As we do not have any original sources of homilies we offer two approaches to this feastday from our Saints of the day.
1. by Paddy Duffy
Today is the Solemnity of Ss Peter and Paul, twin founders of the Church in Rome. It is the day traditionally considered in pagan Rome to be its foundation day by Romulus. Although Paul had occasion to stand up to Peter because he would not eat with Gentiles – ‘I opposed him to his face, since he was manifestly in the wrong’ (Gal 2:11) – they are both jointly honoured on this feast. It is a day when the Pope confers the pallium on all the archbishops whom he has appointed in the previous year. In the image Peter and Paul are shown exchanging a warm embrace – the haspasmos. The conversion of St Paul is celebrated on 25th January. Here Patrick Duffy looks at what the New Testament tells us about St Peter.
A providential irony in Jesus’s choice of leader?
Simon was a bit of a bungler. Is there then an irony that is providential in Jesus’ choice of him as the leader of the campaign and of the community he put together to bring his salvation to the world. Simon’s mission is implied in the new name that Jesus gave him, Cephas or Peter, meaning Rock.
Top of the lists
The name, Simon who is called Peter’, appears at the top of every list of the apostles in the gospels. When Jesus asked, ‘Who do you say I am?’ Simon made the supreme confession of faith – ‘You are the Christ,’ he said, ‘the son of the living God’ (Mt 10:2-4 and 16:15-16).
Impulsive and enthusiastic
In character, Peter is impulsive and enthusiastic – wanting to make three tents at the transfiguration on the mountain (Mt 17:4), attempting to walk on the waters and then has to be rescued by Jesus when he begins to sink (Mt 14:29-31). He denied Jesus three times, as Jesus had foretold he would (Mt 26:69-75).
Reinstated and mission
Jesus, however, takes special care to reinstate Peter as leader after the resurrection, asking three times “Do you love me?” and telling him, “Feed my sheep” (Jn 21:15-17).
The mysterious and providential character of Peter’s (and perhaps everybody’s) life comes out in the words Jesus then spoke according to John’s gospel:
I tell you most solemnly,
when you were young
you put on your own belt
and walked where you liked;
but when you grow old,
you will stretch out your hands
and somebody else will put a belt round you
and take you where you would rather not go (Jn 21:18).
Pentecost, imprisonment and escape
At Pentecost Peter surprised the people in Jerusalem with the power of the words he spoke about Jesus’s resurrection (Acts 2:40-41). Later he was imprisoned by Herod Agrippa, but had a miraculous escape (Acts 12:1-11).
Opposed by Paul
At Antioch, however, Peter gave into racial prejudice, declining to eat with the pagans, but Paul boldly corrected him. He tells us: ‘I opposed him to his face, since he was manifestly in the wrong’ (Gal 2:11).
Death and memory
Tradition has it that Peter came to Rome and was martyred under Nero around 64 AD. The emperor Constantine built a basilica to house his tomb. The present (16th century) basilica is now on that same site. Twentieth century excavations discovered the tomb of Peter, though it is impossible to say the bones are his.
A Petrine ministry
Today in ecumenical circles there is a growing sense that the seminal text of Matt 16:13-19 where Jesus gives Peter authority to bind and loose can and should be interpreted in the sense of a Petrine ministry of leadership and stability in the Church. Peter is the chief steward in the palace of the kingdom with a role of rescuing from death’s dominion. If the Catholic Church could find a less triumphalistic and more humble word than ‘infallibility’ as well a more collegial way of exercising its Petrine ministry, would it then find a more universal acceptance?
2. Fr John Murray PP profiles St Peter here.
Tu es Petrus – ‘You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church.’ The words in Latin stand five feet high in the lofty vaults of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The neck and eye must swivel almost vertically to pick out the scripture verses in golden lettering that speak about Peter’s role within the Church, ‘Feed my lambs, feed my sheep’ and about his humanity, ‘and when you have recovered you shall strengthen your brothers’ (Lk 22:32). Peter today (2000) is our present Holy Father, John Paul II.
Moved to tears
Twenty one years ago, at Galway, the hairs on my neck stood up and tears filled my eyes as ‘Peter’ came to Ireland’s shores for the first time in two thousand years. I’m sure I was not the only person so moved on that day. As the helicopter emerged from the early morning September mist we all could see a speck of white at a window above us. Peter’s 264th successor had come to our land.
In the intervening years we have come to know better what sort of man this particular ‘Peter’ is.
Saints and sinners
Who is ‘Peter’? Through the centuries the papacy has developed and changed. Sadly the post has been held by a few rogues, quite a few men who were more suited to the world of politics than the realm of the spirit, but also, thankfully, by many saints.
In the early formative years of the Church when other centres of faith occasionally fell into heresy, Rome and its bishop never did. Through two millennia that consistency has continued despite sometimes the behaviour of the see’s incumbent. The words of Jesus to Peter have indeed come true: ‘And when you have recovered you will strengthen your brothers’.
Peter is indeed the ‘rock’ on which the Church is built. Yet what is that rock except that profession of faith which each of us is called to make in Jesus, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ While the other disciples gave the opinions of others about the identity of Jesus, Peter stepped out in faith and proclaimed who Jesus was.
One year Pope John Paul II, was visiting a parish in Rome as part of his duties as Bishop of that city. After celebrating Mass with the parishioners he met with the youth of the parish in a time of dialogue and exchange. The young people had the opportunity to ask the Pope questions many of us would love to ask – about his growing up in Poland: Did he have a girlfriend? What football team he supported? And so on. One young man asked him: ‘Who is your best friend?’ Are we surprised that his answer was ‘Jesus Christ’? ‘
I began these thoughts with the Latin phrase Tu es Petrus. I will end with another, Quo vadis? (‘Where are you going?’). The legend is that about 64 AD Peter was persuaded by the Christian community in Rome to flee the savage persecution unleashed by the mad Emperor, Nero. ‘It would not be good if our leaders were captured,’ they argued. On the road to Naples and the South, the famous Via Appia, a few miles south of the city Peter met a man. ‘Quo vadis?’ he asked him. ‘I am going to Rome to be crucified,’ was the reply. Peter knew it was the Lord and turned on his heel and walked back to the city to share the fate of his brothers and sisters.
But according to tradition and recent archaeological research, Peter, a victim too of Nero’s madness, rests beneath the high altar in the Basilica of St Peter which bears his name.