Why Be Catholic? 11: Peace
Another one of the many reasons I am grateful for being a Catholic is the peace it brings to my life. The history of the Church and the lives of the saints suggest that this is a universal experience, and we shouldn’t be surprised: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you,” Jesus told His disciples. “Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (Jn 14:27).
This isn’t the superficial peace of “feeling good” for a little while (peace as the world gives it), but a deeply rooted confidence that we are living in grace, sure of our course, full of hope and fundamentally unshakable. “For if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31) Ultimately this peace comes from the indwelling of the Trinity in our souls, and more particularly from the action and gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is nourished by the sacraments and in prayer. Accordingly, like a full faith, this peace comes primarily by living in the Lord, so that “I live, not I, but Christ in me” (Gal 2:20). But this peace operates at the natural level as well, and for very good reasons.
Several points I’ve made in previous entries in this series come into play here. While Catholics can spend a lifetime deepening their appreciation of the inner meaning of Catholic doctrine, of how the various teachings fit together, and of how they correspond to our own experience of reality, the Catholic actually reaches certitude on all the teachings of the Church through a very simple process. The potential Catholic looks first to see if there is any credible evidence that God has revealed Himself to us, and he finds that only a very few religions actually claim a public revelation which is in any sense verifiable. Then, once he is convinced of the veracity of Revelation, he must find a religion which possesses a corresponding authority which guarantees that this Revelation will be understood correctly over time.
What he finds is that only one religion in the entire history of mankind—Roman Catholicism—possesses both a verifiable public Revelation and an unimpeachable authority for interpreting it. Once he is convinced of these two foundations, everything else follows as day follows night. A convinced Catholic has no need to agonize over the truth or falsehood of each individual element of the Catholic creed, or each individual moral precept. Thus Catholics will “no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles” (Eph 4:14). Confident that truth is not first one thing and then another, the Catholic knows the profound peace of being firmly and unalterably anchored not only in Christ's grace but also in His truth.
This peace is imparted even more deeply by the Catholic’s realization that the sheer sublimity of Catholic teaching and the incomparable means of holiness offered by the Church are such that nothing better can be found by any person who truly seeks perfection. The nobility and consistency of the Church’s teachings, the supreme blending of the spiritual and the material in her sacramental system which speaks so powerfully to the nature of man, the riches of the Catholic tradition in guiding souls, and the extraordinary spiritual power witnessed in the lives of her saints: These are but so many reminders that it is quite impossible to attain through any other means anything which so perfectly answers the highest aspirations of the human heart.
In other words, whenever he is prone to wonder or to question, the Catholic finds that the profound peace of soul he discovers in living his faith is quite logically supported in the grand scheme of things. Therefore, as the great John Henry Newman said, a thousand questions do not constitute a single doubt.
But to enter into Christ’s peace, which is precisely the peace offered by the Catholic Church—the “peace of God, which passes all understanding” (Phil 4:7)—we must arm ourselves with a certain humility, a willingness to be possessed by God so that we can also possess Him. Through the freedom of his will, man can always perversely choose a course of denial, a course perhaps most easily illustrated by Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzshe tried mightily to convince himself that Christianity is a great inversion of human values, an assault on the pride of man, and a system now left broken by the death of God. Predictably, he went insane in this deliberate attempt to flee from Christian peace. His was a madness rooted in a profound refusal to accept the humble certainty that man need not devise his own purpose, because man is not his own end.
The proud cannot find peace, for they seek it in themselves, where it does not exist. This is why peace increases with an ever-deepening life in Christ, and why it is the very living of the Catholic life day by day and year by year which frees us from our worries, our apprehensions and our terrors. “Martha, Martha”, said Our Lord to one of his dearest friends, “you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful” (Lk 10:41-42). He explained that her sister Mary, “who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching,” had chosen “the good portion.” She had, in fact, chosen Christ’s presence and His peace over every other good. And to Martha, to Mary, and to each of us He made a great promise: It will not be taken away.
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