Christmas: Let the Peace of Christ rule in your hearts…
(CUSA) Fr. Cantalamessa’s homily for the Third Sunday of Advent 2014 had the theme of peace.
He reflected on the interior peace that comes with seeking God despite tribulation. “If God is with us who is against us?” This meditation is three pages and there are many pearls of great price if you persevere to the end!—Ed.
FR. RANIERO CANTALAMESSA—
After having reflected on peace as a gift of God in Christ Jesus to the whole of humanity, and peace as a task to work for, it remains to speak of peace as fruit of the Spirit. Saint Paul puts peace in the third place among the fruits of the Spirit: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”
We discover what “the fruits of the Spirit” are by analyzing the context in which this idea occurs. The context is that of the struggle between the flesh and the spirit, that is, between the principle that regulates the old man’s life, full of concupiscence and earthly wishes, and that which regulates the life of the new man, led by the Spirit of Christ.
In the expression “fruits of the spirit,” “spirit” does not indicate the Holy Spirit in himself, but the principle of the new life, or also “the man who lets himself be guided by the Spirit.”
As opposed to charisms, which are the exclusive work of the Spirit that He gives to whomever He wills when He wills, the fruits are the result of collaboration between grace and liberty. Therefore, they are what today we understand as virtue, if we give this word the biblical meaning of habitual acting “according to Christ,” or “according to the Spirit,” rather than the Aristotelian philosophical meaning of habitual acting “according to right reason.”
Again, as opposed to the gifts of the Spirit, which are different from person to person, the fruits of the Spirit are identical for all. Not all in the Church can be Apostles, prophets, Evangelists; however, all indistinctly, from the first to the last, can and must be charitable, patient, humble, peaceful.
Peace that is fruit of the Spirit is, therefore, different from peace as gift of God and peace as a task for which to work. It indicates the habitual condition (habitus), the state of mind and style of life of one who, through effort and vigilance, has attained a certain interior pacification.
Peace fruit of the Spirit is peace of heart. And it is of this very beautiful and very desired thing of which we shall speak today. It is, yes, different from the task to be peacemakers, but it also serves wonderfully to this end.
The title of Pope John Paul II’s message for the 1984 World Day of Peace was: “Peace Is Born of a New Heart,” and Francis of Assisi, on sending his friars around the world, recommended to them: “The peace that you proclaim with your mouth, you must have first of all in your hearts.”
Interior Peace in the Spiritual Tradition of the Church
In the course of the centuries, the attainment of interior peace or peace of the heart has committed all the great seekers of God. In the East, beginning with the desert Fathers, it was concretized in the ideal of hesychia, hesychasm, or stillness, rest, quiet, silence.
One dared to propose to oneself or to others a very lofty, if not, in fact, superhuman, aim: to remove every thought from the mind, every desire from the will, every remembrance from the memory, to leave in the mind only the thought of God, in the will only the desire of God and in the memory only the remembrance of God and of Christ (the mneme Theou) — a titanic struggle against thoughts (logismoi), not only evil ones but also good ones.
An extreme example of this peace, obtained with a fierce war, has remained in the monastic tradition of monk Arsenius who, to the question “what must I do to be saved?” — heard God respond: “Arsenius, flee, be silent and keep yourself in stillness”(literally, practice the hesychia).
Later this spiritual current gave place to the practice of the prayer of the heart, or uninterrupted prayer, still largely practiced in Eastern Christianity and of which “The Tales of a Russian Pilgrim” are the most fascinating expression.
In the beginning, however, it was not identified with this. It was a way to attain perfect tranquility of heart; not an empty tranquility as an end in itself, but a full tranquility, similar to that of the Blessed, a beginning to live on earth the conditions of the Saints in Heaven.
The Western Tradition has pursued the same ideal but through other ways, accessible both to those who practice the contemplative life, and those who practice an active life.
Reflection begins with Augustine. He dedicated a whole book of his work The City of God to reflect on the different forms of peace, giving for each a definition which has been a school up to now, among which is that of peace as tranquillitas ordinis, the tranquillity of order. However, it is above all what he says in the Confessions that has influenced in delineating the ideal of peace of heart.
At the beginning of the book, he addresses to God, almost in passing, a word destined to have immense resonance in all subsequent thought: “You have made us for Yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.” Further on he illustrates this affirmation with the example of gravity.
“Our peace is in the good will [of God]. Every body, because of its weight, tends to the place that is proper to it. A weight does not only drag down, but it does so to the place that is proper to it. Fire tends to go up, stone to go down, both pushed by their weight to seek their place …My weight is my love; it takes me wherever I go.”
As long as we are on this earth the place of our rest is the will of God, abandonment to His wishes. “Rest is not found if one does not consent to the will of God without resistance.” Dante Alighieri summarized this Augustinian thought in his famous verse: “And in his will is our tranquility”.”
Only in Heaven will the place of rest be God Himself. Therefore, Augustine ends his treatment of the subject of peace with an impassioned praise of the peace of the heavenly Jerusalem, which it is worthwhile for us to hear, in order to also be inflamed with the desire for it:
Then there is the final peace. . . . In that peace it is not necessary for reason to control impulses because they will not be, but God will control man, the spiritual soul the body and so great will be the serenity and the willingness to submission, as great will be the delight of living and dominating.
And then, this condition will be eternal in each and all, and there will be the certainty that it is eternal and, therefore, the peace of such happiness, namely the happiness of such peace will be the supreme good.
The hope of this eternal peace has marked the whole liturgy of the dead. Expressions such as “In the peace of Christ”(In pace Christi) or “May he rest in peace” (Requiescat in pace) are the most frequent on the tombs of Christians and in the prayers of the Church. The heavenly Jerusalem, with allusion to the etymology of the name, is described as “ a blessed vision of peace (beata pacis visio).
The Way of Peace
Augustine’s concept of interior peace as adherence to the will of God finds a confirmation and deepening in the mystics. Meister Eckhart wrote:
Our Lord says: ‘In me you may have peace.’ The more one penetrates in God, the more one penetrates in peace. Whoever now has his I in God has peace; whoever has his I outside of God does not have peace.”
Therefore, it is not only a question of adhering to the will of God, but about not having any other will than that of God, to die altogether to one’s will. The same thing is read, under the form of a lived experience, in Saint Angela of Foligno:
Successively the divine will makes of two wills one will, so that one cannot will other than as God wills. […] I do not find myself any longer in the usual condition, but I have been led to a peace, in which I am with Him and I am happy with everything.
A different development, ascetic more than mystic, is that of Saint Ignatius of Loyola with his doctrine of “holy indifference.” It consists in placing oneself in a state of total willingness to accept the will of God, renouncing, giving up all personal preference, as a scale ready to incline to the side where the greatest weight is.
The experience of interior peace thus becomes the main criterion in all discernment. The choice must be retained that, after long pondering and prayer, is accompanied by the greatest peace of heart.
However, no healthy spiritual current, either in the East or in the West, has ever thought that peace of heart is peace at a low price and without effort. In the Medieval Age the sect “of the free Spirit” and the Quietist Movement in the 17th century tried to hold the contrary, but both were condemned by the hierarchy and by the conscience of the Church.
To maintain and increase peace of heart one must put down, moment by moment, especially in the beginning, a revolt: that of the flesh against the spirit.