Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Saint Peter and Saint Paul

On today's Solemnity of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, we might reflect on how these two holy men spent their lives spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ, how they suffered and sacrificed, how they taught and encouraged and even scolded when they had to, how they inspired and loved all those around them. And we would be right in doing so, for all of this is true. That is exactly what Saint Peter and Saint Paul did in their Christian lives, and we should strive to imitate them.

We should also remember, though, and Saint Peter and Saint Paul were not perfect, far from it in fact! Saint Peter was a lowly fisherman who seemed scared to death when he first experienced one of Jesus' miracles. After lowering his nets on Jesus' word and catching so many fish that the nets actually began to break, Peter fell down and exclaimed, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (see Luke 5). Certainly he was showing humility here in the face of such miraculous greatness, but Peter was probably pretty frightened, too, as well he naturally would be, for such a miracle demands a significant response of faith and action. Indeed, Jesus tells him, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”

Peter's fear was evident again when Jesus invited him to walk out on the water (see Matthew 14). He was quite confident at first. “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water,” he said. When Jesus replied, “Come,” and Peter took his first few steps out onto the sea, his confidence faded in a hurry. He sunk. Like a rock. At least he had the sense to cry out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus caught him immediately, gently chastising him for his lack of faith.

One of Peter's shining moments came in the district of Caesarea Philippi when Jesus asked him and his fellow disciples “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (see Matthew 16). The other disciples gave some stock answers they had heard from their companions. Jesus pressed further, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter piped up, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My father in heaven.” Jesus went on to give Peter his new name and inform him, “on this rock I will build My church...I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven...” Things were looking pretty good for Peter right then, but that didn't last too long. Only a few minutes later, when Jesus began to speak of how much He would have to suffer in Jerusalem, Peter took the Lord aside and actually rebuked Him with the words, “God forbid it, Lord This must never happen to You.” Jesus said to him, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me, for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” This was not Peter's finest moment to be sure. He had gone from the rock on which Jesus would built his church to “Satan,” an adversary of God's plan, in probably less than ten minutes.

Peter's worst memory, though, was probably from the day he denied Jesus three times. Only a few hours before Peter had sworn that even if everyone else left Jesus, he would not. Then, out of fear, he denied knowing Him three times, even cursing and swearing an oath that he never knew this Man. When the cock crowed, reminding Peter that Jesus had predicted his denial, Peter wept bitterly. He had fallen hard, and he knew it.

Saint Paul began his interactions with Christianity in a much deeper denial than Peter's brief, fear-based betrayal. Paul, when he was still called Saul, hated Christians. He heartily approved the stoning of Stephen and led a severe persecution against the Church. Acts 8 refers to Saul “ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women” and putting them in prison. To Paul, Christianity was against the will of God, and he was going to do everything in his power to stamp it out of existence, all the while “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9). This hostility lasted until, on a certain road to Damascus, Paul dramatically met the Risen Jesus, and his whole life changed.

If these two imperfect, sinful men, Peter and Paul, could end up faithful followers of Jesus Christ, great apostles and teachers of the Gospel, and saints, there is hope for all of us! Jesus continued to love Peter and Paul even in the midst of their brokenness, and He loves us, too. He raised up Peter and Paul, using even their slightest cooperation to make them into faithful, loving disciples, and He will do the same for us if we open our hearts to Him and allow Him to heal us and guide us. As imperfect as we all are, Jesus never gives up on us, just like He never gave up on Peter and Paul. May we respond to Him as they eventually did and offer Him our whole lives in love and adoration.

Saint Peter and Saint Paul, pray for us.

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