Today is the World Day of Peace. What is peace? There’s the peace sign and the lack of war and fighting. I see peace salutations in emails from people sometimes. We have a part of the Mass where we give everyone a sign of peace. What is peace?
For the Israelites, having a first-born son meant that your name continued in the history of Israel. It meant, in effect, that you could then have eternal life, so long as the lineage kept on going. There was also a part of the Law regarding first-born sons, whereby if a married man died without a son, then one of the deceased’s brothers had to marry the woman to have a first-born son in the name of the deceased. When that happened, then it was said that the living husband gave his deceased brother “Shalom”. You give your brother Shalom by setting aside your own plans and life, your own choice for a wife and your own first-born son, and giving your brother eternal life that he can’t get for himself.
How do we translate Shalom in the church?
Shalom is the word that Jesus uses when he is risen and greets the apostles. That is the word that Jesus uses when he says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” (Jn 14:27) It means he is the disciples’ brother, and is giving them Shalom: he has laid down his life, so that they can have life.
Over a year and a half ago was the tragic earthquake in Ecuador. With some friends here, we made a trip to one of the affected areas. It was a whole week and a half of hard week just to get everything – all the goods and supplies – there. First there was the fundraiser over trickling internet connections, and organizing people, and getting transportation, and finding the goods and buying them, and getting a truck and arranging who would come. When we finally arrived at 5:00 in the morning, after 12 hours of driving, we had one hour of sleep before we got up and spent the entire day visiting and handing out goods. We got up the next morning at 5:30am and made an 8 hour trip back home.
So, when a friend called from the States and said he would come with a bunch of money to make a trip, I said yes, let’s do it. But then when the time was approaching, I started to get second thoughts. I was exhausted, and thought of going through all of that again was starting to seem like something I should pass on. I was in a chapel in the wee hours of the morning, telling God all the reasons why I thought that now it was a bad idea, and we should cancel. At 3am, when my time was up, the chapel began to shake back and forth. It got stronger. Then stronger. Then, finally, a big jolt, and I ran out, joining others who had woken up and run outside. I sensed in my heart, “Jerome, go.”
I am glad I went. It made a big difference in a lot of people’s lives. My friend and I and everyone else that was a part of it grew closer. It was worth giving up other plans. It was worth it being a brother.
When we say peace in church, at Mass, when we give some sign of peace to the person nearby, we are invited to say Shalom. We are invited to say that we lay aside our own plans in life, so that they can have life.
We are invited to be brothers and sisters.