It was in November of the year 1915 that Pope Benedict XV ordained that the invocation “Queen of Peace” should be added to the Litany of Loreto. To whom, indeed, under God could the Pope have appealed with greater confidence than to that Blessed Mother who gave us the Prince of Peace, Him who, in the words of St Paul, is “our peace” (Eph. 2:14) and “preaching peace to you who were afar off, and peace to them that were nigh (Eph. 2:17) and by whom peace was brought into the world unto “men of goodwill.” As fitted the Mother of such a Son, she ever possessed within her soul and cultivated therein a deep, interior, ineffable peace, which could not be disturbed by any of the rude blasts which make for contention in the affairs of men. In her, there never was, nor could be, any trace of rebellion, inward or outward. She was exempt from all concupiscence, and therefore from all that inward turmoil that results in ourselves from the perpetual conflict of spirit with the flesh. She was free, moreover, from any guilt of actual sin, and consequently free from that gnawing sense of remorse, that everlasting prick of an outraged conscience, which makes the inspired writer assure us “there is no peace for the wicked” (Is.68:22). And that most wonderful peace of her most pure heart was reflected in the unalterable calm and harmony that reigned in her home at Nazareth, the ideal abode of mutual regard, and willing service, and love unutterable. Sorrows indeed fell to her lot in abundance. They are the badge of the servants of God, and the higher she stood in His regard, the more was it necessary that she should suffer and be tried during her sojourn upon earth. But tribulations, the most intense that have ever overtaken a creature, could not affect the deep-seated peace and tranquillity of her inmost soul. They were but on the surface: they were the ripples of the waves, if you will, which ruffle the surface wastes of the ocean, but penetrate no further and disturb not the everlasting calm of the great deep below.
The peace of Christ which surpasseth all understanding (Phil.4:7)
Whenever we recite the Litany of Loreto it is meet that we should earnestly invoke our Mother Mary by the latest title given her by the Church, that of Queen of Peace, beseeching her that she may grant us “peace in our days”, that “peace of Christ which surpasseth all understanding” (Phil. 4:7).
When the great temple of Solomon was being built at Jerusalem, we are told that “there was neither hammer, nor axe, nor any tool of iron heard in the house when it was building” (3 Kings [1 Kings] 6:7). And likewise we cannot erect in our own soul, or indeed attain any spiritual comfort or happiness in this world, unless we secure real interior peace, that silence of the heart which alone enables us to hear the “still small voice of the Lord” speaking unto us, and to perceive the motions of grace working within us. Now, if we are to compass that heavenly state of mind, we have to see to it that we be at peace with God, at peace with our neighbour, and at peace with ourselves.
We must be at peace with God
First of all, then, we must be at peace with God. We must not be conscious that there is a bar or an obstacle between ourselves and our Maker, that we are living in His disgrace, that were we to die in our present condition, we should find our salvation forfeited and our lot cast for evermore with the reprobate.
It is obvious that anyone who has thus placed himself in a state of open rebellion against the dictate of the divine law has put himself out of court, as it were, and is incapable of experiencing the joys of interior peace.
Neither can there be much inward tranquillity even for one who may perhaps keep himself free from grievous sin but who is habitually careless and lukewarm, unfaithful to prayer and daily falls into venial sins, making little account of them. Such a one is in great danger of soon falling into mortal sin and he cannot but carry with him an uneasy conscience, a certain doubt as to the place he holds in God’s esteem, a fear in fact that all is not well between himself and his Creator; and such a condition of mind is easily seen to be destructive of that peace of soul which results from the knowledge that God is pleased with us and that the sunshine of His countenance is upon us. These considerations are so plain and obvious that we may pass at once to the second condition that makes for interior peace.
We must be at peace with our neighbour
We must be at peace with our neighbour. Of all passions disturbing to the soul, the passion of anger may be singled out as standing pre-eminent. Once allow it to obtain a hold of our being and to vent itself against a fellow being and straightaway all inward calm and tranquillity vanish. The physical frame itself is shaken: the face loses or adds to its colour according to temperament: the judgement is warped and we say or do things that we should never dream of saying or doing in our normal state.
And if we do not suppress the passion at once, if contrary to the warning of the Apostle, we allow “the sun to go down on our anger” (Eph. 4:36), it will soon be converted into animosity and hatred, and we have a condition of the soul from which it is difficult to be freed, for our passion then grows more and more in intensity by feeding upon a thousand false interpretations and conclusions. Never indeed does an irate man acknowledge to himself or to others that his ire is not justified.
There can therefore be no question of much interior peace in a choleric person who yields easily and frequently to the impulses of his excitable temperament. It is true that we are told in more than one place in Holy Writ that it is possible to “be angry and yet not to sin” (Eph. 4:26). Occasions may arise when it is our duty even to show indignation because of the evil doings of our subordinates, or, it may be, of those who are our equals. But we should do so with moderation, without any exhibition of temper, seriously but quietly, with due regard to Christian charity, which always claims its rights even in the midst of a just remonstrance. Our admonition will lose none of its effectiveness for being conveyed in a calm and judicial manner, whereas if we show heat and passion, our words are discounted in advance and lose much of their force in the mind of the person in the mind of the mind of the person we reprimand. As St Francis de Sales puts it, we must not be like those ushers or officers in a parliament who, whenever there is a hubbub in the house, go shouting “Order, order” in a voice louder by far than that of those whose clamour they would suppress.
Besides animosities and aversions, all of which spring from the same root, there is another passion having relation to our neighbour which may very appreciably disturb our peace of mind. It is jealousy; and jealousy being one of the capital sins is a universal sins is a universal vice which easily finds entrance into the hearts of even pious people. It may not reach the fierce intensity of Othello’s passion but it can be at times quite upsetting and demoralising. That “tristitia de bono alterius”, as the moralists call it, may be a very real pain, and those who have experienced it in any marked degree know full well how it gnaws at our very heart strings and leaves no respite or breathing space, so long as we allow our mind to dwell on the real or fancied preference given to another.
But not only does it torture but it also distorts, and we soon become convinced that our neighbour is unworthy of the good luck that comes to him. It may be that we find ourselves supplanted by him in the affection of those whose regard we prize or the popularity which he enjoys. Such marks of superiority over ourselves irritate and gall us, even though in reality they are mere pin-pricks.
Unfortunately when we are so affected we are prompted to seek some sort of relief in speaking in disparaging terms of those who are the objects of our jealousy, sometimes even with much bitterness and little truth. In this way we manifest the pettiness of this our jealousy, when on all counts we should be anxious to conceal it. Nothing can be more wounding to our self-love than to be accounted by others as being of a jealous disposition, and yet when they see us, thus jealous and captious, they cannot but see through us and through the miserable motives by which we are actuated.
As we hope to possess interior peace, therefore, it is necessary that we keep down within us all sentiments of resentment and green-eyed jealousy in regard to our fellow men.
We must be at peace with ourselves
To be at peace, however, with God and our fellow men, will not secure for us that priceless gift of inward peace unless we learn to be at peace with ourselves. And we may understand by this, that not only must we be free from the haunting consciousness of grievous sin, which is itself, of course, destructive of all peace, but we must have trained ourselves, to overcome at least the ordinary outbursts of human passion.
To be truly peaceful, the soul must not be the scene of an everlasting warfare, of a constant and acute conflict between the lower instincts of the body and the nobler aspirations which come to us through grace.
The flesh and body on one hand and Divine Grace on the other
If we are living lives of self-conquest and abnegation, the result should appear in a certain readiness and facility with which we guard ourselves against the first onset of temptation and turn away from whatsoever might disturb and distress the repose of the soul. There should be realised in us the words of the Apostle:
“The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but justice and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 14:17)
Being but human beings, however, we are sure to fall into many faults, failings, imperfections, inordinations, and sins at least of a venial nature, and we must be careful not to allow these defects to interfere with the inmost peace of our soul. We may humble ourselves at the sight of our many miseries, but it must be done sweetly, calmly, in a spirit of confidence that God will assist us in the future as He has done in the past. He bears with all our imperfections and we must learn to bear with them ourselves.
We must not be surprised to find that frailty is frail, and temptation is tempting, and the slime of the earth is of an earthly nature. We may be sorry and contrite for our repeated failings, and endeavour to amend them day by day, but we need not ourselves to be troubled at their sight. We must not be like those who falling into a fit of anger become angry with themselves for being angry. Strictly speaking, they fall into a vicious circle out of which there is no logical issue.
We have to do our work without hurry, relying wholly on the Providence of God
However busy you may be, cultivate the habit of recollection and of every now and of every now and then pausing to recommend your work to God and of offering it anew to Him.
“Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things. But one thing is necessary” (Luke 10:41).
Had Martha not allowed herself to become worried and anxious she would not have drawn upon herself the gentle reproof of Our Lord. Instead of appreciating the calm restraint and tranquillity of her sister, she was always in a ferment, rushing hither and thither, and indignant when others did not help her. In order to have true peace, then, we have to do our work quietly, without hurry, relying wholly on the Providence of God, and then whether we succeed or whether we fail, we shall know that what happens is most profitable for our soul.
In the picturesque and graceful language of St Francis de Sales, we must act as little children who with one hand hold on to their father and with the other pluck berries and fruits as they proceed along the hedges. In like manner, says the Saint, we must cull and gather the good things of this world with one hand, but with the other we must always grasp the hand of our heavenly Father and turn to Him from time to time to see whether He be pleased with us and our behaviour. Above all we must be careful not to let go His hand and His protection, on the pretext that we shall thus be enabled to gather more, for then, adds the holy Doctor, we shall not go far, without “coming a cropper” – sans donner du nez en terre. (Vie Dévote, III, ch.10)
– From: Lift Up Your Hearts, Christopher J. Wilmot, The Catholic Book Club, London, 1949