Liturgical Colour : Red
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate the great Solemnity of two saints who are among the most important saints of the Universal Church and in particular of the Church of Rome, the seat of the Vicar of Christ, the Pope, the leader of the whole Church. Today we mark the Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul, two of the most prominent of the Apostles of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
St. Peter was the leader of the Apostles and the one to whom the Lord Jesus has entrusted the governance of His entire Church, to be the shepherd among shepherds, supported by the Apostles and the other disciples, as the pillars of the Church of God. It was on the faith of St. Peter, whose name means the ‘Rock’ from his name ‘Petros’ in Greek and ‘Cephas’ in the original Aramaic, that God Himself established the firm foundation of His Church.
Meanwhile, St. Paul was once known as Saul, and although he was once a fanatic Pharisee and enemy of the faithful, but God called him to be his Apostle, to be the one He sent to the people especially to those who are of the non-Jewish origin, also called the Gentiles. Hence, that is why St. Paul is also known by his title of the Apostle to the Gentiles, in the crucial role he played in delivering the faith and the message of God’s truth to many places.
We may then think that St. Peter the Apostle and also St. Paul and the other Apostles are like superhuman and mighty beings, unlike us all. But the truth is in fact that St. Peter, St. Paul and all the other Apostles are no more and no less as human as we are, as flawed and weak as we are, as vulnerable and as sinful as we are. They were called from their various backgrounds and origins, all with the same purpose, that is to serve the Lord.
In our first reading passage today, we heard about St. Peter and how he had been arrested by the order of king Herod who had earlier on put St. James the Apostle to the sword in martyrdom. And the same fate would have been St. Peter’s, and he waited for the day of his trial in the prison. Yet, the Lord had a different plan for St. Peter, as He sent His Angel to break him free of his chains and opened the way for him to escape back to the Christian community.
This was just one among the many trials, challenges and difficulties that St. Peter had to endure in the time of his service and work as an Apostle. And just imagine that St. Peter was initially just an uneducated, rough and unintellectual fisherman who sailed his fishing boat in the Lake of Galilee, a lowly profession, looked down upon and often ignored by the society as a whole. This same fisherman then became a great Apostle, travelling from places to places, preaching and revealing the truth of God to many people, Jews and Gentiles alike.
This was the same St. Peter, who was the one that denied the Lord not just once but three times, when the Lord was arrested by the Jewish authorities and despite having pledged his dedication and desire to serve the Lord and to even die for Him. At that moment, the faith and courage of St. Peter faltered and when confronted by the people who claimed that he belonged to the group of the Lord Jesus, he denied any involvement and denied knowing Him.
And if we look at St. Paul, at the time when he was still known as Saul, there could not have been a worse and more unlikely candidate to be the servant of God than him, for there he was, a young and fanatical Pharisee, whose methods in seeking for and arresting those who professed the Christian faith was particularly brutal and repressive, putting into prison and probably even killing those who have been known to be the followers of the Lord.
Yet, God called Saul when he encountered Him on the way to Damascus to destroy the Christian community there. He came to see the truth of God and received the wisdom and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and from then on, became a committed and hardworking disciple and servant of the Lord, a total change and conversion from his previous life and principles. From a great sworn enemy of the Lord and His Church, into His greatest champion and defender.
That was the same change that the Apostles, including St. Peter experienced as they received God’s love and promise of the Holy Spirit, when at Pentecost they were bestowed the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit. And for the case of St. Peter, in the Gospels, we heard of how the Lord Jesus forgave him and called on him to renew his commitment, knowing that despite having denied him three times, he did so out of fear and uncertainty, but still with a heart that is focused, centred and filled with faith and love for Him.
That is why the Lord asked St. Peter three times, “Peter, do you love Me?” To which St. Peter responded with, “Yes, Lord, you know everything, you know that I love You.” This threefold profession of love by St. Peter is not only symbolic of how God has forgiven his threefold denial, but also a reaffirmation of what God has said in today’s Gospel passage, that He has established His very own Church on the firm foundation of the Rock of faith that is St. Peter.
And just as St. Paul who dedicated himself to the Lord so well and so courageously, in his many missionary and evangelising journeys throughout the cities of the Eastern Mediterranean region, enduring the worst persecutions and challenges, ridicules and humiliations, imprisonment and even threats to his life, St. Peter and St. Paul dedicated themselves, having been called and chosen by God to be the instruments of His good works among His own people.
St. Peter and St. Paul eventually would come to Rome as the last part of their earthly ministry and journey. St. Peter having established many Christian communities in the cities of Antioch among many others came to Rome to be the first of the bishops of Rome, as the elder and overseer of the Church community in Rome, and by virtue of his position as the leader of the Apostles and the Church, he became the first Pope, the first of God’s Vicar on earth.
Meanwhile, St. Paul came to Rome during his last missionary journey as part of his evangelising journey as he went for his last trial, being falsely accused by his enemies and the Jewish authorities, and he claimed the right he had as a Roman citizen to stand before the Roman Emperor and to be tried by him in Rome. St. Paul therefore came to Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire and according to the Acts of the Apostles, he ministered to the faithful there and helped to establish the Church.
Eventually, great persecution of Christians occurred, under the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero, who blamed the great fire that happened in the city of Rome to the Christians as scapegoats. And both St. Peter and St. Paul were martyred in that city, the city of Rome, as great witnesses of their faith for the Lord, glorifying Him in their death just as it had been by their lives and many good works for His sake.
St. Peter was arrested, imprisoned and sentenced to die by crucifixion in the area now known as the Vatican, where now the great Papal Basilica of St. Peter and the Vatican City is located at. St. Peter, with great conviction and humility, proclaimed that he was not worthy to die in the same manner as his Master, Lord and Saviour. Therefore, he asked to be crucified upside down on the cross, and he died glorifying God.
St. Paul was also imprisoned and made to suffer by the same persecution, and he was martyred by beheading in Rome, marking the end of his many years of service and struggle for the sake of the Lord. But similarly, by his death in martyrdom, he proclaimed the glory of God, and became a great inspiration, together with St. Peter and the other Apostles, for the faithful throughout the ages to follow.
Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, as we celebrate this great Solemnity in the memory of these two principal Apostles of the Church, the great St. Peter and St. Paul, holy servants of God, let us all reflect on our own lives. God has in fact called us all in many different ways, just as He has called St. Peter and St. Paul all those years ago. He has given us the same gift of the Holy Spirit and the many talents and abilities we have, and He has called us to be His servants and disciples just as the Apostles had been.
We are all called to be the successors to the works that the Apostles had done, which they had given their whole lives for, in glorifying God. And as I said earlier, God did not call these people from their great or even superhuman origins. Rather, He called ordinary people, from ordinary backgrounds and even from those that we may think or presume to be unlikely and impossible origins.
He called His Apostles and gave them the strength, courage and wisdom to do what He has called them all to do. That is exactly what we should be doing as well. In our own ordinary lives and in our daily living, we should therefore put our trust in God, and turn towards Him wholeheartedly so that we may truly be inspired by the courage and the examples showed by the Apostles that we may bring glory to God by our every actions in life.
Let us all be good and courageous witnesses of our faith in God, in each and every days of our lives. Let us all be like the holy Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul, in how we live our lives as great testimonies of faith so that hopefully many more people would be inspired and touched to follow the righteous path towards God’s salvation. Holy Apostles, St. Peter, Vicar of Christ and Prince of the Apostles, pray for us, and St. Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles, pray for us. Amen.