SS. Peter & Paul (2015)
(Acts 12:1-11; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18; Matthew 16:13-19)
Today we are "called out" -- that is what the word "Ecclesia", which is translated into English as "Church", means -- called together as Christians out of the world, to praise and glorify God in and through His beloved Son; for, gathered together in Mother Church we have personal contact with Jesus and are to be filled with His most Holy Spirit, that Spirit Who is the very Life of the Church. Therefore, with joy and great gratitude today we celebrate Peter and Paul as chosen and commissioned by Jesus, each in their own way, as founders of Mother Church.
Let us first of all notice the difference between the two as founders. Take Peter first of all. Jesus said to him:
I tell you that you are Peter (which means 'rock' in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke), and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:18-20)
Jesus willed to build, to establish, His Church on the rock of Peter's faith, that faith for which Jesus Himself prayed:
I have prayed for you, Simon (Peter), that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers. (Luke 22:32)
Now listen to the Lord telling Ananias about the work Paul would do for His name among the Gentiles and Jews of the Diaspora (Acts 9:15):
The Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is My chosen instrument to carry My name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel."
As you can see, Peter was established by Jesus as the foundation rock for the faith of the universal Church; he was also, as the ultimate support and defence for the Church, given supreme authority in the Church. Paul, on the other hand, was commissioned by Jesus for the spread of the Church and world-wide proclamation of His Gospel message, he it was who would take the name of Jesus to the Gentiles; and still today, Paul, as the first and greatest theologian of Mother Church, continues his mission by helping us to an ever deeper appreciation of Jesus’ Good News as we try to deepen our understanding of his writings.
There is yet something more about Peter which I wish to draw to your attention, dear People of God, because in the Gospel we are not only told that Jesus chose Peter as the foundation rock for His Church, but also why Jesus made that choice:
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
Notice that! When Jesus asked "Who do people say I am?" all the apostles answered Him. But when He then went on to ask:
But what about you? Who do you say I am?
Then, only one of them answered; one speaking clearly for himself and also for all the others who accepted his words:
Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
There we can see that the other apostles' acknowledged the position, and witnessed to the personal authority, of Peter. Now notice the witness of Jesus:
Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by My Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it."
So Jesus chose Peter because He saw that His heavenly Father had already chosen him by giving him a unique awareness of Jesus’ true identity:
Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by My Father in heaven.
What confidence we should have in Mother Church! She is founded on the rock of Peter's faith, which, as the foundation Rock, can never be lost to or taken from the Church, and which is, therefore, still with us today in the figure and faith of the Pope; and Jesus Himself still prays for Peter as the foundation rock of His Church, because, as God's well-beloved Son, He sees that such is His Father's will. Moreover, we should also have sure trust in God’s loving Providence at work in Mother Church by the continual spread, unfolding, and appreciation of the authentic understanding of Jesus’ Gospel begun in St. Paul's life and committed to posterity in his letters (‘heard and approved’ first of all by the Apostles gathered in Jerusalem, cp. Galatians 2:1-5) which are the earliest surely acknowledged pages of our New Testament Scriptures … a continuing process which is being guided and sustained by the Holy Spirit, given as Jesus promised, to lead Mother Church into all truth.
There does arise one question however: Why do we celebrate Peter and Paul together? After all, there is a successor to Peter, a living, celebrated, and supremely authoritative person, the Pope, but there is no named and known person who is successor to Paul. Are we therefore simply celebrating the work both of them did, more or less together, all those centuries ago in the church at Rome for the Church Universal, the Catholic Church? Surely that is not fully satisfactory. What therefore is the present ‘duality’, so to speak, that we celebrate and honour every year with such pomp and with fitting and enduring gratitude and expectancy?
Rome was the ideal place for both of them: for, being the capital and centre of authority for the world-wide and supreme power, it was, indeed, the most fitting location for Peter’s authority in and over the new-born Catholic (universal) Church. It was also the ideal place for Paul, chosen personally by the Lord Himself to proclaim His Gospel to the Gentiles; because people from all nations -- especially the flower of those nations -- came to Rome for a multitude of reasons and purposes: people with important missions and who were, therefore, suitably educated; people searching for contact with, teaching from, and the acquaintance of, powerful individuals and important thinkers, prestigious holders of rare abilities and skills, arts and sciences both necessary and desirable. That was the place where large sectors of the Gentile world first came into contact with and heard of Paul’s proclamation of Jesus, and having learned from Paul’s presentation of Jesus’ teaching, came to admire, appreciate, and worship Jesus for Who He was. Rome was most truly the ideal place for Paul’s Christian ‘dynamism’.
Thus we have the centripetal authority, holding all together in loving union, and the centrifugal, expansive dynamism, of Catholic universalism, and both are necessary to give suitable expression to the vitality and life of the One Body of Christ; and that is what we celebrate and pray for, above all, on this special solemnity of Peter and Paul.
Today, however, there is an incipient danger of too much emphasis being put on the person of Peter in so far as Peter does have a personal successor, the Pope, and that brings a certain imbalance to our appreciation of the feast. What Peter taught, and the function he exercised, allows us to celebrate him along with Paul in our yearly-recurring celebration of prayer and thanksgiving; on the other hand, the personality of Peter’s modern-day successor is not part of and can intrude upon that perennial Catholic appreciation and prayer. Peter is the rock on which our Church is built, Paul is the great evangelist who presents the Good News of Jesus to the world: Paul still gathers and brings in converts from the nations and Peter still embraces them as one family into one Body. In such a context the psychological character of Peter’s present successor is irrelevant: whether thoughts enter his heart or his mind, whether he is emotional or intellectual, evangelical or contemplative, outgoing or retiring … all such aspects will inevitably attract some while leaving others untouched or dissatisfied. But, such differences can be over-emphasized by interested parties even so much as to foster division in the one family, or the one Body.
Which Christian truth, what Catholic doctrine, the present Peter, the Pope, proclaims and tries to live is important for all Catholics, it is, to use a common phrase, Gospel truth; but how, or in what manner he chooses to express his personal appreciation or practice of that truth is not, in the same sense, Gospel spirituality. Personally, I do not admire emotionality, but I know that controlled emotion is the driving force of mankind. I mistrust emotionality, however, because in social life and politics it is often a cheap and violent challenge to reasoned discourse and mutual accommodation, while in religion it can and frequently does masquerade as, or be frequently mistaken for, devotion. Nevertheless, and despite such misgivings, I do want – most vehemently and intensely – to love to the utmost of my personal emotional and intellectual being both the Person of Jesus and the Catholic doctrine which is the truest expression of His Being.
Perhaps our greatest failing today in the Church is lack of trust in God. Our Western, technological and consumerist, society is characterised by the will to make things for our use and enjoyment in many fields of activity; and people can thereby come to think they should be able to produce desired results even in spiritual matters. For such people it is not always easy to wait for God, when His blessings seem slow in coming; nor are they inclined to beg even Him, let alone Mother Church and human guides, for wisdom to understand better His laws and teaching when they conflict with modern attitudes and their own desires. Indeed, too many modern disciples are inclined to try to produce their own version of what they seek, and to supply their own teaching for what they want to believe. There is little trust afforded to a seemingly silent God. And yet it was such trust that characterized Abraham, our father in faith and the great Patriarchs and Prophets of Israel, and above all perhaps John the Baptist, alone in a dark, damp and cold dungeon awaiting death whenever the whim of a weak and dissolute monarch goaded by bitter women might order it. And that monumental and inspiring trust reached its sublime apogee in the patience of Jesus throughout the course of His Passion and Death after His agonizing prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Following the example of their Lord and Saviour the Apostles and teachers of our faith, Peter and Paul whom we celebrate today undertook, in similar patience, confidence and faith, to evangelise and convert the mighty, pagan, Roman Empire, trusting totally in God alone. Did we not hear in the first reading:
Then Peter came to himself and said, "Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod's clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating."
Likewise St. Paul had learnt to trust God in all circumstances and situations:
The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Peter and Paul each had a unique role to fulfil for the Church and both were blessed and spared for the good of all who were to become children of God and Mother Church. They were given to Mother Church by the choice of Jesus and the heavenly Father Himself; let us therefore take seriously and whole-heartedly the words of the letter to the Hebrews (12:1):
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Yes, let us throw off the sin that so entangles many of our brethren today, the sin that hinders all progress in the ways of Jesus, namely lack of confidence and trust in the Lord, lack of patience and indeed joy in Mother Church.