Father Raniero Cantalamessa’s Third Advent Reflection
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Friday attended the Third Advent Reflection by the Preacher of the Papal Household, Father Raniero Cantalamessa. The theme was “Let the Peace of Christ rule in you hearts”, taken from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians.
The Full text is below.
Father Raniero Cantalamessa
Third Advent Reflection
“LET THE PEACE OF CHRIST RULE IN YOUR HEARTS”
Peace, Fruit of the Spirit
1. Peace Fruit of the Spirit
After having reflected on peace as a gift of God in Christ Jesus to the whole of humanity, and peace as a task to work for, it remains to speak of peace as fruit of the Spirit. Saint Paul puts peace in the third place among the fruits of the Spirit: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22).
We discover what “the fruits of the Spirit” are in fact, by analyzing the context in which this idea recurs. The context is that of the struggle between the flesh and the spirit, that is, between the principle that regulates the old man’s life, full of concupiscence and earthly wishes, and that which regulates the life of the new man, led by the Spirit of Christ. In the expression “fruits of the spirit,” “spirit” does not indicate the Holy Spirit in himself, but the principle of the new life, or also “the man who lets himself be guided by the Spirit.”
As opposed to charisms, which are the exclusive work of the Spirit that He gives to whomever He wills when He wills, the fruits are the result of collaboration between grace and liberty. Therefore, they are what today we understand as virtue, if we give this word the biblical meaning of habitual acting “according to Christ,” or “according to the Spirit,” rather than the Aristotelian philosophical meaning of habitual acting “according to right reason.” Again, as opposed to the gifts of the Spirit, which are different from person to person, the fruits of the Spirit are identical for all. Not all in the Church can be Apostles, prophets, Evangelists; however, all indistinctly, from the first to the last, can and must be charitable, patient, humble, peaceful.
Peace that is fruit of the Spirit is, therefore, different from peace as gift of God and peace as a task for which to work. It indicates the habitual condition (habitus), the state of mind and style of life of one who, through effort and vigilance, has attained a certain interior pacification. Peace fruit of the Spirit is peace of heart. And it is of this very beautiful and very desired thing of which we shall speak today. It is, yes, different from the task to be peacemakers, but it also serves wonderfully to this end. The title of Pope John Paul II’s message for the 1984 World Day of Peace was: “Peace Is Born of a New Heart,” and Francis of Assisi, on sending his friars around the world, recommended to them: “The peace that you proclaim with your mouth, you must have first of all in your hearts.”
2. Interior Peace in the Spiritual Tradition of the Church
In the course of the centuries, the attainment of interior peace or peace of the heart has committed all the great seekers of God. In the East, beginning with the desert Fathers, it was concretized in the ideal of hesychia, hesychasm, or stillness, rest, quiet, silence. One dared to propose to oneself or to others a very lofty, if not, in fact, superhuman, aim: to remove every thought from the mind, every desire from the will, every remembrance from the memory, to leave in the mind only the thought of God, in the will only the desire of God and in the memory only the remembrance of God and of Christ (the mneme Theou) — a titanic struggle against thoughts (logismoi), not only evil ones but also good ones. An extreme example of this peace, obtained with a fierce war, has remained in the monastic tradition of monk Arsenius who, to the question “what must I do to be saved?” — heard God respond: “Arsenius, flee, be silent and keep yourself in stillness”(literally, practice the hesychia) .
Later this spiritual current gave place to the practice of the prayer of the heart, or uninterrupted prayer, still largely practiced in Eastern Christianity and of which “The Tales of a Russian Pilgrim” are the most fascinating expression. In the beginning, however, it was not identified with this. It was a way to attain perfect tranquillity of heart; not an empty tranquillity as an end in itself, but a full tranquillity, similar to that of the Blessed, a beginning to live on earth the conditions of the Saints in Heaven.
The Western Tradition has pursued the same ideal but through other ways, accessible both to those who practice the contemplative life, and those who practice an active life. Reflection begins with Augustine. He dedicated a whole book of his work The City of God to reflect on the different forms of peace, giving for each a definition which has been a school up to now, among which is that of peace as “tranquillitas ordinis,” the tranquillity of order. However, it is above all what he says in the Confessions that has influenced in delineating the ideal of peace of heart.
At the beginning of the book, he addresses to God, almost in passing, a word destined to have immense resonance in all subsequent thought: “You have made us for Yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.” Further on he illustrates this affirmation with the example of gravity.
“Our peace is in the good will [of God]. Every body, because of its weight, tends to the place that is proper to it. A weight does not only drag down, but it does so to the place that is proper to it. Fire tends to go up, stone to go down, both pushed by their weight to seek their place …My weight is my love; it takes me wherever I go.”
As long as we are on this earth the place of our rest is the will of God, abandonment to His wishes. “Rest is not found if one does not consent to the will of God without resistance.” Dante Alighieri summarized this Augustinian thought in his famous verse: “ And in his will is our trnquility”.”
Only in Heaven will the place of rest be God Himself. Therefore, Augustine ends his treatment of the subject of peace with an impassioned praise of the peace of the heavenly Jerusalem, which it is worthwhile for us to hear, in order to also be inflamed with the desire for it:
“Then there is the final peace […] In that peace it is not necessary for reason to control impulses because they will not be, but God will control man, the spiritual soul the body and so great will be the serenity and the willingness to submission, as great will be the delight of living and dominating. And then, this condition will be eternal in each and all, and there will be the certainty that it is eternal and, therefore, the peace of such happiness, namely the happiness of such peace will be the supreme good.”
The hope of this eternal peace has marked the whole liturgy of the dead. Expressions such as “In the peace of Christ”(“In pace Christi”) or “May he rest in peace” (“Requiescat in pace”) are the most frequent on the tombs of Christians and in the prayers of the Church. The heavenly Jerusalem, with allusion to the etymology of the name, is described as “ a blessed vision of peace (“beata pacis visio”).
3. The Way of Peace
Augustine’s concept of interior peace as adherence to the will of God finds a confirmation and deepening in the mystics. Meister Eckhart wrote: “Our Lord says: ‘In me you may have peace’ (cf. John 16:33). The more one penetrates in God, the more one penetrates in peace. Whoever now has his I in God has peace; whoever has his I outside of God does not have peace.” Therefore, it is not only a question of adhering to the will of God, but about not having any other will than that of God, to die altogether to one’s will. The same thing is read, under the form of a lived experience, in Saint Angela of Foligno: “Successively the divine will makes of two wills one will, so that one cannot will other than as God wills. […] I do not find myself any longer in the usual condition, but I have been led to a peace, in which I am with Him and I am happy with everything.”
A different development, ascetic more than mystic, is that of Saint Ignatius of Loyola with his doctrine of “holy indifference.” It consists in placing oneself in a state of total willingness to accept the will of God, renouncing, giving up all personal preference, as a scale ready to incline to the side where the greatest weight is. The experience of interior peace thus becomes the main criterion in all discernment. The choice must be retained that, after long pondering and prayer, is accompanied by the greatest peace of heart.
However, no healthy spiritual current, either in the East or in the West, has ever thought that peace of heart is peace at a low price and without effort. In the Medieval Age the sect “of the free Spirit” and the Quietist Movement in the 17th century tried to hold the contrary, but both were condemned by the hierarchy and by the conscience of the Church. To maintain and increase peace of heart one must put down, moment by moment, especially in the beginning, a revolt: that of the flesh against the spirit.
Jesus said it in a thousand ways: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself,” “whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will save it” (Mark 8:34 f.). There is a false peace that Jesus said He came to take away, not to bring to earth (cf. Matthew 10:34). Paul would translate all this in a sort of fundamental law of the Christian life:
“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God … for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live” (Romans 8:5-13).
The last phrase contains a very important teaching. The Holy Spirit is not the recompense for our efforts of mortification, but what makes them possible and fruitful; it is not only at the end but also at the beginning of the process: “If, through the Spirit, you make the works of the flesh die, you will live.” In this sense it is said that peace is the fruit of the Spirit; it is the result of our effort, rendered possible by the Spirit of Christ. A voluntaristic and too confident mortification of oneself can become (and has often become) also a work of the flesh.
Outstanding for his concreteness and realism, among those who in the course of the centuries have illustrated this way of peace of heart, is the author of the Imitation of Christ. He imagines a sort of dialogue between the Divine Teacher and the disciple, as between a father and his son:
Teacher: “My son, now I will teach you the way of peace and of liberty.”
Disciple: “Do, O Lord, as you say: I am pleased to hear your teaching.”
Teacher: “Study, O son, to do the will of others, rather than your own. Always choose to have less than more. Always seek the lowest place and to be inferior to all. Always desire and pray that the will of God be done entirely in you. See, a man who does such things enters in the kingdom of peace and tranquillity.”
Another means suggested to the disciple is to avoid vain curiosity:
“Son, do not be curious; do not take on useless worries. What do you care about this or that? “You follow me” (John 21:22). Why do you care if that person is of this type or different, or that another acts and says this or that? You must not answer for others; on the contrary, you will render an account of yourself. Of what, then, are you encumbering yourself? Behold, I know all, I see everything that happens under the sun and I know everyone’s condition: what one thinks, what one desires, and to what one’s intention is directed. Therefore, everything should be placed in my hands. And you remain in sure peace letting others act as they believe, surrounded by agitation: what this one has done and what he has said will fall back on him because, as for me, he cannot deceive me.”
4. “Peace because He Trusts in You”
Without pretending to substitute these traditional ascetic means, modern spirituality puts the accent on other more positive means to preserve interior peace. The first is trust and abandonment in God. “Thou dost keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee,” one reads in Isaiah (26-3). In the Gospel, Jesus motivates his invitation not to fear and to be anxious about tomorrow, with the fact that our heavenly Father knows what we need, He who feeds the birds of the air and clothes the lilies of the field (Cf. Matthew 6:25 ff).
This is the peace of which Therese of the Child Jesus becomes teacher and model. A heroic example of this peace, which also comes from trust in God, is the martyr of Nazism Dietrich Bonhoffer. While he was in prison awaiting capital punishment, he wrote some verses that became a liturgical hymn in many Anglo-Saxon countries.
While all the powers of Good aid and attend us,
boldly we’ll face the future, be it what may.
At even, and at morn, God will befriend us,
And oh, most surely on each new year’s day!
In his book The Wisdom of a Poor Man, Eloi Leclerc, a Franciscan scholar, recounts how Francis of Assisi rediscovered peace at a moment of profound disturbance. He was saddened by the resistance of some to his ideal and felt the weight of the responsibility of the numerous family that God had entrusted to him. He left La Verna and went to San Damiano to find Clare. Clare listened to him and to encourage him, gave him an example.
“Let’s suppose that one of our Sisters came to me to apologize for having broken an object. Well, without a doubt I would make an observation to her and, as usual, I would inflict a punishment on her. However, if she came to tell me that she set the convent on fire and that everything was burnt or almost so, I believe that in such a case I would have nothing to rebut. I would be astonished and overwhelmed by an event greater than myself. The destruction of the convent is too great an event for me to be profoundly disturbed. What God himself has built cannot be founded on the will or whim of a human creature. God’s edifice is founded on far more solid bases.”
Francis understood the lesson and answered:
“The future of this great religious family that the Lord has entrusted to my care constitutes too important an event for me to depend on myself alone and on my weak strength, for me to be disturbed. This is an event of God. You said it well. But pray that this word blossom in me as a seed of peace.”
The Poverello returned to his own in better spirits, repeating to himself along the way: “God exists, and that’s enough! God exists and that’s enough!” It is not a historically documented episode, but it interprets well, in the style of the “Fioretti”, a moment of Francis’ life.
We are approaching Christmas and I would like to bring to light what I believe is the most effective way for all to keep peace of heart, namely, the certainty of being loved by God. “Peace on earth to men that God loves,” to the letter: “Peace on earth among men with whom He is pleased (eudokia)” (Luke 2:14). The Vulgate translated this term as “good will” (bonae voluntatis), intending with it the good will of men, or men of good will. However, it is an erroneous interpretation, recognized by all today as such, even if out of respect for the tradition, in the Gloria of the Mass, we continue to say “and peace on earth to men of good will.” The Qumran discoveries contributed the definitive proof. “Men, or children of benevolence” were called at Qumran, children of light, the elect of the sect. Therefore it is about men who are the object of divine benevolence.
With the Essenians of Qumran, “the divine consent” discriminates; it is only for the adept of the sect. In the Gospel “peace on earth to men with whom He is pleased,” the “divine benevolence” is for all men, without exception. It is as when one says “the men born of woman”; one does not understand it said that some are born of woman and others not, but only to characterize all men on the basis of the way they came to the world. If peace was accorded to men for their “good will,” then it would be limited to a few, to those who merit it; but as it is accorded by the good will of God, by grace, it is offered to all.
“Assueta vilescunt,” the Latins said; things that are repeated often are debased, biting forgiveness, and this, unfortunately, also happens with God’s words. We must see to it that it does not happen also this Christmas. God’s words are like electric wires. If current passes through them, if touched one gets a shock; if no current passes, or if one has isolating gloves on, they can be managed as much as one wishes, they do not give a shock. The power and light of the Spirit is always acting, but it depends on us to receive it, through faith, desire and prayer. What force, what novelty those words contained: “Peace on earth among men with whom He is pleased,” when they were pronounced for the first time! We must remake for ourselves a virgin ear, the ear of the shepherds who heard for the first time and “without delay” went on the road.
Saint Paul indicates a method for us to overcome all our anxieties and rediscover peace of heart every time, through the certainty of being loved by God. He writes:
“If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him? […] Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? […] No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:31-37).
Persecution, dangers, the sword: it is not an abstract or imaginary list; they are, in fact, reasons for anguish, which he experienced in his life. He describes them at length in the Second Letter to the Corinthians (Cf. 2 Corinthians 11:23 ff). The Apostle reviews them now in his mind and sees that no one of them is so strong as to hold a confrontation with the thought of the love of God. The Apostle invites us implicitly to do the same: to look at our life, as it presents itself, and to bring to light the fears and motives for sadness that nest themselves therein and that do not allow us to accept ourselves serenely: that complex, that physical or moral defect, that failure, that painful memory. Expose everything to the light of the thought that God loves us and conclude with the Apostle: “In all these things, I can be more than a conqueror through him who loved me.”
From his personal life, the Apostle passes immediately after to consider the world that surrounds him. He writes:
“For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).
He observes his world, with the powers that rendered it threatening: death with its mystery, the present life with its allurements, the astral or infernal powers that instilled so much terror in ancient man. We are invited to do the same also here: to look, in the light of the love of God, at the world that surrounds us and that makes us fear. What Paul calls the “height” and the “depth,” are for us infinitely great up there and infinitely small down here, the universe and the atom. Everything is ready to crush us; man is weak and alone in a universe that is so much greater than himself and that has become, in addition, even more threatening, following its scientific discoveries, not to mention wars, incurable illnesses, terrorism today… However, nothing of all this can separate us from the love of God. God has created the universe and has it firmly in hand! God is, and that is enough!
Saint Teresa of Avila left us a sort of testament, which it is useful to repeat to ourselves every time we are in need of finding peace of heart again: “Let nothing disturb you, let nothing affright you; all things are passing, God never changes; patient endurance attains all things; whoever has God lacks nothing. God alone suffices.”
May the Lord’s Birth, Holy Father, Venerable Fathers, brothers and sisters, be truly for us, as Saint Leo the Great said, “the birth of peace” ! — of all three dimensions of peace: that between heaven and earth, that between all peoples and that in our hearts.
Translated by Zenit