And Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."
Peace, like mercy, is one of those words we use all the time, perhaps without thinking too much about it. Pope Paul VI once remarked that peace can be defined negatively as "the absence of war," which sadly suggests that peace is the exception to the more common experience of warfare. In our modern world we are surrounded by imperfect treaties crafted to secure this kind of peace.
These treaties are without doubt the best deals their negotiators could frame, but the shifting allegiances we have witnessed since September of 2001 are a testimony to the worldís very dim understanding of peace - and a very good reason for Jesus to offer an alternative vision of what St. Teresa of Avila calls "...the ineffable joy which one receives together with many other blessings in the kingdom of heaven."
Our theology tells us that peace is a state of tranquility between persons or within oneself. Its basis is the virtue of charity, in which all desire is united in a desire for God. The beatitudes describe our relations with created things and with other people, and they remind us that virtue, like sin, has social consequences. We may rejoice in personal peace, but peace does not end with us. A modern religious song prays, "let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me."
These words describe the movement of peace from the individual into the world, from our personal enjoyment of a blessing to its global potential. Peace has a social dimension because God commands us to love one another as we love ourselves, which means fulfilling to some extent the will of our neighbor as if it were our own.
There is a wonderful balance between the blessing promised peacemakers and the reward for purity of heart that we considered in our last reflection. Purity of heart is the gift by which we are perfected in ourselves - what St. Thomas calls "...the cleansing of manís heart so that it is not defiled by the passions" (I-II. 69.3). By contrast, to be a peacemaker is to cooperate with grace in our relations with one another. When he preaches on this beatitude, St. John Chrysostom says
Our theology employs a descriptive expression, bonum diffisivum sui, to describe this movement from the individual to others. The Latin means, "a good that diffuses itself," or "spreads itself around." Some gifts are too good to keep to ourselves; peace is one of them.
To share the Eucharist is the high point of our life as Godís people on earth. Everything else we eat is transformed to become a part of us, but our communion transforms us into what we eat, and we become what we celebrate at Mass: the Body of Christ. Not surprisingly, then, the personal and global dimensions of peace intersect in the liturgy.
Just after we say the Lordís Prayer, we hear the words "Lord, Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles, ĎI leave you peace, my peace I give youí... give us the peace and unity of your kingdom." The emphasis here should be on Christís saying "My" peace, and as we count up our nationís allies and enemies around the globe, the distinction between Christís peace and the worldís should be very clear.
In his letter "On the Eucharist in Its Relationship to the Church," Pope John Paul speaks of the Church - here the Holy Father refers to us - as "a sacrament for humanity... for the redemption of all."
Our purity of heart and our peace may be perfect or imperfect, but to the extent we cultivate and enjoy these gifts at all, our happiness is what theologians call the happiness of contemplation, in which St. Teresa says, "the soul is no longer preoccupied in any way about the things of earth, for it finds peace and glory within itself."
We may think, appropriately, of contemplatives as individuals who choose to withdraw from the world to devote themselves completely to prayer. But this does not mean that only those who embrace a cloistered life can experience the joys of contemplation. Our purity of heart and our peace may be perfect or imperfect, but to the extent we cultivate and enjoy these gifts at all, our happiness is the happiness of contemplation.
Nor does the pursuit of contemplation mean that those who choose an enclosed existence divorce themselves from a care for the world. St. Therese of Lisieux, who entered the cloister at the age of fifteen, and died there nine years later, is the patron saint of missionary activity. This may seem an odd honor, but our theology reminds us that Godís gifts are never given simply to enrich the one who receives them. Rather, these gifts make us more and more effective agents for good in the world.
Shortly before she died, St. Therese said, "I want to spend my heaven doing good on earth." These words speak to us all. When we reach heaven we will enjoy the perfect vision of God, and one of the ways we will spend our eternity is in prayer for Godís Church on earth. Each of us shares a call to contemplation, because our Baptism calls us to make our life - here and now, to whatever extent we can - a sign of what we look forward to in heaven.
The contemplatives in our midst have chosen to remove themselves from some of the distractions of the world, but they never separate themselves from a concern for the world. Contemplative life may be the closest we can come to heaven on earth, but we must remember that in the kingdom of heaven the saints continually pray for the good of Godís kingdom on earth.
When we were small, the fairy-tale kingdoms we encountered in stories were castles with towers and battlements and moats and drawbridges. These images are so vivid that we may be quite advanced in years before we realize that this architectural reality does not correspond to Jesusí statement that the kingdom of God is something within us.
Here is where our grammar comes to the aid of our faith. The suffix "-dom" at the end of a word means condition or state of being. "Thralldom" is the condition of slavery, "Freedom" the state of liberty. The "kingdom of God," then, is a condition by which we acknowledge God to be the ruler of our lives. And here is where we see that the reward for peace-making, to be called Godís children,is so appropriate.
Those who seek purity of heart strive to see the world as God sees it. In return, they are promised that they will see God. It should come as no surprise, then, that those who strive to establish the reality of Christís kingdom should be promised that they will be called Godís children.
In the gospel, a child is a legal entity. To be a child does not simply mean to be a small person, it also - and more importantly - means to be an heir. Jesus did not come among us as a child so that we could become infants. He came as an infant so that we who had forgotten what it meant to be children could once again become heirs.
Citizenship in Godís kingdom demands the same surrender and submission to authority that citizenship does in any other society. It is a privilege granted to those whom God acknowledges as His children. Thus, it is only fair that the privilege of being called Godís children should be conferred first on those who work to extend the benefits of citizenship in Godís family.
Throughout the beatitudes, we find a tension between a present reality and the future reward. The rewards will one day overturn the values of an imperfect world, but in the meantime, Godís reward in the future must set the pattern for our activity, as Godís people, in the present. In other words, we must strive to make real today what we expect to enjoy tomorrow.
St. John Chrysostom reminds us that
Nevertheless, there is a certain eminence given to those among us who are peacemakers and pure of heart. This is because to be pure of heart and to be a peacemaker is to touch the world more nearly with the two qualities that characterize life in Godís kingdom - sight of God and union with God.
The other beatitudes prepare us for this blessing, either by strengthening us to turn away from attitudes that blind us to the vision of Godís kingdom, or by encouraging us to behave toward others as God has the right to expect of beings created in his image. To strive for purity of heart and peace is to establish on earth a sign of what God promises we will enjoy in heaven.
In the prayers that follow the Our Father the priest asks Christ to "grant us the peace and unity of your kingdom..." He then says to the congregation, "the peace of the Lord be with you always," and the congregation returns this blessing. At this point we are often invited to "offer one another a sign of Christís peace." Liturgists remind us that this is not a time for chatting with our friends. To offer one another a sign of peace is a challenge to bridge the divisions that separate us so that our liturgical assembly resembles the beatitude of the souls in heaven and becomes a leaven for peace - the peace of the Lord - in our troubled world.
In the "Paradise" of Danteís Divine Comedy, one of the blessed souls says, "in His will is our peace." The Mother of God was no politician, but she was a remarkable peacemaker because she understood so clearly that the interior tranquility we know as peace is the result of surrendering our wills to Godís. At the Annunciation Mary tells the angel, "be it done unto me according to thy word." In this she tells us that we have a choice, but the reward of tranquility is granted only to those who embrace Godís will.
We should note, however, that Mary does not hoard Godís peace. No sooner has she embraced Godís will for her than she rushes off to share this Good News with her cousin Elizabeth. Godís peace is too valuable to keep to ourselves; it fills us first, then it overflows to fill those whose lives we touch.
Back to Light & Life Page | Way Back to Rosary Center Home Page