Saints Peter & Paul June 29
It was a beautiful June 29th in the summer of 1986 and I rode my bike to early morning Mass. It was the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul. The martyrs' scarlet red altar cloths and priestly vestments were quite a contrast to the olive green of ordinary time. I often went to daily Mass, but something about the celebration of Peter and Paul remained with me.
Saints Peter and Paul, the two saints that we celebrate today, are the two pillars of the Church. Peter and Paul were both martyred in the city of Rome, executed during Nero’s persecution between 64 and 67 A.D. Peter first and then Paul.
Jesus had left his hometown of Nazareth and was living in Capernaum, a port city on the Sea of Galilee, home to many fishermen. Jesus may well have lived a few doors down from Simon-Peter.
One day after teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum, (Lk. 4.38-41), Jesus "entered the house of Simon. Jesus cured Simon-Peter's mother-in-law.
Then a few days later, after Simon-Peter had been fishing all night long and had caught nothing, he was cleaning his nets and looking forward to going home to sleep, when Jesus happened along. The Lord asked Simon-Peter if he could stand in his boat to teach the crowd gathered on the shoreline. Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” asked Simon to take the boat out again: "
Note that once Simon says to Jesus,
Yes, there is a risk in being Jesus' neighbor, allowing Christ to enter your home, your boat, your workplace. He will change our life if we let him in.
And how many of us still recall Jesus' question that echoes throughout history: "Who do you say that I am?"
And Peter confesses his faith: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Jesus declares: "Blessed are you, Simon...And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven...." (Matthew 16:17b-19).
After the Resurrection, Jesus asks Peter three times: "Do you love me?" Do you love me more than the fish?
We must know Christ in order to love him.
How are we to love Christ if we do not know Him?
And how are we to know Him if we do not love him?
And when Jesus was arrested, Simon-Peter even denied that he knew Jesus, but even after the crucifixion, the disciples still recognized him as the chief apostle.
From the day of Jesus' Resurrection onward, and in the Acts of the Apostles, Peter is recognized as the head of the church community, and later became the "papa" of the Jewish-Christians and converts to Christianity in Rome, This was rooted in Jesus' decision to call Peter the rock, the chief apostle, and to give him the keys of the kingdom, which symbolize the authority of the Church. Hence the title papa, or "pope" is associated with this first bishop of Rome and all subsequent bishops of Rome.
Let us now turn to Saul of Tarsus, Saint Paul. Saul was a strident Pharisee, and as a Jewish theologian he was a staunch defender of Judaism against the followers of Jesus of Nazareth - even to the point where he oversaw the death by stoning execution of Saint Stephen.
Yet this ardent enemy of Christ, on the road to Damascus to arrest members of the Church, was blinded by the light of the Risen Christ Jesus and his life was changed foverer.
That event was the impetus that made him one of the most passionate and courageous ambassadors of Christ in Church history, making him the Apostle to the Gentiles.
Persecution, humiliation, and weakness became his daily cross thereafter. Paul went through much for Our Lord. "...imprisonments, ...beatings, and numerous brushes with death. Five times he received forty lashes minus one. (40 was considered lethal); Three times he beaten with rods, once he was stoned and left for dead, three times he was shipwrecked, he passed a night and a day adrift on the open sea; in dangers..from robbers...dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, and dangers among false brothers...." (2 Cor. 11. 23-26).
But Paul assures us: "The sufferings of the present are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed in us" (Rom. 8:18-21) and declares in Galatians 2.20 . "I have been crucified with Christ, for it is no longer I who live, but Christ Jesus who lives in me...the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me."
Like both Peter and Paul, once Christ encounters us, and calls us each by name, we are wounded with mercy, our hearts are seared with his love, and our minds with his truth ; this is why we will desire to keep His Commandments and follow Church Teaching....
and when we taste His goodness, experience his love, and his mercy, we long for more....for we are wounded by His love. This longing for the beautiful, for the good, the true, all that is holy, is what Saints Peter and Paul experienced.
They abandoned everything to follow Christ - Peter was crucified upside down and Paul was beheaded - as enemies of the state, the decadent Roman world. They were witnesses to the Truth of Christ and took up the Cross, and it was as difficult then as it is now where the only truth is that nothing is true.
Yes, both Peter and Paul embraced Christ because He had embraced them; He had called them as disciples and taken possession of them, and sent them forth as Apostles.
Peter and Paul certainly knew the Mercy of Christ for they were shown great mercy. We too are called to allow Christ to possess us and in turn we are to share the same mercy with those we encounter today and every day.
These two men underwent extreme change and yet kept their eyes on Christ. And in the midst of their radical changes, in following Christ, they didn't focus on themselves, or worry and say: "What's in this for me?"
They didn't wait around to see how this whole Christian thing turned out. They couldn't. They were right in the middle of the maelstrom...they didn't have the luxury of sitting back and watching while others worked to make Christianity happen. They were what was happening. and they gave their last ounce of courage, their last drop of blood...literally.
Their willingness to follow Christ required a total commitment in faith and hope.
After Christ taught about the Eucharist, thousands of disciples left him. Jesus turned to the twelve and asked: "Will you also go away."
Simon-Peter answered: "Lord, to whom else shall we go? You alone have the word of everlasting life."
Where is our faith unless we are willing to risk something?
As we celebrate these two very different men, is it a coincidence that we are here? The mission of our new parish will not require a recognition of our limits, but awareness of God's abundance. God will provide!
At the Transfiguration, Simon-Peter declared: "It is good for us to be here!"
It is good that we are here at Christ the King and Holy Spirit Parishes, as we unite this week into the merged Parish of the Annunciation.
May we, like Peter and Paul, respond to the Lord when He calls each of us by name, and persevere in faith - even amid our sinfulness and doubts and denials and fears - knowing that if the Lord can work through the fallible and complicated characters of Peter and Paul, then certainly He can work through us.
And at the end of our journey, we can pray, as did Saint Paul: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" (2Tim. 4:7-8).
Yes, I am so glad I rode my bike to early morning Mass back on June 29th 1986. And I hope the celebration of the Eucharist - the fervent prayer of the Church - continues to transform you and me, just as it did Saints Peter and Paul.