Godtalk: A Consoling Assurance
In His farewell discourse, Jesus contrasts two kinds of peace: a peace that he leaves us and a peace that the world can give us. What is the difference? The peace that the world can give to us is not a negative or a bad peace. It is real and it is good, but it is fragile and inadequate.
It is fragile because it can easily be taken away from us. Peace, as we experience it ordinarily in our lives, is generally predicated on feeling healthy, loved, and secure. But all of these are fragile. They can change radically with one visit to the doctor, with an unexpected dizzy spell, with sudden chest pains, with the loss of a job, with the rupture of a relationship, or with multiple kinds of betrayal that can blindside us.
We try hard to take measures to guarantee health, security, and the trustworthiness of our relationships, but we still live with some anxiety, knowing these are always fragile. We live inside an anxious peace.
And the peace we experience in our ordinary lives never comes to us without a shadow. There is a sadness that pervades our life so that even in our most happy moments there is something missing. In every satisfaction there is an awareness of limitation. In every success there is fear of jealousy. In every friendship there is distance. In every embrace there is loneliness.
In this life there is no such thing as a clear-cut, pure joy. Every bit of life is touched by a bit of death. The world can give us peace, but it never does this perfectly.
As we hear at every Mass, “My peace I leave you, not peace as the world gives.” What Jesus offers is a peace that is not fragile, that is already beyond fear and anxiety, that does not depend upon feeling healthy, secure, and loved in this world.
At the last supper Jesus offered us his gift of peace. Jesus’ peace is the assurance that we are connected to the source of life in a way that nothing can ever break - not bad health, nor betrayal by someone, indeed, not even our own sin. We are loved and held by the source of life itself unconditionally, and nothing can change that. God has loved us into existence because he wants us, individually, personally, eternally. Nothing can change that divine love.
That's the assurance we need in order to keep perspective during the ups and downs of our lives. We are like actors in a play. The ending of the story has already been written and it is a happy one. We know that we will triumph in the end, just as we know that we will have some unhappy scenes before that ending. If we keep that in mind, we can more patiently bear whatever may befall us. We are being held unconditionally by the source of life itself, God.
When we accept Jesus’ gift we have an assurance of life, wholeness, and happiness beyond the loss of youth, the loss of health, the loss of reputation, the betrayal of friends, the suicide of a loved one, and even beyond our own sin and betrayals. In the end, as Julian of Norwich says, all will be well, and all will be well, and every manner of being will be well.
And we need this assurance. Without it we live with constant anxiety because we sense that our health, security, and relationships are fragile, that our peace can easily disappear. We live too with regrets about our own sins and betrayals. And we live with more than a little uneasiness about broken relationships and loved ones broken by bitterness or death. Our peace is fragile and anxious.
We need to appropriate more deeply Jesus' farewell gift to us - peace that no one can take from us, knowing that we are loved and held unconditionally.
Peter Knott SJ