This is a popular word people associate with Jesus – often at Christmas time. This is because of St. Luke’s telling of the angels visit to the shepherds on Christmas. The angels have just announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, then they sing:
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!” -Luke 2:14
“Peace among men with whom he is pleased’? What does that mean exactly? Let’s get back to that.
This particular verse is from a translation of the Bible called the Revised Standard Version. It is a Catholic translation and is considered by many to be the most accurate English translation we have. Let’s look at some other Catholic Bible translations of this verse:
“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” from the New American Bible.
“Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will.” Douay-Rheims Bible.
There is a theme here. Peace is dependent on something else. It is for men with whom God is pleased, on whom God’s favor rests… people the Douay-Rheims Bible calls “men of good will”. “Men of good will” means that your will is good, or in other words, your will is to do God’s will. This is the most descriptive and helpful of the translations above, because it doesn’t just tell us that peace comes to those who have God’s favor or to those God is pleased with. “Men of good will” tells us what we need to do to have peace – we need to follow God’s will. This is why the “Gloria” at Mass was changed, from “Glory to God in the highest. And peace to His people on earth” to “Glory to God in the highest. And on earth peace to men of good will.”
By the way, many of us are very used to another translation of this verse that is, well… not quite accurate… and may be another reason for people’s confusion about “peace” and “men of good will”. In the Peanut’s Christmas special, which has aired annually for over 50 years, Linus quotes Luke’s Gospel using this translation, which is the King James Version of the Bible. It’s the Protestant translation used by most non-Catholic Christians. It reads, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Anyway, back to the Catholic verse. What is peace then? Shurely, it doesn’t mean that war never comes to those who do God’s will. It doesn’t mean you will not have enemies or have people who don’t like you. Jesus Himself had enemies and still does today. It may help to look at what Jesus said about the peace He brings (after all, He is the “Prince of Peace”)?
So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foes will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it. -Matthew 10:32-39
Well… that doesn’t sound very peaceful, does it? The peace we so often think about is not what Jesus is bringing. He makes it very plain. Following Him will cause division in our lives, right up to losing our lives if need be, because many people will not agree with our choice to follow Jesus, an those people will often be in our own household.
OK, so Jesus does not bring the kind of peace where everyone gets along with everyone else. So what kind of peace does He bring?
“If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 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 14:23-27
Jesus gives the kind of peace that comes with knowing you love Him, because you do His will… you keep His word… and the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) come and make Their home with you. So that no matter how much craziness is going on around you, you have God with you, so your heart is not troubled and is not afraid. You are at peace with God.
All baptized Christians who struggle to do God’s will have this peace… to a point, but there is so much more! Truly living in God’s peace takes time. Sin, anxiety and fear get in the way. To have this kind of peace more fully we need to pray everyday. We need to frequent Mass, adoration of the Eucharist and confession. We need to do God’s will more faithfully… everyday.
An excellent book on peace was written by a French priest and spiritual master named Father Jacques Philippe. It is titled, “Searching for and Maintaining Peace”. You can purchase it online by clicking HERE. I highly recommend this book, as well as the many other excellent books written by Father Philippe.