April 29, 2016

Rejoice in the Lord

Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid” (Jn 14:27).

In the Gospel reading for the Sixth Sunday of Easter (Jn 14:23-29), the risen Lord comforts his disciples (and us) with the admonition, “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”

What is the peace of Jesus?

He tells us that his peace is different from what the world offers. What does that mean for us concretely?

There is something paradoxical about the peace of Christ. We know from the Scriptures and from 2,000 years of Church history that the peace that Jesus offers does not automatically grant immunity from suffering or anxiety. The pax Christi is not synonymous with times of calm. Nor does it cause a cessation of warfare, violence or natural disasters.

On the contrary, the peace of Christ is most often experienced in the midst of terrible circumstances—such as the recent brutal slaying of four Missionaries of Charity in Yemen. My hope and prayer is that as they suffered and died, these women—who have been described as contemporary martyrs by Pope Francis—experienced the peace that Jesus Christ promised to all his followers, a peace that transcends our earthly experience.

I think the peace of Christ has three essential characteristics. First, it is deeply embedded in our hearts in a way that makes it impossible to destroy. As we sing in the late 19th-century hymn, “No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that rock I’m clinging. Since Love is lord of heaven and Earth, how can I keep from singing?” Something about the peace of Christ is impenetrable no matter how cruelly it is attacked. That fact should give us confidence and hope regardless of the situations we face.

Secondly, the peace of Christ flows from God’s unconditional love and mercy. When we realize and accept that a loving God knows us personally, loves us unconditionally and is always ready to embrace us, we can relax and take heart no matter what happens to us. Our merciful God is there for us in all circumstances—good times, bad times and ordinary times. We can rely on Jesus to be with us at our side always.

Finally, the peace of Christ is transformative. Beyond helping us accept the bad things that happen to us—either because of our own bad or sinful choices or because of evil in the world far beyond our control—the peace that we receive from the Lord, through his gift of the Holy Spirit, changes us. It turns our weakness into strength, our fear into courage, and our despair into a profound hope. This means that because of the power of God’s grace, good really can come from evil, and peace can result from even the most reprehensible violence.

Most of us will not experience martyrdom the way the four Missionaries of Charity in Yemen did, but every one of us encounters our share of violence and anxiety in our daily lives.

A family member suffering from addiction or a terminal illness can certainly threaten our peace. Financial problems, loss of a job, marital difficulties or serious disagreements among family members or friends can all lead to fear, anxiety and anger that disturb our tranquility and threaten our happiness. We need the peace of Christ to deal with life’s troubles, and to experience the joy that he has promised us as a result of his own passion, death and resurrection.

In next Sunday’s Gospel reading, the Lord tells us again that he loves us and that he gives us his peace. To guarantee this promise, he tells us that he will send an Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who will defend us and guide us both in ordinary times and when things are really tough.

The Holy Spirit is the presence of God in every circumstance of our lives. Because God is with us (closer to us than we are to ourselves), we never have to fear being abandoned to a cruel fate in a hostile and uncaring world. God the Father and his only son, Jesus Christ, are with us through the gift of their Holy Spirit. We have nothing to fear—and every reason to be filled with hope.

As we continue this joyous season of Easter, and prepare for the great gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, let not our hearts be troubled or afraid. The Lord is with us—now and always. Alleluia! †

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