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The Solemnity of St Peter and St Paul
Apostles (entered heaven around 64)
I am surprised and pleased that you have already received your first promotion. Is it some kind of a record or something? Promoted after only six weeks on the job… Obviously, someone there has an eye for talent. I am sure this is only the first step in what will turn out to be a steady rise to more and more responsibility, whether in this company or another. My only fear is how you will avoid the devil’s traps as you climb the ladder. You know that he is a smart cookie (we’ve gone over this before), and so when he wants to have an impact (which he always does) he goes right to the leaders. Clearly you are on the leadership track, and so you can bet he will be paying special attention to you. This doesn’t mean you need to be afraid. Neither does it mean you should hold back your professional advancement. Not at all. Just be ready, that’s all. Remembering today’s saints can show you how.
Of course, I don’t need to remind you of the biographies of Peter and Paul. Peter was a fisherman from Galilee in northern Palestine (the equivalent of being a farmer from Iowa in our days), and Paul was a prodigious young rabbi from Tarsus (the equivalent – roughly – of a yuppie from Manhattan). Jesus recruited Peter into his band of Twelve Apostles at the very beginning of his public ministry and made him the leader of the group. Jesus recruited Paul only after the resurrection and ascension, transforming the fiery Pharisee into a tireless Apostle who traversed the entire Mediterranean world planting Churches. Both of these saints eventually made their way to Rome (Peter voluntarily, Paul as a prisoner), the capital of the world at the time.
When the first wave of persecution broke out against the Christians (Nero was Emperor at the time, you will recall), the authorities, who were smart, just like the devil, had a very shrewd strategy: they went after the leaders first. Peter was the Bishop of Rome, and Paul was the most famous of the Apostles after Peter, so both were earmarked for extermination. Peter ended up being crucified upside down in Nero’s Circus (located where the Vatican Basilica is today) – he was crucified upside down because he didn’t feel worthy to be executed in the same manner Jesus had been – and Paul was taken outside of the city (Roman citizens were not permitted to be executed inside the city walls), where he was beheaded. His severed head bounced three times and opened three small fountains of spring water, one with each bounce. You can visit the tombs of both to this day (and the fountains).
But of course you knew all that (though it’s nice to recall it every once in a while). And so I ask you, do you know how these two men – normal, everyday men, just like yourself; they weren’t from Krypton – kept the faith, even amidst the decades of hardship they had to endure, even amidst the tortures of martyrdom? Can you tell me how they did it?
I could tell you, but I’m not going to. I think you should discover it on your own – if you do, it will have a lot more meaning for you and a lot greater effect. And it’s not too hard to do. Start with reading over once again the Acts of the Apostles, but keeping in mind this single question: what gave Peter and Paul their strength to be so faithful? Then read Peter’s Letters (there’re only two, and they’re short), trying to answer the same question by reading between the lines. Then do the same with St Paul’s Letters – read them straight through, in chronological order (not the order in which they appear in the Bible), and look not so much for Paul’s doctrine, but for glimpses of his inner life, of what made him the pillar of the Church that he was. Don’t rush, spread out the reading, take your time.
If you do this, I guarantee that you’ll be amply armed for the battles that, without a doubt, you will have to wage in order to be faithful to Christ at the heights of leadership.
Your loving uncle,