Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.
John 14:27a, RSV-CE
This is from the Gospel reading for Mass today. For me, just hearing these words brings an immediate peacefulness to my soul. But when I look at the situations in which I usually hear or read these words I must take notice of something: it is usually at Mass or at prayer that I come across these wonderful words of our Lord. But both of those are times when you are not having to do a multitude of things; instead, you only have to be still and put yourself in the presence of God. But this is not the peace of which our Lord speaks.
The peace that our Lord wants for us is not simply the absence of those distractions and happenings in our life that can take away the calm demeanor we might have when things happen to be going our way. (Like when we can leave all our cares behind for a while when at Mass or at prayer. Or even at other times: when on vacation, a day off from work, etc.) Instead, the peace He wants for us can be ours at all times – even when it feels like we are caught in the middle of a violent storm.
To understand the peace that Christ wants to give us we must first understand what the world understands peace to be. Peace for the world is simply the lack of violence. For instance, think of the Middle East: when people call for peace amongst those countries what they mean is for the people in those countries to stop killing each other. But this is not peace – it is only a lack of violence. Even if they are not killing each other the people in those countries still hate one another and in times of ‘peace’ the least thing can set them off and they will be killing each other once again.
So we find that it is hatred that is at the root of the world's lack of peace. And the virtue needed to correct this lack of peace is love; but love is only possible if there is forgiveness. But, due to the fallen nature of mankind, there can be no true forgiveness amongst the various peoples of the world without the forgiveness that comes first from God. It is true that people can forgive one another and live in relative peace for a while. But, because of our tendency to sin, if we lose or have never known the forgiveness that comes to us only from God then we will inevitably come back into conflict with the people with which we formerly had peace.
So, how do we obtain this peace that Jesus promises us? It comes to us through the forgiveness we receive from Him through His one and only perfect Sacrifice on the Cross. When we are born into this world we are born into Original Sin and therefore, we are alienated from God because sinfulness can have no place with God Who is all good. Therefore, because we were created by God and for God, we can never be at peace, whether with God, within ourselves or with others, while we are alienated from Him. God, though, has rescued us from this alienation through the perfect Sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross. And it is through Baptism that we participate in Christ's Sacrifice: we are buried with Him and rise again to a new life – a life of Grace.
Through this Grace, which is God's very life that He puts within us, we are put into a right relationship with God. We are therefore no longer alienated from Him. Having been created to be with Him our lives are necessarily disordered, which means there can be no true peace, until we are brought out of that alienation. Once we are made right with Him then peace within our souls is restored because we are at peace with the One who created us. But, of course, this state of Grace we have received through Baptism can be lost if we mortally sin – meaning that through some serious sin we deliberately and with full knowledge of the wrong done turn our back on God. When that happens then the peace we had is lost – until we turn back to God for forgiveness through the Sacrament of Penance.
But in connection with the forgiveness we receive from Christ we must remember His own words of warning, “if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:15, RSV-CE) The logical conclusion then seems to be this: if we want peace with God, with others and within ourselves – that being true peace and not just the absence of conflict or strife in our lives – then we must forgive others just as God has forgiven us.