Hail! Oh Pillars, and Princes of Our Faith, and Church!!
Readings: 1st: Acts 12: 1-11; Ps 33: 2-9; 2nd: 2Tim 4: 6-8.17-18; Gos Jh 16: 13-19
This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a Member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers (Spiritans), Province of Nigeria South East. He is currently the Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church Woliwo Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. For more details and comments contact him on: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today the One, Holy, Apostolic and Catholic Church celebrates the feast of two of the most influential icons of faith (Saints Peter and Paul), in the history of the church. We celebrate the feast of the princes of the apostle and the pillars of our faith. The Lord stood by them and gave them power so that through them the whole message might be proclaimed for the entire world to hear. During their earthly lives, all the saints are an incentive to virtue for those who hear and see them with under¬standing. This is because they are human icons of excellence, animated pillars of goodness, and living books, which teach us the way to better things. Afterwards, when they depart this life, the benefit we gain from them is kept alive forever through the remembrance of their virtues. By celebrating their noble deeds, we offer them that praise which, on the one hand, we owe them for the good they did our ancestors, but which, on the other, is also fitting for us at the present time, on account of the help they give us now. In a special way what we celebrate today is faithfulness, courage, humility, and missionary zeal. These are the qualities that characterized these two iconic figures.
The first reading of this Sunday narrates the story of how God himself mysteriously delivered Peter from prison. This is in line (as we shall see in the gospel of today), with Jesus’ promise to Peter that: “the kingdom of heaven shall not prevail against you.” Having chosen Peter as the rock, God never abandoned him. Christ remained with Peter even when he (Peter) failed by denying Him. In spite of denying Christ thrice, Peter repented, pieced himself together, and continued from where he stopped. Anyone who looks at Peter will see that through repentance and painful grief he not only adequately healed the denial into which he had been drawn, but he also completely rooted out of his soul that passion which had made him fall behind the others. Wishing to demonstrate this to everyone, the Lord, after His passion, death, and His rising on the third day, asked Peter: “Simon, bar Jonah, agapas me pleon touton (Simon son of Jonah do you love me more than these?)” Peter responded: “Nai Kyrie sy oidas hoti philo (Yes Lord, you know I love you!)” (John 21:15). What does the Lord do? Since Peter has shown that he has not lost his love for Him and has now acquired humility as well, He openly fulfils the promise made long before and tells him, “Feed My lambs”(John 21:15). It is clear from this that the Lord’s desire for us to be saved is so great, that He asks of those who love Him only one thing: to lead us to the pasture and fold of salvation. Once Peter had made this heartfelt confession, the Lord ordained him shepherd and chief pastor of His whole Church, and also promised to encompass him with such strength. Peter remained faithful till his martyrdom. He encountered Christ while trying to run away from persecution in Rome and in response to Christ’s question: “Peter, quo vadis (where are you going?), returned to Rome and courageously faced his death and martyrdom for the sake of Christ.
In the second reading, we hear the testimony of a man (Paul) who has accomplished his mission: “I have fought the good fight of faith to the end, I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith; all there is to come now is the crown of righteousness….” Of course that crown did come as his reward. Paul though initially was not among the twelve apostles, came into the scene drawn by the power of Jesus Christ. His past negative life was that of persecuting and killing Christians (Acts 9). However, after his encounter with Christ, he became an important instrument in God’s hand. His greatest weakness (zeal to persecute and kill) automatically became his greatest strength (zeal to witness to the risen Jesus, Acts, 9, 15-16). We learn from Paul that Repentance is preceded by awareness of our sins, which is a strong incentive to mercy. “Have mercy on me”, said the psalmist and prophet to God, “for I know my iniquities” (Ps. 50:1, 3). Through his recognition of sin he attracted God’s compassion, and through his confession, self-condemnation and conversion, he obtained complete forgiveness. The psalmist also tells us: “I said I will confess mine iniquities before the Lord against myself. And you forgave the ungodliness of my heart” (Ps. 31:5). This shows that acknowledgment of our sins is followed by condemnation of ourselves, which in turn is followed by that sorrow for our sins which Paul calls “godly sorrow” (2 Cor. 7:10). After godly sorrow, confession and prayer to God with a contrite heart come naturally, as does the promise to keep away from evil from henceforth. This is repentance! Repentance which is true and truly from the heart persuades the penitent not to sin any more, not to mix with corrupt people, and not to gape in curiosity at evil pleasures. True repentance like Peter and Paul’s, helps one to despise things present, cling to things to come, struggle against passions, seek after virtues, be self-controlled in every respect, keep vigil with prayers to God, and shun dishonest gain. It convinces one to be merciful to those who wrong one, gracious to those who ask something of him/her. It encourages one to be ready with all his/her heart to bend down and help in any way one can, whether by words, actions or money, and to all who seek one’s assistance. It helps one recognize that through kindness to ones fellow human being, one might gain God’s love in return for loving ones neighbour, draw the divine favour to oneself, and attain to eternal mercy and God’s everlasting blessing and grace.
In today’s gospel while Peter by the power of the Holy Spirit professed the Lordship of Jesus Christ, Christ in return made him the head of the church – the foundation rock. It was from this moment that Peter became the first bishop of Rome and Pope. He became the leader of the apostolic succession, the “primus inter paris”, and of course the “majo domo (holder of the key to the kingdom of God”. Although Peter was made the first among equals, he remained humble, faithful and died courageously as others did. So as we consider, and celebrate the outcome of the lives of these two iconic figures and pillars of our faith and church, let us imitate how they lived, or at least how they were restored through humility and repentance even if we cannot attain to their other great and exalted achievements, which are appropriate to great men and fitting for great men to emulate. The appearance to us this day of both these luminaries together brightens the Church, for their meeting produces a wealth of light, not an eclipse. It is not the case that one has a higher orbit and is placed above, while the other is lower down and passes under his shadow; Nor does one rule the day, while the other, the night, such that one would overshadow the other if they appeared opposite each other. In fact, some aspects of their lives are probably impossible for anyone to imitate. They teach us that amendment through repentance is more appro¬priate for us than for the great, since we all sin many times every day. Their lives teach us also that unless we lay hold of salvation through continuous repentance, we have no hope of it from any other source. Although, it is not easy to achieve all they achieved, let us ask God for the “Grace of God” which Paul tells us “is sufficient for us” (1 Cor 12, 9), to be able at least to do our best because, we “can do all things through Christ who strengthens us” (Phil 4, 13). May we all attain to this by the grace of the only begotten Son of God, to whom belongs all glory, might, honor and worship.
Peace be with you all!