Is it really possible in this crazy world to experience peace? We witness war, horrific human suffering, political abuses, broken families and so much more. Does the message of the Gospel and the promise of peace even apply anymore? Is it possible to know peace, even in the midst of trials?
If we are using human logic or solutions, there is no lasting peace, however God has given a prescription that is guaranteed to give a "peace that passes understanding". In St. Paul's letter to the Philippians, we receive step by step instructions. Let's take a look.
"Rejoice in the Lord, always! I say it again, rejoice!"
If you were not paying attention the first time, St. Paul grabs your attention by repeating this instruction, Rejoice! Even when someone loses their job and can't pay the bills? Rejoice! When a family member dies, relationships are broken or we hear stories of people being executed for their religious beliefs? Rejoice! St. Paul anticipated our question, "Always?" and so he repeats his instruction with emphasis, "I say it again, rejoice!"
We are not rejoicing in the situation or the misfortune. And rejoicing does not negate the need to grieve or even feel sad. Rejoicing is not the same thing as feeling happy. We are rejoicing in the Lord. How can we rejoice? The next line gives us a clue.
"Let everyone see how unselfish you are. The Lord is near."
I think St. Paul is saying that we must take our eyes off ourselves and put them on Christ. He is always beside us, walking with us. Pain makes us selfish and often we can only see and be immersed in our own situation, our own thoughts and feelings. St. Paul is stretching us and challenging us to move beyond ourselves and put our focus on God.
This line is so powerful. We are to tell anxiety, panic, and worry to leave. There's the door! We dismiss it, refuse to entertain it and take control of our thoughts. I find myself having to take this step over and over. When I am entertaining anxiety, I know it because my stomach is in knots, my mind is racing, my thoughts pinball from one thing to the next and my anxiety coping skills (biting my lip, eating without thinking) kick in. When we make the choice to dismiss anxiety, we make space in our mind and hearts to follow the next instruction.
"Present your needs to God in every form of prayer and in petitions full of gratitude."
God delights when we bring Him our needs, whether through formal prayers, spontaneous prayer, songs, begging and pleading. He understands that we have needs. He wants us to ask. As we present these needs, however, we are challenged to fill these requests with gratitude, thanking God that He is faithful and will meet our needs. We thank Him for blessings already received, and for answers that we have not yet seen. We don't tell Him what He must do or how He must answer our petitions; after all, He is God and we are not. But we thank Him that He is providing what is absolutely best for us, even when we can't see the benefits. He is our Father, a father that cares deeply for us. His unchanging character is love. He can only give love.
And here is what will follow our obedience to these steps. "Then God's own peace, which is beyond all understanding will stand guard over your heart and mind in Christ Jesus." God's peace, a guard for our hearts and minds, a protection against the unstable conditions of our human world. Peace. Delightful, unfathomable peace. Isn't that what we really want? We have only to follow the prescription.
On this Feast of St. Francis, a true man of peace and the author of the well known Peace Prayer, my prayer is that we would all have the grace to practice this formula for peace, in times of irritation and inconvenience and in moments of heart break, sorrow and great pain. May our neighbors, community and the world see our peace, despite our struggles, be amazed and desire our prescription.