Far from being what the world thinks it is, namely, the shopping season between Black Friday and Christmas Day, Advent is the Church’s time of penitential preparation for the feast of the Nativity. More than that, Advent prepares us for the two comings of Jesus in time and for His three births.
At Christmastime, we will hear a lot about peace. (We are, even now, because the world incorrectly thinks it is Christmastime already.) The word appears, along with “joy” on many Christmas cards and decorations — as well, no doubt, as on decorations for other Winter Festivities celebrating whatever god or absence thereof its devotees most cherish. Much of the talk about peace will be sentimental and silly. It is my task here to provide some considerations on peace which are not so.
To begin, I cite these five trenchant paragraphs from the book The Way of Silent Love (pgs. 82-83), wherein the Carthusian author reflects on the seventh Beatitude, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God”:
Look on Christ: the peace that emanates from him and the source of his peace is the union of his will with the Father’s. In everything he does during his entire public ministry it is his serenity that predominates, the serenity of the Son who walks attentive to the Father, who contemplates the work of his hands and does everything his Father commands. Nothing can disturb this source of living peace. For him, everything is love because everything comes from the Father.
Christ’s chalice was bitter, his hour of triumph the hour of the cross. He knew it, he foresaw it, he accepted it for the love of the Father and humanity. He did not lose ‘his peace.’ Instead, it sprang from that suffering, consented to, redemptive; it flowed over us, he gave us ‘his peace,’ his Spirit of loving obedience.
Do you wish to walk in life without succumbing to the dangers and weariness of the way, without falling victim to the frustrations and suffering that are inexorably a part of it? First and foremost, let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of the faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2; click for the D-R translation).
Our life is a paschal life: with the blood of the resurrection flowing in our veins, we run towards eternal joy, love has triumphed over death. …
You remember that in the beatitude, the peacemakers are to be called the children of God. This is a beatitude that looks to the Father. And we are already his children in Christ. ‘See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are’ (1 John 3:1). From the depths of our being the Spirit cries, ‘Abba, Father’ (Romans 8:15). What trust we must have!
Peace is not a virtue. It is a fruit, one of the twelve of the Holy Ghost. According to Saint Thomas and Saint Augustine, it corresponds to the gift of wisdom, the gift of the Holy Ghost that perfects the theological virtue of charity. Aquinas quotes Saint Augustine saying that “wisdom is becoming to peacemakers, in whom there is no movement of rebellion, but only obedience to reason.” The further explanation Saint Thomas gives is both subtle and enlightening, as he touches upon the “merit” (peacemaking) and the “reward” (divine sonship) of this Beatitude:
The seventh beatitude is fittingly ascribed to the gift of wisdom, both as to the merit and as to the reward. The merit is denoted in the words, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Now a peacemaker is one who makes peace, either in himself, or in others: and in both cases this is the result of setting in due order those things in which peace is established, for “peace is the tranquillity of order,” according to Augustine (De Civ. Dei xix, 13). Now it belongs to wisdom to set things in order, as the Philosopher declares (Metaph. i, 2), wherefore peaceableness is fittingly ascribed to wisdom. The reward is expressed in the words, “they shall be called the children of God.” Now men are called the children of God in so far as they participate in the likeness of the only-begotten and natural Son of God, according to Romans 8:29, “Whom He foreknew . . . to be made conformable to the image of His Son,” Who is Wisdom Begotten. Hence by participating in the gift of wisdom, man attains to the sonship of God.
If peace is not a virtue, it still implies virtue. In fact, it implies very advanced virtue, since it results from Wisdom, the highest of the gifts, which, in turn, perfects the highest of the virtues, Charity. Saint Thomas rightly gives importance to Augustine’s definition of peace as the tranquility of order (tranquillitas ordinis), which implies that only he is at peace in whom things are set in order. That is to say, his passions are subject to reason and his reason is subject to the Law of God. This requires both divine grace and our own discipline by way of cooperation with that grace.
Let us do what Saint Paul and our Carthusian friend suggest. Let us look on Jesus and see in Him the example. Jesus had all eleven human passions: love, hate, desire, aversion, joy, sorrow, daring, fear, hope, despair, and anger. We can see all of them in the Gospel. But — and this is of utmost importance — we see them all perfectly moderated, sanctified even, by the virtues that resided in Our Lord’s sacred humanity. That is, they were entirely subject to a Reason that was entirely subject to grace. When Jesus, for example, says in the Agony, “not my will but thine be done,” He moderates His fear of the impending Passion to the Will of the Father.
In that Agony, Jesus had already announced to the three Apostles another passion: sorrow. “My soul is sorrowful even unto death” (Mt. 26:38, Mk. 14:34). Saint Luke tells us one of the results of that intense emotional suffering: “And his sweat became as drops of blood, trickling down upon the ground” (Luke 22:44). This is the known but rare medical phenomenon of hematohidrosis (also called hematidrosis), caused by severe mental stress, as in these case studies. But, keep in mind, Jesus’ passions were perfectly ordered. He was at peace while he suffered intense pain. How? Because there was perfect order in His Soul. Jesus never lost control of his emotions, not even in the cleansing of the Temple, when He showed the passion of anger. He was at total peace.
It is understatement of the most laconic sort to say it, but this is a great mystery.
Peace is not a mere absence of external conflict or pain. It is not insensibility, insouciance, or stoicism. Neither is it is a state of nirvana (annihilation), nor is it just the result of having a phlegmatic temperament. Jesus was sensitive, both in the sense of having the capacity to suffer physically and emotionally, and in the sense of being sympathetic to the suffering of others. Therefore, He suffered, if you will, a pure pain, without the distraction of emotional disarray. All the powers of His Soul were focused; all in Him was unalloyed conformity to the Father’s crucifying Will. He wholeheartedly, courageously, generously, yet peacefully embraced that pain for the love of His Father and for the love of His Spouse. He kept His Heart perfectly still that it might all the more be pierced by human cruelty.
Rather than losing it in His Passion, Jesus diffuses His peace, bequeathing it to us as our Christian inheritance. Among His last words to the Apostles before His Passion were “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, do I give unto you” (John 14:27). After the Resurrection, His very first words to the Apostles gathered in the upper room were “Peace be to you” (John 20:19), which He took the trouble to repeat immediately after their initial reaction to His apparition.
Because this is our inheritance from the Prince of Peace, even amid terrible sorrows and miseries, we too can be at peace. But to be so demands a very robust living of the supernatural life of grace. As we said, it is the fruit of a fuller living of the interior life.
The Church’s traditional liturgies are full of references to peace. In the traditional Roman Rite, just before the Agnus Dei, the celebrant says, while thrice crossing the chalice with the infracted (broken) Host, “May the peace + of the Lord + be always + with you.” Then, dropping a small piece of the Host in the Chalice — uniting the two species, as in a sort of mystical resurrection — he prays for peace in the Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God…grant us peace”), immediately offering this prayer as one of the three by which he prepares himself for his Communion:
O Lord Jesus Christ, Who has said to Thy Apostles: Peace I leave you, My peace I give you: Look not upon my sins but upon the faith of Thy Church, and vouchsafe to grant her peace and unity according to Thy will. Who lives and reigns God, world without end. Amen.
Notice that the priest is not offering us simply “peace,” but “the peace of the Lord,” corresponding to what Jesus termed, “My peace.”
That is the peace the Christ-Child soon comes to bring. That is the peace the Holy Angels are soon to hymn being given hominibus bonae voluntatis — “to men of good will.”
May we all receive it this Advent and Christmas, through the intercession of the Queen of Peace.