If there is one thing we can all agree upon it is that we want peace. We desire peace for the world, but we also want peace for ourselves. We spend our lives searching for it as if it was totally elusive, and yet peace is one of the clearest gifts the Risen Jesus offers to His people. This is seen in the events of His Resurrection which were witnessed by His friends who testified that every time Jesus appeared He began with the words, “Peace be with you!” With each Resurrection appearance Jesus did more than speak these words; He also imparted the gift of peace onto them. So when He addressed them by saying “Peace” it was no mere greeting, such as “hello” or “good morning.” Rather, He was offering His very presence so that we might have the confidence and perseverance to live as His disciples, together with the gift of hope with which to keep our eyes on the gift that awaits us at the end of our lives. The fact is, Jesus died and rose to give us peace. That is, He died and rose because He loves us, but His goal was for us to have peace not only in the next life, but also in this one.
At Easter we rejoice in knowing that because Jesus lives we are able to receive His mercy and love which overflow without limit. We also rejoice because we know He remains present throughout our lives, made visible in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, His own Body and Blood. But it is also true that Jesus conquered everything which could keep us from Him; therefore, we truly have nothing to fear. Having no fear may seem unrealistic, but He repeated His greeting of peace so many times that we would be foolish to dismiss it. In the Scriptures any time something is repeated, often within the same story or passage, it is the author’s way of emphasizing a point which he does not want us to miss. In other words, it is of utmost importance that we get the message. Jesus was not saying “Peace be with you” simply to emphasize it, however. He really does impart peace! In other words, He offers peace in every encounter we have with Him, no matter what the circumstances. This means the peace we crave is not far away at all, but in fact it is as near as our own heart, the place where we encounter the Lord.
If we step back for a moment we can see that God has always offered peace to His people. With even a quick search of the Old Testament, particularly in the writing of the prophets, (something some might find surprising), we will find the word ‘peace’ quite a bit, and most of that time in the context of God offering peace to His people. There are many occasions to quote, but one excellent example is found in Isaiah 57:19: “Peace, peace to the far and the near, says the Lord; and I will heal them.” This clearly indicates that God’s deepest desire is that we have peace both in our communities and within our own hearts. This also reveals that God’s peace is healing; our wholeness is what we will attain in Heaven, but He wants us to begin this process during this life.
In the gospels of the New Testament we see that prior to the death of Jesus the apostles were wracked with uncertainty about who He was. They knew that He was indeed a prophet and teacher distinctly different from anyone else. But some of His teachings, actions, and even His miracles left them confused, trying to make sense of what He meant. It was only after Jesus died and rose that things started to come together for them; even if they did not fully comprehend (and none of us can), they better understood and they believed without reservation. They could look back on everything that happened and respond like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus who said: “Were not our hearts burning within us?” (Luke 24:32) The apostles now clearly knew what He had been preparing them for, but it was the peace He gave and the joy which came with it that propelled them outward so that they could share this peace with others. Simply put, this peace is the Good News!
However, there is a crucial distinction which must be emphasized. The peace of Jesus is not ordinary peace: only His peace can provide the assurance that we will have life with Him eternally. Therefore, it is unlike any other type of peace for which we hunger; it is far stronger, far deeper, far more lasting than anything this world can offer because it is essentially the gift of His presence. Thus, when Jesus offered His peace after the Resurrection it was not to simply calm jittery disciples. It was intended for them to truly chew on and drink in this peace so that it would become part of their hearts and souls. Only then could they effectively bring the same peace to others in addition to relying upon it when they were imprisoned or suffering for the sake of the gospel. Jesus made sure His presence was with them after He ascended at the end of the forty days; through the power of the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost He remained with them, especially when they partook of the Eucharist. This reality is the same for us: through the Sacraments we always have access to the peace of Jesus.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8): there is nothing diminished in the gifts He offers today. Therefore, it would be a mistake to think we have to wait until after death to know this deep peace. In fact, it is because Jesus is Risen that we do not have to wait and we do not have to fear! St. Paul explained it when he wrote: “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? …. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39) St. Paul is indicating that our future with God is assured and that if this is so, then there is nothing to fear, and especially not death. The peace Jesus offers, therefore, is the realization that death cannot and does not destroy us; that is, death is not our end. While our physical bodies will pass away, our souls are imperishable. And when time as we know it ends, (at the Second Coming of Christ) our bodies will be glorified into an equally imperishable state. In other words, death is a gateway to new and eternal life, and it will be filled with a peace yet to be understood, but meant to be tasted in this life as well.
So practically speaking, how do we attain peace now? It is no secret that most of us struggle with worries throughout our lives; it is part of our human condition. Of course, we have the Sacraments which provide direct access to the presence of Jesus. But perhaps St. (Padre) Pio can help us to recognize another potent ‘antidote’ to worry: prayer. As a motto to live by he said, “Pray, hope, and don’t worry!” He also often said, “Fear not, because God is with you.” St. Pio understood that the peace of Jesus is always available through prayer, not because we need to remind God to ‘pour it on,’ but that we would reconnect with what we already have. Prayer is the best way to center ourselves in the peace Jesus offers because by turning to God we are placing our trust in Him. Therefore, while prayer and the subsequent trust it brings does not assure a pain-free life by any means, it does keep us focused on our daily mission and it grounds us more fully in the experience of God’s love. In this love comes the peace of Jesus, a peace which the world cannot give, but which we can pass along to others even when we have little else to offer. Then, like St. Peter, we can say, “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you.” (Acts 3:6) In other words, it is our presence in love and mercy that brings the Peace of Jesus outward, making it visible to the world.
May we accept the Peace of Christ by opening our hearts to the reality of His presence, not just in our hope for the future, but in our present moment! May we come to know the Peace of Jesus in all our encounters with Him through prayer, liturgy, and the Sacraments! May we trust in Jesus so that we can cast all our worries on Him so as not to attempt to carry our burdens alone! May we be like the apostles, seeking greater understanding through our prayer, but always bringing the gifts we receive outward to assist in building the Kingdom! May we take Jesus at His word when He greets us with the words, “Peace be with you!” And may we be messengers of the Peace of Christ in all our encounters with others, offered through the gifts of love and mercy! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace be with you! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
©Michele L. Catanese
Note: The next post will be on June 3. After over 5 years of posting, I am taking a short 'blog holiday.' Therefore I will be skipping the next regularly scheduled entry which would have been in two weeks. So during the week of May 20 please avail yourselves of the Archive posts which are always accessible, with links found on the right side of this very page. (Simply scroll up on this page to find them.) My suggestion would be to go to an Easter season blog from a previous year or go to May of last year and revisit one of those entries. Thanks for your support in following this blog, Heart Speaks to Heart.
1. Inset of The Appearance of Christ at the Cenacle (Apparition du Christ au cénacle), painting by James Tissot: I chose this to begin the post because Tissot captured the startled response of the apostles as Jesus appeared to them behind locked doors. I also loved the luminosity of Jesus' wounded hands, highlighted by the muted tones of the darkened room. I cropped the painting so this could be seen more easily. To see the full work, click here: https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/13526
2. Inset of Eucharist in a Fruit Ring by Jan Davidsz de Heem: This is one of my favorite depictions of the Eucharist because de Heem made the presence of Christ visible, again choosing to make the image on the host luminous. You can find some more information on this painting at https://www.flickr.com/photos/hen-magonza/31347492910
3. One of my photos, taken in Maine as the sun was setting: I guess I am 'stuck' on luminosity in this post because this one picks up the glow of the sun such that the clouds erupted in incredible hues of orange and yellow. When I experienced this glorious sunset, it was a peaceful, but joyous time, therefore it seemed fitting for this paragraph.
4. Another of my photos, taken in a vineyard near Schulenburg, TX: Again, the theme of luminosity is present! When I chose the paintings and photos for each section I was not intentionally trying to have them all contain something which glows. It was only after I placed them into the text and began my notes that I noticed that most of them captured some element of the theme of light. Perhaps the Spirit wanted us to know that the peace of Jesus creates luminosity within those who accept it.
5. Again, one of my photos, taken in the woods while on a hike in Maine: I chose this photo because of the trees growing out of the rock. It fit with what I was saying about the peace of Jesus being stronger than ordinary peace. Even the hardest of hearts can be a place where the peace and love of Jesus can take root.
6. Resurrection icon: More light! This is a photo of traditional resurrection icon given to me as a gift. I chose to place it here because it shows Jesus freeing souls of the holy ones from their tombs, (from the netherworld, or Sheol), and so it directly speaks to the quote from St. Paul: nothing, not even physical death, can separate us from Christ.
7. St. Padre Pio Mother Pelican, icon written by Fr. William Hart McNichols: This icon is one I have always loved, mostly because I have a devotion to St. Padre Pio. In his letters and in his preaching Padre Pio was continually saying that we should be at peace and that worry is useless. "Pray, hope, and don't worry" are words of wisdom. Let us ask for his intercession that these words take root in us. If you wish to obtain a copy of this icon, available in a variety of sizes and mediums, go to https://fineartamerica.com/featured/2-st-padre-pio-mother-pelican-047-william-hart-mcnichols.html
8. One of my photos, taken at Lake Geneva in Montreux, Switzerland: This huge hibiscus flower was actually larger than my hand, something the photo does not capture. But I chose to add it here because of its beauty. The flower in the background is closed, but this one is fully open; this seemed to speak of the peace of Christ empowering us to be fully open to the mission we are given as disciples, and fully open to receive Jesus' mercy, love, and peace.
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Heart Speaks to Heart