July 8, 2014

Peace be with you.

How many times have I heard that said during the Mass? Dozens of hundreds of times if I only count the times I was really paying attention. Because I’d never given it much thought, I’ve always taken it as a greeting, a liturgical “Hey, nice to see you.”

I should have taken more notice of the phrase, because peace is something I want. It’s a word, a promise, a state I long for, so hearing it spoken of ought to alert my consciousness to something desirable, like when I hear chocolate mentioned.

We all long for peace, this I know. We’d like our family life to run smoothly; would prefer reduced stress in the workplace; want fewer personal conflicts; hope for greater certainty about the meaning of life, the universe and everything. Sadly, we tend to get caught up in the hectic moments of everyday life, and absorb the noise and distractions of a world gone mad around us. Has there ever been a time in history with more light, more sound, more activity, more scramble than ours? Scramble and distractions are not conducive to peace, I have learned, which is why every now and then I renew my resolve for the simple life, being deliberate rather than reactive, and unplugging from all the messages that tell me to go faster or else I’ll get left behind. Those message induce anxiety in me, rather than peace.

We equate peace with simplicity, with tranquility, with calm, with order.  We are not simple creatures, though, we humans. We have a knack for complication and confusion. Whether we create the chaos in our own lives, or bear the brunt of the chaos of others. I’d hazard a guess that many of us are dealing with some level of complication in our lives on a regular basis, and the exact level of chaos has a direct correlation to the lack of peace in our lives.

The desire for peace is a good thing, and God-given. We have the desire for it because we need the thing itself – peace – in order to flourish. But God is gracious and generous with us, so we are not given that longing without also having the means for fulfillment of it, which is planted in our heart.

“Man is contemplative both by destiny and by nature” I read in The Hermitage Within. It is our instinct to reach out for the Other, or as St. Teresa of Avila describes it, to seek “him whom my soul loves.” St. Augustine had it right: “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in You.”

It is built into us to long for God. And here is where the two longings – for peace and for God - come together: our God is a God of order.  What is peace but “the tranquility of order”? (CCC 2304)  Doesn’t that sound heavenly?  The tranquility of order. I can sink right into the words themselves.

I cannot have both. I cannot have chaos and confusion as well as have peace and order. The having of one over the other is not something that just happens to me – I accede to it, I allow it, I give it permission to take up a place in my life. The noise and distraction will reign unless I turn more deliberately to God, to “seek him whom my soul loves”

It is summertime, a time of year when it is both easier and harder to make resolutions. Regular routines are shaken up, there may be more freedom with the daily schedule, and yet there seem to be more demands on time, more opportunities to delay good intentions. All well and good, but there’s no way around it: in order to have peace, I must spend time in prayer, I must be prayerful throughout my day, I have to give Him myself, and not just the bits I’m comfortable with in the time that suits my schedule. I must choose these things in order to allow God’s peace to replace the chaos so often present in my life.

“Peace be with you” wasn’t a tepid greeting Jesus spoke to his disciples, nor is it an indifferent blessing we passively receive at Mass. It is a prayer, enjoining us to be at peace; live with peace; be peace-full. In order to be at peace, we must be with God, who speaks order into chaos, who calms the storm with a word. Do not let your hearts be troubled. Peace be with you.


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