June 27, 2014

Solemnity of SS. Peter and Paul / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThis weekend, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of SS. Peter and Paul, both of whom were martyred in Rome in the first century. There are two sets of readings for this feast, one for the vigil Mass and another for the Mass on the day of the feast itself. This reflection will be on the latter set of readings.

Peter, or Simon, was the Galilean fisherman whom Jesus called to be an Apostle, and whom Jesus then designated as the head of the Church. Paul was a Jew from Tarsus in Asia Minor. He was from a family of means, obvious since it was financially able to educate him quite well. Paul studied in Jerusalem under the great rabbi, Gamaliel. Furthermore, Paul’s family members were Roman citizens, a great distinction at the time.

At first, Paul campaigned against the new Christian movement, but, after a dramatic encounter with the risen Lord, Paul converted. He then became the greatest Christian missionary, taking the Gospel throughout the Mediterranean world.

The first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, centers on Peter. This emphasis filled a need for the first Christians. They were vitally interested in Peter, their interest surely rising from his status as the head of the Church.

In this reading, King Herod, the Roman pawn who had tried the Lord on Good Friday, turns his evil attention to the Lord’s followers. The reading notes that the king already has beheaded James, the brother of John. Herod then arrests Peter.

Imprisoned, Peter seemingly is at Herod’s mercy. The entire Christian community is praying for Peter. Suddenly angels appear, break his chains and escort him to freedom.

St. Paul’s Second Epistle to Timothy provides the next reading. Timothy was a convert and a disciple of Paul. They were so close that Paul regarded him as a son. Timothy accompanied Paul on some of the Apostle’s missionary trips. According to tradition, Timothy eventually became the first bishop of Ephesus.

Paul tells Timothy in this letter that the Apostle’s end is near. Paul says that he has finished the race. Perhaps he realizes that his cat-and-mouse game with the Roman authorities is in its last stage. His earthly life is at risk.

Regardless, Paul insists that he has kept the faith. Called by Jesus, Paul says that he has never wavered.

St. Matthew’s Gospel supplies the last reading. The setting is Caesarea Philippi, then and now a very picturesque site at the headwaters of the Jordan River. Critical in this reading is the exchange between Jesus and Peter. Peter states that Jesus is the “Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16). The Lord replies that God inspired Peter’s statement. The Lord goes on to confer authority over the Church upon Peter.

Jesus refers to “keys” (Mt 16:19). In the ancient world, chief stewards (officials akin to modern prime ministers) wore the keys to the ruler’s house on a necklace, as a symbol of their position. The reference made the Lord’s action immediately clear to all present.

Reflection

The first reading from Acts and the last reading from St. Matthew’s Gospel come together in this important fact: Peter and Paul were called by Jesus. In Matthew, the Lord gives Peter the task of leading the Church. Acts is filled with examples of Peter’s leadership as it actually unfolded.

God protects Peter and intervenes to allow Peter to continue to serve the Church.

Then, Paul testifies to his own vocation in Second Timothy.

Both Peter and Paul played indispensable roles in the formation and strengthening of Christianity. They and the other Apostles did not just happen upon the scene. The Lord chose them and commissioned them for a purpose.

Through them, generations in the future, including our own, are able to know God’s mercy.

For us, it is important to remember that Peter and Paul were ordinary human beings like us. They encountered God in Christ, and the experience of knowing Jesus changed their lives, and they have changed untold millions of other lives. †

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