Searching for and Maintaining Peace
The interior peace that we are considering cannot, of course, be shared by all persons independently of their attitude toward God.
Those who oppose God, who more or less consciously flee from Him, or who flee from certain of His calls or His demands, cannot be at peace.
When individuals are close to God, love and desire to serve the Lord, the usual strategy of the devil is to cause them to lose their peace of heart, whereas God, on the contrary, comes to their aid to give them peace.
But this rule is reversed for those whose hearts are far from God, who live in indifference and evil.
The devil seeks to tranquilize such individuals, to keep them in a false sense of quietude, whereas the Lord, Who desires their salvation and conversion, will trouble and disquiet their consciences in an effort to get them to repent.
One cannot enjoy a profound and durable peace if he is far from God, if his inmost will is not entirely oriented toward Him.
“You made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You” (Saint Augustine).
A necessary condition for interior peace, then, is what we might call goodwill. We could also call it purity of heart.
It is the stable and constant disposition of a person who is determined more than anything to love God, who desires sincerely to prefer in all circumstances the will of God to his own, who does not wish to consciously refuse anything to God.
Maybe (and even certainly) in everyday life, his behavior will not be in perfect harmony with this desire, this intention. There would undoubtedly be many imperfections in his effort to accomplish this desire.
But he will suffer, he will ask the Lord’s pardon for this and seek to correct himself.
Following moments of eventual failure, he will strive to come back to his usual disposition of wanting to say “yes” to God in all things, without exception.
Here, then, is what we mean by goodwill.
It is not perfection, nor sainthood achieved because it could well coexist with hesitations, imperfections and even faults.
But it is the way, because it is just this habitual disposition of heart (whose foundation is found in the virtues of faith, hope and love), which permits the grace of God to carry us, little by little, toward perfection.
This goodwill, this habitual determination to always say yes” to God, in the great things as in the small, is a sine qua non for interior peace.
As long as we have not acquired this determination, a certain uneasiness and sadness will not cease to abide in us – the uneasiness of not loving God as much as He invites us to love Him, and the sadness of still not having given all things to God.
Because the man who has given his will to God has, in a certain fashion, already given Him everything. We cannot truly be at peace as long as our hearts have not found their unity and our hearts cannot be unified until all our desires are subordinated to the desire to love God, to please Him and to do His will.
This also implies, of course, an habitual determination to detach ourselves from all that is contrary to God. Here, then, is what goodwill consists of, the necessary conditions for peace of soul.
Goodwill: Sufficient condition for Peace
But, conversely, even if, in spite of this, one still has lots of faults and failings, we can affirm that goodwill suffices to be able to maintain one’s peace of heart. As the latin text of the Vulgate says, pax homnibus bonae voluntatis (peace on earth to men of goodwill).
In effect, what does God demand of us if not this goodwill? What more could He demand of us, He who is a good and compassionate Father, than to see His child desiring to love all, to suffer if unable to love Him sufficiently and to be disposed, even if he knows he is unable, to detach himself from that which would be contrary to Him.
Is it not up to God Himself to intervene at this point and to bring to fulfillment these desires that man, by his own strength, is powerless to realize completely?
In support of what we have just said, that is, to know that goodwill is sufficient to render us agreeable to God, and therefore that we can be at peace, there is an episode in the life of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, reported by her sister Celine:
“On one occasion, when Sister Therese was showing me all of my faults, I was sad and a little upset.
I, who so desire to be virtuous, I thought, I am so far from it. I would like to be gentle, patient, humble, charitable; Ah! I will never succeed!
However, that evening at the prayer I read that St Gertrude, in expressing the same desire, had Our Lord respond to her: ‘In all things and above all else, have goodwill; only this disposition will give your soul the light and the special merit of all the virtues. Whoever has goodwill, the sincere desire to obtain My glory, to be thankful to Me, to share in My sufferings, to love Me and serve Me, as well as all creatures, such a person will undoubtedly receive compensations that are worthy of my generosity and his desire will sometime be more profitable to him than other peoples’ good works to them.’
“Very contented with these good words”, Celine continues, “which were all to my advantage, I shared them with our dear little mistress (Therese),” who did her one better and added:
“Have you read what is reported regarding the life of Father Surin? He was performing an exorcism and the demons said to him: “We are able to surmount all difficulties; there is only this bloody dog of goodwill, which we are never able to deal with!”
Well, if you don’t have virtue, you have a “bloody little dog,” which will save you from all perils; console yourself, it will lead you to paradise!
Ah! Which is the heart that would not wish to possess virtue? It’s what everybody desires. But how few are those who accept to fall, to be weak, who are content to find themselves down-and-out and have others find them in that condition!'” (A Memoir of My Sister, St. Therese by Sister Genevieve of the Holy Face).
As we see in this text, Therese’s concept of perfection (the greatest saint of modern times, according to Pope Pius XI) is not that which we would have spontaneously held. But we will come back to this point. Let us content ourselves for the moment to retain that which concerns goodwill.
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