In 1944 the singing group the Mills Brothers recorded
You always hurt the one you love
The one you shouldn’t hurt at all
You always take the sweetest rose
And crush it till the petals fall
You always break the kindest heart
With a hasty word you can’t recall
So, if I broke your heart last night
It’s because I love you most of all
My experience is that people are often willing to hurt people who love them, such as family members, because they are confident that they will stick by them no matter what. People have limits, of course, even family members. But love bonds run deep. It makes sense, too. We are made in God’s image and likeness. We are made to act as God acts, knowing, willing and loving. We “hurt God”, who can’t really be hurt, and God sticks with us through thick and thin. God never rejects us even when we reject Him. Unfathomably deep runs the love of God.
This Sunday in the calendar of the Vetus Ordo we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. Holy Church, the greatest expert on humanity there has ever been, gives us for our Epistle reading Paul’s simple yet profound teaching for the Christian family from Colossians 3:12-17. The Novus Ordo second reading for Holy Family, celebrated on Sunday in the Christmas Octave, is the same, though a few verses longer, vv. 12-21. This reading from Colossians is also offered to us on the 5th Sunday after Epiphany. Repetita iuvant… repeated things help. Obviously the Church knows that we have to hear this reading fairly often, probably because its content, though simple, is nonetheless difficult for many to put into practice.
[Brethren:] 12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, 13 forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. [… giving thanks to God the Father through Christ Jesus our Lord.]
Here we have straight forward, practical advice for how to have harmonious and holy relationships with people, especially with our loved ones.
Colossae was a city in Phrygia of Asia Minor, modern day Turkey. Paul wrote to the Christian community of Colossae, one of the seven cities mentioned in the Book of Revelation during his imprisonment in Rome. The first part of the Letter is mainly doctrinal and the second underscores how Christians should behave. Paul uses his “put on the new man” imagery, virtues and identity being like garments, which we have explored before. The section of the letter whence this Sunday’s pericope (a selection from Scripture for a reading) is drawn concerns rules for Christian households.
At the core of Paul’s admonishment to put on virtues like garments. The word in Greek is endúsasthe a middle aorist imperative of enduo: “clothe yourselves”. The Latin Vulgate uses induite in v. 12, again an imperative, “y’all put on, clothe”. In v. 14 the verb for “put on” is missing, but it is understood, carried over from v. 12. In the Latin version read in Church in the Mass, the somewhat drab imperative “habete” is inserted to stand for that understood induite. Over all the virtues mentioned before, to be put on like garments, we are to put on like a cloak the virtue of love, Greek agápe, Latin caritas, charity. The RSV version above says “above all”. The Greek epi pasi toutois indeed means “over all these”, as a cloak is over other clothing, but is also “more than all these… in preference to all these”. The point being that charity is the bond which binds them all together, or perhaps rather brings all the others out. As St. Francis de Sales wrote in his Introduction to the Devout Life:
The queen bee never takes wing without being surrounded by all her Subjects; even so Love never enters the heart but it is sure to bring all other virtues in its train; marshalling and employing them as a captain his soldiers. (III,1)
So too charity binds Christians to each other.
One would do well to read this passage from Colossians and then review Paul’s mighty hymn to charity starting however in 1 Cor 12 and reading to 13:13. Then move over to Ephesians 5 describing the Christian family.
For this Feast of the Holy Family, it could be good to reflect on the quality of our behavior towards others, especially those with whom we have bonds of family. Do I hurt with my words or with my lack of word? Outward attitude? How many sins and hurts could be avoided if we just held our tongues a little more? How many fewer things would we have to regret?
The heart of charity is sacrifice. Charity is sacrificial love. This kind of love always seeks the good of the other, even at the loss of one’s own goods, even one’s own life. The perfect model of charity is Our Lord in the condescension of the Incarnation and then in His exaltation on the Cross of our salvation. In both cases the Son of God emptied Himself for our sake. We are made in His image and likeness. We are made to act like He acted. We are most like ourselves when we are acting like Him. Paul says,” when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:9-11).
We must allow the theological virtue charity truly to inform our lives. That means radical willingness also to act with others with their good foremost in our hearts. This runs contrary to the fallen aspects of our human nature, wounded as it is by the Original Sin we suffer since the Fall of our First Parents. And yet we are more as God intends us to be as His images the more we are able to manifest the gift of charity that flows into us in the state of grace.
In the inaugural speech of his pontificate in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI – I write this on the day of his burial – quoted John Paul II’s famous, “Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ!” Benedict went on:
Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the Pope said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.
When we do our best for the good of others, we are more and more as we are intended by God.
As we move into a new calendar year, we might take stock of our approach to others. Is not a lack of charity really not just a manifestation of fear? Fear of loss of some chimeric shadow of control? A defense mechanism against vulnerability? It is, in fact, a kind of vanity. Pride, the root of all sins.
We need to be courageous in our families, brave enough not to hurt each other, brave enough to seek always the true good of others. The true good of others is ultimately the happiness of Heaven.
When you love, you don’t ask people to sin. You don’t provoke them to sin.
This is of critical importance in the family, building block of society, which the Enemy is working to destroy.
The late Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, who was as a priest assigned in 1981 to found the once-sound Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family revealed that the Fatima seer Sr. Lucia wrote in a letter to him:
“Father, a time will come when the decisive battle between the kingdom of Christ and Satan will be over marriage and the family. And those who will work for the good of the family will experience persecution and tribulation. But do not be afraid, because Our Lady has already crushed his head.”
Make amends when you fall. Do not be an instrument of the Enemy. As Paul says in Ephesians 4, even when there might be conflict,
Therefore, putting away falsehood, let every one speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. … Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.