Peace in Our Heart – then Peace in Our World
“You can speak of peace with splendid words, you can hold a great conference but if in your little things, in your heart there is no peace, if in your neighbourhood there is no peace, if in your workplace there is no peace, there will be no peace in the world.” (Pope Francis)
As individuals, communities and nations, we all struggle with the wrongs and injustices others have done to us as well as what we have done to them. And we continue to abhor the enormous extent of injury humankind seems hell-bent inflicting upon itself.
Our lives are irrevocably intertwined with the lives of others. Who we are and what we do affects them. Since we are all vulnerable creatures, it is impossible not to hurt someone else or to be hurt ourselves. It is in our human psyche to respond with anger, hold grudges, and even seek revenge despite the teachings of Christianity.
Victims of hurt and wrong-doing usually do all three. Theologian, Lewis Smedes observed: ‘Untold pain is brought about in the world by peoples’ unwillingness to forgive and the corresponding passion to get even.’ Could one of the answers to this ongoing search for peace in our lives lie in our need to forgive?
And perhaps forgiveness is our only weapon. When we are able to forgive, and encourage others to do the same, the power of peace and reconciliation is unleashed in unimaginable ways. It will not only change our lives but will solve even the most intractable problems that we are experiencing individually and globally.
During his last meal with his disciples, Jesus offered them an intriguing promise (John 14:23-29). He offered them the gift of peace. Not any old peace but a peace which cannot be earned or bought but can only be received in the heart. It is not a peace to be given the way the world offers peace. So what kind of peace did Jesus mean?
The gift of peace which Jesus offers is different because it is his peace; a peace that was not compromised by the death on the cross that hung its heavy shadow over him. It is the peace of someone who knew his purpose and fulfilled it.
Scripture teaches us that God’s peace is a reality in the here and now. Throughout the Gospels, we read how Jesus frees people from guilt and shame. And central to the work of Jesus is the joy of being forgiven and of having the burden of our sinfulness lifted.
To be children of God means to spontaneously and freely allow the light of God to shine in our own souls. We ourselves, can’t create peace to reign in our hearts.
The Quakers have a saying: ‘There is no way to peace. Peace is the way’. Catholic teaching also supports this insight provided we understand that it is the peace of Christ that is the way to achieve lasting peace in our hearts and in our world.
As Pope Francis, a man of peace and purpose, a voice for the voiceless, often tells us, when we are able to share any kind of peace with others, it is Jesus’ peace forming us from within.
In Greek, the word peace, eirene, appears in every book of the New Testament. Jesus often used the common Hebrew word, shalom, when speaking of peace. The Jews of old embraced this word meaning ‘…the Lord give you his peace’ or ‘peace be with you’. To them, peace meant not only the absence of conflict with the rest of the world, but more importantly, a loving relationship with God, as well as with family and friends.
I recall a story I read some years ago concerning Abraham Lincoln. He was talking to a woman during the American Civil War. She strongly disagreed with him saying she felt that he should destroy his enemies. Lincoln calmly responded: “What madam? Do I not destroy them when I make them my friends?” Perhaps Lincoln knew instinctively that non-violence was a far more effective way in bringing about lasting peace.
Jesus, himself also lived in violent times and he too was a master of non-violent resistance. This comes across so clearly to us as we contemplate the story of his Passion. He didn’t try to escape his imminent cruel death on the Cross. He resisted violence and taught his followers not to react violently towards others. In essence he was telling us not to mirror our enemies’ violent actions.
The power of forgiveness is the promise of peace on earth realized. Jesus is God’s forgiving love in our midst. If, as Martin Luther King claimed, the arc of the universe is bent towards justice, and good will be victorious over evil, it will only happen through forgiveness. The world may be hellbent toward justice, but it is also drastically broken and in desperate need of healing.
Bitterness and revenge, war and violence, are evils that only forgiveness, in the end will heal. This can only happen person-by-person, family-by-family, community-by-community. Ultimately, only through forgiveness can there be a movement towards a new, peaceful future.
The search for peace in society and in the world, cannot be separated from the search for inner peace in our own hearts. If we want to grow in the spiritual life, we need to try against all odds to become peacemakers ourselves. We need to search for that harbour of peace which is hidden in the depths of our hearts. We need to forgive those who are close to us and also those who are our enemies.
And we especially need to pray for peace and to support all those who work so tirelessly for peace by non-violent means.