Friday, 29 June 2018 : Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this blessed and momentous day, we celebrate the great occasion of the Solemnity of the Holy Apostles, St. Peter and St. Paul, the Patron saints of the Church of Rome, as both of those great servants of God were martyred in the city of Rome, at that time the capital and centre of the Roman Empire, which ruled most of the Mediterranean and Europe then.

Those two Apostles were considered to be the greatest among the Apostles and the disciples of the Lord, for St. Peter was the leader of the Apostles and the one to whom the Lord Jesus entrusted His whole Church, the flock of sheep of the whole faithful. And then, St. Paul was the great Apostle whose role in the evangelisation and conversion of the Gentiles was crucial, through his many missionary journeys and numerous Epistles and letters.

Hence, the two Apostles were essentially important pillars of the Church, together with the other Apostles of the Lord who spread the Christian faith far beyond their origin in Judea and Jerusalem. However, we may think that those Apostles were great and mighty people, who were endowed with great intellect and powerful in the sight of men. But those are the qualities and the perceptions of the world, and not what God’s truth prescribes.

Just as the Scriptures said, ‘It is not man who chooses to be worthy of God, but rather, God who made His people to be worthy.’ Essentially, we do not claim to be worthy of God, for if we judge ourselves by God’s standards, none among us are worthy of Him. But God empowered ordinary, mortal men like us to be His disciples, and make us to be worthy through the works He performed through each and every one of us who did His works.

Likewise, many of the Apostles came from humble and ordinary background, and even most likely of origins, those whom the world would never have thought to be possible as even consideration for those who would be called to the position and responsibility as the disciples and followers of the Lord God Most High, King of all kings and Master of the whole universe.

Many of the Apostles were illiterate and uneducated, as poor fishermen, and some others were rebels and thieves, and simple people making their living in various professions and works. One was a tax collector reviled and hated by his own countrymen, and deemed as a sinner for his work and role. And yet some were once enemies of the Lord and the faithful, like St. Paul had been, in his younger days.

St. Peter himself was a simple fishermen at the Lake of Galilee, doing his work and making a living, doing what many considered as a menial and unappreciated profession. But when the Lord Jesus came and called him, St. Peter together with his fellow fishermen left behind their fishing nets and boats, and followed Him from then on, to be fishers of men, just as He had told them.

He would go on to be the leader and the chief among all the disciples and followers of the Lord, because of his great faith and love for the Lord. But of course this did not mean that he had a perfect faith and pathway during his journey of faith. In fact, as we all should have known, St. Peter during the time when the Lord was arrested and tortured during His Passion, denied that he knew the Lord not just once, but three times.

He was utterly devastated after having realised the truth, and he was disappointed on his lack of faith, especially after he professed his faith and dedication to the Lord earlier on during the Last Supper. But unlike Judas Iscariot, the traitor, who also showed regret but chose to take the easy and cowardly way out through suicide, St. Peter chose the path of repentance and recommitment to God.

St. Peter reaffirmed his faith and dedication to the Lord, when the Lord Jesus spoke to him privately, asking him three times, “Peter, do you love Me?’ And Peter reaffirmed his love for Him with true sincerity and genuine intention. The Lord entrusted His Church and His entire flock to his care as leader of the Church and Vicar of Christ, through the words, ‘Feed My lambs’.

St. Peter would face many difficulties, challenges and persecutions, including what we have heard from the Scripture passage from the Acts of the Apostles, telling us how St. Peter was arrested during the episode of persecution by king Herod Antipas. He was imprisoned and was slated to face martyrdom just as what happened to St. James, the brother of St. John, by the same king Herod Antipas.

But God had greater plans for St. Peter, and He sent His Angel to free St. Peter from prison as we heard in our first reading passage today. He would continue from then on, to lead and guide the Church of God, and eventually established more Christian communities, becoming the first Bishop of Antioch and the Bishop of Rome. It was told that at the end of his missionary journey, he went to Rome, the capital of the Empire.

Meanwhile St. Paul was once known as Saul, who came from the region and city known as Tarsus, in southern part of what is now Turkey. He was born as a Pharisee, who were influential group of the Israelite elites at that time, particularly devoted to the preservation and conservation of the traditions and laws of the Jewish people. And St. Paul himself mentioned how he was very fanatical and dedicated to the cause of the Pharisees, even more than many others.

Hence, he was a great enemy of the faith at the very beginning of the Church. As Saul, according to the Acts of the Apostles, he took part in the martyrdom of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Church, who died defending the faith, stoned by the enemies of the faith, including Saul himself. And Saul took part in the intensive persecution of the Church, causing great fear and grief among the early Christian communities.

Surely, he would have been the least likely among those who would turn towards the Lord and be a Christian, at least in our worldly view of things. How could such a great enemy of the faith become one of the members of the Church? But as mentioned in the Scriptures, what is impossible or seemingly impossible for men, is possible for God. And God had a different plan for Saul.

He called Saul on the way to Damascus, when he was bent on destroying the Church and the faithful living in that city. He converted to the faith and turned himself completely from his past mistaken ways, and entrusted himself to the Lord and hearkened to the mission that was entrusted to him. Thus, he became the renowned St. Paul, a great enemy of the faith and the Church turned into one of its greatest champion and defender.

St. Paul travelled extensively throughout the eastern part of the Mediterranean region, visiting cities and towns, establishing Christian communities in those places and evangelised the faith to the pagan and non-Jewish peoples. His particular approach and passion in bringing about the faith and opening the door of salvation and the Church to the Gentiles or the non-Jewish people made him to be remembered as the Apostle to the Gentiles.

We knew of his many letters or Epistles to the various Church communities, in Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonica, Galatia, and many more, and he was renowned for his great missionary zeal and commitment to the Lord, that just as St. Peter had suffered many persecutions and difficulties, St. Paul, as well as the other Apostles, also had to endure similar tribulations and trials.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, both St. Peter and St. Paul dedicated themselves completely, to serve the greater purpose of the Lord, the conversion and the salvation of souls, and the establishment and empowerment of the early Church. They were truly exemplary in their actions, as the important foundation of the Church of God, because of which, the Church, as the Lord had said, remained firm even in the midst of the most intense persecutions and trials, to this very day.

St. Peter himself, in the end, met his martyrdom in Rome, punished to die on the cross. To the very end, he showed his great faith and love for God, by humbly requesting that he should not die in the same way as his Lord and Master. He was crucified upside down at the site where now the great Basilica of St. Peter stands. Meanwhile, St. Paul was beheaded as part of the great persecution of Christians under the Roman Emperor Nero. Yet, the contributions and the importance of these two Apostles remain strongly felt even to this very day.

Now, each and every one of us as Christians must follow in the footsteps of those courageous and holy servants of God, by realising that all of us are the successors of the Apostles, who ought to continue the good works that they have begun among the people of God. There is a need for witnesses of the faith, to continue spreading the message of God’s Good News and truth among the people of various nations.

Are we able to dedicate ourselves to the Lord as the Holy Apostles, St. Peter and St. Paul had done? Are we able to live our lives as faithfully as they have done, in the giving of their whole lives and their whole effort to serve the greater glory of God? We are called to follow in their footsteps, and if we think and feel that we are not worthy, as we probably do, then we must realise that no one will ever be worthy of God, as we are all sinners by nature.

Rather, we must realise that God makes those whom He calls, to be worthy, and He called us in various ways, to follow the path that He has shown us. He called us from our various origins, backgrounds, and from our past, wicked and sinful lives, all to become His disciples, with a renewed life, with a new purpose, to devote ourselves to a new Christian existence, showing our faith by examples of our life.

May the Lord be with us all, and may He continue to guide us in our lives. May St. Peter and St. Paul, holy Apostles and patrons of our One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, intercede for us, and pray for all of us in the Church of God, that all of us will remain true and faithful in our dedication and life to the Lord. May God bless all of us and bless all of our endeavours. Amen.

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