Thursday, November 12, 2009

In Whom Do You Have Peace?

A few weeks have passed since this semester’s Buffalo Awakening (BA) retreat. For those of you unfamiliar with this retreat, it is a high-energy student-led event, which has become one of our most popular and fruitful ministries we have here at St. Thomas Aquinas. Each semester’s BA is distinguished by a theme most recently being “In Me You Have Peace” which comes from the mouth of Christ recorded in the Gospel of John (Jn. 16.33). Reflecting upon this passage, I was struck by the words that immediately followed Christ’s encouraging statement. After boldly proclaiming that peace is something gifted to us through Christ, He then admits that the world will still continue to bring us troubles, but we ought to still rejoice since it is Christ who has conquered the world (cf. Jn. 16.33b).

The first thing I noticed was that Jesus spoke of “conquering” the world. John, the author of this Gospel, picks this word up again to be used as a powerful theme in his last composition before death, namely The Book of Revelation. It is here that this word (nikein) is used not to describe Christ but rather the Christian. Over and over Christ speaks to the Christian communities in this apocalyptical masterpiece explaining to the faithful that it is the one “who conquers” who will enter into God’s Glory and receive eternal life (cf. Rev. 2.6, 11, 17, 26; 3.5, 12, 21). What then does Christ mean by “conquering”? While the Jews were expecting a great political Messiah to liberate them from exile by the sword (i.e. conquering through the sword), Jesus came to liberate Israel and the whole world by the cross (i.e. conquering through sacrifice). Thus for the Christian, “to conquer” refers to the act of utter surrender! In other words, the primary condition for peace is surrender or to let go.

This can be a difficult prescription to follow, although it is not difficult to actually implement. We are surrounded by a world that proclaims a very different message. We are asked to hold on tightly to what we do have and to be suspicious of anyone who may want a piece of us. We are told we must fight for whatever we want because no one will fight for us. We have been convinced that the key to personal peace is to grasp for that which we desire and to do everything in our ability to secure it and maintain it. We appear to live in a world that has embraced a “survival of the fittest” paradigm. This is antithetical to the Christian way and therefore antithetical to genuine peace.

I am reminded of the story of Israel’s exodus. Moses had successfully freed Israel from Egyptian enslavement without Pharaoh’s permission. Clearly not having thought everything through of their escape, Israel was only able to run so far before being blocked by a large body of water called the Red Sea. Being cornered, they had nowhere to turn as word had arrived that Pharaoh’s army was in pursuit of them for reasons other than wishing them farewell. Israel became frantic, questioning the escape, appearing that it was only leading them to death. In the midst of the mass hysteria Moses spoke to the crowd saying, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be still” [emphasis mine] (Ex. 14.13-14). You have only to be still! Peace is not something we achieve, but rather receive. We are being asked by God to trust Him, knowing that he does love us and He is working this very moment and fighting for us. Yes, someone is actually fighting for us!

St. Augustine says that our hearts are restless until they rest in God. Notice what Augustine does not say. He does NOT say that our hearts are restless until they accomplish God’s Kingdom, or bring X number of lost people back to the faith, or until we find a spouse, or until we hit the right numbers in our business or ministry. Our hearts are restless until they REST in God. How many times do we get caught up in finding our identity with what we do rather than who we are? We are being called to BE more and DO less. This is why our Lord has designated one day a week to be meant for resting which is Sunday. Our God desires our hearts not our deeds.

Again, peace is something we do not achieve but rather receive from God. Christ warns us that even with peace, we will still undergo troubles. Behind all this is the reality that genuine peace is less of a subjective experience and more of an objective reality. It is through Christ that we have peace, which means we are now in relationship with God through reconciliation. Whether you feel it or not, Christ has died for us and restored us to new life with God. It is up to us to make the choice whether we want to receive it or not.

I pray each of us is able trust in God’s love for us and to allow Him to give us the peace He has promised. We have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ so I encourage you to be reconciled with God. If you have not been to confession in quite awhile, maybe this is the time to do so as we prepare our hearts for the upcoming season of Advent. Be also reconciled with one another as we are called to be imitators of Christ. He has forgiven us even in our deepest sin so we are being called to forgive those who have offended us. We cannot do this on our own so we beg for God’s mercy and His grace to empower us to do so. Be still and know that God is fighting for you and be at peace. May God be Praised!