At each Mass, just before we share in Communion, the priest says aloud: Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles: “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you…” It is one of those rare occasions where the Eucharistic Prayer addresses the Son and not the Father. These are Jesus’ words taken directly from John’s Gospel (14:27). They are part of what scripture scholars call the “Farewell Discourse” (chapters 14-17 inclusive). It is Jesus’ good-bye speech, and it goes on for four chapters in what is probably the longest I-gotta-go-but-I-wanna-stay speech in history. This is fitting as they are the words of one who knows, though not in every detail, that he will die the very next day. If you have ever accompanied a dying person, you know their last words are to be weighed heavily. At such a point there is no more time for idle talk or gossip; there is only time for words that come from the heart.
The Rite of Peace, when we exchange a sign of peace with each other after praying the Our Father, was lost to the liturgy for the longest time but, fortunately, was restored at Vatican II (1962-1965). When the priest says, “The peace of the Lord be with you always” and invites us to share that peace, we ought to say to one another, “The peace of the Lord be with you always” or “The peace of Christ” and not simply “Peace be with you.” Remember we are offering the Lord’s peace, a peace the world cannot give. I am not offering you my peace which is tawdry, cheap, much too limited, inadequate, full of veiled agendas, and vanishes at the first perceived disagreement. Christ’s peace, by contrast, comes without conditions, is overflowing, holds no grudges, and–like the rain that comes down from heavens—is given to the good and the bad alike.
The Rite of Peace cannot be undertaken lightly. Here I think of Jesus’ words: “If you are on your way to presenting your offering at the altar but remember that your brother (sister) has something against you, leave your offering there at the altar and go first to reconcile yourself with your brother (sister)” (Matthew 5:23-24). Jesus is telling us something about the mind of God where peace among us takes priority over any offering to the Divine. It is put another way when Jesus commands, “Go and learn the meaning of the words: Mercy is what pleases me, not sacrifice!” (Matthew 9:13).
Peace I leave you, my peace I give you… Jesus does not leave a trail of breadcrumbs in the hopes that you might stumble upon what he has left us. He does not simply leave his peace on your doorstep like a parcel delivered by Amazon. No. He gives us his peace. He enters your house and places his gift of peace square on your lap. He does not passively leave you anything; he actively gives you everything. The Pharisees were shocked at the fact that Jesus would eat with sinners. Well, he does much more than that. He deliberately seeks sinners out! He seeks out the lepers, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the children, the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son (daughter), the alcoholic, the addict, the lonely, the depressed, the divorced, the bullied, the criminal, the demoniac, you, me, and the neglected of every stripe. He takes the initiative to seek us out. This Divine Reality, whom we would have to label “obsessive-compulsive” does not tiptoe away from the center leaving us anything but is driven to the edges in order to give us everything. My peace I give you. All I want to know is: Are you as enthusiastic about receiving as I am nuts about giving?
Fr. Phil Mulligan