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“When I think about living above with all the saints I love, Yes, I look forward to that glory. When I think about living down here with some people, Now that’s a completely different story.”
As amusing as this little poem may be, it expresses an important truth: Building relationships with other people may be easy to accept in theory, but it is far more difficult to live out every day—especially with people who rub us the wrong way! Theory says it is possible to love our enemies, but the reality of life tells us something altogether different.
Let’s look at the ways we relate to other people. Hopefully, we can deepen our good and positive relationships with others and maybe even heal some of our damaged ones. And to do that, we will examine St. Paul’s advice to the Colossians:
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:12-17)
Dress Yourself. Jesus gives us the “garment of salvation” when we are baptized—but it is up to us to put on that garment every day. It is up to us every morning to set our hearts on Jesus, not on the darkened philosophies in the world.
However, just as it is essential to make a daily consecration to the Lord, it is equally important that we spend the rest of the day living according to his way. And that’s where this passage from Colossians comes in. In these few verses, we find a description of our role in the process of transformation—the work we must do if we want to see ourselves become more and more like Jesus.
As we try to clothe ourselves with the disposition described here, we give the Holy Spirit greater freedom to change our hearts—and as a consequence, strengthen our relationships. So while we do clothe ourselves in the garment of salvation through baptism and faith, we are also called to “work out” our salvation every day, clothing ourselves in virtues that will support the transformation Jesus wants to accomplish in us (Philippians 2:12).
Can you see how these two actions—one from the Holy Spirit and one from us—work together? Perhaps St. Augustine said it best when he exhorted people to pray as if it all depends on God, but to work as if it all depends on us.
Put On the Virtues of God. So Paul urges us to “put on,” or dress ourselves in, six virtues: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness. We are all familiar with these, so it is a matter of daily practice. However, one virtue, forgiveness, has always been a particularly effective bridge that brings people who are separated a bit closer together.
One powerful illustration of this fact involves a young man who tried to rape an eleven-year-old girl. Because the girl refused to submit to his desires, the man stabbed her over and over again, leaving her for dead. She was discovered, however, and taken to a hospital. As she lay dying, the girl forgave her attacker. The man was captured and imprisoned, and he remained unrepentant until one day when, in a dream, he saw this young girl whom he had killed giving him flowers. Deeply moved, the man finally did repent and dedicated his life to the Lord. When he was released after twenty-seven years in prison, the man went to the girl’s mother to beg her forgiveness. “If my daughter can forgive you,” she replied, “who am I to withhold forgiveness?”
This story of St. Maria Goretti illustrates the dramatic way God can work to bring forgiveness and healing. It tells us that even in the most desperate of situations, where forgiveness can seem impossible, we should try our best to have mercy and leave the rest up to God. He knows what is in our hearts. If we simply cannot forgive someone—or if we simply cannot ask another person for forgiveness—we can always go to Jesus in prayer and talk to him about it. He will make a way over time to bring healing and reconciliation.
The truth is that as long as sin remains in the world, injustice, hurt, and divisions will be with us as well. There is simply no way around it. But when forgiveness is expressed, God works. He always brings good out of our efforts, even when the effort may be weak but the intentions are good.
Grace, Nature, and Peace. When Paul told the Colossians, “let the peace of Christ control your hearts,” he was telling them that God’s grace is not just a good feeling. No, this grace actually conveys God’s own power to help us face and resolve the conflicts that confront us in daily life.
It was God’s peace that helped mend the division between Jews and Gentiles in the early church: “He is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity” (Ephesians 2:14). That same peace is available to us. If his peace can unite two races that had been enemies for centuries, it certainly is capable of building up our good relationships and mending our weak or broken ones!
When a relationship hits a snag, it can be very easy to resort to worldly methods to resolve the problem. But these methods hardly ever leave us—or the other person—with peace. So the next time you are dealing with someone who is hard to love, prepare yourself by standing back for a moment and asking Jesus for his peace. Then try to rely on his promise to give you wisdom, compassion, and love. You will be surprised at the way Jesus calms your heart and helps you say and do the right things.
May the Word of God Dwell in You Richly. So if we want Jesus’ peace to reign in us and help our relationships, we need to put on the garment of salvation that we were given at baptism—and we need to put on the outward virtues that Paul speaks about. Together these clothes make for an attractive outfit.
But two questions remain: How do we let this baptismal “garment of salvation” keep changing us? And where can we find the courage to keep putting on the virtues of God every day? Paul says that we can do both by immersing ourselves in Scripture. Scripture inspires us; it moves us to love God; it brings us understanding; and it guides us.
This is why Jesus wants us to be filled with the word, saturated in it, soaking it up every day. He wants us reading it and studying it along with good commentaries, even memorizing it. How will we know that the word of God is dwelling in us? By the way our hearts burn with love and hope when we hear Scripture proclaimed at Mass. By the way it helps us wake up each morning and put on the virtues of God. By the way it moves us to try to be united with each other—just as Jesus and his Father are one (John 17:21).
Be Thankful. If we clothe ourselves with his garment of salvation and if we try to apply Paul’s godly virtues in every situation, our light will shine and our relationships will improve—all of them. We live in a divided world, but Jesus wants us to be his ambassadors of love and unity. With his help, we can do it.
After Paul told the Colossians how to relate to each other, he gave them one last key to good relationships: “Be thankful.” Then, he told them to sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude” in their hearts. Then in the next verse, he said: “Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:15-17).
Three times in a row! Do you think he wanted to make a point? Let’s make it a point ourselves to thank Jesus every day for the way his cross and resurrection have clothed us with the garment of salvation. Let’s thank him, too, for all of the wonderful relationships we have, even as we seek his help in repairing any wounded relationships. Finally, let’s ask him to help us be virtuous as we “model” his fine clothing each day.