“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.” – John 14:27.
At the time of this writing, war is raging in Eastern Europe, and cities across the United States are struggling with violent crime. Yet despite this, human beings seem to have an innate desire for peace. Indeed, peace, like happiness, seems to be one of those things that everyone seeks for its own sake.
In this paper, I will explore the different forms of peace. I will argue that peace begins with God, whether at the level of the individual or at the level of a nation.
What is peace?
In Hebrew, peace or shalom generally means “to be complete or whole” and is used frequently in Scripture. However, it is also used to connote prosperity or well-being (Genesis 15:15), safety or success, harmony among friends and family members (Zechariah 6:13), and peace among nations (Proverbs 16:7).
While peace is the absence of conflict, it also entails a tranquillity of order that lies at the foundation of a well-ordered society. Because of this, peace is often placed within a political context. When it is done so, peace usually refers to the relations between nations. Yet the issue of peace is not strictly political. If there is to be peace among nations, there must be peace at the level of the individuals that make up those nations.
While the subject of how individuals find peace is within the purview of psychology, a person’s mental state is based on the state of the person’s soul. It is from this perspective that I shall proceed.
So then, where can the individual find peace?
Where do we find peace?
In order to be at peace, one’s life must be properly ordered. A disordered person is a chaotic person, and a chaotic person is, by definition, not at peace.
As are all animals, human beings are composed of body and soul. The proper ordering of a human being is the body being subservient to the soul. The reason for this is because human beings are rational, and rationality is seated in the intellect, and the intellect is a power of the soul.
To say that the soul should rule the body is to say that reason should rule passion. I suspect that this claim is not widely held by my contemporaries and certainly counter to the beliefs of those younger than myself. The modern person is more likely to argue that reason should serve passion.
However, the problem with such a position is that passions are instinctive, even primitive, and, as such, are inherently unstable. Since that which is unstable cannot be properly ordered, and since order is a precondition for peace, it is evident that a passionate person is much less likely to be at peace than a rational one. This is more of a psychological problem than a theological one, however.
Still, the proper ordering of the passions to reason lies at the heart of the theological answer to the problem of peace. The reason lies in that human beings are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). To be made in God’s image is to be rational, to love, and possess the capacity to make moral judgments (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1706). Lest one point to the human capacity to love as evidence that passion should rule, it should be pointed out that the theological definition of love is to will (an act of the intellect) the good of another (Thomas Aquinas).
Finally, the soul, too, must be properly ordered or oriented. Since human beings were made for God, a properly ordered soul is one that is subservient to God (Augustine. The Confessions of Saint Augustine. 1960). Therefore, the properly ordered person is one whose passions serve his reason, and his reason serves God.
Only a properly ordered person can cultivate peace, and it is to this process that I turn to next.
As was said above, in order for nations to be at peace, the individuals that make up those nations must be at peace.
Individuals find peace when they are properly ordered to God. This is because God is the plenitude of peace (Romans 15:33). True peace, interior peace, can only come from God. Indeed, peace is a blessing bestowed upon us by God.
The process whereby one cultivates peace begins with silence. Silence stills the soul and makes prayer possible, and prayer is the foundation of the Christian life. As part of its nature, prayer properly orders the individual to God. Additionally, prayer makes God’s grace accessible, without which peace is impossible.
The sacraments of the Catholic Church are also an indispensable source of grace. The sacraments are the “efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 1131).
It is no insignificant fact that Jesus incorporated peace into the beatitudes. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9).
The task of being a peacemaker requires one to be both humble and courageous. The peacemaker must be humble enough to admit fault and sin and courageous enough to love those who hate them.
Still, the Catholic Church recognizes the need for peacemaking at pastoral and political levels. At a practical level, the Church focuses on resolving the causes of conflict and building the conditions for lasting peace. It entails four primary components:
- Promotion and protection of human rights
- Advancing integral human development
- Supporting international law and international organizations
- Building solidarity between peoples and nations
Whether personal or political, peace must be predicated upon a right relationship with God. To be at peace with others requires the individual to be at peace with himself, and the individual can only be at peace with himself when he is at peace with God.
Being at peace with God begins in silence and prayer and through the sacraments as conveyors of grace. For it is through the gift of grace that allows“The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, to guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.”