“Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God.” St. Paul tells us these comforting words in his epistle to the Romans. How should we understand this peace? Can sinners really have peace with God? The propers for this Sunday’s Mass help us to understand.
We should first define the word peace. The word eirēnē is the greek word for the Hebrew word shalom. True peace, true shalom, is not just a cease fire. That’s how the world often understands peace. Two warring nations are at peace when they aren’t shooting at each other. The biblical understanding of peace is far different. In addition to there being no hostilities, those in peace live together in harmony and agreement. The bible speaks of the Messiah’s reign as when swords will be beaten into plowshares. While this may not yet be true among nations, this is how individual Christians are to live with each other.
In the Ordinary Form, Catholics greet each other with a sign of peace, saying “peace be with you.” Yet is peace really with us? Can we really give Christ’s peace if we do not share it? Today’s church is more divided than ever. Even if fellow Catholics aren’t our enemy, we certainly don’t treat them as friends or family. This goes from the catholic in the pew, to the lowest priest to the highest of officials in the Vatican. We always seem to be on edge around each other, because we have lost the peace Christ gives us, or we don’t really want to offer it to others. As a devotee of the Latin Mass, I am still viewed with suspicion in the majority of parishes in the world. Am I being offered Christ’s peace by others? Am I offering Christ’s peace towards others, especially those who come to my Church?
The first thing about God’s peace we need to realize is that it comes from God. The Introit makes clear that true shalom is a gift from God. It is something God gives to the saints. Why does He give us peace? He wants us to be found faithful. While it is true suffering can be redemptive, the soul which enjoys tranquil peace is the soul which grows in holiness most. That peace comes not from being safe from all dangers, but from knowing those dangers cannot shake our faith unless we allow it.
When we have peace with God, it is easier to hear Him, especially through others. When I don’t suspect my brother of betraying me or talking behind my back, I’m willing to listen to him more. If I listen, I might hear something useful. The same principle applies with God. God can ask us some pretty crazy things. He wants us to give up what? He wants us to wake up every Sunday and go listen to that boring priest? He wants me to not order that third or fourth drink? Why is he ruining my fun? When we keep thinking about God as someone who limits our ability to have fun or enjoy life, we are less likely to hear him.
With this in mind, the Collect asks that God’s compassion direct our hearts. If we have true peace, we recognize God’s guidance for what it is: mercy. If we follow God’s voice, we avoid those things which are bad for our soul, and focus only on the good. We aren’t second-guessing his every move, but trusting that what is being done, is being done for our benefit and our salvation. This certainly doesn’t mean we leave our brains at the door and stop questioning God. Yet the questioning of God comes from a desire to know God deeper and deeper, rather than using questions to guard ourselves from getting too close.
A final thought about that peace is that true shalom is always available to us, no matter what we do. God can forgive us of our sins because there is peace between us. Often there is an image of Catholics always being at risk of becoming God’s enemy through the slightest sin, and once they’ve committed this sin (especially a mortal sin), they are not only God’s enemy, but actively hostile towards God. I don’t think that’s accurate according to the Bible. Mortal sins can indeed cause us to lose our salvation, and we should go to confession right away should we committ one. We should also be going to confession even if we don’t committ a mortal sin. Yet the basis of being able to go to confession is because we have peacae with God. Confession is a product of that peace. Through confession, God tells us that not only does He love us, but He has set up the sacrament to immediately promote reconcilation should sin occur.
If we’re honest with ourselves, that’s a tough message to hear. Christ knew that, and that is why He does what He does in the Gospel. He asks the crowd if its easier to say someone’s sins are forgiven, or if its easier to tell a paralyzed man to walk. Since the latter is certainly more difficult, Christ does it to prove a point. If He can do such wondrous things, He can forgive you of your sin. Why does that matter? Because if we are forgiven of sin, sin no longer holds us captive. If we aren’t held hostage by sin, we can choose holiness. So many living in sin think they can’t. They’ve made their choice, their path is set, etc. If Christ can do those things, certainly he can make it so you can change. That’s the beauty of confession. It is a sign not only of forgivness, but of the ability to change your life. Through confession, we can experience that peace God has given us first-hand. Under normal circumstances, a grave transgression can be expected to be met with war or violence. To prove God is different, He instead offers mercy, forgivness, and transformation.
If He can provide that for our individual hearts, what can He do for the Church? In October, the Church gathers in Synod. This Church is more divided than it has been in centuries. In addition to praying for our leaders to make the right decisions on the family, perhaps we should be praying that they encounter Christ’s peace as well.