The Way of Peace

Images of rest and peace are woven throughout today’s readings. [1] The Lord reminds David of the “rest” He has given the king from his “enemies on every side,” and how He intends to plant Israel in a secure dwelling place, free from “further disturbance.” Zechariah’s canticle ends with a light dawning from on high “to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Tonight, we and our families will have some expectation for peace and rest, but we know how elusive the promise can be. People will go the extra mile so as to carve out periods of rest and peace for themselves —a vacation, a quiet moment, an afternoon or evening alone—and then find themselves unable to settle down and rest. Is something missing or is something wrong with our expectations?

Can we find a map to our own peace? Is there a formula or technique that will enable us always to relax, sleep well, enjoy ourselves, and be free from worry and anxiety? And, in the end, is that really the peace we are looking for?

Saint Augustine strikingly wrote in his Confessions that his quest for peace burned more intensely the more God reached out to him:

You called me; you cried aloud to me; you broke my barrier of deafness. You shone upon me; your radiance enveloped me, you put my blindness to flight…. I tasted you and now I hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I burned for Your peace.

Peace, says Augustine, is something to burn for. God and the human desire for peace are connected by a burning touch. It’s not really quiet time we’re after. It’s a right relationship. We want to be right with God, and that means giving Him rights over all that makes my life “mine”: time, space, resources, ambitions, affections, success, and failure.

A very experienced priest once observed that one of the main sacrifices of priestly life is the sacrifice of one’s time. It reminds me of some advice St Teresa of Calcutta passed on to her Missionaries of Charity: “Let the people eat you up. You must allow Jesus to make you bread to be eaten by all those you come in touch with.” And of course, more than minutes and hours, it means a forgoing of what fills our time: a comfortable routine of personal interests and private space, so as to be available to the Lord.

Even in the monastic life something similar happens: You renounce “your” time and space and allow others to take it, to (so to speak) “invade” it at will. The natural desire everyone has to be “left alone” from time to time is often infringed upon. Even the monk or nun can ask: Where is my solitude? Where is my peace? And why is it that when I have outward peace and solitude on my own terms, I am not at peace?

St Teresa of Jesus answers while asking:

Can there be an evil greater than that of being ill at ease in our own house? What hope can we have of finding rest outside of ourselves if we cannot be at rest within? …Peace, peace, the Lord said, my Sisters… Well, believe me, if we don’t obtain and have peace in our own house we’ll not find it outside.

So, peace is primarily found within the soul. But how does it get there?

The first step to obtaining it is to recognize whose gift it is: “Peace is my gift to you,” says the Lord. Peace is exclusively His to give, and Jesus gives it not as the world gives. Worldly peace lasts as long as everyone has what they want. Christ’s peace endures want. Isaiah tells us over and over again during Advent: “He shall be peace.” When we give our lives over to the Lord, we surrender the possibility of opting for a lesser peace, of the temporary kind the world can give only as long as the time and place hold together. “For he is our peace,” St Paul echoes the prophet, and He alone.

This is especially important when your whole life is about serving God, whether you are religious or lay, whatever the apostolate might entail. We can’t always promise time and space to ourselves: Once this is over, then I will be able to rest, etc. Sometimes there is no foreseeable end to our concerns or obligations. Or our hearts bear a steady burden of prayer for people who desperately need God’s grace but look as though they’re not responding to it.

If we give ourselves over to the Lord, then he shares His life with us. Like Jesus, we will always have before us a saving Passion—not just a gauntlet of suffering, but a way of hope and salvation through suffering. We will participate in no small way in the sufferings and tragedies of others, as Christ lives out His passion in them and in our lives. We must be at peace with this. Our peace in His will. The Lord’s guarantee that “in the world you will have trouble” applies only outwardly. It does not need to ruin His peace within us. And the deeper Christ’s peace runs within us, the less power outward troubles will have to disturb.

Tonight we will have to be at peace in the stable at Bethlehem. We will be asked to feel at home in a very peculiar setting. God is showing us the way of peace by showing that the setting, the time and place of things, has very little to do with the peace that only He can give. And the peace He gives, unlike the peace we try to make for ourselves, is flexible. It perseveres when circumstances change. It continues in noise as in silence, in movement as in stillness. Human peace is so fragile, so dependent upon surroundings. God’s peace, as Scripture says, surpasses all understanding, and outlasts the trouble that we meet both on the inside and on the outside.

When our Lady brings forth her Son and lays Him in the manger, then peace comes to that place. And to all who will receive the Prince of Peace, He will make that place, their soul, His fortress of peace. There, all will be calm, all bright, all right. And so we can continue to pray the prayer that the Church has often placed on our lips during these days: Veni, Domine Iesu! “Come, Lord Jesus!” Come into me and make my soul a place of peace.

[1] December 24: The Morning Mass. 2 Sm 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Lk 1:67-79

Rev. John Henry Hanson, O. Praem. Rev. John Henry Hanson, O. Praem.

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 , Home Again: A Prayerful Rediscovery of Your Catholic Faith and Scatter My Darkness: Turning Night to Day with the Gospel. Father's latest book is Coached by Josemaría Escrivá (Scepter Publishers 2023). He and his community are cooperators of Opus Dei.

You may also like