Many people are very concerned today about health foods. There is a strong trend to keep away from junk food, which people claim do not have much nutritional value. The care of the body has become a great concern. Fresh fruit juices and shakes in the malls are becoming very popular. Gourmet food made from vegetables grown in an organic manner, without the use of toxic fertilizers and insecticides, are becoming more and more common in specialty restaurants. Of course, health buffs sacrifice their sleep to go out early in the morning to jog or walk in places where the pollution is not yet intense.
Likewise, all kinds of products are being advertised that care for the body: skin care products, feet care products, facial scrubs, all kinds of lotion, hair softeners, etc. Name it, and practically every part of the body has special products to care for it.
Unfortunately, as this trend towards body care has become so widespread, there is not so much emphasis on care of the spirit. The soul is more important than the body. But the trouble is “soul care” products are such that they cannot be sold in the market for a profit.
Thus, in the glossy magazine now for sale in our magazine stands and bookstores, there is little talk about caring for the soul. These magazines advertise body care products and gadgets of all kinds that make life more physically comfortable, with ads and images that often times may do damage to the spiritual soul of its readers. And yet people do not seem to care about the damage to their souls. They buy these magazines because of their glossy and sensual pictures and articles full of worldly “wisdom.”
Nourishing a person’s inner life
I wonder if people who buy these top-selling glossy magazines know that they are buying “junk food” for the soul: Food that is not fit for life, that cannot nourish our inner life, that simply harms it and may even cause its “death”. It is clear to us how we nourish and strengthen the life of the body: eat well, sleep well, and exercise well. But how do we nourish the life of the spiritual soul? How do we nourish a spirit? It should be clear from the start that the soul could not be destroyed, unlike the body. It is immortal.
To understand how we should nourish the life of our spiritual and immortal soul, let us make some distinctions between what is given to us, what we do freely, and what we acquire.
Each unique person, male or female, is composed of a physical body and a spiritual soul. This is what we mean when we say that we possess a human nature. Now we must understand that God gives our human nature to us with the cooperation of our parents. None of us was asked permission to be born. Man is born out of an act of love from our parents who gave us our body and an act of love from God who created our personal soul. So it is easy for us to be human. It is a given. And without doing anything, we are human always in our nature. We do not acquire human nature through our efforts.
Then after grasping this basic fact that human nature is given to us through no effort of ours, we then realize, on the other hand, that our actions which constitute a person’s behavior is entirely dependent on our efforts. Behavior is rooted in the self and is freely performed by us. God gave us our nature independent of us. But our actions are such that they depend on us since our human nature is such that God made us free, self-determined beings.
The third element to consider is a consequence of our freely performed actions and these are those perfections that we acquire though our actions. Of course, there are three basic acquired perfections that become part of someone’s personality: his knowledge, his skills and his habits.
It is through this third item that we could speak of a person’s inner life growing and being nourished. We grow in our personalities when we acquire knowledge that helps us to be good. Knowledge in itself does not make us good. But the right kind of knowledge helps us be good. Thus we should plan what we read and what we study, what we watch and what we listen to. To ensure that we are not reading trash for the spirit, or watching movies that encourages our base instincts to go wild, or listen to conversations that lead us to sin.
We also nourish our inner life when we perform actions that are truly valuable leading to the acquisition of useful skills. We want to acquire skills that would help us to be useful to people in a good and constructive way, and not in a harmful and destructive manner. We want to acquire skills that would let us earn a living by serving people in a truly helpful manner.
Please note that our knowledge and skills are acquired through our personal efforts using powers God has given. But what kind of knowledge to acquire and what kind of skills to acquire must be linked with what is truly morally good for man. There is no escaping morality, since God made us creatures by essence capable of a moral life. We cannot define the right kind of knowledge and the right kind of skills without making reference to objective moral norms. This leads us to the third item that constitutes our personalities and nourishes our spiritual life.
This third perfection is our habits, which if directed towards what is morally good in our behavior, are called virtues. We nourish our souls by acquiring virtues or good habits. But please be aware that we could also acquire bad habits, vices, which harm our spiritual life and may lead us to a kind of spiritual death. What to acquire, virtues or vices, is always a matter of choice, our choice. God made us free to make our own free choices.
So we nourish our souls basically through virtues. And our knowledge should facilitate the acquisition of virtues. And our skills united to our knowledge and virtues will help us do a lot of good to a lot of people in our lifetime here on earth.
A war of cultures
Thus we become mature persons, with a great capacity to do well. Peter Kreeft, a professor of philosophy at Boston College, tells us graphically that there is a war going on which affects all people without exception. This is not a war of guns and goons and gold or a war of economics, politics and military strength. But rather a war of cultures. This war of the spirit that involves individuals with flesh and bones like each unique human being is. The two cultures at war can be generally described as the culture of the spirit that leads to life and the culture of materialism that leads to death. Simply put, it is a war between good and evil.
Then he says that we cannot remain neutral in this war. We must clearly take sides. And we ought to take the side of the culture of life. If we want to win this culture war, we must know who our enemies are. Kreeft tells us that we have two real enemies. First “our enemies are demons. Fallen angels. Evil spirits. So says St. Paul: We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers of wickedness in high places.” Second, our enemy is ourselves when we become like devils through a life of sin.
And in the end, Kreeft tells us that now that we know that there is a war going on, and we know who our enemies really are, we must then know what weapons to use to win the war. And here Kreeft talks precisely about what I just mentioned earlier. We must acquire virtues to grow and nourish our souls and strengthen it to defeat our enemies and do well to all. Kreeft graphically calls this weapon: holiness or sanctity.
He writes: “The weapon that will win the war and defeat our enemy. All it takes is saints. You can become a saint. Absolutely no one and nothing can stop you. It is your free choice. Here is one of the truest and most terrifying secrets I have ever read (from William Law’s ‘Serious Call’): If you look into your own hearts in complete honesty, you must admit that there is one and only one reason why you are not a saint: you do not wholly want to be.”
We must be willing to pay the price to be a saint, to be a virtuous person and not a vicious one; To spend our lives honoring God above all and serving all people selflessly; To make selflessness a way of life; To practice that highest virtue which is charity.
So, we nourish our souls when we acquire virtues. We must do this through our freely performed acts: Those that are subjectively performed by us and through which we subjectively value what is objectively good for man as defined by the moral law. Thus there is a perfect compatibility between the subjectivity of personal behavior and the existence of objective moral norms.
Subjectivity and objectivity in moral behavior
God has given us all the same human nature, something all human beings have in common. However, he made each human being a unique person.
Man’s uniqueness is rooted in the fact that all personal behavior is rooted in the subjective self. It is our subjectivity that makes us really unique: each one of us was given by God a mind of his own, and a will of our own, to live his own life as he sees fit. No one can live your life for you, think for you and decide for you. You must take hold of your God-given gifts, the powers of your subjectivity, and think for yourself and decide about yourself, aiming at genuine happiness, which all men naturally aspire for.
Live your own life as you see fit. But do you know what is really fit for life? We can only answer this question well if we discover the truth about the existence of objective moral norms rooted in human nature.
I was recently talking to a 25-year old Korean. He told me that he had no religion at all. He explained that in Korea 40% of the people are Buddhists and 30% don’t have any religion whatsoever. His family belongs to this 30%. In his family there are several generations of Koreans without any religion.
However, he explained that he does believe in God who will judge him when he dies. Without being explicit, he was talking about good and evil, about objective morality!
I found this interesting! Though not belonging to an organized religion, this young Korean studying English in the Philippines, affirming that he did not have a religion, nevertheless had religious convictions. Few convictions but religious nevertheless. So I explicitly told him that God would punish him only if he does evil and reward him if he does good. He agreed.
But then I asked him how he knew what was good and what was evil. And here he was not so sure of himself. This is what morality is all about. It is a matter of good and evil. And it is so important for our personal happiness that we better be sure of it. We must be sure that there are objective moral norms rooted in human nature that are independent of the subjective self. These norms guide us in choosing subjectively the only path that leads to genuine happiness. How important these norms are then! Don’t you think so?
It is moral behavior that makes a man truly happy. All other kinds of happiness not based on moral behavior are not true happiness. We are looking for a happiness that lasts forever and truly satisfies the soul. That kind of false happiness may satisfy the body but definitely not the soul. This is morality and it is meant to be crystal clear. Unfortunately my Korean friend was sometimes confused about what is good and evil yet he admitted he did not have a religion to learn from.
It is sadder to find Christians who also are not sure about morality. They are confused as to what determines good and evil, right and wrong. They do not understand how that wonderful gift of freedom that God has given us and that makes us subjective in our behavior, is compatible with the existence of objective norms of morality.
What is fit for us to do? What is fitting behavior for a human being made unto the image and likeness of God? This is what should feed the life of the soul, the inner life of the spirit. Evil destroys a person’s inner life. Evil deeds are not fit to nourish the life of holiness God meant us to live. As a spiritual writer said, men are “human but holy.” Human yes, full of weakness and are fragile. But with God’s grace, we can and must be holy.
More on subjective freedom
Yes, each person must decide for himself what is fit for him to do. Yes, personal behavior is inevitably always subjective. By subjective I do not mean biased or prejudiced. I simply mean that our thinking and deciding and acting are rooted in the self, the person who is an acting subject. Hence the term subjective. All personal behavior is subjective because it is rooted in the self.
And this subjectivity is a wonderful gift from God. He made us capable of deciding about ourselves. He granted us the great gift of freedom, which is a double-edged sword. We can use it to do good, to construct, and to edify. But we could also use it to do evil, to destroy and to cause harm and misery to ourselves and to others. But whatever happens, the self is in control of his inner freedom always. We can either subjectively do good or subjectively do evil. Either way, our behavior is always subjective or personal.
Human beings are not like animals that cannot decide for themselves. Animal behavior is determined by the nature of the animal and its environment. An animal is not free. A dog cannot help but behave like a dog. Birds always behave like birds. They have no choice. They build their nests always in the same way, mate always in the same manner, and eat food always in exactly the same way. Their behavior is objectively determined, not by themselves, but by their nature and environment. Properly speaking, an animal is not a self: it is not a person.
Personal behavior is indeed determined by the self, a human person who is a subject of powers that he himself and he alone is in control of. This is how Pope John Paul II defines the person: “a subjective being, capable of acting in a planned and rational way, capable of deciding about himself, with an inclination towards self-realization.”
Pope John Paul II clearly emphasizes the subjectivity of the human person. The powers that the human self is in control of are the intellect (“capable of acting in a planned and rational way”) and the will (“capable of deciding about himself”). These are the twin spiritual powers of man whose actions are rooted in the self. The intellect thinks of what is truly fitting for man in his behavior. And the will decides to do it or not. The will and the intellect must always work together. The will without the intellect is blind, while the intellect without the will is powerless. The intellect guides the will by showing him the truth about moral behavior, and the will implements that truth, moving the self to live the truth here and now.
And now objective moral norms
And when the Pope tells us that the human person is internally inclined towards self-realization, he is referring to the fact that God has made all men with an inclination to be happy and he has determined the path we should follow if we want to be happy. Yes we are free to make our own decisions about what is fit for our personal life. But what is truly fit for human life God has already determined and engraved in our nature, which is independent of whatever the acting self, the subjective person, chooses to think and do.
This is what confuses people sometimes. Human behavior was meant by God to be profoundly subjective. And yet God objectively defined for us the way we ought to behave if we want to be truly happy! This way of behaving that leads to true happiness is defined or spelled out by the Ten Commandments, the objective moral norms. Some people think that their existence deprives us of our subjectivity or that they make us less free. Others think that because God made us subjective beings, he should not have imposed on us any objective set of norms. Both people are wrong.
Yet it is obvious that all men naturally want to be happy. Though many individual human beings, unfortunately, personally choose to find happiness in a wrong way, in a disorderly manner, in the wrong place, and with the wrong person. They refuse to follow the path objectively defined by God and accessible to their created intellects.
The path to happiness has been defined for us by God and engraved in all men’s heart. These are defined by the moral norms, which are objective, that is, rooted in a reality independent of the acting subject or the subjective ”I”. And yet God wanted that we use our subjective mind to discover what is objectively true about man and happiness and the path to happiness. And to live this truth using our entire subjective being as a person. It is not enough to subjectively know the truth; we must also personally live it!
It is living the truth that feeds our personal soul. Morality is the only spiritual nourishment fit for our spiritual life. And behavior that is immoral does not satisfy the soul. It definitely does not nourish it. In fact it murders the soul in a manner of speaking. It kills the soul. The devils are angelic creatures, pure spirits that know the truth but subjectively refuse to live it. They now belong to Hell where they subjectively curse God for all eternity and are inflicted in their subjectivity with a profound and endless frustration because they can no longer attain that happiness God had ordained them to. They are eternally and hopelessly sad. They are accompanied in Hell by those human persons who used their own subjectivity, seeking happiness in evil deeds while still on Earth and who died unrepentant in spite of all God’s unceasing efforts to save them till the very last moment of their earthly lives.
Sad to say, God’s given gift, our subjective freedom is often misunderstood by people. Freedom is not the power to do whatever you please, as if we possessed an absolute will, free of all restraints and free of all limitations. A freedom that is limitless? No way! In the end, it would self-destruct. Freedom means doing the right thing, and not just anything we want. It must be the right thing. This is a limitation imposed by objective morality upon our subjectivity.
Common sense tells us that personal freedom has limits. There is the inevitable and inescapable limit of our physical condition. Even if you desire to freely fly like a bird, you simply cannot. Your free will is not omnipotent. Some of us enjoyed watching Spiderman in the movies. He was free to roam the skyways, and was strong as a spider. But we know that it was all just a movie. It is not real.
So freedom is limited by our physical condition. And we cannot escape this limitation. If we force ourselves to do something beyond our physical capabilities, we will end up either dead, hurt, or disabled for life. If you force yourself to run faster that you are fit, you may end up with a torn tendon and limping till it heals. If you jump from a very high building, you will inevitably fall down and die because of a crushed skull.
Yet even if our freedom is limited in this physical manner, no one in his right mind thinks of rejecting his freedom and asking God to take it away from him, as if God had gypped him and gave him a freedom that is defective. If he cannot have a freedom without limits, then he thinks God should take it back. He thinks it would be better had he been a stone or a rock whose only “freedom” is to stay where it is. How sad and how childish such an attitude would be. It would even be a kind of madness to spurn freedom simply because it is limited by our physical condition.
Yet there is a worse kind of madness and those inflicted with it are not aware that they are mad. This is the madness that rejects the limitation imposed on our freedom by God’s moral norms. The most significant limitation to our freedom is not the physical type but rather the moral type, which is spiritual in nature. Though important and significant, this limitation is rejected by many sad to say.
There are some also who reject all moral norms. They think that following a moral law deprives us of our subjectivity and makes us slaves. It’s like being bound so tightly that we cannot move. We cannot do what we please. It is so tyrannical of God to make us free and then subject us to a moral law. Who is he trying to fool, they claim! This is a sad state of affairs, because God defined the moral norms so that we could be truly free and truly happy.
But this is the kind of madness, which is also a kind of blindness rooted in pride. God is never a tyrant. He is our loving Father. This is why he placed in all men a natural desire to be happy. And he gave us our own intellect to discover the real way that leads to that happiness. This path to happiness is the moral law rooted in human nature as God made it. But He gave us the wonderful gift of freedom, since he wants us to choose this way to happiness in a self-determined manner, simply because we want to. But this self-determination means that we could choose to do otherwise and refuse to follow the moral law, just to get the wrong kind of happiness he never meant for us. But we do not have to take the path that leads to death and sadness. Its always our choice to choose to do good.
So morality limits our subjective behavior. But it is a limitation that liberates. This is what is meant when by the passage, “the truth shall set you free.” It is the truth about human nature and the demands of the moral law that sets us free if we choose to live this truth. We must live the moral truth if we want to be truly happy. When we choose to reject the moral law and live lives contrary to God’s precepts, we end up enslaved. We become slaves to our pride, to our hatred, to our lusts, to food, sex and drink, to this material world. We become hopeless materialistic, we become addicted to sex, food, drink, comfort, etc.
We can only find a semblance of eternal happiness in pleasures of a spiritual kind. And the greatest spiritual pleasure is that you feel good when you do what is morally good. This is the pleasure that morality gives us. It is the pleasure of a virtuous and saintly life, in spite of our fragility and our failures. And when we die doing good, we find the everlasting pleasure in the life hereafter, the happiness that never ends which all men seek.
But people think that the moral law is a limitation they want to be free off. They claim that they should be allowed to drink us much as they want even if they get drunk and lose consciousness. That is their free choice. They claim that if a lie is useful to them, they should not be told by anyone that it is a sin nevertheless. They insist that if their girlfriend is willing, they should be allowed to have sex before marriage without anyone telling them that they are fornicating. They prefer to call it making love, since fornicating does not sound too good to their ears. They claim that if a woman gets pregnant and she does not want the child, she has the right to abort it, kill the child. And they want to be free not to call it murder but to innocently say that they are terminating a pregnancy. They do not want to be limited by moral law whatsoever.
But note that the limitation imposed by morality is not physical in nature. It is not a limitation that is like physical violence. On the contrary, it is a spiritual type of limitation. And since it is spiritual, it cannot be imposed violently upon us in a physical way. Objective moral values are spiritual in nature. They can only be self- imposed. You cannot force a person to do good. You cannot stop a person from doing evil, if he does not want to. We freely choose to follow God’s law, simply because we want to. And no power on earth or in heaven can stop us from wanting to do good and doing it effectively. Likewise, not even God can stop us from doing evil freely, since he gifted us with freedom and God will never take that gift away as long as we are alive. Enough on freedom. Whatever we say, whatever we understand, it will always remain a mystery. And with the mystery of freedom we will always encounter the mystery of sin.
A summary of virtues
Earlier I had said that it is the virtues that nourish the soul. And these virtues are related to the natural law as enumerated by the “Ten Commandments.” When we perform acts that conform with the natural law, our individual acts are valuable acts for a man to do. As individual acts we can call them values. And when we perform these valuable acts repeatedly, they are transformed into good habits. These we call, virtues.
We are not only interested in performing isolated acts of value, good deeds. We are more interested in stable and constant behavior that is directed to what is truly good. This kind of stable behavior may be described as virtuous. It is obvious that people cherish a virtuous person, as we also spontaneously avoid people who commit evil habitually or vicious.
But virtues can only be acquired in a conscious and intentional manner through the repetition of good deeds or valuable acts. For example, with the passage of time, if one keeps repeating different acts of truthfulness in different circumstances, we get to acquire the virtue of truthfulness, which becomes a stable quality, the possession of our personality. It produces in us a habitual disposition to do good. This is what a virtue is all about.
And virtues are a great help to us because they facilitate the doing of good deeds. Habits normally affect the way we perform our actions. For example, the virtue of truthfulness helps us perform deeds of honesty in a stable, quick, easy, prompt and even enjoyable manner, no matter how difficult telling the truth may be at times.
Unfortunately, this is also true if the habit we possess is a vice. A vice gets a hard grip on us. And it facilitates our performing evil deeds. So if someone has the habit of dishonesty, he would most likely tell lies often times and do it easily, quickly, and promptly. He would frequently deceive people without any hesitation and even “enjoy” doing it.
Since man is essentially a creature of habit, we will end up acquiring habits as we go through the business of living our lives. Thus we might as well intentionally manage our personal lives in such a way that we acquire the good habits and avoid the bad ones.
What follows is a summary of the basic virtues. This is one way of enumerating the basic virtues that nourish the soul. And all explanations of virtues are necessarily linked to the Ten Commandments of God. I call this version of the virtues, the six core moral values. When these values are transformed into habits, we call them virtues.
1. The virtue of honoring God in all we do.
What is the good and proper attitude of man towards God? Since man is a finite and limited being, while God is the absolute and most perfect being, it is but in keeping with the dignity of our human nature to acknowledge God’s greatness over us and our total submission to Him. A person who behaves in this manner towards God is basically a religious person.
A religious person is someone who gives to God what is due to Him. God is entitled to this right and we must respect this. We do this by acknowledging His supreme excellence through adoration, by acknowledging that we are totally dependent on Him, through prayer, and by acknowledging that we are subject to His will, through obedience, starting with His Ten Commandments and any other things He may will us to do. By doing this and more, we love God above all
things and honor Him in all that we do.
2. The virtue of loving people selflessly.
If we understand the immense inherent dignity that every human being possesses, regardless of his behavior or his relationship to us, we will realize that the only proper way to love people is to love them selflessly. We cannot treat a person who has such immense dignity as means to an end. We have to love him as an end in itself. This means that a human person must be loved for his own sake, and not because of what he can do for us. And this implies willing the good of a person without letting our love for him depend on what we can get in return. This may sound like a tall order, an impossible dream. However, precisely because of our spirituality, we are capable of genuine selfless love.
Furthermore, when this love is reciprocated we call it friendship. But we must love all people whether they reciprocate our love or not. In Christian terms, we call this kind of love charity.
More specifically, we must love people with deeds and not just sweet words or nice feelings. And we must love them all as we love ourselves. More perfectly, we must love others as God loves us. Only God can love in a totally selfless manner. When we love someone, even if he does not reciprocate that love, we always end up benefiting, since we are by nature creatures, limited finite beings, who always come out winning when we do good to others.
And more heroically, we are encouraged to love not only our friends and nice people, but also people who are disagreeable to us. And extreme love pushes us to love even our enemies. It is so hard to find naturally loveable enemies. And even if we do not want to have enemies, some people treat us like that. And we must love them too.
3. The virtue or respecting authority.
It is natural for man to live and work in harmony with his fellowmen in the pursuit of a common goal. This living together establishes relationships of authority within the exercise of individual human freedom. Freedom and authority are realities in human interaction. They are not opposed to each other. In fact, they complement each other. Authority is not tyranny. Obedience is not slavery. Authority and obedience do not violate the dignity of human freedom. In fact, authority wielded responsibly enhances human freedom. And freedom that obeys becomes mature and strong.
The virtue of respect for authority has two basic aspects. First, those who wield authority must use it for the good of its constituents, helping them reach their full development. Authority entails power over people that must be used for the good of those people. It would be an abuse of authority if someone uses it for his own advantage, his own good. Second, those subject to authority must obey intelligently. Blind obedience is often times praised, but God gave us a mind of our own to obey intelligently. We must use our heads when we obey, not in order to question or put to doubt the command but in order to know and understand better how to carry it out. Moreover, obedience should be prompt and generous.
3. The virtue of respecting the dignity of human sexuality.
As we deal with our fellow human beings, we will obviously discover that men are either male or female. Man is essentially a being with sexuality manifested in the duality of sexes. And our relationships with our fellow men should be governed by our understanding of the sacred value of human sexuality in the context of our state in life.
Sex and sexuality were never meant to be toys used for our own self-gratification or for the mere pleasure of others. Sex is sacred since it is linked to two wonderful God-given spiritual realities: spousal love and parenthood.
Sex outside these two spiritual realities (marriage and procreation) loses its genuine human meaning and transforms sex into something that degrades man. The value of sexuality should be understood in our total nature as beings composed of body and soul. Sexuality is not only material. It is also spiritual. Thus, sexuality and sex should not be valued only because of the pleasure they can give.
Within marriage, sexual love is romantic, exclusive, lasting and open to life. This is the way God meant it to be. For those who are not married, their sexuality should not be manifested in physical sex through the experience of sexual pleasure. But yes, they can manifest their sexuality in many other ways that are chaste.
5. The virtue of being truthful with charity.
The power of speech was meant by the Author of nature to be used by men in order to communicate the truth to one another. Furthermore, man’s social nature requires that we live with one another in the pursuit of a shared vision and a common good. This, however, is possible only if we can trust one another. And trust is rooted in truthfulness.
Thus it is valuable for man to behave in a way that he respects the truth always. This means that whenever he expresses himself to others, what he says must coincide with what he knows. He must never tell a lie. Lying is always wrong.
However, the situation may sometimes dictate that we are obliged to conceal the truth from people who have no right to the information. But we must never conceal the truth by lying, since lying is always wrong. So situationally concealing the truth may be morally good. But lying is always wrong even if it is beneficial in some way.
On other occasions, we may be obliged to reveal the truth even if it hurts. But we must always reveal the truth always with charity.
Let us live our life with foresight early on. Let us strive to avoid doing anything evil, anything that we would be ashamed of. In this way, we will have very little to conceal from others. Nothing to hide. No need to lie.
6. The virtue of responsible dominion over the material world.
It is people that we must love selflessly. We must not love material things for their own sake. We must not make use of people. But we have to make use of material things, precisely because we are bodily beings. However, our spiritual nature tells us that we should not allow material things to dominate our lives. In other words, we must maintain dominion over material things whenever we use them, never allowing them to control our lives. Use material things because they are good for us, but do not use them in a disorderly way. Do not live your lives as if only material things can truly make you happy. Spiritual goods are still greater than material goods. We must use material things without becoming materialistic.
However, dominion does not entail using material things in any manner whatsoever. We must use material things knowing how to respect their value. We must not destroy the environment by destroying its ecological balance. We should not torture animals, even if we need to slaughter them for food. We must know how to take care of things, making them last so that generations after could benefit from using them.
Private ownership is a basic human right. But if we strive not to be materialistic, then we will know how to share our possessions with our neighbors. This is selflessness in practice. We must also strive to respect the property of others.
These are the six basic human virtues that we should strive to acquire, in order to nourish our spiritual lives. They are ideals of our life. They are of great value and require great effort to attain them. But the effort is worth it since their value is great. And they are ideals that can be attained. Do not equate being idealistic with being unrealistic. It is false. Ideals were meant to be actualized. We should not lower ideals just to make them more accessible to more people. If we lower an ideal, it would no longer be attractive to people. What we should do is to help people acquire those ideals. We should elevate people, not lower their ideals.
Let me now share with you a poem that became famous in Japan after World War II. It is entitled YOUTH and this is what it says:
Youth is not a time of life,
it is a state of mind;
it is not a matter of rosy cheeks,
and supple knees;
it is a matter of the will,
a quality of the imagination,
a vigor of the emotions;
it is freshness
of the deep springs of life.
the temperamental predominance
of courage over timidity,
of the appetite for adventure
over the love of ease.
This often exists in a man of sixty
more than a boy of twenty.
Nobody grows old merely
by a number of years.
We grow old
by deserting our ideals.
And may I emphasize: we grow prematurely old when we desert our ideals so early in our lives. So please do not do anything that would compromise your ideals. Try to be upright always. Never compromise your morals for the sake of survival. Do not compromise your purity just to be accepted by your lustful peers. Do not compromise your integrity by cheating just to make friends with your classmates who do not study. Do not sacrifice your prayer time, just to watch a popular basketball game or TV program. Do not jeopardize your selflessness by refusing to help someone in need just because you don’t like him. Do not destroy your humility by being vain and giving your self importance. Live the virtues always. Never ever desert your ideals!
A matter of conscience
And before I end, just a few words about conscience.
In order to live integrity well, in order to possess a keen sense of what is morally right and to strictly adhere to it, in order to be honorable men and women, we must always make use of our conscience. We should never set it aside in any endeavor. We should make sure it is in good shape. Do not allow it to get rusty or dented. Do not allow it to get perverted and weird.
Without our conscience functioning well and always, we cannot see clearly the path God has pointed out to us that leads to genuine happiness. Do not allow anyone to murder your soul by destroying your ability to distinguish between good and evil. Bad example from our elders and even our peers could influence us the wrong way. A lot of popular culture could help pervert our conscience. Many times we allow ourselves to be deceived.
So surround yourselves with friends who help you to be good. Do not expose yourselves to environments that are amoral or even immoral. And practice self-discipline in all that you do, whether you eat, drink and engaged in merry-making, do all for the love of God.
Once when I lectured at the Securities and Exchange Commission in their EDSA headquarters, a participant came up to me and handed me a sheet of paper with the following printed words.
There is no witness
which dwells in us.
Conscience warns us
as a friend
punishes us as
Its torture is
of a living Soul!
Labor hard to keep alive
on your breast
that little spark
of celestial fire
So if we want to nourish our spiritual lives with the healthy food of values and virtues, we must make sure we use our conscience always. We must make sure we strive hard to form our conscience well. And in this matter, it is important to have a good friend who could be our confidant. A friend whom we trust and whom we can share our inner thoughts and feelings. A friend who will not betray us and who will demand a lot from us in our struggle to be virtuous. Find a friend like that and your path to happiness, though narrow and hard, becomes easy and joyful.
The author finished his Ph.D. in Philosophy at the University of Navarre. He has given hundreds of seminars on ethics and professional development to a wide range of audiences: students, teachers, government employees and company executives for the past 30 years. He is currently the Executive Director of the Institute for Values and Professional Development which provides seminars and training on values education to people of all walks of life.