Monday, March 23, 2015

Home stretch of Lent: Peace be with you

In an effort to share some inspiration (hopefully), but without too much effort on my part (cuz I have school to catch up on, and so forth), I offer you my column on "peace", which was published in The Record, in May, 2012. As is entirely their prerogative, they declined to post it in the online archive of my columns. And so I offer it here, slightly edited.


Like ‘love’, ‘peace’ is one of those words overused to the point of cliché. We hear it so often and in such a variety of contexts, we probably don’t think twice about it. Not until our peace is disturbed, anyway, and it’s easy enough for that to happen. Through the multitude of small, daily stresses to weightier issues (health, relationships, finances, the onslaught of the culture of death), the prince of this world battles the Prince of Peace.

Even if your life is one of quiet and order (if so, please write a book and share your secrets!), all you have to do is watch the evening news and you’ll find something to fret about. If we succumb to the forces of strife, we could easily find ourselves living in a constant state of sorrow and anxiety. How difficult to heed the words of Jesus in St. John’s Gospel (14:27): 
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth… Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid.”

At Mass, I love the profound and beautiful greeting-exchange between the priest and the congregation: “The Lord/Peace be with you: And with your spirit.” If you haven’t peace in your spirit, you won’t have it anywhere. All of us (I hope) pray for world peace; some of us struggle to achieve peace in our families; most of us at times lose our sense of inner peace. How can we get it back?

The other day, my husband and I were watching the animated film Kung Fu Panda II with our younger children. Oddly enough (for a pop-culture action flick), a sub-theme of the movie was Po the Panda’s struggle to find peace. The Master tells Po that he will not be able to release his potential (and defeat his enemies) until he finds “inner peace”. In one or two amusing scenes, Po is madly dashing about, banging his head against hard objects, shouting something to the effect: “Inner peace! Inner peace! I need it right now!”

Somehow, I could relate.

I once gave a talk to a group of parents about finding balance in our lives, a large part of which is finding a sense of spiritual peace. Since the talk took the better part of an hour, I won’t reproduce it here (if you want to hear it, book me for a speaking engagement), but I can sum up a few suggestions and observations.

First, most people find that inner peace vanishes when prayer time diminishes. Peace comes from Christ, and we must spend time with Him if we hope to receive this gift. We need to commit and re-commit to a consistent daily prayer time. Daily Mass is an ideal way to achieve this. The Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office) is the second-best way. But don’t take my word for it.

Misplaced priorities also cause lost harmony in family life. We lose sight of the big picture (eternal salvation; pursuit of holiness) and get caught up in things that ultimately don’t matter. Every so often, we need to prioritise our activities and discern where we may best be spending our time and energy.

At my house, peace is sometimes lost—literally, in the clutter and chaos. Order and organisation can be difficult to achieve, but it is worth the effort to strive for a simpler, calmer household. Husbands also tend to be happier in a tidy, well-ordered home (and yes, Mr. P does help—a lot).

‘Adverse comparison’ is another peace-wrecker. I don’t know if men do this as often (or maybe they’re better at hiding it), but we women tend to compare ourselves to others. This never ends well; we either feel superior (sinful pride) or –much more likely, given human nature—we fall short. When we focus on others who seem to have more (beauty, talent, material goods), we suffer discouragement or envy.

On a related note, we need to be mindful of and grateful for our blessings. We need to maintain a sense of humour, and be patient –not just with others, but also with ourselves. Most importantly, we need an abiding sense of God’s mercy, his providence and most of all, his love. If we trust in His will and believe in his constant presence and protection, then our hearts may be at rest, even when suffering and setbacks come along.

Peace be with you, and with your spirit.

Copyright, 2012, Mariette Ulrich and The Record, Archdiocese of Perth, AU

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