Meditations for Layfolks - Peace

It is sometimes said that those who live away from God can have no peace in their hearts: but a far more terrible punishment befalls them namely, the exact reverse. The horror of their position is just this, that they can acquire a definite peace which lulls them into so firm a sense of security that nothing on earth, short of a startling miracle of grace, can ever awaken them. This, for example, is the whole tragedy of the Pharisees, which made our Lord so vigorous and so vehement in His denunciation of them: it required all His fire and energy, all His piercing appreciation of their weak places, to break in upon their complete self-satisfaction. So peaceful were they, so utterly contented, that they never felt any disturbance of conscience, nor knew the dismay that reduced to broken and repeated phrase the soul of the Publican. The peace, then, that the world can give is a real peace; it brings with it real happiness and security, and, while it lasts, cannot be distinguished from the peace of Christ, except in that it rests upon a quite different foundation. In its effects it is as powerful as the other; in its causes it is less lasting. For the peace that the world has to give rests entirely upon external things: it depends upon certain conditions which are not conditions of soul, but conditions of environment or possession. I am at peace, in the world's meaning of the phrase, when I have all I desire health and wealth and friends, work that is congenial or even no work at all, the pleasures of art and the distraction of amusement. I am at peace in this way just so long as these things accompany me, just so long also as I am able to appreciate them. But if they are taken away, or if my senses fail to register their delights, then I have no peace.

Our Lord's gift of peace was to be different: "Not as the world giveth do I give unto you." The peace He came to bring was dependent entirely upon an interior state of soul, and was wholly independent of external circumstances. These might be favourable or not, but they could not enter into the sanctuary of the soul, its inmost and deepest shrine, where the armed man, secure, kept his court in peace. The peace of the world meant that I had all that I desired, the peace of Christ that I desired no more than all I had. The peace of the world was largely in its cause negative; it implied the absence, the careful removal, of every form of trouble, evil, distress; it was a peace through circumstance. But the peace of Christ depended wholly, under the grace of God, on the attitude of the soul. It was built upon a firm determination of the will never to be troubled or dismayed. It was compatible with every form of suffering, with every privation, with failure in every line of life; it was compatible even with discontent nay, it really necessitated discontent. The Pharisee is self-satisfied, but the Publican is never content; he realizes the great gulf fixed between what he is and what he should be; he is always leaving the things that are behind, and spurring himself onwards to the things that are more excellent. All the saints, all who love justice and hate iniquity, must be for ever discontented, must see a great number of things ill-done by themselves and others, and must be longing to restore all things in Christ. By prayer, example, encouragement, denuncia tion, we have all laboured to bring in the reign of justice, yet are conscious of how much still remains to be done. Yet despite this chronic state of discontent, the heart should be at peace.

This contradiction is achieved by the soul which realizes the meaning of the will of God, and the ensuing peace arises from the absolute acceptance of that will. Our Lord Himself is, of course, the most perfect example. His soul was ablaze with a divine discontent. His very coming was to set free a people from the bondage of sin; and the work that He came to establish, which was to last to the consummation of the world, was precisely to affect a change in the human race, i.e. He was not content with the condition of the sons of men. So, again, He breathed forth threats against hypocrisy and cant, and with knotted cords drove the traders from the Temple; so troubled was He and so affrighted at the approach of death, that from the pores of His skin broke out His Precious Blood; while on the Cross He proclaimed to all the world the loneliness of His soul. Yet all the time in His inmost being reigned the sovereignty of peace no trouble, no dismay, ever really disturbed the perfect harmony of His being: over the tossing waters brooded the Peace of God. He came with His sword to break up external peace, but to produce in reality the more lasting effects. Families would be rent by His coming, and even within the limits of a man's own being would come the strife of spirit against flesh, and flesh against spirit; yet these should never break in upon the profound peace of mind all this noise and tumult would there be hushed into silence. I accept the will of God, and the rest does not matter. I labour to produce my best; I am discontented, but never discouraged. I may be a failure, but never a disappointment: for the first I do not hold myself responsible, but for the second I do. The first depends more upon external circumstances, the second wholly on my attitude of soul. The peace, then, of Christ is within the will, unaffected by outward conditions, sustained alone by conscious devotion and submission to the Father that sent me.

- text taken from Meditations for Layfolk by Father Bede Jarrett, O.P.