"A lay Catholic perspective"

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Into the Path of Peace

by Mark Fetherston


EACH TIME WE ATTEND MASS the priest blesses us with the peace of Jesus. We in turn bless our neighbour with a sign of Christ's peace. This is imitating the example of scripture. Jesus offered his peace freely, and often warned us not to be fearful, troubled or worried but to dwell in his peace. Saint Paul often started his letters with a greeting of grace and peace, as did Saint Peter.

Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, foretold the coming of the kingdom of peace. He announced that John would prepare the way of salvation where God in his merciful kindness would shine on those who dwell in darkness... to guide our feet into the way of peace.1

The peace Jesus offers is never portrayed in the Bible as something weak or fragile. Peace is dynamic and powerful. It is a sign of the kingdom of God. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. We hail his mother Mary as the Queen of Peace. The raw strength of Jesus' peace led the apostles to proclaim God's salvation in the face of great opposition and danger, to rejoice in prison, suffer happily, and love those who hated them.

As we open our hearts to embrace the new life that Jesus offers, we are given a new way of relating to God, to ourselves and to others. As beautiful as the path of Jesus is, it is far different from the way our natural inclinations would lead us. It is so different, in fact, that we could not even hope to discover it except by the revelation of the Holy Spirit. At this point in my life I probably come into peace more by learning to say "no" to fears, anxiety and resentments, than by any other way. Happily, this becomes easier over the years as Jesus' peace takes the more prominent place in my life.

Peace with God

I'm prone to two mistakes in the way I view my relationship with God. The first is thinking I somehow need to earn a place with God — deserve my own salvation. This leads to some pious-looking activities, but it is really devastating in the long run because there is really nothing we can do to deserve what we fundamentally need — God to forgive our sins.

The wonderful thing is that God has already forgiven our sins. Jesus won mercy and a place in Heaven for us. As Saint Paul told us: it is owing to his favour that salvation is yours through faith. This is not your own doing, it is God's gift; neither is it a reward for anything you have accomplished.2 God has done for us what we could never have hoped to do for ourselves. He has given us eternal life.

The other mistake is taking all this for granted. Or, more precisely, not to embrace the salvation God so freely offers. I experience no small amount of discomfort at Jesus' warning:

"None of those who cry out, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of God but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven."3

Having been given the awesome gift of eternal life, we would be very foolish to fail to embrace it with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. Saint Paul is candid about his own efforts to conform his life to Christ's: What I do is discipline my own body and master it, for fear that after having preached to others I myself should be rejected.4 To accept God's gift of eternal life means to give up our natural way in order to seize a supernatural way, the way of Jesus.

Peace with ourselves

People in our society go to tremendous efforts to avoid the issue of inner peace. We surround ourselves with hordes of possessions, fill our lives with excitement and distractions of various kinds, and spend hours each week in front of a television, a machine that dispenses non-stop bubble-gum for the brain. Although these things are fine in moderation, they are pathetic substitutes for meaning and purpose in our lives. Often we cling to them because we are terrified of the emptiness and lack of peace which they both disguise and promote at the same time.

In tender compassion, God offers us a way out of this quandary. We begin the process of coming into true peace with ourselves by realizing the greatness of God's love and the seriousness of our sin. This opens a door of interior penance. Our initial conversion must be followed by a second, ongoing conversion which continues our whole lives. Ironically, on the path of interior penance we find deep and lasting happiness and peace.

Through the words of the priest in the sacrament of Reconciliation, our dear Lord forgives our sins and grants us "pardon and peace." This beautiful gift comes because Jesus empowered the Church to forgive sins. The experience of being made right with God through the channel he set up for this purpose will always bring us to peace.

Peace with others

Embracing peace with God, based on the foundation of his merciful kindness, necessarily alters our relationships with others. Whereas we may once have felt a certain justification in dealing with friends and enemies with an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth mentality, we now find that nothing will destroy our newfound peace more quickly than hostility towards our neighbour. We have entered the courts of love, and by accepting God's mercy we are obligated to extend his peace to all.

In our natural selves we may have become accustomed to controlling others, even those we love, with threats of retribution or promises of reward. The retribution could take the form of sulking or withholding a favour, but the implied threat is to keep people in their places. There is no room for this behaviour in the kingdom. At first, the thought of graciously extending mercy to those who would harm us is daunting. Our fallen nature cries out for revenge, punishment, or some ego-satisfaction. Our fear warns us that we dare not embrace the path of peace or we will surely suffer unacceptably; our pride urges us simply to refuse. But, the peace we have experienced warms our hearts to the call of Jesus. Surrendering our lives into his care, we pray for the strength to love even those who hate us.

The Prince of Peace

Sometimes we try to grasp the gravity of sin in terms of the hurt we have caused others or ourselves. And this is true: sin does damage us all. But as we surrender to God, the Holy Spirit brings us before the cross of Jesus. There we experience the true evil of our sins. We have offended the love and holiness of our God.

It is this lonesome, dreadful moment that makes me so grateful for the sacrament of Reconciliation. Through this sacrament we come to know that God does not abandon us even in this place of destitution. The heart of Jesus cries out of his great thirst for our souls. Before the cross sin shows its true horror — I have crucified the Lord of Glory — and mercy shows its power. God's merciful love is so great that no evil can stand before it. Instead of getting what we deserve we are undeservedly welcomed into Paradise to the rejoicing of angels and the welcoming embrace of the Father.

[1] Luke 1:19

[2] Ephesians 2:8

[3] Matthew 7:2

[4] 1 Corinthians 9:27