THE PEACE OF CHRIST

THE HOLY SPIRIT, PRINCIPLE OF UNITY

 

In the Talmud, which is a mixture of many things, admirable maxims of the rabbis express the oldest wisdom of the Jewish people.  One of these announces “The Kingdom (this is, of course, the Kingdom of God);  it is the world overthrown”, in other words “The Kingdom is the world but upside down, or the other side of the world.”  The world yearns for happiness and peace.  Is peace utopian?  What kind of peace?

Jesus’ great discourse-programme “The Sermon on the Mountain” begins with what we call the “Beatitudes”.  This is where Christianity takes shape and, it must be said, this announcement of the divine Beatitudes takes the opposite view of the Wisdom of the world.  “Blessed” says Jesus. The seventh Beatitude particularly catches our attention: “Blessed are the peacemakers, they will be called children of God”.  There is no beatitude today that is more difficult to speak of.  The more the word peace is loaded with ambiguities, the more difficult it is to define what it means, what we want it to say every time we pronounce it.

We love peace.  Everyone loves peace, as long as their own desires are fully satisfied, but it is the exorbitant desires of each person which by their excess disturb the peace.  Peace includes an idea of fullness, satisfaction, rest, order and tranquillity. Christ made peace between God and man through the blood of the Cross. (Col 1:20;  Rom 5:1;  Eph 2:14;  Ph 4:67; Is 26:3)  What Christ has come to teach us and which He expresses in this Beatitude of the peacemakers is, on the one hand, to intelligently and lovingly moderate our desires for the things of this world and, on the other hand, with regard to our final destiny, to stimulate our desire far beyond the possible and the imaginable, in order to become participants of the divine nature.  To make peace around ourselves, we need to have made it in our own hearts and also in our intelligence.  “Blessed are the peacemakers, they will be called children of God.”

Fraternal Agreement:  (Matt. 5:21-25)

Without charity, no act of religion pleases God.  The sacrifice of our resentment is more dear to God than the offering of blooded victims.  The Saviour affirms this.  How, in fact, can you claim to appease your Father if you are not at peace with His children who are your brothers and sisters?

Mission of the 12 Apostles: (Matt. 10:12 & 13)

“Wherever you go, greet and say: Peace to this house.”  It is therefore a ministry of peace that the apostles and their successors will have to exercise.  It is to give peace, it is to make it or to strengthen it, that they will speak and work.  The Saviour has brought peace to the earth, his apostles will spread it over every soul.  Through them, we will taste this blessing without which we enjoy nothing in this world.  Peace of conscience, peace of mind and of the heart, peace in the home and in the family.

Persecutions to come: (Matt. 10: 34-39)

Jesus declares to His apostles that struggle is inevitable under his banner. “Don’t think I’ve come to bring peace to the earth; no it is not peace that I bring, but the sword.” Jesus is coming to provoke struggles. In publishing His gospel, Jesus put a double-edged sword in the hands of His disciples. It is the sword of inevitable separations. Anyone who jeopardizes your eternal salvation will have to be treated by you as an enemy. If sometimes the enemy presents himself to you in traits that are dear to you, if you meet him at home, in the circle of your intimate affections, you will nevertheless have to deploy the strongest energy to keep him at bay and prevent him from harming you. This is what is wanted by the ruler of your life and the supreme arbiter of your eternal salvation. “Whoever wants to keep his life will lose it, and the one who has lost it for love of me will find it again.”  Jesus warns us to renounce everything in this world rather than become unfaithful to him.

Isn’t God the master of all things? And if He is the master of all things, who is entitled finally to first place if not Him? And if the first place belongs to God, and to God alone, who will dare to argue that there are affections and interests that can dispossess Him? Where there is conflict, who will have to yield – the Creator or the creature?

The triumph of the Palms (Matt 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-39; John 12:12-19)

The more modest the apparatus of the Saviour’s triumph, the brighter His glory will be. It will be clearer that He is the King of Zion, just, humble, gentle and good. This is your King, said the prophet. He is the Son of God, the King of kings, the Lord of angels and men, the Absolute Master of the universe. He rewards the righteous, protects the small and the poor; He is the support of the weak and the avenger of the oppressed. All that is truth in His word, greatness in His person, holiness in His life, beauty in His works, is suddenly poured out under the gaze of the people. And the people exclaim: “Peace is made with heaven, the reign of justice is established, freedom is given to the captives; Israel is saved. Glory to the highest heavens. ”

The Promise of the Coming of the Holy Spirit (John 14 : 15-31)

After recommending to His apostles that they love one another: “Love each other! As I loved you myself should you love each other.” Jesus makes His apostles understand that He is separating Himself from them to work for their eternal happiness and declares to them that it is in Him and through Him that they will find the Heavenly Father, the last end of all life. “If you love Me, keep my commandments. And I will pray to my Father and He will send you another Consoler who will never leave you.” It is the Spirit of Truth.  Consoler Spirit to support them in their sorrows, Spirit of truth to convince them of the mysteries they will have to bear witness to, Spirit of love to soften for them the practice of the commandments. And He promises the joys of divine intimacy to the one who loves Him with true love. Jesus urges His apostles to defer to the Holy Spirit for what they have to learn. You need the intelligence of the doctrine, the courage of struggle, the anointing of grace; you will find it all after I leave. What Jesus begins, the Holy Spirit finishes. He blesses them and spreads upon them the peace of heaven.

“May peace be with you. I leave it with you; I give you my peace; but it is not as the world gives it, that I give it to you myself.  Be reassured and let not your heart be troubled.” But what is this peace that He leaves us and what are the fruits of it? The peace of Jesus is a supernatural gift, an effect of the almighty word that reassures and heals. It acts directly on the heart of the believer, calming it, strengthening it against anxieties, soothing feelings and troubles that agitate it, inspiring patience and courage in the greatest dangers, sustaining joy and serenity whilst facing the most serious concerns.

That is what the world does not give. The world says: Peace! Peace! but its word has no effect; its wishes remain sterile. It seems utopian.

Only Jesus gives peace, and by giving it to His apostles, He offers it to us. Let us receive it as they did.  Let us spread it all around us.  Jesus invites His apostles to rejoice at seeing Him at the end of His work. “I told you and you heard it. I will leave and I will come back to you.   If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because my Father is greater than me.”

What is this all about? It is for Jesus to return to His Father, that is to say to enter into the bosom of glory, into the realm of truth and peace. It is about going to harvest in joy what He has sowed in tears. This is what he discerns, and what He wants us to discern through the bitterness of humiliations, through the anxieties of agony.  It is the view of eternity without the fluctuations of time. The peace of the soul comes at this price.

The evening of the resurrection: (Mark 16:1-19; Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-23)

Resurrected, Jesus surprises the apostles; He greets them and reassures them.  “On the evening of the same day, in the place where the disciples had gathered in fear of the Jews, the doors remaining closed, Jesus appeared in their midst and said to them: May peace be with you! It is Me, do not be afraid.”

Jesus comes to be recognized by those who hesitate; He comes to enlighten, to comfort, to rejoice. Let us receive His sweet greeting. Peace be with you, it is Me, do not be afraid. He spoke these words to us at the height of the storm; He repeated them to us when He went to suffer and die.  He told us again, on the night of His resurrection. “Peace be with you.”  This is Me! I am faithful, I have kept my promise, I am worthy of your love. Let us open our souls to the peace He spreads around; let us allay any worries. Under His gaze, we are eternally safe. Jesus made His apostles aware of the truth of His resurrection. “Look at my hands and feet and be certain it is Me.” And He showed them His hands, His feet and His side. Jesus wants to give his people new proof of His resurrection. “Do you have anything to eat?”, He said.  As I sit at your table, I want you to see that I am indeed the one you knew, the one who shared your life in the villages of Galilee. The body that my Father has just glorified is really the one that was born in Bethlehem.  And He invests them solemnly with the power to forgive sins.

He went back and said, “Peace be with you.”   “As my Father sent Me, I myself send you.” When He had said this, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” (John 20:22) The consolations Jesus gives to His disciples must be used for the work of salvation.  He died for all men, the fruit of His death must be applied to all men.  The laws of reconciliation must be enacted for all.  Why does Jesus choose this great day of celebration to establish and set the laws of penance?  It is to reveal to sinners that conversion is a resurrection.  Thomas, nicknamed Didymus, one of the twelve, was absent when Jesus came to them.  Eight days passed and the disciples were reunited.  And Thomas was with them, the incredulous apostle who had said, “If I do not see in His hands the mark of the nails; if I do not put my finger in the holes that the nails have made, and if I cannot place my hand in His side, I will not believe.” (John 20:24 and 25)  He is one of those who seek the progress of faith through the experience of the senses.  He wants to touch the object of his faith with his finger.  He will believe because he sees.  He is wrong.  We have to believe in what God says because He says it.  Imposing conditions on God in order to believe in His word is extremely presumptuous.  And Jesus provokes the confidence of Thomas, the unbelieving apostle.  Jesus entered, with the doors closed, came forward among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

The Master comes in search of His disciple. All that Jesus suffered from His enemies only increased His tenderness for sinners.  As soon as a soul is in danger of perishing, He hurries towards it. So He comes to His apostle to heal the last misgivings and remove the last doubts.  Addressing Thomas, He said to him, “Put your finger here and look at my hands, approach your hand and put it in my side, and do not be unbelieving but be faithful.” (John 20:26-27)  It is the supreme moment of the Master to His disciple.  I am the one you saw tied to the Cross and whose side was pierced with a spear.  I am the one who comforted you in the Upper Room and whom you accompanied so valiantly to the tomb of Lazarus.  Recognize me and you will share the peace and joys I have poured into the souls of your brothers.  Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) Cry of joy, cry of love, cry of repentance. And Jesus resumes: “Blessed are those who have not seen and believed!” (John 20:29) What soothes the mind of man, therefore, is not what reason brings him of fragile certainty. What soothes and makes us happy is only the conviction of faith that relies only on the divine word.

Bishop of Carthage, Cyprian, martyr in 258AD, considers the unity of the Church as a fundamental requirement, and goes so far as to consecrate one of his treatises to the Holy Spirit 1.  For him, the Spirit is the principle of peace and harmony.  It is not without reason that the Spirit appeared in the form of a dove.  Cyprian extends this symbolism of the dove, an image of peace, to the Church itself. “The Holy Spirit had in mind this one Church, when he said in the Song of Songs: She is one, my dove, she is perfect, she is unique to her mother”. 2 Believers, therefore, have only one house, only one Church. It is this house, it is the harmony that reigns here that the Holy Spirit has in mind when he says in the Psalms:  God unites in the same house those who are united by the same thought, the same feeling 3;   that is to say, the house of God, the Church of Christ, is inhabited by simple souls, united together by the bonds of a common faith.  This is why the Holy Spirit shows Himself in the form of a dove.

The dove is a simple and joyful bird, without gall, without violence; she does not tear with her beak or with her nails; she loves human homes and settles for a single dwelling.  The doves raise their young in common, fly together bound tightly one to the other, live as a family, show their love with caresses; in a word, they seem to share a single sentiment.  Thus in the Church, let us have this simplicity, this charity that makes us doves. 4

The symbolism of the dove, the image of peace, is sometimes applied to the Church, sometimes to the Spirit. There is a sort of correlation between the Spirit and the Church, discerned by St. John and strongly emphasized by St. Irenaeus.  In addition, St. Augustine establishes a link between the Spirit and peace 5.   This concept is also found in the writings of St. Cyril of Alexandria, which include the Lord’s words: “I leave you my peace, I give you my peace” 6 meaning: “I leave you the Spirit, I give you the Spirit.”  If Christ, he says, has been called to our peace 7, it is obvious that the Holy Spirit who is the Spirit of Christ is also “our peace” 8.  Also interesting to note is that the first attribution of peace to the Spirit actually goes back to St. Paul: “The fruit of the spirit is charity, joy, peace… ” 9.

Abba Athanasios, Bishop of Toulon


1 St Cyprian, De Ecclesiae Unitate (On the Unity of the Church), PL4,493-520
2 Cant. 6,1
3 Ps 68 (67),7
4 St Cyprian, De Ecclesiae Unitate, 3 et 5
5 St Augustine, Ad Romanes, 11 PL 35,2095 ; In Johannem,14 PL « 35,1508 (B.A. n°71,p43; De Trinitate, VI,9 et 10,PL 42,930-931 (B.A. n°15, p.493, 495)
6 Jn 14,27
7 cf. Eph. 2,14
8 cf. Eph. 2,14
9 Gal. 5,22