As we celebrate the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, the Scriptures for the Eucharist point us away from them and toward the Lord. This is only as it should be.
The passage from the Acts of the Apostles is very detailed, even going so far as to illustrate the practice used in guarding an important prisoner. The text also bears the distinctive trait of paralleling the Gospel written by the same author, St. Luke. Both Jesus and Peter were arrested on the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Their captors intended to bring them to trial after the Passover. While Jesus was judged and condemned, however, Peter was rescued. However, in both instances, God’s will was the deciding factor. Peter was saved by God’s intervention after the supplications of the Church, fervent and persistent, were answered. St. Luke is very clear in this passage in insisting that God is the agent of Peter’s release.
In the passage from the Second Letter of Timothy, we read the words of a man who has been changed by his encounter with Jesus, changed not only in his faith but also in his ideas. If we place this letter next to the First Letter to the Thessalonians, we cannot help but notice that St. Paul has abandoned the notion that he will be alive when Jesus returns. Now he realizes that God’s plan for him is that he should, like all the apostles, sacrifice his life for the faith. He uses various images – cultic sacrifice, military deployment, athletic competition – to signal that his life has reached its goal. He embraces the eschatological reality that he will receive the same reward to which all faithful Christians are headed. He understands that God gave him a mission and that, having completed that mission, he is now going to be gathered into the Father’s love. God is the agent of these decisions.
The Gospel is the familiar text taken from St. Matthew’s Gospel in which Peter proclaims his faith in Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the Living God. However, Jesus is quick to point out that Peter’s faith is a result of God’s action. Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father (Matthew 16:17bc). Once again, we are reminded that faith is a gift from God and that we are called to respond to that gift.
This solemnity dates back quite a long time in the Church’s history and was placed on this date to coincide with the festival of Romulus and Remus, considered by the Romans as the founders of Rome. Although the Christian community already existed in Rome before both Peter and Paul arrived there, the Church adopted the two who are responsible for bringing the faith to both the Jews and the Gentiles as the patrons of Rome. To this day, this day is not only a liturgical feast but also a civil holiday in Rome. However, the Church always asks us to consider the lives of the saints for the purpose of illustrating how God acts through men and women to bring others to faith and to illustrate the fact that God is the ultimate source of power in our lives. Without God, Peter, Paul and all of the rest of us would be nothing, could do nothing.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator