Monday, December 22, 2008

Creating an Environment of Shalom

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (Mt 5:9)

Picture from Wikimedia. It is in the Public Domain.

When I was in primary school … and that was a long time ago … I remember singing this campfire song:
Shalom my friend!
Shalom my friend!
Shalom … Shalom …
May Peace be with you,
May Peace be with you,
  (Of course, the lines in the middle may be sung “God’s Peace be with you …”)

I was taught at that young age by a Christian teacher that the word shalom meant peace. After I was baptised (I was in my early teens), I remembered a Youth Mission where there was a talk about Peace. I am sure that the idea of shalom was explained there but I have no recollection of it. My memories of that Youth Mission centred around the personalities of Rev. Fr. Brian Doro, C.Ss.R., and the late Rev. Fr. P.J. O'Neil, C.Ss.R. Anyway, it was only during lectures on Sacred Scripture in the seminary that I discovered the rich meaning of the Hebrew word, Shalom.

Shalom means wholeness. When someone greeted another, “Shalom!”, it meant that the greeter hoped that the Lord would grant the one greeted the totality of being. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Hebrew word shalom was often translated into the Greek soteria, which meant salvation. It makes sense, doesn’t it. God created perfect human beings in the beginning. Sin introduced imperfections, causing human beings to be less that whole. Salvation would be the restoration of that perfect state, being a wholly perfect human being again. The Greek word for peace eirene, means tranquility and harmonious relationship. Eirene is qualitatively less than shalom. Although Jesus probably used Aramaic rather than Greek, there is little doubt that he had the idea of shalom when he presented the beatitudes.

So when Jesus talks about peacemakers, he is speaking of those who make shalom a part of their lives. In our present world of conflicts, we hear of peace-keepers. These are military troops or civilians who maintain conditions that prevent conflict and hostility. The peace that is kept is not even that which is described by eirene. The idea of peace nowadays refers to “the absence of conflict”. Christian peace refers to the state of being whole, being complete, a completeness that only God can give:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. (Jn 14:27)

So when Jesus talks about being a peacemaker, I think it refers to those people who promote situations where people are able to become whole by the grace of God.

When there is conflict, whether large or small, the Christian response would be reconciliation. Reconciliation is not merely making compromises. It is the active provision of an environment of shalom that would pervade all parties. Suing for peace, no longer means wanting what is good for my party, but wanting the totality of good for all. This means that if I was the aggrieved party, I do not demand justice on my part, but the totality of good for all. To compromise would mean “give and take” on the part of all parties. There would be some things that would be obtained and others that would have to be sacrificed. Peacemaking has no giving up but rather receiving totally from God.

In the pastoral ministry, priests are called to provide environments where their flock can grow at being whole as a human being. Creating environments where shalom can be a reality is the challenge for priests of today. We are so specialized nowadays that we tend to forget that other aspects of being human also exist.

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