13 May 2007

WARNING! Christ's Peace Ahead

6th Sunday of Easter: Acts 15.1-2, 22-29; Rev 21.10-14, 22-23; John 14.23-29
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Paul’s Hospital and Church of the Incarnation


You can stop running and hiding now. There is nowhere to hide, nowhere to run. You are no longer our own; you no longer work for yourself alone. You are possessed by a spirit! Wholly owned and operated by the Holy Spirit. And if this causes you noticeable delight—Good!—but let me add a dire warning that will likely creep you out: you have, we have in virtue of our possession by the Holy Spirit, we have inherited (are you ready?)…the Peace of Christ! If this doesn’t give you the heebie-jeebies, you weren’t listening to the gospel. Jesus says to the disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” Easy enough. Then, he adds: “Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” Now that’s just wrong! He had a good thing going there and then he messes it up by telling us that this Good Thing he’s giving us isn’t exactly the Good Thing we thought it was. And that changes everything. Except this: there is nowhere to hide, nowhere to run. You are no longer your own.

You would think that as heirs to the peace of Christ, we would be rejoicing in his serene calm, a well-balanced spiritual harmony. You would think that we would never argue, never fight, never become angry or frustrated with one another. You would think. And you would be wrong. Why would we assume that Christ’s Peace has anything at all to do with spiritual serenity or psychological wellness or bodily stillness? Given Jesus’ tumultuous life and his violent end on the cross; the oftentimes bellicose history of the Church on earth; given the sometimes painful, purifying work of the Spirit’s Fire in us and among us; and the ebb and flow of our pilgrim-holiness, why would any Christian believe that Christ’s Peace is about peace at all? Shalom I leave with you; my shalom I give to you.

Inasmuch as “love” has come to mean “that warm-fuzzy feeling we get that tells us to accept and approve anything and everything that comes our way,” so “peace” has come to mean something like “that permanently numbed pause in our heart and mind that deflects all conflict at the expense of the truth.” Biblically, of course, peace (shalom) means “prosperity,” “security,” “success,” and even “salvation.” My research tells me that the best English translation of shalom is “well-being,” but the shading of the word leans heavily toward wishing someone material success or worldly security. This is perhaps more like the Vulcan greeting, “Live long and prosper” than it is the Buddhist idea of “eliminating suffering by eliminating desire.” Jesus leaves us his peace, true; but, he explicitly notes that this is not the peace of the world. His peace is something else entirely.

Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” My peace. Most certainly not the World’s Material Peace or the Empire’s Political Peace or the Temple’s Religious Peace. But the Peace of Christ. What sort of peace is this? Christ’s Peace comes with the Holy Spirit. Notice the sequence of events in the gospel: Christ is leaving the disciples to go to the Father. He says he is sending the Advocate in his place to teach them everything and to remind them of all that he has taught. Being reminded of Jesus’ teachings, of everything he has said, and then remembering his teachings—this is “Christ’s Peace.” Does being reminded of Christ’s teachings and then remembering Christ’s teachings bring you that pleasantly numbed feeling that we often associate with a material “peace”? Let’s hope not! In the same way that welcoming Christ’s love into your life requires a commitment to conversion and service—“whoever loves me will keep my word”—so accepting his peace means settling your troubled heart into the truth of his teachings—“Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” You are no long your own.

Being heirs to Christ’s Peace, then, is first about being heirs to his teachings; being the recipients of his Word and the certainty we have in the truth of his witness. This is the peace we live knowing that Christ reveals the Father and that the Spirit dwells among us as their Love for one another. Again, there is nothing numbing or tranquil about this fundamental fact of the faith—it bears on our souls to live this truth fully in the world. We must give flesh and bone to this truth; we must incarnate Christ’s love, and in doing so, accept his peace. How? We live Christ’s triduum—in his betrayal, his humiliation, his beatings, his Cross, and his tomb—we live these as Christ himself did: trusting in God’s care, His plan, His blessings and abundance, and then giving our lives freely for others. Isn’t this is the courage of the martyrs? Their witness to the barebones power of Christ’s promises? They took on Christ’s Peace and their question to us is clear: will you follow…if called upon, will you follow?

Now, knowing that Christ’s Peace might require a Red Witness, does the thought of receiving his peace make you a little nervous? If you love him, you will keep his Word, preach his Word, teach his Word, obey his Word; you will make your dwelling with him, and follow him always; you will fall, fail, rise again and peak; you will stumble and crash and you will jump and fly; you will believe and doubt and hide and find; and you will come to a passionate obsession, a loving fascination with the movement of the Spirit, the leadership of Christ’s Peace in your life. But expect no peace of mind. Rather welcome the intellectual turmoil that follows the sword of truth. Expect no peace in your body. Rather welcome the tension that comes with making your flesh a daily sacrifice. Expect nothing balanced or harmonized or gentled to rule you. You are ruled by the Prince of Peace, the One Anointed, whose reign requires you to serve against your best instincts, to submit against your greatest perceived needs, and to follow into hell and on to heaven a dead Jewish rebel who was killed on a tree. How absurd! And yet, the Spirit burns, with tongues of fire, the Law of Love into our hearts: to die for a beloved friend is the greatest gift.

When you exchange the peace this morning/evening, remember: you are not wishing your neighbors worldly well-being or cheerfulness or a pleasant day/tomorrow. You are reminding them (and you are being reminded in turn) that Christ’s Peace is more threat than promise. Think: “Peace be with you” means “You are Christ. Have you suffered, died, and risen again? For whom did you sacrifice yourself today?” Perhaps you will skip the exchange of peace altogether! Don’t! Why? Jesus said, “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words…” There is no dwelling place with the Father for those who do not keep Christ’s words. So, love Christ, keep his Word. And take on his Peace with fear and trembling; take it on only when you are grateful enough to him for dying for you that you are ready to die for someone else.

Then, only then, you are truly at Peace. Christ’s Peace.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
For U.D.: This is our last Sunday Mass at 7.30 until September. I want to send you off into your summer with a priestly admonition: Love one another as Christ loves you. Sounds easy. It isn’t. There are two temptations here that need to be named and given to God for His judgment. First, the temptation to love one another in a way that levels all beliefs, all behaviors, all intentions and motivations and then judges them OK in the name of “tolerance of difference.” This is not love. It’s an indifference to sin dressed up to look like love. This faux version of love is actually an abdication of charity, a surrendering of our obligation to fraternally correct ourselves and one another. The second temptation is powerful as well. In the name of love, we set out to root out sin, spiritual corruption and vice. We appoint ourselves surveyors of purity and monitors of intention. And we scrupulously scan the crowds for a dark heart or a muddled mind to charge with spiritual treason. All the while forgetting to turn the scanner inward, refusing to check the well from which these alleged pure waters flow. It is cowardly to pretend that we can see into the heart of another, judge intention, and pass sentence. This is not love. It is self-righteousness. And it denies the most basic principle of Catholic spirituality: we are being perfected in Christ. We are not perfect yet.

I chose these two b/c you are headed back home. Out of the U.D. “bubble.” And these two temptations are particularly insidious for us b/c they represent prevalent tendencies in our larger culture. The tendency to idolize “tolerance” to the point that nothing can be called evil, just different. And the tendency to find evil motive and vile intent in those whom we find objectionable—foreign or domestic enemies, political opponents, academic rivals, or cultural foes. Both of these temptations are rooted in the Devil’s illusion that we can fully know another’s heart and that we are free to adjudicate what we find there. Here’s the important questions for those who fall to either temptation or both: why do you think that you are especially privileged to know the hearts of others? And second, who are you—literally, “who are you?”—to weigh those hearts and find them worthy of tolerance or deserving of punishment?

Love tells the truth. All the truth. Not just those parts that bolster our social esteem or satisfy a bitter need to judge. Love tells the truth. All the truth. And by this truth we will all be judged.


  1. Wow, thank you for an excellent breakdown! I wish someone told me this before : )
    "In the same way that welcoming Christ’s love into your life requires a commitment to conversion and service—“whoever loves me will keep my word”—so accepting his peace means settling your troubled heart into the truth of his teachings—“Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” You are no longer your own."
    In my own life, I'm just beginning to realize that 'life is too short to live for oneself.' It is so odd how the 'peace' and 'joy' that come from following Christ do not remove the bitterness of the sacrifices and the changes in life, dealing humbly with one's own weaknesses, and learning to bear and lift others up through their weaknesses - all this is not exactly a picnic, particularly if one is past the stages of enthusiasm.
    And yet there is a quieter kind of peace and joy and love that is going on that pushes you on through all kinds of strife - this is Christ's peace. It is an active peace - it makes you able to do all things in Christ, even in the midst of yours and others' failings.

  2. Amy,

    I think you must some Preacher in you as well...thanks for commenting.

    Fr. Philip, OP