“’Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests’” (Luke 2:14).
The older I get, the more I love the genius of the liturgical seasons. Though most of the western world celebrates a new year when the calendar flips from December to January, as Catholics, we began our celebration of the new year when Advent first began shortly after Thanksgiving. I’ve come to realize that Advent is my springboard for interior change. It gives me a jump-start on those secular ideas of resolutions, like losing weight and being a “healthier” version of myself.
Advent necessarily slows me down, so that I might look at myself more honestly and discover what God is asking of me, where He is leading me next. Yes, there is something about starting afresh when January 1st rolls around, but the seed of repentance and resolution has already been planted in me weeks before that date.
One word really struck me as something upon which we can all reflect; it’s a word we often read during the recitation of Luke’s account of the Christmas story, in which the archangel Gabriel announces to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”
What is that word — goodwill — and how can we strive to become people of goodwill this year? The implication is that people of goodwill are those whom God favors with His peace, that elusive but longed-for peace that surpasses all human understanding.
Let us then work to become both people of goodwill and of peace.
The Connection Between Goodwill and Peace
When I looked up the definition of goodwill, I noticed many synonyms, such as benevolence, compassion, helpfulness, consideration, kindness, goodness, and cooperation. It seems these all describe the theological virtue of charity. A person of goodwill is one who thinks of others before himself, who is willing to cheerfully make sacrifices in order to accommodate someone else’s needs.
Father Jacques Philippe defines goodwill slightly differently, though. He wrote in Searching for and Maintaining Peace that “a necessary condition for interior peace…is…goodwill…It is the stable and constant disposition of a person who is determined more than anything to love God, who desires sincerely to prefer in all circumstances the will of God to his own…” (p. 16).
True, this is obviously demonstrative of charity, but what does it mean in terms of acquiring interior peace? Father Philippe further explains that a person who is constantly in a state of surrendering his life to God with a cheerful attitude, one who says yes to Him in all circumstances — both good and bad — is a person whose heart will not be filled with the uneasiness or discomfort of “not loving God as much as He invites us to love Him” (p. 17).
Perhaps the unsettling emotions we experience that disrupt our inner peace are, then, associated with our lack of trust in and acquiescence to God’s will for our lives.
Doing God’s Will and Detachment of Heart
A necessary prerequisite for becoming a person of goodwill, that is, a person of magnanimous charity, is that we detach ourselves from all that is not of God in our lives. We hear this a lot, perhaps in homilies, or we read about it in books, but we aren’t exactly sure how to accomplish it in our lives.
I think of how the world tells us to “declutter” this time of year. When we think of starting anew, we think of getting rid of everything that weighs us down: too much “stuff” we’ve acquired carelessly or thoughtlessly. We experience relief when we organize and purge piles of papers, closets full of clothes, and garages crammed with broken appliances.
Likewise, true spiritual detachment involves the soul relinquishing its selfish desires to find pleasure in this life through bodily comforts or even by becoming spiritually lazy or complacent. A person growing in the virtue of charity is one who puts into action his increasing desire to please God alone. Therefore, his thoughts are fixed on God, as is his heart. He is then motivated by charity to perform deeds of goodwill, such as paying for the groceries of the elderly man in front of him at the store who didn’t have enough money or offering his seat on a long bus ride to a pregnant mom with two kids in tow.
Goodwill Alone Suffices for Interior Peace
Finally, Father Philippe wrote that, despite our other shortcomings or faults, if we become a person of goodwill, we will, in fact, acquire inner peace. These are consoling words, at least for someone like me who incessantly focuses on what I have done wrong or incorrectly or insufficiently rather than on God alone.
Seek, above all else, what God is asking of you, dear reader, and you will find that your soul is at rest in Him. Even more, charitable works of mercy (e.g., becoming a person of goodwill) bring immense joy to the soul who is willing to give without complaint or measure or restriction. Both joy and peace are fruits of the Holy Spirit that continually feed our longing to do great things for God and be His agent of encouragement to a desperate and hopeless world.