June 27, 2008

Feast of SS. Peter and Paul, Apostles / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThis weekend, the Church celebrates the feast of SS. Peter and Paul, both of whom were martyred in Rome in the early days of Christianity.

Peter, or Simon, was the Galilean fisherman whom Jesus called to be an Apostle and whom Jesus then commissioned to be the head of the Christian community.

Paul was a Jew from Tarsus. Obviously from a family of means, since his family was financially able to educate him, Paul studied under the great rabbi Gamaliel in Jerusalem. Later, he campaigned against the newly initiated Christian movement.

However, in a dramatic encounter with the Risen Lord, Paul converted to Christianity. He went on to be the greatest missionary, taking the Gospel throughout the Mediterranean world.

The first reading for this feast is from the Acts of the Apostles.

It centers on Peter. Clearly, the first Christians were interested in Peter, their interest obliquely giving testimony to his place at the head of the Church.

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

Imprisoned and in chains, Peter is at Herod’s mercy, or seemingly at Herod’s mercy. The entire Christian community is praying for Peter. Suddenly, angels appeared, broke his chains and escorted him to freedom.

St. Paul’s Second Epistle to Timothy is the source of the next reading.

Timothy was more than just Paul’s convert and disciple. Paul regarded him as a son. Timothy was with Paul on some of the Apostle’s missionary trips. The tradition is that Timothy eventually became the first bishop of Ephesus.

Paul tells Timothy in this letter that time is running out. Paul says that the end is near, and that he has finished the race. Perhaps the Apostle realizes that his cat-and-mouse game with the Roman authorities is about to end with his own peril.

Regardless, Paul insists that he has kept the faith. Called by Jesus, Paul asserts that he has never wavered in his beliefs.

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. Important in this reading is the exchange between Jesus and Peter.

Peter states that Jesus is the “Son of the living God.” The Lord replies that God inspired Peter’s statement. The Lord goes on to confer authority over the community upon Peter.

Jesus refers to “keys.” In the ancient world, chief stewards, or 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 was immediately clear to all present for this conversation between the Lord and Peter.


The first reading from Acts and the last reading from Matthew’s Gospel come together in this fact. Peter enjoys the special protection and inspiration of God.

In Matthew, the Lord gives Peter the task of leading the community. Acts is filled with examples of Peter’s leadership as it actually unfolded.

Furthermore, in Acts, God protects Peter and intervenes to allow Peter to continue to serve the Church.

Peter had a divinely assigned role to play in the revelation given by and in Jesus. Through Peter, the revelation continues.

Important in all the readings is faith in God. It is vital to the story revealed in Acts. The entire Church prayed for Peter’s release, realizing and respecting Peter’s position, trusting that God’s divine power would humble the might of Herod and restore Peter to freedom.

Faith is critical in the stories recorded in the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of Matthew.

In the second reading, Paul urges Timothy, and us, to trust in God and to believe that God will always be with us. †

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