This search for interior peace could seem quite egotistical to some people. How then can we propose this as one of the principal goals of our efforts, when there is so much suffering and misery in the world?
To this we must first reply that the peace of which we speak is that of the Gospels; it has nothing to do with any type of impassivity, extinction of sensitivity, cold indifference or being wrapped up in oneself, of which the teachings of Buddha or certain tenets of yoga may give us an image.
On the contrary, as we will see later, it is the necessary corollary of love, of a true sensitivity to the sufferings of others and of an authentic compassion.
Because only this peace of heart truly liberates us from ourselves, increases our sensitivity to others and renders us available to our fellow man.
We should add that only one who possesses this interior peace can efficaciously help his neighbor.
How can I communicate this peace to others, if I myself do not have it?
How can there be peace in families, in societies, between individual people, if there is no peace first in peoples’ hearts?
“Acquire interior peace and a multitude will find its salvation through you,” said Saint Seraphim of Sarov.
To acquire this interior peace, he strove to live for many years with conversion of heart and incessant prayer.
Sixteen years a monk, sixteen years a hermit, then sixteen years enclosed in a cell, he did not begin to bloom visibly until forty-eight years after having given his life to the Lord. But, then, what fruit he produced!
Thousands of pilgrims who came to him left comforted, delivered from their doubts and anxieties, enlightened in their vocations and healed in their bodies and souls.
This saying of Saint Seraphim simply gives witness to his own personal experience, which is similar to that of so many other saints.
Acquiring and maintaining interior peace, which is impossible without prayer, should consequently be considered a priority for everybody, above all for those who claim to want to do good for their neighbor.
Otherwise, more often than not they would simply be communicating their own restlessness and distress.
3. Peace and Spiritual Combat
We must at the same time affirm another truth, which is no less important than that enunciated above.
It is that the Christian life is a combat, a war without mercy.
Saint Paul, in a letter to the Ephesians, invites us to put on the armor of God to fight not against human enemies… but against the cosmic powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens (Ephesians 6:10-12) and he details all the pieces of armor that we must put on.
Every Christian must be thoroughly convinced that his spiritual life can in no way be viewed as the quiet unfolding of an inconsequential life without any problems; rather it must be viewed as the scene of a constant and sometimes painful battle, which will not end until death — a struggle against evil, temptation and the sin that is in him.
This combat is inevitable, but is to be understood as an extremely positive reality, because, as Saint Catherine of Siena says, “without war there is no peace”; without combat there is no victory.
And this combat is, correctly viewed, the place of our purification, of our spiritual growth, where we learn to know ourselves in our weakness and to know God in His infinite mercy.
This combat is the definitive place of our transfiguration and glorification. But if the spiritual combat of a Christian is sometimes rough, it is by no means the hopeless struggle of somebody who battles in blindness and solitude, without any certitude as to the result of this confrontation.
Rather, it is the combat of one who struggles with the absolute certitude that the victory is already won, because the Lord is resurrected.
Do not weep!
Behold the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has been victorious (Revelation 5:5).
He does not fight with his own strength, but with that of the Lord, Who says to him, My grace is enough for you, for My power manifests itself in your weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9) and his principal weapon is not a natural firmness of character or human ability, but faith, this total adhesion to Christ which permits him, even in the worst moments, to abandon himself with a blind confidence in the One Who cannot abandon him.
I am able to do everything with the help of the One Who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13). Yahweh is my light and my salvation, whom should I fear? (Psalm 27:1).
The Christian fights, then, against sin, with violence sometimes, called as he is to keep fighting to the point of death (Hebrews 12:4), but he fights with a peaceful heart and his struggle is that much more efficacious, because his heart is more peaceful.
4. Peace Is Often at Stake in the Struggle
There is another thing that we must make clear. The believer, throughout the entire battle, whatever the degree of violence, will strive to maintain peace of heart in order to allow the God of Armies to fight for him.
Additionally, he must realize that this interior peace is not only a condition for spiritual combat, but is quite often the goal itself.
Very frequently, spiritual combat consists precisely in this: defending one’s peace of heart against the enemy who attempts to steal it from us.
In effect, one of the most common strategies of the devil in his efforts to distance us from God and to slow our spiritual progress is to attempt to cause the loss of our interior peace. Here is what Dom Lorenzo Scupoli, one of the great spiritual masters of the 16th century, who was highly esteemed by Saint Francis de Sales, said: “The devil does his utmost to banish peace from one’s heart, because he knows that God abides in peace and it is in peace that He accomplishes great things.”
It would be well to keep this in mind, because, quite often in the daily unfolding of our Christian life it happens that we fight the wrong battle, if one may put it that way, because we orient our efforts in the wrong direction.
We fight on a terrain where the devil subtly drags us and can vanquish us, instead of fighting on the real battlefield, where, on the contrary, by the grace of God, we are always certain of victory.
And this is one of the great secrets of spiritual combat — to avoid fighting the wrong battle, to know how to discern, despite the ruses of our adversary, which is the real battlefield, what we truly have to struggle against and where we must place our efforts. We believe, for example, that to win the spiritual battle we must vanquish all our faults, never succumb to temptation, have no more weaknesses or shortcomings.
But on such a terrain we are sure to be vanquished! Because who among us can pretend never to fall?
And it is certainly not this that God demands of us, for He knows of what we are made. He remembers we are dust (Psalm 103).
On the contrary, the real spiritual battle, rather than the pursuit of invincibility or some other absolute infallibility beyond our capacity, consists principally in learning, without becoming too discouraged, to accept falling occasionally and not to lose our peace of heart if we should happen to do so lamentably, not to become excessively sad regarding our defeats and to know how to rebound from our falls to an even higher level.
This is always possible, but on the condition that we not panic and that we continue to maintain our peace.
One could, then, with reason, enunciate this principle: The first goal of spiritual combat, that toward which our efforts must above all else be directed, is not to always obtain a victory (over our temptations, our weaknesses, etc.), rather it is to learn to maintain peace of heart under all circumstances, even in the case of defeat.
It is only strength that we will obtain it and, therefore, not pretending that we can obtain it immediately.
It is uniquely the grace of God that will obtain the victory for us, whose grace will be the more efficacious and rapid, the more we place maintaining our interior peace and sense of confident abandonment in the hands of our Father in Heaven.