N.B. This is my last posting in Manila before I fly to Guam for my new assignment. The succeeding postings will be done from Guam.

Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflections

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B

August 2, 2009

Surely two thousand years of history is long enough a time for the Church to learn quite a few lasting lessons. One of these is the need for us to lay aside the “sinful self” with all its unbridled desires and to allow grace to make of us all become what we originally all are by the express wish of God – images and likenesses of Him from whom we owe our existence.

But alas, this same self, owing to the pull of sin called “concupiscence,” is all too prone to go the way of “selfish cravings” and even illicit desires.

Our country is a pretty clear picture of selfish and conflicting desires on all fronts. Whilst I am not exactly a big fan of President GMA, I am aghast at the many times undeserved flak she is getting all in the name of a brand of politics that, really at bottom, is nothing short of structural evil. The rightists see her as not strong enough. The leftists see her are catering only to the needs of the rich, the powerful, the “owners of production.” Militant organizations, as usual, have recently given her a failing grade before the State of the Nation Address (SONA). (Have they ever passed anybody yet, you might ask?) Narco politicians are striking back now that they are feeling the pinch of a no-nonsense approach to the drug problem. The so-called opposition are ever at the ready to denounce every little sign of weakness and indecisiveness, on the one hand, and assertiveness and aggressiveness on the other. (Damn if she does; damn if she doesn’t). On the other hand, the almost institutionally built-in culture of corruption, like a virulent virus, is present and active in almost all branches and echelons of government, from top to bottom.

We see some hurtful and convicting words in today’s second reading from St. Paul: “You must no longer live as the gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; […] you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.”

Renewed in mind … Such is the pressing need of our times. Our minds, now battered by so much stimulation from mass media, from a seeping culture characterized by entertainment from early morning to midnight – and beyond - are called to renewal. This is a very difficult thing to do given the constant bombardment of a culture that is patently non Christian inspired, ever swayed by values that come from post-christian societies deeply steeped in a culture of consumerism, individualism and genericism.

For one, the Filipino has become a non-reading culture. The habit of reading has gone out the window a long time ago, replaced by rap music, by dance (exemplified by the sex-bomb dance craze), and by sitcoms, reality TV, koreanovelas, teleseryes, and chinovelas. Slowly but surely, the hierarchy of moral values has been subverted and replaced by an all pervasive culture that does not give pride of place to cultural and moral values.

For all practical purposes, the Filipino soul has been deeply co-opted by a culture that is slowly becoming non-Christian inspired. The average attitude of texters who, for the most part, approved of what putschists did at Oakwood five years ago is a disturbing case in point. Any means, no matter how violent, can be resorted to, in order to meet a good end. Never mind, if their motivations, which are distinct from their avowed intentions, do not square with the principles of sound morals!

Too much exposure to violence and aggression has not only desensitized us to violence. It has also warped our value systems. It has slowly become regular, normal and routine to engage in violent activities – all for an avowed good intention!

Deceitful desires are two words not often found together. But the two strike at the core of what sinful desires are actually. They are deceiving. They appear to be good to us all. A national recovery program appears to be so good, and seems to be the only answer to our society’s ills … until you get to the authorship part of said program – personalities themselves deeply mired in unresolved violent acts of the past, which killed scores of people, whose deaths nobody has ever paid for, let alone, say sorry for! The so- called National Recovery Program appears to be the most brilliant solution to our country’s myriad problems, until you go to the level of “motivations” of these people with so convincing sounding avowed intentions “for God and country,” but who are really “wolves who go around in sheeps’ clothing.”

I have to confess to you that I was, and still am, very sympathetic to the cause of these young idealistic, but misguided (co-opted?) soldiers and young officers. There are days when, like the prophet Jeremiah, all I do is lament deeply about the sad plight our society is in. When I was younger, I also entertained thoughts about resorting to violence, secretly clapping whenever the enemies of the then dictator would score a small victory of sorts. The secret desire for harm to befall all those who are in the forefront of corruption in the country – the politicians, the men in uniform, even – sadly – the men of the cloth – the power wielders and brokers in all areas of society – still fills my heart in my lowest moments.

But alas, I am old enough to know such desires are classically “deceitful.” They lead nowhere. They produce no good, but reverberating harm. They only increase and heighten the level of mistrust, rancor, and downright hatred for one another. We only stand to becoming less human, and, a fortiori, less Christian in outlook and mentality.

But we do become, at best, practical and self-serving, like the Jews of old who followed Jesus because they have been fed, people who “work for food that perishes.”

The Lord today invites us to work for food that lasts, for a mentality that comes from a “new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.”

The road is long and narrow up ahead. The alternative is wide and smooth. The overwhelming majority, judging from what the mass media and popular culture espouse, seem to have been co-opted by the prevailing mentality and practice. Thus the call to renewal in our minds is getting relevant and timely more than ever before. Today, Sunday – a full week after the country was plunged once more into uncertainty, let us put aside, for a change, all out selfish cravings.