With the passing of Pentecost, the Church returns, in a sense, to business as usual. The fifty-day celebration that is the Easter season has come to a close, and we are back to Ordinary Time. But has the annual trip through the depths of Lent and the heights of Easter left any mark on us? Should it have? What can we take with us to buoy us and support us through the coming days, months, even years?
Perhaps we can take a cue from the gifts that Christ offered His disciples to prepare them to face what lay ahead. Here we can point to the gift of the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost, the gift of the Eucharist to sustain the Church in worship and grace, and even the gift of each other for mutual support and, at times, correction. It seems, though, that foundational to all of these is the very first gift that Christ gave after His Resurrection.
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)
The first gift that the Risen Lord offered His disciple was the gift of peace, which they especially needed in those fear-filled days following the Crucifixion. While we can understand peace merely as an absence of conflict and violence, a cursory look through the New Testament should convince us of the deeper meaning of the peace that Christ offers.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. (John 14:27)
The peace of Christ is not simply a worldly peace, a promise of the absence of external difficulties or strife—as the martyrdom of all of the apostles save John should convince us. It is rather an interior disposition by which we are not afraid to face whatever decisions and difficulties may come, trusting in the Lord’s providence and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. St. Thomas describes peace as a union of desires, either between several people or, more properly, within one person. We feel distress and unrest when there is inner conflict and turmoil over what we think we want and whether we think we can attain it. True peace comes when all our desires are ordered to the same things, a state that is only possible through the help of grace and, most especially, through the virtue of charity in which we love God as our highest end and our neighbor as ourselves.
This vision of peace can seem impossible or at least as rare or unfamiliar as the speaking in tongues and the miracles of healing we hear about from the Apostles. But peace is not a gift reserved for the perfect or the chosen few, but for all Christians in whatever state of life, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.
Christ’s gift of peace can and will support us in whatever trials we face if we open ourselves up to His grace and the working of the Holy Spirit. When we face a seemingly impossible decision, grave physical weakness, or insurmountable loss, we can trust in the promises of Christ and the witness of the saints that true peace is possible for us.
Even in the face of our own sinfulness, we should not despair of the possibility of peace. In many ways, the very act of sin is contrary to true peace, since we prioritize some lesser desire ahead of God, our true and highest good. Even here though, when we find ourselves in sin, we should turn to the Lord, asking Him to restore the peace we have set aside by our actions. As the spiritual author Jacques Philippe puts it:
We certainly must feel sorry for having sinned, ask God for pardon, humbly beg Him to accord us the grace not to offend Him again in this way, and resolve to go to confession at an opportune moment. Without making ourselves sad or discouraged, we should recover our peace as quickly as possible thanks to grace from on high, and resume our normal spiritual life as if nothing had happened. The more quickly we recover our peace, the better it will be! (Searching for and Maintaining Peace – Jacques Philippe)
As we go forward with the ordinary flow of our Christian lives, we will undoubtedly face difficulties and struggles, be they external or internal. Let us not forget the great message of Easter and the many gifts that the Lord Jesus gave us through the mystery of the Resurrection. Most especially, let us ask to be made secure in that first and foundational gift that He offered His children: the gift of His Peace.
Image: Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P., The Risen Lord appears to St Thomas & the Apostles (used with permission)