A “happy place” can be great to have, but unfortunately none of us can stay there forever. Whatever its particular pleasures, we each have to eventually leave that beloved café, that secluded beach spot, that backyard garden, and venture out again into the real world, the world of trials and anxieties and stress. Whether it’s the grind of home and work responsibilities, personal or family sorrows, or various worries about societal and global and ecclesial concerns, the return to real life can easily consume whatever rest and relaxation we did experience. What we really desire is not just a longer period in our “happy place” but a true and lasting peace.
Over Eternal Peace (1894) by Isaac Levitan
The peace that Jesus gives is the same peace that he knew – the peace of abiding presence. Jesus underwent the suffering at Calvary with a peaceful heart because he knew of his Father’s love and because he was united with him at the very interior of his being. Likewise, the peace that Jesus promises his disciples is not freedom from worry or from suffering, but the peace of presence – of God’s love accompanying us, abiding with us even in the midst of suffering.
When we accompany another person in a difficult time, the best we can do is walk alongside of them, being a support for them. But God’s accompaniment is much deeper. It is an accompaniment not just with but within – the accompaniment of love and presence from the inside. For the one who loves God and keeps his word – well, just listen again to Jesus: “My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” That is the peace of presence – that God is within us, animating us from within, strengthening us at a level deeper than any sorrow.
The teachings of our Catholic faith assure us that this idea is not metaphorical or just a cliché. We believe in what is called the doctrine of the Divine Indwelling: that when we are in communion with God by grace, the Holy Trinity truly dwells within us. What an awesome idea! And what peace that idea might give us, especially when we are confronted with a great sorrow or trial: to know that the infinite, almighty God, who holds all things in existence, who has a plan for all things in eternity, makes a home within our hearts. Surely, there is no suffering that cannot be endured, no challenge that cannot be confronted, no temptation that cannot be overcome when we realize that we face it not just by ourselves, but with the abiding presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who have made their dwelling within us. As long as we hold that friendship fast and secure, not losing it through mortal sin, then we have within us a peace that truly abides.
This idea that God makes his dwelling within us may seem very abstract until we remember that we profess the same idea in a different way in the Eucharist. At each Mass, following the Lord’s Prayer, just moments before we receive his Real Presence, we ask Jesus to look not upon our sins but upon our faith – our faith that he is really present there, under the appearance of bread and wine. And if we believe that Jesus is present there, then we believe that he is present also within us when we receive those Eucharistic elements. The Lord truly comes to make a home within our souls, nourishing us with his very Body and Blood. He comes to give us peace – the peace that abides, a peace the world cannot give.
Friends, the next time you visit your “happy place”, if you have one, enjoy that moment of rest and give thanks to God for it. But recognize too that its tranquility is superficial and fleeting. And, indeed, so it should be – for we have been created not for this world, but for another place whose happiness cannot be grasped in this life. It is only there, in the new and eternal Jerusalem, that our hearts will truly rest. In the meantime, in this life, the peace of Christ consoles us and abides within us to help us face the hardships that come our way, each of them a step along the journey toward that heavenly city. As we come forward in a few moments to share again in the Lord’s Paschal Banquet, let us ask the Lord with full and faithful hearts to renew us this day with his peace, the gift of his presence: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.”