Every now and then, something comes along in our spiritual reading that stops us dead in our tracks and takes up permanent residence in our minds and hearts. In this case, the thing that struck me was literally about the mind and the heart.
Check this potentially life-changing excerpt from Servant of God Fr. John Hardon’s book, Retreat with the Lord: A Popular Guide to the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola (pg. 99):
Peace is the absence of conflict. It is the tranquility of order. Immediately, we must distinguish peace of mind from peace of heart. Peace of mind is the experience of knowing the truth. Peace of heart is the experience of doing God’s will. There can be no peace of heart unless there is first peace of mind. I must know the truth before I can choose the true good, which is what God wants me to do.
I wish I could bold every single part of that paragraph! Meditate on each sentence. Really take it in! Can you see why we have so many souls in pain, having no peace? They are “doing” without first knowing.
Think of these quick examples: If I don’t know what marriage is, but only act according to what I feel, then how will I find peace in marriage? If I don’t know that God made male and female to be different and complementary (even while equal in dignity), then how will I know how to be a woman relating to a man? If I don’t know that human life is sacred, inviolable, and made in God’s own image and likeness, then how will I know that abortion, or IVF, or assisted suicide are intrinsically evil? If I don’t know about redemptive suffering and the stages of holiness, then how will I find peace and even joy in the crosses I am given? If I don’t know basic Catholic doctrine, how will I avoid falling for lies leading to darkness?
There are so many anguished, lost, unmoored, desperate souls out there, precisely because they don’t know what is true. They wander through their days reacting only, basing each belief (which is really opinion) and each act on their feelings. And our culture of relativism—which promotes disconnection from God, family, tradition, and even our own bodily nature as male or female—feeds their unease and discontentedness. Nothing seems trustworthy or real anymore, and we see the increase in anxiety, panic, depression, and even suicide all around us.
But if we know the Truth, if we know that we are standing on firm rock and not on shifting sand, then we can have the confidence to move and act. Even if the acting is painful, and even if we suffer on the journey, we know we will not be swallowed up and that we can stay on course. This is peace. Peace is not the absence of pain and suffering, it’s the absence of confusion, chaos, conflict, and disorder.
Peace, as Fr. Hardon says, is “the tranquility of order”—God’s created order.
So, if we are seeking peace of heart (and who isn’t?), we must not skip straight to indulging our emotions and feeding our desires; that will not bring peace at all, but only more distress.
First, we seek and find the Truth with our minds, and then we conform our lives to what we now know.
“I must know the truth before I can choose the true good….”
Peace of mind comes before peace of heart.
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