Liturgical Colour : Red
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate the great Solemnity of the two Apostles, St. Peter and St. Paul, the two Apostles of Rome and the pillars of the Universal Church, representing the unity of the Church in St. Peter and his successors, the Popes as the Lord’s very own Vicars on earth, and the evangelical outreach and missionary efforts of the Church as shown by St. Paul and his numerous efforts and journeys to spread the words of God especially to the Gentiles, or the non-Jewish people.
That is why St. Peter was known as the Vicar of Christ and the Prince of the Apostles, to signify his leadership and central role among all the Apostles, as the cornerstone on which the Lord has established His Church, as the firm bedrock of faith, a strong foundation on which He built His Church, the Body of Christ, the union of all the faithful people of God. He is truly Peter, the Rock, the symbolic meaning of the name which the Lord Himself has granted on him.
And St. Paul was known as the Apostle to the Gentiles, as the one who had sown the seeds of faith in so many communities all around the Mediterranean and other parts of the world, marking the beginning of the rapid growth of the Church despite the various persecutions and the many trials and challenges that it encountered. St. Paul through his many missionary journeys and the numerous Epistles or letters that he wrote, had a crucial role in the establishment of the various communities of the faithful.
Today, we celebrate their most wonderful life and memory, united together in martyrdom in the Holy City of Rome, the very heart of all Christendom, as both St. Peter and St. Paul by Apostolic traditions, were martyred in that city, the then capital of the great Roman Empire, during the first round of vicious persecutions of Christians. St. Paul was martyred in the immediate aftermath of the Great Fire of Rome by the Roman Emperor Nero, while St. Peter was martyred not very long afterwards during the same reign of the Emperor Nero.
Today we celebrate this great Solemnity in their honour, as the great celebration of the entire Universal Church in union with the Church of Rome, of which St. Peter and St. Paul are both patrons of, by virtue of their martyrdom there, and especially for St. Peter as the first Bishop of Rome, through which all the Popes are their successors. Therefore, we celebrate together united as one Church, all in union with our Pope Francis, as the successor of the great Apostle, St. Peter, the first Pope and Vicar of Christ, as well as the great missionary, St. Paul the Apostle.
Today as we celebrate this great Solemnity, we are reminded that the Lord called and chose His Apostles not from among those who considered themselves good and worthy, but He had called and chosen instead those whom He had determined to be worthy in their hearts and minds, for He knows all things in everyone. Take for example, St. Peter the Apostle, who was known as Simon, son of John, Simon bar Jonah, who was a mere fisherman of the lake of Galilee, illiterate, brash and at times, cowardly and unreliable.
How so? St. Peter was the one who suggested to the Lord that he would be ready to die for the sake of the Lord, and had the sword ready by himself, which he used to cut the ears of one of the Temple guards, Malchus, when the Lord was arrested at the Gardens of Gethsemane. Yet, very soon afterwards, he would deny knowing the Lord before those who asked him, not just once but three times. One may indeed wonder why the Lord chose such a person to be His Apostle, and less so still, why He made him to be His Vicar and the leader of the entire Universal Church.
That is because God knows the heart, and He knows the faith and love that St. Peter had for Him since the very beginning. He regretted very much his denial of the Lord and wept bitterly after having committed such an action, and did not give in to despair like Judas Iscariot, who killed himself after betraying the Lord. Instead, when the Lord was risen, he was one of the first to go forth and look out for Him, and he was the first to recognise the Lord at Galilee, when He appeared before them on the shore as the disciples were fishing.
When the Lord Jesus asked St. Peter after that occasion, whether he loved Him, St. Peter responded in all the three times that the Lord asked him, that he loved Him and how the Lord also knew that he loved Him from deep within his heart. This symbolised the Lord’s forgiveness of St. Peter for his three times denial at the moment of His arrest and Passion. The Lord reaffirmed His love for St. Peter just as the Apostle also reaffirmed his love for the Lord, and confirmed his dedication and desire to follow Him to the very end.
That was how St. Peter responded to his calling, and he went on leading the Church together with the other Apostles, resolving conflicts between the different factions within the Church and establishing communities of the faithful in various places, becoming the first Bishop of Antioch, where there was the first stable community of believers. He went on to Rome eventually, and as the persecution of Christians occurred, he was arrested, put in chains and eventually was crucified. Not wanting to die in the same way as his Lord and Master, he humbly asked to be crucified upside-down, and died a martyr at the place where the great Papal Basilica of St. Peter now stands.
St. Paul meanwhile was also the most unlikely of Apostles and servant of God. He was once Saul, the greatest enemy of Christians in the very earliest days of the Church. He was a young and zealous Pharisee who wanted nothing less than the destruction of the Church and the punishment for all those who followed Christ and His way. He went around from places to places, arresting and persecuting many Christians, and through him many ended up suffering and in prison, from this brutal first persecution of Christians in Jerusalem and Judea.
But he encountered the Lord on his way to persecute Christians in Damascus, and the Lord called him to follow Him. Saul therefore repented from his previous actions and decided to be baptised a Christian himself, and from then on, he became a most ardent and courageous defender of the Christian faith. In St. Paul therefore we see the example of one who has also embraced God’s call wholeheartedly and followed Him.
St. Paul went from a persecutor and enemy of Christians to be the Lord’s most ardent defender, himself often being in danger for his life, and was persecuted many times, enduring prison and sufferings for the sake of the Lord. From someone who had a bright future among the Pharisees, respected and with prestige, St. Paul chose to follow the Lord instead and abandon worldly comfort for the truth of God, which he proclaimed courageously before all.
He also defended the rights of the Gentiles, especially those who had chosen to turn towards the Lord and became Christians. Against all those who wanted to impose the strict Pharisaical Judaic laws on the Gentile Christians, St. Paul stood his ground and managed to confirm that such imposition was unwarranted and unnecessary, and hence, laid the foundation for an even more rapid acceptance of the faith by many more among the Gentiles.
He was also martyred in Rome, at the end of his many missionary journeys, as he chose to appeal to the Emperor over the false accusations by the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem, when he stood there in trial. By that, he went to the capital of the Empire, and began to minister to the people there. He was martyred in the aftermath of the Great Fire of Rome which was likely orchestrated by the Emperor Nero himself but was blamed on Christians, who henceforth were persecuted and killed as martyrs. St. Paul was beheaded at that same time.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we celebrate the Solemnity in honour of St. Peter and St. Paul today, let us all therefore remember the great faith and love these two Apostles had for the Lord, as well as the courage and dedication by which they committed themselves to the Lord. Let us all realise that we should also follow in their footsteps and walk in the path that the Lord has called us to follow through, and be faithful and dedicated as the two Apostles, St. Peter and St. Paul had been faithful. This is our Christian calling, brothers and sisters, what we need to do as those whom God has called and chosen.
Today, on this special day for the Church, let us all pray together for our Holy Father, Pope Francis, the successor of St. Peter and the current Vicar of Christ. Let us pray for his intentions and seek the Lord’s guidance that He may always bless and guide His Church, and that He will always be with us all through the many trials and challenges we may encounter in life. May He strengthen us in our faith and give us the courage to remain faithful to Him, and to walk in His path at all times. May all of us be ever closer to the Lord and be united as always in the union we share, under the leadership of our Pope Francis, the Vicar of Christ, as the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Amen.