When we look around there seems to be great unrest everywhere in the world. This unrest manifests itself in sadness, emptiness, uncertainty, anxiety, fear, lawlessness, disorderliness, chaos, war, and even in the confusion we see around us. Ultimately, this unrest points to a scarcity of peace.
But Peace is not merely the absence of war or lawlessness, or the lack of public outrage. Put simply, peace is a human longing. We may not always deeply appreciate that. Even in moments of silence, true peace may still be wanting.
The Meaning of Peace
A profound meaning of peace was given by Pope St. John XXIII in his 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth). He writes at the very beginning of the encyclical:
“Peace on Earth—which man throughout the ages has so longed for and sought after—can never be established, never guaranteed, except by the diligent observance of the divinely established order.”
And then near the end of his encyclical:
“[Peace] is an order that is founded on truth, built up on justice, nurtured and animated by charity, and brought into effect under the auspices of freedom” (167).
It is worth pondering these five elements of peace – order, truth, justice, charity, and freedom – as we search for greater tranquility in our own lives and in the world.
A Divinely Established Order
Contemplating creation, it is evident there is order within it. This is demonstrated in realities such as the laws of physics, the changing of seasons, and the reproducible laws of nature. And this order which is evident to us, points to the one Creator of all things – God. By His nature He is invisible and incomprehensible to us. But in His love and goodness God uses creation as one way to make himself known (Romans 1:20).
In his letter called Against the Heathens (38), Athanasius compared the witness of creation to a person who hears the music of a lyre in the distance. The lyre is composed of various strings yet it creates a harmonious sound. When we hear it we do not conclude that it is playing itself, nor do we hold there is a separate person moving each of its strings. We realize, even if we do not see him, there is but one musician. God is like the musician. He governs all creation in a harmonious and orderly fashion.
Order within Humanity
God created human beings in a state of harmony and order as well. But, after the sin of Adam and Eve, chaos entered the world. We experience this chaos in our disordered relationships with God and with other creatures. And we experience it even within ourselves. We find ourselves rebelling against God. We have disputes within families and between nations.
Within each of us, without grace, our human passions and emotions are not always rightly ordered. They are not always subordinate to the intellect and will. In addition, our darkened intellect seeks truth yet finds itself easily falling into error. Our weakened will desires the good but it can be too easily swayed by apparent rather than true goods.
With the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ, grace was made available to us to help in the restoration of this harmony we lost. We can once again have friendship with God now and for eternity. The community we have with others can be strengthened. Grace elevates and perfects our nature, sanctifying us and bringing a renewal of the interior man.
It is crucial to recognize the reality of this divinely established order among creation. If we deny the reality of God’s existence, governance, and providence, or if we refuse to accept the reality of who man is and how we are dependent on God’s grace, we will see the world in a distorted way. And this failure to understand the ordering of all things will result in a loss of the peace we desire.
Peace – Built on Truth
Truth is not a matter of opinion or preferences. Truth is not dependent on whether or not it is accepted. It is not invented but discovered. And truth remains the same yesterday, today and forever. It does not change with the times.
God is the source of all truth and the fullness of truth has been manifested in Jesus Christ. Therefore, the more I come to know Christ, the more His light of truth shines into the darkness of my life and the more it can sanctify me (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2465-2466).
Human beings were created by God to be drawn to the truth. Thus, we are obliged to seek it and honor it. We are bound to adhere to it once we come to know it (CCC 2467). As the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes, “Truth carries with it the joy and splendor of spiritual beauty. Truth is beautiful in itself” (2500).
Truth can only be known in and through Jesus Christ so we must listen to him and imitate him in our lives. He continues to speak to us today through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition which are guarded and interpreted by the Magisterium of the Church. We must be humble and receptive to this divine authority, knowing we are prone to error and can deceive ourselves.
The truth of who God is, who man is and the fact we have a God-given purpose should be foundational to how we live. And the truths of our faith should be standards for how we judge the values of our culture rather than allowing ourselves to be conformed to the world. If we deny truth, we will quickly fall into one of the many dangerous ideologies that the world promotes.
The Danger of Denying Truth
In a homily in 2005, Cardinal Ratzinger (soon to be Pope Benedict XVI), preached a warning related to this. He said:
“How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking. The small boat of the thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves – flung from one extreme to another: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism, from atheism to a vague religious mysticism, from agnosticism to syncretism and so forth. Every day new sects spring up, and what St Paul says about human deception and the trickery that strives to entice people into error (cf. Eph 4:14) comes true.
“Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be “tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine,” seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”
But to turn away from truth is to turn away from God who is truth itself. And as we do this, we create a topsy-turvy relativistic world. In this illusory existence, true peace will not be found.
No Peace Without Justice
The Catechism tells us, “Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor” (1807). Acknowledging God is the Supreme Being, the Creator of all things who created us not out of necessity but out of love, should move us to worship him alone. In justice, we should give God thanks, praise, and adoration all the days of our lives.
Because every human being has been created by God and in God’s own image, all men have a special dignity. Human life is sacred with a worth vastly superior to all other material creatures. In justice we are to give everyone respect knowing each is loved unconditionally by God. And all human beings, by their nature, have rights bestowed on them by God – most importantly the right to life – and we must honor and protect these rights.
Our failure to live out this virtue of justice in our lives results in havoc and instability in our relationships. The failure to see the necessity of justice causes us to exist in a distorted view of reality without peace.
Peace Depends on Charity
Charity is foundational because peace is a fruit of the virtue of charity (CCC 1829). Without charity, there will be no peace.
As the Catechism explains, “Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God” (1822).
With our fallen human nature, we are prone to turn inwards, exalting the ego and our selfish desires. Charity, however, is a virtue that moves us to turn away from self and to the other. We open our hearts to God and to our neighbor. We are led from selfishness to being sacrificial, from vanity to humility, from indifference to compassion, and from cruelty to mercy.
Thus living a life of charity is foundational to bringing inner peace.
Peace Comes Under the Auspices of Freedom
The last element needed for peace that Pope St. John XXIII speaks of is freedom.
When God created human beings, he gave us the gift of free will – the power to freely choose to do this or that. By our free will we shape our own lives. But along with such freedom comes responsibility (CCC 1731).
Having freedom does not imply we can live however we please. Simply because we can do something does not mean we should. When we use our free will to choose to sin – an act that is an offense against God and turns us away from him – we are abusing this gift. When we sin, we alienate ourselves from God and neighbor. We become entangled in disorderliness and rebelliousness. When we refuse God’s loving plan in favor of a plan of our own making, we deceive ourselves about the reality of our creatureliness. Ultimately, by abusing our free will, we become slaves to sin.
Sin is dehumanizing as it leads us away from achieving the God-given purpose of our lives. As Jesus tells us in John 8:34-36, when we sin we lose our freedom and become “a slave of sin.”
Truth and Freedom Cannot be Separated
Bishop Samuel Aquila, in a pastoral letter he wrote to the Diocese of Fargo in 2004, expresses an important truth in regards to sin and freedom:
“We see what slavery to sin does in our world when we consider terrorism, genocide, abortion, murder, war, divorce, and a host of other ills. Slavery to sin always brings with it darkness, death, confusion, and a rejection of God and his laws. Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve who rejected the truth of God’s law to follow their own way, the attempt to separate truth and freedom has proved disastrous for the human race, just as uniting them has given us many saints” .
But, if we are docile to the power of grace at work in us, we are transformed and perfected. We are enabled to experience authentic freedom. But this freedom is found only when we choose what is ordered to the final good which is God. And authentic freedom is ultimately being enabled to fulfill the God-given purpose of our lives – becoming the saint God created us to be.
With this understanding, it becomes evident why inner peace is inseparable from authentic freedom.
Finding and Maintaining Peace
Inner peace is a gift from God but it is a gift that requires responsibility on our part. We must receive it and then, with the help of grace, maintain it, deepen it and share it with others. This peace will not be possessed by us perfectly in this life. We will at times struggle. But with God’s grace we can overcome this, being renewed and strengthened in peace.
Obtaining this inner peace allows us to respond to unsettling situations with patience, kindness, prudence and charity. When we are without this peace, we close our hearts to God. The resulting upheaval within our soul is then expressed in the form of anger, hostility, rebellion, lawlessness, disrespect, indifference or hatred.
We need to avoid acting rashly when we find ourselves lacking peace. We cannot become discouraged. Rather, we can use the words of Pope St. John XXIII as a guide as we try to renew the peace of Christ in us. His words can be a powerful aide in examining our lives.
Are we in some way lacking a sense of order, truth, justice, charity or freedom? Is our life rightly ordered? Do we live theocentric lives – with God at the center of all we do? Are we putting our full trust in God’s providence and His plan for our lives? Are we counteracting our interior tendency for disorder by striving for holiness, practicing virtues, and avoiding vices?
Examining Our Inner Turmoil
We must ask ourselves if our lives our grounded in truth. Do we stand firm in all the truths we are given by God rather than embracing the ideologies and opinions of the culture? Do we sincerely seek to know and to hold these truths even when they are difficult and unpopular? Are we listening to the Church in her wisdom or do we deceive ourselves into thinking we know better and can live how we please?
Are we upholding the virtues of justice and charity not only in words but in how we live our lives each day? And are we giving God his due by worshiping him alone and submitting our will to his? Do we appreciate the tremendous gift of life we have been given and respect the dignity and rights of others? Do we allow grace to move our hearts to love for God and others, even to the point of having a willingness to make sacrifices when necessary?
Finally, are we using our gift of free will to seek and do the good and to avoid evil? Or are we abusing this gift to choose sin and to turn away from God? Do we recognize that in Christ we are offered authentic freedom – the ability to fulfill the God-given purpose of our lives and to spend eternity in heaven? And are we striving to achieve this freedom? Are we receiving the sacraments frequently to increase the power of grace in us so God can continue to transform us into the saints he created us to be?
Trust in Christ Who Overcomes the World
Jesus Christ tells us in John 16:33, “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” He says these powerful words so that we can put our hope and trust in him.
The world we encounter in this life is one of chaos, disorder, turmoil and disorderliness. And there is the temptation to get caught up in and disturbed by this constant unrest. But Christ does not want us to be a people of fear.
When we rejoice in the Lord always and pray unceasingly, then, we are told, that “the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). Jesus emphasizes to us that he wants us to come to him and to learn from him. He promises that, when we do this, “I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).