THE PEACE THAT PASSES UNDERSTANDING
The Lord has given us a most remarkable gift: the gift of His Spirit who is filled with peace, love, protection, unity, inspiration, truth, and life. Jesus told us He would send the Paraclete who would remind us of everything He said and would give us a wisdom that would confound our enemies. St. Paul tells us that the Spirit will enable us to cry out “Abba,” and will bestow a peace beyond all understanding. As we try to live out our lives as Catholics/Christians, we need to be aware of how our greatest advocate, consoler, protector, inspirer, transformer, and guide works in our lives and how we might be able to work in tandem with His wisdom and love.
The peace coming from the Holy Spirit is more than mere relief from suffering, a sense of well-being, or a sense of equanimity. It is rooted in a deep sense of home, home amidst the cosmos (which we who have faith know is being at home with God). Its opposite is alienation, a sense of not being at home in or “being out of kilter with” the totality. The signature of the Holy Spirit is the sense of having a place in the totality, of “fitting in,” of being bathed in joy or light (even when one is aware of sadness and darkness), that is, of being in unity with the Creator and principle of all being.
As Catholics/Christians, we very likely view this “being at home in the totality,” this “freedom from being alone in the totality” as “being part of the mystical body of Christ.” Being part of Christ’s mystical body through the Holy Spirit is an experience of home, holiness, unity, joy, and peace as seen through the eyes of thousands of saints who have embraced a life of holiness throughout history.
Peace in Times of Suffering
Have you ever had the experience of being immersed in a tragedy or a troubling or threatening series of events, and in the midst of these troubles, experiencing a deep sense of calm and assurance that everything is going to be alright? When I was younger I had such experiences of the peace of the Holy Spirit, but I actually tried to talk myself out of them. I remember hearing the news of my father’s death, and having this deep and abiding peace and sense that everything was going to be fine. I thought to myself, “I should not be feeling this; this is really tragic; my father was only 59 years old; and furthermore, my mother is probably frantic; and furthermore, my sister is not finished with college; and furthermore….”
The more the Holy Spirit attempted to intervene with peace, the more I “guilted myself” out of it. I later came to find, through multiple experiences of this “peace in the midst of troubles,” that the Spirit was genuinely present, working within my life and the lives of people around me to bring good out of what seemed so negative. My advice is to “take the peace and follow the lead of the Spirit who assures us that everything is going to be alright.” Doing this will give the Holy Spirit room to maneuver through your free will to bring about optimal goodness and love for you, others, the community, and the kingdom of God.
Peace in Times of Persecution
Have you ever had the experience of being marginalized, embarrassed, or even threatened because of your faith or your loyalty to Christ or the Church? If you’re anything like me, when these situations occur, you might feel a deep dejection, emptiness, or even a sense of foreboding or evil. These feelings may debilitate you for a few moments or even cause disturbance of sleep. As noted above, these feelings can be mitigated by praying the prayer “Thy will be done.” The more I surrender to God through this most efficacious prayer, the more I sense God’s guidance, and the more I know that the persecution perpetrated will result in a better condition for others, my organization, my community, and yes, even me.
This sense of confidence about the redeeming love of God is not a sense that God is going to bail me out of the bad situation and the bad feelings that accompany it. Rather, it is a sense of what is promised in the Gospels:
When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit. (Mk 13:11, Mt 10:19, and Lk 21:12)
The Holy Spirit grants us serenity through surrender, and then guides and inspires. I frequently wake up at three o’clock in the morning, and the words I need to say are given to me, and these words (or arguments) are more than sufficient to introduce truth in the midst of trickery, deception, and outright falsity. Most of the time these words are convincing, but even when they fail to persuade opponents, they have a way of letting light into the world. When one thinks about the Cross of Christ, one can see that His words did not convince His opponents, but they did, through the Holy Spirit, let the light of the Father shine before all. As a result, those words let the light of the Holy Spirit, Church, the Sacraments, the sacred Scriptures, the Liturgy, and the actions of agape flood into the world. In the end, the Holy Spirit will be victorious, even if we, as human instruments, are somewhat baffled as to how and when it will occur.
The interesting aspect of this is the confidence we feel in times of persecution. It is not a confidence derived from our thoughts or planning, for frequently our thoughts leave us bereft of confidence. Neither is it a confidence derived from our natural feelings, for they are filled with foreboding and bewilderment. The source of the confidence? It is the peace beyond all understanding, the grace of the Holy Spirit who comforts, protects, guides, and ultimately allows the loving will of God, indeed, the very kingdom of God, to be victorious. It is lovely indeed to have experienced this grace, to have been honored to be an instrument, even if it comes at the cost of persecution. This is why Christ says: “Blessed (happy) are you when people insult you and persecute you…. “ (Mt 5:11)
The Peace Necessary for Good Judgment
Good judgment is needed because many of our decisions cannot be resolved by mathematical or analytical processes. They require an intuition about the right thing to do, which is developed over the course of hundreds of experiences and relationships. Without peace of mind, this intuition (this essential power of judgment) could be led astray. When it is so led, it could harm people, organizations, and even communities.
If you are anything like me, then you will need the peace of the Holy Spirit to overcome the concerns of egocentricity. Countless have been the number of times when I have gone on an ego-trip to the detriment of my good judgment. I recall once being given excellent advice by a subordinate who did not, in my view, adequately acknowledge my “superior intellect.” He was simply asserting his opinion as better than my own! This really upset me. Indeed, I found it deeply disturbing and began to think of all the ways in which he had not acknowledged my intrinsic superiority in the past. This led to a reflection about how others had similarly mistreated me. I immediately began to make mountains out of little ego-molehills, and the next thing I knew, I could not concern myself with the big decisions of the day or the common good of the organization. I had to allow my psyche to be fully occupied with blame and outrage toward these contemptuous underlings.
The Holy Spirit began to weave His wonderful grace into my heart, but at first I would not listen. It was as if the Holy Spirit was telling me, “Bob, move over and let me drive for a minute,” but I had to reply, “I’ll get back to You as soon as possible. I need to drive this car into the wall first.”
As the car approaches the wall, the Holy Spirit has a way of being more persistent, of calming me down, of gently but firmly guiding me to look at the silliness (or even the potential insanity) of my egoism. He frequently helps me to not only sense immanent tragedy and the embarrassment following from it; He helps me to overcome the embarrassment I feel just before the car hits the wall. For a fleeting moment, I have the peace of good judgment and can apply the brakes with proper apologies.
This experience points to a more subtle, fundamental truth, namely, that the peace of the Holy Spirit helps us to attain good judgment in our decisions, great and small. If we ask for and attend to His peace which is even embedded in our most egocentric moments, good judgment can return, and that good judgment, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, will lead to the common good, indeed, the optimal good, the good of the kingdom, within the world.
By Fr. Robert J. Spitzer. Reprinted from Five Pillars of the Spiritual Life