Holy Innovation

Holiness is the birthright of the church’s life. The nearer a person is placed to the church’s reservoir of sanctity, the more that person is obligated to live it according to how the church conceives it. One’s sanctity is confirmed in, by, and for the church; otherwise, it is madness. An individual is not left to choose the way in which he will lay down her life for Christ outside the circle of the revealed truth. However, the church unabashedly urges the faithful to pursue their vocation because she believes that each person is unique and made for a unique vocation. As Von Balthazar puts it, “for each Christian, God has an sublime, unique, and personal Idea and fixes his place within the membership of the church”.[1] The fulfillment of God’s will is to enter into this plan; that’s the gateway to the happy life insofar that’s possible in this life.

Observing the life of the church through the way the saints had lived it, two types emerge. On one hand, we have the typical type who lives the Christian revelation through the normal, ordinary, and unspectacular way. They blossom in the garden of the church and adorn her with their fragrant and eloquent beauty without adding new colors. Most of the saints belong to that category. On the other hand, we have the big guns, bigger than life. They don’t follow the status quo, and yet they are not heretics. They were handpicked as a vessel of election for something unique, spectacular, and unprecedented. What these big fish do left the “small” saints stagnate in mediocrity as if they have done nothing. Their mission flashes across the dome of the church like lightning from heaven and lights up some specific and unique aspect of revelation unknown beforehand. History and time confirm their works as a necessary rock to the edifice of the church. What they do and say are irrefutable, beyond question, and they are prime members. We call them doctors of the church. There are only 33 of them.

aaLet’s look at St. Therese of Lisieux for example. Died at 24, never went to college, cloistered at 14, yet was canonized only 25 years after her death, and now stands as a doctor of the church. She displays the marks of a very defined and exceptional character. Though she had never left the cloistered walls of Carmel, in 1927, she is declared the patroness of Missionaries alongside a towering figure like St Francis Xavier, who brought the Gospel in Central America. In the homily declaring her a doctor of the church, John Paul II states, “when the Magisterium proclaims someone a doctor of the Church, it intends to point out to all the faithful that… the doctrine professed and proclaimed by that person is a reference point. That means it not only conforms to revealed truth, it also sheds new light on the mysteries of the faith, and gives deeper understanding of Christ’s mystery” (3).

What did St. Therese do worthy of being the patroness of missionaries? What is the doctrine upon which she shed light? After receiving a special grace on Christmas Eve 1886, she became animated with a great zeal and ardent desire for souls. “Like His apostles,” she writes, “I have fished all night and caught nothing. [At last], more merciful to me than the disciples, Jesus took the net. He made of me a fisher of souls. I experienced a great desire to work for the conversion of sinners, a desire I hadn’t experienced so intensely before”.[2] So when she was asked why she is entering Carmel, she answered, “I came to save souls and to pray for priests”.[3] She will spend the rest of her life in contemplation of the cross of the Lord, and so doing beg the Lord to save and convert sinners. However, it is how she conceives her time in heaven that bestowed the worthy name of being the patroness of missionaries. It is that same understanding that makes John Paul say that she “shed new lights of the mystery of faith”.

What is heaven for St. Therese? She has always been absorbed in the present moment of God’s grace. She lives out of love, through love, and for love; she lives a love that’s not her own. She participates in the very love of God. love is not bound by time. Consequently, she has no difficulty interpreting the laws of the next world in the term of the circumstances surrounding her love in this world. There’s no difference between her mission in this world and that of heaven. It will be similar when she’s in heaven. Out of love she was praying for priest and the salvation of souls, so that same love will spur her on in heaven. She vowed not to take rest in heaven. “When I die, I will send down a shower of roses from the heavens, I will spend my heaven by doing good on earth”. That’s how she will take care all souls and missionaries scattered throughout the world. Wait! Is heaven not eternal rest anymore? For her, the good God would never inspire her with this desire unless he meant to fulfill it after her death. Clearly, she cannot do it before her death. It has got to be in heaven. As von Balthazar puts it, “it is as though heaven is a garment that has to fit her”.[4] She knows the measure of her unconditional love. The next world must be compatible with it. She is convinced that she will not be inactive in heaven. On her deathbed, she asserts that if “I am leaving the battlefield, it is not to seek repose”.

deathAlthough that may sound unorthodox to pious ears, this understanding of heaven as restlessness echoes some of the church Fathers’ view. We must not be selfish; in heaven, we are no longer wayfarers, so we can focus on helping those striving to get there. The idea that heaven is eternal happiness where all movements cease and we rest in God after the restlessness of this world does not fit the infinite depth of God. As she saw it, heaven is eternal love not eternal happiness because love, which is infinitely richer and deeper than happiness, more fittingly defines God’s being.[5] The greatness of this claim resides not because it comes from a great saint, far from it, it gives us food for thought because she had lived it herself.

It is within this backdrop that she is made patroness of missionaries and doctor of the church. That signifies that if she actually follows through with her plan, all missionaries under her tutelage will be successful. If they are successful, that’s something we had never thought was possible. That’s a breakthrough for us in our effort to understand the exhaustible economy of revelation. If all the above are true, she deserves all titles she receives.

[1] Von Balthazar, Therese of Lisieux, intro p xii

[2] John Clarke, the autobiography of st therese of lisieux, 3rd ed. P98-99

[3] 149

[4] von Balthazar, therese of lisieux, 31

[5] Von Balthazar, 33

The Saints, The Pivotal Players

In the course of the history of the Catholic Church there have been men and women whose lives so transformative and inspiring and who, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, conformed themselves so drastically to Christ that they powerfully impacted not only the Church but the whole world. We call them saints. They are important because they have taken seriously Jesus’ summon to evangelize the whole world (Mt 28:18-20). If they were alive today they would know how to “make the Church of the twentieth century ever more fitted for proclaiming the Gospel to the people of the twentieth century”. They would know how to re-evangelize “countries with ancient Christian roots that are abandoning the church in great numbers, reach out to entire groups of the baptized who have lost a living sense of the faith, …and so live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel.” They would know how to respond to the church’s call for a new evangelization.cs

Although we celebrate particular saints on a daily basis, they are held so highly in the eyes of church, a whole day is dedicated in their honor. That’s what ‘All Saints Day’ is all about. These are men and women who have lived such exemplary and extraordinary lives, the whole world is fascinated by them. they have made the world a better place by their peculiar choice of life. their supernatural and intoxicating fragrance of their holy lives inspire countless sinners to change their lives from a filthy dunghill to a place of prime rest. What is beautiful about them is that anyone, regardless of position, class, gender, race, location, condition, can befriend and invite them in his/her intimate lives fearlessly. With them, one’s secrets are always safe; advices are drawn from the wisest reservoir. They are an absolute and sure measure of one’s growth in virtue. if we borrow lessons from their authentic lives, it is a guarantee that we will be wise and do well. They have lived in different period in history, but their relentless commitment to seek the meaning of life, find purpose and happiness, true love, and alleviate others’ pain make them the most sought after figures in the whole world.

lf-at-8phIn the eve of this great feast of All Saints, it is with a spirit of gratitude that we should reminisce these outstanding men and women who have helped us so much in our journey of self-discovery. Who of us can find the adequate word to express the gift that is St. Augustine to this world? Had he left us simply the Confessions that would have been sufficient for it is a depthless treasure whose bottom is fathomless. How many are happier and more virtuous and living life more meaningfully because they have read him? Will we ever know the influence that St. Therese’s Story of a Soul has had on people from all walks of life? Everyone can relate to her life notwithstanding her too short life. Therese of Lisieux enamored the world with the most beautiful way of approaching life. in her ‘Little Way’ is the key that unlocks the secret box of life’s meaning. What to say of mother Teresa, Catherine of Siena, St. Lawrence, St. Gregory, St. John Paul II, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Francis de Sales, Blessed Laura Vicuna, Our Blessed Lady, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Dominic Savio, St. John Vianney, St, Monica, St. Thomas More, St. Giana, St. Rose de Lima, and countless men and women whose examples have touched millions? I call them my “Little Army”; they have pushed me everyday to become the masterpiece I was created to be.lv

What about them that captivate and intrigue the imaginations of the whole world, be it religious, indifferent, Nones, atheists, agnostics? I think it is their extraordinarily ordinary lives; they unlock something supernaturally natural in the heart of everyone. They have taught us how to fulfill what is required of all of us, but failed in daily, namely, “To act justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).

They are icons of simplicity. Life can be so complicated. They have simplified everything; they have shown us that as long as we keep our eyes fixed on the North Star i.e. God, we will weather anything. They know the one thing to and for which it is worth giving their lives, and they comprehend what to let swung by. Their way of life is life a draft of spring water in the desert heat. Their bright normalcy, simple modesty, and plain humility reveal to us how to tame our complex and proud bestiality. They show us what we could become if we stay on course.

The saints are natural. Although they lived a life worth holding as a mirror for all to look at themselves in, if you had met them, there would be nothing particular extraordinary about their lives. As Diognetus beautifully expounds in his letter, “they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in as long as it is not contrary to reason and right conduct. They play their full role as citizens”. Yes their virtue stands out very pointedly, but they were not unusual. “They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of grace. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. They live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven”. They were a natural flower in the garden of the world, but one not easily succumbs to the power of the scorching sun. Many a time, they went unnoticed because they fit in so well. but they have won the prize; they are at peace forever.Host_004

All of them show us that our vocation is primarily love. How we live that love can be left to our creative imagination. They showed us that even the most uneventful life could become holy by living that life with love. They are highly influential models of sanctity because of the simplicity and practicality of their approach to life. Millions are touched by their intercession and have imitated their lives as a mean to get to the ultimate end.

Many of them transform their surroundings not by the power of their intellect, not by their ability to befriend the powerful and the wealthy, not by their position, but by their commitment to a life of virtue. Through that, they’ve accomplished the unimaginable. Through a life of witness to the gospel, fasting and penances, long hours of Eucharistic adoration, countless hours in prayers, they changed lives. Let these powerful men and women change yours. Learn how they find the most important thing and master it. Learn how they formed habits that helped them master the most important thing. What’s your purpose in life? Find one. Develop the habits that can help you to achieve it. Embrace or discard whatever that can lead you to the purpose. As mark twain once said, the two most important days of your life are the day you were born, and the day you find out why”. You don’t find to look far; the day you were born is definitely a special day. That’s probably one of the happiest days for your parents, but the reason why you’re here is to love, worship, reverence God, and by doing so saves your soul. How best to do this is what the saints showed it. Seat at their school and learn.

The Toughies of the Synod

A new revelation is needed to solve this puzzle. The Holy Spirit needs to arise anew upon the land of the Magisterium if a solution to this enigma is to be found soon. This one is not easy. This is the second synod within a year, yet the same concerns and barriers linger. Yes it is about the Synod on the Family currently happening in Rome under the watchful eyes of Pope Francis. The three most burning issues are deemed the “vexed questions” by the media. Here they are: Should divorced and remarried Catholics be allowed to receive the Eucharist? Can the church recognize some positive values in cohabitation? How can the church take a more positive, welcoming approach to homosexuality? For some, the answer to these questions is clear-cut. Others are persuaded that a pastoral solution is possible.

imagesThe dilemma is the following: a) some divorced and remarried or cohabitating catholic couples maintain that they are starved for the Eucharist; b) the world who has gone bombastic about homosexuality in the last five years. Both of these groups are demanding to be given a seat of honor at the cathedral of the church while Jesus says “whoever divorces his wife… and marries or cohabits with another commits adultery” (Matt. 19:9). Further yet, neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10).

As of now, there are no pastoral answers for these pressuring questions. So the synod is an effort to discover an answer. That would be swimmingly easy had revelation not been very pronounced on these issues. The Pope, the bishops, every pastor, the faithful understand there is a problem, but everyone who understand revelation also understand that whatever solution we find must be faithful to the living tradition of the church.

Iran1If we were a parliament or congress, we could just reverse the law and move forward. But we are not for good or for ill. Whatever we have to pronounce on this topic must be compatible with the “hierarchy of truth”. That means the solution must be measured against the overarching economy of salvation to see if it fits it. Every element of the faith, every particular issue we decide on takes its meaning and force from the central doctrine of the Blessed Trinity. The Christian life is an ever striving to be conformed to the Trinitarian life, who is an indissoluble communion of persons. Faithful to her duty of being the mirror through which the three persons see themselves, she knows that she has no authority to make decisions that do not correspond to their ideal. Hence, no solution is within our power so far.

The discussion has focused a lot on mercy and rightly so because the ministry of Jesus Christ, continued by the church, has mercy at its center. However, mercy and the truth about the human person are intrinsically linked. Out of mercy for this people who long to receive the sacraments, we must do something, but no matter how merciful we are, we have to act within the limit set by He who is the Truth. Concerns to find a pastoral answer cannot trump the truth. Hopefully, prayer and fasting can provide clarity in this one.

family_0About whether there’s value in the so-called cohabitation with a view to marriage, some African bishops would like this to be dealt with according to each region’s culture. in Africa, marriage is negotiated between families and realized in stages, with the couple living together at a certain point before the formal marriage. The delay in marrying is often linked to the man’s inability to come up with the dowry immediately sometimes— interesting huh! They cohabit with a view to marriage. So culture is very entrenched on the issue; the church in the west needs time, wisdom, and prudence to find the best way to proceed on issues like this. Now should the church recognize Christian value in such cohabitation? What do you say?

In an interesting speech given recently at the synod, Pope Francis reminds everyone “the synod journey culminates in listening to the Bishop of Rome, [who is] called to speak authoritatively as ‘the Pastor and Teacher of all Christians.’” We hope he also lets the Holy Spirit speak in him. Let us pray while our fingers are crossed in hope of a bright future for the church centered on Christ and his teachings and where people feel they belong and care for.

A New Tool for Truth

What makes literature so excessively attractive in comparison to philosophy? Why do writers like Albert Camus, Mark Twain, Flannery O’Connor, Dostoyevsky, Nate Hawthorne, Jean Paul Sartre thrive in modernity while Plato, Aristotle, and the scholastics are remembered as ancient and irrelevant? Most prefer to study literature instead of philosophy. Many prefer principles be explicated through novels rather than through philosophical inquiries. Is the modern mind incapable of grasping the depth of the works so they turn to the facile? Do good literary works and philosophical texts not have the same goal? The truth. Although their method of ransacking the truth differs profoundly, they end up at the same destination. Should that not be enough?

albert_camus_quoteAfter all, both help the human person to answer the most salient questions about life. We all want to know what it truly means to be a human being; we want to understand our origin so that we explore better our destiny. We want to know what drives our desires. We hanker to discover the best way to live and why we suffer although we attempt to live a virtuous life. Besides the human experience that provides some insight into the best way to answer these questions, very thoughtful and provocative answers are found in the philosophy inquiries conducted over thousands of years, as well as in literary works developed through the lived-experience of the human person. So in that sense, they stand on the same pedestal. They both teach their students similar things about the school of life.

Why does literature have the edge? It is because literary scholars draw from the human experience to bring out the truth about the human person whereas philosophers remain bound to the most a priori method to come to that same truth, which, although true, are not grounded in matters of fact. For example, if we ask a philosopher and a literary scholar what makes a person uniquely and authentically human? The philosopher, depending on the period, would explore human nature, the soul, and eventually would probably conclude after endless inquiry that the capacity to give meanings to our daily experience is what makes us human. If he is really sharp and grounded, he might conclude that our humanity lies in the unique and authentic capacity to raise our mind beyond this world to a being greater than our littleness. Not that there is anything wrong with that; far from it, but the method would not connect to the sufferings, struggles, doubts, and fears that we experience in our daily life.

Wise-Quotes-33379-statusmind.com_The literary scholar, on the other hand, would probably tell us a beautiful story narrating our senseless experiences. He or she would include human love, stupid dreams, irrational fear, unfounded doubts, and family willy-nilly to make his points. We would see emotions, sex, fights, successes and failures, laughter and sadness, sunrise and sunset, kicking and jumping, life and death etc. He would present the human person with all his cracked part, which would greatly capture the human reality as we live it. These experiences would lead us to understand what we are about and what matters in life.

From these everydayness realities, we would come to understand that we transcend anything that this world can offer. We would come to see that our life only makes sense when we surrender to a being that offers us something higher than natural life can offer. In telling the story, he would meet readers halfway; they would see themselves in the story; it would be as tough he or she is translating their own experience into words. Anyone can relate to this practical and relatable method. Most would concur with the conclusion of course.Edmund-Husserl-Quotes-5

That’s a method a philosopher like Karol Wojtyla understood very early on. Although he was educated in the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas under the tutelage of Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange (no small feet), and later surveyed German philosophers like Kant, Scheler, and Husserl, he embraced rather phenomenology. The latter is an effort to bring back into philosophy the lived-experience of the human person as lived by the human person. It aims at getting to the truth of things-as-they-are i.e. reality. Why we make the choice we make. What our ultimate longing is.

Phenomenology detects the psychological, moral, physical, and conceptual elements of the human person as he/she experiences them. For example, to the question what it means to be human, a phenomenologist would observe how a person relates to another person. What is unique in their relations compared to other living beings. How the heart reacts when we fall in love. How we approach suffering, death, fear, doubts, sin, and failure. From these observing, he would try to understand what that tells us about the human condition. Clearly, phenomenologists are not literary scholars per se, but they make use of the best method in the world of philosophy and literature i.e. they employ literary method to investigate their topic, and use the pertinence and pointedness of philosophy to discover the truth about the human person. That discovery allows them to speak to people in relevant and perspicacious ways that speak to the human experience.

jpiiWojtyla was deeply realistic about the world and the human capacity to find truth in it. In exploring a question, he would always start with the human experience. Thinking, he believes, starts with the human person grounded in his messy experience of the world. The person alone is aware of his being and capable of wonder. From there, we can explore what our vocation is, how best to build our history etc. He remained deeply committed to reason. Not the kind of reason that traps people in an unrealistic cycle, but reason that illuminates the mind to discover who we are and how we ought to subsequently live.

As a professor, that’s what he tried to inculcate in his students. He always pressed his students to speak freely despite reticence. One of his students, just graduated from law school, crammed with Marxist idea, vehemently attacked Wojtyla’s ideas and the church’s teachings on social teaching to the point where all his classmates thought he should be expelled. He went on for long time while Wojtyla attentively listened. When he finally finished, the whole room was filled with a loud silence. Wojtyla simply processed by saying:” Ladies and Gentlemen, what your colleague has just said here is evidence that he is beginning to think theologically”. His reaction galvanized other students to begin to express their own frustrations about the human condition, God, communism, life etc. Starting from the human condition, they explored together the answers.

Tintoretto-CrucifixionThat’s a method that needs to be reintroduced to the intelligentsia today. That would allow us to not only speak to the new generation who is trapped in the whirlwind of technology, but also to discover the kind of truth capable of finding untamed and unexplored territory. The wealth of knowledge left by the ancient and even the modern thinkers cannot be rejected or ignored without doing damage to the future, but I am afraid that’s where we are heading with the new way of doing literature.

It is Wojtyla’s patient way of approaching situations from an observational standpoint that enabled him to have a unique understanding of how to deal with the communists’ unacceptable attitude of oppressing the church in Poland. He has helped shape a new way of thinking with this method, which enabled him to speak to his flock as the bishop of Krakow, Poland despite the pressure of the overly controlling communist government. It is through this lens he understood human dignity, family life, and religious freedom and was able to speak to his flock in ways that made a revolutionary sense for them. It is this method of thinking that guided him in understanding the world he had to deal with as Pope John Paul II. Perhaps, it is this method that will be useful for the new evangelization so desperately needed today.

The Leadership That Marks the World

Deep down, everyone has a deep desire to touch lives, inspire hearts and minds to do the best. We want to do great things. We want to win the great battle. We want to reach the mountaintop. We want to live our ordinary life extraordinarily. We not only want to be these things, we want to point others to them also. The purpose of this paper is to identify some characteristics of an excellent leader.

To be a leader is no walk in the park. We have the arduous task of inspiring ordinary people to attain the extraordinary, and to stir natural man to the supernatural. Leadership demands us to be selfless in the service of others, and to sacrifice our lives to save others; it demands us to act alone sometimes, even if we don’t know most of the consequences— “loneliness of command”. So, that’s why many fail.

Although in the modern world people are reticent to accept things based solely on authority, when someone bold, courageous, fearless, and authentic emerges, they follow him faithfully. Bold leaders who can lead people to greatness inspire people how to win the inner war are followed without question. Young and old, men and women are looking for a leader who can look at them in the eyes and tell them the truth about themselves, about reality and life. They want someone who lives what he teaches. That’s the leader that inspires.

cPeople want a leader who leads by example. Do you ever wonder how was Jesus able to have so many followers, and get 12 uneducated men to set the world on fire through the gospel message? He inspired them through the examples of his life. They remained committed to him because he was never afraid to tell them the truth in love, even when it hurts. Sometimes the truth is so bold and mind boggling, some left, but they returned. “Lord to whom shall we go you have the world of eternal life” (John 6:68).

He was the finest example of authentic leadership. His conviction, humility, oratory skills made him one of the greatest leaders we have ever had. Throughout history, kings, queens, emperors, and presidents send their subjects off to die for them; their servants serve them. Jesus is the only leader who came to serve not to be served, and the only one who died for his subjects. This style of leadership has never been seen before, and I am not sure if any great leader has been wise enough to imitate it. However, the fruit this style bears is more effective than any style we are familiar with. It yields followers who are not afraid to give their lives for him. He has faithful followers in every corner of the earth. Genius huh?

Why was he so successful we may ask? Inspiration is everything. Great ideas and eloquent phrases are indubitably beautiful, but none is more effective than someone capable of inspiring others. The most beautiful speeches that cause change of hearts are not the poetic, and flawlessly written ones; the most effective speeches are demonstrated, and lived. They are the ones that inspire. They are unforgettable.family-driven-faith-3

A true leader is courageous. Courage is a virtue, so it must be acquired. No one was born a leader according to Aristotle. It is a choice just like exercising is a choice. One becomes a strong, courageous, inspiring, and bold leader through practice, sacrifice, and discipline. Jesus was never afraid of the consequences of the truth, like when he was teaching on the Eucharist. The saints are courageous. Was St. Joseph not courageous? Good man, but ordinary man that he was, God asked him to accept Mary as his pregnant wife although he never did the deed; he accepts. Could you believe this? He accepts to take Mary as his wife although he had no idea at first how she became pregnant. That’s bold. That’s courageous. He fulfilled what St. Paul would say years later: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like a man, be strong” (1 Cor. 16:13). That’s what kept the saints going among ridicule, doubts, fears, and during periods of the dark night of the souls. They kept their eyes on the goal. They remained grounded on their spiritual Reference Point— God through daily prayer. Consequently, they won the unfading crown prize.

lincolnCourage is the mother of every great moment and movement that has changed the course of history. It is what led Abraham Lincoln to do fight to preserve the union, abolish slavery, strengthen the federal government, and modernize the economy. It is what inspired Gandhi to stand up for freedom through the use of non-violence against the British. It is what led to the passage and ratification of the Constitutional amendment that guaranteed women the right to vote in 1919. It is how the civil rights movement won passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for black Americans. They succeeded because they were not spiritually malnourished. Courage cannot be maintained unless rooted in a prayer life; that is necessary if anything noteworthy is to be accomplished. Courage, perseverance, and the will to fight for what is right till the very end make them a great leader.

A leadership vacuum exists in our culture. The world is in need of leaders. Our church is in desperate need of leaders who can inspire people to boldly embrace the gospel. We need leaders who are not afraid to defend our divine right in the public square. When we speak, even our own people don’t listen. When we get attacked, we don’t have one voice that could present our case for us, although many little voices are trying. We continue to succumb to the pressure of the masses about what to teach in our schools. We accept the fact that the natural law is not a valid argument in the public square. We continue to honor pro-abortion politicians with honorary degrees in our colleges. Our universities, the media, and Hollywood have done a masterful job at ridiculing every Christian virtue and elevating every form of sin as a noble right, cloaked under the guise of rights of freedom of choice.

slide_346602_3652488_freeThis is a direct result of poor leadership. We are all guilty; if we radically live the gospel, people will listen; they would not trample our views underfoot; they would not dare asking us to cover our cross when they are passing by. It does not take too many to change this trend. Just as it did not take too many St. John Vianneys to change the city of Ars, just as it did not need too many Mother Teresas to transform Calcutta, just as it did not take too many John Paul IIs to change Poland, it will not take too many of us to change this trend. But it will take some of us. Don’t ask who will it be? Look in the mirror.

May the Good Lord give rise to courageous leaders capable of leading us out of this mess. Amen.

The Friendship That Lasts

There’s nothing more beautiful in this life than a beautiful friendship. For Ben Sirach the sage, “a true friend is a sturdy shelter; he who has found one finds a treasure”. A true friend is beyond price; no amount can balance his worth. A loyal friend is like a medicine that keeps you in good health. Only those who fear the Lord can find such a friend (Sir. 6:114-7). Thomas Aquinas agrees. He says “There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship” (Summa Theologica, Supplement Question 73, Article 1). Aristotle noted in the Nicomachean Ethics book VIII that a friendship based on virtue is the most glorious thing we can achieve on earth. Some go through life without ever finding one; these are grumpy and frustrated. Others do find one, but fail to recognize his value; these have experienced some good days. Still others find one, but only recognize his value after he loses that friendship. These kinds are in search of that true friendship. And the luckiest of them all do find a true friend and ipso facto recognize that gift and cherish it like the greatest pearl. That one is blessed indeed.

friendWho is a true friend? It is someone who is there, physically or in spirit, in moments of anguish, trials, adversity, joy and festive. It is someone who is not afraid to challenge you to become the most virtuous, disciplined, and the best you can be in life. A true friend is always honest and trustworthy. A true friend knows his friends. A true friend lets himself be known.If you want a true friend, become one yourself.

So it is really difficult to find a true friend, and it takes time to come to maturity. According to Cicero, “nothing in the world is harder to find than an excellent friend” (on friendship #21). Only the test of time allows us to know whether or not we have found one. Plutarch, the first century Roman philosopher, argues that a true friend stays true to the truth; a true friend is not a yes-man; he approves only what is good in his friend, and would even go so far as to hurt him for the good. Plutarch suggests that we test friendship by pretending to change back and forth to see whether he will follow indiscriminately. Not a bad idea!

For Cicero, goodness is what makes friendship work. Friendship can only exist between good people. By good, he means those whose actions and lives are unquestionable; those who are free from greed, lust, and violence; those who have the courage of their convictions (Essay on friendship #5). In this view, friendship is defined as a complete accord on all subjects human and divine, joined with mutual goodwill and affection. The latter is crucial for friendship. Without it, there may be a relationship, but not friendship. The former is what binds the friendship together. They help each other discover what is most important in life and they encourage each other to live it out. Aristotle views friendship as a necessity, but something rare to find. That view finds echo in Aristotle’s Nicomacheans ethics, he asserts that a friendship grounded on goodness has a lasting quality to it.

fraThe saints are the best of friends. Whereas you and I can be unbearable at times, the saints are always pleasant company. They don’t show off; they don’t blame; they show no petty humor; they don’t lecture us even when they should. They challenge, inspire, and encourage us by simply living their own lives to the fullest. By the examples of their lives, we are inspired to live the ordinary circumstances of our daily lives extraordinarily. Think of Pier Giorgio Frassati. He bore witness to his faith among his friends in the most exemplary ways. He did not force them into his way, but his beautiful life inspires them to adopt his way. His dedication to the poor made him outstanding among us all. How many of his friends did he influence to live a more humble, joyful, helpful, and meaningful life by his dedication? Goodness is contagious. Even a blind man knows when he is in the presence of a bright light.

Virtue precedes friendship. It is the standard by which we measure friendship. How can life be worth living without friends? There is nothing more delightful than to have a trusted friend to whom you can say everything with the same absolute confidence as to yourself. Without a friend to share one’s joy, prosperity is devalued by half. Misfortunes would be unbearable without a friend to feel them on one’s side (on friendship #6). The attitude of job’s three friends corroborates this view. When they heard of his troubles, they went and empathize with him and comfort him. They could hardly recognize him; they weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. They sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights without saying a word (Job 2:11-13). Friends such as these, everyone needs one. So true friendship enhances even the most unbearable misfortunes of life.job

Cicero, the greatest of the Roman orators, asserts that friendship embraces innumerable advantages. It is more expedient and universal than wealth, power, office, and honor. Where true friendship exists, it enhances prosperity, and relieves adversity of its burden by half (on friendship #6). A true friend is the image of a second self. Where one’s friend is one is; if his friend is rich, he is not poor; though he is weak, his friend’s strength is his; and in his friend’s life he enjoys a second life even after his own is finished. The Romans went so far as to say that whatever in nature and the universe was unchangeable was so in virtue of the binding force of friendship (friendship #7). There’s a lot to chew on here.

Choose your friends wisely. As the proverb goes, “you end up resembling whoever you spend most of your time with”. If you had a choice between St. Clare, St Joseph, and St. Francis and Jay-Z, Taylor Swift, and Bruno Mars, who would you choose? Is it not better to spend time with dead people who bring us to life and with live people who bring us to death? If you could choose between virtues and vices, spiritual growth and material growth, what would you choose? You have that choice. Choose wisely.

Befriend the saints and you will be the best of friend to your friends. Nothing is more precious than a spiritual friend because it does not seek its own advantage but the well-being of the other. That’s the selfless and unconditional love that’s born out of true friendship.

From Their Biography

What do all successful CEOs, athletes, authors, scientists, inventors, or anybody who made it have in common? What do Steve jobs, Michael Jordan, Dante Aleghieri, Louis Pasteur, Leonardo Da Vinci have in common? We often forget that they were not born famous, wealthy, and successful. We forget they were once unknown and unimportant. We tend to forget about their hard work, the setbacks they encountered, and the determination they showed before they got to stand on the pinnacle of the world’s cathedral. It can help us if we remember that they failed just as you and I have and will. They knew setbacks, dark nights, the bottom, and bitterness. The difference is whenever they fell, they dust themselves off and try again. They learned from their failure and moved on to the next challenge.

What makes them stand out? Why are their names on everyone’s lips today? The answer lies in their ability to remain focus on the goal. FOCUS is what they share in common. It is ingrained in their personality and honed in their DNA. They persevered despite thick and thin. And at the end, they win the prize. Perhaps, their advice can help us on our own journey (whatever that journey is).

Take Jerry Seinfeld for instance. The first time he went on stage, he was booed, ridiculed, and humiliated. What did he do? He went back to that same theater next time with renewed confidence and better prepared. He stayed at it. He kept the fight, and he won the war. It is inevitable that we lose some battles. But it is contingent on us to win the war. We learn from the losses and use them to win the war. Life is a battleship; those who survive are heroes. As someone once said, “the rule of life is tough, but once you reach the top, the view is pretty amazing”. So what does Seinfeld learn from his failure? “Keep your head up in failure and your head down in success.” Courage and focus make him one of the most beloved comedians on television. Failure then is part of the game. As Janet Fitch eloquently says it: “The phoenix must burn to emerge.”

Another inspiring figure is the British author J.K. Rowling, whose brilliant writings we have grown admiring through the Harry Potter movies. She knows what it means to give herself to the one thing that matters. Once she discovered the one, it grabs her whole being. Once she found the pearl, she sublimates all her energy to it. This is how she expressed her attitude at a commencement speech at Harvard university: ”… I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged.”

Know this: those who don’t fail are those who don’t try. Failure can be the wings upon which you reach success. Don’t be afraid to ride on it. Many seem to thrive on it. It motivates them to keep on improving. Michael Jordan has an outstanding take on failure. The best basketball player in NBA history, the legend, the champion has lost many games, missed many shots, but he used them to win five championships and a handful of MVPs. As he puts it: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” He failed and that motivates him to improve.

churchill2-300x224What to say of the most successful person in human history, Jesus Christ, the son of Mary and Joseph? He asked the father to take away the cup from him. 3 times he fell on his way to Calvary; he endured 480 strokes, nailed to a cross, beaten beyond recognition, and humiliated to death. He persevered to the very last breath. The result is astonishing and magnificent, astonishingly magnificent, and magnificently astonishing; “I have made all things new”; the whole human race is redeemed. Creation is restored. Greatest success than this there is none. By the power of Christ crucified, we can do all things. No mountains are too steep for us. so in our efforts to be a a more virtuous person, a holier Christian, a better teacher, parent, child etc. We will know setbacks and many dark moments, but we can use them for our benefits. Focus. “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Heb. 12:2). Pray for the grace to stay focus. There will be noise around you; there will be distractions; there will be threats. Just keep your eyes on the goal. Focus on the one thing you know you can do. Fail at it. Try again. Do better the second time. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire.