Reflections on Volunteerism: Neighbors helping neighbors
8th National Convention
of the Knights of Columbus in the Philippines
Homily given during the Marian Hour
By Bishop Julito Cortes
Auxiliary Bishop of Cebu
Your Excellencies, My Brother Bishops; My Brother Priests; Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, Mrs. Anderson and Guests; My dear Knights of Columbus:
May I add my own humble welcome to you all as Auxiliary Bishop of Cebu. I thank Bro. Dionisio Esteban, Jr., Visayas Deputy, for this opportunity to welcome you all and to thank personally Supreme Knight Carl Anderson for his generosity to us Filipino Bishops in Phoenix, Arizona, in last year’s International K of C Convention. Of course, I also extend gratitude to Bro. Antonio Borromeo and Bro. Patricinio Bacay of the K of C Fraternal Association of the Philippines, Inc., for helping us make that meaningful trip possible.
On the second day of your convention, on this Marian Hour, it is opportune to reflect on the Blessed Virgin Mary in relation to your theme, “Volunteerism; Neighbors helping neighbors.”
The Blessed Virgin was one neighbor who always came to the help of her neighbors. When she heard that her cousin Elizabeth was with child in spite of her advanced age, she immediately took a hazardous trip, despite her own condition, across the desert, to be by the side of her cousin. She did not only come to visit, she stayed three months until Elizabeth’s child was brought to term.
At the wedding in Cana, Mary stood by her neighbor. Seeing the banquet had run out of wine, she told her Son of the impending disaster. She was no passive guest, waiting to be served at table. We could imagine the Blessed Virgin Mary making a fuss at the kitchen, perhaps helping the servants prepare the food, otherwise how could she know of the situation, when such things are always kept under wraps to avoid embarrassment? But the Blessed Virgin knew, and instead of talking about the lack of wine to other guests, as many of us are wont to do in such a situation, she took the trouble of solving the problem herself, knowing that her Son could do something to remedy the situation.
Such is the kind of “volunteer” our Lady is. She does not wait to be called. She sees the need even before it is articulated. She acts on her own, even before others could know about the situation. But she does not act alone. She always acts with the Holy Spirit and with her Son.
Mary is our model for volunteerism. First to be noted here is her initiative. Initiative is possible only when we are truly concerned about others. There are those who initiate because they are looking for ways to be useful. This is not the initiative of Mary. Mary does not look for things to do because she has nothing else to do. While it is praiseworthy to look for social work when you have retired from your job, it may not be enough to effect real change in the lives of others. We do not have to wait for retirement so we may work for others. Volunteerism should not be limited to those who have nothing more to do. Volunteerism must come from the imperative of compassion and solicitude.
Some people think of programs that would truly benefit the poor. Some try to look for novel ways, something that has never been tried before. But to have initiative, one does not need to have a big imagination. One simply needs to have a big heart.
It is people’s needs that must elicit our initiative. Many times, we ask what is needed, but when we are actually told what is needed, we look the other way because what we want to give is not what is needed. During typhoons, we donate boxes and boxes of clothes we no longer need in our closet, never mind if they are long gowns and blazers no one can wear unless they are celebrating debuts and graduation balls in slums everyday.
Initiative means we must recognize the needs of others, and to respond to them even if it means giving up what we could still use.
Second, Mary acted on her own, but she did not act alone. Acting on one’s own means not waiting for others to join you in your cause. Sometimes, volunteerism can be lonely. Sometimes, you may be jeered at and insulted for your good intentions. We do not have to wait for others to join us. If we see a need, we must respond to it even If we respond alone.
There are those who volunteer only because the work is already well-defined by a committee. That is well and good, but there is something better. We can take the initiative and carry on even if others do not follow. When we always look behind us to see if others are looking, we lose sight of what’s in front of us. And what is in front of us? The person who is in need is the one that ultimately matters in volunteerism.
Yet, acting on one’s own does not mean acting alone. The Blessed Virgin was always moved by the Holy Spirit. She always sought the help of her Son when He came of age. Volunteerism must not come from mere fellow-feeling alone. Such human concern cannot last and can easily be colored by self-interest. Only that love which is ready “to lay down one’s life for one’s friend” can truly be the basis for genuine volunteerism.
Volunteerism must therefore begin with prayer and discernment. Prayer is the well-spring of compassion and the sustenance of action. It supports us when our plans falter, it empowers us when we encounter resistance, it gives hope when everything fails.
Other than walking with God, however, we must also walk with others. Volunteers cannot be lone-rangers. People who cannot work with others cannot also work for others. Volunteerism builds community and communion. Pope Benedict XVI, in Caritas in Veritate, calls us to be “instruments of charity” as well as to build “networks of charity”. In volunteerism, we must harness the gifts of everyone, even to the point of “de-volunteering”, so that others, who may be more competent in the field we are working in, can take our place and do a more efficient job than what we are doing. Volunteerism can also mean letting go of ourselves, so that the people we serve may be better served.
As you continue in your Convention, let the Gospel today be a source of encouragement for your work. The apostles were afraid because they thought they saw a ghost. They did not realize it was the Lord. Our Lord tells you today, “Do not be afraid.” Fear is the bane of all endeavors. When we are paralyzed with fear, we will not be able to do anything. We will not be able to help. People refuse to volunteer their services because of fear.
In whatever endeavor you may engage yourself, be it social work or the defense of the faith, be it promotion of family and life or the welfare of your members, do not be afraid. Even if the way looks dark and the road is long, do not be afraid. When the apostles saw that it was the Lord walking on the water, they did not realize how close they were to shore. As long as we walk with the Lord, we are never far from our destination. After all, where else do we want to go , but to be always at the side of the Lord?
Most Rev. Julito B. Cortes, D.D.
Presider and Homilist: