Nov 18 – Memorial for the Dedication of the Basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul
The Basilica of St. Peter is located within the Vatican City. It occupies a unique position as one of the holiest sites and as the greatest of all churches of Christendom. It is the burial site of St. Peter, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus, and, according to tradition, was the first Bishop of Antioch and later the first Bishop of Rome, and therefore the first in the line of the papal succession.
Catholic tradition holds that St. Peter’s tomb is below the altar of the basilica, which is why many popes, starting with the first ones, have been buried there.
There has been a church on this site since the fourth century. Construction on the present basilica, over the old Constantinian basilica, began on Apr 18, 1506, and was completed in 1626.
While St. Peter’s is the most famous of Rome’s many churches, it is not the first in rank, an honour held by the Pope’s cathedral church, the Basilica of St. John Lateran. Contrary to popular misconception, St. Peter’s is not a cathedral, as it is not the seat of a bishop. It is properly termed a basilica.
The Basilica of St. Paul Outside The Walls is one of four churches considered to be the great ancient basilicas of Rome. This basilica was founded by the Roman Emperor Constantine I over what was believed to be the burial place of St. Paul where it was said that after the Apostle’s execution, his followers erected a memorial over his grave.
In 386 Emperor Theodosius I began the erection of a much larger and more beautiful basilica with a nave and four aisles with a transept. The work, including the mosaics, was not completed till the pontificate of Leo I. Under Pope Gregory the Great (590-604), the basilica was again extensively modified. As it lay outside the Aurelian walls, this basilica was damaged during the Saracen invasions in the ninth century.
Consequently, Pope John VIII fortified it, the monastery, and the dwellings of the peasantry forming the town of Joannispolis which existed until 1348 when an earthquake totally destroyed it.
On 15 Jul 1823, the negligence of a workman repairing the roof resulted in a fire which almost totally destroyed the basilica. Alone of all the churches in Rome, it had preserved its primitive character for 1435 years. The whole world contributed to its reconstruction. The Viceroy of Egypt sent pillars of alabaster, and the Emperor of Russia sent the precious malachite and lapis lazuli of the tabernacle. The work on the principal façade, looking toward the Tiber, was completed by the Italian government, which declared the church a national monument.
The basilica was reopened in 1840 but was reconsecrated only 15 years later at the presence of Pope Pius IX with 50 cardinals. On 31 May 2005, Pope Benedict XVI ordered the basilica to come under the control of an archpriest. On the same day, he named Archbishop Andrew Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo as its first archpriest.
1 Maccabees 1:10-15,41-43,54-57,62-64
There grew a sinful offshoot, Antiochus Epiphanes, son of King Antiochus; once a hostage in Rome, he became king in the one hundred and thirty-seventh year of the kingdom of the Greeks. It was then that there emerged from Israel a set of renegades who led many people astray. ‘Come,’ they said ‘let us reach an understanding with the pagans surrounding us, for since we separated ourselves from them many misfortunes have overtaken us.’ This proposal proved acceptable, and a number of the people eagerly approached the king, who authorised them to practise the pagan observances. So they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, such as the pagans have, disguised their circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant, submitting to the heathen rule as willing slaves of impiety.
Then the king issued a proclamation to his whole kingdom that all were to become a single people, each renouncing his particular customs. All the pagans conformed to the king’s decree, and many Israelites chose to accept his religion, sacrificing to idols and profaning the sabbath. The king erected the abomination of desolation above the altar; and altars were built in the surrounding towns of Judah and incense offered at the doors of houses and in the streets. Any books of the Law that came to light were torn up and burned. Whenever anyone was discovered possessing a copy of the covenant or practising the Law, the king’s decree sentenced him to death.
Yet there were many in Israel who stood firm and found the courage to refuse unclean food. They chose death rather than contamination by such fare or profanation of the holy covenant, and they were executed. It was a dreadful wrath that visited Israel.
As Jesus drew near to Jericho there was a blind man sitting at the side of the road begging. When he heard the crowd going past he asked what it was all about, and they told him that Jesus the Nazarene was passing by. So he called out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.’ The people in front scolded him and told him to keep quiet, but he shouted all the louder, ‘Son of David, have pity on me.’ Jesus stopped and ordered them to bring the man to him, and when he came up, asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ ‘Sir,’ he replied ‘let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight. Your faith has saved you.’ And instantly his sight returned and he followed him praising God, and all the people who saw it gave praise to God for what had happened.
“He immediately received his sight and followed him, giving glory to God”
Living in California, I’ve found you need a pretty thick skin and a robust attitude to having your Christian faith questioned when you’re least expecting it. It’s happened to me often enough, each time instigated by people I consider good friends. You’re minding your own business, settling in to what you thought would be a relaxing evening – the next thing you know, you’re in the middle of a heated exchange about God, why He exists and why you’re Catholic. Whoa!! As one of the more liberal states in America, close to 40% of people in California identify as atheists (Gallup Survey 2017). A statistic ceases to be just a number though, when that ‘percentage’ is your neighbour. Or your volunteer buddy. Or a close friend. Atheism has grown exponentially at the expense of Catholicism. I can see its attraction. I can even intellectualize why some of its arguments are compelling. What is a young person to do? The Internet offers answers to most things. Why wonder about a higher power when the smartphone you hold in your hands is so empowering?
That’s likely the experience of Israel in our first reading from Maccabees. “Let us go and make an alliance with the Gentiles all around us; since we separated from them, many evils have come upon us”. That would’ve sounded like common sense in the context of that time. Why not align with those who can safeguard our livelihood and prosperity? Today, that conversation might sound a bit like, “Let’s be more liberal, not so conservative or so religious, so we can fit in here. Let’s go to this work thing instead of going to church. Let’s not tell people we observe Lent, we don’t want them to think we’re weird”. Sound a little familiar?
It’s ironic how the small compromises we make are often the most insidious. Don’t go to church for two weeks and the third week of absence no longer seems that big a deal. Miss a few days of prayer and you will begin to not notice it. Like the proverbial frog in a pot of slowly boiling water, we won’t even realize our role in abetting this wilful blindness. But all actions have consequences. And one day, all those small compromises we’ve made come home to roost and we find ourselves desperately crying out, “Jesus, have pity on me! Save me! Please let me see!”
While we can, let’s not be blind or unaware of the compromises that we make. We are all vulnerable to spiritual blindness when we allow ourselves to be separated from God for too long. The world’s view of self-reliance and empowerment seems noble, but those ambitions are an illusion. Only God endures. Let’s not be caught unawares and try to live more mindful of our faith. Our very souls are what’s at stake.
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9).
(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)
Prayer: God, open our eyes and help us to be aware each time we seek our glory and not Yours, each time we choose our own independence over Your Will. Bring us back to the narrow way with compassion, love, mercy and grace.
Thanksgiving: We give thanks to those God puts in our lives to keep us from straying too far.