Saturday, July 29, 2017


One of the side-effects of living a monastery in the middle of a city is that I have to constantly rethink and re-discover the meaning of the “peace” that St. Benedict wants his monks to pursue. I had occasion last week to think once again about peace, when I spent a few days at St. Vincent Archabbey in rural Pennsylvania.
St. Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, PA

I sat on a bench in front of the abbey church, high on a hill. In the valley below, the early morning mist was lifting from the farm fields; on the far side of the valley, a long, dark, green-blue ridge stretched against the eastern horizon like a great ocean swell that was frozen in place a million years ago. From behind it, the gray sunrise was starting to paint bright pink edges on the clouds, as the birds in the pine trees filled the gentle breeze with their quiet morning songs. The scene could not have been more peaceful.

But I knew from long experience that this wasn't the important kind of peace. Think about it. When Jesus said, “My peace I give to you, my peace I leave with you,” he could not have been promising them serene, tranquil and stress-free lives, since he knew that they would have to live out his gift of “peace” in the midst of constant difficulties, struggles and persecution. So, whatever Jesus and Benedict meant by peace, he must have meant some interior state that can exist alongside of stress and in spite of conflict.  

Then I happened to notice one of the farm fields in the valley, and remembered the parable that begins “The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field.” A man was walking through that field when he came up the treasure, and out of joy he went and sold everything he had to buy that field. The man had only one concern: to possess that treasure; single mindedly, he gave over everything to concentrate on possessing the treasure. So he had peace, because his life had only one “center.”

There was the secret to inner peace that I can find even in the middle of a crowded city: to have only one single center of my life.  When my life revolves something other than Christ, or even around multiple centers, each one demanding attention, then my inner life becomes hopelessly disordered -- the very opposite of peaceful -- and the confusion in my heart and mind make inner peace impossible. The noisy competition of rival centers in my heart and mind can crowd out the gift of peace that the Lord is offering me.

St. Gregory described this situation with tongue in cheek: “The mind which is disordered by a rabble riot of thoughts suffers, as it were, from overpopulation.” That surely sounds like my situation, at least at times: my mind and my heart get overpopulated by the insistent demands of my false self or my inner two-year old. I lose sight of the fact that there’s really only one thing necessary.  

So, I brought back from Pennsylvania the image of a field, in which are a treasure and a man whose life is about to change completely when he finds the treasure. I practice putting myself in his place, and responding with joy and self-abandon the way he did.

Now I have an image of “peace” that I can bring with me on Monday when I start teaching my Logic course in our Summer Term.   

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