NOTE: This article is an excerpt from my doctoral thesis at the Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, IL, 2006, entitled Embodying Reconciliation: Restoring Relationship Amongst the Filipino Pastoral Agents.
In praxis, the gospel of Matthew 18:15-17 suggests the process:
“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 maybe 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 tax collector.”
There are five steps recommended by Matthew: The first step is to “go and point out the fault;” the second step is to “talk personally to the person”; the third step is to “bring a witness” in the dialogue; the fourth step is to “tell the church”; and finally to “treat the person as a Gentile and tax collector.” In lieu of the experience of the pastoral agents and the Filipino cultural approach to resolving conflict, the researcher proposes modifications in relation to the steps and framework of the process. Instead of the five steps, the proposed process includes only the second and third steps: talking out the conflict personally and privately; and bringing a witness, go-between or mediator. The first step provides the space needed for the preparatory phase. The final step serves as reminder when all the efforts to achieve reconciliation are exhausted. To tell the whole community will never be helpful in the Filipino context. This is sensitive to handle precisely because the conflict involves the parish priest and lay pastoral workers. They both serve as leaders of the community and have developed personal followings. Taking such a step will do more harm than good to the persons involved and the community at large.
Go and Point Out the Fault: Self-introspection
The first step of reconciliation is the naming of the mistake. By naming it means that the person has control over the wrong committed against another person. Naming is, in itself, a result of a silent journey within and in relation to the conflict. This instruction of Jesus to go and point out the fault appears to be an outward-looking action. But if treated side by side with Jesus’ challenge “not to judge, so that you may not be judged” (Matt 7:3-5) it will resonate with the natural inclination of the Filipino pastoral agents. Silence is a very powerful source of reconciliation. Through the person’s moment of silence — self-reflection, self-examination, and introspection — the conversation with the inner self is actively happening. It gives depth and breadth once reconciliation is placed on the dialogue table and prepares the individual to take the necessary demands of an authentic reconciliation. If the person goes through this process, the space to reclaim one’s being and to pray becomes the instrument of seeing the other and the self. Space is necessary to broaden the horizon of the closed-in self to effect the reconciliation process. Seeing the self with its own limitations serves as an entry point to look at the other person with compassion and love.
The “other” in this case is used to challenge the other party to look into himself or herself. Having the courage to point out the other’s fault involves resolving the discrepancies within the self. This is the preparatory phase before going to the more demanding stages of reconciliation.
Talk in Private: Personal Dialogue
Technically speaking, reconciliation begins here. It is when the involved parties begin to talk face-to-face. Facing each other has no substitute. It clarifies many misinterpreted and misunderstood issues. The wisdom and beauty of this stage of the process is that it prevents both parties from being humiliated publicly. Aside from making sure that no one is put to a shameful situation or mapahiyasamadla, personal dialogue is conveying the message that a person is more valuable than the sin or mistake committed, as well as the value of co-responsibility – that is, we are accountable to each other.
Settling the conflict privately is the most desired process expressed by the pastoral agents themselves. This is understandable because if more people take part in the issue, the more complicated the conflict becomes and will affect the lives of other people who are close to the parties involved. Talking about the issue personally and privately narrows down the possibility of putting the conflict out of control and blowing it out of proportion.
On the question of who initiates the personal dialogue, it is advisable to have it open to both parties. Identifying who must take the first move or initiate limits God’s grace and the Holy Spirit to work in the person despite the fact that God begins to work with the offended. It is an act of disrespect to the maturity of the parties involved and prevents the person from taking the initiative. However, it is good to be reminded that there are values in the Filipino culture and in the Christian tradition urging the leader and the subordinate, the offender and the offended to be reconciled.
Take One or Two Others Along: Go-Between
To contextualize this second step, bringing someone is not just to have somebody as witness but someone who could facilitate the process of reconciliation. The practical implication if such step is considered is to bring someone who is credible and influential to both parties. The point here is to have a well-respected person as facilitator of the process. The idea of the go-between or mediator is to assist both sides to see the conflict with objectivity and move toward reconciliation. The conciliation skills of the facilitator are advantageous but her or his relationship to the parties involved is essential and vital in shaping the process and decisions to be undertaken. The key role of the go-between is to ensure that both sides will feel justly treated and not betrayed.
Treat the Person as Gentile and Tax Collector: Embracing the other
The important thing to remember alongside this instruction to treat the person as gentile and tax collector is Jesus’ attitude toward this people as model. Jesus showed compassion to the gentiles and tax collectors. He shared with them in table fellowship and reached out and embraced them as his own people. So to follow the communicative praxis of Jesus it could mean, first of all, an encouragement to never give up on the other – the offender. Secondly, this is an opportunity to give witness to Christian gratuitous and unconditional love.
Taking a second look at the process in consideration with the experiences of the pastoral agents, the process should be dealt with flexibility and not strictly as sequential at all times. It is good to recognize that there are circumstances shaping the appropriateness of the approach to assist the conflicting parties. Sometimes having someone as facilitator is more helpful than expecting the involved parties to settle the conflict by themselves. There are times, however, that talking privately is better. The bottom line is, whichever is applicable and appropriate, the process is meant to clarify the issues and preferably bring back the broken relationship.
Aside from the formal process, an informal process of reconciliation should be recognized. These are moments where even the parties involved are caught by surprise. It might be unplanned by both parties yet the “environment” makes it possible and conducive to openly and honestly share and discuss hurt feelings and emotions.
At the very heart of the process is being able to communicate truthfully and assume accountability for the action done which sometimes may demand apology and going beyond the position of authority to save the relationship and serve the community better.