Dec 25 2007
Catching The Spirit
The spirit of the season is definitely catching. One unmistakably notices it in the suddenly-changed behavior of people around us, on top of the pervasive festive decorations around town, which at times may be too garish and/or gaudy for one’s tastes as to be repressively unnoticeable.But how exactly does one catch it, as most of us are unarguably inclined toward it? I’d thought I’d investigate first hand.So rising up late yesterday morning with slivers of sunshine cutting through the room in what promised to be a battle royale between the cold nippy morning air registering in the 50’s (F) indoors, against the gathering phalanx of warm sunshine emitted by Mr. Sol, I flopped snugly on the den’s comfy chair facing the PC’s empty stare. Turned the switch on while ambidextrously fingering the CD-player’s remote to bring on some Christmas aural delights from a favored list of singers. Cursorily scanned through holiday greetings from my registered list of list groups and some tagged blogs, aptly serenaded by the soft muffled sounds coming from the CD-player. Then furtively wheeled my eyes through the den, to try and spot any perceptible changes that may have been brought on by imbibing some holiday cheers. No such change. Still saw the same shelf-cabinets with their captive books held stiffly in place. So to the question whether this was the way to catch the holiday spirit, I’d have to answer in the negative.
So dismissively moved on to the other typical chores for the day, which may had have taken on a different spin given that this was the day before Christmas.The wife announced her desire to be done early with her banking needs before the mad rush during the rest of the holidays. Good, I said thinking this little trip might provide the occasion to see if I could catch the spirit of the season.Gingerly pushing ourselves outdoors to use the car parked in the driveway, we found that we had comfortably bundled up to handle the low temperature; otherwise it would have been easy to catch the sniffles or a cold. Though the possibility of catching the spirit was also evident out there because the cold nippy atmosphere conjured images of white Christmas, without the white stuff that usually hampered driving trips.Anyway, our bank is situated on a strip mall anchored by a widely-patronized grocery chain. We observed passersby coming from their parked cars bounced about with quickened steps, buoyed obviously by the slowly warming glow of the creeping sun. The grocery chain had temporarily installed in front a rather huge charcoal-fired barbeque pit loaded with big chunks of beef in differing stages of cooking. The engulfing plume of scented smoke surely must have stirred some cravings from those within reach. Though the parking lot was slowly filling up and abuzz with activity, I wondered whether this was where I could catch the spirit.
But uninspired by the absence of any palpable stirring in my soul, I decided to step aside and walked toward one of the tree-lined streets that bounded the mall. I could only console myself with looking at the bare-branch trees lining the sidewalks and median island. Clearly the flora showing signs of a transitional stage – having shedded, folded up, and hibernated for the winter. Clearly signs of some kind of death, or at least, animated suspension. Clearly too, too gloomy a sight to entice an uplifting change in spirit.
Having done her little banking chores, we quickly got back home. And I quickly dressed down to my biking gear deciding to avail of the warmth of the sun which by now had stretched out to it full splendor during its winter hiatus. So round and round the park I pedaled with half a mind on my biking. The other half focused on the familiar sounds emanating from the trusty iPod’s earbuds. And before I noticed it I had already reached the routine’s limit of 45 minutes of mindless circling around the park. A few minutes more and no lingering memories of the routine stayed on, and sadly, still no change in spirit for me.After depositing the bike in the shed and getting indoors, the wife announced without skipping a beat her next item in the daily agenda. She wanted to attend the four o’clock Mass to be done with her duty for the holy day of Christmas.Good, I muttered mentally, another chance to catch the spirit of the season, and in a holy place, too. And in a faith that initiated the celebration of the event which is the reason for the season.So like clockwork we were on our way to church a few minutes past 3:30 pm. One pass-around and we had found an acceptable parking spot. As usual, the wife had sprung out the vehicle the second the car had stopped. But I seemed glued to my seat, apparently from a host of reasons among which may have been inertia, inability to extricate myself from the comfy confines of the car, etc. But more significantly I found that this particular exercise was problematic. Because two days ago we had been here under similar conditions and for similar purposes. And there was no change of spirit then. So what would make today different? And finally with the wife grudgingly pointing herself toward the church steps, I stayed on to stew and grapple with my predicament.Gee, it might be getting too late for me to catch the spirit. What should I do?In what seemed an eternity, finally resolved to do a last recourse effort to deal with it. Took pen and paper and started feverishly to commit to paper all the relevant issues confounding the problem, with the very firm commitment to stay in solitude until this thing was resolved. Not a twitch of a nerve or a muscle, until I had the spirit of the season firmly ensconced in my recalcitrant system.
Another eternity later and Voila! I got it! Eureka!
It was with me all this time. Like the glasses we thought we misplaced but actually are unnoticeably perched above our heads, I missed noticing the many subtle changes that have somehow become part and parcel of daily and everyday living.Recall the popular piece about the footprints in the sand. What we instinctively believe is missing in us is in actuality already there, for us to discover and make grow.
So, remember in our desperate need to catch the spirit, detach a bit and tarry, it may already be with us.
Dec 22 2007
The Reason For The Season
The reason for the season, an oft-repeated phrase thrown out there more like a monkey wrench, serving as timely reminder, and at times subtle but still loving warning, for each Christian approaching these Christmas holidays, or winter holidays as many secularists would like everybody to refer to it.
Observing around one can truly say that we have gone a long way from our ancient understanding and celebration of the true reason for the season. Man’s boundless creativeness and resourcefulness, and throw in there, unparalleled business acumen and entrepreneurship, have heavily candy-coated the recurring holidays so much so as to completely submerge its more mystical meanings. In its place we have collectively anointed the superficial manifestations of materialism and secularism to co-opt its rightful place. Even the very name of Christ-mas has been rigorously challenged in many public spheres.
Credit the Christian churches for doggedly keeping the flame aglow, maintaining the same holy vigil and subdued celebration of this most significant event in Christian history, so profound and shrouded with mystery as to escape the easy discernment of the typical Christian today.
In most Christian practices, this liturgical season continues to be referred to as Advent, coming from the Latin word, adventus, meaning the coming or arrival. And this well-anticipated event has been wrapped around the great mystery of the Incarnation. The taking on flesh of the Word of God, who deigned to become one with us and to dwell amongst us.
And this is the central theme that has been gravely diminished in the citizenry’s secular celebration of these holidays, save for the meager or occasional attendances to church rituals and festivities. Our undivided attention and avid participation in sumptuous food-taking, the mad scramble for exciting gifts, the well-planned vacation getaways, the lemmings-like rush to well-attended games, and etc. have all conspired to remove our hearts and minds from the true reason of the season.How many present-day Christians have even bothered to learn about the implications and ramifications of that great mystery of the Incarnation? And more importantly, what one’s Faith requires from each member to discern and accept about the Incarnation? And one fears that learning sufficiently about this mystery, one may be well disposed to henceforth treat the holidays with a less than spirited enthusiasm if one cannot learn to accept the boundless leap of faith required of each Christian about the Incarnation.Regarding this mystery, here is what the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) laid out as its infallible definition:
“We confess that in these latter times the only-begotten Son of God appeared in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation – the distinction of natures not having been taken away by this union.”
Stripped of its archaic language and baring its essentials we come up with the following: In the Incarnation we have One Person, the Son of God, and two natures, one divine and the other human, and these two natures are united in one Person. Of great importance in understanding this then is the clear delineation and distinction between “nature” and “person”.Admittedly, this is a doctrine not very easy to comprehend, much less swallow, and simply because it is beyond the finite ken of human understanding to fully grasp the preternatural significance of this most unique union in one Person. There is absolutely no model to compare this with. Nothing in the past to even hint of any similarity. But accept we must, if we want to keep our faith; and on a more corporeal level, if we want to continue with our devoted celebration of the recurring holidays we all have become so automatically fond of.
Before you leave maybe in your confused state, ask yourself these questions. Does Christ then have two personalities? If not, where is the human person?
Dec 02 2007
The Examination Of Conscience
One enduring lesson taught us by Jesuit mentors in school comes under the heading, the examination of conscience. A lesson judged so vital, we had to practice and refine it daily, summarize it weekly, and recall it annually. As daily practice, it came as serious ritual before going to sleep. Apart from night prayers, one set aside time to introspectively look into how one lived that day, examining what one did and thought and making judgment on whether one’s inner voice had been bothered by things that transpired. And this examination always came with the firm resolve to acknowledge personal responsibility and commit to personal changes in one’s behavior and thought.As a prelude to the proper reception of the Sacrament of Confession or Penance which was scheduled weekly, one is again asked to review the entire week’s behavior. Then a formal telling to a confessor priest, ending with a promise not to have the same recur, coupled with a firmer resolve for amendment in one’s life Then annually under a formal gathering called a retreat, which was either open or closed, one again took careful stock of the longer period, assessing one’s progress or retrogression. Open, when done as a group. And closed, when one removed oneself from daily routine, sequestered and isolated oneself, and conducted one-on-one sessions with a spiritual director.
Did this strict regimen make for happier or sadder lives? Personally, I couldn’t say either.
But it did make for a humbler look at life, a more tolerant take on grinding realities, maybe a self-satisfying contentment at how one is living life, or maybe even, a more nonchalant, or better still, a more accepting or disinterested resignation to things outside the scope of one’s effective influence. The last one especially is quite important because without it, life can be most frustrating and hopeless, when one looks at the myriad of things wrong with the world around us and one somehow has no influence or power whatsoever in changing them. Things like widespread corruption in government, consummate evils like terrorism and wars, in your face greedy or self-righteous people, etc. Thus, instead of sowing discontent and disdain by exposing and dwelling on extraneous evils, one finds enough personal demons to do personal combat with, enough to last a lifetime.
But what appears above as a quite mundane exercise has actually a larger and better context, in the realm of spirituality.
This concept of taking personal responsibility under a rigid and persistent self-examination with the resultant and consequent resolve for personal amendment is the fertile soil under which personal spirituality can grow, as propounded by the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius of Loyola.And as popularly practiced you find these self-same principles undergirding many successful programs of self-help, including but not limited to those engaged in ridding people of various addictions. Accepting personal responsibility and moving on.And as one looks around the world of today, it is easy for one to sense that there is great need for this practice.Hopefully, to reduce the projective hatred of people toward others expressed as acts of terrorism and uncalled for violence, or to curb the heavy and incessant demands by both the governed and the politicians on government to resolve problems of peoples’ poverty, absence of health insurance, lawlessness, etc.
Let’s start with those.
Nov 14 2007
Fear and audacity two more emergency passions that elicit irresistible movement in man’s sense appetites.A fortnight ago, a physically fragile member of our extended family approached us with great emotional rigor about her strong body-shaking fears, essentially fears from bodily harm. Without anything as much as a fully-revealed justifiable reason, other than the result of a little rough physical contact two prior days ago, she expressed unmitigated fear for somebody close to her – her own husband.But the mere initial exposure of such fear coming from such a fragile individual galvanized the rest of the family, including us the parents, into quick action to mitigate the situation. The husband was immediately called into the carpet, admonished and asked to pack his things and move out of their house, leaving wife and two kids behind for what was planned as an appropriate cooling-off period.Not given the opportunity to air his side, the husband after some weak resistance meekly acceded, unable to go against the collective wrath of hovering siblings and parents. Reassured and justified, everybody else sighed and felt peace and serenity were temporarily restored, with the long night ending with the wife and kids lovingly escorted to their car for the one block away trip home. With fears allayed and serenity reigning, good sound sleep that night was sweet reward.
But as the intervening days would reveal the strong fears expressed by the wife were slowly unraveled to be unfounded or may have been from the get-go faked to generate compassion and sympathy. An effective ploy to drive husband out of the house and to enjoy full exclusive use and control of their nice house. For a day later, the husband was served a restraining order and a case of assault and battery to boot.
An ideal scenario fit for a screenwriter’s dream of the classic tragedy stirred and driven by vengeance and subterfuge. Having done what she did, she not only drove the husband out of the house, out of his family especially from a kid he has very deep connections with, but also, into the ground.But that is not the main story.The storyline is about fear.And fear dons many caricatures in human life, too. Everybody fears death but since it seems so remote and distant, nobody really worries about that kind of fear. Or any fear that is in the future. But a fear around the corner is something else. It can easily engender body shaking and unbalanced thinking, and sleepless and listless nights, too.Fear comes also in unrecognizable boxes. A man can fear working or is repulsed by the idea of work, or maybe even “allergic” to it. But we know that kind of fear comes in the package of laziness. We only know too well that man fears disgrace before his fellow men. If it is present disgrace, we call that fear, shame. And if for some foreseeable future, we say shamefacedness.Now, in the man or woman who suddenly finds himself faced with formidable evil that appears with such great magnitude, his/her fear translates to amazement. Or if the danger is very sudden, imminent and unexpected, man’s fear may be expressed in stupor or paralysis, occasioned by the crippling inability to do anything. However if the dangers or misfortune perceived are petty, man’s fear may be expressed as simply anxiety.But why does man fear and why does the idea of fear in others brings on great emotional reactions on those around the fearful person?
You see the most primal cause of fear, believe it or not, is the love for good. A man or woman may fear some person or thing because that person or thing may be threatening the good in his/her life – the good health, the good peace and calm of family life, the good safety of body and mind, etc.
Another basic cause of fear is man’s perception and/or conviction that he is unable to cope with the dangers facing him. The inability to resolve issues is a very strong motivator for fear.Thus, feeding on fears or exploiting the emotions of fear is a much effective ploy to influence other people’s actions and emotions. Especially if the parties involved are loved family members.The most recent example narrated above adds another notch. – on the aged timber post of life’s many great lessons.
Graphics credits here, here, and here.
Nov 14 2007
The Many Faces Of Anger
Anger wears many faces, and in many of its ugly manifestations, it conjures viral images of evil, vile, malicious, and destructive. But it isn’t always so. That man possesses it as part of his nature immediately speaks to us of the noble good that it may be harnessed for.As one of the irascible passions of man, or more popularly referred to as emergency passions, it stands unique in a couple of instances.First, as one of the emergency passions, it partakes of and addresses good that is very difficult to obtain, but more realistically, of evil that is difficult to avoid. Thus, anger is immediately called upon when man is abruptly confronted with evil that is difficult to surmount. Thus, in an emergency situation. Remember Dante’s treatise on the hierarchy of Hell? The lowest rung reserved to those who cannot acquit themselves from sins that are most easy to avoid?And unlike the rest of the passions of man, anger has no contrary. It has no opposite. It stands solitary, lonely, and most unique.
Many theologians opine that an added quality to it is that it is a mixed passion. It is concerned with both good and evil.
A man or woman therefore who strikes with extreme measures against a known enemy who seeks to destroy him, his family, and loved ones, is said to be using the motive force of anger for good. To help preserve his life and that of his loved ones. Survival after all is primal in man. On the other hand, the aggressor similarly moved by anger becomes your unholy incarnation of evil as manifested in this world. An instrument for evil most sinister.In any manifestation anger has a two-fold purpose. Firstly, it is used to seek vengeance. For the good-hearted it is resorted to right a wrong, and for the dark-hearted to wreak havoc and destruction. The former feels good and justified with his act, but in this world we inhabit, the latter also in most instances feel the loathsome satisfaction for having done the evil deed. The unworldly satisfaction of seeing pain and suffering in the faces and lives of those inflicted upon.Funny that the virtue of justice is also factored in the manifestation of anger. We express anger because we desire justice for the wrong done us. Thus we try to carefully weigh the damage done against the vengeance sought. Except that for the dark-hearted, the expression of anger is to extract vengeance simply out of hate, or for some falsely-perceived good to be derived from it. A case of our hard-wired free will blindsided by an erroneous conception of good.
Secondly, anger then takes on a likely partner, hate, the passion opposite to love. Except that the good-hearted “hates” the evil that was done, and the dark-hearted simply hates.
We know of a multitude of instances in life that can cause anger. But as always, it involves real injury, or fanciful or perceived injury. And that injury becomes the dark symbol for contempt and hate for the person or thing causing it.
And in an uncanny twist anger also brings on the simple passion of pleasure. The good-hearted feels pleasure and contentment having received recompense for the wrongdoing. And the dark-hearted could also feel the unhealthy and sick pleasure of knowing the injury done.
In summary, anger is such a complex passion. Armed and moved by it, men become strong and energetic in seeking justice. But in the process, anger can also impair one’s abilities to weigh things prudently and impartially, thus resulting in taking actions of vengeance that are way out of proportion to the injury perceived or suffered.And as one of life’s lessons, we have learned that frequently we are predisposed to extract vengeance way beyond what the injury merits.The case of the hammer being used to swat a fly.What is the just means for those so wrongly trampled upon?
Aug 11 2007
Old Thoughts, New Medium
Gripped in odd moments of human helplessness, it is not unusual for man to awkwardly start a conversation with his God. Sometimes in self-effacing candor he may look at his own tattered self as still like unto the image of his God though recklessly warped it may have been defaced. Indeed, all creatures are likened unto God from whence all emanated. And yet, God is not like us, no more than a sketch of any man is like that man. We stumble badly when we use our finite minds and language to describe the grandeur and perfection of that divinity to which we crave for ultimate unity.We discern that the least perfection we find in our species speaks volumes of the ultimate perfection of that uncontainable model that interrupted his timelessness to transport us to finite time and space. Still, we admit that however generous and helpingful our pious platitudes may seem, they are simply dim, inadequate, puny, obscure and faint shadows of revelation of the awesome substance of that infinity. He who has no name is one who cannot be contained either in words of language or deep mystical musings.Yes, we acknowledge God is good, and we like to think that somehow in this all too upside down world we now find ourselves in, that good would somehow manifest itself and bring some needed relief to a much-burdened humanity. We pine for the abundant generosities bestowed in times past. Godly love that showered us when least expected. His benign mercies easing the many vicissitudes that seemed formidable. So now we are desperate for a renewed round of tangible manifestations of his goodness.And that is when we miss the mark completely. For that infinite goodness that we hanker for is not one prone to bring and give, but rather to demand and take. His goodness is expressed not so much as what it brings to us, but rather that it aims to take our hearts away from us. This captivating lover entices to wrench our hearts away from us. It aims to light up our timid hearts so that like smoldering torches it can scale the heights of its own goodness. Thus inflamed, no journey will be long enough, no peril too dangerous, and no obstacle too formidable. Giving birth to the needed courage, daring, wisdom, and strength to overhaul our adversities.Look inward. The solutions are right there, not in projective victimhood. Nor in utter surrender to perceived inevitabilities of overwhelming human or institutional failings. Escapist exercises in endless rhetorical debates and mental gymnastics will not be sufficient, either.Don’t look around, rather look inward. We grant that our very nature willingly inclines toward talking and discoursing with one another, but remember that seldom do we return to our own solitude without grave prejudice to our own conscience.
The more I converse with man, the less I find myself a man when I return. No truer words said.
Aug 11 2007
Religiosity From The Past (Part Two)
Following up on the initial entry which was about my maternal grandmother, continuing to rummage through the remaining stowed items in the new house has unraveled yet another interesting remnant from the past. This time an old devotional/prayer book owned by my late mother, again written in the language of her milieu, Spanish, and made in Germany. I had asked the wife how this new find got into our possession, but immediately recalled that my mother had lived with us here in the US for about 10 years prior to spending her remaining years in the old homeland. Then it dawned on me that among the few things that she brought from the old country were the prayer books, rosary, and novenas that were her constant and ever dependable companions.
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