‘Love your neighbor as yourself’

Several years ago, not long after my husband and I had moved to the area, a couple down the street invited us to a block party. Since we really hadn’t had a chance to get to know many of our neighbors we thought this would be a great way to meet people. And with a new subdivision going up across the street, our friends, even though they’ve lived here most of their lives, were excited about getting to know the new neighbors across the way.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart … soul … mind … and … strength.” Most of us really try to keep that part of the commandment. But that other part — the part about loving “your neighbor as yourself” — can be a bit more difficult. Back before air conditioning, backyard decks and patios became popular, and people sat on their front porches after supper in the summertime and talked to their neighbors.

Neighborhood children played together all day, the only rule being that they had to come home when it got dark. But times have changed and today many of us don’t even know the people who live right next door.

So what do you do? Well, maybe, like us, you plan a block party. You look up the names and addresses of your neighbors, you extend a personal invitation to each one, and you have nametags on hand to make getting acquainted a bit easier. You might even make it a potluck, like we did, and share recipes as well as conversation.

A few weeks ago, while attending a funeral, I heard someone call my name and was surprised to see that it was one of my neighbors, someone I had met at our block party. We talked for a few minutes and she shared some of her memories of the deceased. I listened and offered comfort – and love. “Love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.” Most of us are pretty good at the first part. We’ve known God since we were children. But it can be hard to love our neighbor, especially if we don’t even know their name.

Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister in the diocese.