SS. Peter & Paul
Today we are “called out” – that is what the word ‘ecclesia’ translated into English as ‘church’ – means. Today we are called out to church (where coronavirus allows!) to praise and glorify God in and through His beloved Son; for, gathered together in Mother Church we are in true contact with, and are called to have intimate P/personal communion with Jesus, and to be filled with His most Holy Spirit Who is the very Life of the Church. Therefore, with joy and great gratitude we should today 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 differences between the two as founders. Take Peter first of all. Jesus said to him:
And so I say to you, you are Peter (which means ‘rock’ in Aramaic the language Jesus spoke) and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Jesus willed to build, establish, His Church on the rock of Peter’s confession of 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! The man is My chosen instrument to carry My name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.
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 the 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 in his mission by helping us to an ever richer 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 went into the region of Caesarea Philippi He asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, 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 who do you say that I am?
then only one of them answered, one speaking clearly for himself and also for all the others silently accepting his words:
Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus then chose Peter as ‘Rock’ because He saw that His heavenly Father had already chosen him by giving him a unique awareness of Jesus’ true identity:
Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My heavenly Father.
What confidence we should have in Mother Church! She is founded on the rock of Peter’s confession of faith which, as the Foundation Rock, can never be denied, lost or taken from the Church and which is therefore, a Rock still with us today in the figure of the Pope; and Jesus Himself still prays for the faith of that 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 for the continual spread, unfolding, and appreciation of the authentic understanding of Jesus’ Gospel, begun in Paul’s lifetime and committed to posterity in his letters (heard and approved first of all by the other Apostles gathered in Jerusalem (cp. Galatians 2:1-5) some of 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.
Notice that, People of God: Jesus prays for the faith of Peter -- the Rock – with us in the person of the Pope; the Holy Spirit spreads and deepens, purifies and confirms, the faith of Paul proclaimed to the Gentiles in his letters. There have been troubles for Mother Church only when men (even cardinals!) have tried to use the person of the Pope to the detriment of the teaching of Paul.
Notice also that we celebrate Peter and Paul together in one great solemnity which seems a little strange when you think that there is a Pope among us, a living successor of Peter, but there is no named and acknowledged person who is successor to Paul. What therefore is the ‘duality’ we celebrate today with such pomp and with such fitting and enduring gratitude and expectancy? It is the oneness of their duality in Rome, the oneness of their duality in Mother Church.
Ancient Rome was the ideal place for both of them, for, being the capital and the world-wide, supreme, social authority and power, it was, indeed, the most fitting location for Peter’s authority in and over the new-born Catholic and universal Church. It was also the ideal place for Paul, chosen Personally by the Risen 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, educated; people searching for guidance, for contact with, teaching from, and the acquaintance of, powerful individuals and important thinkers, prestigious holders of rare talents and skills in the arts and sciences necessary and desirable. That was the place where large sectors of the Gentile world – not forgetting the Jews of Rome -- first came into close contact with Paul proclaiming Jesus despite, nay, even inspired by his chains. Rome was most truly the ideal place for Paul’s Christian dynamism to forge a vibrant unity of Jews and gentiles as one flock for Jesus’ shepherding in the pagan world ruled by Rome.
Thus we have the centripetal authority of the Rock of Peter, holding all as one, and proclaiming for all the common faith of the Apostles, and the centrifugal, expansive dynamism of Paul’s teaching and theological development of Catholic universalism; both are absolutely necessary to give suitable expression to the vitality and life of the One Body of Christ; and that is what we gratefully celebrate and ardently pray for, above all, on this special solemnity of Peter and Paul. What God has joined together let not man separate!
Perhaps our greatest failing in Mother Church today is lack of trust in God. Our Western technological and consumerist society is characterized by the will to make things for our use and enjoyment in many fields of activity; and people 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 seem to conflict with their modern attitudes and their own, very personal, desires. Indeed, too many modern disciples are inclined to produce their own version of the truth they seek and to supply their own justification 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 Saint John the Baptist, alone in a dark, damp and cold dungeon awaiting death whenever the whim of a weak and dissolute monarch -- goaded by a bitter woman -- might order it. And that monumental and inspiring trust reached its 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 evangelize 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 learned 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 wholeheartedly 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 in Mother Church today, the sin that hinders all progress in the ways of God, namely lack of confidence and trust in the Lord Whose Goodness and Providence governs all times and circumstances for the fulfilment of those who believe in Jesus and the Good News He brings from the Father of all.