Saturday, March 24, 2007


The teachings of the Catholic Church may be summarized into four general headings: Repentance, Faith, Hope and Charity. The last three are infused theological virtues, gifts from God and humanly unattainable. In effect, Repentance is man's only human effort in the work of salvation, though still with the help of grace.

The Old Testament taught Repentance, John the Baptist being its last preacher. In the New Testament, Christ perfected the doctrine; and the Apostles preached this perfected version of Repentance. So did the Fathers of the Church, those who followed the Apostles. Later on the other great preachers also preached repentance. Among them were St. Wilfrid, Savonarola, and St. Louis de Montfort. The Popes, in different ways, reminded us of the need to repent. In these last days Mary herself has urged us to repent, from La Sallete to Fatima.

Christ emphasized the importance of repentance by living his 30 years of hidden life "repenting" but for our instruction. This hidden life was picked up by the early Christians in the form of the monastic life. Thus St. Benedict wrote in his Holy Rule that the life of a monk is a life-long Lenten observance of repentance. In fact, St. John Climacus divided his work "The Ladder" into 30 chapters, representing the 30 years of hidden life of Christ and the spiritual activities that make up the life of Repentance.

Is repentance truly so difficult as to give the prophets a difficult time preaching it in the Old Testament? Neither did Christ have an easy time teaching it in the New Testament. Neither did the Fathers of the Church and the Saints find it easy. The Blessed Virgin at Fatima included a threat to her invitation to repent. But the fulfilment of the threats made at Fatima showed that mankind failed to repent. Perhaps some did but, like in Sodom and Gomorrah, the number was not good enough for God to hold back His threat.

God wills to give us the three theological, infused virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity if we have the proper disposition. Repentance disposes us to be worthy. The way towards these three virtues are easy, especially if we are like children. But when we become adults we pile up obstacles to these virtues. Repentance removes the obstacles, aside from preserving the initial innocence of childhood.

But then again, why does repentance seem so difficult? Well, it really isn't, because it is an act of grace, and therefore, easy. First, we must remove the wrong concept from our minds that repentance is merely that brief moment we spend examining our conscience, then confessing our sins to the priest, then receiving absolution, and finally saying a number of Hail Marys given us as penance, and then . . . that's it! No, that is merely external repentance. But internal repentance, as Sts. Benedict, Ambrose and Augustine described it, is a way of life that lasts for life. The first monasteries and convents were for life-time internal repentance. A sin is an offence against an infinite God and restitution has to be made for a lifetime.

The beginnings of the life of repentance must include an act of supernatural Faith, motivated by Hope of receiving forgiveness, and the fear of God which is enlivened by Charity and aided by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Note that the junction where Repentance, Faith, Hope, Charity and the Fear of the God meet are all works of God. What takes effort and time is approaching the junction to dispose ourselves to receive those graces.

True repentance can only be had by living a monastic life, as St. Benedict mentions in his Rule.
And the steps for repentance are clearly and specifically enumerated in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The 30 chapters of "The Ladder" of St. John Climacus can be summarized into the 5 steps of the same Parable.

The parable has splendidly enumerated the 5 steps of repentance that can lead us back to God. If we do the first step well, the next steps would follow easily. (The parable also enumerates the 5 steps we take to depart from God.)

The first step towards repentance is coming to oneself: "he (the Prodigal Son) came into himself." This is similar to the exhortation to "take heed," which St. John Chrysostom commented on. Everything in the world today prevents us from going into oneself. Everything is luring our intellect and free will to focus on things outside ourselves. The external stimuli is so overwhelming we almost have no choice but to be lured to them. The lusts of the flesh and of the eyes make us commit sin and keep us in our sins. And the devil sees to it that new inventions, new foods, new tourist spots fill the earth that will attract our attention. And our priests are not spared by this siren call.

Thus the first rule of Christ's hidden life and adopted by the monastic movement is "fuga mundo." It is easier to flee the world now than undergo the misfortunes of the Prodigal Son to learn our lesson. And both St. Augustine and St. Benedict emphasized the importance of being free from this overwhelming stimuli that prevent us from beginning our repentance by coming into ourselves. We must come into ourselves so that we may see the 5 (opposite) steps that brought us away from God. Only then can we say like the prodigal son "I will arise."

Since there are very few who are preaching true repentance nowadays, an option would be to take recourse from Scriptures, the Fathers, and the writings of the saints and Papal documents. But we can also pray that the Lord send labourers to His field in order to sow seeds of repentance.

(Painting is "Mary Magdalene" by Simon Vouet, 1700.)

Friday, March 16, 2007

Grace builds on nature.

The monks invented the first schools. They were called "the school of the Lord's service." The subjects they taught were Reading, Writing, a little Arithmetic. . . . and Philosophy. Philosophy for young children? Yes, because it is when they were young that parents sent their children to monasteries. And having the natural God-given aptitude to reason rightly they were trained before they were ruined by worldly education. Those first subjects were very helpful in preparing for the study of Divine Revelation or Scriptures, because grace builds on nature.

Man is a rational animal. First an animal, second rational. Today he seems to be more animal than rational. Thanks to the information highway that has trapped men's mind on things earthly, preventing him from being rational and from rising up to the supernatural.

Today, the world is filled with evil and, as a consequence, sufferings. Religion must be able to explain why this is so because human knowledge cannot. For us Christians, we have to examine what happened in heaven and paradise once upon a time.

In paradise, man was meant to subdue his animal nature by what was rational in him, namely his intellect and free will. This was frustrated because of the Fall. So now, before he can do this, he must develop his intellect in the natural level through right and sound reasoning. Doing this will enable him to rise to the concept of a prime - mover or creator. Even in the natural sphere he could intellectually suspect that there is a supernatural sphere. His natural quest for this sphere will make him responsive to the grace of God and enable him to rise up to the supernatural. In this level he will discover that God spoke; and that what he said is found in Divine Revelation. With sound reasoning and Divine Revelation he can now dictate to his own free will the good he must pursue. Every decision he makes must now conform to this objective norm to do good.

St. Thomas of Aquinas gives the example of a carpenter who has a ruler. If he uses this tool, he will draw a straight line, his act would be considered right. Comparatively, if we love God more than anything else, then we are acting morally, according to the Divine rule of conduct which states that we should love God above all things. If we disregard this objective norm of judgment, Divine Law and sound reasoning, then it is our concupiscence that would be making the rules on what is straight or moral.

The Holy Father has often described the above scenario and called it the dictatorship of relativism. It is a cruel dictatorship because it is the rule of what is animal within us, as pictured imaginatively in the Planet of the Apes, except that the apes are within us.

A solution has been given by Pope Benedict XVI. We have to use sound reasoning, with a little help, perhaps, from the rules of logic formulated by the Greeks; and with the help of the virtue of Faith, find out who is this God who moves all things. Then we shall find out if that God has spoken, and find out what He has said. Our sound reasoning and what He has said should be our basis for judgment.

Unfortunately, Ronald Knox has observed that man, in his pride, has always been unlucky in guessing who that God is, an unconscious way of denying God in order to substitute himself in His place, as the first angels tried to do and became devils.

In the dictatorship of relativism, we make up the norms, thus making ourselves "like unto God." Wasn't this the temptation of Adam and Eve? And we have fallen.

St. Thomas of Aquinas, following St. Augustine, described an act as evil, when it does not follow the external norms put forward by Divine Revelation and sound reasoning. This would mean that the world, especially now, is filled with evil. To be good or holy today would be most difficult. Perhaps this is why it has been prophesied that the saints of the last age would be greater, because inspite of the great evil of our present age, evils that have not been seen in ages past, they will be able to reach holiness. What about those who find evil insurmountable? Well, we should believe that where there is an abundance of evil, there will always be a superabundance of grace.

This present moral state was already described by William Shakespeare with words uttered by Marc Anthony at the funeral of Julius Caesar who was assassinated by Brutus and his friends. "O judicium, ad belvas fugisti brutas. Atque homines rationem perdiderunt." (O judgment, thou art fled to brutish beasts, and men have lost their reason.) (Painting by Master Francke, "The assassination of St. Thomas Becket," fifteenth century.)

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


Pope John Paul II, of holy memory, and our present beloved Pope Benedict XVI, both have shown great interest in the new movements among the laymen. They used to attend the meetings of these lay movements in Rome. Thus, a Congregation has been set up to regulate and monitor their activities. The Cursillo in Christianidad, in which I had been very active in the early years of my priesthood, has just received Vatican recognition. Pope Pius XII was the first to notice this movement in the Catholic Church, and inspired by it, encouraged its development and instructed Bishops to cooperate in what he thought was a clear movement of the Holy Spirit within a troubled Church.

This is not new. In the history of the Catholic Church, whenever the Church needed renewal, God raises laymen to renew her. St. Francis of Assisi would be a classic case. And while there were great figures who dominated the renewal scene, a strong undercurrent of lay movements was present everywhere. It was this fact that made Pope Pius XII notice the emergence of lay movements in these times, like the Opus Dei, Cursillos, Focolare, etc.

Let us look at a brief moment in history and make an important observation. Circa 900 A.D. was described as the Dark Ages for civilization and calamitous for the Papacy with Rome in turmoil. Immediately evident was the reform in the Ecclesiastical level with St. Peter Damian, a Benedictine, beginning his reform around the year 1000 A.D. which begun the Ascent and Descent Chapter of the history of the Church. St. Peter Damian's reform was carried on by the Gregorian Popes initiated by Pope Gregory VII, a Benedictine. The reform was further enhanced by a movement from Cluny, a Benedictine Abbey that was ruled by four consecutive saintly Abbots. Further on we see St. Dominic de Guzman in the middle of the frey. The Church never lacked holy Popes and Saints to sustain the Church.

But note that from the time of St. Peter Damian to St. Dominic, for instance, there was a very strong lay movement where these groups lived in imitation of the first Christians as described in Acts of the Apostles. These laymen were living lives that put the clergy to shame. These lay movements may be divided into two groups. First, those who lived as the first Christians did using Scriptures as their only guide, especially the Acts where the first Christian communities were described by Luke. And secondly those who did exactly the same thing but placed themselves under a Rule. Though the Rule of Saint Benedict was the favorite, around the time of St. Dominic the Rule of St. Augustine became popular. The observation is this: those whose only guide was Scriptures easily strayed into heresy. While those who were guided by a Holy Rule as well continued in their orthodoxy.

Today, we have many similar lay movements, but most of them are depending completely on Scriptures alone for guidance and the private interpretation of Scriptures of their founders. They are in danger because the sources of Catholic teaching is both Scriptures and Tradition plus the Magisterium of the Church. The Holy Rules specify how the Gospel is to be lived. To depend on Sola Scriptura, even if it is the Bible, is definitely dangerous; "Beware of the man with one book," warns St. Thomas of Aquinas. Pope Benedict XVI has often hinted on the use of the Rule of St. Benedict as an added guide. He could also suggest the Rule of St. Augustine, being a lover of the saint, or other Rules as well. But St. Benedict's Rule, having been the main force in the conversion of pagan Europe, is what we probably need in our present time since we have returned to paganism. (Painting by Sodoma "Stories of St. Benedict," 1503.)