Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles
This weekend the Church celebrates the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, both of whom were martyred in Rome in the first century A.D.
Peter, or Simon, was the Galilean fisherman whom Jesus called to be an Apostle, and whom Jesus then assigned as the head of the Christian community. Paul was a Jew, from Tarsus. Son of a family of means, obvious since his family was financially able to educate him quite well. Paul studied under the great rabbi, Gamaliel, in Jerusalem. 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 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 at 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 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 Paul’s convert and disciple. They were so close that Paul regarded him as a son. Timothy accompanied 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 the end is near. Paul says that he has finished the race. Perhaps the Apostle 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. Critical 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 made the Lord’s action immediately clear to all present.
The first reading, from Acts, and the last reading, from 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 community. 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, would be able to know God’s mercy.
For us, it is important to remember that Peter and Paul were ordinary human beings, as are we. They encountered God in Christ, and the experience of knowing Jesus changed their lives, and they have changed untold millions of other lives.
The Sunday Gospel reflection for July 6 can be found below.
God shows us the way in Jesus
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
This weekend, the first biblical reading is from the Book of Zechariah.
Zechariah was of the priestly caste and was born in Babylon. His birth occurred during the time when many Jews were in forced exile in the Babylonian capital. He went to the Holy Land with his grandfather when the exile was ended. It might be assumed that he was either a youth or a young adult when he made this trip, as few grandparents at the time lived long enough to see their grandchildren reach middle age.
Finally in the Holy Land, he devoted himself to the care and study of the Scriptures. Obviously, he saw himself, and was regarded, as a prophet.
He met a violent death, being murdered apparently in the temple precincts themselves.
Whatever his age, unless he was an infant too young to notice, and this is unlikely, he would have seen, and probably was part of, the enthusiasm of the people as they quit the despised Babylon and began their journey home.
The reading for this weekend captures this great joy and enthusiasm. All wrongs were to be righted. Great days were ahead. To lead the people into a new day of peace and prosperity, God will send a messiah who will enter the holy city of Jerusalem with great humility, seated on an ass.
This image was to be a part of the event of Palm Sunday, actually to occur many centuries later when Jesus entered Jerusalem.
St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans provides the second reading. In this selection, Paul repeats the theme so often given in his writings. Christians not only follow Christ, or join Christ in their own walks through life, but the Lord becomes part of them. They become part of Jesus. Christian discipleship forges this strong a bond.
The last reading is from St. Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus continually encountered persons very well educated in the Scriptures. Often, they opposed the Lord. Yet, in the minds of many at the time, they were the wisest and most learned in the society.
Understandably, Jesus had to insist that the wisest in popular consensus were not the wisest after all. By contrast, the Lord says that humble and innocent children often can better see the most profound of truths.
However, Jesus does not leave people to drown in the sea of their own pride and ignorance. Rather, the Lord calls them. He reaches to them. Confronting all the obstacles of life is not easy, but it is a burden lightened by the fact that support comes from Jesus, the Son of God.
The Gospel this weekend presents facts indispensable to achieving Christian holiness. None of us, in the last analysis, is very insightful. None of us has all the answers. Original Sin has robbed us of our good vision. We all look at a world that is out of focus, distorted and clouded. We are myopic. We think only of ourselves. In our realization, even though not identified, of our inadequacy, we exaggerate ourselves. We make ourselves greater than we are.
So, we deceive ourselves. We trick ourselves into thinking that we can find the way on our own. We cannot. Only God can show the way.
Mercifully, happily for us, God shows us the way in Jesus. Jesus not only leads us, but also gives us divine life itself. As true believers, we live in Jesus, and the Lord lives in us.
The key to attaining this relationship is our humility, our trust in God.
We do not have to yearn for God without relief. God awaits our call. He loves us with an everlasting, perfect love. He will come to us. Thus, with Zechariah, we can rejoice that the Lord comes to us.
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