The Peace of Christ – the surrender of our will to God’s will
The Rosary Light & Life – Vol 53, No 2, March-April 2000
The Peace of Christ By Father Paul A. Duffner, O.P.
Usually one is quick to notice on entering a Catholic church where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved – a sense of peace and tranquility, a quiet oasis apart from the noise and distractions of the outside world. Even non-Catholics have noticed this at times without knowing the reason why. One experiences the fulfillment of the promise of our divine Savior in the tabernacle: “Come to me all you who labor and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you” (Mt. 11:28).
Yet, the peace and tranquility which He promises, and which we momentarily experience is the calm after the storm, a peace that was won through war. It is a peace that was won through the bloodshed and suffering, the scourging and crowning, the humiliation and rejection, the three hours agony of Christ’s passion and death. In all this the Prince of Peace conquered the Evil One who is the arch-enemy of peace, the ultimate source of all disobedience and rebellion, of all envy and hatred, of all injustice and violence, in a word of all obstacles to peace; and at present he seems to have won many to his cause.
The very material elements of the Eucharist are a reminder that this peace was won through trial and suffering. The grape had to be crushed to release the juice from which the wine is made; and the grain of wheat had to die in order to increase and multiply. And those grains in turn had to be crushed and ground fine in order to produce the flour from which the bread is made. “Unless the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit” (Jn. 12:24). How beautiful a symbol of the peace that Christ brings. How wonderful a reminder of the price of peace, that is, the cost of receiving those divine helps that bring peace. How salutary a reflection for those who are yearning for peace. It is easy to forget the suffering and sacrifice of which the Blessed Sacrament is a memorial, and which are the price of the peace which Christ came to bring to the world.
PEACE AS THE WORLD SEES IT
Our Blessed Lord explained to the apostles the night before He died that the peace He came to bring is not the same as peace as the world understands it. “Peace is my farewell to you, my peace is my gift to you. I do not give it to you as the world gives peace” (Jn 14:27). Peace as the world understands it is a negative concept, namely, the absence of conflict and disturbance. Nations usually consider themselves at peace when they are not at war with another nation, or not experiencing rebellion or conflict from within; while families think of themselves at peace when there is not quarreling between family members, and an individual may speak of peace in terms of not being disturbed. “Don’t bother me, let me have some peace.”
Yet these negative concepts of peace – peace as the world sees it – are far from the peace that Christ promised to those who follow Him. We may think of our own country as being at peace, but it is a peace without God; for those establishing our laws reject the clear teachings of the Scriptures as to the sanctity of human life, of marriage and the family as intended by the Creator. Yet, the real enemy of peace, as we have pointed out, is not the rulers of nations, or disturbing elements within them, but the Evil One who uses deceived human individuals as his instruments in disrupting the order established by God.
THE TRANQUILITY OF ORDER
When our first parents came into this world they enjoyed perfect harmony and tranquility within their whole being. Their lower nature (the appetites and passions of the body) were perfectly subject to their higher nature (intellect and will) so that there was no interior conflict between the dictates of reason and the appetites and passions of the body; and their higher nature in turn was subject to God. That order of the subjection of the lower being to the higher was established by God as an indispensable condition for peace. That was the order St. Augustine referred to when he defined peace as “the tranquility of order.” Insofar as that order is maintained, man will experience peace within himself, within the family, within the nation. And insofar as that order is lacking within the individual, or family, or nation – true peace will be wanting.
In the physical order of creation all the stars and planets revolve in their orbits without deviation, and all the laws of nature are perfectly fulfilled without exception. Yet, in the moral order of creation, the order established for creatures possessing free will (angels and men), that order must be maintained by freely choosing what God has ordained. However, due to the consequences of original sin, the right choice will be made only if the selfish inclinations of our fallen nature have been disciplined and brought under control in a battle that is life-long. This explains what we have already indicated, that the peace that Christ came to bring to the world is a pace that is won through war – war on our self-seeking tendencies.
THE BASIS OF PEACE
The true peace of which we speak is a gift of God (Jn. 14:27), not something we can attain by ourselves alone, for it is dependent especially on the infused virtues of justice and charity. Centuries before Christ Isaias the prophet wrote: “Justice will bring about peace” (32:17). Pope John Paul II, commenting on this passage while speaking to the college of Cardinals, referred to the on-going battle that must be waged against our self-seeking tendencies:
“Where there is no justice, there can be no peace, because injustice is itself a disorder. Where there is no respect for human rights – I mean those inalienable rights which are inherent in every man by his nature – there can be no peace. Where there is no moral formation to favor the growth of good, there can be no peace, because it is always necessary to keep watch and contain the destructive tendencies which nestle in the heart of man.”
St. Thomas Aquinas points out, however, that while peace is indirectly an effect of justice insofar as it removes the obstacles to peace, e.g. an injury inflicted, a right denied; yet, more properly it is the fruit of charity, for “charity of its very nature causes peace, for love is a unitive force” (II II,29, 3, ad 2).
There will be peace among persons who are moved by charity, for they love God above all things, and that love extends to the children of the heavenly Father for whose sake they refrain from anything that would be injurious or offensive to any of His children. This is because charity orders all things in relation to God, and this produces an inner peace of soul, as well as an exterior peace in one’s relations with others.
Christ by His passion and death, won for us a share in His own divine life, a share in His own love for the Father. It is this gift of charity which enables us to seek God’s will above all things, and to seek our neighbor’s good as well as our own. Thus as the love of God begets love of neighbor, there is a harmonious concord among those who share the Father’s love.
However, because we possess this charity only imperfectly in this life due to our weakened human nature, we will experience that inner peace only in the measure that growth in the divine life received at baptism progresses. This sharing in God’s love through charity is the source of that inner tranquility, for it establishes harmony within oneself and with others by restraining conflicting desires. Yet, this inner harmony will never be perfect in this life; for while charity diminishes the resistance of the flesh against the spirit, in this life it never totally suppresses it.
THE MEANS OF PEACE
Since the peace of which we speak is a gift of God, it is obvious that prayer will be an important element in attaining and persevering in it. And since, as is expressed in the official worship of the Church, “His will is our peac
e,” we must rely on prayer and self-discipline to bring our will in subjection to His. We must rely on Him who gave His life that we may have not only eternal peace in the life to come, but peace also in this “valley of tears.” And nowhere can we approach our divine Lord more intimately than in His eucharistic presence in the tabernacle and Holy Communion.
We have seen how the Eucharist is a symbol and reminder of the fact that the peace that Christ brings comes at a price; and that price is the sacrifices that we have to make to keep His commandments, to fulfill the duties of our state in life, and to bear the crosses that the Father allows. Faithful and generous submission to these manifestations of God’s will, not only keep our will subject to His, bringing peace, but disciplines our lower nature, which, without vigilance, tends to become an obstacle in these matters. The spiritual power accomplishing this comes from above, for if one strives to return the Father’s love by a faithful and generous fulfillment of His will, little by little the disorders of our lower nature are healed. Referring to this, St. Augustine asks:
“Does your soul desire to overcome your lower inclinations? Let it be subject to Him who is on high, and it will conquer the lower self. You will experience inner peace, true, secure and well-ordered. In what does this order consist? God commands the soul; the soul commands the body; and there is nothing more orderly than that.”
Since, as we saw, our love for the Father begets love of neighbor, our inner peace and our peace with others will depend on the extent that we are at peace with our Heavenly Father. A person can be in the state of grace, and still be filled with much self-love that stands in the way of complete surrender to the divine will, and therefore diminishes peace within oneself and with his neighbor. That is to say, love for the Father can differ enormously between different persons, from the minimum to remain in the state of grace to heroic self-giving in union with His only-begotten Son. For the former, faithful use of sacramental confession will be one of the main ways that God has given to restore or increase the peace of soul that has been diminished through sin or by failure to cooperate with His grace. Since pride is the greatest obstacle to grace, there is needed a humble acknowledgment of one’s weaknesses, faults and negligences that stand in the way of fulfilling God’s will, and therefore of peace. Well aware of the source of true peace, Isaias the prophet exclaimed: “There is no peace for the wicked” (48:22).
THE PARADOX OF PEACE
From what we have considered, we can see there can be a two-fold concept of peace: a) a man-made peace (peace as the world thinks of it), a negative concept consisting in the removal of disturbing elements; b) a peace that comes from God that can be present even in the midst of disturbing elements.
When one loses sight of his eternal destiny his goals are limited to his temporal well being. He is content with a man-made peace, even though it is merely cessation of some disturbing situation, only temporary, fragile and insecure, and does not bring inner tranquility of soul. He sees the cause of the lack of peace as something external to himself. He loses sight not only of the eternal goal of his life, but of his own human dignity and that of his neighbor as adopted children of God made to His own likeness and image. Such a peace is destined to end in disillusion, for the heart of man is made for and craves a peace far most satisfying and lasting.
In contrast with this, the disciple of Christ knows that following Him will involve a cross. “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mt. 16:24). He knows that the peace that Christ promised does not mean the absence of trials, suffering and persecution; but on the contrary a peace in the midst of them, for they occasion sacrifices through which love is expressed. One will never find the peace that Christ promised by running away from trials and hardships of life, but rather by bearing them in a spirit of faith, and trust, and love.
QUEEN OF PEACE
Since, as we have seen, the surrender of our will to God’s is what brings that inner peace of soul, Our Lady can truly be called Queen of Peace; for her will was united with that of the Father more perfectly than any other human person during the whole of her life on earth. Too, she shared, as did no other, in the redeeming sacrifice by which her Son won for us that peace. Hers was that inner peace that comes from knowing that God’s will is being fulfilled, painful as it may be at times. She experienced tragedies far greater that we will ever encounter, yet never for a moment doubted God’s love and concern. Those painful moments increased enormously her already fullness of grace. Thus Mary remains the perfect model for all her children in times of sorrow or tragedy, one who understands sorrow and can obtain healing graces.
At Fatima Our Lady asked three small children to “pray the rosary every day in honor of Our Lady of the Rosary to obtain peace in the world and the end of the war, because only she can obtain it” (Apparition July 13, 1917). Such is the Blessed Mother’s power for peace in the divine plan. This should not surprise us, for as we pointed out, Satan is the ultimate cause of sin and the lack of peace in the world; and the Lord, the ultimate source of goodness and peace – has decreed an eternal enmity between the devil and the woman (Mary) whom He has chosen as His instrument in crushing the power of the Evil One (Gen. 3:15). Our divine Lord wishes to use His Mother in restoring peace, not only among nations, but in families and individual souls.
In times of sorrow and suffering, then, call upon Mary. She will help you to see God’s will and fatherly concern at work in every trial, and never to doubt that He can bring good out of every difficult situation if only we trust in Him. She will teach you to go to the sources of peace: the tabernacle, the confessional, and her own Immaculate Heart. She will remind you of your eternal destiny which outweighs in importance all your earthly goals. When moments of anxiety, or fear, or sadness have obscured the remembrance of the price Jesus paid to bring us peace, she will invite you to stand beside her in prayer at the foot of the Cross; and not only will your problems seem very small in comparison, but you will see them in a different light. Blessed Mother, Queen of Peace, pray for us.
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