Updated: Jun 25, 2022
An Ascension Press Article
Peace and Perfection
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. John 14:27
I have lived my life chasing after perfection. Like everyone else, I have struggled with my shortcomings, failings, and sins. Despite my countless efforts, the result is always the same: a tiresome mix of both success and failure, of either conquering or succumbing to temptation depending on the situation. My emotions ride the waves as days of “missing the mark” result in feelings of frustration and self-pity and days of “rising above” result in joy and confidence in my closeness to the Lord. Like so many, I work toward that ever-elusive vision of minimizing sin and growing in holiness but never can quite fully attain perfection.
Recently, my mother recommended a small book entitled Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart by Father Jacques Philippe. I was profoundly moved by his words regarding spiritual perfection and peace.
The first goal of spiritual combat toward which our efforts must above all else be directed is not to always obtain a victory over our temptations and weaknesses. Rather, it is to learn to maintain our peace of heart under all circumstances, even in the case of defeat. It is only in this way that we can pursue the other goal, which is the elimination of our failures, our faults, our imperfections and sins.
The Seven Deadly Sins
Sin wounds—or, in the case of mortal sin, break—our relationship with God and others. More important than “not sinning,” however, is for us to keep “the peace of Christ that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) in our hearts. This peace allows us, with God’s grace, to advance in the holiness we so long to have.
Let’s take a look at Jesus’ words on how we can turn away from the seven deadly sins toward a virtuous life filled with truth, love, and peace.
From Pride to Humility
In the Gospel of Matthew, as Jesus enters Capernaum, a centurion approaches him and asks that he come and heal his servant, who is ill. When Jesus replies that he will, the centurion says, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed” (Matthew 8:8). Upon hearing this, Jesus turns to those who are following him and says, “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Matthew 8:10).
The humility of the centurion, an officer of the Roman army, amazes Jesus. The centurion has great authority, especially over the Jewish subjects of the Roman Empire, yet he recognizes that the authority of Jesus far surpasses his own. He does not rely on his own power or authority to get what he desires—namely, the healing of his servant. Rather, he asks the Lord and then allows him to work in ways that he could never accomplish on his own. In return, he is humble and grateful for the blessing of Jesus’ presence in his life.
From Greed to Giving
In Mark, we read how Jesus sat down opposite the treasury and observed the crowd depositing in their money. He noticed that rich people put in large sums, while a poor widow came and put in two small coins. Jesus said to his disciple, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those contributing to the treasury. For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living” (Mark 12:43-44).
As with the story of the centurion, here we see how one individual is living in accordance with holiness. In this case, this woman offers all she has, small though it may be, as a gift to the Lord. She holds nothing back from God, placing all her trust that he will be enough and will take care of needs. As much as our money, possessions, relationships, or status seem be ours, everything we have is ultimately a gift from God. We should never fear that the Lord will not be enough.
From Envy to Thanksgiving
In Gospel of Luke, Jesus presents the parable of the man who had two sons. One of the sons sets off into the world, squandering his inheritance on a life of sin. Hungry and destitute, he finally returns home, seeking his father’s mercy. Meanwhile, the other son remains loyal to his father, working hard day after day. When the wayward son returns, the father embraces him and welcomes him back with open arms. The obedient son becomes jealous of the warm welcome his wayward brother has received, and he angrily says to his father: “Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders, but when your son returns who swallowed up your property, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.” His father replies, “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found” (Luke 15:31-32).
Often, we are envious of others because they have something we do not, or appear to be treated better or loved more. We want things to be fair, but we are reminded in this parable that everything we need has been given to us already by our Heavenly Father. We should celebrate our gifts and blessings without comparing them to the gifts and blessings of others. We cannot begin to fathom the ways in which God provides for each of us according to our needs. We might be envious of someone else when he or she is struggling greatly with something that we are unaware of. At times, we might think we need something we actually would do better without out. Trusting in God’s will for our lives fosters gratitude and thanksgiving.
From Lust to Love
In Matthew 19, we read how some Pharisees approached Jesus to test him, asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatsoever?” Jesus replies, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator made them male and female and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”
I have always found this passage one of the most beautiful in describing the grand design for marital love between a man and a woman. There is a divine destiny between them that draws them together, even beyond the scope of their own parents to a new life where they are no longer two, but one. This bond is meant to last forever, for what God has joined should never be separated. Every human being is made to love and be loved. Our passions and desires are gifts from God. They are at their holiest when they are directed toward eagerly awaiting, pursuing, and living out this gift of a man for a woman, and a woman for a man fully united and forever loved through the bonds of marriage.
From Anger to Peace
In John 8, while in the midst of Jesus teaching, the Pharisees bring forth a woman who was caught in adultery, and they say to Jesus and the crowd: “Moses commanded us to stone such women? What do you say?” The crowds are standing by, ready to take up their stones in violence and anger against this women and her sins. Jesus, though, challenges them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the one to throw a stone.” One by one, each in the crowd drops his stone and walks away.
In our lives, we will experience anger. Sometimes the anger is at another for doing us wrong and we want that anger to spill over and result in vengeance for what we perceive to be justice. Anger can consume us and push us away from others. But Jesus calls us to choose love and forgiveness. Remember that Jesus does not let the woman go without first acknowledging her sin and telling her to sin no more. In his correction of her, he speaks the truth in a calm, loving way; he prevents anger and violence from having the final word. We are called to do the same, even on our most difficult days. We are always called to seek peace.
From Overindulging and Laziness to Modesty and Attentiveness
I have combined the last two deadly sins of overindulging (gluttony) and laziness (sloth) as both have to do with extremes, either of taking for ourselves more than we ought, or of failing to contribute what we ought thorough lack of effort.
Jesus speaks often in the New Testament of keeping haven in perspective in regards to how we engage in this world and orient our actions. In Luke 21:34, Jesus warns against the risks of overindulging:
Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap … Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.
Here, Jesus reminds us that life, while beautiful, has many attractive temptations that distract us from what truly matters—our relationship with God and others. Getting caught up in overeating, excess drinking, and an extravagant life are distractions from living a life of awareness of the Lord and a desire to serve him well in this life.
Jesus also speaks to us in Luke 11:9 regarding how we are to combat laziness, “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” If we are inactive and wait around hoping to hear from God then we will most likely be left empty-handed for the Lord calls us to ask, seek, and knock. And upon doing so, we will find and be answered. We are also called to take up our crosses daily and to follow Jesus. We are to shoulder our burdens and persevere through our trials, not remaining stagnant or impassive.
All of these biblical passages speak of a way to greater love, truth, and peace in light of the seven deadly sins. Fr. Jacques Philippe puts it well in his treatise on peace:
[Peace of heart] is ultimately the victory that we must want and desire, knowing, however, that it is not by our own strength that we will obtain it and, therefore, not pretending that we can obtain it immediately. It is uniquely the grace of God that will obtain the victory for us, whose grace will be the more efficacious and rapid, the more we place maintaining our interior peace and sense of confident abandonment in the hands of our Father in heaven.