Christ’s Peace

Is today’s gospel reading (John 14.23-29) anything more than a nice little farewell speech from Jesus? Yes, there is the commission to keep his word, but don’t we customarily tend to get a lovely glow from that

Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you,
a peace the world cannot give,
this is my gift to you.

and gloss over the hard bits? The bits that tell us peace isn’t easy, cannot be be taken for granted, exists even in the midst of conflict and violence? The Benedictine device of the word pax, ‘peace’, surrounded by a crown of thorns is a powerful reminder not only that peace is Christ’s gift, but that the way to it is both protected by sacrifice and suffering and barred by pain and difficulty. It is, in truth, a very ambivalent sign.

The death of Fr Daniel Berrigan S.J. will have reminded those of us old enough to remember the Vietnam War what an extraordinarly confused time that was. Peace activists sometimes gave the impression of not caring very much about the consequences of their actions. The cause was all in all, and it didn’t really matter if some people were hurt or even killed. I still can’t make up my mind whether that was the best way to oppose some of the enormities committed in Vietnam, but without that opposition, so the argument goes, there would have been even more death and destruction than there was. Much the same line of argument tends to be used today in support of everything from attacks on the pope to gender questions to whatever is the burning issue of the day. ‘I am right about this, and anyone who thinks differently is wrong. It therefore doesn’t matter how I treat them or what I say or do in support of my views.’

I think it matters very much. The peace of Christ is not something extra, something added on to our existence. It is fundamental — a peace, a blessedness, meant to inform our whole being and change the way in which we view everyone and everything. It is something we are to share with others, not just those we like or are in agreement with. At the heart of the biblical notion of peace is a sense of completeness. That can be a very challenging idea to grasp, but I think it boils down to this. Christ’s peace embraces the whole world. Does ours?