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Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul
When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Opening Prayer: As I come before you today, Lord, I thank you for all the gifts you have given me. I thank you especially for the gift of my faith, for bringing me into your very family, the Church, and strengthening me day after day, year after year with all the graces of the sacraments. Thank you for being with me right now. I turn to you to give you praise and to receive whatever grace you see fit to give me today.
- Peter the Rock: This isn’t the only time Jesus changes Simon’s name to Peter. In the Gospel of John, the very first time Jesus meets Simon he says to him, “‘You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter)” (John 1:42). Such a solemn changing of someone’s name is always deeply significant whenever it happens in the Bible. It happened with Abraham and Sarah; it happened with Jacob; it happens here with Peter. Jesus changes his name to reflect his mission in salvation history. Jesus gave Peter a special role of leadership in his band of Apostles. His presence and his ministry would be the guarantee of the Church’s authenticity after Jesus ascended back to heaven. And that guarantee would continue throughout the centuries through what has come to be known as “the Petrine ministry,” that is, the papacy. Peter concluded his life serving as the bishop of Rome, the city where he was martyred around the year 64 A.D. Since then, the bishop of Rome (the pope) has been the figure through which the Holy Spirit has continued exercising Peter’s own ministry of unity and universality in Christ’s Catholic Church. The papacy is the continuation throughout history of Peter’s special leadership role in the Church. And the promise Jesus makes that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church, that the Church will faithfully guard and spread the Gospel until Jesus comes again, is linked to this Petrine ministry: “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.” This is Our Lord’s plan for his followers. Because he has been faithful to it, Christians like you and me have always had trustworthy access to Christ’s truth and grace through the Gospel and the sacraments—and we always will. Thanks be to God!
- The Church: Throughout history, many worldly forces have tried to destroy Christ’s Church. In fact, efforts to destroy the Catholic Church are a constant factor in human history since the time of Christ. First there was the Roman Empire. Then there were a series of Muslim empires. Then in more modern times Napoleon himself had the pope kidnapped in order to try to absorb the Catholic Church into his empire. The Nazis and Communists both targeted the Catholic Church in the twentieth century. And in addition to these attacks from the outside, the forces of evil have ceaselessly sought to undermine the Church from within— through heresies, divisions, and corruption. And yet, more than twenty centuries after Jesus made this promise that his Church would stand strong forever and never fail in its mission to roll back the forces of darkness, that much maligned and suffering Church is still the primary moral and spiritual compass of the world. God is faithful. We can count on him. Truly.
- Apostles of Rome: Today the Church not only contemplates the figure of St. Peter and God’s truly amazing fidelity as shown through his promise to protect the Church through the Petrine ministry. We also contemplate the figure of St. Paul, who was also martyred in Rome around the year 64 A.D. Together, Peter and Paul are considered the Apostles of Rome. St. Paul’s ministry complemented St. Peter’s. Peter’s ministry was the solid rock which gave unity and universality to the Gospel wherever it was preached. Paul’s ministry set out to preach that Gospel to the far corners of the world. As he describes it in today’s second reading: “The Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear it.” St. Paul himself showed reverence for the Petrine ministry when he went to consult with St. Peter and the other Apostles in Jerusalem about his own mission in the Church. He describes how, “I presented to them the Gospel that I preach to the Gentiles–but privately to those of repute–so that I might not be running, or have run, in vain… and when they recognized the grace bestowed upon me, James and Cephas [Peter] and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas their right hands in partnership, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised” (Galatians 2:2, 9). St. Paul shows here his respect for the hierarchical structure of the Church as it was established by Jesus. But he also shows us the human side of the Church. He never rebelled against the divine authority present in the Petrine ministry, but he did courageously challenge Peter the man to live more coherently with the doctrine that he was teaching: “And when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong… And the rest of the Jews [also] acted hypocritically along with him, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy…” Jesus guarantees that he will always give life and safety to his Church through the Petrine ministry, in spite of the fact that those who exercise that ministry (the popes) will always be imperfect human beings.
Conversing with Christ: I praise you, Lord, for your infinite power, which somehow finds a way to preserve your Church and even keep it growing in spite of the flaws of your followers and the wrathful attacks of your enemies. I praise you for giving me older brothers and sisters in the faith like Saints Peter and Paul and all the saints. If your grace transformed their lives, I know that same grace can keep transforming my life. Dear Jesus, I never want to abandon you or abandon your Church. Keep me faithful, Lord, through darkness and through light, just as you did for Peter and Paul.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will pray in a special way for the Holy Father and the Church, maybe by lighting a candle near one of the sacred images in my parish church.
For Further Reflection: Built to Last: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat on St. Peter and the Papacy.
Written by Fr. John Bartunek, LC.
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