Forgiveness is a virtue that is so fundamental, yet so challenging to practice. We are confronted by questions like, how can we forgive if the offender does not even acknowledge his/her wrongdoing? Do we forgive and forget? Should forgiveness bring with it the restoration of justice?
Reflecting on the lesson of forgiveness in today’s Gospel, I was reminded of one of the advocacies of Dr. Honey Carandang: truth-telling. Forgiveness and reconciliation require common ground; common ground that is established through truth-telling.
This is our greatest hope as a people and a nation. We are torn by so many divisive issues. It almost feels like certain camps create issues one after another to distract us from the main issue. Thus all the more we should stick to truth-telling.
‘Emperor’s New Clothes’
With your kind indulgence, I will repeat part of our reflection last January, on the Feast of the Santo Niño, when I used the story of the “Emperor’s New Clothes.” It is a perfect example of how a lie, or what we now call fake news, becomes “the truth.”
A quick review of the tale: Once there was an emperor so vain, he cared so much about his clothes and how he looked to the point that he trivialized all other duties as emperor by making them mere occasions to show off his clothes. Despite this dysfunctional propensity, his city was a lively one and had many visitors.
At one point two swindlers came and posed as weavers. Feeding on the sartorial vanity —narcissism—of the emperor, they started to weave a tale of lies. They promised—for a fee—to weave for the emperor the finest fabrics for magnificent clothes with the special power to be invisible to those who were unfit for the positions they occupied and/or the most stupid.
Believing the lie and becoming so wrapped up in the scam of a story by the swindler-weavers, the emperor, his entire court and the entire populace lost all sense of reality.
The swindler-weavers pretended to weave (nothing) and after some time showed the magnificent, magical cloth (nothing) to the emperor’s noblemen and to the emperor himself. Now caught up in the lie and scam, no one—including the emperor—wanted to say they saw nothing, out of fear that they be judged unfit or stupid.
Then the swindler-weavers brought the scam of a story to its excessive climax, the emperor parading around the whole city to show off his new clothes made of the most magnificent fabric (nothing).
The whole court went along with the scam of a story and foolishly participating in it, they assisted the emperor in the procession. The whole town, likewise, went along with the scam of a story, paying glowing praises to the emperor’s magnificent clothes (nothing).
Suddenly, a child said, “But he hasn’t got anything on.” Then one by one, beginning with the child’s father, they pass on to one another the truth the child spoke.
“But he hasn’t got anything on!” the whole town cried out at last.”
The story ends here, but I am sure that from this moment of truth-telling the town was able to rebuild.
There are three elements that created and perpetuated the lie. One is the source of the lie, the vanity of the emperor, his narcissism around which everything revolved. At first it seemed okay, but as it is the nature of the beast, narcissism took the better of him. He believes in a lie and the lie is soon imposed on others.
Two is the ill intention of the swindler-weavers. Capitalizing on the emperor’s narcissism, they come up with the lie and pretty soon they get everyone caught in the web of lies.
Three are the emperor’s minions who knew the whole thing was a lie, a farce, but compromised and became the key perpetuators of the lie.
The cast is complete and the three elements put together victimizes the whole town— immersing everyone in the lie that festered because of one person’s narcissism and his minions’ vested interests.
Then the child begins the truth-telling: “But he hasn’t got anything on.” The truth comes to life and one by one the town is converted to the truth until the whole town proclaims the truth.
This is forgiveness and reconciliation. It begins with truth-telling. This truth-telling creates the common ground of the truth and anyone who chooses to embrace the truth is set free; free from the lie; free from the oppression of the emperor and his minions; free to choose the truth they will believe in.
I believe this is the forgiveness that the Gospel tells us to exercises. Begin with truth-telling and the core truth is God forgives us—yesterday, today and forever—in the death of Christ, “who has loved me and given himself up for me.”
(Galatians 2: 20)
Accepting this forgiveness of God in and through Christ is the singular grace that will empower us to truly forgive. Without this, we will always fall short of genuine forgiveness and reconciliation because the core truth is in and through Christ’s Cross and Resurrection we are forgiven and reconciled to God.
Let this reflection empower us to become truth-tellers and be missionaries of the truth. Truth, forgiveness, reconciliation cannot be imposed because by nature they are supposed to liberate, lead people to greater freedom and empower them to make choices for themselves.
Truth-telling is not aggressive, but it is powerful. It does not oppress, but liberates. It does not divide, but it builds community. It does not ostracize and exclude, but it invites and welcomes all who are willing to embrace the truth.
Time to forgive and reconcile, but it must begin with truth-telling.