Love of neighbor is a flagship commandment of Christianity. It is too often mentioned and too well known that it has become something as a matter of course, a rather silly and irrelevant stuff of a topic for little children. To love others could be good during much earlier times when people were kind and living was easy. Loving one’s neighbor is to pietistic during these trying days as well as too idealistic for this modern age of hard-hitting social realities when only the fittest eventually survive.
There is too much poverty, hunger and sickness. People are too poor to share the little they have. Food has become not only scarce but also very costly to give away. It is said that nine out of ten needy and sick individuals simply die due to lack of medicine. Millions of Filipinos do not have enough clothes to wear. In the same way, there are not few of them who live under bridges if not in dirty little carts they push to gather garbage.
Neighborly love is churchy. Charity is giving food to the hungry, clothes to the naked, and/or shelter to the homeless. Love of neighbor is a vain attempt to make the Philippines a dreamland, a futile effort to write the history of the country as an entertaining fable. Just as love of neighbor is something in cloud 9, charity is for some imagining heaven while sadly having his dirty feet on putrid mud. Filipinos now have no time to entertain such lofty thoughts, much less the opportunity for goody-goody acts. A rat race, everybody for himself, leaves others to suffer and die in peace— these are the updated social thoughts of today.
And that is precisely the big trouble with a radically wrong understanding of the imperative of love of neighbor, the very anemic observance of charity, the fatal identification of loving others with but giving them food, clothes and shelter. This is the impoverished perception and faulty observance of the Commandment of Love of Neighbor even among well meaning Christians and practicing Catholics. To equate loving others with but food for the stomach, clothes for the body and shelter for the head—this is but a little part of charity, the easier part of loving others. Some food to eat, something to lie on and a place to sleep—people even provide all these to their pet animals.
The key in the full understanding of loving neighbors necessarily includes dutifully attending to their inherent human dignity and diligently promoting their basic human rights. Those who should be loved are human beings who mean much more than food for their stomach, clothes for their body and shelter over their heads. Thus it is that to come to the assistance of someone oppressed, to reach out to person being exploited, to side with individuals unjustly treated—these are constituent agenda in loving neighbor, mandatory elements of charity. These are in truth the much harder, more challenging and even dangerous part of loving others, of practicing charity. The crusade for justice, the pursuit of truth, the quest for peace—these are concrete expression of love of neighbor, specially during these trying times in Philippine history.
November 14, 2007