The Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul
Sunday, 29 June 2008
Holy Cross Church, Hutchinson, Kansas
Acts of the Apostles 12:1-11
2 Timothy 4:6-8; 17-18
The Entrance Antiphon from the missal for today’s feast of Saints Peter and Paul picks up one of the threads which go through the whole Liturgy of the Word for today:
“These men, conquering all human frailty, shed their blood and helped the Church to grow. By sharing the cup of the Lord’s suffering, they became the friends of God.”
These two sentences sum up very well one of the more important things we can say about Peter and Paul. These words present to you and me one of the most convincing challenges to any excuses we might put forward as to why we cannot do likewise. We are invited to follow in the footsteps of Christ as did His great Saints Peter and Paul. The fact that Peter who had shown great cowardice when Jesus was arrested and had denied him three times moved on by the grace of God to become Christ’s vicar, the chief Apostle, and the fact that Paul who had rabidly persecuted the Church in defense of Jewish traditions moved on by the personal choice of the Risen Christ to become the Apostle to the Gentiles leave us no room for shunning the grace provided by Jesus to each and every one of us to turn away from sin and become His witnesses to the ends of the earth.
Our calling may not be to martyrdom like Peter, crucified upside down, or like Paul who was beheaded by the sword. We may never even be imprisoned for our faith and certainly not rescued from chains by an angel as Peter was in our first reading today, but we are called, just like them, to confess Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. We are called to live so that we can make the words of St. Paul to Timothy our own, that we might in good conscience be able to say that we too “have fought the good fight …finished the race …kept the faith”.
To say that each of us must strive to follow the example of the great Princes of the Apostles might seem a bit of an exaggeration. In point of fact, although their personal experiences cannot be repeated, that is what we are called to do right where we find ourselves in our world. I think the key phrase is the one Paul shares in his second letter to young Timothy, whom he was grooming for big things back then:
“From now on a merited crown awaits me; on that day the Lord, just judge that he is, will award it to me – and not only to me but to all who have looked for his appearing with eager longing.”
After stumbling and stumbling grievously Peter and Paul turned to the Lord for forgiveness, gave their hearts entirely to Jesus in love, and set about making Him known. They gathered to themselves in life and in death countless numbers of people who just like them “looked for his appearing with eager longing.” You and I are called to do the same right where we find ourselves in the world. Whether we are called to do it “high profile” like let’s say Mother Angelica and all who work on EWTN or in a very hidden way like a cloistered monk or nun, or like a good father or mother for the family, in any and every case we are called to share the gift of faith, the seed planted and watered in our hearts by Baptism, which ultimately comes from God, but which we received thanks to the people who took up Paul’s challenge and confessed Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, thanks to those who crossed our path in life and showed us the way to heaven. We must do the same. We cannot shirk what is more than a duty. This mission is our honor, our dignity; it is our only real joy.
A father who teaches his son to ride a bike or kick a football long and straight has joy for a day and maybe even for a season. A mother, who helps her daughter to grow straight and tall, has reason to be proud. Parents who succeed in communicating to their children their own eager longing for the coming of the Day of God can burst with pride and happiness, knowing that they have worked with the Lord, fulfilling His Will, and have given a gift which will spring up as a fountain unto everlasting life.
If you have ever read about St. John Marie Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, you may know of the hours and hours he spent hearing confessions, of all the time he spent in prayer, about how he hardly ever slept. What you may not know about John Vianney is how from his first day in his tiny parish in Ars, France he never let go of his parishioners, tirelessly teaching, admonishing, begging, praying for them, sacrificing and doing penance for them, doing all in his power to bring them back to Sunday Mass every Sunday and preparing them through the Sacrament of Penance for more frequent Communion. He held on tight to them, though they squirmed, struggled, protested and accused him unjustly, until the tables turned and they wouldn’t let him go any more. This was not nagging on his part, this was love. Love is the mark of the Apostle, self-less, sacrificial like Jesus, unconditioned love. This sacrificial love, which led Peter to the cross and brought Paul down by the sword, is what Christ wants from each and every person. Though we may at times be misunderstood for living the Cross of Christ, for following the example of Saints Peter and Paul, we are called nonetheless by Christ to share His love as it comes to us with the world around us.
Last evening marked the opening of a Jubilee Year for the universal Church in honor of the birth of St. Paul, the Apostle. One of the goals of this year is to bring us all to a deeper knowledge and appreciation of the Apostle to the Gentiles. We are encouraged to pick up and read from his letters. They are not always easy to read but with a good Catholic commentary well worth the effort. Pick up your Bible and turn to Paul again and again this year.
Both Peter and Paul are disarming because they are so real and so full of love for Christ. They share Christ’s love for all His people, Jesus’ eagerness that we might share in His victory over sin and death. Better priests and better bishops, better apostles of the stamp of John Marie Vianney would go a long way to accomplishing the changes in our own lives and the changes for the better in this world of ours which would make it a better place and make more of us fit for heaven. In a very real sense however it’s not only up to the successors of the Apostles in the strict sense of the term. Really, the ball is in our court. We cannot remain passive or indifferent to love. We must respond to love; we must cooperate with or accept the graces given. By the grace of a good confession, through study of our faith and prayer, and in many other ways, we need to open our hearts to Christ.
To be able to be surprised by love you may need to open your hearts wider to that same love as well. Faith is a two-way street. One of the hymns this parish sings from time to time has the refrain: “All are welcome in this place”. All are welcome, yes, but moreover all are called to respond to the love which comes to us from God. Peter and Paul knew this and we have the joy of celebrating their victory in Christ. That victory can be ours as well. Church life is a dialogue as we know from the liturgy, we must respond to the grace given: “Peace be with you!”