yet they make many rich; they are completely destitute, and yet they enjoy complete abundance.
They are dishonored, and in their very dishonor are glorified; they are defamed, and are vindicated. They are reviled, and yet they bless; when they are affronted, they still pay due respect. When they do good, they are punished as evildoers; undergoing punishment, they rejoice because they are brought to life. They are treated by the Jews as foreigners and enemies, and are hunted down by the Greeks; and all the time those who hate them find it impossible to justify their enmity.
To put it simply: What the soul is in the body, that Christians are in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, but does not belong to the body, and Christians dwell in the world, but do not belong to the world. The soul, which is invisible, is kept under guard in the visible body; in the same way, Christians are recognized when they are in the world, but their religion remains unseen.
The flesh hates the soul and treats it as an enemy, even though it has suffered no wrong, because it is prevented from enjoying its pleasures; so too the world hates Christians, even though it suffers no wrong at their hands, because they range themselves against its pleasures. The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and its members; in the same way, Christians love those who hate them. The soul is shut up in the body, and yet itself holds the body together; while Christians are restrained in the world as in a prison, and yet themselves hold the world together.
The soul, which is immortal, is housed in a mortal dwelling; while Christians are settled among corruptible things, to wait for the incorruptibility that will be theirs in heaven. The soul, when faring badly as to food and drink, grows better; so too Christians, when punished, day by day increase more and more. It is to no less a post than this that God has ordered them, and they must not try to evade it.

"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.