Here at Catholic Answers, we begin every day with Mass celebrated by our chaplain, Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P. At the “sign of peace,” Fr. Vincent says, “Peace be with you,” we respond “and also with you.” Then he proceeds with the breaking of the host. In other words, we skip the handshaking, hugging, kissing, waving, and peace-sign flashing that is characteristic of most parish Masses.
Although the exchange of a sign of peace among the congregation is optional, most Catholics are not aware of that. That is not surprising given the emphasis on the sign of peace in many parishes. Many people would interpret its omission here as a sign that we don’t care about community or peace.
That’s far from true; we have a genuine Christian community. Nonetheless, we are sinners, and, like every other workplace, we have conflicts and tensions. So, I like the omission of the shake, rattle, and roll at our daily Mass. In that moment of silence, with nothing to distract the conscience, any lack of peace resounds like a foghorn.
Moreover, that moment of silence is a fitting metaphor of a Christian understanding of peace. This understanding gets lost in most conversations on the topic. Msgr. Stuart Swetland offers a good introduction on page 6.
The world sees peace as something relatively easy to achieve, given the right intervention. But a moment’s consideration will make it obvious that peace is not accomplished by a simple gesture during Mass, let alone by picketing in front of the School of the Americas. Partial peace begins with each of us living lives of heroic virtue.
It is only partial because peace in this life is never fully accomplished. It is never absolute. It cannot be chosen, for example, in the same way chastity or temperance can be chosen because peace is dependent on other people. It is always temporary and always fragile. The world talks as if we could bring about complete and lasting peace by our own efforts. What we long for, however, can be found only in Christ.
In the words of Dietrich von Hildebrand:
We must not seek peace for its own sake, and on no account must we seek any and every kind of peace, but seek God and content ourselves with that peace which He alone can give our soul. Those restless in the world are nearer to God than those satisfied in the world.
In that tension—the space between the peace we desire and the lack of it which confronts us—we Christians dwell.