Dear Editor: I have just returned from Mass and I am angry. Not at the priest, who gave an earnest, relevant homily, or at the cantor, who led us in lovely songs for the Lenten season.
I am angry because at the sign of peace, no one shook anyone else’s hand. A few parishioners embraced spouses, then most glanced around and sort of waved at fellow parishioners. When I extended my hand, it was looked at as if it held a rotting fish.
At this particular parish, my gesture has been so spurned that I have become afraid to extend my hand. This is not one or two people concerned about spreading a cold. This has become the norm.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Catechism for Adults urges us to “Come to Mass with a community-minded attitude. Keep in mind that liturgy is a communal act of worship in which faith is strengthened by contact with other believers in a context where the Holy Spirit is forming the worshipers into the unity of the Church, the Body of Christ.”
One might insist that a glance, a wave and a mumbled “peace” is equal to a hand clasp.
Ours is a faith of incarnation. Our Christ is God made flesh. Our Heavenly Father sent His Son in body and in flesh and the weary world encountered Him. Jesus touched the leper, the Samaritan, the children. In our increasingly fast-paced, individualized, convenient world, with our eyes on our phones, we rarely have spontaneous genuine encounter with neighbors and fellow parishioners.
The sign of peace is an opportunity to greet one another with Christ’s much needed peace, to build solidarity as a community built on God’s love.
In speaking about giving alms, Pope Francis said, “…No, you throw the coin. And you have not touched, and if you did not touch him, you did not meet him…What Jesus teaches us is first to meet, and (after) meeting, to help. We need to know how to meet. We need to build, to create, to construct a culture of encounter… Because the meeting multiplies our capacity to love. The encounter with the other enlarges the heart.”
Pope Francis encourages us to touch the poor when we encounter them. Will we do that if we cannot even touch our neighbor when we encounter him during the Eucharist?
In a world where following Christ is a radical divergence from the culture of materialism and power and narcissism, we need one another. Each Sunday, we have the opportunity to encounter, in the flesh, our neighbor – a fellow traveler on our Christian journey.
Next time someone in your pew extends a hand in peace, grab it. Be a link in the chain of peace begun by Christ 2,000 years ago.