“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). These words form part of the “farewell discourse” of Christ given to the disciples immediately after the Last Supper and before the crucifixion.

Considered purely from a human point of view, we might be tempted to think of peace only as the absence of strife or conflict. Yet Christ specifically tell us that His gift of peace is “not as the world gives.” It must be something more.

St. Augustine defines peace in his monumental work “City of God” as the “tranquility of order.” That is, when things are so arranged that justice is done to each and each can work toward the good according to capability, the harmony that arises can properly called “peace.” In his own words: “The peace of the celestial city is the perfectly ordered and harmonious enjoyment of God, and of one another in God. The peace of all things is the tranquility of order. Order is the distribution which allots things equal and unequal, each to its own place” (“City of God,” Book 19 Chapter 13). We can apply this not only to shared public life (politics) but to the interior spiritual life as well.

We can only be at peace when we love the way God has shown us. By His grace, we can love Him firstly and above all things. Then we love our neighbor as ourselves in God. The fire of divine love purifies our self-centeredness so that we love God and neighbor rather than our own corrupted passions. Only in this way are our passions cooled. Peace, then, is no mere absence of conflict, but a positive pursuit of the good!

Hence, Jesus can give these words to His disciples as He is about to undergo His passion and death, even telling them that they will experience the same. The Gospels depict Christ as possessing a sublime serenity as He is interrogated by Pilate, Herod, the high priests, and even as He is flogged and crucified. He knows He is doing His Father’s will, and He is perfectly at peace in His spirit.

It is said that at the Battle of Lepanto, the commander of the Holy League, Don John of Austria, danced a galliard on the prow of his ship as he was about to lead the charge boarding the Ottoman flagship Sultana. Thomas More cracked jokes as he ascended the platform of his beheading. Joan of Arc smiled peacefully as she was tied to the stake and burned alive. The Carmelite nuns of Compiègne sweetly sang the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus as they went to the guillotine, bloody victims of the “Enlightenment.” G.K. Chesterton put it this way: “The men that drink the blood of God/Go singing to their shame.”

We could multiply the examples in the saints who faced hardship with peace and joy. This peace came from ordering their souls rightly. The tranquility of order arose in them by loving God above all things, despising their passions. Loving their neighbor in God, despising self-interest.

Unrest always springs forth from the unrest we first feel in our hearts. Wars on the field of battle are but manifestations of wars within the soul. And as St. Augustine would say to God in his autobiography: “Our souls are made for thee, o God. And they are restless until they rest in thee.”

As Pope Pius XI told the world in 1925, the world will look in vain for peace if it does not submit to the reign of Christ.

For our part at least, let us heed his words and embrace that peace which the world cannot give.

—Father Steven Marchand is administrator of St. Peter Parish in Vergennes and St. Ambrose Parish in Bristol.

—Originally published in the Spring 2024 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.