Sunday, January 31, 2016


Part I

1.     This is a beautiful principle of the Social Doctrine of the Church. It is situated in our contemporary context in which we are all so interdependent with each other, both socially and globally. Our communication technology is proof. Our economic exchange is another proof. In our contemporary world people who live far apart are already linked with each other (see Compendium #192).
2.     In fact our interdependence is itself a form of solidarity—there is “bonding” among peoples and nations. Unfortunately disparities exist. We still see the gap between the “rich” and the ”poor”, for example. If we are interdependent today this interdependence needs to be paired with morality or what the Compendium calls as “social ethics” (#192).
3.     If we are to talk of solidarity and interdependence, social ethics must be present. Our interdependence must be ethical based (#193). What we find is the presence of “structures of sin” in our societies. These structures must be overcome and a basic way is by solidarity. Let us pause for a while and reflect on what the Compendium is discussing. What is this notion of “structures of sin”?

“Structures of Sin”

4.     The term was officially coined by Pope John Paul II in his encounter with the Bishops of South America. The term was later used in the pope’s encyclical, Solicitudo rei socialis. Before he wrote this encyclical he also wrote an encyclical, Reconciliation and penance. There he mentioned “social sin”.
5.     In any social world structures are necessary. Institutions are necessary. We need to get organized, somehow. Structures can, however, turn themselves against people. They can be contrary to human fulfillment. People can be crushed by their social structures. People find themselves in social situations that run contrary to human dignity.
6.     It may be very difficult to pinpoint who exactly are responsible for the creation of such structures. Somehow, however, everyone turns out to be accomplices too. A very personal sin, says the pope, does not exclusively concern the person committing it. Every sin has repercussions on others. Every sin can be considered as a social sin. By virtue of solidarity and social bonding each individual's sin in some way affects others (see Reconciliation and penance #16). People in society can live in a “communion of sin”. There is a form of solidarity which is marked by sin. There is one feature in this “solidarity”. It is called “omission”. We may be in a position to improve and transform society but we omit doing anything. Or we might be “absent” and “non-cooperative” in ensuring social well-being (see Reconciliation and penance #16). By “doing nothing” we turn out to be “accomplices” in the injustices around us.
7.     In his Solicitudo rei socialis Pope John Paul II sees sin as an obstacle to human fulfillment. Sin is contrary to human “blooming”; it is contrary to the common good. Concrete and personal acts create obstacles to human “blooming”. These obstacles—or conditions—are now so difficult to remove. In fact they are so entrenched they already look “normal”. We all live as if it is normal and ok to have injustice and violation of our dignity. We live in “structures of sin” which are the negative factors working against the common good. These structures have become so difficult to overcome (see Solicitudo rei socialis #36).
8.     For Pope John Paul II these structures are fed by personal sins. Personal sins reinforce and spread out to become sources of more sins (see Solicitudo rei socialis #37). In fact, as we can see for ourselves, we are in conditions that have gone “far beyond the actions and brief life span of an individual” (Ibid). Just think of how many generations of workers have lived in miserable conditions. How many generations of corruption have dominated our politics?
9.     Certain attitudes favor “structures of sin”: “on the one hand, the all-consuming desire for profit, and on the other, the thirst for power, with the intention of imposing one's will upon others” (Solicitudo rei socialis #37). We need conversion to overcome these. What type of conversion do we need? We need “solidarity”.
10.            Pope John Paul II takes note of the positive signs in the “solidarity among the poor” who show mutual help and sharing. So many men and women in the world, says the Pope, feel concerned with the injustices and violence against human rights (Solicitudo rei socialis #38-39). There is a sense of unity among people in solidarity. This solidarity “helps us to see the ‘other’-whether a person, people or nation-not just as some kind of instrument, with a work capacity and physical strength to be exploited at low cost and then discarded when no longer useful, but as our ‘neighbor’,’ a ‘helper’ (cf. Gen 2:18-20)” (Solicitudo rei socialis #40).
11.            What can we say about this stand of Pope John Paul II? In the “structures of sin” there is, already, a form of solidarity. It is a solidarity that is counter to the plan of God; it is a solidarity that is counter to the common good. We are—personally and individually—somehow stuck in it. We are accomplices, one way or another. We are “solid with” the structures of sin. What we are called to do is to “de-solidarize” from structures of sin and engage in a more authentic form of solidarity. We “shift our allegiance”, so to speak from a sinful solidarity to a solidarity of charity.
12.            Pope Benedict XVI, looking back at the thoughts of Pope Paul VI, makes a statement about solidarity. Paul VI, he says, has seen the ideal of solidarity-fraternity which is marked by charity. This is “the principal force at the service of development” (Caritas in veritate #13).
13.            Let us return to the Compendium and see what it says about solidarity.

Back to the Compendium

14.            Solidarity is a “moral virtue”. It is a moral characteristic; it is a moral feature in us. It is an effort—a persevering effort—to work for the common good. Hence solidarity is a strong and persevering effort. We make the effort to promote the common good—so that we all “bloom”. We feel implicated in this; we sense our responsibility in it (see Compendium #193).
15.            Solidarity is our effort of “togetherness” (or “belonging”—Jean Vanier) working for the common good. We are “solid” here—we “bond” together. We recognize our links with each other; we recognize that “space” of liberty that allows each of us for growth—for blooming. This is an effort we make even in a world that tends towards fragmentation, individualism and particularism (see Compendium #194).
16.            This is both a personal and a social virtue. We are, as Fr. Arrupe S.J. once emphasized, “men/women-for-others”. We “lose ourselves” for justice. We “go down” in service for others (#193).
17.            In solidarity we make the effort to form our conscience—to cultivate our conscience (#195). In other words we are conscious of the fact that we “owe it” to generations of the past. We “owe them” gratitude for the humanization they have transmitted down to us. They have transmitted cultural patrimony, science, technology, wisdom, etc. We are indebted to those who “adventured” to give us our human conditions today (#195).
18.            We want to continue this. Do not interrupt the “adventure”. We too are to “adventure”, open up to others both now and the future (#195).
19.            Of course we base all this effort on Christ. He “adventured” by being in solidarity with us. He was even willing to die on the cross for us (recall the notion of “go’el”). Jesus so took seriously his mission that even the threat of the cross did not stop him.
20.            Jesus is “Immanuel”—God with us. In his solidarity he shared our human conditions. Can we not rediscover social life by looking at him? He makes us see the link between solidarity and charity. His solidarity was itself an act of charity. In our solidarity with others we see others as image of God, beloved of God. We see others as redeemed by Christ who was also in solidarity with them (see #195). The other must be loved even if the other is an enemy. Love others as Jesus loved. This includes the willingness to sacrifice for others, just like Jesus. Just like Jesus we strive to be “men/women for others” (see #196).


Supplement to the discussion on “structures of sin” by way of “social sin”

1.      I re-read the “apostolic exhortation” of Pope John Paul II, RECONCILIATION AND PENANCE, and I would like to add a note supplementing our reflections. It is a tough document to work with especially because it deals with the question of “sin”, “conversion” and “penance through reconciliation”. These themes can be “ticklish” for modern ears. In fact, before Pope John Paul II wrote this, he called for a synod of Bishops. A synod is organized by a pope to discern on specific issues. The Synod then came out with its reflections which then found their way to RECONCILIATION AND PENANCE.
2.      Just think of your communities and you have your superiors meeting now and then and coming out with reflections. Your “General Community” may then put all those reflections in writing. RECONCILIATION AND PENANCE is a bit like that.
3.      Now, I am not going to discuss the whole document with you (which might put us to sleep in class). I just want to focus on the sections dealing directly with the notion of “social sin”, which is just one section of the document: #16. The section is entitled “Personal Sin and Social Sin”. The pope situates social sin within the context of personal sin.
4.      The section immediately makes a stand: “Sin, in the proper sense, is always a personal act, since it is an act of freedom on the part of an individual person and not properly of a group or community”. Note then that this is about the distinction between “personal” and “group” (or “social”). When it comes to sin it is always about specific persons doing it. We do not impute to groups!
5.      In some circles, notably in some “liberation theology” circles, there is a strong emphasis on institutional sins. Yes, we are in situations in which structures and institutions impose on us. We are not so sure as to who in particular is (or are) responsible for this injustice. Indeed, we might then conclude that it is a “collective sin”. The anonymity of responsibility leads to concluding that the whole fault lies in the institutions.
6.      Pope John Paul II gives a emphasis saying that although there is such a thing as “social sin”, we still have to attribute the sin to persons; to unique individual persons. Insisting on the collective should not make us lose track of the personal responsibilities of those who do injustice. Faulting the collective is itself a disrespect to human dignity. In other words, “thanks to” human dignity, even individuals can do injustice. Faulting the collective, the social, is “to deny the person's dignity and freedom, which are manifested-even though in a negative and disastrous way-also in this responsibility for sin committed”.
7.      Sin, as the Pope says, has consequences. It wounds our relationship with God and with others. It also wounds the sinner: “sin has its first and most important consequences in the sinner himself: that is, in his relationship with God, who is the very foundation of human life; and also in his spirit, weakening his will and clouding his intellect”. There is no sin that is, however, “that exclusively concerns the person committing it”. The pope considers sin as “in community”. In other words we are in communion in sins. Thus every sin has repercussions on “the whole human family”. In principle, then, a personal sin is “considered as social sin”.
8.      Social sin is a kind of “solidarity”. The personal sin affects others. What I do is “in solidarity” with others and can hence affect others: “each individual's sin in some way affects others”.   
9.      Of course there are deliberate sins that directly attack others. These sins offend God and neighbor. These sins are also “social sins”.
10.  Then there is sin against justice. There is sin against human rights. There is sin against the freedom of others, notably the freedom to profess a religious faith. There is sin against the common good.
11.  One description of the pope is worth observing. There is sin of omission. Some persons omit working for “the improvement and transformation of society”. Some stay absent from working for the well-being of others. They do not cooperate in advancing well-being.
12.  Then there are group relationships or relationships between social groups and even nations. “These relationships”, says the pope, “are not always in accordance with the plan of God, who intends that there be justice in the world and freedom and peace between individuals, groups and peoples”. The pope gives the example of class struggle. He also gives the example of the “obstinate confrontation between blocs of nations, between one nation and another”. (We remember that the time of Pope John Paul II was a time of competition among nations. Remember also that the Pope was originally from Poland where a strong sense of class struggle was present.)  
13.  These are all social sins. All the different personal sins may cause or support evil or even exploit it. Some are “in a position to avoid, eliminate or at least limit certain social evils” but they do nothing. They stay secretly complicit or indifferent. “The real responsibility, then, lies with individuals”, says the Pope. If we want to go to the roots of social sins, we really have to go deep in searching for personal sins. Specific persons are responsible. (This may then include everyone especially because everyone would rather not cooperate and stay indifferent. Just think of the continual use of plastic.) If we stay in the level of anonymity then we dilute the meaning of sin. We lost track of “who” and we just stay “in general”.
14.  Social sin is therefore analogical to personal sins. Let us not “underestimate the responsibility of the individuals involved”. Each persona is still responsible enough to “shoulder his or her responsibility seriously and courageously”.
15.  Do we see the implications of what the Pope is saying? I can always say, “What can I do, plastics are used everywhere, it is in the whole system”. Then I can exonerate myself and say, “It is everyone’s fault anyway”. My own place in this is relegated to the anonymous “everyone”. By relying on this anonymous “everyone” we are led, says the Pope, “more or less unconsciously to the watering down and almost the abolition of personal sin, with the recognition only of social gilt and responsibilities”. Blame thus “is to be placed not so much on the moral conscience of an individual, but rather on some vague entity or anonymous collectivity such as the situation, the system, society, structures or institutions”. By doing this we assume that we cannot be responsible anymore. (The Pope, by the way, was a philosopher, so we can see his philosophy in this reflection too.)
16.  Social sin then is “the result of the accumulation and concentration of many personal sins”. Mea culpa also. Let us cite the final paragraph of the pope dealing with this section:
17.  “At the heart of every situation of sin are always to be found sinful people. So true is this that even when such a situation can be changed in its structural and institutional aspects by the force of law or-as unfortunately more often happens by the law of force, the change in fact proves to be incomplete, of short duration and ultimately vain and ineffective-not to say counterproductive if the people directly or indirectly responsible for that situation are not converted”.
18.  How do we get out of this? In #23 the pope mentions the role of piety and the mercy of God. God’s love is “more powerful than sin, stronger than death”. Hence we can recognize this and accept that “God's love for us does not cease in the face of our sin or recoil before our offenses, but becomes even more attentive and generous”. If we do see this—and adhere to it—then we can move to “conversion”. A sign of conversion is precisely “solidarity” based on charity and not based on cooperating with social sin.

Solidarity, a “simplified version”

1.    The word “solidarity” of course has the root word “solid” in it. The table is solid; knock on it; place books on it; even sit on it; it stays. It is solid. Now solidarity means that we are “solid” together in our social relationships. When we go to the store and buy a food product, for example, we are “solid” with the people who manufactured that product; we are “solid” with the farmers who first made the raw materials later transformed by the manufacturers; we are “solid” with those who packaged the product; we are “solid” with those who transported the product and brought it to the store; we are “solid” with the original owner of that product; we are “solid” with the store keeper and the laborers in that store. In other words we as “buyers” are “solid” with a whole system of “supply”.  It can be a very complex “solidarity” but somehow we are linked together in various ways. We might find the product costly or cheap but we cannot just steal it from the store. Part of the “solidarity” is the “agreement” about its price. There is an economic system with its “market” to comply with. We are “solid” with that complex system.
2.    Note then that we can be related with very anonymous persons and groups. We cannot pinpoint exactly who is responsible for the pricing of the product. We cannot pinpoint exactly who is responsible for the wage levels of workers—from farmers to store laborers. It is, indeed, a very complex system with very anonymous links.
3.    Unfortunately there is such a thing as “structures of sin” (Pope John Paul II). A lot of injustice may be found in a complex system but we just cannot get out of it. We are all part of the system. We are accomplices in it. When we buy something we participate in the whole economic and market system. Our money is our way of complying with the system. Again we do not know who are the major players in a system—in a structure. But we can see that we are in it. Just think of the many things we do each day, from the eating of the food each lunch hour to the turning on of the lamp each night. We participate in so many systems. We are a complex world and our interdependence has turned quite complex.
4.    In the “structures of sin” we participate, even in many indirect ways. We too “sin”. Now without turning ourselves into neurotics, can we do something about this?
5.    Why do we say “neurotics”? Well, if for every move we make we always have to investigate our share in injustice we do turn ourselves into neurotics. Take the example of taking a meal. The rice may be from one country, the meat is from another country, the onion and garlic and spices may be from another country, the fruit jusic may be from another country. The amount of carbon spent to bring that meal to the table has contributed to the pollution of the air! But do we stop eating? Do we have to ask first from where is the rice coming before we eat it? If we investigate every detail we do in daily life we do turn ourselves into neurotics.
6.    Yes, we are stuck in the complex systems of “structures of sin” and a full liberation will have to come in the next coming of Christ. But right now we can still do major steps. If we are in solidarity with “structures of sin” we can “de-solidarize” in major areas.
7.    Some communities have done this. A community may have stopped, altogether, the use of plastics with BPA. Some communities may have opted for organic farming and stopped their “solidarity” with chemical farming. Some may be boycotting particular products dealing with child slavery. Etc. We can look at major areas of our lives and form new solidarity. New linkages may be created and they are linkages marked by “charity” (Pope Benedict XVI). Again without turning ourselves into neurotics we can also “do something” significant.
8.    Some authentic solidarities have proven themselves significant in history. Think about the options of the American Blacks who refused to ride buses and trains and went through the effort of walking to work or school. That changed the treatment they received from the “whites” in the buses and trains. Think of Nelson Mandela. Think of Mahatma Ghandi. Look at the big changes done thanks to some forms of charitable and authentic solidarity.
9.    But maybe, right now, we are not in the position to do such major changes in our societies. But in the small ways that we can, in daily life, we are able to do some forms of de-solidarity from “structures of sin” and solidarity to more just and dignified structures. It might mean some changes, minor as they may be, in our own life styles. It may also imply entering into solidarity with particular marginalized sectors of society.
10.          If this sounds corny and abstract, we can try an look at our very own selves. So many people carry us on their shoulders. The food we eat each day comes to us from the hard work of farmers, transport groups, cooks, etc. The electricity we use for our computers and lamps comes to us from the hard work of laborers.
11.          Imagine a student of medicine who has no time to study because of cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, etc. Some people may have to do those chores for the student so that the student can finish the degree.
12.          Notice then the “solidarity” others make towards us to liberate us from certain tasks and to allow us to “bloom” in a specific way. We also owe them a lot and many of them are anonymous. (Some of them are not at all anonymous; we know them well. Think of our parents, for example, and how they worked hard to bring us to where we are now.)
13.          Hence we also might need to review our forms of solidarity and ask how much of these help others find their paths of “blooming”. Hopefully we really get our acts together and be “of service” to them too. Others may need to be carried on our own backs.
14.          Of course the main model here is Jesus Christ. He is the “Word who became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn1/14). He went into solidarity with our human conditions through his incarnation. In Paul we read that “he emptied himself and became a slave” (see Phil.2/7). Not only did Jesus become “solid” with us in humanity but also in social conditions. He went into solidarity with the poor. In the footsteps of Jesus can we somehow form ways of a more charitable solidarity?  

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Relevance of the Inter-religious Dialogue

1.    Is religion a source of conflict? If we look at the mess we are in—globally and, for the Filipinos, the Mindanao—we see that religion has not really been the source of conflicts. It is true, however, that religion has been instrumental in promoting the mess. Many have used religion to exacerbate contemporary social and global problems.
2.    We see in Pope John Paul II’s Redemptoris missio that inter-religious dialogue can help in overcoming prejudices and discrimination among people of different religious traditions. Although we feel frustrated today in front of the mess we are in, we still hope that this dialogue still has relevance.
3.    Vatican II has taken a big step in the direction of dialogue with other religions. It came out with a document, Nostra aetate. That document tries to see how we can situate ourselves in front of the other religious traditions. The tone is respectful. The view on other religions is positive.
4.    Indeed even before Vatican II there were steps at doing dialogical relationships notably between Christians and Jews. This was due to the experience of World War II in Europe. Vatican II, however, had added a new approach. It discusses the reality of religion as religion itself.
5.    The document, Nostra aetate, is a big sandwich. In more technical terms it is a “chiasm”. The first and the last paragraphs form an “inclusion” and in-between them is a discussion on the different religions. For this document the Church rejects nothing holy and true in other religions. The Church recognizes, preserves and promotes the good spiritual and moral elements in other religions (see Nostra aetate #2).  We add: “The Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life, or religion” (Nostra aetate #5).
6.    Of course if we stay firm in the Catholic tradition we still say that all humanity will find fulfillment in Christ. “Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself” (Nostra aetate #2).
7.    After Vatican II a lot of discussion—and very theological at that—took place regarding our stand in front of other religions. Thus we see the three positions: exclusivist, inclusivist, and pluralist. We, ourselves, do not agree with the exclusivist stand. The Church does not anymore sound exclusivist in her position. The discussion seems to be “hot” between the inclusivist and the pluralist.
8.    Inclusivists, as we have studied before, see Christ present and at work in other religious traditions. Pluralists do not see the link between Christ and salvation in other religions. Each is saved according to his/her religious mediator.
9.    The debate is “hot”. Inclusivists feel that pluralists abandon the ship and give up on Christ as unique and universal mediator. Pluralists think that inclusivists lack respect for other religious traditions and under-estimate the depth and values of those religions.
10.           While the debate is going on the world is in a mess. As we see, this mess is not really triggered by religion. It so happens that religion is instrumental; it so happens thatreligion is used to facilitate the mess. In the midst of social and global conflicts supplemented by religious traditions, might we not be barking at the wrong tree?
11.           When inclusivists and pluralists debate their debate may be very interesting, fascinating and even absorbing. But then the world is asking about what to do with social issues, what do to with the financial crises, what to do with the environmental damage, what to do with violence and discrimination, what to do with geo-politics, etc. We can ask if the debate between inclusivists and pluralists is so relevant considering that the main source of contemporary issues is not religion. Well, just asking.
12.           It is relevant to encounter people of other religions. This is true. But the encounter may now have to be also relevant in terms of joining others in their pains and hopes within a very messy world. And so there is the tendency for a new terminology. If we, Christians, move to encounter others in dialogue, we may need to be less of ad gentes and more of inter-gentes. This has been signaled by Jonathan Y. Tan (see
13.           Let us admit that, today, the concrete social contexts cannot be ignored. These contexts and the mess in it influences the way we look at each other. Is it not true, for example, that many Muslims today suffer discrimination because of the violence done in the name of Islam even if the real issue is not Islam?
14.           Might we not need to see dialogue differently today? Can we see it less about how Christ is present in other religions and more about how we are led by Christ to encounter others. Hence we do not focus on “how is Christ present there in the other religions”. Instead we ask: “How can I deepen and put to action my faith in Christ as I encounter people of other religions”. In other words what is in my faith that calls me to dialogue and how can this dialogue deepen my faith. Can we not take a subtle shift away from (but, of course, not dropping) that issue of how Christ is in other religions and move to our own inner conversion of responding to Christ’s invitation to encounter others. How Christ is present there in other religions might even be beyond our own competence to discover. We appreciate the pneumatology of Pope John Paul II (in his Redemptoris missio). Let us trust the holy Spirit in determining how the “Seeds of the Word” is in other religions.
15.           We can see dialogue then as an invitation for partners in dialogue to deepen in what is specific in each one’s religious tradition. Let each deepen on the specificity of one’s own religion. In encountering others I deepen my own Christian faith. I discover more my own depths. This, we might say, has been hinted by Pope John Paul II in his description of dialogue (again in his Redemptoris missio).
16.           Why do we ask for this subtle shift? We want to look closer at our relationships with others rather than on evaluating how others are “saved or not saved”. Sure, we might want to worry about salvation; but right now we are all in the same messy world and we need to get our acts together. Our interest today is more about what happens to our relationships in this world? This is crucial because it will reflect who is, for me, God and what is my faith.
17.           Can we not try and situate inter-religious dialogue within social (and global) issues? A Magisterium document published right after Redemptoris missio can help us in this. This document is the Dialogue and Proclamation and it suggests the (now well-known) forms of dialogue (#42). We cite them here:

The forms of dialogue
There exist different forms of interreligious dialogue. It may be useful to recall those mentioned by the 1984 document of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue(17). It spoke of four forms, without claiming to establish among them any order of priority:
a.     The dialogue of life, where people strive to live in an open and neighbourly spirit, sharing their joys and sorrows, their human problems and preoccupations.
b.    The dialogue of action, in which Christians and others collaborate for the integral development and liberation of people.
c.     The dialogue of theological exchange, where specialists seek to deepen their understanding of their respective religious heritages, and to appreciate each other's spiritual values.
d.    The dialogue of religious experience, where persons, rooted in their own religious traditions, share their spiritual riches, for instance with regard to prayer and contemplation, faith and ways of searching for God or the Absolute.

18.           Did not Pope John Paul II, himself, initiate a dialogue in Assisi and it was a dialogue of “religious experience”: a praying together. Whether we like it or not (because some might not like it) the encounter was initiated and organized by a Roman Catholic. Pope John Paul II was simply fulfilling the insights of Vatican II and the quest for dialogue. The Pope was also simply fulfilling the role of the Church as “sacrament” of salvation and kingdom, already intuited in Lumen gentium.
19.           If, indeed, we take seriously the call for dialogue, are we not, ourselves, fulfilling what has been described in our very own faith that Christ prays for all human unity: “that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you” (Jn17/21).
20.           Can we not see dialogue as a service to humanity’s unity? In fact, even in our very own countries, indeed there are efforts for unity done by people of different religious traditions.
21.           Today fragmentation is a trend. Our theological discussions might need to lead us to also consider relevant, concrete issues. Issues like living together, ecology, peace, freedom, justice, inequality, discrimination, they are all touched by theology too. Our theology of dialogue needs relevance. We are, today, challenged by many social and global issues. It is fantastic to “know each other”, and this needs engagement too in establishing more justice, more peace, more respect among all of us. Can dialogue help “humanize” the world better? Can it not lead to a more reconciled and fraternal society?
22.           Let us end with a passage from the encyclical, Evangelii Gaudium, of Pope Francis. He writes about inter-religious dialogue (#250):

This dialogue is in first place a conversation about human existence or simply, as the bishops of India have put it, a matter of “being open to them, sharing their joys and sorrows”. In this way we learn to accept others and their different ways of living, thinking and speaking. We can then join one another in taking up the duty of serving justice and peace, which should become a basic principle of all our exchanges. A dialogue which seeks social peace and justice is in itself, beyond all merely practical considerations, an ethical commitment which brings about a new social situation. Efforts made in dealing with a specific theme can become a process in which, by mutual listening, both parts can be purified and enriched. These efforts, therefore, can also express love for truth. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

On Baptism

Lk tells us about the political context during the time of John Baptist. Palestine is occupied and people may have been feeling the occupation as eternal. Pontius Pilate has been ruling with blood (Lk13/1) and Herod, allied with Rome, reigned in Galilee (13/31). The population is weighed down by taxes and military violence. Land tillers see their lands grabbed. Religious authorities take the beasts from people for Temple practices. The Temple and its sanctuary has become a place for bandits.
John is son of Zechariah, a Temple priest. He is from the sacerdotal class that exercises office in the Temple. John is part of that class. But John is not in Jerusalem; he is far from the Temple; he is in the Jordan river—that place where, once upon a time, the Hebrew people passed to enter Canaan. For John it is time to begin all over again. It is time to cross the Jordan river again. The axe is on the tree roots—the tree of “civilization”. John sounds “subversive”.
What must one do? John says to share, stop accumulating, get out of the “malls”, stop consumerism, stop destroying the ecology—change. Change our life styles. Change our behavior. Stop violating the common good. Stop violence.
The word “baptism” may make us think of the ritual that allows us to be members of a club; members of an institution. Perhaps it is a membership with perks obtained. But for John it means a “plunge”; a jump into the water. It means inviting the oppressed and marginalized to open up to the Messiah; it means option to change.
Well, John will later have his head chopped. This time, however, it is Jesus who plunges in the Jordan. The incarnation tells us that Jesus identifies with humanity—with all flesh. That incarnation orients to the priority given to the “little ones”, the oppressed and marginalized.
Baptism means then for us also a plunge. We plunge into the sacred—the fire and breath. It means discipleship with Jesus; be plunged in his own mission against the domination of darkness and sin.
Our Christianity can be vain—in the way we live it. Yes, we turn our Church into an “club”; we get baptized and have our “ID-cards”. But do we want change? Do we want a better society of justice? Do we have concern for the little ones? Are we really plunged into the mission of Christ? Do we opt for change of our ways against the destruction of the environment? Do we try to make our world more habitable, with cleaner air and water? And so we need to review our understanding of Baptism. It is to be plunged into discipleship.


1.   We recall the principle of “subsidiarity”. In that principle the Church calls for the opportunity for people in their small associations to have a voice. In case they have no place and cannot voice out and cannot take initiatives for their own growth, the “higher” levels of society—such as the government—will have to “subsidize” them; help them stand on their own.
2.   Subsidiarity has its risks, however, because of the tendency for a “ghetto” mentality. In other words, when a small association encloses and folds in, it will be interested only in its private affairs. It becomes a “ghetto”. Now the Compendium then opens the discussion for “participation”. Get out of the ghetto; open up to the wider society. Hence, participate.
3.   This is why the Compendium sees participation as a duty (#189). It is, indeed, a right to be in-charge of our own private initiatives, but it is also a duty to open up to the wider society. We cannot just stay locked in our small associations. “Occult” privileges must be avoided.
4.   Participation calls for opening up to social reality—including the higher levels of social life. This means then being really involved in what runs the whole country. (In fact the Compendium goes international too!) In fact, even the most disadvantaged in society must have a participation (#189). The Compendium even says that, in fact, people really like to participate. It is “one of the greatest aspirations of the citizen” (#190).
5.   If participation is one of the aspirations, it is also a pillar of democracy. What exactly is “democracy”? It is an assigning “of powers and functions on the part of the people, exercised in their name, in their regard and on their behalf” (#190). The word “democracy” has two roots: “cracy” and “demos”. It is the “cracy” of the “demos”; the rule of the people. Technically then a democracy is a system in which social members have a voice and influence on where the society wants to go. The government of a democratic system aims at people’s participation. Democracy thus is by nature participative (#190).
6.   Barriers to participation must be overcome. The Compendium cites the CCC (1917): “It is incumbent on those who exercise authority to strengthen the values that inspire the confidence of the members of the group and encourage them to put themselves at the service of others. Participation begins with education and culture”. This citation from the CCC can make us think of empowering members of society through allowing them access to information—as “education and culture” suggest. The problem in many societies is that people do not even know where they can really and fully participate because they just “do not know”. (Is it not true that many in our countries do not even read the morning papers?).
7.   The Compendium seems to say that a certain level of knowledge and information is necessary for participation. A “cultivation” not just of information but also of moral virtues may be necessary. Why do we say this?
8.   The Compendium notices “inadequate or incorrect practice of participation” (#191). Let us mention them:
9.   One practice is in “making deals” for “advantageous conditions”. People use institutions for their private agenda—for the “service of their selfish needs” (#191). Just think of making partnership with the police; conniving with the judiciary; lobbying with politicians.
10.         Another practice is limiting participation to the electoral process. In other words, many think that casting their votes is enough and sufficient in their participation. The Compendium sees this as a very limited and narrow participation. In many cases some do not even vote. If this happens, then participation is reduced to zero. (See #191).
11.         The Compendium ends this section with a worry against totalitarian tendencies. In some countries participation in society is denied because it is considered a threat to the State itself (#191). We may not be experiencing this now but is worth mentioning it. In fact, we are reminded of a story recalled by Pope Francis.
12.         Pope Francis, while addressing a “popular movement” assembly (in October 28, 2014), told a story told by a Rabbi of 1200’s. The Rabbi was talking about the tower of Babel. To make the tower, said the Rabbi, a lot of effort was needed. Bricks had to be made. Mud and hay were mixed, cut to square pieces and then baked. Then they were brought to the worksite for constructing the tower. If a brick fell it was considered a tragedy. The worker who dropped it was punished horribly. But if a worker fell, nothing happened. That, said the Rabbi, was what can happen in a society where money is a god.

13.         This story may describe a totalitarian regime. But can we not say that even in our social contexts this “dictatorship” (of the market) can be highly influential too? Workers building the Tower of Babel did not really participate. They were simply “used”. Is it not true today that many workers are simply “used”? What do you think?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

On Conscience

1.   In Church Tradition conscience is a very rational and intellectual aspect of the human person. We may have been used to thinking of it as emotional—like “my conscience disturbs me”. If we look closely at Church Tradition—like in the Thomistic tradition—conscience is not exactly a “feeling” and “emotional” component. In conscience we really think.
2.   St. Thomas Aquinas sees three levels in conscience. There is level one which is “habitual conscience”. (St. Thomas Aquinas uses the term “synderesis”…but let us not go into that technicality.) This is “habitual conscience” because…well, it is “habitual”. It is innate in us to want what is good for us and we innately avoid what is bad for us. St. Thomas Aquinas, in his optimism about the human person, thinks that we really desire for the good.
3.   Levels two and three are what St. Thomas Aquinas calls as “practical conscience”. Why is it “practical”? We put into practice what we see in level one. Level two therefore is the discerning aspect of conscience. If we have the innate tendency to go for the good, then we make the effort to discern how to realize that. We discern. Now, once we “see”, we decide. We act. This is level three.
4.   Conscience therefore involves what is innate in us and our propensity to be clear about what we should do. Decision making is part of conscience but decision is done with effort and a good amount of thinking.
5.   So when we make a moral action we are guided by conscience. We need to be guided by conscience. We cannot just decide and act impulsively. We need some amount of hard thinking. We need to “pause”. In modern language we say, “We reflect”. We weigh what we should do.
6.   Conscience is God’s gift to us, according to Church Tradition. When God made us he also gave us conscience. There we go face-to-face with God. We are accountable to God in our conscience.
7.   Before St. Thomas Aquinas there were already the insights of St. Paul. Conscience is where we dialogue with God. We consult God in conscience (and thus there is the role of prayer). Interesting in St. Paul is the vigilance about the effects of what we do when we follow conscience. We may think that our action is ok and we have well consulted God. But then we need to look at others. Will we scandalize them in our action? If yes, then it is better not to do that action. Conscience may guide us but we must be careful about the effects we will do on others. Never let other fall. Conscience will then have to remind us of this. We just do not do anything.
8.   Vatican II, with its Gaudium et spes and dignitatis humanae, has interesting ideas about conscience. Conscience is a “sanctuary” in us that puts us face to face with God. There we unite with God and with others (especially because others have conscience too). We need to be adjusting to conscience because it will help us avoid being blind and impulsive in our moral choices and decisions.
9.   As we adjust to conscience we stay vigilant about God’s will and about Church teachings. Conscience is therefore not purely “subjective”. Conscience always has an “objective” pole. When we discern we always have to consult. We consult Scriptures, we consult Church teachings. We need “objective” references. It is not enough to rely on our “gut feelings”. We need to consult. This is why there is the requirement to form conscience. To form conscience is to see how it adjusts to objective reality. This looks healthy because when we have something “objective” to hold on to, we can avoid impulsive moral behavior. Of course we do not delete the “subjective” side. We accept that there can be an affective component. But we need to be vigilant about reality—there is objectivity in it.
10.        Pope John Paul II teaches, in his Veritatis splendor, that conscience is our immediate moral guide. We must obey conscience always. Of course this means that we form our conscience. We just do not go for gut feelings. We weigh our options. We study our situations. We look at effects on others. Obeying conscience presupposes efforts. But, still, conscience can make mistakes. Ignorance can be one factor that makes conscience err. We just do not have full access to all that happens.
11.        Conscience is therefore constantly cultivated—it is constantly “recharged”. (Obviously we need to be regularly well-informed about many matters.)
12.        The formation of conscience demands humility on our part. We avoid being too full of ourselves. We want to “revere” what is out there (remember Von Hildebrand).
13.        We form our conscience by studying. We in-form ourselves. We look at the wisdom of our cultures and generations from the past. More importantly we stay vigilant about natural law. Remember that natural law is that moral law that is proper to our nature as human. It is in our nature then to do good and avoid evil. We do good and avoid evil by conserving being—or life. We do not destroy life. We do good and avoid evil by promoting being—promoting life. We share life, we share growth, we educate others. (Religious people do not make babies, so life promotion involves things like vocation promotion, religious education, values education, etc.) We do good and avoid evil by seeking the truths about the world around us; we study our world. We also live with others and so we live with them in truth.
14.        Of course, as Catholics, we form our conscience with the Scriptures and Church teachings. We inform ourselves with insights from Revelation.
15.        Assume therefore that effort is done for forming the conscience. Assume that we do our best to do good and avoid evil and we do our best to see the truths of the world around us. Yes, we have limits, but we are not lazy. In situations where we must morally decide, we obey conscience always. We condemn ourselves if we do not. Conscience will condemn us if we disobey it. It will always trigger in us the demand to seek for the good. (Remember level one of St. Thomas Aquinas.)
16.        If ever we are in error in deciding and acting, we stay dignified in conscience. We never lose dignity. It was never in our desire to choose bad…we just happen to have made a mistake. We however stay responsible for the mistake. We admit it and we face the consequences of the mistake. That is matured and healthy, right?
17.        Discerning
18.        In discerning what to do, we follow conscience. Here are some guidelines. We first look at the general universal principles. Morality is what all humans should do. So if we make an action, we need to situate it in terms of what all human should do. We have a vision of a good life—a fulfilled life as promoted by Revelation. So an action must not lose touch of that universal life. If I have to cheat in business, for example, I ask: DO I WANT CHEATING TO BE THE OPTION OF ALL HUMANITY? Note the universality here. IF I CHEAT WILL I BE USING SOMEONE AS MEANS? Will my action be something that can assure the Beatitude and Happiness of all humanity?
19.        Then we can consult the particular moral norms and rules. We might want to look at the rules in our cultures and societies. More importantly, as Catholics, we need to consult Church rules and laws. If I want divorce, what does Church say about it?
20.        Still, in the end, we decide in the unique singular situation. I might cheat and it is cheating in this singular situation. I might want to divorce my wife or husband…and it is about this singular person. So in this very concrete situation, what do we do?
21.        Note that before we decide, we must have at least consulted the universal principles and the particular laws. This is what effort requires. This is what matured and healthy conscience discerning requires.
22.        Over the centuries, some experiences have helped moral discernment. Those experiences have helped establish guiding principles. What are these?
23.        There is the principle of the UNCONDITIONAL. Some actions really should not be done and they are OBVIOUSLY wrong. Rape and torture are clearly wrong. They seriously violate human dignity.
24.        There is the principle of the “LESSER EVIL”. At times we might have to really do something wrong—like harm a thief who is straggling a woman in the street. We ask what lesser harm we might have to do.
25.        There is the principle of “totality”. We might have to look at the total picture and total situation. An action might be done to a part—but will it destroy the whole? A doctor might have to amputate a part of a patient’s body, for example, if he or she is to save the whole patient.
26.        There is the principle of “equity”. This happens in cases when we might have to break laws and rules. The spirit of the law has to prevail. A man might demand for his right to hold his own gun…but if he will use it to murder his wife, then the gun should not be returned to him.
27.        There is the principle of the “double effect”. We might have to do something that has GOOD AND BAD effects. How do we decide? This happens in the case of a medical doctor who has to decide on surgery with a uterus. The mother is pregnant; to save her the doctor will have to slice the uterus. But that will kill the baby. It is good that the mother lives, it is bad that the child dies. Now the doctor might have to decide on NOT slicing the uterus. The baby will live but the mother will die. A good and a bad will happen. This is tough.
28.        To help discern here, we can ask: Do we really intend to do bad? Do we want a bad result? Do we want to do bad so we get a good result? Whatever decision we shall do, is it really for the good? Note the style of questioning. It is about the intention. If never do we intend anything bad…then jump into the decision, we cannot be held “immoral”. We admit our limits, we do what we can, we really want good.
29.        Morality is not about black and white. It is about grey and grey. As Catholics we need to rely on Revelation—Scriptures and Church Sacred Tradition—and we need to pray. Pray. For religious people this is obvious. No religious belittles the role of prayer in moral discernment. As St. Paul says: “Pray without ceasing” (1The5/17). In simpler terms, “Pray always”.
Annex: On “proportionalism” or “consequentialism”: A contemporary issue
1.   Many would propose that good and bad depend on results. We do good to bring about the happiness and well-being of others—as many others as can be. You can see this in your countries too. Maybe there are government decisions that might be unjust now but will bring good fruits later. Think of the global institutions. The IMF would advise poor countries to cut back on basic social services such as health care in order to maximize economic growth. The result of reducing services will be good.
2.   In today’s moral discussions, this is sometimes called “consequentialism” or “proportionalism”. “Consequentialism” means that the “consequence” (or end result) of an action is most important. “Proportionalism” means that an action has value in proportion to the results or ends. Good action means “useful” action is in its results or end. Notice the general idea of all these. Let us call them “end-justifies-means-mentality”. Do what you want so long as the result is ok. The end outweighs the process.
3.   This mentality would propose that the foundation of morality is in the outcome.
4.   In terms of conscience, this mentality will say that if conscience tells us to do bad now for the sake of a good result later, then follow the conscience. It is the conscience that will tell us the consequences. Anyway, we have good intentions.
5.   So notice then the stand of “end-justifies-means-mentality”: we intend always the most effective means to bring about the good, fine, and so long as the good outcome outweighs any undesired evil.
6.   There is, however, a problem here. We can never know always that what we do now will result in a greater good later. We cannot know with absolute certainty the future consequences. We therefore have to rely on something else. Our foresight is really limited.  We cannot presume that we are all-knowing gods.
7.   The premise of “end-justifies-means-mentality” is that we can always have good intentions. This is enough. The actual human act is morally neutral. The action becomes moral once it is linked with an intention for the good result. What I actually do is irrelevant, as long as the intention is ok. This is the “end-justifies-means-mentality” way.
8.   In the Christian tradition—and in the Church—the dignity of the human person is absolute. The human is image of God. The human person can never become a means to an end. The “end-justifies-means-mentality” makes the human person a means—do something wrong now…anyway the end will be ok later. “end-justifies-means-mentality” would say that human rights can be violated…anyway later all will be ok. But, for the Church, human rights should not be violated at any moment.
9.   So in our Catholic moral theology we have absolute norms. We have to stick to some absolute realities that will tell us, at each moment of a moral action, when we are still doing good or already doing bad.
10.        In the New Testament we have seen this struggle with “end-justifies-means-mentality” thinking. Remember that the religious authorities and the romans were worried about the popularity of Jesus. So “it is necessary that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish” (John 11/47-50).  Jesus must be killed—it is a “means” to protect the life of the nation.  This thinking helped the Romans put Jesus to the cross. It was a form of “end-justifies-means-mentality” thinking.
11.        As we said at the start of our semester, an action has plan or intention, steps and the attitude we have to the conditions we are in. If any of the three is bad, then we drop the whole action. A good plan, for example, does not always make the steps good. Cheating is immoral. Maybe I cheat because I need to pass the exam for a good future. The physical act—the steps—in the carrying out of the plan is wrong. So do not cheat at all.
12.        Moral decision is not easy, but conscience alone is not enough. Result is not enough. For Catholic moral theology, we need to consult absolute norms. Not everything can be determined by a single standard. Because we are a Catholic school, we need to look at our Catholic moral tradition. But, right now we need to say: Does The End Justify the Means? No, not in Catholic Moral Thinking.
CASES in Proportionalism:

13.        Blondie was not able to study for her coming exams because she was so busy with many other things, so urgent. Her family needed her to do some errands that only she could do. She needs to pass the exam in order to finish school and then find work to help her family. Exam day comes and she cheats. She says, “I cheat for a good result. I will finish my college and then help my family. One day, nobody in my family will be forced to go hungry. So my cheating helps my family”. Is Blondie correct?
14.        Popeye knows that Olive is a daughter of a rich capitalist. So Popeye visits her, he gives her flowers and chocolate candies. He gives her the impression that he loves her and wants to marry her. But deep within, he is really interested in the security and wealth of having her as his wife. Finally, he marries her after a year of courting. Is this ok? 
15.        A pregnant mother discovers that she has some cancer cells in her uterus. She goes to the doctor. The doctor says, “We have to abort the baby first to save the uterus”. The mother starts to think. “Well, if I save my uterus, then I can have more babies later. Abortion cannot be avoided…so I will say yes to the doctor”. Is the mother correct?
16.        What is sin? It is what God forgives. Ok, that looks simple enough. But we need to clarify. First there is “original sin”. This is very often misunderstood. Our modern world is uneasy with it.
17.        It is an experience. Our lives show the enormous difficulties we have with being one with God and having confidence with God. Our daily life experiences tell how we are so deeply wounded. It seems that our very human nature is wounded. Our will to do good and aoid evil is not firm and sure. How often have we hurt people? How often have we done harm? Hence we have an experience of fragility.
18.        It is a condition in which we are in. Original sin is not a personally done sin. We have “contracted it”. The whole humanity has contracted it.
19.        It is a mystery. We were created good. God is not the author of evil, nor of sin, nor of death due to sin. We say, with the Church, that sin is from us, the human. It is a mystery.
20.        It is a consequence. Ok, we are wounded but this does not mean we have no healing. God comes to heal. God did come in Christ. The presence of Christ is victory over sin. If there is so much sin, there is also so much more grace  (see Rm5/ 21). Redemption is so wonderful; it is the fullness of grace.