June 29: Solemnity of SS Peter and Paul Apostles
Readings: Acts 12:1-11; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18; Matthew 16:13-19
The Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul rarely falls on Sunday. We honour the two saints together because both guided the early Church just after the time of Jesus. One word that weaves together the central message of the Solemnity we celebrate is “Grace”. God’s grace helped Peter recognize Jesus as the Messiah, Son of the living God. God’s grace transformed Peter from a weak, impulsive individual into a strong rock, on which Christ built his Church. It was also grace that transformed Paul from a hateful persecutor into a dedicated apostle, a great messenger of the Lord to the gentiles. Grace allowed him to finish the race and to keep the faith. God’s grace led them both to die for the faith they had so confidently proclaimed and defended. No body can go to Rome without being touched deeply by the witness of these two saints. As the preface for today’s Mass puts it: “Peter raised up the church from the faithful flock of Israel. Paul brought your call to the nations, and became the teacher of the world. Each in his chosen way gathered into unity the one family of Christ. Both shared a martyr’s death and are praised throughout the world.” While Peter was crucified upside down in the courtyard, just to the left of St. Peter’s Basilica, Paul was beheaded outside the walls of Rome at the Three Fountains. Peter is important because he was the first bishop of Rome and thus the first Pope of our Church. He kept the Church united during very difficult times of persecution. Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles and his preaching among them during his three missionary journeys was very successful, though not without many difficulties.
The readings underline God’s enduring presence through the Holy Spirit guiding his Church till the end of time. In the first reading, Peter is miraculously rescued by the Lord because he had not yet accomplished what the Lord had intended him to do for the Church in Antioch and later in Rome. The Gospel from Matthew testifies to the importance of Peter for the Apostles and for the Church. Though he had denied Christ before Pilate, he makes the most important confession of faith on who Jesus is. Peter is led by the Spirit to confess that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Because of that confession, the Lord gives his Church a guarantee of endurance and protection. He builds his Church on Peter “the Rock”, and gives him the keys of authority to bind and to loose. Peter as the first bishop of Rome, gives the Church its unity and continuity. He has been succeeded over the centuries by other successors who share the same authority and ministry of service of unity for the Church. In the Pope we see that continuity and the visible symbol of Church unity. Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy expresses his strong faith in the Lord, who has stood by him at very difficult times. Paul is convinced that the Lord will indeed rescue him as it were from the lion’s mouth, and will reward him with eternal life. Three points to sum up the message of the Solemnity we celebrate: 1) With St. Peter we confess our unity with Christ and with the Church he founded; 2) We pray for the successor of Peter, Pope Benedict XVI, that Christ may continue to strengthen his faith for the ministry of the unity of the Church; 3) Let us pray that God’s grace may transform us into more effective instruments of unity in the faith shared and witnessed through the apostles.
©2008 John M. Mbinda