Thursday, October 19, 2017


Here is a quick note on certain things that may make us hesitate going full speed ahead with our Christian living.
1. There is the hesitation to be true and moral. There is a limit to what we would like to do. Morality sets a limit. Morality means that I am not the only person in this house room community, society. we need to limit our tendency to be "too full of myself". There are other people with their own feelings plans thoughts, pains and joys. To neglect that fact is to be full of myself, that it is always about me. My true self is discovered when I live in respect and reverence towards others and myself.
2. There is the hesitation to be challenged--to pick up the cross. In a world of injustice we cannot be lukewarm. We need to work for justice. We need to suffer! No we do not look for suffering. We suffer because we promote life--we promote human dignity we promote the fact that we are God's image. Christ came to show us fully this reality of being image of God. Christ came to promote the Kingdom--and he was willing to suffer for it by refusing to bow down to the rejection against the Kingdom. Our hesitation can be observed in our taking distance from acts that directly violate our humanity. We fear challenging that violation. We then flow with the trend.
3. There is the hesitation to accept that Christ is the unique mediator of redemption and salvation. We respect other traditions but we might go to the point of refusing to acknowledge our own tradition. We then dislocate Christ--and the Trinity--from the center in order to accommodate other traditions. Yet we dare not become members of other traditions. Let us put it this way. We met God in his revelation in Christ. This is how we knew God. Can we not be faithful to what this revelation has given us? If we want other people of other religions to be true to their beliefs and practices can we not require this of ourselves? If we want dialogue to be true and sincere, let us be who we really are: we are Christians and Christ is our one and only mediator.
4. There is the hesitation to condemn sin as if it does not exist. Sin is our refusal to be true to who God wants us to be. Hence it also involves our refusal to connect with God. We do this in our strength and with our strength. Today we might want to shift the axis and say that the problem is with our psychological weaknesses or socio-cultural backgrounds. But there is sin and darkness. The option to reject our humanity is so overwhelmingly present. Are we hesitating to call dehumanisation a sin?

There are random ideas that I reflect on now.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Everyday Life Redemption

The usual understanding of redemption

The word "redemption" is, at times, interpreted to mean being pulled out and spared from the anger of God. God is so angry with us, humans, because our very first parents, Adam and Eve, disobeyed God. We inherited that disobedience and we too are quite disobedient. Traditionally we would say "we are sinners".

Christ pulled us out of that anger of God, the Father, by dying on the cross. Christ substituted for us: he took upon himself the effects of God's anger. We can say that it was Christ instead of us, humanity, who was crucified. This death of Christ on the cross satisfied God the Father.

Many Christians still accept this view of redemption. Surely we can discern the wisdom underneath this notion of redemption. But it has been questioned and criticized for many reasons and we can mention two reasons. One is that this notion of redemption gives a wrong picture of God the Father. It looks like God, here, looks bloodthirsty. He wants to see blood and death to be satisfied. He has  been hurt and, in revenge, he wants to see blood and death. Furthermore, he does not want any ordinary blood. He wants a very special blood--that of his own Son.

Second, this notion of redemption is quite far from the Biblical notion of redemption. It is a later development with the theological reflections of Christians who were so influenced by their cultures that contained practices of revenge and feudal relationships.

In passing we can add that today the Church is working on this question of redemption. Although there is no--not yet--dogmatic affirmation about redemption, surely the "sense of the faithful" with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, will find a more definite formulation.

Jesus and his mission

Let us try looking at redemption from a different angle. Jesus himself revealed that God, the Father, is a loving Father. He is a Father who never wishes bad things to happen to us. The Father is not looking for blood and death; he has no intention to revenge and to recuperate from the hurt Adam and Eve gave him. So when he sent Jesus to us, humanity, it was not in order to get Jesus crucified on the cross. No, Jesus did not come to be killed in substitution for us. Jesus came to tell us that we are beloved in the eyes of the Father.

Jesus came on the mission to reveal to us, humanity, the love of the Father for us. This love is embodied in what Jesus called as "Kingdom". The Father loves us so much in spite of the many bad things we have been doing. This is why Christian morality is based on this love of God. We do our best to lead good lives in response to God's love for us. Because we know we are loved we will avoid doing bad things. This is very different from the idea that we do good things and lead good lives to avoid God's punishment.

Jesus came to reveal the Love of the Father. We have always been destined to live in communion with God. It was not easy for Jesus on mission. The Love of the Father meant justice, respect for human life and dignity, respect for the weak, the poor, the marginalized, the people rejected by social norms. It meant God's desire for human integrity, wholeness, and gowth. Jesus proved this in his relationships with the marginalized of his society. He proved it in his healing of the ill. He proved it in his rejection of social, cultural and religious norms and practices that burdened people.
The mission of Jesus was rejected. This is why Jesus had to face the threat of the cross. Jesus was confronted, for example, by the dominating religious authorities. Jesus continued with his mission; he did not back off. His full confidence in his Father kept him faithful to his mission. Even with the threat of being killed--and it meant crucifixion--Jesus in full confidence to his Father went on with his mission.

Note then that the cross was not sent by the Father. The cross was built by humans who rejected Jesus and his mission. Jesus was crucified not because the Father willed it but because people killed him. The will of the Father was to get the message of his love across, to us, humanity. When Jesus was crucified, it was not the blood and death that satisfied the Father. What satisfied the Father was the fidelity of Jesus to the mission. Jesus was so faithful to the mission his Father commanded that he was so willing to face the consequence of rejection and even crucifixion.

Jesus said yes to his mission. The Father said yes to the faithfulness of the Son and rose him from death. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ God sealed, in a definite way, everything that Jesus said and did. It was God's way of "proving" that all that Jesus  said and did was true. The Father so loves us, humanity, that even death cannot win over us. Jesus said it so well, "In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world (Jn16/33)”. Be of good cheer, Jesus has won!
Notice then some elements of redemption here. Redemption is Christ's message of our true human destiny, namely, communion with God. Christ proved it--revealed it--in his confidence to his Father and his fidelity to his mission. We have been asssured by the revelation of Jesus. The Father himself gave it his "seal of approval", so to speak, by raising his Son, Jesus Christ, from the hold of death. Christ, the Son, came to say were meant for life in fullness with God, and the Father confirmed it in the resurrection. Starting with Jesus Christ, all steps we make are destined to move to eternal life in God where we really belong.

In everyday life

How does this link up with everyday life? First, we need a shift of perspective. We do not live in daily life wary about God's eyes watching us all the time and waiting for us to do bad things. Our view of daily life is far from the notion of "reward-and-punishment". We start with the basic fact that we are beloved by God. God holds no grudges against us and he is not grinding an axe.
In the footsteps of Jesus we move daily in full confidence that God loves us; God never wishes us harm--NEVER. In response to that love we do not bring death to the world. Death is not our daily life option. Corruption, injustice, disregard for human dignity, the marginalization of others...these are not our options.  This is why we need to check now and then if what we say and do daily keep life--not death--moving. In the footsteps of Jesus we need to regularly ask, "Are my words and actions redemptive?"

One of the major obstacles we face daily is the tendency to be so "full of myself". It is the tendency to behave as if "I am the only person" in this family, or school, or workplace, or community. This is not strictly a problem. We need a good amount of ego maintenance too. The problem is when it leads to diminishing the lives and fullness of others. I am so full of myself that I fail to notice that others have feelings, thoughts, dreams, intelligence, ignorance, joys and pains. I am so full of myself that my words and actions prohibit others from blooming and living decently. From the ordinary events in the family to the major political decisions in society, this "being too full of oneself" has strategies of dominating.

We can be reminded of the wisdom underneath what St. Therese of Lisieux called as "the little way". St.Therese sensed that everything of her life was a result of  generous love of God. So in her most very ordinary life the little things she did--like wash clothes--she saw herself manifesting the love of God. For St. Therese it was perfectly alright that others find their space to bloom, be full human. She did not have to be too full of herself because she was already beloved by God. This liberated her. Daily life need not be a place of competing with others for love and respect. Everyone is already God's beloved.

We can also be reminded of Blessed Charles de Foucauld. He wrote about "the lowest place". He wrote that when God came on earth, "God so completely took the lowest place, that no one has ever been able to take it from Him". Blessed Charles intuited that Jesus went into complete solidarity with all humanity to the point that Jesus identified himself with the least--the lowest in society. This was the way by which Jesus made himself available universally to all. This insight liberated Blessed Charles and he wrote, "See Jesus in every human person. Live for others more than for myself". There is no need to live being so full of oneself competing against the existence of others. Jesus has become our model, follow him, follow his foosteps, by "sharing his life in every way".

The crucifixion comes in. In spite of the active presence of being too full of myself can I live in ways that life--not death--is promoted? This being too full of myself rejects my promotion of life. It crucifies me now and then. In society there are many practices that stimulate this being too full of myself. A society might even take it as a norm, "Be full of oneself" at the cost of damaging justice and respect for human dignity. Redemptive life is constantly being put to the cross--constantly threatened.

In the footsteps of Jesus, confident about his Father's love, are we willing to face the threats of our personal and social practices promoting injustice and rejection of dignity? We find this symbol of the cross in many places; often people even wear this symbol. We say it is "redemptive" because it tells us about our own confidence in the Father, like Jesus, and we lead a combat against elements that promote death knowing that human destiny is in life with God. Jesus has won already!

The cross is not to tell us about God's revenge and punishment. It is not to tell us that  we will accept bad things (like corruption and inhuman poverty and injustice) to test our fidelity to God. Remember that Father never wanted the Son on the cross. The cross tells us that we are in combat against elements of death and we have been guaranteed by Christ of victory.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

On the Pentecost

Last night as I was "surfing" the AM of my radio I chanced upon a program in which a priest with an angelic voice was offering lessons on the Pentecost. Two of what he said kept me awake for a big chunk of the night. One was that DIFFERENCES AMONG PEOPLE WAS A CURSE, A PUNISHMENT. God, in the Tower of Babel story, punished people by making them different from each other and making them speak different languages. So it is bad and unfortunate that we speak different languages.

Second, the Pentecost HEALED THE WOUNDS OF THE TOWER OF BABEL STORY. The Pentecost came allowing the Apostles--and, by extension, the Church--to reach out to peoples and traditions AND TO UNIFY THEM UNDER THE CHURCH. So people can now discard their differences; unify themselves under the language of the Church.

Did God really make pluralism a curse? Is that what the Tower of Babel story says? Is the Pentecost really the correction done to the Babel error?

Biblically, God is Creator who blessed multiplicity--pluralism. Already from the very beginning God created a multiplicity of space, time and creatures. God created man and woman, two different creatures. God blessed the multiplicity of races, nations, cultures...and dare we say religions.

The Tower of Babel is about God rejecting human pride. Chapter 10 of Genesis ends with multiplicity: “These are the descendants of Shem, according to their clans, according to their languages, by their lands, by their nations. These are the clans of Noah’s sons, according to their origins and by their nations. From these the nations of the earth branched out after the flood” (Gen 10/31-32). There came a point when "the whole world had the same language and the same words" (Gen.1/1). The multiplicity, the pluralism seem to have ended. So what exactly did God do? He put people back to their original human condition: "the LORD confused the speech of all the world. From there the LORD scattered them over all the earth" (Gn 11/9). The original human condition has always been this: pluralism. It is a human fact that we have ALWAYS communicated in different languages. We have always been communicating through our differences; through pluralism. God, in the Tower of Babel story, re-instated that human condition.

THE PENTECOST MANIFESTS THIS DEFINITIVELY. It is the "ultimate stage" in which the multiplicity of people--cultures and traditions--launch into a discovery of he whom the Apostles call as the Lord God. The Pentecost is a CONFIRMATION OF WHAT GOD AFFIRMED in the Tower of Babel story. We adventure together--we in our cultural, religious and language differences--in seeking the Absolute.

In the Pentecost the Apostles spoke in different "tongues" allowing others to feel understood in their own languages. It was to become the main feature of the Church. She is to become an institution in which we all, people of different languages, "hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God (Act2/11)”.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Formation of conscience (in social involvement): a practical view

1.     The Church does not offer specific political-economic systems. This, however, does not stop the Church from forming the conscience of the faithful. The Church must still form and encourage the faithful, especially the laity. Christian faith is not abstract and outside social realities. The presence of the Church inside society is required by faith. Gaudium et spes # 75 states that it is an error to separate faith from social concerns today.
2.     The Church, in her faith, can make moral statements about social life. Whenever the Church sees violations of human dignity, the common good, etc., she can raise her voice. All social dimensions touching on ethics and morality fall in the competence of the Church.
3.     But, as we said it before, direct partisan political involvement is not in the competence of the whole Church. The competence lies in the hands of the laity. What the Church desires is that the faithful have conscience of their rights and duties in the light of the Gospel.Therefore the faithful work together inb the service of society.
4.     Priests and religious have work to “evangelize” temporal realities. They maintain a distance from partisan involvement. They are not engaged in specific parties and groups that will compromise the unity of the community.
5.     We have said that the domain of the laity is the temporal situation of society. The laity has hand-on engagement with politics and economics. Priests and religious are given the role of formation of conscience. The laity then feels supported by both the hierarchy and by people of consecrated life. The lay people, in their technical, political and scientific works are guided. Of course this will mean that the “formators” have a good understanding of the social doctrine and of moral theology of the Church.
6.     Still the laity also has the duty to seek for formation. The work to “evangelize” society is not given to the laity by the priests and religious. That duty is inherent in the laity. As baptized members of the Church the laity plays a critical role inside the temporal affairs of society. Maybe today we see more and more lay people getting involved. Lumen gentium # 33 says that in many situations the Church can never be “light of the world” (Lumen gentium) without the laity.

Formation of “formators” and laity

7.     The “formators” (priests and religious) are very important. The laity depend on the competence of the “formators”. A sufficient intuition of the social doctrine is necessary for “formators”. (This is perhaps why MAPAC is offering this course). Surely it will be helpful if “formators” read the documents of the social doctrine. Spiritual formation is also very helpful. Studying the social doctrine and developing a strong prayer life go together.
8.     The social doctrine of the Church touches on social realities. Thus there is also the need to have some amount of knowledge about society. A study of the social sciences can really help. Together with the knowledge of principles—like common good and subsidiarity—reflection on concrete realities in society is necessary too. It will be helpful if the “formator” can also comment on actual social issues. (This can explain why, in MAPAC, there is a course in social science.)
9.     Our societies experience a lot of changes. Social evolution can, at times, be fast. The “formator” should not be deprived of knowledge and onformation about the changes going on in society.
10. Priests and religious have direct contact with people. They have direct contact with what is going on in society. The experiences can differ—in place, culture, etc. The concrete experiences of “formators” can really be a big help.
11. Lay people may be so involved with the temporal concerns; it is helpful if they get information about the social doctrine of the Church. Is it possible to stimulate the interests of the laity on this subject? Is it possible to stimulate them into seeing the social engagement of the whole Church? Is it possible to stimulate their interests in documents of the Church, and documents on the social doctrine in particular?
12. Of course local Churches too have their documents. It is not enough to have an idea of what the universal Church says. It is also important to stimulate interest in what local Churches say.
13. Note then the formation towards a sensitivity about what the Church says regarding society. This is helpful for the laity who may need to be guided about how they will involve themselves directly in politics, economics and other social aspects.
14. Of course the central duty of the laity is to bear witness to Christ and his gospel in the midst of social life. Priests and religious can talk about Christ but can that penetrate actual society through the work of the laity? Everyone—priests, religious and laity—contribute in each one’s way in society through the proclamation of (and dialogue with) the gospel of Christ. How can the Gospel find its way into social realities? Everyone, united with Christ, has a role in society.
15. The laity needs to see their mission and responsibility in the domain of social affairs. Can they have awareness of this? Priests and religious can accompany the laity in their mission: support them with constant moral and spiritual formation. Priests and religious can accompany the laity in the daily struggles of social life. 

The “fear of God” and our “friendship” with God

1. The expression “fear of God” can disfigure our view of God. It shows that God is a God of revenge and power play. So we have to be careful as not to “disturb” that anger. But we also struggle with this because we are told that God is love; full of compassion and mercy.

2. Let us look closely at the expression, “fear of God”. Hopefully we can have a different view from that of a revengeful God.

3. Ancient Hebrew people did not have modern science yet. So their view of natural events—like strong winds—were understood as divine manifestations. The book of Exodus, for example, shows this belief. The thick pillar of cloud was seen as a divine manifestation. The authors of the book looked at natural forces and associated them with the Lord God. The big forces of nature were understood as expressing the power of God.

4. In this power manifested also the love of God. The power in nature was in the service of love; the love of God for his people. So we can understand why the expression “fear of God” was used. The Hebrew people saw in natural forces a power that was beyond the human. It was normal for those people to have “fear” for a God whose power went beyond human powers.

5. Imagine the sense of fragility of the human in front of the forces of nature. The ancient Hebrews sense their “littleness” as they turned to God in wonder.

6. It was an attitude. It was also a normal feeling.

7. But behind that attitude was a deep sense of God. The ancient Hebrews recognized the greatness of the Lord God and the salvation given by God. A big part of the Hebrew mentality was the sense of covenant with God. That covenant required fidelity in the social-moral life of the people. So an aspect of the “fear of God” was the awareness of the holiness of God. God was honored. In front of that holiness of God, the human sensed, again, a “being little”. The ancient Hebrews were constantly reminded of their infidelity to the covenant. Remember that the prophets were so vigilant against this infidelity.

8. So “fear of God” was linked with the fear of infidelity to the covenant. The notion of sin was that of setting aside God, alienating oneself from God. The salvation that was given by God will be set aside too. So the Hebrew people saw in this “fear of God” the fear of losing communion and fraternity with God. The feeling—and attitude—of fear was accompanied by the desire and love for God. If God chose the people of Israel because God loved that people, then the people of Israel saw themselves as a people who also had to return to God with love with all their strength. All human dimensions had to turn to God. It was norm al to have fear of God; but even in that fear was contained a sense of desiring for God. It was not a fear based on the revenge of God. The New Testament will clarify this more.

9. Fear was always associated with confidence. Notice that each time God would show up to someone in the Bible, God would insist, “be not afraid”. The moment of so strong intimacy and proximity with God induced the sense of fear and God had to complement that with confidence. Do not be overwhelmed by fear…have confidence. God tried to remove human fear to assure that his presence was not a presence of anger and revenge but a presence of love.

10.Let us take a beautiful example; Mary. In the Annunciation she really must have had an experience of fear. But she was assured, was she not? We read: “ “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (Lk1/30).

11.The New Testament “refines” the meaning of this fear of God. We see the disciples of Jesus themselves experiencing fear. But Jesus constantly told them not to fear. Look at the story of Jesus walking on water. Look at the Transfiguration story. In such stories the idea of fear of God means the fascination and wonder in front of a presence that was so “transcendent”…so “beyond”. Fear is a normal feeling. But look at how Jesus constantly “refines” that fear. Do not get stuck in the usual fear of something that will harm. Let the fear channel itself to confidence.

12.The disciples of Christ—if we look at the early Christian history—are peole who “fear” God; but it is a fear that turns to confidence in Jesus who guides the path of daily living in conformity with the vocation of a child of God. No, it is not about the fear of facing a revengeful God who is always watching and waiting for us to make mistakes. That fear is “infantile”. Christianity is not a religion with a God who “infantilizes” us. Christian “fear of God” is a fear with confidence. It is fear of adoration of God who, in his loving power, sent us Jesus Christ.

13.We might think that with God if we become close we might lose this “fear” and everything will become loose and “easy going”. Remember that Jesus himself allowed his disciples to be close to him. “I have called you friends,* because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father” (Jn 15/15). Just think about this. Jesus, “from above” (as our Christology already discussed before) should really be worthy of our fear and respect. But he said we are his friends. We can be friends and continue to keep the honor with Jesus. The “fear” we have of Jesus does not stop us from being friends with him. If our fear stops this friendship, then we need to check. Jesus revealed to us his friendship. So from where is our fear coming from? Is it linked with the revelation of Jesus? We can be friends with Jesus—and it is a friendship that is matured and healthy.

Some helpful references:

a) See Exodus 3/6 and 20/18-19. See Isaiah 6/5. See Luke 1/30 and 2/9 and 5/9-11.

b) About confidence, see Genesis 15/1. See Isaiah 41/10 and 41/13-14. See Mark 6/50;Matthew 6/25-34 and 10/26-31.

c) Fear and love of God: see Deuteronomy 6/2.5.13. See Luke 1/50.

d) Fear and the Spirit: see Isiah 11/2.e) Fear and wisdom: see Proverbs 1/7f) Fear and piety: see Ecclesiates 1/11-20.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Social Interpretation and Conscience

1. When interpreting (and trying to understand) the actions of people we can observe and study the facts of their lives. We can look at their economic statuses, their political preferences, their religions, etc. We can look into their social and personal histories. By studying people we might say, at one point, that we "know" them. Social scientists and psychologists can dare say they "know" people because of the magnitude of their studies. 

2. Still, each person has a private sanctuary and nobody else has access to that. In that private sanctuary of a person other people do not know him or her. There in that private sanctuary the person is all alone, yes, all alone WITH GOD. The place is just between that person and God; nobody else has access to that. We shall this sanctuary as "conscience", taking cue from the Vatican II document of Gaudium et spes.

3. Each of us is situated within a set of facts. A man, for example, is situated in poverty and has a big family to raise. Theses are facts of his life. What can he do, they are "already there". Like all of us humans, this man has to respond to the life situation. What is he going to do with the facts of his life? How will he respond to his poverty and size of family? The answer is this: he alone knows. Nobody else knows. People who observe him will never know. The inner world of this man is inaccessible to anyone else. The discernment and decision making happen to this person alone. He alone makes his plans. He might want the help of others, like his wife, but then the step to decide will still be his.  

4. When we try to discern our situations and we attempt to make decisions, part of the effort we make is to see the possible consequences of our actions. After discerning and deciding we know that once we act there will be new situations arising. New facts will emerge. There are consequences--big or small--to what we do. We can act prudently, taking the decision slow and acting with deliberate and reflected steps. We can act without giving much thought to what we do; we can act rashly. This is within the scope of our freedom. 

5. Remember that when we respond to our situations and we do action in response, we create new situations. New fact emerge and these facts will then have a place in our lives. A person might decided to quit her job. When she does that surely she will be in a new situation with new facts to face. 

6. We notice that people tend to act in typical ways. So we might say that a poor man will typically look for work. Young people who meet typically become friends. Mothers typically watch over their babies and manage the household. The traffic officer typically directs traffic. Bus drivers typically pick up passengers and bring them to designated places. Government employees typically process papers. Monks typically pray a lot. 

7. People discern and decide in typical ways. This is why we tend to think that people are "knowable". We can "know" them through what they typically do. By observing the typical patters of their actions we can,more or less, predict them. Hence we feel we "know" them.

8. Let us, however, look closely at how we typically understand people. Let us go back to our illustration of the poor man. Given his poverty and the size of his family he will seek for work. This, we say, is expected. It is "typical". But we are watching the poor man from the outside and we are applying to him what we typically see among people in similar situations. We do not see what is going on inside of him. We do not have access to his inner world. We interpret him according to what is typically seen in many people. But the inner world of that man is unique only to him. We really do not know what is inside of him--the thoughts he makes, the feelings he has, the discernment he undergoes. 

9. Ok, we agree that people really behave in typical ways. We can consider two reasons why this happens. One, there is routine and habit. A person follows the routine and habit of society. Everyone else is doing the same thing. Other creative alternatives do not appear and may even be unexplored. So a person acts typically in conformity with the routine of society. It is the social habit, so I do the same. 

10. Second, there is social pressure. The typical ways are so entrenched in society any deviation may be considered disapprovingly. The poor man may be pressured by his wife and neighbors. He will lose his wife and he will gain the mockery of neighbors. So he will comply; he goes looking for a job in order to appease the pressure on him. Typical actions are often done due to the pressure of social approval. 

11. A person, then, will say "yes" to routine. The person may say "yes" to social pressure. The person complies to what is familiar and approved in the social environment. The poor man then goes out looking for a job because it is what is routine and expected of all poor people; because also he does not want to offend his wife, family and neighbors. He goes out to do what is typical. 

12. He can, however, say "no". He might decided joining other men and drink with them all day all night...forget family responsibility. He might engage himself in crime and go sell illegal drugs and reap a lot of (illegally obtained) money. He has the freedom. He has the option. He may be well aware of the consequences of his saying "no", or perhaps he is not aware. That too is part of his freedom.

13. What are we trying to say here? What we are saying here is that no matter how typical people can act and live, there is still that sanctuary in each of them that remains inaccessible to others. In their freedom they say "yes" or "no" to the suggestions, influences and pressures of their social world. We can interpret people and base our understanding on what they typically manifest. But, again, we repeat, there is always the realm of the inaccessible. Social interpretation and understanding always faces this limit: the limit of the inner sanctuaries of people.  

14. We can pause for a while and think with the Bible. In Genesis we read that God gives a command, "You may eat from all the trees...but not from this particular tree". The God adds, "It is not good for the human to be alone". (See Gen 2/16-17 and 18). In other words, the human may do whatever he/she wants to do, but there are limits to this desire. The Bible uses the word "covet". The human can desire but not covet. Why? One main reason is because the human is not alone. The human is living with others. I am not the only person in this world. In front of another person I may do whatever I want to do with that person but there is a limit. The inner core and sanctuary of the other person prohibits me from coveting. The dignity of the other person prohibits me to go beyond the limits of my desires. The other person is my "sabbath". If, on the seventh day, God took a distance not just from the created world but from his own mastery and domination of the world, the human, in the "likeness" of God, is to do the same. Being up on the summit of the created world, the human should know when to put limits on human mastery and domination and respect the "otherness" of the world. In front of the other person, therefore, I too, in the likeness of God, must set the limits and respect the dignity of the other person. I too must recognize--with reverence--the inner sanctuary of the other person, there where he/she is "alone with God". 

15. Policies in society are very important. We need rules and systems of interacting. We need to interact according to our typical expectations of one another. This is part of social life. To forget, however, the inner sanctuaries of each one can lead to harm and injustice too. Even a person who has committed a very hideous crime keeps an inner sanctuary. There God speaks to that person; the person might not respond and turn a deaf ear...But God continues to communicate. Nobody has the right to interfere in that communication. No policy, not even the death penalty, should interfere. What we call as "human dignity"is highly preserved by the inner sanctuary of each person.

16. We, members of society, allow ourselves to flow with the typical patterns around us. We might want to live just like everybody else. This is our choice; it is also our responsibility. 

17. Now we can use the word "conscience". Let us cite from the document, Gaudium et spes #16: 

In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged.(9) Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths. In a wonderful manner conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor. In fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of men in the search for truth, and for the genuine solution to the numerous problems which arise in the life of individuals from social relationships. Hence the more right conscience holds sway, the more persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and strive to be guided by the objective norms of morality. 

18. In society we may be doing what everyone else typically does. Do we give ourselves time to pause and evaluate what we typically do? Do we stop to ask if what we do is "bad"or "good". Maybe our moral evaluations are typically accepted by others. Our moral ways participate in the typical morality of society. Our ideas of good and bad are based on what everyone else says. There seems to be nothing wrong with this; but let us ask: what if everyone agrees that corruption be norm in society? What if corruption is approved as norm? what if people say it is good? 

19. Conscience comes in. In Church tradition, it is conscience that evaluates our moral actions. In conscience we just do not look at what we do we also ask if what we do is good or bad in dialogue with God. We consult God regarding morality. We consult God's revelation--in Scriptures and in Church Tradition. We consult God in prayer. Some people may not know it is the Lord God--that Jesus speaks. But our faith tells us about the "Seeds of the Word" present in the hearts of many people who may not have heard of Christ. 

20. It is not enough to be satisfied with the typical ways of society. In conscience we need to raise questions, we need to consult God, we need to evaluate ourselves according to what God revealed. We dialogue with God in conscience; we are in a "one-on-one" with God. We also need to form our conscience. The social doctrine of the Church emphasizes his. The competence of the Church is in forming the conscience of people. We will say more about this in an other post. 

21. Right now let us discuss conscience. What are its main features? Let us take cue from Medieval Theology. (This is a review from previous semesters).

     a. Conscience is a capacity we have. It was given to us--humans--as integral to our identity. We are capable of knowing the basic principles of moral life, namely "do good" and "avoid evil". This is "habitual" in every human person. It cannot be removed from the human; it cannot be "alienated". Conscience shows our human dignity. In the image of God we are able to discern good from bad. Even the most hideous criminal has conscience; thus there is human dignity proven and evident in each one. In traditional terms this capacity is called "synderesis". 
     b. Conscience includes moral reasoning. We have the capacity to move towards the good, to do good. With reasoning capacity we seek for the appropriate principles and rules towards the good. We discern our values and see which values are really for the good.
     c. Conscience includes making moral decisions in concrete situations. We turn towards the good, we evaluate our norms and principles and values. Finally we decide concretely on what to do. 

22. In Catholic tradition conscience as "synderesis" is "who we are". We are basically creatures naturally oriented towards the good. We are, as humans and by nature, good. The formation of conscience happens in b and c. We discern what are our rules, what are the actions we need to do in specific concrete situations. We need formation here. We are "good creatures"; there is no need for formation on this. God created us as humans opting for the good. But we may have difficulties in knowing what principles to follow and what course of action to do. Thus we need formation here.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The FACTS about ourselves and Social Interpretation

1. Let us say that a tourist is riding a bus. As the bus rolls on the tourist sees mountains because that is the view from THAT SIDE OF THE BUS. The tourist then goes to the other side of the bus. This time the tourist sees, say, houses and the street and cars. The mountains cannot be see FROM THIS SIDE. The tourist cannot see all. His view of the country depends on where he is. 

2. This illustrates our own human condition. We are always situated in a particular place and time--that which philosophers call as the "here and now". Our view of the world--and life in general--begins from where we are. Of course we can change our positions. We can change situations. A Filipino knows and understands the world around AS A FILPINO. Maybe this person goes to the USA and migrates there; he settles down there. Maybe he can now have an "American" view of things. But even so, he is now American WHO WAS ONCE A FILIPINO. His being an American now is based on his being an immigrant. His view of the world may be Americanized but as immigrant to America. He is not the same as the person born and raised in America. He may be an American but the FACT remains that he is an IMMIGRANT TO AMERICA and not a locally bred American. 

3. One reason why we shift positions and situations is because we respond to our actual situation. We want a new situation, a new position. Two things are to be remembered here. First, inthe new position we cannot deny the fact that WE CAME FROM A PREVIOUS SITUATION. Second, even in a new situation we still see the world and life from a perspective--from the perspective of the new situation.

4. This proves that WE ARE NEVER ABSOLUTE. We cannot escape viewing things from a position, from a perspective, from a  point of view. The world is also presented to us depending on the profile shown to our point of view. I am in front of THIS SIDE OF THE TABLE. I see THIS SIDE OF THE TABLE. I cannot see the other side because I am not positioned on the other side. So I see the table from my point of view and the table shows its profile on this side. 

5. We cannot escape this human condition. We always experience the world from a point of view and the world reveals to us from the profile facing us. In other words, we are not absolute and we cannot escape being situated in a place and time. 

6. I am situated in this place and time; another person is situated in another place and time. I am here, you are there. Let us extend this discussion. I am here and I grew up here. I was born here. I was born to a particular family speaking a particular language. I was born male, man. I was born with this body. This is the color of my skin. This is my health condition. This is my culture. This is the religion in which I was raised. These are the FACTS OF MY LIFE. These are the FACTS ABOUT MYSELF. I experience the world STARTING FROM THESE FACTS ABOUT MYSELF.

7. The facts about ourselves are irrevocable: THEY CANNOT BE DENIED, THEY CANNOT BE CHANGED AND REVERSED. That I was born in a particular day, month and year is irrevocable. That I was born and raised in a particular family is irrevocable. That I grew up in this neighborhood using this language is irrevocable. I can never deny that they are facts about me. 

8. But even if I cannot deny them as real and factual, there is still something "revocable" in them. They are facts about me but I can take an attitude towards them. I can have ways of interpreting them, give them meaning. They are FACTS-FOR-ME. 

9. A handicap, for example, is FACTUALLY handicapped. There is no denying of it. It is a fact that the person is handicapped. But WHAT DOES THE HANDICAP MEAN FOR THAT PERSON? WHAT ATTITUDES DOES HE TAKE TOWARDS HIS HANDICAP? Maybe he complains and finds his handicap as a curse. But maybe he might be more positive and feel challenged by his handicap. He can take different attitudes. 

10. Human existence is about living the facts of ourselves. A heartbroken person may be so sad that he/she decides to live the rest of his/her life without falling in love again. This person might refuse any form of friendship. That means that the person has made an attitude towards the experience--the fact--of being heart broken AND HAS DECIDED TO SHAPE LIFE ACCORDINGLY. The person, refusing to make friends, may end up all alone, lonely and having very little intimacy with people. The person's life then is SHAPED AND FORMED DEPENDING ON HOW HE/SHE HAS TREATED A FACT. 

11. Notice that as we move on in life we take attitudes towards the facts of our lives and WE CREATE NEW FACTS. A person who admits to be factually good in singing may decide to shape his life in terms of a singing career. Now as a singer--a fact--his life is now factually that of a singer.

12. What does this have to do with social interpretation? The facts of a person can be verified. We can observe the person or do research and investigation about the person's past. We can gather facts about him/her. Then we can build a whole interpretation of that person based on the facts we have gathered. We can do this, we can have more or less good access to the facts. But what does the person do in front of situations? What goes on inside him/her? What attitudes does he/she take? What plans will he/she make? We do not know this. The person may be so in touch with what he/she wants to do and all we can do is observe fro the outside.

13. In society we tend to conclude that we understand people. And we base this underdstanding on the facts observed from that person. But we need to open space--a space that belongs only to that person. We do not see eveything going on inside that person.

14. As Christians we say that the person may be having a dialogue with God. We believe that there is a concience which is a kind of ├»nner sanctuary" for the person. There, inside, he/she is in contact with God. How that happens we have no access. It is completely private to the person and God. 

15. Whatever conclusions we make about other people, let us keep in mind that WE DO NOT SEE ALL IN THAT PERSON. Knowing that quiet possible dialogue with God is outside anybody else's competence. In that sanctuary the person is very much image of God. Even if that person is reputed to be a "very very bad person" we still do not fully know what is going on inside of him/her. That space proper to that person should be respected. We have no right, for example, to apply the death penalty to that person. We never know the dialogue he/she is making with God. We never know how God is working a way through the conscience of the person. Let us not interfere.