“Peace is a condition where there is no strife, no adversity. Are we in that state yet? Is there anyone who is not plagued with temptation? But suppose there is. They still have to fight daily against hunger and thirst. In this life hunger and thirst fight against us, bodily weariness fights against us, the lure of sleep fights against us, the burden of the body fights against us. We want to remain standing but are tired out and want to sit down. If we go on sitting for a long time, that too causes fatigue. What kind of internal peace can there be when we continue to face such resistance from vexations, cravings, wants and weariness? This is not a condition of perfect peace.”
Whenever I read this excerpt from a commentary on Psalm 84 by Bishop St. Augustine of Hippo, I am reminded of parish lay workers: catechists, catechetical leaders, other teachers, lectors, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, the parish councilors, the various parish committee members, the persons who keep the church looking beautiful, and more. They soldier on in a world that doesn’t always appreciate them or their devotion. Sometimes their fellow parishioners don’t appreciate them. Sometimes the pastor doesn’t either. Frequently, these good volunteers are struggling against exhaustion and frustration.
In May, I think especially of the parish religious education directors, coordinators and catechists, who annually prepare thousands of our archdiocesan children for First Eucharist. No one who is not in the catechetical ministry can truly grasp how much dedication, hard work and patience go into a beautiful, meaningful first reception of this sacrament. But you would never know how tired these laywomen and laymen are by the time First Eucharist Day arrives. They are all smiles.
The late Father Donald Burt, OSA, an Augustinian scholar from Villanova University, whose last years were spent soldiering on in an exhausted body, offered some wisdom in his book, Day by Day with St. Augustine (Liturgical Press, 2006). Perfect peace, he pointed out, is not something we will find in this world, so there is no point in moaning about it. “The best peace we can achieve in this life,” Father Burt wrote, “is by enduring gracefully the trials of living in a body that is not always friendly or well-behaved.”
Or, as they say in England, “Keep calm and carry on.” I must go look to see if they got that from Augustine.