29 June – Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, apostles
Peter (c.1–64) was a professional fisherman. He was the brother of St. Andrew the Apostle, the man who led him to Christ. Given the name Simon, he was renamed “Peter” (rock) by Jesus to indicate that Peter would be the rock-like foundation on which the Church would be built. He later became a bishop and was the first pope. He was also a miracle worker.
Paul (c.3–c.65) was a Jewish Talmudic student and a Pharisee. He was a tent-maker by trade. Saul the Jew hated and persecuted the Christians as heretical, even assisting at the stoning of St. Stephen the Martyr. On his way to Damascus, Syria, to arrest another group of faithful, he was knocked to the ground, struck blind by a heavenly light, and given the message that in persecuting him, causing his conversion to Christianity.
He was baptized, changed his name to Paul to reflect his new persona, and began travelling, preaching, and teaching. His letters to the churches he help found form a large percentage of the New Testament. He knew and worked with many of the earliest saints and Fathers of the Church. He died a martyr for the faith.
– Patron Saint Index
King Herod started persecuting certain members of the Church. He beheaded James the brother of John, and when he saw that this pleased the Jews he decided to arrest Peter as well. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread, and he put Peter in prison, assigning four squads of four soldiers each to guard him in turns. Herod meant to try Peter in public after the end of Passover week. All the time Peter was under guard the Church prayed to God for him unremittingly.
On the night before Herod was to try him, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, fastened with double chains, while guards kept watch at the main entrance to the prison. Then suddenly the angel of the Lord stood there, and the cell was filled with light. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him. ‘Get up!’ he said ‘Hurry!’ – and the chains fell from his hands. The angel then said, ‘Put on your belt and sandals.’ After he had done this, the angel next said, ‘Wrap your cloak round you and follow me.’ Peter followed him, but had no idea that what the angel did was all happening in reality; he thought he was seeing a vision. They passed through two guard posts one after the other, and reached the iron gate leading to the city. This opened of its own accord; they went through it and had walked the whole length of one street when suddenly the angel left him. It was only then that Peter came to himself. ‘Now I know it is all true’ he said. ‘The Lord really did send his angel and has saved me from Herod and from all that the Jewish people were so certain would happen to me.’
2 Timothy 4:6-8,17-18
My life is already being poured away as a libation, and the time has come for me to be gone. I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith; all there is to come now is the crown of righteousness reserved for me, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that Day; and not only to me but to all those who have longed for his Appearing.
The Lord stood by me and gave me power, so that through me the whole message might be proclaimed for all the pagans to hear; and so I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from all evil attempts on me, and bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ ‘But you,’ he said ‘who do you say I am?’ Then Simon Peter spoke up, ‘You are the Christ,’ he said ‘the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Simon son of Jonah, you are a happy man! Because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. So I now say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.’
I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith
By the grace of God, my sister will be married this afternoon. It might seem frivolous to talk about wedding planning on the Solemnity of our Church’s pillars. Those of you who have planned weddings will know that the dynamics that occur during the course of wedding planning are a precursor to what happens to a couple’s marriage thereafter. Start it well, with love, compassion, honesty and understanding and that goodwill is carried into the first innings of the marriage. Start it poorly, with resentment, frustration and deceit and that ill will can fester if left untended. The choice of a life partner is possibly the single most important decision we make in life. More precious than the individual needs of both husband and wife, are the needs of the relationship that the couple pledge to protect from this day forth. For the rest of us who are family, our job is to help shepherd and support the new couple, as they begin to build their life together. We might have our differences (and since we don’t get to choose our family, there can be many disagreements) but our needs take second place to helping the new couple protect and preserve their new happiness.
Saints Peter and Paul were given the singular roles of protecting and shepherding the fledgling new Church that Christ had left them. Both men were from disparate backgrounds. St Peter was called by Christ when he was running a humble fishing business with his brother Andrew. Designated by Christ as “the rock on which I will build my Church” (Matthew 16: 18), Peter presided over critical moments in the early Church’s development. He welcomed into the fold the first non-Jewish believers (Acts 10:1-48, the baptism of Cornelius the Roman). He was a vocal proponent of freedom from the restrictions of the Jewish traditions – “God… put Himself on their side by giving the Holy Spirit to them just as He did to us. He made no distinction between us and them and cleansed their hearts through faith…”(Acts 15: 7-11) Peter helped the Jewish believers break away from the bondage of their old beliefs so they could embrace His word through the conversion of their hearts. St Paul, born a Pharisee and Roman citizen started as an overzealous persecutor of the early Church and its disciples. Touched by God’s grace on his way to Damascus, Paul’s conversion and missionary journeys drew the Gentiles to the Word. The Acts of the Apostles documents faithfully, Paul’s arduous journey from Jerusalem to Syria, Asia, Greece and finally Rome, spreading the Word through the Roman Empire – “The Lord stood by me and gave me strength to proclaim the word fully, that all the Gentiles might hear it” (2 Timothy 4:17).
Both men met for the first time only three years after Paul’s conversion in Damascus (Galatians 1:16-20). Here Paul gives an account of his travels and the authority by which he preaches the Gospel, “The Churches in Judea did not know me personally; they had only heard of me: “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith he tried to uproot”. And they praised God because of me” (Galatians 1: 22-24). For both men, even if they had their differences, their focus remained the furtherance of the Gospel and the growth of the Church. It was never about ego or face or their selfish needs. As we celebrate the Solemnity of St Paul and St Peter today, let’s remind ourselves to put aside our differences. By God’s grace, we have been called and our hearts cleansed through faith. Our differences – cultural, racial or otherwise, do not matter. What matters is the love that we feel for one another as brothers and sisters in the family of Christ.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)
P.S. This reflection is pulled from our Archives of 2013.
Prayer: We pray for that those who work towards the furtherance of the Gospel not let their own needs cloud the bigger picture of what they are trying to achieve for God.
Thanksgiving: We give thanks to all who put aside their own needs to faithfully follow God’s calling wherever it might take them.