Peace Be With You
Written by Marc Tumeinski, Assistant Professor of Theology and Program Director of Graduate Theology at Anna Maria College

One of the profound gifts of the Mass, and one that I have especially missed during this pandemic, is the rite of peace. “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you. The peace of the Lord be with you always. And with your spirit. Let us offer each other the sign of peace.” After praying together the Our Father, we ask the Lord for peace and, trusting in the Lord’s gift, we confidently exchange a sign of this peace with our sisters and brothers in Christ. I find great comfort in this rite, and also a powerful call. It is not a time for simply greeting people who happen to be in the pews around us, but instead we are earnestly reminding ourselves that we are brought together, by our shared baptism, as a family united in love. Furthermore, the rite is also a plea for peace within the whole human family. What could be more beautiful? This rite is truly a solemn moment in the Mass.

We so desperately need this gift and this reassurance. When I listen to the familiar words of the rite, I am reminded that the peace of Christ is much more than simply nice feelings or a vague sense that everything is OK. Peace means that we have good relationships: with God, with ourselves, with other people, and even with all of God’s creation. Having good relationships requires time, dedication, trust, willingness to forgive, and hard work.

Many of us, including myself, are especially hungry for true peace and good relationships at this moment: in the last few months, we have been shaken by illness and COVID-related deaths, disruptions caused by the pandemic, a recent public killing and widespread social unrest. Death and violence have torn at many of our relationships and our communities. I need God’s help–we need God’s help–to once again begin to rebuild peace and our relationships with God, self, others and creation. Where better to seek and receive this help than at Mass?

Even more than a necessary reminder, I believe that the beautiful rite of peace can help me to develop the habit of recognizing that peace is a gift from God, and to embrace that gift by sharing it with others. I hope that this can become a habit, which requires working at it each day.

During the Mass, we sing that it is the Lamb of God who grants us peace. At times, I find myself singing these words without paying a lot of attention, but then I am awakened by that final verse: “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.” This prayer brings me great consolation. The One who loved all of creation into existence offers to each one of us the gift of peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Mt 5:9). As I go about my daily life, how can I cultivate this habit of asking the Lord for peace? What can help me to remember the gift of the Eucharist that I receive at Mass?

As Christians, when we face disorder and violence, we know in our hearts and minds that we are not alone. We have received the gift of peace from the Lord, and we are part of a community that is striving to practice peace. The Church is called to be a community of peacemakers, and how much the world needs this community right now. At times, this belief may strike us or others as naïve. Do I really believe that peace can be put into practice: beginning with prayer, the Eucharist, the rite of peace? Is the Church truly a primary instrument of peace in this stressed world? Am I ready to trust that God gives me peace when I ask? And yet … the rite of peace goes on. We hear those words, we exchange a sign of peace, we join in the supper of the Lamb, and we are sent out into the world. Yes, I do believe that we can be peacemakers.

Pope Francis reminded the Church that unity prevails over conflict. How will I let this truth change the way I live? The US Bishops taught that “we can be more than we are.” With everything going on around us in the world today, what can help us to put that vision into practice? “We can be more than we are–these words are taken from a Bishops’ document entitled ‘Confronting a Culture of Violence.’ The Bishops encouraged Catholics and all people of good will to remember that “we can turn away from violence; we can build communities of greater peace.”

To put this belief into practice, the US Bishops recommended the following:

* Pray for peace in our hearts and our world. I would add that this includes praying for peace in our College and in our local communities.

* Listen to others, particularly those who are victims of violence and those who live in fear.

* Examine our attitudes and actions. Are these consistent with the call to be more than we are, and to be peacemakers?

* Confront violence in all its forms.

* Hold institutions accountable for their actions.

* Build up peace with renewed commitment and creativity.

* Call on others to join the work of peacebuilding.

These attitudes and actions are consistent with the mission and values of Anna Maria. As we try to live up to these together, we can indeed become more than we are. “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you. The peace of the Lord be with you always. And with your spirit. Let us offer each other the sign of peace.”