Shalom for Lent and Beyond

Shalom to you and to those you love, my friend. Shalom is a Hebrew word meaning peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquility. I am not the first or only to say this, but shalom is God’s dream for all creation. Peace to the cosmos. Harmony to the earth. Wholeness to broken bodies. Completeness to our sanctification. Prosperity to our ministry. Well-faring for all people. Tranquility instead of strife. It is a beautiful dream. “Peace be with you” really means may all things for you be in harmony and be whole, be perfect and be well. God offers us shalom and shows us shalom through Jesus and the sending of the Holy Spirit. As members of God’s family, as people whom Jesus calls his brothers and sisters, we should seek shalom for ourselves as Jesus did for himself. Shalom is a family trait and a family practice.

On Ash Wednesday we heard Jesus tell his followers to engage in acts of piety that are done in secret. God is the proper audience for our prayers, fasting, and alms giving. There is an interior life for all of us to tend to, and it is these acts of piety done before God who is in secret that produce peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, well-being, and rest for our souls. The change these produce can be slow and imperceptible to us, but God who is in secret works on us in secret. Properly understood, prayer, fasting, and alms giving are pathways to shalom. Properly understood, prayer is a place where in the presence of a loving God we can be honest about ourselves and accepting of ourselves, and where we can experience ourselves as infinitely loved and not in competition with others, or captive to the opinion of others for our self-worth. Properly understood, fasting curbs the desire to possess and control people and things that causes rivalry. Properly understood, alms giving is for the benefit of the giver more so than the receiver. Alms giving frees us from our inclination toward excessive selfinterested acquisition and action, and brings to mind the shalom of our brothers and sisters and of all creation.

Because we are one body with Christ as our head, we should seek shalom for others. There can be no shalom for one part of the body while shalom is denied another. Our many rivalries, as civilized as they can appear when institutionalized, our many divisions caused by those rivalries, our many claims to our rights and our rightness, and our accusations against others are a denial of shalom. Rather than rivalry, Jesus says to diffuse the rivalry by turning the other cheek, giving your cloak along with shirt, and walking an extra mile. He refused to engage in rivalries that we seem to take for granted. He refused to play the power game. He told his followers to put away their sword, and he refused to call in the support of angels. At the end of his mortal life, he accused neither his accusers nor his executioners. Rather, on that good Friday, he said for the benefit of their shalom and shalom for all of creation, “Father, forgive them.” Anything else would have been to respond to rivalry with more of the same. Accusation, blaming, and seeking revenge, as right as we might often believe those to be, is to fall in league with the Accuser.

Shalom to you and those you love, my friend. Fr. Bill+