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Perpetual Adoration, True Peace in the World
Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
We begin by making a simple statement. The true peace about which we are speaking is peace of heart.
There is no need to explain why we should talk about peace of heart. If there is any single recommendation, and even mandate, that His followers received from Christ, it was to be at peace.
Before the birth of Christ, Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was filled with the Holy Spirit to prophesy the Benedictus, which he concluded with the promise to us that the rising Sun will visit us, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
When Christ was born at Bethlehem, the angels sang the first Gloria in excelsis with the promise again of peace to men of good will.
During His public life, when Christ forgave sinners and healed the sick., He told them to go in peace.
Before His passion, when the Savior wept over Jerusalem, He was overcome with sorrow because its inhabitants did not heed the things that are to your peace. And at the Last Supper, Jesus told the disciples (and through them He was telling us what we are so prone to forget):
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust in me.
Peace I bequeath to you, my peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid (John 14:27).
Then, on the evening of His resurrection from the dead, Christs first word to the frightened apostles was the command, Peace be with you, which He repeated: Peace be with you.
True to the spirit of the Master, the apostles, especially St. Paul, never tired of telling the faithful to be at peace. And finally, in the opening verse of the last book of the Bible, John pronounces the invocation, Grace and peace to you from Him who is, who was, and who is to come, that is, from Jesus Christ.
So the theme goes on, and so the Church in her liturgy keeps praying to the Lord to give us peace. And so the heart of man keeps hungering and searching for that peace which Christ promised to those who serve Him.
Now we ask: If peace of soul is such a precious commodity, is it inevitable for those who believe in God, or do we have to strive to achieve it?
There seems to be no need to say what everyone knows only too well. Peace is not automatic even with the possession of faith or, for that matter, with the possession of considerable virtue. Peace must be achieved to be acquired. It is the fruit of grace, no doubt, but also and very much the result of our cooperation with the grace we receive.
Kinds of Peace
Before we look more closely at the kind of peace we are mainly concerned with, it may be useful to place it in context by seeing what different kinds of peace there are.
There are, in general, two kinds of peace that, for want of better terms, we call external and internal.
External peace is outside of us and has to do with harmony between people. Thus when two or more nations cooperate with one another and are not at war, we say they are at peace. When different classes of people having different religions, or different languages and culture, or different races and colors work together without conflict, we say they are at peace. And when individuals, like husband and wife, or parents and children, or brothers and sisters, relative and neighbors, respect one another and get along together, again we say they are living in peace.
Internal peace is different. Here the absence of conflict and the presence of tranquility are inside of us. Thus we are at peace with God when our hearts do not reproach us for being in sin or at odds with His known will in our regard. We are interiorly at peace with others when we hold no grudge against them, no ill feeling or enmity, and when they do not disturb us. We are finally at peace with ourselves when the two parts of our being, the higher and the lower, are in harmony; when our desires do not exceed our needs; when our passions are responsive to reason and our freedom is in control; when our conduct agrees with our conscience and our conscience is totally subject to God.
Among these different kinds of peace, it is clear that some are more primary then others and that there is, as it were, a hierarchy of importance in the peace that we possess and correspondingly there is a scale of priorities to cultivate if we wish to not only hear or read about peace, but be at peace as God and His Church want us to be.
External peace is the effect of internal peace. Without the one, the other is impossible. There cannot be agreement between people unless there is first tranquility within people. We project what we are, and we produce only what we personally have. If we are at peace within, we shall be at peace with others; no more and no less. Hence the first conclusion we may draw from our reflections so far; Be at peace inside your own heart; otherwise, you will never be truly at peace with others or, what is less obvious, they cannot be with you.
Peaceful people are peaceable people. People who are in conflict in their own hearts are in conflict with others, no matter how well they may try to disguise the fact, or how negatively quiet their interpersonal relations may seem to be. After all, peace is not merely the absence of conflict. Otherwise two pieces of stone would be at peace, whereas they are only two lumps of inert matter that happen to be near each other. True peace is eminently positive; it is an active harmony between two or more people who work together in the spirit of Christian charity.
Internal peace, then, is the cause of all external peace among nations as within families or communities, whether secular or religious. It is also the unique source of peace within the Catholic Church. So much so that we can say without fear of contradiction that the main cause of unrest in the Church today is the conflict within the hearts and minds of those who form the Church. Their internal unrest is the seed of the conflict that is now rocking the Mystical Body of Christ to its foundations.
The Way to Interior Peace
Having said all of this, we still have to consider that most important area. If interior peace within us is the cause and/or condition of external peace between us, how do we achieve internal peace of soul?
I doubt if any subject of the spiritual life has been written on more often. Yet, the answer is not complicated, although putting it into practice may not be easy. Let me capsulize what I am going to say in a series of principles, which I will first state and then, in each case, briefly explain.
1. Our fallen human nature means that we have unruly passions. This may sound like a platitude, but it is not. The root of our inner conflicts and the battleground which we must cross to attain peace is our fallen human nature with its disorderly passions and drives.
No one, except as faith tells us for certain Christ and His mother, is exempt from this form of military service, that is, of struggling with our passionate urges that are consequences of original sin. You name the urge and we have it. Not everyone has all of them in the same degree, or to express it another way, not all of them are equally strong. Moreover, some of them may be dormant for years, and then suddenly spring up like a wild beast to try to destroy us.
With some people, the besetting passion is pride, they feel superior to other people and unwilling to admit to anyone, including themselves, that they are wrong. With some people, the dominant passion is lust; they are constantly or frequently or easily aroused to indulge their sex impulses contrary to their state of life. With some people, the strongest passion is envy; they instinctively feel sad when they see or hear of someone having what they lack or succeeding where they have only failed.
And so we could go down the litany of our maddening impulses in order to identify our own predominant ones. But there is no need. It is enough for the present to remind ourselves that we begin to acquire peace of soul once we realize that this peace is the result of victory over ourselves, which means over that part of us which is not sinful but is the result of sin and may lead to sin. With Gods grace, we must battle against the forces of disintegration that are the common lot of a fallen human race.
2. Our effort to master these passions is a large part of our labor of sanctification. Too often, I am afraid, we picture the process of sanctification in romantic colors, whereas its bedrock foundation is self-mastery.
This is all the more important to stress in our day when the world around us seems to have lost all sense of self-control; when self-expression is the watchword and self-denial is ignored, if not ridiculed to scorn.
I have read perhaps a hundred books and articles directed to the religious education of children, all nominally published under Catholic auspices. In only a small fraction, and they are not those commonly accepted by the religious establishment, did I find more than a token awareness of the fact that the child has a fallen human nature and that essential to its growth in Christian maturity is the effort required to overcome these sinful impulses.
For us adults the same principle of the spiritual life is true. Certainly we are to love God and our neighbor, but we shall do so only as effectively as we have struggled, and won, in our contest with the selfish desires that are deep, deep down in our inner ego.
3. Part of this effort is the use of our minds to anticipate, to plan, and to carry out in practice what we have with His grace decided to do for God. What am I saying? I affirm that the mastery of our passions is possible only if we use our minds. This is perfectly described by our Lord in the Sermon on the mount in a little-known allegory. Here is what He said: The lamp of the body is the eye. It follows that if your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light. But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be all darkness. If, then, the light in you is darkness, what darkness that will be! (Mt.6:23-24)
What Christ is saying is that just as the lamp of our body is the eye, without which we could not see where to go, so the lamp of the soul is our mind, without which our passions will take over.
How do we use our minds to obtain that self-mastery which is the precondition of internal peace? We do so by watching our thoughts to make sure they are those that bring us peace.
Let me take this in stages, since in practice it is so important for achieving peace of soul.
-First of all I look back. With my minds eye I look back over the recent past, the last hour, or last half-hour or day. I ask myself: what have I done which, as I now reflect in my past action, brings me peace of mind in the presence of God? I make a mental note of this action and decide it was a good action that should be repeated. Or as I reflect, I am disturbed in Gods presence and decide there was something wrong about what I have done, so I decide to avoid this in the future.
-Then I look in, again with my minds eye. I scan my present state of soul. Is it at peace in Gods presence? If it is, fine. If it is not, I know something is wrong, because God wants me to be at peace. It cannot be that He is not giving me the grace. It must be that I am not sufficiently cooperating with the grace offered me. So I ask Him to let me know where I am wrong. He will tell me, provided I am ready to listen to His words.
-Finally and most critically, I look ahead. I anticipate what I am going to do and watch what happens to me while I quickly preview my plans. Those which evoke peace in my soul I trust are approved by God; those which cause me disturbance or worry, I postpone to further reflection, and if the anxiety persists, I conclude that what produced the worry by anticipation must not be according to the will of God. How do I know? Because if I am sincerely trying to do His will, I am sure He would not discourage me in advance. Where peace prevails, I am confident that is the direction God wants me to go and I go!
Peace of Heart from the Eucharist
The most powerful means of obtaining peace of heart is from Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. What are we saying? We are saying that in order to obtain that self-mastery which is the precondition of internal peace, we need nothing less than Gods miraculous grace.
Todays world is so filled with confusion that nothing less than supernatural grace can provide us with the peace of mind without which there can be no peace of heart. Where do we go; to whom do we turn; whom do we ask to give us that peace of mind which is so tragically wanting in the modern world? Who alone can give us that serenity of spirit which is another name for peace of soul? Who, but Jesus Christ who is the Prince of Peace.
We do not normally think of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament as food for the mind and the will but we should. To be at peace, what we first need is to know the truth; what we next need is to do the will of God. On both counts, Jesus in the Holy Eucharist is our principal source.
Christ could not have been plainer than when he told us to eat His Body and drink His Blood. What we may overlook however, is that the spiritual nourishment from the Eucharist does not end with Holy Communion. There is also a nourishment that takes place in what we casually call spiritual communion. How cheap the phrase sounds. But it is neither casual nor cheap. It is deeply meaningful.
As we pray before the Blessed Sacrament our souls are fed by the Person of the Savior in the two faculties of spirit that need to be constantly fed. They are the mind and the will. In the mind we need light; in the will we need strength. Both needs are met in an extraordinary way through prayer before the Holy Eucharist.
We might ask, why not? Is it not the same Christ who taught the multitude, who gave the sermon on the mount and who took time, and a lot of time, to tell His disciples and to further share with them the secrets that until then had been hidden from the minds of men? It is Jesus and He is here. We would not expect His lips to be sealed. He has a message to give and we have a lot to learn. Did He not say He was the Truth and the Way the Truth who knows what we should know and the Way who knows how we should serve almighty God? It is this Truth and Way become Incarnate who is with us and near and available to us. All we need to do is to believe sufficiently, to come to Him in the Blessed Sacrament and ask very simply, Lord, teach me. I am dumb. And that is no exaggeration! Your servant is listening and ready to learn.
In the will we need strength to supply for the notorious weakness that by now we know how really stupid and weak we are. What a precious secret! But again, is it not the same Christ who encouraged the disciples, who braced up the faltering Peter and promised to be with us all days? That promise is to be taken literally. He is here. Jesus is here telling us today, Peace I bequeath to you. My own peace I give you. Thanks, Lord I sure need it!
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. How well you know, Lord, I am scared. Have courage; I have overcome the world. No less than then, so now Christ is not merely encouraging us in words, which we appreciate, but strengthening us with grace. His words, being those of God, are grace. And the words and the grace are once more accessible to all who come to Him as He foretold, Come to me all you who labor and are overburdened and I will give you strength. Jesus, that is me. But we must come to Him, the Emmanuel, in the Eucharist to tell Him what we need. If we do and as often as we do He will do the rest.
Copyright © 2003 by Inter Mirifica
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