Friday, April 4, 2008


N.B. What follows are snippets of thoughts penned down during election fever in the US 4 years ago, when I was residing in Baltimore, MD.

February 11, 2004

Dear friends,

I thought I should be less formal and tell you my thoughts, news, and views by way of a letter – or at least, one that looks like one. Been raring to tell you a whole lot of stuff … To sum it all up, for a starter, I thought I’d tell you that there is a big difference between being an occasional “tourist” in America, and being a more or less long-time “resident,” which I have sort of become over the past 7 months.

America looks different from a visitor’s point of view, especially if all one sees are airports, resorts, theme parks and the relative comforts of some relative’s or acquaintance’s home. But when all that “fun” takes a back seat to the reality of a complicated weather system during winter, having to drive around in less than ideal conditions, (and using a less than “new” car), trying to keep afloat owing to so many checks and security measures adopted by a government that has become more than paranoid after 9/11, having to assure oneself through hard work that one’s meager funds would extend all the way to the end of the course, having to deal with an occasional (though rare, I must say) case of very subtle racial discrimination (or some level of non-acceptance owing to differences in culture and ignorance more than bad will), all you have is a very real longing to be back where you have gotten most used to – the familiar sights and sounds of home that perchance one has taken for granted in many ways.

I believe that those of us who have opted to stay here really are caught in a love-hate relationship with America they have chosen to call home, whether they realize it or not. (The home-grown kids and young adults are a different story). There sure are a lot of advantages about being here: a steady source of livelihood that assures one a decent living for less stress and less effort on the whole; a relatively greater possibility of a healthier lifestyle; affordable housing and education, financial security, to name just a few. But I believe that in exchange for such “essentials” a whole lot more is expended in terms of high prices to pay: the separation from kin that is the hallmark of Filipino culture; the loss of that support structure that is the close-knit extended family system that Filipinos hold on to, especially in these past years of political turmoil after political turmoil; a sense of identity as a Filipino that one need not be defensive for back home, nor feel touchy about.

I must tell you that I basically enjoy preaching here in the U.S. Since they are generally straightforward, they give you feedback and tell you their appreciation or their reservations, as the case may be. One of my avid listeners and admirers happens to be a four-term senator for the federal government, and former secretary of health during the term of Ronald Reagan. She religiously and dutifully attends the First Friday Mass and all-night adoration where I have to deliver two homilies, and an occasional extra talk during the course of the night.

In the Philippines, I have learned to be a bit wary of people who come up to you after Mass. While 99 per cent of them would do so to commend you and congratulate you, or at least ask for some clarifications about what I said in the homily, occasionally, you get to have some crank who comes up to argue with you. Invariably, they would start by asking what appears to be an innocuous question. But it would not take long for you to realize they have come not in search for the truth, but in search of an argument. They have come to convert you to their brand of truth. They have an axe to grind against something the Church teaches, and something I have said in the homily that supports it. A Filipina lady came up to me after Mass at World Bank in D.C. the other week. She starts out by asking me if she could ask a question. Why yes, I said. Then she began perorating. I think that many people are unaware about something that you should be preaching about, she said. What about? I asked. So many people do not know that they have to do their morning offering everyday. I told her I am not sure about whether everyone, everyday ought to pray the Morning Offering. What I do know is that all Christians have to have a daily prayer routine which may or may not include the formula she was talking about (I am familiar with this as this prayer is said daily in most parishes in the Philippines.) At that point she became agitated and began insisting that I teach everyone the absolute need to recite the Morning Offering everyday. There was “passion” in her eyes, and as a trained observer of human behavior, I knew that there was even a tinge of anger and disappointment.

There is simply a whole lot for me to share about the reality I see here in America – the fact that it is so multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-religious. It is also a fertile breeding ground for so many newfangled teachings and religions. In America, you can sell anything and everything provided you are market-savvy and you know how to tickle your potential buyers’ ears and make inroads into their hearts. What else explains the fact that “gurus” from India who find it so hard to even have a decent following in their own country suddenly become “proprietors” of big, booming economic empires here in the U.S.? What else explains the fact that New Age doctrines and practices use the American society as springboard to get to the rest of the world? How does one explain the fact that here an endless variety of sects and new religions thrive?

Intelligence alone is not sufficient for anyone to get by in life with a perfect sense of balance… By no means. There is a whole lot of psychological deficits in people’s lives that traditional and mainstream religions like Catholicism are ill equipped to cater to. Given the nature of the Catholic Church as both institutional and charismatic, with the former as mistakenly being seen as the essential and more important aspect, individuals with “object relations” deficits of whatever type or intensity, or people with relational deficits in childhood, as in the case of individuals who never quite learned to bond with a parent in childhood, are perfect candidates for conversion to such warm and cuddly and artificially caring (at least initially) religious groups. The proverbial search for the “father figure” whom one ironically may have rejected growing up as a child, comes back to haunt the individual, and the emotional deficit, more often than not, is supplied for by a guru who preaches a very person-oriented brand of a very deep spirituality – the very thing that is lacking in the person’s life. Spirituality is basically a relationship in its essence, and unfortunately, this is not the kind of thing that the institutional Church seems to be a great model and preacher of, at least in the minds of so many whose knowledge of the Church is so superficial.

I feel very sad that so many fall for the antics of these false prophets who capitalize on the “emotional illiteracy” and the various forms of psychological deficits of so many whose attachment to what appears to be a primal authority father figure that is the institutional Church is, indeed, tenuous, and intermixed with so much “parataxic distortions” that the very same people who fall for them are not even conscious about.

This is, indeed, a big challenge for pastors and educators like us. Incidentally, I have always wondered why the institutional Church, contrary to her tradition, does not emphasize the Church as mother! There is so much of patriarchy in current theological thinking, which needs to be balanced by a lot more of the maternal element especially in the area of pastoral theology.

Incidentally, the problems some religious face vis-à-vis authority figures, the relational problems members of various congregations face, the crises they find themselves into… why, even the squabbles and “tampuhans” within our covenanted communities - all these could use a little more help from the science of psychology. Too bad, Freud has been getting a very bad rap all these years (for right reasons, I must say), but too bad, too, that people have thrown the baby with the bath water. A lot of later followers of Freud who revised his theory have a lot to say about us and about our complex human behavior without subscribing to his deterministic and patently sexual instinctive/drive theory. There is a whole lot to be investigated in each one’s “object relations” in infancy and childhood which may well stand at the bottom of so many of our issues as priests and religious, and as ordinary Christians. Over here in the US, I am fascinated by a parish priest who, true to that category we refer to as “soft-liberals,” always has to say something negative against the Vatican, the Holy Father, his bishop. He laments the fact that unfortunately, when a priest gets promoted and puts on the miter, his head disappears. (He means the guy ceases to think rightly once he puts on the miter!) Poor Church... People are confused because of the so many direct and indirect attacks against orthodoxy, mostly coming from confused pastors.

I have a lot more thoughts to spare a penny for. I end with a few funny vignettes. Three young adults woke up at dawn to steal money from a 7-11 store. They succeeded. They got all the money from the register. But the following morning, they were collared. Reason? It just snowed the night before and all the police needed to do was to follow their tracks in the virgin snow. Simple? Another… a 21 year old man shipped himself to Texas by air, putting himself in a wooden box and was delivered right before his mother’s doorstep. He said he wanted to save money on the plane fare. He spent more than a thousand dollars for the shipping. The cost of the actual plane fare first class to Houston? 400 something dollars! Only in America! The founder of the Atkins diet, that which tells you to eat as much meat and fat as you like while avoiding carbs has been dead for well over a year now. Now reports are saying he died overweight at 72. The diet has become the latest craze all over the U.S. Even fast food joints like Subway have began offering stuff like “Atkins-friendly wraps” and the like. People go gaga avoiding carbs like pasta, bread, potatoes, etc – exactly what a decade ago they were saying they should stuff themselves with! In a country where 130 million are overweight, and 60 million are pathologically obese, one long-standing obsession has to do with the great big diet debate. In the last three decades that the debate has see-sawed from one extreme to the other, in the meantime, the average amount of calories people here are ingesting everyday has steadily increased – and counting.

A group has filed a suit against the fast-food industry. Guess who make up that group? The obese who complain that their obesity was due to the fast-food chains who have been serving high-fat, high-salt, and high cholesterol food all these years! Only in America!

Doctors here now are no longer the supercilious and proud people they once used to be.
Their incomes have shrunken considerably, partly because they have to pay unbelievably high malpractice insurance rates, in many cases to the tune of a hundred grand a year. Few doctors now want to be ob-gyn who deliver babies. That is where most litigations happen.

The presidential primaries as they call it here, are in full swing. Over here, it is mostly politics of ideas, not personalities. Over there it is a different ballgame altogether. Whatever the outcome over here would be, life is expected to remain pretty much the same; the engine of capitalism and rugged individualism gets the upper hand, in the long run. In our case in the Philippines, unfortunately, the single greatest obstacle to national progress has been politics plain and simple, abetted by the Church’s anemic evangelization that, for all its sound and fury during PCP-II, never quite took off the ground as expected.

Well, to end this, maybe I need to ask you pointblank as did that lady after my Mass … do you do your Morning Offering everyday? If we are to follow her way, the solution to all the world’s problem is this and only this: people ought to do their morning offering!