(A Reflection at the Start of Advent)
The peace greeting (Sign of Peace or "Peace be with you") is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful words we say and gestures we make to one another, though very briefly (less than 30 seconds), at Mass.
The greeting is full of meaning and is addressed, not only to those within the range of our arms, if we are offering a handshake or a hug, or within the range of our sight in front, at our back and at both sides of us, if we are signifying it with a nod or a smile. The peace greeting is meant for all, including those who are not present. In many cases, especially to those with whom we are not at peace wherever they may be.
The peace that we are offering is actually the peace that is given to us by Christ Himself. It is the peace coming from our hearts to the other person(s). Just like our Lord said "Peace be with you" to His fearful and anxious disciples in the upper room after His resurrection, and the days He appeared to them before His ascension, our greeting of peace to the other person means that we wish him to be free from anxiety and fear of what bothers him in his life. More importantly, I think that the offering of peace is just like saying: "Do not worry if you have offended me in any way because I have forgiven you, and that if I have done the same to you, I would like to have your forgiveness."
Forgiveness has a great deal to do with peace.
Some have opined even in social media that we forgive, not because the offending person deserves our forgiveness, but because we who have been offended deserve peace. We just want our personal peace. Unfortunately, Our Lord Jesus did not teach this.
Instead, Jesus, the Son of God, showed us the example of forgiveness: "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing." To Him, it was irrelevant if His persecutors deserved His forgiveness or not. In fact, He even gave them an excuse: " . . . for they know not what they are doing." And, obviously, He forgave, not because He felt that He Himself deserved to have peace.
Simply put, we forgive because we are commanded by our Lord to forgive.
The prayer our Lord taught is very clear on this: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who sin against us." We are all sinners in need of His forgiveness, and we can only be forgiven if we forgive others who have sinned against us.
The parable of the unforgiving servant is also clear on this. The servant who was forgiven by his master did not forgive his fellow servant who owed him much less. As a result, the master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. And Jesus warned: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (Matthew 18:34-35)
Jesus also said in the Gospel that there is no limit to the number of times we need to forgive others:
"Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, 'Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother who sins against me? Up to seven times?' Jesus answered, 'I tell you, not just seven times, but seventy-seven times!…'" (Matthew 18:21)
It is good for us to realize that we forgive others not because we who have been offended deserve peace. Peace in us follows after we have freely and sincerely given others our forgiveness. Our peace is a product of our forgiving others, not a reason or purpose why we forgive.#
Note: I just came to read a quote on the Stoic philosophy on forgiveness:
"So whatever it is that’s pissing you off today, let it go. We are all plenty guilty of our own sins and stupidity. Which is why we need to forgive and forget other people’s. We need to give them the same clemency and patience we grant to ourselves (which is to say, basically, an unlimited amount). This is the essence of the Golden Rule. It’s easy to treat others the way you would like to be treated when everything is looking up. It’s when the chips are down that the Golden Rule is hardest to employ, which of course is when it is most important of all."
"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." (Luke 18:13)