When I think of the words “peace” or “peaceful,” the first thing that comes to mind is an image of a beautiful landscape—a quiet place, usually without other people around, that is well-lit, green, and soft. While I have enjoyed my fair share of peaceful moments down the shore listening to the waves, or sitting outside in my backyard listening to birds chirping, I’m not the type of person who can find peace in nature on a regular basis. In my day-to-day life, I usually can’t find the time to drive down to the shore for an afternoon or sit outside on a beautiful day; I am simply too busy, and as a result, I need to make peace come to me.
Finding peace in my everyday life is easier said than done. With all of my academic and extra-curricular obligations, I often find myself stressed and overwhelmed; added to this are the constant distractions of Facebook and the never ending buzz of text and email alerts informing me of some new task to complete. Some days, as badly as I want to find some “peace and quiet,” it is nowhere to be found.
For these reasons, among many others, I decided to study abroad last semester. I was fortunate enough to study in Rome, Italy from January to May this year. In addition to learning a new language, immersing myself in a new culture and traveling to countries across Europe, I wanted my semester abroad to be my chance to get away from the typically stressed and incredibly busy lifestyle I have here at La Salle.
In April, I had the opportunity to travel to Assisi, which is about two hours north of Rome. Wedged into a mountainside and overlooking a sprawling valley, Assisi fit my mental image of a peaceful, quiet space; it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. As we approached the medieval city, I remember signs along the road welcoming us to “Assisi: The City of Peace,” an appropriate name for the birthplace of both St. Francis and St. Clare. As most visitors to Assisi are religious pilgrims, it was fitting that a quiet hush seemed to hover over the town. Tourists walked from one cathedral to another in a spirit of reverence and peace—there really is no other word to describe the city—while my friends and I remarked, only half joking, that Assisi seemed to be the type of place that breeds saints.
While many Franciscan crucifixes and rosaries were sold in shops throughout the town, one of the most meaningful souvenirs I purchased in Assisi was a small wooden plaque with the Prayer of St. Francis printed on it. The display for the plaques offered translations of the prayer in at least six different languages, and I promptly cleared the shop out of all the English versions. As I gathered the plaques and prepared to pay for them, I noticed something interesting—the prayer’s title, translated for the English version, was labeled “Simple Prayer.” For a prayer so well known, and even one made into a popular song at Mass, I was surprised to see such a plain title, especially since I was in the birthplace of the saint who originally wrote it.
In connecting my visit to Assisi to this Lasallian Day of Peace, I have two thoughts I’d like to share. The first is that “peace” is a concept that translates easily across languages. There is no idiom or figure of speech involved; every language has a word for peace because I believe it is something that is needed all over the world. Each translation of the St. Francis prayer I saw in Assisi contained the same message. Regardless of the word that is used, “peace” conveys a universal idea. It means an end to war, an end to corruption and dishonesty, an end to abuse, an end to gossiping and silly fights among friends. While in these examples peace brings about the end of things, it also brings about beginnings—new friendships, alliances, relationships all arise from peace, as well as a greater understanding of another person’s experiences by treating them with compassion. The concept of “peace” will never be lost in translation.
My second thought relates to the title of the English version of the Prayer of St. Francis. Peace may be a “simple prayer,” as my souvenir suggests, but it is also an active prayer. Think of the songs we sing at Mass—“Make me a channel of your peace”; “Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me”; “Take the peace of God with you as you go.” In all of these, peace starts at the individual level. It has to be something we really want for ourselves and something that we really strive for. As St. Francis says, we need to be made into people of peace; but once we make this choice for ourselves, it is our responsibility to bring this to other people. Peace is interactive; just as the Sign of Peace at Mass allows us to touch and talk to our neighbors, the final words of Mass—“Go in peace to love and serve the Lord”—remind us that peace starts at the individual level, but continues into the world around us.
As much as I would like to be able to drive down the shore, sit for a few minutes outside, or hop on a plane to Assisi every time I need a peaceful moment, these opportunities are few and far between. In the meantime, as I think about ways to bring peace into my everyday life, I try to focus on cultivating a sense of inner peace. While I’d like to take credit for coining that last phrase, I have to admit I received this bit of advice from my mom. Growing up, whenever I found someone annoying or I got into a fight with a friend, my mom always told me, “Don’t let this affect your inner peace.” As I sat there venting and spewing off complaints, I didn’t always understand what she meant, but the importance she places on your own inner peace makes much more sense to me now. If peace begins with us, as individuals, cultivating a sense of inner peace may help reduce offenses or avoid confrontations as we encounter others who may not be as peaceful as we are. If, as St. John Baptiste de La Salle suggests, we try to meet people where they are and treat them with compassion, we are in fact practicing being peaceful people, regardless of what is reciprocated to us.
I realize this advice isn’t always the easiest to put into practice. When I am caught up in the stress of midterms or finals or papers, it’s hard to stay positive and peaceful, especially on an individual level. But these difficult times are the ones that transform us, that make us into the peaceful people we are called to be. And while this may not end world wars or end violence and injustice on a macro scale, we can still do our part to cultivate a sense of inner peace and put that out into the world as best we can. By becoming actively peaceful people, we’ll be one step closer to answering the many calls for peace that we pray for today.