Monday, July 10, 2006

Kiss of Judas

A few months ago, the Christian world remembered the fateful events of the first Holy Week. There are various crucial moments in the drama of Holy Week. One of the high points is a painful reminder of human weakness and sin. It occurred when one of the disciples of Jesus comes up to him and gives him a kiss. It was Jusdas Iscariot, the group’s treasurer. With Judas’ kiss, soldiers immediately arrest Jesus.

Thus, throughout the millennia, the Kiss of Judas has become synonymous to betrayal, deceit, dishonesty. You still read the sign, “God knows Hudas Not Pay!” hanging conspicuously on jeepneys. That’s what we call cheats in the Philippines, “Hudas!” Rarely then do we meet people whose parents choose the name Jude for their children. Their naughty classmates will quickly translate the name into Pilipino and ridicule the poor kid calling him “Hudas…Hudas…Hudas…”

Today’s news about the recently concluded CBCP meeting in Manila had the interesting title, “CBCP told to beware of Arroyo gifts.” The story of Judas was also the story of a “gift.” It was not just any gift. It was a dirty gift from the Pharisees who gave Judas 30 pieces of silver in order to betray Jesus. At that time, church leaders used money to bribe Judas into betrayal. Ironically, today, it’s the other way around. State leaders are bribing Church leaders to betray the people.

Judas’ betrayal of Jesus was not an overnight process. I could imagine how Judas must have agonized over the offer of a big sum of money in exchange for his loyalty to the Lord. That definitive moment of betrayal must have been preceded by many smaller and seemingly minor moments of dishonesty and disloyalty. We can use traditional confessional box language and say, that it was a mortal sin borne out of a string of venial sins. Truly, whether we look at the genesis of virtue or vice, they all begin with little acts that are initially done sporadically until they happen with greater and greater regularity and finally solidify into a habit.

The debate whether Bishops should receive gifts from Malacanang, particularly from Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is rather tricky. Bishop Jesse Mercado’s predicament is not unique. Should he or shouldn’t he receive rice or medicine for his poor constituency? Material goods and money are not exactly the same. Material goods like food and medicine can immediately be distributed to the people. When I was parish priest in parishes in Quezon City, I was always surprised to receive a Birthday Cake on my birthday from the Mayor.

During the Christmas season, several Christmas “noche Buena” packages carrying the name of the Mayor would suddenly arrive at the Parish Rectory. What did I do with the Cake and the Christmas packages? For a few instance, I immediately erase the icing greetings “Happy Birthday Fr Robert, from Mayor . .” and ask the sacristans to bring the cake to some poor family I know. As to the “noche Buena” packages, I asked the sacristans to buy several plastic bags and we immediately repack the noche-buena packages.

To my conscience, it was enough that I erased any trace of the donor. Indeed, the people who received the cake and the noche Buena packages thought that these came from me. However, in time I had a painful realization. Behind the gift was an intention. I was no personal friend to the Mayor. He did not want to befriend me. What then was the gift for? I realize how untrue, how insincere it was. I realize how the gift was a lie. Also, I realize how a lie cannot erase another lie. Thus, I began to refuse even birthday cakes and noche Buena packages because, I realized how I was becoming part of a lie. By allowing the Mayor to give me gifts, I allow myself to be manipulated, to be part of his official scheme of corrupting parish priests and surely Bishops. I also remember how I refused a 50 thousand peso check from a Presidential candidate in the 1998 election.

The positions taken by Bishop Vicente Navarra and Archbishop Oscar Cruz on the issue of Presidential Gifts are moral and sound. Bishop Navarra said, “It’s wrong. I couldn’t accept them in conscience.” Archbishop Cruz added, “It would tie our hands.” And if I may be aloud to give my own opinion, “ a gift from the President is like a gift from the Pharisees that will lead to the Kiss of Judas. It would do the CBCP good to re-examine their stand, “to leave it to each bishop to decided individually whether to accept Malacanang’s donations or other favors, and be responsible for their actions…” (PDI, Page A1, July 10, 2006 Christian Esguerra, CBCP told to beware of Arroyo gifts.)

A strong, moral, credible and inspiring CBCP would stay clear of anything that weakens, confuses, compromises, corrupts and ultimately destroys their moral voice and leadership.

A few weeks ago, the President also gave a gift to Pope Benedict, the law abolishing the Death Penalty. While that gift was more than medicines and rice, it was still a gift from the President. There are two things that Church leaders are asked to distinguish at all times, “ the Intention and the Gift…the Giver and her/his Intention!

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
July 10, 2006


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