The Spirit’s Gift of Peace
Love the Third Person of the most Blessed Trinity. Listen in the intimacy of your being to the divine motions of encouragement or reproach you receive from him. Walk through the earth in the light that is poured out in your soul. And the God of hope will fill us with all peace, so that this hope may grow in us more and more each day, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
St. Josemaria Escriva
Christ is Passing By, no. 133
“Peace be with you” (John 20:19).
On the evening of Easter Sunday, the Lord wishes His Apostles “peace” two times, separated by only a few moments. Jesus sees a need to impart His peace twice. The first time, the disciples have no peace because they are full of fear; the second time, because they are full of excitement. In either case, something fills them that needs replacing. Something, Someone greater needs to fill these men who have been hiding out in fear since the early hours of Friday morning.
When the Lord appears in their midst, He comes into an atmosphere of practical despair. The disciples had been convinced that Jesus was the Messiah. They had quit their jobs and left their families behind so as to follow Him. Now what? Jesus was dead, and the gospel project, finished.
Among these depressed and disconcerted men Jesus comes and breathes peace: “Peace be with you.” The astonishment that then fills the upper room is comparable to that which filled the Apostles’ boat when they, terrified on the stormy sea, watched Jesus rise from sleep and rebuke the wind and waves with “Peace, be still.” And great and instant tranquility descended, casting out terror with God’s peace.
Now, Jesus has risen not from sleep but from death. And the peace He brings is even greater than the stilling of a storm. It has the power even to calm the storms that rage in man. Passing from death to life, from despair to hope, is a kind of resurrection that God alone can produce in the place where peace is most difficult to establish: the human heart.
The Apostles may have felt initially embarrassed by the thoughts and feelings that had troubled their hearts prior to the Lord’s arrival on Easter night. But with a word, all of their human uncertainty and shame is resolved. Jesus greets them with the one word that can quiet the heart’s guilty tremors, from lips that speak words of peace, not affliction.
Once they pass from the extreme of fear to joy, then does the Lord breathe on them the Gift: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” They are prepared now to receive the Gift because they know their need for it—having seen what they are like without it.
What are are the Apostles like without the Holy Spirit? And, for that matter, what are we like without the Holy Spirit? Agitated, fearful, wondering what’s coming next, trying to recover from humiliating defeat. We cannot give peace to ourselves; it is the Spirit’s gift.
If you’re going to be a disciple of Jesus, you can’t fall prey to the illusion that you or any other human can supply your deepest needs. Peace is one of our deepest desires—and many search for it, hoping to find simply a sense of wellbeing or equilibrium. But inner peace is far more than a feeling. It is getting right with God—but by God’s power and initiative. The Samaritan woman at the well, Mary Magdalene, the rich young man, and so many others in the Gospels, are all seeking peace. But it is Jesus alone who has the power to plant it in the soul. And the first move is always His.
He comes into the room where broken men hide out and He bestows peace, teaching them what St Paul also learned from hard experience:
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. We have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. (Cf. 2 Cor 4:7-9)
The Savior had begun His public teaching forbidding unholy anxiety over ‘all the things that the pagans seek,’ all of which have to do with mere survival, self-preservation, and a lack of trust in God’s fatherhood (cf. Mt 6:25-34). Everyone else in the world is like that. Christians cannot be.
Making children of God is the Holy Spirit’s first work, and He will remake these men into the merest children by His power to unwind the complicated tangle of adult anxiety and fear. The Holy Spirit is not a spirit of slavery and of fear, nor of passing enthusiasm. He is a Spirit that admits us into the intimate exchange of love that passes between the Father and the Son.
The Holy Spirit is not some vague force, not an uncontrolled power that I tap into. His is a personal presence, Christ within me.
Our faith in the Holy Spirit must be complete. It is not a vague belief in his presence in the world, but a grateful acceptance of the signs and realities into which he has poured forth his power in a special way. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit sent by Christ to carry out in us the work of holiness that our Lord merited for us on earth. (Christ is Passing By, no. 130)
Christ’s Spirit remakes me from either the fearful or overconfident person I was into the child of God that I need to be. The Apostles were by turns afraid, or brash, and everything in between. Some were always anxious, others were always too sure of themselves. When all of their human enthusiasm and fear collapsed into bewilderment, they needed a wellspring of renewal, a time of rebirth.
Just as the Apostles couldn’t go back and erase their betrayals, take back rash promises followed by cowardly escape, neither can we. Who hasn’t felt the wish to do so? To return and redo or undo. Jesus does not want this for us.
Our second chances—our umpteenth chances—take the form of inner renewal. We don’t simply pretend we’re innocent or forget that we’re guilty, but we allow Christ to breathe His Spirit into us to calm the disturbance caused by our sins, to restore us to a state of childlike trust.
Jesus wants us to hear the Spirit’s voice echo within us: Peace, be not afraid. To listen to His inspirations is to know our next step. This is how we can accomplish the marvelous work that God entrusts to all apostles—what St Josemaria sums up as “cooperating in the human and spiritual formation of those around you, and of all souls.”
At every moment: when you work and when you rest; when people see you happy or when they see you worried; when at your job, or out in the street, you pray as does a child of God and the peace of your soul shows through; when people see that you have suffered, that you have wept, and you smile. (The Forge, no. 846)
Only those sensitive to the touches and movements of the Spirit can rebound from failure and show others how as well. All Christians, who live in peace and hope, are living witnesses to this work first done by the Spirit to the Apostles. If from Christ’s fullness “we have all received, grace upon grace,” it is through the Apostles at Easter and Pentecost that we see how these gifts of God are received.
Father John Henry Hanson, O. Praem., is a Norbertine priest of St Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, California. He entered the community in 1995, earned his STB and Masters in Theology at the Pontifical University of St Thomas (Angelicum) in Rome, and was ordained to the priesthood in 2006. Currently, he is a formator in his community’s seminary, preaches retreats, is chaplain to several communities of women religious, serves Armenian rite Catholics at the Cathedral of St Gregory the Illuminator in Glendale, California, and is author of Praying from the Depths of the Psalms (Scepter Publishers 2019). He and his community are cooperators of Opus Dei.