Grace and Peace

19 October 2006: Thursday of the 28th Year in Ordinary Time
Ephesians 1, 3-10, Psalm 98; Luke 11, 47-54

The first reading today contains St. Paul’s greetings to the Ephesians, which we use to greet each other at mass: grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Two words are important in this greeting. First, grace. The Greek word is charis. It means that there is something attractive or charming; thus Christianity should be attractive. Charis also implies a gift which is difficult for us to procure; something which we don’t earn and deserve. So when we look at our lives as Christians, the beauty of our faith is the fact that we see life as something given by God, out of His abundant love for us. If we begin our lives in charis, then everything that we do is an act of gratitude.

Paul says, “Blessed be God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ, with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world.” This illustrates grace. Paul has always believed that everything is gift. In our present world, we find that going to Church or believing in God is one of the options. Megatrends Asia tells us that people regard tradition (including religion) as one of the items that they can choose or not choose. As if, utang na loob pa ng Diyos na pinili natin siya --- that the Lord should be grateful because we chose Him. But Paul has a different view, that the beauty of faith is that the Lord himself has chosen us. That God himself, who does not need us, still has chosen us. And he gives us gifts which can be found in heaven. What is this gift which the world cannot give? Peace. And that is the second word.

Peace. The Greek word is eirēnē and it translates the Hebrew word, shalom. Shalom is not about the absence of war, or something that troubles you. It means everything that makes for the highest good of a person. Christian peace therefore is something that is not dependent on external circumstances. For example, we may have all the things that make life comfortable. We may have a nice house, a stable job and a lot of money, but we may not be in shalom. On the other hand, we may have all the problems in the world; live in a small shanty; or suffer some pain, but still live in peace. In other words, when we greet peace to each one, we actually wish for the real source of peace remains in them. When we give them the sign of peace, we do not mean that all their troubles and worries be gone, but we tell them that only in God will they find peace.

But shalom carries more. God’s will is simple: that we act like God’s children, because it is who we are. Thus, when we do something which we ought not to do, we are not at peace. Or, when we avoid something which we should do, we will not be at peace. It will continue to haunt us, until we are able to straighten it out. Paul articulates this by saying that we were chosen “to be holy and without blemish”. The Greek word for holy is hagios. Hagios has the idea of difference and separation. A church is holy because it is different from other buildings; the altar and other holy things are different from other things; Sunday is holy because it is different and separate from other days. We act differently on holy days, and when we are in holy places or holding holy things. Thus, if we are meant to be holy, then we ought to be different from others --- saints are holy because they have shown that their values and their life are different from the values of the world. And only when we become holy, doing the will of God in the world, that we have peace.

So today, we see that our greeting at the beginning of mass is not a meaningless routine, nor is our greeting of peace before we receive communion. It carries with it the essential elements of Christian faith.

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