Sign of peace
When the “kiss of peace” was restored after the Second Vatican Council as part of the congregation’s role at Mass, some of us didn’t like it. Some may still not like it. Concentration on Jesus and me is disturbed.
But nearly every Catholic embraces it now, often literally. The celebrant of Mass says “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” We respond, “And with your spirit.” Then we are told, “Let us offer each other the sign of peace.” We shake hands with everyone around and hug family members and friends, sometimes reaching across pews. The moment seems to be a break in ritual solemnity, allowing natural feeling to flow.
It’s not supposed to be a break. The Vatican has reminded us of that by telling the world’s bishops to do something about the “excess” of greeting that often happens. There is enough meaning in the gesture when carried out properly.
The person next to us in Mass extends a hand and says, “The peace of Christ be with you,” or simply, “The peace of Christ.” There could be a hug if we are personally close. When this is done with evident sincerity, we do receive the blessing that this ritual is meant to provide. We don’t feel the moment as a break in our worship. Rather, it opens us to love.
It opens us to communion with that person in Christ. It opens us to communion with everyone around us in Christ. The natural feeling that results is gratitude, along with both a desire for more and the challenge of greater communion. It’s the kind of moment called for in Matthew 5:23-24:
“When you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go, first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.
The greeting we exchange in Mass is not a peace that we offer from our own power. It is, as we say, the peace of Christ. It has to be offered humbly in the knowledge that we need it as much as anyone. With this attitude we won’t fall into any “excess” that takes us away from Christ.
Inequality is the root
This is becoming the Year of Inequality. Not that we’re especially pursuing inequality this year, but that the fact of economic and social inequality is gaining more and more attention. Powerful people comment on it, research on it is published, books are written, and popes continue to speak of it.
The big book of the year is Thomas Picketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-first Century,” showing how and why the rich get richer in modern economies while the rest stagnate. The fiscal rating agency Standard & Poor’s now says the widening gap between the rich and everyone else is “damaging to growth” in this country. The president of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, told a May conference in London, “History…teaches us that democracy begins to fray at the edges once political battles separate the haves against the have-nots.”
Pope Francis in April sent a tweet saying simply, “Inequality is the root of social evil.” This was unusual only in the brevity of the message. He has been on that message consistently. Last November he wrote in the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium: “As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by … attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems, or for that matter, to any problems. Inequality is the root of social ills.”
The next time someone tells you that equality has nothing to do with religion, you might say, “Tell it to the pope.”