Peace? The Trouble With the World is Me!

Brother Taurus was a man with the best of intentions but with a terrible temper that made him impossible to live with. After he fell out with his family he went to Tarsus to be apprenticed to a tailor. When he frightened away half the customers the tailor sent him away before he lost the other half. It was then that Taurus decided to do something about his temper before it did for him. He went into the desert and found a monastery in which he could come to terms with his affliction. In less than a year the monks found his temper so impossible that he had to leave.

 The Trouble With the World is Me! 

 They gave him a fine set of earthenware pots and plates, a large jug of goat’s milk and enough food for a month. Then they helped him to find a cave in which to live the life of a hermit. At last, he thought he could come to terms with his temper because there was no one there to try him. It was when he was trying to light the fire that he overturned the jug and lost all his milk. Before he could control himself he picked up the jug and smashed it against the side of the cave. The pots went the next day and the plates the following day. Brother Taurus cursed and swore but there was no longer anywhere for him to go to hide from the affliction that would have gone with him anyway. At last, he had to face in solitude what he never faced before. It was there that he finally learnt that the trouble with the world he had run away from was not ‘other people’, as Sartre said, but with himself. If he wanted to live in peace with others he must first find it within himself. St. Catherine of Siena used to say, “The trouble with the world is me!”

The House of Self-knowledge

 It was a truth that she learnt for herself in blood, sweat, and tears in her solitude, not in a desert, but in her own home, in what she called ‘the house of self-knowledge’.  It takes a saint to see a truth so clearly that pride and prejudice prevent the rest of us from seeing. The evils of the world that we hear about daily on our radios or see on our television screens are but the outward expressions of the evil that is within us all. Yet arrogant human beings find it offensive when they are told that the source of the world’s woes can be found within them. They like to think they have no part in them, that they are out there in a place where they can be dealt with by the expertise and endeavour of ‘homo sapiens’.

That is why Schumacher pointed out in his book, Small is Beautiful that although people go on clamouring for solutions, they become angry when they are told that the restoration of society must come from within, not from without. Simplistic it may seem to the clumsy and cluttered mind of ‘homo arrogans’, but it is nevertheless true. If we are eaten up with hatred or jealousy or possessed by pride and prejudice, it is we, not God, who are responsible for destroying the peace and harmony that he wants to bring to the world through us. There will never be peace and harmony in man’s world until there is first peace and harmony in man’s heart. This has been the consistent teaching of the great philosophers and religious thinkers from the beginning.

 The Spiritual Combat

 All the great mystics have discovered the hard way what Job meant when he said that man’s life on earth is a continual war, a war that has to be waged within. Pope John XXIII’s bedside reading was ‘The Spiritual Combat’ from which he drew his inspiration. This man of peace and compassion only became so through many inner battles that he fought and lost, as he explained in the book ‘Journal of a Soul’. It is only after losing battle after battle in the spiritual combat that a person finally learns that the ‘war to end all wars’ will never be won without help and strength that is quite beyond one’s own resources.

This was the lesson that St. Paul finally learnt. He actually thanked God for his weakness because it enabled him to realize that without God he could not win a single battle with himself. For St. Paul, even sinfulness can become a stepping-stone to sanctity when it forces a person to turn again and again to the only One who can help him. The way to inner peace is paved with spiritual failures and dogged by defeat after defeat. If victory ever comes it will come through the humility of the broken warrior, who begs for the help and strength that he finally realizes only God can give. The truth of the matter is that God is at all times poised to possess anyone who is open to receive the love that only He can give. It is this Love that brings the profound inner peace that Jesus promised on the night before He died so that it can be shared with the world that will always be at war without it.

 The Greatest Politician for Peace

 However, love cannot be forced on anyone who does not freely choose to receive it. St Catherine of Siena saw this so clearly that she knew exactly what she had to do to make her into the greatest politician for peace in her time. She went into the ‘inner room’ to give prolonged time for prayer to enable the love of God to purify her of all the evil that could prevent her from receiving the peace that she was able to share with the world around her.  If we are going to do likewise we have to do what she and all the other saints did, but the trouble with us is that we make the mistake of reading the lives of the saints backward as I said before. We read about the superhuman sacrifices and the heroic virtues that they practised in order to bring peace to their world, and we believe that the only way to be like them is to do likewise. But if we would only read their lives forward instead of backward then we would see that they were only capable of doing the seemingly impossible because they first received the power to do it in prayer. If we try to be and do what they did without first receiving what they received, then our brave attempts will inevitably end in disaster.

True Imitation of Christ

True imitation of Christ or any of His saints means first copying the way they did all in their power to receive the Holy Spirit who inspired them. That is essentially all we have to do. That is why the spiritual life is so simple if only we had the simplicity of a little child to see it.

St Catherine of Siena saw so clearly that Christianity is primarily concerned with teaching us how to turn and open ourselves to receive the same Holy Spirit who filled Christ the Prince of Peace. Then His peace will reign in us.  The more we are filled with His love then the easier it is to return it in kind, as the divine suffuses and then surcharges human love so that it can reach up to God and out to others. Then, and only then are we able to Love God with our whole hearts and minds and with our whole being and to love our neighbour as ourselves? This is the only way we ourselves can receive the peace that surpasses the understanding and then we can hand it on to others.

We can do something to combat the evil that we see in the world around us if we are only prepared to go like St Catherine into the ‘inner room’. It is only here that we can seriously turn to the only One who can first bring to us what He would bring to the world that he now chooses to serve through us. No politician, no diplomat did more for peace in her day than St Catherine of Siena. Nor will anyone do more for peace in our day than those who have the courage to go within, as she did, and with God’s help fight first with themselves, for the peace that they want to bring to others.

David Torkington’s latest book Wisdom from the Christian Mystics is now available on Amazon.com

He has also just produced Prayer made Simple, published by The Catholic Truth Society.