29th JUNE 2024

Sts. Peter and Paul



Solemnity of Apostles Peter and Paul


Acts 12: 1-11              Ps 34: 2-9               2 Tm 4: 6-8, 17-18                 Mt 16: 13-19


Why is it that these two giants of the Christian faith are bundled on one feast day? Yes, they are remembered on other days in the Church’s calendar; Paul for his conversion and Peter for his confession. But, why this day? They both died as martyrs in Rome. According to tradition, their deaths occurred in the same year, during the persecution under Nero. They were united in death, in faith, in their common love of Jesus Christ, and united in their sense of mission to feed God’s sheep.

As the entrance antiphon prays: “These are the ones who, living in the flesh, planted the Church with their blood; they drank the chalice of the Lord and became the friends of God.” The apostles Peter and Paul are considered the two pillars of Christianity. Saint Peter is the rock on which Jesus built his Church; and Saint Paul, with his mission travels and writings, is the apostle of the universal Church. The two confirmed the unity and universality of the new people of God with the testimony of their martyrdom. The lives of both were marked not mainly by their qualities, but by their encounter with Jesus. However, they are two men, who each have a story behind them.

Peter, born Simon, came from Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee and was living in his mother-in-law’s home in Capharnaum. Peter is among the inner core of the Apostles, the threesome – Peter and the two brothers – James and John. They are privileged witnesses of events with Jesus (e.g., the Transfiguration or the raising of the daughter of Jairus, prayer at Gethsemane). He could be a big mouth when it came to declaring things but, when push came to shove, he would retreat: consider his triple denial of Christ (Mt 26:59-66; Jn 18:15-18,25-27) or diverting Jesus from any suffering (Mt 16:22-23) his backpedaling in Antioch (Gal 2:11-14) over whether Gentile Christians were bound by Jewish dietary laws. Jesus forgives Peter the threefold denial through his threefold profession of love for Christ, charging Peter to tend and feed “his sheep” (Jn 21:15-23).

The Acts of the Apostles the second book written by Luke is really the Acts of Peter and Paul. It starts with Peter bursting out of the Upper Room in Jerusalem after Pentecost repeatedly to proclaim Jesus as Savior, and largely documents his deeds, including his progressive inclusion of Gentile Christians in the Church. Peter ended his days in Rome, though when or how he got there remains unclear. Mark’s Gospel – which in some sense is a compendium of Peter’s preaching – bears clear Roman marks. The earliest Fathers of the Church all speak of Peter’s martyrdom in Rome. He was crucified head downwards, by Nero, in Rome on Vatican hill.

Paul came from Tarsus. His father was devoted to the Pharisaic school of Judaism and was also a Roman citizen, which Paul inherited, He was sent by his father to Jerusalem to study under the extraordinary rabbinical authority, Gamaliel. His religious zeal is what got him the commission from Jerusalem to go to Damascus to slaughter Christians there. But he was knocked down on the way and his encounter with the Risen Christ leads to him becoming a Christian himself…. “He is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles…” From AD 45-57, Paul was most active in his missionary journeys, progressively expanding the field of his reach beyond Cyprus, the shores of Israel and Syria, and he made his way to Europe, primarily Greece, and was finally arrested on his return to Jerusalem for supposedly bringing Gentiles into the Temple. The trumped-up charges against Paul eventually led to his trial before various local rulers who, discovering he was a Roman citizen, packed him off to Rome. He had some degree of free movement but his last years are somewhat obscure. He was eventually executed by beheading, probably in AD 64, somewhere on the Ostian Way. He was buried at the Basilica of St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls.

May Saints Peter and Paul, intercede for us that in every moment we may find strength, hope, courage and wisdom in their examples.

Response: From all my terrors he set me free.

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