Image: Children of Paulatuk, sounding the bells of faith
Our feast day today celebrates two of the foundational leaders of the Catholic Church, saints Peter and Paul. The Gospel recounts the story of how Peter was was chosen by Jesus to lead the Church, even giving him his new name which means rock. Paul, we remember, received a vision of the risen Christ and was mandated to lead the missionary arm of the Church to the Gentiles.
The two men probably could not have been more different in their backgrounds. Peter grew up in the small fishing village of Bethsaida and became a fisherman himself. Paul meanwhile was raised in the city of Rome, received an education, and became a Pharisee, a legal expert in the tradition of the Jewish faith. Yet each was chosen by Christ to fill their essential roles in the emerging Church. What had been a small cult of followers centered around the memory of a wandering vagabond would, under the spiritual guidance of these two men, go on to become a source of strength, inspiration and salvation to billions of people across the earth.
One might expect that when commemorating these two great men we would hear tales of their great deeds but in fact our readings give us just the opposite. In the first reading, from Acts, Peter is the victim of a grave injustice as King Herod imprisons him for seemingly none other than political favour. In the letter to Timothy, Paul writes, while also in prison, about how he has come to the end of his mission and will soon face execution for his troubles.
While both men did have their share of remarkable exploits and personal victories, the greatest gift they offered was not their greatness but rather, the ability to allow the power of God’s Spirit to work through them despite their inherent weaknesses and failings. Paul, always zealous in everything that he did, needed to let go of his ego. Pope Francis, in his homily to the newly appointed Archbishops wrote this about Paul.
“The proud Saul became Paul, a name that means “small”. The Lord shook him. He shattered Paul’s illusion of being respectably religious to make him His instrument.”
We know all too well that Peter also had his weaknesses as he tried to talk Jesus out of going through with his mission. For this Jesus had to rebuke him and even referred to him as Satan. On the evening of the cucifixion Peter denied Jesus three times because he was afraid of the authorities.
Perhaps the greatest weakness that lies in all of us is our fear. Our fear of failure, of not measuring up, of not being loved. If we are to learn anything from the example of these two men it is that fear is a prison from which God wants to set us free. For Peter and Paul, the physical bars of their prison gates were no match for the angels that God sent to help them. Likewise, the mental and emotional barriers that we have erected for ourselves are no match for God either.
Today’s psalm is a beautiful reflection on the prayer of those who seek the Lord in their time of fear and distress,
“O magnfy the Lord with me, let us exalt His name together. I sought the Lord and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. Look to Him and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed. The poor one called and He answered, and saved that person from every trouble.”
We give thanks today for the lives and sacrifices of saints Peter and Paul. Both men were eventually martyred for their faith in the city of Rome. We owe our deepest gratitude to God who used these two men as vessels for his great plan and allowed their lives to accomplish a great deed for the good of all people. God will do the same thing for us if we open our hearts to the Spirit that He offers.
May the Lord hear your prayer today and release you from all you fears and worries. May the gift of your life be an offering to God, to the Church and for the good of the world.