Today, June 29, is the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles.
“You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” (Mt. 16:18)
St. Peter, the chief Apostle, was the first to identify our Lord as the Messiah, the Son of the living God. In response, Jesus told him, “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 of 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.” (Matthew 16:17-19).
St. Peter would go on to lead the early Church through the first tumultuous years recorded in The Acts of the Apostles, receiving the revelation from God that the Gentiles were to be admitted freely into the Church without any obligation that they first become Jews. By tradition, St. Peter traveled to Antioch and became bishop of the emerging Christian Church in that Mediterranean City. Then, on to Rome, where he would establish, along with St. Paul, the Church in that place, becoming the first bishop of the Eternal City, first in a long line of popes that now reach to Francis.
St. Peter is shown in art holding two keys, for binding and loosing.
“I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim 4:7)
St. Paul began his relationship with Christ and His Church as a persecutor of Christians. Holding the coats of those who stoned St. Stephen the protomartyr, St. Paul was a learned Jew who saw in the “new way” a threat to the established religious order. On his way to Damascus with an edict to arrest Christians, St. Paul met Christ in a vision. He was blinded by the light of Christ, and his eyes later opened by baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit. He would go on to proclaim the gospel to numerous major and minor cities across Asia Minor, then finally arrive in Rome, a prisoner of the state. Even as a prisoner, St. Paul was given leeway to preach and receive visitors, where he shared the saving grace of Jesus Christ to any and all who would listen.
St. Paul called the Church “the pillar and foundation of truth” and the instrument by which the mysteries of God are made known. He became the Apostle to the Gentiles and challenged even St. Peter when his brother in Christ bowed to pressure from Jewish Christians on how Gentile Christians were to be treated by the faithful. On his many travels, St. Paul wrote letters to the churches he helped found, guiding them in Christian principles and in right teaching. These are the thirteen Pauline epistles of the New Testament.
St. Paul is depicted in art holding a book and a sword, the book representing his contributions to the New Testament and the sword representing both the instrument of his death and the word of the Lord that is “sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12).
Both St. Peter and St. Paul would suffer martyrdom in the persecution wrought by Nero. St. Peter would be crucified on Vatican Hill. Not regarding himself worthy of dying as his Lord did, St. Peter requested to be crucified upside-down, and the Romans complied. As he hung on his cross, St. Peter could likely see the obelisk that stood in the Circus of Nero, where the emperor executed many Christians. The obelisk was an Egyptian monument set up by a pharaoh to give glory to Egypt. It then became a symbol of Rome’s conquest. Today, it stands as a symbol of the conquering faith of Christ.
St. Paul also met his fate in Rome, martyred by beheading, a mercy extended to him as a Roman citizen.
O God, who on the Solemnity of the Apostles Peter and Paul
give us the noble and holy joy of this day,
grant, we pray, that your Church
may in all things follow the teaching
of those through whom she received
the beginnings of right religion.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
The collect prayer for the Mass of the Day, Solemnity of Peter and Paul
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.