By FR. ROLANDO V. DELA ROSA, OP
We Filipinos are a freedom-loving people. We are easily upset when someone curtails our freedom in any way. How then do we explain our sheep-like obedience to many bureaucratic measures that, overnight, have become the “normal”protocols governing our daily activities during (and perhaps beyond) this pandemic?
Many consider such obedience as a necessary part of our civic duty as citizens of our country. But if we come to think of it, something deeper than citizenship underlies our compliance with these government-imposed restrictions on our freedom.
Firstly,we obey because we are concerned about our own safety and protection. Even if irregularities and contradictions are obvious in the pronouncements of doctors, scientists, and other experts, and even if the government appears to violate our privacy and freedom, we still obey government impositions because they are somehow useful for our survival. But, as we know, obedience generated from utilitarian calculations easily gives way to resentment that eventually leads to dissent or outright rebellion.
Secondly, we obey because we acknowledge that we have to take part in preventing the further spread of the virus.Our community benefits from our obedience just as we benefit from the obedience shown by others in the community. If I voluntarily restrict my freedom under the premise that others will do likewise, then it is inconsistent of me to disobey the government-imposed restrictions just because these inconvenience me.
Thirdly, the most human reason why we obey is our concern for the welfare of others, especially our loved ones. Without this, obedience is nothing but a burdensome duty, or simply a surrender to someone that coerces us to do something against our will. Real concern for another is powerfully illustrated by this story narrated by a woman, a survivor of the holocaust in Europe:
“When I was a young girl during the Nazi regime in Hungary, my mother and I were made to line up on a street with other Jews. The Nazis wanted to kill all of us. They aimed their guns, and started shooting. My mother shielded me from the bullets with her body. I remember her whispering to me: ‘Forgive me, for I can’t protect you.'”
Death stared the mother in the eye. She knew she had just one more minute to live, yet her mind was focused solely on one thing: to protect her daughter. That is real concern, coupled with the willingness to sacrifice for the sake of a beloved.
This is why our gospel today reminds us that the best motivation for obedience is love.Jesus exemplifies this as St. Paul writes: “Though He was God, Jesus humbled Himself, obediently accepting even death, death on the cross” (Philippians 2:6,8). Jesus showed His absolute obedience to the Father by loving us unto death, and He expects us, Christians, to do the same when He commanded us to love our neighbor as He has loved us. He tells us: “If you love me, you will obey my commandments” (John 14:15).
Obedience as a true civic duty is not blind acquiescence to civil authority but obedience impelled by our love for God and neighbor. “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10).
Nevertheless, the government must refrain from imposing bureaucratic protocols and procedures that are likely to be widely disobeyed. If not, it is itself threatening social order by tempting individuals to disobey. Constantly reviewing the prescribed government protocols, procedures, and measures in the light of recent developments is more reasonable than simply asking individuals to renounce their personal liberties and adapt themselves to a “new normal.”