"What we are seeing in action is this political love."
The gospel on the Sixth Sunday of Easter is familiar. Jesus, speaking to his disciples, issues a clear command: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.”
In today’s Philippines, there is no other example of living out this command than those who have organized, established, and are operating community pantries. These now number in the thousands.
In an online article, my colleague Joy Reyes and I cited the Marxian, socialist, and Christian roots of a movement like this. We also cited Pope Francis who articulated in Fratelli Tutti, his encyclical on solidarity and social friendship issued last year in the midst of the pandemic, an ethic of solidarity. In that encyclical, Pope Francis observes that the world suffers from grave structural deficiencies and that these cannot be resolved by piecemeal solutions or quick fixes. He says: “Much needs to change, through fundamental reform and major renewal. Only a healthy politics, involving the most diverse sectors and skills, is capable of overseeing this process. An economy that is an integral part of a political, social, cultural, and popular programme directed to the common good could pave the way for different possibilities which do not involve stifling human creativity and its ideals of progress, but rather directing that energy along new channels.”
Pope Francis introduces the idea of political love: “Recognizing that all people are our brothers and sisters, and seeking forms of social friendship that include everyone, is not merely utopian. It demands a decisive commitment to devising effective means to this end. Any effort along these lines becomes a noble exercise of charity. For whereas individuals can help others in need, when they join together in initiating social processes of fraternity and justice for all, they enter the “field of charity at its most vast, namely political charity.” This entails working for a social and political order whose soul is social charity. Once more, I appeal for a renewed appreciation of politics as “a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good.”
Pope Francis describes political love as one that is “elicited,” which acts proceed directly from the virtue of charity and are directed to individuals and peoples. He adds: “There is also a ‘commanded’ love, expressed in those acts of charity that spur people to create more sound institutions, more just regulations, more supportive structures. It follows that “it is an equally indispensable act of love to strive to organize and structure society so that one’s neighbour will not find himself in poverty. It is an act of charity to assist someone suffering, but it is also an act of charity, even if we do not know that person, to work to change the social conditions that caused his or her suffering.”
In the community pantries, beyond the donations given and the monetary assistance provide, what we are seeing in action is this political love – what Joy and I described as t “the narrative of the solidarity of people on the ground – those who, despite being most affected by the pandemic and despite having faced great losses, go out of their way to assist those in their community.”
We also wrote that the community pantries are political because if it were not for the inability of the government to provide social services and aid, communities would not have the need to come together and provide for themselves. Certainly, the pantries are not a panacea for all our problems: The social injustice that the pandemic has laid bare and exacerbated cannot be overcome through these pantries; political power to change government priorities and transform corporate behavior is essential for that. Setting up or contributing to a community pantry should not be an excuse for not acting politically on the pretext that one has made a sufficient contribution.
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