The world is in turmoil. Everywhere, people cry, “peace, peace.” But there is no peace. Our hearts are filled with anger, envy, violence, and anxiety. Every day, a tumultuous and passion-filled torrent of words and emotions gushes forth on the internet and across cable news networks.
We long for rest, for tranquility, but cannot find it anywhere. In their desperation, some would even impose peace by force, by beating their ideological enemies into submission—a bitter paradox if there ever was one.
The upheavals of the world are not random. They are simply a reflection of the emptiness and futile strivings of our own hearts. St. James the Apostle diagnoses the ills of our time:
What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet[and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war.
Our passions are running wild, and they are killing us.
St. Paul’s Prescription
The way of the world is the way of anxiety and death, but the way of the Lord is the way of peace and life. The enemy of our souls is the one who sows enmity and hate and striving against one another. The only solution to the peace of the world is to find peace in our own hearts.
We have a natural tendency to think our own times are the worst that have ever existed. Yet, St. Paul lived in times that were more painful than our own. His whole world was in turmoil, with the Jewish authorities persecuting the burgeoning Church, heresies invading from all sides, and wayward Christians bickering and forming factions. In these trying circumstances, St. Paul labored tirelessly to preach the Gospel, a seemingly impossible task.
Wherever he went, he met adversity. He was relentlessly persecuted, beaten, stoned and left for dead, starved, shipwrecked, imprisoned, and maligned. If anyone had a right to be anxious and discouraged, it was St. Paul.
But that was not his answer. Despite the literal and figurative stormy seas that he encountered, St. Paul was always at peace. In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul outlines his prescription for soul peace in troubled times.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
The very first thing St. Paul encourages is rejoicing. Be joyful. Let your joy shine from your face. Do not be discouraged or disheartened.
But how, you might ask, can one be joyful when there is so much pain and suffering the world? It is often easier said than done. The answer is simply because we serve a good God who loves mankind, and he has trampled down death by his own death on the Cross. We rejoice because we know that while we are daily surrounded by defeat, we serve Jesus Christ, who defeated defeat by being defeated—and rose victorious to die no more. It is in encountering the risen Christ, most especially in the Eucharist, we experience the joy of his victory.
Rejoicing is not optional for the Christian. In another letter, St. Paul tell us to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God for you.” Give thanks in all circumstances. Not by finding something positive to be happy about in the mess, though there is nothing wrong with this, but rather giving thanks for the tribulations themselves. This is the sure way to joy and the highest form of thanksgiving. It is only possible by grace. Yet rejoicing, even in trials, is the path to peace.
Second, we are told to be gentle. Gentleness is not much valued in today’s world of swagger and machismo. Violence, both literal and rhetorical, rules the day. But it should never characterize the followers of the Crucified, who should be known for their meekness, humility, and gentleness towards all, espescially those who hate us or despise us—our enemies. Do not return cursing for cursing, no matter how tempting it may be, but rather bless those who malign and persecute you and pray for them, so that you may be truly the children of God, not in word only, but in reality. Peace starts with hearts full of peace, not vengance and retribution.
The third thing St. Paul exhorts us to is prayer. Only in opening our hearts to the Lord God will we find peace. A holy man once said, and I paraphrase, that looking for peace in external circumstances is foolish. They will never truly exist. The only peaceful place on earth is the heart when the Lord is there. It is only in communion with the Prince of Peace in our deepest heart that we will find the peace we so desperately crave.
And how to we come to know Christ? How do we abide in him as the branch abides in the vine? By prayer. “Pray without ceasing,” St. Paul tells us in another place. Prayer is the tuning of the heart to God. The more we grow in the awareness of his presence, the more our hearts will be at peace.
Finally, we are told to fill our minds with what is good and true. So often, we think entertainment is harmless. We believe all the “right” things, so we imagine we can consume whatever we want. This simply isn’t true. In a very real sense, we commune with what we consume. It becomes part of us. Watching endless violence and debauchery on TV is not harmless. Likewise, watching a 24 hour news cycle intent on creating feelings of dread and doom and filled with all the worst humanity has to offer is a quick recipe for anxiety.
St. Paul is clear: Don’t dwell on what is evil. You are taking this knowledge into yourself and it is becoming part of you. Neither can you ever expect to find peace by filling your mind with the horrendous acts that stream across the internet and cable news networks incessantly. Dwell on what is good and holy. Read and watch and consume what will elevate your mind and fill your heart with peace, for you will become what you gaze upon.
Heavenly Solutions for Earthly Problems
St. Paul’s solutions are not the world’s. The world says protect yourself at all costs. Stockpile food and weapons. Scream and riot and smash things. Write scathing editorials and angry polemics. Sign petitions and intimidate. Mock and humiliate. Yet, these false cures will never bring peace—only more emptiness and pain and anxiety. They are a foretaste of hell.
The way of the Lord is the way of peace. Rejoice. Be gentle. Pray. Think on what is good. And the God of peace will be with you always.
More reading: https://www.hmhb.org/anxiety/