What do you think of when you hear the word “peace”? A carefree day? A family without disagreements? The absence of war or political conflict?
Recently, I was both greatly challenged and encouraged when I discovered Jesus’ definition of “peace.”
Appearing to the disciples after his Resurrection, “he stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” (Luke 24:36) This was not simply a greeting.
Before Jesus’ death, he had instructed his disciples that his peace was not the common secular peace – Pax Romana; absence of war. He said:
“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)
In the Hebrew language, the word for peace is “shalom.” Shalom denotes wholeness or completeness. Jesus’ shalom is a mutual agreement between persons; not a lack, but a positive presence of serenity. Shalom is a blessing; it is God’s grace made manifest.
If we’re paying attention, we shouldn’t be surprised that Jesus’ peace doesn’t refer to a lack of concern or conflict. The Prince of Peace spent his days precisely with those who experienced difficult situations, and he himself entered into great suffering and death.
Fruit of the Spirit
As Jesus’ followers, then, how can we be truly and sincerely “at peace”, while division occurs all around us?
To pursue peace as Jesus did is not something we can do on our own. Scripture teaches that peace is a “fruit of the Spirit.” Peace is a fruit – or a sign, that God’s Spirit is present.
The key is this; God’s Spirit is a gift to be received. Jesus taught that our ability to have an exchange and shalom with God is contingent on our being reconciled with others.
“If you bring your gift to the altar,” Jesus taught, “and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)
The early Christian St. Cyprian summarized plainly;
“God does not accept the sacrifice of a sower of disunion, but commands that he depart from the altar so that he may first be reconciled with his brother. For God can be appeased only by prayers that make peace. To God, the better offering is peace, brotherly concord, and a people made one in the unity of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
In short: The key to peace is in our will, our heart, from our own choice; to bind and loose the bonds of forgiveness and unforgiveness of those who offend us.
“It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2843).
Experience True Peace
When we are wounded or offended by others, it hurts! We may want to build up our walls and protect ourselves (fear), or perhaps heap injury on those who hurt us so that they will understand what we feel (trouble). Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled or afraid.” When we embrace or act on these thoughts or feelings, our will – our heart – is no longer united with God’s.
God wills good for everyone. “He causes the sun to shine on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45)
For us to experience peace, we must choose to will our offenders good and not evil. When we do, we are not excusing their behavior, but we are loosening the bonds of unforgiveness that tie us to the offense.
Then, we can be free to receive the gift of God’s Spirit living within us, and we can experience true peace; the peace of Jesus.
Find some practical advice in Archbishop Gustavo’s pastoral letter, Transformed by Hope: “We need to find a time and a place that allows us a moment of silence. There we can, so to speak, look at ourselves from the outside and review how we relate to our environment; acknowledge what feeds or causes our emotions, feelings and affections; reexamine our ideas, prejudices, perceptions, assumptions, reactions and relationships. Finally, we can encounter ourselves and God. In this way we will find peace and a deep joy, beyond that which comes and goes with different situations. The Holy Spirit will transform us into a new creation and others might discover in us instruments that God sends.”
Answering Christ’s call, Pilgrim Center of Hope guides people to encounter Him so as to live in hope, as pilgrims in daily life.
Angela Sealana is Media Coordinator for Pilgrim Center of Hope, having served at the apostolate since 2010. She also serves on the PCH Speaker Team.