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Fr. Francis Ongkingco


Fr. Francis OngkingcoIn our fast-paced and changing world, Do It Yourself resources are almost indispensable. They fill up bookstores and the Internet abounds with “self-help” and “do-it-yourself” kits, manuals, and video tutorials.

The range of topics these DIY sources cover is the universe of man’s basic needs: personal, social, economic and material needs, etc. For example, once product warranty is over, one could Google or Youtube a simple fix for a washing-machine or to get ideas for a school project, etc. This amazing alternative of being able to fix your household equipment and many more, isn’t only economical but also helps one learn new tasks and skills. Of course, resorting to professional help may still be needed—given the possible hazards and special tools we may not have—when dealing with more sophisticated gadgets or appliances.

Outside of these material concerns is the constant hunger of every man and woman to seek self-improvement, equilibrium, and fulfillment. Our nature’s imperfections imply that there will always be relationships to improve or fix, work to make more efficient and productive, emotional and psychological settings that have to be positively tweaked!

Thus, the self-help universe is becoming both a challenging and lucrative niche for many life-coaches, diet/health doctors, therapists, mentors, directors, and more. These are but a testimony of man’s natural hunger for inner integration and perfection.

The common idea in many of these DIY character forging sources is: You can do it!

Isn’t this great? We can actually fix ourselves? But as liberating and fulfilling this motto may sound, it contains a subtle personal distortion: overemphasis on the self’s capacity. David Brooks says we developed this self-mentality from what the philosopher Charles Taylor called the “culture of authenticity”:
“This mindset is based on the romantic idea that each of us has a Golden Figure in the core of our self. There is an innately good True Self, which can be trusted, consulted, and gotten in touch with. Your personal feelings are the best guide for what is right and wrong. (…) Your desires are like inner oracles for what is right and true. You know you are doing the right thing when you feel good inside. The valid rules of life are those you make or accept for yourself and that feel right to you. (Road to Character)”

Undoubtedly, with a power-tool like freedom man can plot his destiny for better as well as for worse. Man realizes that every DIY method has its limits. It may solve problems of the mind, body and emotions but cannot fully address the unique needs of his soul.

This is especially true when it comes to the experience of sin on the person. No matter how much modern thinkers try to deny or belittle the reality of sin, its glaring effects in murder, injustice, corruption, etc. cannot be trivialized. Man humbly becomes aware that the healing of his sinful condition can only come outside, from someone (not something) who can forgive sins: that is, God.

Now God has a different DIY. He could have looked upon man’s sinful condition and said, “Don’t Involve Yourself! After all, it’s man’s fault!” But He chose otherwise, in fact, He became too involved by becoming a man. Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Letter closing the Jubilee Year of Mercy emotionally describes how Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery. He says: “This Gospel account, however, is not an encounter of sin and judgment in the abstract, but of a sinner and her Saviour. Jesus looked that woman in the eye and read in her heart a desire to be understood, forgiven, and set free. (Misericordia et misera no. 1)”
Jesus wasn’t going to give her a quick fix for sin, or a vaccine that would prevent her from ever sinning again. No! Jesus isn’t looking for sinless men or women, He wants men and women who are willing to love and trust in Him in this co-project of man’s holiness.

“Mercy gives rise to joy, because our hearts are opened to the hope of a new life. The joy of forgiveness is inexpressible, yet it radiates all around us whenever we experience forgiveness. Its source is in the love with which God comes to meet us, breaking through walls of selfishness that surround us, in order to make us in turn instruments of mercy. (Ibid. no. 3)”

If we humbly decide to carry on with our miseries, limitations, and trials with Jesus’ help, we will never be overcome by sadness or depression. Instead, our weaknesses will always be occasions to encounter Jesus’ merciful presence and love.

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