Is it truly possible to know a deep and abiding peace within our hearts?
Every person longs for such a peace, but it certainly seems elusive, especially when the trials of life or the troubling circumstances of our day tend to leave us anxious. The peace we seek is possible, but it is not a reality we can attain by our own efforts; it is gift. This peace is promised by Jesus himself in the Gospel we heard proclaimed at Mass yesterday for the Sixth Sunday of Easter: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27.)
This promise is made by the Lord in the context of his farewell discourse to the disciples. He is about to leave them by his death and resurrection and subsequent return to the Father. In fact, this gift that he pledges as his farewell legacy will be precisely the result of this “leaving”, because the peace that he promises is salvation. By “salvation” we mean the defeat of sin and death by the all-powerful mercy of God and the gift of loving communion with God forever. Peace is eternal life with God. This salvation, this peace, has been won for us by the Cross of Jesus Christ. One must not draw the conclusion, however, that the peace for which we seek will be ours only in the life to come. No, it is offered to us even now through the gift of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus, in the same Gospel passage, promises that the Father will send in his name.
In many of our parishes these days our attention is drawn to this gift of the Spirit in virtue of the celebrations of the sacrament of Confirmation that are taking place. The words by which it is administered express the faith of the Church that acceptance of the gift of the Holy Spirit brings peace. When I confirm, I say to the candidates “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit”, to which the person replies “Amen”. Then I offer my hand and say “Peace be with you,” to which the one confirmed responds “And also with you”. The response of “Amen” is the acceptance of the gift of the Spirit, the profession of openness of heart and life to both the person of the Holy Spirit and the gifts he brings. Such acceptance brings peace, because the Holy Spirit unites us to Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord. In fact we receive Christ’s own peace (“my peace I give to you”), because the Holy Spirit is the perfect and mysterious bond of love that unites Jesus, the Son of God, with the Father. This peace of Christ not only inhabits the hearts of the individual recipient of Confirmation but also unites all those who have been blessed with this gift: “and also with you”.
The peace of our Lord frees us from fear. From the gift of the Holy Spirit, we know that God is with us, indeed, he is within us. By the action of the Holy Spirit, God speaks to us and guides us in all circumstances. God can turn all things to the good for those that he calls to eternal life, and he wills to do so (cf. Romans 8:28). Therefore, we need not be anxious or afraid. All that is needed on our part is our “Amen”, which is our acceptance in faith of God’s love and mercy, our trust that God is very near and working by the Spirit in and through the daily circumstances of our lives for the accomplishment of his saving purposes. Faith that God is near, closer than we can imagine, and that God is guiding us in accordance with his plan of love, lifts from our hearts the burden of fear and unleashes the peace that is his gift. Such a peace leaves no room for despair and is thus the reason for our hope.