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After the blizzard, peace

Fr. Lou DelFra | Thursday, February 3, 2011

That turbulent blizzard, once passed, left behind such a peaceful scene.

We all like to think of Jesus as a man of peace. One of our archetypal images of Jesus, dating all the way back to the prophecies of Isaiah, is the Prince of Peace.

And, in fact, when Jesus walked our earth, he indeed preached peace. He preached peace between peoples — “Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword” and “You shall forgive 70 times seven times.” He preached and promised peace within the hearts of those who would follow him — “Come to me, all you who are labored and carry heavy burdens. And your souls shall find rest.”

Jesus was a man of peace. And yet, even a cursory reading of the Gospels raises one inescapable problem.

In the Gospels, it is impossible to miss that Jesus’ life was often anything but peaceful. In fact, just the opposite — Jesus’ life was a life of chaos and commotion. In one passage, so many people crowded to hear Jesus that he was forced to get into a boat and teach from off-shore, because he was afraid of being crushed. Another time, after Jesus began healing people, so many sick people came to see him and tried to touch him that four men had to lower a paralytic through the roof to even get near him. Still again, after he had preached into the early evening, Jesus needed to feed a crowd of 5,000 people who had come to hear him.

These are hardly the stories of a person who lived a peaceful daily life. Rather, he surely understood the feeling, “I’m overwhelmed! I’m being pulled in a hundred directions!”

And yet, we also know that Jesus was a man of deep peace and centeredness. Which raises an interesting question for us, who are plenty busy ourselves: How does Jesus pull it off? How does Jesus stay centered, and interiorly peaceful, in the midst of a hectic and demanding daily life?

Here are four answers that come to me as I read the life of Jesus in the Gospels.

The first answer comes when I cannot avoid how many times the Gospels mention that “Jesus withdrew to a solitary place to pray.” Praying is perhaps the most frequently cited activity of Jesus in the Gospels. Jesus had a privileged relationship with the Father, as the Father’s only Son. As John’s Gospel tell us, “In the beginning, he was with God; he was God.” Still, when Jesus became human, he constantly needed to “withdraw to a solitary place to pray.” Clearly, if we wish to lead lives of peace, there is no shortcut around the human need to pray.

Second, I find it notable that, in none of the four Gospels, does Jesus call his first disciples later than chapter five. (And it is only this late in Matthew and Luke, who include infancy narratives, when Jesus couldn’t call disciples for the good reason that he didn’t know how to talk yet!) From the beginning of his hectic public ministry, Jesus surrounds himself with friends who, like him, were hungry to find God at work in their lives and who supported Jesus in his mission.

Jesus had a busy life, but he did not face it alone. This is an important lesson in leading peaceful lives. It can be a hard lesson in our culture. We inhale individualism like oxygen. We like to get things done on our own. But perhaps it’s no coincidence that we’re also often fried, or we’re constantly tired, or we quickly lose patience with others. Jesus lived a life at least as hectic as ours. But he did not live it alone, and he lived it in peace.

Third, as regards his daily work — a frequent robber of our peace — we can see that Jesus, though he’s constantly and tirelessly laboring for the mission, understands his work almost exclusively in terms of the good it is accomplishing for others. He thinks about his life primarily in terms of service. If we spend too much time thinking about how much energy we’re expending, or forget the other-centered goals for which we are laboring, our work can leave us self-absorbed and, ultimately, burnt out, or searching for a deeper meaning to live. Regarding his daily work, Jesus stays focused on the good he is doing for others, and this seems to increase his energy for the mission, not drain it. Consciously understanding our work as service to others is an act of inner peace.

Finally, to the extent that Jesus does focus on himself, it is almost always in recognition that his life is in the hands of his Father. He stays in touch with his firm belief that his life is unfolding providentially. This trust in God’s Presence centers Jesus, brings him peace, even in the most stressful of situations. Whatever is being asked of him — to deal with a crowd or to be in solitude, to heal a blind man or to be unable to perform a miracle because of the people’s lack of faith, to be enthusiastically received or to be rejected, to preach the Sermon on the Mount or to stand silent before Pontius Pilate — all these things could be accomplished peacefully, because he believed that all these things were unfolding in God’s Providence, in God’s plan for his life. Trust in Providence brings with it the gift of peace.

The life of Jesus reveals a way — through prayer, through friendships-in-faith, through a life of other-centered service, through a trust in Providence — that can turn even the most turbulent storms of our souls into long, snow-tucked quads that speak to us only of peace.

This week’s column is written by Fr. Lou DelFra, CSC, ACE director of Pastoral Life and campus minister. He can be reached at delfra.2@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.