Carrie Gress has a doctorate from the Catholic University of America and is a philosophy professor at Pontifex University. She is the author of several books, including The Marian Option: God’s Solution to a Civilization in Crisis. Carrie is the co-author with George Weigel of City of Saints: A Pilgrims Guide to John Paul II’s Krakow. A homeschooling mother of four, she and her family live in Virginia. Visit her blog at www.carriegress.com. (Photo by Renata Grzan Wierczorek, RenataPhotography.com)
At some point in every woman’s life one desires the advice of someone older and wiser; to provide counsel about how to manage each day, negotiate odd predicaments or navigate pitfalls.
There is a long Catholic tradition of selecting a saint to guide us through a year. Sometimes we pick the saint, or sometimes it seems like the saint picks us. This year, I am journeying through life with St. Anna the Prophetess. Very little is known about her other than that she was in the Temple on the day Our Lord was Presented there by his parents. St. Luke tells us that, “She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was 84. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying” (Luke 2:37). What we also know about Anna is that, like St. Simeon, she was one of the first to view the long-awaited Savior. Her thirst, after years in the Temple, was finally quenched. “She gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38). One can imagine the deep satisfaction that was hers after the years and years of waiting and praying, waiting and praying. She was a personification of Israel’s long wait.
My first lesson from Anna came swiftly in the new year. I was struggling with a particular problem that I couldn’t quite seem to resolve and smooth over. In a way, it was an every-woman’s problem – working out a relationship that wasn’t easy, like the kind we find among relatives, colleagues and friends.
As I churned the details of it over in my head, working myself up into an emotional lather like I had done so many other times, something new came to mind: “Guard your peace.” It was gentle and came in almost a whisper into my soul. But it was clear. The solution I needed wasn’t to figure out a specific action to amend this unruffling situation, but to approach it differently – to approach it with a heart that was peaceful. I was suddenly released from having to work the problem out. I now just had one job – to guard my peace.
These three small words were like a switch, moving me from my interior Martha, to whom Christ says, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things,” to becoming more like Mary, who chose just to focus her thoughts on Christ. Of her, Our Lord says, “Mary has chosen the better part” (Luke 10:41-42).
I was struck by the simplicity of the message. It was only one thing: guard my peace. Of course, its simplicity didn’t mean that it was going to be simple or easy to follow. My peace can be easily snuffed out by a sharp breeze, like a disturbing Facebook post, or a thoughtless or unkind remark. Or those stronger winds that churn up fear or guilt. I’ve learned that I have to protect it like the quiet flame of a well-wicked candle. Once snuffed out, I must go back and light it again. Guard your peace.
But what exactly is this flame? It is not merely the absence of conflict or conflict avoidance, but something unwavering even when there is conflict and struggle. With the peace of Christ, one is not swayed by torrent of emotions, or doubt or second-guessing. This fragile element within is from Our Lord. It is precious, a sign of his love, his providence, his presence with us. At every Mass, the priest says in the words of Christ, “Peace I leave you; My peace I give you” (John 14:27). Christ has already given us his peace. We don’t have to go out to find it, we just have to guard the gift we have already been given.
As I’ve tried to live this, the advice to “guard my peace” has spilled over into plenty of other areas of my life, particularly the things I cannot control – or those daily things that tend to irritate me to no end – arguing children, paperwork, vexing bureaucracy. It is a virtue growing interiorly that is worth attaining, like Martha’s sister did. Christ praises Mary and says that the better part she has chosen “will not be taken from her” (Luke 10:42). Time and trials are enough to secure it fast to one’s heart.
Of course, I don’t have any way to know for sure that it really was dear Anna, the Prophetess, who gave me this wisdom. But it certainly sounds like the kind of wisdom that a prophetess would give to a woman struggling greatly in search of peace.