Friday, July 25, 2014

Of arrogance and humility

“EVERYBODY loves a winner,” so goes the saying. But so does everybody love humility (especially a humble winner, I might add). There are two unfortunate things before us. One, we have a president who was a clear winner but who is not clearly known for humility. Two, a caveat: Humility is a virtue so easy to remember when it is absent in another person. In its place just as easily we spot pride or arrogance. But when humility is absent in ourselves, it is so easy to forget the idea or (with apologies to a song) let it go. Then we call it conviction, courage or determination (when obstinacy or inflexibility would be more in point).
If we turn to the critics of the president, especially after his strong and unyielding defense of the DAP (Disbursement Acceleration Program) or the controversial members of his cabinet, we are likely to hear them accuse him of arrogance or hard-headedness. When we listen to the president or his aides, we hear another story: his firm determination to bring the benefits of government services to as many people as possible. We in Eastern Samar are perennially asking the question: Where have all these services and benefits gone? There is very little evidence of them in the barangays.
When the budget secretary submitted his letter of resignation to own up to the DAP debacle, the president refused to accept it, saying that he does not subscribe “to the notion that doing right by our people is a wrong.” I thought it wasn’t so hard to see that doing right by our people by no means justifies the use of unconstitutional (that is, illegal) means. I also wondered what right or wrong actually means to the chief executive or whether or not he also hears, being a Catholic that he once said he is, advice from the Church’s moral leaders (not to say moral theologians too). I suppose he does; it is another story, of course, if the advice is heeded. There are accusations that his administration used the DAP to pass the Reproductive Health Law, to oust the former Supreme Court Chief Justice Corona etc. If the accusations are true, it makes me wonder even more if he thought in terms of right or wrong in the use of money to court legislators’ and politicians’ votes or support.
To paraphrase St. Augustine, one of our greatest sins is that we prefer to ignore our wrongs and focus on those of another. This is one necessary food for thought that both friends and critics of this administration or of any other person  or group should bear in mind. As long as we are prepared to apply on ourselves the same standards that we assign our critics or enemies, then we are safe from arrogance. Being so positioned is less than a fifteen-minute walk to humility.
In the Catholic mindset humility is an integral part of temperance, the virtue that watches over our appetites such that they do not hinder us from living according to our dignity as God’s children. Humility, St. Thomas Aquinas teaches us, comes from “humus” which means earth or soil. We should not lose sight of how the lowliness of the earth and the soil mirrors the lowly attitude of the humble; it also reminds us of where we came from and where we are going back to. “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” is first cousin to the Pauline exhortation: “Let what you see in Christ be seen in you…Though he was in the form of God, he did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at; rather he emptied himself and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men…he humbled himself” (Phil 2:5-6, 8).
When we are tempted to make gods of ourselves, humility brings up the truth that everything we are and have is grace, gifted on us by the real and true God. Naturally he uses people and circumstances when he does. On this count alone pride is incompatible with discipleship. On this count alone it is perfectly understandable why, inside and outside of the Scriptures, God reveals himself and his plans only to the humble. For how can the true God cultivate a fellowship with someone who considers himself another god? Does not, in fact, the Mother of Jesus say that the Almighty “has looked with favor on his lowly servant, and from this day forward all generations will call me blessed” (Lk 2:48)? And does not the Savior confirm this when he says: “He who exalts himself will be humbled; he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk 14:11)?
It may be humbling for a leader to accept a mistake. But that is the least of his worries. Not doing so out of pride and arrogance is a greater mistake.
You could say it is a bit unfortunate that we can no longer ask, at least in this life, the likes of Cain, Nebuchadnezzar, Hitler etc. or Lucifer himself about the role of pride in their personal histories. But their footprints are still visible today, and they lead nowhere except towards self-destruction.

Which is why a believer, let alone a leader, needs to heed the advice of Micah the prophet to Israel and its leadership: “You have been told, O man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you: to do justice, to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Consequences of dishonesty

THE screaming headlines have it daily. The drama or circus (depending on whose side the onlooker takes) surrounding the detention of celebrity or non-celebrity PDAF scammers continues to take the country by storm. Some protest the special treatment they receive; others cry instead for the improvement of conditions in jails to level up to human dignity; still others simply shrug their shoulders, saying, “Serves them right for stealing us blind.”
            To me all this simply raises the question of the consequences of dishonest living. Even the Scriptures speak of them.
            1. For instance, the NT speaks of the wounding (or severance?) of communion. Tying honesty with the life of communion in the Body of Christ, Paul urges truthfulness among Christians, with communion as motivation: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (Eph 4:25). While we should refrain from reading in the text what isn’t there, this exhortation’s interesting implication is unavoidable: that a disciple’s dishonesty wounds our life of communion in the Body of Christ somewhat like a lying child’s wounding of family unity, hence that child’s earning ostracism from other family members. Let’s put it this way. Being “members of one another” or being in the communion of the Body of Christ, according to Paul, should motivate us to be honest with one another; it follows that a dishonest act, especially one involving millions or even billions of pesos, seriously violates this communion, either wounding it or causing the dishonest person to separate himself from this fraternal fellowship.
            2. There is also the scandal of discovery. In direct language, obviously intended to warn its audience, the book of Proverbs contrasts the consequences of honest behavior and its opposite: “Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out” (Prov 10:9). For reasons relevant to the Philippines, this ageless observation appears to have anticipated the present scandal that has been generated by the Commission On Audit’s unearthing of a cancer. That is, several lawmakers, both from the Senate and  from the House of Representatives, had for many years embroiled themselves in the illegal transfer of public money into fake Non-Government Organizations or aggrupations. With the power of print and social media as well as that of television exposing whatever dishonest dealings or transactions in and out of government and disseminating the information with the speed unknown or unheard only a few years ago, the impact of any dishonesty-related scandal could be devastating and lasting.
            3. Rottenness comes from rottenness as corruption is reaped from corruption. Again we considerer Paul. He categorizes dishonesty among the expressions of our unredeemed nature or of our human nature outside the influence of, or in a state of rebellion to, the Holy Spirit. This he terms “flesh”. Says he: “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that he will also reap. For the one who sows for the benefit of his flesh will reap corruption and death from the flesh, but the one who sows in the spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Gal 6:7-8). It is not too difficult to link dishonesty to the flesh as understood in Pauline theology. For a person who does not submit to the influence and guidance of the Spirit or who ignores the Spirit’s guiding light will more readily give in to dishonesty and wrongdoing. And neither is it difficult to see two more upshots. One, the accumulation of wealth and power comes with the intended beneficiaries being deprived of services and essential benefits due them. Two, dishonesty also comes with habitual flight from responsibility and ultimately corrupts or even damages the dishonest person’s character and life. Of course, this is just the icing of the bitter cake. The real death Paul speaks of is the essence of sin itself which is separation from God, the very anti-thesis of God’s program of eternal life.
            4. The dishonest do a disservice to God’s name. This may be an understatement of Paul’s denunciation of fellow Jews. He takes them to task because, though well-versed in the Law of Moses, they conduct themselves in various shades of rebellion against it. His words apply equally to Christians who live dishonest lives: “While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the Law dishonor God by breaking the Law. For as it is written, ‘The name of God is despised among the Gentiles because of you’” (Rom 2:21-24). We are all extra sensitive when our family’s name is dragged into some scandal. We forget the truth of faith that we all bear our heavenly Father’s name in virtue or in vice: in virtue we give it glory; in dishonesty we disgrace it.
            5. Finally, there is the believer’s greatest agony: being barred from true riches. Jesus himself sees the link between dishonesty and being excluded from true wealth of God’s Kingdom. In the context of the parable of the crafty steward he draws lessons relevant to the question of honesty: “He who can be trusted in little things can be trusted in great ones; he who is dishonest in slight matters will also be dishonest in greater ones. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling questionable money, who could entrust you with true wealth? And if you have not been trustworthy in that which is another’s, who will give you the wealth which is your own?” (Lk 16:10-12). The unmistakable message is simple: A disciple who engages in dishonest dealings on earthly or temporal wealth also proves himself untrustworthy of heavenly treasures. No tragedy could be greater or worse.
            Sometimes we recoil at Scriptural language as too harsh or too crude for our modern ears.

But there is another side of the coin: why should we sugarcoat the harsh reality of dishonesty?