Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul
Readings: Acts 12:1-11; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18; Matthew 16:13-19
This Sunday we celebrate the feast of Saints Peter and Paul. In front of Saint Peter’s Basilica, there are two imposing statues of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, easily recognizable by their respective attributes: the keys in the hand of Peter and the sword held by Paul. They are honoured together today because both guided the early Church just after the time of Jesus. Both died as martyrs for the faith in Rome. 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 was buried in the nearest cemetery on top of the Vatican Hill. St. Peter’s Basilica was built later on top of St. Peter’s tomb. The main altar of the Basilica is directly on top of his tomb. Paul too was buried in the nearest cemetery. The Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls was later built on top of his tomb. Both saints are important because from them we derive our Christian faith. 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 time of persecution. Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles and his preaching among them during his missionary journeys was very successful, though not without many difficulties. Because of Paul the Gospel has therefore reached to us too.
The readings this Sunday underline the importance of each of the two Apostles. 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 now makes the most important confession of faith on the identity of Jesus. Peter is led by the Spirit to make his confession of faith that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Because of that confession, the Lord built his Church on Peter “the Rock”, and gave him the keys. The symbol of the keys echoes the oracle of the prophet Isaiah concerning the steward Eliakim, of whom it was said: "And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open" (Is 22:22). The keys therefore represent authority over the house of David. Peter therefore became the first bishop of Rome, succeeded over the centuries by other successors who share the same authority and ministry of service of unity for the Church. 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. What message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Today we pray for the successor of Peter, Pope Francis and all the bishops who share the ministry of unity in the Church. 2) Saint Paul depicted with a sword represents his entire mission of evangelization, thus inviting us all to be engaged in the ministry of evangelization. 3) Both apostles died as martyrs for the faith, giving us an example of being faithful custodians and stewards of the faith to the point of giving our lives for Christ.
©2014 John S. Mbinda