Reflections on the Readings
Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles
June 29, 2014 - Year A
Peter, Paul, and Jesus
(This was during the festival of Unleavened Bread.) While Peter was kept in prison, the church prayed fervently to God for him. (Acts 12:3 and 5)
As for me, I (Paul) am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:6-7)
Today we go back to the infancy of the Church to remember two apostles who embraced The Way, whose luminous lives still shine brightly. Peter and Paul figure prominently in the narrative of the New Testament scriptures as well as being authors themselves of significant portions of those same scriptures. Through them we grasp for ourselves an understanding of the mystery of Christ whose great mercy has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (Ephesians 3:4; 1 Peter 1:3). As Peter explains, life in Christ procures for us an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading waiting for us in heaven. (1 Peter 1:4)
The most important thing we know about Peter and Paul is their relationship with Jesus Christ. And it's that relationship they preached and taught that brought thousands to join them in The Way. That relationship is personal, rich, and redeeming. It brings us into friendship with Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Together with Peter and Paul we are heirs of the grace of Jesus Christ.
Peter's conversion is immediate and ongoing. Jesus found Peter and Andrew his brother fishing in the Sea of Galilee. On that afternoon dripping with plenty of sunlight Peter did not expect anything but to catch his fish, go to market, and return home. Completing that routine for most of his adult life, Peter lived the life he expected to live since he was a little boy. As Bishop Stika of the Diocese of Knoxville is fond of saying, "If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans."
Jesus said to Peter and his brother, Andrew, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." It must have been a memorable experience for Matthew records it in his story of the Gospel. And it must have been an invitation that went straight to their hearts for immediately they left their nets and followed Jesus.
From the height of revelation Peter declared, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God," to the depths of denial, saying emphatically three times at Christ's cruel trial, "I tell you, I do not know the man," Jesus held Peter in his Sacred Heart. And the angel at the empty tomb told the women that first day of the week, "Go tell his disciples and Peter to meet Jesus in Galilee!" And Peter, well, on Peter fell the burden to be the rock of the revelation of Christ on which the Triumphant Church would be built.
And it is Peter, the first of Jesus' disciples to write these rich words of reflection: You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. (1 Peter 1:18-19)
Let us look at Paul's conversion story. Paul persecuted the Church. On his way to Samaria to carry his attacks on the Church, Paul met Jesus. Or shall we say Jesus met Paul. In a blinding light, Jesus asked him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" Saul asked, "Who are you Lord?" Jesus replied, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." In that moment Jesus brought Paul down from his horse and showed him the depth of his mercy and love for all people. (Acts 9:1-8)
Consequently, Paul writes deeply of our life in Christ, that is, how Christ encompasses all of our life, both our life now and our life that is to come. So Paul asserts, "It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20) These few words capture Paul's vision of the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ's love that he knew and what we can know. Such Love is understood best in our innermost being for it is not attained by human knowledge but is rather from the depths of the fulness of God without which we are empty shells.
Both Peter and Paul endured 'the fiery trial' for their faith and allegiance to another King. But both understood that no trial or false accusation or assaults to their bodies was worthy to be compared to the glory they believed awaited them. The best way to heaven according to Peter was to "have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. And never repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing." (1 Peter 3:8-9) As Paul assures us, "For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain."
Peter and Paul might be a little embarrassed about this Solemnity honoring their memory as Paul reminds us, "So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God." (1 Corinthians 3:21)
However, it is with grateful hearts to remember that we are heirs of the grace that Peter and Paul preached and lived. And our faith rises as we stand upon their shoulders so that we may see Christ as they saw him. After all the Church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. They have entrusted to each one of us, fragile jars of clay that we are, the 'treasure', and it was clear to them and must be to us 'that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.' (2 Corinthians 4:7)
Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN. Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at: www.dennishankins.com