Thursday, August 10, 2006


We call it the sacrament of Reconciliation instead of Penance. Penance puts emphasis on the sinner’s free and willing acceptance of a form of sacrifice as reparation for the damage or injury his sin has caused. Thus penance focuses on an action which is intended to restore a relationship broken by sin. In reconciliation, the emphasis is on the relationship between God and the sinner. The focus is on the relationship that is restored and once again set right in order to receive and celebrate more life and grace.

While the word penance has a clearly punitive color, the word reconciliation has a more positive and restorative tone. The story of the prodigal son illustrates the spirit of reconciliation between an infinitely loving and merciful father and his confused and erring son. The profligate son has literally begun scraping the bottom, eating with the pigs. He returns hungry, desperate and broken to a father who has always waited for the moment of his return. The prodigal son’s return is all that mattered to his father whose love indeed is more prodigious than the sins of his son. Some religious writers have suggested that perhaps the story is not so much about a prodigal son as it is about a prodigal father whose mercy flows from a pure and infinite love.

Hidden behind this remarkable love is the father’s humility which enables him to bend low even to the point of kissing the feet of his sinful son if only to make him feel forgiven and loved. It is to this loving, merciful and mysteriously humble God that we un-loving, cruel and arrogant creatures return and beg to be reconciled through the sacraments. And indeed, after good and sincere confession this is what we feel and are, reconciled and restored to our relationship to the loving and merciful God.

A few days ago, Presidential Chief of Staff Mike Defensor announced, “a politically stronger ever Arroyo administration is ready to renew efforts to reconcile with its political foes through backchannel talks on selected issues.” (cf. Philippine Daily Inquirer Editorial, “Stronger ever administration…” August 7, 06) The same news item enumerates a number of opposition leaders to whom reconciliation is being offered: House Minority Leader Francis Escudero, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Senator Jinggoy Estrada and former president Joseph Estrada.

Words have become cheap and more words are losing their pristine and primordial luster through political appropriation. The beautiful and mysterious process of restoration between God and sinner cannot be compared to the government’s offer to its enemies. How can the government play god by offering reconciliation. God is sinless and sincere, nary to engage in psy-war and propaganda. How can the government pretend to be clean when it has not cleared itself from what so many are convinced are its sins: the Hello Garci Scandal; the P 728 million fertilizer scandal; the P 1.3 billion election computerization deal and the P 8.1 billion OWWA fund ?

The Inquirer editorial of August 8, 2006 describes the government’s sin thus, “the policy is lack of transparency, evasion and subterfuge to avoid the giving of information and the disclosure of the truth…the policy of the Arroyo administration of hiding cases of corruptuion and abuse and avoiding accountability to the people.” (cf. Philippine Daily Inquirer Editorial, “In the Dark,”August 8, 2006)

The government is more and more perceived as guilty because of its unwillingness to open itself to public scrutiny and investigation. In fact, it is not only the present administration that is perceived as guilty. The dark clouds of deception seem to have permanently settled above government offices and have slowly spread their dark shadows everywhere from the time of Marcos to the present. The short-lived euphoria of the two EDSA’s are no more than the temporary relief felt by a recidivist who goes to confession weekly only to commit the same sins. The sins of past leaders and administrations have never really been admitted. Denial and deception, sugar-coated by more and more blatant government propaganda only blocks the road to reconciliation.

The prophetic witness and voice of individuals, groups and institutions cannot be suppressed. Mike Defensor and the rest of the Arroyo team are doing more than cheapening reconciliation. Theirs is a systematic destruction and manipulation of anything and anyone who stands on the way. They have gone sinister by playing clueless to the harassment and murder of activists and journalists who fight for justice and truth.

Silence and passivity can be symptomatic of either fear or resignation. While these can be excused and explained away as weaknesses, these are in fact forms of complicity. In a damning way we may be accomplices and accessories to crimes committed by an increasingly ruthless and criminal state rekindling the shadows of Polpot and Mao. Cambodia and China have yet to deal with the bloody specter of their past. The ongoing siege of Lebanon by Israel will yet be an added chapter in the bloody history binding and dividing Israel and Palestine.

But reconciliation has begun in some places like South Africa and recently East Timor. In these countries, reconciliation is not a word but a process which requires the inseparable pair of truth-telling and reparation. The work of the East Timorese Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation which involved interviewing 7,000 Timorese civilians has just been released to the people. The report confirms “that the Government of Indonesia and the Indonesian Security forces were primarily responsible for the deaths from hunger and illness of between 100,000 and 180,000 East Timorese civilians during the invasion and occupation. In addition, members of the Indonesian security forces are accused of summarily executing, imprisoning and torturing thousands of East Timorese citizens, and of carrying out sexual assaults as part of a systematic campaign against the civilian population.” ( cf.The Tablet, “After the pain, justice,” July 29, 2006, p. 12)

I understand Jesus’ message of reconciliation in the parable of the prodigal son. I understand the process of reconciliation in South Africa and East Timor. I understand Mike Defensor’s “reconciliation” and see it for what it is, the spiritual putrefaction of the worst kind desperately dressed in the sepulchral whiteness of pharisaical language. Arroyo’s government is decaying and collapsing for it stands in the inherited mud and muck of greed, corruption, murder and lies. If we don’t want to wallow in the same mud and muck, we must not be silent. Jesus loathed deceivers and liars. He once denounced them, “whitened sepulchers, white outside and full of horrible rotting flesh inside.”

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
August 10, 2006


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