The Vow

One distinction that the Philippines holds is that it's the last country where divorce is not allowed. A lot of people think that it should not be so but I for one believe that it should be so and, yes, my being a Catholic has everything to do with it.

The long and short of it is how much importance do we give our marriage vows? I would like to think that before we go through such a life-changing decision, we have given it more than a just passing thought. When we speak of marriage vows, it is something from which a whole lot of other commitments spring. We think of the family that we are about to start, the children you will raise, and all the responsibilities of being a spouse and/or parent of another human being. Before we promise to love and hold someone for the rest of our lives, we should think about who we are marrying, our readiness to begin a life with that person, and our available and possible future resources. That's a lot of thinking required. Unfortunately, some people simply marry out of hope that one or the other is their perfect match, or they will change along the way to be the right person for you. That is a recipe for disaster of the highest magnitude. Just picking a boyfriend can be as easy as a date and we fail to consider everything else out there. For example, you do not have to immediately commit your self to just one person to try him or her out as if they were some car you're trying to buy. Dating is not promiscuity. Dating, when carried out in a mature manner, opens your eyes to possibilities and empowers you with the ability to choose responsibly.

As a Catholic, the moment I choose to make a marriage vow is the moment I decide that there will be no other partner-for-life for me other than my spouse. That's big. That means I renounce all my rights to be with any other person other than my spouse. 'Till death do us part. It is a life-long commitment. You are intended to die with it. I do not think many people realize just how heavy a burden that vow really is. They treat it lightly, fail to appreciate all of its consequences, and seek a quick fix if it doesn't meet their expectations. It is, if you'll forgive me, an irresponsible and cowardly way to live one's life. When we marry on a whim — just for fun as it were — or are "forced into it" or just desperate to be in a relationship, the responsibility for entering into marriage is ours, especially, when we should understand that we don't even have to get married under such circumstances no matter what. It is truly our life and we live it. If we choose to marry, then man up and live with it.

Granted, people can make mistakes. They may cause their spouses harm. The current state of Philippine law does not leave them without recourse. Under the Family Code, a spouse can file for legal separation or annulment. The main difference between the two is that in legal separation, the marriage bond is not dissolved such that the spouses remain to be man and wife of each other, while in annulment, one of the parties is deemed psychologically incapacitated to enter into marriage, or his or her consent is vitiated that there is no marriage at all to begin with. To be sure, it is a lengthy and expensive process but that is the price we have to pay in order to dissolve something that shouldn't be dissolved in the first place.

In the Philippines where a majority of the population still consider themselves Catholic, it means a lot considering that if you want to remarry in a church, then you need an annulment of your previous marriage from the State and the Church but, for the most part, getting one from the State will do. Still, the Vatican, the only other state not to have divorce for obvious reasons, has endeavored to make Church annulments more accessible to Catholics. Those steps, however, will never amount to a quickie divorce some sectors would want to see in the Philippines. The Vatican will never give you that.

People, however, want a quick fix to their apparent problems. Divorce, they say, solves a lot of problems but fails to see all the other problems it may give rise to. The latter don't matter for as long as they have their means of escape.

That's the thing, isn't it? It's an escape. Instead of people working to resolve an issue, they want an exit mechanism to jettison all manner of responsibility for their failed relationships. It takes too much to try to work it out so it's better that we just abandon the whole thing and try to start over; hopefully, we do better the next time around. No responsibility whatsoever.

The Catholic Church does not see it that way. Not to my knowledge anyway considering that I am no priest but if you ever wonder why the Church cannot go against it's teaching against abortion, then you are really missing the point. We are free agents. We can do as we please but our choices have consequences. Therefore, before making a choice, think of all the possible consequences. Abortion, like divorce, is a quick way out. A chance to escape responsibility. An out for a messy situation we find our selves in. Yes, there are other factors involved and one in particular stands out: life! Whether it be abortion or divorce, there will always be an impact on life and how we live. In the end, that's where the interest of the Church lies: in our life. A life worth saving. How we live it tells if we get saved or not. Jesus already did the hardest part about human salvation: He lived, died and rose from the dead. Everything else is now up to us.

Nobody said life, or making a life, was easy. We always have to act responsibly just like in making our marriage vows. Quick fixes are often messy affairs. You can't fix life like that. Never like that. When you make a marriage vow it is meant to be forever and any problems you experience along the way, take the time to fix it. It will be worth it. Life's like that.

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A Catholic Identity

When Jesus said “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man ‘against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household'” (Mathew 10:34-36), you know the teachings of His Church will be hard to accept for those living in the world. Indeed, the conditions for discipleship are quite heavy as we continue to verses 37 to 39: “Whosever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

I am sure that the struggles of living in the first to third centuries are just as hard as in the 21st and 22nd. There were, as there are now, practices, beliefs and traditions that would be in conflict with Jesus’ teaching. Some of those practices, beliefs and traditions of old — their lifestyles — still linger today. It wouldn’t be hard to picture those living at the time of Jesus trying to marry their lifestyles with those teachings, and, in a way trying to water down the teachings so as to accommodate or excuse that which they cannot do without. My guess is that these watered down or deviant beliefs would eventually be labeled heresies precisely because they are not consistent with Jesus’ teachings and the traditions of the Church.

That’s the same struggle we go through in this day and age. We may look different, act different, or think different but those same lifestyle issues still exist today; and, unsurprisingly, people today also try to water down Catholic teachings in order to accommodate or excuse their lifestyle.

At this point, allow me to disclose that I am not a priest, theologian or even an extraordinary Catholic. I was born and raised a Catholic. Graduated from Catholic schools and universities, except for my law degree, which I got from a state university. I was married under Catholic rites, and in all probability will die a Catholic. So, by way of disclaimer, whatever I write here is not the official stand of the Catholic Church on the matter but my own appreciation of Catholic teaching. I hope that is clear.

One particular issue that is prevalent today is gender identity. In today’s thinking, people are not bound by their genetic genders but are supposed to be free to choose their gender; so, even if you were born with male XY chromosomes (as against the female XX), or, to be blunt, with a penis, it really doesn’t matter because if you identify yourself as a female, then you can be a female, your Y chromosome or penis be damned. Under this theory, male and female genders, or masculinity or femininity, are nothing more than social constructs and as such, may be abandoned. Without having to be Catholic, I am afraid I have to disagree with a theory such as this. As a Catholic, it becomes totally unacceptable.

In the first place, one should readily accept that there are masculine females and feminine men. Not all men are manly, or females girly. It would, therefore, be wrong to simply think of individuals in terms of their masculinity or femininity. Various cultures recognize a broad, and quite acceptable, class between male and female as in some North American native tribes, or those referred to as asog in the Philippines.

However, this does not necessarily mean that you are any less male or female. If you are a gay man, then the fact that you are effeminate does not make you any less a male, even if you don’t see yourself as a man. Even if you decide to “transition” into a woman, genetically, you are still male, even with all the hormone treatments you decide to take.

Let’s take the idea to extremes: there are those who think, or would like to think, that they are dogs. Some even wear fur designed to make them look like a dog. They walk around on all fours, and eat and act like a dog. Does that make them a dog? No, they are still people. We can say the same thing about males or females who transition to females or males. Do the physical changes they go through take away the fact that they were born male or female? No, it does not. It may change the way they look but not what they were at birth. Gender identity is, therefore, an escape. It denies what you actually are in favor of what you believe. Psychologically, that can’t be good. I think acceptance is the better solution.

Moreover, gender identity makes a distinction between your spirit and your body. Your body is not you. Not if you think you are something else entirely. Your body is a mere vessel for your spirit. Unfortunately, it seems that once in a while the stork makes the mistake of putting the wrong spirit in a vessel and you have males thinking they are females, and vice versa. Therefore, we, being free spirits, can believe ourselves to be otherwise, and, as the theory goes, it is so.

This is where Catholic teaching may really be challenged. In my simple Catholic mind, when Jesus, the Son of God, came to earth, He was both God and man. He was completely a God as He was completely a man. Therefore, to think that our bodies are nothing more than mere vessels is contrary to what Jesus himself accomplished when He came to earth. He sanctified us. People. He made us holy. Not just our souls but the body that is in His image and likeness as well. To say our bodies are disposable would belittle that which made Jesus a man. Remember, we see the body as the temple of God. It’s a package. Body and soul. That’s us.

All this may be viewed as backward or outdated. On the other hand, it is just an example where Catholic teaching is different from worldly views. The world would allow it.  In fact, in some countries, children as old as ten are allowed to choose their identity. 10! We don’t let them contract marriage but they can choose their gender. Wow. However, the very idea is contrary to what the Church teaches. We do not really choose our gender. Man and woman we are born. That’s just how it is, and it’s not as if  it’s based on nothing but faith. It’s based on human experience. The world will try to convince us otherwise; to join them in their belief that gender is something we can choose for ourselves. That is not something the Church can accept. Pope Francis himself was very vocal about that. He sees it as an ideology that seeks to annihilate man as an image of God. (Pope Francis vs. Gender Ideology, The Catholic World Report, August 13, 2016.)

Of course, this doesn’t mean that the Church can just condemn those who are trying to convince them to adopt this concept of gender identity. No, the Chruch is still a Church of love and compassion. Judgement is for Jesus when He returns as King. For our part, we can only lovingly engage these people to rethink their position. People may condemn us for our teachings they think is so outdated and violative of human rights but we don’t get to do the same. We are Catholics. That’s who we are.

 

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The Weight of the Cross

Something strange came up during the run up to the latest US elections that caught my attention: Catholics were being told not to vote for the political party that supports abortion. As a Catholic, one can readily understand where the Church was coming from. The Church has always been, and always will be, against abortion. After the elections, more news articles appeared saying how the Catholic vote propelled Trump to the presidency. Assuming this isn’t all just more fake news, I seem to have a problem with that.

In the Philippines, the Church usually doesn’t identify candidates by name. They just provide the criteria that its members are then supposed to use to guide them in choosing their candidates. I have read similar statement from the US bishops, so, I guess that is the general rule. Whenever a church oversteps itself and engages in partisan politics, then it risks its status as a tax-free entity. I find that being a Catholic in the modern world can be challenging. Sometimes, impossible.

Let’s take the recent elections for example. Yes, we should stand against abortion. That is something we cannot compromise. Does that mean we automatically have to vote for the other party’s candidate? In a one-on-one contest, that seems to be the logical conclusion. However, what if the other candidate has shown himself to be racist, misogynistic and sexist? Are Catholics still obliged to vote for that candidate? Yes, that candidate may well be against abortion, or even same-sex marriages, another Catholic no-no, but if all his other characteristics are just as abhorrent to Catholics, then why would they vote for him?And if they are not obliged to vote for him, then should Catholics simply retreat from this world?

I do not think that that is the solution. Again, first, the point of the whole exercise is for Catholics to vote in accordance with their own conscience. The Church leaders are supposed to guide its people in reaching their respective decisions on who to vote for, or not vote for.

Second, we are supposed to vote in accordance with our conscience. If we consider one candidate more pro-Catholic in his or her views than the other, then it is possible that we simply vote for that candidate. However, if we think that neither of them deserves our vote, then we should just as equally be free note to vote. Not voting is itself a vote. That may mean we are less likely to influence the elections but that would also mean that we remain true to who we are. Other Catholics may reach a different conclusion but that is how the system is supposed to work.

I am troubled by what I am seeing in this world with the rise of populist leaders like Duterte in the Philippines and Trump in the US. Farage in the U.K. and Le Pen in France pose similar threats. I’m sure there is something similar elsewhere. Farage failed in the last U.K. elections but he got the U.K. to vote for BREXIT. Le Pen too failed in France but it was a close call. These days, they may yet win. The danger they pose comes mostly from the fact that they focus too much on themselves (or their country) setting aside what counts as common decency to achieve their objectives. The end justifies the means and they won’t let something like the law get in their way. Of course, the full impact of what this all means are still to be felt. We see glimpses of it in the Philippines with the death of over 3,000 people suspected of involvement in the illegal drug trade, including “collateral damage”, and people being accused without due process. In the U.K. and the US, there were hate crimes reported after BREXIT and Trump’s win. The next four to six years will certainly reveal whether or not this populist experiment, some say revolution, is good or bad.

Today’s readings and gospel appear to calm us in the face of such uncertainties. Yes, things may indeed get worse before they get any better but, in all this, we have to remain faithful. We are to be models for others. We may even suffer persecution but we are reminded that, in the end, we will prevail, which actually brings me to my third and last point.

I do not believe Catholics should withdraw from the world in he face of all these trials and hardships. Instead, as the apostle Paul reminds us, we are to be models for others. If we want more pro-Catholic ideas in this world, then we have to actively promote those ideas. If we want more pro-Catholic candidates representing us, or running this or any other country then we have to have more Catholics involved in politics, not the Church leaders, naturally, but us, and if necessary present ourselves as candidates as well. This, I think, is what it means to evangelize in this day and age. We need to be active participants in the world to keep it safe and to guide it in the right path. We have to bring Catholic culture and beliefs to the fore.

With all that is happening, it is easy to lose focus and simply curse everybody to hell but that is not what we were called to do. In the face of evil, it is easy to condemn. The life of a Catholic, however, is never easy. To be models for others require us to live our faith in the open. To live, act and breath as a Catholic would regardless of where you are in society or the world. We have to know our faith, live it, and share it. That is not going to be easy in an ever increasingly worldly world but we are not alone in this. We are never alone because we rely on the strength that comes from the Lord. So, we endure. We strive. We make this world a better place. That is the cross we bear. It is not heavy though for the Lord also said that whenever we find our load heavy and are weary, we should go to Him, be refreshed, and take His load for His burden is light.

Things may not be the way we want it to be but it doesn’t matter. For us, the only thing that matters is to continue to live our faith in Christ.

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A Catholic Today

We’ve often wondered why evil exists where God not only exists but the kingdom of this world has supposedly become the kingdom of the Lord and of the Christ.

Not too long ago, Pope Francis dropped by the Philippines and had an occasion to interact with some Catholics. A child asked him why bad things happen to good people and the Pope couldn’t give her a straight answer. I cannot claim to be more knowledgeable than the Pope himself by any measure but here is my two cents worth.

As a Catholic, we believe that God is a person who we can relate with. He is the Father and not just a distant creator living in the heavens above us, and far from us. He is someone we can talk to, someone we can trust, and whose presence we can experience; and by experience, we mean not just in a spiritual sense but also in a very physical sense.

How, you ask? We know Jesus took the form of a man and came to us but He has ascended to heaven 2,000 years ago. So, how do we physically experience God in this day and age? The simple answer, of course, is through us, His people. 

When we became part of His Church, His people, we were wedded to Him, and, as the Good Book says, we become one with our spouse. That means that God works in us and through us, which also means that if we want God to help the poor, heal the sick and provide for the needy, well, we have to be the ones who does the helping, healing and providing. In that sense, we can truly understand that old adage that goes for evil to triumph, it is enough that good men do nothing. The truth is that we must live out our faith more. When we have extra food and see a hungry man, it will not do to just pray to God that the hungry may eat because that extra food you have is the answer to your prayer! If someone is in need, then we have to act as the Good Samaritan did, even if the one in need is someone seen as an enemy. We have to love even if it costs us our very lives. It is not easy, which is why we rely on the Holy Spirit for strength to keep going.

We are His hands, feet, tongue, heart and mind. If we expect Him to move in our land and help us, then we must help ourselves for God is already with us and moves in us. We, His children, must do the will of the Father. We do that and I can tell you there will be less evil on this Earth.

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