We heard Jesus say in our gospel reading: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.”
As the weather begins to warm up, summer vacations appear on the horizon as a great hope of peace, right? And I think that tells us something about what we think “peace” ultimately is: We think of it primarily as an absence. We look at peace as “not doing,” or “not having any responsibility,” or “not dealing with something… or someone.” We fantasize about a place and time where we can finally be spared from being bothered or tasked with… insert your personal cross here. Peace is often thought of as getting away from it all — an escape from the grind, the stress, and the annoyances of everyday life.
This may be an aspect of peace to be sure, but I have to wonder — is this really, truly the peace Jesus is getting at in our gospel passage? Vacations are beautiful things, yes — but is the Lord’s peace merely an absence of activity?
The short answer is… no.
The Lord offers us a fullness of serenity even here on earth that is not contingent on things like the absence of work, of frustration, or trial. Christ’s peace transcends all those things and surpasses them. It is a full, deep peace — a peace that has real substance, not just absence. He doesn’t offer us an escape hatch. He doesn’t promise us a numb void. He offers us the whole Kingdom of God, which IS peace with God and neighbor — in a word, he offers us true Communion, and that peace is more than an absence of intense or difficult situations. In fact, true peace usually places us square in the crosshairs of the full brunt of suffering. As our first reading put it: “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.”
This aligns with St. Josemariá Escrivá’s description of peace: “What is peace?” he asks. “Peace is something intimately associated with war. Peace is the result of victory. Peace demands of me a constant struggle. Without the struggle, I’ll never be able to have peace.”
I love that line — Peace is the result of victory. Therefore, to attain the quality of peace Jesus offers us — the peace that surpasses all understanding — we must enter into absolute war with everything that blocks our entrance into the Kingdom of God… every empty promise the world would give us that sends us into numb escapsim. This is the proper understanding of peace — not as an absence, but as the result of victory.
And what is our victory? Jesus’ Resurrection from the Dead.
Peace was the first thing out of Jesus’ mouth to the apostles after he rose from the dead, so the Resurrection immediately comes to mind when we hear Our Lord say: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” He’s saying: My Peace will pass through the Grave. Death won’t be able to contain me. Sin will have no power over me. And this is for your benefit — this is for you to lay claim of my peace — the peace of being known and loved unconditionally by God the Father — a peace that abides, even in the middle of this world of pain and suffering, even when you need to go to the Cross unjustly, even when, like St Paul, you’re stoned, dragged out of the city, and presumed dead.
You’ll notice that the text of Acts says that right after being stoned, Paul gets back up and marches into town to continue preaching the Gospel. This sounds insane, but it teaches us a very hard yet beautiful lesson: Paul is a man totally at peace — At peace with himself, at peace with his vocation, and most of all, a man at peace with God.
He still has to work hard for the Lord. He still has to face fierce opposition. We aren’t strangers to this reality. But I often wonder myself: Do I have the peace Paul exhibited? The peace that gives us courage to get back up and march back to the very people that stone us?
To do this, we need a deep conviction that Jesus has accomplished peace once for all between man and God — “making peace by the blood of his cross.” Peace is far from an absence or a void. We’re not called to the numb peace the world gives us. We’re called to the battle of love and fidelity that leads to an unshakable peace. We’re called to Resurrection-peace — a peace that must first pass through the Cross and Tomb.