Readings: Acts 12:1-11; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18; Matthew 16:13-19
Every year on June 29th the Church remembers the lives of Saints Peter and Paul, two of the greatest saints of our Christian tradition. So important were they both for the spread of Gospel of Jesus Christ, that they are commemorated on the same day, regarded throughout the ages as foundational pillars of the Church. Both died in the eternal city of Rome, as martyrs for Jesus Christ, passionate about their allegiance to the Lord and firmly united in their zeal for God’s kingdom and the good of all people.
Saint Peter was a fisherman, who grew up near the Sea of Galilee, also called the Lake of Tiberius. Not a refined or well-educated person, Peter was chosen nonetheless by our Lord to be the head of the apostles and the first to lead Christ’s Church. Peter’s impulsiveness seems to have been a stumbling block at times, but the Lord often makes use of what might appear a frail human vessel to do great works for the Kingdom of God.
Going so far as to deny Christ, Peter eventually repented with a sincere and humbled heart, steadfastly loyal to Jesus Christ, even to the point of handing over his life in the service of the Gospel. In his frailty Peter is one with whom we can very likely identify.
Saint Paul, first known as Saul, was well-educated and learned in the Mosaic law and how the Hebrew scriptures were to be understood in the Messianic times in which he lived. Initially an enemy of the Gospel of Christ, Paul eventually became a fearless defender of the Lord, meeting opposition along the way and finally a martyr’s death for his adherence to Christ.
Saints Peter and Paul became the first and most prolific apostles to the nations after the resurrection of Christ. Together they helped to establish firmly Christ’s Church on earth. Their zeal was proverbial and the primitive Church would not have grown as it did without their apostolic labors.
Peter and Paul may have been quite different in their personalities and approaches to life in their respective vocations, but by the grace of God, they were united in creating a global understanding of Christ’s universal reign, becoming splendid examples for succeeding generations of followers of Christ, helping to foster what Saint Paul prayed for, that “God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28).
As at the time of the apostles, so also today, there may be found among Christ’s followers a mixture of clarity and confusion, peace and unrest.
This was the experience of the apostles and perhaps ours as well. There may be disagreements among Christians over how things should be done or not done, who should lead or not lead, or a variety of approaches as to how best to move forward in an increasingly secular world, often devoid of a firm belief in God and the spiritual realm.
These realities yesterday, today or tomorrow should not be cause for discouragement, but reason to place one’s hope completely in God, encouraged but the example and prayers of the holy apostles Peter and Paul. We certainly live in challenging times but perhaps not so different from the era of Saints Peter and Paul. No time is perfect, yet we are always living in “the acceptable time,” meaning there is always the possibility of meeting the living God and acting upon God’s word, going forth and making disciples of all nations, in the footsteps of Saints Peter and Paul.
These two pillars of the Church contributed with all their hearts to making Christianity richer and stronger. Had they never followed Christ’s call our own faith would be the poorer. For Peter and Paul, the good of others was a constant concern, and even as frail human beings, they sought to do right for the good of Christ’s body on earth, the Church.
For Saints Peter and Paul faith in God coupled with love of God and neighbor was primordial, meaning “existing from the beginning,” of their missionary labors. Their personal experience of the overflowing love and mercy of the Triune God should animate our whole lives as well.
We are living centuries after these great saints, yet in full communion and fellowship of love with both of them, hoping to share forever the reward they achieved by seeking “the things that are above, where Christ is,” (Colossians 3:1), not “the things that are on earth” (Col 3:2), as Saint Paul so eloquently expressed it.
This does not mean we live as disembodied spirits, oblivious to paying the bills, staying well and doing good to others, but our fundamental efforts are toward the building up of God’s kingdom and being united to God, who has, as Saint Peter wrote, “called us out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB