Sunday, October 31, 2010

“He Made Them Male and Female”

Having been one myself ages ago, dealing with teenagers gives one an advantage of hindsight, experience and the ability to appreciate what and where they are and to somehow foresee (or prevent) what and where they will be in their future. One particular encounter was with an intelligent conversationalist named (“unfortunately” according to her) Andrea (not her real name), a cousin of my guitar student. In spite of having such a beautiful name, she calls herself Andy because, she says, “I look like a boy.” Whether she chose that name for herself or others did so for that inappropriate reason, she seemed on the road to accepting that she had a face that was not “saleable” or that she did have traits of being a boy and that accepting that “tendency” might be a good option.

The young do tend to reflect the thoughts of others as a result of peer pressure or, perhaps, in trying to seek overall social acceptance, especially among the older set who may gloss over such “petty” or “childish” stuff. I told her that she had other “assets” that should have convinced her she was a girl (and a pretty one at that) and that she had no reason to treat herself or let others treat her as a boy. Embarrassed at the mention of the word “asset”, she blushed and tried to cover her semi-plunging t-shirt with her jacket. I had to explain that what I meant was that the face does not define who or what you are in terms of gender. The figure or form of a female (small waist, wide pelvis, etc.) is different from that of a male, no matter how “masculine” a girl might look or might want to appear. Moreover, I said that having the figure itself is not enough; it is the way a girl moves or, in general, the way she behaves that makes her female.

In the original divine design, the female figure was meant to provide her not just with the structure that would allow her to bear and deliver children but also to exude the feminine aura – what Neil Sedaka wrote in a song: “poetry in motion”. God made Her female. All that she is is the totality of what God had conceived from the very beginning: a unique female individual, a properly or appropriately designed mate for man, a corresponding partner in marriage and a bearer and deliverer of children.

Conversely, God made Him male. In truth, man was made in the image of God. How he appears and moves, ideally, pictures divine nature and character. How can a man then be double-minded or doubles-sexed? How can he behave as if God did not make him male? Did God make a mistake in creating us? Of course not!

All that man is, therefore, is the totality of what God had conceived from the start: a unique male individual, a proper mate for woman, a corresponding partner in marriage and a provider and protector of the family. Moreover, God declared that he would have authority over woman. Well, it is some divine-legal provision that arose from that sin the first woman and man committed (in that order).

Many of us understand the foundational meaning of this text and principle in the Bible. And yet, not so many try to act upon it for their own sake or for their children or relatives. When God made the Sun and the Moon, He had specific purposes for them. We know what they are and what they are for. At least, today we do. But in the past, people made those celestial bodies as real gods whom they worshiped and gave human sacrifices to. Perhaps, humans do have a spiritual blind-spot that causes them to misread what is clearly visible and logical. They see and know but their hearts and their minds tell them something else. Is it any wonder then that He would tell Moses to write: God made the Sun and the Moon. God made them Male and Female. As clear as Night and Day and, yet, we stay in the Twilight Zone. And THAT is a really frightening reality.

We allow things to happen because of our so-called democratic rights, our freedom of choice. What we fail to realize is that God has given us vast freedom wherein we can be as happy and as abundant as we can be within His immeasurable limits. But we want something that will enslave us instead. For any form of deception is slavery. Instead of accepting His plan as to how we can glory and bask in His grace, we disgrace Him and His Creation. In short, we desecrate our very own bodies and even those of others.

(Photo above: Statue of the two-faced Roman god, Janus.)

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Priest and the Publican (Confusion of Mission in the RH Bill Controversy)

The Parable of the Good Samaritan tells of two duty-shirkers who “passed by the other side” when they saw a wounded man, who had been waylaid by bandits, lying on the roadside. One was a Levite priest and the other was a Publican. Today, they would be a priest or pastor (archbishop, perhaps) and a public servant or politician (senator, perhaps). Both personages bear important roles in society. One ministers to the religious needs of people while the other performs tasks pertaining to vital social or material needs of citizens.

Whatever led the priest to leave the poor man alone to the harsh elements must have been a good reason “for him”. Perhaps, the high priest was waiting for him at the temple and he had no time for the dirty work best left to deacons or menial servants in the temple. In most priestly minds, serving God does not always mean serving every person’s particular need at any given time. Otherwise, his energies will not suffice to allow him to do his duties within a day. True, the priest missed serving the immediate needs of a person he was duty-bound by God to aid at that moment. One need not be an “important” person in society to fulfil the divine duty to “love your neighbor”. One could even be a “second-class” citizen – like a Samaritan. This was the lesson of Jesus.

The same case applies to the publican. Whatever caused him to hurry on must have been so compelling as to allow his conscience to bear the guilt of leaving a dying man without him lifting a finger. In both cases, the humanly-expected or “socially-contracted” duties of the two persons ran counter to the divinely-expected or “spiritually-contracted” duties of all humans. Loving requires everyone to feel for others in need. Whether it is within one’s defined role as a private or a public worker or not, the Lord expects us all to “drop our schedules” for those who are placed before us to show our love to in order to lessen their burden in life. Apart from our perceived big roles as workers in churches, companies and government agencies are genuinely bigger roles of serving God through our unscheduled “good deeds”. (Certainly, there are overlaps somewhere and some would even say that what they do as paid workers is their “good deed” for God.) It is doing such deeds that spells the difference between a society that has heart and one that is merely efficient.

Today, the duties of priests and politicians cover a wide array of concerns that at any given day they are called upon to face issues that make them appear either as heroes or villains to the people. The present controversy regarding the Reproductive Health Bill has pitted the Catholic Church against the politicians who have proposed or defended the bill. As the heated debate rages, the people are also being divided into pros and cons in the use of contraceptives using public funds. Even Catholics openly criticize their priests for their sexual escapades – a non sequitur, obviously, but one that is good for the moral weight it bears upon those who may be guilty of such a hypocritical offense. Just as we have scalawag priests (those who violate their vows of celibacy), we also have immoral public servants or politicians (those who violate their marital vows). So, that is neither here nor there.

The main issue we must settle is which side is right, if it were possible to make that judgment. If not, then we must raise the issue to a higher level than where many perceive it to be. Are they, perhaps, both right in their own perception of their duties and have, therefore, taken the stance they need to pursue? That in doing so, they may have ended in “passing by the other side” and avoided the real duty or duties they were meant to achieve in their work? If so, what would that duty be?

What is the real problem here: overpopulation or poverty? Contraceptives or morality? Or is it a combination of two or more of these things? It appears that a confusion of our true mission in life has occurred in that we have all kept to each of our own “important” duties, in good conscience perhaps, but have failed to accomplish the Lord's demand to “love our neighbor”. So, let me beg the issue.

Who brought about poverty? Is it worth answering this question? If that were the main problem, we must seek to alleviate or erase it if we can. Perhaps, the better question is: Why is there poverty? Or, why is a land so rich in resources not able to feed its people? Hence, we cannot avoid asking the question: Who owns the biggest portion of prime properties throughout our land? It must be a toss-up between the Church and the State. But it doesn’t matter who does; the point is, the neglect and failure falls in the hands of the stewards of the national wealth. Who then holds the power to produce wealth and distribute it accordingly? Historically and technically, that role is in the hands of the Priest and the Publican. In truth, the burden of supporting the material needs of the two biggest organizations today in this country – the Big Church and the State, has always fallen upon the backs of the poor and suffering workers. The people give and the recipients receive and horde instead of spreading the wealth to all. This is the source and the very cause of poverty. The Communists, copying the early Christians, aimed to level the use and enjoyment of resources by “having all things in common”. Today, the rich and the poor are like the molave and the kamote: the mighty and strong and the lowly and sapless living together.

Is the Catholic Church poor? Of course not! Is the government poor. Hardly! But why are there so many poor Filipinos?

Population control is one of the prescriptions we have come up with. Anti-RH proponents claim it is a pharmaceuticals-lobbied move to favor, as usual, the drug companies’ worldwide dominion in the health industry. (Private companies are as equally responsible for the welfare of the people. In our story, the innkeeper made money out of the kindness of the Good Samaritan by providing lodging, food and medicine. With or without love for his client, it was business as usual!) Is it at all moral for one sector to enrich itself over the sufferings of others? Like the Good Samaritan, we are sometimes forced to part with our wealth in order to stop suffering. The best we could expect from the innkeeper is to give free service or some discount. But that is making fantasy of a parable.

If we must face our problems as one nation, we must do so by thinking right and thinking the way God wants us to think. The Catholic hierarchy claims it speaks for God; but does it? The opportunity the Church had to spread the wealth to all Filipinos died a long time ago with their greed in amassing lands and wealth as early as in the Spanish era. Today, the highest earning schools are mostly run or owned by Catholics. Is that spreading wealth or amassing it? Is teaching the Gospel the real mission of the priests or educating the people for the national workforce and maintaining their reputation as a social and political force in our country? Sorry, Mr. Carlos Celdran: It is too late for priests not to meddle in politics. They have made politics what it is. Money fuels and controls politics. The very moment you make attending masses and worship services totally “free-of-charge” (no alms and tithes) is the very time you kill these religious organizations. That old folk ditty we sang in the ‘70s still rings true: “If religion were a thing that money could buy, the rich would live and the poor would die . . . .” Our troubles are not over yet! As ever, religion is good business.

And yet, the Lord talked about true worship and of worshipping neither in Jerusalem nor in Samaria. And, it follows, neither in Vatican, Manila Cathedral or Crystal Cathedral. Neither in a chapel nor on the prayer mountain, it follows. Worship is where God needs to be served – like a roadside where a wounded man lies, perhaps? Or a home where the father is often absent because he is too busy with work as a congressman? Or in a one-room shack where the mother huddles with her six children feeding on one pack of Lucky Me noodles? What happens in those places shows how we love God, our families and our neighbor. There are no sacred places, only people with sacred hearts. Anyone who feels insulted inside a so-called sanctuary has a conscience that will not and will never tolerate self-examination. King David fell down on his face when a citizen (through a parable, not unlike Noli Me Tangere) accused him of adultery.

Worship is everywhere. So is love (the real meaning of worship) where a “neighbor” waits for God’s blessing through a kind heart. All the artificial rites we do in grand buildings do not count as worship “in spirit and in truth”. Christ already defined and clarified that (incidentally, to a Samaritan woman), yet we still blindly neglect it. How then can we expect people to understand when their spiritual and political leaders (who are mostly Catholics) do not know the right from wrong?

For in truth, the government has also had all the opportunities to alleviate poverty and to accomplish the noble task of distributing wealth to the people. It has failed up to now. Agrarian Reform is a mere political wish and not a reality. So many Filipinos now reside in Vancouver, California and Sydney where they feel wealthy – really wealthy, or, at least, wealthier than the Filipinos they were in the Philippines. Their host countries have succeeded in their duties to distribute wealth (and, thus, to prevent poverty). While here we are fighting it out against one another trying to prove who is on God’s side and who is on the people’s side. Pity the poor – they are still pawns in the dirty game of politics. The government continues to avoid its duty to manage the country well to allow people to enjoy freely the fruits of their material as well as their maternal labors. If other countries can do it, why can’t we? If it is true that Mindanao can feed the whole of China if properly developed, why go through all that trouble when we have enough islands and teeming seas to feed as many as we can? Give us neither condoms nor menstrual calendars. Give us good and sensible leadership.

Passing the bill will only increase promiscuity even among the youth. Not passing it will just merely maintain its present normal course -- that of people engaging in “safe” or “unsafe” sex within or outside of marriage (in spite of people attending masses or services). Hence, both sides of the issue do not truly serve or have in mind God's basic purpose of strengthening and protecting marriage. What they really espouse is their own brand of morality devoid of genuine spiritual anchorage or their misdirected economic programs meant to provide palliatives. We are barking at the wrong rubber tree. Our Master wants us to quietly stand guard over His house of which our nation is but a small part.

In simple terms, while we debate whether we should promote the use of artificial birth control methods or not, the people are not made truly aware of their responsibilities to uphold the sanctity of marriage and to attain self-control. If our citizenry became more aware of their responsibility (or love and respect) to God and His laws, then they would also be more aware of their responsibility (or love and respect) to their neighbors. If a big portion of the population boom is caused by promiscuity of the married and the unmarried and the rest is due to lack of self-control, why should we provide legal support, in effect, for that sin and the lack of continence? What the Church failed to prevent through effective and exemplary teaching, the State wants to curtail but not correct judiciously. Perhaps, education has totally failed as a foundational moral tool in both secular and non-secular worlds. We are all confusing our true mission in life.

This complex issue has arisen because people have made marriage a mere playground. And sex is the hot toy everyone wants to get hold of. Hence, even the unwed partners, who think they are not “married” -- do not consider themselves as being under the laws of God on marriage. Eeeech! Wrong answer. Statistically, as we said, we can presume that a big percentage of pregnancies are considered “illegal” (thus, prone to abortion) but are as binding in Heaven as any other. Why? Because God defined marriage as the union of male and female. Remember, Eve came from Adam and God gave her to Adam to join them as essentially one in body – again -- in the sexual act. When two become one flesh, THAT is the MARRIAGE. (Those who think this is myth dishonor not just the Giver of Life but also the Sole Solemnizer of Marriage. This also explains why adultery was a capital offense then.) The wedding administered either by the priest or the publican does not consummate the marriage; no, the man and the woman do so through their union. There is no other divinely prescribed meaning and purpose of marriage. Both the Church and the State have usurped the role that God exclusively owns. In short, with or without the priest or the publican joining two persons “in marriage”, the sexual act effectively accomplishes the divine covenant. The rubber between them will not stop God from looking at them as married – no matter what church or civil laws may say about the union afterward. And, the fetus or infant that will arise from the union is a product of divine design no one can easily take out of the equation (1 + 1 = 3) without judgment falling upon the two “united” persons. Those who do are “passing by the other side” and leaving the helpless infant to die by the roadside. (In fact, some mothers dump their babies in trash cans.) Hence, we have this controversy today because so many have failed to see the real divine formula of marriage: Sex is a function of marriage. No marriage, no sex. No sex, no marriage.

So you see, the RH Bill is a mere escape clause for politicians to prevent so-called population explosion and the poverty it supposedly produced without considering what it will do to the moral fabric of our society. But is this what the Catholics truly stand for? Partly, it is. Admirable as their adherence to natural methods is, their failure to give first-hand concrete application of what they preach makes them unqualified teachers. Self-control is so much easier when you are alone; but when you have a warm body beside you, you need all the help you can get from the arsenal of divine power, if not, that of medical know-how. That choice is right there before the married to accept or make use of or not. It is a freedom and a privilege as sacred and as inalienable as the freedom and privilege to vote. To make an issue of it based on a group’s passionate defense of its unique teachings is to impose one’s will upon free-thinking and independent people. Practice celibacy if you must; but do not let others suffer through your own particular choice. Marriage -- including all its many issues -- is for all who want it. Purity in Christ, within or outside of marriage, is our common concern. Everyone must answer to God in the end.

Poverty (in body and in spirit) is THE reality in our times. The priest and the publican, instead of arguing, must own up to their failures. We must all accept the fact that somehow we have all failed in some respect. So, let us all shut up and listen to the Lord: Love your neighbor. Let us not “pass by the other side”. Let us face our duty to spread the bounties of the land. That is, let us not grab or hoard vast lands that are left idle and unproductive. Let us not covet other people’s money (not even gambling money). The poverty of the people will fall upon us all, upon all those who have enriched themselves over the sufferings of others.

Here is what James wrote a long time ago:

Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong? (James 2:5-7)

Do not then presume to speak for the sake of the poor when you yourselves wear better-than-Solomon’s clothes, sit in gilded chairs and ride in perfumed air-conditioned sedans while the perspiring masses walk along EDSA whose polluted air you have neglected for so many years, thus causing the people to get sicker and sicker. Do not say you want to help families to practice birth control when you yourselves do not know how to control your own carnal and material desires. Do not say you do not want others to use contraceptives when you yourselves have sworn not to enter marriage or, it follows, to use your sexual organ for its intended purpose in marriage. If God has given us natural means to prevent pregnancy, let married people use that but do not say it is what God only allows. In truth, God’s way is much, much stricter: prayerful abstinence in marriage for certain periods (pun intended). Only mature Christians or people can be so continent. It takes spiritual discipline. But why do we listen to unmarried or never-married people telling us how to run our marriage and our families? (Know the secrets of real politics, Carlos!)

Ultimately, marriage is still the best and the only solution to all imaginable problems we can think of. Why? Because through marriage we produce the family. The sanctity and the stability of this product of Divine Creativity are at the very center of this issue we face as well as many others in mind. Our archaic and presumptive ways of solving our problems without incorporating the totality of God’s principles in marriage, and as it extends into family and social relationships, has brought about this confusion of our duties to God, to our nation and to the people.

Finally, the State wants birth control without complete regard to deep moral responsibilities while the Church wants moral semblance without respecting personal choice. And behind it all, poverty is brought in as a bogeyman to scare RH Bill opposers or, on the other hand, to justify the hypocrisy of some who pretend to love the poor. God has the answers to all our problems; but we have long sidelined Him and looked the other way.

Loving our neighbor, in short, is not done by “passing by the other side” but facing our responsibilities frontally – that is, putting our money where, well, the mouth of the bleeding poor is. Our hidden or ulterior motives and agenda in this issue will be exposed by the Great Judge – not now but eventually. But even before that day comes, we can already see through people’s body language. Through media, we can see clearly how people behave and think. Rizal even wrote books about it, in case you forgot how that goes. And we are talking about Padre Damaso (the priest) as well as Simoun (the filibuster). (Muchas gracias, Carlos, for that brave graphic memo.)

The way we talk and walk shows whether we truly love our neighbor or not. Make that: love our nation or not. There is certainly no confusion there.

(Painting above: "The Good Samaritan" by van Gogh)