In a conversation that one of my priest-friends had with a monk while he was on retreat, he asked the monk, “How are things?” The monk’s response surprised him a bit. “Things are fine. It’s the people that I have a problem with!”
For better or for worse, we will have to deal with people for the rest of our lives. As the British poet John Donne reminds us: No man is an island. In my analysis of any situation dealing with people, I return continually to the importance of relationship.
Let’s start first with God. In the revelation to us of God’s inner make-up, we are shown that God is a Trinity of Persons in relationship—a Father, a Son and the Holy Spirit. There is perfect unity and harmony in this relationship exemplifying the essence of love.
Moving to the family, which is based on the relationship of husband and wife and the children that are born as the fruit of their love, we can again see the importance of and need for unity and harmony. The two who become one flesh also must strive for one loving heart and work to provide for, to teach, to protect and, most importantly, to love those innocents whom they bring into this world.
The Church—the Body of Christ—is a community of believers in relationship with each other as well as with Almighty God. While each and every individual is of utmost importance and value, none of us stands alone within the Church. Jesus is the Head and we are members of His Mystical Body. Through the Church’s visible leader, the Pope, in union with the Bishops throughout the world, Christ continues to sanctify, to teach and to preach today. Again, unity and harmony are ever so necessary for the mission of Christ to continue. Unfortunately divided Christian communities with varying degrees of dissention (both from within and from those outside of the Church’s embrace), make this goal of unity and harmony a frequently difficult, ongoing challenge.
No matter what the situation that we encounter, we can never forget that concern for the person and the relationship needs to be the most important, underlying principle defining the way that we approach and treat others. Mutual respect, patience, cooperation, ongoing communication, and forgiveness are qualities and conditions enabling us to achieve this desired unity and harmony in relationships.
Even when dealing with sensitive or volatile topics, if we value the relationship over the issue itself, we may still wind up disagreeing—but we have a better chance of never losing respect for the person or persons holding the differing opinion or position.
Work to build relationships as St. Paul instructs:
I . . . urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4: 1-6)
Fr. Ed Namiotka
Fr. Ed Namiotka