Volunteerism: Neighbors Helping Neighbors
By: Most Rev. Rodolfo F. Beltran, Ph.D, D.D.
Apostolic Vicar- Bontoc Lagawe
I like to thank the Knights of Columbus of the Philippines especially the KCFAPI for the kind invitation extended to me, not only to be present at this convention, but also to be the luncheon speaker for today. Meister Eckehart, a German theologian and father of mysticism, once said, “If the only prayer you know is the prayer of gratitude that is already sufficient.” That speaks of my immediate positive response to the invitation. I am ever grateful to the KC Fr. George Willmann Charities for the scholarship grant offered to me some years ago with which I pursued my licentiate degree in Philosophy in Rome.
Initium disputandi definitio terminis est. The beginning of discussion is the definition of the term. The theme chosen by the Knights of Columbus of the Philippines for this 8th national convention is, “Volunteerism: neighbor helping neighbors.” Let me clarify a little bit the following terms: (1) Volunteer—is a person who works for an organization without being paid; (2) Volunteerism—the involvement of volunteer, especially in community services; (3) Neighbor—a fellowman. The term is articulated with the question, “Who is my neighbor?” This was the question a scribe - an expert of the law raised to Jesus. Jesus’ answer involves three things understood in his Parable of the Good Samaritan. (1). We must help a man even when he has brought his trouble on himself, as the traveler had done in the story. (2). Any man of any nation who is in need is our neighbor. Our help must be as wide as the love of God. (3). The help must be practical and not consist merely in feeling sorry. No doubt the Priest and the Levite feel a pang of pity for the wounded man, but they did nothing. Compassion, to be real, must issue in deeds.
One way to look at this problem is perhaps focusing too much on sins of commission, rather than omission. By sins of commission, we mean doing things we should not do. By sins of omission, we mean not doing things we should do. It comes as a surprise to some people to learn that the Gospel lays most of its stress on sins of omission—not doing things we should do. At the last judgment, the king will say to those on his left: “For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me… What you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.” (Mt. 25:41-45)
What is our response in faith to social issues? Any proposed response to the challenges the social issues of the day pose must presuppose genuine concern on our part. This should be the first item on our agenda. While I loathe generalizations and while I recognize exemplars of social commitment, I am disturbed by what strikes me as the prevalent culture of selfishness and self-centeredness. Moreover, I bring out a custom prevalent among us, Filipinos—our respect for our dead. We visit their tombs occasionally, bringing them flowers, praying for them, offering them masses for their repose. Is it not ironical that we can continue to live while related to the dead beloved; and we cannot continue to be related to a living beloved who no longer loves or wishes to be loved? Because of these prevailing dispositions, we become social solitaries.
This is disturbing. It is more than a crisis in interconnectedness. It is the erosion of the ethical. It is the cultivation of callousness to the demands of the ethical, for ethics is not principally norms about right and wrong, but the summons of the other and all that this means for our common life. We must allow ourselves to be disturbed by the faces of destitution around us—whether this be the destitution of abject poverty or that of the victims of our indifference and obsessive preoccupation with ourselves!
I find the dialogue between God and the guilt-ridden Cain instructive. Cain’s hands still drip with the blood of the brother he has just murdered. When God asks him where Abel is, Cain tries the posture of indifference: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” God then exposes the roots of this indifference: “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” (Gen 14, 10) Indifference is not only the tell-tale sign of the murderer; it is what causes murder because it is the desire to reduce the other to insignificance. I am not accusing our youth of murder. But I take with utmost seriousness the “culture of separateness and indifference” of which they are creators.
We must wage war on indifference. Our priests and our lay faithful must commence an earnest crusade against this death-dealing culture of indifference and separation. Almost all can tell by heart the story of the Good Samaritan, but the part that they frequently omit is the important part. Jesus asks the querulous lawyer:
‘Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” That was, of course, Jesus’ gentle rebuke of the lawyer’s question. “Who is my neighbor?” he had asked—wanting no doubt to be at the receiving end of neighborliness. The question is wrong, teaches Jesus, because the question really should be: “To whom should I be neighbor?” And when the lawyer gives the right answer—“The one who showed mercy”—Jesus lays down the evangelical mandate: “Go and do likewise”.
“The life of faith is spurred by this command, and it should lead us all to ask of ourselves the question “To whom should I be neighbor?” with utmost seriousness.
Correlative to our topic on hand is “the preferential option for the poor” in Benedict XVI’s Deus Caritas Est. I will let the Pope’s words speak for themselves.
14. Here we need to consider yet another aspect: this sacramental “mysticism” is social in character, for in sacramental communion I become one with the Lord, like all the other communicants. As Saint Paul says, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10:17). Union with Christ is also union with all those to whom he gives himself. I cannot possess Christ just for myself, I can belong to him only in union with all those who have become, or who will become, his own. Communion draws me out of myself towards him, and thus also towards unity with all Christians. We become “one body”, completely joined in a single existence. Love of God and love of neighbor are now truly united: God incarnate draws us all to himself. We can thus understand how agape also became a term for the Eucharist: there God’s own gape comes to us bodily, in order to continue his work in us and through us. Only by keeping in mind this Christological and sacramental basis can we correctly understand Jesus’ teaching on love. The transition which he makes from the Law and the Prophets to the twofold commandment of love of God and of neighbor, and his grounding the whole life of faith on this central precept, is not simply a matter of morality—something that could exist apart from and alongside faith in Christ and its sacramental re-actualization. Faith, worship and ethos are interwoven as a single reality which takes shape in our encounter with God’s agape. Here the usual contraposition between worship and ethics simply falls apart. ‘Worship” itself, Eucharistic communion, includes the reality both of being loved and of loving others in turn. A Eucharist which does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented. Conversely, as we shall have to consider in greater detail below, the “commandment” of love is only possible because it is more than a requirement. Love can be “commanded” because it has first been given.
In what does the “proper work”—“proper involvement” of the Church in love, in AGAPE, in charity consist? The Pope does not hesitate to be specific.
1. Urgent situations are to be immediately addressed: Where people starve, where disease ravages the weak, where people are imprisoned, there the Church must be with her works of charity. ‘I wish to emphasize that the Pope does not make the acceptance of a Christian vision of justice the condition for her involvement in charitable activity Wherever the situation is urgent, the Church must respond with direct—and equally urgent—acts of charity. We are immediately reminded of the Lord’s command to his disciples: no bag, no change of clothing, no coins, no food-provisions—for all this delay. There are to be no friendly chats nor social calls along the way. Where the situation is desperate, the disciple must be on the scene immediately.
2. The Pope rejects the theory that so-called dole-outs should be avoided, in the sense that it is not correct to allow the suffering to continue in their misery now for the purpose of accomplishing some grandiose plan of progress that may take some years or generations to come to pass, if it should ever come to pass at all. No matter how sophisticated the scheme of progress, the relief of those in need cannot and must not wait, and the suffering cannot be sacrificed at the altar of economic schemes and projects. In this respect, we too will have to re-study our position. Many of our priests and lay faithful have gone to SAIDI, to AIM and to other institutions where management and strategy are taught with expertise. The usefulness of all this is not to be doubted, but the Pope’s point is that these plans can never be greater than the immediate needs of those who cry out in hunger, in pain, in unjust imprisonment and in circumstances of abject privation. It is never a Christian option to say: “Please bear with your suffering now, because in the generations to come, the root causes of all that make you suffer now will be addressed by a new scheme of production relations and economic systems.” That would be the response of a bureaucrat, probably of an arm-chair bureaucrat. It is not the response of a shepherd!
3. Very beautifully, the Pope also forbids those engaged in the Church’s work of charity from making of charitable activities a bargaining chip in proselytism. We do not ask the brothers and sisters we aid to subscribe to our beliefs first as a condition for loving them. When this happens, that which we think is love is in fact a sham, a shameful counterfeit of the true love that was Incarnate in Jesus, God’s Son. Of course, the motive of this love will be God’s love in Jesus Christ—and that must be made clear. That the persons we aid are loveable will never be sufficient motive—for many times, their misery has made them unlovable. It is the love of God for them, the hand of Jesus that touched the leprous, embraced prostitutes, calmed the mentally perturbed, comforted the grieving, consoled the poor that ultimately makes them lovable, and so we should never be shy about mentioning Jesus and his love. On this score, I find objectionable the fact that much of the social work that different Church groups have been involved in hardly distinguishes itself from the projects of the DSWD and other NGO’s. Why so? Because the name of Jesus is hardly heard and those who have direct charge of this opus proprium of the Church seem shy about mentioning Jesus’ name and Gospel. So while we do not demand that those we aid accept Christianity or Catholicism, neither should we be silent about our motives: the love of God and the command of Christ.
Let the Holy Father himself conclude these reflections by an excellent reflection of a man of faith and prayer on charity — and what it should do to us as individuals and as Church.
b) Love—caritas—will always prove necessary, even in the most just society. There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love. Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such. There will always be suffering which cries out for consolation and help. There will always be loneliness. There will always be situations of material need where help in the form of concrete love of neighbor is indispensable.  The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person—every person—needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need. The Church is one of those living forces: she is alive with the love enkindled by the Spirit of Christ. This love does not imply offer people material help, but refreshment and care for their souls, something which often is even more necessary than material support. In the end, the claim that just social structures would make works of charity superfluous masks a materialist conception of man: the mistaken notion that man can live “by bread alone” (Mt 4:4; cf. Dt 8:3)—a conviction that demeans man and ultimately disregards all that is specifically human. (n. 28)
Be it as it may, the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines already announced our “option for the poor.” What it means in the concrete is that more attention should be given the less privileged. One contemporary philosopher, Rawls, makes it the cornerstone of his theory of justice that all indefeasibly enjoy the same scheme of basic liberties as is compatible with the same scheme for all others. Put more simply, “preferential option for the poor” means that we must do all so that basic liberties are enjoyed as widely as possible by all.
Finally, let me give an authentic picture of the Knights of Columbus of the Philippines nationwide, their recent accomplishments and their present challenges.
There are battles in our country. The recent ones were the typhoons “Ondoy” and “Pepeng” which have left us crushed and devastated. Many lives were lost, homes and crops were destroyed. We saw a lot of people who went out of their way to help the victim in many parts of our country especially Metro Manila and the Cordillera, and shared with their cash and goods. From this lot of people were priests and brother Knights of Columbus—visible in the scene of action. There were volunteers. They were true neighbor extending help to their own neighbors. We are generous in carrying out the demands of charity.
We have other battles to fight against. The battle against the family. Charity begins at home—an element of neighborliness. Brother Knights we continue with firmer determination to lift up and sustain the true meaning of married life and love. There’s no substitute for chaste love. Let us make our homes holy. Let us safeguard the vocation of marriage and the central place of the family in society.
We have the battle against the production and open distribution of condoms by the Department of Health to reduce the fast growth of population. Let us strongly uphold the truth and continue to live by our soled moral principles. Let us earnestly enlighten our people with our solid ethical stand that such gadgets are not only anti AID or anti population measures, but promote promiscuity on the young and infidelity on the married couples. Likewise, our consistent stand against abortion and contraceptive pills which are anti life.
Most immediate and paramount of our battles is the eradication of unjust and dishonest governance. Now is the time to elect persons for public office, persons who are not stained with corruption and selfishness. Let’s elect persons who are concerned with the common good… persons who love to serve and who serve with love—like our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is volunteerism in concrete. This is neighborliness best expressed. We listen once again to the great compliment our Lord has accorded the Knights of Columbus. “You are the light of the world. You are the salt of the world.” I thank you and God Bless.