When two Hebrew-speaking people greet each other, they say “Shalom aleichem” which means “Peace be with you.” When two Arabic-speakers give the same greeting, they say “Salaam aleichem.” Shalom/salaam refers to the state of integrity, harmony, serenity and completeness within a person’s life. Peace is not merely the absence of struggle but the abiding presence of calm.
In today’s gospel Jesus gives his disciples a parting gift, a gift that he says the world cannot give: peace. To have faith in Jesus and be possessed by the Holy Spirit means that we enjoy the peace of Christ.
Of course, in everyday talk, peace usually means the end of war (which often is not peace but simply truce) or the idea of peace and quiet, when we are not troubled and are allowed just to “chill out” or have a few moments to ourselves.
But the peace that Jesus offers us is that deep-down sense of well-being that comes from knowing that we are loved by God, have been called to be God’s children in baptism and are permanently held in the hand of a God who will never let us be lost, unless we absolutely insist on it. Christian peace brings calmness.
However, the peace we enjoy is not a static thing; it’s something active and dynamic. Consequently we have to work at keeping this peace alive, which is what Jesus meant when he said “Blessed are the peacemakers”. We have to work with the Holy Spirit to keep our relationship with God alive and active and then we have to work for unity among ourselves so that the gift of peace may be a reality in our communities.
Some people can have a false sense of security. Others can have a false sense of peace. If our peace is just built on not being troubled by others, not having worries about our job, our family or our finances, then we are simply enjoying freedom from anxiety. If, however, our peace is built on our relationship with God, on our trust in his promises to us and the confidence that he always keeps his word, then we enjoy that peace of Christ which the world cannot give. And this is what we wish each other at every Mass when we turn to each other and say, “Peace be with you”.