Saints Peter and Paul – Solemnity
28th June 2020
Year A – Psalter week 1
Both St. Peter and St. Paul were leading figures in the early Church. The whole of the Acts of the Apostles, can, broadly speaking, be divided into two main parts. The first part describes the leadership role of St. Peter in establishing the church, while the second part describes the missionary efforts of St. Paul in expanding the church.
Acts describes how both Peter and Paul were true apostles. The word “apostle” comes from the Greek apo-stello, which means, “to be sent out.” Peter and Paul were chosen by God and sent out to bear witness to the resurrection of Jesus. Peter became the apostle to the Jews, while Paul became the apostle to the Gentiles (cf. Galatians 2:7).
We know from Paul’s own writings that his authority as an apostle was questioned by some because he wasn’t one of the original Twelve. For this reason, it seems, Acts draws out a large number of parallels between the ministry of Peter, whose status as an apostle was never seriously questioned, and the ministry of Paul. Both, for example, are filled with the Holy Spirit. Both have the power to heal the lame. Both perform extraordinary miracles – in Peter’s case people hope even his shadow will fall upon them, while in Paul’s case, handkerchiefs or aprons that were carried away from him were used to heal the sick. Both Peter and Paul confer the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands, both confront and rebuke magicians, both raise the dead to new life, both refuse to accept divine worship when people mistake them for gods, and both are miraculously delivered from prison – the miraculous delivery of Peter from prison we heard in today’s first reading.
All these parallels in Acts announce, then, that the power at work in Peter is also at work in Paul, that the preaching of Peter is also the preaching of Paul, and that the protection given to Peter by God is likewise given to Paul. They show that Paul is equally approved by God and has all the credentials of a true apostle commissioned by Christ himself (see Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, The Acts of the Apostles).
Another parallel that we could draw between Peter and Paul is that they underwent tremendous conversion from sinner to saint. From the gospels, we know that while Peter was keen, he was weak and at times lacked faith. You’ll remember that while he miraculously walked on water, he soon began to sink because he took his gaze off Jesus (see Matthew 14:28-31). It was to Peter, when he tried to dissuade Jesus from going to Jerusalem to face his death on the cross, that Jesus said, “Get behind me Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men” (Mark 8:33). During his agony in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus came back to the disciples and found them sleeping, and again, it was to Peter that he said, “Could you not keep awake one hour? …The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:40-41). After this, Peter went on to deny Jesus three times.
As for Paul, he was one of the church’s most zealous persecutors. Before his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul had been known as Saul, and following the stoning of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, we hear how, “Saul laid waste the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3). Why was Saul on the road to Damascus in the first place? Because, we are told in Acts, “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord… [Saul] went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:1-2). Paul came to see very clearly his own sin. In his first letter to the Corinthians, for example, he says of himself: “For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God” (1 Cor. 15:9).
So neither Peter nor Paul started out as a great saint. So what happened? How did they become such fearless witnesses to the resurrection of Christ even to the shedding of their own blood in Rome as martyrs? Well, while Paul admits to the Corinthians that he is unfit to be called an apostle because he persecuted the church, he goes on to confess the reason why he is, now in fact, a true apostle. He says: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than all of [the apostles], though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me” (1 Cor. 15:10). Peter too, knows that he also has been made holy through the grace and mercy of God. His opening address in his first epistle is a greeting to all those “who have been chosen, in the foresight of God the Father, to be made holy by the Spirit, obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood” (1 Peter 1:2).
Whenever we celebrate the mass for martyrs, I am often struck by the words addressed to God the Father in the preface: “For the blood of your blessed Martyr N., poured out like Christ’s to glorify your name shows forth your marvellous works, by which in our weakness you perfect your power and on the feeble bestow strength to bear you witness, through Christ our Lord.” St. Peter and St. Paul certainly knew their weaknesses, but they didn’t despair, or condemn themselves, or give up. Rather, they came to know the Lord’s forgiveness and unconditional love for them, and His grace and power working in and through their weaknesses. Because of that, Peter and Paul are wonderful examples to each of us, who also are weak. They teach us that we too are loved by God unconditionally, and no matter what our failings, that God desires to continually transform each of us, and to make us strong, by his grace and mercy working in and through us.
This, of course, applies not least for the church’s ministers, so please continue to pray for Pope Francis, for Bishop David, and for Deacon Jim and myself as the bishop’s co-workers in this parish. We heard in today’s first reading, that when St. Peter was in prison “the Church prayed to God for him unremittingly.” To be faithful ministers of the church we, even more so, need your support and prayers!
From all my terrors the Lord set me free
2 Timothy 4:6-8,17-18
All there is to come now is the crown of righteouness reserved for me
You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church
Sunday Message and Look
Download this weeks Sunday Message and Look (for our younger parishioners) by clicking on the images, for all the readings for this week, as well as the prayers during mass and the usual weekly thoughts and reflections.
You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it. Alleluia!