Whatever house you go into, let your first words be, “Peace to this house!” And if a man of peace lives there, your peace will go and rest on him...
I once saw a beautiful mural depicting Purgatory. It brought together two seeming opposites – deep suffering and invincible peace. The souls in purgatory all stand upright together in the cleansing fire, faces raised to the God who will one day send the Blessed Virgin to come for them. Another mural depicting hell was marked by agonising suffering and chaotic disorder.
The word peace can, of course, be used in many different ways. A good dictionary will list these: completeness, soundness, wholeness, quiet, tranquillity, contentment, calm, stillness, silence, serenity, and so on ... .
My own understanding is that peace, excuse me for being a bit poetic here, that peace is the child of truth - and not just the child, but – the first-born child.
If truth reigns in a human heart, if it seeks truth, loves truth, clings to truth and lives truth – there will be peace. If there is no truth – but only falsehood and lies – there will be no peace. Without truth there cannot be peace.
The eldest child of peace is joy. We all know that. This is why the peaceful heart is the greatest ambassador for truth; its most attractive and powerful witness. Joy based on truth is irresistible to all but the most hardened of hearts.
And another offspring of peace is harmony. So closely are the two related that we sometimes use the words interchangeably. When a heart is at peace it will bring harmony to all its relationships and dealings with others, to all its affairs.
Truth, peace, joy, harmony – and it all begins with truth.
So why are the souls in purgatory able to bear their intense sufferings in such peace and joy while the souls in hell can’t? Precisely because in purgatory there is truth and in hell there is only falsehood. In purgatory they humbly accept the truth that their sufferings are deserved and necessary; while in hell they suffer in pride, rejecting the justice which keeps them bound.
Even here on earth a lie will always brings with it some unhappiness and some sort of disharmony or conflict. And so we can say that just as heaven begins on earth in a peaceful heart, so hell begins on earth in a heart full of lies.
Peace to this house. Somehow this greeting of the Apostles sums up the Church’s entire message to all her children down through the ages; her first and last words to us, containing everything that is good and desirable. Jesus had promised at the Last Supper (Jn 14:27) that he would leave his peace to the Church as a legacy: Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you; and then his first words after his resurrection as he appeared to them were: Peace be with you.
The peace of the risen Christ, springing from a sincere embrace of the truth, brings joy and harmony to the heart and to human existence. When a bishop begins Mass he greets the congregation with the words: Peace be with you; a priest will say: The Lord be with you. But there is really no difference. Perhaps, especially in this age of confusion, it might even be appropriate to say: The truth be with you.
At any rate, today, when after the consecration the risen Lord becomes present on the altar and the priest speaks the words: The peace of the Lord be with you always; let us be especially attentive to what we are being offered and let our response: And with your spirit; carry with it the intensity with which we long for this gift.