To read the texts click on the texts:
There is an old story about the death of St. Peter in Rome during the persecution of Nero. Peter
heard about Nero's plan to burn the city and blame the Christians. He figured
as the one who presided over the church in the city he would be arrested and
put to death. So he did the sensible thing - Peter was always a sensible man -
he got out of town, and at night. The Appian Way
was dark for awhile as Peter snuck down it. However, as the night wore on the
sky was illuminated by the flames rising from the city. Peter hurried on and
eventually was far enough away from the city that it was dark again. Then he
saw someone coming in the opposite direction, someone who even at night seemed
familiar. It was the Lord himself. What was he doing out at night and walking
towards Rome? “Where
are you going, Lord?” Peter asked him. “To Rome”, Jesus replied, “to be crucified again
in your place”. Peter turned around and returned to Rome and according to tradition was crucified
Though this story does not agree with what is narrated in the first
reading of today from the Acts of the Apostles, in which we are told that Peter
was imprisoned, it does agree with what the Gospels narrate about Peter’s
denials, and brings out an important facet of the meaning of the feast: Jesus
did not choose strong, brave and courageous individuals to continue the work
that he had begun. He chose weak, frail and cowardly humans. He chose individuals
who would falter and fail. This is the Peter who confessed Jesus as “the
Christ, the Son of the Living God” and to whom the Jesus handed over the “keys”
of the Church, knowing full well that there would be times when the lofty
confession would turn into a base denial.
Paul’s conversion story is narrated twice in the Acts of the Apostles
and Paul himself speaks of it in some of his letters. His commission as an apostle
of Christ began with a divine revelation of the identity of the Lord Jesus. He reports
the events surrounding his recognition of Jesus as the Lord of glory and his
appointment as apostle to the gentiles. Felled to the ground by a brilliant
light from heaven and hearing a reproachful voice addressing him by name his
first need was to know who it was who broke into his life with such
awe-inspiring power. Just as Jesus told Peter that he would assign to him the
charge of leading his Church once the Peter recognized his master's true
identity, so also Paul's task was given to him only after Jesus revealed
himself as the glorified Lord.
The apostles' mission thus grew out of their loving knowledge of the
person of Jesus, the Son of the living God. Their work, indeed their whole
life, was to follow from this surpassing knowledge of Christ which became the
basis of all their dealing with others. They were given to the whole Church to
teach us not only what Christ revealed and taught but also how to live as he
himself had put into practice the things willed by the Father.
Today we marvel at the transformation of these
previously weak human leaders. Peter’s newfound passionate commitment to his
Lord and to the fledgling church resulted in his imprisonment. Paul too was
jailed. He did not see this as failure, but as the destiny that was his in consequence
of his commitment to the Gospel. He had fought the good fight, he had run the
race, and he had kept the faith. He faced death, and he knew it. That was the
price they had to pay for their commitment and fidelity to the Lord.
Their personalities were very different, their
approaches to spreading the Faith were very different, and their relationships
with Christ were very different. Although the two were both Apostles, there
were moments of disagreement and conflict between them. And yet, they are bound
together on this single feast, as they were bound together by the one Faith,
confessing the one Lord, shedding their blood for him and his mission of peace,
justice and love.
Within the recent past, the
church has been tossed to and fro in storms of controversy. Not one storm, but many
storms, and not in one country, but in many countries. It has been the target
of fierce persecution from without, and it has also allowed evil to corrupt it
from within. Whether in circumstances of harassment or scandal, the lives of
many have been diminished, their confidence undermined and their faith tested.
Without minimizing the suffering in our current situations, we should
remember that dire trials are really not new to the church. From its very
beginning it has faced opposition. The first reading for today’s feast
describes one such situation.
Despite its trials, however, the church has survived and even
flourished. This is not due to the strength and holiness of its members. Though
Jesus told Peter that the church would be built upon him, the church’s real
foundation was and continues to be Jesus Christ its Lord. He is the one who
commissioned Peter; he is the one who assures the church of protection. He is
the one who stood by Paul and gave him strength to bring the Gospel to the
broader world. The church may have been built on Peter the former denier and
spread by Paul the former persecutor, but it is the church of Jesus Christ,
and it will endure because of his promise.
Today we celebrate the fidelity of Peter and Paul, sinners like us all.
Initially, they were both found wanting. When they eventually repented, they
were forgiven by God in Christ. Though they faced persecution, their
commitment to Christ gave them the courage they needed. Their victory is
evidence that the truth will overcome untruth, light will overcome darkness and life will overcome death. Their victory is evidence
that we shall indeed overcome.