Posted by: mmreflections | September 10, 2009

The Gift of Peace: September, 2009

On the first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you!”  The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  Jesus said to them again,  “Peace be with you!  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  (Cfr. John 20:19-21)

The first words attributed to Jesus when he enters the room, where his disciples were after the resurrection are, “Peace be with you!”  Shalom:  May you be one with yourself, with your neighbors and with your God.  Questions proposed to me repeatedly over the years were, “How do you know if you are doing God’s will?  How can I know if I am acting according to God’s will for me.”  I believe the answer can be found in these significant words of Jesus to his closest followers.  The Sacred Scriptures seem to be full of references to peace as a gift from God.  St. Paul says, “The Lord is near.  Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.  Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:5-7)  A few verses later he adds, when referring to doing what is right and just, “Then the God of peace will be with you!”  Over and again we are reminded that peace is an indicator of our being in God’s will.

The need for us to be attentive to this great gift in our lives may prove to be challenging. Sometimes we only learn by trial and error.  This has been the case on my own journey.  Only when looking back over the many decisions I have made am I able to discern when they were according to God’s will for me and when they were not in accord with God’s will.  An example that quickly comes to mind takes me back to the years following graduation from college, teaching in public school and serving in the military.  It also answers the question asked of me many times, “Why did I choose to become a priest?”  From the time I was in high school the idea of studying for the priesthood kept coming up for me.  Each time I rejected the idea with rather questionable reasons.  These rejections of the idea would be followed by a pervading restlessness and a sadness.  The choices I made instead did not bring much peace or satisfaction.  Finally, while in the military and after repeatedly discussing this notion of priesthood with a special priest friend, he said to me, “You will never find peace unless you give it a try.”  The very moment I made the decision to seriously take the required steps leading to the priesthood I began to experience a deep and abiding peace which was to remain with me.  Over the years I learned from other men, who had been studying for the priesthood and who had subsequently embraced other vocations, they had no peace about their decisions to become priests but found peace and joy in the new vocations they had embraced.  For me it was the reverse.  I had no peace in my earlier choices but found peace in my decision to become a priest.

All the future major decisions I would make involved a similar struggle between peace and the lack of peace.  A notable struggle which ensued prior to my coming to California where I would serve for the remaining twenty- seven years of priestly life began while serving in a parish back East.  Over the eleven years in this assignment our parish had reconciled some major parish conflicts, refurbished the church, built a new parish house and had become a vibrant Spirit led parish.  There was no indebtedness and for the priest it had become an ideal parish in which to serve.  I was happy, contented and very comfortable.  One day the bishop summoned me to his office and presented me with an invitation to embark on a special assignment doing organizational work in the Los Angeles area.   At the time I was working in the Chancery Office in addition to my parish service.  I decided I was not up to the challenge  and my family, friends and members of the parish discouraged me from accepting the assignment.  Above all I was happy and comfortable where I was.  Since I was given a choice, I responded to  the bishops involved with an emphatic negative reply.  In the days that followed my decision, I began to experience an unfamiliar emptiness, neither joy nor sadness, just an absence of peace.  A dark cloud seemed to hover over me.  A few days later while having lunch the bishops discussed the matter with me once again, asking me to reconsider.  Following this lunch I returned to my office earlier than usual,  shut the door and prayed about what was happening.  In that moment I realized I had made a decision based on friends, family and comfort zone without once praying for God’s guidance and wisdom.  I immediately asked for pardon and decided I would pursue God’s will instead of my own selfish plans.  Without knowing whether I would go to California or not, but being open to God’s plan for me, I began to experience a deep peace.  In the days that followed there were some very clear indications that my service in my current parish was over, with new challenges awaiting me in California and the peace of God was with me.  As I prepared for the move, I was inspired by the words from the Book of Joshua, “I command you:  be firm and steadfast!  Do not fear or be dismayed, for the Lord, your God, is with you wherever you go.”  (Joshua 1:9)

This was the defining moment when I realized that peace is a special gift from God helping us discern whether we are in God’s will or not.  Peace would be our guide.  It could be beneficial for many of us to reflect on some of the decisions we made in the past.  Many have come to see me filled with regrets about some decisions they had made which brought about much grief for themselves personally or for their families.  In each instance they described the decisions they had made despite the uneasy feelings they were experiencing.  Some made  choices about new jobs that would help them earn a great deal more money even though it was work with which they were not really happy about doing.  There was not much peace but the prospect of earning more money was too good to ignore.  Some indicated that they were deeper in debt after taking a new job with more money than they were when dong their earlier work in which they were happy.  Some more discerning married couples came to see me because they were faced with some dilemma about a choice they had to make.  The problem was that friction had grown between the husband and wife because   they were not in agreement regarding the a decision they had to make.  Some couples chose at my suggestion to delay the decision they had to make.  Later they came back to see me and told me that after further prayer and discernment another option arose for them about which they were in peaceful agreement.  The decision they made brought them much peace and many fruits.  Other couples chose to make their decision despite the disagreement and the uneasiness they were experiencing, resulting in many problems and much unhappiness for them.

We could look at many more examples by just reading the newspapers or watching the evening news.  Much of the unhappiness surrounding us involves wrong choices.  I wonder how many of us reading these reflections must admit, as I do, that much of the pain and grief we experienced on our spiritual journeys was the result of wrong choices made because we paid little or no attention to the GIFT OF PEACE which God has given us for guidance.           

 ” Peace I leave with you;  peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”   (John 14:27)

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