by Louise Campbell
On April 25 we will commemorate the centenary of the Anzac landings on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey. That bitter eight month campaign in 1915 helped to forge our nation.
Pope Francis ushered in 2015 with an impassioned appeal, “Let there be no more wars. Let it be
a year of peace in the embrace of the Lord”.
It is a universal and prophetic fact that the more strongly the world is confronted by atrocities of terrorism, war and violence of any kind, it is equally besieged by the call to peace. In history, in our lives and in our liturgy, the dream of peace — a peace that is fitting for our time, our place and our world — is always being born in us. It is the persistence of this dream that brings us into solidarity with people everywhere, particularly those whose lives are so sorely disrupted by conflict or violence of every kind.
THE SIGN OF PEACE
Peace is always possible, but we have to go and look for it.
For Catholics, one place to look is the Rite of Peace. In July last year the Congregation for Divine Worship circulated a letter reminding us of the significance of the Sign of Peace at Mass. The placement of this ritual within the Communion Rite and immediately after the Lord’s Prayer is deliberate. Its potency as the ritual by which the Church prays for peace, for
herself and for the whole human family, unequivocally commits us, as the Body of Christ, to being peacemakers.
It is striking that the dialogues and acclamations that belong to the Sign of Peace draw heavily on the words of Jesus. The Prayer to Christ reminds us of the consolation he offered to the disciples before his crucifixion: “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you” (John 14: 27). The peace Christ offers them is deeper and more pervasive than the confusion and trials they face.
The Greeting of Peace and the Sign of Peace, in both word and gesture, echo the greeting of the newly Risen Christ to his terrified disciples: “Peace be with you” (John 20: 19, 21, 26). Then, as now, despite the “doors locked out of fear and despair”, Jesus is present with this gift of peace. Then, as now, Christ calls attention to his wounds (John 20: 20, 27). This living Word of Peace is present, no matter how shocking the immediate circumstances of people’s lives. It is this impassioned peace that the rite constantly calls us to bodily receive and pass on to others.
THE COMMITMENT TO BE PEACEMAKERS
It was Ghandi who told us that you cannot shake hands with a clasped fist, and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta who told us that peace begins in our own backyard. There cannot be one of us who does not know the challenge of exchanging a Sign of Peace with a spouse or family member when
unresolved quarrels or anger remain between us, or the chagrin of having to greet a parishioner
we have been trying to avoid because they just happen to be sitting immediately in front of or behind us. This is where we begin. Over and again we practise offering and receiving Christ’s
peace, equally, between family members, friends, colleagues and strangers before taking it with us when we leave. It is a lifetime’s work to learn to receive and pass on the gift of Christ,
whose Spirit moves in and through the closed doors of our minds and hearts, to remove barriers, undo divisions and repair the ruptures of injustice, ignorance and prejudice in us, our community and our world.
Little by little, as we dare to allow our wounded selves to receive Christ’s peace, and learn to minister to others, we grow in bearing imaginative and resourceful witness to peace and unity among us.
Each celebration of the rite reminds us to where to look for the peace of the Risen Christ. It is to be found in the community of believers; in their words and their actions; in touching
the wounds of Christ. The celebration of the Rite of Peace requires us to ask some compelling questions. How does our community express this peace outside the liturgy? How are peace and
unity built among those who gather for worship? Which groups can we support in their local, national or international commitment to building peace between nations? Which groups minister to those wounded by atrocities of terrorism, war and violence of every kind? Where are the gaps in such ministry? What new initiatives can we establish?
The Sign of Peace challenges us to step outside our safety and comfort; to believe that our worshipping community is the Body of Christ; to recognise that when we dare to touch the wounds
of the community, we are putting our hands into the wounds of Christ; that no matter how terrifying these wounds may appear to be, they are the wounds of the Risen Christ. Attending to these wounds is to place ourselves in the tangible presence of Christ, the peacemaker in our midst.
Faith enables us to believe that in facing terrifying circumstances of every kind we are met with the gift of Christ’s peace. Hope allows God’s Spirit to work through us. Love enables that Spirit to bring about the most fitting expression of peace in our time, our place, and our world.
The dream begins with the Sign of Peace.
— Louise Campbell of Auckland is the director of the National Liturgy Office.