Acts 12:1-11; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18; Matthew 16:13-19 June 29, 2008
Today we celebrate a special feast of the Church, symbolized by the two great apostles, Peter and Paul. They were the two men around whom the mission of Jesus to establish the Kingdom was centered and from whom it grew and spread to every corner of the world. As the preface for today’s Mass puts it: “Peter raised up the church from the faithful flock of Israel. Paul brought your call to the nations, and became the teacher of the world. Each in his chosen way gathered into unity the one family of Christ. Both shared a martyr’s death and are praised throughout the world.” Each one represents two very distinct roles of the Church in its mission to the world. While St. Peter had been chosen to bring most of the Jewish people into the Body of Christ as stated before, St. Paul was chosen as God’s instrument to bring the Name of the Lord before the Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel.
In the Gospel we have the familiar passage of the confession of Peter and the beginning of the church. But it has something more, a call to decide which Peter does and we seem to forget it. Here Peter offers the confession of faith. The issue is not what others say of Jesus but what they personally think he is. In other words it is not just to know about Jesus but to know Jesus. It is the personal relationship which Peter communicates to Jesus and to us. Paul on the other hand understood Christ and identified with him. For me to live is Christ and all else is waste he says. He who had not seen Christ could visualize him in his divinity and at the same time in his identity with humanity.
Peter represents that part of the Church which gives it stability, built the traditions, showed continuity, indicated the structures, gave consistency and unity and gave leadership to the community. In the Pope we see that continuity the symbol of the unity of the church. He was the one who understood the master and was able o move with him and Jesus kept him close to him. Paul, on the other hand, represents the prophetic and missionary role. He was a visionary the apostle of the gentiles. He was instrumental in the spread of the church to different regions and also provided the spiritual leadership, dynamism and courage. He could face persecutions for Christ and lead people into the new life built on Christ. Paul’s love for Jesus is so intense that he finds it difficult to choose between staying alive and working for the Kingdom or dying and being reunited with Jesus, his beloved Lord. As he said once in an unforgettable phrase: “For to me life is Christ, to die is gain.”
The readings today emphasize the presence of God in the work of his Church. Peter’s faith and acknowledgment of Jesus as the Messiah-Christ and Saviour-King are rewarded by his being made the foundation on which Christ will build his Church. Through Peter, Jesus gives his Church a guarantee of never-ending protection. And he gives to Peter, as his representative, the powers, which he himself had received from the Father, the “keys of the Kingdom”. We see that in the First Reading where Peter is thrown into jail for preaching the message of Christ and the Kingdom. As Paul, who was himself in prison more than once, will say later, the word of God cannot be bound. Peter finds release and then goes back to the only thing he can do – proclaim the message of his beloved Master. The miraculous release from prison symbolizes that protection over his Church which Jesus had promised in the Gospel. It is significant too that Peter’s imprisonment occurred during Passover week, the same week in which Jesus himself was arrested and suffered.
Paul in the Second Reading speaks first with gratitude of how his life has been spent in the service of his Lord. “I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith.” May we be able to say the same as we approach the end of our life. Paul also speaks of how God continued to protect him through all kinds of trials and persecutions. “The Lord stood by me and gave me power, so that through me the whole message might be proclaimed for all the non-believers to hear.” He too knows that the Lord will continue to protect him but he also knows that when his time comes he is ready to go. This Second Reading from the Second Letter to Timothy affirms the importance of persevering in one’s living faith. St. Paul further proclaimed that the Lord stood by him and gave him strength so that through him, the message, the Good News of the Gospel, may be fully proclaimed to the Gentiles.
Church history tells us that the Lord has stood by His saints, protecting them against obstacles. Over and above this, Jesus has performed many great miracles as a sign to the faithful that His Divine power was being manifested through the loyal saints who persevered in their living faith… even to this age. This is a sign to all of us that Jesus is not a God of the past, but a God of the ongoing present. He is a God who is reaching out to us, calling us to serve Him so that we may shine as lights in the world. To us, weak human beings, not angels, but human beings, the Lord has given His Spirit to guide us and teach us according to the progressive needs of the Catholic Church for its spiritual growth and enrichment.
Today we have the example of these two saints Peter the Leader and Paul the missionary and both in their own way became powerful instruments of the Lord. May we too be such instruments in the world of today.