If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. — The Gospel of Saint Matthew, 18:15-17
Many devout Catholics pondering the nation’s current governance anomalies have wondered how women and men of faith should respond in consonance with the Gospel. The scripture reading above on reproving wayward fellowmen says how, direct from the mouth of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
The erring brother or sister may be admonished in four steps. First, tell him or her in private. Then, bring along others to reiterate the message. Third, tell the Church, or in the case of a wayward official, his constituents and the society at large. If all that doesn’t work, then treat him or her as “a Gentile and a tax collector.”
Many will rightly surmise that top leaders of the administration are probably past Step 3. Church leaders, including the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), have deplored major anomalies, from the corruption-tainted Priority Development Assistance Fund and the illegal Disbursement Acceleration Program, to the “selective” investigation of PDAF sleaze, targeting opponents but sparing allies.
Yet the powers that be aren’t listening. Far from atoning for anomalies, they have continued PDAF in other guises this year and next. Despite falling approval ratings, Aquino speaks of seeking a second term if the people, his avowed “bosses,” purportedly want him to continue in office.
So do Christians resort to the Gentile and tax collector treatment? In Jesus’s time, Gentiles were non-Jews shunned by the Jewish faithful, especially the Romans occupying their land. Taxmen, on the other hand, were reputedly corrupt and turncoat Jews collecting levies for imperial authorities, and pocketing part of the take.
The upright must speak up
To treat anyone like Gentiles and tax collectors, therefore, meant denying them the stature, honor, trust, deference and obedience accorded to respected, upright public figures. If they throw a party, don’t go. If they defend their improprieties and anomalies, don’t nod and clap. If they seek to continue their rapacious rule, resist them, as the Jews did to the Romans and their local collaborators.
If Filipinos followed those four steps, perhaps today’s excesses would not have gone so far. However, the nation, including mainstream media, largely played along with Aquino, despite anomalies since his first year, from his refusal to sanction close associates, to trebling pork barrel and abetting rampant jueteng and smuggling. Plus cowing Congress and brow-beating the courts.
If most of us kept silent, it’s a national trait. As a people, we tend to avoid frank, open talk about sensitive things. In his homily on the Gospel reading quoted above, Jesuit Fr. Luis David remarked: “We Filipinos typically avoid direct confrontation, and so when we get caught up in situations [of discord], we choose not to face them squarely, and yet brood about them all the same, endlessly sulk, nagtatanim.”
The Ateneo philosophy professor added: “We even make excuses for our inaction, saying we are Christian and, as such, must be non-confrontational, avoid getting angry, suppress temper, catch oneself just when one is about to say hurtful things that, while they may clarify, usually also provide the basis for prolonged, even intensified, conflict. We cope, then, by avoiding being in the same company as the persons we have taken issue with, deal with it by not dealing with them, face them with a wall of silence.” And in life as in law, silence often signifies consent.
When the wayward won’t listen
Perhaps in the beginning, the President could understantably be given the benefit of the doubt. Even his loudest critics today kept their peace in his early months and years, hoping that he would see his errors and learn from them. But it seems Aquino finds it hard even to admit shortcomings. Now, both the Supreme Court and Catholic bishops have pointed out gross violations, yet he remains adamant that he is right.
As Davao Archbishop Emeritus and former CBCP president Fernando Capalla put it in the headline of his July 27 article in the Davao Catholic Herald, reacting to Aquino’s July 14 speech disputing the DAP ruling: “SC [Supreme Court] to BS Aquino: ‘Thou Shall Not Steal’. BS Aquino to SC: ‘Go To Hell!’”
Hence, today, the President and his allies must be repeatedly told in no uncertain terms that they have broken legal and moral precepts. It is not only the patriotic, but also the Christian thing to do. Indeed, Jesus instructed that those who fail to admonish sinful brethren would suffer punishment with them, while those who do speak up would save their souls even if the wayward refuse to listen.
So we must speak up about today’s excesses. Of course, prudence may dictate that sometimes we hold our peace to maintain cordial ties with officials whose actions we still need and whose reprisals we fear. The Jews still paid taxes and bowed to Roman authority. But in the privacy of their hearts and homes, they did not compromise their sense of morality, justice and truth. Neither should we.
A final but most important note: Those who speak for righteousness must first of all live the tenets they espouse, eschewing the sleaze one counsels against. And we are duty-bound to help victims of corruption, especially the poor deprived of needed assistance. Besides reproving the wayward, we must uplift those harmed by their excesses.
Last but hardly the least, our Lord always stressed that reproving our errant neighbor aims to lead him back to heaven, not condemn him to hell. Like Christ, we must forgive those who repent and mend their ways. Jesus dined with tax collectors and sinners, and His Church embraced all, Jew and Gentile. Let us reprove and pray for our lost leaders that they may again walk the straight path they have lost — before it’s too late. Amen.