Peace is a very elusive thing to grasp in the world which we live today. It means various things in the context of many situations.
For Hitler, peace resulted from killing people to attain his kind of world order. For the religions in the eastern world, peace is the obliteration of the individual personality in order that one becomes part of the universe with no awareness of self. For the housewife, peace is the quiet she desires when the teenager across the street is practicing his drums. For the young professional, peace is the prosperity he desires when he is worried about paying his bills. For the hospital patient, peace is the desire of good health when waiting anxiously in the doctor’s office to hear the results of a lab test.
In the English language, peace comes from the Latin word pax which is best illustrated in the Pax Romanum which was the end of hostilities between the conqueror and its enemies in the Roman Empire. Yet, in the Hebrew, peace comes from a whole different notion: shalom which means a permanence in wholeness, completeness, soundness, health, safety and prosperity. It is becoming whom God intended us to be in his image. Shalom is the word Jesus uses at the opening of today’s Gospel.
We cannot attain peace through our own merits for it is Jesus’ gift to us. At this last supper discourse, Jesus makes reference to the Advocate, the Paraclete before speaking of Shalom. In the post-resurrection account, Jesus walks through locked doors and says to his disciples, “Shalom” and breathes on them the Advocate. The Holy Spirit is more than just an advocate in a legal manner. The Holy Spirit abides in us, works through us, animates us, moving us to encounter God’s nearness. Through Him we come to know the one whom Isaiah spoke of as prince of peace whose punishment brings us peace and whose stripes have made us whole.
So while that beloved song “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me” rings true to the sentimentality of every heart, peace ultimately begins with Jesus. To embrace a permanent reality in being completely whole, in being whom we were intended to be, begins with Jesus. Shalom is eager to blossom and bear fruit, yet waits for humanity to recognize its savior. Shalom begins at the Eucharist where we encounter the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.