Friday, December 12, 2008


“Advent has a twofold character: as a season to prepare for Christmas when Christ’s first coming to us is remembered; as a season when that remembrance directs the mind and heart to await Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time. Advent is thus a period for devout and joyful expectation” (General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar).

The four weeks of Advent should then be for each of us a time of preparation to ensure that this Christmas will not find the Holy Family out in the cold—“because there was no room for them in the inn” (Lk 2:7)—without room in our heart; because it is filled with ourself, because it is tied to creatures in disregard of the Creator. Like the season of Lent, Advent must also be a time for raising the level of our life of prayer, penance (mortification) and almsgiving (good works)—which explains why both seasons share the same liturgical color (violet)—to cure our so-called “three-fold concupiscence” which is, as St. John the Apostle writes, “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 Jn 2:16).

The effort to rid ourselves of our three-fold conscupiscence is another way of expressing the lifelong struggle towards sanctification, which is not “optional” in the sense that we can afford to choose not to take it, because the alternative is not to be united with God in eternity—to be separated forever from God Who alone can satisfy the deepest yearnings of our being—which is eternal misery or hell.

We will not enjoy union with God in eternity if we did not learn to be united with God in this life, which means to grow in our knowing God (with the intelligence enlightened by faith), loving God (with our human freedom aided by God’s grace), and serving God with all our being (fulfilling God’s Will with all our strength, all our passions, all our possessions, all our relations and dealings). This is incompatible with “lust of the flesh”: a “bourgeois” (“townsman” and, therefore, “comfortable”) existence; love of comfort and abhorrence of pain and suffering, and the liberal, modernist, materialistic and earthbound philosophies that absolutize these. Sanctification is also incompatible with “lust of the eyes”: avarice, the inordinate desire to possess, or attachment to worldly things. Most of all, sanctification is incompatible with “pride of life”: an attitude of self-sufficiency that excludes God from one’s existence and plans.

St. Josemaria writes:

“You and I belong to Christ's family, for 'he himself has chosen us before the foundation of the world, to be saints, to be blameless in his sight, for love of him, having predestined us to be his adopted children through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his Will'. We have been chosen gratuitously by Our Lord. His choice of us sets us a clear goal. Our goal is personal sanctity, as St Paul insistently reminds us, haec est voluntas Dei: sanctificatio vestra, 'this is the Will of God: your sanctification'. Let us not forget, then, that we are in our Master's sheepfold in order to achieve that goal….The goal that I am putting before you, or rather that God has marked out for us all, is no illusory or unattainable ideal. I could quote you many specific examples of ordinary men and women, just like you and me, who have met Jesus passing by quasi in occulto, at what appeared to be quite ordinary cross-roads in their lives, and have decided to follow him, lovingly embracing their daily cross. In this age of ours, an age of generalised decay, of compromise and discouragement, and also of licence and anarchy, I think it is more important than ever to hold on to that simple yet profound conviction which I had when I began my priestly work and have held ever since, and which has given me a burning desire to tell all mankind that 'these world crises are crises of saints'….Interior life. We need it, if we are to answer the call that the Master has made to each and every one of us. We have to become saints, as they say in my part of the world, 'down to the last whisker,' Christians who are truly and genuinely such, the kind that could be canonised. If not, we shall have failed as disciples of the one and only Master. And don't forget that when God marks us out and gives us his grace to strive for sanctity in the everyday world, he also puts us under an obligation to do apostolate. I want you to realise that, even looking at things humanly, concern for souls follows naturally from the fact that God has chosen us. As one of the Fathers of the Church points out, 'When you discover that something has been of benefit to you, you want to tell others about it. In the same way, you should want others to accompany you along the ways of the Lord. If you are going to the forum or the baths and you run into someone with time on his hands, you invite him to go with you. Apply this human behaviour to the spiritual realm and, when you go towards God, do not go alone.'” (Friends of God, Nos. 2-5)

It is fitting that the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception falls within the season of Advent. Mary’s perfection demonstrates the possibility of real union with God by God’s grace and our free cooperation. While she was never contaminated by our three-fold concupiscence, Mary was still free (all the more so!), with that human freedom by which Adam and Eve turned away from God; but which, in Mary’s case, with her Fiat, made possible the Redemption of mankind.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Whether we like it or not, whether we realize it or not, we will all die. But death is not only the separation of our spiritual soul from our material body; it is also our crossover from time to eternity.

Of course, Sacred Scripture refers to certain characters who appear not to have died: “Enoch walked with God, and he was no longer here, for God took him” (Gen 5:24). “Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind” (2 Kings 2:11). Yet it is not entirely clear whether they in fact escaped death. In the case of the Blessed Virgin Mary, while Catholic dogma refers to her Assumption, “body and soul”, into heaven, we are free to speculate, as the Eastern Church holds, that, since death is the separation of body and soul, the Blessed Virgin did not die; she only fell asleep (Dormition). But the Blessed Virgin Mary is the only created human person exempt from original sin because of her unique role as Mother of God.

For the rest of us, we can expect that death will certainly arrive. It is a truth of our human nature as spiritual soul in a material body. Our bodies are composed of “matter”. Since all matter tends towards dis-integration, our bodies will dis-integrate and, therefore, will be separated from our spiritual souls. It is usually a wrenching, agonizing process because soul and body are so intimately united in man. Adam and Eve would have been exempt from death if they had not sinned, but that is because of the preternatural gift of immortality which they enjoyed while in the original state of friendship with God. The fall of our first parents resulted in the loss of these gifts, not only for them but also for us who inherit that “wounded” nature of Adam and Eve.

Since the human soul is a spiritual substance, it is not subject to disintegration or decay; it will continue to exist in eternity. Our greatest personal concern, therefore, should be what would happen to our soul in eternity. Life in time is the preparation for eternity. Time is where our free choices should direct our whole being towards our ultimate end, God. At the moment of death, the time of choosing ends; our soul will find itself in eternity. The state which it is in at this moment of death, whether for or against God, will be the state of that soul in eternity.

We often think of eternity as an endless continuum (infinity), “forever and ever”, which is valid as it refers to the absence of a point of beginning or end. But more precisely, eternity is simply timelessness. It is a dimension we can only vaguely comprehend because we live in time, i.e., in a universe that is in constant motion or constant change.

Time is an expression and measure of change. Our life in time is where we can change, where we can even vacillate between being for or against God. Eternity, on the other hand, is the immutability of God. It is also a mystery how God’s immutability accomodates human history and our existence in time. But we must hope that, at the moment we leave time and enter into eternity, our choices would have firmly oriented us for that definitive union with God in His eternal happiness—the “one thing necessary” (cf. Lk 10:41)—which is our perfection, holiness, sanctity, beatitude. Failing this, our lives would have been worse than meaningless, because we would then be (self-) condemned to eternal misery. We must constantly ask God to make our time on earth spatium verae paenitentiae, a time for true conversion. St. Josemaria writes: “Time is our treasure, the money with which to buy eternity” (Furrow, No. 882).

Since death is an event certain to happen, we would be very foolish not to prepare for it; that is, in terms of making sure that our time on earth is a continuing growth in knowing, loving and serving God. We do not know when (or how) death will come, nor what trials will test our love for God at that last moment in time; hence, the need to be constantly on guard, in constant training.

We all have a tendency to avoid thinking of death, especially our own, and therefore to omit preparing for it; but the thought of death should make us more conscious of the value of time—tempus breve est, “time is short” (1 Cor 7:29), as St. Paul reminds us—and therefore more prudent in the use of our time. Beyond merely avoiding sin, we need to sanctify our time on earth; generally, by living in the presence of God, converting all our ordinary activities into prayer; and, specifically, by applying ourselves to the fulfillment of the particular vocation we have received from God and fulfilling the duty of each moment. We will not waste our time pursuing goals which, although they may be good in themselves, are not in keeping with our specific vocation.

The thought of death can be terrifying and depressing; but not if placed in the context of our Christian faith. It is lack of faith that drives people to panic, to do anything just to cling on for a little more time to this world. For Christians, death is the passage into eternal happiness, to join all the saints who have gone before, especially St. Joseph, vir justus, the "just man" (Mt 1:19), who died in the loving presence of our Lord and our Lady, and who is therefore the patron saint, model and intercessor for a happy death. We also have recourse to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Ianua Caeli, Gate of Heaven, who will ensure that we do get to enter into the Kingdom of her Son.


Friday, October 3, 2008


Yesterday, October 2, was the feast of the Guardian Angels. The Gospel for the Mass tells us: “…And Jesus called a little child to him, set him in their midst, and said, ‘Amen I say to you, unless you turn and become like little children, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whoever, therefore, humbles himself as this little child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such little child for my sake, receives me…. See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you, their angels in heaven always behold the face of my Father in heaven.” (Mt 18: 1-5.10; italics ours)

While the Gospel reading teaches the existence of angels assigned to watch over and assist each of us, one cannot help but relate it with the present controversy involving the population-control bills in congress: The Gospel passage also says that, in God’s eyes—and so should be, too, in the eyes of His faithful—there are no unwanted pregnancies. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you” (Jer 1:5).

At the heart of the “contraceptive mentality” is the assumption that some pregnancies—or more accurately, that most pregnancies, especially among the many “poor”—are not or should not be wanted. The assumption is often presented as justified by considerations of the health of the mother and the economic well-being of the family. But this involves the implied premise that people have a right to an irresponsible enjoyment of the human sexual faculty; i.e., using the human reproductive power while rejecting its end.

Unlike the physical laws of nature, which man could legitimately tamper with and transcend by his creativity, the moral law (which governs the rational, voluntary acts of the human person) must be obeyed. If one were to enjoy the human sexual power so clearly intended by the moral law for procreation (as well as the union of the spouses), one ought at least to be open to this end. It should not be difficult to see (unless one were corrupted by extrinsic consideration) that the choice or decision not to get pregnant means not to have sex during the wife’s fertile period; and that, as the Church teaches, contraceptive sex—like divorce, homosexual intercourse, and masturbation—is objectively morally wrong. The contrary proposition translates into “free love”, i.e., sex without restraints.

Furthermore, while economics may appear to provide a valid basis for not having children, the validity is only apparent; not the least because “the economic situation” is, in fact, ephemeral (at times, even illusory).

How much income would “justify” how many children, and who can be the final arbiter of that? Today’s manager earning a six-digit figure monthly could tomorrow be jobless, diagnosed with cancer, or even dead of a heart attack. Conversely, there is nothing inherently impossible in the rags-to-riches stories that abound precisely because they carry an element of realism. It is logical fallacy to draw a direct proportion between income (transitory) and number of children (persons with eternal destiny). The State has no legitimate authority to mislead the “poor” (with propaganda or other inducements, using tax money) not to reproduce. “Responsible parenthood” consists not in having few or no children, but in the efforts of parents to raise those whom God has given them.

The whole notion of unwanted pregnancies also raises the question of “when” human life begins: It would be alright for a pregnancy to be unwanted if what the mother is carrying in her womb were not “human life”; because few could deny that “all human life is good in itself”, regardless of circumstances (hence, the Fifth Commandment of the Decalogue, “Thou shalt not kill”). Thus, contraceptives-pushers would assert that human life begins at “implantation” (notwithstanding that Section 12, Article II of the Philippine Constitution says “from conception”, i.e., when ovum is fertilized by spermatozoon), to cover up the terrible truth that certain “contraceptive” methods—such as the insertion of an IUD (Intra-Uterine Device), which prevents the implantation of the zygote (fertilized ovum) in the lining of the womb thereby killing the human life that has been conceived—are actually “abortifacients”.

Indeed, the beginning of life can be confused with “legal personality” (arising from the fact of “birth”), and “legal capacity” (acquired on reaching the “legal age”), which are different concepts in law. On the other hand, the moral norm requiring respect for human life (Thou shalt not kill) applies from its beginning, the moment of conception—because, from then on, what exists is distinct from the mother (it comes from the father as well); it is living (growing), and is certainly human (not any other animal). If there were room for honest doubt on this, the Church removes that (at least for catholics, for whom ignorance cannot be an excuse) by its teaching: “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception” (CCC, No. 2270).

Contrary to the stance of population-control advocates, the Church “forces” no one to adhere to its teachings: We are free; but our choices have consequences in objective reality, the most important dimension of which is eternity. So, watch out, cafeteria catholics.


Sunday, September 21, 2008


Human life is holy because from its beginning up to its end—from conception to resurrection and eternity (the expression, “from womb to tomb”, implies that communion ends with the grave; pro tanto, it is not of the Catholic faith)—every human life belongs to God in a direct way.

Human life belongs to God from its beginning because every human person is directly created by God, Who “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen 2:7)—the human spiritual soul—at the moment of conception. While the parents cooperate with God through the marital act (and subsequently, in the rearing and education of the child), the spiritual soul—precisely because it is “spiritual”, i.e., transcending material reality—comes directly from God; it cannot come from mere matter or only from the biological process. Thus, the “efficient cause” of every human existence is the direct, creative action of God, with the cooperation of the parents. Theories of Evolution would not explain man’s spiritual soul, since what is spiritual (the nobler or greater) could not possibly evolve from matter (the lesser).

Human life is ordained to “union with God”—holiness, sanctity—as its “final cause” or ultimate end, because the human soul, being spiritual, has an eternal destiny (unlike material substances which ineluctably tend towards disintegration or decay); and because the principal powers of the human spiritual soul—the intelligence and free will—are ordained by nature to understand the truth and to choose (to love) the good, respectively, and can only be satisfied by union with the fullness of Truth and fullness of Good—the fullness of Being—God. Thus, St. Augustine writes: “(Lord,) You have made us for Yourself; and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” (Confessions, 1,1)

Still, while man’s orientation towards God as ultimate end is natural, its fulfillment (union with God in eternity) is beyond human nature as such, and made possible only by a supernatural gift of empowerment—sanctifying grace—which Adam and Eve initially enjoyed but subsequently lost by their sin of disobedience (the “original sin” of man). This capacity was won back by our Lord Jesus Christ, and each of us has it by our incorporation (by Baptism) in the Son of God become Man. But while the Redemption has been accomplished once and for all in its objective dimension, its benefits have to be applied individually to each human person, including those to be born down the centuries until the end of time, who have to freely want it; hence, its subjective dimension, which makes redemption a continuing work.

Also, while we live in this world, seeing God only by Faith, our freedom makes us “changeable”. Our “temporality”—being in time—precisely implies changeability, because time is a measure of change. Thus, while on earth, we can lose sanctifying grace by our choices, i.e., of turning away from God knowingly and voluntarily in a serious matter.

Happily, sanctifying grace lost after Baptism may be recovered (through the Sacrament of Reconciliation). But the challenge for each one is not so much to maintain this state of grace, this incorporation in Christ, as to grow in it; or, better, to allow Christ to “increase”. As with John the Baptist, “He (Christ) must increase, but I must decrease,” Illum oportet crescere, me autem minui (Jn 3:30). Towards the end of our lives, as its culmination on earth, we should be able to say, with St. Paul, “It is now no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me,” Vivo autem iam non ego, sed Christus vivit in me vero (Gal 2:20). The capacity to become friends of God—or better, to grow as children of God in Christ—should be realized more and more as we advance on our earthly pilgrimage (towards the Promised Land of Heaven). What was planted as a seed at Baptism (most probably while we were infants) should grow as we mature humanly. St. Josemaria writes: “Conversion is a matter of a moment. Sanctification is the work of a lifetime” (The Way, No. 285).

Sacred Scripture proclaims this call for each of us to grow in holiness, in union with God: “You must therefore be holy, for I am holy” (Lev 11:44-45). “This is the will of God, your sanctification,” Haec est voluntas Dei, sanctificatio vestra (1 Th 4:3). “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). This was a truth known and lived by the first Christians. Yet, after the fall of the Roman Empire and the onset of the Dark Ages, obviously because of the collapse of law and order, the near eradication of classical culture in favor of the customs of barbarian tribes, and what may have been the near-impossibility of living the human and Christian virtues in the world, “sanctity” came to be seen as attainable only by renouncing the world; as something not for everyone, much less for the ordinary lay Christian.

From 1928 onwards, St. Josemaria taught that all men are called to be holy; and that, for the ordinary lay Christian, the path to holiness lies in fulfilling his ordinary duties “with human and supernatural perfection”, i.e., doing his everyday tasks as well as he can and for love of God and men. The doctrine of the “universal call to holiness” became the “centerpiece” of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. In a homily on the occasion of the canonization of the Founder of Opus Dei in October 2002, Pope John Paul II dubbed St. Josemaria “the saint of the ordinary”.


Friday, July 25, 2008


Today marks the fortieth anniversary of the encyclical Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life). Newspaper columnist John Nery nicely dubbed it “Pope Paul VI’s ardent, anguished love letter to an unchaste world” (Newsstand, “Worrying ‘Humanae Vitae’,” PDI 7/22/2008). Humanae Vitae is indeed addressed to the world (and 1968 was the heyday of the Pill, “free love” and hippie culture), not just the faithful, which probably accounts for its leaning towards “human reason”, rather than theology, in explaining the immorality of contraceptive sex.

The encyclical essentially teaches that the human sexual faculty is ordained by nature towards both procreation—the begetting and rearing of offspring—and the union of the spouses; that these “unitive meaning and procreative meaning” of the marital act are inseparable; and that the use of the human sexual faculty in denial of these ends is contrary to the natural moral law. Thus, contraception, i.e., “any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means” (HV, No. 14) is immoral. Incidentally, just to be clear, this includes “withdrawal” (coitus interruptus), the “sin of Onan” when he “spilled the semen on the ground, lest he should give offspring to his brother,” an act “displeasing in the sight of the Lord” for which Onan was slain (cf. Gen 38: 1-10).

On the other hand, the encyclical also teaches, “If there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births,” couples may “take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile” (HV, No. 16) Mr. Nery rightly points out the difficulty in understanding the distinction between contraceptive sex and “recourse to the infertile period”. He asks: “If both the unitive and procreative dimensions inhere in the conjugal act, why should spouses perform the act during infertile periods?”

Perhaps the threshold issue and key to understanding the encyclical is the inseparability of the “unitive meaning and the procreative meaning” of the marital act. Why should the procreative purpose of sex be inseparable from its unitive purpose? Why can’t sex be solely for love or solely for procreation? The quick answer is: If sex were not for procreation, homosexual intercourse would be morally okay (as long as there is love between the partners), but it is not (Sodomy is explicitly condemned in both the Old and New Testaments); and the institution of an indissoluble marriage would be meaningless (since the indissolubility of marriage is a demand of the welfare of the offspring, of the procreative purpose), which cannot be the case (Divorce is prohibited in the Gospels). On the other hand, even if open to the possibility of offspring, sex without mutual love would be rape (or at least dehumanizing of both partners), which cannot be moral, either. Therefore, the marital act is ordained to both procreation and union.

It is not insignificant that societies drawn into a “contraceptive mentality” have also turned to “divorce” (breakdown of the marriage institution) and “same-sex unions”. The same philosophy underlying contraceptive sex would justify these phenomena.

An indissoluble marriage is necessary precisely because sex is intended by nature for procreation, which includes the upbringing and education of the offspring; and because human life, in its totality, is so fragile in its developing stages. The good upbringing and education of the human offspring requires a lasting partnership of the father and mother, i.e., lasting independently of their changeable preferences and circumstances. Thus, if sex is not for procreation, the institution of marriage would be meaningless.

It is because of the obvious procreative purpose of sex that even primitive cultures have some sort of marriage. The common good requires a social mechanism to ensure the welfare of the human offspring. Thus, to hold the conjugal act separable from its procreative purpose would justify contraceptive sex, but also divorce (no need for permanence in the partnership of the spouses) and homosexuality (no need for procreation), and so open the floodgates for the unwholesome scenarios arising from these (broken homes, juvenile delinquency, AIDS, etc.), not to mention the “demographic winter” (shrinking and aging populations) resulting from birth-control policies in those societies which had confused issues of social-justice, economics, etc., with supposed over-population.

Contraception is the removal of the procreative end from the sexual encounter by positive human action. On the other hand, sex during the infertile periods involves nothing of that sort: even if foreseen or availed of by the spouses, the impossibility of achieving the procreative purpose of the sexual encounter is “independent of their will”. Indeed, even during the fertile periods, “new life is not the result of each and every act of sexual intercourse.” (HV, No. 11) Thus, sex during the infertile period is morally good in so far as it serves the unitive purpose (alone) of marriage, since it is not by human intervention that the procreative purpose is removed from the sexual encounter. It helps also to consider that “recourse to the infertile period” is actually, essentially, abstention or the non-use of sex during the fertile periods, in which case there is no abuse (wrongful use) of the sexual faculty; hence, no moral disorder.

One last point. Much is often made of the idea of contraception as the only way to check population growth which supposedly condemns families to poverty. But this proposition unduly shifts the blame on the poor (for reproducing); whereas the causes of poverty lie elsewhere. Moreover, population control programs assume an authority to determine (by arbitrary, subjective criteria) who (or which economic classes, ethnic groups, or sectors) may multiply and who should eventually become extinct as a group. Christian social philosophy says the State has no such authority. To hold otherwise would justify China’s one-child policy, forced sterilization, even genocide/ethnic cleansing. Thus, it makes better sense to leave “the proper regulation of the propagation of offspring” to the right consciences of married couples, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity; that is, without the undue influence of propaganda and other inducements or coercive measures, whether state-sponsored, foreign funded or financed by big business, and certainly without recourse to immoral acts.


Monday, April 21, 2008


“Apostolate,” from the Greek, apostolos, “one who is sent”, is almost synonymous with “Evangelization,” from eu-, “good”, and angelos, “messenger” (whence the Latin evangelium, "good news"). “Angels” and “Apostles” are all “sent”, but we use the first to refer to those servants of God who are purely spiritual creatures and the last to God’s “human” messengers (i.e., spiritual souls in material bodies). Often, “Apostles” specifically refers to the Twelve companions of our Lord and their successors, our Bishops.

Nowadays, “evangelization” is mostly used in the context of spreading the “Good News” (Old English, “good spell”), often taken to mean the Gospel proper (the four books of the “evangelists” Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), hence more likely to be the preferred term among non-Catholic, Bible-only Christians. On the other hand, in propagating the Catholic faith, which is certainly richer (because it is based on Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, and makes demands on human conduct), the more common term would be “apostolate”.

In any event, “apostolate” means helping other people come closer to their “end”, their highest good, union with God. This is the greatest expression of love, the greatest service we can do, for our fellowmen. Thus, St. Josemaria writes: “Charity with everyone means, therefore, apostolate with everyone.” (Friends of God, 230)

The call to personal holiness is also a call to do apostolate. Just as love of God is inseparable from love of others, sanctity is inseparable from apostolate. Christian life, the path to eternal happiness, is one of ora et labora, contemplation and action, building our personal relationship with God and building the kingdom of God, grace and service, “communion and mission”, interior life and apostolate.

Indeed, God created us to know, love and serve Him, and so, to share in His eternal happiness. This is our end, the ultimate purpose of human existence, which is “holiness” (sanctity, perfection, beatitude) or union with God. Our life on earth is a journey towards this end; a constant struggle for sanctification. And while this holiness can only be definitively achieved in eternity, when we have left this temporal existence, it is a reality that we experience in this life to the extent that we are united with God in our dispositions, and most especially when we eat the Body of our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. Then we become one with Christ, Who is “perfect God and perfect man”, perfectus Deus, perfectus homo (Athanasian Creed).

The call to holiness is a call to become more and more like Christ, to imitate Christ, to be one with Christ, to become “other Christs, Christ Himself,” alter Christus, ipse Christus. Sanctification means, “He must increase; I must decrease” (Jn 3:30); so that, before time ends for each of us, we should be able to say with Saint Paul, “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.” (Gal 2:20)

But to be one with Christ means obeying His commandments: “Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing...Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love….This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” (Jn 15:4-10)

The commandment to love one another “as I have loved you” is “a new commandment” (Jn 13:34) because it places love for others within the larger framework of love for God—as Christ loves us—and with a love, agape, that “seeks the good of the beloved” (Deus Caritas Est, No. 6). Thus, Christian charity must be understood precisely as “the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.” (CCC, No. 1822) The good of our neighbor, his eternal happiness, is his own union with God, which God wants. We know we love our neighbor when we want his eternal happiness: “in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know.” (DCE, No. 18)

John Paul II teaches: “We return to the biblical image of the vine and the branches, which immediately and quite appropriately lends itself to a consideration of fruitfulness and life. Engrafted to the vine and brought to life, the branches are expected to bear fruit: ‘He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit’ [Jn 15:5]. Bearing fruit is an essential demand of life in Christ and life in the Church. The person who does not bear fruit does not remain in communion: ‘Each branch of mine that bears no fruit, he (my Father) takes away’ [Jn 15: 2].” (Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici, No. 32) The fruits demanded from each of us are those of love of God and neighbor, our interior life and apostolate.

The task of doing apostolate is always urgent. We do not know the exact time any person will die. And the greatest tragedy that can befall anyone is for him to leave this life without knowing and loving God, because such a soul can no longer be united with God forever; it is (self-) condemned to eternal misery. And since love of God and love of neighbor are really inseparable, our apostolic zeal is also a gauge of our interior life.


Friday, April 4, 2008


“I believe in Jesus Christ…He descended to the dead. On the third day, He rose again,” we recite in The Creed. The 50-day season of Easter is the commemoration of the fact of the Resurrection of our Lord. It is the greatest feast of Christendom because –

“The Resurrection of Jesus is the crowning truth of our faith in Christ, a faith believed and lived as the central truth by the first Christian community; handed on as fundamental by Tradition; established by the documents of the new Testament; and preached as an essential part of the Paschal mystery along with the cross” (CCC, No. 638)

“The truth of Jesus’ divinity is confirmed by his Resurrection.” (CCC, No. 653) Indeed, the Resurrection is the sign our Lord proffered when some asked for a sign (that He was the promised Messiah): “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, ‘Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.’ He said to them in reply, ‘An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet. Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.’” (Mt 12:38-40)

Jonah “remained in the belly of the fish three days and three nights….Then the Lord commanded the fish to spew Jonah upon the shore”. (Jon 2:1-11)

Jesus “was teaching his disciples and telling them, ‘The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death he will rise’”. (Mk 9:30; cf. Mt 16:21; 17:22-23; 20:17-19; Mk 8:31; 10:32-34; Lk 9:22; 18:31)

The very difficulty of believing in the Resurrection argues in favor of Christianity: “Even when faced with the reality of the risen Jesus the disciples are still doubtful, so impossible did the thing seem: they thought they were seeing a ghost. ‘In their joy they were still disbelieving and still wondering.’ [Lk 24:38-41] Thomas will also experience the test of doubt and St. Matthew relates that during the risen Lord’s last appearance in Galilee ‘some doubted.’ [Cf. Jn 20:24-27; Mt 28:17] Therefore the hypothesis that the Resurrection was produced by the apostles’ faith (or credulity) will not hold up. On the contrary their faith in the Resurrection was born, under the action of divine grace, from their direct experience of the reality of the risen Jesus.” (CCC, No. 644)

But it is not only Christ’s Divinity that the Resurrection proves: “Christ rose from the dead to show that he is true God and to teach us that we, too, shall rise from the dead” (Fr. M. Guzman, Question and Answer Catholic Catechism, No. 122) “All human beings will rise from the dead but only those who have been faithful to Christ will share in his glory” (Id. No. 123) “Christ’s Resurrection—and the risen Christ himself—is the principle and source of our future resurrection: ‘Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep….For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.’ [1 Cor 15:20-22]” (CCC, No. 655)

“All the dead will rise, ‘those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment’ [Jn 5:29; cf. Dan 12:2]”. (CCC, No. 998) Thus, we also say in the Creed, “I believe…in the resurrection of the body”.

“But if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then empty is our preaching; empty, too, your faith.” (1 Cor 15:12-14)

One last point. The scripture accounts of the Resurrection would seem to indicate that our risen Lord was first seen by Mary Magdalene (Mt 28:1-10; Mk 16:9-11; Jn 20:1-18) as she was among the first to go to the tomb on the first day of the week, the day after the Sabbath. On the other hand –

“It is an ancient tradition of the Church that Jesus appeared first of all to his Mother in solitude. It could not have been otherwise because she is the first and principal co-redeemer of the human race, in perfect union with her son. Alone she would have been, since this appearance would be for a reason very different from the reason for the other appearances to the women and the disciples. He had to reassure and comfort them, and win them to him definitively in the faith. The Blessed Virgin…did not at any time cease to be in perfect union with the Blessed Trinity. Every last vestige of hope in the Resurrection of Jesus that remained on earth had been gathered into her heart….It is said that each year on this holy day [Easter Sunday] St. Thomas Aquinas counseled his hearers not to fail to congratulate the Blessed virgin on the Resurrection of her Son. And this is exactly what we do, beginning today, by reciting the Regina Coeli which will take the place of the Angelus during Eastertide.” (Fr. F. Fernandez, In Conversation with God, vol. 2, No. 47.3)


Thursday, March 20, 2008


In the narrative of the Passion of our Lord in the Gospel of St. John (which is read in the liturgy of Good Friday), there is a scene where Pontius Pilate asks Jesus the question, “What is truth?” Quid est veritas? (Jn 18:38) Unfortunately, in obvious bad faith—that is, without wanting to know the answer—Pilate turns away before our Lord could give a reply, thus depriving us of what would surely have been a perfect definition.

Still, since it is intolerable that such a fundamental concept should remain unarticulated, it can be said that “truth” is the agreement (conformity, correspondence) between the thing and what it is in itself (ontological truth); between what we know and what is (logical truth); and between what we express and what we know (moral truth). “Ontological truth” (Greek, ont-, “being”) is the truth of the thing in itself; or better, what it is in the eyes of God. “Logical truth” (logos, “word”) is the agreement between what is in the mind and what is in reality. “Moral truth” refers to the conformity between what we express and what is inside us, where we could speak of the virtue of truthfulness (sincerity)—the habit of telling the truth—which is correlative with the hearer’s right to know.

Beyond the epistemological considerations, John Paul II teaches: “All human beings desire to know, and truth is the proper object of this desire.” (Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio, No. 25) Indeed, the human intelligence, reason, is ordained by nature to understand the truth (as the human free will, voluntas, is ordained to choose, to love, the good). Eventually, this orientation to truth becomes a desire for the knowledge of things according to their ultimate causes (philosophy, “love of wisdom”).

Yet, man’s thirst for truth can only be quenched by the fullness of truth, God: “It is the nature of the human being to seek the truth. This search looks not only to the attainment of truths which are partial, empirical or scientific; nor is it only in individual acts of decision-making that people seek the true good. Their search looks towards an ulterior truth which would explain the meaning of life. And it is therefore a search which can reach its end only in reaching the absolute”. (FeR, No. 33)

Since God transcends human nature (and, for that matter, all creation), our natural reason alone would be inadequate to know God as we ought (much less to know God as He Is). Our reaching God (which would find definitive fulfillment in eternity) is possible only because God reveals Himself to us—in His Word-made-flesh—through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

“Faith” is man’s acceptance of, our assent to Divine Revelation. The supernatural virtue of Faith is itself a gift which enables and firmly inclines us to believe everything that God has revealed (because revealed by God Who can neither deceive nor be deceived).

Thus, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves”. (FeR, Preamble) “Just as grace builds on nature and brings it to fulfillment, so faith builds upon and perfects reason" (Id., No. 43). Faith alone can easily degenerate into superstition or mythology. Reason alone will fall short of our ultimate end. Authentic Christian faith is, therefore, faith seeking understanding.

Jesus, perfect God and perfect man, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity become Man, the Word of God made flesh, is the Truth. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6).

“In the Incarnation of the Son of God we see forged the enduring and definitive synthesis which the human mind of itself could not even have imagined: the Eternal enters time, the Whole lies hidden in the part, God takes on a human face. The truth communicated in Christ's Revelation is therefore no longer confined to a particular place or culture, but is offered to every man and woman who would welcome it as the word which is the absolutely valid source of meaning for human life. Now, in Christ, all have access to the Father, since by his Death and Resurrection Christ has bestowed the divine life which the first Adam had refused (cf. Rom 5:12-15). Through this Revelation, men and women are offered the ultimate truth about their own life and about the goal of history. As the Constitution Gaudium et Spes puts it, 'only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light'. [GS, No. 22] Seen in any other terms, the mystery of personal existence remains an insoluble riddle. Where might the human being seek the answer to dramatic questions such as pain, the suffering of the innocent and death, if not in the light streaming from the mystery of Christ's Passion, Death and Resurrection?” (FeR, No. 12)

St. Josemaria writes: “We are to be pious, then, as pious as children, but not ignorant. Insofar as possible, each of us should study the faith seriously, rigorously—all of which means theology. Ours should be the piety of children and the sure doctrine of theologians.” (Christ is Passing By, No. 10)


Wednesday, March 5, 2008


“The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities.” (CCC, No. 2447) Traditionally, there are listed seven spiritual and seven corporal works of mercy.

The seven spiritual works of mercy are: (1) to admonish the sinner, (2) to instruct the ignorant, (3) to counsel the doubtful, (4) to comfort the sorrowful, (5) to bear wrongs patiently, (6) to forgive injuries, and (6) to pray for the living and the dead.

The seven corporal works of mercy are: (1) to feed the hungry, (2) to give drink to the thirsty, (3) to shelter the homeless (to welcome the stranger), (4) to clothe the naked, (5) to visit the sick, (6) to visit the imprisoned, and (7) to bury the dead (cf. Mt 25:31-46).

These listings are not exhaustive, of course, but are addressed to what may be considered the most basic needs of the individual human person. Nor are the corporal and spiritual categories exclusive of each other.

Indeed, since our Lord enumerates only the corporal works of mercy (the first six of the above-listed) in His discourse on the Last Judgment, He probably intended them to embrace, as well, the spiritual good of people.

Thus, to feed the hungry could also refer to spiritual food: doctrine and sacraments. To give drink to the thirsty could also refer to man’s thirst for truth in general. To clothe the naked could mean protecting other people’s dignity or good reputation, “covering” their “nakedness”, as did the good sons of Noah (Gen 9:23). To shelter the homeless or welcome the stranger could mean bringing people into the Faith, into the Church. To visit the sick could also involve spiritual comfort for spiritual suffering. To visit the imprisoned could refer to the relief or liberation of those under spiritual enslavement (i.e., to sin, vice, sinful relationships, sadness, worry, etc.). To bury the dead could also refer to forgiving and forgetting injuries inflicted on us by others. In addition to these, the traditional listing of the seven spiritual works of mercy serves to highlight the greater importance of spiritual works.

While both spiritual and corporal works of mercy are necessary (because man is spiritual soul and material body), St. Thomas Aquinas points out that the spiritual works of mercy are more important, since spiritual things are more noble. (2 Faith Seeking Understanding, ed. by Fr. Charles Belmonte, p. 133)

Because of our wounded human nature (and the resulting disordered inclinations), we do have a tendency to be “materialistic”, i.e., to confine reality only to what can be perceived by the senses or to give excessive importance to material things. We need to correct this tendency in us and, as far as we can, among those whom we encounter, in our surroundings. “True development concerns the whole man. It is concerned with increasing each person’s ability to respond to his vocation and hence to God’s call.” (CCC, No. 2461)

It is the human spiritual soul (not the human material body) which has, by nature, an eternal destiny (the “resurrection of the body” is a supernatural phenomenon). Unlike matter, spiritual substances are not composed of parts that could disintegrate; hence what is spiritual is by nature indestructible. It is also the human spiritual soul, or our principal spiritual faculties—our intellect and free will—that should lead us to our ultimate end, our highest good, which is union with God—sanctity, holiness, perfection—in His eternal happiness. To help others in this spiritual movement, which means, conversely, “to spread the Kingdom of Christ over all the earth” (CCC, No. 863), is apostolate. This is the greatest service we can do for others. Indeed, we know we truly love our fellowmen if we are concerned about their eternal happiness, which is “the one thing necessary”. (cf. Lk 10:42) Thus, St. Josemaria writes: “Charity with everyone means, therefore, apostolate with everyone (Friends of God, No. 230).”

On the other hand, since man is the union of spiritual soul and material body, fraternal charity requires due regard for the material good of others. In many instances, a minimum of material well-being would be needed for persons to turn to God.

The works of mercy should fulfill the commandment to love God above all else for His own sake and to love others as oneself for the love of God (cf. Mt 22:34-40; Mk 12:28-34; Lk 10:25-28). Love of God and love of neighbor—prefigured by the “two tablets” of stone given to Moses (Ex 31:18)—form the unity of the new law of charity.

Pope Benedict XVI reminds us: “The saints—consider the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta—constantly renewed their capacity for love of neighbour from their encounter with the Eucharistic Lord, and conversely this encounter acquired its realism and depth in their service to others. Love of God and love of neighbour are thus inseparable, they form a single commandment. But both live from the love of God who has loved us first.” (Deus Caritas Est, No. 18)


Thursday, February 21, 2008


Lent is a season for intensifying our training in “prayer, fasting and almsgiving”. These Lenten tasks translate into the virtues of “piety” (or “religion”, the habit of giving due worship to God), “penance” and “mercy”. “Penance” also translates into “mortification”.

Mortification, from the Latin, mors, “death”, means dying to one’s self (and one’s selfish tendencies); a renunciation of one’s wellness, comfort, desires, etc.; an act of self-denial. A Christian’s acts of mortifications acquire value to the extent that he is motivated with uniting them to the sufferings of our Lord—in reparation for sin, in imitation of Christ, for love of God and neighbor, in compliance with the command of our Lord: “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Lk 9:23ff; cf. Mt 16:24; Lk 14:27)

Mortifications may be “active”, i.e., positively sought, as in fasting. They may also be “passive”, i.e., consisting of the cheerful acceptance of difficulties or setbacks. Mortifications may also involve the physical senses and appetites—“corporal” mortifications—or only the internal senses (memory, imagination) and spiritual faculties (intelligence and will)—“interior” mortifications. Like Christian almsgiving, our mortifications must also pass unnoticed, should be “hidden” as much as possible: “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.” (Mt 6: 16)

For the lay Christian living in the middle of the world, mortification must necessarily consist, for the most part, of many little acts of self-denial in the ordinary course of the day: eating a little less than we need at meals, maintaining a cheerful disposition in a difficult or uncomfortable situation, foregoing what is the most pleasurable in our choices, fighting distractions in order to work with more intensity, etc.

The Pope teaches:

“There used to be a form of devotion—perhaps less practised today but quite widespread not long ago—that included the idea of ‘offering up’ the minor daily hardships that continually strike at us like irritating ‘jabs’, thereby giving them a meaning. Of course, there were some exaggerations and perhaps unhealthy applications of this devotion, but we need to ask ourselves whether there may not after all have been something essential and helpful contained within it. What does it mean to offer something up? Those who did so were convinced that they could insert these little annoyances into Christ's great ‘com-passion’ so that they somehow became part of the treasury of compassion so greatly needed by the human race. In this way, even the small inconveniences of daily life could acquire meaning and contribute to the economy of good and of human love. Maybe we should consider whether it might be judicious to revive this practice ourselves.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Spe Salvi, No. 40)

Our Lenten mortifications should also help to remind us, like the whole observance of Lent itself, that we are only pilgrims on earth. Like the forty years which the Israelites spent in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land (Js 5:6), the life of man on earth is in statu viatoris, a passing-through. Our end, our true home, our permanent residence, our domicile, is in heaven, with God our Father. We will not reach this final destination—heaven, eternal happiness, definitive union with God, sanctity—unless we really want it, because we are free. And we are free creatures precisely so that we could direct ourselves, intelligently and voluntarily, towards that end. Thus, we cannot afford to be too comfortable here; otherwise, we would lose the desire, the drive, to reach our final destination. A spirit of mortification helps us to grow in that willingness to renounce earthly happiness, that detachment vis-a-vis creatures, which we need in order to qualify for heaven.

St. Josemaria writes:

“The Christian vocation is one of sacrifice, penance, expiation. We must make reparation for our sins—for the many times we turned our face aside so as to avoid the gaze of God—and all the sins of mankind. We must try to imitate Christ, ‘always carrying about in our body the dying of Christ,’ his abnegation, his suffering on the cross, ‘so that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodies’ [2 Cor 4:10]. Our way is one of immolation and, in this denial, we find gaudium cum pace, both joy and peace…

“Mortification is the seasoning of our life. And the best mortification is that which overcomes the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life in little things throughout the day. Ours should be mortifications that do not mortify others, and which give us more finesse, more understanding, and more openness in our dealings with everybody. You are not mortified if you are touchy; if your every thought is for yourself; if you humiliate others; if you don’t know how to give up what is unnecessary and, at times, what is necessary; if you become gloomy because things don’t turn out the way you had hoped. On the other hand, you can be sure you are mortified, if you know how to make yourself ‘all things to all men, in order to save all’ [1 Cor 9:22].” (Christ is Passing By, No. 9)


Wednesday, February 13, 2008


“Prayer” is commonly defined as “the lifting up of the heart and mind to God”. “Heart” here means the seat of our affections—our desire for God, sorrow for sin, gratitude, joy—but it also includes our intelligence and free will. In other words, prayer is the turning of our "inside" (which does not necessarily exclude our exteriors) towards God; a “union with God” or “being with God”—so as to adore Him, to express our contrition for the times of our turning away from Him, to thank Him for everything, and to ask for everything. It involves our spiritual faculties—the intelligence and free will—as well as our sensual appetites (which operate in our passions or emotions).

There are basically three kinds of individual prayer: vocal prayer, meditation, and contemplation. The term, “mental prayer”, is often used to include both meditation and contemplation.

Prayer is vocal when it is “discursive”, i.e., we turn to God using human language, our normal mode of communicating. It is meditation when it goes beyond words into involving more the other faculties: the imagination and memory (the internal senses) and the appetites; the mind, understanding the truths of faith in God’s presence; and our free will, making decisions or resolutions to conform more to God. Prayer becomes contemplation when these operations of the faculties in meditation become simplified into one, integrated whole, as a “single” action of being with God. The saints, especially the “mystics” (gifted with “paranormal” experience of God, e.g., “ecstasy” and intuitive or immediate knowledge of things) describe different degrees of “contemplation”.

Contemplation is the highest form of private, individual prayer: it approaches what is essentially the “activity” of the saints in eternity—simply seeing God “face to face” (the “beatific vision”), simply enjoying God. Meditation, the next highest, helps us get there, as an intermediate stage. Although placed at the lowest level, vocal prayers serve, not only as a good starting point, but also as “fuel” to maintain us in praying. In practice, all three forms of prayer are often intermingled. Maintaining “presence of God” can be contemplation. This is what St. Josemaria meant in saying, “we have to be contemplative souls in the midst of the world, who try to convert their work into prayer.” (Furrow, No. 497) Among the ways to fuel contemplation is to recite, repeatedly, many times during the day, some short vocal prayer—aspirations (“breathed-out” prayers)—taken from sacred scripture or some liturgical prayer, e.g., “Be it done!” Fiat! (Lk 1:38); “Lord, that I may see!” Domine, ut videam! (Lk 18:41); “Lord, what do you want me to do?” Domine, quid me vis facere? (Acts 9:6); etc.

In the liturgy ("public worship", the celebration of the Sacraments and sacramentals)—which is the prayer of the Church, the community of believers—the individual participant may actually enter into all three forms of private prayer (vocal, meditation and contemplation). Liturgical prayer is most pleasing to God because it is Christ Himself praying. Thus, the Eucharist is the highest form of all prayer because in it, Christ Himself is the Priest making the offering as well as the Victim being offered to God.

We need to convert all our time, all our work and leisure, our ordinary activities, into “prayer”, if we are to become saints. This is to comply with the scriptural command: “Pray without ceasing!” (1 Thes 5:17).

To pray always, we need to be able to pray, at least, at fixed times. That is why we should have regular “acts of piety”; so that our daily schedules would be built around our prayer life. Rather than stealing from our time for work, these acts of piety would make our work more valuable (pleasing in the eyes of God) because a well-planned day, in which our regular acts of piety are evenly distributed, would help us to maintain presence of God. Thus, our work can actually be done in God’s presence and so become prayer itself. Prayer also helps to “multiply” our time for work—our work gets done better, becomes more fruitful, especially in terms of sanctifying ourselves and others (personal holiness and apostolate), which is what matters most in the end.

St. Josemaria writes: “Try to commit yourself to a plan of life and to keep to it: a few minutes of mental prayer, Holy Mass—daily, if you can manage it—and frequent Communion; regular recourse to the Holy Sacrament of Forgiveness—even though your consciences do not accuse you of mortal sin; visiting Jesus in the tabernacle; praying and contemplating the mysteries of the Holy Rosary, and so many other marvelous devotions you know or can learn.” (Friends of God, No. 149)

“For some of you, all this may sound quite familiar; for others, it may be something new; for everybody, it is demanding. As for me, as long as I have the strength to breathe, I will continue to preach that it is vitally necessary that we be souls of prayer at all times, at every opportunity, and in the most varied of circumstances…When we seek our Lord in this way, our whole day becomes one intimate and trusting conversation with him… constant prayer should be for a Christian as natural as the beating of his heart.” (Id., No. 247)


Wednesday, February 6, 2008


“Lent” comes from an Old English word, lencten, “springtime”, to designate the forty-day season before Easter in the liturgical calendar. Today, Ash Wednesday, we begin the season of Lent.

The forty days of Lent recall the period that Jesus fasted in the desert (Mt 4:1-11; Mk 1:12-13; Lk 4:1-13). At the end of His fast, our Lord was tempted by the devil to sate His hunger by turning stone into bread; to possess all the kingdoms of the world in exchange for worshipping the devil; and, the devil quoting Psalm 91 (“He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you…”), to test Divine Providence by Jesus’ throwing Himself down from the parapet of the temple. Our Lord disposed of these by quoting from the book of Deuteronomy: “One does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (Dt 8:3); “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test” (Dt 6:16); and, “The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve” (Dt 6:13).

Our Lord had to be tempted by the devil because, unlike us, He had no disordered tendencies. These temptations presented to our Lord by the devil correspond to our own “three-fold concupiscence”: “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 Jn 2:16). Like the “evangelical counsels” of poverty, chastity and obedience, the Lenten “tasks” of prayer, fasting and almsgiving—piety, penance, and works of mercy—are meant to cure us of this three-fold concupiscence.

Pope Benedict XVI teaches:

“1. Each year, Lent offers us a providential opportunity to deepen the meaning and value of our Christian lives, and it stimulates us to rediscover the mercy of God so that we, in turn, become more merciful toward our brothers and sisters. In the Lenten period, the Church makes it her duty to propose some specific tasks that accompany the faithful concretely in this process of interior renewal: these are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. For this year’s Lenten Message, I wish to spend some time reflecting on the practice of almsgiving, which represents a specific way to assist those in need and, at the same time, an exercise in self-denial to free us from attachment to worldly goods…

“2. According to the teaching of the Gospel, we are not owners but rather administrators of the goods we possess: these, then, are not to be considered as our exclusive possession, but means through which the Lord calls each one of us to act as a steward of His providence for our neighbor. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, material goods bear a social value, according to the principle of their universal destination (cf. no. 2404)…

"3. The Gospel highlights a typical feature of Christian almsgiving: it must be hidden: 'Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,' Jesus asserts, 'so that your alms may be done in secret' (Mt 6: 3-4). Just a short while before, He said not to boast of one’s own good works so as not to risk being deprived of the heavenly reward (cf. Mt 6: 1-2). The disciple is to be concerned with God’s greater glory. Jesus warns: 'In this way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven' (Mt 5: 16). Everything, then, must be done for God’s glory and not our own. This understanding, dear brothers and sisters, must accompany every gesture of help to our neighbor, avoiding that it becomes a means to make ourselves the center of attention. If, in accomplishing a good deed, we do not have as our goal God’s glory and the real well being of our brothers and sisters, looking rather for a return of personal interest or simply of applause, we place ourselves outside of the Gospel vision. In today’s world of images, attentive vigilance is required, since this temptation is great. Almsgiving, according to the Gospel, is not mere philanthropy: rather it is a concrete expression of charity, a theological virtue that demands interior conversion to love of God and neighbor, in imitation of Jesus Christ, who, dying on the cross, gave His entire self for us. How could we not thank God for the many people who silently, far from the gaze of the media world, fulfill, with this spirit, generous actions in support of one’s neighbor in difficulty? There is little use in giving one’s personal goods to others if it leads to a heart puffed up in vainglory: for this reason, the one who knows that God 'sees in secret' and in secret will reward, does not seek human recognition for works of mercy.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Message for Lent 2008)

We may also deduce that, besides not seeking applause, almsgiving ought to be “done in secret” because it is not in keeping with human dignity to receive as alms what one should be able to provide for himself and his family by honest work. On the part of the one in need, “the bread of charity is bitter” (as Rizal writes in his Noli Me Tangere). Also, from a social perspective, “dole-outs” naturally tend to detract from productive work.

Lent is a season for renewing our effective desire to turn more towards God. This is conversion—the reverse of “turning away from God and turning towards creatures” which is the essence of sin—and conversion means being detached from the goods of this world, being “poor in spirit” as demanded by the Beatitudes. St. Josemaria writes: “Rather than in not having, true poverty consists in being detached, in voluntarily renouncing one's dominion over things.That is why there are poor who are really rich. And vice-versa." (The Way, No. 632)


Wednesday, January 30, 2008


The Eucharist (Greek, eu- , “good”, and charis, “favor”), the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ—the Lord’s Supper, Holy Sacrifice, Holy Mass, Holy Communion—is, in the words of St. Josemaria, “the center and root of a Christian’s spiritual life” (Christ is Passing By, No. 87). Prefigured by Melchizedek’s offering of bread and wine (Gen 14:18), the Passover Meal (Ex 12, 13), and the manna in the desert (Ex 16), the Eucharist anticipates the Marriage Feast of the Lamb (Rev 19:9). The Church teaches: "At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection’" (CCC, No. 1333; quoting Sacrosanctum Concilium, No. 47). The Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life’” (CCC, No. 1334; quoting Lumen Gentium, No. 11).

At the Last Supper (Holy Thursday), our Lord brought the apostles to that one single sacrifice on Calvary, which was still to take place the following day (Good Friday). In a similar, mysterious way, the Mass brings the faithful to that one single sacrifice on Calvary which took place close to 2000 years ago, and the Body and Blood of our Lord to all the faithful down the centuries, as the Lord Himself commanded, “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:24); because, “unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you” (Jn 6:53). Some theologian has made the observation: Adam and Eve fell by eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; mankind is saved by eating the fruit of the tree of the Cross.

He who turned water into wine (Jn 2:1-11) and who multiplied five loaves of bread to feed five thousand men (Jn 6:1-14) could certainly change bread and wine into His Body and Blood. It is precisely the scene of the multiplication of the loaves that opens Chapter Six of the Gospel of St. John, as a prelude to our Lord’s Bread of Life Discourse.

“Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life’ (v. 35)… ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.’ The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you…For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him…Then many of his disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’...As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him” (vv. 48-66).

Our Lord meant this teaching to be taken literally, which his audience also understood literally, which is why many of them left, and why our Lord did not hold them. Instead, “Jesus then said to the Twelve, ‘Do you also want to leave?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God’" (vv. 67-69).

"Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God…that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation. The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins at the moment of the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist. Christ is present whole and entire in each of the species and whole and entire in each of their parts…The Catholic Church has always offered and still offers to the sacrament of the Eucharist the cult of adoration, not only during Mass, but also outside of it, reserving the consecrated hosts with utmost care, exposing them to the solemn veneration of the faithful” (CCC, Nos. 1376-1378).

St. Josemaria writes: “Think of the human experience of two people who love each other, and yet are forced to part. They would like to stay together forever, but duty — in one form or another — forces them to separate. They are unable to fulfil their desire of remaining close to each other, so man's love — which, great as it may be, is limited — seeks a symbolic gesture. People who make their farewells exchange gifts or perhaps a photograph…They can do no more, because a creature's power is not so great as its desire.

“What we cannot do, our Lord is able to do. Jesus Christ, perfect God and perfect man, leaves us, not a symbol, but a reality. He himself stays with us. He will go to the Father, but he will also remain among men. He will leave us, not simply a gift that will make us remember him, not an image that becomes blurred with time, like a photograph that soon fades and yellows, and has no meaning except for those who were contemporaries. Under the appearances of bread and wine, he is really present, with his body and blood, with his soul and divinity.” (Christ is Passing By, No. 83)


Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Purity, or chastity, is the virtue (stable or habitual disposition) which firmly inclines a person towards the right use (or non-use) of the sexual faculty. Chastity in marriage means using the human capacity for sex according to its authentic nature and purpose; and, as Pope Paul VI enunciated in his 1968 Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae, the ends of marriage, or more specifically, of the “marital act”, are “the union of the spouses and, inseparably therefrom, procreation” (HV, No.12). Thus, a rule-of-thumb: sex is good, but it must be within the context of an exclusive and indissoluble marriage and it must be open to life.

Sex is ordained by nature for procreation— “reproductive system” is the term for the collection of body parts involved—and it is an abuse, a moral disorder, to use it in denial of its procreative end. Thus, contraceptive sex is immoral, just as it is immoral to eat for the sake only of satisfying the appetite, in denial of the end proper to the “digestive system”, which is the nourishment and preservation of the individual's life. The pleasures involved in eating, and in sex, are nature's ways of helping man to achieve necessary ends he might otherwise neglect to his injury. Parenthetically, while contraceptive sex is immoral, natural family planning methods are morally licit precisely because they consist in the non-use of the sexual faculty during the fertile periods—there is no abuse.

Of course, sex is different from eating: “For, unlike food, which is necessary for the individual, procreation is necessary only for the species, and individuals can dispense with it.” (The Way, No. 28) That individuals can dispense with sex is affirmed by those who have lived holy celibacy.

Eating is directly ordained to the good of the individual, while sex is oriented to the good of the family and society (preservation of the species). This is why the immorality of contraceptive sex is less obvious (to the individual) than that of gluttony (the unbridled appetite for food and drink, where induced vomiting, to allow one to continue eating or drinking, is the moral equivalent of contraception). The undesirable consequences of the abuse of the sexual faculty (on family and society) may not immediately affect the individual actor, unlike those arising from over-eating or drunkenness. Also, the pleasure involved in sex is more intense than in eating, as nature's way of compensating the individual for serving the social purpose. Most people would still eat, knowing they need to in order to live, even with only the gentle prodding of the appetite; but very few would think of marriage and raising a family without the strong urge accompanying the marital act. Even so, the analogy stands: gluttony leads to the death of the individual; sex in denial of its procreative purpose leads to the death of the family and society.

It can be argued that the purpose of the human sexual faculty is served already in the loving union of the partners; and that there is no need to advert to procreation. But then, to deny the procreative end of sex would remove the rational basis for the very existence of the institution of marriage. Indeed, an indissoluble marriage is necessary precisely because sex is intended by nature for procreation, including the upbringing and education of the offspring—so fragile in the developing stages—which requires a lasting partnership of the father and mother, i.e., lasting independently of the changeable preferences and circumstances of the parties. If sex is not for procreation, the institution of marriage would be meaningless.

It is precisely because of the obvious procreative purpose of sex that even primitive cultures have some kind of marriage institution. The common good (perpetuation of the tribe) requires a social “mechanism” to ensure the welfare of the offspring. Thus, to isolate the conjugal act from its procreative purpose, so as to justify contraceptive sex, would also justify divorce (no need for permanence in the partnership of the spouses) and homosexuality (no need for procreation), and so would open the floodgates for social disaster—broken homes, juvenile delinquency, the AIDS epidemic, etc., not to mention the problems of shrinking or aging populations in those nations that have early on adopted birth-control policies, confusing issues of social-justice, economics, etc., with supposed over-population.

All human life is good. Pregnancy is not a disease. Responsible parenthood does not consist in having few children but in the efforts of parents to discharge their vocation to the procreation and education of offspring. And peoples and nations do not become richer or happier because their members are few.

St. Josemaria writes: “We all know from experience that we can be chaste, living vigilantly, frequenting the sacraments and stamping out the first sparks of passion before the fire gets started. And it is precisely among the chaste where the most clean-cut men from every point of view are found. And among the impure abound the timid, the selfish, the hypocritical and the cruel—all characters of little manliness.” (The Way, No. 124) And chastity in marriage means respecting its ends: “No Christian married couple can want to block the well-springs of life. For their love is based on the Love of Christ, which entails dedication and sacrifice. Moreover, as Tobias reminded Sara, a husband and wife know that ‘we are children of saints, and we cannot come together in the way of the Gentiles, who do not know God’.” (Furrow, No. 846)