In the Gospel for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Jesus tells his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid” (v. 27). The scriptural context of these words is Jesus’ Final Discourse at the Last Supper. Jesus’ admonition, however, is especially apt for us living in the early part of the 21st century. We hear of mass shootings, bombings of places of worship, systematic persecutions and abandonment of the faith by loved ones. There are many things to incite troubled hearts. If we take Jesus seriously what response should we make to our current state of affairs?
In the same Gospel verse Jesus explains why we should not have troubled hearts or live in fear. He says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” He is speaking of something more profound than any political peace that is merely an armed truce between wars. Political peace is the kind of peace which leaders of nations give or take away at will.
So, what is the peace that Jesus offers to his disciples? This peace is a permanent state of heart rather than a truce between countries or an agreement to get along with other members of our family. It helps if we think of our Christian life as a journey from our present fear-filled condition to another life full of total consolation. When we set our hearts on this goal then no stressful situation can take our interior peace from us. The peace that Jesus gives is filled with hope.
Perhaps one of the great tragedies of our contemporary life occurs when we lose the hope that grounds the peace that Jesus gives. If we truly believe in the resurrection, then the virtue of hope puts our trust in Jesus, his Father and the Spirit rather than any human leader. Note that this peace comes from a source greater than any human endeavor; it also endures forever and never passes away.
As Christians we must hold fast to hearts of courage and never fear. We must accept the gift of divine peace that comes to us even in the midst of political and social turmoil or upsetting personal relationships. Since there are many voices that would take Christ’s gift from us, we must resist the fear preached by the world by holding fast to Jesus’ encouragement not to fear and to his promise of peace.
When we feel burdened by the world, we have two choices. We can listen to the voices of despair or we can heed the words of Jesus filled with hope and comfort. “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid” and “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” These words fashion our Christian lives and can change the world.
Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House, Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.