For the Peace from Above
Fr. Patrick Reardon · April 2, 2008
In the petitions of the Great Litany, we begin by asking "for the peace from above and for the salvation of our souls." Only after we have asked for this peace do we ask "for the peace of the whole world." Christ is the source of our peace, and the only possible source of peace for the whole world.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the petitions of the Great Litany, my brothers and sisters in Christ, we begin by asking for the peace which is from above for the salvation of our souls. Only then in the next petition do we ask for the peace of the whole world. We start by asking for the peace that is from above then we ask for the peace of the whole world. The source of peace is Christ our Lord, who Paul says in the Epistle to the Ephesians is our peace. But you see that’s the source of everybody’s peace, and the only possible source of peace for the whole world.
I remarked to Jim Forest in irony once… Jim Forest is the founder of the Catholic peace movement and then the Orthodox peace movement as he moved from church to church. Wherever he goes he founds a peace movement. I don’t think he’s going any place else. ...I remarked to Jim Forest that some of the most belligerent, bellicose people I’ve ever met were on the lines of peace demonstrations. You know that the peace movement is being frustrated if every time a peace activist opens his mouth, you want to hit him. That’s not very conducive to peace.
There are those who believe that peace is the product of a wise political program, or geopolitical program, that if we get together and discuss things enough, we’ll arrive at peace. I was still rather small, in the early years in grade school, when the United Nations was founded. I asked my mother what this was all about. She says: “We’re not going to fight anymore. We’re not going to fight anymore—from now on we’re just going to talk it out.” She was giving voice to that hope we believe that peace is the product of human accomplishment, something that man himself can do.
Now I’m not the least bit opposed to peace movements, for heaven’s sake, nor am I opposed to talking with people as a way of preventing the shedding of blood—unless it’s absolutely necessary that the blood be shed, and then for God’s sake let’s shed it. But that’s rare and instances are far between. Most of the time we can work things out I believe, if everybody is rational, which is also a problem.
What I want to insist on though, is what the church insists on, is that we have first of all have the peace from above. That’s the source of our peace.
For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, (2:14)
He is our peace, says Paul, who made both one, Jew and Gentile. He is our peace on whose cross three languages were united in one message, Hebrew, Greek and Latin, three languages united in one message: This is the King of the Jews.
Now one of earliest types or symbols of the cross in the Holy Scriptures, perhaps the earliest after the tree of life itself, is the olive branch that the dove brought back to the waiting hand of Noah in the Ark. This olive branch is understood by the Fathers of the Church and by the liturgical texts of the church as a type and symbol of the Cross of our Lord, and it’s borne by the Holy Spirit. The Cross thus introduces the mystery of the covenant which God makes with man at the end of the flood. This covenant, in chapter 9 of Genesis, seals mankind forever with the favor of God. It’s a covenant between God and all flesh which is upon the face of the earth. This is the meaning of the images associated with Noah, the dove and the rainbow, the symbols of peace and covenant.
Now the Cross itself is a place of covenant. It’s the place where God and man are reconciled. You see our first separation is not from one another. Our first separation is from God. We’re separated from one another because we’re all separated from God. Thus, St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians of their sorry state before they became Christians. He writes:
...that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (2:12-13)
And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. (2:17-18)
“Having no hope and without God in the world”—that’s man without Christ. Paul then goes on to say that “Christ came and preached peace to you who are afar off”—that’s us Gentiles. “To those who were near”—that’s the Jews. “For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father”—the same spirit that is symbolized and imaged in the dove that brings the olive branch to the waiting hand of Noah.
Peace with God, which all of us want and all of us need, is not something we can bring about. It comes from the Cross of Christ—which is to say that it is pure grace. This olive branch of the Cross is brought to us by the Holy Spirit who descends on the Ark in the form of a dove and effects God’s covenant with man.
What would we be without this gift? St. Paul tells us just as he told the Ephesians: “This is what we are without Christ: aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in this world” (Eph 2:12).
I want to picture it… What is somebody without Christ? Having no hope and without God in this world. Because there is no God except the Father of Jesus Christ. He says “without God”. That is one word in Greek, atheoi. Atheists, those who do not worship Christ, are without the true God, a-theists. Those who strive to have peace with God apart from God’s Son and the power of His Cross are living in a massive delusion. When they organize themselves for the progress of the world, it is organized delusion. And then they wonder why they don’t have peace.
Now it’s important that we understand this, my brothers and sisters. The nations that do not know Jesus as God’s Son are blinded by an immense darkness. Don’t talk to me about the richness of their culture. I’m not into hearing that. That’s not biblical doctrine. Those nations that do not reference Christ or acknowledge Him as God’s Son are living in immense darkness. That’s why there are colossal clouds of darkness over the whole face of certain parts of the world. The cultures that are founded on any other standard than the cross are not redemptive. No matter what they promise they are unable to deliver.
Only in the Cross of Christ do men and nations have peace with God and peace with one another. We start with peace with God. There is no point in even thinking about world peace unless there is peace in our hearts, peace in our homes, peace in our cities and communities, peace in our parishes, peace in a diocese, peace within a country. Peace works from a center and the center is Christ. Everything else is delusion and a waste of time because everything else, according to Paul, is idolatry. The Cross is our only deliverance from idolatry. It’s in such deliverance that we see the peace of the true God.