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  • Writer's pictureMario Nicolais

As Easter approaches, peace be with you

Etched across my back is the first line of the Prayer of St. Francis: “Make me a channel of Thy peace.”

The tattoo was a gift from my wife nearly 15 years ago, recognition of a prayer I say nearly every day. I chose the “channel” translation over the more common “instrument” because I love the imagery of peace flowing back and forth through me between God and the people in my life. That might sound a little self-righteous, but it isn’t.

It is a reminder that we all have an obligation to bring peace and love to others, no matter the circumstance.

Much like Holy Week, which begins today with Palm Sunday, the prayer is a study in offering ourselves to each other as the ultimate display of faith. It is a poetic underpinning to a life lived in service. That is likely why it was a favorite for two Nobel Peace Prize winners: Mother Teresa, who read it during her acceptance speech, and the Rev. Desmond Tutu.

But it is not reserved solely for the most holy among us. It is accessible to each of us. It is within all our hearts. For Christians, Jesus could not have been clearer. During the celebration of Maundy Thursday — the evening of the Last Supper — He left his final commandment: “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love another.”

And as if to bring he point home, He later told those at the table, “Peace I leave you with. My peace I give to you.”

That is the way, regardless of religion or lack thereof, peace through love.

It is not as difficult as the grandiosity of the biblical moment may make it seem. Rather, it is accomplished in many small instances across our lives. Simple gestures and acts. Holding the door for a stranger. Offering a smile to a store clerk. Sitting beside a distraught friend in a time of need.

Each asks little but returns the world entire.

At my church we have a tradition that brings that message to life for me every week. Like many Christian congregations, particularly Catholic and Episcopalian parishes, we exchange “the peace” during every Mass.

The common practice is for the celebrant to proclaim, “The peace of the Lord be always with you.” The congregants reply, “And also with you” before they turn to greet the people beside them with a handshake and some variation of the phrase, “peace be with you.”

Maybe it is because we are not a large congregation, but at my church the peace does not end there. What ensues every Sunday (or Saturday evening during our more spiritual “Nishma” service) is a traffic jam of peace.

Most attendees flood out into the aisle and begin greeting everyone assembled. There are hugs and kisses and warm greetings. People throw two-fingered peace signs across the room. Our musicians leave their perch to join in the revelry. There are fist bumps and elbow touches for people still a little uneasy about potential COVID infection but caught up in the wave of peace.

Even the service dog for two of our attendees gets involved, walking through the aisle greeting everyone. I usually wish Xander, “treats be with you” as I pat his head.

It takes longer than customary and frequently catches visitors, recently including the Episcopal Bishop of Colorado, a little off-guard. But only momentarily. It is hard to keep from becoming instantly swept up in the outpouring of affection.

From gun tragedies to presidential indictments to war raging half a world a away, it seems our world is one of angst and aggression. Those circumstances often seem all consuming. But they are not.

There is always peace to be found in our world. Most importantly, there is peace inside each of us that we must remember to channel toward others whenever we can.

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