Thursday, 29 June 2017 : Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles, Great Feast of the Church of Rome and the Universal Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day, the twenty-ninth day of June, every year, the Church celebrates the great Solemnity of two saints, St. Peter the Apostle and St. Paul the Apostle, both who were very prominent and important Apostles and disciples of the Lord, who had special significance for all of us. They were both martyred in Rome, then the heart of the Roman Empire, and now is the heart of Christendom.

As such, St. Peter and St. Paul are considered the two great pillars of the Church, through whose great dedications, the Church in the earliest days of its history were able to go through dark and difficult times, and persevere through all the challenges and difficulties. They carried out dutifully what the Lord had commanded them to do, to make disciples of all the peoples of all the nations, gathering them to God’s Church.

St. Peter the Apostle, as we all know, was among the first Apostles whom the Lord called, right after His baptism as He walked along the shores of the lake of Galilee. St. Peter was a fisherman who made his livelihood looking for fish in the lake together with his brother St. Andrew, and the brothers St. James and St. John. The Lord called them all, and they left everything behind to follow Him.

Meanwhile, St. Paul was once an elite among the Jewish people named Saul, considered and counted among the Pharisees and who was also a Roman citizen, a rare feat for a Jew at the time, well educated and a zealous devotee of the Law. As we witnessed it in the Acts of the Apostles, St. Paul, as Saul, once was a great enemy of the Church and all the faithful. He once hunted Christians throughout the land and throughout Jerusalem, arresting them to be handed over to the chief priests.

We must be wondering, why did the Lord choose such men to become His disciples, and all the more as His Apostles, the most important ones among His followers. But that is exactly what the Lord had done, for we all have to remember that we do not choose ourselves as worthy for the Lord. Instead, it is the Lord Who chooses those whom He deems to be worthy.

St. Peter was a simple and poor fisherman, while St. Paul was a Pharisee and a zealot Jew who was against the teachings of the Lord. Yet, God called them to be the ones to whom He entrusted His Church. This is what He wants us to know, that all of us, regardless our origins, our background or anything else, are called by the Lord to be His disciples, and we should all look up to the examples of our predecessors, particularly that of St. Peter and St. Paul, great Apostles and saints of God.

St. Peter did not have it easy in his journey with the Lord, as we all know just how he denied the Lord three times when he was asked by those who accused him to be among His disciples, as Jesus was arrested during His Passion. He left the Lord like the other disciples to protect themselves and keep themselves safe. And yet, despite all of these human frailties he showed, St. Peter had in his heart, a genuine love and devotion for the Lord.

That was why St. Peter was entrusted by the Lord to be the one to lead all of the faithful as the Vicar and as the one who would become the foundation of the Church which the Lord established in this world. This the Lord Jesus Himself affirmed as He said, “You are Peter, and on this Rock (as Peter means Rock), I will build My Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, for those whom you bound on earth, I will bind in heaven, and those you unbound on earth, I will unbind in heaven.”

Through these words, the Lord entrusted to St. Peter the entire Church, built upon the firm foundation of his faith, tested through sufferings and persecutions. He gave him the authority over the entire Church, as His Vicar and as the Prince and leader of all the Apostles. St. Peter in the many occasions throughout the Acts of the Apostles showed great leadership in keeping the Church together amidst challenges and even bickering and conflicts from within the Church.

St. Peter, according to the sacred tradition, went on to Rome to establish the Church there, and as such was considered as the first Bishop of Rome and as the first Pope, the Vicar of Christ and Leader of the Universal Church. He was persecuted under the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero, and was martyred in Rome, at the place where now St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican stands. Showing his great faith and humility before the Lord, he refused to be crucified in the same manner as his Lord and Saviour. Instead, he chose to be crucified upside down.

Meanwhile, St. Paul as Saul was called by the Lord as he was on his way to the city of Damascus, as the Lord appeared to him and called him to follow Him. St. Paul had a change of heart and resolved to be baptised into the faith. Eventually, St. Paul became a great evangeliser and a hardworking servant of God, who went on to evangelise the Good News to many peoples during his many trips and journeys throughout the Roman Empire, spreading the faith and the Gospel.

He was a champion of the faith, who in particular favoured the integration of the non-Jewish believers, also known as the Gentiles. He favoured abandoning the human excesses of the Jewish laws and welcoming the Gentiles to the faith. That is why St. Paul is also known as the Apostle to the Gentiles. Through his many Epistles or letters to the churches in many places and cities, which is part of our Bible, all of us have learnt more about our faith. These are the same letters that St. Paul used to teach and reaffirm the faith in the faithful of those places.

As we read in the Acts of the Apostles, St. Paul also eventually went to Rome, as he was arrested and persecuted by the Jewish leaders. He appealed to the Emperor and thus crossed over to Rome to be judged by the Emperor. He continued to evangelise among the faithful in Rome until the time when the first great persecution of the faithful began in the year 64AD by the Emperor Nero. Christians were arrested and blamed for the incident of the Great Fire of Rome, and many of them were martyred including St. Paul, who was beheaded.

We see just how God called His disciples and servants from among His people, sanctifying them and making them worthy to be the instruments of His wonderful works. This is how God called all those whom He deems to be righteous and just in His sight. And He has called all of us as well. Yet, it is our choice and free will, which the Lord had given us, for us to follow Him or to walk our own path. Yes, it is a choice which all of us need to make in this life.

All of us are the successors of the Apostles and the disciples of the Lord. All of us walk in His way and we ought to walk in the footsteps of St. Peter and St. Paul, the holy Apostles, who had laid much of the foundation of the Church. Yet, there are still a lot of things to be done, as the work began by the Apostles are not yet complete. There are still many more people that we have to reach out to, as they have not yet received the Good News of God.

We may think that we need great deeds and great works in order to follow the footsteps of the Apostles, but yet, this is not the case. Remember, brothers and sisters in Christ, that the Apostles were themselves simple men from different origins, many of them from humble origins, whom God called to greatness through obedience and faith. As I have mentioned earlier, both St. Peter and St. Paul themselves were ordinary human beings with their respective faults and imperfections. But God made them do extraordinary deeds by His guidance and help.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what we need to do, is for us to obey the Lord and to put ourselves completely to His care, entrusting ourselves completely to Him and be genuinely faithful to Him. We can begin from ourselves, from our own lives and from our relationships and activities within our own families, communities and societies. We need to be genuine in our faith, following the examples of the Apostles, especially St. Peter and St. Paul, in how much they have dedicated their whole lives to God, by their words, their actions and deeds.

Let us therefore continue the works of the Apostles, by being the bearers of the Good News of God, not just by evangelising through words or preaching, but more importantly, by truly living the message of the Gospels in our lives, by loving one another, by showing mercy and forgiveness to those who have wronged us, and by being sincere and generous in our giving, extending our love and help for those around us who are in need.

There are still many things which all of us can do, following in the footsteps of the Apostles, but we should be inspired and energised by the examples of St. Peter and St. Paul, as well as the other Apostles and all the holy saints of God. They have given their all for the sake of the Lord, and they have persevered through difficult and challenging moments for the sake of God’s people in the Church. Now, all of us bear the same responsibilities that they have borne, and all of us need to work together as the members of His Church, to ensure that the good works of the Lord for the salvation of His people will continue.

Therefore, let us all commit ourselves anew to the Lord, and devote our works for the salvation of our fellow brethren. Let us all seek to fulfil the calling which our Lord has given to us. Let us walk in the way He has shown us, following in the footsteps of St. Peter and St. Paul, for the greater glory of God and for the salvation of His people. St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles and Vicar of Christ, and St. Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles. Amen.

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