Translated by Fray Hubert Dunstan Decena, OAR
The primary matter of our communities are the persons with their good and not so good qualities. Thus, it is normal that within the community there will be occasions of collisions, frictions and offences. For St. Augustine the important thing is that, in the name of charity and love, we have recourse to the medicine of forgiveness and reconciliation to live in peace inside the community. Love includes not only surrender and service, but also to know how to excuse without limits, as St. Paul teaches us.
I prepare my heart.
God accompanies me every day of my pilgrimage towards the heavenly homeland. He is within me, in my heart. As St. Augustine says, I may be conscious of it or not, God accompanies me in the very depths of my being: “you were inside me, more interior than my most intimate self and more sublime than anything sublime in me” (conf.3,6,11). Yes, God is in my heart, in the seat of interpersonal encounters. It is there that he teaches me the great values: love, peace, truth, freedom, solidarity, justice, communion, forgiveness … He educates me and encourages me on the road of life. This good God we ask for help and enlightenment that today we may have a conscious, affective and sincere encounter with him. We tell him:
Come, Holy Spirit, by whom every devout soul, who believes in Christ, is sanctified to become a citizen of the City of God! (en. Ps. 45:8) Come, Holy Spirit, grant that we receive the motions of God, put in us your flame, enlighten us and raise us up to God (s. 128, 4).
I open my heart.
With heart well disposed, with serenity, I read slowly the following words, savoring them and allowing myself to be touched by them.
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 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. (Col 3:12-17).
I return to my heart.
The immediate context into which our text is inserted is the invitation that Paul made to the Colossians to resurrect with Christ and “seek the things that are above, where Christ is” (Col. 3:11).
The negative qualities of the vv. 5-9 are of particular interest for us, because our text offers positive alternatives: “heartfelt mercy, goodness, humility, meekness, patience, bearing with one another, forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another,” so also with thankfulness (3:12-15). In other words, vv.5-9 give a list of sinful practices, and the vv. 12-15 give out a list of virtues one must live in place of those sinful practices.
“Put one (enduo) therefore” (v.12a). The expression “therefore” connects this verse with what he had said before, the invitation to die to the “old man” (3:9b), so that in their lives “Christ may be all in all” (3:11). The Greek word “enduo” means “to put on something”, “to clothes oneself with.” Paul encourages the Christians of Colossae to put on the virtues enumerated in the text.
The first quality, goodness (chrestóteta), has the sense of practical goodness of service that is attentive to go out to meet the needs of others as God himself would do. The humility (tapeinofrosíne) comes from the consciousness of one’s own smallness and of absolute need for God, in contraposition to the human tendency for self-sufficiency, for pride. The meekness designated by the Greek word prautéta, is a virtue that proceeds from God and not from man. It does not refer to a passive meekness, but rather it is an amiable force that manifests its power with discretion and gentleness. The Greek word makrothymían (patience) implies knowing to wait, control and dominate the first impulses, with constancy and firmness.
“As the Lord has forgiven you” (v.13), refers to what he had said before: “And even when you were dead in transgressions … he brought you to life along with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions…” (Col.2:13), insisting on the need for mutual forgiveness as a particular way of life for those who have “clothed themselves with Christ” and strive to imitate God, who is always merciful and forgiving.
“Clothe yourselves with love” (v. 14). Love-agape is not just any one of the virtues, it is the “bond of perfection”, the knot that ties together all the virtues mentioned and brings them all to perfection, giving them true value and significance. Love is also the “bond of perfection” because it brings unity within the community.
“And the peace of Christ” (v. 15). One must understand this peace in the context of the biblical Shalom, as liberation, well-being, happiness. This is the meaning of messianic peace which coincides with salvation, an exclusive gift of Christ, the harmony and serene cohabitation of brothers who are called to form one sole body which is no other than the Body of Christ (cf. Eph. 2:14; Jn. 14:27).
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (v.16). The Greek word “enoikeíto” means not only to inhabit or put up a house, but also have influence over the person, motivate his actions, thoughts and desires. If this is so, the community becomes a space of wisdom, where the brothers instruct and correct each other to grow in the road to God, in such a way that these qualities evoke joy and happiness for being able to make one’s own life a song of gratitude to God himself.
“And whatever you do” (v.17). Nothing can remain outside the boundary of Christ, who is the “space” in which, he who is clothed in Christ, lives, as Paul had earlier indicated. Thus with the expression “in word or in deed” he wants to sum up the whole being and the actions of the human being, that must be realized no longer in the world or in the context of the old man, but in Christ, who is the space proper to the new man who has risen with him.
And with a final doxology, the text invites to do all in the name of Christ, giving thanks to God the Father.
St. Augustine was a very realistic man, and he knew that no one is exempt from sin, and that the Church asks forgiveness from God every day. The same happens in the community: the brothers sin daily, they can offend each other and they need to ask forgiveness.
The ships in the port.
For the Saint, the brothers in the community are like the ships anchored in the port. They come to overcome the passions of the world represented by the sea, and they have come to the religious house seeking rest in God. Nevertheless, the monastery is composed of human beings and the brothers cannot live in perfect peace, since even in the port the waves enter, which are the human passions. These make the ships, i.e., the brothers, collide with each other. If the waves are light, the banging of the brothers are also light. But if a storm arises, the roughness of the waves can make the ships clash with violence to the point of destruction. Then, to avoid it, he who has authority needs to act. The indispensable medicine is always forgiveness.
Humility to ask pardon.
For St. Augustine, as it appears in the Rule, it is normal that in the community there will be clashes among the brothers that create offenses. Well then, the brother who has offended another must have the humility to ask pardon. And between him who easily gets angry but always asks pardon and him who seldom gets angry but never asks pardon, the first is more perfect. St. Augustine is very strict on this. Even more, for him he who never asks pardon is excess in the community.
The community –a space of reconciliation.
The community must be a space of reconciliation. The members of the community, to be able to build the communion, must live reconciled first with God, not having in conscience the weight of grave sin. Secondly, they must live reconciled with each other, knowing that if God has forgiven them, they also must forgive each other, avoiding self-destructive attitudes, consistent in reproaching actions committed in the past. This is the attitude of Lot’s wife who became a statue of salt by looking back. The third dimension of reconciliation is with the brothers, when the members of the community acknowledge with humility that they have offended the brothers and they know how to ask pardon with sincerity and promptly.
Rancor and resentment
On the other hand, St. Augustine insists on putting the remedy of forgiveness as soon as possible to avoid that in the heart of the religious and the community there may develop a process of spiritual degradation and the death of charity. An un-forgiven offense becomes a rancor. If it is not intercepted soon, rancor becomes hate, and following St. John, he indicates in the Rule, “he who hates his brother is a murderer” (1 Jn. 3:15).The Saint says, “Anger, when it remains sour, becomes hate, and, made into hate, it is murderer (en. Ps. 25:2,3).
Furthermore, St. Augustine knows that whoever permits this evil guest –pride- to lodge in his heart, becomes a bitter and embittered person who cannot love nor build up communion. The simile he offers is very graphic. Man’s heart is like a wooden cup. If you put a little vinegar into it and is not thrown out immediately, the vinegar becomes absorbed in such a way that the flavor can no longer be removed. When a person harbors resentment in the heart, he becomes bitter in such a way that he becomes incapable to receive nor to give love, to build up communion; he shall be a bitter person incapable of transmitting the love of God.
Put great effort in being in accord than in reproaching one another. Because, as vinegar corrodes a cup if it stays in it, so does anger corrode the heart if it stays in it until the next day (s. 210,2).
St. Augustine also indicates that at the bottom is found pride, and whoever keeps resentments is like satan. Moved by pride, this person moves away from God and thus becomes condemned. Pride is the diabolical vice. He who boils in hate and rancor is like satan, made a devil by his own pride: By his two vices, pride and envy, the devil is devil (vir. 31, 31).
The Saint says that, just as each one would, by all means, seek to clean his house of serpents and scorpions, similarly, the believer, the religious, must clean his heart –which is the house of God- of every hatred and resentment. Thus, it is necessary to always forgive:
Be renewed, correct yourself. If in your house, there are scorpions and asps, how much effort would you not put to clear it so you could dwell in it in tranquility? You are angry; rage becomes inveterate in your hearts, much hatred arises… so many scorpions and serpents. How come you not clean your heart –the house of God? Practice what is said: “As we forgive those who sin against us,” and ask assuredly: “Forgive us our sins,” because on this earth you cannot live without debts (s. 58, 8).
Question for communitarian dialogue.
- Offenses form part of community relations. Do I extend forgiveness with charity to the brother who offends me? Do I know how to humbly ask forgiveness from someone I have offended?
- The community is the space of reconciliation with God, with myself, with everyone else. Do I trust my merciful God, who forgives me my sins?
Do I feel guilt for the sins of the past that I do not stop reproaching myself? What must I do to be at peace with God, with myself and with everyone else?
- Rancor and resentment poison and embitter the life of a person. Is there some rancor and resentment in my heart that make it difficult for me to live the sweetness of communion and charity?
I lift up my heart.
We thank God for the graces, the strength and the enlightenment he has granted us during this day of recollection. For this the following words of St. Augustine can help us:
Begin to praise God with the confession. Begin from here, if you want to arrive at the clear knowledge of the truth. If you want to be brought by the road of faith to the possession of the vision, begin by the confession. First accuse yourself; being accused, praise God. Invoke him whom you do not yet know that he may come and you may understand him; better still, not that he may come, but that he brings you to himself (en. Ps. 146,14).
We have Jesus Christ in our hearts as witness that, if we have offended some one, we ask forgiveness with a sincere heart, and that, if someone offended us, we are disposed to grant it to him and to pray for our enemies. We do not desire vengeance, brothers. What other thing is vengeance if not to nourish oneself with someone else’s evil? (s. 211, 6). +0+