28 June – Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, apostles (Vigil Mass)
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
Once, when Peter and John were going up to the Temple for the prayers at the ninth hour, it happened that there was a man being carried past. He was a cripple from birth; and they used to put him down every day near the Temple entrance called the Beautiful Gate so that he could beg from the people going in. When this man saw Peter and John on their way into the Temple he begged from them. Both Peter and John looked straight at him and said, ‘Look at us.’ He turned to them expectantly, hoping to get something from them, but Peter said, ‘I have neither silver nor gold, but I will give you what I have: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk!’ Peter then took him by the hand and helped him to stand up. Instantly his feet and ankles became firm, he jumped up, stood, and began to walk, and he went with them into the Temple, walking and jumping and praising God. Everyone could see him walking and praising God, and they recognised him as the man who used to sit begging at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. They were all astonished and unable to explain what had happened to him.
The Good News I preached is not a human message that I was given by men, it is something I learnt only through a revelation of Jesus Christ. You must have heard of my career as a practising Jew, how merciless I was in persecuting the Church of God, how much damage I did to it, how I stood out among other Jews of my generation, and how enthusiastic I was for the traditions of my ancestors.
Then God, who had specially chosen me while I was still in my mother’s womb, called me through his grace and chose to reveal his Son in me, so that I might preach the Good News about him to the pagans. I did not stop to discuss this with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were already apostles before me, but I went off to Arabia at once and later went straight back from there to Damascus. Even when after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him for fifteen days, I did not see any of the other apostles; I only saw James, the brother of the Lord, and I swear before God that what I have written is the literal truth.
Jesus showed himself to his disciples, and after they had eaten he said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these others do?’ He answered, ‘Yes Lord, you know I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He replied, ‘Yes, Lord, you know I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Look after my sheep.’ Then he said to him a third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was upset that he asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and said, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.
‘I tell you most solemnly,
when you were young
you put on your own belt
and walked where you liked;
but when you grow old
you will stretch out your hands,
and somebody else will put a belt round you
and take you where you would rather not go.’
In these words he indicated the kind of death by which Peter would give glory to God. After this he said, ‘Follow me.’
“I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go”
When I was about eight years old, I wanted to grow up to be a police officer. I thought it was exciting to wear a badge, to wield a gun and chase down bad guys. Eventually, those dreams faded as I started to realize how dangerous a vocation it was. Growing up in New York City during the mid-1980s, drugs and crime were big problems. I remember watching the news and seeing police officers being killed in the line of duty. Back then, it was common to see advertisements offering cash rewards to anyone providing tips that led to the capture and conviction of cop killers. So as much as I romanticized over the idea of being in law enforcement, the grim reality of the dangers that came with wearing the badge quashed those early desires.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks Peter whether he loves Him three times. Peter responds to the affirmative three times. Jesus then proceeds to foreshadow Peter’s death through crucifixion and tells him to “Follow me.” Jesus’ message to Peter is very clear – go out and spread the gospel though you might be put in harm’s way. When your time comes, know that it will be for the glory of God.
That must have been a frightening, yet life changing moment for Peter. He’s given the opportunity to atone for his denial of Christ and entrusted with the sacred responsibility of leading the early Christian church. This was a moment of spiritual maturity for Peter. His life was about to be transformed from that of an ordinary fisherman to a righteous, godly defender of the faith. Despite the inevitability of a cruel and painful death, Peter obediently serves Christ.
The Christian road is not one of carefree strolls and easy hikes. It is a long and arduous trip, full of unexpected twists and turns. The early Christians faced constant persecution but their spiritual transformation bears witness to the gifts of salvation. The crippled beggar hopes for gold and silver, but is given healing and mercy instead- his transformation leads others to believe and praise God. Saul’s zealous persecution of the Church is turned upside down when he meets Jesus on the road to Damascus- his transformation would forever change the Christian faith.
As we grow as Christians, we should expect that we too will see persecution, either subtle or overt. We should expect difficulties and hardships. When we do, be reminded that “… we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5: 3-5) Through this, we (an imperfect and ordinary people) can transform into righteous and godly defenders of the Christian faith, bearing witness to His perfect glory.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Steven Su)
Prayer: Lord Jesus, we pray that you continue to guide us as we grow in our Christian lives. We depend on your grace to lead us through the long and bumpy roads.
Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, we give thanks for the many men and women of law enforcement who put on uniforms and faithfully serve and protect our communities.