Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Dedication of Basilica)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we listen today to the beginnings of a great tragedy, where the people of Israel, was subjected to the attempts of acculturation and Hellenisation, which happened during the years after Alexander the Great conquered much of the known world. They suffered persecution and ridicule, subjected into attempts to corrupt them from the one and true faith in God.
In the second reading, the same happened, with St. Paul being led into custody of the Romans, brought to Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire, to be judged by the Emperor for his supposed crimes. St. Paul was charged by his Jewish opponents, who resisted his attempts to bring the Good News to them. Rather than being killed at Jerusalem, St. Paul chose to appeal to the Emperor, and in doing so, as we listened, he gained a chance to evangelise yet one last time, at the city of Rome, where the centre of our Church now lies.
Today we listened to the tale of both St. Paul and St. Peter, the earlier as mentioned, and the latter, as we listened to the story of Jesus performing the miracle of walking on the water in the middle of the storm. St. Peter took the scene, as he tried to walk on the water and as he doubted, he almost sank into the water. Jesus rescued him and chided him about his lack of faith in Him. So we heard today about both St. Paul and St. Peter, who at the end of their lives, went to Rome to be martyred there.
Yes, in that old and venerable city, the Eternal City, as many would call it. It is where the two greatest saints and pillars of the Church were welcomed into the hands of the Lord through holy martyrdom. Today we mark the commemoration of the dedication of two great basilicas, namely the Papal Basilica of St. Peter, where most of the Pope’s celebrations take place, and the Papal Basilica of St. Paul, also known as St. Paul Outside the Walls, because it was located outside the walls of the ancient city of Rome. It was also where St. Paul stayed during his two year stay in Rome, prior to his martyrdom by the Emperor Nero.
These two saints were exemplary in their actions, just as what some brave people of Israel, God’s first chosen people had done at the time of persecution under the Greek king Antiochus Epiphanes. They stood up bravely and courageously for their faith without being corrupted or tempted by the offers of worldly pleasures and temporary glories offered to them, if they just would betray the Lord and their faith.
Yet these people were also pretty much ordinary people like ourselves, and they too were much like us sinful and weak, as St. Peter himself had shown in that storm in the lake, where his lack of faith to God made him almost sink as he walked on the water towards Jesus. St. Paul was once a great enemy of the faith, and he hounded many hundreds if not thousands of the early believers of the Lord, sending them to their deaths. We too lacked the faith at times, brothers and sisters, and doubt is always in our mind.
And yet, through Christ and His love, they have been transformed into powerful tools of His presence and love. God made them to be the bearers of the Good News and they went on faithfully with their missions to the end. And through their hard and dedicated works, many people were saved. Their works of salvation continues even today, through their successors, our bishops and their priests, and primarily, the Bishop of Rome, our Pope, now Pope Francis, the leader of the entire Universal Church.
It is often that times are truly hard for our Church, especially in the recent times. The ways of the world are increasingly becoming more and more antithesis to what our Church stands up for, that is our faith in God, true and just. The corruptions of this world threaten to sink many people in the storm of this turbulent world. Remember what had happened to St. Peter in that stormy night.
The Lord picked him up by the hand and strengthened his faith. Indeed, St. Peter was to abandon his faith yet another time, when he denied knowing the Lord, not just once, but three times in total! He did so, because his faith in God is wavering, having seen Jesus, the one hope that he and the other apostles had had, captured, tortured, and mocked like a lowly criminal. He abandoned the Lord for the security of the world.
St. Paul too was a leading Jew, who was a Pharisee and very strict in his observation of the Law, and was particularly hostile to the followers of Jesus in the early days of the Church. He hunted them without mercy, and caused the death of many people of the Lord. He took part in the stoning and murder is St. Stephen, the first martyr, and was a great scourge to the faithful.
Then what differentiates them from the people of Israel, who abandoned their faith in God, for the sake of their own security and to secure the favour of the king? And how was St. Peter even different from Judas Iscariot, the traitor? Did they both not betray the Lord? One through direct betrayal and the other by abandoning Him at the time of His greatest sorrow?
That is because, St. Peter professed his true and undying faith in the Lord, and he repented from his past mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, as is common to us because of our humanity, for we are predisposed to sin ever since we were exposed to it. What is important is that, we learn from those mistakes, face them with courage and faith, and repent, that is change our ways, to conform again to that of God! That was what St. Peter, as well as St. Paul had done.
Judas Iscariot felt the guilt after he had betrayed the Lord, but instead of learning from his mistakes, and accepting the chance of repentance the Lord gave him, he chose the quick way out, that is suicide. He did not repent, and therefore was counted among the lost ones. He also stole the money of the Lord and His disciples and was unrepentant about it, even to the end.
St. Peter professed his love and dedication to the Lord, and he showed it with true sincerity, knowing fully the guilt and the faults he had done, and yet, he still professed that love he has for God, and the Lord gave him, the stewardship over this world, over all of the faithful ones in God, as His Vicar on earth. St. Paul too met a life-changing experience, after the Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus. He received the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, and the truth about all things were revealed to him in its entirety.
Ever since, both Apostles, as well as the other apostles and disciples of Christ, tirelessly laboured for the sake of God and His kingdom, without end going from one end of the earth to the other, as witnesses to God and His saving power. They laboured hard and the fruits grew aplenty, as the faith spread among many, converting many to the cause of Christ. And despite the storm that threatened to engulf all the faithful, they stabilised the ship, and made it last to the present day.
St. Peter was crucified upside down in Rome, at the site now where the Basilica of St. Peter now stood. He chose to do so because he found himself unworthy to be crucified in the same way the Lord had done. St. Paul too was beheaded in Rome, after the burning of Rome was blamed by the reigning Emperor, Nero, on the followers of Christ. See the dedication, faith, and love that these two saints have for our Lord!
Today, therefore, as we commemorate the two great Basilicas dedicated in their honour, that of St. Peter, the Vicar of Christ, and St. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, let us take this opportunity to reflect, on whether we have taken the same choice or whether we will be ready to commit ourselves to the same choice that both saints had chosen. Remember that saints too were called from sinners. We can opt to choose the easy way, that is what Judas and the people of Israel had done, or take the difficult and challenge-ridden path that the Apostles had once taken, all the way to the end, where the glory of heaven awaits them.
May our Lord Jesus, who helped St. Peter out of the water in his doubt, also help us to overcome our doubts and empower us with love, hope, and faith, that we will be able to make a commitment towards reaching out to the Lord, choosing the right path in the end. May He continue to love us and watch over us. Amen.