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Spiritual waste management

It is most certainly hard to see God when we are so full of spiritual trash inside

Today let us focus our reflection on what I would call “spiritual waste management.” We have to begin by saying, on the basis of today’s Gospel, that there is also such a thing as spiritual garbage or “basura.” Jesus speaks about the things that can pollute us inside.

Of course the trash that we are more familiar with are the material wastes that we usually dispose. We know how our solid wastes, liquid wastes and gaseous waste materials can pollute the air, water and earth, if we don’t manage them well. Environmentalists now teach us how to manage our wastes responsibly. Meaning, in a manner that does not abuse or destroy the earth, our common home. We have to learn to be more mindful of our environment by managing our wastes, following some ecologically-friendly waste management methods: segregate, compost, recycle.

But the Gospel today convinces me that, like material wastes, our spiritual wastes also have to be managed well if we don’t want them to pollute our lives.

Interestingly, in Kapampangan we also refer to anger and resentment as SUKAL LUB, literally—TRASH INSIDE, or spiritual garbage. It means we are conscious of the fact that aside from material wastes, we also generate a lot of spiritual trash. And these can pollute our thoughts, speech, and feelings towards other people, as Jesus points out in the Gospel.

I think Jesus also expects us, his disciples, to learn to manage our spiritual wastes if we want to live a truly blessed life. One of Jesus’ beatitudes in the famous Sermon on the Mount—just two chapters before our Gospel reading for this Sunday—says, “BLESSED ARE THE PURE OF HEART FOR THEY SHALL SEE GOD.” (Mt 5:8)

That beatitude presupposes that there are instances when people’s hearts can be so clouded by anger, resentment, envy, pride, malice, fears and insecurities, such that they are unable to see goodness around them anymore. These inner pollutants can push us to commit murder, false witnessing, stealing, adultery, etc.

In his commentary to the commandments in the earlier part of the Sermon on the Mount in Chapter 6, Jesus calls attention to what he regards as the root causes of SIN, the pollution of the soul. And so he says, in reaction to the Pharisees who are too preoccupied with external purity and strict regulations about food that may cause spiritual impurity, “It is not what you put in your mouth that makes you unclean!” It is rather what comes out of your heart through your thoughts, feelings, words and actions!

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It is most certainly hard to see God when we are so full of spiritual trash inside. Ill will makes us see wrong in anything that our neighbors might be doing. In Tagalog we have the expression MASAMA ANG LOOB to describe the feeling of a person who nurses anger in his heart. His perception gets colored or conditioned by his inner disposition.

I think the basic principles applied by ecological advocates for material waste management—segregate; and what you have segregated, you either compost or recycle. The same principles can also be applied in managing our spiritual basura.

A Filipino Catholic raises Rosary beads during a religious procession in Manila. (File photo by Mark Saludes)

First, SEGREGATE, meaning, sort out—the way we separate the “biodegradables” from the non-“biodegradables.” For spiritual wastes, we also have to sort out between what comes from the good spirit and what comes from the evil spirit. Sometimes even our thoughts are not purely ours. We can either be guided by the good spirits or allow ourselves to be influenced by the evil one.

Everything else gets so polluted inside us if we do not know how to segregate or sort out our thoughts and feelings. One form of spiritual segregating is distinguishing between person and action; for Jesus, in order to learn mercy, we must hate sin but love the sinner nevertheless.

There are many examples of the ill effects of not learning to do spiritual sorting out. We hear, for instance, of instances of road rage or crimes of passion around us. One of the most popular forms of therapy in America is ANGER MANAGEMENT. They know that people are capable of snapping and losing rationality when overcome by negative feelings.

One of the forms of therapy usually recommended is to verbalize the feelings, to bring them into our awareness or consciousness (and that’s when we refer to them as emotions). Writing down our raw feelings is a good form of therapy. One word of warning, though. If you decide to mail it or text it or email it, send it only to yourself, because you may end up regretting having sent it.

You can express it also through painting or through sports, or talk about it to someone trustworthy. The basic objective is to understand what these emotions are telling us about ourselves, in order to know what to do about them. Some people think getting angry is a sin in itself. No, it is what the feeling can drive us to do that may lead to sin. St. Paul actually says that in Ephesians 4:26: “If you are angry, do not let it lead you to sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.”

Second, learn to do some spiritual composting or recycling. There are spiritual wastes that are best dissolved, and those that can be recycled. There are those that are best forgotten and those that need to be remembered. Waste management teaches us to do it selectively.

Streaks of light from candles held by an estimated 80,000 devotees light the early morning during the "Penitential Walk with Jesus" in Cebu City on Jan. 11, 2018, the first day of the nine-day of prayers in preparation for the Feast of the Santo Niño. (File photo by Victor Kintanar)
Streaks of light from candles held by an estimated 80,000 devotees light the early morning during the “Penitential Walk with Jesus” in Cebu City on Jan. 11, 2018, the first day of the nine-day of prayers in preparation for the Feast of the Santo Niño. (File photo by Victor Kintanar)

The key word is SELECTIVELY. Some things are best allowed to be dissolved into oblivion. After all, not everything needs to be remembered. If we allow the negative memories to keep rewinding in our consciousness they can keep us in a permanent state of victimhood. There is no healing that takes place that way.

The pain remains as fresh as when it happened the first time when we allow the emotional wounds to fester. And the spiritual infection can spread within us when we keep remembering what is best forgotten.

On the other hand, POSITIVE REMEMBERING is also part of spiritual waste management; it is a kind of creative recycling (the way you turn a discarded plastic bucket into a plant pot). You bring the experience back into your awareness only to learn some lessons from it, to gain wisdom from it. You transform the negative experience into a positive energy that makes you stronger and more capable of facing similar experiences in the future.

The whole point to it is to aspire TO HEAL, TO BECOME WHOLE AGAIN, TO “RE-MEMBER”—in the sense of putting oneself together again in one piece, which is the opposite of DISMEMBERING.

Positive remembering can lead to reconciliation. But it can happen only if the remembering is coupled by the humility to admit our shortcomings, to be sorry and make amends for them, to forgive or to seek forgiveness for them.

There you are. Please do not allow your souls to be polluted. Segregate, compost and recycle spiritual wastes, for a healthy spiritual life.

Homily of Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

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