Peace I leave with you, give to you
April 26th, 2016
By Sister Eloise Rosenblatt, RSM
I learned early on that the world is fragile and peace is precarious. My first real job, not babysitting, was doing small tasks in a religious goods store up the street from my grade school. For days I kept bumping into stand-alone plexiglass displays in the annex. Several times I knocked over plaster statues of saints – onto their backs, their faces, their sides. A miracle I didn’t break anything. Saints are forgiving. But a safer task was gift-wrapping missals with precisely tucked corners, neat taping and colored bows.
Political and family life can sometimes feel like maneuvering around plexiglass displays. Inevitably, something gets knocked over and shatters beyond repair. The more people, the more conflict. Antagonisms break out like weeds after rain. How do you restore peace, start better today, and untangle the roots of arguments? In the midst of the church’s conflicts, Pope Francis prays to Mary as “Our Lady of Knots.”
The early church was riven with ethnic tensions and doctrinal disputes. Paul loosened the rules for uncircumcised gentiles in mission territory so they could join the congregation. This did not sit well in Jerusalem. Paul was a charismatic personality, but also like a problem family member. If he showed up, dissension broke out. Luke, admirer of Paul’s ministry, describes how disagreements were smoothed out. Is this revisionist history? Perhaps Luke anticipated the “forgiveness project” of Fred Luskin at Stanford University. People foster inner peace and social peace by the way they retell the story of a tragic, hurtful past – as in Germany, Ireland, Rwanda or Yugoslavia. With great effort they practice re-narrating in public their stories of being raped, their parents slaughtered in front of them, friends shot, their houses burned. They don’t “forgive and forget” by denying horrible truths. But they imagine a different ending than centuries-long grudges. In Acts 15, Luke retells the story of a polarizing chapter in ecclesial history – but ending with believers choosing peace and adopting a common purpose.
In Revelation, the city Jerusalem – an image of personal restoration and political peace – descends from heaven as a gift of God. It is radiant, stable, beautiful, orderly, illuminated and suffused with divine presence. What was the real first-century situation? Terrorization and killing of defenseless Christians and destruction of their property by Roman military and regional gangs. Christian minorities, like Jewish groups, adopted this symbol of an orderly, peaceful city as their anticipated end to bloody social upheaval. The holy city “coming out of heaven from God” orients the mind to expect a better end than can be achieved right now.
The words of Jesus in John are a timeless meditation, a mantra we could recite in centering prayer: “Peace I leave with you.” However, who would not feel anxiety and grief at this peace? “You are going away, so you leave behind peace like a postcard, a souvenir of our time with you? Are we supposed to carry this peace like a bookmark, a reminder of the past?”
But then Jesus reassures and says, “My peace I give to you.” So this peace is not a disembodied concept, an inspiring thought left behind as he departs. “My peace” is what Jesus is giving right now, continuously – his own abiding, constant, personal presence. This peace is alive. It won’t ever be gone or die. “My peace” doesn’t end when Jesus moves into his post-death presence. Jesus gives this peace each day, as he grants our prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We experience this peace as we hear it read to us, as its assurance descends on us today.
Mercy Sister Eloise Rosenblatt is a Ph.D. theologian and attorney in private practice in family law. She lives in San Jose.
From April 28, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.