Recounting his own reaction to the United States joining the United Kingdom in the Second World War in December 1941—an act Winston Churchill perceived as a sure sign of eventual victory—the British prime minister wrote, “Being saturated and satiated with emotion and sensation, I went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful.”
That such news conduced to good sleep is unsurprising. When we are in the midst of a struggle, news of a happy end begets a kind of interior peace or rest by quieting the turbulent forces within us. The peace Churchill described was, of course, imperfect, awaiting a more perfect peace that would come from victories in Europe and Japan in 1945.
Jesus similarly offers his disciples peace when he appears to them in today’s Gospel: “Peace be with you.” Jesus had undergone his Passion. He had overthrown and cast out “the ruler of this world” (Jn 12:31). He had risen from the dead. He assured victory to his disciples even though their struggles had not ended. They still needed to preach the Gospel. Persecutions would follow, and most of them would be martyred. They would soon deal with controversies among themselves. Nevertheless, the real contest was over; victory was assured by Christ. “Peace be with you.”
Peace is an effect of charity. Through charity we love God above all things and our neighbors as ourselves. Charity quiets conflicting desires by directing all our desires to God, and God satisfies this desire completely in the beatific vision that the saints in heaven enjoy. Furthermore, through charity “we love our neighbors as ourselves, from which a man desires to fulfill his neighbor’s will as if it were his own” (ST II-II.29.3). Charity produces peace. Perfect charity produces perfect peace.
Christ is the source of this peace. Our love for God is founded upon the love Christ showed us: “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19). Christ showed us this love on the cross, by laying down his life. Christ thereby triumphed over our old enemy, assuring us ultimate victory and final peace. When Jesus appeared to his disciples, he manifested his triumph over death: “Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have” (Lk 24:39).
Assured of victory—of final peace—we now enjoy an imperfect peace in ourselves and in the Church. For now, we live amid trials, but Christ has secured victory. “Being saturated and satiated with emotion,” we can sleep “the sleep of the saved.” Christ is risen! He appears to us now: in living, in suffering, in dying. In the midst of it all, he shows himself to us. He shows us the tokens of his ultimate victory. He points to his supreme act of love for us. “Peace be with you.”
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 5:38-39)
Image: Fra Angelico, Resurrection of Christ and Women at the Tomb