Peace in our world is something that we all dream of, though we often feel paralyzed in our efforts to bring about peace. Watching news clips of the political and religious turmoil present in our world today is enough to make even the most optimistic person sit back and wonder if peace is something that can be achieved.
The question that has often come to mind when I think about the daunting task of world peace, is how on earth can I, as an individual, really make a difference from day to day?
John Henry Newman (1801– 1890) in part answers this question in his statement “holiness before peace.”
Newman claims that true peace can only be found through becoming holy. But what does this mean for us as we go about our daily lives?
The answer to this sounds quite simple: The closer one grows to God, the more peaceful one becomes. That’s because as Christians, we believe that peace on earth ultimately stems from the peace of God. How does this work, practically speaking? Every act of holiness (going to Mass, praying the rosary, helping the homeless) allows God to act in our lives, which in turn allows God to act through us in bringing about peace in the world. As we ourselves grow holier, this allows us to participate in God’s peace, which ultimately influences those around us.
Sometimes bringing about peace in our world can be as simple as a smile or hug to someone who needs it. We recognize Christ in our neighbors, and so we also allow Christ to work through us in our interactions with our neighbors.
Peace, even in the simplest of gestures, originates in God.
Reflecting upon Newman’s idea that peace stems from holiness, we begin to see that the peace that God gives to us as we grow in holiness is actually a gift for the world. St. Teresa of Calcutta is a great example of peace stemming from holiness. St. Teresa often spoke about her work as a mission of love. She understood her mission to the poor as originating in her worship in the Mass and her participation in the devotions of the Catholic Church, such as the rosary, daily prayer, and feeding the hungry. The peace that St. Teresa exuded in her work with the poor flowed out of her experience of Christ in the Eucharist and her closeness to God, and even though she didn’t always feel the love of God, she cognitively knew that God was present.
While most of us don’t lead the extraordinary life of a St. Teresa, the wisdom of holiness leading to peace is certainly relevant to all of us. As Catholics, Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is present to all of us. This living encounter through the Eucharist changes all of us and brings us all closer to God.
Our daily prayers, rituals like journaling, and acts of mercy like helping the poor or visiting a sick friend all aid in our growth toward God.
In turn, our worship at Mass, accompanied by the daily nourishment of prayer, changes us from the inside out and inspires us to work for peace, whether it be buying a cup of coffee for a person having a bad day or feeding an entire nation. All of these acts come from God and bring us closer to the peace of Christ and help us to build a peaceful society.
May we as Christians remember where peace ultimately originates: in Christ’s love for his people.
Elizabeth H. Farnsworth heads the daily operations for the National Institute for Newman Studies’ Newman Studies Journal, which provides scholars with top-tier knowledge on Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman’s life, work, and influence. She is also currently a doctoral candidate in theology at the University of Dayton.