What do you think about when we are asked during the Mass to offer each other the sign of peace?
I have witnessed just about every reaction to such an invitation from a handshake, to a nod, to a hand-wave, to a kiss, to a hug—even to an actual refusal.
I was reminded (by those who do not like this particular practice) that it is actually optional. The instructions (rubrics) in the Roman Missal read: Then, if appropriate, the Deacon or the Priest adds: Let us offer each other the sign of peace.
At every Mass we are reminded that Jesus offered his disciples peace—Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles: Peace I leave you, my peace I give you . . . . (See John 14:27)
Peace is not just an absence of war or conflict. When a Jewish person greets someone or bids farewell, he or she might typically use the word shalom. The word means much more than simply a greeting of peace. Shalom may mean completeness, soundness, safety, welfare, health, prosperity, tranquility, contentment, and/or friendship. It comes from the verb shalam, which means to be complete, sound or whole.
In the world today we find many people who do not have peace in their lives. Beyond those who live in war-torn countries or areas with great civil unrest, we find people who are sometimes angry, mean-spirited, hateful, deeply troubled, confused, anxious, chaotic, etc., —anything but peaceful.
People search for peace, happiness and fulfillment in various ways. Sometimes it is wealth, material possessions, physical pleasure, power, authority, various thrills, etc. Worldly things, however, do nothing to fill the deepest desires of the human heart that only God can fill. What was it that St. Augustine said long ago in his Confessions? You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.
I am convinced that true and lasting peace comes from a right relationship with the Lord. The world cannot give this kind of peace. It is simply impossible. Why could Christian martyrs sing on the way to their deaths? How can some people bear tremendous crosses in life without really complaining? How do some people seem so confident and unafraid in the midst of extremely difficult or troubling situations? I suspect it may have something to do with an interior peace and even a joy that comes from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It comes from the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit working within us. St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians . . . the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control. (Gal. 5: 22-23)
My prayer is that you may know the true and lasting peace that the Lord Jesus is offering each of us!
Fr. Ed Namiotka