Thursday 29th June 2017

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Restoring The Sacred… The Peace That Only Christ Can Give

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By JAMES MONTI

During these weeks of the Easter season, brightened even more this year by the centenary celebration of the first apparition of Our Lady of Fatima on May 13, the Church pauses to reflect at length upon the extraordinary events of Easter Sunday and the days that followed, while at the same time recalling the exciting early days of the Church as recounted in the Acts of the Apostles.
Among the many details of precisely what took place on the first Easter Sunday we find our Lord’s very first words to the apostles upon entering the Upper Room: “Peace be with you” (John 20:19).
This too was His greeting to the apostles when a week later He returned to them and summoned St. Thomas to see His wounds and believe in His Resurrection (cf. John 20:26). With all the references to “peace” not only in the Scriptures but also in the sacred liturgy, it is important that we discern its proper meaning.
What is this peace of which our Lord speaks before all else in revealing Himself risen from the dead? To the secular world “peace” means little more than the cessation or absence of warfare, but for us as Catholics it means a whole lot more.
Our Lord had already made this distinction when on the very threshold of His Passion, on Holy Thursday night, He told the apostles, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27). It is not without significance that immediately after uttering His Easter greeting of peace Christ instituted the Sacrament of Penance by breathing upon the apostles and giving them the power to absolve sins. Clearly the peace to which He refers is the peace He won for us on the cross, the peace of salvation, the peace of forgiveness, and the peace of sanctification.
Satan, consumed by pride, is the author of strife, having rejected the peace of loving and serving God, and having goaded Eve and thereby Adam to do so as well. This turmoil of sin has even affected the rest of creation, as St. Paul teaches (Romans 8:19-23).
In prophesying the redemption to be wrought by Christ, Zechariah speaks of the Lord leading us into “the way of peace” (Luke 1:79). That peace begins with conversion from sin. Psalm 32 seems to prophesy the Sacrament of Penance, for it describes with vivid realism how a soul agonized by a tortured conscience burdened with guilt finds peace after confessing one’s sins to God.
“When I declared not my sin, my body wasted away . . . my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. . . . I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’; then thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32:3-5).
Medieval commentators on the sacred liturgy, such as Sicard of Cremona (+1215), specifically identify the sign of peace at Mass with the peace wrought by the Resurrection (Sicard, Mitrale, book 3, chapter 8).
Peace could also be said to be one of the key characteristics of the fitting celebration of the Sacred Liturgy. For a liturgy celebrated with order, according to the rubrics, with decorum and reverence, with times of sacred silence facilitating intimate conversation with God, brings peace and tranquility to the soul.
It is not without reason that for centuries the Church has begun her liturgical processions with the utterance of the simple exhortation, “Procedamus in pace” — “Let us proceed in peace.” And for centuries the priest in celebrating the Church’s rites of visiting the sick has announced his arrival under the invalid’s roof with the greeting, “Pax huic domui” — “Peace to this house.”
This “liturgical peace” is likewise experienced in church even outside the celebration of the liturgical rites, due to the abiding presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Who among us has not known the peace of praying before the tabernacle in a quiet church?
Purity of heart and purity of intention bring us peace. By contrast, lust and the prideful pursuit of one’s own will bring wild disorder to the soul, a foretaste of Hell. For as St. Peter warns, the passions “wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11).
It has often been said, “In His will is our peace.” And indeed, doing the will of God does bring peace to the innermost depths of one’s soul. Embracing and conforming ourselves to the will of God sets our wills in peaceful harmony and concord with His will.
The Devil, our implacable enemy, determined to persuade us otherwise, ever seeks to disturb our peace by sending all sorts of trouble, distraction, and disorder our way. But in such circumstances, we will find that, beneath the rubble of Satan’s machinations, the inner peace given by God endures.
This inner peace is the peace the martyrs knew. They were able to suffer and die at peace because they possessed the peace of certainty, certainty that what they believed and professed was absolutely true. For truth brings a peace of mind that falsehood can never bring.
Speaking from his own experience of journeying from falsehood to truth, St. Augustine famously said, “. . . our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee” (Confessions, trans. Frank Sheed, Indianapolis, Hackett Pub. Co., 2006, book 1, p. 3).
By contrast, Satan is the father of lies, the father of uncertainty, the father of moral relativism. Such uncertainty about what is good and what is evil breeds restlessness and far worse.
Our Lord’s words at the Last Supper distinguishing the peace He imparts from that of the world also serve to warn us that there is a counterfeit peace we must spurn, the false peace of compromising our beliefs, to pretend that knowing and believing in the objective truths of our faith doesn’t really matter, so as not to seem “divisive.”
It is from the pursuit of this false peace that false forms of ecumenism arise, in which critical differences of doctrine are wallpapered over so as to create an illusion of unity and peace. It was in repudiation of such counterfeit peace that our Lord made His remarkable declaration, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34).
Genuine peace is achieved through the shared, common profession of all that Christ has taught, of all that the Church teaches — the peace of “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:5). For as St. Paul says elsewhere, “God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Cor. 14:33)
Peace is also a key prerequisite for fruitful prayer and meditation. To hear the voice of God, the soul needs to be recollected, to be freed from the disorder and noise of distractions and disruptions. Thus it is that monasteries and convents faithful to the mind and tradition of the Church and her spirituality are places of great peace.
It is by keeping peace in our souls that we can keep God in mind throughout the day: “And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7).

Noise And Disorder

There are also the references to peace in the Church’s funeral liturgy and her prayers for the dead: Requiescat in pace (“May he rest in peace”). Does this peace of the dead mean nothing more than a state of inactivity? No, the peace of the dead is a peace full of life as their souls gaze unceasingly upon the face of God, offering Him their praise and interceding for those still sojourning on Earth.
If I might offer an analogy, albeit a poor one, this peace of the faithful departed is a bit like the peace of a beautiful morning in late spring, when the warm sunlight, the song of birds, and the fragrance of fresh blossoms gladden our senses with a calm that fills us with gratitude to God.
What has been said here by no means downplays the Church’s unflagging commitment to the cause of world peace; our Supreme Pontiffs have long been champions of “peace on Earth,” warning of all the evils and horrors that warfare brings. But we as Catholics know that the cause of peace is first and foremost a battle for peace within each man’s soul.
We live in a world singularly devoid of Christ’s peace. The noise and disorder of earthbound pursuits have all too often managed even to invade our churches and the very sanctuary of the Lord. We all need to do our part to turn the tide, to reverse the wind as it were, so that instead the holiness of the sanctuary and the peace of Heaven may flow out from our churches into the byways of our lives.

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