Sunday, July 29, 2012


The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs

The spiritual considerations that we make today, guided by the readings of the liturgy this seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, seem to take after that which we have made the week before. Then, we had reflected on the love which the Good Shepherd lavishes on his sheep; here, we see the continued providence of the Lord in favor of his people, one that springs from his total self-giving, from his generosity.

The readings allow us to contemplate a God whose generosity abounds and overflows. In the First Reading we hear about Elisha, prophet of God, who was moved by circumstance to feed the people whom he was with, with nothing more than the twenty barley loaves made from the fresh fruits, and fresh grain in the ear. The audacity of feeding a hundred people with no more than these supplies, which were seemingly insufficient. In the face of this, the servant expresses the seeming impossibility to accomplish the task: “How can I set this before a hundred people?”. To this the prophet replies, citing the words of Scripture: For thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and there shall be some left over’, words which effectively expressed what did take place. Everybody was able to eat, and there was such an abundance of food derived from the original offering that there were some left overs.

This scene is replicated in the Gospel today. The Lord puts his disciples to the task of feeding a great number, more numerous than in the case of Elisha. With the help of the offering of a young boy, they were told to feed the large crowd with five barley loaves and two fish, something even more meager than the twenty loaves in the time of Elisha. Yet the Lord Jesus bids them to feed the thousands who have followed him, five thousand in all. After having blessed the loaves, the Lord has them distributed to the crowd, and the amazement of everybody is patent, when they slowly discover that there was enough bread and fish to go around in order to feed the multitude, and there was such an abundance that they were even able to fill twelve wicker baskets with leftovers.

The miracle of the feeding happens, not with the initiative of man, but through the will and desire of God. God is to be the first model of generosity that we have before us: his divine life is one big generous act. The Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Ghost—is a communion of persons wherein one simply is for the other. Outside of that divine life, creation is sustained by the generous providence of God. In our own personal lives, we could consider the words of the apostle, what do we have that we have not recieved?(1 Cor 4:7).

However, the greatest manifestation of God’s generosity finds its face in that of Jesus Christ, who gave us his life on the cross in order to show us what charity—the greatest of all Christian virtues—means. This charity is the prime reason of generosity. In the gift of himself to the Father and for fallen man, he has shown us the deepest meaning of generosity as the gift of self, generosity whose ultimate hallmark is love. Furthermore, in the Eucharist, in the Sacrifice of the Mass, we find the fullest expression of the Lord’s generosity: God giving himself totally to us, body and blood, soul and divinity, in order that we may be filled with his very own divine life. No wonder this mystery we call the Eucharist, because the response to such a self-giving is none other than thanksgiving, eucharistia in Greek. The episode of the multiplication of the loaves in a way is a figure that foreshadows the mystery of the Eucharist, in which Christ’s own body, broken and shared, and his blood, shed for us us, becomes the food that feeds the multitude and gives it life.

Christ’s self-giving, and our contemplation of the Gospel moves us to make a further consideration: God’s generosity having been lavished upon us, we ourselves are moved to be generous with what we have. Generosity doesn’t say much about what we have, but more about the disposition that we have to share with others, a disposition that is founded on Christian charity. You don’t need to be rich in order to be generous; Christ valued the offering of the poor widow than the donations of the filthy rich in the temple (cfr. Mk 12: 41-44; Lk 21: 1-4). Generosity is a disposition to share—not only what you have, but even your own self. It is not based on what you have in your hands or in your wallet, but rather first and foremost that which is in your heart. People with no great love will find it very hard to share; persons who have hearts of gold because they do care readily share the little that they have.

This great capacity of self-giving is a fruit of an authentic Eucharistic spirituality. The Eucharist, which is the sacrament of God’s self-giving, begets the same miracle in our lives: it enables us to be givers, not merely receivers, and not merely of things that are external to us (material possessions, time, attention), but even of our own selves, to God first and foremost, and to those nearest to us as well.

On the other hand, negativity and pessimism, a lack of trust in God’s providence and generosity in our lives is the enemy of generosity.  “What good are these for so many?” asked the disciples to Jesus, speaking of the meager offering of the boy in the Gospel. It was a valid question that could be made, but one that belies the lack of trust that lay in the hearts of those who followed the Lord. Generosity, like love, though prudent, does not calculate. The one who generously gives submits himself totally to the providence and generosity of God.

Nowadays there is so much need of renewing this generosity in our hearts. Basically, among other things, at the heart of the issue of contraception that is espoused in the Responsible Parenthood bill now about to be debated in our legislature is this lack of generosity and trust in the generosity of God. A new life being brought into the world could give rise to new concerns that need to be addressed, that is true; but these concerns—for a heart that is generous, loving and trusting in God’s generosity, are never reasons to be closed to life. There are many solutions to the issue; why choose one that is contrary to what is true and good?

To end, the Word of Life given to us this Sunday invites us to reflect in our lives this same generosity that is manifest in the life of God; it is only when we are open and trust more in what God can do through and in us (and less in what we can do on our own), that we would begin to see miracles, not only in our lives, but also in the lives of those nearest to us. AMEN.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


I myself will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands to which I have driven them and bring them back to their meadow; there they shall increase and multiply (Jer 23:3)

The First Reading that we have this Sunday, taken from the book of Jeremiah, takes us deep into the history of Israel. Through the mouth of the prophet the Lord of Israel speaks against the infidelity of the leaders of his people, who have mislead them both by their evil deeds and their wrong example. The kings have turned to other gods than the Lord, the priests have ceased to offer fitting and acceptable sacrifice to God, and the prophets themselves have condemned themselves to silence, speaking to please men rather than proclaim the word of the Lord. By turning their back on the Lord, they had made themselves unfit to lead the people entrusted to them, God’s own portion, Israel. The Lord’s condemnation of these false shepherds of Israel leads to the reiteration that the He himself will be the one who will guide Israel, the shepherd who would gather the scattered and abandoned sheep, and that he would appoint new leaders who would take care of his people.

The image of the shepherd is one of the most known in the Scriptures. Perhaps one reason for its popularity is that it is one of the Bible’s most endearing and consoling figures. The figure of the shepherd points to God’s tender and firm care for his people. It is the shepherd’s task not only to watch over the sheep, but it also includes following them wherever they go, leading them away from danger and into safer places with abundant food and water. The shepherd also attends to the wounded, the weak and the ill among the sheep. In a word, the figure of the shepherd represents a solicitude for the flock, one that is rooted in the forgetfulness of self. It is a symbol of a love that is selfless, giving life and security to the one that it tends toward. For the people of Israel and for us as well, the figure of the shepherd denotes the enduring love and solicitude of God, who is more caring and loving than any other shepherd. It is a love that gives of itself, one that tends toward the other.

This is a figure that we find fully in Jesus Christ. In him, the prophecies of the Old Testament are fulfilled: Behold, the days are coming, when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David; as king he shall rule and govern wisely, he shall do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah shall be saved, Israel shall dwell in security (Jer 23:5). The gospel of Mark manifests to us that in the heart of the Son of God beats the heart of the Good Shepherd: When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus, moved by this love, proceeds to care for the lost sheep, responding to the deepest needs of the human person. He does not immediately work wonders or wondrous healings, nor does he seek to feed their bellies with a miracle of earthly bread. He began to teach them many things, the Gospel says. Man does not need God to look for what satisfies the flesh and the stomach; it has already been provided for him. However, he needs God to fulfill that deep longing within his heart, which is the desire to be one with God himself.

Man does not live on bread alone (cfr. Deut, 8:2-3; Mt. 4:4); he cannot live without the truth and without love. Jesus, Master and Savior, gives man these two things. Having the words of eternal life, the incarnate Word of God teaches man the supreme law of love, which encapsulates the truth about man’s existence: Man is called to love and be loved by God. By his Word, the Lord Jesus frees us from the ignorance that is the cause of sin. This same Jesus shows us by his own example how much God loves and how much man ought to love by offering himself totally on the Cross. By the Good News that he preached and by his passion and death on the Cross, Jesus Christ shows himself as the Good Shepherd, who has given his life for the sheep.

THE PALLIUM, symbol and reminder of the shepherding that must be done by the Lord's ministers.

He continues to give himself to us, he continues to share his life with us through the sacraments of the Church. In the person and ministry of his priests, the Lord continues to gather his people. In his Church he continues to fulfill his words spoken of old, appointing shepherds who will shepherd his faithful, so that they need no longer fear and tremble. Despite of their human weaknesses and frailty, God continues to raise up shepherds, calling men to love Him and serve his Church as priests and bishops. Let us be unceasing in their praying for them, for we know that we have a lot of reasons for doing so: that our priests and bishops may know how to let the love of the Good Shepherd himself shine in their lives, that they may consider their responsibilities with holy fear and trembling.

Through the figure of the Good Shepherd, the Lord likewise calls us to be shepherds to one another, forbearing one another, and forgiving each other (cfr. Col 3:13), to accept one another, just as Christ had accepted us (cfr. Rom 15:17), to be completely humble and gentle, to be patient, and bearing one another in love (cfr. Eph. 4:2). May the shepherd in us respond to the call of the love of the Good Shepherd, so that we may as well be instruments and channels through which the mercy and love of God touches the world. AMEN.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two

For the whole week, one important point in the Gospel readings seem to be centered in the election and commissioning of the Apostles, along with the instructions that the Lord Jesus gave them as they went out to spread the Good news. At least, personally for me, this seemed to be one recurring theme that I found in the Word, and which have guided me in my reflections all throughout this week, which I had eventfully spent in parish work.

Being chosen and being sent: once again these two concepts appear in the readings of the liturgy of this Sunday in order to guide us in our reflection, and which should orient us in our resolutions as we continue with our life. These two concepts could never be considered each to their own; they are not separate but are like twins. This is seen most especially in the Scriptures, for example, in the episode that we see in the book of the prophet Amos, the first reading for this Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B). In response to the belittling attitude of Amaziah, priest of Bethel, Amos asserts the fact that he was not prophesying on his own power, but as someone who was called and sent by the Lord himself to the people of Israel. He was a prophet not because of his own liking; the fact that he knows himself well as a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores makes it clear that he wasn’t giving any thought to prophesying until the Lord called and sent him.

This is the same thing that we see in the Lord Jesus concerning his disciples. In another part of the same Gospel of Mark, we see that Jesus called those whom we wanted (identified in the gospel by their names) so that they may be with him, and that he might send them out to preach (cfr. Mk 3:14). He did not call them merely that he may be able to share his life with them and that they may learn from him; they were chosen by him so that, having lived with him and having learned from him, they may be sent by the Lord in order to spread and preach the Good News.

This is something that is duplicated in our own life. The Lord has called us by name (cfr. Is 43:1) before the foundation of the world to be holy and be without blemish before him, as beloved children of his in Jesus Christ (cfr. Eph 1:3). This is something that we see in the Second Reading, taken from the letter of Paul to the Ephesians. We have been called in order to be his sons and daughters, according to the plan that he had since the beginning of time. The fact that we are called to enjoy this special relationship with him as his children, and that we bear his image and likeness in us, points to the fact that we are to be holy as he is holy (cfr. Mt. 5:48). Speaking of this, the Second Vatican Council teaches that all the faithful of Christ, whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and the perfection of charity (Lumen Gentium, 40). In a few words, we are all called to this holiness of life.

But in the same way as the Apostles in the Gospel, we are called to spread this Good News of salvation. The commissioning by the Lord of the Twelve in the Gospel reminds us of the duty to do apostolate in our own life. Apostolate, simply stated, is sharing the light of the Gospel to those nearest to us. One does not need to be a doctor and expert in Biblical Theology to do this. One just needs to be faithful to the grace that he or she has received in baptism. It is through the holiness of our life that the Gospel speaks to our neighbors; it is through the fragrance of a life pleasing to God that the Good News spreads. Nobody is exempted from this.

There is one peculiar detail in the instructions made by our Lord to his Apostles: he instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick—no food, no sack, no money in their belts…this may seem strange, because we have a good need of things in doing apostolate; tools are helpful, and more so, important, so why the Lord’s instruction to do away from even the basic necessities for a journey such as food and money? By these words the Lord wants us to realize one important thing in doing apostolate: we need to rely primarily on the grace of God, we should depend first and foremost on divine assistance. It is not the tools nor strategies that we employ in our apostolate that make us effective: it is first and foremost the grace and aid of the Lord who sends us on the mission. Unless the Lord builds the house, in vain do its builders labor (Ps 127:1), the psalm reminds us. The grace of God is the staff upon which we should lean on in doing apostolate; the Lord emphasizes the primacy of his grace in the labor or spreading the Gospel to all peoples. Ultimately, we ought to realize that Christian apostolate is not so much what we do for God; it is rather what God does in us and through us that allows the seeds to be planted in the hearts of those nearest to us, and it is the same God who brings into fruit that which he has planted.

To summarize everything, like the Twelve we have been called by God, each of us; destined to remain in his love, we have been sent by the Lord to announce the Good News of salvation to every creature by the holiness of our lives. The medium of this announcement is nothing else but our own life. Aided by the grace of God that will never be lacking to us, it is part of our vocation to do apostolate. May our Blessed Mother, through her intercession, aid us so that we may be the apostles which our society needs in order to make it more just and more humane, a society that bears witness to the culture of life, something pleasing to God. AMEN.

GOSPEL: Mk 6:7-13


(Note: This is a rough draft of the talk given
to the seminarians of the Sacred Heart Seminary
during their monthly recollection
for July)

The history of Christian spirituality, and of Christian literature has as one of its main themes that about holiness. Perhaps this is something that is not confined merely to spirituality, to spiritual literature or to theology, for that matter. Holiness is a central theme in the Christian life, since it is precisely that which gives reason to our being Christians: “Be holy” (cfr. Lev 11:44). Despite of the simplicity of this supreme Christian ideal, the concept of holiness has been expressed in a lot of ways; communicating this and what it precisely means is mainly responsible for immense rivers of ink to flow throughout the centuries, as spiritual writers have shown in their works. The question about what holiness is and what it entails is one that has produced the greatest spiritual classics in the history of literature. But the abundant literature on Christian holiness is not a mere elaboration of cold concepts, but rather is the fruit of the Christian experience, whether it be the collective experience and tradition of the Church, or be it lived personally by the author itself. The greatest writers on holiness and union with God were great saints, and in this area I cannot but help thinking of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, Ignatius of Loyola or Thèrése of the Child Jesus. They wrote not merely of what they have received from the great patrimony of the Church concerning holiness, but also from the richness of their own personal experience with God.

We may have many possible ways of understanding what holiness is. This is what I have been trying to express since the start. In this setting, a monthly recollection given to semianrians—aspirants to the holy Priesthood of the Archdiocese of Palo and its suffragans—I would like to be guided by the theme that the upcoming Jubilee has proposed for this year: “There are in the end three things that last, faith, hope and love; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13). This is precisely one theme that would eventually lead us to that of the Jubilee year itself, which is precisely about holiness: “This is the will of God: your holiness” (1 Thes 4:3).

Going back to the issue at hand, I have stated that there the understanding of the concept of holiness is abundant; we could understand it in a variety of ways. Some are precise, while some could not be far from the mark. Others are plain caricatures of holiness, and therefore, far from aiding us in making progress in our Christian life, as retained concepts they stunt our growth. One such example I could still remember from my younger years, while I was in elementary. On thing that was in our school environment was that smiling continually helped you grow in holiness. Many of our teachers were members of a charismatic group, and they got it right when they taught us that joy was consequential to holiness, however, reflecting on the slogan years afterward, a wrong message was transmitted to us pupils—to me at least—in which we had to keep smiling always because it made one holy. I learned as I went through life that people could smile for a lot of reasons—some of which aren’t especially edifying nor conducive to holiness. Even Satan could smile, well at least if we could give him a face or lips to smile with.

Others would picture holiness as associated with long periods of being in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, and having countless devotions day in and day out. This is holiness understood as living constantly within the shadow of the parish church or in the air-conditioned comfort of the Adoration chapel, or countless rosaries and novenas to saints. This is something that I believe all of us would have debunked by now. Were it to be so, the beggars in our churches should really be very holy people, and our sacristans and church sweepers should be among the most esteemed in our communities for their holiness. Not that these people cannot be holy, but experience wise we don’t know of any sacristan, or church sweeper, or beggar with exceptional holiness of life here in our immediate surroundings.

These are just two of the conceptions that we could have about personal sanctity or holiness. We may smile at the thought of these caricatures, but at least they contain a grain of truth. It is true that joy and gladness of heart is a component of sanctity, and that this inner joy goes outward to be expressed in a smile; there is no doubt that sanctity requires that devotion and communion with God that is present in prayer, a relationship that is expressed in the way we take time to be in prayer. However, even these—joy, gladness, communion through prayer, devotion—merely lead us to something even more profound. It is something that lies at the heart of sanctity.

To consider this deeper element of holiness, let us be guided by the words of the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians: “There are in the end three things that last: faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13). These are words that perhaps may be very familiar to us; they form part in Paul’s famous “Hymn to love”, which is oftentimes used in wedding liturgies because of the fact that it points to this necessary Christian virtue. What we see are three things that are fundamental, namely, faith, hope, and love. There is nothing more stable than these three; all the rest pass away quickly. These three are what the doctrine of our Faith term as the three theological virtues. By theological we express the fact that these virtues come to us as gifts from God. We are endowed with these three by God.

This is one important consideration that we ought to have when we talk about holiness. Sanctity is a gift from God, a grace, something that we do not come up on our own desire or strength. It is not an accomplishment of mine, or something that I receive a diploma or a certificate that would attest of it as a personal achievement. For these three are fundamentally essential for sanctity. Faith enables us to commit ourselves entirely to God, and thereby seek to know and do His holy will.[1] For its part, the virtue of hope makes us desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.[2]

Important though they may be, these two however would not remain as well, for even these two would give way to a third virtue. This is a virtue that, in the way that I would like to understand it, the other virtues of faith and hope encounter their maximum expression and their supreme fulfillment. This is the virtue of charity, of love: “and the greatest of these is love”(1 Cor 13:13).

The consideration of sanctity and of these virtues allows us to see that it is charity that brings the two together.  It is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things and for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.[3] This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us about love. But here is another given in the youth catechism issued for the latest World Youth Day in Madrid (2011), otherwise known as the YOUCAT: “Charity is the power by which we, who have been loved first by God, can give ourselves to God so as to be united with him and can accept our neighbor for God’s sake as unconditionally and sincerely as we accept ourselves”.[4]

In the Catechism, we find this statement: “All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity. All are called to holiness”.[5] Holiness is nothing else than the fullness of Christian life. the Christian life is characterized specifically by one thing: charity. It is not faith that characterizes the Christian, nor is it hope, because Jews have this hope in the coming of the promised Messiah, and Muslims are noted for their faith as well. There is what we call a faith that is Christian and a hope founded on Christ, but that which is typically Christian is charity. In fact, the fundamental law taught to us by the Lord could be summed up in this way: Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself. Love is the fullness of Christian life, and brought to perfection, this is what holiness is. Borrowing that happy expression of the conciliar document Lumen Gentium when it mentioned the universal call made out to all followers of Christ, holiness is nothing else but the perfection of charity.

This is so because love is that which unites us with God, allowing us to share in his very own life. Our participation in the life of God begins even while here on earth, through sanctifying grace, which is nothing else but man’s participation in the very life of God. It is a participation of Love that finds its fulfillment in heaven. This is supported by that verse in the letter of John that says: “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him”.[6] The Christian who allows himself to be the dwelling place of the Trinity of Love in his heart soon becomes known for a life that is built upon and characterized by charity.

This union with God who is love, of which holiness is all about, could not be contained in itself, but rather overflows, allowing us to embrace others as well. Love begets love, as one known saying goes. Getting our take from another maxim, this time philosophical[7], we could say that love is diffusive. This love overflows into one’s neighbor. The love of God is not sterile nor does it leave a person indifferent to the plight of the one nearest to him. It moves the Christian to share this interior life of love with his brethren in the faith, and brings forth a harvest of good works. It incites to action; it never leaves a person indifferent. when a person allows himself to be touched by the transforming power of God’s internal life—that internal life of the Trinity which is love, not only does he become transformed himself; rather, he becomes an agent of transformation in the community wherein he lives.

This is one thing that explains that striking reference in the YOUCAT which  mentions charity as a POWER. Holiness, as the fullness of Christian life and the perfection of charity, is a constructive force capable of transforming not merely the societies that we live in, but also even the cosmos. It was the holiness of God that created the universe; it is this explosion of holiness in the Parousia that will recreate the wounded cosmos. In relation to this it is very interesting to remember that the Church is always undergoing renewal; every period in the Church’s bimilenary history has its own period of reform and renewal. It is a manifestation of the holiness of the Church, despite of the sins of her children. It is interesting to note that these periods of strong renewal within the Church were ushered in by holy men and women of every time and age.

This power stems from the touch of God upon every person. For us, in relation with our neighbor, this power stems from the fact that we are able to accept those nearest to us unconditionally and sincerely, as was mentioned in the citation from the YOUCAT. But this is also due to the fact that that in doing so, we have been able to do the same for ourselves: we have accepted the truth about ourselves unconditionally and in all sincerity.

Charity allows us to walk in the path of the truth. This is a truth that we have not invented for ourselves, on that could change with the times or with the fashion. This is something that goes beyond the barriers of nationality and race, gender or sexual preference. What is this truth that I am referring to? Nothing else but having been created in the image and likeness of God, who is love, we have been given new life as children of God in the only-begotten Son of God, and that this filiation—that being a son or daughter of God—is the work of the Holy Spirit. Holiness means living according to the truth of the original plan that God had for each and every single one of us. Sin may have warped this original image, but the coming of the Son of God among us has given us to the opportunity of becoming life unto God himself, with his very life in us. 

[2] Cfr. Ibid., 1817.
[3] Ibid., 1822.
[4] YOUCAT, Ignatius Press, San Francisco 2011, n.309.
[5] CCC 1213.
[6] 1 Jn 4:16.
[7] Bonum est diffusivum sui,  (AQUINAS, Summa Theologiae, I, q.5, a.4, ad 2)

Thursday, July 12, 2012


In memory of 
more popularly known as
July 25, 1928-July 10, 2012

A grateful nation mourns your passing.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012!!! On the set of An Binhi...

Just some random shots taken this morning during the taping of the An Binhi program, which features Sunday reflections done by some priests in the Archdiocese. I had to do two homilies, one for the 18th Sunday and another for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Photos courtesy of Sis. Gemma de la Cruz, DSP.

The Purpose-Driven life for Catholics?

After the first Mass this morning here at the Sto. Niño Parish, where I presently am, I encountered a woman who was patiently waiting for me in the baptistry area, next to the sacristy, were people go whenever they want to have something blessed. She had brought somethings for me to bless, and I was mildly surprised to see that she had arranged several copies of Rick Warren's Purpose-Driven Life on the table, along with a another small manual, for me to bless. She belonged to a local charismatic group, and she told me that they were using it in their formation classes. I good-naturedly explained to her that those articles need not be blessed, as they were not devotional things nor sacramentals anyway. I remarked furthermore that these books were not Catholic, and I confided to her that I don't think it would be a good idea to use them in the formation classes of a Catholic charismatic group. I didn't bless the books; instead I offered that we pray the Lord's Prayer over them, though however I traced the sign of the Cross over the manual, which was written by the priest-founder of the group to which the woman belonged.

I personally know this group, which has quite a number of members and adherents, and a good one. They're basically trying to do what the rest of us are also doing: responding to the universal call to be holy. However I disapprove of the fact the way they have used RickWarren's manual for their formation modules. Their president and spiritual father, who is a priest, has even used another of Warren's works--The Purpose-Driven Church--in community building modules. I remember that in my first parish assignment as a vicar, my parish priest invited this priest and members of his community to conduct a Purpose-Driven Church seminar among the parish leaders. We were given the Purpose-Driven Life as a manual. I tried reading it, but I found it to be insipid, too much in fact. I jokingly remarked to someone that I would prefer the Office of the REadings because at least the latter still induces me to sleep. I sensed that was something was lacking in Warren's book. 

Warren's book is not for Catholics. A lot of people have commented that they liked it, that they have been inspired by it, and that it was a good read. I tried to read it, but after a few chapters I decided it was not worth my time, not just because it wasn't my idea of an inspiring read, but more importantly because it wasn't sound. 

After the episode at the sacristy this morning I've gone on research on how other Catholic writers would find the book. There's something wrong about Warren's book that makes it unfit for this who want to grow in their faith in Jesus Christ, to grow in their Catholic faith. I found a really concise article here precisely about the topic, and i would like to share its insights here. The page could be found here, in Catholic Answers. 

Wrong Turn
The Purpose-Given Life Gives Bad Directions
By Ronald J. Rychlak and Kyle Duncan

The Purpose-Driven Life has sold over 7 million copies and was named Christian "Book of the Year" in 2003. "Purpose-Driven" is now a registered trademark, and "Purpose-Driven" programs have been offered everywhere from schools and prisons to corporate headquarters, including Coca Cola, Sparrow Records, NASCAR, the LPGA, and the Oakland Raiders.

The book’s promise for those who follow its forty-day journey is that "you will know God’s purpose for your life." The book is being promoted and studied in some Catholic parishes, especially as a Lenten exercise, so it is worth examining whether it can deliver on its exaggerated promise.

The book’s author, Rick Warren, was labeled as "America’s most influential pastor" by 
Christianity Today. He is the pastor of Saddleback Church, which is situated on a 120-acre campus in southern California that was designed by theme park experts. Every weekend nearly 20,000 people attend services at one of nine "venues," including a 3,000-seat main sanctuary, a religious coffee bar, and a "beach hut" for high school students. Sculpted into the landscape are settings for forty Bible reenactments, including a stream that can part like the Red Sea.

Saddleback is associated with the Southern Baptist Convention, but Warren’s teachings have spread widely. Thousands of pastors from more than 100 countries have attended Warren’s Purpose-Driven seminars and subscribe to his free weekly e-mail newsletter, 
Ministry Toolbox. Warren’s web site claims that he is starting a new Reformation. That claim alone should put Catholics on guard about the "Purpose-Driven" approach to Christian faith. Yet Warren is no anti-Catholic bigot. He accepts that Catholics are true believers, and he cites monks and nuns (including Mother Teresa) as Christian examples.

Warren is also doing praiseworthy work in Rwanda. After he and his wife observed the poverty and AIDS epidemic ravaging that nation, they set up foundations to distribute 90 percent of the proceeds from Warren’s book to alleviate poverty and combat AIDS in that country. Unlike so many other programs, Warren’s seems to be focused on abstinence and monogamy rather than simple condom distribution. Of course, because of this morality-based approach, Warren has already been severely criticized in the secular press. It also means, though, that his program might have a real impact.

Nevertheless, Catholics should be aware that there are dangers on the Purpose-Driven road.
Purpose-Driven Scripture

Adhering to the Protestant doctrine of 
sola scriptura, Warren writes that the Bible is "our Owner’s Manual, explaining why we are alive, how life works, what to avoid, and what to expect in the future. It explains what no self-help or philosophy book could know." Thus, The Purpose-Driven Life begins from the premise that we can reliably discern God’s purposes for our lives from the text of written Scripture alone.

But Scripture is not a catechism. Rather, it is the inspired written testimony to the faith that had already been given to a living community, the Church. In a striking passage, John Henry Newman described this "self-evident" proposition:

The sacred text was never intended to teach doctrine but only to prove it and that, if we would learn doctrine, we must have recourse to the formularies of the Church, for instance, to the Catechism and to the Creeds (Apologia Pro Vita Sua, 1).
Sola scriptura, on the other hand, abstracts Christian doctrine—and Scripture itself—from 2,000 years of the Church’s faith, worship, and life, effectively cutting off the Christian from "the living memory" of the Church, the Holy Spirit.

No faithful Catholic can accept the "Purpose-Driven" approach to Scripture. Catholics already possess "the full and living gospel" (
Catechism of the Catholic Church 77; see also CCC 76–83). To begin with, at every Mass, Catholics hear the living, authoritative, and complete word of God proclaimed by Christ’s body, the Church. With access to the inseparable triad of Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Church’s magisterium, the faithful Catholic stands firmly on the fullgospel—all that Christ wanted us to believe and do—and escapes being blown around by private interpretations of Scripture, politically correct doctrines, and theological fads.
Purpose-Driven Salvation

Warren assures his readers that "God won’t ask about your religious background or doctrinal views. The only thing that will matter is, did you accept what Jesus did for you and did you learn to love and trust him?" For salvation, "all you need to do is receive and believe." He encourages his audiences to join God’s family as follows: "I invite you to bow your head and quietly whisper the prayer that will change your eternity, ‘Jesus, I believe in you and I receive you.’" Then, "if you sincerely meant that prayer congratulations! Welcome to the family of God!"

Entry into eternal life? "If you learn to love and trust God’s Son, Jesus, you will be invited to spend the rest of eternity with him. On the other hand, if you reject his love, forgiveness, and salvation, you will spend eternity apart from God forever."

All of this can sound plausible to a Catholic who doesn’t have a firm g.asp of the faith. Surely God doesn’t care about "religious background or doctrinal views"! But Warren’s assertions are themselves "doctrinal views," unstated and undefended. More urgently, is Warren talking about the same "eternal life" as Jesus did, the Jesus who taught that "the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matt. 7:14)?

Warren is right that we must love and trust Jesus, but Jesus himself told us what that really meant. For starters, Jesus said: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15). He also said, "Not every one who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 7:21). And to those who say "Lord, Lord," Jesus warned that God may reply, "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matt. 25:41). But Warren makes little if any mention of sin, damnation, repentance, or the cross.

Purpose-Driven Liturgy

Warren proclaims: "There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to worship and friendship with God. God wants you to be yourself." In Warren’s view, all that matters is what the individual believer brings to worship—not the objective reality of worship itself. This is not the historical Christianity given to us by the apostles.

When Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well, he promises her that "true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth" (John 4:23). Warren interprets this verse as Jesus’ condemnation of "external" or "ritual" worship. But Jesus was referring to the pure worship that he would inaugurate at the Last Supper (see John 4:8–9; Luke 22:14–20). In John 4, Jesus is looking forward to the Eucharist.

Compare Warren’s views about worship to those of Pope Benedict XIV, who as a cardinal wrote:

Liturgy presupposes . . . that the heavens have been opened. . . . If the heavens are not open, then whatever liturgy was is reduced to role playing and, in the end, to a trivial pursuit of congregational self-fulfillment in which nothing really happens" (Joseph Ratzinger, In the Presence of the Angels I Will Sing Your Praise []).
Warren says, "There is no such thing as ‘Christian’ music; there are only Christian lyrics. It is the words that make a song sacred, not the tune. There are no spiritual tunes." Warren derives the following conclusion about God’s musical preferences from the Bible:
God loves all kinds of music because he invented it all—fast and slow, loud and soft, old and new. You probably don’t like it all, but God does! If it is offered to God in spirit and truth, it is an act of worship. . . . There is no biblical style!
Warren describes his church as "the flock that likes to rock." Some songs are performed with a nightclub effect, complete with swirling lights and dancing background singers. Unfortunately, we have seen the effects of this kind of approach to music in Catholic liturgies. Nevertheless, the Church has always made a distinction between sacred and profane music. Quoting Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Catechism says:
"The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as a combination of sacred music and words, it forms a necessary or integral part of solemn liturgy." The composition and singing of inspired psalms, often accompanied by musical instruments, were already closely linked to the liturgical celebrations of the Old Covenant. The Church continues and develops this tradition (CCC 1156; cf. SC 112).
Purpose-Driven Sacraments

While Warren affirms that baptism "is not an optional ritual, to be delayed or postponed," he goes on to say that it "signifies" and "symbolizes" but doesn’t actually do anything. As he says, "Baptism doesn’t 
make you a member of God’s family; only faith in Christ does that. Baptism shows you are part of God’s family." That assertion directly contradicts Church teaching.
  • "The sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation" (CCC 1129, emphasis in original) because they are instituted by Christ himself (CCC 1114).
  • "Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit" (CCC 1213). "By following the gestures and words of this celebration with attentive participation, the faithful are initiated into the riches this sacrament signifies and actually brings about in each newly baptized person" (CCC 1234, emphasis added).
  • "The Lord himself affirms that baptism is necessary for salvation. . . . The Church does not know of any means other than baptism that assures entry in eternal beatitude" (CCC 1257).
The Catechism faithfully reflects what Jesus taught in John’s Gospel: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). Warren is not teaching what Jesus taught.
Purpose-Driven Ecclesiology

Not surprisingly, Warren’s understanding of ecclesiology does not go beyond the local congregation:

Except for a few important instances referring to all believers throughout history, almost every time the word church is used in the Bible it refers to a local visible congregation. . . . It is your job to protect the unity of your church. Unity in the church is so important that the New Testament gives more attention to it than to either heaven or hell.
Unity is crucial, but the unity Jesus calls us to is considerably more challenging than what Warren is calling for here. His call is not to unity within "your" church or "my" church, but unity in his body, the Catholic Church.
Don’t Go There

Whatever helpful personal encouragement Warren’s teaching might offer, the use of his books in any catechetical setting is a serious mistake. They are misleading and potentially profoundly confusing to poorly catechized Catholics. Moreover, while seeming to be ecumenical in approach, they actually undermine true ecumenism because they gloss over serious theological problems. The Second Vatican Council taught:

Nothing is so foreign to the spirit of ecumenism as a false irenicism, in which the purity of Catholic doctrine suffers loss and its genuine and certain meaning is clouded (Unitatis Redintegratio 11).
The idea of all Christians joining together in harmony is a hopeful one, and we as Catholics must take the lead in pursuing it. But unity must be based on truth. Rather than Catholic truth, Warren is purveying spiritualized pop-psychology. The "Purpose-Driven" church looks less like the one mystical body of Christ than a loose conglomeration of inspirational social clubs. That is why Catholics who follow the Purpose-Driven template are driving blind, and the road they follow is more likely to lead away from the Church than to a deeper practice of their faith.

Ronald J. Rychlak is the MDLA Professor of Law and associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Mississippi. He is the author of Righteous Gentiles: How Pope Pius XII and the Catholic Church Saved Half a Million Jews from the Nazis (Spence Publishing, 2005). Kyle Duncan is an assistant professor at the University of Mississippi School of Law. He is a recent "revert" to Catholicism.
What then could the faithful Catholic read? Well, there are many good books that we could read. Given the prospect of the start of the Year of Faith within a few months, why not the Compendium of the Catechism, or the Catechism of the Catholic Church for that matter. I rue the day when they ceased making the custom of asking for the Imprimatur for books on faith and moral obligatory.

"But Father! Father!..." as the famous Fr. Z would introduce objections in his blogposts, "If this had helped others become good persons, successful in their own fields, how could this be harmful for Catholics? Aren't the teaching here from the Bible itself, and are not the teachings here Christian in themselves? Isn't it all the same? How could they not be good for Catholics?"

It is precisely that kind of thinking that makes me nervous, since the fact is, what Rick Warren teaches is not the same with what the Church had been teaching throughout the centuries. Aside from the reasons that I have shared above, it's very important to have solid doctrine--Catholic doctrine--in order to live a live that is truly good. Remebmber, orthodoxy (right belief, right teaching) is important for us to have orthopraxis (right practice, behavior). And Rick Warren's doctrine is defective in certain aspects, as it has been briefly explained above.

We need to do a lot of things in order to address this problem in the Archdiocese of Palo, in the least, I know. We are lacking in a lot of initiatives with respect to catechesis, the formation of the faithful in the doctrine of the Catholic Faith. Well, at least this blog is one initiative...

Saturday, July 7, 2012

"We should give to Ceasar NOTHING of ourselves"

A reposting of the homily delivered by Archbishop Charles Chaput, Archcbishop of Philadelphia, at the close of the Fortnight for Freedom. The homily is about the meaning of religious liberty. 


My dear faithful people of God and people of Good will,

Philadelphia is the place where both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were written. For more than two centuries, these documents have inspired people around the globe. So as we begin our reflection on today’s readings, I have the privilege of greeting everyone here today -- and every person watching or listening from a distance -- in the name of the Church of my home, the Church of Philadelphia, the cradle of our country’s liberty and the city of our nation’s founding, so greetings to all of you from the people of Philadelphia. May God bless and guide all of us as we settle our hearts and minds on the Word of God.

Paul Claudel, the French poet and diplomat of the last century, once described the Christian as “a man who knows what he is doing and where he is going in a world [that] no longer [knows] the difference between good and evil, between yes and no. He is like a god standing out in a crowd of invalids . . . He alone has liberty in a world of slaves.”

Like most of the great writers of his time, Claudel was a mix of gold and clay, flaws and genius. He had a deep and brilliant Catholic faith, and when he wrote that a man “who no longer believes in God, no longer believes in anything,” he was simply reporting what he saw all around him. He spoke from a lifetime that witnessed two world wars and the rise of atheist ideologies that murdered tens of millions of innocent people using the vocabulary of science. He knew exactly where forgetting God can lead.

We Americans live in a different country, on a different continent, in a different century. And yet, in speaking of liberty, Claudel leads us to the reason we come together in worship this afternoon.

Most of us know today’s passage from the Gospel of Matthew. What we should, or should not, render unto Caesar shapes much of our daily discourse as citizens. But I want to focus on the other and more important point Jesus makes in today’s Gospel: the things we should render unto God.

When the Pharisees and Herodians try to trap Jesus, he responds by asking for a coin. Examining it he says, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” When his enemies say “Caesar’s,” he tells them to render it to Caesar. In other words, that which bears the image of Caesar belongs to Caesar.

The key word in Christ’s answer is “image,” or in the Greek, eikon. Our modern meaning of “image” is weaker than the original Greek meaning. We tend to think of an image as something symbolic, like a painting or sketch. The Greek understanding includes that sense but goes much further. In the New Testament, the “image” of something shares in the nature of the thing itself.

This has consequences for our own lives because we’re made in the image and likeness of God. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the same word, eikon, is used in Genesis when describing creation. “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” says God (Gen 1:26). The implication is clear. To be made in the image of God is more than a pious slogan. It’s a statement of fact. Every one of us shares -- in a limited but real way -- in the nature of God himself. When we follow Jesus Christ, we grow in conformity to that image.

Once we understand this, the impact of Christ’s response to his enemies becomes clear. Jesus isn’t being clever. He’s not offering a political commentary. He’s making a claim on every human being. He’s saying, “render unto Caesar those things that bear Caesar’s image, but more importantly, render unto God that which bears God’s image” -- in other words, you and me. All of us.

And that raises some unsettling questions: What do you and I, and all of us, really render to God in our personal lives? If we claim to be disciples, then what does that actually mean in the way we speak and the way we act?

Thinking about the relationship of Caesar and God, religious faith and secular authority, is important. It helps us sort through our different duties as Christians and citizens. But on a deeper level, Caesar is a creature -- a creature of this world -- and Christ’s message is uncompromising: We should give Caesar nothing of ourselves. Obviously we’re in the world. That means we have obligations of charity and justice to the people with whom we share it. For Christians, patriotism is a virtue. Love of country is an honorable thing. As Chesterton once said, if we build a wall between ourselves and the world, it makes little difference whether we describe ourselves as locked in or locked out.

But God has made us for more than the world. Our real home isn’t here. The point of today’s Gospel passage is not how we might calculate a fair division of goods between Caesar and God. In reality, it all belongs to God and nothing – at least nothing permanent and important – belongs to Caesar. Why? Because just as the coin bears the stamp of Caesar’s image, we bear the stamp of God’s image in baptism. We belong to God, and only to God.

In today’s second reading, St. Paul tells us, “Indeed religion” -- the RSV version says “godliness” – “with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, just as we shall not be able to take anything out of it.” My dear friends, true freedom knows no attachments other than Jesus Christ. It has no love of riches or the appetites they try to satisfy. True freedom can walk away from anything -- wealth, honor, fame, pleasure. Even power. It fears neither the state, nor death itself.

Who is the most free person at anything? It’s the person who masters her art. A pianist is most free who -- having mastered her instrument according to the rules that govern it and the rules of music, and having disciplined and honed her skills -- can now play anything she wants.

The same holds true for our lives. We’re free only to the extent that we unburden ourselves of our own willfulness and practice the art of living according to God’s plan. When we do this, when we choose to live according to God’s intentions for us, then -- and only then -- will we be truly free.

This is the freedom of the sons and daughters of God. It’s the freedom of Miguel Pro, of Mother Teresa, Maximillian Kolbe, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and all the other holy women and men who have gone before us to do the right thing, the heroic thing, in the face of suffering, adversity and death.

This is the kind of freedom that can transform the world. And it should animate all of our talk about liberty – religious or otherwise.

I say this for two reasons. Here’s the first reason. Real freedom isn’t something Caesar can give or take away. He can interfere with it; but when he does, he steals from his own legitimacy.

Here’s the second reason. The purpose of religious liberty is to create the context for true freedom. Religious liberty is a foundational right. It’s necessary for the good of society. But it can never be sufficient for human happiness. It’s not an end in itself. In the end, we defend religious liberty in order to live the deeper freedom that is discipleship in Jesus Christ. What good is religious freedom, consecrated in the law, if we don’t then use that freedom to seek God with our whole mind, our whole strength, our whole soul and all that we are?

Today, July 4, we celebrate the birth of a novus ordo seclorum – a “new order of the ages,” the American Era. God has blessed our nation with resources, power, beauty and the rule of law. We have so much to be grateful for. But these are gifts. They can be misused. They can be lost. In coming years, we’ll face more and more serious challenges to religious liberty in our country. This is why the Fortnight for Freedom has been so very important.

And yet, the political and legal effort to defend religious liberty – as vital as it is – belongs to a much greater struggle to master and convert our own hearts, and to live for God completely, without alibis or self-delusion. The only question that finally matters is this one: Will we live wholeheartedly for Jesus Christ? If so, then we can be a source of freedom for the world. If not, nothing else will do.

God’s word in today’s first reading is a caution we ignore at our own expense. “Son of man,” God says to Ezekiel and to all of us, “I have appointed you as a sentinel. If I say to the wicked, ‘you will surely die’ – and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them . . . I will hold you responsible for their blood.”

Here’s what that means for each of us: We live in a time that calls for sentinels and public witness. Every Christian in every era faces the same task. But you and I are responsible for this moment. Today. Now. We need to “speak out,” not only for religious liberty and the ideals of the nation we love, but for the sacredness of life and the dignity of the human person – in other words, for the truth of what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God.

We need to be witnesses of that truth not only in words, but also in deeds. In the end, we’re missionaries of Jesus Christ, or we’re nothing at all. And we can’t share with others what we don’t live faithfully and joyfully ourselves.

When we leave this Mass today, we need to render unto Caesar those things that bear his image. But we need to render ourselves unto God -- generously, zealously, holding nothing back. To the extent we let God transform us into his own image, we will – by the example of our lives – fulfill our duty as citizens of the United States, but much more importantly, as disciples of Jesus Christ.
May God brings to completion the good things he begins in us today.
Text courtesy of Rocco Palmo